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Graphic Novelty²

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June 2017

The Infinity Gauntlet

Thanos is a big whiny crybaby!

Despite Thanos achieving omnipotence by collecting the six Infinity gems of time, space, mind, soul, reality, and power he is distraught that Lady Death does not love him back. Desperate to impress her, and egged on by Mephisto, Thanos kills half of humanity including many of the Avenger and X-Men heroes.

A seemingly random group of heroes remain: Captain America, Doctor Strange, Silver Surfer, Hulk, Wolverine, Scarlet Witch, Iron Man, Spider Man and a few others. They band under the direction of Adam Warlock, who is mysteriously alive again, to defeat Thanos. There were some confusing interactions with some cosmic deities,  and eventually his own self doubt leads to his undoing. But what of the huge swath of death that Thanos cut across the universe? You will just have to read this classic series to find out how!

I admired Jim Starlin’s story, as it didn’t become too convoluted and he gave Thanos a real pathos. The art work by George Pérez and Ron Lim is outstanding, of course.  I like how people are drawn realistically and proportionally, none of this bulked out men and sex kitten females that some artists feel they need to draw. I laughed out loud when in the background of a panel depicting a giant wave, a Trump tower was seen collapsing. Written in 1991, who knew what that picture would symbolize years later.

Depending on when you come into a fandom, there will be certain characters that you know better than others. As I was an X-Men & ElfQuest fan originally, and did not read many Avenger titles, Thanos is a new character to me. And although this book is due for some attention because of the upcoming Avengers Infinity War movie, I actually picked this up because I am on a Pérez kick (thanks to Kathleen!). Two other characters that I have recently come to know better in this book and last week’s JLA/Avengers are Galatcus and Nebula. While I vaguely remembered Nebula from Guardians of the Galaxy (I have not seen part 2 yet), I find it funny that my first connection to Galatcus came from The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl!

I enjoyed reading throw back stories these two weeks, for they give me a better understanding of past adventures and spotlighted characters I didn’t know that well. This was an epic story, one that newer Marvel stories pale next to.

-Nancy

Starlin, Jim, George Perez & Ron Lim. The Infinity Gauntlet. 1991.

Mid-Year Freak Out Tag

I saw this recently and thought this would be a perfect mid-year review. I had fun going through my Goodreads data, and bonus, it highlights the other genres I read. My Goodreads challenge is 100 books, and I am currently at 59, so I am ahead of the game!

Best book you read in 2017 so far

Superman: American Alien was fresh and fun and exactly what I needed. It had seven short stories about what shaped Clark Kent into Superman, and was arranged chronologically from his childhood until his days in Metropolis. The stories fit right into Superman canon, and the different artists paired with author Max Landis made for a superb must read.

Best sequel you’ve read so far 

The conclusion to Revival had a poignant ending to the complete series, and felt true to the beginning. That I had a cameo in the last issue was an added bonus! Yes, I will find any excuse in the world to bring up again that I won a contest to be drawn into the series!

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

This is a tiny bit of a cheat, as the third volume of ElfQuest: The Final Quest is released on July 11th, but I will purchase it soon afterwards. (BTW- The pec definition on the male elves is going a bit overboard)

Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

I am eagerly looking forward to Rainbow Rowell penning Runaways for Marvel! I thought the original had a great story line, so I think RR and Kris Anka working together will be gold.

Biggest disappointment

Civil War II– I feel like I have mentioned my disappointment in this book over and over again. I’m not even going to link the review- take my word for it.

Biggest surprise

Briggs Land by was recommended to me by Graham Crackers, my comic book store, and I was leery about reading about a rural armed white supremacy group- but it was very nuanced and timely to today’s political climate.

Favourite new author (Debut or new to you)

Jeff Zentner of The Serpent King. This book ripped my heart out, yet I adored it. I will definitely be reading what ever he writes next!

Newest fictional crush

I read a lot of graphic novels and YA books- and neither give me good options for a character that is crush worthy.

Newest favourite character

Botille from The Passion of Dolssa. Historical fiction at it’s finest! Set in 1241 in the countryside of Provensa France, after the bloody Crusades when religious fervor was still strong, the story details the unlikely friendship between Dolssa and Botille. Botille is a practical and loving peasant girl, whose act of kindness affects the whole town. I would want to be friends with her in real life.

