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March 2018

Rebels: A Well Regulated Militia

“A historical epic of America’s founding” is very accurate in describing this exceptionally good graphic novel with it’s window into the Revolutionary War era based in the NE corner of our new nation in the late 1700’s.

Divided into six chapters, author Brian Wood first gives us a lengthy portrait of the fictional character Seth Abbott and his journey from farm boy to one of the well respected leaders of the Green Mountain Boys. Then we are given shorter non-linear vignettes of other loyalists and patriots and their contributions to the war.

A Well-Regulated Militia

We first meet Seth in 1768 as a boy with a gruff father in the New Hampshire (later to become Vermont) wilderness, eking out a homestead.  English soldiers in the region are hated by the settlers, who are there under the New Hampshire grants.  Skipping ahead to 1775, seventeen year old Seth marries teen-aged Mercy after her father is forced off his land by the redcoats. The young couple establish their own household, but local Ethan Allen easily convinces him to join his militia regiment. At first fighting for their region’s independence, he then is willing to fight for the entire colonies’ independence. He ends up being away from his wife for seven years, and while certainly in danger during battles, Seth views his time with the militia as a grand adventure with his best friend Ezekiel, a fellow soldier. In 1783 Seth finally comes home to Mercy discovering a son, as he had been unaware his wife was pregnant when he left.

This narrative was a fascinating look into an average farmer’s life and the threats they faced from the British and the local Loyalists. The battles that Seth participated in and the living conditions of the soldiers were shown in detail, and you could feel the backbreaking labor and fear they lived with. It also showed a nuanced view of the women left behind, as Mercy suffered just as much while being forced to fend for herself in an unforgiving wilderness.

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Goodwife, Follower, Patriot, Republican

Ever hear of the iconic folklore story of Molly Pitcher who stepped into battle to keep the canon shooting when her husband was shot? This story focuses on fictional Sarah Hull who in 1777 was the Battle of Saratoga’s “Molly Pitcher”. In later years her dying husband makes a plea for the government to give her a soldier’s pension for the work she provided. How her effort is disregarded by the representatives ties in with how sometimes women of today are also treated with indifference for their invaluable contributions.

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Liberty’s Daughter

Silence Bright, a young woman of mixed race, is caught printing and distributing leaflets in Boston that criticize the British in 1768. Thrown into Newgate Prison she is unbowed and the awesome quotes that I shall take to heart- “beware the bookish woman” and “hold fast” are used as she defiantly refuses to submit.

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Occupation

In 1775 we are given a brief glimpse of Seth Abbott again in NYC as he holed up in an attic with free black Clayton Freeman. Seth can not understand why Clayton is a Loyalist, and fighting for a corrupt regime for he tries to convince Clayton that he should be fighting for the freedom of the colonies. What he doesn’t understand is that “freedom” will not come for all, and that many blacks made the hard choice of fighting for the Crown that promised them freedom and passage away from the colonies. This vignette made me think of our current president, especially with the quote “…how were the lies of King George (Trump) at all appealing? Was there something we were missing?”

Stone Hoof

A young Shawnee brave, Stone Hoof, helps soldiers build Fort Stalwart in the Ohio River Valley in 1750 and befriends Will Henderson. As his tribe are migrants, he is in and out of the region over the years until 1757 when his tribe attacks the fort, as they have aligned with the French who are fighting the British for this territory.  As both he and Henderson survive the battle, they meet for one last time, and each try to understand why the other believes what they do.

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Bloody Backs

In 1769 a young man in a London is given a choice- go to prison or head to the colonies as a British soldier. He clings to his idealism and loyalty to the Crown as he miserably slogs  through battle after battle. He meets an ignoble end by a Green Mountain Boy at the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780, never having achieved a rank higher than a lowly private, and for what- glory?

