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Graphic Novelty²

Best Reads of 2020

One of the few good parts of 2020: all the exemplary graphic novels we read! Once again, dear readers, we present the best graphic novels we have read this year, in no particular order.

Nancy: Pride of Baghdad was an absolutely riveting graphic novel that took the real-life story of how a pride of lions escaped the Baghdad Zoo in April of 2003 during an American raid of Iraq when it was under Saddam Hussian’s rule. This anthropomorphic tale by Brian K. Vaughn and Niko Henrichon centers around four lions in the Baghdad Zoo- male leader Zill, older female Safa, younger Noor and her cub Ali. These four lions go on to characterize how different Iraqi citizens have coped with the cruel reign of Hussian, although truly the tale is universal in scope. The conclusion, while expected, will tear you to pieces. Its illuminating clarity will make you think for a long time about the perils of war.

Kathleen: I had to redo my list once I read The Dragon Prince (Vol. 1): Through the Moon. Set between the events of Season 3 and the upcoming Season 4 of the Netflix series, our main characters embark on a journey to the land of death both for closure and confirmation. The main draw of this graphic novel, and the series as a whole, is the charming and loving interactions between all the characters. What’s more, it’s incredibly diverse in cast. This graphic novel is easily a worthy addition to the universe, and one of the best adaptations of another IP I’ve seen. You will fall in love as I have done.

Nancy: I fell in love with ElfQuest when I was in high school and my boyfriend who was collecting them introduced me to the World of Two Moons. Sometimes our dates would consist of us sitting side by side reading for hours and debating the finer points of elf lore. That my high school boyfriend eventually became my husband makes this series dear to my heart. The series began in 1978 ( I began reading it in the 1990s) and ended exactly forty years later with a four-volume conclusion called The Final Quest. I had bought the books and read them as they came out, and although I obviously blog about graphic novels I read, I did not write up any reviews, as the stories meant so much to me and I felt it hard to do it justice. But re-reading them during this spring’s Covid quarantine was enjoyable. Authors Wendy and Richard Pini fold decades worth of storyline and family connections of the elf tribes into a mostly satisfying conclusion to this truly epic fantasy series.

Kathleen: Things aren’t always what they seem. For example, Estranged may look like a middle-grade graphic novel at first glance. This is a tale about a human and fae who were swapped at birth and forced to meet when a usurper tries to take the fae throne. They must work together to save what each of them holds dear. Author Ethan Aldridge takes a deep dive into issues such as identity, family, and finding where one belongs, written without compunction, yet in a way that his target audience will understand. The art was delightfully cluttered without feeling overwhelming. Trust me – you’ll be as surprised as I was.

Nancy: I was sold on In the Pines: Five Murder Ballads as soon as I read murder ballads in the title! I’ve long been a fan of narrative songs that tell a story, with Appalachian inspired murder ballads being particularly appealing to me. Author and illustrator Erik Kriek is actually Danish, but took an American type of ballad, and turned it into a new type of art. He didn’t just adapt the song straight into comic form, instead he interpreted the lyrics to tell a fresh story, sometimes to my liking and sometimes not. The art was in duotone, with a different color for each tale. Reminiscent of scratch art or wood reliefs, Kriek’s black inks were evocative of Appalachian landscapes and times gone by.

Kathleen: Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom, adopted by Swedish parents at birth, shares her quest for finding the identity of her Korean birth parents in Palimpsest. This read was extraordinarily hard, but it’s well worth it. Though strong emotions come up throughout, there is never a point where it feels melodramatic. The information that Lisa and her husband Richey find is laid out, matter-of-factly, and in a sense the overall book is presented that way, too. Warm sepia tones, evoking rice paper and old documents, make up the whole color scheme. The presentation of this deeply personal, yet eye-opening, account shot it to this year’s best reads list immediately upon closing.

Nancy: What can I add to the dialogue about the excellent nine-volume series Saga? An epic sci-fi adventure with liberal doses of violence and sex, this series is a favorite of many but also criticized for the illustrated depictions of said violence and sex. Author Brian K. Vaughan jokingly described the series as “Star Wars for perverts.” Fiona Staples’s art is perfect for the story. She immediately establishes the looks of a large cast of unique characters and creates believable alien worlds, with some awesome two-page spreads. Vaughan and Staple have indicated that the story is only half over, but their 2018 hiatus continues, with fans dying to know what will happen next to the little space-faring family of Alana, Marko and Hazel.

