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Graphic Novelty²

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October 2020

Magus of the Library: Vol. 3

Theo has passed his written kafna exam! He is now moving on to the oral and practical exams. He meets a few more of his exam-mates: Sala Sei Sohn, a girl very interested in mana; Ohgga, a carefree girl with cat ears; and Natica, who’s determined to be the best of the best. Theo is paired with Ohgga and Natica for the practical portion of the exam. They have to work together on a sample research request that they would get if they were working in the library. The three young people are very different in personality and methodology. Can they work together to beat the clock and pass this final portion of the exam?

The worldbuilding in this manga keeps getting better and better. As we learn more about the world, we learn more about Theo’s heritage. I love this device! It helps to bring the narrative together in a meaningful way.

The main themes in this volume were unity amid diversity and the journey is the destination. I found this very comforting among the world situation at present.

Though I am admittedly not a manga fan, I am really enjoying this one. The worldbuilding is so interesting and it’s stitched together with our hero’s story, to help form a cohesive narrative. The detailed art with different architectural styles continues to fascinate me. As ever, looking forward to more.

– Kathleen

Izumi, Mitsu. Magus of the Library (Vol. 3). 2019.

When I Arrived At The Castle

I am a fan of Emily Carroll’s past work Through The Woods. This new graphic novel is very reminiscent of her earlier horror-inspired short stories, but this longer story is more adult with a lesbian erotica angle. 

A feline young woman arrives at the castle ready to do battle with the Countess, who appears to be a beautiful vampire. But she immediately falls under her spell and becomes more of a guest, than a warrior. Her passiveness makes the vampire despise her and toy with her. She is escorted to a corridor of red doors, where fairytale-esqe experiences await her. After a few frightening scenes behind the doors, the feline is ready to attack the vampire. Their erotic but macabre embraces end in an ambiguous manner.

Carroll’s art is rendered in only black, white and red to great effect. Few panels are used, instead, the art flows dreamlike from one image to the next. Some illustrations include intricate details, making the pictures sensual and Gothic-like. The red splash pages that included the text of the fairytales were striking. 

I came away from the story feeling it was atmospheric and unsettling, but with little in the way of plot. The dreamy aspect of it had some appeal, yet I felt dissatisfied with the story afterward. I don’t mind open-ended conclusions, but it needs to make sense. While seductive with lovely art, this story left me wanting.

-Nancy

Witchlight

Sanja is in the market when a fight breaks out between a witch and some local ruffians. She interjects, only to get kidnapped by the witch, who goes by Lelek. In exchange for her freedom, Sanja offers to teach Lelek to fight with a blade. Lelek accepts, for she is on a quest to find the missing half of her soul. Together, the two women journey across the land, discovering who they are, and confronting their past in order to move forward.

The main plot point of the kidnapping really killed this one for me. If you can get past it, it’s a tale reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast in which two people are thrown together by circumstance and have to learn to love and accept first themselves, then each other. It’s made even more powerful by the fabulous representation of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities. Fantasy sorely needs more representation and in that respect, this graphic novel delivers.

The art couldn’t decide between two wildly different styles: those being cartoony and ancient Asian. The figures were rounded with stylized features, but (as was often the case with ancient Asian art) the field of depth was often too flat for them to be effective. Their expressions were also very flat and ambiguous… honestly, it was very hard to tell what anyone was thinking or feeling a lot of the time. On the other hand, the landscapes and backgrounds worked very well with the blends of styles they used. The environments were more interesting to me than the characters themselves.

In my opinion, the only thing this graphic novel did well was its representation and diversity in characters. I found the main love story problematic because of the Stockholm Syndrome-esque elements. The art clashed two different styles to its detriment. I’m disappointed because this was well-reviewed even before publication. You’re not missing anything if you skip it.

– Kathleen

Zabarsky, Jessi and Geov Chouteau. Witchlight. 2020.

The Dollhouse Family

A dollhouse lures generations of people into its clutches, but why?

In 1979 Britain, Alice mysteriously receives an elaborate old-fashioned dollhouse from a great-aunt that she was unaware of. She loves to play with it and the dollhouse family to escape the abuse that her father is inflicting on her family. With a child’s innocence, she accepts it when the dolls talk to her and is thrilled to use the chant they teach her so she can become small and join them. There is an unusual balance in the house, the dolls seem content yet they are aware there is an evil entity in the house that soon draws Alice in and tries to make a Faustian bargain with her. This is where the plot goes sideways to me- a tragedy befalls Alice and she spends years in a foster home. But as Alice grows up and has a daughter herself, we get odd flashbacks to Ireland in the late 1800s and how a surveyor’s exploration of a cave and his meeting with a succubus lead to the dollhouse. We get the expected fight of good vs evil at the end, but only after the narratives of past and present are confusingly knit together.