Book that made you happy

The photography book Abandoned America:Dismantling the Dream  made me happy. Why does looking at pictures of decaying and rotting building make me happy? I don’t know what that says about me, but I have followed this photographer and his website for years, and I like that he is achieving success for his passion. I enjoy learning about history and ponder modern society’s relationship with our past, and this book brings those thoughts to life.

Book that made you sad

Our Souls At Night by Kent Huruf was a beautifully melancholy novel, both in subject matter and in knowing this was Kent Haruf’s last novel. I have loved his Holt, Colorado set books, and will miss visiting the fictional town and feeling as if his townspeople are indeed real.

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

Iluminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is a lovely book that is atypical in layout. It chronicles the scifi adventures of a group of people escaping from their planet that is under attack. Told through emails, schematics, military files, instant messages, medical reports and interviews- the graphics make for a fun read.

So there you have it- my mid year review! I could tag people, but as I wasn’t tagged myself and choose to do this, you can too!

-Nancy

Fables: The Deluxe Edition (Book 6)

Bigby’s left Fabletown, and he doesn’t want to be found. Mowgli has been sent by Mayor Charming to track him down. It proves difficult, but Mowgli has an edge on anyone else who might be looking: he can communicate with wolves. When the jungle boy finally catches up, will he impress upon Bigby how badly he’s needed back in Fabletown, or will the big bad wolf bite his head off? Bigby is torn. There is an important mission waiting for him upon his return to Fabletown, but there is also the dilemma of Snow White and their children… will she want to see him again?

Though Fabletown was interesting enough the last few volumes without him, I did miss having Bigby around and I’m glad he’s back. Don’t want to give too much away, but if you ship Bigby and Snow as much as I do, this volume will make you very happy ;D There is also a short story at the end about Cinderella, which was really fun. She does espionage for Fabletown and it was fun to see her work! The art is beautiful as always, and the covers are phenomenal. It’s been a while since my review of the last book, but as much as I love this series I’m really making an effort to go slow. I don’t wanna rush!!!

– Kathleen

Willingham, Bill, Steve Leialoha, Jim Fern, and Shawn McManus. Fables: The Deluxe Edition (Book 6). 2012.

JLA/ Avengers

When Universes Collide!

The DC  and Marvel Heroes go head to head when their two realities combine, putting both their universes in danger.  Kurt Busiek writes and George Pérez illustrates this fun crossover tale in which all your favorites have to work together to save the cosmos!

Evil super scientist Krona (from the DC universe) is desperate to understand how it all began- what came before the Big Bang? In his millennia of searching, he has destroyed planets and civilizations without a second thought, but comes up against his equal when he meets the Grandmaster (from the Marvel universe). The two of them devise a plan to pit the two teams of superheroes against one another, in a game within a game.

The two teams are initially unaware of one another, and are confused when they are tasked to retrieve twelve magical items, found in both universes. Once they move into each other’s universes, they meet, and the competition is on. Initially rivals, their retrieval of the icons is kept track of by Krona and Grandmaster in a competition of which team can find them first. Not surprisingly, the teams eventually forge an allegiance, but not before Galactus gets in on the action and several betrayals and twists and turns occur. This is a hard story to describe, you have to experience it yourself to truly appreciate it.

Look at Scarlet Witch’s hair! She is a permed 80’s goddess!

As a practical person who often struggles with a “suspension of disbelief”, I loved how Busiek explained the two different worlds and their contradictions to one another. The DC heroes are revered on their world, while the Avengers (and definitely the mutants) are met with hostility on theirs. Because of this differing opinion of the masses, they each accuse the other team of being out of touch with what their citizens need. How their powers work on each world is also explained in a plausible way. Plus, the way they touched on the possible future that they had a chance to witness, was handled better in a few pages than Civil War II did in a whole book.

