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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

Wonder Woman² – With a Comparison to Captain Marvel

***There are spoilers for both movies ahead***

Check out Nancy’s take on Captain Marvel, which she wrote shortly after it came out in theaters.

On our quarantine weekends, Fiancé and I have been marathoning movies. We pull out the couch (it doubles as a futon), sprawl out with pillows and snacks, and go to town. So far we’ve marathoned Lord of the Rings (extended editions, obvs), Batman (pre-Nolan and Nolan directed), Christopher Reeves’ Superman saga, the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, bounced around between some DC animated movies we haven’t seen yet, and now we’re working on the DC Cinematic Universe that started with Man of Steel.

I’m sure this has been done, because how could it not have been, but I couldn’t help thinking while watching Captain Marvel of the comparisons it drew to Wonder Woman. Watching Wonder Woman again only threw the differences into greater relief.

Wonder Woman is the DCU’s take on Diana’s origins. Set during World War I, Diana leaves her home, Themyscira, when she rescues a pilot named Steve Trevor. He carries important information that could end the course of the war. Believing that Ares, the god of war, is behind the rampant destruction, Diana spirits Steve off the island and pursues Ares to fulfill the Amazon’s sacred duty of protecting the world from the vengeful god.

Captain Marvel follows the story of Vers/Carol Danvers, a Kree Starforce member/human fighter pilot. After absorbing a vast amount of energy from an experimental engine, she gains incredible powers but loses the memory of her life on Earth. What she does remember comes back to her in dreams and short flashes. In 1995 she winds up back on Earth, escaping from the Skrull (with whom the Kree are at war), and instead of trying to get back to Kree, decides to team up with a man named Nick Fury to find out more about her past.

The simplest way to explain the plots of both movies is perhaps: flagship female superhero finds herself out of her element, and must find a way to save the world while simultaneously working within the confines of a setting she’s unfamiliar with.

Wonder Woman did this SO much better than Captain Marvel did, and here’s why.

The first reason is in the portrayal of the heroines by their actresses, and how they interact with their mentor of the world they are unaccustomed to. Gal Gadot’s performance of Diana suggested naive innocence and idealism. Diana is doggedly determined to rid Man’s World of Aries’ influence and stop the war, but she has very different ideas of how to do it than everyone else. She doesn’t understand all the hoops and red tape Steve knows they need to navigate, and gets frustrated with the inconveniences. Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is cynical, world-weary, yet focused and determined to do something too – and he’s willing to indulge Diana’s seemingly crazy ideas if she’ll help.

Watching these two – it’s magical. There’s real chemistry between these characters. Half the fun of watching this movie is watching Steve’s exaggerated, exasperated patience with Diana asking a million questions a minute, like a petulant child. Yet, you can’t help but love them each for it. Their relationship progressed organically from mentor/student to friends to lovers, all while remaining mostly equals, making it seem more real and believable.

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Steve Trevor and Diana Prince after saving the village of Veld.

Brie Larson’s portrayal of Carol was, to put it nicely, unemotional to the point of being flat. I suppose it was to show how the Kree are generally in strict control of their emotions… but Carol is human and not Kree, right? So despite her thinking she was Kree for most of the movie, it would stand to reason that we would see some excess of emotion from her at some point, right? Even if it was on accident?? Even in moments where it’s completely warranted and expected, such as her reuniting with her best friend, Maria – right???

The vibe I got from Carol and Nick Fury’s interactions were more of almost a buddy cop dynamic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s just less of that mentor-ship that we see going on with Diana and Steve. It’s clear both Carol and Nick have been around the block, albeit in different ways and in different galaxies. However, their connection seemed a bit forced to me; yes, they teamed up out of necessity, but if I felt Carol was feeling anything at all, it was smug arrogance, solely through her interactions with Fury. More on this in a moment.

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Nick Fury and Carol Danvers infiltrating a U.S. Air Force Base.

Though both Diana and Carol are superhuman beings, and warriors to boot, Diana is shown to be more well-rounded in the emotions department. There was never any point in Captain Marvel where I felt emotionally connected to Carol. I think this is more the fault of the writing more than it is Larson’s portrayal, which leads me to my second point:

The way misogyny is handled in both movies is VASTLY different, and makes a HUGE impact on the way the titular characters interact with their environments, and the emotional weight of each story.

You ever wonder why the No Man’s Land scene in Wonder Woman is so powerful? Why you cry like a baby every time you watch it? Admit it, you know it’s not just me 😉

It’s because, for the entire movie up until that point, we see Diana being told “no.”