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The artwork throughout all the stories is superb. Several artists contributed to the six stories, and all convey an authentic feel to this era and region. The grittiness of wilderness living and the gore of war are shown in a realistic manner, with coloring that is evocative and helps convey the story even more effectively. I want to give a special shout out to artist Tula Lotay, who created each chapter’s cover art. Each page she creates is a beautiful homage to the coming story. In addition the extras at the end give some insight to the making of the book with some great essays by the author and some of the artists.

With this book, plus his outstanding Briggs Land,  Wood has vaulted onto the list of my top ten favorite authors of graphic novels! I will absolutely be checking out Wood’s Viking saga Northlanders and will pick up all future work in this series.

-Nancy

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T5W: Favorite Teachers/Mentors

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme from Goodreads, created by Lainey from Gingerreadslainey and now moderated by Sam from ThoughtsOnTomes.

Today’s theme: favorite teachers and mentors! As a bonus challenge, the moderators told us not to pick any HP characters… but that was no problem for me =P

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5 . Brom – Eragon

Brom was a mentor to Eragon even before he became a Dragon Rider. He would tell Eragon stories as he was growing up. After Eragon finds Saphira and sets out to avenge his uncle’s death, Brom joins him without a second thought. Brom teaches Eragon survival skills, the history of the Dragon Riders, and more. In many ways, Brom serves as Eragon’s compass and helped shape him into the man he would become.

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4. Qui Gon Jinn – Star Wars

I have kind of a soft spot for Qui Gon, partly because he’s played by Liam Neeson and partly because we got so little screen time with him. Qui Gon is perceptive and calm in the face of danger. He believed so much in the prophecy that Anakin was the chosen one that he was wililng to break the rules and take on a second apprentice. When objections were made by the Jedi Council, he did not hesitate to point out that Obi Wan was ready for his trials to become a Master Jedi. He had great faith in Obi Wan as his student – that’s awesome!

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3. Mikhail – Jill Kismet series

Mikhail is Jill’s teacher. He died soon before the series began. It’s interesting to me to begin a series after the teacher is already dead – most of the time, they’re killed off sometime after the series has begun! It’s evident that Jill is still in mourning. Mikhail saved her from a violent life before she became a Hunter, and taught her not to fear the darkness. Jill remembers lessons he taught her throughout the series, making it seem as if he’s still teaching her from beyond the grave.

 

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2. Ted Grant (Wildcat) – Arrow

After Sara died, Laurel was filled with a rage she couldn’t control or get rid of. While working a case for the Arrow, she came across Ted Grant’s boxing gym. He offered her lessons to give her an outlet, which she initially refused, but came back and took him up on it. Ted was a lot more willing than Oliver to train Laurel, to teach her to use her anger as an outlet for doing good instead of continuing to let it chew her up from the inside (as Oliver would have done). Without Ted, there wouldn’t have been the Black Canary. Wildcat is a mentor to Canary in the comics, and it was great to see their relationship brought to the screen.

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1. Gandalf – Lord of the Rings

Come on… who doesn’t love this wizard? Gandalf is by turns fiercely protective and intensely compassionate. He is, of course, very wise. He sees things that most people overlook – Saruman ridiculed Gandalf for hanging out with hobbits all the time, but as it turned out, there were some very important hobbits to hang out with! Gandalf saw their inner worth and helped Bilbo and Frodo see it for themselves. That’s what a mentor should do above all!

Any of my favorite mentors make your list, too?

– Kathleen

Martian Manhunter (IV, Vol. 1): The Epiphany

While on a rescue mission to the moon, Martian Manhunters finds the astronauts dead and learns that the Epiphany is coming. He warns the rest of the League so they can prepare. A series of attacks have occurred all over the world, at exactly the same time. There is talk of an organized terrorist attempt, but there are too many different cells with different ideologies. No one is safe. Since J’onn was the one who discovered the plot, people are turning to him for answers, but he has none. His solution? Kill him.

