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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!

Superman (Rebirth, Vol. 1): Son of Superman

The events of Flashpoint created two Supermen, with two separate timelines. Rebirth merged these two Supermen and timelines into one, and the result is the start of Superman’s Rebirth title.

Clark Kent and Lois Lane have a son named Johnathan Kent. The boy is half human, half Kryptonian, and is developing powers and resistances like his father’s. The three are happy, though Jon is both itching to and dreading becoming Superman like his father. Superman was not the only survivor of the past reality, however. The Eradicator, a machine from Krypton, has found the Kent family. He sees Jon as an abomination of Kryptonian blood, due to his part-human heritage; as such an abomination, he must be eliminated. Superman can’t defeat the Eradicator alone. Can Jon step up to the plate to defend his blood?

It’s easy to see why this Rebirth title was so acclaimed. It takes all the best parts of Superman and introduces a new challenge: Clark’s son. Part of the mass appeal of Superman’s character is that he believes anyone can be a hero, which is very inspiring. With Jon, we ask the question if he can also be a hero, if he will also be inspired and take his father’s values to heart and take up the huge mantle, or if he will forge his own path. It certainly will be an interesting ride as we see more of Jon’s character unfold.

Five artists worked on issues in this volume alone, making it hard to appraise. All was serviceable, and there certainly were not any weak links, but I enjoyed Gleason’s work best. I thought he was able to most effectively capture Jon’s childlike innocence and strong emotions, especially in the eyes. Like Jon’s character, I am eager to see how his design changes over the course of the arc.

I’ve said before that while I love Superman’s character, it’s been hard for me to find an arc that I really, genuinely enjoy. I do believe I’ve found one 😉

– Kathleen

Tomasi, Peter J., Patrick Gleason, Doug Mahnke, and Jorge Jiminez. Superman (Rebirth, Vol. 1): Son of Superman. 2017.

Bury the Lede

Madison Jackson interns at the prestigious Boston Lede newspaper, and she’s determined to prove that she deserves to be there. She picks up a crime scene in progress on a police scanner, the address of which is tied to a prominently social and wealthy family. Madison hopes to snatch up the scoop that will prove her worth, but she ends up being the scoop. Celebrity Dahlia Kennedy, accused of murdering her husband and son, refuses to talk to anyone but Madison, creating a social media storm that puts Madison right in the center of her own story. She tries to navigate the spotlight she doesn’t want, while trying to navigate her working relationship with Dahlia. They both want Madison to get to the truth, but Dahlia’s information doesn’t come easily, or cheaply. How far will Madison go to get the full story?

According to Wiktionary, to “bury the lede” means:

To begin a story with details of secondary importance to the reader while postponing more essential points or facts.

This graphic novel is aptly titled, as there are plot points that come up during the second act like a punch to the gut and change everything. I can’t say more without spoilers, but suffice it to say that this story wasn’t at all what I expected. It’s a psychological thriller in which you think you know the real story, who the characters really are, but by the end you find you don’t know anything at all.

The art was a little wonky – in some ways good, in some bad. The bad: the characters are rendered passably well, except for multiple instances where facial features are skewed one way or another for seemingly no reason. Lips, nose, eyes, would be slightly off-center or askew even when we’re looking at a character head-on. This occurred too often to be a printing error, and was off-putting and distracting for me. That said, the use of color, especially in the background as paint splatters, were effective in communicating lights, a mood, or a sudden emotion.

This graphic novel contains strong language, nudity, blood and gore, and love scenes, which puts it at high school age and up. The majority of the love scenes are between an LGBTQ+ couple. I must commend writer Gaby Dunn for the way these characters were written – they are characters, first and foremost, who just happen to be gay. As it turns out, Gaby herself is publicly bisexual and non-monogamous, and is a writer for various publications and media. She knew how important it was for the sexual orientation of her characters to not be a huge deal in the story, which can not only make the book awkward, but make it seem forced for the sake of inclusion and not serving the story. More media, not just graphic novels, with LGBTQ+ characters should strive to this standard.

