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Nuclear Winter: Volumes One, Two & Three

Volume One

We are introduced to an alternative reality in Montreal, Canada. Nine years have passed since a nuclear power plant exploded, leaving the region trapped in a permanent nuclear winter. Flavie is a young woman in her 20s, living with her slacker boyfriend, and is a mail/package courier on a snowmobile who seems more worried about making deliveries than the harsh winters. As Flavie drives around town, we see that many people have developed mutations, some more obvious than others. She gets caught up in drama with the local hottie, and the two have to dodge giant mutants, rabid wildlife and deadly snowflakes.

The art is simple and cartoony, reminiscent of Skottie Young’s (I Hate Fairyland & Middlewest) work. The author and illustrator, Cab, has crafted an appealing heroine, and the sight gags and mutant illustrations will appeal to readers young and old. In addition, I had the added connection of working in a town with two nuclear towers, so this storyline gave me a somewhat whimsical look at what could happen if there ever was a nuclear accident. I’m ready for more adventures with Flavie!

Volume Two

Flavie’s boyfriend is gone, but so is her best friend Léonie, which I found disappointing. While we are introduced to Elsie, Flavie’s spunky younger sister, I don’t know why Léonie had to be booted to make room in the narrative for her. When Marco, the love interest, gets sick Flavie is tasked with finding him the medicine he needs. She discovers that a group of people living in a nearby mountain resort are stealing the medicine before it arrives in Montreal. The two sisters, plus the mutant raccoon from the first book, put an end to that! This story felt a bit off- we get hints that the sister’s father is dead, but then find out he is alive and Flavie just avoids both her divorced parents. That plot thread seemed like a bait & switch- not cool.

Volume Three

The action picks up again in the last volume, with Flavie getting re-involved with her meteorology department at her former university. While the weather has been warmer recently, the research team needs to get readings from various weather stations to determine trends. Marco is half-living with Falvie, but their interests are very different and they seem ill-suited for one another. On the other hand, Alex from her team seems like a great guy and seems to be a better match for her. The team needs to visit the nuclear plant that blew up years prior, and Flavie risks radiation poisoning to get the data that is needed. The last few pages put a neat bow on the story, showing Flavie and her sister leaving Montreal for a much-needed vacation when Alex shows up.

The words that I would use to describe the entire series are cute and light-hearted. Despite this, it actually showed a nuanced view of relationships. Flavie realizes her first boyfriend was no good and then later comes to understand that while Marco wasn’t a bad guy, once the initial appeal of him wore off, she saw that he was using her for what she could do for him and there was no lasting connection between the two. Sometimes you have to go thru some toads to find your prince.

I read the first volume for the January pick for the I Read Comics Books book club on Goodreads, and then quickly read the two following books in the series, once I discovered that I liked the vibe of the first. The French-Canadian artist and author Caroline Breault (aka CAB) created a fun world, and I’m glad it was translated into English for more readers to enjoy!

Once & Future: The Wasteland

In this concluding fifth volume of Once & Future, it is up to Gran, Duncan and Rose to save everyone from the deadly Otherworld that has now infiltrated the entire U.K. It all started when British academic Duncan and his monster-hunting Gran, Bridgette, fought off an un-dead King Arthur that some Nationalists had reanimated to keep Britain pure. Due to some magical treachery, the Otherworld is now out in the open, and reality and fantasy have become co-mingled. Our three heroes try to save their friends and family while battling new creatures, but Duncan’s mother Mary and his half-brother always complicate matters.

As with all the volumes, King Arthur and Merlin play a big part in the narrative. But there are several versions of them that have appeared, all believing themselves to be the true King and wizard. There are many twists and turns, and Rose’s adoption plays a pivotal part towards the end. There are sacrifices made, but Gran and Mary always know what to do and how to manipulate the situation in their favor.

Author Kieron Gillen is obviously an expert in English stories, but the average reader is not, so there were times the warped mythology became too confusing. Throughout the entire series, he threw in so many different characters and plots from English folktales and legends that it was hard to keep straight who was who and how they all connected to one another. However, I learned from his previous series, The Wicked + The Divine, that you can’t get caught up in the small details, as you have to step back and look at the big picture.

I really enjoyed the art by Dan Mora and how he drew the characters plus all the fantasy elements. Fond of many panels per page, the action flowed in cinematic-like sequences.  Mora created amazing monsters and landscapes, and the coloring by Tamra Bonvillain was perfect. The floating orbs that were previously a clue that magic was moving into the regular world and they should be wary of are now everywhere, so on the flip side, when the story ended, I was sad to see the orbs disappear.

The concluding page points to the possibility of further adventures, which Gillen confirms in his farewell statement. The mythology in this series was deliciously warped, so I look forward to future adventures with hunky Duncan and his ass-kicking Gran if this creative team decides to reanimate the story in the future!

Read the rest of the series!

V1: The King is Undead

V2: Old English

V3: The Parliament of Magpies

V4: Monarchies in the U.K.

Once & Future: Monarchies in the U.K.

