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X-Men: Origins

This graphic novel gives us the origins of six X-Men: Colossus, Jean Grey, Beast, Sabretooth, Wolverine and Gambit. Each story is told by different authors and illustrators, thus there was some inconsistency in how each story unfolds.

Colossus by Chris Yost and Trevor Hairsine

Pioter is a young Siberian teen who is devastated when his older brother Mikhail is killed in the line of duty and during his grief turns into Colossus for the first time. A friend of Mikhail witnesses it but keeps the secret, but the Russian secret police suspect something. A baby sister Illyana is born and Pioter finds it harder to hide his powers so this gentle giant leaves his home and joins the X-Men to keep her safe. This story was my favorite, for despite its short length told a cohesive story that gave you enough details on his origins. The art was well done, especially a splash page of Pioter saving Illyana’s life. 

Jean Grey by Sean McKeever and Mike Mayhew

The story introduces Jean Grey as a teen who is so overwhelmed by her psychic abilities that she has become a recluse so her parents reach out to Professor X to help her learn how to control her abilities. He gets her past her trauma of feeling a friend’s death and teachers her to harness her gifts. But as a teen, she is still unpredictable and leaves the academy alone where she needs to use her powers to help when a crisis occurs. While chastised at the end by the Professor, you see Jean is healing. The art in this story was the best of the six, with a photo-realism style similar to Alex Ross. 

Beast by Mike Carey and J.K. Woodward

We are introduced to Beast as a burly high school genius named Hank who is mocked for his appearance but then heralded as a hero when he helps the football team win State. A bit of an explanation of his origins is given when it is revealed that his Dad was exposed to a high amount of radiation before he was born, thus genetically passing it on to him. Then there is a villain who wants to use Hank as his pawn and Professor X gets involved. Without Hank’s consent, he wipes the memory of Hank from his parents and the community and enlists him to join the X-Men. I hated the Professor for doing that, how cruel to rip Hank away from his family without warning. The art was hideous in this story- the artist was aiming for a photo-realism style found in the Jean Grey story, but it was muddy and distorted. 

Sabretooth by Kieron Gillen and Dan Panosian

Long-lived Sabretooth is seen as a child in the rural late 1800s who kills his older brother over a piece of pie on his brother’s birthday. Horrified, his parents lock him away but he grows into a feral and cruel teen who eventually escapes and kills them. As an adult, he meets Logan who he befriends but then betrays and begins a tradition of finding him every year to fight on his birthday (or perhaps his brother’s birthday?). I was quite put-off when Logan’s lady love is a sexy Native American with the name of Silver Fox. It was a racist and inaccurate depiction of Native women of that era and took me out of the story.

Wolverine by Chris Yost and Mark Texeira

This story draws from the 2001 story Wolverine: Origin and how Logan’s power came to him as a child in Canada when he witnessed his parents being killed. The story then deals with later years and how Professor X tries to show him that he is more than a killing machine and that he needs to tap into his morality and become an X-Men. The art is solid with good depictions of Logan throughout the years along with his iconic yellow costume. 

Gambit by Mike Carey, David Yardin and Ibraim Roberson 

I love me some Gambit, so I was willing to overlook that the story didn’t truly show his origins. Instead, it begins with his marriage to Bella Donna. The whole idea of them marrying didn’t make sense, as they were from feuding clans – the Thieves Guild vs the Assassin’s Guild. It was supposed to have a Romeo and Juliet vibe but I think the marriage would have been stopped before the ceremony, not immediately afterward. But…the rest of the story shows while Remy briefly works for bad people, his goodness wins out at the end. The art was decent, but sometimes facial features were oddly puffy looking.

This wasn’t the strongest collection of stories, as the shift in writing and art styles kept it from being consistent. I felt the Colossus and Jean Grey stories were the strongest, both in writing and art. The X-Men were one of my first comic loves, and even though I haven’t been reading a lot about them in recent years, I noticed inconsistencies in the stories. It was an interesting early look at some X-Men heroes and villains but not what I would consider canon. 

-Nancy

Paying the Land – Take²

I realized shortly after wrapping up this review that Nancy had already reviewed this graphic novel in April. Read her post here!

