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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

The American Dream?: A Journey on Route 66

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

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

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

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

– Kathleen

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

Rome West

On Thanksgiving, we celebrate the Pilgrim’s feast of 1621 for the year’s harvest and for their partnership with the Native Americans. Although this holiday smacks of colonialism, white supremacy and is historically inaccurate, let’s just imagine if America was “discovered” in 323 AD by the Romans and our timeline was radically changed.

Brian Wood, a favored author of mine (although he is currently mired in some sexual harassment controversy), along with co-author Justin Giampaoli, takes the trope of an alternate timeline and tries to breathe some new life into it. Told in eleven vignettes, the only thread is that all the characters are descended from the Valerius family originally from Rome.

323 AD Manahatta (NYC): Several Roman galley ships are pushed off course when a violent storm strands them in the Hudson River Valley area of modern-day New York. Legionnaire Lucan Valerius, who has a gift for learning languages, takes command when the Captain is washed overboard. When the Lenape tribe greets the bedraggled soldiers there is a small skirmish, but Lucan understands that diplomacy is the key to their survival, and this first contact leads to the first of future alliances with the Native Americans of the region. Each side believes their deal is the better of the two.

847 The City of Val Seneca (Rochester, NY): A 500-year jump is excessive, as we are led to believe that the descendants of a ragtag group of less than 100 Roman soldiers have remained a central force in government, and have retained the language and customs of their ancestors. As the only Roman men were soldiers, the only way they continued their bloodline was through intermarriage with the local tribes. So I find it incredibly unlikely that the Valerius family looks so white, and that Roman traditions are so prized.

990 The Outpost of Roma Dorsetus (Newfoundland): The Vikings discover an outpost in Vinland and the soldiers there put up an epic fight.

1492 Concordia (Caribbean Islands): Columbus lands and finds an advanced civilization speaking Latin already there. Shocked, he shares that the original Roman empire fell years ago, and makes reference to Jesus Christ, which seems to be news to the island leader. This seems off, as the original soldiers from Rome would have heard of Christ back in 323 AD, so this conversation seems disingenuous.

1503 Roma Auster (Norfolk, VA): In the eleven years since Columbus landed and his ships were seized, the Valerius family studied the European technology onboard, and are now weapon makers themselves. Alliances and wars with certain tribes are mentioned.

1545 Lepido (Panama): The Panama Canel is being constructed already? And Rome West is at war with the Aztecs? Alrighty then.

1869 Sioux Colonia (Davenport, Iowa): Now a Valerius heir is taking a leisurely transcontinental train around the nation and she thinks about the history of the nation, that has some parallels with our world. She meets a storyteller- obviously, Mark Twain is in any timeline!

1939 The Port of Barentsland (San Francisco, CA): A mass murderer is on the loose, seeming to target those with Roman bloodlines. The police struggle to solve these hate crimes.

1941 Washoe Colony (Lake Tahoe, CA): Love story with a bit of commentary on the Valerius family branch that the new bride belongs to. A sweet tale, but it didn’t fit with the other stories.

1979 Rome West, Capital City (NYC): James Bond is a Valerius!

1989 Roma Bareas (Portsmouth, NH): A college student faces extreme prejudice as public opinion has turned against the Valerius family and she is being judged for what her family has done centuries before. I actually wished this story was longer, for it had some biting commentary about cancel culture and paying for the sins of the past.

I am a fan of artist Andrea Mutti’s sketchy work, who has collaborated with Wood before. The grittiness of wilderness living and the gore of war are shown in a realistic manner, with earthen tone coloring that is evocative and helps convey the story even more effectively. All the pages are divided into quadrants with some smaller panels within, there is no elaborate splash pages or large panels, but these workmanlike configurations match the tone of the story.

Overall, this story disappoints. The two authors take what Wood has done well in the past- detailing the rise and fall of a family over the years (Northlanders- Icelandic Trilogy), vignettes with characters studies (Rebels), and mixes it with social commentary (Briggs Land) but it doesn’t quite gel in this story. There are too many leaps of logic with too much time between earlier stories, and then there are too many clustered at the end. This graphic novel should have had more entries, and perhaps then it would have fleshed out into a more cohesive narrative, and become what the authors were aiming for but missed.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! May your choices today make your family proud in the future.

-Nancy

Wood, Brian, Justin Giampaoli, Andrea Mutti. Rome West. 2018.

Black Canary: Ignite

Dinah Lance wants to do it all. She wants to win her school’s Battle of the Bands with her two best friends. She wants to attend the Gotham Junior Police Academy and become a police officer just like her dad, so she can help people. So what if she and her friends haven’t decided on a band name yet? So what if Detective Lance doesn’t want her to become a cop? Dinah knows what she wants and she knows what she has to do to get it. But someone is very, VERY determined Dinah won’t get the things she wants. That someone is from her mother’s elusive past. Together, Dinah and her mother must confront her past, and Dinah’s future, if they are to defeat the shadowy threat.

