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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.

Superman Smashes the Klan

Superman Smashes the Klan is a wonderful graphic novel geared for young adults, yet will appeal to all ages. Author Gene Luen Yang deftly combines the mythology of Superman with timely topics of immigration and battling prejudice.

When you hear the word Klan, you will automatically think of the hate group that seems to targets blacks the most. But instead, Yang sets the story in 1946 and centers on the Lee family who are Chinese-Americans who have recently moved to Metropolis for their father’s new job as a scientist. Brother and sister Tommy and Roberta begin to assimilate into their new community after leaving Chinatown, but Roberta struggles more than her brother who is soon befriended by boys in the neighborhood when he shows a gift for pitching.

But soon the family is targeted by the Klan of the Fiery Kross, which is obviously a stand-in for the Ku Klux Klan. The chants they use and their justification of their actions are sadly a commentary on what is going on in America right now. Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen befriend the Lee’s but Roberta picks up on clues about Superman’s abilities and helps him confront his own issues regarding his own assimilation. This story is set early into Superman’s career, and he is shown as not able to fly, as he is suppressing his alien powers. This runs parallel to the Lee’s journey of embracing who they are and not being ashamed of their background. This narrative not only makes Superman more relatable to younger new readers, who might only view him as a demi-god, not a young boy who even in later years as an adult struggles with his identity.

The artwork by Gurihiru (actually a Japanese illustration team, consisting of Chifuyu Sasaki and Naoko Kawano) is a lovely throwback to the golden age of comics. The illustrations are deceptively simple and will appeal to readers of all ages. The story flowed beautifully from panel to panel, with some outstanding one and two-page spreads. The colors are bold, with the primary colors of red, blue and yellow taking center stage. That these colors are found in Superman’s costume is a natural tie-in.

I was very impressed with this story. Yang wrote a nuanced story about the struggles of fighting adversity, calling out hate, maintaining cultural traditions while balancing fitting into a new home and battling back against preconceived notions.  An afterword by the author clarifies his message in which he shares how racism against any race is unacceptable and shares his story along with his personal connection to the iconic Superman. This strong story may very well inspire readers to take stands against hate and racism they run across, and should be a welcome beacon for all Superman fans.

-Nancy

Devolution

After my love affair with the book World War Z, (especially the audio edition), I was excited to learn that author Max Brooks had a book about “a firsthand account of the Rainer Sasquatch Massacre”. From Zombies to Sasquatch? Yes, please!

The conceit of the story is that Brooks is a journalist reporting the story of a supposed Sasquatch massacre and that the narrative is from several viewpoints. The journal of the main character, Kate Holland, tells the bulk of the story as her therapist had suggested she keep a journal to process some issues she was working on. She had no idea that the journal would morph into a survival account of the massacre to come. In addition, Kate’s brother Frank, rangers and scientists share their thoughts, in regards to figuring out what happened to the small community of Greenloop.

Greenloop was designed to be a utopia, combining the best of modern-day technology with the wonders of nature. Six homes with an additional Common House were built near Mt. Rainer in Washington State for people who wanted to get away from the rat race, yet have the latest tech at their fingertips. Kate and her husband Dan agree to house sit for her brother for a few months, and soon meets the other inhabitants of the community. Unsure of her marriage, Kate is on edge but soon the surrounding nature has a calming effect on her. But Mt. Rainer erupts a few weeks later, leaving them isolated with no chance of a rescue in the near future. Facing that they will be stranded through the winter, with very limited technology and no supplies able to be delivered, they begin to plan on how to manage. The former leaders of the community break down and retreat while other Greenloop members begin to show leadership skills, including Kate.

But we readers know the eruption is the least of their worries, as Kate begins to suspect they are not alone in the woods after all. Indeed, things go from bad to worse once the Sasquatch tribe is discovered, and the skirmishes between the two begin. I don’t want to reveal too much more, but it becomes a war of who will survive. The conclusion is left somewhat open-ended and you will wonder what Kate did and where she is. I thought for awhile Kate and the others would think the Sasquatch’s were gentle giants and must be saved at all costs, but that’s not the road the story takes you on, and I actually liked that. War is hell, and it was kill or be killed.

