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Once There Were Wolves

Inti Flynn is a biologist that specializes in wolves and has been tasked with reintroducing fourteen wolves into the Scotland Highlands. Local sheep farmers are against this rewilding of their region, but Inti and her crew release them, hoping for the success that happened in Yellowstone when wolves balanced the ecosystem there. Lacking diplomatic skills, Inti is single-minded with her goal, refusing to consider others’ opinions. She begins a romance with a local sheriff, all the while hiding that her traumatized twin Aggie lives with her. We get some back story on the twins, beginning with their polar opposite parents and their different parenting methods as the girls grew up, and moving onward through their adult years.

Inti gets mixed up in a murder mystery that has several different suspects-one of which could be a possible lone wolf. I figured out the killer almost immediately and found the conclusion infuriating. I kept at it because I found the wolf reintroduction fascinating and thought the book well-written enough, even if I hated Inti. Overall, this book proved to be uneven and challenging for me to read, but I persevered through it for my library book club, but recently found out that due to a scheduling conflict, I wouldn’t be able to make it. Oh well.

Batman: Three Jokers

Three Jokers have emerged in Gotham- the Criminal, the Comedian and the Clown.

In this strong Batman story, author Geoff Johns has pulled together threads from A Death in the Family and The Killing Joke, that ties in Jason Todd aka Red Hood and Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl, the two from the Batman Family that have been most affected by The Joker.

When a crime spree occurs, with video evidence, showing The Joker in three different places simultaneously, Batman realizes there is more than one. Jason Todd, the second Robin who was thought dead by the hand of The Joker, has reappeared as Red Hood who is now an avenging hero. But his brand of justice goes against the code of most heroes, who do not kill. Bruce and Barbara risk outing their secret identities if they reveal Jason killed the Joker that had so brutalized him, and Bruce feels great guilt for not being there for his former partner. There are several nuanced conservations about where to draw the line on justice, for Barbara has an equally valid reason for hating the Joker that had put her in a wheelchair for awhile, but why can she control herself and Jason can’t? The entire storyline was very interesting for all three characters and really added some gravitas to how all three have evolved over the years.

And we need to touch on the possible romance between Jason and Barbara- I read it at two different times and had two different reactions. On my first scan through the graphic novel, I saw the note and thought it was so romantic, and I wanted the two of them to be together. But then I read the graphic novel thoroughly and realized a relationship between the two would be toxic and one-sided. Barbara can’t save Jason- he needs to do the work on himself. He is looking for connection so when Barabara offered him kindness he morphed it inappropriately into love. Once he has healed, perhaps they could try, if they both want to.

The art by Jason Fabok is fabulous. With white borders, the vivid coloring stood out, and every panel was drawn with precision. I think the faces were especially well-done, with an almost photo-realistic approach. My only criticism is the absolute skin-tight costume that Batgirl wears. While there were some typical 9-panel layouts, there was also a lot of variety on the pages with different panel placements. I love Fabok’s work, but this was the first I’ve seen of his art since he works mostly for DC which I don’t read a great deal of.

Although this book came out in late 2020, it is still going strong and I’m so glad I purchased it for my library and read it myself. This is a Batman story not to be missed!

Firekeeper’s Daughter

I loved this book! So, as I mentioned in an earlier post about expanding my content, here is one of my favorite recent YA reads.

Set in 2004 on the Ojibwe Reservation in the UP of Michigan, Daunis is a bi-racial young woman who just graduated from high school. During one pivotal summer, her life is forever altered when she witnesses a murder and gets pulled into a covert sting operation with Jamie, a young FBI agent who is posing as a senior on the local hockey team. They need to pose as a couple, and soon real feelings develop between them, as they with a senior FBI agent, try to figure out who is making and distributing meth in the community.

Daunis is very connected with her family and tribe and respects Ojibwe traditional medicine and lore. Daunis’ family relationships are messy and complicated, as she has a younger half-brother from when her Native father cheated on her white teenage mother. That scandal and her mother’s family’s prejudices are an intriguing layer to her character. We also are introduced to a lot of background knowledge that is built-in for readers to pick up on, which I appreciated. While I had guessed at who was involved in the drug trade, the action-packed ending brought it to an exciting close. While there was justice for some, there were several endings that didn’t wrap up neatly, but that added realism to the story.

