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Graphic Novelty²

Stillwater

In the town of Stillwater, nobody dies. That’s not just a promise…it’s a threat.

Ne’er-do-well, Daniel, who has recently been fired and beat up by a bouncer when he was a jerk at a bar, receives a letter telling him that a great aunt has died. Hoping for an inheritance, he heads to the small town of Stillwater with his best friend Tony to investigate. The town is off the beaten track and a police officer stops them on the outskirts, warning the two men to behave. While there they witness a boy being pushed off a building and with no townspeople reacting to his fall. They are flabbergasted when the boy recovers quickly and runs away, revealing the secret of the town to the two men. Tony is killed by the formally affable police officer, but it is revealed that Daniel was a former resident of the town who was smuggled out as a toddler, so his life is spared.

Daniel, who was known as Tommy as a child, meets his mother Laura who had made the sacrifice of secretly sending him away so he could grow up and not be eternally caught in the body of a small child. No explanation is given as to why suddenly the town inhabitants stopped aging and miraculously heal from accidents. They are naturally afraid of outsiders finding out and the government swooping in to do experiments on them, so they remove themselves from society, and iron-clad rules are established to keep them safe. But this isn’t natural, and people are struggling as the decades go by. There are now some splinter groups who want to rebel and leave town, and of course, Daniel is chaffing at being a prisoner in a toxic community he doesn’t remember. Warped by power, leaders will do anything it takes to stay in control, and some plot threads are left open to build on.

The art establishes a realistic small-town atmosphere. All the characters are unique in looks and personalities, with a good artistic representation of the different walks of life within the town’s inhabitants. I enjoyed the panel configurations, there was a nice variety of small and large panels that pushed the action forward. The coloring is subdued and fits the narrative of immortality dragging on, with no new experiences or people livening their lives up.

The book reminded me of the sci-fi book Pines by Blake Crouch, in that people are trapped in a seemingly idealistic town, but a secret is rotting the town from within and the graphic novel series Revival by Tim Seely and Mike Norton in which a strange phenomenon changes a town forever. I enjoyed this first volume in this new series, and want to tune in to see how Daniel, Laura, and all the other townspeople cope with the so-called gift of eternal life.

-Nancy

Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (Vol. 3)

Everyone’s asking Akiko what she’s doing after graduation – but she doesn’t have a clue. She’s working part-time at a used bookstore while finishing school. It’s a pretty sweet gig – she gets to take home unsellable manga for free to read and study. While she still wants to become a manga artist, she still hasn’t drawn any manga, nor has she told anyone that’s what she wants to do. She ends up returning home to Miyazaki after graduating because Hidaka says he got her a teaching job. It ends up falling through, so he offers her a part-time job as his assistant instead. Her parents, eager for her to get on her feet, get her a job at her father’s company’s call center. Deeply unhappy and desperate, Akiko finally starts to draw manga and sends it to Bouquet magazine for a contest entry. She’s finally pursuing her dream, but how long until it gets out of the bag?

This volume was honestly pretty depressing. It reminded me of my days working two jobs, thinking I could also make art in my spare time. Though it does highlight the thing I appreciate the most about this manga: being an artist is hard. Finding the time to be an artist is hard. Akiko thankfully made it work for her, but not without her own unique struggles.

Something else to appreciate about this manga: she showed examples of other famous manga artists’ work by drawing a character in a few of their styles! Most I didn’t recognize, but it was a nice touch, especially considering her mention that she studied different manga and their styles during this period of her life.

Looking forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Higashimura, Akiko. Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (Vol. 3). 2019.

Out of Skin

Happy Halloween! This little story is delightfully creepy to read tonight and is by the esteemed Emily Carroll who wrote Through The Woods.

Illustrated in Carroll’s trademark black and red, a lonely woman in the woods finds a pit of dead girls from a nearby town. She buries them but a strange tree grows on the burial site. Back in her cottage, the dead women call to the woman and later seem to invade her home. She thinks of her mother, father and cousin, all dead, and you may begin to suspect that the woman herself is not innocent. Is she delusional or are the women seeking vengeance? When a traveling man comes to visit, and she hints that they have had a prior relationship, you will wonder if the man killed the townswomen or was it this woman out of jealousy. That this atmospheric tale is so ambiguous makes it all the better.