You obviously must have suspension disbelief with this story, but after Brook’s zombie book, I don’t think anyone is expecting reality here. However, there were some issues that I found completely mind-boggling in regards to how this community was planned. The entire story takes place in less than two months, and some characters change too completely to be realistic. We had Kate, Dan and artist Mostar becoming hardy survivalists in a just a few weeks, while the former alpha-couple crumble within days when faced with challenges. While the quote “Adversary does not build character, it reveals it” was very apropos, the character arcs were too extreme.

However, the novel is a fun romp, for Brooks deftly combines elements of fantasy with science, plus writes a strong survival tale with elements of horror. Although I had loved the audio edition of WWZ, I read the print edition of this book first, I had no access to an audio edition through my library yet, but when I do I will be certain to listen to it. I heard it has an amazing voice cast, so I hope it is as strong as the WWZ audio edition. If you are looking for an escapist book and think that you would shine in the face of adversary and would kick-ass if necessary, then this book is for you.

-Nancy

Mid Year Freakout #4

I’m freaking out for the fourth time! I like this post idea, as it forces me to reflect on my reading halfway through the year instead of just at the end when Kathleen and I do our Best Of list. I had fun going through my Goodreads data, and bonus, it highlights the other genres I read since I read way more than just graphic novels.

Best book you read in 2020 so far

While Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery is her most well known, the anthology The Lottery and Other Stories, proves that she was a master of the short story, for the entire collection was strong. These stories are reminiscent of other great writers of the era like Raymond Carver and John Cheever, however, Jackson authentically showcases the female perspective to great effect. Released in 1949, these stories are a snapshot of an earlier time when life was supposed to be rosy and perfect, although it often was anything but, especially for women. The stories are a fascinating mix of genres that included realism, horror and surrealism, but all with a biting wit and attention to human nature

Best sequel you’ve read so far 

I’m counting the Hunger Games prequel as my sequel since it came out so many years after the original trilogy. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes gave an origin story to President Snow and shows how a callow but sympathetic youth started his descent into an evil tyrant. It was a solid entry into the Panem universe and effectively showed how the Hunger Games mutated into the games that Katniss would be forced into years later.

New release you haven’t read yet, but want to

I loved the audiobook World War Z by Max Brooks, and he recently came out with a new book Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre. From zombies to Sasquatch? Gimmie!

Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

I want Volume Ten of Saga released! In fact, no one has any idea when the next volume will come out, as fans have been waiting anxiously since 2018 after a heartbreaking last page in Volume Nine.

Biggest disappointment

How I struggled with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay! A few years ago this book was highly recommended to me by a co-worker who loved it and thought I’d connect with the two main characters who are creators of a famed comic book series. At 600+ pages, I choose to listen to it on audio but after listening to half of the discs, I set it aside and listened to two other audiobooks before coming back to it and finishing it. By the end, I was in such an apoplectic rage that I could not comprehend why it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Read my Goodreads review to find out why.

Biggest surprise

As much as I hated The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,  I was intrigued enough by the fictional comic book hero to find this metafiction graphic novel about the Escapist, The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist. To continue the charade that Kavalier and Clay were real men this parody recreates the supposed decades-long publishing history of the character, starting in the Golden Age of Comics. This companion book is a homage to the comics of past eras and showcases The Escapist (plus Luna Moth) in many different styles and moves forward chronologically to how comics are typically drawn today.

Newest fictional crush

Geralt the Witcher from The Last Wish. I started the Netflix series and loved Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Geralt. I stopped mid-way into the show, so I could read this collection of short stories that many of the episodes were based off. Cavill with long blonde hair is so flippin’ dreamy.

Favorite book to film adaptation you saw this year 

I don’t see many movies in the theatre, and am stumped for any I saw this year before the pandemic hit and theatres closed. But I am very much looking forward to seeing Wonder Woman!

 

Newest favorite character

Erica Slaughter, who comes to Archer’s Peak ready to kill the monster on hand, from Something Is Killing The Children.  This Goth looking Buffy The Vampire Slayer interviews a survivor and heads into the woods to kick some ass. She has the potential to be an intriguing character, so I am looking forward to Volume Two to see if I still find her appealing.

Favorite new author (Debut or new to you)

I’m tweaking this, as I’ve been a fan of this author for years, but I read two of his novels and a non-fiction book he contributed to in the last year, and I just love him. Silas House writes about contemporary Appalachia in such a respectful and loving manner and I just really enjoy his voice.

