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Graphic Novelty²

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June 2019

Puerto Rico Strong

Puerto Rico Strong is a comics anthology that explores what it means to be Puerto Rican and the diversity that exists within that concept, from today’s most exciting Puerto Rican comics creators.” The proceeds from this book sale will go to UNIDOS Disaster Relief & Recovery Program to Support after the back to back hurricanes that devastated the island in 2017.

As with any anthology, this collection was uneven. Pair that with a graphic novel format, and there are some illustration styles that will not appeal to everyone, but the art as a whole is well done. Written with the best of intentions, these one-shot stories that are only a few pages, vary in tone and authenticity. Also included were one-page splash pages, which I thought were a lead-in to a story, but indeed were only that page- which proved off-putting. Some of the comics were powerful and made me tear up, or even better, made me think about the issues beyond that page. Others were trite and lacked depth.

I appreciated learning more about Puerto Rico and the history that has shaped this US territory. Several stories spotlighted their Taíno heritage, who were the first inhabitants before Columbus and Spanish conquistadors destroyed their culture.  Paired with their early history, was modern-day history and how misguided US involvement has caused financial, ecological and cultural disasters. In addition, a few of the stories dealt with the eugenics that women endured as pharmaceutical companies preyed on those they felt that they could manipulate.

Favorites:

Thanks for Nothing by Tom Beland-  I was surprised that there wasn’t more anger directed specifically at Trump, only Beland’s righteous barbs referred directly to Trumps’ epic mismanagement of disaster relief.

La Casita of American Heroes by Anthony Otero & Charles Ugas- Lovely story of a woman soldier coming home with her child to the island to check on her parent’s safety. She teaches her daughter about all the soldiers on both sides of her family who have fought for America, but often are not considered American.

The Dragon of Bayamon by Jeff Gomez, Fabian Nicieza & Adriana Melo- An 11-year heads to Puerto Rico to stay with his abusive father for the summer and has to deal with not speaking Spanish fluently and his father’s moods. I liked this story, but it needed fleshing out.

Reality Check by Tony Bedard & John R Holmes- This story rubbed me the wrong way on the first page but the father’s explanation of the conquistador’s role on the island in relation to the Taíno was shocking, but he juxtaposed it to other nation’s helping now after the hurricanes. Still not on board with his reasoning, but it truly was thought-provoking.

I have to applaud this book, for these artists did not just sit back and send their best – no, they did their best and donated their time and talent to help a hurting community. The stories open lines of communication, and I love how authors and illustrators who were Puerto Rican added their #ownvoices to the dialogue. While often too sentimental, the right intent is there, and purchases of this book will benefit those in need.

-Nancy

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The Iliad

Three goddesses once approached Paris, Prince of Troy, to determine which of them was the most beautiful. Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, was chosen to be the most fair above Hera and Athena. In exchange, she helped Paris obtain Helen of Sparta, the most beautiful woman in the world. Her kidnapping launched the ten-year-long Trojan war, in which the Spartans, along with an army assorted of many Greek city-states, mount a siege against the Trojans. Rendered here is the later part of the epic, in which the Greek army is splintered when Agamemnon offends Achilles, and the events that take place thereafter.

Gareth Hinds’ newest adaptation, this one of part of Homer’s epic, is well-researched and rendered beautifully. Even in graphic novel form, it is not light reading, so plan ahead accordingly! There is appropriate white space between panels and it’s broken into “books”, or chapters, to keep things simpler. The character guide at the very beginning was extremely helpful in keeping everyone straight. I kept it bookmarked while reading so I could refer back to it easily when I inevitably got confused. Throughout the story, there are footnotes with more context where appropriate. At the back of the book, there are expanded notes, maps, a bibliography, and more.

Once again, the art is excellent. It appears to be rendered in watercolor, but the softness of the medium does not take away from the brutality of the war or emotional turmoil of the characters in any way. Hinds doesn’t hold back on the blood and gore, nor shy away from showing appropriate intense emotions in the characters. Having read the epic before, I found it very helpful to see the characters’ expressions, and made it easier to understand what they were going through than reading the text alone did.

I have not yet been disappointed with a Hinds adaptation, but this one exceeded even my high expectations! I have a deeper understanding of the famous epic having read it in graphic novel form. It would serve well as a companion while reading the original text. Looking forward to more from this creator, though I am hoping his next adaptation has a lighter source material =P

– Kathleen

Hinds, Gareth. The Iliad. 2019.

Stiletto

I am a fan of crime thrillers, as my decades long reading of the Prey novels by John Sandford bears out. Thus, when I saw this crime-noir graphic novel on NetGalley, both written and illustrated by Palle Schmidt, I was intrigued.

Cop partners, young Alphonse and family man Maynard, are tasked with solving the killing of two of their follow police officers before Internal Affairs takes over. Signs point to a leak within the department and they try to find the mole before it’s too late. They are told by two higher ups at different times to report directly to them, which immediately shows possible layers of corruption. All they know is this person goes by Stiletto and no one should be trusted.