Although released in 2004, this story has a Golden Age/retro feel to it, as Pérez expertly recreates the heroes. He absolutely captures their essence, and without giving away too many spoilers, he also has a chance to show the heroes in different costume eras. That was a hoot, as some of the heroes have had extreme makeovers over the years, or have had different people representing them.  The layout of the narrative had an easy flow, with impressive title pages and two page spreads. In fact, I am on a George Pérez kick right now, because of Kathleen’s recommendations. I bought some of his Wonder Woman books for my library, and have The Infinity Gauntlet on my TBR list.

This was a fun book to read, and I was extremely impressed with the Busiek/Pérez team up and how they wonderfully melded together two rich histories into one outstanding story.

Asides:

I HATE PLASTIC MAN! Not just dislike- I hate him! As a child he creeped me out, and I found his slap stick humor distasteful. Every time I saw him in a panel in this story (which was a lot) I cringed.

Why is Hawkeye such a ladies man? I found him ugly with his purple costume and ridiculous boots.

I enjoyed the rivalry between similarly powered heroes: Hawkeye/Green Arrow, Flash/Quicksilver, Superman/Thor, Batman/Captain America.

Aquaman is a buff, bearded blonde here, as he is in most recent incarnations, so I am anxious to see how the dark haired DC movie actor Jason Momoa handles the role. JM is mighty fine, so I am looking forward to seeing his interpretation of the role.

Avengers Assemble! has a much better ring to it than Justice League Lambaste!  Man, that was funny when Superman tried to come up with his own catch phrase.

-Nancy

Top 5 Wednesday: Favorite “Unlikeable” Protagonists

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme from Goodreads, created by Lainey from Gingerreadslainey and now moderated by Sam from ThoughtsOnTomes. This week the prompt is about “unlikeable” protagonists. So I’m going to share the ones I pulled for!

Negan from The Walking Dead

I love this villain! He is complex, and shows brief moments of compassion and insight, but then rips your heart out with his brutality. I hated the Governor and his over the top inhumanity, while Negan is more believable. I am snatching up the book about his past when it comes out in October.

Amy Dunne from Gone Girl

Amy is twisted. She and Nick are so outrageously dysfunctional, and what she did and all the planning that must have gone into it were awesome. The twists at the end were unexpected, and while I had a bit of sympathy for Nick, he kind of deserves it. I’ve thought about what their future holds, and the child they will raise.

Gertrude from I Hate Fairyland

Gert is a foul-mouthed violent sociopath that you will think of fondly. Skottie Young’s distinctive style will make you laugh and root for a girl who will shank you if you look at her sideways.

Jack from the Fables series

Jack the Giant Killer, Little Jack Horner, Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack Be Nimble, Jack Frost, and Jack O’Lantern…these are all names that Jack of Fables is known by. Here’s another name- a$$hole, but yet you’ll be rooting for him to escape Fabletown.

Prince Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender

I loved watching Avatar with my kids when it was on Nickelodeon. Zuko was the classic  misunderstood anti-hero who just needed someone to love and understand him in order for him to change. I enjoyed his redemption at the end, and how he and Aang were able to end the terrible reign of the evil Fire Lord together.

Rooting for the underdog can be fun, for often these characters are more complex than the typical (and sometimes boring) hero. Who would you pick?

-Nancy

Batgirl: A Celebration of 50 Years

I told one of my coworkers to buy this… and he listened to me for once =P

This is a collection of the best Batgirl stories – some of them I had already read in the Greatest Stories Ever Told – but there were some more that were new to me. The original publications of the stories contained here range from 1961, when Betty Kane (Kat’s niece) was written as the original Batgirl, to 2014, which was the first issue of Batgirl of Burnside. You also get a few issues of Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown, which was nice!

Hey, Babs is my favorite, but for a collection like this, you can’t expect her to hog the whole thing! =P

I found myself really enjoying the older comics, with the narrative dialogue boxes and cute nicknames like “Dominoed Daredoll.” My favorites that I hadn’t read before were:

  • “He With Secrets Fears the Sound/When Velvet Paws Caress the Ground” (1982), in which you see Babs alternately ruthless and compassionate.
  • “The Last Batgirl Story” (1988), in which Babs struggles to put away a man who had previously done her serious harm. It’s eerie how the events preceding and within this story foreshadow “The Killing Joke,” written and published later that same year.
  • “On Wings” (1999), where you see how Nightwing had a hand in creating the Birds of Prey, and a sweet moment between him and Babs ❤

The art ranges for each story, of course, but honestly there wasn’t an art style I didn’t like. This collection really is the best of the best. I hope I can find some more of these older stories~

– Kathleen

Various. Batgirl: A Celebration of 50 Years. 2017.