Book(s) that made you happy

I have been a huge fan of the ElfQuest series for 25+ years, and in 2018 the series drew to a close. I read the four-volume arc but never reviewed them, so during our endless quarantine time at home I re-read them so I could write my reviews. I enjoyed immersing myself in the Wolfrider universe again!

 

Book(s) that made you sad

Same ElfQuest books as above. It was melancholy to reach the end of a series that has been going for 40 years!

Favorite review you have written this year 

For the second year in a row, Kathleen and I participated in a Fiction’s Fearless Females series, and this year I choose Sarah Connor from the Terminator franchise. The recurring theme of No Fate weaves in and out of the franchise, and Sarah’s courage and empathy are the pillars for her willingness to continue fighting even when the future looks hopeless. How Sarah dealt with the hand she was given as her entire life crumbled away unexpectedly, can be a lesson to us all in how to fearlessly face our uncertain future.  Not only did Sarah fight for her son, but she continued to be ever vigilant in helping others, for she never ever gave up.

Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received)

In The Pines by Erik Kriek was a unique graphic novel in which 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. Most likely going to be on my Best Of list at the end of the year.

What books do you need to read by the end of the year? 

Joe Hill, the author of Locke & Key, has a set of graphic novels coming out later this year called Hill House Comics. While not all written by him, they are all horror-themed and look awesome. I’m looking forward to reading this new series.

I gave myself a goal to read 120 books this year on the Goodreads Challange and so far I am at 79, although that does include some short stories from LeVar Burton Reads. I have some good books in my TBR pile and look forward to future happy hours of reading or listening to books!

-Nancy

Everything is an Emergency

Everything is an Emergency is a heartfelt graphic novel by Jason Adam Katzenstein that details his life with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Katzenstein’s first memories revolve around some common childhood fears, that his parents were able to manage with typical strategies, but these fears became deeper phobias that took more and more managing to control. At first Katzenstein’s phobias could be explained away, but they soon started taking control of his life and his childhood and teenage years were challenging because of his extreme anxiety. He developed OCD tendencies to cope but then became a slave to them. Eventually, he moved to NYC to work as an artist, but his phobias held him back professionally, romantically and affected his relationships with his family members.

Katzenstein defined himself as a tortured artist, so he resisted taking medicine thinking he wouldn’t be him anymore, and that it could affect his creativity. However, he needed to push through and break the destructive cycles he was in, so he explored exposure therapy and medication. And by doing so he actually opened himself up to new avenues of creativity, as he wasn’t locked into panic attacks and crippling anxiety.

Katzenstein’s artwork in black and white was evocative and surreal at times. Some of his swirling expressive pictures reminded me of New Yorker editorial cartoons, so it was apropos to find out he has had some of his artwork showcased in that magazine. He finds humor in his agony, but it also will give you optimism to see that he has worked through many of his issues and has come out stronger because of it. Thank you to NetGalley for bringing to my attention a graphic novel that addresses mental health issues in a respectful and hopeful way and shows that therapy can be a life-saver.

-Nancy

Plutona

Plutona was a spontaneous read for me, as I was sorting through my library’s graphic novel collection and discovered this book that I didn’t know we owned, plus I had never heard of it. Intrigued with the Stand By Me premise and that it was penned by Jeff Lemire, I gave it a go.

We are introduced to five characters- superhero expert Teddy, insecure Diane, troubled bad-boy Ray, edgy Mie and her younger brother Mike- who all converge one afternoon after school on accident. Teddy is capespotting, looking for superheroes who guard the nearby Metro City and Ray is interested but doesn’t want others to know. When Mie and Diane arrives he resumes being a jerk, when Mike slips away to the nearby woods. Following him, all five then discover the dead body of Plutona, a female superhero.

The story includes five chapters, and concluding each chapter is a few pages of Plutona’s adventures and what led to her defeat and being found in the woods. The five youth feel that they should bury Plutona, but don’t wish to tell anyone the news of her death. Planning to meet after school the next day, Teddy arrives back to the spot early as he wishes to gain some of her powers by comingling their blood, and convinces Mike to do so too. What happens when the other three arrive is heartbreaking and the conclusion was melancholy and open-ended. This coming-of-age story left me wanting, as this character-driven tale had several characters that I despised.