This novel has built up a lot of traction in the last year and was chosen as the winner of the Printz Award, which honors excellence in YA books. I wish I had picked it up earlier, but the beautiful Native American-inspired art on the cover made me think it was a fantasy novel, vs the gritty thriller it actually is. The book is a love letter from the author to her Native culture, and I will absolutely pick up future books by Angeline Boulley, as she celebrates and honors her heritage while telling an excellent story.

Free Comic Book Day 2022

Finally, Free Comic Book Day is back at the beginning of May! I planned an event at my library to distribute free comics, and thus got a sneak peek at the titles. More than usual caught my interest which is great!

I’ve heard some buzz about this the upcoming graphic novel Clementine, which is set in The Walking Dead universe and is inexplicably based on a computer game. Written and illustrated by Tille Walden, an established YA author, it has potential for younger readers, but adults will notice some plot holes. Where is she going and why??? The issue also includes a story about a machine boy (skipped) and a fantasy piece about a pirate’s daughter that has lovely art.

Marvel Voices is a new series that are a collection of short stories around certain topics that have different authors and illustrators. This FCBD issue pulls together a few from already released collections, giving us an excellent sample so we will want to read the previous graphic novels. I think a YA audience will really connect with this series, as some of the topics addressed are Indigenous Voices, Pride, Words Do Matter, and Personal Heroes. The humor and art are a winning combination.

I always pick up the Spider-Man/Venom issue, despite my ongoing confusion between Venom and Carnage. In the Spider-Man story, Spidey has to battle a magical post office box that had turned into a monster. It somehow has to do with an evil Ben Reilly and Madelyne Pryor from the X-Men- so they are now pulling together characters from two franchises, which has potential. In the Venom story, a one-eyed Eddie Brock wants to keep his son safe, who is a symbiote himself. Don’t know the background for this family drama, but the last two-page spread with other monsters was cool.

I picked up this issue for the creepy front cover, plus I noticed that Jeff Lemire was the author. The art took some getting used to, but I warmed up to it. What intrigued me the most is that this is an introduction to a new horror universe that Lemire and artist Sorrentino have planned called The Bone Orchard Mythos. Stories will weave in and out of this universe in the next few years. This issue did the trick in capturing my interest and making me want to seek out future books by this duo.

Judgment Day sets up a battle between three groups- the Avengers, X-Men and Eternals. The Eternals are portrayed as smug assholes, who wish to eradicate deviants from the universe. So…the X-Men are mutants, thus deviants, and the Eternals have infiltrated their secret stronghold of Krakoa. Will the Avengers stand with them against the Eternals? I’m not excited about this storyline, for a few years ago I read Avengers vs X-Men, and came away disappointed.  The fighting among team members trope is over-done, so I don’t have high hopes, although the art looks good.

My last comic is Primos which introduces a welcome new Latino superhero to a YA audience that ends on a cliffhanger. The story is printed twice, once in English and once in Spanish, which will bring more readers into this new storyline that honors those with Mayan heritage. The art is appealing, and a letter from the author is included that gives some background.

Free Comic Book Day did exactly what it is supposed to do- introduced me to some new stories that make me want to read further into the series and buy the complete graphic novel!

Blog Changes

Many of you might have noticed in the previous post, is that Kathleen said farewell to our blog. She has decided to step away from the blog after an amazing run of 6.5 years, but after some reflection, I have decided to continue on solo.

Kathleen and I had a great partnership, and to make our workload equal, we agreed to each write a post a week. Mostly we wrote about graphic novels, but we also shared our thoughts on movies, tv shows, our favorite fandoms (Star Trek for me!) and a few books from other genres. But this constant posting schedule led to burnout on both our parts, despite our best intentions. So going forward, I will be changing the blog a bit to make some adjustments that work well for me.

First of all, I will be expanding the scope of our blog and will add in more book genres, as I read more than 100 books a year, and only a third of them are graphic novels. If you check out my Goodreads profile, you will see 1000+ reviews, some of which I plan to share here. While I still will be reviewing graphic novels also expect to see some YA books, as I am a teen librarian; plus some horror, thrillers, mysteries and non-fiction. Plus, I plan to post whenever I feel like it and wait for inspiration to hit, without being so locked into a posting schedule. Maybe I’ll post once a week, maybe twice, maybe I’ll have big gaps between posts…who knows!

