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Graphic Novelty²

Step Aside, Pops

Step Aside, Pops is a continuation of Kate Beaton’s popular Hark! A Vagrant. It includes awesome riffs on history and literature and is done so in an intelligent and hilarious manner.

Beaton who is now a regular contributor to the New Yorker, was formally a history major and worked in museums for a time, takes her sharp wit and skewers historical and literary figures with a modern lens. She illustrates in black and white and sketches out caricatures of recognizable people in absurd situations. Her ironic strips point out the foibles of the past, and how that would play out in the modern day. No one is immune from her humor- as she pokes fun at America’s Founding Fathers, Frédéric Chopin, Nancy Drew, superheroes, Puritans, plus so many others.  I found the satire surrounding the characters of well-loved novels the most amusing, especially about how horrible Heathcliff is in Wuthering Heights. An additional bonus is the commentary she added at the bottom of some of the pages. The only criticism I have is some of her drawing’s dialogue is very small, and unless it is in bold, it is hard to read.

Check these smart cartoons out yourself on her blog: http://www.harkavagrant.com/ I would definitely recommend this witty collection of strips, especially if you have rolled your eyes at a ridiculous plot point, literary trope or questionable historical fact. Enjoy!

Wonder Woman’s outfit was so obviously designed by a man- what woman wants to run around in a bathing suit and heels?!

Suicide Woods

This short story collection was excellent! The ten stories were all atmospheric and wonderfully creepy. I first became aware of the author as the writer of the excellent Wolverine podcasts, but am now glad I looked up other work by him and will now search out other novels by him.

The Cold Boy- The visiting nephew of a taxidermist falls through the ice in his backyard pond and comes out changed. It had a Pet Semetary vibe.

Suspect Zero-A woman con artist is underestimated, much to the dismay of those who interact with her. The train intro was intriguing.

The Dummy- A female high school student who wrestles is attacked by a fellow teammate but the stuffed dummy she had been practicing on, seems to save her.

Heart of a Bear- This was a strange tale that was never going to end well for the family involved. A bear is entranced by a family and becomes human-like for a time, without the townspeople noticing.

Dial Tone- Don’t underestimate the quiet man working alongside you. His mild manner could be covering a black heart.

The Mud Man- A busy man accidentally creates a doppelganger out of mud, but this mud man starts to become more engaged with his family life than he was. Another tale of people accepting a strange creature in their midst without raising the alarm.

Writs of Possession- More a sad slice-of-life story about evictions than a horror story. A deputy steels herself for the sorrow she has to witness as she evicts people from their homes.

The Balloon- A pandemic story that was written before our current crisis so it feels strangely prophetic.

Suicide Woods- My least favorite story, yet the book’s namesake. Suicidal individuals have joined a support group that has a radical way to make them appreciate life again.

The Unchartered- This last story is more a novella, and could have been fleshed out into a full novel. A woman working for a mapping company hires a trio of adventurers to chart some islands off the coast of Alaska where some previous workers have gone missing. On a whim, she joins them, but their small plane crashes and the survivors are sucked into a mind-bending and horrific experience.

These stories all have a sinister edge to them and I enjoyed all of the dark tales.

100 Bullets: Volumes 1 & 2

I’ve heard of this older noir series that ran from 1999- 2009 with 100 issues, but never checked it out until now, which is surprising as I like darker stories. And it certainly lived up to the hype I had heard about it…

First Shot, Last Call

Dizzy Cordova is a young Latina recently released from jail who is mourning the death of her husband and infant son who were gunned down while she was away. While on the bus home Agent Graves sits next to her and gives her a briefcase with an unmarked gun and 100 bullets to exact revenge on those that killed her family. We get a lengthy look at her gang-infested neighborhood and the hard life she and other women are living, showing how few possibilities await Dizzy. She finds out who betrayed her while she was in jail and exacts her revenge. We also get a shorter story about a bartender who was ruined by fake child-porn accusations, and Graves also gives him supplies to kill and tells him who is to blame.

