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Graphic Novelty²

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Nancy

I'm a busy mom and teen librarian! I manage to fit in some time to be the co-writer of the blog Graphic Novelty².

The Wicked + The Divine: Volumes Six + Seven

This series has been both fascinating and completely exasperating. It’s been a LONG time since I read volumes one-five but once I heard the volume nine would wrap up the series, I figured I might as well finish it, as I was already halfway in. Is that a ringing endorsement or what?

Volume Six: Imperial Phase Part 2

An opening page gives you a quick summary and a who is who of all the Pantheon, as Gods cycle through the ages in a perplexing manner every ninety years. Some of the Gods are trying to understand the bigger picture around them, and are making alliances with their surviving brethren, while others give themselves to anarchy and extreme hedonism.

The storyline about Gods Morrigan and Baphomet, the underworld couple with an unhealthy dynamic broke my heart.   Morrigan, previously as a human and now as a God, excused Baphomet’s behavior in the name of love, but now has become abusive and controlling of him. These two can’t escape from another and bound together in agony. Persephone, aka The Destroyer, continues to be a confusing and complex character as she seems to want to fight for good yet gives into temptation over and over again. Several Gods are murdered, and while I won’t spoil who dies, I was glad to see that the God that I absolutely hated, die. A twist with Woden ties in with Ananke, as the concluding pages shows that Ananke (who we all thought was dead) is an even better manipulator than anyone guessed.

As always, the art is beautiful with swirling vivid colors by Matthew Wilson. Artist McKelvie managed to fit in his numbered panels again. Some interesting variant art covers by guest artists are featured in addition to some behind the scenes storyboards which shows how the story and art are carefully choreographed.

Picture from Gizmodo article that includes an interview with Gillen and McKelvie

Volume Seven: Mothering Invention

What the hell is going on? I’m beyond confused! Basically what it comes down to is that two sisters duel it out over the ages- and who are the two sisters? Why it’s Ananke and Persephone!

The dates have always been confusing to me, especially with my big gap between reading volumes, but now we have non-linear flashbacks dating back thousands of years to when this mess of 90-year cycle of Gods began.  I was fascinated with the pages that showed Ananke every 90 years in different parts of the world when she is shown hugging a God, destroying a God or being killed herself. While I had no clue what was going on, I loved looking at the panels, for the clothing of people through the ages in their region of the world was fascinating (but what was up with the clothing in 1738 North America?). I applaud the artists for all the research they did to reflect all the different cultures beautifully.

There was a heartbreaking conclusion to Morrigan and Baphomet’s relationship with absolutely outstanding visuals during their fight, and my favorite God Baal had a fall from grace that came out of nowhere.  The remaining Gods, who are pop-culture saturated enigmas, are in chaos as this story starts it’s wind-down.

I hope to get to volumes eight + nine soon and put a bow on this unique series!

-Nancy

Catch up on previous volumes: One, Two + Three, Four + Five

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Heroes in Crisis

Tagline: “How does a superhero handle PTSD?”

Superheros have been dealing with the repercussions of death and destruction for years and who better than author Tom King, a former CIA operative, to know that this would start to wear on these DC heroes. Thus Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman band together to build a secret mental health clinic in rural Nebraska called Sanctuary where heroes can go for anonymous assistance. It is staffed by androids and offers virtual reality reenactment and counseling to help them with their issues.

Event books seem to be my kryptonite with DC. While I rarely read about individual superheroes, except for Aquaman lately, I am a sucker for these stories that bring everyone together in sometimes implausible ways. So the story begins with Harley Quinn and Blue Beetle duking it out, as each accuses the other of being a murderer- and we soon find out that there was a slaughter at the Sanctuary with several heroes dead. While most of them are heroes of little note, Wally West who is the original Kid Flash, is one of the casualties. The Big Three are called to investigate, and they are dumbfounded, as they had put in place many safeguards to protect their traumatized brethren.

This story was filled with tons of lower-level tier heroes (or those who are “good” for now). Besides Catwoman and Jade (GL), I was unfamiliar with the other characters here. But the comment that Red Tornado makes is a sly joke about The Vision (who he looks like) from the Marvel Universe- that King wrote an amazing two-part series about.

The story had some incredible highs and lows. While I applaud the idea that superheroes would need counseling to process their grief and the insight that King brought to the large cast of characters, the ending was very convoluted. I had to poke around in The New 52 and DC Rebirth to understand why the culprit did what they did, and it still didn’t make a lot of sense. But no matter, this character will be yet again retconned and their crimes will not matter in the future. In addition, the release of private confessionals to the public and Lois Lane’s decision to go to print with the story rubbed me the wrong way. In real life, there are “outings” of people’s private lives all the time for sensationalistic effect, all in the name of the “public’s right to know”.

Yet, the book worked in smaller moments. There were some interesting pairings- towards the end Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Blue Beetle and Booster Gold band together to solve the mystery of what happened. As I don’t read a lot of DC, I was unaware that Harley and Poison Ivy were a couple, but the two of them have a brand new mini-series that takes place directly after this event, aptly named Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. I enjoyed seeing Batgirl prevent Harley from spiraling out of control, and the bromance between BB and BG. I looked up several of the heroes I was unfamiliar with, and the insecurities that the four Robins showed (see below) was pitch-perfect. Tom King is now known as someone who writes about deeper psychological issues, and that is readily shown in this story.

