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Fables (The Deluxe Edition): Book 15 and Series Recap

Okay, I’ve put it off long enough. I procrastinated and procrastinated, never wanting this series to end. So finally I made myself sit down and finish it.

Rose Red and Snow White have never been the best of sisters. But Rose Red made an unforgivable choice, and Snow is going in full defense mode to protect her family. Soon the big players of Fabletown, for better or worse, are picking sides. Most of the normal citizens want nothing to do with the conflict that is quickly escalating into a civil war. What’s more, a big bad ghost from all their pasts is back to haunt – and kill – every one of them. In the end, who will be left standing? Will Fabletown even be left?

… I am left speechless after the ending to this phenomenal and epic story. Once again, Bill Willingham pulled a sucker punch on us. Of course, I can’t say too much without spoiling it, but rest assured that the ending is fitting for the series.

So instead, I will talk about the series as a whole. Fables is a prime, if not the best, example of a graphic novel series that is not a superhero story. Because it’s not, it’s not constrained by a lot of the writing tropes and pitfalls that plague superhero comics. I found that this is especially true as far as characterization went. Though superhero stories have come a long way in creating more morally ambiguous characters, the writing still clearly separates “good” and “evil” characters. Throughout the Fables series, many more characters are on the morally grey spectrum, and some swing more towards the “good” and “evil” side as the series goes on. Not only is it just more skillful writing, it makes for much more interesting character development, especially over a long series such as this one.

The art – guys, the art is some of the best I have ever seen. It’s a small pet peeve of mine in superhero comics when they switch artists too fast, to the point where you get 4 different artists, and by extension, art styles, in one trade paperback. For the most part, the penciling is done by Mark Buckingham for the main series. The Deluxe Editions have spin-off issues and one-shots that are done by guest writers and artists, who are all very talented, but Mark Buckingham’s artwork is really what made the series come to life for me. His ability to create intricate detail to distinguish many, many characters from one another is no small feat. One of my very favorite things about the art in this book are the borders that line the edges of each page. I’d never seen it’s like in a graphic novel before, and it really gave the books a “fairytale storybook” feel. Many times over the course of this series, I caught myself studying the art more than reading!

Much love, time, and creative energy went into this series, and it shows. This fascinating mix of fairy tales, noir, high fantasy, and adventure, with excellent characterization and suspenseful writing, has already and will appeal to a wide range of readers. Because there is some gore, strong language, and adult content (never gratuitous), I would save it for older teenagers and adults. If you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for??? As for me, I’ll be starting it over =P

– Kathleen

Willingham, Bill, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, and Dan Green. Fables (The Deluxe Edition): Book 15. 2017.

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Manifest Destiny: Volumes 5 & 6

The reimanging of the Lewis and Clark expedition continues as history, colonization and government conspiracies are shaken up together into a unique tale about the Corps of Discovery.

Volume 5: Mnemphobia & Chronophobia

In November of 1804 , Fort Mandan is built in North Dakota so the corps could winter safely before continuing on their journey in the spring. As soon as the fort is finished, a dense fog rolls in and everyone begins to experience paranoia and delusions.  All the creatures that the corps have encountered seem to come at them, and the past sins of the soldiers come back to haunt them. Thus the title of the book comes into focus, as the fear of memories and anxiety over the passage of time are shown.  It is during this chaos that Sacagawea goes into labor while battling her own private demons. Little Jean Baptsite’s birth is tempered by the knowledge of the subterfuge Lewis and Clark are planning regarding the infant, and Sacagawea’s strange acquiescence about it.

The art remains strong with layouts that are fresh and unique. The era is beautifully rendered with the clothing, guns, buildings and landscapes accurately drawn. Plus the creatures are freakishly awesome!

Volume 6: Fortis & Invisibilia

Mutiny! A few weeks after the dangerous fog, nerves are frayed and Lewis is obsessively monitoring the arch discovered nearby. Sargeant Pryor preaches to the soldiers and develops a following, creating a rift between those who align with him, and those that stay true to Lewis and Clark. Eventually Pryor plans a coup and the leaders are ejected from the fort along with others. The ghostly conquistador from Volume Four is moving between soldiers hoping to find the strongest leader to fulfill his diabolical plan for conquest. This volume was a bit of a convoluted mess, and I was having trouble keeping straight who was who among the soldiers.

