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Black Canary: Ignite

Dinah Lance wants to do it all. She wants to win her school’s Battle of the Bands with her two best friends. She wants to attend the Gotham Junior Police Academy and become a police officer just like her dad, so she can help people. So what if she and her friends haven’t decided on a band name yet? So what if Detective Lance doesn’t want her to become a cop? Dinah knows what she wants and she knows what she has to do to get it. But someone is very, VERY determined Dinah won’t get the things she wants. That someone is from her mother’s elusive past. Together, Dinah and her mother must confront her past, and Dinah’s future, if they are to defeat the shadowy threat.

I’m older than the targeted middle-grade audience for this graphic novel, so I found the characterization and writing inconsistent. Detective Lance vehemently denies Dinah has powers at the beginning of the book, but once they are revealed, takes her and Laurel out for a nice dinner. I had to do a double take there because seriously… What??? There were also some plot threads that were not explained or explored fully, then dropped, such as with Dinah’s vocal teacher. Honestly, I expected better from veteran middle/YA grade writer Meg Cabot. In this regard I was severely disappointed.

Dinah’s story here is one of breaking boundaries and stereotypical feminine roles. Various characters tell Dinah she’s too loud, too brash, too this or that. Does Dinah pay the haters any attention? No! That’s awesome! But to me it felt like so much effort and energy was focused on this, and ONLY this, aspect of the graphic novel that the rest of the story and writing got left in the dust.

Cara McGee’s illustrations are delightful. They are energetic and easy to interpret for younger readers. The bright colors are fun and attractive to the target audience. There is more emphasis placed on the figures and characters, but the scenery and backgrounds are also well-rendered and not cluttered.

Overall, this is a fine introduction to Black Canary for younger readers, but to older fans, do yourselves a favor and skip it.

– Kathleen

Cabot, Meg, and Cara McGee. Black Canary: Ignite. 2019.

Grayson (Vol. 3): Nemesis

With Mr. Minos dead under mysterious circumstances, Helena has assumed his role as director of Spyral. This leaves Dick Grayson stuck with Agent 1, Tiger, as his partner. One of Helena’s first assignments is finding out who is murdering rival spies. That someone appears to be setting Dick up. In an attempt to leave Spyral and return home, Dick meets with Batman – only to find that Bruce can no longer remember him, or remember he was even Batman. He turns to other members of the Batfamily, the only ones who are able to help him solve this latest mystery. However, not all of them are happy to see him again, especially as they thought he was dead…

First of all, I was cheering Helena’s rise to power. Break that glass ceiling! I’m sure Helena has her own secrets, and we will uncover Mr. Minos’ and the rest of Spyral’s, as the series goes on.

I have to admit this one lost me a bit, as I don’t recall Batman becoming an amnesiac at any point during the New 52 – then again, I haven’t read a whole lot of it. However, it did make for an interesting development in that Batman was NOT there to save the day for his protégé for once. The rest of the Batfamily has to get Dick out of this conundrum on their own, which I know they can!

The art has been consistent, and consistently excellent, as they’ve only had Mikel Janin as the artist so far. In my opinion, this is the best design move they could have made. The plot has so many twists and turns that the artist and art styles constantly changing as well would just be too much.

Looking forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Seeley, Tim, Tom King, Mikel Janin, and Jeromy Cox. Grayson (Vol. 3): Nemesis. 2016.

Batman: The Long Halloween

What better graphic novel to review for Halloween week than this definitive Batman title? ;D I have read this one before, years ago, but came back to it for this week’s review.

This June wedding in Gotham City is an event to be remembered, on many fronts. The groom is Johnny Viti, the nephew of Carmine Falcone, one of the two biggest crime lords in Gotham City. Falcone himself tries to pressure Bruce Wayne and his company into laundering money, but Bruce refuses. Later that evening, on the rooftop of GCPD, Batman, police commissioner Jim Gordon, and ADA Harvey Dent make a pact to take down the Falcone family. They will bend the law if necessary, but never break it.

On Halloween night, Johnny Viti is murdered, and a Jack O’Lantern is left next to his body. This starts a string of murders in Gotham City: a member of, or someone close to, the Falcone family is murdered on a holiday, and the killer leaves trinkets relating to that holiday with the body. The killer becomes known as “Holiday.” Batman, Gordon, and Dent are thrust into the web of lies and double-crosses that’s standard territory in the mob. The men even begin to suspect each other. If they can’t trust or rely on one another… how can they work together to solve the case?

This story, originally published in 1996-1997, partly inspired the 2008 movie The Dark Knight (in the 2011 edition I read for this review, there is a conversation between director Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer about how the graphic novel inflienced the movie). On a timeline level, this makes sense, as The Long Halloween chronologically takes places after the events of Batman: Year One (1987)… which partially inspired 2005’s Batman Begins 😉 This graphic novel, together with Year One and The Dark Knight Returns (1986), I believe made a big difference in the way that Batman was written and published thereafter. I believe these graphic novels marked the start of the shift from Batman’s historically campy, fun style, to the much more serious tone we see today.

With that in mind, for it’s time, the story was groundbreaking. Today, it is the perfect example of what a Batman story should be. We see three ordinary men who are trying their best to do the right thing, in a morally corrupt city. We see that they are not perfect, but fallible. We see the main villains as ordinary men, like our heroes, instead of the supervillains (though many members of Batman’s rogues’ gallery make an appearance). The mob characters serve as a foil to Batman, Gordon, and Dent: while they are also human, and therefore fallible, they are morally corrupt but believe they are doing the right thing. Many a comic was published before this one where the heroes always did good, and the villains were always, unequivocally, bad. It makes the events and climax that much more tragic.

The art is reminiscent of The Dark Knight Returns, and continues the style of Year One. The figures are rendered in a hard, blocky style, with little use of soft lines. The environments are rendered more simply, with buildings in the same blocky style, or with just one color, so that much of the reader’s focus is on the characters and their expressions. Usually there are only a few colors used in a single scene or panel, to set the tone and again allow greater focus on the characters and the story. Big blocks of black are used as the only method of shading, creating a stark and gloomy noir-like mood. This is used to phenomenal effect as we guess at Holiday’s identity and second-guess all the character’s intentions as we move through the story.

The Long Halloween is a must-read for every Batman fan, but especially for those who are also fans of The Dark Knight film trilogy. The story, in which you question the integrity of both the heroes and villains, is compelling and was one of the first of it’s kind at publication. The art is effective in it’s seeming simplicity. The Long Halloween is a landmark Batman story that has rightfully earned it’s place as an important and influential title in the hero’s history.

– Kathleen

Loeb, Jeph, and Tim Sale. Batman: The Long Halloween. 2011.

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.

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.

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