Surprisingly we find out who the mole is half way into the novel, and then watch this person desperately try to cover their tracks. It was truly depressing to find out who it was, as all the death and destruction that is wrought doesn’t truly benefit this person. Their life is still desperate and unhappy with no redemption in sight. But this book was not written to have a happy ending, and was a homage to classic cop movies like Serpico.  I also would compare it to the television show Breaking Bad that showed the main character’s justification for his descent into evil.

I don’t read many graphic novels that are both written and illustrated by the same person, but Schmidt capably does both. His watercolors were appropriately dark and shadowy, with a sepia color palette. Flashbacks had a blue over-wash which was helpful in differentiating the chronology. A shark motif is also used effectively to showcase the pressure and the feeling of being hunted that the men are feeling. Schmidt draws the cityscapes with a gritty precision as well as a whole cast of characters.

Schmidt’s world-building was excellent as it conveyed a somber atmosphere for this morally ambiguous tale, and I would be interested in what lays in store next for this corrupt police department.

-Nancy

Schmidt, Palle. Stiletto, 2019.

 

Mid Year Freak Out #3

I’m freaking out for the third time! I like this post idea, as it forces me to reflect on my reading halfway through the year instead of just at the end when Kathleen and I do our Best Of List. I had fun going through my Goodreads data, and bonus, it highlights the other genres I read.

Best book you read in 2019 so far

Michelle Obama’s book Becoming was a beautiful tribute to her family, community and politics. I listened to it on audio and hearing her voice elevated the story as her intelligence and compassion shown through the entire narrative. I highly recommend it and think it would be a perfect choice for book clubs.

Best sequel you’ve read so far 

After reading the supernatural Harrow County: Countless Haints, I quickly read the entire eight-volume series and reviewed them all on the blog. As of now, I am expecting this series to make my top 2019 list.

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

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson is set in 1936 in Appalachia and is about “blue-skinned 19-year-old Cussy Carter, the last living female of the rare Blue People ancestry. The lonely young Appalachian woman joins the historical Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky and becomes a librarian”. I have family ancestry from Kentucky and I am a librarian, thus I eagerly await this book. I am currently on the waiting list for this book. (edit- done!)

Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

I look forward to every Walking Dead volume and both the mystery-thriller Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers books by John Sandford, but I really can’t wait for the graphic novel Pumpkin Heads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks!

Biggest disappointment

Author Brian Wood can typically do no wrong with me, as I am a huge fan of his Briggs Land, Rebels and Northlanders series, but Sword Daughter fell short. A certain plot point defied logic. Getting past this was impossible, and colored my feelings towards the rest of the story.

Biggest surprise

I was introduced to the kitschy awesomeness of Grant Morrison’s 1988 take on Animal Man, one of DC’s B-level superheroes. I was blown away by the chapter The Coyote Gospel and now feel I truly can claim to be a comics fan after reading this cult classic.

Favourite new author (Debut or new to you)

I’m actually going to tweak this and change it to an artist, since I read so many graphic novels. Jonas Scharf has illustrated Bone Parish (more info below on that book) and Warlords of Appalachia, two outstanding books that will make it onto my best of 2019 list in December.

Newest fictional crush

LeVar Burton is the celebrity I most want to meet.  While he is far from fictional, I love all the short story fiction he reads aloud on his podcast LeVar Burton Reads.

Newest favourite character

I love Grace, the matriarch in Bone Parish, a new supernatural thriller. The Winters family of New Orleans has discovered how to manufacture the ashes of the dead into a powerful hallucinogenic drug that lets the person snorting the drug to experience everything the dead person lived through when they were alive. Powerful but flawed, she is reaping the consequences for selling this drug.

Book that made you happy

I am a huge fan of Faith Erin Hicks- as I love her graphic novel Friends with Boys and her Nameless City trilogy, so when I saw that she had written her first YA chapter book, I jumped to read Comics Will Break Your Heart.  It was a lovely ode to nerd culture and young love!

Book that made you sad

Although I am a fan of Stephen King’s short stories and earlier work (before he got too wordy), I have avoided Pet Semetary for many years, as the subject matter of a child dying was too hard for me to read as a mother.  The book was appropriately atmospheric but what was especially terrifying was that the Creed family was so normal and nice, but the burial grounds got their hooks into the doctor father and wouldn’t let go. There was so much additional devastation and death after the initial tragedy, so it was a chilling read as you couldn’t help but wonder if so much misfortune could show up on our own doorstep without warning.

Favourite book to film adaptation you saw this year 

I read Infinity Gauntlet awhile back which Infinity Wars and Endgame are based off, and this movie was an excellent adaptation, although many characters from the movie are different from the book.

Favourite review you have written this year 

Kathleen and I participated in a fun eight-part series, Fiction’s Fearless Females, and my entry was Star Trek Voyager’s captain, Kathryn Janeway. She was an example of grace under fire who exemplified remarkable leadership skills. Janeway not only is a hero but a role model and a perfect example of a fearless female!