The art is credited to Emi Lenox, although the Plutona interludes looked like Lemire’s trademark sketchy art style. The illustrations certainly set the mood, and Lenox created five diverse individuals whose personalities shown through the uncluttered panels. A concluding art gallery showed the five-issue covers, each featuring one of the youth. Jordie Bellaire always shines as a colorist, with these five covers being evocatively colored.

Growing up is not always easy, and some youth who can’t think beyond the here and now may end up making decisions that carry dire consequences. The bleak storyline led me to feel disappointed with this story, but as a stand-alone graphic novel, it effectively told a complete but sad tale.

-Nancy

 

Star Trek: The Animated Series

Could I truly call myself a Star Trek fan without watching this series from the 70s? I felt I was missing out on some classic Trek, so what better time than quarantine to watch all 22 episodes!

There are a few changes in this series vs TOS, although chronologically it would only be a year later. Due to cost-cutting, Walter Koening was not invited back, with Nichelle Nichols and George Takei barely making the cut due to Leonard Nimoy advocating for them. Nurse Chapel (Majel Barrett- Gene Roddenberry’s IRL wife, who would later play Troi’s mother in TNG) gets a larger role, and two unlikely crewmembers are added- a feline woman and a strange three armed long-necked alien.

At first not considered canon, the series is now considered the fourth season that TOS never got, and information found in it is considered part of the Star Trek chronology, with references to characters and situations in future Trek series. Warning- some spoilers! But really, are you reading this post truly worried about learning plot points? 😉

 

Season One

Beyond the Farthest Star

As the first episode of the series, thus establishing the caliber of this series, it wasn’t good. The Enterprise is being pulled into the orbit of a dead star. An evil non-corporeal alien entity tries to trap the ship there, but the crew is able to engage a slingshot maneuver and escape. The animation took some getting used to, as the characters are simply, if not crudely, drawn caricatures of the crew from the 60s show. The space shots were fun, with some psychedelic coloring.

Yesteryear

Spock enters the Guardian of Forever to correct a time discrepancy in his childhood. He masquerades as a distant cousin and helps his young self correct the problem that will right the timeline. This was a surprisingly poignant episode that showed young Spock’s homelife and the bullying he endured by his peers for being half-human. This storyline was replicated in the 2009 Kelvin Star Trek movie that had a scene of Spock’s childhood that obviously was inspired by this episode. This proved to be one of the better stories.

One of Our Planets Is Missing

A massive space cloud is destroying planets and is on course to destroy a planet that has a Federation colony on it. Aiming the ship into the cloud, they discover that this cloud is actually a living entity so Spock mind-melds with it to show this creature that it is destroying life. The creature then decides to find lunch in another part of the uninhabited galaxy and the Enterprise has saved the planet from destruction.

The Lorelei Signal

Uhura and Chapel kick some ass! The ship is nearing a Burmuda Triangle of space where several ships have disappeared in a 27-year cycle. On a planet nearby they discover a race of beautiful women aliens who lure men to their planet to suck their life force from them. As the males are immobilized Uhura and Chapel are able to save the day, plus find a hospitable planet for the women to move to where they can lead regular lives and meet men without having to kill them. I was glad that the women crew members were able to get a significant storyline and didn’t have to depend on the men to save the day.

More Tribbles, More Troubles

Klingons HATE tribbles so when they are at risk of being overrun with them. Kirk reluctantly works with Cyrano Jones, an intergalactic trader. Jones knows how to neuter them, yet the Tribbles still grow to ungainly sizes and are still a threat. When the Klingons (who still don’t look anything like Worf from TNG and what we have come to expect them to look like) threaten the Enterprise with a weapon, Kirk is able to negotiate a treaty by giving the Klingons a Glommer, a creature that feeds on Tribbles.  Here the Tribbles are pink, which is yet another animation mistake.

Similar to a scene in TOS, but this time the Tribbles are the wrong color.

The Survivor

When the Enterprise finds a small private ship they think they have found Winston, a human philanthropist missing for five years, and reunites him with his fiance who happens to work on the ship. But he is actually a Vendorian, an alien species that can shapeshift, and the real Winston is dead. But because he absorbed the feelings of Winston, he begins to fall in love with Winston’s former fiance and he rebels against his Romulan captors. This was actually a touching episode and made you think about loving someone for who they are not what they look like.

