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Graphic Novelty²

Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale

Fifteen-year-old Selina Kyle has been through a lot in life already. Her mom, a waitress, has had a string of boyfriends, each crueler than the last. Dernell, the latest, tops them all. Selina reaches her breaking point and leaves home, striking out on her own and living on the streets. Her street smarts and quick, sticky fingers ensure she doesn’t go hungry or get hurt, even by the so-called Gotham Growler that’s been prowling the streets at night. When she meets Ojo, a parkour expert and fellow street kid like her, he offers her a place in his found family, and the next heist they’re planning. Selina refuses, believing she doesn’t need anyone. But maybe even lone cats need a family, every once in a while.

There was a lot going on in this one. At the forefront is Selina herself: her struggles with her home life, her feelings of hopelessness and despair, and her determination to never rely on anyone again. This is a Selina perfect for a young adult audience. Perhaps teens who read this will also be grappling their own broken homes and horrible feelings associated with it. As Selina shows us, it’s okay to open up and accept help every once in a while from those loved ones who offer it.

The review I read before it was published made it sound like the Gotham Growler was going to be a prominent part of the story, but it was very minimal. We don’t even find out who he is or why he’s attacking people in the end, which was pretty disappointing. And even though there is a thieving element, it is played down as well, to allow Selina and the tentative relationships she forges with the other street kids (and renews with one Bruce Wayne) to come forward.

Author Lauren Myracle is no stranger to teenage feelings and situations in her work (she’s written the ttyl books), but I was very surprised artist Isaac Goodhart is a relatively new face. His CV consists of a bare half-dozen titles, and this is his first DC title. Given his short career, I was amazed at the quality of his work. The whole book is in hues of deep, moody blues and purples, with pale yellow accents. His linework is precise, yet expressive. The audience will appreciate that writer nor artist held back with the deep and hurtful stuff.

As an adult, I found some plot points to be too convenient, but overall this DC Ink title will satisfy the intended YA audience. This dynamic duo pull no punches in this imagining of Selina Kyle’s teenage years. Though the story is hard, Selina’s inner strength and determination will be what stays with readers. I will be watching for more of Goodhart’s work, and I sure hope he and Myracle team up again in the future!

– Kathleen

Myracle, Lauren, and Isaac Goodhart. Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale. 2019.

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Home After Dark

Home After Dark by David Small is an evocative coming of age graphic novel about the dark side of the American Dream in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s, which juxtaposes this supposed golden era with the realities that many faced.

Covering two years, the book starts in Ohio as thirteen year old Russell’s mother runs away with another man,  leaving him and his father alone. His morose hard-drinking father packs the two of them up and heads to California for a new start. However, the state of golden opportunities does not shine for them, and they settle in a non-descript inland town where his father gets a job working at the San Quentin jail. The two briefly rent rooms from a Chinese couple, the Mah’s, before moving into a small tract home the father buys using money from the GI Bill, as he is a Korean War veteran. Russell befriends Willie and Kurt in his neighborhood, who offer him a toxic view of masculinity, and ruins any chance he has to develop a friendship with school mate Warren, who is struggling with his identity also. During their second summer in California, his father abandons him, leaving him essentially an orphan. While the Mah’s take him in, Russell betrays them in addition to Warren, to Russell’s great regret. While you have great sympathy towards Russell, he is far from a likable character, and this haunting tale will make you look at the nostalgia of yesteryear with a different lens.

Small’s artwork is done in black and white with a grey overwash. His often wordless panels flow well throughout the chapters. Closeups of faces convey emotions effectively, as do the shadowy dream sequences. Despite the excellent art found in the book, I believe the cover picture does the novel a disservice. A distorted picture of Russell does not convey what the book is about, and might actually turn people off. I bought it for my library’s graphic novel collection because I thought so highly of Small’s earlier memoir Stiches, and although I have it displayed outward for our patrons to pick up, it has not circulated at all. I’ve seen another cover available, and I wish I had that one at my library, but this was the only cover I saw at the time I ordered it.

This disquieting book was a melancholy read and doesn’t wrap up things neatly. While you have a clue of the choice Russell will make, you know he has a tough road ahead of him no matter what.

-Nancy

Small, David. Home After Dark. 2018.