This story dragged for me, as two volumes have been set in the fort, and the dead of winter hasn’t even begun. They need to pick up the pace of the storytelling for there is still much to tell of the journey, and they are nowhere near the Pacific Northwest yet. I checked when the next issue is out, and I don’t see a date yet, so I am worried that this series will ignobly end before the journey can be properly told. Despite my rough start with this series and these shaky middle volumes, I hope the entire scope of this re-imagined  journey can be properly told.

-Nancy

Read the proceeding volumes: Volume One, Volumes Two-Four

Blackest Night: Green Lantern

While I’ve read some of the Blackest Night stories (like the WW one), I’ve never actually read the main arc!

While the War of Light – the conflict between the ring bearers of the emotional spectrum – rages on, a threat to the entire universe arises. Black Hand has risen from the dead by the light of the Black Lantern ring. Across the universe, the dead are rising again. Those who have died and come back – Superman, Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman – are being sought out by the black rings of death and becoming Black Lanterns. Hal Jordan, the best of the Green Lanterns, must find a way to stop the war and unite his fellow Lanterns against the Black Lanterns. Not only are the Lanterns in danger of being snuffed out – the whole universe is, too.

Holy crap! IT’S SO GOOD!!! I shouldn’t be surprised, because Geoff Johns penned it, but still!!! The action! The pace! The high stakes! It’s everything you want a superhero story to be, and then some. The writing assumes you’ve read past stories, and I feel like the story skipped between issues. From what I understand, the whole arc was told throughout multiple heroes’ books at the same time. The issues within are all sequential, so the skipping feeling makes sense. However, this collection has cover pages with recaps and more context between each issue, which is really helpful.

The art is some of the best I’ve ever seen. The coloring, of course, is stellar. So many Lantern colors and constructs playing off each other – eye candy! I think the layouts of all the panels are cinematic, with many wide shots of epic Lantern battles and close-ups of characters, highlighting tension. The figures are solidly drawn, in many dynamic and creative posts. I’m happy to report little to no gratuitous shots of Star Sapphire, Indigo-1, or any other heroines.

The only part I don’t like? That I didn’t read this sooner!!! I will be finding and devouring the rest of this arc.

– Kathleen

Johns, Geoff, and Doug Mahnke. Blackest Night: Green Lantern. 2010.

Punk Rock and Trailer Parks

After my positive review’s of Derf Backderf’s books My Friend Dahmer and Trashed,  blogger Richard of From the Long Box, suggested I read Derf’s first book Punk Rock and Trailer Parks. Derf takes us back once again to Ohio during the late 1970’s.

Although fictionalized I believe the main character Otto, also known as The Baron, is a version of the author himself. Otto is a band geek in his senior year of high school, who lives in a trailer park with his alcoholic great uncle. A fan of the emerging punk rock scene, he often heads into nearby Akron to see concerts at The Bank. Told over the course of a school year, we follow Otto as he briefly fronts a punk band himself and interacts with real life singers and bands such as the Ramones, the Plasmatics and Klaus Nomi.

This book was filled to the brim with different plot threads, and at times it veered between the mundane and pathos. In addition to his trips to The Bank, Otto moons over an unrequited love interest, participates in hijinks with his friends against other schoolmates and a pervy teacher, and endures the death of a close friend.  For a self described nerd, he sure got some action, from two very unlikely women. There was a bit too much crammed into this graphic novel, and in future books he tightens his narrative.

Derf’s artwork is very reminiscent of Robert Crumb and of Don Martin from Mad magazine, with people drawn in an unusual caricature-type manner. It is all drawn in black and white, and while not an attractive art style, it does get that underground comix vibe right. Despite Derf illustrating the comic The City for years, you can tell his style has evolved throughout his three books, as this book has the grittiest look. I’m assuming he slightly adjusted the next two books to make them more appealing to a larger audience.

Although this was my least favorite of Derf’s three books, I still enjoyed the ride. He not only has a distinct voice and art style, he captures the nostalgia and allure of the punk rock scene in an authentic manner. If music helped define your teen years, give this book a read!

-Nancy

Derf has since written an online sequel- you can follow Otto’s further adventures at The Baron of Prospect Ave. The Baron lives on!

Def. Punk Rock and Trailer Parks. 2008

The Joe Shuster Story: The Artist Behind Superman

Everyone knows Superman. Big guy, born on the planet Krypton but raised in Smallville, Kansas. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Fights for the ideals of truth, justice, and the American way. What you might not know is the fascinating story of how the idea of Superman was born.

