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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!

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide

Graciela Iturbide is a famous photographer who was born in Mexico City in 1942. But, she didn’t start out wanting to be one. She wanted to be a writer when she was a girl. However, Graciela was from a wealthy and conservative family, and young girls simply didn’t have careers in the arts. When they grew up, they married, had children, and kept house. Graciela did do that for a time – until her daughter passed away. Then, she turned to the camera and what had before been only a hobby became her life’s work. She travels her home country of Mexico, and abroad to India and the United States, capturing portraits, landscapes, and birds. She looks for symbols, true reality, and death behind her lens. Her work has gone on to receive worldwide recognition and awards… and she’s not done yet.

This is quite an interesting graphic novel. It’s a memoir, a retrospective, a catalog of photographs, and an artist’s biography. Like Iturbide’s photographs, the art is all in black and white. The reason she only photographs black and white is, that’s how she feels reality is captured. Her photographs are a study in value and symbolism. There are a few within the book, and they are marvelous. The artist recreates some in his illustrations, and they are delightfully true to the source material. They are rendered with strong black lines but with gentle washes of grey to give tone.

Iturbide’s work strives toward understanding. Understanding her Mexican culture, the role of women and femininity, the juxtaposition of rural vs. modern life, and much more. Her work is held at many prestigious museums, including the Getty, who published this graphic novel. I hope it is the first of many portraits of modern artists and their work!

– Kathleen

Quintero, Isabel, and Zeke Peña. Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide. 2018.

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Gotham City Garage (Vol. 1)

Far in the future, The Garden is the only place in America that’s worth living. It’s a safe haven… or is it? Lex Luthor created The Garden, and sure, everyone inside is out of the desert elements, living comfortably, and seemingly happy. Buuut that’s probably due to the little chips he implanted in every citizen’s head, and due to the fact that his chief enforcer is none other than the Bat. When Kara Gordon accidentally brushes with the law, she knows she needs to run or die. She escapes into the “freescape”, the world outside The Garden, the lawless world in the desert. There, she meets a group of women who roam the freescape on motorcycles, kicking Lex Luthor and his Garden where it hurts. They ride or die for each other. Kara fits right in, even as she misses her sister Barbara. Inside The Garden, Barbara tries to uncover the truth about Kara and their father – but she works closely with the Bat, and she needs to watch her every step.

Like Bombshells, this arc started originally as a figurine line that got so popular they decided to make a comic from them! This comic is so cool. I’m a sucker for alternate universe arcs, and I really got a Mad Max vibe from this one. The landscapes are really important here, to either convey the twisted security of The Garden or the hot, vast emptiness of the desert freescape. Just enough of this world is explained to keep you in the loop, but just enough is left out to keep you reading and searching for more clues. Most of all, it’s just good fun with all your favorite heroines ;D

-Kathleen

Kelly, Collin, Jackson Lanzing, Biran Ching, Aneke, and Carmen Carnero. Gotham City Garage (Vol. 1). 2018.

SoulCalibur VI

I posted a while back about the announcement and a few character reveals for SoulCalibur VI, which I was super stoked for! It was the first game I’ve preordered and actually bought for myself in a long, long time. Now that I’ve played through it a bit, I’m coming back for a full review!

SoulCalibur VI takes us back to the stage of history – the original stage of history, as chronologically it takes place before/during the first game. We have the original roster back, plus some characters introduced in later games who make sense for a prequel. Geralt from the Witcher series serves as our guest character. I believe this was done because of the negative reception of SoulCalibur V, which introduced mostly new characters who were the children or protégés of main roster characters. The new characters in SoulCalibur V, especially the protagonists, were written poorly and were very one-dimensional. In addition, the story was rushed and much too short.

Both these issues have been addressed here in SoulCalibur VI!

