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Graphic Novelty²

The Walking Dead: Compendium Four (Volumes 25-32)

Kirkman, Robert, Charlie Adlard, Stefano Gaudiano, Cliff Rathburn. The Walking Dead: Compendium Four. 2019.

After fifteen years, this epic dystopian zombie series wrapped everything up in Volume 32!  I’m sad to see it come to an end, but it went out on Kirkman’s own terms and I was (mostly) pleased with its conclusion. There will be some spoilers throughout, but mostly in the review of the last volume.

Volume 25- No Turning Back: The residents of the three linked communities are out for blood once it is revealed to them what Alpha and The Whisperers did. The victim’s loved ones want immediate retaliation and don’t understand Rick’s reluctance in doing so. Rick and Maggie fight over their different leading styles and come to blows, and Paul shows he has Maggie’s back at all times. Rick goes to Negan and asks for his advice on how to handle the volatile revolt against his leadership. Let me repeat that, Rick asks an evil tyrant what to do next. Doubtful this is going to go well…

Volume 26- Call To Arms: This was the best volume in a long while! There were some great storylines followed up on, with room for growth. The militia begins their training, and Dwight continues to show leadership potential, although he claims to not want to be a leader. This reminds me of an earlier volume when Andrea tells Rick he is a better leader when he doesn’t want to be. Eugene makes contact with an unknown person on his shortwave radio. While he tries not to give away too much info and put the community at risk, I don’t have a good feeling about it. I’ve watched some of the TWD spinoff, Fear The Walking Dead and their radio interactions with another group did not end well for them. The best part of this volume was Negan’s escape (we all knew he would eventually!) and what he does afterward. As soon as you think he might have a tiny spark of humanity left in him, he destroys you. The ending was epic!

Volume 27- The Whisperer War: Another strong volume- it picks up with Negan bringing home his “trophy” to show Rick his intentions. Negan claims that Rick and the residents of Alexandria should trust him, as he has dealt a hard blow to the Whisperers, and willingly came back to face them. Beta discovers what Negan did and vows revenge. Rick tries to bring all his allies together to fight the horde of zombies that the Whisperers are hiding among, but not all the outposts are willing to send their members to join Alexandria’s militia. The militia plans their strategy, but of course, things never go well out in the field. Negan’s continued evolution is fascinating, with a few hints as to what Lucille represented to him. Beta hasn’t seemed like a strong villain compared to the Governor, Negan or Alpha, but the references to his face never having been seen intrigues me. Is he someone we know from the past? One aside about the artwork- it was much too busy. There were several two-page spreads that had too many panels that were hard to follow chronologically.

Volume 28- A Certain Doom: Rick, Andrea and their crew face the largest herd of zombies yet, heading straight towards Alexandria due to the Whisperers pushing them in that direction. The town is a well-oiled machine under Rick’s guidance and they no longer strictly react, they have a plan of action. That’s not to say things don’t get out of hand or verge on chaos, especially when a minor power coup occurs, but the team works well together. We even get some character development and some enlightening banter between Rick and Negan when they are stranded in a building together for some time. But a quip by Negan about avoiding being bitten is a foreshadowing about what soon happens to a beloved original character. The conclusion of the book gives this person a proper send-off and the chance for many to be able to say goodbye before the inevitable death. The death will be sure to reverberate in future volumes and will lay a heavy weight on the remaining character’s psyches.

Volume 29- Lines We Cross: This was my quickest TWD read ever! This story was definitely a bridge book between the action of fighting the large zombie herd in the last volume and whatever Kirkman has planned next. Lots of little things happen: Rick is still reeling from the devastating death of a loved one, Jesus and Aaron fall in love and a triangle is hinted at between Carl, Lydia and Sophia. Maggie is furious that Negan is on the loose, a spunky new character Juanita is added to the mix, and Eugene and others set out to find the people he has speaking to on a ham radio. We discover who Beta is and it’s incredibly anti-climatic.

