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Graphic Novelty²

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Kathleen

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

Batman: Nightwalker (The Graphic Novel)

Orphan Bruce Wayne is freshly 18 and freshly come into the trust fund he inherited from his parents. He gets in trouble his first night by trying to chase down a member of the notorious Nightwalkers gang. They’ve been targeting rich citizens of Gotham and stealing their money to give to the poor. His brief moment of vigilantism lands Bruce in big trouble: a period of probation working as a janitor in Arkham Asylum. Madeline Wallace, a girl who’s been arrested and committed for being in the Nightwalkers, draws Bruce’s attention. They begin a cautious and barbed relationship as Bruce tries to figure out who exactly they are and how to stop them. Madeline may be his only lead, but she’s reluctant to talk. Who is she, really? Whose side is she really on?

This is another adaptation of a “DC Icons” YA novel, this time originally by Marie Lu. Unlike with Wonder Woman, it feels like we hardly get to see Bruce Wayne before he became Batman, so this felt like a nice change of pace. We see the same determination, smarts, and inquisitiveness that led him to become the World’s Greatest Detective, but he’s not there yet. It shows readers that all heroes, even those without special powers, start somewhere!

However, I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief because even as an 18-year-old, Bruce still seemed overpowered. He was performing acrobatic stunts that I would assume Batman could do, but not Bruce at 18. He kept a relatively cool head in high-charged situations, which as we all know is hard for teenagers to do. I wonder if Bruce had maybe started training to become a vigilante before the events of this novel. If there was mention of Bruce training at martial arts and detective work in the original novel, it was lost in translation.

As is ever my nitpick with YA novels, there is another (to me) forced romance in this one. It didn’t even seem like a romance to me, but other characters insisted it was – what? There was very little introspective inner dialogue from Bruce that wasn’t directly related to the Nightwalkers mystery. I felt blindsided and confused by it and don’t feel it served the story at all. Maybe it was fleshed out more in the original novel, but if this was all they were going to do with it in the graphic novel, it would have been better to cut it out altogether.

To make up for the somewhat unbelievable story, the art was superb. Classic Batman colors are used to maximum effect: blue-gray overall with bright yellow highlights. It would have been very easy to overdo the yellow, but it was used carefully and sparsely, to ensure maximum emotional or action-packed impact. The backgrounds and landscapes are rendered somewhat realistically, while the figures have overly sharp and angular features to suggest the hardness Gotham has beaten into them.

While I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief for a few aspects of this story, this is still a good old-fashioned Batman mystery set before Bruce Wayne as Batman exists. The sharp art elevates this graphic novel adaptation.

– Kathleen

Lu, Marie, Stuart Moore, and Chris Wildgoose. Batman: Nightwalker (The Graphic Novel). 2019.

The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television

You most likely recognize Rod Serling as the host of the popular TV show, “The Twilight Zone.” That’s what he’s most known for, but he had a long and varied career in radio and television well before “The Twilight Zone!” After his service in World War II as a paratrooper, he used his G.I. benefits to go to Antioch College. He discovered his love of radio during his work/study internship at WNYC in New York City, and became the manager of Antioch’s radio station, ABS, in 1948. It was here that he tried his hand at writing anthology shows – and his skits got him noticed. Navigating through fame, fortune, a grueling work schedule, and a marriage, he spoke out against commercialism and censorship in the radio and television industry. He protested executives changing scripts he wrote based on the war, the Emmett Till case, and more. It wasn’t until he penned the first script for “The Twilight Zone”, a science-fiction story containing all the elements he had previously been censored for, that he found an audience willing to listen.

Koren Shadmi writes as if Rod is telling us his own life story. Quotes pulled from Rod’s scripts, shows, and interviews make for an immersive experience. Though he died at 50 from heart problems, it feels as if Rod is speaking to us himself.

As a biography, it’s very straightforward reading. The book is broken down into chapters covering a different era of Rod’s life. The panel layout is clean and clear. The art is all in black and white, like the television of his era, with a deep purple/blue used as an accent color.