So I begin my solo blogging with some trepidation, but excitement too. I will miss Kathleen, as I’m sure many of you will too- however despite me losing her as a blogging partner, she remains my friend IRL. There will be a few more tweaks in the weeks ahead, as I settle in and find out what works for me, but I’m glad to still have the opportunity to continue sharing my thoughts on amazing books and having an outlet for all my nerdy tendencies!

-Nancy (last time I will sign with my name, as all future posts will be by me- gulp!)

So Long, Farewell

Dear readers, I regret to inform you all that I am stepping away from GraphicNovelty². Nancy and I mutually agreed upon taking a sorely-needed hiatus for the month of April due to burnout. My time away forced me to reflect on whether keeping up with our blog was sustainable for me… and I came to the conclusion that it’s not.

I told Nancy that in some ways, it’s gut-wrenching to step away now. I’ve kept up with a post a week for 6.5 years, through so many ups and downs in my personal life. The latest win – buying and moving into a house with my husband – is really the catalyst for my decision to quit the blog. Buying a house built in the mid-’70s is a huge time sink, as it turns out! In addition, my life’s priorities have shifted majorly in the past few years. This blog is no longer one of them. I would rather channel my time and creative energy into other things. Right now, the priority for that time and creative energy is fixing up our house with my husband and making it our home. Further down the road… who knows? But I’m ready to step away and embark on the next big adventure.

Not to worry: the blog is not going away just because I am. Nancy will keep posting, and has wonderful ideas for expanding content and implementing a more casual posting schedule that will work for her. We’ll be working together in the next few weeks to set her up to go solo.

There was no one else I would have rather gone on this journey with than Nancy. We both took our reviews and posting schedules seriously, and never disagreed on anything. I’m not exaggerating – we really didn’t! We’re not just blogging partners, we’re friends. I’m truly grateful to have worked on this blog with her, and for her understanding in my decision. That’s why I’m sticking around for a little while longer, but behind the scenes. I’ll do everything in my power to ensure she succeeds =)

Please believe me when I say this was not an easy decision to make. It was, however, a necessary one. It’s time for me to step away. My deepest thanks go out to all of you for your readership, friendship, and dedication to growing what was supposed to be a one-off grad school project into a blog with over 800 followers. I have every faith that you all will continue to help Nancy be successful going forward.

Thank you all again. Signing off for the last time, with peace and love,

Kathleen ❤

You’re welcome for getting this song stuck in your head for the rest of the day

Year Zero

Year Zero is basically World War Z in graphic novel form!

Five stories run parallel to one another to represent a microcosm of a global zombie epidemic- Sara is a polar research scientist who is the one who inadvertently finds the first zombie frozen in time, Daniel is a young orphan from Mexico City, Saga is a paid assassin in Tokyo, Fetemah is an army informant in Kabul and BJ is a doomsday prepper in Minnesota. These five individuals, deal with the sudden fallout when they become the few who have survived the apocalypse. We are only given a few pages of each person’s story before it shifts elsewhere, so the story doesn’t advance much in this first volume beyond them all surviving the first onslaught. But the artist and colorist did an excellent job in capturing each personality and the region they are from. In addition, there was a different color scheme for each of the five, which helped differentiate them.

I first picked up this graphic novel because I am a sucker for zombie stories, and I had been a big fan of The Walking Dead. But I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed the author, Benjamin Percy, as I was first introduced to him through two Wolverine podcasts and later a horror short story collection, Suicide Woods, of his. With this entry, I will continue to seek out his work!

-Nancy

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Star Trek’s Beverly Crusher & Deanna Troi

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, I am concluding our Fiction’s Fearless Females series with two Star Trek friends, Doctor Beverly Crusher and Counselor Deanna Troi. This is the fourth year that Kathleen and I have participated in this series and joining us is Michael of My Comic Relief, Kalie of Just Dread-full, and Jeff of The Imperial Talker.  What is wonderful about this series, is there are no winners, as each woman featured is fabulous and ALL are deserving of praise!

Star Trek is my favorite fandom, as many of the posts on my blog revolve around the movies, television and web series that have been inspired by the original classic. While some of my previous posts were about the iconic Lieutenant Nyota Uhura and the indomitable Captain Janeway, here I picked a duo who were on the series The Next Generation, which is the series that forever cemented me as a Trekkie. Many of our FFF posts this year have centered around female friendships, so these two women aboard the Enterprise-D came immediately to mind.