Joe Sacco travels to the Mackenzie River Valley in northwestern Canada. This is where the indigenous peoples called the Dené have lived for generations. This is also where mining and fracking have taken place, as the area is rich in natural resources. The Dené, and other peoples indigenous to the area, have challenged treaties in order to officially have the land recognized as theirs, even as the mining and fracking are taking place and creating jobs that are otherwise hard to come by.

Through mainly interviews, and a little bit of historical research, Sacco presents a work that successfully presents both sides of a sticky issue. The presentation is interesting in that it’s heavy in both journalistic and oral history elements. Much of the testimony is from in-person interviews and storytelling, which is an important part of the Dené culture. What Sacco does is weave these interviews and stories with history and his own observations. It does make for dense reading, even if it’s in graphic novel form.

The art style is no-nonsense. Care is taken to render both the scenery and characters in a realistic manner. Clean cross-hatching is used for the shading. Though it’s nice to look at and study on a technical level, it somehow feels sterile and dry. I suppose that has to do with the subject matter, but a little more personality in the art would have been welcome in order to make the interviewees come to life.

Though the storytelling and art are a technical marvel, I personally felt there was heart and soul missing from this very real story about very real people. I agree with Nancy that this would be an excellent resource to use in the classroom.

– Kathleen

Sacco, Joe. Paying the Land. 2020.

Plunge

Joe Hill saved the best for last in his five-volume Hill House Comics label!

The story takes inspiration from The Thing and Alien movies, and also a touch of the spiral-obsessed Uzumaki manga series. Set in modern-day, a distress signal from a drilling ship lost 40 years ago in the Arctic Circle is heard, so a salvage ship hired by an oil corporation heads out to find it. Onboard are Captain Carpenter, two of his brothers, a marine biologist couple, various crew members and a representative from Rococo International. They are quickly in over their heads when they stopover at an Aleutian Island near the Russian border, and discover the crew members from the Derleth (this is an Easter Egg reference, look up who August Derleth is), who are gaunt and eyeless but haven’t aged. 

In a somewhat convoluted storyline, the crew finds out that extraterrestrial worms have taken over the old crew, and they are purely vessels for the alien creatures. The greedy Rococo rep has had a secret agenda (of course) and wants to profit from the aliens with their math knowledge and an other-worldly component that could give them unlimited nuclear power. There are betrayals, deaths and action-packed scenes that will keep readers riveted. I also appreciated the poignancy of the brotherly love the Carpenter men showed one another.  

The art by Stuart Immonen was excellent, and his work elevated the story, so I am glad Hill convinced him to come out of retirement for this graphic novel. Often art in horror-themed graphic novels tends towards the sketchy and the dark, but Immonen’s work is precise and detailed, which brings the terror to the forefront more effectively. He really captured the personalities of different characters and made my heart go pitter-patter for the bearded captain, and that the alien creatures are Lovecraftian is an added bonus. The color palette by Dave Stewart was appropriately ocean-inspired with grey, blue and dull greens and the letterer Deron Bennett had fun with the opening chapter pages as he converted words into a new mathematical language. 

This new Hill House label has been uneven, yet very promising. The two titles penned by Hill, including Basketful of Heads were the best of the bunch, yet I appreciated that the horror-inspired graphic novels included a variety of authors to reach different audiences. Here’s to hoping there will be future Hill House stories!

-Nancy

Wonder Woman (Vol. 1): The Just War

Note that this is still technically Rebirth, but they gave it a Volume 1, probably because the original Rebirth storyline was wrapped up in the last volume.

Steve Trevor goes MIA on a covert mission to the war-torn country of Durovnia. In rushing there to find him, Wonder Woman instead finds Ares! He has escaped from his imprisonment on Themyscira to… fight for truth and justice, as Wonder Woman does? But what does his escape mean for Diana’s homeland? Steve, meanwhile, is among a group of mythical beasts led by a boy to none other than Aphrodite. She explains that she has no memory of how she came to be on Earth and that she cannot find her way back to Olympus. Steve begs her to help him and Wonder Woman stop the war – but how do you stop a war with love?