Carroll’s work is subversive, for the horror is implied and not always shown. Closeups of jagged teeth, strange eyes and wispy hands support the ghastly underpinnings of the story. The coloring and shading are delicate and eerie with the red used sparingly but with great precision to the mood of the short story. As you scroll downwards through the webcomic, it lends to the idea that you are seeing the deep pit yourself and are caught in the dark woods with an unstable and perhaps dangerous narrator.

What is extra delightful about this sinister tale, is that you can read it online for free! Read it for yourself at: Out of Skin.

-Nancy

Batman: The Long Halloween (2021 Animated Film)

Did you read The Long Halloween and wished there was a movie adaptation of it other than the Dark Knight trilogy taking inspiration from it? You’re in luck! Earlier this year, a two-part adaptation of this critically acclaimed graphic novel was released.

I went into the plot pretty well in-depth in my 2019 post linked above, so here’s a quick recap:

Johnny Viti, nephew to Gotham mob boss Carmine Falcone, is murdered on Halloween night. A Jack-o-Lantern is placed next to his body. He had been ready to testify against Falcone in court and provide evidence of his wrongdoings, so in Commissioner James Gordon’s mind, this can’t be a coincidence. He, District Attorney Harvey Dent, and vigilante Batman make a pact to take down the mob by whatever means necessary – within the law. However, as the year (“The Long Halloween” as it’s called by Gothamites) goes on, and the murderer they dub “Holiday” kills more and more people inside the case on each major holiday, the three men begin to suspect one another. Can they keep the promise they made to each other a year ago – if they’re even the same men anymore?

The movie did well by being split into two parts. The pacing wouldn’t have felt right if it had been condensed into one. This is a slow-simmering noir story and it only benefited from the extra run time.

This also allowed extra story elements to be incorporated. For example, there is more background to Harvey and Gilda’s relationship, a bit more insight into Jim’s home life, and more significantly, more screen time devoted to Batman and Catwoman. Some of these extra elements are more successful than others. What was supposed to be Catwoman’s motivation and then big character development moment was not well-executed and didn’t go anywhere, it was just… dropped. Perhaps this was supposed to add to her mystery, but it could have been omitted from the movie and it wouldn’t have been missed. We would have accepted at face value that she was acting in her own self-interest as is usual.

The voice acting was well-done. Jensen Ackles as Batman is a treat, as he previously voiced Jason Todd in 2010’s Batman: Under the Red Hood. Josh Duhamel’s Harvey Dent/Two-Face was by turns vulnerable, brash, and intimidating. Billy Burke as a tired dad Commissioner Gordon was a great choice as well. Troy Baker as Joker almost had Husband and I fooled thinking it was Mark Hamill! The late Naya Rivera’s Catwoman was smooth and sultry. There truly was not a bad performance to be heard.

This movie sees a welcome departure from what’s become the standard DC animated movie style. It looked and felt as if the creators and animators made an effort to match the illustration style of the graphic novel. This is most obvious in the title cards, which were beautiful! The backgrounds literally look like they were painted on watercolor paper; the texture is distinctive. The characters are modeled after their comic counterparts, and therefore are less sharp and angular than most DC animated movies. The coloring is darker and less stylish than in the book, however, and the stark shading that made the book work so well is also missing (to the animator’s credit, this may have been hard to pull off). While it doesn’t totally get away from the “standard” DC animated style, it does veer off in another, more stylistic direction, to pay homage to the source material. I hope future animated features do this, too!

If you’re looking for something to watch this Halloween weekend, look no further! Both parts are available to stream on HBO Max and to buy on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Kathleen

Palmer, Chris (director). Batman: The Long Halloween. 2021.

Remina

A sentient planet is on a collision course with Earth!