… That’s all I got. I gave up not even halfway through, because at that point I still had no idea what was going on. The story was so convoluted, with focus on too many characters, that made it extremely difficult to follow. There was no coherent thread that I could see. There was some dialogue at the beginning about J’onn really being a good guy vs. being a monster, but if that was where they were going, that theme was thoroughly lost. Skip. Dang, it’s proving to be much harder than I thought to find a good MM book =(

– Kathleen

Williams, Rob, Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, and Gabe Eltaeb. Martian Manhunter (IV, Vol. 1): The Epiphany. 2015.

Star Trek Green Lantern: The Spectrum War

I picked this graphic novel on a whim as I am a huge Star Trek fan, and thought it would be a hoot to read about the Kelvin timeline crew meeting Hal Jordan.  IDW Publishing and DC Comics partnered together to bring us “The Crossover Event of 2015” and it did not disappoint!

I admit I am not very familiar with the Green Lantern Corps, so I really appreciated how explanations were worked into the narrative to bring you up to speed on how the whole power rings worked along with what the different colors symbolized. Cheat sheet: green, violet, blue and indigo rings are good while red, orange and yellow are bad.  Guess what- the violet, blue and indigo rings choose Star Trek crew while the evil rings went to a Klingon, a Romulan and a Gorn. These are not aliens you want to mess with folks!

Hal explains to Kirk and crew that he and a few other lanterns were pulled into the ST universe by Ganthet, one of the Guardians of the Universe, when he utilized Last Light to save the lantern corp when they were fighting a losing battle with villain Nekron. Evil lanterns from the DC universe have also been sucked into this timeline and they align with their color counterparts, but without their power batteries, all the lanterns are at risk.

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Johnson, Mike and Angel Hernandez. Star Trek Green Lantern: The Spectrum War. 2016 (first comic published in 2015)

Without spoiling too much, it would be safe for you to assume that there are several epic fights. Almost all of the main crew of the Enterprise get to wield ring power at one time or another. Several other green lanterns show up, and working as a team, a plan is put into action to save the universe. There is humor utilized throughout and the illustrations are top notch in this graphic novel. The Star Trek crew is drawn to resemble their movie counterparts, and as such it was sad to see Anton Yelchin (although this was written before his real-life death), yet it is heartwarming to know his portrayal will live on in books. I loved the variant art throughout, with all contributing artists submitting outstanding work.

Another crossover series with these characters is planned, so I look forward to more adventures with them. As Hal summarizes in the end, combining two motto’s into one- ” I am sworn to protect strange new worlds. New life. New Civilizations. To boldly go…by Lantern’s light…where no one has gone before!”

On a side note, I recently was in a good-natured Twitter fight with my friend Michael @ My Comic Relief about which is the best Chris. While he fought the good fight for Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy, my superior choice of Chris Pine as Kirk clearly was the winner.  In fact he even shared that a student of his said of Chris Pine, “The universe is in Chris Pine’s eyes!”. Not only does this student deserve an A+, it clearly shows how right I am. That this book that I had requested weeks earlier came in this week, is the final proof that MY Chris wins!

-Nancy

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Top 5 Wednesday: Children’s Books to Read as an Adult

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme from Goodreads, created by Lainey from Gingerreadslainey and now moderated by Sam from ThoughtsOnTomes. I am actually using last week’s prompt (don’t arrest me T5W police!) about children’s books that adults should read.

As a mother, former teacher, and now a librarian- I love children’s books! All of these books are worth revisiting as adults and should be read and re-read multiple times! I am sticking to picture books for the illustrations completely elevate the stories.

When Jessie Came Across The Sea written by Amy Hest and illustrated by P.J. Lynch

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This beautifully illustrated book shares the immigrant experience of many eastern Europeans through the eyes of Jesse, a Jewish teen, who is awarded a ticket to America. She reluctantly leaves her beloved Grandmother and travels on the boat that will take her past the awe inspiring Statue of Liberty to Ellis Island. Other passengers of various ethnic backgrounds are shown, and Jesse befriends a young man named Lou. Taken in by a dressmaker in NYC, Jesse sews lace, and by chance re-meets Lou and a romance develops. Years go by with Jesse learning to speak and write in English, and all the while saving money for a ticket for her Grandmother to join her. Jesse has put off marrying Lou until she is reunited with her Grandmother, so the final page of the reunion is lovely and heartwarming. I cry every time I get to the end of this book.