There are no right or wrong answers in this graphic novel. There are only intentions, actions, and consequences. Some turn out good, others not so good. We see our heroes trying to wield love and forgiveness against hate and fear. Not only during the war-like conflict, but against prejudices and fear of refugees.

The art was very stylish. The figures are fluid and the action dynamic. Though there are some big fight scenes, it never feels cluttered. The facial expressions looked kind of weird at times: as if they were too stretched out or too squished, and it was distracting.

Overall I was pleased with G. Willow Wilson’s Wonder Woman debut, and I am eager to see what else she does with the character.

– Kathleen

Wilson, G. Willow, Cary Nord, Xermanico, and Jesus Merino. Wonder Woman (Vol. 1): The Just War. 2019.

Maids

Based on the gruesome 1933 double-murder in Le Mans, France, this story details how two sisters killed their employers and their crime might have had roots in the class struggle of that time period. 

Christine and Léa Papin were two very close sisters who came from a poor family and had been sent to be live-in maids to help support their mother. Christine had been working for the Lancelin family first and asked for her sister Léa to be hired to help with the heavy workload and long days. The mother and younger daughter condescend to the sisters and eventually work up to abuse. Christine and Léa bond together, and there are some uncomfortable hints of a sexual relationship between the two, but eventually, they reach a point where they won’t put up with the two women any longer. 

Author and illustrator Katie Skelly has a distinctive cartoony art style, that is replicated in her other graphic novels- simple lines that give the impression of the scene without drawing extraneous detail. Backgrounds are minimal, often with blocks of monochromatic color. The panels are streamlined, often only three to five per page with white gutters. I would like to comment on the noses- I am seeing more and more artists who simply draw a few lines to symbolize noses (Noelle Stevenson, Fran Krause) that are minimalist and somewhat off-putting. 

This was a fast and interesting read, and people might not realize until the end that it is based on a real crime. The pacing of the first two-thirds of the story was excellent, with flashbacks to the sister’s past, but their final breaking point came suddenly. The ending was abrupt and almost too light-hearted to be non-fiction, so readers might come away thinking it is simply a fantasy horror story. To learn more about the real-life Papin sisters, start with this Wikipedia article. But all in all, a solid graphic novel that might push readers to think about the exploitation of workers and how stress and bias can break people.

-Nancy

Beyond the Clouds: Vol. 1

Theo is a young mechanic and handyman in Yellow Town it’s so called because the exhaust and steam from the city creates yellow clouds that block out the stars. He stumbles upon a girl named Mia who has fallen from the sky and torn one of her wings off. She can’t remember who she is, and feels alone and scared, so Theo reads to her every night and starts to build her a new wing. Unfortunately they are being followed by bad men who want to sell Mia as a commodity to the highest bidder. She unleashes a terrible power and manages to fight them off, but she falls into a deep sleep with a high fever. Theo, though injured himself, ventures into the Sage Forest for medicine that can help her. Will he succeed?

The art is really what caught my eye here. It’s very loose and sketchy, unlike the other manga I’ve read. The shading is done with loose hatching, and for the most part there isn’t much of it. It looks as if there is a gentle, diffused light throughout the whole book; in part due to the clouds covering the city, in part due to the sweet nature of the story.

This one felt a little too cutesy to me. The figures are very cherubic, with short statures, round faces, and big eyes. The dialogue was overly sweet for my tastes and the obvious romance felt a little cringy to me as an adult. The target audience, middle readers and teens, would likely be more receptive to it.

That said… it’s kind of a sucker punch. The story goes from 0-100 pretty quickly with the fantasy elements. There is potential here for a story with more depth. I may try another volume to see how it goes.

– Kathleen

Nicke. Beyond the Clouds: Vol. 1. 2018.

Daphne Byrne

This Gothic story is an interesting mix of Rosemary’s Baby meets The Omen!