Kathleen: Akiko Higashimura starts the story of how she became a manga artist in Blank Canvas (Vol. 1): My So-Called Artist’s Journey. As a high school student, she thinks she can get by on pure talent, until she starts taking classes with Hidaka Kenzou. He is a gifted artist but a demanding teacher. Though it is a manga, the art is more realistic and has less “manga-style” tropes than I think is usual. The physical and mental demands of an artist are portrayed accurately. What intrigued me most was Akiko and Hidaka’s relationship: though it’s clear how unalike they are, Akiko clearly remembers him fondly. This is one character study I am looking forward to more of.

Nancy: Do you think you know King Arthur’s story? Think again! In this alternative fantasy world by Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora set in Britain, Duncan McGuire is a handsome but bumbling academic out on a disastrous date when he gets a call that his grandma is missing from her assisted living home. But his doobie smoking gran Bridgette turns out to be a monster hunter who has been keeping a lot of secrets from Duncan whom she raised. Soon he is in the middle of a crusade to block a woman Elaine from reanimating King Arthur who is not the kindly king of lore. In a Brexit-inspired plot, a group of Nationalists wishes for him to keep Britain pure so they bring his remains back to life. Then it a race to prevent a dark prophecy from taking hold, with several twists and turns and improbable family connections. The first volume of Once & Future sucked me in, and I already have volume two at home for a January review.

Kathleen: Last, but not least, for me, is the middle-grade DC hero debut of Primer. Ashley Rayburn’s new foster home is with scientist Yuka and artist Kitch Nolan. Though she likes them, she knows her penchant for getting into trouble won’t let her stay last long. After doing just that by discovering a suitcase full of paints that give her special powers, she must make a choice: save herself, or save her newfound family. The draw is in the art here: cartoony, loud, bombastic, and bursting with color. Each character is diverse and bends a traditional gender role, which only adds to the quirky sitcom tone – in a tasteful way. Readers of all ages will love this.

Friends, while 2020 was not what any of us expected, we were still fortunate enough to read these stand-out graphic novels, and more. It’s our hope that 2021 is a better one. Thank you all for another year of blogging, good reads, and solidarity. Wishing you a warm, safe, and happy holiday season,

– Nancy and Kathleen

The Dragon Prince (Vol. 1): Through the Moon

Note: This graphic novel takes place between Season 3 and the upcoming Season 4 of the Netflix series The Dragon Prince. There are mild spoilers for Season 3 ahead!

After the events of Season 3, things in Xadia and the human kingdoms are finally starting to calm down. Ezran has been gifted a feather from their moon phoenix friend, Phoe-Phoe; he, Callum, and Rayla have been invited back to the Moon Nexus to help Lujanne resurrect her in an ancient ritual. Only Rayla is skeptical of this trip. She suspects that Lord Viren, the orchestrator of all their hurts, is not really dead. She is also struggling with the disappearance of her parents and mentor, Runaan. Once she learns that the Moon Nexus is a portal between life and death, she decides to step through on the night of the full moon, for closure – and for peace of mind. What will she find, and will she be able to come back?

Reading this graphic novel was truly delightful. It felt just like reading an episode of the show. The humorous, yet weighty tone was intact, as well as the dialogue between everyone. Part of the charm of the show is the obvious love each character has for another, through their interactions alone. It’s very “show, not tell” in that regard.

I’ve thought the art style of the show looked like a moving, 3-D ish comic book (trust me, if you watch a clip, you’ll get what I’m talking about). My suspicion that it would translate well to a graphic novel was confirmed here. The environments and characters are rendered beautifully and true to the source material. My favorite sequence was a 2-page spread montage, where the panels of the characters’ actions were interspersed between slim panels of the moon phase, to illustrate the passage of time. It seemed to me that the colors here were more muted than in the show, but that is far from a serious complaint.

Though I have written my review as spoiler-free as possible, there’s no way around it: you’ll need to watch the show in order to fully understand the story here. If your introduction to The Dragon Prince is this graphic novel, you won’t be able to resist seeking the show out anyway 😉 I highly recommend the show for the world, the characters, and the strongest cast diversity I have seen in a long, long time. This graphic novel is more than a worthy addition to the story and universe.

– Kathleen

Wartman, Peter, and Xanthe Bouma. The Dragon Prince (Vol. 1): Through the Moon. 2020.