The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel

Offred is a Handmaid living in the service of the Commander and his wife in the Republic of Gilead. She is not allowed to read, write, hold a job or make money, nor even have any friends. Her sole duty is to bear the Commander’s children. Offred remembers a time before, when she was a free woman. The mere thought is treasonous, but she holds onto the memories like her own precious secret. When the Commander decides to indulge Offred in activities that are forbidden – playing board games, looking at magazines – she realizes that if she plays her cards right, she could be playing for her freedom.

I’ve never read Margaret Atwood’s novel, nor watched the popular TV adaptation. But I was blown away by this graphic novel adaptation by Renée Nault. I was sucked in, compelled morbidly and revoltingly to keep going, and could not put it down until the very last page. Even then I had to set it aside, savor it some more, and most importantly, think, and we all know how I love books that make me think ;D

Having not read the original novel, I’m not sure how much was omitted to pare it down to graphic novel form. I was able to figure most things out on my own, but it could have done with another few pages of exposition when it came to the nuclear fallout and the forming of the Republic of Gilead. There was mention of countries outside North America at one point, and expansion on that would have been welcome too. If these existed in the first place, they must have been edited out. I’m sure it did Atwood’s novel justice.

Nault’s artwork was incredible. It appears to have been done in ink and watercolor, in thin washes and with thin, slightly wobbly lines, echoing the uncertain and tumultuous nature of the story. Even the font was wiggly! There is an airy and yet foreboding quality in the art, as if you’re in a dream that could very quickly and easily turn into a nightmare. I was stunned by the skill and quality of Nault’s work, and will be seeking out more from her!

This graphic novel by turns repulsed and fascinated me, as I’m sure the print book will. The production of this adaptation was magnificent, and I look forward to comparing it to the original novel.

– Kathleen

Atwood, Margaret. Adapted by Renée Nault. The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel. 2019.

Surviving the City

This is a short but powerful graphic novel about two young First Nations women in Canada that face the perils of being Indigenous in the city together.

Best friends at school, Miikwan is Anishinaabe, while Dez is Inninew.  The two high schoolers bond is so tight that they completed a berry fast together, which is a rite of womanhood in their tribes. Despite their close friendship, they have each faced great trauma in their lives. Miikwan’s mother is missing and presumed dead, while Dez lives with her elderly grandmother who is facing health problems, and social services is planning on moving her into foster care.

Dez briefly runs away as Miikwan gets involved in a protest to bring attention to the crisis of stolen sisters. What makes this story especially poignant was the effective use of showing dead Native women as spirits surrounding their loved ones, and dark alien type creatures besides men that wish these woman harm. While the girls could not see these unearthly creatures, the readers could, and it ramped up the tension as you desperately hoped the girls would avoid the evil that seemed to be near them often on the city streets.

The artwork was well done, showcasing the diversity of Indigenous tribes, and spotlighting that not all tribe members live on reservations. The color palate was in warn earthen tones, and the panels flowed well on the pages, with some lovely imagery. As a stated above, the unseen presences surrounding the girls elevated the story, and drew you into their world. It also clearly showed the pride and connection they each felt about their cultural heritage, which was a direct message from the author and illustrator, who both have Native ancestry.

An afterward explained some information about the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and gave some excellent statistics and further reading suggestions. I do wish this afterward had included even more information. While I have some knowledge of berry fasts and two-spirit people, I really don’t think many people outside the Indigenous community will be familiar with these terms. Some explanation within the preceding narrative text, or in the afterwards should have been added. For two other well done graphic novels about other aspects of modern Indigenous life, read The Outside Circle and Roughneck.

I applaud this book for the awareness it brings to the plight of Indigenous women and the families they leave behind. Please do further research on the crisis they face, for this situation is also present in the United States, and needs to be acknowledged.

