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Graphic Novelty²

Saga: Volumes Four-Six

After taking two years between reading the first epic volume and then volumes two and three, I decided I will take a page out of how I read Harrow County and read and review the entire series (thus far) in close succession. *Some Spoilers Ahead*

Volume Four

Marko and Alana are hiding in plain sight while raising Hazel to toddlerhood on a remote planet Gardenia. Alana has improbably become an actress for a soap-opera type series called Open Circuit, leaving Marko and his mother to the day-to-day parenthood duties.  While the family might be disguised, they are taking incredible risks, and can’t risk making friends who might discover their secret. The luster is off their marriage, both parents are stressed, and they find out some of their choices have dire consequences. Prince Robot IV misses the birth of his son, and because of his oversight, the baby is kidnapped by a disgruntled janitor robot who feels the royal house has taken advantage of the populace during the war. When the kidnapper also grabs Hazel, the two feuding fathers need to band together to find their children before its too late.

Volume Five

All the various groups are separated- Alana and Klara are trying desperately to escape from Dengo the janitor who is holding Hazel and the baby robot hostage, Marko and Prince Robot IV are trying to find their children, plus The Brand, Gwendolyn and Sophie are trying to find an elixir to heal The Will. The Last Revolution, a radical anti-war group, gets added into the mix with shifting alliances and betrayals that lead to the death of several characters. While there are family members reunited, other family groups remain splintered.

I love how the character’s motivations are layered and deep, and not everyone makes the best decisions. Some people start with the best of intentions and then make cowardly decisions, and on the flip side, some weak characters end up standing up strong when needed.

Volume Six

Time has gone by and Hazel is now kindergarten age as she and her grandmother are being held in a Landfallian detention center. Marko and Alana are finally reunited and determined to find Hazel and Klara so they blackmail a certain someone to help them onto the Landfall prison. The Will has made a recovery but no longer has his sidekick Lying Cat, instead, he has his sister’s dog-like creature, Sweet Boy. He has become heavy and mean, and hallucinates frequently. Meanwhile Hazel and Klara have made the best of their detention and both have acquired some allies who help them when Marko and Hazel make their brazen rescue attempt. Nothing ever goes perfectly, and the family’s reunion is bittersweet.

Wow, although I had a slow start with this series, the storytelling keeps amping up and I am now devouring the volumes. Staple’s art remains strong, with additional crazy aliens and planets, yet it all remains relatable. Expect reviews for the next three volumes to drop next week!

-Nancy

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me is a coming of age story with a welcoming and needed look at teen romance with a same-sex couple.

Freddy and Laura’s relationship is as normal (and toxic) as any other teen relationship might be; readers will immediately spot Laura’s selfish and callous treatment of Freddy and will be hoping that Freddy has enough strength to break it off for good. I believe teens can learn from this narrative on how to recognize an unhealthy relationship dynamic, and also how to be a better friend to people who truly do care. The narrative also included an in-depth look at Freddy’s friendships and her burgeoning interest in the larger LGBTQ+ community. There is also a very adult decision that one character needs to make, and I was impressed at how it is so respectfully addressed.

The artwork by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell was lovely with a greyscale and soft pink color palette. Her backgrounds are minimalist, but then you’d be treated to an ornate panel where she added much detail to a garden or to the medium’s home. Valero-O’Connell drew Freddy, Laura and the rest of their friends and family in a slightly anime-like style, which was an inviting and charming look for the graphic novel. The illustrations also had a running motif of stuffed animals of Freddy’s that gave their insights, which balanced some of the angst and heavy-hitting topics.

As I said in my earlier Bloom review, I do want to share one problem I had with that cover and this one too- if you were to take a quick glance without opening the book, you would think that the couple was of mixed sexes and I think that is a disservice to the storyline found within. I felt like the publishers weren’t being bold enough with their covers to show what the narrative was truly going to be about, and I found that disappointing. In fact, I was so confused when I first picked up this book that I thought Freddy was Laura and kept looking for the boy from the cover I assumed was Freddy.

I had the pleasure of reading this novel and Bloom for a Tournament of Books that I participated in with other teen librarians. While I pushed Bloom through to the next bracket, this graphic novel deserves the rave reviews and book awards it has already earned.

