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Graphic Novelty²

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October 2021

Remina

A sentient planet is on a collision course with Earth!

A scientist, Dr. Oguro, discovers a rogue planet beyond our solar system and names it after his daughter, which leads to much public adoration paid to the teen Remina. But soon the planet starts to journey towards Earth, devouring all other planets and moons in its wake. Soon Remina’s fans turn against her, thinking her namesake planet is coming because of her influence. She is then on the run, with only a few of her most infatuated fans helping her escape from the mob, who are intent on crucifying her. Once the planet arrives at Earth, it is clear it is not a planet after all, but a strange giant organism intent on destroying all of humanity. Will Remina survive the mobs and the deadly alien?

Author and illustrator Junji Ito is well known for his distinctive and intricate black and white panels. I loved the macabre art in Ito’s classic body-horror manga Uzumaki, and enjoyed his short story collection Venus in the Blind Spot. I mentioned in both reviews that even if the narrative dips into absurdness at times, the art keeps you riveted. However, that was not the case in this book, for I could not overcome the needed suspension of disbelief. It would have helped greatly if I was rooting for Remina to survive, but she was purely a damsel in distress the entire time and had absolutely no personality. While the art remained as captivating and creepy as ever, which is always Ito’s strength, the narrative fell far short. I felt dissatisfied with a story I was counting on to be scary but instead found to be ridiculous.

-Nancy

The Sixth Gun: Cold Dead Fingers

As I am a big fan of Cullen Bunn, mostly because of his Harrow County and Bone Parish series, I have circled this title a few times but hadn’t found the time for it yet. Luckily for me, my Goodreads comics group choose this supernatural western for this month’s group read!

Set some years after the Civil War, we learn of six powerful guns, each containing a dark power. Confederate General Hume had discovered all six guns and divvied them up among his evil cohorts and wife Missy. But a priest was able to murder him and took control of Hume’s gun, as ownership only passes after the death of the owner. Dark magic is used to keep Hume in suspended animation, not truly dead, so his eternally youthful wife takes it upon herself to find the sixth gun and reunite it with her husband so he can use it to unleash further destruction. In a parallel journey, Drake Sinclair, formally one of Hume’s henchmen but who turned away from owning one of the other guns, wishes to obtain the sixth gun for himself. Missy’s Pinkerton detectives and Drake converge on the isolated farmstead of the former priest and his step-daughter Becky. Becky inadvertently grabs her step-father’s gun when he is killed in the shoot-out, now making her the sole owner of the gun. And now the battle for ownership of the gun begins!

The characters were intriguing- Drake was an anti-hero whose motives were a bit suspect, Missy was at first a damsel in distress but started gaining a backbone later in the story, Billjohn was a tough gunslinger who had a heart of gold, Missy was slavishly devoted to her husband, while Hume was a caricature of a crazed tyrant. There were several epic battles and a cliffhanger that points to more adventures for Drake and Becky.

The art by Brian Hurtt seemed much too cartoony at first, but I soon stopped noticing and I felt it fit the narrative. There were a lot of supernatural aspects to the story, and the loose art style represented it well, without having to get into realistically gruesome depictions. The action was depicted in four to six panels a page, one-page spreads were uncommon. As it’s set in the Old West there is an appropriately sepia look to the panels, along with red shading to represent the bloodshed and hellish landscapes. However, there was one very distracting art choice towards the end- writing out all the noise effects as words during one certain battle. Used sparingly, words can be used effectively in art, but it was overdone.

This proved to be a solid start to a long series- nine volumes with several spin-offs. While I don’t know if I will continue with it, this horror-imbued western appealed to me and I was glad that it was part of my Halloween reads this month.

-Nancy

Marvel’s “What If…?” Episodes 7-9

There are spoilers for the end of the season ahead. If you need to catch up, here’s my post covering Episodes 1-3 and Nancy’s post covering Episodes 4-6.

The audience continues exploring the Multiverse with the Watcher here, but the last 3 episodes tie each one together:

  • Episode 7 shows us what Thor would have been like if he had been an only child. He arrives on Earth just as he did in our universe – but he’s here to PAR-TAY! His father has fallen into the Odin Sleep and Frigga is on a trip, so it’s the perfect time to have a galactic shindig right here on Midgard. Though Jane Foster and Darcy Lewis try to reason with him (his parties have ended planets before), they can’t help but to give in to his charms. S.H.I.E.L.D. director Maria Hill’s attention has also been attracted by Thor – but in a much more negative light. She calls Carol Danvers to take care of him, but things don’t go as planned.
  • Episode 8 explains what would have happened if Ultron had won. Taking over the Mind Infinity Stone and Vision’s body, he defeats the Avengers, killing all but Clint and Natasha. When Thanos arrives, Ultron kills him as well and takes control of the Infinity Gauntlet. In order to fulfill his purpose and bring peace, Ultron and his army begin to murder their way across the galaxy. Upon hearing the Watcher, Ultron learns of the multiverse, and thus starts crossing realities to continue his twisted quest. He crosses into Party Thor’s universe as Clint and Natasha attempt to upload a virus with Arnim Zola’s mind into Ultron’s hive mind. Defeated by Ultron, the Watcher retreats to the pocket universe of Episode 4’s Doctor Strange to ask him for help.
  • Episode 9 sees the Watcher break his oath by recruiting Captain Carter, Star-Lord T’Challa, Party Thor, Killmonger as the Black Panther, and a Gamora who defeated her universes’ Thanos, along with Strange Supreme, to end the threat of Ultron. They lure him to a dead planet where Strange summons the zombie hoard from Episode 5, including Zombie Wanda, to distract him while they travel to Ultron’s home universe to find Natasha and the Zola virus. As the only survivor of her universe, Natasha is reluctant to trust them. After a moment with Captain Carter, Natasha agrees to help, and shoots an arrow with the Zola virus into Ultron’s eye. While Killmonger and the newly-embodied Zola fight over the Infinity Stones, Strange and the Watcher seal them in a pocket dimension, where Strange will watch over them.

Additional scenes with Ultron’s Natasha and a mid-credits scene with Captain Carter and her universe’s Natasha set this series up nicely for a second season, which has been confirmed.

From a story-telling standpoint, this series started out strong for me, kinda sagged in the middle, and picked up again at the end. It seemed as if some of the stories were trope-y and played out, especially the zombie episode. We have seen any and all scenarios involving zombies played out in the early 2010’s… where they can stay, in my opinion. The episodes involving Star-Lord T’Challa and Black Panther Killmonger were the best for me, because they actually did something different. Their universes felt fresh and unlike anything we had seen before. It also allowed for a different look at or expansions of the characters. In a classic Marvel move of undermining their women characters, the taking back of Wakanda spearheaded by Shuri and Pepper was left out – let me watch that or more of Star Lord T’Challa instead of boring zombies!

I also highly enjoyed the Thor episode, because it was everything you would have expected – yet was still fun. The way the worldwide party is ultimately stopped is hilarious and touching, in a way. Also, it was very satisfying to see at least one universe peg Carol Danvers as the resident party pooper.

It was nice to get everything ultimately wrapped up. The first few episodes don’t seem related at all, but these last 3-4 had been hinting. It may be worth a rewatch to see what hints were missed from early episodes.

I never really warmed up to the animation style. Something about it was just too uncanny for me. The action scenes were punchy and fluid, but the lip syncing and facial expressions never seemed to quite match what was going on. Scenes that were supposed to be emotional fell flat for me for this reason – I was too distracted by how weird their faces looked!

Overall, the series is an enjoyable watch. You start out with what you think is a series of fun, unrelated one-shots and by the end, you’ve gotten a big showdown with a different big bad with a different group of Avengers. The animation works for what the series is, but it’s not a personal favorite. I’m hoping that the ending scenes are setting up a real Marvel Women Power Hour in the next season.

– Kathleen

Andrews, Brian. What If…? 2021.

Tales From The Crypt- Vol. 1

Dark Horse Books has brought back the cult classic Tales From The Crypt comics from EC Comics in all its cheesy horror glory!

The Entertaining Comics (EC) group was a comics line founded by Maxwell Gaines in 1945 and later run by his son William Gaines, that published popular horror, science fiction, and war-related comics. Sadly the comic line was torpedoed by the Comics Code Authority, and the publishers stopped printing the horror comics in 1956, instead devoting their time to the fledgling Mad magazine known for its humor and satire. But EC left behind many fond memories and a strong legacy in the comics world, thus this is the first volume in a series that reprints some of the best stories from that era!

The Crypt Keeper, which many readers might recognize from the tv series on HBO in the 90s (yet another legacy from EC), opens many of the tales giving a brief narration for the upcoming theme of the story. Keeping in mind these stories were published from the 40s thru the 50s the stories are quite tame with little gore and often incorporated a lesson in them. While there were supernatural beings such as werewolves, Neanderthals, vampires and zombies- the scoundrels typically met their doom, while the pure prevailed. There were also some cringe-worthy storylines that demeaned women with sexist attitudes, and there was an especially racist story about Black island natives. Well regarded author and illustrator Al Feldstein, who later edited Mad magazine, was credited with many of the stories found in this volume.