Marvels podcast

“Based on the graphic novel by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross Marvels takes place in the aftermath of the Fantastic Four’s battle with Galactus, high above New York City, for the fate of the world. One intrepid photographer, an ambitious college student, and a cynical journalist embark on an investigation to confirm or debunk one of the most super-powered conspiracy theories of all time”

I was a big fan of the Wolverine podcasts, The Long Night and The Lost Trail, so I aimed to listen to another podcast, this time about the Fantastic Four (although I’m not a fan of them, esp Reed). This podcast gives the perspective of everyday people living in a world populated with superheroes, villains and mutants. We see the world through their eyes as they try to make sense of the incredible things happening around them. *Some spoilers ahead*

Galactus Cometh

Set in NYC in the 60s, reporters Phil Sheldon and Ben Urich witness the villain Galactus fight the Fantastic Four which brings down ruin and chaos on the city. Each chapter opens with snippets of radio broadcasts that are an effective way to convey background knowledge. 

Retribution

Although the battle could be the story of the century, photographer Phil rushes back home to be with his wife and daughters, feeling his priority is with them in what could be their last hours. Although Galactus is later defeated, he doesn’t regret his choice although it hurts him professionally.

Truth & Consequences

Ben tries to help an elderly woman to safety amidst the rubble of the city when Galactus suddenly disappears. Did the Fantastic Four defeat him? Was it an illusion? Jonah Jameson, the editor of the Daily Bugle newspaper, believes it was all a hoax and public opinion seems to agree. Ben and Phil want the truth, for the clues don’t add up. 

Monsters

Phil and Ben along with Marcia Hardesty, a budding college journalist, interview Ben Grimm aka The Thing, about the day of the invasion. He seems to be toeing the party line in what he shares, but an overheard conversation that he later has with his girlfriend Alicia seems to poke some holes in the hoax theory.  Aside- it was cool earlier in the podcast to hear Grimm’s trademark “It’s clobbering time!” during audio of the fight overhead in NYC. 

Warheads

Marcia recounts the protest against mutants (X-Men) she attended on her campus led by Senator Byrd that devolved into anarchy right as Galcutus invaded Earth. Anti-mutant sentiment is high, and she counsels a good friend of hers, Gary, not to reveal his fire-making abilities. But he wishes to stand with his fellow mutants and tragedy befalls him as the crowd erupts in violence. That the protestors wanted to send mutants to serve in the Vietnam War as “warheads”- weaponizing their powers for evil and avoiding the draft themselves was heartbreaking. 

Interference

The trio of journalists, Phil, Ben and Marcia (plus Peter Parker tags along) separately interview Sue Richards and her brother Johnny the Human Torch about what happened between them and the fight with Galactus. They too don’t know where Reed was for some time. Sue’s statement “Genius is best left alone” could prove prophetic.

I Feel Fine

Our intrepid journalists visit high school student Charlie Martinez, a genius who is a protegee of Richard Reed. One of her experiments that manipulates reality in large ways might have been used by Reed without her authorization. She feels he would be too moral to do so, but the other three disagree. 

Limits

Phil and Ben have the opportunity to interview Dr. Richards and his arrogance reinforces my distaste for him. He has Godlike illusions about his part in the battle and seems to reinforce the hoax theory because mere humans couldn’t comprehend his true intentions. Did he use Charlie’s “ignifier” (not sure I’m spelling that right)?

The Herald

Phil, Ben and Marcia get a chance to interview the Silver Surfer, who used to be in league with Galactus and would herald his arrival on planets that were to be destroyed. But he broke with Galcutus on Earth and turned against him helping the F4 defeat him. Earthbound for now, genius Charle helps him be able to speak, as his communication wavelengths had been compromised. Aside- The Silver Surfer has been largely absent from the Marvel universe movies, except for the 2007 Fantastic Four movie sequel. I’m surprised he hasn’t been utilized in the Avenger movies. 

Eyes Open

The truth is revealed to the public by Dr. Reed at a rally held by Senator Byrd. Reed reveals he made a deal with Byrd as to prevent more anti-mutant violence and thus took the blame for the attack. While Reed came off as the good guy at the end, I still think he’s a prick. Marcia gives a heartfelt speech about her boyfriend Gary and the journalists are redeemed. Phil thoughtfully shares about how even heroes are flawed, and yet everyday people can be heroes too, or as he calls them Marvels. Make sure you stick around for the credits, for as Marvel movies do, there is a major reveal at the end, that could lead to the next story/podcast!