I learned a lot by reading this graphic novel biography. “The Twilight Zone” was a product of a man who lived through World War II – one of the most horrific and tragic events of mankind. Through the shows he wrote, we were able to process and heal from this event (and many others, as the show is still very popular today) through that one ubiquitous and timeless method that we humans know: storytelling.

Kathleen

Shadmi, Koren. The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television. 2019.

Wonder Woman: Warbringer (The Graphic Novel)

Before she was Wonder Woman, Diana grew up on Themyscira. It isn’t always easy being the youngest of an entire island full of warrior women. They were reborn as Amazons because they died nobly, with a goddess’ prayer on their lips – every single one of them except for Diana. Some call her Pyxis (clay pot), some say she’s made of mud. Diana is determined to prove her right to be among them during an annual race across the island. Along her route, Diana witnesses a shipwreck and rescues a girl about her age from the wreckage. Her name is Alia, and with her coming strange and terrible things start happening on the island. The girls discover Alia is a descendant of Helen of Troy, whose blood was cursed to make her a Warbringer: a harbinger of death and destruction. Diana removes Alia from the island to try and find a way to remove the curse. If it fails, Alia asks Diana to kill her instead, before she can start another World War. Killing another is against the Amazon code. Can Diana remove Alia’s curse, or will she be forced to do the unthinkable?

This is a graphic novel adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s YA novel (the first in the “DC Icons” series) that came out in 2017. At the heart of the story is the moral dilemma that Diana faces: is it better to spare one life yet potentially cause countless other deaths, or better to take one life to spare countless other lives?

I was appreciative of the Amazon’s origin here, as it was written first in George Perez’ run. Myths and deities other than Grecian are included as a result, though the focus is on Grecian myths primarily.

It being a YA novel, there was a romance between Diana and another character that to me seemed forced. There are representations of people of color – Alia herself is African American, which contributes to the story in multiple ways – and LGBTQ+ characters. Wonder Woman’s character is tolerant and accepting of all kinds of people, so I was thrilled to see many types of representation here – where it’s right at home!

Differing hues of sea blues and greens dominate the book. Other colors such as red and yellow are used as highlights. Decisive and precise lines accentuate the characters’ strength and determination. Though there is a lot going on sometimes, especially in the action scenes, the panels are never cluttered.

This is an impressive adaptation of the best-selling YA novel. The dilemma young Diana, and her diverse companions, face compels readers to keep going until the very end.

– Kathleen

Bardugo, Leigh, Louise Simonson, and Kit Seaton. Wonder Woman: Warbringer (The Graphic Novel). 2020.

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Barbara Gordon (Batgirl/Oracle)

Fiction’s Fearless Females is back! That’s right folks, your favorite bloggers are back with this series for Women’s History Month: Nancy and I, Michael of My Comic Relief, Kalie of Just Dread-full, Jeff of The Imperial Talker, and Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room. Michael kicked off the series earlier this week with his wonderful post on the 13th iteration of Doctor Who (which you can read on his blog or on ours). Not to worry, for more posts featuring your favorite fictional females from all these other fabulous bloggers will be served up all month long 😉

This year for #FictionsFearlessFemales, I’ve chosen Barbara Gordon! Barbara was the original Batgirl, and became the hero Oracle after the events of The Killing Joke. Though Barbara Gordon is not the first superheroine (that mantle goes to Wonder Woman, as chronicled in last year’s FFF post), she is one of the first examples of a heroine derivative of a male hero: in this case, Batman. That doesn’t mean she is exactly like Batman, however, as we will see! Barbara was also the first superheroine to have a disability, making her debut as Oracle hugely important for representation in the comic industry.