Volume 30- New World Order: Eugene and Michonne’s group finally arrives in Ohio to meet the woman Stephanie that Eugene has been communicating by ham radio with. Instead, they are met by a large group of soldiers, decked out in Stormtrooper type of gear, and taken to meet Lance who wishes to interrogate the group. Turns out they are on the outskirts of The Commonwealth, a group of survivors 50K strong. We then meet Pamela, the governor, and find out this large group has based their new society on a class system built upon what you did before the outbreak. While the city seems to be thriving, there is an underlying issue of the haves vs the have nots. Michonne is shocked to meet someone from her past and decides to stay in the Commonwealth, while Eugene escorts Pam to Alexandria to meet Rick. This is a promising arc that could turn the series in a new direction. Now years out from the outbreak, how does civilization rebuild? How do scattered settlements of survivors unite when each group has had different types of leaders and coping strategies? I enjoyed this book, that had no Negan and way less zombie attacks than usual, plus the art was crisper with some great layouts.

Volume 31- The Rotton Core: In the last volume, we are introduced to the Commonwealth, a large settlement in Ohio that has rigid class structures but has managed to thrive. I thought it established a promising arc that could turn the series in a new direction, for now, years out from the outbreak, how does civilization rebuild? Last issue and this issue had less zombie attacks, for I would think that now that people know how to prevent more zombies from reanimating, there would be less and less zombies to dispatch as the years went by. That gives people more time to refashion their world, and there would be many different ways in which this could happen. With this being TWD, we are force-fed that Rick’s way is best (it actually usually is) and other settlements should adapt to the way Alexandria is governed. So we get a heartbreaking showdown between Rick and another certain someone who wants change fast and isn’t willing to take no for an answer. We also get a lot of character development between others with new romances developing, but the shifting scenes between different settlements and characters were abrupt with no visual cues that the scene had changed- you were just supposed to know who lived in what settlement to know where you were now. BTW- Carl is an asshole and he and Sophia had better not eventually get together.

Volume 32- Rest In Peace: Surprise! Kirkman unexpectedly brought TWD to a close in this volume after fifteen years of zombie madness! *Spoilers ahead*

I had enjoyed the story arc in the last few volumes of Rick and compony meeting survivors of the Commonwealth in Ohio that was 50K strong, led by a governor, Pamela. This large group has based their new society on a class system built upon what you did before the outbreak. While the city seems to be thriving, there is an underlying issue of the haves vs the have nots, and tensions arise as this new group sees how Alexandria residents are governed. As we moved away from the zombie outbreak there were fewer attacks, thus civilization could rebuild, and this was opening up new storylines but Kirkman was actually drawing the story to a close.

The pressure brewing between the two factions comes to a head, with important members of the Commonwealth planning a coup when a large zombie herd puts everyone in danger. Maggie, Carl and others join Rick in fighting them back, and in the aftermath, Pamela publicity loses the support of her people. As the Commonwealth stands on the brink of democracy instead of a monarchy, Pamela’s son Sebastian is furious at his loss of power and comes after Rick. The fallout of his actions are huge, and the storyline seems poised to go in a new direction. But it was all a fake-out as Kirkman followed up with a concluding issue with a significant time jump.

Twenty plus years have passed since Rick’s death at the hands of Sebastian, and the story shows us a grown-up Carl married to Sophia with a daughter of their own. The zombies are almost completely eradicated with a younger generation having no experience of having to fight for their very survival as older generations had to. Carl travels around the territory and we get to peek in at the lives of many of our favorite characters and see how Rick’s vision led to a better and safer world for them all. In fact, Rick is viewed as a savior with shrines to his memory.

When this sort of epic story concludes, there is no way to make all fans happy and as such, there were a few quibbles I had with some character’s final developments in the future. Negan, Juanita, Michonne, Jesus, Aaron, Eugene plus others are given adequate concluding cameos; but Maggie as President was turned into a leader who could not mother her son adequately because of her commitments, which was an ignoble end for her and Hershel. But my major issue was that Carl ended up with Sophia. He was allowed to sex it up with Lydia, while virginal Sophia had to wait for him until he sowed his wild oats. Lydia in the future was shown poorly as a morally questionable woman as she had dared to be sexually active as a teen with Carl. What a double standard for females and I really resented those angles.

Yet, overall, I was pleased with this concluding volume. Fifteen years is an amazing run, and Kirkman brought it to an end on his own terms and on a timetable that allowed him to go out while on top. I also would be remiss in not mentioning the talented artists- Adlard, Gaudiano and Rathburn- who gave us amazing artwork that brought the story to life. Kirkman’s concluding message to readers was a treat and explained it from his perspective. I will miss TWD, as it was a groundbreaking story that changed comics forever, but I am glad that it ended on such a strong note. In conclusion, remember these wise words- “In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living”. So…put down your phone and LIVE!

