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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 Mandalorian aka The Baby Yoda Show

After some recent shaky and uneven Star Wars movies, The Mandalorian has reaffirmed my love for this franchise! In addition to the strong hero’s journey storyline, introducing the new character of Baby Yoda was a stroke of genius. I had put off watching this series, as I’m mostly a fan of the movies and have only watched a few episodes of The Clone Wars and none of Star Wars Rebels. Plus, I didn’t want to buck up money for a new channel. But then I started to hear about the big reveal after episode one, and started seeing memes for Baby Yoda and I had to watch the show for myself.

Warning- Spoilers Ahead!

The Mandalorian

Set five years after the Galactic Empire was defeated in Return of The Jedi, the Star Wars universe is in disarray. We are introduced to a new bounty hunter who looks like Boba Fett, but is a Mandalorian, from a warrior society that adheres to tenets of their faith and has their own unique integrity in regards to being bounty hunters. He accepts a bounty to search for a 50-year-old creature on a desert planet, where he is aided by a vapor farmer and bounty-droid IG-11. When he and the droid find their target they are shocked to find this adorable Yoda-like creature! I’m in love…

The Child

The Mandalorian (name unknown as of yet) fights off others just to discover the sneaky Jawas have dismantled his ship. Kuiil, the kindly farmer, helps him negotiate with the Jawas in getting his parts back that entails him fighting a huge Mudhorn. Right when things look like the Mandalorian will be defeated, Baby Yoda uses the Force to levitate the beast enabling the Mandalorian to kill it. So this begs the question- is this species born with the Force power or are they taught like we have seen other Jedi’s taught? He’s only a toddler and non-verbal, so how did he become so powerful?

The Sin

Baby Yoda is turned in for the bounty to a nefarious trader and scientist, but the Mandalorian inquires about the creature, which is atypical as bounty hunters are expected to turn in their prey with no questions asked. He is given a large payment of Besker steel which he takes to an enclave of his fellow warriors and we learn more about his society. That they seem to be honorable goes in the face of what bounty hunters do, and luckily he feels guilty and goes back to retrieve Baby Yoda. Guess what- it’s not easy getting him back.

Sanctuary

Trying to hide on the sparsely populated planet Sorgan, the Mandalorian meets Cara Dune (love her!) a kick-ass former Rebel shock trooper-turned-mercenary. Their fight for dominance ends in the cutest ever shot of Baby Yoda sipping bone broth. Squeee!  These two warriors end up helping a group of villagers who are being terrorized by raiders, and for a moment the Mandolorian feels as if he could rest and maybe even find love with a hot widowed villager. But when another bounty hunter comes looking for Baby Yoda he knows he and the baby need to leave.

The Gunslinger

After a space dogfight, the Mandalorian lands on Tatooine for repairs. While there the mechanic Peli Motto takes on a mothering role for Baby Yoda while the Mandalorian deals with other bounty hunters. Needing money he agrees to help a young bounty hunter who needs to nab a target to get his guild card. Needless to say, there are several double-crosses and it doesn’t fare well for a few of them involved in the fight.

The Prisoner

Still needing money the Mandalorian agrees to help a former friend of his whom he used to work with. His ship is used by a motley group of mercenaries who want to rescue one of the group’s brothers who is being kept on a prison ship. But everyone is out for themselves and there is betrayal after betrayal from these nasty criminals. There is true suspense when this group seems to get the better of the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda is in danger from an evil droid. But never fear, this duo outsmarts them all!

The Reckoning

The Mandalorian is contacted by the bounty hunter guild leader Greef Karga with an improbable request that supposedly will clear his name, but we all know its a set-up, so I’m kinda pissed when the Mandalorian goes along with it. He does recruit Cara and Kuiill to help him, but in doing so puts them in danger. Not surprisingly, Karga had plans to double-cross him from the start but has a change of heart when Baby Yoda saves him from dying. Moff Gideon turns up with a fleet of troopers and the group is pinned down. What will happen to the Baby?!?!

Redemption

Reprogrammed droid IG-11 redeems himself in saving Baby Yoda- because there always needs to be a good droid in every Star Wars story. He further helps by healing the Mandalorian when he seems to have a fatal wound, and we briefly see his face for the first time and learn his name is Din Djarin, who as an orphan was taken in by the Mandalorians and trained to be a warrior. Sacrifices are made, but most of the group is able to escape from Moff Gideon, setting the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda up for further adventures in season two.