The art by Eduardo Risso is very unique- characters at first seem like caricatures and the illustrations are very angular and dark-hued. But the urban decay is actually captured realistically and this art technique pays off in helping set the style for the entire series.

Split Second Chance

At first, I was under the impression the series would be short stories, only linked by the mysterious Graves, but author Brian Azzarello has a longer more ambitious story in mind. While some of these vignettes might prove to be stand-alones, readers begin to get a backstory on Graves and his shady connections. A character from volume one shows up and we are pulled into a conspiracy that runs deep. The central question is who is Graves and why does he pick the people he does to become vigilantes? Not all are successful for various reasons, but truth be told, I found some of the shorter stories more interesting than some of the longer linked stories. That one about the waitress was heartbreaking and unexpected.

The stylized art keeps you riveted, and while not everyone might like the look, it matches the stories and helps the series stand out. I’m unsure if I will continue reading further into the series, as it is a big commitment with 13 volumes, and conspiracy storylines are prone to becoming too convoluted. So while I plan to set the rest of the series aside for now, I have a feeling the story will pull me back in eventually.

Mid Year Freakout #6

I’m freaking out for the sixth time! I like this post idea, as it forces me to reflect on my reading halfway through the year instead of just at the end with the Best Of list. I had fun going through my Goodreads data, and bonus, it highlights the other genres I read since I read way more than just graphic novels.

Best book you read in 2022 so far

The Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley is a gritty thriller that was a love letter about Native culture and was beyond excellent! While it is a YA novel, it will also appeal to adults who are looking for an intriguing coming-of-age narrative.

Best sequel you’ve read so far 

Run, which is a sequel to the trilogy March by John Lewis, continues Lewis’s Civil Rights journey. Despite his death, I hope the Run series will continue, for Lewis’s story is inspiring!

New release you haven’t read yet, but want to

Hanya Yanagihara has a new book, To Paradise, out and I want to read it. I loved her The People in the Trees but hated A Little Life, so I have put off her newest book because I’m nervous about if I will like it or not, plus it has a huge page count.

Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

I’m still waiting on the last volume of Manifest Destiny that will complete the Lovecraftian reimaging of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The graphic novel series really grew on me but has undergone several delays, so I am hoping it sticks the landing.

Biggest disappointment

Run, Rose, Run was penned by both Dolly Parton and James Patterson. I adore Parton, but the Nashville-based story was so fake and saccharine that I could barely finish it.

Biggest surprise

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green surprised me in the very best way. I typically think of him as a quirky YA author, but this book of essays in which he muses about a large variety of topics was thought-provoking and made me reflect on the subjects long after reading them.

Newest fictional crush

I’m not a fan of Batman, so I don’t read much about him but I recently read two books that featured the second Robin, Jason Todd, and really liked him. The Three Jokers was based on the previous book A Death in the Family, and Todd has grown into a vigilante hero that Batman can no longer control. Todd aka Red Hood makes hard decisions that I can sympathize with.

Favorite book to film adaptation you saw this year

I’m flipping this- I read Lord of the Flies for the first time (I have tried many times over the years, and just couldn’t finish it until now), so afterward I watched the 1963 and 1990 films, and both were terrible adaptations! While books are always better than movies/tv, this was incredibly true with these two movies.

Newest favorite character

Daunis Fountaine, the bi-racial heroine, from the above-mentioned Firekeeper’s Daughter was a believable young woman who had to make tough decisions. I loved her.

Favorite new author (Debut or new to you)

I will be reading whatever Angeline Boulley next writes!

Favorite review you have written this year 

I have participated for four years in a blogging series- Fiction’s Fearless Females, and this year I wrote about the friendship between Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Beverly Crusher and Deanna Troi. Female friendships are not often authentically shown in books or films, but these two women were allowed to shine!

Book(s) that made you happy

I got on a Little House on the Prairie kick early in the year and read (or re-read) memoirs by several actresses from the tv series: Melissa Gilbert, Charlotte Stewert, Karen Grassle, Melissa Sue Anderson and Alison Arngrim. The gossipy books were fun to compare to the memories I had of the iconic show that I loved when I was a child.

