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Graphic Novelty²

Allergic: A Graphic Novel

On her 10th birthday, Maggie and her family go to their local shelter adopt a puppy! She’s wanted absolutely nothing more for a very long time. But just as they find the perfect puppy and meet him, Maggie starts feeling sick. Her skin starts itching, her face swells up, and she can’t stop sneezing. So she ends up going to the doctor on her birthday. Later, at an allergy doctor, Maggie takes a scratch test and has an unusually strong reaction to most animals. The doctor advises Maggie to stay away from animals and pets until they can start her allergy shots. Maggie is devastated. With a new baby on the way, a new school, and her twin brothers having each other, Maggie feels all alone. A new girl named Claire moves in next door and things start looking up – until Claire gets a puppy. Can they still be friends even though Maggie feels betrayed?

There was so much more to the story than the main character discovering animal allergies. All kinds of big changes are happening around Maggie and she’s not sure how to deal with them at first. Change, of course, is inevitable, and there are multiple coping strategies shown. Taking deep breaths is reiterated throughout the novel, which we see helping not only Maggie, but other characters too! We also see Maggie talking to others about how she feels. While this doesn’t fix some things, it does help her to process them and see the positive side. In the case of her allergies, she starts to get shots which will make her reactions less severe over time. While she’ll never be cured, she can learn to live with it.

This was a middle-grade graphic novel, so it was broken up into chapters and the art was round and cutesy. I thought the chapters where Maggie go to the doctor were excellent. Everything Maggie went through was explained simply, accurately, and with compassion to ease fear and anxiety! Heck, even I’ve developed allergies in my old age and went through the same thing a few years ago, and even I felt better =P

This sweet story starts out with an allergy, but ends up being so much more. Maggie deals with a lot of changes at the same time, grows through them, and ends up finding that things might even be better than they were where we started off.

– Kathleen

Wagner Lloyd, Megan, and Michelle Mee Nutter. Allergic: A Graphic Novel. 2021.

Free Comic Book Day 2021

For the second year in a row, Free Comic Book Day had to be adapted due to the ongoing pandemic situation. Normally FCBD is the first Saturday in May, but an August date was selected for the 20th year anniversary of this event. I distributed comics at my library today, and did so outside to be on the safe side. I had terrific teen volunteers who helped, and we had over 85+ people stop by to pick up comics in our small town, so it was a successful event! A bonus to having FCBD at my library is getting a sneak peek at the comics available, and the following were the ones I choose.

Every year I choose a Spider Man comic, as you can’t go wrong with Spidey! This issue features Ben Reilly as the Scarlet Spider, someone I unfamiliar with, although I know there are more versions beyond Peter and Miles. It was a good introduction to Ben’s story, and will give readers time to look up info about him (like I did) before diving into a longer story with him. The second half of the comic was about Venom, Edward Brock, who when bonded with his symbiote is the King in Black. I often get Venom and Carnage mixed up, but Venom is more an anti-hero vs Carnage being a straight out villain.

Another automatic gimmie each year is the Avengers. This year’s story is a multi-verse tale (not typically a fav plot for me) and has cybernetic Deathloks who seems to be have some hero characteristics. They are waiting in a space station for a signal and then all leave at once to head to different Earth dimensions where they encounter different types of situations. The second half is a Hulk story who is battling the very weird big-headed M.O.D.O.K. The Hulk seems to be tired of the same old shit and decides to strike out his own into space, obviously setting him up for brand new adventures. I was happy to see an ad for the Wastelanders: Old Man Star-Lord podcast that I recently listened to and liked in-between the two stories.

This last comic for me is from the world of Something is Killing the Children, and expands on the society of monster-killers that Erica belongs to. Erica’s work in Wisconsin is suspect and her mentor Aaron is sent to rein her in. Some artwork is used from the graphic novels in this comic, but it is fleshed out with additional information to paint a larger picture of what to expect in volume three.

This is the least amount of comics I have selected from Free Comic Book Day- I just wasn’t feeling it this year, and not having DC as part of it anymore is a blow. But nevertheless, I was happy to provide FCBD to my library patrons, and hope that next year we can have a bigger event once pandemic restrictions have lifted.

-Nancy

Hex Wives

Stepford Wives meets Bewitched in this tale of witchcraft and revenge!

The book opens in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 as several women accused of witchcraft are trying to escape from their captors, again in 1777 in New York and then in Wyoming in 1873. The witches reincarnate in different eras, and we once again see them in New Orleans in 2005 but this time the witch hunters have a secret weapon to utilize against them.