Deadpool’s Totally Boss Trip To The 80’s

Guest Writer: Michael J. Miller of My Comic Relief

A few weeks ago Nancy did a T5W post about fandoms she no longer considered herself a part of.  On the list was Old Man Logan.  While still a lover of the original run, Nancy spoke of being upset at his character returning as part of Marvel’s 2015 Secret Wars/Battleworld event.  As I considered the topic for my guest post here on Graphic Novelty² this week I realized the answer to both my topic choice and any still-lingering Battleworld woes was the same – DEADPOOL.  You see, while the rest of the Marvel Universe was converging on Doom’s Battleworld to fight for the fate of the multiverse, author Cullen Bunn and artist Matteo Lolli brilliantly dropped ol’ Wade Wilson back in the original Secret Wars series that ran from 1984-1985.  The resulting tale was a lot of fun and a perfect picture of why Deadpool’s become the omnipresent pop culture force he is.

First, full disclosure, I love Cullen Bunn.  I think he’s one of the best Deadpool writers Marvel has.  His stories ooze pop culture references, meta/self-aware humor, inappropriateness, and he balances that with real emotional depth and a surprising (yet totally welcome!) social awareness.  He drops all of it in the wild blender of Deadpool and it results in some of the most consistently solid, entertaining, and engaging Deadpool stories around.  With a character like Deadpool who is EVERYWHERE, it’s nice to find authors whose take on the character you trust and always enjoy.  For me, that’s Cullen Bunn.  From Night Of The Living Deadpool to Return Of The Living Deadpool to Deadpool Kills The Marvel Universe to Deadpool Killustrated to Deadpool Kills Deadpool to Deadpool and the Mercs for Money, I’ve yet to be disappointed with his work…and, as you can see, I read a lot of it :).  Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars is another fantastic example of why I love Bunn’s vision of Deadpool so much!

The opening title card page, the now-common insert in all comics that’s meant to describe the Secret Wars event, is scribbled over in read with “Wrong Secret Wars!!!” written on the side.  It then says, “Back in 1984, all the big heroes were taken to space for a SECRET WAR – and here’s what REALLY happened!”  Following a running gag started in Gerry Duggan and Brian Posen’s run on Deadpool (at least I think it started there…I can’t remember reading it before them), Cullen Bunn has taken us back to see some of what Deadpool did before his first appearance in 1991’s New Mutants #98.  It turns out, Deadpool was always around!  Duggan and Posen have shown us Deadpool in the 70’s and 80’s when he hangs with Luke Cage and Iron Fist, helps Tony Stark get sober, and vacations in Wakanda.   Bunn takes this idea to a new height by revealing Wade’s roll in one of the most iconic Marvel miniseries of all time.

 As soon as Deadpool appears on the scene, the brilliance begins.  Deadpool’s banter, in Bunn’s hands, reads like a rapid-fire run of jokes and asides.  It really feels like he just won’t quit talking.  For Deadpool, that’s important.  Wade Wilson does pause, in moments of reflection or pain.  But when Wade’s ready and rolling he never shuts up.  That’s part of what makes Deadpool, Deadpool!  He’s something of a self-indulgent attention whore – but in the best possible way!  I absolutely love that about him (annnnd if I’m being honest it’s something I see of myself in him too (I can also be one for casual swearing, inappropriate sexual humor, pop culture references, and while I can’t use it I do have a katana hanging on my wall (hmm, this may not speak well of my state of mind…))). Of all the writers I’ve read, Bunn’s Deadpool just feels the most…uh, well Deadpooly to me.