Some standout stories were:

Death Must Come- A doctor who has cheated death with a youth serum finally meets his end.

The Man Who Was Death- An executioner becomes too diligent with his work.

Curse of the Full Moon- The werewolf is not who you think it is!

Mute Witness to Murder- After witnessing a murder, a woman goes mute in shock, and the killer comes after her.

Ghost Ship- A newly married couple are stranded and climb aboard a ghost ship.

The Hungry Grave- A cheating couple who scheme to kill the woman’s husband has the tables turned on them.

Rx…Death- Be careful in taking the correct medicine, or else deal with the dire consequences.

Terror Ride- Don’t go on sketchy looking carnival rides!

The Vault of Horror- A curse dooms a family and should have been taken more seriously.

The illustrations are dated to modern readers, but were from the Golden Age of Comics, and have such a retro look to us today because of the clothes and hairstyles of that time period. Cover pages were especially well done- for they captured your attention and drew you into the story. Artists such as Johnny Craig (who also wrote some of the stories), Wally Wood, Graham Ingels, Harvey Kurtzman, George Roussos, Jack Kamen and Marie Severin gave their talents to EC and it’s a delight to see some of their gone-but-not-forgotten work. This was an enjoyable Halloween read, and while not as scary as I had imagined it might be, it was very worthwhile.

-Nancy

Heartstopper (Vol. 3)

Now that Nick is out as bi to his mom, and Charlie has told his parents that he and Nick are dating, the boys start thinking about telling others as well. They’d like the secret to be out, but they also want to take it slow. Charlie is afraid of Nick getting bullied the way he was. They get a taste of this when Nick’s brother David comes home from uni for the summer holiday. Fortunately, they have the upcoming school trip to Paris to have something to look forward to. Plenty of shenanigans ensue with Nick and Charlie trying to be discreet, and some of their classmates and friends falling for each other in the City of Lights. As Nick and Charlie try to keep their relationship a secret, they discover secrets about each other, too. How much longer can they keep it up?

The more this series goes on, the more the story deepens. While there is plenty of drama (and this volume had a lot with the Paris trip!), it never feels over the top or out of place. New feelings and concepts are introduced organically and not just for the sake of inclusion. For example, Charlie explains his lack of eating as stemming from feeling a lack of control during the period he was outed. This makes sense for his character. It also works at introducing mental health issues and, assuming eating disorders, for young men, which are typically overlooked. If my thinking that Charlie has an ED is correct, I have no doubt that it will be handled as delicately and empathetically as prior issues have been.

This was a pretty easy read to get out of the slump I’ve been in. The font is bigger and though it’s in a handwriting style, it’s never unreadable. The only color throughout the book is a minty green, becoming lighter or darker depending on the mood and/or setting. While the characters and backgrounds are more abstract, emotion is more the point, and it comes across perfectly.

Looking forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Oseman, Alice. Heartstopper (Vol. 3). 2021.

Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?

For my first Halloween read this year, I have chosen the new graphic novel about Eddie Gein who was a necrophile serial killer who inspired Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs! This true-crime story was horrifying, yet of course sickly fascinating.

Established author Harold Schechter who has written a previous book about Gein is paired with artist Eric Powell, known for his The Goon and Hillbilly graphic novels, and they proved to be a superb team to tell this tale. The story opens with Alfred Hitchcock in 1960 recounting how Psycho was inspired by Gein’s crime, just three years prior. The well-researched story then flashes back to Gein’s childhood in Wisconsin, born to mismatched parents- a weak drunkard father and a strong-willed and religiously fanatical mother. While young his parents move him and his older brother Henry to an isolated farmhouse where the boys can’t escape from their mother’s tyrannical rantings and they become warped by her teachings. Despite this, Eddie develops an unhealthy attachment to his mother, believing all other women are harlots.

The story continues chronologically, with the boys aging into strange men, still under the thrall of their mother. The father dies in 1940 and a few years later Henry (perhaps killed by his brother), leaving Eddie happily alone with his mother. A stroke leaves her in a weakened state, and some disturbing pictures show Eddie’s sick delight in helping her with all her personal care. Her eventual death in 1945 leaves Eddie alone to his own devices, and in his grief he seeks ways to recreate his mother, in shocking ways. Unchecked for a dozen years, Gein committed at least two murders and uncounted grave robbings, in which he then used the women’s skins to make himself a skin suit, facemasks, and other ghastly creations.