The artwork by Clay Mann, Travis Moore, Mitch Gerads, Jorge Fornes and Lee Weeks was absolutely outstanding. For so many artists, the style stayed remarkably consistent. The two-page splash pages that opened each issue were visually stunning, with distinct drawings of both small settings and large outdoor expanses. The nine-panel pages were my favorite, as each character was drawn with precision, with facial expressions showing their personalities and conveying the distress that they each of them was working through. Rich colouring and lettering also added to the top-notch illustrations.

All in all, a thought-provoking story that may trigger some difficult feelings for some readers, as mental health is a loaded topic for some, but is worth discussing and bringing out into the open. I was glad to read an online preview from NetGalley before it was published and will plan or ordering this graphic novel for my library.

-Nancy

I LOVED these panels about past and present Robins. All of them are insecure about their reputation, except for arrogant Damian.

 

Wolverine: The Long Night podcast

Although I am a fan of Marvel and especially the X-Men, I have read remarkably few graphic novels about them recently. I heard about this Wolverine podcast during a commercial on the LeVar Burton Reads podcast that I listen to, so after I wrapped up season three of that podcast, I decided to give this one a try. I’m so glad I did!

The set-up of this ten chapter series: 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.

A Thousand Ways To Die In Alaska

In this first episode, FBI agents Pierce and Marshall arrive in Burns, Alaska to investigate a fishing boat massacre that seems to be more than a drug run gone bad. When slash marks are found in the boat hull, we know that Logan, aka Wolverine, is tied in- because that’s what the podcast is all about, hence the title!

Goodnight Nobody

The agent’s line of questioning of the local police and townspeople point to them suspecting Logan, although they won’t admit that they are there under false pretenses. For a podcast based on Wolverine, he as a character has factored in very little yet. He is described by others and in some of these remberances his voice is heard, but he has yet to play a significant role. The agents are also questioning the supposed bear attacks of two local women recently and the quote “Goodnight Nobody” tattooed on one of the victims leads them to a new mysterious cult.

Underground

Additional suspicions are raised about the Aurora cult, a reclusive group that has settled in the area recently, led by Nicholas Prophet. Agents Pierce and Marshall investigate, accompanied by young Deputy Bobby Reid (who sounds incredibly like Tom Holland of Spiderman fame), to see if the Prophet could shed any insight on the rash of deaths in the community. Their compound is creepy, but no big clues to connect the cult with Logan are obvious as of yet.

Hunters

More suspects are interviewed by agents Pierce and Marshall.  The rich Langrock family, who are benefactors to the town but are  (not surprisingly) not what they seem, become the newest suspects. Could they be behind the drugs that one fisherman saw on the fishing boat before the bags disappeared? Other clues point to eco-terrorists in the area, and one family with feral children have connections to Logan. Descriptions of Logan are shattering my view of him as the dreamy Hugh Jackman, as he is described as short, squat and ugly. Sigh…

Into the Woods

The Langrock family sponsors a hunt to find the bear that has supposedly killed two women and the night before attacked yet another woman. Are they doing this as a true public service to the community or are they trying to distract the agents from the real killer? Clues would point to a double-cross, as video footage viewed by the agents show the local police in the Langrock’s back pocket, and they advise young deputy Reid to not be so subservient to those in power.

Archeology of the Night

A sacred grove of old-growth trees located in a canyon with ancient petroglyphs is scheduled to be logged by the Langrock family, and this news ties in with the eco-terrorists, the cult, the woman most recently mauled and Logan. A web of clues is slowly coming together, but more clues are needed such as who is the creature that is doing the mauling, that doesn’t quite sound like Logan (of course we all know he didn’t do it). And we find out some surprising news about Reid, and that perhaps his aww-shucks persona is hiding another agenda.

You’re Next

Clues on how the Langrock family is managing to smuggle the drugs between their fishing cannery and their logging company is revealed through research at the local library (be still my heart!). The sacred grove and a recently discovered cave with mystical symbols reminds me of the Pet Semetary novel by Stephen King and is furthered by a reference to a Windigo monster that an Inuit man brings up…yet the Windigo monster is a mythical creature from Native American tribes on the eastern coast of the United States and Canada and not of Inuit folklore. This hallowed area is also referred to as the Tarrack—a spiritual nexus that has the power to exact revenge on those that wish to destroy the region.

The Red Sunset

When a prime suspect is found dead, the agents are thrown for a loop, especially when the cult is found worshipping in front of the dead body and Prophet speaks of another future sacrifice.  A young woman with a strong allegiance to Logan clues them in to look into another suspect that I guessed earlier would be the true culprit. References are made by the agents about mutant genes, yet they seem slow on the uptake that there could be another mutant local to the town, besides Logan.

The Changing

In this penultimate episode, we find out definitively who the killer is (it’s who I thought it would be!) and there is a deep pathos in the person’s background that twisted them into a cold-blooded killer when their mutant power kicked in. Used as a pawn for revenge against others, the killer has a break with reality and fights Logan, just to run off and disappear into the woods. As we head into the last episode, questions remain about how the cult ties into all of this, and what the agents know about Logan’s past and mutant powers. I do want to mention that the sound effects in this podcast are excellent, with the noises heard in a pivotal scene in this chapter really adding to the atmosphere.