A scientist, Dr. Oguro, discovers a rogue planet beyond our solar system and names it after his daughter, which leads to much public adoration paid to the teen Remina. But soon the planet starts to journey towards Earth, devouring all other planets and moons in its wake. Soon Remina’s fans turn against her, thinking her namesake planet is coming because of her influence. She is then on the run, with only a few of her most infatuated fans helping her escape from the mob, who are intent on crucifying her. Once the planet arrives at Earth, it is clear it is not a planet after all, but a strange giant organism intent on destroying all of humanity. Will Remina survive the mobs and the deadly alien?

Author and illustrator Junji Ito is well known for his distinctive and intricate black and white panels. I loved the macabre art in Ito’s classic body-horror manga Uzumaki, and enjoyed his short story collection Venus in the Blind Spot. I mentioned in both reviews that even if the narrative dips into absurdness at times, the art keeps you riveted. However, that was not the case in this book, for I could not overcome the needed suspension of disbelief. It would have helped greatly if I was rooting for Remina to survive, but she was purely a damsel in distress the entire time and had absolutely no personality. While the art remained as captivating and creepy as ever, which is always Ito’s strength, the narrative fell far short. I felt dissatisfied with a story I was counting on to be scary but instead found to be ridiculous.

-Nancy

The Sixth Gun: Cold Dead Fingers

As I am a big fan of Cullen Bunn, mostly because of his Harrow County and Bone Parish series, I have circled this title a few times but hadn’t found the time for it yet. Luckily for me, my Goodreads comics group choose this supernatural western for this month’s group read!

Set some years after the Civil War, we learn of six powerful guns, each containing a dark power. Confederate General Hume had discovered all six guns and divvied them up among his evil cohorts and wife Missy. But a priest was able to murder him and took control of Hume’s gun, as ownership only passes after the death of the owner. Dark magic is used to keep Hume in suspended animation, not truly dead, so his eternally youthful wife takes it upon herself to find the sixth gun and reunite it with her husband so he can use it to unleash further destruction. In a parallel journey, Drake Sinclair, formally one of Hume’s henchmen but who turned away from owning one of the other guns, wishes to obtain the sixth gun for himself. Missy’s Pinkerton detectives and Drake converge on the isolated farmstead of the former priest and his step-daughter Becky. Becky inadvertently grabs her step-father’s gun when he is killed in the shoot-out, now making her the sole owner of the gun. And now the battle for ownership of the gun begins!

The characters were intriguing- Drake was an anti-hero whose motives were a bit suspect, Missy was at first a damsel in distress but started gaining a backbone later in the story, Billjohn was a tough gunslinger who had a heart of gold, Missy was slavishly devoted to her husband, while Hume was a caricature of a crazed tyrant. There were several epic battles and a cliffhanger that points to more adventures for Drake and Becky.

The art by Brian Hurtt seemed much too cartoony at first, but I soon stopped noticing and I felt it fit the narrative. There were a lot of supernatural aspects to the story, and the loose art style represented it well, without having to get into realistically gruesome depictions. The action was depicted in four to six panels a page, one-page spreads were uncommon. As it’s set in the Old West there is an appropriately sepia look to the panels, along with red shading to represent the bloodshed and hellish landscapes. However, there was one very distracting art choice towards the end- writing out all the noise effects as words during one certain battle. Used sparingly, words can be used effectively in art, but it was overdone.

This proved to be a solid start to a long series- nine volumes with several spin-offs. While I don’t know if I will continue with it, this horror-imbued western appealed to me and I was glad that it was part of my Halloween reads this month.

-Nancy

Marvel’s “What If…?” Episodes 7-9

There are spoilers for the end of the season ahead. If you need to catch up, here’s my post covering Episodes 1-3 and Nancy’s post covering Episodes 4-6.

