Contemporary video artist JH and Sarah met on a dating app, and hit it off right away. They meet on Skype regularly for hook ups. Though Sarah is elusive, cold even, JH can’t stop thinking about her, and starts to become obsessed. Despite his best efforts, he can’t seem to convince her to meet in real life. When finally she does cave, she asks him to meet at a swinger’s party, and asks a vow of abstinance lasting months while she’s on vacation. JH will do anything she asks, if only for the chance to get close to her. When she gets back, will they finally have a chance?
This is a very adult graphic novel that focuses on the juxtaposition of emotional intimacy in the age of online dating. We only focus on the “relationship” from JH’s point of view. We see him struggle with trying to connect to Sarah, but just like him, we readers are left to wonder about and draw our own conclusions about how Sarah is feeling. The most effective panels are of JH, alone, staring at his computer screen or his phone, waiting for an answer.
Though there is nudity, there is very little explicit sexual content. Instead we experience JH and Sarah’s sexual acts through visual metaphor, some of which are JH’s video art pieces. I found the cliff sequences quite clever: JH and Sarah are falling down a cliff, holding onto swords or daggers that make marks in the cliff face. For the most part they are parallel to each other, but sometimes they cross. Sometimes the sword or dagger marks wobble with increased or decreased frequency. To me this suggests the level of excitement or involvement that both parties have in the sexual act.
Though some of the mind games shown here probably went over my head, as I’ve never dated online, I was impressed by the artwork and the alternative ways that sexual acts were portrayed. We see two young adults struggling to find what they need, when they might not even realize they need it. Though I tend to roll my eyes at the “intimacy vs. technology” cliche, I found this one to be the most effective I’ve read so far.
Banned Books Week this year runs from September 22nd- 28th, and I’d like to take this time to shine some light on how many graphic novels have been challenged over the years. The site Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is an outstanding resource on how to fight censorship and this particular page guides you through specific cases of challenged comics and graphic novels.
As a librarian, it is important that we provide books on ALL topics for ALL people. While sometimes we might choose not to order a book or to place a book in a location that we feel is age-appropriate, patrons should have full access to books that they wish to read. I have read many challenged books, in all genres, over the years and am a better person for it. The following five graphic novels are but a few that have been challenged over the years.
This graphic novel about the Joker’s possible origin is considered a DC classic, but it’s extreme violence and implied rape has put it on several banned lists. The ambiguous ending between Joker and Batman can be interpreted in many different ways. This draw your own conclusion setup is what elevates this story and changed the way graphic novels are written and illustrated.
So what exactly is so controversial in this boldly colored YA book that it has been on the Top 10 banned list multiple times, considering it was nominated for a Harvey Award and was a Stonewall Honor Book? Well, Callie meets twin brothers who get involved in the musical, and one is gay and the other is questioning. While their level of coming out to the other students is part of the narrative, this tween-friendly book is very accepting of their identity. Author Telgemeier said, “that while she and her editors at Scholastic were very careful to make the book age-appropriate, they never considered omitting the gay characters because ‘finding your identity, whether gay or straight, is a huge part of middle school‘.” Hell yeah, it is!
Reason challenged: Nudity, sexual content, and unsuited to age group
Author and illustrator Bechdel chronicles her childhood through her early years of college, in a non-linear memoir. The Bechdel family lived in her father’s small hometown of Beech Creek in Pennsylvania, and her father helped run the family funeral parlor. Alison and her younger brothers named the funeral parlor, Fun Home, hence the name of the novel. Her parents were trapped in a loveless marriage, with the father hiding his homosexuality, although as the years wore on his affairs became less and less discreet. Bechdel’s raw autobiography was turned into a musical play that showed on Broadway. That this book, and perhaps the play, can affect people deeply is a testament to the power of family and how it shapes us.
I first read this intimate memoir, written in graphic novel form about the author’s experience of growing up in 1980’s Iran, soon after the Paris bombings in late 2015. I felt it timely, for although the terrorists had not been from Iran, much of the Middle East was getting a bad rap. This book humanizes another culture and shows how extremism in any culture or religion is done by the few radicals against the many who suffer because of it and should be read widely for the message it conveys.
