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Grayson (Vol. 2): We All Die at Dawn

After crash-landing in the desert with his partner Helena, the deadly Midnighter, and a baby containing the heart of the Paragon, Dick has no choice but to walk to civilization – 200 miles away. To save the baby, Dick will walk. Midnighter follows, determined to take the baby, and the heart, for his own purposes. He asks questions that Dick himself is trying to get to the bottom of. Why does Spyral need the pieces of the Paragon? Who exactly is Mr. Minos, and what is his endgame? Will their questions on the secrets of Spyral die with the four in the desert, or will they live to figure it out?

The action and intrigue continue from Volume 1. We do see here a gentler side of Dick’s character, as he cares for the baby and plows onward through the desert. Midnighter is a little-known character, so it was nice to see him make an appearance in this volume. As we don’t yet know his motivations or alignment with Spyral, he only adds another layer of intrigue that we can unravel later on.

… I could go on, and leave a proper review, but I believe this panel, which is probably the greatest known to man, will just about sum up:

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My work here is done ;D

– Kathleen

Seeley, Tim, Tom King, Mikel Janin, Stephen Mooney, and Jeremy Cox. Grayson (Vol. 2): We All Die at Dawn. 2016.

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Grayson (Vol. 1): Agents of Spyral

Dick Grayson is a hero to many. During the Forever Evil storyline, Nightwing was unmasked, his secret identity revealed, and (seemingly) killed on camera to millions of viewers. To many, that hero is now a dead man… but they don’t know Dick. The former Boy Wonder is alive, well, and now goes by Agent 37 at the spy agency called Spyral. Partnered with Helena Bertinelli, the agent known as Matron, they hunt down pieces of the slain god Paragon, whose organs have the potential to become weapons of mass destruction. However, Spyral’s lead man, Mister Minos, has another motive: he wants to use these pieces to discover the secret identity of every superhero on Earth. Of course, Batman is on to Mister Minos’ duplicity – and Dick is his man on the inside. Though Dick is, for all intents and purposes, dead to the rest of the world, he has more to lose now than ever: his sense of self.

There have been a few times in Rebirth where Dick and Helena’s spy days have been referenced, and I was curious for more context. This is a solid start to the series. We’ve seen Dick constantly struggle to get out of Batman’s shadow (it’s partially why he became Nightwing), so it will be very interesting to see if and how he manages to do it here, especially if he’s still working with the Dark Knight.

Speaking of Batman, it is a little annoying how he seems to know everything… including that a super-secret spy agency is up to no good. I’m curious to see how he knew this, and I’m sure it will be revealed as the story goes on. Also yet to be revealed are Helena’s motives for joining Spyral. And how a girl’s boarding school became their front! There’s a lot of fun to be had here, but intrigue also.

The art is nothing to write home about. It’s certainly servicable: anatomy is accurate, expressions and lighting are natural, and backgrounds are understandably toned down to focus on the characters and action. But it suffers in that it’s in your run-of-the-mill, everyday comic book style. While there’s nothing unique offered here in the art style, it’s a solid foundation from which to build a graphic novel in which the story has more focus than the art. I, for one, am looking forward to more of the story!

– Kathleen

Seeley, Tim, Tom King, Mikel Janín, Stephen Mooney, and Jeromy Cox. Grayson (Vol. 1): Agents of Spyral. 2015.

Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 5): Art of the Crime

One of Gotham’s old villains, Grotesque, is back, but he’s upped his game. Where once he was a petty art thief, he’s now turned to murdering those he steals from, and poses the bodies in an “artistic” manner. Batgirl tries to stop him, but an attack from an electrical escrima stick throws off the implant in her back that enabled her to walk again. What’s more, her memory appears to be failing as well as her legs. She has trouble remembering who Grotesque is, what he’s up to, and how she even planned to stop him. With dogged determination, Barbara plows on to foil his deadly plans – but potentially at the cost of her mind, and her legs – for good.

The writing in this volume really highlighted why I think the Batfamily is so popular. Though none of them have special powers, they are determined and willing to put their lives on the line to do the right thing, and above all protect the innocents of Gotham City. Barbara’s iron will, especially after regaining the use of her legs, and keeping on fighting the good fight though she could lose the ability to walk again, really shone through here. There were a few moments between her and her father, Commissioner Gordon, that suggest it’s a hereditary trait, and were very touching.

This volume did, however, feature a change in Barbara’s costume… I hate it. I absolutely hate it. The Burnside costume was so cute, and modern, and refreshing. Best of all, it was practical: covered everything that needed covering, offered protection against slides across pavement and rooftops, and was undoubtedly warmer in the winter.