Monsters have now infiltrated the entire U.K. and it is up to Gran, Duncan and Rose to save everyone from the deadly Otherworld!

This fourth volume brings in even more English folklore and legends, mixing and matching stories and eras so that readers won’t know what to expect next. In addition to a reanimated King Arthur and Merlin, we get Yvain and his lion, the giant from Jack and the Beanstack, a gorgon, evil fairies, Shakespeare’s writings and lastly another version of Arthur and Merlin.

Now that the Otherworld is out in the open, reality and fantasy have become co-mingled, with other neighboring countries none the wiser as to what is really happening in the U.K. Our three heroes try to save their friends and family while battling new creatures when Duncan’s mother Mary shows up. Her unresolved issues with Gran always complicate matters, and she teeters on the edge of good and evil. Both Gran and Mary manipulate people and situations that will help them win, but at this point, I want to know exactly what happened between this mother and daughter to cause their bitter fallout.

The art remains a strength with amazing monsters and fantasy landscapes. The lettering and location titles helped keep some details straight. The floating orbs that were previously a clue that magic was moving into the regular world and they should be wary of are now everywhere. My favorite ginger Duncan is now more battle-weary, and his new beard suits him.

While author Kieron Gillen is obviously an expert in English stories, I believe the average reader will become as muddled as I am. While this series is still very intriguing, the warped mythology is in danger of becoming too confusing. However, because the first three volumes were so excellent, I’m hoping future volumes will get back on track, plus I’m intrigued as to how the new character on the last page will tie into the narrative.

Read the rest of the series: Volumes One, Two & Three

Faithless (Vol. 1)

Faith, an artist and amateur magic user, wants to make the world a little bit of a better place. When she accidentally spills her coffee on a woman named Poppy and helps her avoid a persistent ex-boyfriend, they go on an adventure that quickly turns romantic. Poppy is well-connected in the art world and invites Faith to a party. There, she meets Louis Thorn, a world-famous artist – and Poppy’s father. When Poppy leaves on a trip, Faith and Louis start to create art together, and become romantically involved. Is it grief? Faith has had two friends pass away recently under mysterious circumstances. Is it a search for something more? Enigmatic Louis offers Faith a choice: to become an artist, or to become forgotten.

… I forgot why I picked this up, sometimes I look up an author to find a title and end up finding an additional book that sounds interesting, I think that was the case here. I’m glad I stumbled upon this graphic novel, because I really enjoyed it. It’s an adult graphic novel: there are explicit love scenes, strong language, and drug usage. None was gratuitous in my opinion. At it’s core, this is a story about looking for connections with others, and trying to find meaning within those connections. Faith being both an artist and novice magic user serve the story well, as she tries to connect through her art and manifestations. There are hints of supernatural elements, which I’m looking forward to learning more about.

Flat, 2D colors and shading fill the book. Details of city life, art studios, coffee shops, bars, parties, small apartments and huge lofts, flood the panels and ground us in reality even if it’s hinted that something more is going on. Thin, wavery lineart ties everything together and blurs the line between real and magical.

As we closed the book we got a glimpse of Faith’s decision; I am eager to see how it plays out in the next volume.

– Kathleen

Azzarello, Brian, and Maria Llovet. Faithless (Vol. 1). 2019.

Magic (Vol. 1)

Ravnica is a great city led by ten different Guilds. These Guilds are watched over by the Guildpact and the chair, Niv-Mizzet. Guildmasters Kaya, Ral, and Vraska all have the “spark,” or the ability to jump between the many planes of the multiverse: more colloquially, they’re called “Planeswalkers.” These three Guildmasters are all attacked at the same time, and they decide to team up to get to the bottom of it. When even their friend, telepath Jace, is targeted and left with a psychic trap in his brain, they know they’re onto something big. Meeting with the Guildmaster of the assassin’s guild and multiple Planeswalkers only confirms this idea. Whoever is behind it wants to raze Ravnica to the ground, but who and why? Who will believe and help them out of this deep conspiracy?

For some reason, it didn’t occur to me that this was a Magic the Gathering graphic novel until I was looking at the bib page to write this review. I don’t play the popular deck-building game and have zero knowledge of the lore. That said, I didn’t need any to read, understand, and highly enjoy this graphic novel. I was totally swept away by the extensive world-building, the rollicking adventure, and the city’s inner workings. While there is a lot of exposition, it’s carefully spread out so that it doesn’t feel overwhelming, and the bits you get are immediately relevant to the story at the point it’s revealed in. As the story went on, I only got curiouser and curiouser at the dynamics, magic, and politics.

Fantastical art only deepened the sense of immersion. Different Guilds and magic users all have their own color palette to more easily distinguish between them. For example, Ral is a lightning mage and the head of the Guild of scientists, so his color palette is predominantly blue; whereas the medusa-like Vraska is head of the Guild of the Undercity citizens, so her color palette is predominantly green. Raya, who has the ability to kill ghosts, and as the reluctant head of the Guild of “priests and bankers, ghosts and gangsters” (pg. 5, what a line, I just had to share it) has a mostly pink and orange color palette. Razor-sharp lineart helps to tidy up the huge action sequences.