Reason challenged: Sexual content, anti-family, nudity, offensive language, and unsuited for age group.
An epic sci-fi adventure with liberal doses of violence and sex! We learn that the main character’s two species are at war, and their secret marriage and birth of a hybrid child are strictly forbidden. That this love blossomed among enemies must be kept from the public, and the book’s message of enduring love is more nuanced than you would think.
Celebrating free expression is important, for “Censorship leaves us in the dark. Keep the light on!”
Aztek has come to Wonder Woman and asked for her help entering the realm of the gods to rescue one of her own. The legendary Amazon Atalanta has been missing for hundreds of years, and by Aztek’s description, it appears to be her. Diana can’t leave her aunt on her own any longer, but neither can Artemis, of the defected Amazons of the Bana-Mighdall. Atalanta is many things: an aunt, a legend, a hero – and three powerful women are coming to her rescue, whether the gods like it or not.
There is more to the story, but I can’t say anything further without spoilers 😉 Suffice it to say that this is a volume in which women of different viewpoints and talents come together for a common cause – which is always welcome, and appreciated! It was refreshing to see Aztek, who is a character I know little about, and for the Central and South American pantheon to have a bit of the spotlight, instead of the requisite Greeks.
This volume also contains the Wonder Woman 75th Anniversary Special, which is a collection of one-shots from many different writers and artists who’ve worked on Wonder Woman over the years. Many were no more than a few pages long, but captured Diana’s character succinctly and sufficiently at different points throughout her career. Here’s to another 75 years!
Orlando, Steve, Laura Braga, Aco, Raul Allen, and Patricia Martin. Wonder Woman (Rebirth, Vol. 9): The Enemy of Both Sides. 2019.
Once I discovered LeVar Burton Reads aka Reading Rainbow for adults last year, I have been enjoying listening to LeVar read short stories on his podcast on a weekly basis. As such, here are short reviews of twelve excellent stories.
Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience by Rebecca Roanhorse
The lead into season three packed quite a punch. Author Rebecca Roanhorse expertly pulls you in with a tale of cultural appropriation but then has yet another twist at the end that will make you question your assumptions.
Jesse is an American Indian who reluctantly works for a virtual reality company in Arizona that tourists pay to experience an “authentic” Indian experience that is anything but. He knows he is playing into white people’s unrealistic fantasies about spirit quests but it pays the bills. When a young white man that Jesse names White Wolf seems to really want to get to know Jesse and his real-life Indian experiences, Jesse meets him outside of the VR environment and shares what he knows. Even Jesse’s wife meets up with this new friend of his, but that is when the story goes sideways. Reminiscent of Westworld and Inception, Jesse’s life is upended by White Wolf and the level of appropriation goes way deeper than originally expected. This sci-fi story is one you will listen to again and again to pick up clues missed earlier and deserves the Hugo, Nebula, and Apex Magazine Reader’s Choice Awards that it won in 2017.
Sea Girls by Daniel Wallace
Typically I am not a fan of magical realism, but this story gets it just right. Two school mates who don’t know each other well, both encounter a mermaid who washes up a beach. While surprised to see one, they both know they exist and are fascinated by the fishy look of her, as she is not the beautiful siren of yore. The teen boy wishes to push her back into the ocean to save her, but the teen girl cautions him that all is not what it seems and to be careful. Her warnings prove to be true as the mermaid tries to drag the young man into the water with her. Despite the short length of the story, the characters are fleshed out and this tale of fantasy and reality intersecting was strong.
The Last Cheng Beng Gift by Jaymee Goh
This short story about parental expectations even in the afterlife was a bit of a downer. Mrs. Lin, a Chinese matriarch who resides in the Underworld, is still receiving gifts from her adult children during Cheng Beng, a festival honoring your ancestors. She and her other dead friends still participate in petty jealousies and one-ups in regards to the gifts they receive. Mrs. Lin, in ghostly form, visits her daughter and disapproves of her current life. While Mrs. Lin does reach a better understanding of her daughter, the entire story was rather sobering.