No Escape

What an ending! Turns out there was a huge secret that brusque agent Pierce and easy-going agent Marshall were hiding, and I was completely surprised, although there had been a tiny clue in the last chapter. What I liked is that some of the plot’s threads remain open, there is no neat conclusion to what happens to all the residents of Burns, Alaska. Logan finally takes center stage in the last chapter as he meets one of the agents, and through some references he makes to his past, I remain a bit muddled on his timeline in the X-Men universe. But no matter what, Weapon X (btw, that’s not a spoiler to the big secret I mentioned earlier) won’t give up on capturing what they consider their biggest asset, and I’m sure that will play a big part in Season Two- The Long Trail.

This podcast was beyond good! The voice actors were perfect for their roles, with Logan, Pierce and Marshall standing out. There is a graphic novel based on this story available, and I look forward to reading that to compare how the visual and the auditory versions match up. I will definitely be listening to season two, and between that and the LeVar Burton Reads podcast, I have much to enjoy listening to on my commute to work!

-Nancy

Banned Books Week: Graphic Novels

Banned Books Week this year runs from September 22nd- 28th, and I’d like to take this time to shine some light on how many graphic novels have been challenged over the years. The site Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is an outstanding resource on how to fight censorship and this particular page guides you through specific cases of challenged comics and graphic novels.

As a librarian, it is important that we provide books on ALL topics for ALL people. While sometimes we might choose not to order a book or to place a book in a location that we feel is age-appropriate, patrons should have full access to books that they wish to read. I have read many challenged books, in all genres, over the years and am a better person for it. The following five graphic novels are but a few that have been challenged over the years.

Batman: The Killing Joke by  Alan Moore and  Brian Bolland

Reason challenged: Advocates rape and violence

This graphic novel about the Joker’s possible origin is considered a DC  classic, but it’s extreme violence and implied rape has put it on several banned lists.  The ambiguous ending between Joker and Batman can be interpreted in many different ways. This draw your own conclusion setup is what elevates this story and changed the way graphic novels are written and illustrated.

 

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Reason challenged: Sexual content

So what exactly is so controversial in this boldly colored YA book that it has been on the Top 10 banned list multiple times, considering it was nominated for a Harvey Award and was a Stonewall Honor Book? Well, Callie meets twin brothers who get involved in the musical, and one is gay and the other is questioning. While their level of coming out to the other students is part of the narrative, this tween-friendly book is very accepting of their identity. Author Telgemeier said, “that while she and her editors at Scholastic were very careful to make the book age-appropriate, they never considered omitting the gay characters because ‘finding your identity, whether gay or straight, is a huge part of middle school‘.” Hell yeah, it is!

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Reason challenged: Nudity, sexual content, and unsuited to age group

Author and illustrator Bechdel chronicles her childhood through her early years of college, in a non-linear memoir. The Bechdel family lived in her father’s small hometown of Beech Creek in Pennsylvania, and her father helped run the family funeral parlor. Alison and her younger brothers named the funeral parlor, Fun Home, hence the name of the novel. Her parents were trapped in a loveless marriage, with the father hiding his homosexuality, although as the years wore on his affairs became less and less discreet. Bechdel’s raw autobiography was turned into a musical play that showed on Broadway. That this book, and perhaps the play, can affect people deeply is a testament to the power of family and how it shapes us.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Reason challenged: Profanity, violent content

I first read this intimate memoir, written in graphic novel form about the author’s experience of growing up in 1980’s Iran, soon after the Paris bombings in late 2015. I felt it timely, for although the terrorists had not been from Iran, much of the Middle East was getting a bad rap. This book humanizes another culture and shows how extremism in any culture or religion is done by the few radicals against the many who suffer because of it and should be read widely for the message it conveys.

Saga by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Reason challenged: Sexual content, anti-family, nudity, offensive language, and unsuited for age group.

An epic sci-fi adventure with liberal doses of violence and sex! We learn that the main character’s two species are at war, and their secret marriage and birth of a hybrid child are strictly forbidden.  That this love blossomed among enemies must be kept from the public, and the book’s message of enduring love is more nuanced than you would think.

Celebrating free expression is important, for “Censorship leaves us in the dark. Keep the light on!”

-Nancy

LeVar Burton Reads: Season Three

Once I discovered LeVar Burton Reads aka Reading Rainbow for adults last year, I have been enjoying listening to LeVar read short stories on his podcast on a weekly basis.  As such, here are short reviews of twelve excellent stories.

Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience by Rebecca Roanhorse

The lead into season three packed quite a punch. Author Rebecca Roanhorse expertly pulls you in with a tale of cultural appropriation but then has yet another twist at the end that will make you question your assumptions.

Jesse is an American Indian who reluctantly works for a virtual reality company in Arizona that tourists pay to experience an “authentic” Indian experience that is anything but. He knows he is playing into white people’s unrealistic fantasies about spirit quests but it pays the bills. When a young white man that Jesse names White Wolf seems to really want to get to know Jesse and his real-life Indian experiences, Jesse meets him outside of the VR environment and shares what he knows. Even Jesse’s wife meets up with this new friend of his, but that is when the story goes sideways. Reminiscent of Westworld and Inception, Jesse’s life is upended by White Wolf and the level of appropriation goes way deeper than originally expected. This sci-fi story is one you will listen to again and again to pick up clues missed earlier and deserves the Hugo, Nebula, and Apex Magazine Reader’s Choice Awards that it won in 2017.