-Kathleen

Dunn, Gaby, Claire Roe, and Miquel Muerto. Bury the Lede. 2019.

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass

Harleen Quinzel has a measly $5 in her pocket when she gets off the bus at Gotham City. Her mother has sent her to live with her grandmother for a while. To Harleen’s chagrin, she finds her grandmother has passed away, but Mama, the current tenant of her apartment, gladly takes in the eccentric teenager. Harleen’s spirits are not dampened by this turn of events; she embraces Mama and his cohort of drag queens just as enthusiastically as they’ve embraced her. However, big changes are coming to the neighborhood. The Kane family, who owns Millennium Enterprises, are looking to buy out the block to build upscale condos and “improve” the area. Harleen faces a difficult choice. Should she organize community protests with her new friend Ivy and her family? Or should she burn the corporation down with the mysterious Joker?

I have to say, this one surprised me. I’m not a Harley Quinn fan, but DC Ink has put out some fine stories, so I decided to check it out. This reimagining of Harley’s origin story will be hard to top.

Harley’s distinctive voice and character lent particular weight to the themes in this story: African-American and LGBTQ+ rights, gentrification, and poverty. As it’s written from Harley’s point of view, her colorful and optimistic speech firmly place us in her head. We see from the art more than hear from Harley about the injustice that happens in the world around her, showing the audience that while you can hide from problems in your head, you can’t escape the real-world causes and consequences. Harley ultimately has a choice: whether or not to see the problems, and how to respond to them. Is there a right or wrong way to fight for justice?

The art is phenomenal. In both an homage to and deviation from your typical Batman, Gotham-style book, it’s rendered in cool sepia. Pops of color come through at critical moments or in flashbacks: Harley red, Joker yellow and purple, hot pink. It feels like reading an old black and white film where someone expertly colored over the reel in the most emotionally charged moments. There are a few Easter eggs and homages to Harley’s history sprinkled throughout that both old and new fans will enjoy.

The question Harley faces here, how to respond to injustice and what the right way is to fight for justice, is something many teens can relate to. The timely, yet timeless, message and stellar art make for a Harley origin story that will be hard to beat in the future.

– Kathleen

Tamaki, Mariko, and Steve Pugh. Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass. 2019.

A Bride’s Story (Vol. 7)

Hello and welcome to the last post of 2019!

We follow Mr. Smith once again in this volume, as his travels take him to the home of a wealthy merchant in Persia. Though the merchant has a wife named Anis, it’s customary for the brides of Persia to never show their faces to men outside the family, so they never meet. However, Mr. Smith learns much about Persian culture and customs for his research, and Anis learns much about Mr. Smith and England from her husband. Though Anis has a child, and is very happy with married life, she is lonely and desires female companionship. Mahfu, her child’s nurse, suggests Anis accompany her to the women’s public baths, so she might meet other women. There Anis meets Sherine, a woman who reminds her of a cat: beautiful and aloof, but still a warm person underneath. They immediately hit it off, prompting Anis to ask Sherine to become her avowed sister. Will Sherine accept?

Mori goes into a little more detail about avowed sisters in the epilogue to this volume. Apparently, avowed sisters were a custom among Persian women somewhere between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. It was almost like a marriage, but between two women. They usually spent a year in each other’s company before one asked the other to be her avowed sister. Upon accepting the offer, a ceremony was performed in front of many witnesses, wherein the two women swore to be devoted friends for life.

I thought that was wonderful! I loved this volume because it highlighted the close friendships women can form with each other! It’s so important to see friends love each other so deeply and be able to express that love for one another! Plus, I learned something new, which is always exciting! XD

The extraordinary detail usually found in Mori’s artwork was a bit toned down for this volume. Much of the story takes place in the women’s baths, as Anis and Sherine get to know each other, so the backgrounds are hazy and steamy without much detail. There is a much higher level of nudity in this volume because of the setting, but it’s never inappropriate.