The Next Generation was the first Star Trek to feature a brand new crew (there had been Star Trek: The Animated Series in the 70s and there had been the movies, but both utilized the original crew) so establishing a new set of characters is a fraught move, as you want everyone to work well together. And while I could wax poetic about my favorite Trek show’s crew, I want to feature the two characters that ended up standing out to me.

Hanging out when off duty

Authentic friendship representation in books, tv shows and movies is scarce. Perhaps you have heard of the Bechdel Test, which is a measure of the representation of women in fiction. It asks whether a work features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. So often the only time you see females interact is because it somehow revolves around a man, or the women are being snarky and undermining one another. I think there is more effort nowadays to represent female friendships, but when this show was on the air from 1987 to 1994 it was still rare.

Doctor Beverly Crusher was introduced as the ship’s doctor, a widowed mother whose teenage son Wesley later became an ensign on the ship. Counselor Deanna Troi was a half-alien empath who gave counsel to Captain Picard and offered much-needed counseling to the crew during their long space journies. The first season was a bit dicey, establishing the tone of the show and fleshing out the characters and how they related to one another. The character of the doctor was off the ship during the second season, but once back on during the third season and onward, Crusher and Troi’s friendship developed in a believable manner.

At this time IRL, I was in high school and college and developing my own female friendships, some of which were fleeting, while others I still have to this day. I have seen females support one another, and others backstab one another, but in this ideal, Crusher and Troi rocked their friendship. Sure there were times that they met to talk about men (the below picture of them meeting to exercise showcased a bawdy conversation between the two that was refreshing to hear) but talking freely and without judgment is a true indicator of the realness of a friendship.

Meeting to exercise and gossip

Another plus with these women is their development in their professional life on the Enterprise. The actresses were hired partly because of their beauty and their potential to be love interests (Crusher with Captain Picard and Troi with Commander Riker) but they were able to grow as officers on the ship. Both characters retained their original jobs, but got command experience and moved up in ranks during their tenure on the Enterprise. And they supported each other as they moved through the ranks.

I have been blessed with some wonderful friendships, many of them lasting for decades, and I realize that it takes time and effort to maintain them. But I truly think watching women who developed a genuine friendship and who supported one another, during a critical time in my life, helped shape my ideas of the worthiness of prioritizing friendships and extending kindness to others.

Crusher was at Troi’s side when she married Riker

Star Trek presents an idealistic and Utopian future, with Earth moving past its racial and cultural differences, and ready to explore space. The tagline was “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!”.  And boldly go it did- the series has given us many iconic friendships (both male and female)- and seeing people look for connections and community in the future is something we can all aspire to.

Live Long and Prosper, my friends.

-Nancy

My post is the last in this year’s series, so make sure you check out the previous entries:

Michael of My Comic Relief- Harley Quinn & Poison Ivy

Kalie of Just Dread-Full- Ellie and Sandie from Last Night in Soho

Kathleen- Black Canary/Birds of Prey

Jeff of The Imperial Talker- Shmi Skywalker

Please give them a follow to catch their posts as all have great content outside of #FFF!

TV series + four movies together!

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Shmi Skywalker

March is Women’s History Month, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the fourth year with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of: Fiction’s Fearless Females! During this month, we will have five bloggers sharing who they believe is a fictional woman or women to be admired, and we will share each entry of the series on our blog. Today’s post comes from Star Wars expert Jeff of The Imperial Talker who discusses adventures in a galaxy far, far away…

Guest post from Jeff of The Imperial Talker

Young Anakin Skywalker turns and runs back to his mother, telling her that “I just can’t do it mom.” Offered the chance to flee his life of slavery on Tatooine, to travel the galaxy and become a Jedi under the tutelage of Master Qui-Gon Jinn, the 9-year-old boy has a reasonable moment of doubt. He has only ever known this life with Shmi, his mother. As an audience we know very little of their life prior to meeting them in The Phantom Menace, only small bits that are often short on details. Anakin and Shmi used to be the property of Gardulla the Hutt and are now owned by the junk dealer Watto. Shmi has taught Anakin to care for others who are in need, and she says he has no greed. Anakin is the only human who can fly a podracer, having incredible reflexes that are uncommon for a human. We learn these and other facts, but they remain superficial, lacking any depth to better understand the trajectory of the life Shmi and Anakin have lived together. When Anakin says he does not want to leave, and his mother never-the-less insists “don’t look back,” we are otherwise lacking any meaningful understanding of what looking back truly means.

