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Wonder Woman (Vol. 1): The Just War

Note that this is still technically Rebirth, but they gave it a Volume 1, probably because the original Rebirth storyline was wrapped up in the last volume.

Steve Trevor goes MIA on a covert mission to the war-torn country of Durovnia. In rushing there to find him, Wonder Woman instead finds Ares! He has escaped from his imprisonment on Themyscira to… fight for truth and justice, as Wonder Woman does? But what does his escape mean for Diana’s homeland? Steve, meanwhile, is among a group of mythical beasts led by a boy to none other than Aphrodite. She explains that she has no memory of how she came to be on Earth and that she cannot find her way back to Olympus. Steve begs her to help him and Wonder Woman stop the war – but how do you stop a war with love?

There are no right or wrong answers in this graphic novel. There are only intentions, actions, and consequences. Some turn out good, others not so good. We see our heroes trying to wield love and forgiveness against hate and fear. Not only during the war-like conflict, but against prejudices and fear of refugees.

The art was very stylish. The figures are fluid and the action dynamic. Though there are some big fight scenes, it never feels cluttered. The facial expressions looked kind of weird at times: as if they were too stretched out or too squished, and it was distracting.

Overall I was pleased with G. Willow Wilson’s Wonder Woman debut, and I am eager to see what else she does with the character.

– Kathleen

Wilson, G. Willow, Cary Nord, Xermanico, and Jesus Merino. Wonder Woman (Vol. 1): The Just War. 2019.

Superman Smashes the Klan

While stopping a villain called Atom Man, Superman pulls out the green rock which powers his suit. It also makes Superman sick! It should be impossible! He begins to have visions of strange aliens, talking in a language he can’t understand.

Meanwhile, the Lee family moves from Chinatown to Metropolis. The two children, Tommy and Roberta, are of varying opinions on the subject. Tommy is active and eager to make new friends and readily joins the local baseball team. Roberta longs for their old home, and has a hard time opening up to new people.

When the Klan of the Fiery Kross leaves a burning cross on their new lawn, the Lees are torn between feeling angry and scared. Reporters Lois Lane and Clark Kent jump on the story, but then Tommy goes missing. Roberta, certain the Klan was behind his disappearance, tries to get help, but no one else seems to be worried. She seeks out the only person she knows will help: Superman. However, his exposure to the green rock is still making him sick and giving him strange visions. Can Superman and Roberta recover from their fears and doubts, unlock their inner power, and smash the Klan?

This graphic novel is based on an arc in the Adventures of Superman radio serial titled “Clan of the Fiery Cross.” While the story takes place in 1946, it has a timeless quality to it. Yet it’s timely, too. Many issues this graphic novel tackles – immigration, acceptance of one’s neighbor, making a new home – is still vitally important today.

One thing I especially loved about the setting was the slight de-powering of Superman. In his canon, this was before he could fly, so he ran on power lines in order to not hold up traffic. How cool is that??? As the story moves on, he discovers more and more of his power, but I can’t say further without spoilers. Suffice it to say that this was a beautiful way to mirror the growth that many other characters go through.

It was at times hard to read. The Klan of the Fiery Kross is based upon the Ku Klux Klan, and as the radio serial was given insider information about the Klan, this graphic novel is obviously very well-researched. Creators Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru strive to make one of the Klan the characters as sympathetic as the heroes. It was disturbing to read someone trying to justify their hate, but in a good way. Only through seeing (or in this case, reading!) someone else’s perspective can we gain understanding.

What I love about Superman is that he believes in the ordinary-ness of people. The Klan is stopped by a combination of Superman’s powers and ordinary kids standing up for each other, and what’s right. Just as the radio serial is still relevant, the graphic novel will still be relevant in the years to come.

– Kathleen

Yang, Gene Luen, and Gurihiru. Superman Smashes the Klan. 2019.