The Infinite Vulcan

Written by Walter Koening (Chekov) who unjustly was not in this series due to budget constraints, this was a rather convoluted episode. While on an away mission, Sulu is poisoned by a plant, but the plant-like creatures residing there save him. The crew discovers the planet was damaged by a plague brought in by a human scientist escaping the Eugenics War (which was a war led by Khan in Earth’s past). A clone of this scientist kidnaps Spock and makes a giant clone of him, but the crew convinces him that the war he escaped is no longer a threat.  The two clones remain on the planet to restore the plant civilization, leaving the regular crew to head back to the Enterprise. So, a giant Spock is left behind???

The Magicks of Megas-tu

The Enterprise encounters an alien species that for a time lived on Earth, and set off the Salem Witch Trials when their alien skills were perceived as dark magic. The alien Lucian puts them through a trial similar to what happened in Salem, but their evolved humanity shows him that he needs to forgive them. His form is revealed to look like a cloven devil, so the connection is made that our mythology is based on prior alien contact. This episode had a noble idea but the follow-through was messy and is an example as to why this series is often laughed at.

Once Upon a Planet

Crew members are looking forward to some shore leave at a planet known for being similar to an amusement park. But the caretaker has died, leaving things to go awry for the crew who beam down. For a time Uhura is kidnapped, as the sentient computer resents its duty and rebels. But Kirk teaches it to be a good boy and to enjoy obeying. This episode rubbed me the wrong way- as this computer and the robots are tricked into being subservient again.

Mudd’s Passion

Harry Mudd is back with a new con- a love potion! Mudd is an iconic character that only appeared twice in TOS, and once in this animated series. Here he preys on Nurse Chapel who has a crush on Spock and soon he falls in love with her once the portion actually works. But the potion has a kickback turning love to hate, and once again Mudd is sent to the brig. I enjoyed that Discovery had him in two episodes plus a Short Trek, and I am hoping the Pike series will use this character who is now portrayed by Rainn Wilson.

Gotta love Mudd’s comb-over!

The Terratin Incident

This was an amusing episode where a mishap causes the crew to start shrinking. They desperately try to fix the situation before they become too small to use the controls. This is an example in which the animation was an effective way to have this type of story that would have been impossible to film in live-action at the time.

The Time Trap

The narrative of entering yet another space Burmuda Triangle was utilized again, with the Enterprise and a Klingon ship both being drawn into a pocket of the universe in which other ships have become trapped in over the eons. Descendents of these crews have formed an alliance and have formed the Elysian Council. Although these aliens say there is no escape, we all know Kirk will figure a way out!

The Ambergris Element

While on a water planet, Kirk and Spock are in an accident that makes them become water breathers and they discover a lost city under the sea, very similar to our fabled Atlantis. There is an amusing scene where Kirk and Spock are in a water tank on board the Enterprise where Kirk expresses he can’t captain while in a fish tank. The duo work with this planet’s swimming aliens and are able to fix themselves and save the civilization from ruin. Barrett voiced all the extra females in the episode and it was distracting to have them all sound so similar.

The Slaver Weapon

This episode concentrated completely on an away mission with Spock, Uhura and Sulu- so it became my favorite, as those three happen to be my favorites from the TOS crew. While transporting a relic from an ancient alien race, they encounter the war-like Kzinti, who look like felines wearing some groovy pink uniforms. These aliens became canon in the new Picard series when Riker mentioned that the Federation  is “having some trouble with the Kzinti.” When I watched Picard the quote meant nothing to me, so I find it amusing that a few short weeks later I discovered the meaning of this Easter egg comment.

The Eye of the Beholder

Telepathic aliens put Kirk, Spock and Bones in a zoo when they go to a new planet to rescue crew members from another Federation ship. But the crew members work together to send messages to the aliens and convince them to release them. Scotty plays an important role when a baby alien is beamed onto the Enterprise and he communicated with it before reuniting the baby with the parents.

The Jihad

Spock and Kirk are called upon to join a motley group of other aliens to retrieve a stolen religious artifact. Oh man- this series creates the most ridiculous aliens! They obviously felt they could design animated aliens that could not be shown on a live-action series due to the cost of special effects. Even nowadays with better special effects, these aliens have not been replicated into series, because they were so damn absurd. Plus there was an additional laugh of an alien woman who blatantly puts the moves on Kirk.

Why is Kirk’s shirt orange? Just another example of sloppy animation.