Sea Girls by Daniel Wallace

Typically I am not a fan of magical realism, but this story gets it just right. Two school mates who don’t know each other well, both encounter a mermaid who washes up a beach. While surprised to see one, they both know they exist and are fascinated by the fishy look of her, as she is not the beautiful siren of yore. The teen boy wishes to push her back into the ocean to save her, but the teen girl cautions him that all is not what it seems and to be careful. Her warnings prove to be true as the mermaid tries to drag the young man into the water with her. Despite the short length of the story, the characters are fleshed out and this tale of fantasy and reality intersecting was strong.

The Last Cheng Beng Gift by Jaymee Goh

This short story about parental expectations even in the afterlife was a bit of a downer. Mrs. Lin, a Chinese matriarch who resides in the Underworld, is still receiving gifts from her adult children during Cheng Beng, a festival honoring your ancestors. She and her other dead friends still participate in petty jealousies and one-ups in regards to the gifts they receive. Mrs. Lin, in ghostly form, visits her daughter and disapproves of her current life. While Mrs. Lin does reach a better understanding of her daughter, the entire story was rather sobering.

Fires by Rick Bass

Fires was excellent at world-building as the descriptions of the environment (you never find out where- perhaps Montana or Alaska) made you feel as though you were in the middle of bear country. A man and woman are thrown together for a season and seem suited for one another, but the woman is there simply to train for races and has to head home in the late summer, thus no romance develops. I was enjoying this slice-of-life interlude when the woman does something so mind-bogglingly foolish, that could have had huge ramifications, that the story ended on a sour note for me. While it might have been a metaphor for her feelings, I couldn’t get past the danger of it all.

Multo by Samuel Marzioli

Multo was a powerful ghost story that would be perfect to tell at a campfire. In this story, a man recounts his youth, when his family bonds with another Filipino family and he is introduced to the story of the ghost called Multo that has attached to the grandmother from the other family. During a sleepover, the ghost eerily tells the boy he will be next and years later when the grandmother dies, the man worries the ghost is coming for him…

Fantaisie Impromptu No. 4 in C#min, Op. 66 by Carlos Hernandez

Artists are said to often give their heart and soul to their work, and in the case, it is literally true. A concert pianist’s wife insists her husband’s soul is in a piano, after his debilitating illness and death. But if his soul is locked into a piano what of his eternal soul in heaven? In this tale science and faith intersect with a “deus ex machina” ending.

Fyrewall by Stefani Cox

In this short speculative fiction story, Daesha lives sometime in the future in the LA area, in which an advanced firewall keeps the city safe from raging wildfires. Her grandmother invented the technology of the wall, and Daesha is tasked with keeping it updated, yet she and her work crew seem to have lost the technical understanding in how it was created and how to truly fix it when a tear occurs and puts the city at risk. While the story mentions that the inhabitants inside are very diverse and inclusive, the story fell short on world-building, although I came away with the lesson of making sure you pass down your knowledge to future generations.

Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon (who also writes as T. Kingfisher)

Jackalope Wives was a delightful and atmospheric tale. It had a Southwestern feel, with Native American mythology overtones, that included the vivid imagery of fictional jackalopes dancing around a fire. When a foolish young man tries to kidnap one of these creatures to become his wife, he doesn’t complete the steps needed to transform her into a human leaving her scarred and mute, he takes her to his Grandma Harken to help. While his Grandma seems tough, she has the expected heart of gold and tries to help the girl heal. When that doesn’t work, Grandma heads into the desert with her, to meet up with someone she believes will help despite knowing there will be a price to pay. While I saw the twist coming, I was very pleased with the conclusion and how poignant it was.

The Cell Phones by Karen E. Bender

A Jewish woman celebrating Rosh Hashanah at Synagogue ruminates on her life and her worries about the direction the nation is headed in. A bit of magical realism creeps into the story when her cell and everyone else’s cells also go off during service and people’s complaints fill the building for everyone to hear. Only when the calls are acknowledged and not hushed do the phones stop ringing. The parallel is clear- we need to recognize other people’s worries and not blow them off, as everyone deserves to be heard. *I ended up reading the entire book collection by Bender for I felt she connects our changing 21st century with precise character studies and offers insight into the cultural dissonance that many of us are feeling right now.*

Singing on a Star by Ellen Klages

In this troubling short story, a kindergartner (I think the character should have been older) goes to her friend’s house for a sleep-over and her friend takes her through a portal to another dimension. Uneasy with the people she meets there, for it gives her an uncomfortable vibe, she is relieved when they go back home. Her friend swears her to secrecy, and she keeps to it, even when her friend later disappears. The disquieting conclusion has her gain a way to enter the other dimension on her own, and I cringed at the idea that this dangerous new world held any appeal to the girl. Readers are left wondering what she will do next, and the mother in me thought of parallels in which a child could be so taken in by obvious danger. An adaptation of this story could be a good match for a Twilight Zone or Ray Bradbury Theatre type of episode.