I’m older than the targeted middle-grade audience for this graphic novel, so I found the characterization and writing inconsistent. Detective Lance vehemently denies Dinah has powers at the beginning of the book, but once they are revealed, takes her and Laurel out for a nice dinner. I had to do a double take there because seriously… What??? There were also some plot threads that were not explained or explored fully, then dropped, such as with Dinah’s vocal teacher. Honestly, I expected better from veteran middle/YA grade writer Meg Cabot. In this regard I was severely disappointed.

Dinah’s story here is one of breaking boundaries and stereotypical feminine roles. Various characters tell Dinah she’s too loud, too brash, too this or that. Does Dinah pay the haters any attention? No! That’s awesome! But to me it felt like so much effort and energy was focused on this, and ONLY this, aspect of the graphic novel that the rest of the story and writing got left in the dust.

Cara McGee’s illustrations are delightful. They are energetic and easy to interpret for younger readers. The bright colors are fun and attractive to the target audience. There is more emphasis placed on the figures and characters, but the scenery and backgrounds are also well-rendered and not cluttered.

Overall, this is a fine introduction to Black Canary for younger readers, but to older fans, do yourselves a favor and skip it.

– Kathleen

Cabot, Meg, and Cara McGee. Black Canary: Ignite. 2019.

Finally Fall Book Tag

Fall is by far my favorite time of the year, so I was pleased to receive the Finally Fall Book Tag from one of my favorite bloggers Lashaan from Bookidote! He is part of an amazing blogging duo with Trang, so I always look forward to both of their posts, as they partner on their blog as Kathleen and I do! Please check out his original post and make sure you read more of their well-written blog.

Locke & Key is a fantastic supernatural series that creates a vivid backdrop for the Locke family. I can’t wait for the Netflix series next year!

The audio version of this amazing YA book will gut you! Check out my Goodreads review about this gritty thriller.

I am currently listening to A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson about his adventure of walking a significant part of the Appalachian Trail. My husband and I are avid hikers, yet toting a 50-pound pack vs a small backpack are two completely different things. I am enjoying finding out about the realities of the trail, and I can dare to dream that I’d be in good enough shape (and have the time) to complete this epic hike someday.

I have been reading about the ElfQuest tribe since I was in high school!

 

Look, its ElfQuest again! In this particular story, Tyleet is telling some other elves a story about the human child she adopted and how both tribes benefitted from it.

Snow, Glass, Apples is a delightfully dark fairytale by Neil Gaiman about Snow White told from the step-mother’s view. But it’s the art by ColleenDoran that elevates this tale.

I am a big fan of the podcast LeVar Burton Reads, for it includes dozens of short stories read by the esteemed storyteller.  Favorites include: Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience, Jackalope Wives, Different Kinds of Darkness and The Fliers of Gy.

I adore the early YA novel A Long Way From Chicago about the indomitable Grandma Dowdel.  The chapters are in essence short stories about two siblings visiting their Grandma each summer, and I can re-read it again and again.

I love to read cuddled up in a blanket on a comfortable chair in the same room as my family! ♥

 

Thanks again to Lashaan for this fun tag (plus the use of the graphics from his post), but as fall is truly almost over, I will not be tagging anyone, because the holidays are around the corner!

-Nancy

Extra fall awesomeness: The fall colors left Illinois a few weeks ago, but I was lucky enough to travel to Georgia with my college friends recently and hike through parts of the Chattahoochee National Forest, which is part of the southernmost part of the Appalachian Mountains. The colors were still vivid there, so here are a few pictures of autumn glory:

 

Two Dead

Tagline: “Stunning crime-noir graphic novel exploring the intertwining threads of crime, conspiracy, racism, and insanity in the post-World War II Deep South.”

When I saw this graphic novel was drawn by Nate Powell, the artist of the excellent March trilogy, I knew I wanted to give it a chance just based on that and eagerly requested it from NetGalley. His collaboration with author Van Jensen proved to be strong and I enjoyed this historical drama.

Gideon Kemp is a soldier who is fighting PTSD, who has recently returned from WWII and accepts a job as a police lieutenant detective in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1946. As Gideon is an idealistic rookie, Mayor Sprick warns him against the mob in the city and problematic Chief of Detectives Abraham Bailey. The officers are fighting a sadistic serial killer, and this white police force comes up against Chief Jacob Davis and his black police force when a victim is found in their jurisdiction. Ugly racial prejudices are shown, with postering and threats made, when the two groups should have been working together for the greater good.