Pink and Say written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco

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Patricia Polacco has written many picture books that are beautiful, heartbreaking, and memorable but Pink and Say is the one that makes me cry every single time I read it. The author shares the story that she claims has been passed down through the generations from her great great grandfather Sheldon (Say) Curtis about his friendship with Pinkus (Pink) Aylee during the Civil War. Say is a teenaged white soldier from Ohio who is injured in battle in Georgia and discovered by Pink, an African American soldier and brings him back to his home to be tended to by his mother. While he mends, Say bonds with Pink and his family but the two young soldiers are eventually caught by Confederates and sent to the prison camp Andersonville. Pink’s fate breaks your heart, but Say keeps his memory alive as he survives the war, and the book puts a human face on the devastation of this terrible time in our nation’s history.

The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural written by Patricia C. McKissack and illustrated by Brian Pinkney

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This is an outstanding collection of ten supernatural/horror stories for older youth. Author Patricia C. McKissack sets the African-American tales in the deep south, and the evocative back and white pictures by Brian Pinkney add atmosphere to these Gothic type stories. What really adds weight to the dark and spooky stories is that they are based on real happenings during the slavery era, in addition to stories on civil rights brutality and modern day lynchings. An eye-opening compilation that I highly recommend.

Jenny and the Cat Club written and illustrated by Esther Averill

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I adore these books about the shy black cat Jenny Linsky set in NYC. The books were old fashioned when I was a child, but have such enduring appeal. I read them to my children when they were younger and they loved the books too. The adventures that Jenny, her two cat brothers, and all the members of the cat club have are so flippin’ cute. This is the first of a series of books about the cats with The Fire Cat being the most popular. My teen-ager recently made a joke about the cats dancing the Sailor’s Hornpipe and red scarves…the stories stay with you!

The Old African written by Julius Lester and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

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Author Julius Lester and illustrator Jerry Pinkney team together again to tell a beautifully told magical realism tale for mature youth that is based on fact. The re-imaged story is based off the 1803 slave revolt in Georgia and mass suicide that occurred when newly captured Igbo people took over the ship that was transporting them to the various plantations that had bought them after they survived the Middle Passage.

As the Wiki article states “The event’s moral value as a story of resistance towards slavery has symbolic importance in African American folklore and literary history” and is captivatingly told by the talented author and illustrator. The leader of the slaves in this story is The Old African, who as a young man was kidnapped from his home along with his wife Ola. The Middle Passage is described in heartbreaking detail and does not shy away from the horrors of the conditions that were endured and the reality that women were sexually abused. We witness Ola committing suicide to avoid rape, and Jaja’s mentor Obasi being beaten to death.

Many years go by after he is sold into slavery, and Jaja is now an elderly man who is mute but has magical powers that he uses to help ease suffering on the plantation on which he lives. When an escaped slave is brought back and savagely whipped, he steps in to help, but knows his help has earned him a death sentence. He then leads a group of slaves to the ocean and leads them home to Africa. That the escaped slaves have a triumphant conclusion is symbolic for staying strong in the face of adversary and resisting oppression. I highly recommend this complex and thought provoking book, and would suggest it to readers who are ready to think critically about this book’s message.

Some honorable mentions would be all books written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton, especially The Little House and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane written by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline.

If you haven’t read any of these books, make sure you check them out and/or revisit these books again if you’ve read them in the past. And most importantly- SHARE them with youth today!