While the new costume does harken back to older ones, especially in the colors, I cannot get over the “mask.” You can’t even call it that! It hides nothing! All I heard in my head from the costume change on was Blake Lively’s line in the abominable Green Lantern movie, where she exclaims, “You don’t think I would recognize you because I can’t see your cheekbones?” (IMDB)

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Joshua Middleton’s variant covers are stunning, but unfortunately the best part of Batgirl’s new costume.

Keep up the great writing, but bring back the Burnside costume!!!

– Kathleen

Scott, Mairghread, and Paul Pelletier. Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 5): Art of the Crime. 2019.

T5M: Top 5 Dream Fictional Vacation Spots

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme from Goodreads, created by Lainey from Gingerreadslainey and now moderated by Sam from ThoughtsOnTomes.

Hello, friends! It’s my birthday today, and I just moved into my first apartment over the weekend, so I am BEAT! My muscles have never been so sore, even when I first started going to the gym and lifting weights. In fact, one could even say I need a vacation! Here are my top 5 dream fictional vacation spots ;D

5. Middle Earth

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I mean, I wouldn’t want to visit when Sauron is doing his bit with the Ring, but the scenic imagery in these books is unparalleled. Tolkien was a master of placing you in the environment so exactly, you’re surprised to look up from the book and realize you’re not there. Especially in the fall time! Autumn is my favorite season, so I’d love to visit then. Perhaps the elves, or the hobbits, to wander the explosively colorful forests or sample some cider. If I were braver I’d venture underground to visit the dwarves, but alas! I’m not made of such stern stuff.

He found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams. ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

4. Pellinor

 

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One of the things I love most about this series is the imagery. The descriptions of the countryside the characters journey through is reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, but I also love the food descriptions. Just as in Middle Earth too, there are many different regions with different types of food, and Alison Croggon details them all lovingly. I love to eat, so I’d travel to Pellinor for the food alone!

The taste on her palate was pungent and rich, the flavor of woodlands and dark earth simmered in sunshine. ― Alison Croggon, The Naming

3. Assassin’s Creed series

This one is a little unusual, as the Assassin’s Creed series takes place in real history, with some sci-fi elements. The biggest being that the main character relives the memories of his ancestors, which are locked in his DNA, by use of a machine called the Animus. Therefore, the games are highly accurate to their respective time periods, and totally immersive. I’ve since fallen off with this series (Black Flag was where I stopped playing), but I go back to the early games again and again. It’s easy to lose myself for hours in their landscapes.

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Assassin’s Creed is stylistically my favorite, as it takes place in the Middle East during the Third Crusades. Middle Eastern art and architecture is my favorite style, and was a joy to study in school. Playing a game within that place in history is a wonderful experience for me.

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The runner up would have to be Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, which takes place in Constantinople in the 16th century. That sprawling city, with it’s eclectic mixture of Middle Eastern and European elements, made me curious enough to research and seek out information on Constantinople, and the Turkish empire, on my own.

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And of course, who WOULDN’T want to visit the Renaissance Italy of Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood, and rub elbows with the master artists??? I think I need say no more ;D Hurry up and invent that Animus already!

2. Themyscira

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I mean, come on! It’s also known as Paradise Island! There are beaches to lay on and tan with the ocean steps away. There’s ancient Greek art and architecture galore for an art nerd like me. Plus, it’s protected by the Greek gods, so there’s a guarantee your vacation will be uninterrupted by mortal danger… and even if there is, the entire island is populated by badass warrior women, so you’d be safe. Who wouldn’t want to visit???

1. Agrabah

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Daring sword fights, magic spells, princes in disguise… wait, I think I’m mixing up my Disney movies, but I daresay the sentiment remains the same ;D The lush textures and flavors of Broadway and live-action Aladdin adaptations were totally spellbinding for me. What I wouldn’t give to wander the marketplaces of Agrabah: to run my hands over the silks and jewels, to taste the fruits and delicacies, and drown in all the scents! And visit the royal palace, to lounge sunbathing beside the fountains and make friends with a certain tiger ;D And, of course, if you’re up for a little adventure, the Cave of Wonders is only a camel ride away.

Any of my dream fictional vacation spots make your list, too?

Kathleen

Batgirl & the Birds of Prey (Rebirth, Vol. 3): Full Circle

The Birds have been quite busy. Babs has been gathering a lot of good intel lately, to stop crimes before they even begin. The team feels great, but Barbara herself… isn’t. She hasn’t told Dinah or Helena that she’s been getting all this intel from a backdoor she left in Calculator’s system the last time they ran in with him. When Calculator discovers Oracle has been snooping in his system, he becomes obsessed once again, and will stop at nothing to discover Oracle’s identity. When a former member of their team gets caught in Calculator’s crossfire, Barbara’s secret is unveiled. Dinah and Helena feel angry and betrayed. Is this the end of the Birds, or can they band together once more to defeat Calculator once and for all?