-Nancy

Aside- Compendium Four won’t actually be released until early October, but I’ve always organized my reviews under these covers, but I actually read this series as volumes.

Last time I wrote a TWD review on this blog was in 2016- I had wondered if Kathleen and I would still be blogging next time a compendium came out- but we are!!  🙂

Catch up on previous volumes at: Compendium One, Compendium Two, Compendium Three 

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Grayson (Vol. 1): Agents of Spyral

Dick Grayson is a hero to many. During the Forever Evil storyline, Nightwing was unmasked, his secret identity revealed, and (seemingly) killed on camera to millions of viewers. To many, that hero is now a dead man… but they don’t know Dick. The former Boy Wonder is alive, well, and now goes by Agent 37 at the spy agency called Spyral. Partnered with Helena Bertinelli, the agent known as Matron, they hunt down pieces of the slain god Paragon, whose organs have the potential to become weapons of mass destruction. However, Spyral’s lead man, Mister Minos, has another motive: he wants to use these pieces to discover the secret identity of every superhero on Earth. Of course, Batman is on to Mister Minos’ duplicity – and Dick is his man on the inside. Though Dick is, for all intents and purposes, dead to the rest of the world, he has more to lose now than ever: his sense of self.

There have been a few times in Rebirth where Dick and Helena’s spy days have been referenced, and I was curious for more context. This is a solid start to the series. We’ve seen Dick constantly struggle to get out of Batman’s shadow (it’s partially why he became Nightwing), so it will be very interesting to see if and how he manages to do it here, especially if he’s still working with the Dark Knight.

Speaking of Batman, it is a little annoying how he seems to know everything… including that a super-secret spy agency is up to no good. I’m curious to see how he knew this, and I’m sure it will be revealed as the story goes on. Also yet to be revealed are Helena’s motives for joining Spyral. And how a girl’s boarding school became their front! There’s a lot of fun to be had here, but intrigue also.

The art is nothing to write home about. It’s certainly servicable: anatomy is accurate, expressions and lighting are natural, and backgrounds are understandably toned down to focus on the characters and action. But it suffers in that it’s in your run-of-the-mill, everyday comic book style. While there’s nothing unique offered here in the art style, it’s a solid foundation from which to build a graphic novel in which the story has more focus than the art. I, for one, am looking forward to more of the story!

– Kathleen

Seeley, Tim, Tom King, Mikel Janín, Stephen Mooney, and Jeromy Cox. Grayson (Vol. 1): Agents of Spyral. 2015.

Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth

Usually, Wonder Woman is Kathleen’s domain, but when I saw this oversized graphic novel that was illustrated by one of my favorite artists, Alex Ross, I just had to read and share!

Published soon after the tragedy of 9/11 in NYC, this story is shaped by the shock of the American people that terrorism could happen on our own shores. As such, it is a hopeful narrative that shows compassion to all nations of the world. Paul Dini begins this story with Diana’s birth at Paradise Island, and her later wish to join ‘Man’s World’ as an ambassador to help mankind. Her amazing powers are appreciated by many and she helps fight evil in large and small ways. However, others do not respect her goodwill and often her intentions are misinterpreted and rejected. She asks for advice from Superman, who wisely tells her to work alongside people instead of above them. She takes his words to heart and no longer always wears her Amazonian outfit, so she can blend in with other cultures and help from within. Finally, her spirit of truth shines through for all to see.

Ross’s painted watercolors are beautiful as always and done in his trademark photo-realism style. Diana often is shown to resemble Lynda Carter, the iconic actress who played Wonder Woman on television in the 1970’s. The layout is not typical graphic novel panels, but often are two-page spreads or montages with a few thin black lines to differentiate the pictures and to direct the flow of the action sequences.  The people in the crowds are so realistic, you know that Ross is painting them from models as he did later in the superb Kingdome Come, which also featured Diana in the DC classic.

This book only reinforced that Wonder Woman is a hero for the ages, but also ably connected her to our modern-day world. This lovely stand-alone graphic novel was a treat and I highly recommend it for both the message and the art!

-Nancy

Aladdin: Four Tales of Agrabah

This is a graphic novel anthology, with four stories that take place before and during the live-action Aladdin movie.