Book that made you sad

As a librarian, I was anxious to read Overdue by Amanda Oliver, for a fellow colleague’s take on public libraries, however, it turns out she only worked in a public library for nine months and I came away disappointed with her lack of a complete picture of issues facing libraries today.

Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received)

I am a fan of artist Gregory Manchess and found two children’s books illustrated by him and enjoyed them, so I ended up reading all six of the books in the series about Great Explorers. Written and beautifully illustrated by several people, all of the books gave very thorough looks at six explorers- John Wesley Powell, Rene-Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle, Vasco da Gama, Henry Hudson, Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and Ferdinand Magellan.

What books do you need to read by the end of the year? 

I’m on a national library committee this year, that I can share more information about at a later date, and have tons of graphic novels to read so we can put together an award list at the end of the year. I’m not allowed to publically review any that are under consideration for the list. Stay tuned!

I gave myself a goal of reading 100 books this year, and I am already at 62, so I might up to 120 which I should easily hit, especially if a new season of LeVar Burton Reads is released this year. Happy reading everyone!

One True Loves

I have become a huge fan of Taylor Jenkins Reid, especially loving Malibu Rising and Daisy Jones and The Six, so I searched for an earlier book of hers and found this romantic tale. Emma is a young woman who falls in love with Jesse during their senior year. They marry young and move out to California and lead an adventurous life with lots of traveling. But on their one-year anniversary, Jesse is lost at sea during a helicopter trip to Alaska. Devastated, Emma moves back home to Massachusetts and settles into a more sedate life with her family and working at her parent’s bookstore. After a few years she begins to date again, re-meeting Sam who had been a co-worker at the bookstore when she was in high school. The two become engaged and soon after Jesse is shockingly found alive, after spending almost three years alone on a deserted island (few details are given to explain this implausible Cast Away plot contrivance). So who does Emma pick when she loves both men??

Despite the possible corniness of this narrative trope, Reid pulls it off. An added bonus was finding out that this book is being turned into a movie, with the yummy Simu Liu portraying Sam. Reid really captures characters’ voices and capably juggles large casts. Her books have such an accurate sense of time and place and I look forward to her next new book!

Batman: A Death in the Family

I’ve never been a fan of the morose Batman, but I recently read the excellent Three Jokers which is built upon this book that killed off Jason Todd who was the second Robin, and the trauma that Batgirl endured at the hand of the Joker in The Killing Joke. This book collects the six-chapter A Death in the Family and the five-chapter A Lonely Place of Dying that introduced Tim Drake as the third Robin.

This 1988 book was groundbreaking in that it killed Jason, and he truly didn’t return as the anti-hero Red Hood until 2005. On top of that, it was up to readers to decide if Jason would live or die within a three-week period in which they could make a 50-cent call to a 900 number. Alas, his character wasn’t as popular as Dick Grayson who was now Nightwing, and his death was sealed by a slim margin.

A Death in the Family

This storyline occurred in the later years of the Bronze Age of Comics, so it still had the superhero look of past decades, but more mature themes were being explored. Jason Todd is shown pushing boundaries, by being petulant and too violent, and Batman and Alfred feel he hadn’t properly grieved his parents before becoming the new Robin. When told he needs to take a break from crime-fighting, he heads back to his old neighborhood and a former neighbor gives him a box of belongings from his parents. He discovers a birth certificate that shows he had a different mother than he thought, so going off a few clues heads to the Middle East to figure out which of three women she could be. But in an improbable twist, both Batman and Joker are there too. This part of the story has not stood the test of time, for the era of the 80s with Reaganomics is mentioned and the Iranian Allatoyah is shown in a very uncomfortable plot point in the story. The woman who was his mother (now retconned I believe, and no longer viewed as his mother in his bio) is perfectly awful and lets Joker attack Jason after they have been reunited. Spoiler alert- he is killed- but everyone knows that. The concluding chapters bring in Superman and yet another improbable plot twist with the Joker.