I really enjoyed this series, and despite a few errant distractions, I thought this new series was beyond excellent. It definitely had a Lone Wolf and Cub vibe, as a hardened warrior needs to care for an adorable child and through their interactions, the elder character is redeemed and changed for the better. I’m glad to be so excited about Star Wars again, as the last few movies have been disappointing. I will now eagerly anticipate the next season- so in the meantime, may the Force be with you, readers!

-Nancy

How I Broke Up With My Colon

Heart: Author and illustrator Nick Seluk has a new comic book coming out soon!

Brain: Well, Heart, it’s not about us- it’s about “fascinating, bizarre and true health stories”.

Colon: Stand back Heart and Brain, and let some other parts of the body take center stage in this comic book. In my chapter, The Breakup, I treat my human horribly and get removed.

Spine: Seluk illustrated 24 weird medical stories that different people shared with him. I star in Attack of the Spine!

Stomach: I play havoc in several stories, with a new nurse getting the brunt of my distress in the chapter Pancakes.

Kidneys: I make stones that sadly are not appreciated in the chapter The Geologist.

Gall Bladder: I’m a big big helper in the same chapter!

Butt: Some people are complete idiots with their body, as in the solution my human came up with to prevent diarrhea in MacGyver Syndrome.

Testicle: Although the less precise medical terms nuts was used in my chapter The Shark That Went Nuts, this last chapter included the craziest story with a shark that bit my human in a very delicate location.

Eyes: Be on the lookout for this book in March, drawn in Selak’s trademark adorable anthropomorphism-like style. Thanks to NetGalley for this early copy.

Brain: Until next time! For more comic books in the Awkward Yeti series read: Heart and Brain, Gut Instincts, and Body Language.

-Nancy

In The Pines: Five Murder Ballads

I was sold on this graphic novel as soon as I read murder ballads in the title! I’ve long been a fan of narrative songs that tell a story, with Appalachian inspired murder ballads being particularly appealing to me. I have paired a mini-synopsis of each story with a rendition of the song it is based on. Often these songs have been covered by many artists, but I selected versions that were most well-known, or I just really liked the singer.

Author and illustrator Erik Kriek is actually Danish, but took an American type of ballad, and turned it into a new type of art. He didn’t just adapt the song straight into comic form, instead he interpreted the lyrics to tell a fresh story, sometimes to my liking and sometimes not. The art was in duotone, with a different color for each tale. Reminiscent of scratch art or wood reliefs, Kriek’s black inks were evocative of Appalachian landscapes and times gone by.

Pretty Polly and the Ship’s Carpenter

This song is the oldest of the bunch, as early versions were sung in the British Isles hundreds of years ago. In it, a woman is enticed by a sailor who promises he will marry her, but when she becomes pregnant because of their liaison and pushes for marriage, he instead kills her. He is racked by guilt and supposedly Polly’s ghost haunts his ship, wanting revenge. I did not like one of the last panels because I don’t see how Polly would ever forgive him.

The Long Black Veil

A man is having an affair with his best friend’s wife, and one night while heading home after a rendezvous, is mistaken for the killer of a local man. Not willing to betray his lover, he is hanged for he had no alibi. This story has a neat twist, that I always guessed at, but is not explicitly said in the song.

Johnny Cash is king, thus I shared one of his renditions, but Mick Jaggar did a good version of the song with The Chieftains.

Taneytown

Made famous by singer Steve Earle, this story tells of a young black man who heads into Taneytown against his mother’s advice. Upon arriving, he is set upon by a white mob and kills one of them in self-defense on his way back home. He later finds out an innocent man was accused of the crime and was hung.

Caleb Meyer

When Nellie’s husband is away, the hired man comes to terrorize her as she is left alone in a remote cabin. The most violent and graphic of all the dark stories. Although justice is served, there is an uncomfortable indication at the end of the story, when you infer that Caleb left behind a reminder of that terrible night.

Where The Wild Roses Grow

Kriek took the most artistic license with this song written and sung by Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue, and because I was already a huge fan of this moody ballad and video, I didn’t enjoy this adaptation as much as the others.

An escaped convict meets a young woman who helps him saw off his chains, and who is easily seduced by him. Despite this, he threatens to kill her if she doesn’t hand over money that he assumes was hidden by her father who was known for robbing several banks. The conclusion was rather talky and clunky, and I didn’t think it was a good match for this murder ballad.

This book sent me on many music journeys, as I enjoyed listening to ballad after ballad, and reminding me of family vacations in the Appalachian region where my parents took my younger sister and I to music festivals and to watch clogging. So while this post became more an ode to music than to the book, it was a fun read and I’m glad I discovered it!

