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Graphic Novelty²

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July 2017

Batgirl and The Birds of Prey (Rebirth, Vol. 1): Who is Oracle?

The name “Oracle” has been haunting Babs – no, literally. The criminals she takes down seem to be getting their information from Oracle, and what’s worse, it looks like they’re selling information to the mob, too. She calls Dinah to help her out. She desperately needs to find out who Oracle is, and why they’re sullying that name… the name that’s both Barbara’s past, and her future. Unfortunately, someone calling herself Huntress is after the mob, for reasons she won’t say. Batgirl and Huntress butt heads, as they both feel the other is getting in her way. But if what they both want is information… then it’s in their best interests to both go after Oracle. They work together for a time, until tensions run too high. Do the Birds have room for one more? Or will Huntress strike out on her own?

I. Love. This. Comic! This has been the first example of a Rebirth title I’ve read that’s blended the past and forged a new story perfectly. (Then again, I’m most familiar with the past of this comic!) The mystery surrounding Oracle’s identity was especially compelling because of how much it means to Barbara, and of Dinah’s determination to help her clear her name. Babs’ and Dinah’s rock solid friendship, that they then extend to Helena, is the main reason I keep coming back to this title. The art was really cool – and much better than Rebirth Batgirl, for which I was very happy!!!

Man, Rebirth as whole though is not exactly impressing me… only have liked 2/4 that I’ve read! What Rebirth titles have you liked?

– Kathleen

Benson, Julie, Claire Roe, and Shawna Benson. Batgirl and the Birds of Prey (Rebirth, Vol. 1): Who is Oracle? 2017.

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Monstress²

Normally, we do not make the habit of reviewing a book twice on this site, as Kathleen first reviewed Monstress last year, and she thought very highly of it. But…I am currently taking a Graphic Novel Selection class right now at Dominican University and it was required reading. I am so slammed for time, that if I had to read it and discuss it in class, you bet I was going to review it, as to save me time from reading another book this week.

Monstress is an epic story, that drops you into a rich tapestry that resembles a matriarchal Asia, without any explanation. You are required to hit the ground running, and pick up the complex history as you go along. There is no explanation until farther into the book, when a mystical cat gives some lessons in history to his pupils. Even then, it is but drops in a river of what is needed to understand this fantasy world. Another book that I read recently, The Wicked + The Divine, did this too, and I am not a fan of feeling muddled and confused.

Never the less, I read on ( I had to). We are introduced to Maika Halfwolf, a slave girl with a mysterious past. She is out for revenge, and deliberately left the safety of her side of the empire, to be able to exact revenge on the women who killed her mother. We meet the powerful Cumea, and are introduced to an assortment of Arcanic magical folk and humans who are all at the mercy of the cruel court who use dark magic to fuel their violent ways.

A wise cat with four tails- how awesome is that?!

Themes of what truly makes you a monster run through out the narrative. And what of the creature that awakens in Maika? Can she break free of the inhumanity and exploitation that she has endured? So,  while certain characters show kindness, they then turn around and kill the next moment. Reminiscent of Game of Thrones, do not become attached to certain people, as they might die on the next page.

While I found the storyline intriguing but frustrating, the art work is outstanding! Drawn in a steam punk/art deco style, Takeda’s work is precise and lovely. While you feel the story takes place in an alternate early 1900’s, the clothing that many wear are from many different regions and eras. Hints of what takes place in the current day vs the past are symbolized by white and black gutters, and her two pages spreads are gorgeous. The coloring is subdued, with a darkness that represents the monster growing within Maika. There was always a feel of twilight in the panels, as though darkness was just around the corner.

All in all, I give this a tepid thumbs up. While the art was perfect, and the world building complex, the confusion that I felt for much of the book ultimately was too much for me to truly enjoy the book. While I am willing to buy future volumes for my library, and for the patrons that enjoyed this fantasy series, I do not plan on reading further.

-Nancy

Liu, Marjorie & Sana Takeda. Monstress, 2016.

Discussion Post: Graphic Novel Adaptations- Yes or No?

Welcome to my first discussion post, in which I hope to debate graphic novel adaptations!

When we are first introduced to a chapter book, is the subsequent graphic novel adaptation done well or not? And in fact, for some readers the graphic novel may actually be the first and only introduction  to the literary work, so how the work is portrayed is extremely important.

To start off, I read graphic novel adaptations of classics that I have read in the past, so I could compare the two. While Fahrenheit 451 is the authorized adaptation, as it was published while Ray Bradbury was still alive, the other two obviously are just some of many adaptations that have been written and/or drawn over the years.