Season Two

The Pirates of Orion

Spock contracts a deadly disease and the Enterprise arranges to rendezvous with another ship to get him a cure. Some space pirates intercept the ship and Kirk has to negotiate with the deceptive Orians to get the medicine that Spock needs. Guess what- he wins.

Bem

This was a surprisingly streamlined episode, that despite its laughable colony-creature (its body parts can separate and move on their own) actually had a good message. Always a Uhura fan, I liked how she had a moment taking the helm of the ship and demanding crew members follow her orders as procedure dictated they do.

This episode also included Kirk saying “There are times, Mr. Spock when I think I should have been a librarian.” Spock observes “The job of librarian would be no less challenging, captain, but it would undoubtedly be a lot less dangerous.” As a librarian myself, I enjoyed the idea that my job is as challenging as a spaceship’s Captain!

The Practical Joker

The computer gets a virus and becomes a practical joker. Not a fan of slapstick humor- this episode was really lackluster for me. That Barrett voiced the computer is a precursor that she would voice most onboard computer interfaces throughout several of the future Star Trek shows. The highlight of the episode was seeing Kirk wear a shirt that says Kirk is a Jerk that I have seen on memes but not understood the context until now. And yes, sometimes he is.

Perhaps a joke about William Shatner who is known for his testy relationships with co-workers?

Albatross

Dr. McCoy is accused of causing a plague on an alien planet 19 years ago and is put in jail. Determined to prove his innocence, Kirk finds an alien whom he helped during that era, but then the entire ship falls ill. When I think the aliens on this series can’t get any stranger, TAS proves me wrong!

How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth

This episode was problematic and included the trope of gods-were-really-aliens again.  Within the first minute, I clued in that a crew member at the helm that we never met before, Ensign Walking Bear, was going to be important, yet a one and done character. He recognizes an attacking ship as looking like Kukulkan, a Mayan deity since he is Comanche and studied other Native American cultures. This alien beams Kirk, Walking Bear and others to his ship where it is revealed that this alien visited Earth in the past and influenced the Mayan and Egyptian civilizations, but feels rejected as they did not meet his expectations of gratitude. Kirk convinces this alien that humans have grown since he last visited and to let them go and continue evolving. I think this line of thinking reinforces some misguided people who believe that some non-white civilizations couldn’t have developed as advanced as cultures as they had at one time and thus must have had outside influence. The title of this episode refers to Shakespeare’s quote from King Lear “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is / To have a thankless child” which is a good quote but quite derogatory here.

The Counter-Clock Incident

This last episode was also cringe-worthy and reinforced that the show needed to end. Traveling on the Enterprise is Commodore Robert April who was the first Enterprise captain and his wife Dr. April as they prepare for mandatory retirement at age 75. They encounter a supernova that pulls them into an opposite universe and they began to de-age. Spock and the April’s maintain the ship since they are older and aren’t turned into babies like the rest of the crew, although they too grow younger. The problems I had with this episode were the ageism and sexism- Dr. April is referred to as Mrs. April repeatedly and they are not utilized to help until the end when the need for their assistance was quite obvious from the beginning.

My youngest son asked what was worse- this series or the Star War’s Holiday Special. I had to pause and think because they are both unique and horrible in their own ways. But these last two episodes pushed me to pick this series. I must keep in mind that this series was a product of its time- the early 70s was still mired in old-fashioned stereotypes. But the crude animation torpedoed this series, as their numerous continuity mistakes were obvious, and their stock footage (there should be a drinking game for how many times the same footage was used of Spock looking into a viewfinder on the bridge) was distracting. Some of the storylines were more nuanced than others but that begs the question- was this series geared for children or adults? But overall, I am so glad I watched The Animated Series. It was an interesting look into Star Trek’s uneven history and there were nuggets of good storytelling found in it. I now await Discovery’s third season and was thrilled with the recent announcement that Captain Pike, Number One and a young Spock would be getting their own series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. In the meantime- Live Long and Prosper!

-Nancy

Spy x Family

Spy x Family by Tatsuya Endo is the first volume in what promises to be an exciting new manga series.

Twilight is a debonair spy who needs to infiltrate an elite school to gain access to a political leader for an important mission. But he needs to gain a wife and child to do so, all within a week. At first, he hopes that just a child will do so he adopts Anya, a darling little girl who turns out to be a telepath, from a sketchy orphanage. He then later needs to convince a woman to masquerade as his wife, and whoops, Yor turns out to be an assassin. But they all have their private motivations in looking like a family, so they go ahead with the ruse of enrolling Anya in this private school and passing the stringent tests to get in. There is the requisite comedy of errors as these three people need to convince others they are authentic, and of course, they begin to bond despite their best of intentions not to.

