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Harrow County: Volumes Five & Six

I’m all in for the Harrow County series, so you have the pleasure of several Harrow County reviews from me in a row. With middle volumes five and six, this story is ramping up the action towards the (hopefully) thrilling conclusion!

Volume Five: Abandoned

Volume four’s back story is continued in volume five with an explanation of who the giant minotaur creature, The Abondoned, is. Some outside hunters come to town to kill this haint, and Emmy does her best to intervene to prevent an epic bloodbath. As I suspected earlier, Emmy’s “twin” Kammi is not completely gone, and her meddling puts everyone in danger.

One of the guest artists and the colorist from volume three is used again for this volume, in the first two chapters. Again, I wish Crook had consistently stayed as the artist for the entire series, but McNeil’s artwork grew on me and was evocative enough to not break the narrative flow. But I was glad to see that even when guest artists are used Crook still draws the covers and the other artists are consistent with the opening two page spreads to each chapter. I continue to adore how Crook incorporates the words Harrow County into each of those pictures.

Volume Six: Hedge Magic

Hedge magic is a term that can mean someone who can use a weaker more informally taught nature type of magic. This comes into play as Bernice who has been taught snake handling magic by Lovey, confronts Emmy. But both Bernice and Emmy have been played the fool by Odessa, one of the witches that seemingly is good but isn’t. When the witch family learn that their plot to turn the friends against each other failed, they turn to an even more sinister way of defeating Emmy…

I have failed to mention that at the end of all the volumes Crook adds a sketchbook of some of his work, showing how the volume develops from storyboards to final inks. This is a fascinating behind the scenes look at how graphic novels develop. Sometimes he shows failed cover art ideas, other times he shows how he develops his characters. Also showcased has been some deviant art by other artists and some little joke drawings.  I look forward to these sketchbooks in each volume to see how Crook and Bunn developed their narrative.

Next week, I will conclude the series with volumes seven and eight!

-Nancy

Check out my other Harrow County reviews: Volume One, Volumes Two-Four, Volumes Seven-Eight

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Wonder Woman (Rebirth, Vol. 6): Children of the Gods

A lawyer mysteriously shows up at the site of Wonder Woman’s latest victory over Giganta. He reveals to Diana and Steve that Hercules is dead. Furthermore, he has left a will, in which Diana inherits everything. It is at Hercules’ remote cottage that Diana discovers that she has a brother. A twin brother named Jason. Hercules helped train him to use his godly powers, and leaves Diana coordinates to where he lives, so she can meet him. While Diana is overjoyed to have found her brother, she is worried too. Grail, the daughter of Darkseid, is murdering demi-gods – such as Hercules, herself, and yes, Jason –  to steal their power and feed it to Darkseid, so he can recover his full strength after the events of Dark Nights: Metal. She is nervous about leading Jason into a trap, not realizing that one is being set for her…

This one occurred after Dark Nights: Metal, which I haven’t read, so Jason came out of left field for me. Been meaning to, though, because it looks suuuper cool. It’s incredibly interesting, and a little jarring, that they introduced a sibling for Diana, and a boy at that, after the canon for so long has been that Diana was a miracle child when she was born. On the one hand, it does add a deeper layer of intrigue for the Amazons, who are no strangers to keeping secrets, for the queen to have been given birth to twins instead of one child, and one a boy at that!

On the other hand, it sort of rubs me the wrong way that he is a boy. I admit, I suppose it wouldn’t have worked if Jason were a girl =P But this arc has spent so long thus far establishing Diana as a woman in her own right, that doesn’t need a man in her life, just chooses to have one… thrusting a brother on her whom she feels compelled to meet and love after all this time seems… off. It almost goes against what the writers had established over the last five volumes. I was much more interested in the Grail and Darkseid plotline myself.