-Nancy

LeVar Burton Reads: Season Four

LeVar Burton Reads season four included some real gems in the following eleven short stories!

Miracle by Tope Folarin

A young man, a recent immigrant, attends an evangelical Nigerian church where the congregation has gathered to witness the healing powers of a pastor who they believe can perform miracles. When he is chosen and the prophet declares that his eyes are healed, yet he still needs his glasses, he plays along for he realizes that the true miracle is the faith one holds and that his family is safely together in America.

Free Jim’s Mine by Tananarive Due

Lottie, a slave pregnant with her first child, escapes with her Cherokee husband William, and hopes for freedom. Lottie is eager to find her Uncle Jim, a former slave who is now free, in North Carolina as part of their journey as they head North. Jim warns them that he doubts their journey will end well and decides to hide them for the evening in a mine shaft. In the wet gloom, they are faced with supernatural evil, and Lottie discovers her uncle bought his freedom at a high cost. While the story starts with a historical fiction angle, it takes a dark turn and was quite effective.

Kwoon by Charles Johnson

Set in Chicago, a young man named David opens a martial art studio to not only teach fighting skills but to teach others self-control and accountability. Ed, an older new student joins and challenges David to a fight in front of other students, but fights dirty and beats David up. Although we are given Ed’s perspective of why he choose to do this, this puts David’s livelihood in jeopardy as he was shamed in front of everyone. But David perseveres in the end, not through physical fighting, but through his attitude and values. I was really rooting for the aptly named David, in what turned out to be a David and Goliath tale.

The Best We Can by Carrie Vaughn

Star Trek and other science fiction stories would lead you to believe that “first contact” is a game-changer for Earth civilizations and pushes us to discover the rest of the universe and countless other species. But this short story wryly recounts how when a scientist finds an abandoned alien space vessel in Jupiter’s orbit, how bureaucracy gets in the way of progress. This story seemed very realistic in how a discovery that you think would be life-changing ends up as almost an after-thought in the scientific world.

Mister Hadj’s Sunset Ride by Saladin Ahmed

In this old west tale, a young bounty hunter recounts his previous adventures with an older Arabian bounty hunter, whom he shared a common heritage with. The two men fight an evil preacher and his two sons and have a showdown with these men, with a bit of a supernatural twist. Often when we think of early immigrants, we think of those with European backgrounds, but this story had a welcome diversity although it also showcased how people lose their customs and family connections. This storyline reminded me of the graphic novel High Moon.

Republica and Grau by Daniel Alarcón

Maico is a ten-year-old boy who is forced to beg with a blind man on a street corner and is to bring all his wages home to his abusive father. The boy is compliant and does what he can to please both his father and the blind man until they both betray him and use him as a pawn. I was aghast at both men, whose selfish machoism affected both Maico and his poor mother. I was so proud of Maico of how he stood up to them, and what he did to end his partnership, yet…what does the future hold for him? As a reader, you hope this coming-of-age moment is the pivot for turning his life for the better, but reality is often harsh and you know he will face consequences for his actions.

The Galactic Tourist Industrial Complex by Tobias S. Buckell

I found this tongue-in-cheek short story delightful. Sometime in the future, Earth has become a tourist playground for wealthy aliens, with Manhattan being the favored location. While aliens are looking for authentic experiences in the city, life for humans actually living on Earth has become anything but, as the entire economy is based on the service industry and catering to tourists. A cab driver, whose flying taxi is on its last legs, has to deal with an alien falling to their death from his vehicle and trying to avoid an interspecies war when the aliens family investigates. While this tale is amusing, it’s also a reflection on how our society relies on social media with trying to make their life look perfect when really it’s only a facade.

Toward Happy Civilization by Samanta Schweblin

In this surrealistic short story, a man is caught at a railroad station when the ticket master won’t give him a ticket out of town because he doesn’t have the correct change. Oddly, the ticket master and his wife take him in along with other passengers and they form a makeshift family of sorts. Eventually, they try to escape this purgatory type of existence, but the entire time I just wondered why they didn’t revolt or walk to the next station. Highly unsatisfying- my least favorite of the LeVar Burton Reads stories.

Flying Carpets by Steven Millhauser

This coming of age story was of the magical realism genre, which I typically do not like, but this story gets it right. A pre-teen youth is given a magical flying carpet to master, and although you might first think of Arabian Nights, he lives in an anonymous suburb. Master it he does and pushes it to the extreme limits before tiring of it and putting it away. The flying carpet is more a metaphor for growing up and outgrowing things you previously loved.