Fires by Rick Bass
Fires was excellent at world-building as the descriptions of the environment (you never find out where- perhaps Montana or Alaska) made you feel as though you were in the middle of bear country. A man and woman are thrown together for a season and seem suited for one another, but the woman is there simply to train for races and has to head home in the late summer, thus no romance develops. I was enjoying this slice-of-life interlude when the woman does something so mind-bogglingly foolish, that could have had huge ramifications, that the story ended on a sour note for me. While it might have been a metaphor for her feelings, I couldn’t get past the danger of it all.
Multo by Samuel Marzioli
Multo was a powerful ghost story that would be perfect to tell at a campfire. In this story, a man recounts his youth, when his family bonds with another Filipino family and he is introduced to the story of the ghost called Multo that has attached to the grandmother from the other family. During a sleepover, the ghost eerily tells the boy he will be next and years later when the grandmother dies, the man worries the ghost is coming for him…
Fantaisie Impromptu No. 4 in C#min, Op. 66 by Carlos Hernandez
Artists are said to often give their heart and soul to their work, and in the case, it is literally true. A concert pianist’s wife insists her husband’s soul is in a piano, after his debilitating illness and death. But if his soul is locked into a piano what of his eternal soul in heaven? In this tale science and faith intersect with a “deus ex machina” ending.
Fyrewall by Stefani Cox
In this short speculative fiction story, Daesha lives sometime in the future in the LA area, in which an advanced firewall keeps the city safe from raging wildfires. Her grandmother invented the technology of the wall, and Daesha is tasked with keeping it updated, yet she and her work crew seem to have lost the technical understanding in how it was created and how to truly fix it when a tear occurs and puts the city at risk. While the story mentions that the inhabitants inside are very diverse and inclusive, the story fell short on world-building, although I came away with the lesson of making sure you pass down your knowledge to future generations.
Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon (who also writes as T. Kingfisher)
Jackalope Wives was a delightful and atmospheric tale. It had a Southwestern feel, with Native American mythology overtones, that included the vivid imagery of fictional jackalopes dancing around a fire. When a foolish young man tries to kidnap one of these creatures to become his wife, he doesn’t complete the steps needed to transform her into a human leaving her scarred and mute, he takes her to his Grandma Harken to help. While his Grandma seems tough, she has the expected heart of gold and tries to help the girl heal. When that doesn’t work, Grandma heads into the desert with her, to meet up with someone she believes will help despite knowing there will be a price to pay. While I saw the twist coming, I was very pleased with the conclusion and how poignant it was.
The Cell Phones by Karen E. Bender
A Jewish woman celebrating Rosh Hashanah at Synagogue ruminates on her life and her worries about the direction the nation is headed in. A bit of magical realism creeps into the story when her cell and everyone else’s cells also go off during service and people’s complaints fill the building for everyone to hear. Only when the calls are acknowledged and not hushed do the phones stop ringing. The parallel is clear- we need to recognize other people’s worries and not blow them off, as everyone deserves to be heard. *I ended up reading the entire book collection by Bender for I felt she connects our changing 21st century with precise character studies and offers insight into the cultural dissonance that many of us are feeling right now.*
Singing on a Star by Ellen Klages
In this troubling short story, a kindergartner (I think the character should have been older) goes to her friend’s house for a sleep-over and her friend takes her through a portal to another dimension. Uneasy with the people she meets there, for it gives her an uncomfortable vibe, she is relieved when they go back home. Her friend swears her to secrecy, and she keeps to it, even when her friend later disappears. The disquieting conclusion has her gain a way to enter the other dimension on her own, and I cringed at the idea that this dangerous new world held any appeal to the girl. Readers are left wondering what she will do next, and the mother in me thought of parallels in which a child could be so taken in by obvious danger. An adaptation of this story could be a good match for a Twilight Zone or Ray Bradbury Theatre type of episode.