The audience continues exploring the Multiverse with the Watcher here, but the last 3 episodes tie each one together:

  • Episode 7 shows us what Thor would have been like if he had been an only child. He arrives on Earth just as he did in our universe – but he’s here to PAR-TAY! His father has fallen into the Odin Sleep and Frigga is on a trip, so it’s the perfect time to have a galactic shindig right here on Midgard. Though Jane Foster and Darcy Lewis try to reason with him (his parties have ended planets before), they can’t help but to give in to his charms. S.H.I.E.L.D. director Maria Hill’s attention has also been attracted by Thor – but in a much more negative light. She calls Carol Danvers to take care of him, but things don’t go as planned.
  • Episode 8 explains what would have happened if Ultron had won. Taking over the Mind Infinity Stone and Vision’s body, he defeats the Avengers, killing all but Clint and Natasha. When Thanos arrives, Ultron kills him as well and takes control of the Infinity Gauntlet. In order to fulfill his purpose and bring peace, Ultron and his army begin to murder their way across the galaxy. Upon hearing the Watcher, Ultron learns of the multiverse, and thus starts crossing realities to continue his twisted quest. He crosses into Party Thor’s universe as Clint and Natasha attempt to upload a virus with Arnim Zola’s mind into Ultron’s hive mind. Defeated by Ultron, the Watcher retreats to the pocket universe of Episode 4’s Doctor Strange to ask him for help.
  • Episode 9 sees the Watcher break his oath by recruiting Captain Carter, Star-Lord T’Challa, Party Thor, Killmonger as the Black Panther, and a Gamora who defeated her universes’ Thanos, along with Strange Supreme, to end the threat of Ultron. They lure him to a dead planet where Strange summons the zombie hoard from Episode 5, including Zombie Wanda, to distract him while they travel to Ultron’s home universe to find Natasha and the Zola virus. As the only survivor of her universe, Natasha is reluctant to trust them. After a moment with Captain Carter, Natasha agrees to help, and shoots an arrow with the Zola virus into Ultron’s eye. While Killmonger and the newly-embodied Zola fight over the Infinity Stones, Strange and the Watcher seal them in a pocket dimension, where Strange will watch over them.

Additional scenes with Ultron’s Natasha and a mid-credits scene with Captain Carter and her universe’s Natasha set this series up nicely for a second season, which has been confirmed.

From a story-telling standpoint, this series started out strong for me, kinda sagged in the middle, and picked up again at the end. It seemed as if some of the stories were trope-y and played out, especially the zombie episode. We have seen any and all scenarios involving zombies played out in the early 2010’s… where they can stay, in my opinion. The episodes involving Star-Lord T’Challa and Black Panther Killmonger were the best for me, because they actually did something different. Their universes felt fresh and unlike anything we had seen before. It also allowed for a different look at or expansions of the characters. In a classic Marvel move of undermining their women characters, the taking back of Wakanda spearheaded by Shuri and Pepper was left out – let me watch that or more of Star Lord T’Challa instead of boring zombies!

I also highly enjoyed the Thor episode, because it was everything you would have expected – yet was still fun. The way the worldwide party is ultimately stopped is hilarious and touching, in a way. Also, it was very satisfying to see at least one universe peg Carol Danvers as the resident party pooper.

It was nice to get everything ultimately wrapped up. The first few episodes don’t seem related at all, but these last 3-4 had been hinting. It may be worth a rewatch to see what hints were missed from early episodes.

I never really warmed up to the animation style. Something about it was just too uncanny for me. The action scenes were punchy and fluid, but the lip syncing and facial expressions never seemed to quite match what was going on. Scenes that were supposed to be emotional fell flat for me for this reason – I was too distracted by how weird their faces looked!

Overall, the series is an enjoyable watch. You start out with what you think is a series of fun, unrelated one-shots and by the end, you’ve gotten a big showdown with a different big bad with a different group of Avengers. The animation works for what the series is, but it’s not a personal favorite. I’m hoping that the ending scenes are setting up a real Marvel Women Power Hour in the next season.

– Kathleen

Andrews, Brian. What If…? 2021.

Tales From The Crypt- Vol. 1

Dark Horse Books has brought back the cult classic Tales From The Crypt comics from EC Comics in all its cheesy horror glory!