The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate by Ted Chiang

A lyrical Arabian Nights fable meets science fiction time traveling tale in this evocative short story. Fuwaad, a merchant in Bagdad, enters a new silver shop in the marketplace and unexpectedly is shown a time-traveling hoop that the shop owner, who is also an alchemist, explains to him. He is told three stories of people who have utilized time travel-“The Tale of the Fortunate Rope-Maker,” “The Tale of the Weaver Who Stole from Himself,” and “The Tale of the Wife and Her Lover” – and thus we begin a tale within a tale. Finally, Fuwaad tries the time travel himself, going back 20 years, as he hopes to right a wrong from his past although he is told that events can not be undone- the past or future will not change. Lessons are learned in these lovely circular tales of fate and were worth the two storytelling sessions taken on the podcast to finish.

L’Aquilone du Estrellas (The Kite of Stars) by Dean Francis Alfar

The story starts out promisingly as 16-year-old Maria Isabella from the Philippines falls in love with a young man who is an astronomer. Determined to catch his attention, she convinces a butcher’s boy to help her find all the materials she will need to construct a kite that she could fly to the stars and get the astronomer to fall in love with her. But the quest to find the materials takes her 60 years and during that time she conscripted the butcher’s boy to help, thus wasting both of their lives. Despite being her traveling companion for decades she never once asks him his name or returns his affections. Her obsession was cruel, misguided and foolish to the extreme. While she is successful in obtaining what is needed, it comes at a steep price, and I hated her for it. I was shocked the LeVar said this was one of his favorite stories, as this tale of unrequited love was one of my least favorites.

This season proved to be it’s most uneven- I had more favorites than usual, but then it had two stories that I hated. My favorites included The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate, Republica and Grau, The Galactic Tourist Industrial Complex, and Free Jim’s Mine. The two I disliked were The Kite of Stars and Toward Happy Civilization.

As of now, I only have one more season until I catch up. LeVar’s selections are always interesting (even if I don’t like them) and I have been exposed to so many wonderful authors and stories through his podcast. Listen for yourself, “but you don’t have to take my word for it.”

-Nancy

Bone Parish: Volumes Two & Three

Happy New Year!  Last January, I read the first volume of Bone Parish and loved it and I said in the comments: This series was like Briggs Land and Locke & Key got married and had a child. While early in the year, this could be one of my contenders for Best Reads of 2019. Considering it did make my Best Reads of 2019 list, how do the two concluding volumes match up?

To recap the premise of the first book:  “A new drug is sweeping through the streets of New Orleans—one made from the ashes of the dead. Wars are being fought over who will control the supply, while the demand only rises” and 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.

Volume Two:

This book opens with the funeral of Wade, the youngest of the four Winter siblings, who was killed by a rival cartel who wants to take over the Winter’s ash business. You see the guilt, resentment, and anger that the surviving family members harbor, as they all cope in different ways. Unfortunately, this tragedy doesn’t seem to bring them together, instead, it drives them farther apart. Brigitte works on developing a new strain of ash in her laboratory to punish those that killed Wade and want to take over their business, while other cartel scientists try to create ash themselves with horrifying results. New villains are introduced while the Winters family struggles to stay ahead of the game.

I find the family dynamics fascinating- as Grace treats her daughter Brigitte with an icy aloofness as there seems to be no mother/daughter bond, Brae shows only disdain towards Leon whom he blames for Wade’s death while also being cruel to his sister and mother. Only Leon shows compassion for his family as he is the one that remembers that their dead father told them that family loyalty was all-important. As we work towards the conclusion, the reader can’t help but observe that creating this drug and building the drug empire is dooming their family.

The art and coloring remain as strong as ever. The visuals at the funeral tugged at your heartstrings, along with the monstrous consequences for the people who ingested the bogus ash from a rival cartel. The layouts of the panels guided you through the story, with effective coloring to show flashbacks.

Volume Three:

Alliances and betrayals between the Winter family and their rivals continue to evolve, with Brea unknowingly getting seduced by a bloodthirsty killer intent on getting revenge for her brother being killed earlier by the Winters. Leon begins to make some power moves, and he and his sister Brigitte experiment with how to tap into other people’s memories to look for clues. Leon barely survives the experience and his visions are suspect, although he views them as true. While I had considered him the most moral of the family, he then sacrifices someone during the gang wars.