There is a short story at the end of this volume that takes place between Karluk’s parents. It’s the cherry on top of an already sweet volume. This latest installment may have given me diabetes!!! I’ll see you all in the new year if I survive this sugar rush ;D

– Kathleen

Mori, Kaoru. A Bride’s Story (Vol. 7). 2015.

Batman/Huntress: Cry for Blood

After the events of No Man’s Land, after Huntress thought herself proven worthy of Batman’s trust… he still doesn’t trust her. In fact, the only one in the Batfamily who seems to care for her at all is Nightwing. Huntress tells herself doesn’t particularly care, nor is she looking for approval from any of them – there’s a price on her head. Someone is setting her up to look like she’s killing members of the mob – who also happen to be members of her extended family. But Helena has already caught and exacted justice on the assassin who killed her parents and brother, and the man who ordered the hit. But one question still burns, after all these years… why was Helena spared, when the rest of the Bertinellis died? Clearing her name now may be tied to that old question somehow. None other than The Question is willing to help her out – if she’ll let him.

This one made more sense to me upon my second skim-through before writing this review. I would have very much appreciated a family tree or cast of characters page at the beginning of the book. Many characters from the mob appear in the book, of course, and Helena does explain who’s who and how they’re related – but one page of reference to go back to whenever you inevitably confuse people would have been welcome. It may have also gave the big plot twist a bit more weight, because by the time you get to who is really involved, you’ve forgotten who they are.

That said, with so many characters, there are also multiple layers of intrigue. It reads as if you, the reader, and Helena are figuring out who’s framing her together, bit by bit, eliminating suspect after suspect. Though Nightwing offers his help, Helena distrusts the Batfamily as much as they do her. Her drive to take care of this family matter herself is palpable in every page, and it really comes through in the art. The entire book has a grey tint to it; there are no bright jewel tones. Memories and backstory are colored in a cool sepia. Though there are lighter moments in the book, and they are appropriately written and colored, the overall tone is serious and somber.

Cry for Blood is a cornerstone Huntress story, but it’s also just a dang good read. This is a great example of how the writing and the art work together to set the overall mood of the book. I plan to read No Man’s Land next, for more context as to exactly why the Huntress and the Batfamily don’t trust each other… and because I seem to like reading backwards =P

-Kathleen

Rucka, Greg, Rick Burchett, and Terry Beatty. Batman/Huntress: Cry for Blood. 2002.

Best Reads of 2019

It’s that post you look forward to all year: Graphic Novelty2‘s Best Reads post! Here we have each compiled the five most exemplary graphic novels we’ve read in 2019, in no particular order. Enjoy!

bone parish

Bone Parish

Nancy: Cullen Bunn has created a new dark and dangerous graphic novel series, and this necromantic horror story grabbed me on the first page and never let go. The Winters family of New Orleans has discovered how to manufacture the ashes of the dead into a powerful hallucinogenic drug that lets the person snorting the drug to experience everything the dead person lived through when they were alive. In charge of this operation are Grace and Andre, with their four adult children. There are a few twists and turns in the narrative, with a surprising revelation that will make you backtrack to look for clues. The story has the potential for a thought-provoking moral debate about drug culture and the sanctity of life and for the body after death. I loved Jonas Scharf’s art, and am eagerly awaiting the concluding volume later this month (V2 came out in September) and I will review both of them together at that time.

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I Moved to Los Angeles to Work in Animation

Kathleen: This was a sort of accidental read, in that for some reason I thought it was fiction, but in fact was non-fiction. In the end, it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise! Comic artist Natalie Nourigat documents how she transitioned to the animation industry in this part autobiography, part how-to graphic novel. She shares not only her background as an artist, but all the hard work she did to get into animation: building a portfolio, interviewing, and moving somewhere totally new to her. Included are interviews with animator friends and coworkers. The art and layout are simple and clean, to allow the text with information shine; it’s worth saying that while this graphic novel is more text-heavy than others, there is never a point where the reader feels bogged down by text. By reading this, I learned a lot about something I previously had no knowledge of, and had fun doing it.