Fahrenheit 451– originally by Ray Bradbury, adapted by Tim Hamilton

The book includes an introduction by Ray Bradbury, which gave it an excellent gravitas as you then moved into the illustrated story. This adaption was solid, and knowing that it was approved by Bradbury helped me feel that it represented what the author was trying to convey in his initial novel.

Wuthering Heights– originally by  Emily Brontë, adapted by Sean M. Wilson

I have to admit I have not read the original in all it’s entirety, for my hate for both Catherine and Heathcliff prevented me from reading every word. But I read most of it, enough to know the broad plot lines. This adaptation further cemented my thoughts on the story. I hated almost everyone in the story, except for the maid Nelly. Thus, this was a solid representation with Gothic illustrations that matched the mood of the story.

Spot on commentary from Kate Beaton in the book Hark! A Vagrant. What was the deal with the Brontë sisters trying to make complete assholes into romantic heroes???

The Picture of Dorian Gray-originally by Oscar Wilde, adapted by Ian Edington & Ian Culbard

This was a rather short adaptation of the morality tale, so it ended up being more of an introduction than a complete retelling of the story. Some of Wilde’s biting wit made it into the story, but the black and white illustrations were rather simple and cartoonish. I hope that after reading this adaptation, readers will then move onto the original.

Kindred– originally by Octavia E. Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy & John Jennings

I had not read the novel before I read the graphic novel, but it was adapted so well, that I WANT to read the chapter book. Now that’s a sign of an excellent adaptation, that instead of replacing the original, I want to further delve into the story. While not done until after Butler’s death, this version was done with her estate’s permission.

Silent Partner & The Web, originally by Jonathan Kellerman, adapted by Michael Gaydos & Andie Parks

I have been reading author Jonathan Kellerman’s books for years. He has a long running thriller series centered on psychologist Alex Delaware and his cop best buddy Milo Sturgis and the crimes they solve. As the series had been going on 30+ years, I assume the author wants to reach out to a new audience, thus two of his previous novels have been adapted into graphic novels with a third in the works.  However, these versions are HORRIBLE, as the two adapted were were among his early, most convoluted books. This was obviously done with Kellerman’s approval, but has not received the best feedback in other’s reviews.

So what are your thoughts on graphic novel adaptations? Should classics be adapted, once their creator is dead? What about more modern books, done with the author’s permission and collaboration? Discuss!

-Nancy

Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale

The author of this book, Belle Yang, writes the story of her father’s family here. She returned home after college, and again after spending three years in China, her ancestral home, to escape an abusive boyfriend. During her time at home, she alternates between arguing with her father and listening to his tales of his family. His grandfather, the Patriarch, had four sons. The eldest was Belle’s grandfather, the rest her great-uncles. One New Year’s Day during World War II, they are all reunited at the Patriarch’s estate, where they would live for several years. One decision – to let the third son oversee the farming lands – will put the entire family through trials that both echo through generations and the land of China. Through her father’s stories, her family and their strife come alive in her mind. She gave them new life by writing and drawing their story, which turned into this graphic memoir.

I was alternately reminded, art wise, of Persepolis and of Chinese ink paintings as I read – undoubtedly where inspiration came from. The entire book is in black and white, with many different markings to show textures: a thatched roof, steam off a mug, reeds blowing in the wind. The figures are stylized, bordering child-like, but the impact of the story and the struggles of each character are conveyed perfectly. I was moved to tears near the end. This tale of family history, conveying China’s history during this period, is compelling and beautifully written and drawn. Deserves a place right next to Persepolis on your bookshelf.

– Kathleen

Yang, Belle. Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale. 2010.

Hype or Like Friday: Books Set in a Small Town

As I live in a fairly small town, I decided to try this writing prompt from a Goodreads group that I belong to. This group was created by Jillian, Larkin and Britt who are book bloggers that want to share their opinions about overly hyped books.

 

This book ripped my heart out and stomped on it, yet I adored it. Senior year is starting for three high school misfit friends: Dill, Travis and Lydia. All three have different reasons for not fitting in with their rural Bible Belt Tennessee town, but their tight friendship buffers a lot of the ugliness surrounding them. Dill’s Pentecostal snake-handling preacher father is now behind bars for child pornography, leaving him and his mother deep in debt and shame. Travis deals with an abusive father whose shames him for being gentle and loving fantasy novels, while Lydia has caring parents but her edgy fashion blog alienates her high school peers. As Lydia prepares for a future in NYC after graduation, Dill and Travis have less prospects and worry about how their lives will change, especially Dill who secretly is in love with Lydia and dreads the future. A gut-wrenching incident affects one of the three, forever changing their dynamic. After it occurred, I was shocked. I had to put the book down for awhile and process what just happened. How the other two, and their family members cope (I ached for two of the mothers) bring the book to a poignant and hopeful conclusion. One drawback though was the portrayal of the Christians in the community. They were shown to be intolerant and judgmental, and a more balanced representation would have been welcome. But…overall, this was a brilliant book, that showed readers that they shouldn’t accept diminished dreams, they should strive to be the best they can.