 As the story begins, in a hilarious twist, none of the heroes know who Deadpool is.  This gives us Deadpool at his best, just to the outside of what’s going on.  In this position he’s the perfect character to lampoon anything (such as another Secret Wars…) while simultaneously being the character who speaks in a very real way to what it feels like to be an outsider looking in.  Right out of the gate Deadpool begins trying to establish his good guy credentials.  This is another hallmark of his character, underneath his innuendo and inappropriateness he is someone who desperately wants to belong and to be like his heroes.  Yes, Deadpool has an unstoppable healing factor that makes him essentially immortal.  Yes, he’s great with his katanas and his guns.  And sure, he’s gone toe-to-toe with everyone from Taskmaster to Thanos.  But Deadpool still looks up to all the Marvel heroes.  He wants to be like them and to be liked by them.  There’s a universality there, something that allows us all to see a little bit of ourselves in Deadpool.

The whole graphic novel is filled with wonderful 80’s references too.  You have some obligatory Cold War humor.  There’s talk of the standard banter that comes with the macho male action movies of the decade.  And of course he touches on the difficulties in acquiring Cabbage Patch Kids too.  The series’ BIG meta moment comes with the nod to the Secret War toy line!  When Marvel released Secret Wars in the 80’s Mattel released a corresponding Marvel Secret Wars toy line (*cough* of course *cough*).  Well, each superhero came with a “Secret Shield” accessory that had a “lenticular disc” you could put inside the shield that flashed between images as you angled it differently.  It showed scenes from the hero’s life as well as an image of their secret identity.  Well, as Deadpool scuffles with Spidey in the comic, Spider-Man knocks Deadpool into a wall filled with all those shields.  Of course Deadpool finds his own making for a wonderful meta-toy goof.

The 80’s connections don’t stop there though.  During the battle Deadpool finds himself physically healed.  Under his costume his body no longer bears the scars he always carries.  He becomes the picture of a macho 1980’s heartthrob – mustache, sideburns, shaggy mullet hair, and rippling muscles.  (Tom Sellek eat your heart out!)  In his new “supermodel” body, Deadpool also experiments with a costume makeover.  He finds the machine ultimately responsible for giving Spider-Man the black, alien symbiote costume he wore in the 80’s (that eventually becomes Venom) and Deadpool wears the alien first…and kinda messes up the symbiote’s mind in the process :).  Whelp, that’ll be awkward for Spidey…but it’s classic Deadpool.

As the story moves to its conclusion Bunn ventures into the sort of deeply emotional territory he does so well with Wade Wilson as he explains why Deadpool isn’t part of the “official” record of the Secret Wars.  I won’t go into any details here (and, in fact, I’ve tried to be as vague as I can with the details so far) because I don’t want to ruin anything.  This is a hilarious, moving, fun, and wonderfully creative story and my outlining plot specifics totally spoils it for you.  Trust me, it’s better if you experience it for yourself.  I will add that, in addition to a moving ending, Bunn also lets the reader sit with Deadpool’s outsider status.  With deep authenticity, we feel what it’s like for Deadpool on the margins.  For a character who makes as many jokes as quickly as Deadpool always does (I literally laughed out loud multiple times when I read this volume) there is a sadness at his core.  No matter what he does, Deadpool can’t seem to find a way to be included among the other superheroes.  Part of what makes Cullen Bunn such a master at writing Deadpool is he delivers both sides of Deadpool fluidly and flawlessly.  We see Deadpool the goofball hero (as he presents himself to the world) but we also see the Deadpool who is hurting (as he often is inside).

For all his attempts at heroics, Wade Wilson is so often rejected by those he deeply admires for all manner of reasons – his violent methods, his appearance, his odor, his endless stream of banter many of the other heroes find so annoying.  Essentially, Deadpool just wants to be like the heroes he looks up to but he can never find his place among them.  We, as readers, can completely understand where he’s coming from.  On the one hand, we all look to our superheroes to inspire us.  While we read comics for fun and entertainment, I think we all have that little kid inside us that gets a rush seeing these heroes do things we all want to believe we can do too.  Superheroes speak to our potential.  On the other hand, we’ve all had experiences of wanting to belong when we feel like we don’t (or can’t) fit in.  Deadpool speaks to every time we’ve ever felt excluded, left alone and lost on the margins.  He shares our feelings of inadequacy, of wanting to belong and being rejected, of never fitting in how we wish we could.  This makes Deadpool an incredibly important character.