-Nancy

The End of Summer

Lars is shut away with his family in their grand palace for three years while winter rages outside. Lars is dying of an illness. Everything’s not so bad, though. There are his siblings to play with, books to read, and his giant cat Nemo for company. Every once in a while he feels sad, because when he dies, he’ll leave his twin sister Maja behind. But Maja seems to be leaving him, too. She’s been acting strangely… in fact, the whole household has. This winter, the stir-crazy is getting too much. Lies and secrets are revealed. Will the winter winds blow out their family, or can they weather the storm?

I was not really a fan of this one. I picked it up because this is Tillie Walden’s first graphic novel. She is the author and illustrator of Spinning, which I loved! Her art was just as lovely – if anything, better than Spinning, which came later. There was a lot of intricate architectural work, which is very ambitious for any artist to take on, but Walden makes it look easy. The space often dwarfs the characters, which speaks to their isolation and disconnect from one another.

However, the story was seriously lacking. It felt more like a draft of a story than a finished product. A lot of it is left open, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps. This can work to an extent, but here, too much was left open and I found myself lost. Perhaps I missed something or wasn’t paying enough attention! However, I didn’t think the writing was strong enough to work with this type of storytelling. The illustrations were beautiful, so I was happy enough just looking =P

– Kathleen

Walden, Tillie. The End of Summer. 2015.

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

Think you understand comics? Think again! Author and illustrator Scott McCloud has created a unique educational graphic novel that can be read for pure enjoyment but also could be used in college-level courses that teach the art of illustration.

I have known about this book for several years, as it was originally written in 1993, but reading it seemed daunting. But when a certain erudite blogger suggested that Kathleen and I read it, not once but twice, I had to give it a go. Joshua at White Tower Musings– this is for you!

Divided into nine chapters, McCloud first begins with ascertaining how to define comics. After using accurate but long definitions, he uses comic’s giant Will Eisner’s short definition: comics is sequential art.

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Since cartoons can sometimes be considered a lesser art form,  McCloud puts cartooning in a bigger framework- he goes back in time to show how hieroglyphics and picture manuscripts have evolved into comics. There is a rich history that provides the building blocks for this “new” art medium of today.

Once we push past the history of comics, we move into the parts that make the whole. How vocabulary is incorporated into comics is addressed as is the effective use of gutters in a sequence. These frames form closure to an idea, and a thought is imparted.

How lines are utilized got a chapter, with some perceptive thoughts on how lines can convey feelings and moods. I thought his comment about how Rob Liefeld’s “hostile and jagged” lines expressed the anxieties of those growing up in the 90’s quite accurately. And it’s true! Image Comics broke away from Marvel at the time when Gen X was at it’s most angsty, and these artists had a new style of drawing that obviously met a need.

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While most of this graphic novel was in black and white, a chapter on color used it sparingly to make several points. Color can be used to set a mood, establish a scene and add depth. Adding color can expand the reader’s experience and artists continue to experiment with different palettes to establish atmosphere.

I also appreciated how McCloud moved beyond the parts that make up a cartoon- he also looked at the big idea. Art has meaning and he ties it into resemblance and the picture plane. There are so many ways to impart representation in styles such as surrealism, expressionism, cubism and impressionism. Words and pictures have great power when harnessed together and artists have freedom in how to create their works of art, which includes cartooning.

To make an Infinity Gauntlet comparison, cartoonists will use space, line, color, closure, words and icons in helping them get their message across. These “gems” are the building blocks of effective illustration.

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Reading this book took me quite awhile, as it’s information heavy narrative could overwhelm me at times. But I stuck with it and the knowledge that I picked up has made me look at comics with new appreciation. Already a fan of cartoons and graphic novels, McCloud’s astute analysis and deconstruction of this art form further elevated the genre for me.

-Nancy

Tempests and Slaughter

You know Numair Salmalín from the Wild Magic series… but who is he, really? How did the most powerful wizard in the world earn such a title?

