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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.

Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 6): Old Enemies

It’s election season! Barbara decides to volunteer for Luciana Alejo’s campaign as she runs for a Senate seat. Unfortunately, that puts her at odds with her own father, Commissioner Gordon. The biggest promise Alejo has made on her campaign trail is to clean up the corruption in the GCPD. While Barbara thinks that’s a good idea, Batgirl has ulterior motives for joining Alejo’s volunteer army. Politics in Gotham are dangerous under the best of circumstances, and someone is really gunning for Alejo. Ex-cop Jason Bard, whom Barbara has a history with, serves as Alejo’s campaign manager. He is willing to work with Batgirl to keep the hopeful Senator safe, but Batgirl isn’t too sure. Can they cooperate long enough to get Luciana elected?

I was reminded of some of the Batgirl comics from the ’70s that were featured in her Bronze Age omnibus. Barbara actually did run for the House of Representatives during the ’70s, to serve as the start of her character retirement. One of the issues featured in the omnibus showed Batgirl and Robin working on her campaign (and on official Bat business ;D ) in Washington, D.C. This story was a great throwback.

Something that was distracting for me were the exaggerated features in some characters, but only from a certain angle. It was just when a character was in profile that their lips and noses were just too big. The style was otherwise pretty standard comic book-y and reminded me a bit of the old Batman animated series.

One last thing… I still hate this new mask!!!

– Kathleen

Scott, Mairghread, Paul Pelletier, and Norm Rapmund. Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 6): Old Enemies. 2019.

Shadow of the Batgirl

Cassandra Cain is the daughter of David Cain, one of the best assassins in the world. His daughter, deprived of speech and literacy, surpasses his talents by reading the only language she knows: body language. While trying to kill a man in Gotham City, Cassandra picks out one word as he is begging for his life, “daughter.” Confused and scared, Cassandra flees without finishing her job, and tries to discover for herself what the word “daughter” means – what it really means. With the help of Jackie, who owns a noodle shop, a librarian named Barbara, and a young man named Erik, Cassandra slowly learns to speak, to read, to think for herself and become the person she wants to be. Not who anyone says she should be.

Cassandra’s story is one every teenager can relate to. She is trying to decide who she wants to be! She is afraid that her past has too strong a hold on her and will dictate her future. As we discover, that’s not always the case! She also is representative of the Asian community. Asian author Sarah Kuhn’s introduction on how much Cassandra Cain meant to her is touching.

The art by Nicole Goux is very cool. It’s fast and loose, with a very sketchy feel to it. Since Cassandra spends a good portion of the book mute and illiterate, much of the feeling comes through in the art. What’s conveyed is overwhelming uncertainty as Cassandra tries to find her own footing in the world. As the art and characters show us, it’s okay to feel afraid and overwhelmed about feelings.

Just a personal nitpick… there is some unrealistic representation of libraries! There is no way Cass would be able to live in the Gotham City Library for as long as she does without anyone noticing. A branch as big as Gotham’s would definitely have dedicated security or police staff that would sweep the building to make sure everyone was out before closing. I was just so frustrated by that tiny part!!! Of course, this says more about me than the story itself X,D

Readers will love this combination origin and coming of age story of Cassandra Cain, and the edgy art that coincides.

– Kathleen

Kuhn, Sarah, and Nicole Goux. Shadow of the Batgirl. 2020.

Diana: Princess of the Amazons

Eleven-year-old Diana is lonely! She is the only kid on the entire island full of Amazons. Though she loves her mother and all her aunts, she feels like everyone is now too busy for her. Remembering the story of her birth, she sculpts a friend out of clay and sand and tries to breathe life into her. To Diana’s surprise, her friend Mona comes to life! Mona and Diana run around, have fun, and create mischief together. It’s all fun and games until the daring Mona tries to recruit Diana into a prank that – in Diana’s opinion – goes too far. Did Diana create a friend, or a monster?

Shannon and Dean Hale are a husband and wife team of juvenile books. Shannon has written the award-winning Princess Academy and the Ever After High book series for children. It’s easy to see here why they make a good team! Their Diana is too old to consider herself a kid, but too young for anything else. She feels like it’s impossible to be like the women she’s grown up with and looks up to. They perfectly captured that frustration and loneliness everyone her age feels.

The art is, frankly, adorable. I loved the soft, rounded, and expressive figures, which children will love and are easy to look at. The palette is bright and colorful, in jewel tones that perfectly reflect Diana’s island home. The limited action scenes read a little goofy to me, as I’m an adult reading a children’s book, but there is no excessive violence and no blood. I’d happily give it to a child who expresses interest in it without worrying that they would get scared.

Here is a rare book of a Diana who is not yet Wonder Woman, but not a child anymore either. The target audience will see their own feelings reflected in Diana, and will easily be able to navigate the adorable art.

– Kathleen

Hale, Shannon, Dean Hale, and Victoria Ying. Diana: Princess of the Amazons. 2020.

Batman: Nightwalker (The Graphic Novel)

Orphan Bruce Wayne is freshly 18 and freshly come into the trust fund he inherited from his parents. He gets in trouble his first night by trying to chase down a member of the notorious Nightwalkers gang. They’ve been targeting rich citizens of Gotham and stealing their money to give to the poor. His brief moment of vigilantism lands Bruce in big trouble: a period of probation working as a janitor in Arkham Asylum. Madeline Wallace, a girl who’s been arrested and committed for being in the Nightwalkers, draws Bruce’s attention. They begin a cautious and barbed relationship as Bruce tries to figure out who exactly they are and how to stop them. Madeline may be his only lead, but she’s reluctant to talk. Who is she, really? Whose side is she really on?

This is another adaptation of a “DC Icons” YA novel, this time originally by Marie Lu. Unlike with Wonder Woman, it feels like we hardly get to see Bruce Wayne before he became Batman, so this felt like a nice change of pace. We see the same determination, smarts, and inquisitiveness that led him to become the World’s Greatest Detective, but he’s not there yet. It shows readers that all heroes, even those without special powers, start somewhere!

However, I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief because even as an 18-year-old, Bruce still seemed overpowered. He was performing acrobatic stunts that I would assume Batman could do, but not Bruce at 18. He kept a relatively cool head in high-charged situations, which as we all know is hard for teenagers to do. I wonder if Bruce had maybe started training to become a vigilante before the events of this novel. If there was mention of Bruce training at martial arts and detective work in the original novel, it was lost in translation.

As is ever my nitpick with YA novels, there is another (to me) forced romance in this one. It didn’t even seem like a romance to me, but other characters insisted it was – what? There was very little introspective inner dialogue from Bruce that wasn’t directly related to the Nightwalkers mystery. I felt blindsided and confused by it and don’t feel it served the story at all. Maybe it was fleshed out more in the original novel, but if this was all they were going to do with it in the graphic novel, it would have been better to cut it out altogether.

To make up for the somewhat unbelievable story, the art was superb. Classic Batman colors are used to maximum effect: blue-gray overall with bright yellow highlights. It would have been very easy to overdo the yellow, but it was used carefully and sparsely, to ensure maximum emotional or action-packed impact. The backgrounds and landscapes are rendered somewhat realistically, while the figures have overly sharp and angular features to suggest the hardness Gotham has beaten into them.

While I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief for a few aspects of this story, this is still a good old-fashioned Batman mystery set before Bruce Wayne as Batman exists. The sharp art elevates this graphic novel adaptation.

– Kathleen

Lu, Marie, Stuart Moore, and Chris Wildgoose. Batman: Nightwalker (The Graphic Novel). 2019.

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