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Graphic Novelty²

Author

Kathleen

I'm an artist/librarian in Chicago who loves reading, creating, and playing video games!

The Oracle Code

After a robbery gone wrong, teenage Barbara Gordon is shot, crippled from the waist down, and finds herself looking at a long life in a wheelchair. Her father, Commissioner Gordon, checks her into the Arkham Center for Independence (or ACI): a facility that specializes in therapy and independence for differently-abled people. Dr. Harland Maxwell, the head of the facility, assures Commissioner Gordon that they will be able to help Babs, but she remains skeptical. She used to love solving puzzles and cracking codes, but this one is too big for her to handle. Slowly, Babs makes new friends and even catches herself having some fun. However, patients start disappearing from the facility under mysterious circumstances: one of them being a newfound friend. Does Babs still have it in her to solve puzzles in order to find out what happened?

Though we’re all tired of hearing how to “adapt to the new normal,” this book will help teens do exactly that. Babs went through a huge change: losing her mobility. We clearly see her go through the five stages of grief as she mourns the use of her legs and the future she saw for herself. The emotions she goes through are not only appropriate, but completely normal for making and learning to deal with such a huge adjustment.

As the ACI is Arkham-adjacent, a big element of the book is a ghost story. It’s appropriate too as Babs feels scared by the person she has become, and is mourning her past self, as mentioned above. Much of the book deals with overcoming fear, and the spooky elements only add to that tension.

The art was pretty standard for a Batman related graphic novel. The colors were predominantly muted, with blue and grey backgrounds on which other colors popped. There were motifs of puzzle pieces and computer code sprinkled throughout that I thought were very clever. Some are more obvious than others. There were, however, a few typos; closer editing would have been welcome.

As we have all had to make a huge adjustment, so has teenage Barbara Gordon here. I’d give it to any teen or adult that needs a bit of help doing this for themselves, and validation that their emotions are completely normal.

Kathleen

Nijkamp, Marieke, and Manuel Preitano. The Oracle Code. 2020.

Plate Tectonics: An Illustrated Memoir

Illustrator Margaux Motin chronicles her mid-thirties in this graphic novel memoir. It was a time of upheaval for her, as she got divorced and found herself raising her young daughter on her own. Through a series of loosely-connected vignettes, we see Margaux try to juggle these changes and get back on her feet while keeping her head up, staying connected with friends, and finding love again.

I’m all for little vignettes to tell a bigger story, but these seemed far too scattered to be effective. I felt at times as if I was reading a collection of Motin’s work rather than her memoir. The tone of the writing is inconsistent, and I think that was the biggest problem. On one page we are dealing with a deep personal issue, and on the next we’re presented with a funny moment with the daughter. I honestly didn’t even realize it was supposed to be a cohesive narrative until a love interest showed up, and we got a couple vignettes of him in a row. I can see the appeal of this style, and for the most part the whole book was light-hearted in tone, but these switches were too abrupt and jarring for me.

I have to admit that reading has been very hard for me lately due to the pandemic and related anxiety, so perhaps my own limited mental capacity crippled my ability to follow and enjoy the story to its full potential.

To make up for this, Motin’s art is wonderful. Her figures are in a tall, willowy style that recalls fashion illustrations, but are also a little cartoony and exaggerated, to play up the melodrama and visual gags. There are some pages with photographs of (usually) landscapes, where Motin has drawn in a figure on top of them. These were cool to look at! Their placement served, not necessarily as chapter breaks, but all the same a little break up of all the vignettes that make up the story.

There are a few adult themes, scenes, and instances of strong language, but they are few and far between and (for the most part) tasteful and I would give it to a teen. While I found the tone and writing inconsistent, the art was more than enough to salvage this read for me.

– Kathleen

Motin, Margaux. Plate Tectonics: An Illustrated Memoir. 2019.

A Bride’s Story (Vol. 9)

In this volume, we return to Pariya and Umar’s story. Pariya’s family is finishing rebuilding their house and the family’s business, and so Pariya’s father is starting to move faster on her marriage negotiations. Though her friendship with Kamola and other village girls is slowly sharpening her social skills, Pariya still frequently stumbles over her words, especially when it comes to Umar. An opportunity arises for them to run an errand together to the next town over, but they have trouble on the way back and are forced to stay the night in a stranger’s house. Though the reason is innocent enough, the fact that it happened may very well be enough for their engagement to be called off. Can they keep their stopover a secret from the rest of their village?

This volume also featured short stories about other characters, such as Amir, Sherine and Anis, and the twins Laila and Leyli.