Mob activity increases and Chief Davis tries to keep his brother Esau out of it, as racial tensions are about to explode. In the midst of this Chief Bailey is shown to be unstable, with lingering effects of guilt and schizophrenia affecting his everyday actions. All four men are caught up in the ugly cycle of violent segregation and are drawn together in an explosive finale. A fellow cop’s statement becomes symbolic, “Stay a cop long enough you go down one of three paths: you become a cynic, a reformer or a drunk” as justice is not always achieved.

Powell helps the book come alive, and makes the narrative flow through his powerful black and white illustrations. His work is historically accurate and he faithfully duplicates the era. Black backgrounds when there is violence was emblematic, but on the other hand, hard to follow. With a lot of speech bubbles to keep track of, I felt I was missing part of the story, for I was trying so hard to read the conversations that had small lettering. A second read of the story when it is published will be necessary to catch what I missed in the online version.

Far from a light read, author Jensen created a layered thriller, that was inspired by true events. I applaud him and Powell for showing how some deep-seated issues resulted in social ills for everyone in the community, and that they didn’t shy away from showing the tragedy that unfolded because of it.

-Nancy

Jenson, Van and Nate Powell. Two Dead. 2019.

Are You Listening?

Bea is alone, trying not to be scared walking down the side of the road, when she’s picked up by the least likely person imaginable. Lou is the local mechanic and remembers Bea from working on her family’s cars. The two young women, both in denial that they’re running away from something, decide to ride together through West Texas. Though they are practically strangers, they start to connect and form a friendship of sorts, especially after picking up a cat who’s gotten lost. On their way to Lou’s family, they decide to reunite Diamond with her family in the town of West – but no one can tell them where it is, and it’s not on any map Lou owns. The closer they get to West, the more curious and perilous their road becomes. Will these two perfect strangers stick together as things get rough, or go their separate ways?

Tillie Walden keeps getting better and better. Both her art and her writing have improved significantly over the years, and this volume is no exception. They are so closely intertwined it’s nigh impossible to talk about one without the other.

This volume looked and felt more manga-like to me. The characters are rendered stylistically and without much realism, but each was still recognizable. The landscapes too, are stylized – they could be anywhere at all out in the wilderness of the American West. We flip often between the cramped space of Lou’s car and the vast, empty landscapes, which at once forces the reader to be an uncomfortable passenger with Lou and Bea, and yet all alone at the same time.

Great swaths of color are used here: moody, cold blues and purples, dull oranges and pinks. The detail that impressed me most were the circles of light used to convey the passing of streetlights as the characters drive by. The colors suit the story, which is set in winter, perfectly, as well as the secrets the characters are hiding from each other and the isolation they feel even as they are stuck together in a tiny car.

This surreal, yet very real, story is ultimately a muse on human connection. A must-read for any fan of Walden’s work, and for those who like a dash of surrealism in their graphic novels.

– Kathleen

Walden, Tillie. Are You Listening? 2019.

Wolverine: The Lost Trail podcast

Wolverine is back in another strong podcast from Marvel! I was a huge fan of season one which proved to be more a murder mystery, while Logan was kept on the periphery of the narrative, but in this season he is front and center.

Among the Missing

After the Burns, Alaska, disaster, Logan returns to the New Orleans area looking for his ex-lover Maureen. He had made a few calls to her when up north, so when he can’t get in touch with her, he assumes the worst and searches for her. He tracks her down to a bar she sang at, and a teen employee there, tells Logan that her disappearance might be related to another case. All the people in Marcus’s mutant village disappeared after someone mysterious had convinced him to take him to the remote bayou where they were hiding. Agent Sally Pierce is back on the case, sounding different as she wants to blend in (but also a nod to what we discovered about her in season one).

The Forgotten

Marcus tracks Logan to Maureen’s apartment where he is looking for clues. Maureen was obviously onto something, as she has newspaper clippings and a map tracking a rash of disappearances of both mutants and humans in the area.  A playing card pinned to the fridge points Logan in the direction of my favorite rogue Gambit. But Gambit doesn’t truly have much information to share, and in my opinion, he didn’t sound suave enough with the delicious accent I have come to expect, in this podcast. (If you are interested in Gambit growing up and marrying Rogue, checkout Mr. And Mrs. X)

The Cold Blooded

Logan moves on to Bourbon Street where he meets up with a flamboyant former operative, to help him get the talkative Marcus to safety. A trashy biker gang is put on the case by Pierce and they are very anti-mutant, as people in Louisana are more aware of them than they were in Alaska. Things go haywire and Marcus and Logan barely escape and head into the swamp to look for the man they believe is responsible for all the missing people.

Into the Swamp

This was a bridge episode- not a lot happened but we were privy to some character development about Logan. We also get some clarification on Agent Pierce and her connection to Weapon X. The man they are after is revealed, and while it was who I thought it would be, I was abashed at how long it took me to think him up, as I am rusty on my Marvel villains. I should have guessed who Wyngarde was right off based on Marcus’s first description of him.