Yes, Wade Wilson began his career in the Marvel Universe as a villain and rode the huge tide of antihero popularity in the 90’s that moved characters like the Punisher and Venom into the spotlight too.  But over the last twenty years as his character’s developed and he’s moved from dark antihero to aspiring superhero, his popularity has exploded.  In part that’s because of how hilarious, wildly inappropriate, and meta his books can be.  But it’s also because he speaks to a universal human experience.  We all want to belong.  As human beings we are literally, evolutionarily, biologically made for community.  By nature we all seek acceptance, love, and inclusion.  Wade often struggles to find that among his superhero role models but he never lets that stop him.  Reading Deadpool comics we feel the pain of exclusion with him…but he still keeps us laughing through it all.  As we laugh with Deadpool we learn about perseverance too.  No matter how many times he’s written off, Deadpool never stops trying to be who he dreams he can be.  We all need his model, encouragement, optimism and drive to keep making ourselves better and brighter so we can make the world better and brighter too.  Deadpool, for all his wild antics and innuendo-laced humor, shows us how to do just that.  He’s hilarious and inappropriate while simultaneously being the poster child for never giving up.

Deadpool speaks to something deep within all of us, something insecure and fragile that wants to be transformed as we reach for our highest potential.  Deadpool makes us laugh out loud while also speaking to our hearts.  He reminds us of how important it is to be aware of those on the margins and, when we feel as though we’re isolated on the margins ourselves, he reminds us we’ll survive as long as we keep laughing and moving forward.  I want to thank Nancy and Kathleen for letting me take over Graphic Novelty² today!  Their site was one of the very first I found as I took my tentative baby steps into the world of blogging last year and I’ve come to admire their work second only to how much I value their friendship.  So it’s very exciting for me to get to share the spotlight with these lovely ladies!  I wanted to make this post count, to share an important message.  Who would’ve ever thought that message would be – Be like Deadpool?!?  But I think we’d all be better off if we followed Deadpool’s lead from time to time.

All images courtesy of Marvel

(We would like to thank Michael for contributing this epic post to our blog! When Nancy knew she’d be on vacation and we still wanted to keep up our usual posting schedule, we knew if we asked him to write a review he would gladly do so, and he did not disappoint! Not only that but he gave us the longest word count ever post to our blog!  If you are not already familiar with Michael’s work- please check out his blog My Comic Relief. He shares amazing reviews on comics and movies, plus he writes a heartfelt series New American Resistance about challenges our nation is facing.  If that’s not enough, he and his beloved Kalie write genre mash-ups together on both of their blogs. Prepare to laugh, think, and then laugh again when you read his blog!)

Disney’s Aladdin

Have we reviewed a musical here before?

*crickets and tumbleweeds*

I feel like I do a lot of firsts here =P

Aladdin is my very favorite Disney movie. My mom got my boyfriend and I tickets for the Broadway in Chicago show for Christmas. She hid them in a pair of winter boots she got me and one fell out when I went to try them on. I was so shocked and overwhelmed when I realized what it was that I cried. So my boyfriend and I spent this weekend in downtown Chicago to see it!

It’s not exactly like the movie, so don’t go in expecting that, though the storyline is basically the same. Aladdin, a street rat, is scraping by on the streets of Agrabah. He meets and falls in love with the Princess Jasmine, who is desperate to carve her own path and marry for love, not politics. Through the trickery of Jafar, the Royal Vizier next in line for the throne, Aladdin is coerced into entering the Cave of Wonders to secure a lamp. But not just any lamp… a lamp containing a Genie. Genie promises Aladdin three wishes, and Aladdin promises to set Genie free as his third wish. But his first? Becoming a prince to woo the princess. Being a prince is harder than it looks, but even harder is keeping up the charade. Will Aladdin live out the lie or stay true to himself?

New characters are introduced and some are humanized for the sake of theater. Iago is not a parrot here but Jafar’s assistant who “parrots” everything Jafar says. Instead of his monkey sidekick Abu, Aladdin gains three goofy yet steadfast friends: Omar, Babkak, and Kassim. A plot line scrapped from the original movie script resurfaces here: Aladdin’s mom has passed away, and he’s trying to turn over a new leaf in her memory.