-Nancy

Mera: Tidebreaker – Take²

This is the second time in recent memory I’ve accidentally read and reviewed a graphic novel that Nancy has read first… I must be slipping in my old age =P

Mera, princess of the underwater kingdom of Xebel, is exasperated at her kingdom’s continued deference to Atlantis. The Atlanteans want peace, but at the oppression of every other kingdom around them. Mera knows she can change that and defeat her enemies once she takes the throne. Only problem with that is, her father the king has promised Larken, Mera’s betrothed from the Kingdom of Trench, the throne if he can find and kill the Prince of Atlantis. The infuriated Mera decides to take matters into her own hands to claim her rightful throne. She makes her way to the surface to find the long-lost Prince of Atlantis and assassinate him. Arthur Curry turns out to be much different than she imagined, and slowly he becomes less of a target and more of an innocent… and perhaps something more than that. Can Mera fulfill her quest for vengeance and justice for her people, and claim the throne that is her birthright?

I skimmed this one after a while as the story bored me (plus there was an SVU marathon on, and I’d rather route all immediate brain bandwidth to that!). I’d put the reading level at upper middle-grade, and it definitely showed in the classic love-triangle (rectangle if we’re including Arthur’s girlfriend at the beginning of the story) romance trope. Mera herself flip-flopped from being ruthless to lovestruck (with both boys) so fast, I got whiplash. There were plot points that were confusing and not explained clearly. For example, why was Mera’s watch able to work out of the water? Wouldn’t it break if exposed to air for extended amounts of time, like our devices would if exposed to water? That is seriously bothering me and I need an answer X,D

The art was unique. It was rendered in shades of the same bottle glass greens and blues, with Mera’s red hair as the only other color. The characters were rendered expressively, with a style that reminded me a little of Burnside Batgirl, which is appropriate as that run was also aimed at teen and middle grade readers at the start.

Nancy and I seem to be in agreement on this one. For the target audience, this is a heartstring-pulling, feminist ode to your favorite aquatic princess. For everyone else, it’s a bit of a slog. Skip it yourself, but definitely pick it up for your library’s youth collection or the young comic-lover in your life.

– Kathleen

Paige, Danielle, and Stephen Byrne. Mera: Tidebreaker. 2019.

Puerto Rico Strong

Puerto Rico Strong is a comics anthology that explores what it means to be Puerto Rican and the diversity that exists within that concept, from today’s most exciting Puerto Rican comics creators.” The proceeds from this book sale will go to UNIDOS Disaster Relief & Recovery Program to Support after the back to back hurricanes that devastated the island in 2017.

As with any anthology, this collection was uneven. Pair that with a graphic novel format, and there are some illustration styles that will not appeal to everyone, but the art as a whole is well done. Written with the best of intentions, these one-shot stories that are only a few pages, vary in tone and authenticity. Also included were one page splash pages, which I thought were a lead-in to a story, but indeed were only that page- which proved off putting. Some of the comics were powerful and made me tear up, or even better, made me think about the issues beyond that page. Others were trite and lacked depth.

I appreciated learning more about Puerto Rico and the history that has shaped this US territory. Several stories spotlighted their Taíno heritage, who were the first inhabitants before Columbus and Spanish conquistadors destroyed their culture.  Paired with their early history, was modern day history and how misguided US involvement has caused financial, ecological and cultural disasters. In addition, a few of the stories dealt with the eugenics that women endured as pharmaceutical companies preyed on those they felt that they could manipulate.

Favorites:

Thanks for Nothing by Tom Beland-  I was surprised that there wasn’t more anger directed specifically at Trump, only Beland’s righteous barbs referred directly to Trumps’ epic mismanagement of disaster relief.

La Casita of American Heroes by Anthony Otero & Charles Ugas- Lovely story of a woman soldier coming home with her child to the island to check on her parent’s safety. She teaches her daughter about all the soldiers on both sides of her family who have fought for America, but often are not considered American.

The Dragon of Bayamon by Jeff Gomez, Fabian Nicieza & Adriana Melo- An 11 year heads to Puerto Rico to stay with his abusive father for the summer and has to deal with not speaking Spanish fluently and his father’s moods. I liked this story, but it desperately needed fleshing out.

Reality Check by Tony Bedard & John R Holmes- This story rubbed me the wrong way on the first page but the father’s explanation of the conquistador’s role on the island in relation to the Taíno was shocking, but he juxtaposed it to other nation’s helping now after the hurricanes. Still not on board with his reasoning, but it truly was thought provoking.