We are then introduced to a group of ladies, who all live in the same cul-de-sac, five women and one teen daughter who all wear dresses and serve their men folk. Isadora is the focus and while it is obvious she is brain washed she seems to love and care for her husband Aaron. The men supposedly all work together as architects, but seem to always reappear at moments when the women have unexplained occurrences or little clues slip through that all is not what it seems. One of the women has an accident while gardening, and the blood shed makes her levitate. The “husbands” swoop in to do damage control, but eventually all the women discover their powers and there is hell to pay for the deception perpetrated by the men.

Fire was a motif throughout, as the witches were attacked with fire in the different historical eras and the supposed wildfires that surrounded their neighborhood in modern day that always kept them confined to their homes. The women are enticingly drawn and made to appeal to the male gaze as Stepford-type wives. One of the women seems to be forgotten through the majority of the story, so I don’t know if that was an author or artist mistake but it became distracting for me that she was always missing. There were many panels per page, but they were varied and easy to follow and the full-page chapter breaks were always excellent.

The story obviously has a feminist bent, and the theme of overthrowing the patriarchy is the framework. Considering what the author was going for, I was surprised that the sexual assaults were not adequately addressed- for these men were sleeping with the women when they were not in their right minds. While there were some conversations about sex, the message was very muddled. While I assume this was supposed to be the first volume in a new series, I have not seen a sequel, and thus this story fell flat for me. The cliffhanger and unexplained plot threads could have been fleshed out and explained in future volumes so instead this unintended standalone was a letdown.

-Nancy

Seen: True Stories of Marginalized Trailblazers: Rachel Carson

The second volume in the Seen series focuses on Rachel Carson, whose writings and accomplishments on environmental issues eventually led to the creation of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in the United States. As a little girl, Rachel loved nature. She acquired a bachelor’s degree in biology, and a master’s in zoology and genetics. While working as a typist as a young adult during the Great Depression, she publishes her first article, then her first book, which unfortunately becomes overshadowed by World War II. She publishes her second book, The Sea Around Us, after the discovery and widespread usage of DDT. She goes on to publish her most famous work: Silent Spring.

Though Rachel faced public disbelief and outrage for her work, she never let it sway her. She let the facts, and sometimes lack of facts (lack of long-term effects of pesticides, for example) speak for themselves. She did her best to emphasize the potential consequences for humans as well as plants, animals, and insects. We are all connected in a symbiotic relationship and what affects one of us will affect the others. This is what Rachel strove to get us to understand before she passed away prematurely at 56 from cancer. Though she lived a short life, she lived a full one defending and speaking out about her passion.

Just like the first volume about Edmonia Lewis, the illustrations are no-fuss. There is also a bibliography and teaching guide at the end. This book is instead written in first-person as if Rachel was writing or speaking to us, as opposed to the third-person narration from Edmonia’s volume.

A wonderful second installment in a most welcome and informative series! Looking forward to the next volume.

– Kathleen

Willis, Birdie, Rii Abrego, and Kieran Quigley. Seen: True Stories of Marginalized Trailblazers: Rachel Carson. 2021.

Invincible: Ultimate Volumes Five & Six

I’m half-way through the entire Invincible series! Mark has proved to be a flawed but very appealing superhero and the action never stops!

Volume Five:

This fifth volume has the theme of- who can you trust- as Mark grapples with Cecil Stedman, the leader of the Global Defense Agency. Mark has always followed Cecil’s commands, but Cecil’s use of the Reanimen and the looking past of Darkwing’s murderous past, show that he is morally corrupt. Another example is when Mark teams with the Wolf Man who has been wrongly accused of a crime, and Cecil won’t help out, because he feels he can not gain anything from him like he can from Darkwing. During this time Mark’s younger brother Oliver has acquired his powers and wants to start fighting villains, so Mark steps up to teach him how to utilize them, but Oliver himself makes questionable decisions, as he admits that he is not human and not subject to their morality. A bright spot is his deepening relationship with Eve and that the former Teen Team sides with him as they too realize that Cecil can’t be trusted. And in a parallel story, Allen the Alien and Omni-Man team up to break free of the spaceship they are imprisoned in and a secret is revealed about the Viltrumites. But what is Angstrom Levy planning…

Artist Ryan Ottley has really hit his stride with the illustrations. I liked the costume change (although the yellow was iconic) so he wouldn’t clash with Oliver’s new costume, which paid homage to Robin’s (DC) costume. Loved the 16-panel grid showing Invincible’s look in other multi-universes! 