There was a lot more action in this volume than in past, because the story has finally moved away from the deep introspection of Rebirth WW’s beginning volumes. The art was well suited to the change of pace. Though there is a lot of action, the lines are clean and crisp, and the panels uncluttered. The colors are also bright and eye-catching. One detail I really enjoyed were actually Grail and Darkseid, how their eyes lit up: there is a halo of color around their eyes whenever they show great power. Hoping the next volume tones Jason down a bit.

– Kathleen

Robinson, James, Carlo Pagulayan, Sergio Davila, and Emanuela Lupacchino. Wonder Woman (Rebirth, Vol. 6): Children of the Gods. 2018.

Harrow County: Volumes Two-Four

I just discovered the southern gothic supernatural series Harrow County and loved it! The story recently came to a close with it’s eighth volume, so I have the pleasure of being able to devour the entire series. As such, here are my reviews of volumes two, three and four.

Volume Two: Twice Told

In the first volume, Emmy discovered that she has powers and is somehow connected to witch Hester Beck who was killed by the townsfolk the day Emmy was born. Having survived an attempt of her life, the villagers now respect her and Emmy grows into her powers. She only uses them for good and becomes familiar with the supernatural creatures, called haints, that live in the surrounding area. But Emmy’s “twin” Kammi appears and upends everything. Kammi seems to be the mirror image of Emmy, as she is sophisticated and evil. Emmy’s best friend Bernice is wary of her, but Emmy is desperate for answers and overlooks Kammi’s behavior until Kammi confronts her with an army of evil haints. Emmy has her own coalition, but the ending seemed rushed, and I know this won’t be the last we see of Kammi.

Volume Three: Snake Doctor

In this volume we get some stand alone stories that do some world building for Harrow County. But I most enjoyed the middle story that centered on the appealing Bernice. It turns out Emmy doesn’t have the corner on magic, and Bernice becomes an apprentice of sorts to a snake handling witch who hunts out snakes that are manifestations of evil.  This should lead to Bernice being more of a partner to her best friend, which is a promising direction.

Two other artists are featured in chapters one and four and I did not like it at all. They don’t even try to mimic the style of Tyler Crook, and it is his evocative art that defines the series. I have always liked series that were consistent with their author and artist such as Locke and Key, Revival, The Walking Dead, Manifest Destiny and The Wicked & The Divine. But perhaps that observation should be the subject a future discussion post…

Volume Four: Family Tree

In the fourth volume we finally get some back story on Hester’s powers and meet some magical “family members”. Odessa, who had been referred to in the previous volume, is shown, and while she seems to be a sort of mentor to Emmy, she and the others want to destroy Harrow County and all it’s inhabitants so Emmy will stay with them. Well, Emmy won’t accept that, and it turns out her so-called family underestimated her powers. This was a typical origins story- some answers are given, while raising many more.

Cullen Bunn’s story remains strong, as did Crook’s art. My reviews of the remaining four volumes won’t be far behind, as I am *dying* to find out the rest of Emmy’s story!

-Nancy

Check out my other Harrow County reviews: Volume One, Volumes Five-Six, Volumes Seven-Eight

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies

Ellie idolizes old singers and movie stars: Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, John Lennon, Elliott Smith, and more. One thing they all have in common? They were all drug addicts. Ever since she found a mixtape her mother made for her father (both drug addicts themselves), containing songs written and performed by drug addicts, Ellie has been obsessed with the old stars and their struggles with heroin, amphetamines, cocaine, you name it. So you could say it’s no surprise Ellie winds up in a rehab facility. What is surprising is she meets a boy. Skip is trying desperately to not throw this last chance away, whereas Ellie has no plans for getting sober. Once they realize their attraction for each other, will they recover together, or spiral back into old habits?

This one isn’t what you expect it to be. You go in expecting one thing, but by the end, it’s quite another. Brubaker and Phillips pull no punches here. The writing is excellent, big plot twist aside. We alternate between the present day and flashbacks to Ellie’s childhood, which give us more context. Each of Ellie’s flashbacks relate to the next slice of the modern day story in subtle ways that you only truly pick up on with a second read through. Sometimes flashbacks are too obviously related to the main story, but the fact that they aren’t here shows a deft hand. I was highly impressed.

