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AWA Upshot

Free Comic Book Day 2022

Finally, Free Comic Book Day is back at the beginning of May! I planned an event at my library to distribute free comics, and thus got a sneak peek at the titles. More than usual caught my interest which is great!

I’ve heard some buzz about this the upcoming graphic novel Clementine, which is set in The Walking Dead universe and is inexplicably based on a computer game. Written and illustrated by Tille Walden, an established YA author, it has potential for younger readers, but adults will notice some plot holes. Where is she going and why??? The issue also includes a story about a machine boy (skipped) and a fantasy piece about a pirate’s daughter that has lovely art.

Marvel Voices is a new series that are a collection of short stories around certain topics that have different authors and illustrators. This FCBD issue pulls together a few from already released collections, giving us an excellent sample so we will want to read the previous graphic novels. I think a YA audience will really connect with this series, as some of the topics addressed are Indigenous Voices, Pride, Words Do Matter, and Personal Heroes. The humor and art are a winning combination.

I always pick up the Spider-Man/Venom issue, despite my ongoing confusion between Venom and Carnage. In the Spider-Man story, Spidey has to battle a magical post office box that had turned into a monster. It somehow has to do with an evil Ben Reilly and Madelyne Pryor from the X-Men- so they are now pulling together characters from two franchises, which has potential. In the Venom story, a one-eyed Eddie Brock wants to keep his son safe, who is a symbiote himself. Don’t know the background for this family drama, but the last two-page spread with other monsters was cool.

I picked up this issue for the creepy front cover, plus I noticed that Jeff Lemire was the author. The art took some getting used to, but I warmed up to it. What intrigued me the most is that this is an introduction to a new horror universe that Lemire and artist Sorrentino have planned called The Bone Orchard Mythos. Stories will weave in and out of this universe in the next few years. This issue did the trick in capturing my interest and making me want to seek out future books by this duo.

Judgment Day sets up a battle between three groups- the Avengers, X-Men and Eternals. The Eternals are portrayed as smug assholes, who wish to eradicate deviants from the universe. So…the X-Men are mutants, thus deviants, and the Eternals have infiltrated their secret stronghold of Krakoa. Will the Avengers stand with them against the Eternals? I’m not excited about this storyline, for a few years ago I read Avengers vs X-Men, and came away disappointed.  The fighting among team members trope is over-done, so I don’t have high hopes, although the art looks good.

My last comic is Primos which introduces a welcome new Latino superhero to a YA audience that ends on a cliffhanger. The story is printed twice, once in English and once in Spanish, which will bring more readers into this new storyline that honors those with Mayan heritage. The art is appealing, and a letter from the author is included that gives some background.

Free Comic Book Day did exactly what it is supposed to do- introduced me to some new stories that make me want to read further into the series and buy the complete graphic novel!

Year Zero

Year Zero is basically World War Z in graphic novel form!

Five stories run parallel to one another to represent a microcosm of a global zombie epidemic- Sara is a polar research scientist who is the one who inadvertently finds the first zombie frozen in time, Daniel is a young orphan from Mexico City, Saga is a paid assassin in Tokyo, Fetemah is an army informant in Kabul and BJ is a doomsday prepper in Minnesota. These five individuals, deal with the sudden fallout when they become the few who have survived the apocalypse. We are only given a few pages of each person’s story before it shifts elsewhere, so the story doesn’t advance much in this first volume beyond them all surviving the first onslaught. But the artist and colorist did an excellent job in capturing each personality and the region they are from. In addition, there was a different color scheme for each of the five, which helped differentiate them.

I first picked up this graphic novel because I am a sucker for zombie stories, and I had been a big fan of The Walking Dead. But I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed the author, Benjamin Percy, as I was first introduced to him through two Wolverine podcasts and later a horror short story collection, Suicide Woods, of his. With this entry, I will continue to seek out his work!