Yiwu by Lavie Tidhar
Yiwu combined science fiction and magical realism in an urban future. At first, you are transported to a timeless bazaar in China where a shopkeeper sells lottery tickets in which a winner’s deepest wish is realized. When someone’s winning ticket doesn’t result in a change the shopkeeper heads to the lottery offices to explore why. The new setting is jarring and took me out of the story, but the conclusion wraps up the story in a sweet way, as not everyone’s happy ending needs to be big and dramatic
Morning Child by Gardner Dozois
This short story with an apt title sucked me in immediately. The world-building was strong and the particular situation with John reminded me of the fantasy novel A Spell for Chameleon (I was a huge fan of Piers Anthony’s Xanth series in middle school- although I find them very problematic now). The ending was obviously melancholy as you wonder how William will cope with John’s untenable condition long term.
My favorites this season were Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience and Jackalope Wives, as I have thought about those two stories quite a bit since listening to them.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.”
One of Charlie’s final assignments for middle school is finding “her” song for music class. A song that speaks to her soul, and feels like home, as Mr. K encourages the class. As summer approaches though, it’s hard to focus. She notices her classmate Emile more and more. The continued absence of another classmate, Luka, grows bigger and harder to ignore as well. During the opera unit, Charlie discovers the diva Maria Callas, and is deeply moved by her voice. As Charlie digs deeper into Maria’s charmed, yet tragic, life, she not only finds a woman to look up to, but qualities she can emulate. Or try to, anyway. Can it be done? Can modern-day lessons be learned from an opera singer who’s long since passed?
This is a debut graphic novel from writer Kyo Maclear and illustrator Byron Eggenschwiler. It’s in part a slice-of-life middle school story, and part biography of Maria Callas’ life. The story unfolds slowly, with Charlie’s discovery of the diva’s music occurring about halfway through the book, and her ruminations on her classmates, their music tastes, and more, sprinkled in throughout. In addition, there are characters here that are LGBTQ+, which was handled in a no-fuss way. I’d put the reading level at middle-grade to young adult.
The illustrations are beautiful. It’s mostly rendered in a bright gold through deep brown palette, though hues of blue are used for flashbacks, and red for Maria Callas’ life. The style is quirky and whimsical, flowy and dreamlike. It appears to be rendered in pencil and crayon for the most part, and some pastel, which gives it an overall very soft quality. I felt calmed as I read it, just because of the illustrations!
Overall, this was a lovely and soft debut from who is sure to be a winning graphic novel creating duo.
Maclear, Kyo, and Byron Eggenschwiler. Operatic. 2019.
After fifteen years, this epic dystopian zombie series wrapped everything up in Volume 32! I’m sad to see it come to an end, but it went out on Kirkman’s own terms and I was (mostly) pleased with its conclusion. There will be some spoilers throughout, but mostly in the review of the last volume.
Volume 25- No Turning Back:The residents of the three linked communities are out for blood once it is revealed to them what Alpha and The Whisperers did. The victim’s loved ones want immediate retaliation and don’t understand Rick’s reluctance in doing so. Rick and Maggie fight over their different leading styles and come to blows, and Paul shows he has Maggie’s back at all times. Rick goes to Negan and asks for his advice on how to handle the volatile revolt against his leadership. Let me repeat that, Rick asks an evil tyrant what to do next. Doubtful this is going to go well…
Volume 26- Call To Arms: This was the best volume in a long while! There were some great storylines followed up on, with room for growth. The militia begins their training, and Dwight continues to show leadership potential, although he claims to not want to be a leader. This reminds me of an earlier volume when Andrea tells Rick he is a better leader when he doesn’t want to be. Eugene makes contact with an unknown person on his shortwave radio. While he tries not to give away too much info and put the community at risk, I don’t have a good feeling about it. I’ve watched some of the TWD spinoff, Fear The Walking Dead and their radio interactions with another group did not end well for them. The best part of this volume was Negan’s escape (we all knew he would eventually!) and what he does afterward. As soon as you think he might have a tiny spark of humanity left in him, he destroys you. The ending was epic!