We get a flashback to Brigitte introducing the idea of marketing the ash to her parents and I was shocked to realize it hadn’t been too far in the past. The Winters had lived in modest circumstances up until then, so the mansion and opulent surroundings that they lived in now were but recent acquisitions. But knowing that family members were already paying the price, was it worth it? She is literally playing God, trying to use her scientific knowledge with the mysticism she learned from a dead lover to cheat death. Things are spinning out of control with each family member operating separately and not uniting as their father had wanted them to. It all comes to a head, with a tragic conclusion, and fittingly, not everyone survives.

Jonas Scharf’s art was fantastic start to finish, with Leon’s visions being especially well-done. I have to say colorist Alex Guimarães’ work is the best I have ever seen. His vibrant pinks and purples to signify the hallucinogenic effect and the color palette that he uses throughout the narrative are second to none. I hope to see a lot more from this artistic team.

I was very impressed with the three-volume series, in fact, I wish it lasted longer, as I’m sad to be saying goodbye to the enigmatic Winters family. This necromantic horror story had it all- it was a riveting crime thriller and it had a thought-provoking moral debate about drug culture and the sanctity of life and for the body after death. A must-read for all graphic novel readers!

-Nancy

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

I hope everyone had the happiest of holidays! My gift for you readers out there are my thoughts about the most recent Star Wars movie! 😉

In the last week, I have read so many thoughtful reflections on the movie, so I will post my observations as character studies as I have in past movies, such as I did in Captain Marvel and Solo. While overall my viewing experience was mostly positive, my thoughts go far beyond what I can share in character reflections, but hopefully, enough is shared for readers to understand my conflicted thoughts on this movie.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

Let’s start with the droids: C-3PO, BB-8, R2-D2  and D-O (not pictured).  No Star Wars movie is complete without an adorable or wisecracking droid. In this movie, C-3PO gets a featured role as being able to interpret a needed Sith artifact to find a hidden planet, but his sacrifice of giving up his memories is undone by D-O’s intel. Thus, his whole storyline ended up being filler, when other plot points could have been developed further. Still, it is always good to see these droids as part of the action!

Star Wars did Rose dirty! Obviously, they listened to some toxic fans who didn’t like her possible romance with Finn, and cut her role down to a bare minimum. She was left on the Rebel Base the entire time with little to do and no character development. She deserved more (plus, she almost didn’t get a character poster- this one was released after the rest)! For a thoughtful in-depth analysis of how Rose’s character was treated, read Jeff’s post The (Mis) Use of Rose Tico on The Imperial Talker site.

So instead we got a new character shoved down our throats- Jannah. She is an ex-Stormtrooper, who along with other trooper deserters gets sucked into the action. She is paired with Finn (instead of Rose!) in the last battles because obviously Finn always needs some sort of female side-kick in every movie. While I do think she was kinda cool, it took away from Rose, and what was the deal with her conversation with Lando in the last scene???Zorii is a rebel in a Boba Fett type costume that is from Poe’s past and plays a part in helping Rey, Finn and Poe get some needed information from C-3PO’s memory banks (which later proved to be a waste of time). I love actress Keri Russell who played her and was relieved when she lowered her face mask at one time to see some of her face. I liked the moment in the end when she didn’t automatically get swept up in Poe’s arms for a finale kiss (how very woke) but a bit of romance in this film would have also been welcome.

I’m throwing General Hux in here, although he did not receive an official movie poster. I always liked Hux’s scenes in all the movies, as he always came off as a petulant child, which I found amusing. So when he was revealed as the spy, I was thrilled as he helped Rey, Finn and Poe escape. However his true motivation was not in helping them, it was to screw over Kylo Ren who had disrespected him in front of others. Hux was not redeemed, as many people stay bitter and angry at the end, and I found that angle more realistic.

Chewie- the one surviving character that was in all three of the original Star Wars movies! I laughed when he received the medal that he should have received in A New Hope– there was finally #JusticeForChewie! I do wish he had received more character development in this recent set of three movies, as he was an integral part of the rebel alliance and he should have interacted more with Han, Luke and Leia. At least he was reunited with Lando for some fun adventure in this film.

Thank you for bringing back Lando! This rebel general still wears his capes with aplomb, and he was a needed legacy character to balance what little they did with Han, Luke and Leia. With Carrie Fisher’s death and the fact that Han and Luke’s characters were dead, this fan-favorite helped bring that chapter to a close. But is Lando’s story over? The clunky dialogue with Jannah at the end seemed to point to Disney having more adventures planned for this scoundrel.