harrow county

Harrow County series

Nancy: This eight-book series is an eerie southern gothic fairy tale about a young woman Emmy who is trying desperately to understand the mysteries of her possible origin and the decades-long secrets that the townspeople have. This story is so much more than an atmospheric supernatural tale- it touches on friendship, destiny, good vs evil and the choices we make and how they define us. Authored by Cullen Bunn, I read this soon after Bone Parish, so Bunn has quickly become a favored author of mine. But with all graphic novels, it is often the art that truly sets a book apart, and in this case, Tyler Crook’s illustrations do that. His haint creatures were creative and varied, and I thought of his work and H.P. Lovecraft’s as being similarly inspired. His work came to define Harrow County for me with its townspeople, rural landscapes and sinister woods.

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New Kid

Kathleen: This middle-grade graphic novel, written and illustrated by Jerry Craft, follows Jordan Banks, a seventh-grader who starts at a new school. Not just any school – the prestigious Riverdale Academy Day School. Jordan is an excellent student, and he got in on a scholarship, but he would have much rather gone to art school. He feels this way more and more as the school year goes on, as he experiences alienation and micro-aggressions from his predominantly white classmates and teachers. Jordan is able to express himself through his drawing and comics, but all he wants more than anything is to fit in. Reading this book and realizing what Jordan was going through made me uncomfortable, but I welcomed the discomfort, because it meant I was learning. Jordan’s story and all the hard truths that came with it were presented in an easily digestible manner for it’s targeted younger audience. Ideally both children and parents are able to use this graphic novel as a tool to grapple social and racial biases.

Warlords

Warlords of Appalachia

Nancy: Set in the near future, a corrupt dictator has been voted in as president, which plunges America into the Second Civil War. Afterward, Kentucky refuses to rejoin the nation, leaving them a demilitarized zone and caught in the cross-hairs of the fascist leader who will do anything to bring these rebels into line. In the midst of this, mechanic and former soldier Kade Mercer reluctantly becomes Kentucky’s de facto leader as he leads his townspeople into the woods to escape from a military attack. Mystery surrounds his silent young son, who is kidnapped and held as ransom by the army, and in regards to the “blueboys” who live hidden in the mountains.  Author Phillip Kennedy Johnson was new to me, but I found out that he is a musician in the Army. This explains his familiarity with the armed forces and their inner workings, plus the beautiful folk-like songs that begin each chapter.  Artist Jonas Scharf (mentioned in Bone Parish earlier) elevated this story further for he captures the look of Appalachia and it’s inhabitants, while also realistically rendering the military scenes.  Unfortunately, this graphic novel seemed to be a one-and-done, as I have not seen further stories from this duo.

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The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel

Kathleen: This graphic novel adaptation was my first experience of Margaret Atwood’s classic story. It follows the Handmaid Offred, a woman who lives in service to the Commander and his wife. Offred’s service is to bear their children, and nothing more. She is not allowed to read, write, or own anything, but she remembers a time before, when she was able to do these things and more. When she and the Commander begin to carry on a more-than-professional relationship, Offred realizes she might be playing for her freedom. The art of this graphic novel was, hands down, the best I’ve seen this year. Thin washes of watercolor and tiny, wobbly lines of ink give off a light and airy, yet foreboding and uncertain quality, as if (to quote from my original review) “you’re in a dream that could very quickly and easily turn into a nightmare.” The story was undeniably compelling, in a morbidly curious way, but Renée Nault’s spellbinding art is what sold this experience for me.

SGA cover

Snow, Glass, Apples

Nancy: Every Halloween I like to find a spooky read, and this year it was a twisted fairy tale from the esteemed Neil Gaiman whose dark and whimsical tales are sure to please. He once again tackles the Snow White story, but this story is told from Snow White’s stepmother’s perspective and she is far from a wicked witch. Instead, the twist is that young Snow White is the evil one, and is a vampire who manipulates others. Plus, there is quite the erotica element to this tale, so it is for mature audiences only. While Gaiman’s tale is excellent, it is the art by Colleen Doran that makes this book stand out. She draws in an Art Nouveau style and takes inspiration from famed artists Harry Clarke and Aubrey Beardsley. Her art is reminiscent of stained glass windows with deep jewel blues and purples. She incorporates mandalas and nature into the backgrounds, so the illustrations are a feast for the eyes.