The Entertaining Comics (EC) group was a comics line founded by Maxwell Gaines in 1945 and later run by his son William Gaines, that published popular horror, science fiction, and war-related comics. Sadly the comic line was torpedoed by the Comics Code Authority, and the publishers stopped printing the horror comics in 1956, instead devoting their time to the fledgling Mad magazine known for its humor and satire. But EC left behind many fond memories and a strong legacy in the comics world, thus this is the first volume in a series that reprints some of the best stories from that era!

The Crypt Keeper, which many readers might recognize from the tv series on HBO in the 90s (yet another legacy from EC), opens many of the tales giving a brief narration for the upcoming theme of the story. Keeping in mind these stories were published from the 40s thru the 50s the stories are quite tame with little gore and often incorporated a lesson in them. While there were supernatural beings such as werewolves, Neanderthals, vampires and zombies- the scoundrels typically met their doom, while the pure prevailed. There were also some cringe-worthy storylines that demeaned women with sexist attitudes, and there was an especially racist story about Black island natives. Well regarded author and illustrator Al Feldstein, who later edited Mad magazine, was credited with many of the stories found in this volume.

Some standout stories were:

Death Must Come- A doctor who has cheated death with a youth serum finally meets his end.

The Man Who Was Death- An executioner becomes too diligent with his work.

Curse of the Full Moon- The werewolf is not who you think it is!

Mute Witness to Murder- After witnessing a murder, a woman goes mute in shock, and the killer comes after her.

Ghost Ship- A newly married couple are stranded and climb aboard a ghost ship.

The Hungry Grave- A cheating couple who scheme to kill the woman’s husband has the tables turned on them.

Rx…Death- Be careful in taking the correct medicine, or else deal with the dire consequences.

Terror Ride- Don’t go on sketchy looking carnival rides!

The Vault of Horror- A curse dooms a family and should have been taken more seriously.

The illustrations are dated to modern readers, but were from the Golden Age of Comics, and have such a retro look to us today because of the clothes and hairstyles of that time period. Cover pages were especially well done- for they captured your attention and drew you into the story. Artists such as Johnny Craig (who also wrote some of the stories), Wally Wood, Graham Ingels, Harvey Kurtzman, George Roussos, Jack Kamen and Marie Severin gave their talents to EC and it’s a delight to see some of their gone-but-not-forgotten work. This was an enjoyable Halloween read, and while not as scary as I had imagined it might be, it was very worthwhile.

-Nancy

Heartstopper (Vol. 3)

Now that Nick is out as bi to his mom, and Charlie has told his parents that he and Nick are dating, the boys start thinking about telling others as well. They’d like the secret to be out, but they also want to take it slow. Charlie is afraid of Nick getting bullied the way he was. They get a taste of this when Nick’s brother David comes home from uni for the summer holiday. Fortunately, they have the upcoming school trip to Paris to have something to look forward to. Plenty of shenanigans ensue with Nick and Charlie trying to be discreet, and some of their classmates and friends falling for each other in the City of Lights. As Nick and Charlie try to keep their relationship a secret, they discover secrets about each other, too. How much longer can they keep it up?

The more this series goes on, the more the story deepens. While there is plenty of drama (and this volume had a lot with the Paris trip!), it never feels over the top or out of place. New feelings and concepts are introduced organically and not just for the sake of inclusion. For example, Charlie explains his lack of eating as stemming from feeling a lack of control during the period he was outed. This makes sense for his character. It also works at introducing mental health issues and, assuming eating disorders, for young men, which are typically overlooked. If my thinking that Charlie has an ED is correct, I have no doubt that it will be handled as delicately and empathetically as prior issues have been.

This was a pretty easy read to get out of the slump I’ve been in. The font is bigger and though it’s in a handwriting style, it’s never unreadable. The only color throughout the book is a minty green, becoming lighter or darker depending on the mood and/or setting. While the characters and backgrounds are more abstract, emotion is more the point, and it comes across perfectly.

Looking forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Oseman, Alice. Heartstopper (Vol. 3). 2021.

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