Yiwu by Lavie Tidhar

Yiwu combined science fiction and magical realism in an urban future. At first, you are transported to a timeless bazaar in China where a shopkeeper sells lottery tickets in which a winner’s deepest wish is realized. When someone’s winning ticket doesn’t result in a change the shopkeeper heads to the lottery offices to explore why. The new setting is jarring and took me out of the story, but the conclusion wraps up the story in a sweet way, as not everyone’s happy ending needs to be big and dramatic

Morning Child by Gardner Dozois

This short story with an apt title sucked me in immediately. The world-building was strong and the particular situation with John reminded me of the fantasy novel A Spell for Chameleon (I was a huge fan of Piers Anthony’s Xanth series in middle school- although I find them very problematic now). The ending was obviously melancholy as you wonder how William will cope with John’s untenable condition long term.

My favorites this season were Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience and Jackalope Wives, as I have thought about those two stories quite a bit since listening to them. If for some strange reason you haven’t discovered LeVar’s podcast, you must tune in,  “but you don’t have to take my word for it.”

-Nancy

Catch up on previous seasons at: Season One, Season Two

 

The Walking Dead: Compendium Four (Volumes 25-32)

Kirkman, Robert, Charlie Adlard, Stefano Gaudiano, Cliff Rathburn. The Walking Dead: Compendium Four. 2019.

After fifteen years, this epic dystopian zombie series wrapped everything up in Volume 32!  I’m sad to see it come to an end, but it went out on Kirkman’s own terms and I was (mostly) pleased with its conclusion. There will be some spoilers throughout, but mostly in the review of the last volume.

Volume 25- No Turning Back: The residents of the three linked communities are out for blood once it is revealed to them what Alpha and The Whisperers did. The victim’s loved ones want immediate retaliation and don’t understand Rick’s reluctance in doing so. Rick and Maggie fight over their different leading styles and come to blows, and Paul shows he has Maggie’s back at all times. Rick goes to Negan and asks for his advice on how to handle the volatile revolt against his leadership. Let me repeat that, Rick asks an evil tyrant what to do next. Doubtful this is going to go well…

Volume 26- Call To Arms: This was the best volume in a long while! There were some great storylines followed up on, with room for growth. The militia begins their training, and Dwight continues to show leadership potential, although he claims to not want to be a leader. This reminds me of an earlier volume when Andrea tells Rick he is a better leader when he doesn’t want to be. Eugene makes contact with an unknown person on his shortwave radio. While he tries not to give away too much info and put the community at risk, I don’t have a good feeling about it. I’ve watched some of the TWD spinoff, Fear The Walking Dead and their radio interactions with another group did not end well for them. The best part of this volume was Negan’s escape (we all knew he would eventually!) and what he does afterward. As soon as you think he might have a tiny spark of humanity left in him, he destroys you. The ending was epic!

Volume 27- The Whisperer War: Another strong volume- it picks up with Negan bringing home his “trophy” to show Rick his intentions. Negan claims that Rick and the residents of Alexandria should trust him, as he has dealt a hard blow to the Whisperers, and willingly came back to face them. Beta discovers what Negan did and vows revenge. Rick tries to bring all his allies together to fight the horde of zombies that the Whisperers are hiding among, but not all the outposts are willing to send their members to join Alexandria’s militia. The militia plans their strategy, but of course, things never go well out in the field. Negan’s continued evolution is fascinating, with a few hints as to what Lucille represented to him. Beta hasn’t seemed like a strong villain compared to the Governor, Negan or Alpha, but the references to his face never having been seen intrigues me. Is he someone we know from the past? One aside about the artwork- it was much too busy. There were several two-page spreads that had too many panels that were hard to follow chronologically.

Volume 28- A Certain Doom: Rick, Andrea and their crew face the largest herd of zombies yet, heading straight towards Alexandria due to the Whisperers pushing them in that direction. The town is a well-oiled machine under Rick’s guidance and they no longer strictly react, they have a plan of action. That’s not to say things don’t get out of hand or verge on chaos, especially when a minor power coup occurs, but the team works well together. We even get some character development and some enlightening banter between Rick and Negan when they are stranded in a building together for some time. But a quip by Negan about avoiding being bitten is a foreshadowing about what soon happens to a beloved original character. The conclusion of the book gives this person a proper send-off and the chance for many to be able to say goodbye before the inevitable death. The death will be sure to reverberate in future volumes and will lay a heavy weight on the remaining character’s psyches.

Volume 29- Lines We Cross: This was my quickest TWD read ever! This story was definitely a bridge book between the action of fighting the large zombie herd in the last volume and whatever Kirkman has planned next. Lots of little things happen: Rick is still reeling from the devastating death of a loved one, Jesus and Aaron fall in love and a triangle is hinted at between Carl, Lydia and Sophia. Maggie is furious that Negan is on the loose, a spunky new character Juanita is added to the mix, and Eugene and others set out to find the people he has speaking to on a ham radio. We discover who Beta is and it’s incredibly anti-climatic.