(Heads up: After that last paragraph I’m going to refer to any SoulCalibur game by their abbreciated SCV, SCVI, etc… it’s just so long to type! X,D)

There are two quite beefy story modes for SCVI. One, called “Libra of Soul”, plays like an RPG. You create a character and play through your own SoulCalibur story, making choices that “weigh” your soul on a set of scales. Your scale can tip towards good or evil depending on the choices you make, and affects the story as you go forward. Pretty standard RPG stuff, but we haven’t seen anything like this in a SC game before, and it’s pretty neat! The most comparable would be the “Chronicles of the Sword” mode from SCIII, but that was more of a strategy mode than an RPG (if I remember right!).

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The “Libra of Soul” map.

The second story mode is “Chronicle of Souls,” which is more of a “traditional” SC story mode. You choose a character and play through their story! It is more beefed up than in the past, and laid out in a big timeline so you can see how your favorite characters’ stories overlap and interact within the bigger picture. It’s a nice quality of life feature that I really enjoy.

One thing I don’t like about the new story modes is the lack of cinematic cutscenes. I’ve so far come across none at all in “Libra of Soul” (at about 6 hours of gameplay) and only two in the few “Chronicle of Soul” stories I’ve played. Many of your interactions are only through text, or voiceovers with subtitles, with character profiles or illustrations, even for very dramatic scenes. After most of SCV‘s story mode was conveyed with what looked like unfinished concept art and voiceover with subtitles, it leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. At least the art used in SCVI is much more polished, which helps. The few cutscenes I’ve seen in both story modes look so good, I can’t help wishing for more.

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A typical dialogue in “Chronicle of Souls” mode, this one between Maxi (left) and Mitsurugi (right).

As far as gameplay goes, it hasn’t changed much. They did add two new features to combat. The first is “Reversal Edge,” in which you hold down R1 (PS4) or RB (XBO) to initiate what is essentially a “Paper, Scissors, Rock” interaction with your opponent. There is a slo-mo moment in combat while you and your opponent choose your attack: Vertical, Horizontal, or Kick. Vertical beats Horizontal, Horizontal beats Kick, and Kick beats Vertical. Guess right, and you deal a bit more damage than normal and look super cool doing it! Guess wrong, and you take a bit more damage than usual. If you’ve played the Injustice games and entered a “Clash,” the mechanics are the same. It’s a way to introduce an element of chance to an otherwise skill-oriented game.

The second new combat feature (they liked doing things in twos this time!) is the “Critical Edge” move. This is a character’s signature super-powerful move. This really isn’t new, as past games have had it, but it is much easier to implement in this game. As you fight, your “Soul Gauge” increases. Once it fills, you press one button to unleash your Critical Edge. In past games, triggering it was a string of button inputs that’s impossible for me to master! I like this game’s execution much better ;D

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A Reversal Edge buildup between Sophitia (left) and Mitsurugi (right).

Visually, the game is stunning. The SoulCalibur series has very real roots in history, but has touches of fantasy that, to me, comes through in the art style. The stages, backgrounds, and characters are life-like but have something of an ethereal quality. No matter the game, each character looks polished and fresh-faced. Each stage looks of this world, and yet not. Maybe from a world like ours, but not our world exactly. This installment in the series is no exception.

I am very much enjoying the game, especially after I was so disappointed with SCV (save the character creation and Ezio from the Assassin’s Creed series being the guest character!). My favorite character, Cassandra, is not part of the roster this time around. I surprised myself by choosing her older sister and series staple Sophitia over Talim, who I feel is my second best character, first time I popped in my disk. I’m decent enough with Sophitia in past games – Cassandra’s fighting style is derivative of Sophitia’s, but much faster, and I prefer speed to heavy hitting – but I don’t really go out of my way to play as Sophitia.