  • No, you can’t be a warrior
  • No, you can’t leave home
  • No, you can’t dress that way
  • No, you can’t come into this war council
  • No, you can’t go to the front

Now, no one says these things in so many words, and it’s not always that obvious. It may be only on your second or third viewing that you REALLY pick up on all the subtle ways that Diana is being restricted – which mirrors what happens in real-life with instances of misogyny. It’s not always being told “no” exactly, more often it’s being dismissed or sidebarred – which we see Diana go through. When we get to the No Man’s Land scene, and Steve tells Diana they are not going to help the village of Veld, Diana has heard her last “no.”

It’s so powerful because Diana is FINALLY standing up for herself, what she believes in, her mission, and she is going to do it no matter what anyone says. It’s so powerful because she has tried to assimilate into Man’s World and to their ways, but she finally realizes that their ways don’t work, and she carves herself a new path, her own way. It’s so powerful because she is embracing her feminine power to save the world, and her ultimate superpower: not her brute strength, but her ability to provide hope in a completely hopeless situation.

The brilliancy and beauty of this scene is in the movie’s moves up until this point to try and hem Diana in, so subtle that it’s nearly subconscious. When you see her finally break free in this scene, the movie has earned all the ugly tears you shed over it, and then some.

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Yup, it’s right about here that I always start sobbing

Captain Marvel didn’t have an equivalent scene, though it tried to. Near the end of the movie, Carol confronts the Supreme Intelligence and breaks her inhibitor chip. It also gave us a slew of flashbacks to Carol’s childhood in which we are shown in quick succession how Carol has been told “no,” and that’s what’s allows her to break free and come into her full power, which we then see in the next scene: the “I’m Just a Girl” scene, where Carol fights her former Kree squadron for the Tesseract.

The problem with this scene – and with the movie in general – is Carol is explicitly told “no,” in so many words, in those flashbacks. We are beaten over the head with scenes like this:

  • Carol and Maria getting hit on by a sleazy guy at a bar
  • Carol and Maria can’t become fighter pilots
  • Carol needs to control her emotions
  • Carol can’t play baseball
  • Carol can’t go that fast on a go-kart track
  • … All because they are girls or women.

Carol, and the audience, are explicitly told these things, instead of being shown them. The subtlety that worked so well in Wonder Woman is missing altogether from Captain Marvel. The obviousness of the misogyny in this movie strip much of the meaning away from the instances in which they occur, or their motivation for Carol.

I mentioned above that I felt Carol to be a cold, arrogant presence throughout this movie – this is why. It felt as if she was so hell-bent on proving her worth, despite her being a woman, that that’s all her character became. This crippled her relationship with Fury. Instead of Fury becoming a guide to Carol when she returns to Earth, he became the receiving end of the superiority she picked up from her time as a Kree. It felt as if he was reduced to a comic relief sidekick alongside Carol, instead of the force of nature we had previously seen and known him to be. Though this is a prequel movie for Fury, and he arguably doesn’t quite have the experience to be a mentor yet as he’s early in his career, the fact remains that as far as she knows, he is still Carol’s bridge between Kree and Earth – and to me it felt like Carol knew better than he did.

Now, I know Carol was brainwashed to believe she was really a Kree. It seemed as if all the flashbacks from Carol’s former life on Earth shown in the movie were instances like these: blatant misogyny. What it really needed was more of Carol being a badass like Maria talked about during the kitchen scene. The Carol Maria talked about sounded awesome! She was a pain in her best friend’s butt! She was an amazing pilot! She loved to go out and dance and do kareoke! She was an aunt figure to Maria’s daughter, Monica! THAT’S the Carol we needed to see – the truly human Carol!!!

In fact, the one thing Captain Marvel did better than Wonder Woman was the inclusion of Maria’s character. What little we saw of Maria and Carol’s friendship was AMAZING!!! They had such a great friendship, of two women (one of them of color!!!) LOVING AND SUPPORTING EACH OTHER UNCONDITIONALLY!!! There wasn’t enough time spent on any female characters other than Diana in Wonder Woman for us to see any friendships form between her and another woman (though I am hopeful we see this between Diana and Barbara Ann Minerva in WW84, coming out in October at time of posting).

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What Captain Marvel really needed: more Maria

The movie needed more of this truly human Carol. The pre-brainwashed Carol as seen through Maria and Monica’s eyes, to make the audience care about her, and to make us believe that she is more than a single dimension: that of being a woman with something to prove. It’s otherwise difficult for the audience to remember that she IS supposed to be human, and therefore it’s difficult for the audience to emotionally connect with her.