While not as good as the Wolverine podcasts, Marvels was very worthwhile and I already have the graphic novel that this story is based off on reserve. I liked the different perspectives of everyday citizens and how they deal with all the chaos that results from living in the Marvel universe! 

-Nancy

Voice Cast: 

Seth Barrish as Phil Sheldon                                                                                                  

Anna Sophia Robb as Marcia Hardesty                                                                                          

Cliff ‘Method Man’ Smith as Ben Urich                                                                                   

Ethan Peck as Reed Richards (he plays a young Spock on Star Trek: Discovery!!!)

Gabriella Ortega as Charlie Martinez

Jake Hart as Ben Grimm

Louisa Krause as Sue Storm Richards 

Ehad Berisha as Johnny Storm

Teo Rapp-Olson as Peter Parker 

Daniel Molina as Silver Surfer 

Karl Kenzler as Senator Byrd 

 

City of Secrets

Ever Barnes is an orphan living in the old Switchboard Building in the city called Oskar. He isn’t supposed to be living there, but he has a secret. A very important secret that his father entrusted him to guard. Besides, the employees of the building tolerate his presence so long as he stays out of the way. That all changes when Hannah Morgan spots Ever while visiting the building with her father, the building’s new owner. She wants to be his friend, and help him, for she hates to think of him all alone in the gloom, but Ever keeps pushing her away. Once Ever starts to be followed by shadowy men, can he keep refusing Hannah’s help?

The city of Oskar is an intriguing place, and it’s as much a character as the people residing in it. Its secrets lure you deeper into the mystery. To me, an adult, the story was a little predictable, but the middle grade target audience will be on the edge of their seats the entire time.

Sketchy ink and watercolors drew up a steampunk world. The linework is busy and lively. There is a sepia undertone to all, which makes it seem like the entire thing was printed on yellowed newsprint or toned paper. This fit the steampunk aesthetic perfectly. To me the steampunk elements seemed a bit watered down, probably to better focus on the characters, but more of them would have been welcome.

Middle-grade readers will be thrilled by this steampunk fantasy mystery.

– Kathleen

Ying, Victoria. City of Secrets. 2020.

Solutions and other Problems

As a fan of Hyperbole and a Half, I was pleased to see that author and illustrator Allie Brosh has put out a new book. Her first book with its crude art style had been wickedly funny, but also surprisingly poignant as she gave a very accurate portrayal of what depression feels like. Much has changed in Brosh’s real-life since her first book was published in 2013 and that is reflected in this large 500-page graphic novel. Sadly, her younger sister committed suicide soon after Hyperbole and a Half was published and Brosh later got a divorce, although she has since remarried. So this book again is a mix of humor and pathos as she works through some of these issues. 

This book is linked vignettes, with each chapter a little story of its own, with many of them about her childhood foibles. Brosh was a strange child, but the absurd stories make you look fondly back on your own youth, as children are typically magical thinkers and reality hasn’t fully connected with them. Hey, I used to walk around my neighborhood with black pants over my head, thinking that everyone would think I had long black tresses- when I’m sure they just thought I was a lil’ weirdo.

The chapters could be uneven but the ones that I found the most interesting (despite some of them being sad) were the chapters dedicated to her sister, her drug-induced night hike, and the last stories about loneliness and trying to like herself. Brosh’s simple art is part of the appeal, she is conveying ideas without her illustrations being accurate in the least. I think Brosh has a fresh and unique voice, and is relatable, as we all have had mixes of tragedy and humor in our lives. She brings it all forth with an unmistakable honesty, wit and style. 

-Nancy

Witch Hat Atelier (Vol. 1)

Coco is a young girl who lives in a world suffused with magic. She’s not a witch – witches are born, not made, everyone knows – but she wishes she was. She lives with her mom in the tailor shop they run. Upon a visit from a male witch named Qifrey, Coco discovers that magic is drawn, with a pen and ink, instead of spoken aloud as everyone had thought. She decides to try drawing from a book she had been given as a child – and accidentally traps her mother in crystal. Qifrey takes her to his atelier, his magic home, in order to train Coco as a witch’s apprentice and undo the spell.

The fantasy manga I’ve started so far all have a great knack for fascinating world building. The magic system of drawing, while not that new, is refreshing. I can always appreciate stories that show how hard work artistry can be 😉 What’s interesting to me is that a point is made to show that magic is everywhere in this world, but only a few people are shown how to use it… instead of the other way around where only a few people have magic within them in a non-magical world.