Though it was utilized poorly: her death was mentioned in passing once at the beginning, so if you weren’t paying attention, you probably missed it and wondered why there were 2 reprises of “Proud of Your Boy.”

In a phrase, this musical is visually dazzling. The set design was PHENOMENAL. I was astonished they were able to fit so many scenes on one stage. There’s the streets of Agrabah, Aladdin’s house, the Royal Palace, the Cave of Wonders (complete with giant tiger head), the famous star-studded magic carpet ride, and many more. Everything glittered – including the actors, their costumes had sequins and some wore glittery makeup. The last musical I saw was Sweeney Todd, which had a towering but minimalist set. By comparison (though really, who could compare the two?), Aladdin‘s set was extravagant, saturated with color, and fluid, shifting like the desert sands.

The actors were all incredible. Aladdin was roguish but charming. Jasmine was, of course, headstrong and defiant, yearning with all her heart for more of her tiny corner of the world. The ensemble were fantastic. The Sultan was much more of a side character, but the one song he sang, dang the man had chops. Jafar and Iago never really hit the same “sinister villain” mark as in the movie, they felt more like those laughable bad guys you love to hate. Omar, Babkak, and Kassim were funny and acted as Aladdin’s conscience as much as Genie did.

And Genie. Oh man. He needs a whole paragraph dedicated to him. You know how Robin Williams’ performance stole the whole movie? The same thing happened here. He was hilarious (had the audience dying a minute in with a Cubs hat), flamboyant, HOT DAMN HE COULD SING, and he truly made magic happen onstage. The scene at the end where Aladdin frees him broke open my floodgates and made me realize the true reason I love this story.

Jasmine of course, is my favorite Disney princess. I love that she stood up for what she believed in and stood her ground until the world shifted to suit her. But that’s not really why I love it.

The friendship between Aladdin and Genie is the real magic of this story. Aladdin learns what it means to be a friend, to be true to himself and his friends, and keep his promises. Genie helped Aladdin find the love of his life, but Aladdin gave Genie what he wanted most, the most precious gift in the world, without being asked: freedom.

That Genie was played by a black man made it even more powerful, or maybe problematic depending on your point of view, but the impact of that moment cannot be denied no matter what.

The only thing I was truly disappointed by was Jafar’s downfall. I guess they ran out of room for a giant Jafar-snake in the back with all the set pieces. Or maybe the giant tiger ate it? My point is, what was the entire third act of the movie was basically squeezed into 30 seconds. That was one vanishing act that could have used a lot of work.

If you’re visiting Chicago for a weekend this summer, go ahead and get a ticket. You’re in for a visual feast, a whole lot of laughs, and the A/C in the Cadillac Palace Theater. I texted my mom a HUGE thank you immediately after the show. She texted back, “You’re welcome, Kathleen. I couldn’t have it come to Chicago and have you not see it. It was worth it. I’m sure there’s a big smile on your face and happiness!!!”

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There certainly was ❤

– Kathleen

Fish Girl

Donna Jo Napoli is one of my favorite authors, and when I read she was doing a graphic novel, I grabbed it first chance I got~

Fish Girl is the main attraction at the local aquarium. For a small fee, you can get in and try to spot her. You can even get a t-shirt with her face on it. But what most people don’t know is that she’s real. She really does live in the aquarium, and she really does have a tail! Up until now, Fish Girl has been content in the aquarium with her friend Octopus and Neptune – the human who takes care of her. But she’s met another girl, named Livia, who has seen all of her and isn’t repulsed. They become friends, and Fish Girl starts wondering… what is life like on land? Can she be a normal girl?

This is definitely a middle-grade graphic novel, but that doesn’t stop it from being magical. You root for Fish Girl as she finds her land legs, discovers the truth about herself, and most of all, learns to make friends with Livia. The panels are laid out so it’s very clear to younger readers which box to read next. The illustrations are beautiful: delicate and expressive, yet firmly grounded in reality. It feels like you could find this aquarium on any boardwalk on any coast town. It was wonderful ❤

– Kathleen

Wiesner, David, and Donna Jo Napoli. Fish Girl. 2017.

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