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Amethyst (2020, Vol. 1)

Amy Winston leads a double life. On her 16th birthday, she receives gifts from her adoptive parents on Earth, then heads to Gemworld for her royal birthday bash. When she arrives, she finds Amethyst, the kingdom she rules over, has been completely destroyed, and all her subjects missing. Well, except for her trusty Pegasus, Ypsilos. She wonders if Opal, the evil king of the northern lands, has anything to do with it. Entreating the other Houses for help has so far been a wash, but a Turquoise warrior named Phoss and Maxixe, Prince Aquamarine, join her quest. Out of ideas, they follow a crystal healing book Amy got as a gift from her adoptive parents, opening her third eye chakra – and allowing Amy to see that all her subjects, including her birth parents everyone assumes to have died – have been trapped in amethyst. Can they figure out how to reverse the spell before it’s too late?

I read and highly enjoyed Amethyst’s too-short New 52 run and the ’80s omnibus (must not have gotten around to reviewing it for the blog, on the to-do list!) and. This reboot has so far been the least enjoyable of the title for me. I don’t think it’s bad, per say, but it just doesn’t quite scratch the fantasy comic itch the same way the original does.

The writing felt like it skipped around a bit. Some aspects weren’t fully explained for someone who’s new to the title (or who’s rusty, like me). Eventually you just learn to live with it as you’re reading, but it’s a tad frustrating. Though it tried to tell a story of found vs. birth family, there are too many threads going with too little significant character development. Ultimately, it falls flat even though everything is seemingly wrapped up by the end. This trade paperback covers issues 1-6 of what’s planned to be a 12-part series, so I have to wonder what the second 6 issues are going to tackle. For someone who is strictly looking for an action/adventure story, this will be less of an issue, for there’s plenty of fight sequences and traveling through fantastical lands to go around.

To make up for the subpar story, the art is LOUD – but in a good way. The visuals are overall trippy and psychedelic. Colors are rendered in bright jewel tones. Figures are drawn with bold, confident lines, while backgrounds are almost more like muted washes, to help the characters and their actions stand out.

While this isn’t the Amethyst title for me, there is still plenty of action and adventure to carry it for another reader. The art serves this purpose by pushing the figures to the forefront. I’ll pick up the next trade paperback and see if it gets better for me in the second half.

– Kathleen

Reeder, Amy. Amethyst (2020, Vol. 1). 2021.

Future State: Wonder Woman

Future State is the event DC had this past summer that offered mini series on characters and events occurring either in the multiverse or far in the future after the events of Death Metal (which I’m ashamed to admit I still need to read…). This trade paperback collects all the Wonder Woman stories:

First, L.L. McKinney’s Nubia as Wonder Woman attempts to stop a villain named Grail from stealing artifacts from various goddesses. Sensing they may be connected, she seeks answers from her Aunt Nancy. Apparently these artifacts come together as a master key to open doors throughout the universe. The last piece Grail needs to steal is Nubia’s tiara… but there’s nothing THAT special about it, is there? This magic-based story, brought to life by Alitha Martinez, Mark Morales, and Emilio Lopez, is rendered in deep, vivid colors, and emphasis is given to character design and expressions. It creates a lush background for McKinney’s story.

Next is the first appearance of Yara Flor, who is my new favorite DC character! In Hell to Pay, she is the Wonder Woman of a distant future. She slays a hydra, meaning to take one of its heads to the Underworld to exchange for the soul of her sister warrior. A spirit called Caipora guides her into the bureaucratic Underworld. Through a series of mishaps, Yara finds herself in front of Hades himself, who offers her a challenge to find Potira’s soul and lead her out – or take her place. Joëlle Jones is both writer and artist for this mini series, with Jordie Bellaire coloring. While the story is essentially a retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, the main draw here is Jones’ art and Yara herself. Yara is fiery, impatient, quick to anger: so different from cool-headed Diana, and for all that, she’s lovable and has a good heart. Jones’ pencils strike just the right balance between realistic and cartoony, while Bellaire’s colors emphasize reds and mute greens, making Yara stand out on every page – just as she’d want.