A Lonely Place of Dying

Can Batman be any more emo than usual? Of course, he can! He is now taking bigger risks as he feels guilty over Jason’s death. Nightwing who is now part of the New Titans comes to help his former partner deal with new threats from Two-Face. We are introduced to a brilliant and earnest teen, Tim Drake, who has pieced together clues and figured out Batman and Nightwing’s secret identities. He convinces them that Batman still needs a Robin, and who better than him?

An afterword by writer Marv Wolfman was interesting and gave context to the story. The art and layouts were good but rather standard for the time period. Joker’s face was so exaggerated that it was distracting for me and hard to take him seriously as a villain. While this book hasn’t changed my opinion of Batman, I’m still glad I picked it up for it is considered a classic and fills in some gaps in my DC knowledge.

Overdue: Reckoning with the Public Library

As a librarian, I was anxious to read a fellow colleague’s take on public libraries, however, it turns out she only worked in a public library for nine months and I came away disappointed. A bulk of her time was spent in school libraries in DC, and I felt for her, for I myself had a brief stint as an elementary school librarian and I know too well all the limitations and extra work that administrators pile on school library staff.

As for her short public library experience, I know the neighborhood, as my family traveled to DC a few years ago, and we stayed at a townhouse in the gentrifying neighborhood of NoMa, so I saw the homelessness that is part of the city. Even in the two rural libraries I have worked at, there is homelessness and mental health issues among patrons, but what the branch she worked at deals with is on the extreme side. But despite that, how can she be the voice of librarians with her limited experience?

I enjoy my job as a teen librarian, but I know there is a lot of dissatisfaction among library workers, as I see a lot of raw feelings shared on Facebook on Twitter, and the pandemic has just magnified those issues. The author highlighted some very real problems in libraries, I just wish she had more experiences to draw on or had co-written it with another librarian, as to pull together a larger picture of libraries today.

BIG EXCITING NEWS – I WROTE A BOOK!!!!!

Michael of My Comic Relief has written a book! The book is through Claremont Press and will be a volume for their Religion and Comics Series. This will be a must-read when published, so make sure you get a sneak peek at the five subjects of his analysis!

My Comic Relief

That’s right, dear reader, you read that correctly. I wrote a book! A year ago I announced I had signed a contract with Claremont Press to write a volume for their Religion and Comics Series. I promised to update you all with more information when I had it and when I could and…(drum roll please)…that time has come! Ahhhhhhhh, I wrote a bookANDI get to tell you about it. It’s a super exciting day :D. So read on, dear reader, and I can tell you all about my upcoming book. YAY!

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Once & Future: Monarchies in the U.K.

Monsters have now infiltrated the entire U.K. and it is up to Gran, Duncan and Rose to save everyone from the deadly Otherworld!

This fourth volume brings in even more English folklore and legends, mixing and matching stories and eras so that readers won’t know what to expect next. In addition to a reanimated King Arthur and Merlin, we get Yvain and his lion, the giant from Jack and the Beanstack, a gorgon, evil fairies, Shakespeare’s writings and lastly another version of Arthur and Merlin.

Now that the Otherworld is out in the open, reality and fantasy have become co-mingled, with other neighboring countries none the wiser as to what is really happening in the U.K. Our three heroes try to save their friends and family while battling new creatures when Duncan’s mother Mary shows up. Her unresolved issues with Gran always complicate matters, and she teeters on the edge of good and evil. Both Gran and Mary manipulate people and situations that will help them win, but at this point, I want to know exactly what happened between this mother and daughter to cause their bitter fallout.

The art remains a strength with amazing monsters and fantasy landscapes. The lettering and location titles helped keep some details straight. The floating orbs that were previously a clue that magic was moving into the regular world and they should be wary of are now everywhere. My favorite ginger Duncan is now more battle-weary, and his new beard suits him.

While author Kieron Gillen is obviously an expert in English stories, I believe the average reader will become as muddled as I am. While this series is still very intriguing, the warped mythology is in danger of becoming too confusing. However, because the first three volumes were so excellent, I’m hoping future volumes will get back on track, plus I’m intrigued as to how the new character on the last page will tie into the narrative.

Read the rest of the series: Volumes One, Two & Three

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