 

*Nancy loved this book too! Read her take on the book: Superman Smashes the Klan

Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed

It’s Diana’s 16th Born Day! She is very eager to turn 16, as she hopes it means her Changeling phase is over. She often wonders if there is something wrong with her, as she was shaped from clay instead of being born naturally, to make her go through such an ugly phase that her sisters have never been through. During her Born Day Feast, a storm whips up, which starts throwing lifeboats from the outside world against her shores. The boats are full of war refugees. In saving their drowning children, the way back to Themyscira is closed to her and Diana becomes a refugee herself. She ends up traveling to a refugee camp in Greece, and from there to America, by a married couple named Steve and Trevor. Posing as an exchange student, they set her up with a Polish woman named Henke and her granddaughter, Raissa. Diana quickly learns about the bad and seedy side of New York City, but has Raissa to help guide her and show her the ways of this new world. When they discover a child trafficking scheme, can these two teenage girls make a difference?

I had been looking forward to Laurie Halse Anderson’s YA rendition of Wonder Woman, and was not disappointed. This is a heavy graphic novel chock full of questions of diversity and social justice that Ms. Anderson is never afraid to ask. Diana’s naive nature translates beautifully to the minds of a teen reader just starting to ask these big questions for themselves. We see our main character transform from a teenager to an adult in both body and socially, to become an informed and upstanding citizen of the world. That sure is something for our youth to aspire to today.

Though the book didn’t have a set color scheme, gold and teal are used throughout. Most notably, they are used at the very beginning and very end, serving as a nice visual bookend. The linework is thin and delicate, which belie the great strength and emotion in the story and the characters.

For fans of Ms. Anderson’s prior work, this is a must-read. For everyone else, it’s a Wonder Woman story perfectly suited for our times.

-Kathleen

Anderson, Laurie Halse, and Leila Del Duca. Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed. 2020.

Primer

Ashley Rayburn is meeting some new foster parents: scientist Yuka and artist Kitch Nolan. While she likes them a lot, she doesn’t think it will ultimately work out. Ashley is unfortunately a magnet for trouble. She supposes she gets it from her dad, who is currently in prison. As Ashley adjusts to her new home and school, warms up to Yuka and Kitch, and makes a new friend in Luke, it feels like things are looking up. It’s not long before she discovers a briefcase of new paints which look innocent at first… but it turns out they are body paints which grant the wearer special powers! She can be a superhero! However, the government was promised those paints for the military, and they want them back. Ashley must make a choice: to save herself, or save her new family.

While this is a middle-grade novel, and the story to me was pretty predictable, it was still a delightful ride!

The main theme of this book is family: blood and chosen. While we see Ashley’s father insist he is her real family, the audience can see he’s not a fit parent. While Yuka, Kitch, and Luke may not be related to Ashley by blood, we can see how much they care for her, and how much Ashley eventually comes to care for them. Having a family doesn’t always mean blood relations, but sometimes instead those who love and care for you.

I loved all of the non-traditional gender roles that pervaded this book. Yuka is a woman who is a scientist and avid football fan. Kitch is a man who is a teacher, artist, and who loves to cook. Luke is a boy in Ashley’s class who is aspiring to become a hairstylist. It added to the overall quirkiness of the story, and made for some great jokes, but this is also very important representation kids need to see.

In a refreshing change from many of DC’s main titles, the art in this graphic novel was so bright, and vibrant, and fun! Colors are splashed every which way. The figures were cartoony and exaggerated, but it only served the overall happy and fun tone of the story.

This middle-grade novel introduces a fun new superhero to children, though older kids and adults will love it too. It’s a fun, fast, light-hearted read that’s full of color and love. I’m looking forward to more!

Kathleen

Muro, Jennifer, Thomas Krajewski, and Gretel Lusky. Primer. 2020.

The Oracle Code

After a robbery gone wrong, teenage Barbara Gordon is shot, crippled from the waist down, and finds herself looking at a long life in a wheelchair. Her father, Commissioner Gordon, checks her into the Arkham Center for Independence (or ACI): a facility that specializes in therapy and independence for differently-abled people. Dr. Harland Maxwell, the head of the facility, assures Commissioner Gordon that they will be able to help Babs, but she remains skeptical. She used to love solving puzzles and cracking codes, but this one is too big for her to handle. Slowly, Babs makes new friends and even catches herself having some fun. However, patients start disappearing from the facility under mysterious circumstances: one of them being a newfound friend. Does Babs still have it in her to solve puzzles in order to find out what happened?

