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Graphic Novelty²

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February 2018

Speak: The Graphic Novel

The 1999 YA novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson was a poignant, uncomfortable but terribly necessary novel about a teen-aged girl surviving rape.  It is on many school reading lists, but also has been banned by some school districts for it’s mature content. In fact I had a long conversation with a conservative friend about the book, when our children read it during middle school for an English class, and whether parents and students should have the choice to opt out of reading it.

This graphic novel adaptation recently came out and was penned by the author and illustrated by Emily Carroll, best known for her eerie graphic short story collection Through the Woods. Carroll was an excellent choice, as her inky black, white and gray panels perfectly captures Melinda’s depression and internal struggle. Her depiction of realistic looking teens gives it a timelessness, so that you don’t even notice that no one has a cell phone, as it is based in the time frame it was originally written in.

As Melinda begins high school she knows she is an outcast, as most of the school knows she is the one who called the police to bust a drinking party a few weeks prior. Her former best friend Rachel won’t  associate with her and other students jeer at and bully her. Her only friend is Heather, a new student, who doesn’t know her past. Melinda’s depression is quickly established and the ongoing closeups of her bitten bloody lips that signify her anxiety establish Melinda’s descent. Her parents’s marriage struggles blind them to their daughter’s muteness and retreat from society. It is only much later in the book that we discover the real reason for Melinda’s struggles- her rape by a popular senior at the summer party. I do not feel I am spoiling anything by saying Melinda was assaulted, for I feel most readers picking this book up are aware of the novel’s subject matter.

The narrative covers a school year, and in the end Melinda grows stronger and has some hard-won redemption. This adaptation, at 372 pages long, compared to the 198 pages of the chapter book, still had me at the edge of my seat during the scary confrontation between her and her rapist at the conclusion. I truly was impressed that this version is as strong as Anderson’s first book, and perhaps even more so, as Carroll’s illustrations aptly depict this difficult subject matter and Melinda’s journey towards recovery.

As to my earlier conversation with my friend about the subject matter, I voiced that I felt it was too important a topic to ignore, and students should read it. I stand by that opinion and would recommend it to teen readers who all should be educated as to the horrors and fall-out of sexual assault.

-Nancy

Anderson, Laurie Halse & Emily Carroll. Speak. Text 1999 & Pictures 2018.
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Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you! Hope you’re all having great dates ;D

This past weekend, as those of you also residing in the Midwest know, was a nightmare! All the snow we got on Friday made my work close, which was awesome, but left me at home shoveling and throwing snowballs for the dogs. It also almost left me without a Valentine’s day date – it was doubtful my fiancé would be able to come visit, but he managed to on Saturday after the weather blew out. We spent that afternoon out and about playing PoGo and it was the best time we’ve had together in a while. Sunday, though, we stayed in, baked, and watched this movie we didn’t get to catch in theaters.

Professor William Moulton Marston is being interviewed by the Child Study Association of America about the moral integrity of his creation: the comic called Wonder Woman. As he defends the themes and images in his work, he also reveals his life story and the inspiration behind the character. In 1928, Bill and his wife, Elizabeth Marston, are teaching at Harvard University and developing the lie detector test. Olive Byrne, daughter of Ethyl Byrne and niece of Margaret Sanger, becomes their teaching assistant and helps them develop the test. The three become close, and it’s soon clear that their feelings for one another go deeper than any of them expected them to. Once their relationship is revealed, the Marstons are fired from Harvard. Adding to their struggles is Olive’s pregnancy. How can the three possibly rebuild their lives after their scandal, let alone build a family together?

I’ve read The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore, so I knew already about the man behind Wonder Woman and his family. I would say a good bit of the film was built from speculation because, due to the taboo behind polyamory and discussing sexuality at the time, there probably wasn’t a lot of primary sources from the subjects of the film to draw from. Still, the story is crafted well, and I was able to suspend my disbelief easily enough to enjoy it.

One of the things that surprised me the most was the emphasis on Elizabeth and Olive’s relationship rather than either of the women with Bill himself. Though he is part of the title and one of the main characters, Professor Marston was almost a secondary character in his own film. Thinking back now, it seems as though we the spectators were watching the film unfold mostly through Bill’s eyes. Many of the scenes place him in the background, with Elizabeth and Olive in the spotlight. Sometimes we see them from far back, as if we were Bill watching from the corner of the room. We are spectators too, but we are also Bill the spectator, watching these two powerhouse women fall in love with each other. I certainly hope it opens the door to more romance movies with same-sex or polyamorous couples in the future!

To the eye, every detail was perfect. The costumes and sets were fantastic. To both casual fans and diehard Wonder Woman fans, there are tons of cameos to pick out. The soundtrack was also very good, especially in the romance sequences.