I’ve probably said it before, but I’ll say it again: this is my favorite Rebirth title. The new Birds keeps the friendship and sisterhood of Barbara, Helena, and Dinah at the core, while freshening up the characters and stories for modern audiences. I’d say this run is suited for middle-grade (depending on the maturity of the child) and YA audiences just as well as adult. This volume especially shows the importance of women standing and working together, which young girls need to see! Birds of Prey also shows that girls can overcome big differences to become friends, sisters, and teammates.

Unlike with Rebirth Wonder Woman (of which the more I read the more I realize background knowledge is needed for newcomers to the title), Birds of Prey doesn’t make background knowledge a necessity. Calculator has been after Oracle before in the original run, but it’s not vital to know the details before coming to this run. BOP has been the most newcomer-friendly Rebirth title I’ve read, and the most important for young ladies!

– Kathleen

Benson, Julie, Shawna Benson, Roge Antonio, and Marcio Takara. Batgirl & the Birds of Prey (Rebirth, Vol. 3): Full Circle. 2018.

Wonder Woman (Rebirth, Vol. 8): Dark Gods

A pantheon of terrible Dark Gods has come to Earth, bringing with them death and destruction. People everywhere are renouncing their own faith in favor of the Dark Gods’, causing riots and worse. The Justice League was supposed to be their cavalry, but with their defeat, Diana and Jason are on their own. The Star Sapphires summon Wonder Woman to help them conquer their own threat, and Jason is left truly alone. Diana is left with no choice but to help the Star Sapphires, while praying Jason can hold out against the dark deities until her return…

Mostly I found myself confused with this volume. It’s now becoming painfully obvious to me that I have to read Dark Nights: Metal before I can read any further, so I can understand not only everything that has done on here, but in previous volumes as well. As I was laying on the beach reading this though, it really didn’t bother me as I went through =P The writing otherwise was still pretty solid, and it was an interesting ride for sure. The entire world embracing darker values over light, and the ensuing consequences, certainly gave me a lot to mull over. It was also fun to see Wonder Woman make a return to the Star Sapphires; she hasn’t done so since Blackest Night!

Without giving too much away, and not knowing how this plot point relates to Dark Nights: Metal (I’m sure it does somehow), I’m even more annoyed by Jason than ever. A plot point occurred to grant him potentially greater powers than Wonder Woman, or at the very least a much wider variety that he is able to access with ease. He’s starting to feel overpowered, and in a cheap way at that. His character arc is really starting to undermine years and years of history and hard work that Diana’s creators, and Diana herself, have done. As long as Jason is a part of Wonder Woman’s story, well, sorry… but I’m just not that interested.

– Kathleen

Robinson, James, Stephen Segova, and Jesus Merino. Wonder Woman (Rebirth, Vol. 8): Dark Gods. 2019.

Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale

Fifteen-year-old Selina Kyle has been through a lot in life already. Her mom, a waitress, has had a string of boyfriends, each crueler than the last. Dernell, the latest, tops them all. Selina reaches her breaking point and leaves home, striking out on her own and living on the streets. Her street smarts and quick, sticky fingers ensure she doesn’t go hungry or get hurt, even by the so-called Gotham Growler that’s been prowling the streets at night. When she meets Ojo, a parkour expert and fellow street kid like her, he offers her a place in his found family, and the next heist they’re planning. Selina refuses, believing she doesn’t need anyone. But maybe even lone cats need a family, every once in a while.

There was a lot going on in this one. At the forefront is Selina herself: her struggles with her home life, her feelings of hopelessness and despair, and her determination to never rely on anyone again. This is a Selina perfect for a young adult audience. Perhaps teens who read this will also be grappling their own broken homes and horrible feelings associated with it. As Selina shows us, it’s okay to open up and accept help every once in a while from those loved ones who offer it.

The review I read before it was published made it sound like the Gotham Growler was going to be a prominent part of the story, but it was very minimal. We don’t even find out who he is or why he’s attacking people in the end, which was pretty disappointing. And even though there is a thieving element, it is played down as well, to allow Selina and the tentative relationships she forges with the other street kids (and renews with one Bruce Wayne) to come forward.

Author Lauren Myracle is no stranger to teenage feelings and situations in her work (she’s written the ttyl books), but I was very surprised artist Isaac Goodhart is a relatively new face. His CV consists of a bare half-dozen titles, and this is his first DC title. Given his short career, I was amazed at the quality of his work. The whole book is in hues of deep, moody blues and purples, with pale yellow accents. His linework is precise, yet expressive. The audience will appreciate that writer nor artist held back with the deep and hurtful stuff.

As an adult, I found some plot points to be too convenient, but overall this DC Ink title will satisfy the intended YA audience. This dynamic duo pull no punches in this imagining of Selina Kyle’s teenage years. Though the story is hard, Selina’s inner strength and determination will be what stays with readers. I will be watching for more of Goodhart’s work, and I sure hope he and Myracle team up again in the future!