  • Love & Friendship: Aladdin shows a young street rat, like himself, around Agrabah, looking for the good parts.
  • Words & Deeds: After an escape attempt is thwarted, Dahlia tries to get Princess Jasmine to see that the world can be learned about through books.
  • Lost & Found: Abu, Carpet, and Rajah try to retrieve Aladdin’s lucky charm from a pack of street dogs.
  • Duty & Dreams: One thousand years before the events of Aladdin, Genie helps a young girl named Zayna realize maybe her current life isn’t so bad after all.

The intended target is elementary to middle-schoolers, so I was able to breeze through it. The panels and speech bubbles are spread out, not too wordy, and easy to follow. All four stories were short too, no more than a few pages, and each contain a lesson on finding the good in the bad, helping friends, and more. There was a fine balance in the art of detailed and yet simple, to stay easy on young eyes.

As an adult, I found the art too simple at times: for some panels where we are pulled out a little bit, all elements seemed rendered in amorphous blobs. While the renditions of the characters were for the most part true to their live-action counterpart, some of their expressions were too cartoony, and they crossed over into uncanny valley for me. The chapter with Abu, Carpet, and Rajah as the main characters did not go over well for me… some of the goofy things they get up to just does not translate well to live action, or even a rendition of a live-action film =P

Young readers will adore this graphic novel. They’ll find it entertaining, and it would be a good segway into more graphic novels. More important, they will be able to read it easily. A definite add for libraries and/or young Disney lovers!

– Kathleen

Bechko, Corinna. Disney’s Aladdin: Four Tales of Agrabah. 2019.

My School Library Journal reviews

I have been reviewing YA books (plus one graphic novel!) for the magazine School Library Journal for a year now, but haven’t really advertised that I was doing so, as this blog mostly revolves around graphic novels, but I thought why not share these great books since I’m (half) boss of this blog! Reviewing has been interesting, as I am limited to 250-300 words for each review, and can only share once it has been published with their edits. All the books have been worthwhile, so afterward I’ve purchased them for my library collections once they are available for purchase.

Better You Than Me by Jessica Brody

Two 12-year old girls, Disney-esque star Ruby Rivera and her biggest fan Skyler Welshman, meet on the set of Ruby’s hit television show and improbably switch bodies by accident. At first, thrilled with the situation, each tween believes the other has the better life in this Freaky Friday-like storyline. Due to various scheduling constraints, the girls plan to meet in several days to switch back. Meanwhile, each girl’s assumptions about one another are put to the test as they struggle to cope with scenarios they never expected and to make the best of their new lives. Brodt takes a common trope and freshens it up with realistic details. Whats starts out as a formulaic plot device evolves into a strong story about appreciating friends and family and making good choices. The alternating chapters with each girl’s perspectives gave each chapter a distinctive voice.

* Review published in the September 2018 issue of School Library Journal on page 102.

Second Star by JM Sullivan

Peter Pan is reconceptualized in this futuristic space fantasy with rogue Captain Hooke crash landing on the mysterious planet Neverland as his crew was mutinying. Ace mechanic Peter and his motley group of deserters take refuge away from the main ship and settle into life away from the devious captain. One hundred years in the future, the Londonierre Brigade receives a transmission from Hooke, and newly appointed Captain Wendy Darling leads her own crew across space to rescue the survivors of the Jolly Rodger. Once they arrive, loyalties are tested and the two crews fight an evil that could consume the universe.

Alternating chapters between Peter and Wendy’s point-of-view establish the character’s backstories, however, the world-building is slow before the story begins to gain momentum in the last half of the book.  Author JM Sullivan works mightily to stay within the classic story’s framework, but sometimes to the detriment of the story. A cliff-hanger sets up the narrative for a sequel, which might allow the series to evolve as it won’t need to hew so closely to the original fairytale.

*The review can be found online here.

All The Walls of Belfast by Sarah Carlson

American teen Fiona travels to Belfast, Northern Ireland, to reunite with her father whom she has not seen since she was a toddler. Having no memories of her older half brothers or her birthplace, Fiona tentatively begins to get to know her family and explores her culture and community. She discovers her Catholic father was formally a key member of the IRA and his bombs killed many people during The Troubles, a time when ethnonationalism led to violence between Catholics and Protestants. Fiona meets Danny, a Protestant who is studying for his school finals and wishes to join the British Army as a nurse against his gangster father’s wishes. The two begin to see one another, but their parents’ pasts threaten their relationship.