If you couldn’t get enough of Yara with the last story, you’re in luck! The next story is Superman/Wonder Woman, which teams Yara’s Wonder Woman up with Jon Kent’s Superman. One morning, two suns rise over the Earth. The new sun is a tyrannical machine bent on destroying Superman. The current sun is a Brazilian god named Kuat, and he is none too happy about the intrusion. Both suns challenge Yara and Jon to a race or battle to determine which sun gets to stay – how can they possibly outwit them? I found this to be the weakest of the collection. While Dan Watters’ story was a fun look at a new Worlds-Finest-esque team-up, the art by Leila Del Duca and Nick Filardi left something to be desired. It seemed unfinished in parts: there is a panel in Issue #2 where Yara is in the background and we should be able to clearly see her face, but it’s nothing but two dots for her eyes and a red slash for her mouth. Overall the characters seemed to float above the ground, there wasn’t enough shadow to give depth or weight. The art took me out of the story and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have.

Last, but certainly not least, Immortal Wonder Woman takes a look at Diana, a long time into the future, after humanity and all her fellow heroes have died. She is trying to persuade the Amazons to take Swamp Thing and locate to another planet to save The Green. Her sister Amazons would rather stand and protect the planet they have left… but Diana knows they won’t be able to stand against the Undoing. It is a force that simply… eats worlds, undoes them as if they never existed in the first place. When the Undoing swallows the Earth, what will become of Diana? Becky Cloonan and Michael W. Conrad pen a great story about hope in the face of losing everyone and everything. Jen Bartel’s art really drives it home. Her colors are soft, almost pastel-like, and there is a soft light diffused throughout, like a sunset, even in the cold depths of space.

Overall, this was an enjoyable look at multiverse Wonder Women. I hope that this collection drives DC into a new direction with the character. There is much potential to play with gods from other cultures in Nubia and Yara, instead of the same, tired old Greek mythology. If you need some switching up with your Wonder Woman mythos, this is the one for you.

– Kathleen

Various. Future State: Wonder Woman. 2021.

Poison Ivy: Thorns

Pamela Isley is a loner who loves plants. So much so that she releases a gas (toxic to humans, not plants, of course) in a local park in an effort to stop it from being bulldozed and constructed over. A few people get seriously sick, and residents in the surrounding area need to evacuate. This leads one of Pamela’s classmates, Alice Oh, to stay temporarily with Pamela and her father. Though Pamela would rather hang out in the greenhouse her mother donated to her high school than with her peers, Alice is all right. She’s helped Pamela avoid Brett, a guy at school who bothers her. However, Pamela isn’t sure she can trust Alice; especially with the family secrets she and her father keep. As she and Alice get closer, as more than friends, can Pamela open up?

This is a perfect pre-Halloween read. The overall tone is dark, gothic, and creepy. Most of the story takes place in the Victorian Isley mansion, or in settings surrounded by plants. Readers who know that Pamela eventually becomes Poison Ivy will be interested in this origin story, but horror and suspense fans will find plenty to appreciate as well. Pamela’s honest struggles to open up and do the right thing in this story juxtaposed against the knowledge of who she eventually becomes is what makes this read so tense.

What was most interesting to me was the seamless inclusion of feminism into Pamela’s character. She states more than once throughout the book that she has had enough of men controlling her body. It fits within the context of the story (that I can’t go into for spoiler reasons), but also is interesting given the history of the character as a femme fatale who uses her womanly charms to get what she wants. A teenage Pamela standing up for herself, specifically to stop men from taking advantage of her body, added a depth to her character that I hadn’t realized was missing until now. I had good timing reading this shortly after the new abortion laws being passed in Texas (though admittedly, Pamela takes “my body, my choice” to the extreme here!).

Contributing to the suspenseful atmosphere are the murky, muted colors and low lighting in the art. Pamela’s red hair is the brightest thing on most pages, but not by much. The linework is sharp and thin, evoking the titular thorns and reminding readers that no one person or place is safe.