Volume 27- The Whisperer War: Another strong volume- it picks up with Negan bringing home his “trophy” to show Rick his intentions. Negan claims that Rick and the residents of Alexandria should trust him, as he has dealt a hard blow to the Whisperers, and willingly came back to face them. Beta discovers what Negan did and vows revenge. Rick tries to bring all his allies together to fight the horde of zombies that the Whisperers are hiding among, but not all the outposts are willing to send their members to join Alexandria’s militia. The militia plans their strategy, but of course, things never go well out in the field. Negan’s continued evolution is fascinating, with a few hints as to what Lucille represented to him. Beta hasn’t seemed like a strong villain compared to the Governor, Negan or Alpha, but the references to his face never having been seen intrigues me. Is he someone we know from the past? One aside about the artwork- it was much too busy. There were several two-page spreads that had too many panels that were hard to follow chronologically.
Volume 28- A Certain Doom: Rick, Andrea and their crew face the largest herd of zombies yet, heading straight towards Alexandria due to the Whisperers pushing them in that direction. The town is a well-oiled machine under Rick’s guidance and they no longer strictly react, they have a plan of action. That’s not to say things don’t get out of hand or verge on chaos, especially when a minor power coup occurs, but the team works well together. We even get some character development and some enlightening banter between Rick and Negan when they are stranded in a building together for some time. But a quip by Negan about avoiding being bitten is a foreshadowing about what soon happens to a beloved original character. The conclusion of the book gives this person a proper send-off and the chance for many to be able to say goodbye before the inevitable death. The death will be sure to reverberate in future volumes and will lay a heavy weight on the remaining character’s psyches.
Volume 29- Lines We Cross: This was my quickest TWD read ever! This story was definitely a bridge book between the action of fighting the large zombie herd in the last volume and whatever Kirkman has planned next. Lots of little things happen: Rick is still reeling from the devastating death of a loved one, Jesus and Aaron fall in love and a triangle is hinted at between Carl, Lydia and Sophia. Maggie is furious that Negan is on the loose, a spunky new character Juanita is added to the mix, and Eugene and others set out to find the people he has speaking to on a ham radio. We discover who Beta is and it’s incredibly anti-climatic.
Volume 30- New World Order: Eugene and Michonne’s group finally arrives in Ohio to meet the woman Stephanie that Eugene has been communicating by ham radio with. Instead, they are met by a large group of soldiers, decked out in Stormtrooper type of gear, and taken to meet Lance who wishes to interrogate the group. Turns out they are on the outskirts of The Commonwealth, a group of survivors 50K strong. We then meet Pamela, the governor, and find out this large group has based their new society on a class system built upon what you did before the outbreak. While the city seems to be thriving, there is an underlying issue of the haves vs the have nots. Michonne is shocked to meet someone from her past and decides to stay in the Commonwealth, while Eugene escorts Pam to Alexandria to meet Rick. This is a promising arc that could turn the series in a new direction. Now years out from the outbreak, how does civilization rebuild? How do scattered settlements of survivors unite when each group has had different types of leaders and coping strategies? I enjoyed this book, that had no Negan and way less zombie attacks than usual, plus the art was crisper with some great layouts.
Volume 31- The Rotton Core: In the last volume, we are introduced to the Commonwealth, a large settlement in Ohio that has rigid class structures but has managed to thrive. I thought it established a promising arc that could turn the series in a new direction, for now, years out from the outbreak, how does civilization rebuild? Last issue and this issue had less zombie attacks, for I would think that now that people know how to prevent more zombies from reanimating, there would be less and less zombies to dispatch as the years went by. That gives people more time to refashion their world, and there would be many different ways in which this could happen. With this being TWD, we are force-fed that Rick’s way is best (it actually usually is) and other settlements should adapt to the way Alexandria is governed. So we get a heartbreaking showdown between Rick and another certain someone who wants change fast and isn’t willing to take no for an answer. We also get a lot of character development between others with new romances developing, but the shifting scenes between different settlements and characters were abrupt with no visual cues that the scene had changed- you were just supposed to know who lived in what settlement to know where you were now. BTW- Carl is an asshole and he and Sophia had better not eventually get together.