Somehow, for some reason, in SCVI, Sophitia just CLICKED for me. I feel like I finally got over a roadblock that had been previously holding me back. I understand her flow now, and I never could before. I had always thought of her style as “not Cassandra”… when really, Cassandra’s style is “not Sophitia”! It genuinely had never occurred to me that Sophitia’s style was her own until this game. I’m curious now to go back to previous games to see if they changed something with her between SCIV and SCVI, or if I truly do understand her style now. I can’t believe it took my favorite character’s absence to realize it! I am hoping Cassandra comes out as a DLC character, but for now… I’m content with my new favorite, Sophitia ❤

– Kathleen

Bandai Namco. SoulCalibur VI. 2018.

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My girl Sophitia! ❤

Hey, Kiddo

Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author and illustrator of children’s books as Good night, Monkey Boy and the Lunch Lady series, reflects upon his childhood and family life in his graphic memoir. As a young child, Ja (as he’s known to his family) goes to live with his grandparents. He loves them, but he wants to live with his mom, like he always has. His father isn’t an option – he isn’t in the picture. The grown-ups explain that his mom had to go away for a while, but that she’ll be back soon. So Shirley and Joseph, Ja’s maternal grandparents, take on a toddler as their own children – Ja’s aunts and uncles – are finishing high school and going off to college. Ja grows up raised by his grandparents and writing letters to his mother, exchanging hand-drawn cards and replicas of cartoon characters by post. Shirley and Joe reveal to Ja after a few years go by that his mom isn’t coming back. She’s a heroin addict and she’s in jail. As Ja grows up and grows more absorbed in his art, he uses it to escape his feelings, his anger. How can he accept his mother? His family?

As someone whose family situation was similar to Jarrett’s growing up, this one hit me a little hard. As a life-long illustrator, Krosoczka’s art perfectly conveys the palpable love and pain in the pages. Loose, squiggly lines suggest tumultuous movement and a child-like innocence. The colors are somber, however. The entire book is rendered in grey scale, except for differing tones of a deep, burnt orange, at times bordering on red, for emphasizing important parts. The author’s note at the back confirm my suspicion that the mediums used were ink and Conte crayon ;D He used a mix of digital and traditional media, but I was totally fooled until I read the notes on the art: I thought it was all pen and paper. This was my first experience with his work, and I can safely say Krosoczka is, without a doubt, a master illustrator.

What makes this memoir especially unique and an intimate experience for the reader are the family artifacts used through the book. Each chapter has a title page with scans of letters, photos, Krosoczka’s childhood drawings, and even his grandparents’ wedding invitation. The vulnerability and trust it must have took to share these is monumental. Seeing these reminds the readers that this is a very real story, which makes it at once heartbreaking and inspirational. Here, Krosoczka is sharing his story, a story that many people would keep hidden out of shame or embarrassment. It may convince others to come forward and share their experiences with family addiction.

Though this is a book by a children’s author, it is not a children’s book. There are adult themes and strong language. The youngest reader I’d give this to would be a 7th or 8th grader, depending heavily on the maturity of the child. It would probably do well in teen collections. A heartfelt and masterfully illustrated memoir.

– Kathleen

Krosoczka, Jarrett J. Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction. 2018.

The Amalgam Age of Comics: The Marvel Comics Collection

Back in the mid ’90s (ahhh, that glorious decade), Marvel and DC decided to create an entire crossover series. They blended characters from both camps to create something new and entirely different! But they didn’t stop there. They printed them under a “new” printing company called Amalgam. While each story was a one-shot, they peppered each issue with context and hints referring to “past” issues and events. Pretty cool, huh? The Marvel Comics Collection focuses on DC characters with Marvel spins:

  • Bruce Wayne: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.: In which Bruce Wayne prepares to finally confront his arch-nemesis, Green Skull (Ra’s al Ghul and Red Skull). Only it might not be him in charge of Hydra anymore…
  • Bullets & Bracelets: Diana Prince and Steve Castle (Steve Trevor and Punisher), together again – to save their son who’s been abducted!
  • Magneto & the Magnetic Men: Erik Magnus creats the Magnetic Men to bridge the gap between human and Mutant. To be honest, I really had trouble figuring out who was who in this one, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.
  • Speed Demon: BRUUUH. This mashup of Ghost Rider, Flash, and Etrigan was by far my most favorite. I’d kill to read actual stories of this!
  • Spider-Boy: This one blended the best of Superboy and Spider-man into one fun romp as he fights Bizarnage!
  • X-Patrol: Very cool mashup of Teen Titans and X-Men. The clean art in this one was my favorite!