-Nancy

Estranged

Not everyone knows there’s a world below this one, where the fae and other fantastical creatures reside. Edmund knows, and so does his changeling, only known as the Childe. Edmund was born fae, but swapped for the Childe, so they have each grown up in the other’s world. When the queen’s evil sister Hawthorne claims the fae throne for herself, the Childe and his wax golem, Whick, escape to the world above to find Edmund. He is the crown prince and the only other person with a claim to the throne. Edmund is reluctant to leave the only life and family he has ever known, even for his birthright. Now that the Childe has found is human family – he’s not so quick to give it up, either. Can the two boys work together to save both worlds – worlds that neither of them feel they’re really a part of?

Wow. I was astonished this is a middle-grade graphic novel. It dives deep into mature issues such as identity and family. There’s a much weightier substance to the story than I was expecting, and certainly more than what’s standard for the target audience. Mr. Aldridge has no qualms about asking the hard questions of his audience, and writes them in in a way that his audience will be able to understand. In case it gets too rough, the graphic novel is laid out in chapters so they can take a break and come back to it later. If any of the target audience is like me and was too absorbed to do anything but devour it in one go, however, chapter breaks won’t be needed 😉

As a fantasy story, the art is darkly whimsical. It’s sketchy and cluttered, to convey a lot of information, but doesn’t come off as messy. Instead it gives more of an “organized chaos” vibe. Thin watercolor washes are built up in layers to also bring a sense of reality to the story.

I was shocked that this dark, weighty fantasy story was a middle-grade novel, and trust me… you will be, too.

– Kathleen

Aldridge, Ethan M. Estranged. 2018.

Bloom

Bloom is a lovely coming-of-age graphic novel with welcome LGBTQ+ representation. Ari, a recent high school grad, is chafing at working at his family’s bakery until he meets Hector, a young man who accepts a job at the bakery, so Ari can move to the city with his bandmates.

This graphic novel has a similar storyline to the more popular Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, although it came out first and the genders are flipped. Author Kevin Panetta told a story that felt softer and gentler, with family playing a large part in Ari’s summer journey. I was rooting for the slow-burn romance with Hector to develop as Ari slowly came to realize that his attitude needed to change and Hector’s kindness and stability were exactly what he needed. Ari also needed to come to terms with a toxic friend whom he always gave a pass to, and learn that he was allowed to outgrow his prior dreams and make decisions that were best for him and not just go along with the group. This character-driven story showcased a healthy romance, once Ari owned up to his mistakes, and a strong family dynamic. Diversity among his friends and an after high school graduation timeline was also welcome.

Savanna Ganucheau’s artwork has a tri-color palette, in black and white with a blue-green color wash used throughout which evocatively signified the Maryland seaside town that the Kyrkos Family Bakery was located in. The panels flowed well and included several two-page splash pages set in the bakery that wordlessly showed Ari and Hector falling in love. Occasional anime-type drawings were utilized to show strong emotions. That a recipe for sourdough rolls and a playlist were included at the end was a delightful way to conclude this engaging story.

I do want to share one problem I had with the cover- if you were to take a quick glance without opening the book, you would think that the couple was of mixed sexes and I think that is a disservice to the storyline found within. I felt like the publisher wasn’t being bold enough with the cover to show what the narrative was truly going to be about, and I found that disappointing. But, I found Bloom the stronger of the two similarly themed books, for it includes a lovely ode to family and different perspectives, which I think teens need to see during this time of transition when their friends take on more importance, yet their family is still a big part of their lives.

-Nancy

Grayson (Vol. 4): A Ghost in the Tomb

Teenagers are rising in Gotham under the common banner of Robin. They are banding together to protect the city in Batman’s absence. However, recent legislation pushed through by Councilwoman Noctua has made it illegal for anyone in Gotham to claim they’re a Robin, or even sport Robin paraphernalia. Gotham City PD is enthusiastically enforcing the new law. The real Robins, both old and new – Jason Todd (Red Hood), Tim Drake (Red Robin), and Damian Wayne (Robin) – are looking on in horror as these teens are being harrassed and arrested under the new law. They call on the only person they know who can help – Dick Grayson, known as Agent 37, Nightwing, and the original Robin. Together, they must make a choice. Will the Robins help these teenager, or turn them in as outlaws?