Volume 32- Rest In Peace: Surprise! Kirkman unexpectedly brought TWD to a close in this volume after fifteen years of zombie madness! *Spoilers ahead*
I had enjoyed the story arc in the last few volumes of Rick and compony meeting survivors of the Commonwealth in Ohio that was 50K strong, led by a governor, Pamela. This large group has based their new society on a class system built upon what you did before the outbreak. While the city seems to be thriving, there is an underlying issue of the haves vs the have nots, and tensions arise as this new group sees how Alexandria residents are governed. As we moved away from the zombie outbreak there were fewer attacks, thus civilization could rebuild, and this was opening up new storylines but Kirkman was actually drawing the story to a close.
The pressure brewing between the two factions comes to a head, with important members of the Commonwealth planning a coup when a large zombie herd puts everyone in danger. Maggie, Carl and others join Rick in fighting them back, and in the aftermath, Pamela publicity loses the support of her people. As the Commonwealth stands on the brink of democracy instead of a monarchy, Pamela’s son Sebastian is furious at his loss of power and comes after Rick. The fallout of his actions are huge, and the storyline seems poised to go in a new direction. But it was all a fake-out as Kirkman followed up with a concluding issue with a significant time jump.
Twenty plus years have passed since Rick’s death at the hands of Sebastian, and the story shows us a grown-up Carl married to Sophia with a daughter of their own. The zombies are almost completely eradicated with a younger generation having no experience of having to fight for their very survival as older generations had to. Carl travels around the territory and we get to peek in at the lives of many of our favorite characters and see how Rick’s vision led to a better and safer world for them all. In fact, Rick is viewed as a savior with shrines to his memory.
When this sort of epic story concludes, there is no way to make all fans happy and as such, there were a few quibbles I had with some character’s final developments in the future. Negan, Juanita, Michonne, Jesus, Aaron, Eugene plus others are given adequate concluding cameos; but Maggie as President was turned into a leader who could not mother her son adequately because of her commitments, which was an ignoble end for her and Hershel. But my major issue was that Carl ended up with Sophia. He was allowed to sex it up with Lydia, while virginal Sophia had to wait for him until he sowed his wild oats. Lydia in the future was shown poorly as a morally questionable woman as she had dared to be sexually active as a teen with Carl. What a double standard for females and I really resented those angles.
Yet, overall, I was pleased with this concluding volume. Fifteen years is an amazing run, and Kirkman brought it to an end on his own terms and on a timetable that allowed him to go out while on top. I also would be remiss in not mentioning the talented artists- Adlard, Gaudiano and Rathburn- who gave us amazing artwork that brought the story to life. Kirkman’s concluding message to readers was a treat and explained it from his perspective. I will miss TWD, as it was a groundbreaking story that changed comics forever, but I am glad that it ended on such a strong note. In conclusion, remember these wise words- “In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living”. So…put down your phone and LIVE!
Aside- Compendium Four won’t actually be released until early October, but I’ve always organized my reviews under these covers, but I actually read this series as volumes.
Last time I wrote a TWD review on this blog was in 2016- I had wondered if Kathleen and I would still be blogging next time a compendium came out- but we are!! 🙂
Catch up on previous volumes at: Compendium One, Compendium Two, Compendium Three
Dick Grayson is a hero to many. During the Forever Evil storyline, Nightwing was unmasked, his secret identity revealed, and (seemingly) killed on camera to millions of viewers. To many, that hero is now a dead man… but they don’t know Dick. The former Boy Wonder is alive, well, and now goes by Agent 37 at the spy agency called Spyral. Partnered with Helena Bertinelli, the agent known as Matron, they hunt down pieces of the slain god Paragon, whose organs have the potential to become weapons of mass destruction. However, Spyral’s lead man, Mister Minos, has another motive: he wants to use these pieces to discover the secret identity of every superhero on Earth. Of course, Batman is on to Mister Minos’ duplicity – and Dick is his man on the inside. Though Dick is, for all intents and purposes, dead to the rest of the world, he has more to lose now than ever: his sense of self.
There have been a few times in Rebirth where Dick and Helena’s spy days have been referenced, and I was curious for more context. This is a solid start to the series. We’ve seen Dick constantly struggle to get out of Batman’s shadow (it’s partially why he became Nightwing), so it will be very interesting to see if and how he manages to do it here, especially if he’s still working with the Dark Knight.