Batgirl was written into Batman and Robin’s comics series at the request of the producers of the 1960’s Batman TV show. The creators of the show wanted to create a character who would appeal to a female audience, but they wanted her to premiere in the comics first. Therefore, William Dozier (executive producer and uncredited narrator of Batman), Julius Schwartz (DC comics editor), and Carmine Infantino (DC comics artist) collaborated to create Batgirl! She first appeared in Detective Comics #359 in January of 1967, the title of which was “The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!” In September of that same year, her first appearance on the TV show was aired, in the episode called “Enter Batgirl, Exit Penguin.” She was played by the late Yvonne Craig. (Wikipedia)

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Yvonne Craig as Batgirl from the 1960’s Batman TV show. (Source)

What I found particularly charming about Batgirl’s early comics (seen in her Bronze Age omnibus) was how easily and cheerfully she forcefully integrated herself into the Dynamic Duo to make it a Batfamily. Batman and Robin are puzzled and even alarmed at Batgirl’s sudden appearance, and they don’t believe she can be a good crime-fighter. They mince no words making their doubts known to her. Do those doubts bother Batgirl? Heck no! She razzes them right back, giving as good as she gets. Mostly, she lets her actions do the talking: using her brains and physical prowess to prove herself rather than her words. Barbara doesn’t let their misguided, misogynistic views of her get in the way of doing what’s right: joining their crusade to keep Gotham safe. Her persistence leaves Batman and Robin little choice but to accept her once they realize she’s not going anywhere!

Once they do accept Batgirl, she proves to be an invaluable member of the team. Though Batgirl is of course derivative of Batman, the two characters are very different. Barbara Gordon in her very first incarnation was the head librarian of the Gotham City Library by day (which, as a librarian myself, I cannot tell you how inspiring I find that and how much that means to me!!!). Her specialty from the start lay in information: finding it, distilling it, and following it to solve crimes. Later, after she became Oracle, the methods of her information gathering changed as she became a tech/computer wizard, and she delivered information to the right people rather than using it herself. But therein is her main difference from Batman: while he may be the World’s Greatest Detective, the best at deducing information, Batgirl is the expert of information gathering.

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An excerpt from “The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl,” showing librarian Barbara Gordon first putting on the Batgirl costume for a Policeman’s Masquerade Ball. (Source)

Over her long and varied career, Barbara Gordon as Batgirl has fought crime, kept her identity a secret from her father (Gotham City Police Commissioner Jim Gordon), and even ran for the House of Representatives in Washington D.C. in the early 1970’s. Some of this story appears in the Bronze Age omnibus linked above. This was the start of the retirement of the character, with both Barbara and Batgirl appearing on and off in various DC titles until 1988. Her official retirement title, “Batgirl Special #1″ was published in July of that year.

Remember, however, that The Killing Joke (linked above) was published in March of 1988. Though Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s story was initially meant to be a one-shot about the Joker, it proved immensely popular both with long-time fans and newcomers. In the story, as the Joker tries to tell us his story, his origin is interspersed with the present-day, where he shoots Barbara Gordon through the spine (paralyzing her from the waist down), kidnaps Commissioner Jim Gordon, and attempts to torture him into losing his sanity. He tries to prove that anyone can go insane by having “one bad day,” like the day he had that ultimately drove him over the edge. That one-shot was so popular and influential to DC’s overall storyline that Barbara’s paralysis became canon. It was written into her last title, the “Batgirl Special #1″ mentioned above.

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The cover of the infamous Killing Joke graphic novel.

If you’ve never read The Killing Joke, I recommend you do on the basis of it being a milestone story in the overarching Batman lore. For my part, I could only stomach it one time, due to what I deem to be excessive violence against Barbara’s character (I wish I’m joking when I say that it gave me nightmares). Comic book author Gail Simone added Barbara (as Batgirl I) to her website “Women in Refrigerators,” in which she lists female comic book characters who have been killed, tortured, or otherwise depowered in some other way, often for the sake of a male character’s personal or story development. So, Barbara, up until this point, had been a popular character in her own right. She was connected to the ever-popular Batman, sure, but she was her own person, with her own title. In order to serve the story Moore and Bolland were trying to tell (to drive her father and Batman insane), her power was stripped away with a gunshot from the Joker.