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

The two Sleepless graphic novels by Sarah Vaughn with art by Leila del Duca were gorgeous. Del Duca created a fully realized kingdom with detailed backgrounds that make looking at the panels a delight. The era has a Renaissance feel with deep jewel tones adding to the atmosphere. The kingdom’s inhabitants are drawn beautifully as is their courtly attire, and there is a welcome diversity.

What books do you need to read by the end of the year? 

I review YA books for the magazine School Library Journal, but can’t reveal what I read until after it is published in the magazine. However, I also read advance copies for NetGalley and I can tell you I have graphic novels Stiletto by Palle Schmidt and Aquaman: Unspoken Water by Kelly DeConnick in queue.

Halfway through the year and I’m on schedule for my Goodreads challenge of 100 books, as I’m at 56 with a few books almost done this week. So far, so good. Bring on the last half of 2019!

-Nancy

Aladdin (2019)

I’ve been waiting and wishing ( ;D ) for this movie for a while. Aladdin is my very favorite Disney movie and I was curious to see what else they could do with it in a live action remake. Last year now I reviewed the Broadway show, and I’m excited to review the live action movie too! I’ll keep the story synopsis simple, and talk more about the similarities and differences between the original animated movie (abbreviated from here on out as “OG animated film”), the Broadway show (abbreviated as “BW show”), and the live action remake (abbreviated as “LA remake”).

The young man Aladdin is street-wise, charming, and dashing. Everything a girl could wish for. One problem. He’s a street rat – an urchin and a thief living on the streets of Agrabah. He’s got dreams of becoming something, someONE, more. He believes he can when he meets a beautiful girl in the marketplace, and it turns out, she’s the princess! The law states that Princess Jasmine can only marry a prince, so Aladdin’s got next to no chance. That all changes when he is recurited by the Royal Vizier, Jafar, to steal a treasure from the legendary Cave of Wonders, and by accident Aladdin ends up with that treasure: a magic lamp with a Genie inside. He can now wish anything he wants, including turning himself into a prince. Changing himself on the outside affects how people see him, but can it change who he is on the inside?

First, the similarities!

The core story is unchanged. At it’s heart, Aladdin is two tales. The first is a tale of integrity, honesty, and friendship. Beneath it’s glamour and gusto, it whispers “Be careful what you wish for.” As Aladdin discovers, having a magical Genie and three wishes at your disposal won’t solve all your problems – it can, in fact, make them worse.

The second tale is Jasmine’s. She’s an interesting Disney princess in that she’s not the star of her own movie, but a secondary character. However, in every iteration of the story, we see her struggle to assert her worth and independence in a world that allows women no agency. We learn from her that love can be found in unexpected places, and not to judge a book by it’s cover.

Guy Ritchie takes this desert romance and gives it a different spin. There are elements of action, heists, and even hip hop. Though there are more high-speed magic carpet chases through the Cave of Wonders and the streets of Agrabah, but the film never loses sight of the core stories.

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I fell in love with the sets and costuming with Entertainment Weekly’s first look at this film!

Though the OG animated film was rich in desert colors, in my opinion, the BW show and the LA remake have the “real” Agrabah feel. Through the sets and costuming, we get all manner of luxurious textures, sparkles, a deeper rainbow of colors. The rich sensual experience translates better in either live-action experience for me, though I will admit the magical and fantastical elements translated best in the OG animated film. There’s some things that just work best with traditional, hand-drawn animation, and the Genie’s magic was one of them!

Speaking of, let’s talk about the blue elephant in the room for a moment. I believed from the start that Will Smith could pull off the Genie. Of course, no one can replace the late, great Robin Williams, and many were afraid of that. But replacing Robin Williams was never the point. No one was up in arms about Genie’s Broadway casting, were they? Will Smith got a lot of crap from fans about “getting Genie right” and “replacing Robin,” which made me sad. I don’t believe Robin Williams would have wanted this. Will Smith has the acting chops, plus the comedic ability, and he is also a record-selling rapper and musical artist. If I was afraid of anything, it was that Will Smith’s performance would overshadow those of Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott, the relatively new actors they cast as Aladdin and Jasmine.

(Though, really, it’s like tradition for Genie to overshadow everyone – I just didn’t want him to be too much)

Will Smith was phenomenal, just as I’d predicted. I had the biggest, goofiest grin on my face throughout the whole Friend Like Me sequence because I had just KNOWN he would be great, and he didn’t let me down. They let Will Smith… well, just be Will Smith. They gave him a whole lot of razzle dazzle in post (while not a fan of blue Will in the first trailer, I’m adamant the CGI wasn’t finished at that point; he looks MUCH better in motion), but for the most part, they just cut him loose and let him have fun. His enthusiasm billowed out through the screen and infected everyone in the theater.

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Genie and I both say “See? Told ya so!!!”

Casting was spot on for most everyone else as well. Mena Massoud’s Aladdin is as charming and bumblingly endearing as the original. His rougish smile melted my heart; I couldn’t bring myself to be mad when he broke into Jasmine’s quarters to talk to her again (oh, I wanted to. Oh, HOW I wanted to be mad. NEEDED to be mad. I could not!).  Naomi Scott brought new life and new elements to Jasmine (more on this in a moment) while staying true to her independent nature. She and Massoud had great chemistry, though I found their singing abilities left something to be desired. I wasn’t moved to tears during A Whole New World as I should have been; the BW show had me sobbing in the theater and I wanted the same experience, dang it!