Joe Shuster is a quiet kid growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. He likes to read comic books: the pulps, adventure stories, and detective mysteries, but the science fiction stories are his favorite. He dreams of becoming an illustrator some day, because of his talent for drawing. Through a cousin, he is introduced to Jerry Siegel, a writer with the same passion for comics. Together, they prove an indomitable team of not only creators, but friends.

When they came up with the character they called “Superman,” it was already after a series of successful and unsuccessful publications together, but they knew they were onto something big. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it as big as they thought. Through a string of corporate manipulations, Jerry and Joe were coerced into selling the rights to Superman. These two boys had basically built the superhero comic industry, and they were getting nothing for it. Joe was just content to get a paycheck and provide for his family, but Jerry was ready to fight for more. What’s more important? Staying silent and getting by, or raising hell and demanding change?

Though the book does center more on Joe, Jerry’s story is so entwined with his that it’s almost a dual biography. And though I knew their names, I had no idea how much Jerry and Joe had gone through to get Superman, the first and now arguably the world’s most popular superhero, published. At the time, between the World Wars and during WWII, there were biases and discrimination against Jewish people, which is partially why it was so hard for them to sell their work. Ultimately it was why it was so easy for publishers to manipulate them. Their story is heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful… like someone else we know, huh? 😉

The art is wonderful. It’s soft, more painterly than graphic, with very little of the hard lines and shading that we’re used to from superhero comics. The warm palette it’s rendered in evokes the nostalgia associated with the time period and the wonder of two teenagers deep in the creative process.

The best thing about the book is, it’s meticulously researched. There is a bibliography at the end for further reading, and a comprehensive notes section. I found the story so fascinating that I read through the notes! I am planning to check out a few of the materials listed in the biography, so I can learn more about Jerry and Joe’s story. This is essential reading for all Superman fans, but anyone interested in the history of the comic publishing industry will love it too.

– Kathleen

Voloj, Julian, and Thomas Gampi. The Joe Shuster Story: The Artist Behind Superman. 2018.

Northlanders: Books Six & Seven

Brian Wood’s Northlanders saga has drawn to a close. Seven books have given us intimate portraits of Viking individuals and families through out the years, in three geographic areas- Iceland, Europe and the Anglo-Saxon regions. I am sad that this series has come to an end, and will miss these emo, petulant and violent warriors!

Thor’s Daughter and Other Stories: Book Six 

The Siege of Paris– The longest of the three stories is set Paris in AD 885 and is based on an actual historical battle that was documented by Monk Abbo Cernuus, a character in this story. Told from the perspective of Danish soldier of fortune Mads, he and the other Viking soldiers prepare for a long siege.  Despite only a small army defending Paris, they manage to put off the Viking fleet. Mads is able to cut off their supplies and a battle ensues, but a political settlement is reached and the soldiers end up fighting in vain. Illustrated by Simon Gane, the rough and cartoonish looking drawings were not to my liking.

The Hunt– A hunter, whose wife and children have left him to live in the city due to unusually cold winters in the wilderness, tracks a deer through wintry Sweden in AD 1000. Defiantly bitter about it, he obsessively hunts the deer wanting to prove to himself that he is still a provider. The artwork by Matthew Woodson is decent with some nice landscapes.

Thor’s Daughter– Set on an island in the Outer Hebrides, islands off the coast of Scotland, in AD 990 we meet Birna Thorsdottir, the daughter of the man who owns the island. A tough teen, she is still caught unaware when her father is ambushed and killed by some of his guards. Kicked out of her home she seeks other guards that still remain loyal to her family. She ultimately gets revenge, but there is a huge gap in the story to explain how she persevered and claimed her birthright. The artwork by Marion Churchland was lacking and the short story was not strong enough to deserve the title of Book Six.

The Icelandic Trilogy: Book Seven

This last book details a family’s rise and fall through several generations in Iceland beginning in AD 871 and ending in AD 1260. Three artists are utilized- Paul Azaceta, Declan Shalvey and Danijel Zezelj- as we move through the different eras.

We begin with Norwegian immigrant Val Hauker, whom with his wife and son Ulf, settle on the empty shores of Iceland. Within a year other immigrants begin to move there too, but Val wishes to establish dominance as he was there first. After a violent run-in with the Belgarsson clan, Val wishes to teach Ulf a lesson on how to be strong against future attacks, but he goes too far and turns Ulf into a sociopath. Time passes and Ulf grows up and he consolidates power so his family can reap the riches of the region. He frees an Irish slave and takes her as his wife, and their bloodthirsty ways grow. However, I do not understand how Ulf becomes so powerful- why would other settlers align with his small family in the beginning? While this establishes the beginning of the Hauksson dynasty, I did not buy it.