This volume compiles part of the story of the Robin War event that took place during Batman/Batfamily’s New 52 storyline. The Court of Owls play an integral role, this time as the Parliament of Owls, indicating that they have expanded beyond Gotham. It was refreshing to see the Robins on their own, out from under the shadow of the Bat. They have to figure out what to do, all on their own, without their mentor and guardian’s help. It solidifies that each of these characters are their own people and are each Robins, and heroes, in their own right.

Many artists worked on the Robin War, and thus the art is more varied than it’s been during Grayson. Overall it was a little looser, angular, and stylized than Grayson’s more realistic look. We do return back to Grayson after the Robin War, for about the second half the book, where Mikel Janin’s art takes center stage once again.

While I am enjoying Grayson very much, Robin War was the highlight of this volume for me. We got a little more variety in the art and it showcased all the Robins in the long history of the character. The story was an effective way for us to see that the sidekicks can shine just as much as their big box counterparts!

– Kathleen

King, Tom, Tim Seeley, Mikel Janin, and Jeromy Cox. Grayson (Vol. 4): A Ghost in the Tomb. 2016.

Guest Post on 2020 YASF Tournament of Books

As the Head of Teen Services at my library, I attend a networking group with other librarians who work with teens in the Chicagoland suburb area. For several years the YASF (Young Adult Services Forum) group has had a yearly Tournament of Books for YA novels, and this is my fourth year participating by writing reviews for their blog So like YA know

This year I was assigned graphic novels Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up WIth Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. Both books have gained impressive followings, rave reviews, and book awards due to their positive and true-to-life representation of LGBTQ+ life. You can see in the graphic what book I choose to move on in the tournament, but click here and find out WHY!

-Nancy

Saga: Volumes Two and Three

Although I was a big fan of the first volume of Saga, it has taken me almost two years to start reading further into the series! An epic sci-fi adventure with liberal doses of violence and sex, this series is a favorite of many but also criticized for the illustrated depictions of said violence and sex. Author Brian K. Vaughan jokingly described the series as “Star Wars for perverts.”

Volume Two

Marko’s parents showed up at the end of the first volume and it is immediately established that they don’t approve of their son’s marriage to Alana, who is of an enemy species. But within minutes Marko and his mother Klara need to leave to rescue Isabel, the babysitter who was just sent into another dimension by Marko’s mother on accident. And right away we see why this series is so controversial, we get an extreme close up of a giant’s privates (and I do mean giant). During this time Alana bonds with Barr, Marko’s father and as he tries to make items that will protect his extended family, and we learn a sad truth about him.

There is some important backstory to how Marko and Alana met, which is crucial, as in the first volume the reader was just dropped into the story and expected to pick up what was going on. We also learn of Marko’s upbringing and start to see a more nuanced view of why the different alien species are at war. Interestingly, a key reason why Alana was open to a romance with a warring species was a pulp romance novel that she was crazy about that showed interspecies love in a flattering light. Saga has a huge cast of characters and we also get some backstory on the Prince Robot, The Will and a certain someone from Marko’s past. Plus, there is a lot of chaos natch.

Volume Three

Marko and Alana’s family is reeling from their recent tragedy and take refuge in an unlikely ally’s home. The ragtag family has a brief time to recover and bond, but soon enough they are on the run again. If you think there is a large cast of characters- think again, as even more are added. Now we have two journalists who are following the scandalous story of Alana and Marko’s marriage and their infant Hazel, while the government wants to cover up that a child has been born of their union. The Will is joined by another morally ambiguous assassin and a six-year child they saved from prostitution.

Snappy dialogue and great art are trademarks of this series. Artist Fiona Staples has created an authentic universe with a myriad of different aliens and varied planets. I’m amazed at how much background she fits in, as many artists would simplify the panels, as the aliens themselves are a lot of work, but Staples doesn’t skimp. She also very ably shows emotion, and thus the whole cast of characters seems more authentic because of how she draws and colors them.