All of Kent Haruf’s novels take place in fictional Holt, Colorado. Haruf is known for his plainspokeness and his beautiful but sparse writing style. His books are so true to life, and will make you feel like you have know these Holt residents for years. They are loosely chronological and have some recurring characters that move in and out of the books.  My Goodreads reviews:

The Tie That Binds   

  Where You Once Belonged         

Plainsong         Eventide

Benediction           Our Souls At Night

 

Briggs Land is an absolutely riveting new series about “an American family under siege” by both the government and their own hand. Set in rural upstate New York, Briggs Land is a hundred square mile oasis for people who want to live off the grid. Established in the Civil War era, the Briggs family would give sanctuary to those who wanted to live a simple life, but this anti-government colony has taken a dark turn in recent times. The village that grew within it’s fences has morphed into a breeding ground for white supremacy, domestic terrorism and money laundering.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I bring up these two final books often. Revival was a favorite of mine from the beginning. Inexplicably, twenty three people come back to life in rural small town Wisconsin. The “Revivers” are not your typical zombies looking for braaaiins. Instead they quietly rejoin their former lives, not even realizing or remembering their deaths. Their new existence sets the town on edge, with media scrutiny, a government quarantine and religious fanatics taking over the region. The series is being developed into a movie through Shatterglass Films.

One of the best graphic novels I have ever read, Locke & Key starts with a family tragedy as the Locke family is terrorized by two students who have an ax to grind with the father, Rendell, who is a high school guidance counselor.  After the father’s murder, the shattered family leaves California and heads to Massachusetts to start over at the Locke family estate, where Rendell’s younger brother Duncan provides them sanctuary. But alas, more evil awaits them there. This supernatural thriller set in a small coastal town is a winner and is being developed for a series on Hulu.

 

Living in a small town has it’s rewards, and all these novels give realistic representations of the joys and frustrations of knowing most everyone in town.

-Nancy

Hot Dog Taste Test

Warning: cranky review ahead! I have to admit, I would never have picked up this book on my own, but it is on my reading list for a graphic novels class I am taking at Dominican University. Did I have an epiphany after reading it, and am thankful I was forced to go out of my comfort zone? No…for it was a really weird book.

In fact, I wouldn’t even label it as a graphic novel; it is comic book with loosely related themes throughout it. Such themes are: food, cute animals, and peeing all over yourself. The summary states that it will skewer foodie subculture, but that’s not what I took away from it. But a fault I have always had is my practicality. Sometimes I miss the big picture, because I get hung up on a certain detail that I can’t let go. I will be interested to go to class on Sunday and hear what my classmates have to say about this quirky book.

So back to the book- the illustrations are just not very attractive. Now, I am not against pictures that are sketchy and capture the essence of the idea, even if they are not truly very precise in nature. I enjoyed Hyperbole and A Half and Adulthood is a Myth, two novels that were uncluttered and simple in layout. But both those books organized the story and/or strips into a cohesive narrative, and I feel this book just flits from one topic to another. Part travel log, part food diary, part surreal dream fragments; this book is hard to categorize. The author, Lisa Hanawalt, obviously loves animals, and draws many animals in an anthropomorphized manner, with birds being her specialty.

Before you think I hated the book, I didn’t, for I laughed out loud in several areas. In regards to the aforementioned peeing all over yourself comment, she just draws what many people (or maybe just me and the author) think about while we use public restrooms. My college friends and I are planning a girls weekend to some Michigan wineries, so when I saw the menstrual barcycle picture, I imagined my friends (we can get a bit rowdy when we’ve had a few drinks) making fools of ourselves. That image alone made the book worthwhile for me.

So if you can’t tell already, I’ve had a crappy day and am taking it out on this book. Sorry, not sorry, Hot Dog Taste Test. The author had a wicked sense of humor, and I think I’d be her friend, but I just wasn’t sold on the format of the book.

-Nancy

 

Power Rangers (2017)

Long ago, in the Cenozoic era, an epic battle was waged for all life on Earth. A group of warriors called the Power Rangers have been betrayed by one of their own – Rita Repulsa – and must stop her from stealing the Zeo Crystal they’ve been tasked with protecting. Zordon – the Red Ranger and the leader – managed to subdue her, but at the cost of his own life. He died burying the coins that are the source of the Rangers’ power, and whispers to them, “Find someone worthy.”