Set in New York City in 1886, fourteen-year-old Daphne has just lost her father, and her mother is being bamboozled by a spiritualist who has a sinister plan in store for her. A ghostly young man appears to Daphne- and we are never sure of his intents or origins, but his shadowy specter convinces her to explore her inner darkness. Are some of her underworld experiences real or the delusions of a grieving daughter? But she takes her new-found power to help her mother when she is kidnapped by a nefarious cult-like group who wishes her to bear them a child of the Devil. 

The art is a mixed bag. Drawn in a pulp-fiction style, the art veers between cartoony and realistic. There can be detailed panels with cool imagery (look for creepy surprises drawn into some of the backgrounds), but then the faces can be distorted and shown incorrectly. Despite Daphne and some classmates being teens, some shadowing and lines were added to make them look old and haggard. Closeups were nobody’s friend in this book. A late scene of nudity made me chuckle, as I enjoyed seeing how they would draw the bodies to have something always blocking their private parts. The chapter breaks included cover art drawn in a different style that was striking- with the one of Daphne sitting at a graveside being my absolute favorite. 

This story appealed to me more than I thought it would- in one way it was campy, yet I liked the way Daphne gave into her inner demons to utilize them to her benefit. Thank you to NetGalley for giving me an advance online copy of this fourth entry in the Hill House label!

-Nancy

Wedding Planning During a Global Pandemic: Part 2

Well, long story short, Fiancé and I are getting married on our original date later this week. This day was hard won, with more grief and tears than I’m sure was normal for wedding planning.

It will be nothing like we originally envisioned. We will have only a tenth of our original guest list. My dogs will be included, but our grandparents will not. We will be wearing masks. We will have a tent in my mom’s backyard with homemade food. We will have an overabundance of hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, disinfectant spray.

And yet… is our wedding not being what we originally envisioned such a bad thing? Is a wedding, at its core, not a celebration of two people committing to only each other, ’til death does them part? No matter how small or how large?

Though current global circumstances have forced us to make choices we never thought we’d have to, we are trying our hardest to still have something special with our MVPs, while remaining safe at the same time. What we wanted isn’t what we’re getting, but we think it’s a good thing.

At the end of the day, I’ll be married to my best friend. And after everything that’s happened this year, it will be enough.

See you on the flip side, friends – as a married woman ❤

And remember… GO VOTE!!!

Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror

Happy Halloween! For the last few years I have posted a horror-themed graphic novel on Halloween Day, so this year I choose the classic three-volume manga series Uzumaki.

“Kurouzu-cho, a small fogbound town on the coast of Japan, is cursed. According to Shuichi Saito, the withdrawn boyfriend of teenager Kirie Goshima, their town is haunted not by a person or being but by a pattern: uzumaki, the spiral — the hypnotic secret shape of the world” is the premise of this eerie series that has definitely earned the acclaim it has been given. 

Kirie and Shuichi begin to notice their family members and townspeople’s strange fascination with spirals. It begins innocently enough, as many spirals are found in nature, with the teen’s fathers being the first to become entranced with the spiral’s power and beauty. Soon obsessed, people begin to experience terrifying body contortions and you will begin to need to have a strong suspension of disbelief as grotesque and unnatural occurrences happen that would have most people leaving the town for good. Kirie and Shuichi remain strong in the midst of turmoil, as they try to leave with their remaining family members when the town is destroyed by hurricanes, and then by the madness of the inhabitants who can’t escape. 

Each volume is divided into chapters, with eighteen chapters in all, and the final chapter The Labyrinth brings the story of Kirie and Shuichi to a close. While chronological, in volumes two and three the chapters begin to resemble short stories, so you can read a chapter at a time that is self-contained. The stories can spiral out of control, but that is part of the appeal in what makes this trilogy stand out.

The artwork is a masterpiece of time and effort by author and illustrator Junji Ito, with intricate black and white panels that show the town’s descent into insanity. The creatures are macabre and Lovecraftian in nature, so even if the narrative dips into absurdness at times, the art keeps you riveted. The spirals and the body horror found throughout the chapters will stay with you, even after you put the books down. Who knew that a simple spiral could become so treacherous and all-consuming? 

This series is not to be missed, as you too, should join other readers and dive into this whirlpool of terror!

-Nancy

Collage of Uzumaki images from Mother.Dot

 

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