The best-worst cliffhanger I’ve ever read makes it clear more are in the works. I NEED THEM!!! I’m not a Magic fan at all and if I loved it this much, I can only imagine how crazy fans will go for it. Whether or not they’re a Magic player, if YA readers and up like political fantasy with tons of action, they will love this graphic novel.

– Kathleen

MacKay, Jed, Ig Guara, and Arianna Consonni. Magic (Vol. 1). 2021.

Once & Future: The Parliament of Magpies

This third volume of the Once & Future series is as strong as the first two, and I am loving these twisted King Arthur tales!

The story starts out innocently (I’m not fooled), as Gran relaxes with one of her many cigs out on the patio of her senior home, when six magpies fly to her. She recites two nursery rhymes that would correlate with the six birds and realizes they are a bad omen of what is to come. Of course the colored orbs surrounding them is always a clue that magic and mayhem are around the corner. She calls her hunky ginger grandson Duncan over to help and he brings along his love interest Rose along as she has some foretelling powers.

While the story continues with a dark King Arthur and Merlin, some other English tales and characters are incorporated- such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Elaine of Astolat and Elaine of Corbenic. All of these mentions made me have to look up Wikipedia entries on them all, as my knowledge of Arthurian tales is rather scant. The way that Gran, Duncan, Rose, and Duncan’s mother Mary twist all of these legends around to suit them can be a bit confusing, yet it works. Rose is incorporated more into this story, as she takes charge of a beheading and then later befriending a flying dragon.

The concluding pages seem to put Arthur and Merlin to rest, but of course there is a twist that brings them alive once more. And now because of someone’s stupidity, the dark magic is out in the world for everyone to see, not just monster hunters and sinister government agencies. The strange creatures on the last page are creepily awesome. I look forward to what author Kieron Gillen and artist Dan Mora have planned next for readers!

-Nancy

Make sure you read The King Is Undead (V1) and Old English (V2)

A simple nursery rhyme foretells the chaos to come!

Free Comic Book Day 2021

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

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

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

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

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

-Nancy

Once & Future: Old English

In the first volume of Once & Future, British academic Duncan and his monster hunting Gran, Bridgette, fought off an un-dead King Arthur that some Nationalists had reanimated to keep Britain pure. While they were successful in defeating him, the king is now down but not out with the Otherworld in disarray, leaving other legends and deadly creatures to emerge and fight for power. 

The second volume begins with Duncan rightfully angry at his grandmother, who had kept secrets from him his whole life, and now he has to be on his guard for new dangers. His colleague Rose, who is also a love interest, uses some magic to determine where the next problems will pop up and he is exhausted keeping up with it all. But when Beowulf appears, King Arthur and an evil Merlin try to harness his strength to their advantage. And for those familiar with the Beowulf mythology, there are additional monsters such as Grendel and his mother, who show up at Bridgette’s assisted living home and cause havoc and destruction as Duncan races over to help. 

The artwork continues to be amazing, although I did notice a change in making some facial reactions extreme and anime-like. I prefer a more realistic approach, as the monsters and mayhem were always detailed and naturalistic, and I don’t want the hunky Duncan to become a caricature.  The Otherworld had vivid almost hallucinogenic colors, with the floating orbs a clue that magic was moving into the regular world and they should be wary. 

I continued to enjoy this new series, and look forward to more warped British mythology. King Arthur remains a threat, and Duncan also has to contend with his family disfunction as his long-gone mother and half-brother are part of the Nationalist group that opened the portal into the dark world. That the volume ends with a real-world politician ready to make an unholy allegiance open the story to more exciting plots! 

-Nancy

I love how Bridgette is so kick-ass!

Once & Future: The King is Undead

Do you think you know King Arthur’s story? Think again!

In this alternative fantasy world 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 wish 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.

Reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code plus The Mummy and National Treasure movies, the action is fast and furious and plays loose with history. In a familiar trope, an unsuspecting character is thrown into the thick of things and can shoot, fight with a sword and run like an Olympic sprinter as needed. (As an aside, I recently went to an axe-throwing business with my husband and friends and was disappointed that I wasn’t better. I had the strength but little finesse. What good will I be if a zombie horde or an evil reanimated king attacks my family? Unfortunately, I didn’t magically have the best skills like characters do in books and movies)

I really enjoyed the art by Dan Mora and how he drew the characters plus all the fantasy elements. Fond of many panels per page, the action flowed in cinematic-like sequences.  The only criticism I had was a certain female character was drawn too young- she was a mother to two adult sons and looked to be their sister. In comparison, her mother was drawn too old, so they should have aged the one a bit more and de-aged the other to be more believable. The colors by Tamra Bonvillian were superb, with rich colors and a psychedelic swirl of colors and floating orbs in the fantasy realm.

This was a very appealing first volume of a series I plan to follow. The mythology was deliciously warped and I look forward to future adventures with Duncan and his ass-kicking Gran.

-Nancy

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