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Victor & Nora: A Gotham Love Story

Victor and Nora meet in a cemetery. Victor’s older brother, Otto, is buried there. He died in a horrible fire, which Victor blames himself for. Though Victor is only 17, he is an intern at Boyle Labs working on a cryogenic project called Accela-Freeze. If he can figure out the formula, it will successfully freeze a subject without destroying its’ DNA, and could have healing potential. Nora’s mother, who died when she was 10, is buried in the same cemetery. Nora has a rare disease called Chrysalis, which will eventually take her mobility, then her memories, before she dies. She intends to kill herself before that happens, though she has told no one, and wants to live her life to the fullest before she does. The two teens can’t help but be drawn to each other: the fire to the ice. When they get too tangled up in each other, how can they possibly let go?

Mr. Freeze is my favorite villain, so I was delighted to learn of this graphic novel about Victor Fries – by Lauren Myracle, no less! I really enjoyed her last DC YA graphic novel, Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale, so had high hopes for this one. It did not disappoint, and I loved it even more than Under the Moon.

Both characters are obsessed with death in different ways. Victor thinks he can cheat death, and wants to delay the inevitable. Nora accepts her fate, and wants to make the most of the life she has. The most compelling dialogue between these two is their conversations about their respective viewpoints. This truly was a whirlwind romance: you, as well as the characters, are propelled forward by your morbid curiosity to the conclusion you know is coming, and yet it still punches you in the gut.

The color palette alternated between cold blues (Victor), and warm pink/oranges (Nora). The more the story goes on, the more they blend to create lovely purples, which is a neat visual cue as to how close the characters are getting to each other. While most of the book was in a whimsical, yet realistic style, some parts are stylized differently during conversations or monologues – such as in a Tim Burton-esque style, or that of a romance novel cover. Of course, there were fun visual Easter eggs for Batman fans sprinkled here and there.

This is already on my Best Reads 2021 list. Victor & Nora is a love story with provacative themes about life and death, written and illustrated beautifully. Though it takes DC as its’ source material, it really could stand on its’ own as a story unrelated to the Batman mythos. Highly recommended.

– Kathleen

Myracle, Lauren, and Isaac Goodhart. Victor & Nora: A Gotham Love Story. 2020.

Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics

Tom Scioli presents this unofficial Jack Kirby biography in “first person.” The author’s note at the beginning states that the prose was adapted from sources such as interviews, where Kirby recounted events in his own words.

Jack’s parents were from Galacia, though Jack and his brother David were born and raised in the Bronx, New York City. Jack’s childhood was rife with childhood gangs, Sunday and pulp comics, and his mother’s stories. As he grew up, he took odd jobs before breaking into an artistic career by drawing the in-between shots in animation. Eventually he started drawing comics. The biography details his career, first drawing comic strips, then superhero comics for both Marvel and DC, including his creation or co-creation of many, many characters we know and love today. We also see his personal life, from getting married, to time served in World War II, to his many, many collaborations with other creators, to his children being born and his parents and brother passing away, and how they all eventually made their way into his work – art imitating life.

The “first person” literary device was extremely effective. Though Kirby is gone, through this graphic novel, “written” in his own words and with his own distinctive voice, he lives again. The intimacy and immediacy of the narrative would have been lost without it. There are some passages that are in what I believe to be German and Hebrew, which only add to this effect. Though no translation is provided, you can get the gist of what’s being said from context =) There are some instances where different characters “speak” in the same style, but their exposition boxes are in different colors to indicate the shift.

Not only was the “prose” in the characters’ own words, the art was in Kirby’s own style. There were plenty of examples of his work, in the style of the times. As the book went on, you could see it change and evolve. The touch that was most fun for me were the pencil smears. The exposition boxes, speech bubbles, filler space, and some illustrations all had pencil smears on them. It wasn’t overpowering – everything is still legible – but it added an earthy, tangible touch to the book: like you’re holding a precious original instead of a mass-produced item.