The more this story progresses, the more I appreciate the wide variety of female characters within it. Pariya’s arc is turning into one of the most interesting and satisfying. She is strong, independent, and possesses other masculine qualities about her. But, she’s also very shy and fumbles over her words, sometimes to her detriment as others often mistake her meaning. She is learning to be more open and communicate clearly with who she hopes to be her future spouse – and that’s not an easy thing to do at the best of times. The main thing is, we see her trying and bettering herself in a way that is organic and never feels forced.

Though we do get this vast array of women who are very different, they are all supportive of each other. Amir and Kamola, along with some other village girls, offer to help Pariya with her bridal sewing once it becomes apparent she needs help. That’s amazing! That’s something that the world needs more of!

As ever, looking forward to the next volume.

-Kathleen

Mori, Kaoru. A Bride’s Story (Vol. 9). 2017.

The Boys (Vol. 1): The Name of the Game

Amazon Prime is releasing Season 2 of their TV show rendition of The Boys comic book series on Friday. My fiancé and I watched Season 1 earlier this year and are rewatching it while eagerly anticipating our Friday night plans 😉 We love it so much, I thought I’d check out the first volume of the comic. I’ll talk about this first volume of the comic first before comparing it to Season 1 of the show.

Don’t worry, this review is free of spoilers =)

Superheroes are real, and they are backed by the most American institution: big corporations. What happens when they mess up? Hughie is about to find out. After his girlfriend, Robin, is accidentally killed by A-Train, one of the Seven (think Justice League or Avengers for this world), he is approached by a man named Billy Butcher. Billy wants to recruit Wee Hughie into a group called The Boys. They are backed by the CIA specifically to keep the Supes in line. Hughie wants justice for Robin, but at what cost? Annie January, also known as Starlight, is the newest member of the Seven. It’s been her dream ever since she was a little girl growing up in the rural Midwest. However, she’s about to find out that being among the best of the best is not what it’s all cracked up to be…

The point of this series is to subvert common superhero tropes. As such, the comic is very graphic, in terms of both violence (some of which is sexual) and sexual content, neither of which are seen often in traditional superhero comics – at least not to this extent. None of the characters presented are especially good people. They’re not all bad, but none of them are particularly good, either. In this world, Supes are the faces of corporations and businesses, not operating independently. As such, they serve the ends of the corporations first, and of the greater good to a lesser extent. The art of the book, especially in the coloring, is dark and murky, as if you’re seeing the world through a dirty lens.

Overall, I think the first season of the show did a much better job with this story than it’s source material, for a couple of different reasons.

First, and I’m not sure if this is because I simply watched the show first, but I felt the story in the book went way too fast. A plot point that is revealed very late in Season 1 is presented in the book within the first half of the first volume. This absolutely killed any mystery or tension behind it. At that point I felt there was no longer any point to reading. Other plot points were switched around from the book to the show, which in my mind only served to aid in the deliciously slow reveal of that big twist.

Second, there is a large level of violence in both the book and the show. In the book it felt much more gratuitous and as if violence was in there for violence’s sake, not necessarily to move the story along. While I can close my eyes at some parts of the show (and definitely needed to), it’s harder to skim a graphic novel. You still see the parts you want to skip over! This is fine for some readers, but still definitely not for me.

Third, as mentioned before, none of the characters are particularly good people. Perhaps this changes as the graphic novel series goes on, but here in the first volume I didn’t get the impression that any of these characters were redeemable whatsoever. None of them were particularly human, just cardboard stereotypes, even the people we’re supposed to be rooting for. The show takes steps to humanize all the characters. We are shown the good qualities in these bad people, making us wonder if we are supposed to really hate or like them. Volume 1 of the book series doesn’t offer any of that, so readers just… plain don’t like them.

The Boys can be a great subversion of the superhero genre, and does succeed in both comic and show form – but overall the winner in my eyes, and my ultimate recommendation, is the show on Amazon Prime, not the graphic novel series. If you can stomach the gratuitous violence and love to love very bad people, pick it up!

-Kathleen

Ennis, Garth, and Darick Robertson. The Boys (Vol. 1): The Name of the Game. 2010.

The Witcher (Vol. 1): House of Glass

While traveling through the Black Forest, Witcher Geralt of Rivia is joined by a fisherman named Jakob. He’s been widowed, and explained how he lost his wife to the bruxae, otherwise known as vampires. She haunts the world still, watching Jakob from afar. Geralt and Jakob stumble upon (or are led to?) a mansion hidden deep in the forest. Inside, they find a succubus named Vara, who tells them they are inside the House of Glass: so named for the stained glass windows that shift and move inside the walls. Jakob is sure his Marta is in the house somewhere; he hears her calling, so he goes to find her. Geralt feels something is wrong… but what? Does he need to solve the mystery before the house will let them leave?