Skipping ahead to AD 999 we meet the fifth generation of the Hauksson’s, brother and sister Brida and Mar. There is a Game of Thrones vibe here,  including a sexually charged relationship between the siblings. When Mar leaves to loot among the southern coast, the Belgarsson clan aligns with the growing group of Christians in the area, putting the Haukssons at risk. Brida needs backup so she finds the illegitimate son of her father,  hoping her half brother Ott can help strengthen her position. When a converted Mar returns, the twins fight over how Christianity is changing traditional Icelandic ways, but Mar argues that they must join with them if they want to stay dominant. At the height of their family’s power, this is a turning point for them, and the siblings need to adjust accordingly.

The final jump is to tenth generation heir Godar and his impetuous son Oskar in AD 1260. Godar is a steady man who is documenting his family’s linage and has the riches of his family in stable holdings, now that the family no longer has to go to war to retain their power. However, Oskar wishes for glory and makes a power play so he and his allies can fight soldiers from Norway who are encroaching on Iceland. But things don’t go as planned, and after several failed military maneuvers, Oskar loses the confidence of those he leads. The Hauksson family is now in decline, 400 years after settlement, but the family name lives on…

I am a huge fan of much of Brian Wood’s work, especially Briggs Land and Rebels, and this sometimes uneven series further cemented him as one of my favorite authors. Some stories were obviously stronger than others, but the problem I had was the inconsistent artwork. Illustrators like Leandro Fernandez, Becky Cloonan and Ryan Kelly were excellent, others were horrible. Dave McCraig, the colorist throughout the series, did the best with what he was given and kept to an earth tone palette which brought some consistency to the varying art styles. I loved every single work of cover art by Massimo Carnevale and wish he had illustrated some if not all of the stories. Wood shines with his historical fiction series, and you can tell he does his research, although he often will put in modern sensibilities into his work. His interpretation of Viking history is one you don’t want to miss!

-Nancy

Read my reviews on: Book One, Books Two + Three, Books Four + Five

Heart and Brain: Body Language

Heart: The third book in the Heart and Brain series is here!

Brain: Still as funny as ever!

Gut: I am irritable that Heart and Brain get most of the attention…

Eyes: Look at the colorful and cute illustrations by Nick Seluk!

Gallbladder: I maked these!

Gut: What do your stones have to do with this review?

Heart: Duh, he’s our most popular plushie on our website!

Brain: Every book seems to have some panels that perfectly describe you Nancy.

Heart: You worry way too much about what other people think of you!

Brain: Study page 123 and get some perspective, stat!

Heart: She’s laughing!

Brain: Our job is done!  Don’t forget to read Heart and Brain & Gut Instincts too!

-Nancy

Seluk, Nick. Heart and Brain: Body Language. 2017.

DC Showcase Presents: The Trial of the Flash

Sorry for the delay from my usual Monday post, but I’ve been sick! And since this is a pretty hefty book, I needed to take some bed rest for the extra time required to finish it ;D

Barry Allen is finally on the road back to happiness. He wakes up the morning of his wedding to Fiona Webb, at last feeling like he can put the past behind him for good. However, just as he’s getting into his tux, one of the Guardians of Oa appears to him. His arch nemesis, the Reverse Flash, has escaped from the galactic prison that Barry sealed him in. Rage takes over Barry – the last time they dueled, it ended in the murder of Barry’s first wife, Iris West. Reverse Flash is determined to make history repeat itself by killing Fiona as well. Warning the Guardians to stay out of his fight, Barry takes off to stop the Reverse Flash, leaving his family, friends, and his bride-to-be at the altar.

At the end of their struggle, the Reverse Flash is dead. Fiona, hurt and humiliated from being left at the altar, and shocked at how close she came to death, suffers a mental breakdown. To the general public, Barry Allen is missing, but to those who know him best, he has gone into hiding in plain sight as the Flash. Barry himself is reeling from the events of that fateful day. Half of Central City maintains that the Reverse Flash’s death was an accident, but the other half paints the Flash as a murderer. Barry is not sure himself whether he meant to kill his rival or not. His fate rests in the hands of twelve jurors. Is the Flash a murderer? Should he be held accountable for his actions, just like any other man? Or do his heroic feats earn him a “get out of jail free” card?