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Just Jaime

Kathleen: Lifelong friends Jaime and Maya have finally reached the last day of seventh grade! But they haven’t reached it together. Jaime feels that her and Maya don’t have the friendship they used to have, and wants to fix it on this special day. Maya has been pressured by the older and more popular Celia to end her friendship with Jaime, who she says has been bogging down the friend group. Will Jaime and Maya repair their relationship, or let it go along with the rest of seventh grade? Terri Libenson wrote and illustrated this middle-grade graphic novel, and perfectly captured a wealth of issues – friendship, maturity, reputation, drama – over the course of one day. We alternate chapters told from Jaime and Maya’s points of view, but their format differs too. The heavier introspective side of Jaime’s story is told in mostly prose with little illustrations. Maya’s story involves others, so we see her side in mostly graphic novel format, in order to witness firsthand what others are putting her through. Though alternating points of view is a common trope, never before had I seen different formats for the different characters; it was extremely effective here.

Wolverine S1

Wolverine podcast

Nancy: My wildcard is not a graphic novel, but the outstanding two-season Marvel podcast about Wolverine. The premise: Following a string of mysterious deaths in Burns, Alaska, Special Agents Sally Pierce and Tad Marshall arrive to investigate. They soon find there’s more going on than meets the eye. Season one proved to be more a murder mystery, while Logan was kept on the periphery of the narrative, but in season two he is front and center, with an adventure in New Orleans that includes Gambit and Weapon X. Each season consisted of ten episodes that were about 30-40 minutes in length, which made my 45-minute drive to work enjoyable. Check out the podcast online at Sticher, as the episodes are free to listen to.

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Batman: The Long Halloween

Kathleen: Y’all didn’t think I was gonna go through 2019 without letting a DC title on this list, did you? Get outta here ;D One Halloween night in Gotham City, Johnny Viti, the nephew of mob boss Carmine Falcone, is murdered. Surrounding his body are dollar-store Halloween decorations. Thus begins the spree of the “Holiday” killer: picking off members of the Falcone family one by one on a holiday, and leaving that holiday’s trinkets near the body. Allies Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and ADA Harvey Dent wanted to take down the mob, but not like this. Soon the lies, double-crosses, and finger points begin to affect them to the point where they suspect each other. At the time of publication, this was a groundbreaking story that I believe changed the way Batman’s character and stories were told thereafter. All parties involved in the story are human, and therefore fallible. We see them each fall as they each believe they are doing the right thing. The art is stark, dark, and minimalist, with a great emphasis on light and shadow, which allows for greater movement of the story and greater focus on the characters and their intentions. If you’re a Batman fan, you need to read this comic. End of story.

There you have it: Nancy and Kathleen’s unequivocal Best Reads of 2019! Nancy read many excellent horror and creepy stories this year, while Kathleen found some phenomenal middle-grade novels. Most shocking is how only one superhero read and listen made the list apiece, from our die-hard DC and Marvel fans! The world just might be ending 😉

Thank you all for sticking around another year. We both hope you all have a wonderful holiday season!

Nancy and Kathleen

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Coronation (Vol. 1)

Others have entered the Labyrinth before Sarah. In fact, Jareth decides to tell Toby, Sarah’s baby brother, about one such woman as he waits for Sarah to fail the maze. In 18th-century Venice, a young woman named Maria is married to Count Albert Tyton, and they seem to have the perfect life. But Tyton has been on the run from his father and the authorities since he married Maria, a woman below his station. When his father finally catches up to him, he succumbs to the temptation of his “visions,” the goblins, and wishes his child – indisputable evidence of his marriage to Maria – away. Maria was accidentally spirited to the Labyrinth as well, before the Owl King snatched her child from her arms and sent her back. She forces her return to the Labyrinth to rescue her son. Will she prevail?