The heavy-handed misogyny in Captain Marvel also strips away any and all emotional impact we are supposed to feel from anything – especially the final fight scenes, after Carol finally comes into her full power. The movie tried SO HARD to show us Carol’s girl power that that’s all her character was reduced to. When we finally get to the “I’m Just a Girl” fight scene, we just roll our eyes at yet ANOTHER in-your-face instance of Carol’s femininity. Captain Marvel hamstrung itself on its’ own feminism.

The dynamic of each movie within its’ respective universe is also interesting to think about. The DCEU was okay at best until Wonder Woman (the 4th installment) finally helped them to find their stride. While no DCEU movie they create afterward will come close to being on the same level, their subsequent movies have become overall lighter and more fun in tone than their predecessors – and more like the MCU.

The DCEU tried too hard in their beginnings to become what the MCU was in their middle that they rushed into a huge crossover with no other basis than Man of Steel, and failed at it.

The MCU is a carefully-crafted, decades-long cinematic event. I may be a die-hard DC fan, but even I can admit that Marvel’s movies FAR outstrip DC’s in scope, continuity, and storytelling. Captain Marvel was the third to last installment in the Phase 3 of the MCU saga – between Ant Man and the Wasp and Avengers: Endgame (technically, but I personally consider it the second to last because I don’t count Spiderman: Far from Home as being part of Phase 3, but that’s a post for another day). My point being, this movie is smack dab between a hilarious, high-stakes heist, and the epic ending to one of the greatest cinematic sagas in all of film history, and introduces a character VITAL to that ending, just one movie before. And it unfortunately feels like a slog to get through. It feels like forced required reading just before that cinematic climax that only serves two purposes: to explain the Carol-Ex-Machina moment in Endgame (disappointing), and how Fury lost his eye (even more disappointing).

The MCU tried to recreate with Captain Marvel what the DCEU did with Wonder Woman – a first movie for a female hero in their camp – and failed at it.

– Kathleen

… Okay, now that I got my nice, objective views out of the way, I’m sorry I can’t hold it in anymore I need to say it the very biased way I said it to a friend: Captain Marvel??? More like Captain Knockoff: Superman Without Any of His Likeable Qualities Wearing a Chinese Bootleg Wonder Woman Costume

Y’all KNOW they PURPOSELY created CM’s costume to look TOO SIMILAR TO WW’S like JUST LOOK AT IT AND TRY TO TELL ME I’M WRONG

I think y’all knew which camp I was in to begin with, but I hope I explained the important differences between these two movies, and why those differences had a significant impact on each movie, sufficiently!

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

Grayson (Vol. 5): Spiral’s End

Helena Bertinelli, the new head of Spyral, has a bounty on her head. Rival agencies Checkmate and the Syndicate have had enough of her and want her dead. Her two best agents, 1 (Tiger), and 37 (Grayson), have gone rogue and she has no one to protect her. Once Dick hears Helena is in danger, he needs to make a choice. Does he give himself up to the agency that wants to kill him, to save the woman he loves? Or does he hope that she can hold her own? Dick Grayson must confront himself once and for all: who is he, truly? Dick Grayson, Robin, Nightwing, Agent 37, all of them, or none of the above?

This is unfortunately the last volume in Grayson‘s run. And what a thrilling conclusion it is! In addition to the last few volumes, Annual #3 is included in this trade paperback. It’s a collection of short stories about Agent 37 and his spy skills, told from the perspective of a few different characters who witnessed him in action.

Overall, this series is a refreshing take on the superhero genre. Though characters who are, or used to be, superheroes, are the stars of the show, the James Bond twist is enough to keep things fresh without being too forced, cheesy, or dark. The breakneck pacing ensures you will not be able to put it down until the very end. The art is your standard comic book art, not offering much that’s new, but I believe that was a well-made decision to keep readers focused on the story and tension. Recommended for some high-energy summer reading.

-Kathleen

Seeley, Tim, Tom King, Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly, and Roge Antonio. Grayson (Vol. 5): Spyral’s End. 2017.

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

Sugar (Vol. 1)

Twenty-three year-old Julia Capella is a student trying to put herself through college. It isn’t easy after using her tuition money to pay her sister’s medical bills after she was in a horrific accident. John Markham is a successful businessman, but freshly divorced. At his business partners, Richard’s insistence, he goes to a “sugar party” – one where older men and younger women mingle in hopes of becoming sugar partners. It’s an arrangement where the woman agrees to be the man’s partner (from platonic to romantic) in exchange for monetary allowances or other material goods. Richard swears by it – it saved his own marriage, after all! – but John isn’t so sure. That changes when he and Julia meet. He knows she’s in financial trouble, but Julia won’t take charity and her romantic sensibilities refuse to engage in a relationship where she feels like a hooker. They eventually agree that Julia will become his partner – his sugar baby – as long as Julia pays the money back. Their relationship started as an arrangement, but could it turn into something more?