My first introduction to the world of the Witcher was through the Netflix show. I’ve been promised the book series as a future present, so thought to start my reading journey with the graphic novels 😉

This one is best described as a supernatural horror. The tension is built up as readers move through the house with Geralt, constantly waiting for some horrible monster to pop out around the corner. The cold, dark color palette only serves to heighten the tension and deepen the sense of mystery.

I was surprised to find that Joe Querio (unknown to me before this title) was the artist for this book. I could have sworn it was Mike Mignola. I was half-right: Mignola drew the covers. Querio’s style is similar to Mignola’s in the blocky shapes of his figures and backgrounds, though not quite to Mignola’s extremes. It’s easy to see why these two artists were chosen to provide the art for this book. Not only are they similar in style, but their styles suit the brutal, savage nature of the world perfectly.

It seems a common theme in the world of the Witcher is the ever-present grey area between good and evil. The art serves this theme here also with heavy shading in character’s faces, leaving the reader to infer character intentions for themselves. The central mystery of the story also serves this theme well, though I can’t say more without spoilers.

If you’re enchanted by The Witcher series on Netflix and are looking for more, but are daunted by the books and games, this is a great introduction to the literary universe.

-Kathleen

Tobin, Paul, and Joe Querio. The Witcher (Vol. 1): House of Glass. 2014.

Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (Vol. 1)

Akiko Higashimura, manga artist best known for her work on Princess Jellyfish, shares the beginnings of her artist’s journey in the first volume of this manga memoir. She starts her story during high school, where we see her big dreams and ambitions of being a shojo (young adult romance) manga artist! … But her not-so-good grades. Still, Akiko loves to draw, thinks herself pretty good at it, and is sure she can get into art school on talent alone. That is, until her friend Futami reminds her that it’ll take more work than that, as Japan’s college applications are very competitive and demanding. She invites Akiko to come to an art class with her, taught by an independent teacher named Hidaka Kenzou. Akiko quickly learns that Hidaka-sensei is VERY demanding, even harsh. Can she put up with him long enough to take her college exams and get into art school?

I found this memoir very refreshing for a couple of reasons. First, it seems I am becoming a bit more open-minded to manga after all =) It’s always touching to see creators publish personal memoirs in the format they are most familiar with; it makes the story feel more immediate and intimate. Though the art is a little more realistic and less in the stylized manga style, visual tropes of manga (angry veins, sweat drops, sparkling backgrounds) are still found.

Second, and maybe most important to me, this manga shows how HARD it is to be an artist! It’s hard work! Akiko shows us this through her schedule with Hidaka, his insistence that they keep a log of the time they spend on each drawing, as well as her own character development. As a teenager, she thought she could coast by on talent, but it takes significant time and effort to hone her craft, which is 100% the case, against many assumptions people have of art and artists. As an artist myself, reading this gave me vivid flashbacks of undergrad: long hours sitting or standing in the same spot in the studio, hauling art supplies and projects up 3-4 flights of stairs, nursing various aches and pains in my dorm afterwards. The result? I’m a much better artist than I was before.

I got the impression that this manga is just as much an ode to Hidaka as it is documenting Akiko’s journey. They have an interesting relationship. Though Hidaka is harsh, he is honest and a realist, which tempers Akiko’s teenage idealism and arrogance. She obviously looks back on him with admiration and fondness. I’m fascinated to see how their journey together unfolds.

-Kathleen

Higashimura, Akiko. Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (Vol. 1). 2019.

Magus of the Library (Vol. 2)

Now that Theo Fumis is seven years older, he is on his way to the great city of Aftzaak to take the Kafna Exam! He has not grown out of his desire to become a librarian, and wishes to give back the book that Kafna Sedona lent him when she visited his home village. Aftzaak is a long way away, and there are many grand sites and places to visit along the way. Of course, there are friends to be made as well: Mihona, another Kafna hopeful on her way to the exam; Alv, a street-wise youngster; and a citlapol (albino creature) with two tails that Theo names Uira. Together, they travel and arrive in Aftzaak. The Kafna exam is, by all accounts, a grueling experience… can Theo even make it through the first part?

I adore every part of this manga. Of course, I love it because librarians are central to the story 😉 But the worldbuilding is absolutely phenomenal. Each chapter of this volume takes place in a different city along Theo’s route. The chapter pages have illustrations and information about the city, or a monument or natural phenomena nearby. Each city has its own distinct artistic flavor that only grows in scale the closer we get to Aftzaak. It’s interesting to see not only Theo’s character, but the art and world evolve right along with him.

As mentioned in my review of Volume 1, it appears that much of the artistic influence was taken from Middle Eastern and Indian (by that I mean India the Asian country, not Native American tribes; my apologies for any confusion) cultures. It’s more of the same here, in costumes and architecture. In essence, a blend of all of my favorite things.