Now for the differences.

While Jasmine’s character was given more agency, more of a voice, and a new song to match (Speechless as opposed to These Palace Walls from the BW show), her new voice amounted to… next to nothing, unfortunately. Her moment was built up from the very beginning, when Jafar told her to hold her tongue in the presence of a man. She finds her voice in the climax of the film – only for the rest of the third act to unfold exactly as it did in the OG animated film. I was waiting and rooting for her triumph only to be extremely disappointed when she became the damsel in distress once again. I suppose there would have been no other way to do it without changing the ending events too much… but I am a little bitter about it.

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Let Jasmine sing!!!

More backstory was added about the Queen, Jasmine’s mother, and Jafar and how he rose to his station. However, this exposition was so paper thin, added nothing new to the story, and was mentioned only once or twice. At that point, why bother? I couldn’t suspend my disbelief about Jafar’s backstory especially.

Jafar was the only character I took real issue with. Though Marwan Kenzari portrayed Jafar appropriately misogynistic, he didn’t appear scary enough… or dare I say, old enough. In the OG animated film, Jafar is a creepy, lecherous, and truly sinister old dude. I don’t think the film gained anything by aging him down. His preying on Jasmine was toned down, I think, in favor of his thirst for Agrabah’s throne, but I wasn’t truly sold on his performance.

And, speaking of mothers, to my last point: why on Earth didn’t they include Aladdin’s mother, or at least the song about her? Proud of Your Boy, Aladdin’s ballad about mourning his mom and wanting to do right by her, was cut from the OG animated film. It was included in the BW show, however, and brought feeling and depth to his character. I was expecting it here, for whatever reason… dunno why I’m so surprised it’s not! Apparently I’ve forgotten how much Disney hates mothers! After hearing the less-than-stellar vocal performances by much of the cast, I can now understand why it was cut here, too… but I still feel it should have been included. I would have welcomed an effort at Proud of Your Boy and the reprise over the two “blink and you miss it” mentions each of Jasmine’s mother and Jafar’s past.

I’ve heard mixed things about all live-action remakes Disney’s made to date, and only seen one and a half myself (all of 2015’s Cinderella and the second half of 2014’s Maleficent), but overall I was not disappointed with this live-action remake of my childhood favorite. Guy Ritchie’s direction took us to a more action-oriented Agrabah, but his vision never lost sight of the desert glamour or the heart of the story. Casting for the most part was done very well; Will Smith’s Genie especially. Going in with an open mind on this one makes for a magical carpet ride at the movies ;D

Kathleen

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Ritchie, Guy. Aladdin. 2019.

 

LeVar Burton Reads: Season Two

Ever since I discovered LeVar Burton Reads, which is an outstanding podcast showcasing short stories of all types of genres, I have listened to LeVar’s melodious voice on an almost weekly basis, and kept track of the stories through my Goodreads account. Now that I have finished season two plus his live broadcasts, I am ready to share!

Repairing the World by John Chu

Lila and Bridger are two linguists who are tasked with repairing holes in their world from other dimensions. Typically you might think of linguists as being a cerebral job, but this job is very physical, as aliens must be understood and subdued before being killed or sent back where they are from. This sci-fi short story juxtaposed futuristic inter-planetary travel with Lila and Bridger’s world being discriminatory to those who are LGBTQ+. When Lila sees how Bridger’s life is in peril for loving a man, she thinks, “If she was going to prevent other worlds from intruding, this world ought to be one worth preserving”. This ends the story on a hopeful note, for you hope that she and others will fight for change in their world, just as readers should be doing the same in our real world.

The Truth About Owls by Amal El-Mohtar

Schoolage Anisa is an immigrant from Lebanon whose family now lives in Glasgow, who is fascinated by owls. She processes her anxiety about her father who still travels to his family’s war-torn region and the memories she has of home by studying predatory owls. While she briefly rejects her family’s background and Arabic language, by the end she is starting to accept her heritage, and becomes more comfortable with herself. This was an engaging short story about embracing your culture.

Unassigned Territory by Stephanie Powell Watts

Stephanie is an eighteen year old Jehovah’s Witness, who is at a crossroads in her life. She travels the rural backroads of North Carolina with a partner hoping to bring new believers into her faith, but at times she faces skepticism and discrimination, as she is black in a typically white congregation. While a believer, she doesn’t have the same fervor for proselytizing as her friend and wonders if she should go to college or marry young to someone from her church. An unknown future awaits this witty young woman, and you will wonder what choice she will end up making.

Mrs. Perez by Oscar Casares

This short story is about Lola Perez, a 68 year old widow who lives in Brownsville, Texas near the Mexican border. Mrs. Perez put her husband and daughters first for many years, and it is only now that she is widowed that she has developed a passion for bowling. She is quite good at it and takes pride in the trophies she has won, so she takes it hard when her prized bowling bowl is stolen from her home. The quote “she wore the nervous smile of a young woman who realizes she has just boarded the wrong train” about a memory Lola has while looking at a picture of her honeymoon, was beautifully descriptive in this slice-of-life story. What Mrs. Perez does at the end of the story when she sees the thief, shows that you shouldn’t underestimate quiet women.