The art is crisp and attractive, with a nice balance of action sequences and smaller poignant moments. I believe this will be a popular series, as readers will be delighted with Anya and rooting for Twilight and Yor to find a way to truly become a family together with Anya.  In an interesting coincidence, my oldest son who is a huge manga fan discovered this story on his own and ordered himself a book. Typically I am not a manga reader, so it was nice to be able to chat about this book with him.

As I order graphic novels for my library, I plan to order this series once there are three volumes out for my library’s collection. Thanks to NetGalley for an advance online copy, and putting what looks like a promising new manga on my radar.

-Nancy

Off Season

Off Season is a book of its time, detailing the inner life of a working-class man with a crumbling marriage during the election season that put Trump in the White House. Despite the characters being anthropomorphic, Mark and his concerns were so very human.

Mark and his wife are separated, with Mark struggling as a building contractor, as his main client can’t or won’t pay him. He is barely covering the bills, compared to his wife who stays in the family home and is buffered by family money. His two children play him off Lisa, especially his bratty daughter, and he struggles with being consistent with them. Somewhat estranged from his brother and his parents, Mark tries to reconnect with his parents, to discover his mother has cancer.

Surprisingly poignant, this story of a disintegrating marriage was very real and at times raw. I’ve always been the type to wonder about other people’s lives, as Facebook and Instagram tend to paint people as perfect and always happy. You never know what is going on behind closed doors, and this graphic novel shows both the messiness and the sweetness of family life. Mark is grappling with his role as a father, son and husband in the new reality of Trump’s America, and while some of his choices are not wise, you can’t help but root for him.

The ending is odd, and while there is a nugget of hope that Mark and Lisa’s marriage might be saved, the way in which they do so was off-putting to me. I had to restrain myself from being too judgy, as my own marriage is solid, but other marriages might need to find ways to make it work in ways that I could not envision myself. However, despite me not connecting with the ending, it somehow worked for the tone of this book.

Every page contains two panels done in greyscale. I think this simple panel construction suits the story well- straight forward and to the point. The pacing was well done, with several vignettes of family life that pulled at my heartstrings. At first, I wondered why the characters were portrayed as dogs, but the somewhat simply drawn portrayals let you connect with the character-driven story without extraneous details. This story of a family during an unsettling cultural moment was very well done and will make you reflect on your own family during off-season times in your life.

-Nancy

The Man Who Came Down The Attic Stairs

This thin graphic novel packed quite a punch, that effectively tied postpartum depression with a creepy noir vibe.

Set in what looks like the French countryside, a young married couple purchase a charming old home, in preparation for the child they are expecting. During move-in day, the husband is carrying up supplies to the attic when his wife hears a huge crash. Panicked, she is about to start upstairs when her husband Thomas comes down the attic stairs stone-faced, insisting that he simply tripped and everything is fine. Her water breaks at this moment.

The next scene is set in the near future as they are home with their new daughter Roslin who seems to have a bad case of colic, and she cries incessantly. Emma’s husband seems strangely detached, never complaining of the baby’s never-ending crying, yet not the playful man we first met at the beginning of the story. Not surprisingly Emma is at her wit’s end and doesn’t feel connected to her child. The pressures of new motherhood, an eerily changed husband, and her worries about her child’s health weigh heavily on her. Afraid of being perceived as a bad mother, she lashes out at some neighborhood women when she feels judged by them.

While speaking to a psychiatrist about her postpartum depression and her suspicions about what happened to her husband in the attic, a shocking revelation is revealed. The ending is deliberately ambiguous, so you don’t know quite what to believe.

Rendered in black and white, the artwork is atmospheric and sinister. The drawings gave a real sense of time and place, plus Emma’s unending housework will give you a feeling of claustrophobia. I found the story reminiscent of Emily Carroll’s Through The Woods and Shirley’s Jackson’s short stories (as coincidence would have it, a month ago I read The Lottery and Other Short Stories by Jackson).  Comparing Celine Loup to these other two women authors is praise indeed, so I will seek out future work by her.

-Nancy

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