Volume Six:

I am now halfway through this series, and it has hit its stride- Mark is no longer a new superhero, instead, he is an established warrior grappling with moral decisions of whether it is right to kill a villain or not. Levy sends dozens of Invincibles from other dimensions to attack Mark and the entire globe so every single Image hero is called into action to combat them. Two important heroes make the ultimate sacrifice to fight them, and cities across the world are left in ruins with millions of innocent bystanders killed during these battles. If that’s not bad enough, the Viltrumite Empire sends one of their deadliest soldiers, Conquest, after Mark. Their fight was excessively long and bloody. In another part of the universe Allen and Omni-Man team together after their escape and make plans to prepare weapons and allies for the impending war with the Viltrumites who want to take over Earth and breed with them to strengthen their dwindling numbers. In the aftermath of the two earlier battles the little pink aliens from Mars are planning their own conquest- poor Earth is just always under siege!

The illustrations style shifted a bit in the last half of the book, as original artist Walker drew parts of the story, but I have to admit I much prefer Ottley’s work now. Walker’s Omni Man and Eve’s faces were especially different and not to my liking. This series pulls together so many different plot threads and themes- it can be a bit much. It can veer between gore, campy fun and poignant emotional moments in just a few pages or even panels, giving me whiplash sometimes. Nevertheless, this first half of the series has been a romp and I look forward to the last half.

-Nancy

Sixteen different versions of Invincible!

And Now I Spill the Family Secrets

Margaret Kimball’s memoir starts with her mother’s suicide attempt on Mother’s Day 1988: the secret in her family, the thing they never talk about. She traces the event and the effect it had on her family throughout her life, and backwards through her family tree. With the gift of hindsight, she identifies how she grew up around her mother’s mental illness through her parents’ separation, divorce, and her father’s remarriage. And now, catching up to the present day, how she sees her mother in her brother Ted.

This was a tough read. The presentation was unique and immaculate. The illustrations were entirely in black and white and almost solely scenery (such as a room in a house, a street, or the exterior of a building) or memorabilia such as photographs, video stills, and transcripts of diaries. The only figures we see at all are those from the recreations of photographs and video stills. In that regard, this memoir feels extra personal and criminally invasive. I felt while reading as if I was going through her dirty laundry – which was probably the point. Since no one in her family talks about anything important, neither does the book offer a figure to serve as a narrator nor any characters other than who we see in Kimball’s recreations. The reader is left along only with Kimball’s words in a room we don’t know.

However difficult it is to get through, we are rewarded with an intimate portrait of how mental illness affects a family. I’d give it to an older teen. The presentation is easily among the best I’ve seen this year, so it’s worth checking out for that alone.

– Kathleen

Kimball, Margaret. And Now I Spill the Family Secrets. 2021.

Wastelanders: Old Man Star-Lord podcast

“In a post-apocalyptic future, Marvel’s Wastelanders: Old Man Star-Lord finds Peter Quill and Rocket a little paunchier, a little slower, and a lot saltier than they were during the glory days of the Guardians of the Galaxy. They quickly discover the Earth isn’t what it used to be either, when they crash land 30 years after all the world’s super villains seized control.”

I’ve been very pleased with Marvel podcasts- Wolverine: The Long Night, Wolverine: The Lost Trail, Marvels and Black Widow: Bad Blood. On a whim, I checked if a new podcast was out and was pleased to see that Wastelanders had just started. Not typically a fan of the Guardians of the Galaxy, I gave it a try because I had felt the same way about the Fantastic Four and still enjoyed Marvels.

Record of a Fallen World

Quill and Rocket are sent to Earth on on mercenary mission, under threat of death to find a sacred object called the Black Vortex, just to find Earth in ruins and controlled by Doctor Doom. An alien-created “skinbot”, nicknamed Cora, accompanies them, and it is through her narration of record keeping that we find out a lot of background information. This introductory episode gave us a lot of worldbuilding but in a way that didn’t seem like huge info dump and seems to correlate with the Old Man Logan graphic novel timeline.

The Wastelands

Bickering constantly, Quill and Rocket explore South Dakota’s Badlands and are helped by a local named Red. Past trouble is inferred, but we are in the dark about what happened to the former Guardians of the Galaxy or the fates of their former teammates. At times the actor’s voice are hard to distinguish between Quill and Rocket, as they sound very similar.