I believe that Finn is force-sensitive. Is this what he was planning to say to Rey, or did he want to declare his love to her? Finn always seemed to be connected to a female in the three movies, first Rey, then Rose (did he ghost her?) and finally Jannah. There was always romantic tension with him and these three ladies, and let’s not forget his bro-mance with Poe! There were many fans who were clamoring for a relationship to develop between the men but frankly, Disney would never be brave enough to do that, instead, they had two females kiss in the last scene between characters we barely knew. Finn was my favorite of the new characters, his good nature and loyalty won me over.

Poe was first written as a Han-type, a pilot who could be a bit morally ambiguous but have the classic heart of gold. His leadership progressed in this film, and I finally truly saw him as a leader of the resistance, and someone who deserved the title of General. While Oscar Issac has leading-man looks, Poe never really had a romance developed for him, except for hints that perhaps something with Zorii will develop in the future.

I will always wonder what storyline was planned for Leia and Kylo, had Carrie Fisher not died. He killed his father and was a mass-murderer, how was he possibly going to be redeemed? That a romance with Rey was suggested throughout the movies, and their kiss before his death was part of his redemption was very uncomfortable because it played up a toxic and abusive relationship as romantic. What a horrible message to young viewers that one partner needs to put up with their partner’s abuse, because they can “save” that person. Please read the astute post from Michael of My Comic Relief: Reylo’s Role In Redemption- A The Rise of Skywalker Reflection that goes into much thoughtful reflection on the problems with a Rey and Kylo relationship. Seeking forgiveness and granting forgiveness is not and should not be a one-time conversation or deed by one person. While Kylo’s character was layered and Adam Driver is an amazing actor, his role was problematic from the start.

Rey is a strong character whom I liked quite a bit, but who was tarnished at the end with her family ancestry and with her choice of love interest. And what was the deal with her new healing powers? No Jedi in the past has ever done that. There had been much speculation that Rey would be Luke’s child or even Ben Kenobi’s, but in the end, she was shown to be the evil Palpatine’s grandchild. What?! Why was Palpatine even alive, much less that he had had an adult child who smuggled Rey away from him? While I hated almost all of The Last Jedi, the one thing I did like is that Jedi (or anyone) don’t need to come from an important family, they literally can come from anywhere. That was an important message for moviegoers, but that was erased here for Rey to now be fighting the dark side and her family connection to it. And that she choose Kylo to passionately kiss, over loyal and steadfast Finn? What the fuck! I did like her concluding scene, as she claims the Skywalker name, showing that one can claim their family alliance over blood-ties.

Lastly, and most importantly, let’s go over my beloved original three of Luke, Leia and Han Solo. I was devastated that Luke became a grumpy hermit and later died in the last movie (see my passionate post An Ignoble End to the Skywalker Saga on The Imperial Talker’s site) and in this movie, there was a bit of course correction in his role as a Jedi ghost, but what was done was done. Considering Fisher’s death, director JJ Abrams did his very best with existing footage of Leia to craft her farewell role. She got a good concluding arc, showing how she was helping train Rey as a Jedi, which was a lovely nod to her Skywalker heritage and the flashback to her and Luke during her own training was heartfelt and tied up some loose threads. I believe she was supposed to help redeem Kylo, and at least she did play a small role in helping him turn although I will always be sad that she and Kylo were never able to play a scene together. Han’s cameo came as a lovely surprise, I’m sure in part to push the narrative that Kylo’s parent’s love helped turn Kylo back to the Light. I just dearly wish that these three had been given a scene together (along with Chewie)- it will always be a shame that the directors choose not to have them reunite in some way.

While I’m sure Disney is far from done with Star Wars storytelling, this movie brought to a close the Skywalker saga. There is no way that all fans could be satisfied with any narrative that Disney filmed, but I just wished they had been able to capture the scope and mysticism that George Lucas had brought to his imagined universe. However, I will be forever grateful that these stories were told, and they have captured so many people’s imagination. May the Force be with you!

-Nancy

Spawn Kills Everyone!

I recently took a trip to Georgia for a girl’s weekend with my college friends when I saw a comic bookstore named Mountain Man Comics, so I slipped away from them so I could properly geek out in peace. While browsing, I came upon this humorously titled graphic novel and I spontaneously purchased it for my library, thinking the patrons (and I!) would like it.