The art uses color more than solid drawing to convey the overall mood and individual emotions.  Don’t get me wrong: the drawing is great, but color was the focus here. The modern day sequences are rendered in saturated pastels. While the characters for the most part are solidly colored in, the backgrounds are splashed with hardly-mixed color, suggesting chaos and uncertainty, even if the palette is cheerful. The flashbacks are in greyscale, but the splotches remain, again conveying the turbulence of Ellie’s childhood. The art suggests something is going on long before it happens, which is arguably more important than foreshadowing in the writing of a graphic novel.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that this isn’t the first collaboration by Brubaker and Phillips. This is a novella from their series called Criminal. Excuse me while I go check it out 😉 I was, again, very impressed with this graphic novel, and the way the writing and the art worked together to the conclusion you didn’t expect. I anticipate more good stuff from these guys.

– Kathleen

Brubaker, Ed, and Sean Phillips. My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies. 2018.

Manfried Saves The Day

Manfried The Man was a quirky graphic novel about cats and humans having their roles reversed. In this second graphic novel Steve, an anthropomorphic cat, and his pet man, Manfried return to save a man-shelter from being closed.

Steve’s cartooning work is taking off, as his drawings of his pet Manfried are becoming popular. A former slacker, he still struggles with work deadlines and life responsibilities, but his romance with his neighbor Henrietta is promising. When a rich developer puts Henrietta’s man-shelter in danger, the two of them plus some friends band together to raise money to save the shelter. An upcoming pet show with an unrealistically high money prize seems to be the answer to their prayers. Will Manfriend save the day by winning best in show?

The artwork is clean, simple and attractive; always with a six panel layout per page. I am so used to graphic novels having layouts that vary from splash pages to atypically placed panels that this setup is refreshingly simple. The juxtaposition of the roles leads to clever sight gags with the little men. Seeing the men dressed up in adorable Halloween costumes, to aid in their adoption at the shelter, was by far the best part.

The first book was more nuanced than I expected, but this second outing was a bit trite and had a Hallmark movie feel. Yet, if you are a fan of Manfried from the first graphic novel or the author’s Tumblr page, you will enjoy this sweet story about the men’s adventures. Thank you to NetGalley for the chance to read an advance online copy.

-Nancy

(Aside- How do these men reproduce? No women or children pets have been shown. Curious minds need to know!)

Top 5 Wednesday: Independent Ladies

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme from Goodreads, created by Lainey from Gingerreadslainey and now moderated by Sam from ThoughtsOnTomes. This week the topic is: favorite leading ladies who aren’t distracted from getting shit done by their love interest.

Princess Leia from Star Wars

Princess Leia was getting shit done before a certain flyboy and scoundrel came into her life! She was a member of the Imperial Senate and a member of the Rebel Alliance when she was just a teenager and later became a General of the resistance. Her romance and later marriage to Han Solo were fit in between her amazing adventures.

Wonder Woman from the Kingdom Come storyline

When a new generation of heroes was failing and an impending apocalyptic event looms, Wonder Woman comes out of retirement to retrieve Superman who was in seclusion to save the world. The two of them, plus Batman, put everything right again and only after that does a romance between Diana and Clark develop. Loved the epilogue of this story!

Tyleet from the ElfQuest saga

Tyleet is a favorite character of mine from the ElfQuest series who is kind, patient and steady. As a second generation of the Wolfrider clan, she was single for hundreds of years before she unexpectedly “recognized” (when two elves are drawn together to create a child) an older elf Scouter. Despite her subsequent pregnancy Tyleet remained true to herself and in helping neighboring tribes of humans. Scouter learned to help her instead of stopping her from assisting those he had previously viewed as the enemy.