Though we’re all tired of hearing how to “adapt to the new normal,” this book will help teens do exactly that. Babs went through a huge change: losing her mobility. We clearly see her go through the five stages of grief as she mourns the use of her legs and the future she saw for herself. The emotions she goes through are not only appropriate, but completely normal for making and learning to deal with such a huge adjustment.

As the ACI is Arkham-adjacent, a big element of the book is a ghost story. It’s appropriate too as Babs feels scared by the person she has become, and is mourning her past self, as mentioned above. Much of the book deals with overcoming fear, and the spooky elements only add to that tension.

The art was pretty standard for a Batman related graphic novel. The colors were predominantly muted, with blue and grey backgrounds on which other colors popped. There were motifs of puzzle pieces and computer code sprinkled throughout that I thought were very clever. Some are more obvious than others. There were, however, a few typos; closer editing would have been welcome.

As we have all had to make a huge adjustment, so has teenage Barbara Gordon here. I’d give it to any teen or adult that needs a bit of help doing this for themselves, and validation that their emotions are completely normal.

Kathleen

Nijkamp, Marieke, and Manuel Preitano. The Oracle Code. 2020.

Superman (2018, Vol. 1): The Unity Saga: Phantom Earth

Superman is trying to find his family. Lois and Jon are traveling the universe together, and Clark has lost contact with them. In the battle for Krypton against the peerless warmonger Rogol Zaar, his communication device was destroyed. Zaar was eventually banished to the Phantom Zone, where such villains such as General Zod are. It seems Superman has bigger problems, now that he’s discovered the entire Earth is somehow inside the Phantom Zone as well! Is this job too big for Superman, when he calls the Justice League for help? When Zaar and Zod meet inside the Phantom Zone, should Superman let them kill each other for their joint destruction of Krypton?

I was very confused upon my first read-through. I couldn’t place it in the continuity. Upon looking it up I see that Superman’s Rebirth run ended in 2018, and The Unity Saga picks up where it left off. As I’m not done reading Superman Rebirth, I spoiled myself for the ending =P

Brian Michael Bendis writes Superman well. We see Clark’s longing for his family, his optimism in the face of crushing odds and discord, and his fallibility. That he has to call for the Justice League to try and get the Earth out of the Phantom Zone shows that even Superman needs help sometimes. He is sorely tempted, and sees the benefits to, simply letting two of his greatest enemies kill each other for what they did to his home planet.

In writing Superman, there is a fine balance to walk between making him overpowered and making him human. Bendis walks it wonderfully.

The art is on an epic scale. The land- and space-scapes are sweeping, the monsters gargantuan, befitting the dilemmas in the story. Superman is larger than life, and the art depicts it.

While I enjoyed this first volume in The Unity Saga, I think I’ll wait to finish Rebirth before I read more!

-Kathleen

Bendis, Brian Michael, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Oclair Albert. Superman (2018, Vol. 1): The Unity Saga: Phantom Earth. 2019.

Green Lantern: Legacy

When his grandmother passes away, aspiring comic artist Tai Pham inherits her old jade ring. Turns out, it’s a lot more than it appears! Tai finds himself inducted into the Green Lantern Space Corps, with veteran Lantern John Stewart as his new mentor. Tai is very confused. It appears that there was much his grandmother didn’t tell him while she was still alive. In the wake of her death, vandalism against her beloved shop, the Jade Market, has gotten worse, and there is talk of it being torn down to make room for new development called The Gold Coast. A young businessman named Xander Griffin is the one who offered to buy the shop. He seems nice enough, but can Tai trust him? Is he a mentor too, like John, or does he just want to get close to Tai to get what he wants and destroy the Pham legacy?

It’s surprising that this is a middle-grade graphic novel. It was written so beautifully and eloquently about many issues: death of a loved one, accepting responsibility, and listening to your own instincts even in the face of adversity. While these issues can be very heavy, Minh Lê’s writing is heartwarming and compassionate, never talking down to his audience.

We also see here an age-appropriate look at what it means to be a person of color, in this case Asian, in America. Readers see Tai’s grandmother’s journey to America and her dogged pursuit of building her dream from the ground up. We see the Pham family struggle to decide whether to sell the Jade Market in the name of “progress” or to fight for what they love. This gentle look at gentrification is presented in a way that the target audience will understand, and will make for a great talking point in class or family discussions.