The art was good, and I actually found the illustrations portraying the past to be evocatively authentic and more to my liking than the modern-day depictions. I enjoyed the chapter openings that showed creepy dolls that gave a hint of what was to come. Some of the lettering in my online copy was off, such as additional details to the side of the illustrations were covered by the art or so faint as to be unreadable. I would hope in a print edition this would be corrected. 

Despite the strong start with the Hill House label, this third graphic novel isn’t up to snuff. It felt like a mix of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline plus a weak Locke and Key, which Joe Hill wrote.  In fact, Hill’s single-issue Small World was all about a dollhouse, so this felt like a convoluted British knockoff of it. But I still look forward to the last two titles in this label and am glad I was able to read an early copy through NetGalley. 

-Nancy

Superman Smashes the Klan

While stopping a villain called Atom Man, Superman pulls out the green rock which powers his suit. It also makes Superman sick! It should be impossible! He begins to have visions of strange aliens, talking in a language he can’t understand.

Meanwhile, the Lee family moves from Chinatown to Metropolis. The two children, Tommy and Roberta, are of varying opinions on the subject. Tommy is active and eager to make new friends and readily joins the local baseball team. Roberta longs for their old home, and has a hard time opening up to new people.

When the Klan of the Fiery Kross leaves a burning cross on their new lawn, the Lees are torn between feeling angry and scared. Reporters Lois Lane and Clark Kent jump on the story, but then Tommy goes missing. Roberta, certain the Klan was behind his disappearance, tries to get help, but no one else seems to be worried. She seeks out the only person she knows will help: Superman. However, his exposure to the green rock is still making him sick and giving him strange visions. Can Superman and Roberta recover from their fears and doubts, unlock their inner power, and smash the Klan?

This graphic novel is based on an arc in the Adventures of Superman radio serial titled “Clan of the Fiery Cross.” While the story takes place in 1946, it has a timeless quality to it. Yet it’s timely, too. Many issues this graphic novel tackles – immigration, acceptance of one’s neighbor, making a new home – is still vitally important today.

One thing I especially loved about the setting was the slight de-powering of Superman. In his canon, this was before he could fly, so he ran on power lines in order to not hold up traffic. How cool is that??? As the story moves on, he discovers more and more of his power, but I can’t say further without spoilers. Suffice it to say that this was a beautiful way to mirror the growth that many other characters go through.

It was at times hard to read. The Klan of the Fiery Kross is based upon the Ku Klux Klan, and as the radio serial was given insider information about the Klan, this graphic novel is obviously very well-researched. Creators Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru strive to make one of the Klan the characters as sympathetic as the heroes. It was disturbing to read someone trying to justify their hate, but in a good way. Only through seeing (or in this case, reading!) someone else’s perspective can we gain understanding.

What I love about Superman is that he believes in the ordinary-ness of people. The Klan is stopped by a combination of Superman’s powers and ordinary kids standing up for each other, and what’s right. Just as the radio serial is still relevant, the graphic novel will still be relevant in the years to come.

– Kathleen

Yang, Gene Luen, and Gurihiru. Superman Smashes the Klan. 2019.

 

*Nancy loved this book too! Read her take on the book: Superman Smashes the Klan

Once & Future: The King is Undead

Do you think you know King Arthur’s story? Think again!

In this alternative fantasy world set in Britain, Duncan McGuire is a handsome but bumbling academic out on a disastrous date when he gets a call that his grandma is missing from her assisted living home. But his doobie smoking gran Bridgette turns out to be a monster hunter who has been keeping a lot of secrets from Duncan whom she raised. Soon he is in the middle of a crusade to block a woman Elaine from reanimating King Arthur who is not the kindly king of lore. In a Brexit-inspired plot, a group of Nationalists wish for him to keep Britain pure so they bring his remains back to life. Then it a race to prevent a dark prophecy from taking hold, with several twists and turns and improbable family connections.

Reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code plus The Mummy and National Treasure movies, the action is fast and furious and plays loose with history. In a familiar trope, an unsuspecting character is thrown into the thick of things and can shoot, fight with a sword and run like an Olympic sprinter as needed. (As an aside, I recently went to an axe-throwing business with my husband and friends and was disappointed that I wasn’t better. I had the strength but little finesse. What good will I be if a zombie horde or an evil reanimated king attacks my family? Unfortunately, I didn’t magically have the best skills like characters do in books and movies)

I really enjoyed the art by Dan Mora and how he drew the characters plus all the fantasy elements. Fond of many panels per page, the action flowed in cinematic-like sequences.  The only criticism I had was a certain female character was drawn too young- she was a mother to two adult sons and looked to be their sister. In comparison, her mother was drawn too old, so they should have aged the one a bit more and de-aged the other to be more believable. The colors by Tamra Bonvillian were superb, with rich colors and a psychedelic swirl of colors and floating orbs in the fantasy realm.