Volume 30- New World Order: Eugene and Michonne’s group finally arrives in Ohio to meet the woman Stephanie that Eugene has been communicating by ham radio with. Instead, they are met by a large group of soldiers, decked out in Stormtrooper type of gear, and taken to meet Lance who wishes to interrogate the group. Turns out they are on the outskirts of The Commonwealth, a group of survivors 50K strong. We then meet Pamela, the governor, and find out this large group has based their new society on a class system built upon what you did before the outbreak. While the city seems to be thriving, there is an underlying issue of the haves vs the have nots. Michonne is shocked to meet someone from her past and decides to stay in the Commonwealth, while Eugene escorts Pam to Alexandria to meet Rick. This is a promising arc that could turn the series in a new direction. Now years out from the outbreak, how does civilization rebuild? How do scattered settlements of survivors unite when each group has had different types of leaders and coping strategies? I enjoyed this book, that had no Negan and way less zombie attacks than usual, plus the art was crisper with some great layouts.

Volume 31- The Rotton Core: In the last volume, we are introduced to the Commonwealth, a large settlement in Ohio that has rigid class structures but has managed to thrive. I thought it established a promising arc that could turn the series in a new direction, for now, years out from the outbreak, how does civilization rebuild? Last issue and this issue had less zombie attacks, for I would think that now that people know how to prevent more zombies from reanimating, there would be less and less zombies to dispatch as the years went by. That gives people more time to refashion their world, and there would be many different ways in which this could happen. With this being TWD, we are force-fed that Rick’s way is best (it actually usually is) and other settlements should adapt to the way Alexandria is governed. So we get a heartbreaking showdown between Rick and another certain someone who wants change fast and isn’t willing to take no for an answer. We also get a lot of character development between others with new romances developing, but the shifting scenes between different settlements and characters were abrupt with no visual cues that the scene had changed- you were just supposed to know who lived in what settlement to know where you were now. BTW- Carl is an asshole and he and Sophia had better not eventually get together.

Volume 32- Rest In Peace: Surprise! Kirkman unexpectedly brought TWD to a close in this volume after fifteen years of zombie madness! *Spoilers ahead*

I had enjoyed the story arc in the last few volumes of Rick and compony meeting survivors of the Commonwealth in Ohio that was 50K strong, led by a governor, Pamela. This large group has based their new society on a class system built upon what you did before the outbreak. While the city seems to be thriving, there is an underlying issue of the haves vs the have nots, and tensions arise as this new group sees how Alexandria residents are governed. As we moved away from the zombie outbreak there were fewer attacks, thus civilization could rebuild, and this was opening up new storylines but Kirkman was actually drawing the story to a close.

The pressure brewing between the two factions comes to a head, with important members of the Commonwealth planning a coup when a large zombie herd puts everyone in danger. Maggie, Carl and others join Rick in fighting them back, and in the aftermath, Pamela publicity loses the support of her people. As the Commonwealth stands on the brink of democracy instead of a monarchy, Pamela’s son Sebastian is furious at his loss of power and comes after Rick. The fallout of his actions are huge, and the storyline seems poised to go in a new direction. But it was all a fake-out as Kirkman followed up with a concluding issue with a significant time jump.

Twenty plus years have passed since Rick’s death at the hands of Sebastian, and the story shows us a grown-up Carl married to Sophia with a daughter of their own. The zombies are almost completely eradicated with a younger generation having no experience of having to fight for their very survival as older generations had to. Carl travels around the territory and we get to peek in at the lives of many of our favorite characters and see how Rick’s vision led to a better and safer world for them all. In fact, Rick is viewed as a savior with shrines to his memory.

When this sort of epic story concludes, there is no way to make all fans happy and as such, there were a few quibbles I had with some character’s final developments in the future. Negan, Juanita, Michonne, Jesus, Aaron, Eugene plus others are given adequate concluding cameos; but Maggie as President was turned into a leader who could not mother her son adequately because of her commitments, which was an ignoble end for her and Hershel. But my major issue was that Carl ended up with Sophia. He was allowed to sex it up with Lydia, while virginal Sophia had to wait for him until he sowed his wild oats. Lydia in the future was shown poorly as a morally questionable woman as she had dared to be sexually active as a teen with Carl. What a double standard for females and I really resented those angles.

Yet, overall, I was pleased with this concluding volume. Fifteen years is an amazing run, and Kirkman brought it to an end on his own terms and on a timetable that allowed him to go out while on top. I also would be remiss in not mentioning the talented artists- Adlard, Gaudiano and Rathburn- who gave us amazing artwork that brought the story to life. Kirkman’s concluding message to readers was a treat and explained it from his perspective. I will miss TWD, as it was a groundbreaking story that changed comics forever, but I am glad that it ended on such a strong note. In conclusion, remember these wise words- “In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living”. So…put down your phone and LIVE!

-Nancy

Aside- Compendium Four won’t actually be released until early October, but I’ve always organized my reviews under these covers, but I actually read this series as volumes.

Last time I wrote a TWD review on this blog was in 2016- I had wondered if Kathleen and I would still be blogging next time a compendium came out- but we are!!  🙂

Catch up on previous volumes at: Compendium One, Compendium Two, Compendium Three 

Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth

Usually, Wonder Woman is Kathleen’s domain, but when I saw this oversized graphic novel that was illustrated by one of my favorite artists, Alex Ross, I just had to read and share!