Blood Farmer

Red gives them refuge on his farm, where he shares what happened thirty years ago, and how this apocalyptic world came to be. They lay some traps and lay in wait for the local thugs to come looking for them. After defeating them and taking their horses, Quill, Rocket and Cora head into the hills to begin their search for the Black Vortex.

Deer on a Spear

As Quill and Rocket head towards the contact that Red gave them they pick up on a signal for a broadcast that is televising Kraven the Hunter following the very man they were hoping to speak to in a Running Man/ Hunger Games type of scenario. Quill tries to save the man to no avail, and now their contact is gone, and Kraven is on to them. The broadcaster was so wonderfully smarmy, you could really visualize the hunt from his commentary.

Heaven and Hellfire

Although this duo is older, they are none the wiser, and luckily a former X-Men Emma Frost who owns a local bar, comes to their aide. But she is keeping her cards close to her vest, so they are unsure if she is there to help or hurt them. I do need to add that Emma’s overuse of the word darling became grating. She sounded like Joan Collins from Dynasty and isn’t how I imagined she’d talk.

Trust Exercise

Splitting up to see if they can obtain the Black Vortex and get their guillotine collars off, nothings goes as planned (of course). But Cora ascertains that Emma is there to help, so there’s that.

Catching Fire

A Quill-centric episode establishes that Emma’s powers are fading as she ages, but she has given Quill and Rocket a window of opportunity after putting Kraven the Hunter out of commission for a few days. Quill thinks he has a lead on where the Black Vortex is located after interviewing the town’s forgotten librarian. Hell yea- a librarian to the rescue!

Buried

Some backstory on what happened with the Guardians is established showing how Quill is racked with guilt and wants to atone for the deaths of his friends. An ally returns, but so does a foe, so all paths are converging as they try to infiltrate Doom’s compound.

Kraven’s Hunt

In this penultimate episode, Quill and Rocket are moving towards discovering the Black Vortex with Kraven on their heels, in another narrated hunt. Cora and Emma Frost rally their allies that include the Ghost Riders to prevent Kraven from killing the duo. Rocket’s poor health can’t be hidden anymore and he tries to prepare Quill for a future without him.

Dawn and Doom

Sacrifices are made, with a devastating death, but Quill and Emma Frost prevail. So although they have scored a victory, we know it’s not over, as the episode is only half over. There is a surprising double-cross with a new villain emerging, with definite tie-ins to what has happened (or will happen-I’m unclear exactly of the timeline) in Logan’s story. I am left wanting more, but that’s good storytelling, for I will definitely tune into future podcasts.

I started this podcast apprehensively, as I’ve never been a big fan of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the bickering between Quill and Rocket was annoying to me. Yet, this podcast grew on me so kudos to Benjamin Percy who also wrote the two Wolverine podcasts I enjoyed last year. In fact, I recently read a short story horror collection by Percy, Suicide Woods, that I found excellent. This podcast is supposed to be the lead-in to a new universe set in the Old Man Logan future with Hawkeye, Wolverine, Black Widow and Star-Lord. I’m excited, as Susan Sarandon will be voicing Black Widow and I can’t wait for that story and how they will all tie-in together!

-Nancy

Voice Cast:

Timothy Busfield as Star-Lord

Chris Elliott as Rocket

Nadine Malouf as Cora 

Patrick Page as Kraven the Hunter

Vanessa Williams as Emma Frost

Danny Glover as Red

Elizabeth Francis as Joanna Forge

Hawkeye, Black Widow, Wolverine, Star-Lord

The Sprite and the Gardener

Wisteria is a new sprite who just moved to the Sylvan Trace subdivision. In days of old, sprites helped humans grow and maintain their gardens, but sprites don’t really do that anymore. Humans developed their ways of gardening and they didn’t need the sprites anymore. Wisteria is disappointed about that. However, she finds that a property on Meadowgreen needs some help… so Wisteria nudges their morning glories along. Elena, the girl who lives there with her mom, is overjoyed to see them bloom in the morning. How can sprites no longer do something that make humans so happy? Wisteria wonders. Can she continue to help Elena without being discovered or ostracized by her peers?

This graphic novel was bigger than I was expecting. The story was short, but the book itself measures almost 9 x 12 inches. This must have been to let the gorgeous illustrations shine. They were reminiscent of the art nouveau style, with luminous, rich colors and thin, flowing lines. While the art is grounded in reality (especially for the plants), the color usage lent it a touch of whimsy and magic.