On a side note, I have this series at the library I work at and had the most recent Volume Nine up on display with all the other newly bought graphic novels. I was in my office when one of the circulation clerks came to get me to report that one of our library patrons was lodging a complaint against it. When I came out to speak to her she said the book was pornographic and we should not have it in our library. I explained that as a library we offer diverse reads and can not dictate what our patrons read. I said that we kept it in the adult section, and it had a Mature label on the back that lets readers know of the adult content. While I agreed that the content was indeed mature, we would be keeping it on our shelves as we do not ban books. She calmed down, and while she was not happy, she did not ask for the paperwork to formally lodge a complaint. I took that as a win.

Once again, I enjoyed this series, and I hope I can catch up on the remaining volumes (thus far) soon.

-Nancy

In-jokes abound, as Vaughan makes this sly dig against writers (like himself!).

Blackbird (Book 1): The Great Beast

Nina Rodriguez has known her whole life that there was magic in this world, ever since she was thirteen and a great beast saved Nina and her sister Marisa from being crushed to death during an earthquake. She’s spent her whole life trying to find the magic again, against her family’s wishes. They call her “Crazy Baby” and tease her, but Nina knows what she saw. Ten years later, she’s struggling with panic attacks, addiction, joblessness, and still struggling to find the magic in the world – until the great beast reappears and takes Marisa away. Nina has to pull it together if she’s to save her sister. It’ll take a little help from Nina’s childhood cat and a mysterious boy who is a Paragon – who has magical powers. What if, in her quest to save her sister and uncover the truth about magic – Nina realizes her entire life has been a lie?

I didn’t know I’d been itching for some good ol’ urban fantasy until I read this. And in graphic novel form! I was in heaven and now I want more! It does have some classic urban fantasy and straight fantasy tropes: spunky, outcast, loud-mouthed female lead who doesn’t realize she has powers, knowledgeable love interest she doesn’t need, and so forth. But it was put together so charmingly I didn’t mind.

The setting is what grounds this graphic novel. It takes place in Los Angeles in the modern day. We get detailed backgrounds of the city with some recognizable landmarks. We get the glitz and glamour of the City of Angels. But we also get a parallel world, the magic world, which peeks through Los Angeles’ seedy veil every now and then throughout… making you believe that maybe, just maybe, there could be a magic world underneath. Though the overall palette is neon, the real world tends toward darker colors, and the world of magic towards pastels.

While overall the art was solid, especially in the colors, I found the characters a little stiff. Their poses and expressions seemed lacking to me, even during times of high tension or stress. It’s mostly in the writing and Nina’s inner dialogue where the emotional impact comes from, and not her expressions or her actions. The scenery, the details, the colors, and the worldbuilding and atmosphere are all so solid – but it’s lacking much of it’s emotional depth because what we’re reading and what we’re seeing in the characters’ facial expressions and body language don’t always match.

Overall, however, this is a great start to what is sure to be a hit graphic novel/urban fantasy series. I eagerly look forward to more!

-Kathleen

Humphries, Sam, and Jen Bartel. Blackbird (Book 1): The Great Beast. 2018.

Short Treks- Season Two

Star Trek Discovery tried an innovative approach in keeping it’s audience’s attention and building interest- it put out four shorts (each approximately 10-15 minutes long), between Discovery’s season one and two. This second time around there were six episodes, two of which were animated, and timed to coincide with the premiere of Star Trek Picard.

Warning- Spoilers!

Q&A

The first episode took the popularity of season two’s young Spock, Number One and Captain Pike and gave them their own prequel to us meeting them on the U.S.S. Discovery. Spock is beaming aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise for the first time as an ensign and meets Number One who he gets trapped in a turbolift with. Their prim and proper conversation takes a turn for the personal, with a fun but odd singing rendition of I Am The Very Model Of a Modern Major General by both of them. They later pretend to meet for the first time in front of Captain Pike. I did have two problems with this episode- they should not have been wearing those uniforms yet, but most importantly, I like them so much that I want them back on Star Trek Discovery in season three (or even better- a spinoff of their own)!

The Trouble With Edward

This episode was hysterical! I was laughing so hard that my oldest son sat down with me to finish watching the episode after I gave him a quick overview of the iconic TOS episode The Trouble with Tribbles. While my three children are all Star Wars fans, I’ve never gotten them interested in Star Trek (to my everlasting shame) so having him watch this short trek with me was a victory indeed!