Officer Dana Cypress from the Revival series

Inexplicably, twenty three people come back to life in rural small town Wisconsin.Their new existence sets the town on edge, with media scrutiny, a government quarantine and religious fanatics taking over the region. Officer Dana Cypress, a single mother and daughter of the sheriff, is asked to head the unit looking into this phenomenon. A problem arises when she discovers her younger sister is one of the “revivers”. She meets a scientist who is there to study the undead, and he becomes a love interest, but it is completely secondary to her solving the mystery.

Faith Herbert aka Zephyr of the Harbinger Renegades

Faith is a kick ass heroine! Not your typical scantily clad model type superhero chick, she transcends that stereotype and it becomes a non-issue. In this series, Faith has taken a break from the Renegades to discover herself. She still fights crime, but works as a journalist as her alter-ego. A new romance with another hero Archer is hinted at but her friendships remain a priority. She is a worthy adversary of any super villain, with promising future story lines.  You go girl!

I love how all these women are examples of how a woman can remain true to themselves while in the midst of a relationship. Women should be partners with the men they love and not subvert who they are.  These five examples of independent ladies are fantastic role models!

-Nancy

Wonder Woman: Earth One (Vol. 2)

Diana is back in Man’s World, preaching the Amazon way of peace and love. There are many who believe in her message, and receive it well, but there are many and more who think it’s unnatural – even dangerous. The US government has decided Diana Prince is a threat. They’ve discovered a weapon left on Paradise Island during World War II that could neutralize the Amazons – and Wonder Woman herself. All they have to do is pull the trigger…

I loved Earth One Wonder Woman when I read Volume 1, and I still love it now. The character is updated and challenged for modern times here. It’s heartbreaking how real her story feels: a woman, standing up and sharing her ideas on how to make the world a better place, only to be questioned, ridiculed, and labeled a threat by the men in power. There is an excellent passage in which Diana is questioned why anyone should listen to a a message of peace through loving submission spoken by a privileged princess. This one made me think, and I do love books that make me think.

Just as in the first volume, the art is excellent. The characters are solidly drawn and wonderfully expressive. There are still panels which are surrounded by the Lasso of Truth, or lightning, or other motifs; where I remember the first volume overdid these a bit to the point where it was hard to read, this volume did a better job of balancing them out. There are many Easter eggs once again to past incarnations of Wonder Woman’s character and story arcs, which are delightful for long-time fans to pick out.

Earth One definitely isn’t your mother’s Wonder Woman. That’s what I like about it 😉 This will challenge your perception of this DC staple in today’s world. As ever, looking forward to the next volume.

– Kathleen

Morrison, Grant, Yanick Paquette, and Nathan Fairbairn. Wonder Woman: Earth One (Vol. 2). 2018.

Aquaman: The Trench & The Others

Geoff Johns take on Aquaman is an absolute winner! He crafts the often maligned superhero into a charismatic and appealing champion of the people, that, dare I say, is now my favorite DC hero!

Volume One: The Trench

Straight off, Johns takes Aquaman’s reputation by the horns and addresses how many people perceive him as a joke. Poor guy- he’s been mocked on SNL and his abilities to communicate with sea animals is ridiculed. Despite his rugged good looks, powerful physique and amazing powers, he is often looked down upon.

But as the story progresses we get to know Arthur the man, not just Aquaman the hero. We are introduced to Mera, a princess of Xebel (which is a breakaway nation from Atlantis), who has joined Arthur on land. I adored their relationship; it was balanced, loving and free of drama. I’m warning you DC, don’t ruin this relationship! The two of them fight some aquatic monsters that come out of a deep trench in the ocean and are terrorizing Amnesty Bay. Their decisions on how to deal with the monsters help with character development, and this first volume ably gives you enough flashbacks and insights to Arthur’s past for readers to understand who Aquaman is.

Volume Two: The Others

This second volume tries to give more of Arthur’s backstory, and we find out that before Mera met him, he was part of a motley group of second-tier heroes called The Others that discovered, and subsequently protected, Atlantean weapons. Black Manta, Arthur’s arch enemy, tracks down some of these members to steal these artifacts to use against Aquaman. We also get to know marine biologist Dr. Stephen Shin, who helped Arthur develop his powers as a child, but betrayed him and his father, hoping for recognition for his work.