… Or was it?

In 1996, a story called “Oracle: Year One: Born of Hope” was published in The Batman Chronicles #5 (I know I’ve read and reviewed it here, but can’t find the omnibus I read it in to link!). This story, penned by John Ostrander and Kim Yale, shows the events of The Killing Joke and the year after from Barbara’s point of view. We see her struggle to accept her paralysis and with her physical therapy. But, we also see her discover her affinity with computers and hacking on the early internet. We see her learn to defend herself though she is now bound to a wheelchair. We see her find her purpose again.

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The end panel of “Oracle: Year One: Born of Hope,” in which we see Barbara voice her complete transformation (Source).

Thus, Barbara Gordon becomes Oracle, expert computer wizard, hacker, and information broker not only to Batman, but to other superheroes and organizations as needed.

Also in 1996, Chuck Dixon’s crossover Black Canary/Oracle: Birds of Prey was published, beginning my very favorite comic book series of all time: Birds of Prey. Oracle reaches out to the Black Canary, and the two form an unlikely partnership which later blossoms into friendship. In 2000, Gail Simone herself took over writing the BoP title, added Huntress to the main roster, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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Volume 3 of the original Birds of Prey run, which was the first volume written by Gail Simone, and the first appearance of Huntress in the team!

If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a million times. Birds of Prey is unequivocally my favorite comic book series. The Birds of Prey are THE landmark girl power group in comics. You have Barbara Gordon as Oracle, of course, Dinah Lance as the Black Canary, and Helena Bertinelli as the Huntress. Separately, the three heroines are very different in crime fighting methods, race and nationality, socio-economic status, and abilities. Despite their differences, they learn to work together as a team. They eventually become much more than a team: they become a family.

This series having such a special place in my heart is in no small part due to Barbara Gordon. She may have started out as Batgirl, but she grew and evolved in ways that not many female comic book characters would have after her paralysis. If it weren’t for Ostrander and Yale’s intervention, Barbara might not have seen the light of day again in DC comic canon. She would have been shot, paralyzed, and retired permanently. Perhaps she would have made a few guest appearances here and there as Commissioner Gordon’s crippled daughter – but Ostrander and Yale knew better than that. They knew Barbara wouldn’t have resigned herself to that fate. They knew she would have fought to make something of herself again, and that is EXACTLY what she did.

Barbara might not have been able to physically kick ass as Oracle, but she served an important role in being one of the first physically disabled superheroes. She proved that even after suffering a horrific and life-changing experience, one can still pick themselves back up. One can fight through and even come out stronger on the other side – not necessarily in the same way, but that’s not a bad thing! Barbara proved that her worth was not necessarily in her body or in her physical accomplishments, but in her mind, her ability to think and to find, recall, and communicate information.

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Barbara as both Batgirl and Oracle, using information seeking skills to fight crime! (Source)

This is a very important distinction to make between Barbara Gordon and, say, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, or Green Lantern Jessica Cruz. Wonder Woman’s powers were bestowed upon her by her patron gods. Supergirl’s powers come from how our yellow sun’s rays interact with her Kryptonian (alien) DNA. Jessica Cruz, like all Green Lanterns, was chosen by a power ring, through which she can create corporeal constructs using her own willpower. Wonder Woman and Supergirl have amazing supernatural and physical capabilities that they were born with or that they were given. Though Green Lanterns need extraordinary mind- and willpower in order to create constructs through their ring – they need the supernatural device of their power ring in order to do so.

Barbara doesn’t have any of that. She has no supernatural crutches, so to speak. She only has her her human body and her sharp, analytical mind. Batgirl showed the world that girls can play in the boys’ sandbox (and damned what they think), but Oracle showed the world that the mind is what Barbara Gordon’s best asset is, and what ultimately makes her a hero.

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The cover of the first volume of New 52 Batgirl, which sees Barbara make her return as Batgirl.