In 2016 there was a Spawn one-shot comic that spoofed the villain by having him portrayed as a potbellied child attending a comic-con and then going on a killing spree. Wanting a movie deal like the Marvel or DC heroes, he struts around killing anyone he views as a threat, although they in actuality are cosplayers. There is a tongue-in-cheek moment when he meets Todd McFarlane, his creator, but McFarlane is dispatched quickly. This storyline reminded me incredibly of Skottie Young’s 2017 FCBD I Hate Image comic, but Young managed his narrative and art better, as this story just seemed crass. Nevertheless, this was a popular story, with several printings to account for the demand.

So two years later, a second story about baby Spawn was issued with another artist. The story remains the same, Spawn wishes to kill everyone but this time he is able to create little minions to help him- turd babies! Yes, he creates evil little babies on the toilet! Do I even need to share much more about the narrative than that? There actually are some clever moments in this story, especially about how he kills Captain America and the Hulk. Often the names of the heroes are not mentioned and their costumes are a bit different to get away with using copyrighted heroes from other companies in an Image publication. At the end of this story Spawn goes to bed happy that his kill count was so high, and is so very proud of his little turds.

Artist JJ Kirby established the chibi style of Spawn with exaggerated child-like features in the first story. His anime-inspired art was darker, with cluttered panels and a black border. The second artist, Will Robinson, had cleaner looking art with a better panel flow. Plus, he got to draw the adorable (but insidious) turd babies! Both artists had fun with the story, as obviously that’s what attracted me to pick up this graphic novel.

Overall, this was a disappointing read. The humor was too crude, with too much gore. I didn’t expect finesse in a story like this, but I still felt let down. Perhaps I should have spent more time looking at it before I purchased it as I guess my humor is slightly more mature than a teenaged boy…

-Nancy

McFarlane, Todd, JJ Kirby & Will Robinson. Spawn Kills Everyone! The Complete Collection. 2019.

Avengers vs X-Men

I love both the Avengers and the X-Men- but who will come out on top in this epic battle?!

I have been meaning to read this collected edition since last year when I read Uncanny X-Men: Revolution that followed this event book. I kept picking up this series but putting it back down when other graphic novels caught my eye. But when I recently read Mr. and Mrs. X, and I had forgotten that a certain character was dead because of this storyline, I knew I needed to finally make the commitment to finish it.

This story follows House of M, when Scarlet Witch utters “No more mutants!”, thus no mutants have been born in years. When the first mutant child, Hope, is born who has the ability to psychically manipulate and mimic the powers of other mutants, current mutants divide as what to do. When it is discovered that Phoenix, the powerful being that killed Jean Grey, is headed to Earth to possibly consume Hope, the heroes are torn as what to do. What it comes down to is Cyclops, the leader of the X-Men, feels that Hope is strong enough to control the Pheonix and will use its power to reignite mutantdom vs Captain America, the Avengers leader, who feels that Hope will become a threat and destroy humanity, thus she needs to be taken down.

So begins the battles- many many of them, as this graphic novel collects twelve chapters to tell the story. When you have such a large cast not everyone can properly get featured and this book follows suit. Some heroes receive small cameos, with one bit of dialogue and then they are just part of the large fighting scenes. But I was pleasantly surprised that Iron Fist had such a large role, plus Nova got a nice part too.

As I don’t wish to spoil the narrative too much, I will limit my summary. When Pheonix arrives, five mutants- Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus, and Magik- take Hope’s place and all get considerable new powers that they use for improving the world. But we all know that’s not the end of the story. The Pheonix wants Hope and it is she and Scarlet Witch that finally subdue the Pheonix’s dark powers, but not before there is a lot of death and destruction.

There are powerful moments found within the story and some insightful and sometimes snappy dialogue, but it can be a slog to find them. Just as I found Captain Marvel unsufferable in Civil War II, so I found Cyclops. He has some extremely valid points, as mutants really have been persecuted, but I was really hating on him, plus…he’s the one who ends up getting briefly consumed by the Pheonix and doing something terrible.

Overall, the art was strong despite many different artists. While there are some style shifts in the different chapters, there is enough visual consistency when the various stories were pulled together in this collected edition. Although Hope sometimes varies between looking like a teen (which she was) and an older typical female hero hottie. I always enjoyed the crowd or battle scenes as its fun to see how the artists choose to portray everyone in mid-action.