This run was originally published over several years in the mid 1980’s, and the writing reflects the best of both the Silver Age and the more modern storylines. There is great time spent on Barry’s inner struggle, and the struggle of the public at large, to reconcile the heroic ideal and the very human tendency to protect those we love at any cost. But, there are also wacky subplots and moments that only older comics can provide. The thing I love best about older comics like these is, they don’t take themselves too seriously, even though the subject matter may hardly be a laughing matter.

There is much more to the story than the bare bones I have laid above, with many subplots featuring Flash’s rogues gallery, his lawyer, and the Justice League, that all fit together magnificently in the end, in ways you wouldn’t expect. After finishing it, I am simply awestruck at the creative energy that went into a story several years in the making. This is easily up for my best 2018 reads list.

My only nitpick with this volume was, while the art was great, the DC Showcase volume it’s contained in only printed it in black and white. I was disappointed at first, but got used to it as I read. It did become hard to distinguish some characters from one another, especially the Rogues Gallery who, apart from Captain Cold (with his signature fluffy hood), seem to all be wearing the same thing. I’m sure their costumes are colored differently from one another, but it was all lost here.

I haven’t read much Flash, but this is obviously a definitive story for the character. Enough backstory is explained to where I would give it to a new Flash fan; there are also enough recognizable characters to a fan of the show who hasn’t yet started the comics. For those who may be daunted by the length – don’t be. Devouring this one in bite-sized chunks over several days made me forget I was sick for a little while 😉

– Kathleen

Bates, Cary, Carmine Infantino, et al. DC Showcase Presents: The Trial of the Flash. 2011.

The Divided Earth

The Divided Earth is the final book of The Nameless City trilogy, and wraps the narrative up in a thrilling and satisfying conclusion!

Preceded by books The Nameless City and The Stone Heart, the story takes place in the fictional city Daidu, named by the Dao’s, the most recent conquering nation. However, due to centuries of conquest, the inhabitants of many different nationalities simply call it The Nameless City. This politically important Asian city sits alongside a mountain pass and is the only route to the sea, making it a critical location for trade and military movements. An ancient people carved a passageway through the mountain, but the technology they used has been lost to the ages.

The main characters are teen Kaidu, a Dao recently of the distant Homelands who is sent to the city to train as a soldier, a street-wise girl named Rat who has lived in the city her whole life, Ezri, who is the General’s son and who has just taken drastic measures to rule the city and his dangerous bodyguard Mura. These four young people have just discovered a mystical tome in the monastery that they believe has powers to dominate all the surrounding nations.

Ezri and Mura take the book that holds the formula for making Napatha, a powerful fire that can destroy armies and eat through stone, and plan to use it for the Dao nation to remain in control of the city. Both have complex and diverging reasons for wanting this power, and author Faith Erin Hicks deftly weaves in their back stories to explain their viewpoints. We see in the above panel how Ezri desperately justifies his actions, and his layered portrayal shows that he isn’t crafted to be a pure villain in the story.

Additional characters come into play, as adults from Kai and Rat’s life play integral roles in trying to thwart the war that Ezri and Mura are intent on starting. The conclusion has Ezri and Kai, two young men who come from privileged upbringings, face off. Paired with that, is the poignant confrontation between Mura and Rat whose backgrounds include tragedy and broken homes. These matches between the pairs show how similar starts in life don’t always lead to the same paths; as love and support from others and your own personal integrity can help shape you.

The conclusion is satisfying, with a three year time jump to show a realistic wrap up to the story. A few details were a bit pat, but as the story is geared towards young readers, the arcs for the four main characters ended appropriately. I was invested in the city’s inhabitants and would love to visit them again in a future story by Hicks. As such, I was excited to be approved for this book by NetGalley, so I could get a sneak peek at how the series concludes.

Hicks has crafted a story that tied in adventure, friendship and the cost of war.  She creates a believable world inspired by 13th century China and her artwork was wonderful with the precision of her backgrounds and how she captures emotion.  The coloring by Jordie Bellaire is lovely- and her work should get a shout out, as a colorist’s work establishes an aesthetic that is a crucial part of the storytelling. This captivating trilogy is a must read, not only to a YA audience, but also with older readers who will enjoy the nuanced tale.

-Nancy

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