For the New 52 that DC launched in 2011, we got to see Barbara (literally) stand up and become Batgirl once more. While the New 52 established a new continuity after the effects of Flashpoint, many previously canonical things were different – but not for Barbara. The events of The Killing Joke still happened, and Barbara really WAS paralyzed. She regained the use of her legs and her paralysis was reversed by way of an experimental surgery in the New 52. Gail Simone returned to pen Barbara’s second debut as Batgirl, this time as trying to relearn how to be Batgirl, and trying to work through the trauma and PTSD that the events of The Killing Joke had left her. Though she was no longer bound to a wheelchair, there were still inner demons to overcome in order to be a hero. Even a powerful mind such as Barbara’s struggles with roadblocks, PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks. And that’s powerful stuff.

Barbara Gordon has been both Batgirl and Oracle since the launch of the New 52, into Rebirth. The first volume of Rebirth’s Birds of Prey sees the newly re-formed Birds trying to uncover who has stolen Barbara’s Oracle mantle. Barbara is shown as a young adult, as she has been for most of her career, but this time with all of today’s technology – and she’s still very good at it 😉

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Probably my favorite costume – the Burnside one ❤ This is the textless variant of Batgirl #31. (Source)

Barbara Gordon is my Fiction’s Fearless Female for this year, but she is also one that is very near and dear to my own heart. She started out as a librarian (like me!), and used not just physical abilities, but mental abilities in order to fight crime and make a difference. She didn’t let Batman or Robin’s vocal disapproval stand in her way. Even after being shot and paralyzed by the Joker in 1988’s The Killing Joke, Barbara continued to be a hero under the mantle of Oracle and found new strength and purpose in not only the Oracle guise but in the Birds of Prey. Though she is now back as Batgirl after the New 52, Barbara’s heroism is mostly defined by her mind, not necessarily for supernatural abilities or physical prowess.

Barbara Gordon ultimately proves that women don’t need to kick ass to be badass.

Kathleen

Next week, look for Kalie’s Fictional Fearless Female on her blog, Just Dread-full. Join us back here for Jeff of The Imperial Talker and then Nancy’s post. Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room will wrap up this year’s series! Please continue to join us in this celebration of #FictionsFearlessFemales during Women’s History Month!

A Bride’s Story (Vol. 8)

The attack mounted by Amir’s former clan on the Eihon’s village has left most of the town in disrepair. Pariya’s family home was destroyed, along with all her bridal linens. It’s a lifetime’s work to build embroidered linens for a bride’s dowry, started from the time a girl is old enough to hold a needle and thread, and it’s all gone. Pariya has to start all over again. Even with the help of Amir and her family, for which she’s very grateful, Pariya feels more anxious than ever about marriage. She finally has a suitor who’s interested in her, but now their wedding has to be delayed. What if Umar decides he doesn’t want to wait? Or he decides that Pariya’s strong personality isn’t what he’s looking for in a wife? Pariya decides to watch Kamola, another girl in the village, and try to learn from her. Kamola is everything that a girl should be (and everything Pariya is not): kind, patient, soft-spoken. Maybe if Pariya tries to be more like Kamola, she can be the perfect bride.

As promised in the last volume, we make a return to Amir and Karluk’s village, and Pariya’s story specifically, with this installment. As I’m now in the year of my own wedding, with so much more to be done before the big day (EEK!!!), I sympathized greatly with Pariya’s anxieties. Though I’m fortunate enough to not have lost all my bridal linens in a fire, there are so many tasks to be done and things to put in place that it’s at times extraordinarily overwhelming. We learn here that it’s okay to be overwhelmed, we have friends ready and willing to help us in times of need, and that starting is truly the hardest part of getting anything done.

One thing I’ve grown to appreciate over the course of this series is the variety in the personalities of the main characters. Pariya is headstrong, outspoken, and often brusque – but it doesn’t mean she’s a bad person, or wouldn’t make a suitable wife. Amir is more motherly; firm yet gentle, patient, and always willing to teach and learn from others. We meet Kamola, a foil to Pariya’s character, near the end of this volume; I’m greatly looking forward to seeing how these two interact with and learn from each other.