I have to applaud this book, for these artists did not just sit back and send their best – no, they did their best and donated their time and talent to help a hurting community. The stories open lines of communication, and I love how authors and illustrators who were Puerto Rican added their #ownvoices to the dialogue. While often too sentimental, the right intent is there, and purchases of this book will benefit those in need.

-Nancy

The Iliad

Three goddesses once approached Paris, Prince of Troy, to determine which of them was the most beautiful. Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, was chosen to be the most fair above Hera and Athena. In exchange, she helped Paris obtain Helen of Sparta, the most beautiful woman in the world. Her kidnapping launched the ten-year-long Trojan war, in which the Spartans, along with an army assorted of many Greek city-states, mount a siege against the Trojans. Rendered here is the later part of the epic, in which the Greek army is splintered when Agamemnon offends Achilles, and the events that take place thereafter.

Gareth Hinds’ newest adaptation, this one of part of Homer’s epic, is well-researched and rendered beautifully. Even in graphic novel form, it is not light reading, so plan ahead accordingly! There is appropriate white space between panels and it’s broken into “books”, or chapters, to keep things simpler. The character guide at the very beginning was extremely helpful in keeping everyone straight. I kept it bookmarked while reading so I could refer back to it easily when I inevitably got confused. Throughout the story, there are footnotes with more context where appropriate. At the back of the book, there are expanded notes, maps, a bibliography, and more.

Once again, the art is excellent. It appears to be rendered in watercolor, but the softness of the medium does not take away from the brutality of the war or emotional turmoil of the characters in any way. Hinds doesn’t hold back on the blood and gore, nor shy away from showing appropriate intense emotions in the characters. Having read the epic before, I found it very helpful to see the characters’ expressions, and made it easier to understand what they were going through than reading the text alone did.

I have not yet been disappointed with a Hinds adaptation, but this one exceeded even my high expectations! I have a deeper understanding of the famous epic having read it in graphic novel form. It would serve well as a companion while reading the original text. Looking forward to more from this creator, though I am hoping his next adaptation has a lighter source material =P

– Kathleen

Hinds, Gareth. The Iliad. 2019.

Stiletto

I am a fan of crime thrillers, as my decades long reading of the Prey novels by John Sandford bears out. Thus, when I saw this crime-noir graphic novel on NetGalley, both written and illustrated by Palle Schmidt, I was intrigued.

Cop partners, young Alphonse and family man Maynard, are tasked with solving the killing of two of their follow police officers before Internal Affairs takes over. Signs point to a leak within the department and they try to find the mole before it’s too late. They are told by two higher ups at different times to report directly to them, which immediately shows possible layers of corruption. All they know is this person goes by Stiletto and no one should be trusted.

Surprisingly we find out who the mole is half way into the novel, and then watch this person desperately try to cover their tracks. It was truly depressing to find out who it was, as all the death and destruction that is wrought doesn’t truly benefit this person. Their life is still desperate and unhappy with no redemption in sight. But this book was not written to have a happy ending, and was a homage to classic cop movies like Serpico.  I also would compare it to the television show Breaking Bad that showed the main character’s justification for his descent into evil.

I don’t read many graphic novels that are both written and illustrated by the same person, but Schmidt capably does both. His watercolors were appropriately dark and shadowy, with a sepia color palette. Flashbacks had a blue over-wash which was helpful in differentiating the chronology. A shark motif is also used effectively to showcase the pressure and the feeling of being hunted that the men are feeling. Schmidt draws the cityscapes with a gritty precision as well as a whole cast of characters.

Schmidt’s world-building was excellent as it conveyed a somber atmosphere for this morally ambiguous tale, and I would be interested in what lays in store next for this corrupt police department.

-Nancy

Schmidt, Palle. Stiletto, 2019.

 

Mid Year Freak Out #3

I’m freaking out for a third time! I like this post idea, as it forces me to reflect on my reading half way through the year instead of just at the end when Kathleen and I do our Best Of List. I had fun going through my Goodreads data, and bonus, it highlights the other genres I read.

Best book you read in 2019 so far

Michelle Obama’s book Becoming was a beautiful tribute to her family, community and politics. I listened to it on audio and hearing her voice elevated the story as her intelligence and compassion shown through the entire narrative. I highly recommend it and think it would be a perfect choice for book clubs.