The Baboon War by Nnedi Okorafor

The Baboon War was my first story that I have read by Nnedi Okorafor, although I recognize her name from the YA series Akata Witch and for for penning the graphic novels Black Panther and Shuri. Known for her magical realism stories, I’m glad I was able to listen to the short story that appears in her collection Kabu Kabu. In this story, a group of three girls find a shortcut through the forest on their morning walk to school. But they are attacked by a group of dangerous baboons who steal their lunches from them. These three plucky schoolgirls refuse to give up this shortcut they find, and for ten days keep using the path while thinking up different ways to outsmart the baboons and put up with strange rain storms that only seem to occur in the forest. On the last day the girls carry no food but the baboons still attack them as they run to school. This earns them the respect of the monkey troop, and there is a strange supernatural aspect at the end of the tale between the girls and baboons.

Furry Night by Joan Aiken

Borrowing liberally from folk tales and fairy tales, this story is about a werewolf who meets his match. Sir Murdoch, a lycanthropist and famous theatre actor, plans to retire to his English estate. He employs a personal valet to combat his well-known anger which turns him into a werewolf. This young man is to inject Murdoch with wolf’s bane to turn him back into human form, but even with this precaution, there is worry that Murdoch will wolf-out as he is upset that an annual village race will infringe on his land. A young woman with a connection to Murdoch’s past gets involved with the men, and the ending was rather predictable. This story had a 70’s vibe, which is hard to explain, but I recognize the type of writing right off. While not my sort of story, I think readers who enjoy British fantasy type stories will like it.

Different Kinds of Darkness by David Langford

Different Kinds of Darkness is a perfect example of a compact but powerful story. This dystopian tale is set in a world in which some mathematical formulas have become so developed that viewing an image of it can kill you instantly. Terrorists use these images on posters and once on television to kill thousands. Parents have taken to extreme measures to keep their children safe by implanting a biochip into their optic nerves. Not fully understanding the situation, some students rebel and form the Shudder Club, in which they expose themselves to a dangerous image for longer amounts of time, which basically inoculates themselves against other images. Their motto “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger” becomes prophetic when something happens at their school. The children prove to the adults another path can be followed to combat the dangerous world they live in, but the author David Langford still expertly avoids the trope of children knowing more than adults.

The Great Wide World Over There by Ray Bradbury

A melancholy tale that really makes you wonder if it is better to have had something that is later taken away or never know what you are missing. In this short story we are introduced to Cora who is a middle aged illiterate farm woman. Her nephew comes to visit the farm for a month and helps her write letters that bring the world to her doorstep. She displays kindness to a neighbor who pretends to receive mail, by truly sending her a letter, but the summer ends on a bittersweet note when Benjy heads home and Cora realizes she never learned how to read and write herself. This is not a happy story by any means, but it will make you ponder choices made and the resulting consequences of those actions.

My Dear You by Rachel Khong

This story left me disquieted as I listened to a young woman navigate Heaven after her untimely death in an accident while on her honeymoon. This subjective view of the afterlife was surreal as her memories of her family and husband faded as the years wore on. A meeting with her husband years later felt hazy and unfinished, and my thoughts were that these lost memories of hers could be like what Alzheimer’s might feel to someone – the memories are no longer there, but the feelings of love and belonging remain.

The 5:22 by George Harrar

With a bit of a Twilight Zone vibe- Walter, a staid man who craves routine, has his train commute schedule upended to his dismay and doesn’t know what to make of it. While plausible explanations are given, the reader needs to decide was the story edging into magical realism, or was it simply odd coincidences that led Walter down a different (and possibly better) path?

A Fable with Slips of White Paper Spilling from the Pockets by Kevin Brockmeier

When the story began first began I thought the premise was too similar to Chivalry by Neil Gaiman, but this story took the idea of a mortal finding a holy item in a better direction. In this case, a man finds an overcoat of God’s in a thrift shop and discovers that prayers from nearby people appear as slips of paper in his coat pockets. Often he can do nothing about the prayers, but on occasion he is able to intervene and help certain individuals. This fable makes you realize that we never can help everybody, but we can always help somebody, and this help could make a huge difference in someone’s life. So if everybody helps somebody, we might just be answering someone’s prayers!

Childfinder by Octavia Butler

I was impressed with how Butler combines science fiction into a larger narrative about racism and being true to yourself. In this story a black telepath who has the unique ability to discover children with untapped psi abilities is threatened by a white woman from an unnamed society that controls and harnesses telepaths and is upset that she left the organization to work only with black children. This telepath mentor is able to shield her young protégés, but at a cost to herself. Butler makes a brilliant connection early in the story with Harriet Tubman, that parallels what happens later in the story.