Alternating chapters between Fiona and Danny establish their family dynamics, and then allows the reader to root for them as their believable romance blossoms. Author Carlson creates an atmospheric narrative, explaining just enough of the current political and cultural landscape to understand how the walls running through Belfast still affect both communities on either side of it.  The story doesn’t shy away from showing gritty reality and dysfunctional families that are partly due to the conflicts that ended only fairly recently. This contemporary drama has an appealing romance and the nuanced story may push teens to think critically about religious and cultural differences, and ultimately about forgiveness.

*Not chosen for publication

Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir and Sarah Andersen

Dorothy from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Alice of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Peter Pan’s Wendy are now teens and very misunderstood- no one else believed their wild stories, and they were diagnosed as delusional. However, the teachers at the boarding school Cheshire Crossing believe them and know that each one possesses amazing powers. When the girls’ fantasy worlds collide and Captain Hook and the Wicked Witch of the West band together, the three teens must harness their talents to save humanity. Weir, author of the sci-fi book The Martian, and Andersen known for her funny webcomic Sarah’s Scribbles, may seem an unlikely pair, but they pull it off admirably if not perfectly. The world-hopping is at times confusing and the character of Nanny is unnecessary. Several swear words and references to sex make the tale more appropriate for a YA audience, although the charming illustrations might attract younger readers. The art is appealing, with eye-catching details. A lovely red poppy motif appears throughout the narrative and Anderson uses bold colors to depict the fantasy realms. The epilogue hints that the girls’ adventures are not done, with another familiar villain ready to take center stage.

*Review published in the June 2019 issue of School Library Journal on page 86.

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

Violet is an out-of-control NYC teen who is shipped off to her mother’s hometown in coastal Maine after her younger brother attempts suicide and her parents try to get a handle on both of their children’s problems. While living with her uncle, Violet is forced to volunteer at the aquarium in town. While there, she makes friends with some of the local teens and begins to research her family’s origins, with help from her new friends Orion and Liv. Supposedly her great-great-grandmother survived a shipwreck and was a founder of the community. Violet’s search for answers about her mysterious ancestor mirrors some of the journey she and her brother Sam are on.

Debut author Drake has created an authentic and romantic tale, loosely based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, that shows that life can be embraced again even after enduring a tragedy. Teen sexuality is respectfully addressed with a frankness that is welcomed. The realities of questioning yourself and the deep emotions that go with falling in love are ably displayed with the burgeoning relationship between Violet and Liv. Sibling bonds and the importance of family also balance out this narrative about battling grief and building bridges to a better tomorrow.

* The on-line review can be found here.

Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart

Ava has endured soul-crushing tragedy- her parents and cousin perished in a house fire, leaving Ava the sole survivor but with terrible burns all over her body. One year late she is released from the hospital after enduring skin grafts and surgeries. Moving in with her aunt and uncle who are grieving the loss of their daughter, Ava is encouraged to go back to high school, but she resists knowing her considerable scars will make it hard to make friends. In a support group, she meets Piper, another burn survivor from her new school, and the two girls bond together while trying to navigate their new realities. Ava is encouraged to get involved with the school play, as she had loved singing and the drama department at her old school. But Ava has to endure the cruelties of some, while also discovering new allies and a resolve she never knew she had.

The research that debut author Stewart did to write such an insightful book about burn recovery is evident. She also capably showed how Ava and her aunt and uncle come together to form a new family unit despite crushing grief. Stewart also captures the highs and lows of teen friendship. An interesting facet of the friendship between Ava and Piper was the often unhealthy dynamic between the two and could push teens to explore where they would draw the line regarding boundaries between friends. Ava’s journey toward healing, both physically and mentally, is thought-provoking. Not all scars are evident to the eye, and this narrative will push readers to think deeply about empathy, hope, and resilience in the face of heartbreak.

*The online review can be found here.

I have another book review that I just submitted, so perhaps down the line, I’ll share again once I have several to post.