Man, this whole collection was silly and I loved every minute of it. The creators didn’t take themselves seriously at all! I really miss when comics were fun like this. It was really fun figuring out who was mashed up with who. Some characters were pretty obvious, and others took a little more thinking to figure out. I enjoyed the mental workout ;D Stay tuned for the DC Comics Collection!

– Kathleen

Various. The Amalgam Age of Comics: The Marvel Comics Collection. 1996.

Cosplayers

Annie is a cosplayer – she makes costumes for fictional characters and dresses up like them for conventions and for fun. Verti is a photographer and aspiring videographer. They meet and become friends. They spend a summer together making videos, posting them on YouTube, and attending conventions to meet other fans and participate in cosplay contests.

There isn’t so much an overarching story here as it is a series of related vignettes. There is very little plot, character development, or conflict. There really isn’t that much about cosplay. To me, it felt like a few stories about two flimsily-written girls and their screwing around over a summer – and they happen to like anime and cosplay. The hows and whys are omitted, plopping us right in the middle of their story (such as it is) without exposition. There are some stabs at themes of loneliness, attachment in the digital age, and even existentialism, but they felt half-baked and tossed in because, “Why not?”

The art is subpar. It’s drawn simply, which provides easy access to the book, but I found it overly simple. Many panels are one color, or two variations of, and it sort of reminded me of two-color prints. Normally I would have enjoyed it more, but the writing was so paper-thin I just couldn’t get into it. Overall, I found this one really frustrating and disappointing – I am wondering why it was so hyped.

– Kathleen

Shaw, Dash. Cosplayers. 2018.

Batman: White Knight

Been a while since we’ve done a Batman title, eh? I knew I had to read this as soon as it popped on my radar.

Once again, Batman confronts the Joker. Once again, Batman puts the Joker in Arkham. But this time… Joker is cured? Batman force-fed the Joker an unknown medication that seems to have driven him sane. The newly reformed Jack Napier, along with Harleen Quinzel, are now on a crusade to save Gotham from Batman. Not too many people take him seriously at first – come on, it’s gotta be another of Joker’s schemes, right? – but as time goes on, and Jack doesn’t let up, it becomes very clear that he is serious, and that he won’t stop until Gotham is delivered from her Dark Knight and corrupt police force. Will the public’s opinion of Jack change? Will Batman be revealed as the villain after all, or will the Joker come back out of the woodwork?

W o w. This is definitely a Batman comic worth reading. It challenges a lot of things that Batman has previously gotten away with, and then some, revealing no clear answers in the process. It makes you question if Batman is really doing good, or if he’s just another criminal in a mask and cape. His design in this one – with a Dracula-esque collar, more angry scowl lines on his cowl, and hints of fangs – definitely hint that Batman is more of a villain than he lets on, and we see it in the art. Obsessively detailed and cinematic, with many Gothic elements in the architecture and character designs, the art is a constant reminder of the seedy city we’re in. This stellar start to the DC Black Label series is provocative, thought-provoking, and will have you mulling it over long after you’re finished.

– Kathleen

Murphy, Sean, and Matt Hollingsworth. Batman: White Knight. 2018.

Fables (The Deluxe Edition): Book 15 and Series Recap

Okay, I’ve put it off long enough. I procrastinated and procrastinated, never wanting this series to end. So finally I made myself sit down and finish it.

Rose Red and Snow White have never been the best of sisters. But Rose Red made an unforgivable choice, and Snow is going in full defense mode to protect her family. Soon the big players of Fabletown, for better or worse, are picking sides. Most of the normal citizens want nothing to do with the conflict that is quickly escalating into a civil war. What’s more, a big bad ghost from all their pasts is back to haunt – and kill – every one of them. In the end, who will be left standing? Will Fabletown even be left?