As ever, looking forward to the next volume! I think this is the furthest I’ve ever gotten in a manga! =P

– Kathleen

Mori, Kaoru. A Bride’s Story (Vol. 8). 2016.

Teen Titans: Raven

The day before Raven’s foster mom was to sign her adoption papers, they are hit by a drunk driver. Vivaine is killed, and Raven is sent to Vivaine’s sister Natalia and her daughter Max in New Orleans. Raven remembers the accident, and her foster mom vaguely, but nothing further than that. The doctors have assured her that her memory loss is only temporary With the help of Natalia, Max, and a mysterious boy named Tommy, Raven slowly feels like she’s getting back to normal. However, Raven can’t help feeling like she doesn’t want to remember something that happened before the accident. She’s also somehow able to hear what others are thinking… making high school more of a drag than it already is. Are these thoughts and feelings – maybe powers – a side effect of the accident, or are they something more?

This DC Ink’s reimagining of Raven’s origin story is compelling. Raven feels real. She’s scared, confused, and vulnerable: emotions that no teenager wants to admit that they feel. We see Raven struggle to accept help dealing with these big emotions, and cheer for her when she does. We learn along with Raven that the bonds of chosen family and sisterhood can be just as strong as the bonds of blood family – maybe even stronger. Kami Garcia sure knows how to play to her audience.

Gabriel Picolo’s art is lovely. The colors are for the most part black, white, and purple, with other colors as an accent or to draw your attention to an important detail. Raven is mostly rendered in full-color, as she’s the narrator and main character. Sometimes other characters are rendered in full-color instead of or along with Raven, if that character is talking or to illustrate their importance to the scene.

Above all, I adored the atmosphere of this book and the African-American women power that came along with it. The New Orleans magical mystique was palpable on every page. The magical elements are glittering with not a little dash of malice, as if to allure but also to scare. Natalia and Max are both African-American, and are both powerful witches in their own right. And that’s awesome!!! Max is a new character introduced in this book from what I understand. I do hope we see more of all of these characters in a future installment.

Kathleen

Garcia, Kami, and Gabriel Picolo. Teen Titans: Raven. 2019.

Estranged

Not everyone knows there’s a world below this one, where the fae and other fantastical creatures reside. Edmund knows, and so does his changeling, only known as the Childe. Edmund was born fae, but swapped for the Childe, so they have each grown up in the other’s world. When the queen’s evil sister Hawthorne claims the fae throne for herself, the Childe and his wax golem, Whick, escape to the world above to find Edmund. He is the crown prince and the only other person with a claim to the throne. Edmund is reluctant to leave the only life and family he has ever known, even for his birthright. Now that the Childe has found is human family – he’s not so quick to give it up, either. Can the two boys work together to save both worlds – worlds that neither of them feel they’re really a part of?

Wow. I was astonished this is a middle-grade graphic novel. It dives deep into mature issues such as identity and family. There’s a much weightier substance to the story than I was expecting, and certainly more than what’s standard for the target audience. Mr. Aldridge has no qualms about asking the hard questions of his audience, and writes them in in a way that his audience will be able to understand. In case it gets too rough, the graphic novel is laid out in chapters so they can take a break and come back to it later. If any of the target audience is like me and was too absorbed to do anything but devour it in one go, however, chapter breaks won’t be needed 😉

As a fantasy story, the art is darkly whimsical. It’s sketchy and cluttered, to convey a lot of information, but doesn’t come off as messy. Instead it gives more of an “organized chaos” vibe. Thin watercolor washes are built up in layers to also bring a sense of reality to the story.

I was shocked that this dark, weighty fantasy story was a middle-grade novel, and trust me… you will be, too.

– Kathleen

Aldridge, Ethan M. Estranged. 2018.