Published soon after the tragedy of 9/11 in NYC, this story is shaped by the shock of the American people that terrorism could happen on our own shores. As such, it is a hopeful narrative that shows compassion to all nations of the world. Paul Dini begins this story with Diana’s birth at Paradise Island, and her later wish to join ‘Man’s World’ as an ambassador to help mankind. Her amazing powers are appreciated by many and she helps fight evil in large and small ways. However, others do not respect her goodwill and often her intentions are misinterpreted and rejected. She asks for advice from Superman, who wisely tells her to work alongside people instead of above them. She takes his words to heart and no longer always wears her Amazonian outfit, so she can blend in with other cultures and help from within. Finally, her spirit of truth shines through for all to see.

Ross’s painted watercolors are beautiful as always and done in his trademark photo-realism style. Diana often is shown to resemble Lynda Carter, the iconic actress who played Wonder Woman on television in the 1970’s. The layout is not typical graphic novel panels, but often are two-page spreads or montages with a few thin black lines to differentiate the pictures and to direct the flow of the action sequences.  The people in the crowds are so realistic, you know that Ross is painting them from models as he did later in the superb Kingdome Come, which also featured Diana in the DC classic.

This book only reinforced that Wonder Woman is a hero for the ages, but also ably connected her to our modern-day world. This lovely stand-alone graphic novel was a treat and I highly recommend it for both the message and the art!

-Nancy

My School Library Journal reviews

I have been reviewing YA books (plus one graphic novel!) for the magazine School Library Journal for a year now, but haven’t really advertised that I was doing so, as this blog mostly revolves around graphic novels, but I thought why not share these great books since I’m (half) boss of this blog! Reviewing has been interesting, as I am limited to 250-300 words for each review, and can only share once it has been published with their edits. All the books have been worthwhile, so afterward I’ve purchased them for my library collections once they are available for purchase.

Better You Than Me by Jessica Brody

Two 12-year old girls, Disney-esque star Ruby Rivera and her biggest fan Skyler Welshman, meet on the set of Ruby’s hit television show and improbably switch bodies by accident. At first, thrilled with the situation, each tween believes the other has the better life in this Freaky Friday-like storyline. Due to various scheduling constraints, the girls plan to meet in several days to switch back. Meanwhile, each girl’s assumptions about one another are put to the test as they struggle to cope with scenarios they never expected and to make the best of their new lives. Brodt takes a common trope and freshens it up with realistic details. Whats starts out as a formulaic plot device evolves into a strong story about appreciating friends and family and making good choices. The alternating chapters with each girl’s perspectives gave each chapter a distinctive voice.

* Review published in the September 2018 issue of School Library Journal on page 102.

Second Star by JM Sullivan

Peter Pan is reconceptualized in this futuristic space fantasy with rogue Captain Hooke crash landing on the mysterious planet Neverland as his crew was mutinying. Ace mechanic Peter and his motley group of deserters take refuge away from the main ship and settle into life away from the devious captain. One hundred years in the future, the Londonierre Brigade receives a transmission from Hooke, and newly appointed Captain Wendy Darling leads her own crew across space to rescue the survivors of the Jolly Rodger. Once they arrive, loyalties are tested and the two crews fight an evil that could consume the universe.

Alternating chapters between Peter and Wendy’s point-of-view establish the character’s backstories, however, the world-building is slow before the story begins to gain momentum in the last half of the book.  Author JM Sullivan works mightily to stay within the classic story’s framework, but sometimes to the detriment of the story. A cliff-hanger sets up the narrative for a sequel, which might allow the series to evolve as it won’t need to hew so closely to the original fairytale.

*The review can be found online here.

All The Walls of Belfast by Sarah Carlson

American teen Fiona travels to Belfast, Northern Ireland, to reunite with her father whom she has not seen since she was a toddler. Having no memories of her older half brothers or her birthplace, Fiona tentatively begins to get to know her family and explores her culture and community. She discovers her Catholic father was formally a key member of the IRA and his bombs killed many people during The Troubles, a time when ethnonationalism led to violence between Catholics and Protestants. Fiona meets Danny, a Protestant who is studying for his school finals and wishes to join the British Army as a nurse against his gangster father’s wishes. The two begin to see one another, but their parents’ pasts threaten their relationship.

Alternating chapters between Fiona and Danny establish their family dynamics, and then allows the reader to root for them as their believable romance blossoms. Author Carlson creates an atmospheric narrative, explaining just enough of the current political and cultural landscape to understand how the walls running through Belfast still affect both communities on either side of it.  The story doesn’t shy away from showing gritty reality and dysfunctional families that are partly due to the conflicts that ended only fairly recently. This contemporary drama has an appealing romance and the nuanced story may push teens to think critically about religious and cultural differences, and ultimately about forgiveness.

*Not chosen for publication

Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir and Sarah Andersen

Dorothy from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Alice of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Peter Pan’s Wendy are now teens and very misunderstood- no one else believed their wild stories, and they were diagnosed as delusional. However, the teachers at the boarding school Cheshire Crossing believe them and know that each one possesses amazing powers. When the girls’ fantasy worlds collide and Captain Hook and the Wicked Witch of the West band together, the three teens must harness their talents to save humanity. Weir, author of the sci-fi book The Martian, and Andersen known for her funny webcomic Sarah’s Scribbles, may seem an unlikely pair, but they pull it off admirably if not perfectly. The world-hopping is at times confusing and the character of Nanny is unnecessary. Several swear words and references to sex make the tale more appropriate for a YA audience, although the charming illustrations might attract younger readers. The art is appealing, with eye-catching details. A lovely red poppy motif appears throughout the narrative and Anderson uses bold colors to depict the fantasy realms. The epilogue hints that the girls’ adventures are not done, with another familiar villain ready to take center stage.