… I am left speechless after the ending to this phenomenal and epic story. Once again, Bill Willingham pulled a sucker punch on us. Of course, I can’t say too much without spoiling it, but rest assured that the ending is fitting for the series.

So instead, I will talk about the series as a whole. Fables is a prime, if not the best, example of a graphic novel series that is not a superhero story. Because it’s not, it’s not constrained by a lot of the writing tropes and pitfalls that plague superhero comics. I found that this is especially true as far as characterization went. Though superhero stories have come a long way in creating more morally ambiguous characters, the writing still clearly separates “good” and “evil” characters. Throughout the Fables series, many more characters are on the morally grey spectrum, and some swing more towards the “good” and “evil” side as the series goes on. Not only is it just more skillful writing, it makes for much more interesting character development, especially over a long series such as this one.

The art – guys, the art is some of the best I have ever seen. It’s a small pet peeve of mine in superhero comics when they switch artists too fast, to the point where you get 4 different artists, and by extension, art styles, in one trade paperback. For the most part, the penciling is done by Mark Buckingham for the main series. The Deluxe Editions have spin-off issues and one-shots that are done by guest writers and artists, who are all very talented, but Mark Buckingham’s artwork is really what made the series come to life for me. His ability to create intricate detail to distinguish many, many characters from one another is no small feat. One of my very favorite things about the art in this book are the borders that line the edges of each page. I’d never seen it’s like in a graphic novel before, and it really gave the books a “fairytale storybook” feel. Many times over the course of this series, I caught myself studying the art more than reading!

Much love, time, and creative energy went into this series, and it shows. This fascinating mix of fairy tales, noir, high fantasy, and adventure, with excellent characterization and suspenseful writing, has already and will appeal to a wide range of readers. Because there is some gore, strong language, and adult content (never gratuitous), I would save it for older teenagers and adults. If you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for??? As for me, I’ll be starting it over =P

– Kathleen

Willingham, Bill, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, and Dan Green. Fables (The Deluxe Edition): Book 15. 2017.

Blackest Night: Green Lantern

While I’ve read some of the Blackest Night stories (like the WW one), I’ve never actually read the main arc!

While the War of Light – the conflict between the ring bearers of the emotional spectrum – rages on, a threat to the entire universe arises. Black Hand has risen from the dead by the light of the Black Lantern ring. Across the universe, the dead are rising again. Those who have died and come back – Superman, Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman – are being sought out by the black rings of death and becoming Black Lanterns. Hal Jordan, the best of the Green Lanterns, must find a way to stop the war and unite his fellow Lanterns against the Black Lanterns. Not only are the Lanterns in danger of being snuffed out – the whole universe is, too.

Holy crap! IT’S SO GOOD!!! I shouldn’t be surprised, because Geoff Johns penned it, but still!!! The action! The pace! The high stakes! It’s everything you want a superhero story to be, and then some. The writing assumes you’ve read past stories, and I feel like the story skipped between issues. From what I understand, the whole arc was told throughout multiple heroes’ books at the same time. The issues within are all sequential, so the skipping feeling makes sense. However, this collection has cover pages with recaps and more context between each issue, which is really helpful.

The art is some of the best I’ve ever seen. The coloring, of course, is stellar. So many Lantern colors and constructs playing off each other – eye candy! I think the layouts of all the panels are cinematic, with many wide shots of epic Lantern battles and close-ups of characters, highlighting tension. The figures are solidly drawn, in many dynamic and creative posts. I’m happy to report little to no gratuitous shots of Star Sapphire, Indigo-1, or any other heroines.

The only part I don’t like? That I didn’t read this sooner!!! I will be finding and devouring the rest of this arc.

– Kathleen

Johns, Geoff, and Doug Mahnke. Blackest Night: Green Lantern. 2010.

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