The Winds of Harmattan by Nnedi Okorafor

A melancholy tale, this story is set in Africa during the slave trade with a woman who is born a magical Windseeker, and despite advice she marries a man who seems to accept her power at first. After a few years of marriage and having two boys, she still goes into the forest to levitate, which leads the villagers to accuse her of witchcraft. The ending brought me to tears as the male patriarchy won- there was no redemption for her, and even her beloved boys forgot her. But unfortunately this magical realism tale was true to life, as sometimes there are no happy endings no matter how hard you want it to end otherwise.

As Good as New by Charlie Jane Anders

As Good as New was a clever short story that combined the unlikely elements of an apocalyptic disaster, a genie-in-a-bottle and playwrights into one story. Marisol is a pre-med student who cleans houses for extra money to get through school when a devastating earthquake occurs and she is lucky enough to be in a mansion that has a fully stocked safe room. Two years go by and she leaves the room to find the world ravaged by a fungus and improbably discovers a genie who used to be a theatre critic. Granted the typical three wishes, Marisol realizes she needs to plan the wishes carefully and a talky battle of wits occurs. The narrative was very meta in how the story played out, in relation to the criticisms that the genie mentioned in how he critiqued plays in the past and it all tied together in a pleasing way.

Money Tree by Nalo Hopkinson

In this particular story a brother and sister listen to Caribbean folklore about their family’s connection to the water with a mamadjo/mermaid mother and a tale of lost pirated gold. This allegorical tale makes connections between greed and familial relations, and incorporates the transformative value of water with the sister in healing from her grief.

Black Betty by Nisi Shawl

This short story was about racism through the perspective of a dog who is given a voice modifier and can “talk” to humans. At first I thought this story of Betty the dog was going to be like Black Beauty and follow the travails of a dog through many families, but it took an interesting turn, and went deeper than that to touch on prejudice and belonging. There was a touch of humor when Betty meets a cat who can talk, then there was a worrisome interlude, before ending on a hopeful note. While the story was a bit uneven, I listened to the last half again so I could pick up on some details I missed the first time around, and enjoyed it more the second time.

The Fliers of Gy by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Fliers of Gy began as a science fiction narrative, describing the humanoid but feathered inhabitants of the planet Gy, but turned into a fascinating allegory about different types of personalities and how they shape us. Despite having feathers, the inhabitants of Gy typically do not fly. Only about 1 in 1000 of them develop true wings after puberty, but it is an excruciating experience and afterwards they are pitied for this new development. While you might think the ability to fly would be envied, and many of the flyers embrace their new ability, the wings are prone to catastrophic failure which makes every flight a risk. The last lines of the story with a flyer who chose to remain grounded so he could raise a family was beautifully melancholy: “Do you ever dream of flying? Lawyerlike, he was slow to answer. He looked away, out the window. Doesn’t everyone? he said.” This story brought into focus for me the difference between those who are ordinary and responsible and those who are artistic and bold. I have always been a person who can be counted on and is practical to a fault, yet I do have some tendencies towards creativity. I currently am balancing motherhood, work and sick parents and feel very overloaded, so the yearning for freedom is something that I very much related to. This was a lovely story that I will think on for awhile.

Season Two had some excellent entries with Different Kinds of Darkness and The Fliers of Gy being my favorites. If for some strange reason you haven’t discovered LeVar’s podcast, you must tune in,  “but you don’t have to take my word for it.”

-Nancy

Check out my reviews for Season One!

Avengers: Endgame question extravaganza!

Your favorite blogging duo have teamed up for this post: one mega Avengers: Endgame post! We decided it would be more fun to come up with a set of questions that we both answer about the movie and extended universe rather than writing a standard movie review. Our questions come courtesy of Michael at My Comic Relief and Jesse at The Green Onion. Please enjoy!

***There are spoilers ahead for Endgame and the extended Marvel Cinematic Universe***

1) Avengers: Endgame serves as a complete, beautiful ending for the first generation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, there are many characters to go forward and many potential stories to tell in their next generation/phase. What character/story are you most excited about seeing be developed in the future?

Nancy- I have a few. I really liked Scarlet Witch but her storyline fell off once The Vision died. I’d like to see her developed in further movies, although I have always associated her more with the X-Men (and now Disney has rights to these characters!). I was excited to see Sam get Captain America’s shield, and as he was rather bland as the Falcon, this could be his time to shine. Plus, I want to see more of Black Panther and everyone in Wakanda. Add Storm from X-Men into the mix and we have a great story!

Kathleen – I’m not a huge Marvel fan, as most of you know. I haven’t even seen all the movies! But, there is potential for further growth here. Like Nancy, I am STRONGLY of the opinion that Black Panther, et al, need more screen time. Of the Marvel movies I’ve seen, Black Panther was by far one of the better ones, and I’d love to dive deeper into the lore and Wakandan country. I would also love to see more adventures of the people of Asgard under Valkyrie’s rule.

2) Alternately, are there any characters for whom development didn’t go as you expected, or were disappointed with?

