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Graphic Novelty²

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July 2019

Green River Killer: A True Detective Story

This true-crime graphic novel about Gary Ridgway aka the Green River Killer was surprisingly tender and an unapologetic love letter from the author to his father who was one of the lead detectives on the case. Author Jeff Jensen’s father, Detective Tom Jensen, worked the Green River case for two decades and once Ridgway was caught, he was on the task force that interviewed him for details on his crimes. Having a real-life connection to the case, similar in a way to My Friend Dahmer, made the narrative obviously more authentic and poignant.

The story begins in 1965 when a teenaged Ridgway attempts to kill a young boy just for the joy of killing. While unsuccessful, while serving in Vietnam a few years later, he begins his unhealthy fascination with prostitutes and brings that sickness home to Seattle. It is after his second divorce that he goes on his crime spree, killing most of his victims from 1982-84, although he would periodically kill for years afterward. Almost all of his dozens of victims were young prostitutes that were killed after he raped them and were dumped near the Green River.

We are introduced to Tom Jensen, who was also a soldier and joins the police force afterward, eventually becoming a respected detective. He begins investigating the case along with a large group of other detectives, but after the crimes drop off and many of the detectives are re-assigned he doggedly continues with the case. New advances in technology link several victims with a swab that was taken from Ridgway earlier, as he had been an early suspect, and he is apprehended in late 2001.

The chronology skips around in the narrative showing both Jensen and Ridgway on parallel tracks, both former soldiers and fathers, but who are polar opposites with their morality. This fresh take on the tired trope of a manhunt for a serial killer showcases Jensen’s life and work on the case, so it is more the man than the hunt we end up caring about.  It is also Jonathan Case’s artwork that brings the story into focus. Done in black and white, Case’s linework is excellent, and his moody panels expertly bring you in and out of different eras in Jensen’s and Ridgway’s lives. He captures the look of Seattle with its outlying woods and the realistic aging of the characters.

While a sobering subject matter, the book was a quick read. The author is upfront that the story is not truly non-fiction as details were changed to preserve privacy for some, and it is more a story about his father than a true recounting of Ridgway’s crimes. While there is certainly graphic content and no shying away from the horror of the killings, the story is more about good persevering in the midst of evil. For a unique take on true-crime, this book can’t be beaten.

-Nancy

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Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale

Fifteen-year-old Selina Kyle has been through a lot in life already. Her mom, a waitress, has had a string of boyfriends, each crueler than the last. Dernell, the latest, tops them all. Selina reaches her breaking point and leaves home, striking out on her own and living on the streets. Her street smarts and quick, sticky fingers ensure she doesn’t go hungry or get hurt, even by the so-called Gotham Growler that’s been prowling the streets at night. When she meets Ojo, a parkour expert and fellow street kid like her, he offers her a place in his found family, and the next heist they’re planning. Selina refuses, believing she doesn’t need anyone. But maybe even lone cats need a family, every once in a while.

There was a lot going on in this one. At the forefront is Selina herself: her struggles with her home life, her feelings of hopelessness and despair, and her determination to never rely on anyone again. This is a Selina perfect for a young adult audience. Perhaps teens who read this will also be grappling their own broken homes and horrible feelings associated with it. As Selina shows us, it’s okay to open up and accept help every once in a while from those loved ones who offer it.

The review I read before it was published made it sound like the Gotham Growler was going to be a prominent part of the story, but it was very minimal. We don’t even find out who he is or why he’s attacking people in the end, which was pretty disappointing. And even though there is a thieving element, it is played down as well, to allow Selina and the tentative relationships she forges with the other street kids (and renews with one Bruce Wayne) to come forward.

Author Lauren Myracle is no stranger to teenage feelings and situations in her work (she’s written the ttyl books), but I was very surprised artist Isaac Goodhart is a relatively new face. His CV consists of a bare half-dozen titles, and this is his first DC title. Given his short career, I was amazed at the quality of his work. The whole book is in hues of deep, moody blues and purples, with pale yellow accents. His linework is precise, yet expressive. The audience will appreciate that writer nor artist held back with the deep and hurtful stuff.