It was an enjoyable film. There is a greater emphasis on the women who inspired Wonder Woman than on the creator himself, which opened the door to a romance film between two women. If Diana wouldn’t be proud of that, I don’t know who would be! It’s crafted well, from the costumes to the music. For reading with your viewing, I recommend either The Secret History of Wonder Woman or Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine by Tim Hanley to learn more about Bill, Elizabeth, and Olive, and how their dynamic shaped Wonder Woman!

– Kathleen

Robinson, Angela. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. 2017.

Batgirl: The Bronze Age Omnibus (Vol. 1)

I mentioned in my review of Batgirl: A Celebration of 50 Years that I really enjoyed all the stories from the older comics contained within. I thought they were awesome! Luckily, this Bronze Age omnibus fell into a graphic novel order I submitted at one of my libraries so I could read more of them ;D

Barbara Gordon, daughter of police commissioner Jim Gordon, is the head librarian at the Gotham City Public Library. A plain Jane, so to speak. Who just so happens to be a judo expert and possesses a photographic memory. She designs a Batgirl costume for a masked ball the police department is throwing. En route, she stumbles across a crime-in-progress: Killer Moth accosting Bruce Wayne on his way to the ball! Without a second thought, Batgirl springs into action to save him. When Batman shows up to save the day, he is shocked and surprised! Who is this woman who styles herself after him to fight crime as he does? Will she be an asset or a liability to the Dynamic Duo’s crusade against crime?

The stories within are all Barbara Gordon Batgirl comics starting with her debut in 1967 and going all the way to 1977. I am totally in love with early Barbara Gordon. She was a librarian instead of a computer whiz – not that there’s anything wrong with being a computer genius, but the fact that she was originally a librarian is near and dear to my heart. Time and time again throughout these stories, we see her using her awesome librarian skills to deduce patterns in crimes and uncover clues. I just love that!!! It gives me hope that I can, one day, be as badass as Barbara Gordon.

Another thing I really loved was Batman and Robin’s quick acceptance of Batgirl as an ally. Sure, within the first few issues they are very vocal about their doubts. But Barbara proves herself time and time again, with her physical and mental prowess. She never lets it get to her, she just keeps proving them wrong until they come to the (obviously right) conclusion that she’s there to help, and she’s there to stay.

One thing that was surprising was how quickly she was given her own comic. Within the first few issues, we see Barbara on her own, with only guest appearances by Batman and Robin. It really speaks a lot to the popularity of Bab’s character, her self-assuredness, to be given a break from the hero she stylized herself after so early after her initial appearance.

These older comics are much different in format than newer ones, which is probably why I like them so much. There are narration panels which bring you up to speed and give context for some scenes. The art is focused more on the action and the characters than their surroundings. And, of course, bad puns and alliteration abound =P They are charming and I genuinely enjoy them. I hope to enjoy many more of these in the future!

Do you guys enjoy older comics too? Or am I alone in my fascination???

– Kathleen

Various. Batgirl: The Bronze Age Omnibus (Vol. 1). 2017.

The Vision: Little Better Than A Beast (Volume 2)

The Vision series comes to a close in this second volume, and it brings all the pathos of a Shakespearean tragedy.

Considering my high regard for the first volume Little Worse than a Man and it’s inclusion on my Best Reads of 2017 list, surprisingly it took me a year to pick up and read this second volume. I knew that reading it in one sitting would be best, so the quietly ominous story could have it’s best effect. The conclusion did not disappoint, yet it did have a different feel than the first. The first volume showed how The Vision, a syntheziod, desperately wanted a family and how his creation upended what others considered human behavior. This concluding volume goes back in time and shows The Vision’s rationale for wanting to create a family, and his motives turn out to be a bit complex.

The volume opens with his past relationship with Scarlet Witch and how their unlikely romance resulted in marriage. The marriage deteriorates as Wanda’s delusion of having twin boys takes over (this plot point has always been confusing to me as Wiccan and Speed are now real Young Avengers) and a seemingly innocuous joke between the two builds and carries through to the end. It seems The Vision’s love for Wanda and her wish for family subverts itself in his later wish for the same thing, and how he creates his new wife Virginia.

When we are in present day we see twins Vin and Viv (again a connection to The Vision’s first twins) and Vin’s obsession with quoting some of Shakespeare’s work. A quote from The Merchant of Venice bring volume one and two’s titles into focus, “When he is best he is a little worse than a man, and when he is worst he is little better than a beast” and we know that the story is building towards an unhappy climax.

Themes of destiny and intentions are interwoven throughout the narrative, with many of the Avengers coming off negatively, with many injustices heaped upon the Vision family by them. Decisions certain family members make in the name of love or revenge, can be connected to their true humanity vs the shaky moral high-ground that others around them take.