Nancy- I was not pleased at all that Black Widow died. There is only one chick in the six core Avengers and they have her die. DC got ahead of Marvel by featuring Wonder Woman in a female stand alone movie, and finally Marvel got around to it, but choose Captain Marvel as their first heroine to get the spot light. Hey Marvel- what about Natasha? While a prequel about her has potential, they will need to digitally de-age her. While Black Widow’s death scene was certainly plaintive, Iron Man gets a huge funeral while she doesn’t. Again, not fair. And while I’m complaining, I wasn’t a big fan of the Bruce Banner/Hulk merge. While there was some comedic relief in his new persona, I was kinda creeped out by it.

Kathleen – I was not at all pleased with Thor’s character development. However, I was pleasantly surprised Wonder Woman ripoff Captain Marvel was not a part of Thor’s complete developmental nosedive. I was afraid such a powerful character’s introduction into the universe so late would undermine everyone else’s carefully crafted development over the past 10 years, Thor’s especially. But it seems he did that all on his own well enough, so I had nothing to worry about! I was very glad her role was confined to the barest minimum, except for her deus ex-machina moment during the big battle.

3) This was a film with a great many emotional moments. Yes, there were big action set pieces but there were also so many quiet, intimate, emotional moments. Of them all, what scene emotionally affected you the most? Why?

Nancy- I have been very vocal about my dislike for Iron Man, as I find him an arrogant ass. But to see him happy with Pepper and their daughter Morgan and his plea for her to remain in his timeline was very touching. I wanted him to be able to raise her, so it was heartbreaking for Morgan to survive but without him. I also really enjoyed Hawkeye’s interactions with his family as his deep love for them was evident. Thus, when he lost them his deep grief shaped him into vengeance seeking Ronin. As a mother myself, it comes as no surprise I found the family moments the most poignant.

Kathleen – I answer this question and the next below, as they are very closely related for me!

4) Which character’s arc in this film did you find the most satisfying (however you wish to define that term)? Why?

Nancy-  Captain America! He has always been so pure with a good heart, but the pain of losing Peggy was always with him. So the ending where he stays back in time with her made me so happy I teared up. And I’m about to reveal something big- Chris Evans might have for just a moment eclipsed Chris Pine for me in The Great Chris Debate! The joke about him being America’s ass was spot on. I very much enjoyed Evan’s ass.

Kathleen – Well, after my conversion during our Battle of the Chris’s, Evans and Pine are at least tied for me. While I’m not sure if Chris Evans will eclipse Chris Pine for me, it came very, VERY close here. The very end got me crying, when we see Steve and Peggy slow dancing in their living room to the radio. Part of it was because (as Nancy says above), he had finally gotten her back all this time, and the guilt about missing their date had finally been lifted. Part of it was, too, that my fiancé and I do that all the time and it was like glimpsing into our married life! Elderly Steve passing the Captain America mantle on to Sam, after finally living the life he’d always dreamed of, was a touching and satisfying wrap up for his character, and the best ending for me.

5) While we did have our great A-Force team-up shot at the end as they battled Thanos, the film still committed the classic MCU fault of sidelining/not knowing how to handle their female characters, leaving Captain Marvel, Okoye, and Valkyrie out of the Time Heist. If you could chose one of those women to be included on the Time Heist, who would it be? Why? Which team would you put them on and why?

Nancy- Reminding me of A-Force triggers me to remembering the convoluted WarZones Secret Wars mess I read a few years ago! There was the obvious female empowerment moment during the ending battle (which I appreciated) but I have to admit it didn’t register with me who was on what team for the Time Heist. I’d have to watch the movie again to ascertain if I felt some women were wrongly placed on certain teams, although I agree that the female characters deserved more characterization and action.

Kathleen – OKOYE!!! Valkyrie came very close (it would have made much more sense for her to go back to Asgard instead of the hot mess Thor became), but ultimately I think Wakandans were grossly and outrageously underrepresented in this movie. It makes absolutely NO sense for Okoye to sit back and let others save the world; she would want to save Wakanda, and serve her country and her king (queen? Did the queen die? I didn’t even know Shuri died before this movie so it’s possible she did, but even so). I am, however, stuck on which team she would work best on, because I feel she would have done well on either the space team or the New York team.

6) Did you prefer Infinity War or Endgame and why?

Nancy- They were both special in their own way- with a yin and yang balance. There was such a huge cast of characters to cover, so everyone beside the original six Avengers were just cameos. Having just seen Endgame it is fresher in my mind vs Infinity War, so I’m going to go with Endgame as my (slight) favorite just because it went to such pains to give everyone a chance to shine.

Kathleen – Infinity War. While Endgame was a stunning, marvelous (pun intended), and above all, satisfying and FITTING end for a cinematic story 10 years in the making, no doubt about it – Infinity War was the better movie for me. There was more urgency in Infinity War to stop Thanos before the snap, and it felt the stakes were higher. Endgame wasn’t as urgent for me in that respect. Everyone just wanted everything to go back to the way it was instead of trying to stop an immediate threat. Though they were both gigantic in scale and magnitude, Infinity War was more ambitious in the crossover aspects, while Endgame was (understandably) more scaled-down. Ultimately, they were two halves of the same story, but Infinity War was the better half in my opinion.