As an adult, I found some plot points to be too convenient, but overall this DC Ink title will satisfy the intended YA audience. This dynamic duo pull no punches in this imagining of Selina Kyle’s teenage years. Though the story is hard, Selina’s inner strength and determination will be what stays with readers. I will be watching for more of Goodhart’s work, and I sure hope he and Myracle team up again in the future!

– Kathleen

Myracle, Lauren, and Isaac Goodhart. Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale. 2019.

Home After Dark

Home After Dark by David Small is an evocative coming of age graphic novel about the dark side of the American Dream in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s, which juxtaposes this supposed golden era with the realities that many faced.

Covering two years, the book starts in Ohio as thirteen year old Russell’s mother runs away with another man,  leaving him and his father alone. His morose hard-drinking father packs the two of them up and heads to California for a new start. However, the state of golden opportunities does not shine for them, and they settle in a non-descript inland town where his father gets a job working at the San Quentin jail. The two briefly rent rooms from a Chinese couple, the Mah’s, before moving into a small tract home the father buys using money from the GI Bill, as he is a Korean War veteran. Russell befriends Willie and Kurt in his neighborhood, who offer him a toxic view of masculinity, and ruins any chance he has to develop a friendship with school mate Warren, who is struggling with his identity also. During their second summer in California, his father abandons him, leaving him essentially an orphan. While the Mah’s take him in, Russell betrays them in addition to Warren, to Russell’s great regret. While you have great sympathy towards Russell, he is far from a likable character, and this haunting tale will make you look at the nostalgia of yesteryear with a different lens.

Small’s artwork is done in black and white with a grey overwash. His often wordless panels flow well throughout the chapters. Closeups of faces convey emotions effectively, as do the shadowy dream sequences. Despite the excellent art found in the book, I believe the cover picture does the novel a disservice. A distorted picture of Russell does not convey what the book is about, and might actually turn people off. I bought it for my library’s graphic novel collection because I thought so highly of Small’s earlier memoir Stiches, and although I have it displayed outward for our patrons to pick up, it has not circulated at all. I’ve seen another cover available, and I wish I had that one at my library, but this was the only cover I saw at the time I ordered it.

This disquieting book was a melancholy read and doesn’t wrap up things neatly. While you have a clue of the choice Russell will make, you know he has a tough road ahead of him no matter what.

-Nancy

Small, David. Home After Dark. 2018.

The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel

Offred is a Handmaid living in the service of the Commander and his wife in the Republic of Gilead. She is not allowed to read, write, hold a job or make money, nor even have any friends. Her sole duty is to bear the Commander’s children. Offred remembers a time before, when she was a free woman. The mere thought is treasonous, but she holds onto the memories like her own precious secret. When the Commander decides to indulge Offred in activities that are forbidden – playing board games, looking at magazines – she realizes that if she plays her cards right, she could be playing for her freedom.

I’ve never read Margaret Atwood’s novel, nor watched the popular TV adaptation. But I was blown away by this graphic novel adaptation by Renée Nault. I was sucked in, compelled morbidly and revoltingly to keep going, and could not put it down until the very last page. Even then I had to set it aside, savor it some more, and most importantly, think, and we all know how I love books that make me think ;D

Having not read the original novel, I’m not sure how much was omitted to pare it down to graphic novel form. I was able to figure most things out on my own, but it could have done with another few pages of exposition when it came to the nuclear fallout and the forming of the Republic of Gilead. There was mention of countries outside North America at one point, and expansion on that would have been welcome too. If these existed in the first place, they must have been edited out. I’m sure it did Atwood’s novel justice.

Nault’s artwork was incredible. It appears to have been done in ink and watercolor, in thin washes and with thin, slightly wobbly lines, echoing the uncertain and tumultuous nature of the story. Even the font was wiggly! There is an airy and yet foreboding quality in the art, as if you’re in a dream that could very quickly and easily turn into a nightmare. I was stunned by the skill and quality of Nault’s work, and will be seeking out more from her!

This graphic novel by turns repulsed and fascinated me, as I’m sure the print book will. The production of this adaptation was magnificent, and I look forward to comparing it to the original novel.

– Kathleen

Atwood, Margaret. Adapted by Renée Nault. The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel. 2019.