This is the start of a companion series to Sunstone and Swing, both of which I’ve heard of but have yet to read! Both of these series are adult romance series, with sexually explicit material. Sugar is no different, but it appears to be more on the tamer side than Sunstone (which is about a lesbian couple who are into BDSM). The love scenes here are tender and not overly graphic.

What’s most interesting to me about this story are Julia and John themselves. They are both struggling, which makes them sympathetic. Though they have the same views as their audience at first about sugar babies and daddies, they communicate openly and honestly to come to a mutual agreement. That’s the strongest aspect of this graphic novel, I think: showing how important communication and boundaries are in any interpersonal relationship, whether or not it’s romantic.

The art is manga-esque in a few different ways. First, the features of the characters have long features and large eyes: Julia in particular, to suggest youth and innocence. Second, much of the details are in the characters and not in the backgrounds, to keep readers’ attention on the people and their relationships. Background effects such as hearts and bokeh bubbles are used occasionally, to highlight important parts or heightened emotions. While it’s not a manga, the art deliberately skews in that direction, to remind readers they are holding a romance story, such as they may find in popular romance manga.

As this is a sexually explicit graphic novel, I’d give it to older teens and adults, maybe younger high school students depending on the maturity of the reader. Teens could learn much from Julia and John’s example of communication about their relationship. Everyone else will fall head-over-heels for this romance – I know I have 😉

-Kathleen

Hawkins, Matt, Jenni Cheung, and Yishan Li. Sugar (Vol. 1). 2018.

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

 

Batman vs. Two-Face

A few weekends ago, our state moved into Phase 3 of their COVID-19 reopening plan. This enabled non-essential retailers to open with recommendations for mask-wearing, disinfecting, and social distancing for staff and customers.

What did this mean for Fiancé and I? A trip to our favorite used media store.

I didn’t buy anything. I was just happy to be there and browse: doing something somewhat normal. While Fiancé was looking for something specific, he couldn’t find it. He did find this movie and bought it for us. We already own the first season of the ’60s TV show, which we enjoy, and he wanted this film for his collection.

Batman and Robin, along with their friend District Attorney Harvey Dent, attend a secret demonstration of a new machine built by Dr. Hugo Strange. He calls it an “Evil Extractor,” and it’s designed to suck out evil in a person. At first, it works! The evil in the villains Strange selects to demonstrate the machine is extracted and deposited in a vat. Things go awry when the villains start to laugh, overloading the machine and causing the containment vat to explode. Harvey is splashed with the pure evil extract and transforms into Two-Face, despite Batman’s attempts to save him.

After six months of Two-Face’s villainy, Harvey Dent has had reconstructive surgery and is fully rehabilitated. Eccentric millionaire Bruce Wayne is ecstatic to have his friend back, but his ward Dick Grayson isn’t so sure. Batman and Robin have had to deal with multiple stings by different villains, all of which leave behind clues of duality, or the number two. Surely this points to Two-Face being behind everything? When the Dynamic Duo come face-to-face with the Cleft Criminal, they are forced to admit that Two-Face is back – with a vengeance!

As mentioned above, this animated feature is done in the style of the 1960’s Batman TV show. And boy, did they knock it out of the park! There are action stunts, sound effect speech bubbles, and visual gags and Easter eggs galore. Character designs stay true to their source material. One change I really liked was that the eyebrows on Batman’s cowl were animated: they didn’t change shape much, but moved up and down to indicate emotion or tone. This was a nice touch that’s been done in other animated iterations of Batman (BTAS comes to mind). It may have been difficult to determine emotion from voice alone, without any other body language cues we get from Adam West while watching the live action show.

Speaking of Adam West, this was the last project he worked on before his death in 2017. All his lines were already recorded before he passed. There is a lovely tribute to him at the end of the film. Burt Ward and Julie Newmar reprised their roles as Robin and Catwoman, respectively. William Shatner was brilliant as Two-Face. It was clear that everyone had fun lending their voices for the film, whether they were an original cast member or a newcomer.

I felt the story was a little too convenient and predictable. I also thought the visuals could have been better served by animating more in the style of the times, not the ultra-clean, modern imitation of traditional animation we get today. In spite of this, there were a whole lot of laughs to be had through written or visual jokes, over-the-top camp, excessive but impressive alliteration, and so on. This is where the real joy of the movie comes in: perfectly capturing the spirit of the beloved classic in a new, modern package.

-Kathleen

Morales, Rick. Batman vs. Two-Face. 2017.

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