– Kathleen

Myracle, Lauren, and Isaac Goodhart. Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale. 2019.

Mera: Tidebreaker – Take²

This is the second time in recent memory I’ve accidentally read and reviewed a graphic novel that Nancy has read first… I must be slipping in my old age =P

Mera, princess of the underwater kingdom of Xebel, is exasperated at her kingdom’s continued deference to Atlantis. The Atlanteans want peace, but at the oppression of every other kingdom around them. Mera knows she can change that and defeat her enemies once she takes the throne. Only problem with that is, her father the king has promised Larken, Mera’s betrothed from the Kingdom of Trench, the throne if he can find and kill the Prince of Atlantis. The infuriated Mera decides to take matters into her own hands to claim her rightful throne. She makes her way to the surface to find the long-lost Prince of Atlantis and assassinate him. Arthur Curry turns out to be much different than she imagined, and slowly he becomes less of a target and more of an innocent… and perhaps something more than that. Can Mera fulfill her quest for vengeance and justice for her people, and claim the throne that is her birthright?

I skimmed this one after a while as the story bored me (plus there was an SVU marathon on, and I’d rather route all immediate brain bandwidth to that!). I’d put the reading level at upper middle-grade, and it definitely showed in the classic love-triangle (rectangle if we’re including Arthur’s girlfriend at the beginning of the story) romance trope. Mera herself flip-flopped from being ruthless to lovestruck (with both boys) so fast, I got whiplash. There were plot points that were confusing and not explained clearly. For example, why was Mera’s watch able to work out of the water? Wouldn’t it break if exposed to air for extended amounts of time, like our devices would if exposed to water? That is seriously bothering me and I need an answer X,D

The art was unique. It was rendered in shades of the same bottle glass greens and blues, with Mera’s red hair as the only other color. The characters were rendered expressively, with a style that reminded me a little of Burnside Batgirl, which is appropriate as that run was also aimed at teen and middle grade readers at the start.

Nancy and I seem to be in agreement on this one. For the target audience, this is a heartstring-pulling, feminist ode to your favorite aquatic princess. For everyone else, it’s a bit of a slog. Skip it yourself, but definitely pick it up for your library’s youth collection or the young comic-lover in your life.

– Kathleen

Paige, Danielle, and Stephen Byrne. Mera: Tidebreaker. 2019.

Catwoman (Vol. 1): Trail of the Catwoman

I found this one on accident while looking for another Catwoman title – but once I saw the late Darwyn Cooke was one of the creators behind this title, how could I pass it up? =P

After faking her own death, Selina Kyle (and, by extension, Catwoman) has gone into hiding. But cash runs out quick, and she needs some more if she’s to go back home to Gotham. She calls in a few favors and rounds up some old friends to pull off one last, big, heist. As in “stealing from the mob” big. As in “train robbery” big. A load of unmarked mob money transported to Canada via train sounds just perfect. As Selina and gang pull their plan together, someone is on her trail. Someone knows Selina Kyle isn’t dead, and private eye Slam Bradley is hired to find out why. When their party is sold out to the very mob they’re stealing from, forget the cash; will Selina be able to get out alive?

I’ve tried reading noir crime graphic novels, most recently Criminal by Ed Brubaker (who, coincidentally, co-wrote this one) and Sean Phillips, and I just can’t seem to get into them. I’m not a big mystery reader, nor do I like a lot of violence in my reading, though I do enjoy psychological and interpersonal dilemmas. This one though? Hit the sweet spot.

Cooke and Brubaker created a stunning work with this one. The art is intense, line-heavy, and by turns bright neon and Gotham dark. It reads just like an old heist or detective movie. The imagery evokes the old Hollywood aesthetic: dangerous glamour glimpsed through a screen of cigarette smoke. It set the atmosphere perfectly.

The writing is excellent. We bounce between a few characters, some of whom giving conflicting information, so you never quite know who to believe. We hit the ground running and don’t stop until the last explosive has been detonated. Not only was there action, there were tense moments between characters that alluded to conflict in the past. There was just enough given for the reader to fill in the blanks themselves. I’m sure some is explained in previous runs, but it was fun to imagine =P

Having never read a Catwoman story before, I think I set the bar pretty high for myself with this one. It was exactly as I had pictured the perfect Catwoman story: a high-stakes heist, a little romance, a lot of drama and atmosphere. As for the big bad Bat? He was only mentioned a few times in passing, and seen twice. Readers who want to know what Selina Kyle gets up to without Batman around are sure to love it, as well as crime readers and those yearning for a bit of old Hollywood.

– Kathleen

Cooke, Darwyn, and Ed Brubaker. Catwoman (Vol. 1): Trail of the Catwoman. 2011.

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