Grayson (Vol. 4): A Ghost in the Tomb

Teenagers are rising in Gotham under the common banner of Robin. They are banding together to protect the city in Batman’s absence. However, recent legislation pushed through by Councilwoman Noctua has made it illegal for anyone in Gotham to claim they’re a Robin, or even sport Robin paraphernalia. Gotham City PD is enthusiastically enforcing the new law. The real Robins, both old and new – Jason Todd (Red Hood), Tim Drake (Red Robin), and Damian Wayne (Robin) – are looking on in horror as these teens are being harrassed and arrested under the new law. They call on the only person they know who can help – Dick Grayson, known as Agent 37, Nightwing, and the original Robin. Together, they must make a choice. Will the Robins help these teenager, or turn them in as outlaws?

This volume compiles part of the story of the Robin War event that took place during Batman/Batfamily’s New 52 storyline. The Court of Owls play an integral role, this time as the Parliament of Owls, indicating that they have expanded beyond Gotham. It was refreshing to see the Robins on their own, out from under the shadow of the Bat. They have to figure out what to do, all on their own, without their mentor and guardian’s help. It solidifies that each of these characters are their own people and are each Robins, and heroes, in their own right.

Many artists worked on the Robin War, and thus the art is more varied than it’s been during Grayson. Overall it was a little looser, angular, and stylized than Grayson’s more realistic look. We do return back to Grayson after the Robin War, for about the second half the book, where Mikel Janin’s art takes center stage once again.

While I am enjoying Grayson very much, Robin War was the highlight of this volume for me. We got a little more variety in the art and it showcased all the Robins in the long history of the character. The story was an effective way for us to see that the sidekicks can shine just as much as their big box counterparts!

– Kathleen

King, Tom, Tim Seeley, Mikel Janin, and Jeromy Cox. Grayson (Vol. 4): A Ghost in the Tomb. 2016.

Blackbird (Book 1): The Great Beast

Nina Rodriguez has known her whole life that there was magic in this world, ever since she was thirteen and a great beast saved Nina and her sister Marisa from being crushed to death during an earthquake. She’s spent her whole life trying to find the magic again, against her family’s wishes. They call her “Crazy Baby” and tease her, but Nina knows what she saw. Ten years later, she’s struggling with panic attacks, addiction, joblessness, and still struggling to find the magic in the world – until the great beast reappears and takes Marisa away. Nina has to pull it together if she’s to save her sister. It’ll take a little help from Nina’s childhood cat and a mysterious boy who is a Paragon – who has magical powers. What if, in her quest to save her sister and uncover the truth about magic – Nina realizes her entire life has been a lie?

I didn’t know I’d been itching for some good ol’ urban fantasy until I read this. And in graphic novel form! I was in heaven and now I want more! It does have some classic urban fantasy and straight fantasy tropes: spunky, outcast, loud-mouthed female lead who doesn’t realize she has powers, knowledgeable love interest she doesn’t need, and so forth. But it was put together so charmingly I didn’t mind.

The setting is what grounds this graphic novel. It takes place in Los Angeles in the modern day. We get detailed backgrounds of the city with some recognizable landmarks. We get the glitz and glamour of the City of Angels. But we also get a parallel world, the magic world, which peeks through Los Angeles’ seedy veil every now and then throughout… making you believe that maybe, just maybe, there could be a magic world underneath. Though the overall palette is neon, the real world tends toward darker colors, and the world of magic towards pastels.

While overall the art was solid, especially in the colors, I found the characters a little stiff. Their poses and expressions seemed lacking to me, even during times of high tension or stress. It’s mostly in the writing and Nina’s inner dialogue where the emotional impact comes from, and not her expressions or her actions. The scenery, the details, the colors, and the worldbuilding and atmosphere are all so solid – but it’s lacking much of it’s emotional depth because what we’re reading and what we’re seeing in the characters’ facial expressions and body language don’t always match.

Overall, however, this is a great start to what is sure to be a hit graphic novel/urban fantasy series. I eagerly look forward to more!

-Kathleen

Humphries, Sam, and Jen Bartel. Blackbird (Book 1): The Great Beast. 2018.

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