New Captain Lynne Lucero is assigned to the starship U.S.S. Cabot (and is escorted there by Captain Pike) where she meets scientist Edward Larkin who is conducting some morally questionable experiments on alien Tribbles, for he wishes to use them as a food source on a starving planet. Ordered to stop, he does not, and the Tribbles start to breed out of control, eventually overtaking the entire ship. While Starfleet officers are usually professional, Edward’s ego got the best of him (as did the Captain’s frankly), and the sequence of events afterward is comical. Captain Lucero’s explanation to an admiral board of review is accurate and a perfect ending to this episode. (BTW, this is the first time chronologically we see a Trill alien in Starfleet)

Ask Not

The third Short Trek with dreamy Captain Pike! When Starbase 28 is attacked, Cadet Thira Sidhu is tasked with guarding a mutinous prisoner who no surprise is Captain Pike. Pike attempts to convince Sidhu into releasing him, but she refuses despite her husband being on board the starship in danger. Pike then reveals that this is a simulated test, and because of her fortitude she is welcomed aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise as an engineer. We even get a brief look at Spock and Number One when she beams abroad. While I very much enjoyed this mini-episode, the likelihood of a captain taking the time to screen applicants for his ship like this is extremely unlikely. But I’ll let is pass, as this might have been our last opportunity to see Pike, Spock and Number One together.

Ephraim and Dot

I was unsure about the animated shorts, but this first was adorable! Set in TOS timeline, a mother Tardigrade wants a safe place to lay her eggs, when The Enterprise disrupts her, so she follows the starship to see if it would be a viable location. She is witness to some iconic episodes- Space Seed (Khan!), The Trouble With Tribbles, The Naked Time (shirtless Sulu with a sword), Who Mourns For Adonis? (giant green hand in space), The Doomsday Machine (the big planet killer), The Tholian Web (orange energy cube), and The Savage Curtain (hey, whats President Lincoln doing in space?!), along with some other shoutouts to TOS happenings.  A droid, Dot, tries to stop her but later realizes her intent and there is a heartwarming ending. The animation was colorful, amusing and will appeal to all ages.

The Girl Who Made the Stars

As much as I loved the previous animated short, I did not like the second one at all. In this episode, we are shown Michael from the Star Trek Discovery crew, as a young child who is afraid of the dark. Her father wishes to reassure so he tells a tale of a young girl from Africa who brings stars to her tribe, as a gift from an alien she met. This story rubbed me the wrong way because a problem I have been having with the Discovery series is that Michael is just so earnest, and she and she alone is the savior of her ship and mankind. This cloying fairy tale-esque episode reinforced that issue which makes me wonder if Star Trek Discovery will fall to the wayside for me soon.

Children of Mars

This mostly wordless episode ties in with the Picard series as a prequel to Picard’s timeline, set in 2385, when Mars was attacked by deviant synthoids. The story begins with two girls who attend boarding school on Earth, speaking with their parents who are workers on Mars before they leave for school. The girls get into a skirmish at school and escalate it until they are truly fighting in the hallways.  As they are awaiting punishment from the Vulcan principal, the news is announced and the girls each realize they have lost a parent, and link hands in solidarity. We briefly see Picard on a screen when he was still an Admiral and this all fits into the mystery of Picard’s storyline. This episode was effective on many levels- it showed youth in school as we don’t see many children or family units in the Star Trek world, the catastrophe will sadly remind viewers of iconic tragedies such as 9/11 or the Challenger explosion and ties in neatly with the timeline and reasons for Picard leaving Starfleet.

All in all, I found five of the six episodes strong. These shorts allow some additional ideas to be developed that there is no time to explore in regular episodes. Fan favorites such as Pike, Spock and Number One got more character development, and threads that connect to the newest series were introduced. It a smart move by CBS to produce these mini-episodes to keep interest strong in the franchise and keep subscribers from dropping the paid platform. However, for me, I waited until Picard premiered to re-up my subscription and just caught up with these shorts at that time. So, soon enough you can expect a Star Trek Picard post from me. In the meantime- live long and prosper!

-Nancy

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