Riverboat Revival

Logan’s mind had been wiped clean several times by Weapon X, and while some memories occasionally bubble to the surface, Marcus realizes Logan needs help retrieving them so he can find Wyngarde and his mysterious compound Greenhaven. They meet with a fortune teller to help Logan access his memories, and her characterization is such a broad stereotype that it made me cringe to hear her talk. Marcus is scared off by Logan’s dark past and runs off just to meet up with Gambit again. The sound effects in this episode were confusing and made me lose track of what was supposed to be going on.

Blood on the Bayou

The biker gang is intent on killing Logan, although that goes against the wishes of Agent Pierce who only wishes for him to be captured alive. The hate the leader of the gang expresses towards mutants is very reminiscent of the classic X-Men story, God Loves, Man Kills.  Pierce is showing some uncharacteristic empathy these last few episodes, which is quite different from her brusque personality from last season. Gambit and Logan work together to save Marcus from the bikers, and off they go again in search of Greenhaven.

Welcome to Greenhaven

Marcus and Logan arrive in Greenhaven but they both have different experiences when reunited with their loved ones. Not surprisingly, all is not what it seems at the mutant haven, led by the cult-like leader Wyngarde. What is Wyngarde really planning?

The Proposition

Maureen and Logan are reunited, but Maureen’s demeanor seems off- how much has she been affected by Wyndgarde’s telepathic powers? Their memories are suspect, and you begin to wonder what really happened between them and Wyngarde when all three escaped together from Weapon X.  After Maureen leaves, Pierce arrives and makes a proposition to Logan that he reluctantly accepts. No one is to be trusted at this point, with conflicting motivations and intentions.

Greenhaven is Everywhere

Maureen and Pierce meet, as do Logan and Wyndgarde. Betrayals and alliances are forged, but as the Weapon X sentinels are arriving to wage war with the mutants, everything is up for grabs. Will Wyndegard be able to dominate the world with his mind tricks? Plus, the first reference about Gambit and Logan being X-Men in the past together is mentioned, which ups my confusion- why aren’t they X-Men any longer??

Deal with the Devil

All hell breaks loose at Greenhaven as the sentinels arrive. Marcus tries to escape with his mother, as Maureen and Pierce come up with a plan to stop the robots. That leaves Logan and Wyngarde to battle it out, and as not to spoil how it all ends, let’s just say there is double-cross after double-cross. I was relieved that Logan finally listened to Maureen, because a trope that annoys me is the “noble” person who sacrifices everything for their loved one, but never consults that loved one. I enjoyed the epilogue which both brings the story to a close, yet leaves enough plot threads open to continue.

These two podcasts about Logan/Wolverine have been excellent. In some ways, I enjoyed season one more, as the narrative was more atypical, and this season was the classic superhero story. I read that the Fantastic Four might get the next podcast treatment, and if so, I will check it out, as writer Benjamin Percy has shown himself to create superior stories that capture the audience’s attention and never let’s go!

-Nancy

Voice Cast:

Richard Armitage as Logan / Wolverine

Bill Irwin as Jason Wyngarde / Mastermind

Bill Heck as Remy LeBeau / Gambit

Rodney Henry as Marcus Baptiste

Christina Bennett Lind as Agent Sally Pierce

Blair Brown as Bonnie Roach

Mugga as Ruby Baptiste

Rachael Holmes as Maureen

Grayson (Vol. 3): Nemesis

With Mr. Minos dead under mysterious circumstances, Helena has assumed his role as director of Spyral. This leaves Dick Grayson stuck with Agent 1, Tiger, as his partner. One of Helena’s first assignments is finding out who is murdering rival spies. That someone appears to be setting Dick up. In an attempt to leave Spyral and return home, Dick meets with Batman – only to find that Bruce can no longer remember him, or remember he was even Batman. He turns to other members of the Batfamily, the only ones who are able to help him solve this latest mystery. However, not all of them are happy to see him again, especially as they thought he was dead…

First of all, I was cheering Helena’s rise to power. Break that glass ceiling! I’m sure Helena has her own secrets, and we will uncover Mr. Minos’ and the rest of Spyral’s, as the series goes on.

I have to admit this one lost me a bit, as I don’t recall Batman becoming an amnesiac at any point during the New 52 – then again, I haven’t read a whole lot of it. However, it did make for an interesting development in that Batman was NOT there to save the day for his protégé for once. The rest of the Batfamily has to get Dick out of this conundrum on their own, which I know they can!

The art has been consistent, and consistently excellent, as they’ve only had Mikel Janin as the artist so far. In my opinion, this is the best design move they could have made. The plot has so many twists and turns that the artist and art styles constantly changing as well would just be too much.

Looking forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Seeley, Tim, Tom King, Mikel Janin, and Jeromy Cox. Grayson (Vol. 3): Nemesis. 2016.

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