*Review published in the June 2019 issue of School Library Journal on page 86.

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

Violet is an out-of-control NYC teen who is shipped off to her mother’s hometown in coastal Maine after her younger brother attempts suicide and her parents try to get a handle on both of their children’s problems. While living with her uncle, Violet is forced to volunteer at the aquarium in town. While there, she makes friends with some of the local teens and begins to research her family’s origins, with help from her new friends Orion and Liv. Supposedly her great-great-grandmother survived a shipwreck and was a founder of the community. Violet’s search for answers about her mysterious ancestor mirrors some of the journey she and her brother Sam are on.

Debut author Drake has created an authentic and romantic tale, loosely based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, that shows that life can be embraced again even after enduring a tragedy. Teen sexuality is respectfully addressed with a frankness that is welcomed. The realities of questioning yourself and the deep emotions that go with falling in love are ably displayed with the burgeoning relationship between Violet and Liv. Sibling bonds and the importance of family also balance out this narrative about battling grief and building bridges to a better tomorrow.

* The on-line review can be found here.

Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart

Ava has endured soul-crushing tragedy- her parents and cousin perished in a house fire, leaving Ava the sole survivor but with terrible burns all over her body. One year late she is released from the hospital after enduring skin grafts and surgeries. Moving in with her aunt and uncle who are grieving the loss of their daughter, Ava is encouraged to go back to high school, but she resists knowing her considerable scars will make it hard to make friends. In a support group, she meets Piper, another burn survivor from her new school, and the two girls bond together while trying to navigate their new realities. Ava is encouraged to get involved with the school play, as she had loved singing and the drama department at her old school. But Ava has to endure the cruelties of some, while also discovering new allies and a resolve she never knew she had.

The research that debut author Stewart did to write such an insightful book about burn recovery is evident. She also capably showed how Ava and her aunt and uncle come together to form a new family unit despite crushing grief. Stewart also captures the highs and lows of teen friendship. An interesting facet of the friendship between Ava and Piper was the often unhealthy dynamic between the two and could push teens to explore where they would draw the line regarding boundaries between friends. Ava’s journey toward healing, both physically and mentally, is thought-provoking. Not all scars are evident to the eye, and this narrative will push readers to think deeply about empathy, hope, and resilience in the face of heartbreak.

*The online review can be found here.

I have another book review that I just submitted, so perhaps down the line, I’ll share again once I have several to post.

-Nancy

Pumpkinheads

I have been waiting on this graphic novel by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks for years and it is finally here!  An article was written about this duo collaborating back in January of 2014 and as I was then a fan of Rowell because of Eleanor & Park, I checked out Hicks’s work and loved her books too. But the wait was so long…

Pumpkinheads does not disappoint and is so adorbable! I eagerly scooped up a copy that I had ordered for my library’s graphic novel collection before it hit the shelves (working at a library has its perks). The story takes place on Halloween night at a popular pumpkin patch farm, and if you aren’t from the Midwest you might not know how big of a deal that pumpkin patches, corn mazes and apple orchards are in the fall. Attending is an EVENT. Friends Josiah and Deja, who have worked at the patch for years, are facing their last night as employees as they are seniors and will be at college next fall. Josie is morose about leaving the patch, while Deja wants to grab the opportunity to live it up, and that includes pushing Josie to talk to another employee he has a crush on.

What follows is an adventure around the patch that pushes them both out of their comfort zone and on a journey of discovery about themselves. What I love about Rowell is that she captures teenage life perfectly. Senior year is a difficult time for many, as you are almost at the end of your school career and thinking of the different path you will soon be taking, yet you need to live in the here and now. It’s easy to get caught up in your head about choices you should make in the future and lose sight that one can still enjoy the moment they are in and that they can build a bridge between the two. The characters are believable, with spot-on conversations and interesting backstories.  Deja’s personality is especially nuanced, and I liked how she was portrayed. Her race, sexuality and size do not define her, they are just a natural part of who she is. And while Josie was more a rule-follower, he ended up having a believable arc of self-discovery and learned how to not be so passive.

The art by Hicks is so fresh and inviting, and is truly reminiscent of local patches that are similar in a way to amusement parks. Hicks captures emotional moments perfectly and the pacing builds to a very satisfying end between Josie and Deja. Her backgrounds included fun details and the recurring runaway goat carried through with a certain someone getting a well-deserved comeuppance on the last page. Colorist Sarah Stern uses a warm palette with a lot of oranges (of course!), golden yellows and mellow purples. The colors are evocative of autumn and bring the story further to life. A map of the imagined patch is on the inside covers, which further world-builds and an enjoyable interview between the two creators concludes this fun book.

This graphic novel was everything I hoped it would be and I will be singing its praises to the teens at my library. I believe this book will become a classic to be revisited every fall.

-Nancy

Rowell, Rainbow & Faith Erin Hicks. Pumpkinheads. 2019.

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