The evocative art by Powell, done in his trademark black and white illustrations, is inked and shaded to perfection. Each chapter opens with newspapers headlines, that guide you through the story, with the depictions of the Gein family and townspeople very accurate to photos of them and to that era. Some people have a touch of caricature to them, as Gein’s droopy eye and in later pictures the townspeople sharing their recollections seem exaggerated. In the midst of all this, Powell actually adds some whimsy, in guessing what Gein’s inner-thoughts might have been, finding dark-humor in Gein’s psychosis. It proves to be an interesting blend of pulp horror and non-fiction.

Darkly disturbing, and scarier because it is based on facts, this story is not to be missed for true-crime aficionados!

-Nancy

This picture isn’t actually in the book, it’s a promotional picture by artist Eric Powell for Kickstarter.

The Venture Bros.

Before we start this post, I want to apologize to our dear readers for my spotty posting lately. There is still a lot going on between the house and the new-to-me job and I’m still trying to find a good reading/writing routine. Doesn’t excuse of course, but I hope it explains. I hope to be posting normally again within the next few weeks. Now, on to the post!

My husband is quite proud of himself for finally getting me to watch this show. I go so far as to say it’s probably his greatest achievements yet =P The Venture Bros. is one of his favorite shows, but try as he might, I couldn’t get into it due to the dumb humor (more below). Just as he kept telling me, it got better after Season 2, and oh boy was he right. Season 3 hits and it goes from 0-100 real quick.

What started as an episodic satire of boy adventure shows of the 1960s-70s with adult humor quickly turns into a story of characters breaking the molds of who they think they’re supposed to be. Take a few of the main characters, for instance (as spoiler-free as it can be):

  • Hank and Dean (fraternal twins and the titular Venture brothers) are heirs to the boy-adventuring, super-sciencing Venture legacy started by their grandfather and continued by their father… but is it who they really are, and more important, do they even want it?
  • Dr. Venture (Hank and Dean’s father) is a former boy adventurer and classic super-scientist… but how can he possibly carry on the Venture name when his father did everything perfectly?
  • The Monarch is a self-proclaimed villain and Venture’s arch nemesis… but can he become more than his self-inflicted hate?
  • Dr. Girlfriend is The Monarch’s significant other… does that mean she’s just a villain’s girlfriend, or a villain in her own right?
  • Henchman #21 is a henchman in The Monarch’s ranks… is he just a henchman, or can he step out of his villain’s shadow and hold his own? (OMG my fave actually as far as character development)
  • … And so on

The more the show goes on, the more all of these characters break out of the molds and classic tropes that Seasons 1-2 put them in. Not only from a writing standpoint, but a character standpoint. At some point, each character questions their identity, legacy, and motivations, and wonders if it’s who they really are and/or want to be.

Speaking of motivations, this show is MADDENINGLY VAGUE about the motivations of some characters and questions the audience have of them… which the writers know full well and poke fun at from time to time. After a while I kept watching, and wanted to keep watching, because I had questions that needed answering!

Going back to humor: Seasons 1-2 were so hard for me to get past because they mostly rely on the “so stupid it’s funny” type of humor. Which I hate. But Husband loves (This is why we make a good couple). He’s more into slapstick and satire, whereas I’m more into irony and sarcasm. Some of the “so stupid it’s funny” humor still remains, but it’s less prevalent after Season 3 when the story deepens and spreads out over individual seasons and between seasons… Which made it much more bearable for me.

Much of the humor also comes from references to old media show is based on (like Jonny Quest, Hardy Boys, etc.) and obscure and/or nerdy media. Superhero references become more common as the show goes on and it finds it’s niche in poking holes in these tropes specifically. They even get some famous superhero VAs in for some cameos and/or recurring characters in later seasons 😉

In finishing Season 7 over the weekend, I understand why Husband was so upset about it’s cancellation last year. Long gaps were common between seasons because of the animation style and workflow. But to have the show cancelled as Season 8 was being written and with Season 7 ending on such a heartbreaking cliffhanger, so many questions still unanswered… it had to have been a gut punch.

Shortly after cancellation, HBO announced that they would pick up The Venture Bros. for a final movie that will wrap up the show. Husband got HBO Max (mostly) for this reason.

In researching for this post, I found a commonly cited interview where the creators have said the show is about failure. I can definitely see that being the case, but that’s not all. I think it’s more about learning to be who you are despite the expectations that other have of you, despite who you – and everyone else – think you are supposed to be.

If you’re having a hard time getting past Seasons 1-2 for the humor – I promise, it gets better with Season 3 onwards. The writing ramps up and it morphs into an extraordinary character study set in a world built for and by organized heroics and villainy. Husband is looking forward to the movie for a satisfying ending to the series, and now I am too.

– Kathleen

Publick, Jackson (creator). The Venture Bros. 2003-2018.

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