This was a very appealing first volume of a series I plan to follow. The mythology was deliciously warped and I look forward to future adventures with Duncan and his ass-kicking Gran.

-Nancy

Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed

It’s Diana’s 16th Born Day! She is very eager to turn 16, as she hopes it means her Changeling phase is over. She often wonders if there is something wrong with her, as she was shaped from clay instead of being born naturally, to make her go through such an ugly phase that her sisters have never been through. During her Born Day Feast, a storm whips up, which starts throwing lifeboats from the outside world against her shores. The boats are full of war refugees. In saving their drowning children, the way back to Themyscira is closed to her and Diana becomes a refugee herself. She ends up traveling to a refugee camp in Greece, and from there to America, by a married couple named Steve and Trevor. Posing as an exchange student, they set her up with a Polish woman named Henke and her granddaughter, Raissa. Diana quickly learns about the bad and seedy side of New York City, but has Raissa to help guide her and show her the ways of this new world. When they discover a child trafficking scheme, can these two teenage girls make a difference?

I had been looking forward to Laurie Halse Anderson’s YA rendition of Wonder Woman, and was not disappointed. This is a heavy graphic novel chock full of questions of diversity and social justice that Ms. Anderson is never afraid to ask. Diana’s naive nature translates beautifully to the minds of a teen reader just starting to ask these big questions for themselves. We see our main character transform from a teenager to an adult in both body and socially, to become an informed and upstanding citizen of the world. That sure is something for our youth to aspire to today.

Though the book didn’t have a set color scheme, gold and teal are used throughout. Most notably, they are used at the very beginning and very end, serving as a nice visual bookend. The linework is thin and delicate, which belie the great strength and emotion in the story and the characters.

For fans of Ms. Anderson’s prior work, this is a must-read. For everyone else, it’s a Wonder Woman story perfectly suited for our times.

-Kathleen

Anderson, Laurie Halse, and Leila Del Duca. Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed. 2020.

Heathen: Volumes Two and Three

Heathen is a three-volume series that gives readers a fresh take on Viking mythology with a welcome LGBTQ+ storyline. Aydis is a young Viking woman warrior who has recently been outcast by her tribe for she was caught kissing another woman and did not renounce her feelings like the other young woman did to save face.  Aydis wishes to take her destiny into her own hands, so she seeks Brynhild, a former Valkyrie banished by Godking Odin for disobeying him and gets mixed up in some additional adventures. I read the first volume a year ago, and have been looking forward to how the author and illustrator Natasha Alerici would wrap the trilogy up.

Volume Two:

This middle volume of the planned trilogy has young Viking Aydis trying to reach Heimdall, which is the magical entrance to the land of the Gods. She enlists a ship of female sailors to take her northward into unfamiliar waters along with a trio of man-eating mermaids. On parallel journeys, recently released Valkrie Brynhild is struggling with the price of her freedom and Freyja, the decedent Goddess of Love, is feuding with the God-King Odin. All three women are set to converge soon, and hopefully throw over the patriarchy together.

Alterici’s art has improved since volume one. Inked in black and white with a few sepia and blush overwashes and black gutters, it captured the iciness of the Northlands. Backgrounds remain minimal, but she captures a diverse cast well. I also liked how she introduced some complexity into Aydis’s story, in which she was very naive about a choice she made and when it backfired and someone else was hurt, she was called out on it.

Volume Three:

Aydis is now at the entrance to Heimdall, when she is attacked by two giant trolls. During her captivity with them, they reveal that their mother has been kidnapped by Odin and she agrees to go in and try to help her escape. While this is happening Brynhild happens upon the former village of Aydis and is there to help when an invading army attacks. This standoff also throws in Freyja, the female ship crew from the last book, Aydis’s father in addition to her former love. So long as we are including everyone, we get the mythical wolves Skull and Hati, plus Saga the horse in the narrative too. There is a final wrap-up up with Aydis, the goddesses and Odin in a feel-good bow. But the troll mother thread was completely forgotten with no resolution!

In real life, Alterici had some health issues with hand pain, so she employed Ashley Woods as the artist for this last volume, and it took some getting used to, although she tried to emulate the established style. She also utilized another letterer, for it had been Rachel Deering for the first two volumes but used Morgan Martinez in this last book. The muted color palette continued along with minimal to no background in the panels.

I have to admit, this last volume really let me down. In addition to the artist changing, the plot fell apart. I’m sure Alterici was fond of many of her background characters, but the way they were all shoved in for no purpose was off-putting. And the huge gap of not wrapping up the troll storyline showed a lack of editing and judgment. But as a whole, I still think very fondly of this series, for I liked the character of Aydis and the idea of fighting back against the patriarchy. I hope to read more from Alterici in the future as she offered a fresh voice and a needed diversity.

-Nancy

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