-Nancy

Pumpkinheads

I have been waiting on this graphic novel by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks for years and it is finally here!  An article was written about this duo collaborating back in January of 2014 and as I was then a fan of Rowell because of Eleanor & Park, I checked out Hicks’s work and loved her books too. But the wait was so long…

Pumpkinheads does not disappoint and is so adorbs! I eagerly scooped up a copy that I had ordered for my library’s graphic novel collection before it hit the shelves (working at a library has its perks). The story takes place on Halloween night at a popular pumpkin patch farm, and if you aren’t from the Midwest you might not know how big of a deal that pumpkin patches, corn mazes and apple orchards are in the fall. Attending is an EVENT. Friends Josiah and Deja, who have worked at the patch for years, are facing their last night as employees as they are seniors and will be at college next fall. Josie is morose about leaving the patch, while Deja wants to grab the opportunity to live it up, and that includes pushing Josie to talk to another employee he has a crush on.

What follows is an adventure around the patch that pushes them both out of their comfort zone and on a journey of discovery about themselves. What I love about Rowell is that she captures teenage life perfectly. Senior year is a difficult time for many, as you are almost at the end of your school career and thinking of the different path you will soon be taking, yet you need to live in the here and now. It’s easy to get caught up in your head about choices you should make in the future and lose sight that one can still enjoy the moment they are in and that they can build a bridge between the two. The characters are believable, with spot-on conversations and interesting backstories.  Deja’s personality is especially nuanced, and I liked how she was portrayed. Her race, sexuality and size do not define her, they are just a natural part of who she is. And while Josie was more a rule-follower, he ended up having a believable arc of self-discovery and learned how to not be so passive.

The art by Hicks is so fresh and inviting, and is truly reminiscent of local patches that are similar in a way to amusement parks. Hicks captures emotional moments perfectly and the pacing builds to a very satisfying end between Josie and Deja. Her backgrounds included fun details and the recurring runaway goat carried through with a certain someone getting a well-deserved comeuppance on the last page. Colorist Sarah Stern uses a warm palette with a lot of oranges (of course!), golden yellows and mellow purples. The colors are evocative of autumn and bring the story further to life. A map of the imagined patch is on the inside covers, which further world-builds and an enjoyable interview between the two creators concludes this fun book.

This graphic novel was everything I hoped it would be and I will be singing its praises to the teens at my library. I believe this book will become a classic to be revisited every fall.

-Nancy

Rowell, Rainbow & Faith Erin Hicks. Pumpkinheads. 2019.

Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 5): Art of the Crime

One of Gotham’s old villains, Grotesque, is back, but he’s upped his game. Where once he was a petty art thief, he’s now turned to murdering those he steals from, and poses the bodies in an “artistic” manner. Batgirl tries to stop him, but an attack from an electrical escrima stick throws off the implant in her back that enabled her to walk again. What’s more, her memory appears to be failing as well as her legs. She has trouble remembering who Grotesque is, what he’s up to, and how she even planned to stop him. With dogged determination, Barbara plows on to foil his deadly plans – but potentially at the cost of her mind, and her legs – for good.

The writing in this volume really highlighted why I think the Batfamily is so popular. Though none of them have special powers, they are determined and willing to put their lives on the line to do the right thing, and above all protect the innocents of Gotham City. Barbara’s iron will, especially after regaining the use of her legs, and keeping on fighting the good fight though she could lose the ability to walk again, really shone through here. There were a few moments between her and her father, Commissioner Gordon, that suggest it’s a hereditary trait, and were very touching.

This volume did, however, feature a change in Barbara’s costume… I hate it. I absolutely hate it. The Burnside costume was so cute, and modern, and refreshing. Best of all, it was practical: covered everything that needed covering, offered protection against slides across pavement and rooftops, and was undoubtedly warmer in the winter.

While the new costume does harken back to older ones, especially in the colors, I cannot get over the “mask.” You can’t even call it that! It hides nothing! All I heard in my head from the costume change on was Blake Lively’s line in the abominable Green Lantern movie, where she exclaims, “You don’t think I would recognize you because I can’t see your cheekbones?” (IMDB)

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Joshua Middleton’s variant covers are stunning, but unfortunately the best part of Batgirl’s new costume.

Keep up the great writing, but bring back the Burnside costume!!!

– Kathleen

Scott, Mairghread, and Paul Pelletier. Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 5): Art of the Crime. 2019.