I’d been in kind of a reading slump, and this graphic novel lifted me out of it. As mentioned above, the story was short. It was also adorable. Both Wisteria and Elena want to help the plants and people they love in their own way. They have to learn to work together and accept help from those who offer it. Just because things change doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing – change can be good!

The library I checked it out from had it under “Teen,” but I thought it skewed a little younger. Very young kids will love the illustrations and it would be great for a storytime or for parents to read with them. Though of course, people of all ages will enjoy it, as I can attest to 😉

– Kathleen

Abrego, Rii and Joe Whitt. The Sprite and the Gardener. 2021.

Invincible: Ultimate Volumes Two-Four

When I read the first volume of Invincible back in 2016, I loved it! Yet, it took the awesome new animated series on Amazon Prime Video for me to dive back into the series. Cory Walker, who was the co-creator with Robert Kirkman and did the illustrations for the first ultimate volume, was replaced with artist Ryan Ottley for all the remaining volumes and this change was pretty seamless. So expect me to go through the rest of the 12 ultimate volumes in the next few months! Some spoilers ahead.

Volume Two:

Mark aka Invincible and his mom are dealing with the fallout from the reveal that Mark’s father, Omni-Man, was actually a bad guy who was planning to take over Earth for his alien planet. His disappearance has left a void and Mark is struggling with his grief as he also tries to keep up with his senior year of high school, a girlfriend and of course fighting villains. There is a lot of character development as he struggles with balancing everything and keeping his identity secret. There are many many plot threads- the underwater duel ceremony (so ridiculous but so flippin’ funny), the Mars mission, an evil scientist on his new college campus, the multi-verse of Angstrom, the anti-hero Titan, and a love triangle with Eve and Amber. Sometimes the stories could become confusing, they’d drop a storyline, pick it up again unexpectedly, and then drop it again. This volume concludes with a story about Allen the Alien and gives some interesting backstories to Monster Girl, Rex Splode, The Immortal, Dupli-Kate and Atom Eve. I’m still digging the art and loving the font they use for explosions, with all the interlocking O’s.

Volume Three:

Mark is settling into his new role as a superhero and adjusting to the loss of his father, but wait- an alien comes looking for help and brings Invincible to his insectoid planet, and guess who is there! Mark is a hella lot more forgiving than I would be, as he suddenly has to adjust to being introduced to his baby half-brother and helping fight off Vitrumites who come to collect Omni-Man. But that’s not all! Once he’s back on Earth with his brother in tow, he has to deal with the multi-verse of the villain Angstrom (I love all the dimensions that Mark was thrown into- with some digs at Marvel & DC heroes and an obvious Walking Dead dimension), the mad scientist at college and a scheme between Robot and the Mauler Twins. To top it off, he’s trying to keep his romance with Amber going, but all his adventures pull him away from her. It’s hard to be a superhero…

Volume Four:

There are so many plot threads that run in and out of these volumes, but the evil scientist who has created the Reanimen and the Mars mission get some significant storylines. But the fact that Mark is half- Viltrumite is always an issue, so the Viltrum Empire is an underlying concern especially when they send Anissa, a woman soldier to scare Mark and give him a warning. Allen the Alien also gets mixed up with the Viltrumites, letting himself be captured so he can meet Omni-Man who is in jail awaiting execution. Those are significant storylines, but that’s never enough, as Mark has some additional curve balls thrown at him. His mother has agreed to raise his half-brother Oliver who is growing quickly and his romance with Amber is floundering. Mark is never there with her since he’s always on some mission that Cecil, who leads the shadowy government agency, is always sending Invincible off to. Their relationship ends realistically, with Eve waiting on the sidelines.

Now I am far enough in the series to make some observations- Kirkman makes several uncomfortable jokes about being gay and is pretty damn sexist at times. The storylines can be hard to follow, as there is no transition between scenes and location, just bam, you’re somewhere new (The Walking Dead did this a lot too). There are Easter eggs and connections to other Image publications such as Brit or Savage Dragon showing up unexpectedly is some group scenes. At times there is a lack of consistency between panels- Allen was a completely different color at one time and sometimes his head is drawn at different ratios, and at one point Mark was inexplicitly the same color as Oliver. While I am still very much a fan of this series, I can’t completely fan-girl over it, due to some problematic issues.

-Nancy

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