Fast forward to modern-day Angel Grove. Three high school students who normally wouldn’t be in detention find themselves there. Jason Scott pulled a prank that got him caught by the police, and as a consequence, he got kicked off the football team and has been placed under house arrest. Seriously! He has to wear an ankle monitor and everything. Billy Cranston, the school’s biggest nerd, offers to disable the ankle monitor in exchange for a lift to the abandoned mine nearby and some excavation help. They also notice Kimberly Hart, a cheerleader, in detention as well, but she won’t talk about what she did. That night, Jason and Billy run into Kimberly and two other kids, Zack and Trini, and what they discover is about to change their world. Power coins, a spaceship, a man named Zordon talking to them through the walls of said spaceship, even a talking robot, all pointing them to one destiny: they are the new Power Rangers, and they have to defeat the risen Rita Repulsa. Can these five kids – who know nothing about each other, who aren’t even friends – learn to work together to save their town, and the world?

I was a huge fan of the TV show when I was a kid. The Power Rangers were so cool! I haven’t watched the show in a long time, but I remember the campy action, cheesy dialogue, and overall ’90s Saturday morning goodness fondly. The movie did not disappoint in any fashion. Too many superhero movies today try to be dark and gritty, but not Power Rangers. There are serious moments, but overall the tone is light due to the funny dialogue and lovable, relatable characters. The kids are as diverse here as they were in the show (though some of their colors got switched – there’s a joke about that!), and we also see for the first time on screen an autistic and a queer superhero. Though Jason and Kim are star quarterback and cheerleader, respectively, we also see them screw up and try to fix their mistakes. Teens will see themselves in each of these characters. There’s also action aplenty, both of the human and Zord variety, including a bit where they use the original theme song during a fight sequence. I really regret not seeing this movie in theaters for that part alone! Overall, Power Rangers is a fun retake on the original series, with plenty of humor and action.

– Kathleen

Isrealite, Dean. Power Rangers. 2017.

Birds of Prey (Vol. 11): Metropolis or Dust

Bringing down the sociopathic daughter of a mobster: business as usual for the Birds. But somehow she’s harnessed a mysterious kind of magic and killed a lot of people in Metropolis. Superman, understandably, is pissed, and berates Babs for biting off more than she can chew. But Oracle WILL get to the bottom of this… whatever it takes. Even if it means she has to recruit the emotionally unstable Black Alice. Meanwhile, someone from Zinda’s past shows up – her distant past, from World War II. He’s after her memories, and Huntress can’t let her face that all by herself.

… Something just seemed off to me about this book. It wasn’t until Lady Blackhawk and Huntress go after Killer Shark that it hit me. Simone hadn’t written this one. Under her care, none of the Birds were treated as damsels in distress, especially not Zinda. So that bit was a little disturbing to me. Thankfully that was short-lived… unlike Misfit. I REALLY don’t like her and wish she would go away. It was still okay, but I feel it’s going off the rails a bit. Here’s hoping the next volume is better!

– Kathleen

McKeever, Sean, Nicola Scott, and Doug Hazelwood. Birds of Prey (Vol. 11): Metropolis or Dust. 2008.

The Wicked + The Divine: The Faust Act

“Every ninety years twelve Gods return as young people. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are all dead. It’s happening now. It’s happening again.”

The book begins in London, with fan girl Laura attending a music concert of Amaterasu, one of the young Gods, and while there befriends Lucifer, another of the Gods. Lucifer seems to randomly pick Laura, and now Laura is privy to some of the secrets of the Pantheon. We meet several more of the Gods, who are pop-culture saturated enigmas. A murder occurs, but who did it and why? Laura is on the case, along with a reporter, trying to understand more about this generation’s newest Gods and the miracles and power that they wield.

I read a previous Marvel book from the same author/illustrator duo of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, Young Avengers: Style>Substance, and liked many of the fresh illustrations but thought the title was apropos. This book too seems to have a fantastic idea, but an incomplete follow through. I needed a cheat sheet to keep track of who was who, and wish I had discovered the following graphic sooner. The world building was sketchy and character back stories were non-existent. There is the briefest mention that the Gods were originally regular teens, before the deities merged  with them, and this new fame and the knowledge they will be dead in two years corrupts many of them.

Thus, this first volume makes a huge gamble- it doesn’t give you all the information you need about who all the characters are- it deliberately leaves you in the dark on four of the twelve Gods. Will this confuse and piss you off or will you be intrigued and want to read further into the series to put it all together? In my case, it was both. My initial feeling was frustration and wondering why this book had good buzz. But a fantastic college student at my library (MD!) told me the second volume gets much better. The vivid and beautiful art work plus the promising premise of the story are worth the gamble and I have the next few volumes on hold. So…my final decision on whether the series is wicked or divine has not been made yet.

-Nancy

 

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