In the large collected edition, there are also some tie-ins:

A vs X: This volume showcases personal battles amidst the war and has a whole slew of authors and artists detail how two connected heroes (or villains) duke it out. There is – Iron Man vs Magneto, Things vs Namor, Captain America vs Gambit, Spider-Man vs Colossus, Black Widow vs Magik, Daredevil vs Psylocke, Thor vs Emma Frost, Hawkeye vs Angel, Black Panther vs Storm, Hope vs Scarlet Witch, Cyclops vs Captain America, AvX: Science Battle, Captain America vs Havok, Red Hulk vs Domino, Toad vs Jarvis, Spider-Woman vs (several) X-Women, Iron Fist vs and Iceman and Squirrel Girl vs Pixie.

This is a motley grouping of short stories (some are only a page long), as some of the fights tie in with the preceding narrative, while others are just for laughs. The only one that I found truly memorable was the poignant Storm vs Black Panther battle because there is no winner as their marriage sadly crumbles because of their differences.

A-Babies vs X-Babies:  Skottie Young is well known for his variant covers of Marvel heroes, so this one-off is funny and good for a single read. On the corner of Fury Dr and Xavier Way is the peaceful neighborhood of Marvelous Meadows. Being tucked into bed is little Steve (Captain America) who is surrounded by his army themed stuffed bears. Wait- Bucky Bear is missing! Peering out the window he sees his neighbor Scott (Cyclops) taunting him with his beloved bear. Steve calls out “Avengers Assemble!” and quickly his team of baby friends has joined him. Scott calls for back up but laments he has no catchy phrase to get them there. Instead, he yells that there is an ice cream truck nearby, and the X-Men babies show up. A battle ensues for the bear between the two teams. There is a cuteness overload as baby representations of all famous Avengers & X-Men duke it out.

Putting this entire book down several times should have been my clue that it wasn’t for me. While I am typically a sucker for these crossover event books, I have reached a fatigue level with the fighting among team members trope. While I found Civil War fresh, this and Civil War II were anything but.

-Nancy

The Death of Superman

I’m going to spend most of my December catching up on graphic novels that I never finished earlier in the year. I had picked up this classic Superman title when I was switching jobs, but it got set aside. So, let us now dive into the “death” of Superman!

The story opens with a new villain Doomsday smashing himself from underground to the Earth’s surface. He is established as a bad guy when he kills a bird in his hand and laughs about it- gasp! There is a convoluted storyline about Lois Lane and a random boy getting into trouble in the basement of a power station in which Superman needs to save them. I was amused that Lois left Clark a message on a computer of where to find her- and he mentioned that it was so high-tech of her do that, instead of on a note (as this was published in 1992). Superman dispatches all these underground baddies, not knowing the worst is yet to come. Then we are introduced to the B-level Justice League heroes such as Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, Bloodwynd and Maxima who first meet Doomsday and can’t defeat him at all. Having just read Heroes in Crisis, I knew who a few of these lesser-known heroes were, but the entire time I was wondering why in the world Batman, Wonder Woman and other more powerful Justice Leaguers never came to help. While Supergirl briefly plays a part, I had to look up why in the world she was in a romance with a red-bearded Lex Luthor, and why she failed to be of any use. So Superman and Doomsday meet and they punch each other…over and over…and over and over again…until Superman dies. The end.

We all know Superman does not stay dead, and that very fact sucks the gravitas out of the whole story. As if DC would truly kill this icon, thus this storyline was just a publicity stunt when they had ran out of other ideas. Sequels Funeral for a Friend and Reign of the Supermen just negated the whole story.  Plus, Doomsday is the villain that kills him? All he does is punch- that’s it.

I’ve noticed in older Marvel and DC comics, that there are often several artists listed, but the art remains consistent. I’m guessing they were required to, as I am thinking of the book How To Draw Comics the Marvel Way, and they were given a blueprint for them to follow. I have mixed feelings about this- I become very annoyed when illustration styles change within a graphic novel, yet following a required design boxes artists in and they remain anonymous as their personal style does not shine through. And on a further aside, although this novel came out in the early 90’s the art retains the look of the golden/silver age of comics although the storyline was in the “modern age of comics”. The excesses of art that Image Comics was known for had not effected DC, at least in this graphic novel. But I truly loved the “countdown” of panels- the book opens with varied panel configurations, but as the story progresses the panels reduce to four a page, then three, then two with the final battle consisting of one-page splash pages.

All in all, this was a fun, somewhat campy read. While the storyline didn’t work, this was a turning point for comics and established a legacy of crossover events, so I am glad I picked it up to further my comic knowledge.

-Nancy

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