Best sequel you’ve read so far 

After reading the supernatural Harrow County: Countless Haints, I quickly read the entire eight volume series and reviewed them all on the blog. As of now, I am expecting this series to make my top 2019 list.

New release you haven’t read yet, but want to

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson is set in 1936 in Appalachia and is about “blue-skinned 19-year-old Cussy Carter, the last living female of the rare Blue People ancestry. The lonely young Appalachian woman joins the historical Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky and becomes a librarian”. I have family ancestry from Kentucky and I am a librarian, thus I eagerly await this book. I am currently on the waiting list for this book.

Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

I look forward to every Walking Dead volume and both the mystery-thriller Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers books by John Sandford, but I really can’t wait for the graphic novel Pumpkin Heads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks!

Biggest disappointment

Author Brian Wood can typically do no wrong with me, as I am a huge fan of his Briggs Land, Rebels and Northlanders series, but Sword Daughter fell short. A certain plot point defied logic. Getting past this was impossible, and colored my feelings towards the rest of the story.

Biggest surprise

I was introduced to the kitschy awesomeness of Grant Morrison’s 1988 take on Animal Man, one of DC’s B-level superheros. I was blown away by the chapter The Coyote Gospel and now feel I truly can claim to be a comics fan after reading this cult classic.

Favourite new author (Debut or new to you)

I’m actually going to tweak this and change it to artist, since I read so many graphic novels. Jonas Scharf has illustrated Bone Parish (more info below on that book) and Warlords of Appalachia, two outstanding books that will make it onto my best of 2019 list in December.

Newest fictional crush

LeVar Burton is the celebrity I most want to meet.  While he is far from fictional, I love all the short story fiction he reads aloud on his podcast LeVar Burton Reads.

Newest favourite character

I love Grace, the matriarch in Bone Parish, a new supernatural thriller. The Winters family of New Orleans has discovered how to manufacture the ashes of the dead into a powerful hallucinogenic drug that lets the person snorting the drug to experience everything the dead person lived through when they were alive. Powerful but flawed, she is reaping the consequences for selling this drug.

Book that made you happy

I am a huge fan of Faith Erin Hicks- as I love her graphic novel Friends with Boys and her Nameless City trilogy, so when I saw that she had written her first YA chapter book, I jumped to read Comics Will Break Your Heart.  It was a lovely ode to nerd culture and young love!

Book that made you sad

Although I am a fan of Stephen King’s short stories and earlier work (before he got too wordy), I have avoided Pet Semetary for many years, as the subject matter of a child dying was too hard for me to read as a mother.  The book was appropriately atmospheric but what was especially terrifying was that the Creed family was so normal and nice, but the burial grounds got their hooks into the doctor father and wouldn’t let go. There was so much additional devastation and death after the initial tragedy, so it was a chilling read as you couldn’t help but wonder if so much misfortune could show up on our own doorstep without warning.

Favourite book to film adaptation you saw this year 

I read Infinity Gauntlet awhile back which Infinity Wars and Endgame are based off, and this movie was an excellent adaptation, although many characters from the movie are different from the book.

Favourite review you have written this year 

Kathleen and I participated in a fun eight part series, Fiction’s Fearless Females, and my entry was Star Trek Voyager’s captain, Kathryn Janeway. She was an example of grace under fire who exemplified remarkable leadership skills. Janeway not only is a hero but a role model and a perfect example of a fearless female!

Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received)

The two Sleepless graphic novels by Sarah Vaughn with art by Leila del Duca were gorgeous. Del Duca created a fully realized kingdom with detailed backgrounds that make looking at the panels a delight. The era has a Renaissance feel with deep jewel tones adding to the atmosphere. The kingdom’s inhabitants are drawn beautifully as is their courtly attire, and there is a welcome diversity.

What books do you need to read by the end of the year? 

I review YA books for the magazine School Library Journal, but can’t reveal what I read until after it is published in the magazine. However I also read advance copies for NetGalley and I can tell you I have graphic novels Stiletto by Palle Schmidt and Aquaman: Unspoken Water by Kelly DeConnick in queue.

Half way through the year and I’m on schedule for my Goodreads challenge of 100 books, as I’m at 56 with a few books almost done this week. So far, so good. Bring on the last half of 2019!

-Nancy

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