The grand scale of this literary adventure, coupled with my visual Kryptonite, ensures that I’ll be following this manga very closely.

-Kathleen

Izumi, Mitsu. Magus of the Library (Vol. 2). 2019.

Top 5 Bands I Want to See at a Music Festival

Though it’s not Wednesday, I felt a Top 5 was in order to memorialize 2020’s music festival season. Who else misses outdoor music festivals??? My sisters, fiancé, and I love to go to concerts together. The last one I went to was Lollapalooza last year – that’s more than enough time to go through some SERIOUS concert withdrawals!!! Here are the 5 bands (that I’ve never seen live) I would choose to create the perfect music festival for me:

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5. Nirvana

Unfortunately for me, I was far too young to be aware of Nirvana’s existence when they were together. Fortunately for me, I was old enough to appreciate their sound without the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia when I finally gave them an undivided listen. I love the murky, distorted sound of their instrumentals; listening to Nirvana makes you feel like you’re floating underwater. I have listened to a few of the many live bootlegs available on YouTube, but of course it’s not the same as being there in person! One would need a time machine to go back and see this flagship grunge band live.

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4. Evanescence

Though I don’t follow this band anymore, they were my first “gateway” band, as it were, into the symphonic and power metal that I love today. I still spin their first 2 albums from time to time if I’m feeling like a throwback to high school. Amy Lee is an iconic vocalist and I would love the chance to see her perform live someday.

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3. Powerwolf

This German power metal band differs from the majority of the genre in that their music deals with dark fantasy themes, as opposed to traditional sword and sorcery. And I can’t get enough of it! Their melodies and lyrics are so catchy, it’s hard not to want to howl along. I bet their concerts are phenomenal and I can’t wait for the next time they’re State-side.

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2. Lana Del Rey

Though most of the music I listen to is metal, I LOVE Lana Del Rey. Her deep, jazzy vocals combined with the blend of nostalgic, yet modernly cinematic music just… SPEAKS to me on a deep emotional level. I often try (albeit very, very badly) to emulate her during my shower karaoke. Of the modern artists I haven’t yet seen live, she is at the very top of my bucket list.

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1. Nightwish

When you say “symphonic metal,” the first band to most people’s minds will likely be Nightwish. The Finnish band defined the genre in the late ’90s and have consistently been producing best-selling albums since. I hate to say I’m not much a fan of their new work. Through 3 separate vocalists, I can safely say I am a Nightwish purist and prefer their older albums with Tarja Turunen the best. Her classical voice, combined with the keyboards and orchestral elements, created an enchanting magic that the band has often tried to emulate but failed to capture ever since. I’m gonna need another time machine for this one!

There you have it! My Top 5 bands that I’ve never seen live who I would need to create my perfect outdoor music festival. Of course, I would also need a gorgeous summer day, a food stand with burgers, fries, and ice cream, and a time machine to make some of these bands come back. Come on, someone’s gotta get on it during quarantine! 😉

Kathleen

 

Superman (2018, Vol. 1): The Unity Saga: Phantom Earth

Superman is trying to find his family. Lois and Jon are traveling the universe together, and Clark has lost contact with them. In the battle for Krypton against the peerless warmonger Rogol Zaar, his communication device was destroyed. Zaar was eventually banished to the Phantom Zone, where such villains such as General Zod are. It seems Superman has bigger problems, now that he’s discovered the entire Earth is somehow inside the Phantom Zone as well! Is this job too big for Superman, when he calls the Justice League for help? When Zaar and Zod meet inside the Phantom Zone, should Superman let them kill each other for their joint destruction of Krypton?

I was very confused upon my first read-through. I couldn’t place it in the continuity. Upon looking it up I see that Superman’s Rebirth run ended in 2018, and The Unity Saga picks up where it left off. As I’m not done reading Superman Rebirth, I spoiled myself for the ending =P

Brian Michael Bendis writes Superman well. We see Clark’s longing for his family, his optimism in the face of crushing odds and discord, and his fallibility. That he has to call for the Justice League to try and get the Earth out of the Phantom Zone shows that even Superman needs help sometimes. He is sorely tempted, and sees the benefits to, simply letting two of his greatest enemies kill each other for what they did to his home planet.

In writing Superman, there is a fine balance to walk between making him overpowered and making him human. Bendis walks it wonderfully.

The art is on an epic scale. The land- and space-scapes are sweeping, the monsters gargantuan, befitting the dilemmas in the story. Superman is larger than life, and the art depicts it.

While I enjoyed this first volume in The Unity Saga, I think I’ll wait to finish Rebirth before I read more!

-Kathleen

Bendis, Brian Michael, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Oclair Albert. Superman (2018, Vol. 1): The Unity Saga: Phantom Earth. 2019.

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