The art was cute, but thankfully, not over-the-top cute. It leans toward the cutesy style without being too much. There’s a classical quality to it, somehow. The light is either softly diffused or very dramatic, and a good measure of attention is given to the indoor scenes of kitchens and workshops and their respective tools.

Looking forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Shirahama, Kamome. Witch Hat Atelier (Vol. 1). 2017.

LeVar Burton Reads: Season Seven

Season Seven’s theme was “surrender”. LeVar stated that sometimes we can not control our lives and the circumstances we are thrust into (Covid!), so these stories follow the idea that often we need to adapt and change to our surroundings. 

Pockets by Amal El-Mohtar

In the story, Nadia begins to discover strange items in her pockets, and some of them are so large as to not make sense that they could be found there. She confides in a friend who is a scientist, for she wants to know if this strange phenomenon can be explained. During the experiments, they meet another woman who is experiencing something similar and she helps Nadia stop questioning how and why and become more accepting of this new gift

Your Rover is Here by LP Kindred

A cab driver, Ahmad, is driving a fare out to a church and thinks his rider is singing to himself but then figures out it is actually evil chants. Ahmed then reveals he is actually a Jinn and combats the other man who was trying to hurt the congregation due to racism. This magical realism tale has a nice urban vibe and has an #ownvoices author, but didn’t excite me.

The Nine Curves River by RF Kuang

The fantasy story was devastatingly beautiful. Told from the older sister’s perspective, two sisters leave their island so the younger sister can give herself willingly to the dragon who will then end the drought in the region. Based on Chinese mythology this story of regrets and sacrifice will rip your heart to shreds. Read expertly by LeVar, he brought the dragon’s voice to life. I now want to read the author’s novel The Poppy War, for this tale is based on one of the character’s backstories.

Room For Rent by Richie Narvaez

This science-fiction tale had some bite, as you think about the different viewpoints of colonialism and how the dominating group justifies their actions. In this story, a pregnant alien is looking for a room to rent but finds out her new home is overrun with vermin, which actually turn out to be humans. We find out several types of aliens have overtaken Earth and now the original humans are being exterminated. At first, this alien seems kind and protects the humans, but soon enough her perspective changes and she condones her actions of killing them because she believes her kind deserves the land they unjustly took over. While this story has many parallels all over the world, my first thought was how whites took over Native American land and portrayed them as savages to excuse their genocide.

Cricket by Kenneth Yu

In this magical realism tale, the long-lived matriarch dies, leaving behind a large family that includes Richard the youngest son. It was his duty to take care of his mother and he looks bitterly at his older siblings whom he perceives as more successful as he. A magical cricket begins to speak to his family and says necessary truths to them all, especially about appreciating their life, but Richard in a rage kills it. A sad fable about how we need to not look outward for validation but try to improve the life we have in the here and now.

Madre Nuestra, Que Estas en Maracaibo by Ana Hurtado 

Yesenia is a put-upon mother from Venezuela who moves back to her parent’s home to care for her dying grandmother. Her marriage is ending, her children aren’t obedient, she left her unsatisfying career as a lawyer, plus then her parents heap more expectations upon her. Yesenia’s devout grandmother has always prayed for those at risk of purgatory, but when she is about to die herself, these souls come back and Yesenia has to fight them off thus helping pave a way to heaven for her Abuela and improving her life in the process.

Dune Song by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

In this post-apocalyptical desert world, a young girl struggles with surviving in a parched world. To keep villagers safe they are restricted to a fenced area, and if they leave, they are then banished. She and another youth decide to leave the safety of their village, so it becomes self vs community. The ending didn’t quite work for me, as I wasn’t sure if the wind storm signified their salvation or doom. I actually assumed the latter.

Wherein Abigail Fields Recalls Her First Death and, Subsequently, Her Best Life by Rebecca Roanhorse 

In this alternative timeline, set in the 1880s in New Mexico, Abigail is a Black young woman who is seeking revenge against the sheriff who killed her father years ago. She gives up her love interest to stay back and fulfill the covenant she made to kill him but realizes her hate is keeping her from living her best life. This story reminds me of the YA novel Dread Nation from Justina Ireland that also had an F/F romance set in the Old West with a magical realism angle. The podcast has a lengthy afterward by LeVar where he speaks of not being anti-white just because he is pro-Black. 