Say hello to ten-year-old Aram Draper, a young student at the Imperial University of Carthak. Actually, he’s the youngest in his class. Bored all the time with the beginner magics, he’s moved up to more intermediate magic at a startlingly young age. His abilities have alienated him from the other children his age, and while he loves studying, he does get quite lonely. Two older classmates, Varice Kingsford and Orzorne Tasikhe, take him under their wing. Varice is skilled at kitchen magic, and people often overlook her sharp mind because of it. Orzorne, though a member of the royal family, is so far removed from the throne he is sometimes called “The Leftover Prince.” The three make a fast circle of friends, and it’s clear to everyone their bond is a special one. They will need to lean on each other in their years at school – and beyond.

I’m a huge Tamora Pierce fan, and was super excited for this book. To return to the world of Tortall after so long – I was pumped! But, once I actually got it in my hands… It feels almost blasphemous to say, but I didn’t enjoy Tempests and Slaughter as much as I’d hoped =(

It kind of felt like half a book in some ways. It had a lot of good stuff: well-written characters, a strong core friendship, growing pains, political intrigue, ethics of war and slavery, godly intervention… but not really enough of any of it. The pace is incredibly fast, not really allowing for significant time spent with any of these topics. Just when you think you’re getting to the heart of one theme, it switches tack and goes in a totally different direction. This happens multiple times throughout. I feel like I only got the surface of a book as opposed to the whole picture, which was disappointing. Not to mention there was very little as far as the mechanics of magic, which was strange enough given the setting, but you’d think there would have been much more as this is Numair’s origin story. There could be more in-depth explainations on magic in earlier books that I don’t remember, but it still would have been welcome here.

All that said, I was glued to the book the entire time. Pierce’s writing style is engaging and she really knows how to suck readers in. Middle-grade and young adult readers will enjoy it for the action and quick pace. I wouldn’t say it’s essential to be familiar with Pierce’s past work and characters to fully enjoy the story. I’ve revisited the Song of the Lioness quartet in recent years, but not Wild Magic (where Numair was first introduced), and I was still able to pick things up well enough. For older fans who are familiar with Pierce’s work, however, this may be a bit of a disappointment.

– Kathleen

Pierce, Tamora. Tempests and Slaughter (The Numair Chronicles 1). 2018.

Superman Unchained (Deluxe Edition)

It occurred to me that as big of a superhero fan that I am… I’ve never actually read a Superman comic. The shame!!! I rectified that with this one 😉

Catching space stations plummeting to Earth with terrified astronauts aboard – business as usual for Superman. Once he’s taken care of the wreckage, Clark Kent writes a piece about him. However, seems Clark got his facts wrong. He wrote that Superman stopped seven objects, but there were actually eight. Superman took care of all of them… right? In his investigation, he finds handprints in the steel. Not many could have pushed it off course and harmlessly into the ocean. But if it wasn’t Superman… then who? Clark is about to stumble upon a secret the U.S. Government has been sitting on for 75 years, and there are some who’ll do anything to stop him from discovering it.

I enjoyed it, but I think there was too much going on in this story. There are multiple plot points that come together messily in the end. One part I enjoyed was seeing Clark’s inner monologue during the fight scenes. There was a lot more science-y stuff than I expected: velocity, UV spectrums, etc. It shows how intelligent Clark is to be able to think of that stuff on the fly! It did slow down the pace a bit for me, but I didn’t mind too much. There is a bit in the middle/end about the philosophy and agenda (or lack thereof) of Superman, which I found really interesting. This deluxe edition had a good number of variant covers at the end, all drawn in the different styles of comic book eras.

Again, I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure this was a good “beginner” Superman book. The story is a bit convoluted and it drags. There’s more emphasis on the action than any character development. The art is very good; a few two-page spreads at the beginning completely blew me away with the amount of detail. You’d probably have to really like Superman to fully enjoy this book. However, I do like Superman, I should read more, and I’m going to!

– Kathleen

Snyder, Scott, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Dustin Nguyen, Alex Sinclair. Superman Unchained (Deluxe Edition). 2014.

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