Speaking of Batman, it is a little annoying how he seems to know everything… including that a super-secret spy agency is up to no good. I’m curious to see how he knew this, and I’m sure it will be revealed as the story goes on. Also yet to be revealed are Helena’s motives for joining Spyral. And how a girl’s boarding school became their front! There’s a lot of fun to be had here, but intrigue also.
The art is nothing to write home about. It’s certainly servicable: anatomy is accurate, expressions and lighting are natural, and backgrounds are understandably toned down to focus on the characters and action. But it suffers in that it’s in your run-of-the-mill, everyday comic book style. While there’s nothing unique offered here in the art style, it’s a solid foundation from which to build a graphic novel in which the story has more focus than the art. I, for one, am looking forward to more of the story!
Seeley, Tim, Tom King, Mikel Janín, Stephen Mooney, and Jeromy Cox. Grayson (Vol. 1): Agents of Spyral. 2015.
Usually, Wonder Woman is Kathleen’s domain, but when I saw this oversized graphic novel that was illustrated by one of my favorite artists, Alex Ross, I just had to read and share!
Published soon after the tragedy of 9/11 in NYC, this story is shaped by the shock of the American people that terrorism could happen on our own shores. As such, it is a hopeful narrative that shows compassion to all nations of the world. Paul Dini begins this story with Diana’s birth at Paradise Island, and her later wish to join ‘Man’s World’ as an ambassador to help mankind. Her amazing powers are appreciated by many and she helps fight evil in large and small ways. However, others do not respect her goodwill and often her intentions are misinterpreted and rejected. She asks for advice from Superman, who wisely tells her to work alongside people instead of above them. She takes his words to heart and no longer always wears her Amazonian outfit, so she can blend in with other cultures and help from within. Finally, her spirit of truth shines through for all to see.
Ross’s painted watercolors are beautiful as always and done in his trademark photo-realism style. Diana often is shown to resemble Lynda Carter, the iconic actress who played Wonder Woman on television in the 1970’s. The layout is not typical graphic novel panels, but often are two-page spreads or montages with a few thin black lines to differentiate the pictures and to direct the flow of the action sequences. The people in the crowds are so realistic, you know that Ross is painting them from models as he did later in the superb Kingdome Come, which also featured Diana in the DC classic.
This book only reinforced that Wonder Woman is a hero for the ages, but also ably connected her to our modern-day world. This lovely stand-alone graphic novel was a treat and I highly recommend it for both the message and the art!
Love & Friendship: Aladdin shows a young street rat, like himself, around Agrabah, looking for the good parts.
Words & Deeds: After an escape attempt is thwarted, Dahlia tries to get Princess Jasmine to see that the world can be learned about through books.
Lost & Found: Abu, Carpet, and Rajah try to retrieve Aladdin’s lucky charm from a pack of street dogs.
Duty & Dreams: One thousand years before the events of Aladdin, Genie helps a young girl named Zayna realize maybe her current life isn’t so bad after all.
The intended target is elementary to middle-schoolers, so I was able to breeze through it. The panels and speech bubbles are spread out, not too wordy, and easy to follow. All four stories were short too, no more than a few pages, and each contain a lesson on finding the good in the bad, helping friends, and more. There was a fine balance in the art of detailed and yet simple, to stay easy on young eyes.
As an adult, I found the art too simple at times: for some panels where we are pulled out a little bit, all elements seemed rendered in amorphous blobs. While the renditions of the characters were for the most part true to their live-action counterpart, some of their expressions were too cartoony, and they crossed over into uncanny valley for me. The chapter with Abu, Carpet, and Rajah as the main characters did not go over well for me… some of the goofy things they get up to just does not translate well to live action, or even a rendition of a live-action film =P
Young readers will adore this graphic novel. They’ll find it entertaining, and it would be a good segway into more graphic novels. More important, they will be able to read it easily. A definite add for libraries and/or young Disney lovers!
Bechko, Corinna. Disney’s Aladdin: Four Tales of Agrabah. 2019.