It’s hinted multiple times throughout the book that this may be Jareth’s origin story – but in the Labyrinth, where things aren’t always as they seem, who can say? 😉 This first volume is the set-up for what is sure to be a winding tale of courage and deception, just what you’d expect from an offshoot of the original movie. It will be interesting to see how Maria’s journey parallels Sarah’s as the story moves forward.

The art is superb. The colors are bright, eye-catching, and fantastical. The linework is severely precise and clean, lending a grounding element to an otherwise tumultuous story. The goblins, and some new creatures, are rendered just as if they’d stepped out of Jim Henson’s imagination. Jareth and Sarah aren’t rendered exactly as David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly, but there is a great likeness and they are still instantly recognizable.

Looking forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Spurrier, Simon, Daniel Bayliss, and Dan Jackson. Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Coronation (Vol. 1). 2018.

Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell

While on an undercover mission for the Justice League of America, Black Canary maybe accidentally got a spell put on her. A nasty one that’s causing the women she worked with on said mission to commit suicide. It’s only a matter of time before the spell takes her, too. She calls up her teammate and friend, Zatanna Zatara, to see if there’s a way out of it. Though Zatanna concludes it’s a bloodspell (one that’s bound to the person by – you guessed it – blood), she is certain she can break it if they find the person who put the spell on Canary. Trouble is… Tina Spettro is dead. How the heck do you break a spell when the one who cast it is dead???

DC veterans Paul Dini and Joe Quinones teamed up for this fun… well, teamup =P Though Green Arrow makes an appearance, along with a few other JLA members, the focus really is on Black Canary and Zatanna. Not only do we get the main story above, but we see how the two women met as fledgling heroes, and a few other fun flashbacks that give us more context about their relationship. Overall I got a Birds of Prey vibe from it, which with me, is never ever a bad thing!

What I found most interesting was Quinones’ renders of both women. The two are stylistically very similar – black jackets, dark leotards, and fishnet stockings. Quinones made the two women different visually: Canary has a bluer, cooler palette, and Zatanna’s is more mystical and warm purple. Zee is taller, with a more oval face and more delicate form and features; whereas Dinah is shorter, stockier, and a little more blunt, to indicate her incredible strength and physical prowess. These subtle differences in their designs tell us a lot about these characters before we even read any words!

For any reader who’s looking for girl relationship power remniscent of Birds of Prey, but who also likes a big slice of magic, give them this!

– Kathleen

Dini, Paul and Joe Quinones. Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell. 2014.

The American Dream?: A Journey on Route 66

A lifelong dream of author Shing Yin Khor’s is to travel on Route 66 from Los Angeles to Chicago. Her family emigrated to the United States from Malaysia when she was a little girl, so she grew up both in her home country and her new one. Though she spent the later half of her childhood and early adulthood in the glamorous City of Angels, she had always been intrigued by the mythical ’60s Americana that Route 66 stood for. So with nothing but the bare essentials and her dog, Bug, Shing sets off in her tiny car along the fabled road, hoping to gain better understanding of her adopted homeland, and herself.

This graphic memoir is part diary, part fact book. I learned a lot! Her personal story is littered with the history of Route 66. She divides the book into chapters by the states the highway runs through – first California, then Arizona, then New Mexico, and so on. However, the first 3 chapters are the longest, and so packed with information, that the remainder of the book feels rushed and far shorter by comparison.

Shing’s art is delightful. I can still see sketch lines of the pen or pencil beneath the watercolor, which I adore! It never feels unfinished, though. Her forms and colors are loose and quirky, more concerned with conveying an idea or a feeling than how things actually are. I think this was a good choice, so we readers could feel what was going on in Shing’s head and heart throughout her journey.

In her epilogue, she writes that she took her trip 6 months before the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. It forces the reader to wonder how the trip might have turned out if Shing, a Malasyan immigrant, had taken her trip after the election – or whether she would have taken it at all.

– Kathleen

Yin Khor, Shing. The American Dream?: A Journey on Route 66. 2019.

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