The art in both volumes is excellent.  When The Vision is with his family the panels are precise and clean, with a more sketchy style used when he is out of the house and interacting with others. I believe this a subtle nod to The Vision feeling when he is with his new family he is in control and being less clear when he has to deal with the conflicting motivations of people outside his realm of influence.

This two-volume story is outstanding and really subverts the typical superhero narrative. There are many layers to the story and it touches on important themes such as xenophobia, definitions of humanity and love for family. While I feel the first volume was a bit stronger than this second one, the poignant conclusion is a perfect wrap up, and the team that created it deserves major respect.

-Nancy

Image result for the vision family
Ling, Tom, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Michael Walsh & Jordie Bellaire. The Vision: Little Better Than a Beast. 2016.

Guest Post on 2018 YASF Tournament of Books

As the Teen Services Coordinator at my library, I attend a networking group with other librarians who work with teens in the Chicagoland suburb area. For several years the YASF (Young Adult Services Forum) group has had a yearly Tournament of Books for YA novels, and this is my third year participating.

This year I was assigned sci-fi novel Landscape with Invisible Hand by M.T. Anderson and graphic novel Motor Crush by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr. Which book do you think I pushed onto the next bracket? Click here and find out which one (you might be surprised!).

-Nancy

Fables: The Deluxe Edition (Book 11)

The threat of the Dark One is rising in New York, in the ruins of old Fabletown. He’s gathering Mundy minions to build him a castle. He’s the biggest threat Fabletown faces yet, but their forces are split. In the old Business Office, Bufkin, the Magic Mirror, and Frankenstein’s head are all trapped with the escaped Baba Yaga. The coven of witches up at the Farm are in the middle of a power struggle. King Cole, Beast, and Beauty are doing all they can to hold both human and animal citizens together, but with Rose Red still bedridden, there’s little hope of pacifying either side. Flycatcher, King of Haven, is struggling with his first ever court case. Does the divided Fabletown stand a chance against the Dark One, or will the divide make it easier for them to be destroyed?

This volume packed a lot of emotional punch. Snow White and Rose Red’s backstory is finally revealed, and drove me to tears at the end of their issue. Though we know some of Frau Totenkinder’s story already, we see her return to her roots to try to banish the Dark One. Beauty and Beast also find great happiness! Their character development has been among the best in the series. The art was pretty consistent throughout this book, with Mark Buckingham appearing most frequently. His whimsical, highly detailed art is most suited to this series, and he has such a way of capturing facial expressions to evoke exactly the emotion the story is supposed to. As ever, looking forward to more!

– Kathleen

Willingham, Bill, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Jim Fern, David Lapham, and Inaki Miranda. Fables: The Deluxe Edition (Book 11). 2015.

Motor Crush

I’m crushing on Motor Crush!

This new series comes from the talented team that did Batgirl of Burnside, for which Kathleen reviewed Volumes One and Two. I was assigned this graphic novel to read for the Tournament of Books that I participate in yearly with other teen librarians in my area, and I’m glad, as this action adventure/ sci-fi book wasn’t on my radar yet.

Domino Swift is a beautiful young woman who races motorcycles for a living as did her famous father years ago. In a world similar to ours, but set in the indeterminate future, the World Grand Prix dominates social media and the economy. Domino is one of the top racers on the circuit, but at night she participates secretly in bike races with gang members to illegally obtain a machine stimulant called Crush. There is an undercurrent of crime and addiction that run through the narrative, with an out of left field twist about Domino’s origins. Many unanswered questions start to build at the end, with story lines set up for future volumes.

An appealing romance is established between Domino and pink haired Lola, who is an ace mechanic. While currently not dating, the two are still connected and their relationship is accepted by everyone around them. That their relationship is natural and easy is a plus, it’s part of the narrative, no more or no less than any other characters. Kudos for the representation!

The art is top notch with bold anime-inspired illustrations in Babs Tarr’s distinctive style. The team give Domino and Lola a fresh look, and the panels and splash pages have some nice variety.

That the volume ends on an intriguing cliff hanger will bring me back for more!

-Nancy

Image result for motor crush
Flecther, Brenden, Cameron Stewart & Babs Tarr. Motor Crush. 2017.

Guest Post on The Imperial Talker

After watching The Last Jedi I had feelings. So many feelings!

After conversations with Jeff at The Imperial Talker about my disappointment with Luke Skywalker’s arc, he asked if I’d be willing to share my thoughts in a guest post. As Jeff is a consummate Star Wars fan and writes deeply thought out posts about the Star Wars universe, I was flattered he asked. In addition, he has a monthly haiku series on different Star Wars topics that is not to be missed!

Please head on over to his site and read my post An Ignoble End to the Skywalker Saga!

-Nancy

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