Nancy- Kathleen has swayed me in her statement above that Infinity War was better!

Thank you once again to our expert Marvel consultants, Michael and Jesse, for helping us craft our questions! We would both love to hear what you thought of Endgame as well, dear readers!

– Nancy & Kathleen

Catwoman (Vol. 1): Trail of the Catwoman

I found this one on accident while looking for another Catwoman title – but once I saw the late Darwyn Cooke was one of the creators behind this title, how could I pass it up? =P

After faking her own death, Selina Kyle (and, by extension, Catwoman) has gone into hiding. But cash runs out quick, and she needs some more if she’s to go back home to Gotham. She calls in a few favors and rounds up some old friends to pull off one last, big, heist. As in “stealing from the mob” big. As in “train robbery” big. A load of unmarked mob money transported to Canada via train sounds just perfect. As Selina and gang pull their plan together, someone is on her trail. Someone knows Selina Kyle isn’t dead, and private eye Slam Bradley is hired to find out why. When their party is sold out to the very mob they’re stealing from, forget the cash; will Selina be able to get out alive?

I’ve tried reading noir crime graphic novels, most recently Criminal by Ed Brubaker (who, coincidentally, co-wrote this one) and Sean Phillips, and I just can’t seem to get into them. I’m not a big mystery reader, nor do I like a lot of violence in my reading, though I do enjoy psychological and interpersonal dilemmas. This one though? Hit the sweet spot.

Cooke and Brubaker created a stunning work with this one. The art is intense, line-heavy, and by turns bright neon and Gotham dark. It reads just like an old heist or detective movie. The imagery evokes the old Hollywood aesthetic: dangerous glamour glimpsed through a screen of cigarette smoke. It set the atmosphere perfectly.

The writing is excellent. We bounce between a few characters, some of whom giving conflicting information, so you never quite know who to believe. We hit the ground running and don’t stop until the last explosive has been detonated. Not only was there action, there were tense moments between characters that alluded to conflict in the past. There was just enough given for the reader to fill in the blanks themselves. I’m sure some is explained in previous runs, but it was fun to imagine =P

Having never read a Catwoman story before, I think I set the bar pretty high for myself with this one. It was exactly as I had pictured the perfect Catwoman story: a high-stakes heist, a little romance, a lot of drama and atmosphere. As for the big bad Bat? He was only mentioned a few times in passing, and seen twice. Readers who want to know what Selina Kyle gets up to without Batman around are sure to love it, as well as crime readers and those yearning for a bit of old Hollywood.

– Kathleen

Cooke, Darwyn, and Ed Brubaker. Catwoman (Vol. 1): Trail of the Catwoman. 2011.

Sleepless: Volume Two

I recently discovered the lush romantic fantasy series Sleepless and quickly read the duology. I just wish it had been a longer series, as I enjoyed the love story between Poppy and Cyrenic and think it could have at least been fleshed out into three volumes.

The second volume opens almost a year after the first, with Cyrenic awakening from his sleep after being released from his magical vow of eternal wakefulness. Poppy is being forced into a marriage of political convenience to Lord Helder, the very man she suspects of trying to kill her, but the king has blinders on and pushes her to go through with the wedding. Surprisingly the marriage ceremony does occur, but Poppy has her own reasons for going along with it. However, the wedding night spins out of control and Poppy and Cyrenic are on the run.

As Cyrenic is the first sleepless knight to be released from his vow, and deals with his recovery afterwards, there were some interesting perspectives from the other knights about if they too would like to be released. There were some thought provoking reasons as to why some of them would prefer to stay sleepless. The last half of the book is a long action sequence, and an additional villain is revealed, but the reasoning behind this second person wanting vengeance against Poppy felt ridiculous. During their escape Poppy and Cyrenic reaffirm their love, but it was rushed and could have been so much more.

The artwork was as lovely as ever, with the wedding scene being especially well done. The patterns and brocades of the clothing worn were exquisite. I felt the illustrations really lent to world building, for the interiors from the throne room to the kitchens combined into a believable kingdom. The coloring also added to the atmosphere with jewel tones for the courtly attire, decorations and poppy motif to earth tones for much of the action. Plus, Bini the fox was as adorbs as ever. An added bonus at the conclusion was alternative covers by other artists and some process pages that showed the evolution of the artwork throughout the story.

I do want to point out two glaring oddities. There was much made that Poppy’s mother is in her home country and can not return due to political issues and many letters are exchanged between the women. Although a wedding gift from her mother helps Poppy during a crisis,  we still do not meet her, even at the end when all has been resolved. And look at the picture above- these two are falling about 50 feet and land on a pile of bones. This would have killed them, instead they act as if it was a cushion, and then there is some throwaway conversation about the caverns and bones needing to be researched.

As a whole, this was an excellent short series. But there was definitely enough plot threads that could have been expanded upon that a third volume would have been very welcome. Author Sarah Vaughn created a beautiful fantasy world that artist Leila del Duca built upon, and I’m glad that I visited their magical realm!

-Nancy

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