Surviving the City

This is a short but powerful graphic novel about two young First Nations women in Canada that face the perils of being Indigenous in the city together.

Best friends at school, Miikwan is Anishinaabe, while Dez is Inninew.  The two high schoolers bond is so tight that they completed a berry fast together, which is a rite of womanhood in their tribes. Despite their close friendship, they have each faced great trauma in their lives. Miikwan’s mother is missing and presumed dead, while Dez lives with her elderly grandmother who is facing health problems, and social services is planning on moving her into foster care.

Dez briefly runs away as Miikwan gets involved in a protest to bring attention to the crisis of stolen sisters. What makes this story especially poignant was the effective use of showing dead Native women as spirits surrounding their loved ones, and dark alien type creatures besides men that wish these woman harm. While the girls could not see these unearthly creatures, the readers could, and it ramped up the tension as you desperately hoped the girls would avoid the evil that seemed to be near them often on the city streets.

The artwork was well done, showcasing the diversity of Indigenous tribes, and spotlighting that not all tribe members live on reservations. The color palate was in warn earthen tones, and the panels flowed well on the pages, with some lovely imagery. As a stated above, the unseen presences surrounding the girls elevated the story, and drew you into their world. It also clearly showed the pride and connection they each felt about their cultural heritage, which was a direct message from the author and illustrator, who both have Native ancestry.

An afterward explained some information about the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and gave some excellent statistics and further reading suggestions. I do wish this afterward had included even more information. While I have some knowledge of berry fasts and two-spirit people, I really don’t think many people outside the Indigenous community will be familiar with these terms. Some explanation within the preceding narrative text, or in the afterwards should have been added. For two other well done graphic novels about other aspects of modern Indigenous life, read The Outside Circle and Roughneck.

I applaud this book for the awareness it brings to the plight of Indigenous women and the families they leave behind. Please do further research on the crisis they face, for this situation is also present in the United States, and needs to be acknowledged.

-Nancy

Mera: Tidebreaker – Take²

This is the second time in recent memory I’ve accidentally read and reviewed a graphic novel that Nancy has read first… I must be slipping in my old age =P

Mera, princess of the underwater kingdom of Xebel, is exasperated at her kingdom’s continued deference to Atlantis. The Atlanteans want peace, but at the oppression of every other kingdom around them. Mera knows she can change that and defeat her enemies once she takes the throne. Only problem with that is, her father the king has promised Larken, Mera’s betrothed from the Kingdom of Trench, the throne if he can find and kill the Prince of Atlantis. The infuriated Mera decides to take matters into her own hands to claim her rightful throne. She makes her way to the surface to find the long-lost Prince of Atlantis and assassinate him. Arthur Curry turns out to be much different than she imagined, and slowly he becomes less of a target and more of an innocent… and perhaps something more than that. Can Mera fulfill her quest for vengeance and justice for her people, and claim the throne that is her birthright?

I skimmed this one after a while as the story bored me (plus there was an SVU marathon on, and I’d rather route all immediate brain bandwidth to that!). I’d put the reading level at upper middle-grade, and it definitely showed in the classic love-triangle (rectangle if we’re including Arthur’s girlfriend at the beginning of the story) romance trope. Mera herself flip-flopped from being ruthless to lovestruck (with both boys) so fast, I got whiplash. There were plot points that were confusing and not explained clearly. For example, why was Mera’s watch able to work out of the water? Wouldn’t it break if exposed to air for extended amounts of time, like our devices would if exposed to water? That is seriously bothering me and I need an answer X,D

The art was unique. It was rendered in shades of the same bottle glass greens and blues, with Mera’s red hair as the only other color. The characters were rendered expressively, with a style that reminded me a little of Burnside Batgirl, which is appropriate as that run was also aimed at teen and middle grade readers at the start.

Nancy and I seem to be in agreement on this one. For the target audience, this is a heartstring-pulling, feminist ode to your favorite aquatic princess. For everyone else, it’s a bit of a slog. Skip it yourself, but definitely pick it up for your library’s youth collection or the young comic-lover in your life.

– Kathleen

Paige, Danielle, and Stephen Byrne. Mera: Tidebreaker. 2019.

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