Except, there is one very important piece of information that we did learn that something that is stunning and adds incredible depth to both characters. At one point, Master Jinn enquires about the boy’s father, wondering who he was. To this, Shmi offers something startling. “There was no father,” she tells the Jedi Master, “I carried him [Anakin], I gave birth, I raised him, I can’t explain what happened.” In other words, Anakin is quite literally a miracle.

Qui-Gon Jinn takes this information and runs with it, taking a blood sample from Anakin that evening, a sample which confirms what he already suspected, that the boy has a unique and powerful relationship to the Force. Curiously, though, Qui-Gon takes no further interest in Shmi other than briefly wanting to free her from slavery along with Anakin, something he is unable to accomplish. Once Anakin is freed, with plans set in motion for the boy to join the Jedi, Qui-Gon will also ask Shmi if she will be alright, but this is a question that Shmi has little time to contemplate. Her son has been set free, he can now leave the arid sands of Tatooine for a better life, something she could not offer him.

It is unsurprising that Qui-Gon’s focus becomes freeing Anakin. Afterall, The Phantom Menace is a story about the discovery of Anakin, the “One who will bring balance to the Force,” and his first steps on the journey to becoming Darth Vader. The Star Wars saga which creator George Lucas crafted by adding the Prequel Trilogy is the story of Anakin Skywalker, of his fall to Darkness and his redemption, but this story is not possible without Anakin’s mother. She is the linchpin, the one character who was needed to establish his inevitable importance. All of the other characters, the events, the details, all of it could be different, could be changed for us to arrive at Anakin’s downfall. Shmi, however, is central to Anakin’s story. Even though she occupies a mere sliver in the great canon of Star Wars, she never-the-less plays one of the most critical roles.

Miraculous births are fundamental to establishing the importance of religious figures, and virgin births are incredibly common across a wide spectrum of religious traditions. Jesus is the most obvious and well-known example, born to the Virgin Mary, but he is not the only one. In one Aztec story, Quetzalcoatl was born to the virgin. A legend about the Muslim poet Kabir describes that he was born to a virgin Hindu. The list goes on and on (just google it). Thus, what Shmi describes to Qui-Gon Jinn follows this archetype, establishing Anakin’s special importance as a religious figure.

However, with Anakin as the focus of this miraculous information, Shmi becomes lost in the background. For a long time, I took Shmi for granted, never stopping to consider that her agency and voice in the matter is hidden behind the veil of Anakin’s importance. She could not explain what happened, we are but neither is she given the chance to explain whether she even wanted a child, not to mention any other reactions/emotions she felt when she learned a fetus was developing within her. As a man, I have no clue what it must feel like for a woman to discover that she is pregnant. I am incapable of understanding this experience, all I can do is listen and learn about what is undoubtedly a very personal and varied reaction from one woman to the next.

On this point, I am not suggesting George Lucas should have put words into Shmi’s mouth on this topic in The Phantom Menace. That could have just made things far more awkward. I do think, however, that Shmi Skywalker deserves to have her story told in a much more dynamic way that elevates her agency and voice regarding a pregnancy that was imposed on her, not chosen by her. We should not assume that just because Shmi could not “explain what happened” that this implies a passive acceptance of the pregnancy on her part. Instead, what she honestly tells Qui-Gon Jinn should be the jumping off point for a deeper dive into her lived experience, for this particular aspect of her story to be written by a woman or women in such a way that elevates her to the same level of importance as Anakin.

And that is the thing that I believe needs to be emphasized. Shmi Skywalker is just as important as Anakin precisely because she is, at the very least and in my opinion, an equal partner in the balancing of the Force. Like Anakin, Shmi Skywalker is also a miracle, she is the Divine Mother, and it is long past time that her story, her agency, and her voice are amplified.

****

Fiction’s Fearless Females is in its fourth year!  Yay!  The series runs for the month of March and along with myself feature pieces by Nancy and Kathleen from Graphic Novelty2, Kalie from Just Dread-full, Michael from My Comic Relief.  Be sure to follow each of these blogs and to check out all of the Fearless Females in the series. Just follow these links:

Harley Quinn & Poison Ivy

Ellie and Sandie

Black Canary/Birds of Prey

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