The element that was least effective for me, and took me out of the experience at times, was the character design for Kirby himself. Every other character had small eyes, sometimes mere lines and dots for pupils without the whites, which was common practice at the time. Jack Kirby had big, anime-esque eyes. I imagine this was a deliberate choice made to differentiate him from other characters, but it looked weird and out of place. In that vein, a “cast of characters” page and yearly (or decade) timestamps would have also been helpful for navigating a dense read with many people in it.

The end of the book has a meaty “Notes” section, a bibliography, and an index.

All in all, this was an enlightening and endearing look at one of the most influential people in the comics industry. I learned a lot, and it was a real treat to get an “insider look” on how Kirby worked, and how his work was influenced by his eventful life. The “first person” prose is what makes this biography so special. Coupled with the resources at the back, I could easily see high school students using this graphic novel for a biographical project. Recommended for anyone who wants to see how comics were made.

– Kathleen

Scioli, Tom. Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics. 2020.

The Lost Carnival: A Dick Grayson Graphic Novel

Dick Grayson is a teenager working with his family as the main act of Haly’s Travelling Circus: The Flying Graysons. However, Dick wants more out of life. It’s been two weeks into the summer and already he’s chafing at the long months of performing for thin crowds before he goes back to school. He sneaks his best friend and magician Willow out for a party. In breaking up a fight, a girl who banished dark creature with a mysterious power vanishes before Dick can talk to her. He wanders to the carnival that’s set down across the road from the circus in order to find her. Luciana warns Dick not to get too close to her, because she isn’t all she seems, but the two can’t help but see and grow fond of one another. Amid tensions between the carnival and the circus, and Willow suddenly falling very ill, Dick must solve the mystery of the Lost Carnival – and Luciana – in order to save his best friend.

I fell in love with the cover of this graphic novel, and hoped that the whole book would use the black and gold Art Deco elements. Unfortunately, they were reserved only for the cover pages and chapter breaks =( The rest of the book is deftly rendered in white and cerulean when we are with the circus, and red and yellow when we enter the Lost Carnival. The color palettes are mixed for great effect at crucial moments in the story. There is somehow an old quality about the book in the thick, shaky linework and gentle shading.

The main theme of the book is time. Time that has been lost, and appreciation for the time that we have, especially with loved ones. Most readers will know that Dick Grayson eventually loses his parents, is taken in by Bruce Wayne, and becomes the first Robin and eventually Nightwing. There is also a point made about a child’s path not needing to be the same as their parents’, and that’s okay! I wish the book had spent a little less time on the romance and a little more time with Mr. and Mrs. Grayson to highlight these points further – though I understand that Dick is a teen and this is a YA graphic novel, which is likely why this wasn’t the case =P

I VERY much enjoyed the Dark Tower reference on page 37… if you get it, you get it 😉

This story is set before Dick Grayson becomes Robin, so it doesn’t require too much background knowledge. The limited color palette is used to great effect. Though too much time was devoted to the romance for me, the themes of time and carving your own path independent from your parents are adequately handled. The target audience and Dick Grayson fans will enjoy it.

– Kathleen

Moreci, Michael, and Sas Milledge. The Lost Carnival: A Dick Grayson Graphic Novel. 2020.

Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 7): Oracle Rising

The Terrible Trio stumbles upon an abandoned piece of AI calling itself Oracle. Upon rebooting, Oracle questions why she was abandoned by her creator: Barbara Gordon. Now, she’s out for answers and revenge, in no particular order. Babs has been pulling double duty with Congresswoman Alejo’s campaign, and Killer Moth’s latest reign of terror. He mentioned some kind of deal that was made with Lex Luthor, to give him weapons and technology that are normally outside his scope. But before she can investigate that, Oracle descends. How can Batgirl beat an enemy that she created to know her inside out?

Honestly? I couldn’t get into this one and found it boring. Probably the first time I’ve said that about a Batgirl comic =P It was too busy for me, story-wise. There was too much going on without much explanation. I found the art equally messy and busy.

I might give this one another try when pandemic brain isn’t too strong.

– Kathleen

Castellucci, Cecil, Carmine Di Giandomenico, and Jordie Bellaire. Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 7): Oracle Rising. 2020.

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.

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