-Nancy

The Resistance

Back in 2020, I read the first issue of The Resistance through Free Comic Book Day, and I said, “The evocative cover drew me in, and this story ended up being my favorite FCBD issue as it was a complete first issue of a new series, not just a taste like so many FCBD stories are. In fact, the narrative is eerily similar to what we are going through now, as a pandemic sweeps through the globe. In this tale, the pandemic is even more deadly, with a 95% fatality rate. But suddenly, the virus stops- as if a switch were turned off. The remaining world needs to regroup, with hints that there might be a mystical or otherworldly reason for what happened.”

Reading the entire graphic novel after a solid introduction was enjoyable- the world building was strong, for while the first chapter showcased a pandemic that changed the world order, the remainder of the book deals with the fallout. With only 5% of the world population remaining, political alliances are in turmoil, when suddenly millions of survivors begin to manifest superhuman powers (shades of the Marvel X-Men). What do these new powers symbolize- will these evolved humans bring hope to a fragile Earth, or are they super soldiers that were mutated by some aliens who plan to overthrow our planet? Governments step in to control these “reborns”, but many are cautious of the authority that is placed upon them, thus a resistance is born.

The art is solid and was appropriately shadowy and moody considering the storyline. The artist Mike Deodato Jr is very fond of grid overlays (see bottom picture) and it works very effectively. Deodato is an established artist, and his work reminds me both of Michael Gaydos’s work in the Jessica Jones graphic novels and a grown up version of the scratchy art I recall from Image’s early days in Wild C.A.T.S. and Youngblood.

Author J. Michael Straczynski offers fresh commentary about heroes and villains and ties it all into our current pandemic and certain fascist regimes. But he also has fun with it, as one of the chapters is just plain entertaining as you follow James, a new reborn being introduced to a superhero school, and he gets a behind-the-scenes look at how fake and controlled the heroes are. He was obviously inspired by the Marvel, DC, Invincible and Jupiter’s Legacy hero worlds, but makes it all his own. In his afterword, he mentions this will be a new universe that other AWA Upshot authors can connect into, so I look forward to this continuing story plus other tie-ins!

-Nancy

Covid Chronicles

“True stories from the front lines of Covid-19” is the tagline for this somber but excellent collection of ten short stories about the current pandemic.

Published in December of 2020 (before another graphic novel with the same name and more contributors in February of 2021), these timely vignettes utilize the stories that NBC News used online that visualized life for front line and essential workers early in the pandemic.

These personal accounts span the globe, giving us intimate looks at people affected by this terrible world-wide crisis. Often times people become numb to mass suffering (which I first noticed during the 2004 tsunami) but connect with individual stories. Paul Slovic, a psychologist at the University of Oregon, explains: When numbers simply can’t convey the costs, there’s an infuriating paradox at play. Slovic calls it psychic numbing. As the number of victims in a tragedy increases, our empathy, our willingness to help, reliably decreases. This happens even when the number of victims increases from one to two. (Vox.com, September 5, 2017– written well before this pandemic)

The book begins with a foreword by actress and activist Alyssa Milano who warns that we will not “enjoy” these stories, instead they are to be “experienced”. And that proved to be very true- they were difficult but necessary stories that showed humanity in the midst of sorrow. The following ten accounts were interviews that Ethan Sacks the comic book author, and former journalist for the New York Daily News, conducted with acquaintances and then branched out to other people willing to share their stories and photos for the artist Dalibor Talajić to refer to when creating his evocative illustrations. The art was deceptively simple, yet conveyed great emotion.

The ten stories varied in locale (US, China, Mexico, Canada, Italy) with a mix of stories about medical staff, patients and researchers. There was an opera singer in Italy that went viral (check YouTube video at end of post), a man visiting family in Wuhan and having to stay for four months vs a few days, a street medic helping during BLM protests in Tulsa (I found the behind-the-scenes prep very inspiring), a journalist who finds out during the interview that the mother doesn’t know her adult son just died, doctors making tough calls and scientists tracking the early spread of the disease.

As the foreword warned, I did not enjoy this book, yet I am so glad I read it. It brought back memories of my anguish of having my mother hospitalized twice last summer (not with Covid) and not being able to visit her in the hospital. But it also reminded me of the kind healthcare workers who helped me speak to her daily with phone and video calls. There is a lot of kindness in the world, and this book shines a light on people who have stepped up to help during this terrible time.

-Nancy

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