Heathen

Heathen was this month’s selection from the Goodreads group  I Read Comic Books as this month’s topic was own voices. At first, I wondered if the author, Natasha Alterici, was a half-naked woman Viking, but no, she is lesbian and we are given a fresh take on Viking mythology with a welcome LGBTQ+ storyline.

Aydis is a young Viking woman warrior who has recently been outcast by her tribe for she was caught kissing another woman and did not renounce her feelings like the other young woman did to save face. Her father was told to give her two choices- death or marriage, and her father knows she has the skills to survive on her own, so he lies and tells the villagers she is dead. Aydis wishes to take her destiny into her own hands, so she seeks Brynhild, a former Valkyrie banished by Godking Odin for disobeying him, and forced to marry any mortal who can free her from a magical mountain. Already the parallels are clear-  women are being punished by the patriarchy for going against their wishes of what they feel is proper.

A short interlude introduces us to Skull (aka as Sköll) and Hati who are two wolves from Norse mythology that are forever trying to eat the Sun and Moon. At first, their inclusion in the story seemed odd, but as the story progressed there was also Aydis’s talking horse Saga and the trickster God Ruadan who appeared as a bull. All of this contributed to the world-building of this fantasy-based Viking tale, in addition to Aydis’s journey to Odin’s decadent castle with the Goddess Freyja.

The art, also by Alterici,  really grew on me. Inked in black and white with a few sepia and blush overwashes and black gutters, it captured the iciness of the Northlands. The ladies were often very scantily clad lithe beauties, and I being a practical lass, wondered wouldn’t they be cold or more battle-worn? Then it dawned on me that guys aren’t the only ones that can admire the female form! While not a lot of background is drawn into the panels, it lent itself to a more character-driven story.

A fan of Brian Wood’s Viking series Northlanders, this similarily themed graphic novel was lighter with more of a mythology angle. I found it extremely appealing, and plan to read volume two that just came out of the planned three-volume series.

-Nancy

Alterici, Natasha & Rachel Deering. Heathen. 2017.

Just Jaime

The last day of seventh grade is finally here! For most of Jaime and Maya’s classmates, that means a half day of classes and cleaning out lockers, then field day, then the first official pool day of the summer. For Jaime and Maya themselves… they are absolutely dreading the day. They’ve been best friends since elementary school, but Jaime doesn’t feel like they’re friends anymore. She has a nasty feeling Maya, along with Celia and Grace, the rest of their friend group, don’t want to be friends with her anymore, and wants to try and fix it. Maya, however, encouraged by Celia, wants to find a way to break off their long-term friendship. If the popular, mature Celia says it’s the right thing to do, then it must be… right? Then why does she feel so guilty for what she’s about to do?

This middle-grade graphic novel takes a singular, and yet universal, aspect of navigating friendships, drama, and reputations, and examines it in great detail over the course of one day. We alternate between chapters from Jaime and Maya’s point of view, which was a smart design choice in that readers get to see some background information and events from both girls’ perspectives. What interested me about the layout was not so much alternating chapters themselves, but the format was different for Jaime and Maya.

Jaime’s chapters were mostly prose, with small illustrations between paragraphs. Even though her chapters are much more text-heavy, there is sufficient white space between the text and the illustrations so that it doesn’t feel like you’re reading a whole lot. This makes sense for Jaime, who spends much of the book inside herself, trying to figure out what went wrong. Her introspection-heavy side of the story might not have translated as effectively in either just prose or just graphic novel.

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Pages 6 and 7 of Just Jaime, from a chapter from Jaime’s point of view.

Maya’s chapters were in more traditional graphic novel format. Her chapters deal with more people than herself, as she interacts with Celia and Grace for most of the story. We see firsthand, rather than are told about, the friend group’s dysfunction. To show rather than tell Maya’s side of the story was an excellent choice. It allows the reader to discover that the friend group aren’t truly friends on their own.

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Pages 12 and 13 of Just Jaime, from a chapter from Maya’s point of view.

I’m not the intended target audience for this book, so me as an adult reader kept rolling her eyes at who I knew to be the perpetrator, and the extreme melodrama of youth and friend groups that I definitely don’t miss. However, middle-grade readers will adore it. It will get them thinking more critically about their own friends and friend groups. Perhaps they, like Jaime and Maya, will discover that friends can be found in unexpected places, and that old friendships can withstand anything.

– Kathleen

Libenson, Terri. Just Jaime. 2019.

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