Andie Tong’s art is lovely. The lineart fluctuated depending on the setting, which was a cool design choice that subtly let us know of a paradigm shift. The lineart is messier, a little more chaotic, in the real world; in Tai’s imagination and in the realm of the Green Lanterns, it’s a little cleaner and more focused. There are also a couple of fun Easter eggs for long-term GL fans sprinkled in.

This heartfelt tale, of a welcome new POC in the superhero genre, will be beloved by fans both young and old.

-Kathleen

Lê, Minh, and Andie Tong. Green Lantern: Legacy. 2020.

Grayson (Vol. 5): Spiral’s End

Helena Bertinelli, the new head of Spyral, has a bounty on her head. Rival agencies Checkmate and the Syndicate have had enough of her and want her dead. Her two best agents, 1 (Tiger), and 37 (Grayson), have gone rogue and she has no one to protect her. Once Dick hears Helena is in danger, he needs to make a choice. Does he give himself up to the agency that wants to kill him, to save the woman he loves? Or does he hope that she can hold her own? Dick Grayson must confront himself once and for all: who is he, truly? Dick Grayson, Robin, Nightwing, Agent 37, all of them, or none of the above?

This is unfortunately the last volume in Grayson‘s run. And what a thrilling conclusion it is! In addition to the last few volumes, Annual #3 is included in this trade paperback. It’s a collection of short stories about Agent 37 and his spy skills, told from the perspective of a few different characters who witnessed him in action.

Overall, this series is a refreshing take on the superhero genre. Though characters who are, or used to be, superheroes, are the stars of the show, the James Bond twist is enough to keep things fresh without being too forced, cheesy, or dark. The breakneck pacing ensures you will not be able to put it down until the very end. The art is your standard comic book art, not offering much that’s new, but I believe that was a well-made decision to keep readers focused on the story and tension. Recommended for some high-energy summer reading.

-Kathleen

Seeley, Tim, Tom King, Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly, and Roge Antonio. Grayson (Vol. 5): Spyral’s End. 2017.

Superman (Rebirth, Vol. 2): Trials of the Super Son

Clark and Lois are hard at work helping Jon identify and control his growing powers. His unique mix of Kryptonian and human DNA means that he doesn’t have all of Superman’s powers – or he may have new ones! Luckily, the father and son of steel have plenty of opportunity in this volume to test them out. First, Jon’s science project accidentally teleports them to Dinosaur Island, where even they need to fight for survival! Then, a Frankenstein look-alike alien visits Smallville to take in a fugitive hiding in their midst. Unfortunately, it’s not only Jon’s parents that have an interest in his powers. Batman and Robin, known also as Bruce and Damian Wayne, have as well! What’s going to happen when the World’s Finest sons meet each other?

Of all comics I’ve read recently, I think I’m enjoying Superman’s Rebirth run the most. It’s fun, light reading that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Too many comics and their associated media today try to be as serious, dark, and realistic as possible – but that doesn’t always mean better!

What I’m enjoying the most is Clark and Jon’s relationship, not only as father and son, but partners as well. This is most evident in the Dinosaur Island story. There is a part where Jon is scared that he and his dad won’t make it home. Clark has to remind himself that Jon is only ten years old! He then reassures Jon as father to son, not as Superman to Superboy. These kinds of interactions show that while Clark knows all about being Superman, he is still learning to be a dad – it makes him less than perfect, which makes him more relatable.

The dynamic that Clark and Jon have is contrasted by the dynamic that Bruce and Damian have with each other. Bruce is overall – to put it lightly – harder on Damian than Clark is on Jon. This expectation of perfection suits Bruce’s character wonderfully, whereas Clark only asks that Jon try his best. While I don’t like Damian as a character (let alone Robin), it is really fun to watch him and Jon interact because of the fundamental differences in their personalities.

I’m looking forward to not only more of this Rebirth title for some fun summer reading – but also hopefully more World’s Finest teamups and interactions!

– Kathleen

Tomasi, Peter J., Patrick Gleason, Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza, and Mick Gray. Superman (Rebirth, Vol. 2): Trials of the Super Son. 2017.

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