This story was more convoluted, and I had to refer to the website Comic Vine to keep track of The Others and their powers. Plus, there was one member, Ya’Wara, a sexualized hottie who wore a string bikini in Siberia. Come on now. It made me yearn for Arthur to become involved in the Justice League and for him to become a member of that team.  Still loving on Mera and Arthur in this volume!

Now let’s talk about the art. It’s fantastic! Ivan Reis impressively draws Arthur and Mera. The seascapes are beautifully rendered and richly colored in. He includes many one or two page spreads and drew the ocean creatures with precision. While the story line redeemed the character of Aquaman, it was the drawings that upgraded the story as a whole and made me fall in love with Arthur and Mera.

Johns was the perfect author to develop Arthur’s story. Kathleen’s review of the movie Aquaman showed that Johns’ screen-writing contribution to the movie elevated it above many of DC’s preceding disappointing adaptations of the DCEU (except for Wonder Woman -that was beyond good!). Johns has a handle on the DC characters and has penned previous novels such as Green Lantern, The Flash: Rebirth, Batman: Earth One and Forever Evil (although in this event book, Johns did not include Aquaman!!!).

I like how DC is developing both versions of Aquaman in books and on screen parallel to one another. Although Aquaman is now often portrayed with a beard, illustrators aren’t trying to make him look like Jason Momoa. Fans are intelligent enough to accept this, and one version doesn’t have to subvert the other. And while I truly am a fan of Momoa, I’m glad the comics are keeping Arthur as the blonde version that has been around for decades. I hope between this new adaptation of Aquaman’s story, along with any stories found in the Justice League comics, he gets the recognition and respect he deserves.

-Nancy

Death or Glory (Vol. 1): She’s Got You

Glory’s adopted father is dying. He needs to have a major surgery in order to have even a chance at survival. The money’s all run out, and Glory is getting desperate. She decides to set up a series of heists, stealing money from drug lords, to pay for Red’s surgery and save his life. It’s not really stealing if you’re already stealing from a criminal… right? But the first heist goes awry, and Glory soon finds herself in way over her head. Soon she’s dodging crooked cops and her ex-husband, all of whom trying to bring her in no matter what, in addition to well-meaning members of her trucker family. When things go from bad to worse, can Glory pull off her plan and save Red?

I admit I had to skim this one after a certain point. The story is interesting enough, but it was too violent for my taste. Strong language is fine with me, as are love scenes, but soon as one guy starts cutting another guy open with a chop saw, I check out. That said, most of it seemed well-suited to the story, and there were only a few scenes that I deemed excessive. Because of the violence, I’d have to say this one is adult only.

What I did enjoy about this one was Glory herself. She’s not some hero, and she’s not pretending to be one. She is straight up hurting for money and not willing to let go of someone she loves. She’s ready to do whatever it takes to save that person, even if it means breaking the law. Is that ethical? It’s up to the reader to decide. I’ve always been fascinated by stories like hers – it’s why I think Mr. Freeze from Batman is such a good villain. When written well, you question whether or not he’s even a bad guy. I questioned whether or not Glory was good here, and I loved it.

The art is great. The backgrounds and environments are rendered in sort of a dusty ’50s meets Wild West style. They’re rendered a little more carefully than the characters, grounding the reader in a plausible reality. The characters are a little more sketchy, a little more exaggerated, to suit the action-oriented story. Even though there is a lot of action, the panels are still laid out in a straightforward and easy-to-follow format.

Skip this one if you mind a lot of violence; but if you don’t, this story will take you on a ride-or-die roller coaster that has you questioning the morality of everyone involved.

– Kathleen

Remender, Rick, and Bengal. Death or Glory (Vol. 1): She’s Got You. 2018.

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