Though you’ll come for the perfectly creepy atmosphere and art, you’ll stay for this queer and feminist representation of Pamela Isley becomes Poison Ivy. Add it to your TBR pile this October!

– Kathleen

Keplinger, Kody and Sarah Kipin. Poison Ivy: Thorns. 2021.

Nubia: Real One

Nubia is lamenting what’s shaping up to be a boring summer with her best friends, LaQuisha and Jason. LaQuisha is going on a family road trip, Jason is heading off to soccer camp, and Nubia’s moms want her to work. Plans change when Nubia stops a robbery at the local EZ Shoppe… by throwing an ATM at the would-be culprits. Though she’s supposed to keep her powers a secret, one person definitely saw her: Oscar, the boy Nubia has a crush on. Though Nubia is detained by a police officer, he gives her description as someone who helped. Though Nubia is let go, Mamas Amera and Danielle ground Nubia and forbid her from going to the last party of the school year. Well, Nubia sneaks out anyway. She has to talk to Oscar and find out why he’s keeping quiet about her display of super-strength. No one would bother Wonder Woman or Supergirl if they had to save the day. How can Nubia use her powers for good if people automatically assume the worst about her, simply due to the color of her skin?

The most important part about this book is the diversity! Through Nubia, her moms, and her friends, we get a look at what it’s like to be Black in the United States. Through exposition and dialogue, we see Nubia’s fear at being stopped by a cop, her moms talking to her about what to do next time, how different characters react to microaggressions and being called racial slurs, and how a peaceful protest turned violent. It’s an uncomfortable read at times, but an important one. It may be easier for readers to digest as it’s shown through the lens of a fictional yet familiar character.

Expressive and colorful art makes this graphic novel a little easier to digest. The figures are long and lanky. I found it fun that Nubia towered over her peers, and the long, loose lines suggested she hadn’t quite figured out what to do with her limbs (or, more likely, powers!) yet. Many other iterations of a teenaged Wonder Woman use the same trope. Royal purples and deep pinks dominate the color palette; though many other colors are used, most are deep, saturated, and evoke a sunrise or sunset.

Nubia is a different kind of Wonder Woman, one that young women of all walks of life will be inspired by. I was moved to tears at more than one point in the story, and you will be, too. I’m excited to seek out more Nubia comics.

❤ Kathleen

MnKinney, L. L., and Robyn Smith. Nubia: Real One. 2021.

House of El (Book 1): The Shadow Threat

Zahn is an elite citizen of the planet Krypton. He has joined the resistance movement Midnight to expose the truth about Krypton’s decay. For example. the planet is experiencing earthquakes which have worsened over time. The Tribune is dismissing or minimizing these claims. Sera is a soldier who has gone on increasingly failing terraforming missions for the Tribune. She gets asked to participate in a mysterious experiment by Jor-El and Lara – Zahn’s cousin and the future mother of Superman. It turns out that Jor-El and Lara want to reverse her genetic code. They want to make her into a more well-rounded Kryptonian in order to make a difference in the planet’s future. If she goes through with it, will Sera be the same? Will she like who she becomes?

What’s very clear here is that all characters love their planet. They all show it in different ways and thus have different viewpoints and ideas on how to save it. Which one is the right one? This parallels the call for action about our own planet.

The art style overall was a sort of futuristic Art Deco. Straight, rigid lines dominate and recall Krypton’s societal structure. Yet at the same time there is a greater emphasis placed on expression rather than accuracy. This contradiction made the art not work for me as much as it should have.

I’m not sure if pandemic brain struck again, but this didn’t hit as well with me as I wanted it to. Superman fans will appreciate this graphic novel, the start of a trilogy about Krypton’s demise, for the context and moral conundrums it gives. Hopefully I appreciate the next volume more.

– Kathleen

Gray, Claudia, and Eric Zawadzki. House of El (Book 1): The Shadow Threat. 2020.

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.

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