Low Energy Economy by Adrian Tchaikovsky

An asteroid miner on a solo space mission ruminates on his life as he mines for materials that Earth needs. He left his home hundreds of years ago, as he is put into hyper-sleep between landings, but he made the choice to take this job for his starving family would be fed for possible generations so long as his mining missions are successful. He is lonely and dying, with no way home, when upon his next awakening he is unexpectedly given the gift of seeing how his life’s work has benefitted his homeworld. A sweet tale about not giving up, even when you wonder if you are making a difference.

A Good Friday by Barbara Jenkins

Set in a Trinidad bar, a playboy meets a beautiful and religious woman but isn’t sure he wants to strike up a relationship with her because of her devoutness. But the tables are turned when she begins to take control, and ultimately he becomes her plaything. The story grew on me as it went, and because the story is framed as the man reminiscing years later, you don’t know if this new couple has a happy ending or not.

The Story We Used to Tell by Shirley Jackson

I was eagerly anticipating this story, as I have read other creepy tales by Shirley Jackson, a master of the short story. It started promisingly, with a woman visiting her recently widowed friend on her country estate when her friend suddenly disappears. After some investigation in her friend’s bedroom, she discovers a painting of the house and sees her in it, and then she herself is sucked in. I wish this eerie and atmospheric story had been a bit longer to flesh it out more. 

Little Man by Michael Cunningham

This re-telling of the Rumpelstiltskin tale will make you think how this gnome-man has been villainized unfairly (actually I always thought that!). In this story, we follow along as Rumpelstiltskin sees how a miller has gotten his daughter into an impossible situation with the king, and steps in to help. While somewhat thankful she takes up the king on his offer of marriage afterward, although he seems to be a horrible tyrant. Rumpelstiltskin tries to talk her out of it, but all she seems to want is riches and comfort, so that is when he strikes the deal with her for her first-born. That he loses and the king and queen unjustly remain in power, speaks to how life can seem so unfair at times, with the phrase “no good deed goes unpunished” seemingly apropos.

Mother of Invention by Nnedi Okorafor

This African futurism short story was longer and thus divided into two podcasts. Anwuli is a pregnant Nigerian woman who has been cast off by the father of her child after it is revealed he is married. The wife of her lover is vicious to Anwuli, placing the blame of the affair on her when her anger should be directed at the husband that betrayed her. Also shunned by her friends and family she retreats to a smart house, that cares for her when a deadly pollen storm unexpectedly hits the area and she goes into labor. The AI in her house ends up being kinder to her than any real people, and the ending was somewhat ambiguous as to what will happen next to Anwuli, her lover, his family and the houses that care for them.  An intriguing story that intertwined technology and human nature. A third podcast wrapped up this season with Levar interviewing the author Nnedi Okorafor

My favorite by far from this season was The Nine Curves River. Two others I would choose as my top picks are Room for Rent and Little Man.  As always I enjoy the stories that LeVar shares and suggest you check out his podcast if you haven’t already,  “But you don’t have to take my word for it.”

-Nancy

Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 7): Oracle Rising

The Terrible Trio stumbles upon an abandoned piece of AI calling itself Oracle. Upon rebooting, Oracle questions why she was abandoned by her creator: Barbara Gordon. Now, she’s out for answers and revenge, in no particular order. Babs has been pulling double duty with Congresswoman Alejo’s campaign, and Killer Moth’s latest reign of terror. He mentioned some kind of deal that was made with Lex Luthor, to give him weapons and technology that are normally outside his scope. But before she can investigate that, Oracle descends. How can Batgirl beat an enemy that she created to know her inside out?

Honestly? I couldn’t get into this one and found it boring. Probably the first time I’ve said that about a Batgirl comic =P It was too busy for me, story-wise. There was too much going on without much explanation. I found the art equally messy and busy.

I might give this one another try when pandemic brain isn’t too strong.

– Kathleen

Castellucci, Cecil, Carmine Di Giandomenico, and Jordie Bellaire. Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 7): Oracle Rising. 2020.

X-Men: Origins

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

Colossus by Chris Yost and Trevor Hairsine

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

Jean Grey by Sean McKeever and Mike Mayhew

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

Beast by Mike Carey and J.K. Woodward

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

Sabretooth by Kieron Gillen and Dan Panosian

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

Wolverine by Chris Yost and Mark Texeira

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

Gambit by Mike Carey, David Yardin and Ibraim Roberson 

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

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

-Nancy

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