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Harrow County: Countless Haints

Harrow County is an eerie southern gothic fairy tale, and after recently reading Bone Parish and now this, Cullen Bunn is becoming a favorite author of mine.

The opening pages begin with the hanging of suspected witch Hester Beck. As she is hanging from a tree while lit on fire, she swears revenge and tells the surrounding crowd that she will be back.  This old burnt hanging tree is on the edge of the property of teen Emmy and her widowed father. Emmy is about to turn eighteen and is helping her father with a calf’s birth, when a traveling salesman and his granddaughter Bernice arrive on the farm. The two men speak privately about their worries that Emmy could be a reincarnated Hester, and that her birthday will reveal a hidden evil. Later when Emmy is exploring the nearby woods, she discovers her first haint, a skinless boy that speaks to her. It is his later warnings that alert Emmy that danger is near, and her seemingly kind father doesn’t even trust her. A showdown occurs, and secret alliances are revealed. Who can Emmy trust? Her father? Bernice? The skinned boy? Can she even trust herself?

The story has a lot of potential, as Emmy is shown as a young woman who is trying desperately to understand the mysteries of her possible origin and the decades long secrets that the townspeople have. This is a much better adaptation of that sort of story than the disappointing Wytches. The title hints that countless more ghostly haints will be discovered, and how Emmy reacts and utilizes them will certainly be intriguing.

Illustrated by Tyler Crook, he creates an atmospheric southern locale with believable and varied townspeople. His dark woods scenes are my favorite, with his spooky corners that could harbor sinister haints. He opened each new chapter with a two page spread that somehow incorporated the words Harrow County into the background, and I enjoyed looking for how he would do it each time. His artwork is reminiscent of Emily Carroll’s work in Through the Woods, and the comparison holds up because both Carroll and Crook draw their characters young looking with an apple cheeked motif. In this case, Emmy was drawn way too young looking. At eighteen years old, she should have been drawn as a young woman and not so child-like, but other than that complaint, the artwork is a perfect match for the story.

As this was the first of an eight book series, I aim to visit Harrow County more in the future and see what awaits Emmy!

-Nancy

Bunn, Cullen & Tyler Crook. Harrow County: Countless Haints. 2015.
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Best Reads of 2018

It’s that time of year again! Here we’ve compiled our list of the ten best books we’ve read in 2018, and their consequent reviews, in no particular order. Enjoy!

Continue reading “Best Reads of 2018”

The Massive: Black Pacific

Earth has suffered several catastrophic environmental disasters in the space of a year, resulting in mass deaths and a new political order. Two marine conservation boats, part of the group Ninth Wave, survive the chaos but become separated from one another.

Text in yellow boxes detail the many ruinous events that led to environmental and societal collapse. In fact some events truly changed the landscape with coastlines and islands being especially hard hit. In the face of this, Captain Callum Israel of the trawler Kapital searches for sister ship The Massive.  Along with Israel there is mercenary Mag, mysterious Mary and other idealistic but weary crew members. This small crew of hardy environmentalists question if they can keep to their no-violence pledge in the midst of attacks from pirates, assassins and the dangers of changed ecosystems.

To be honest, not a lot happened in this first volume. Author Brian Wood, whom I’ve been reading a lot of, is busy world building so the Kapital just seems to aimlessly travel around the world looking for any clues of The Massive’s location. Just when they seem to have found a signal from the ship, nope, they’re wrong. The repetitiveness got old and I’m questioning Mary’s origins. She seems too good to be true, and her background knowledge and ability to survive catastrophes seems suspicious.

The artwork has an extremely muted color palette, symbolizing the postapocalyptic new world, and has certain color schemes that represent the time shifts in the narrative.  The stylized ways the characters were drawn took some getting used to, but I soon came to appreciate the design format and wondered why I found it problematic at first. There was welcome diversity in the crew and in the ports they visited, with a hipster vibe throughout.

While not bad, this story was underwhelming. Although I liked how Wood made this world seem plausible (except for Mary) and presented real ethical dilemmas, it didn’t grab my attention like much of his other work has. I don’t believe I will continue with this series.

-Nancy

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Wood, Brian, Kristian Donaldson, Garry Brown & Dave Stewert. The Massive. 2013.

Rebels: These Free and Independent States

I am having a love affair with Brian Wood this year! Having discovered Briggs Land last year, this year I have devoured it’s sequel Lone Wolves, volumes one-three of his Viking saga Northlanders, the first Rebels about the Revolutionary War, and now this companion piece about the War of 1812.

In the first volume A Well Regulated Militia, Wood first gives us a lengthy portrait of the fictional character Seth Abbott and his journey from farm boy to one of the well respected leaders of the Green Mountain Boys. Then we are given shorter non-linear vignettes of other loyalists and patriots and their contributions to the war. This second historical fiction graphic novel follows suit.

These Free and Independent States

In this continuation, we revisit Vermont to find that Seth’s son John is a boat-making savant. Spanning the years from 1786 to 1816, John comes to age as the new nation faces several threats and a new Navy is commissioned. John’s parents discover he has a fascination and an aptitude for building ships. Nowadays we might call these traits autism, but despite having no name for it, Seth and Mercy recognize his gifts and apprentice him to a master ship builder out of Boston. His careful work is integral when building the USS Constitution, which was later nicknamed Old Ironsides during the War of 1812. His work is so all consuming he is oblivious to Alice, a young woman he has known since childhood, who has taken a fancy to him. When the ship goes to sea he signs up to be a soldier on it, just so he can remain on the ship he has claimed as his own. His obsession proves to be his downfall, but luckily he has some allies who remain dedicated to him. The story ends with an improbable conclusion.

Image result for rebels these free and independent statesThe Virginian

A short story about George Washington when he was a Lieutenant Colonel and his actions in the Ohio River Valley in 1753. This portrayal shows him an an impulsive young soldier, who was worried about how he would be depicted, and how he was not always a man of his word. This representation certainly does not show him in a good light, as his foolhardy actions don’t match his later reputation as one of our founding fathers and the nation’s first president.

Brooklyn Heights

An orphaned brother and sister cling to their New York homestead from 1777-1783. These two plucky siblings discover a secret stash of gold that the British lost and offer it to the leaders at Valley Forge.The ending with it’s time jump defied logic. I wanted to like this story but couldn’t.

The Green Mountain Boys

Captain Ethan Allen gets the spotlight in this last short story. In 1775 he petitions the Continental Congress for recognition and funds for the soldiers he leads.  But the Battle of Fort Ticonderoga proved the Green Mountain Boys were worth every penny that the government reluctantly gave them.

The artwork throughout the entire novel is strong, although you can tell different artists are utilized in the last two stories. The drawing is sketchy, with a light green and yellow color palette. You can tell much research went into the panels to depict colonial life with impressive details of the ships in the first story. This is yet another example of the excellent historical work that I have come to expect from Wood and his team of artists.  I will absolutely pick up whatever he puts out next in any of the series I mentioned in this post!

-Nancy

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Rebels: A Well Regulated Militia

“A historical epic of America’s founding” is very accurate in describing this exceptionally good graphic novel with it’s window into the Revolutionary War era based in the NE corner of our new nation in the late 1700’s.

Divided into six chapters, author Brian Wood first gives us a lengthy portrait of the fictional character Seth Abbott and his journey from farm boy to one of the well respected leaders of the Green Mountain Boys. Then we are given shorter non-linear vignettes of other loyalists and patriots and their contributions to the war.

A Well-Regulated Militia

We first meet Seth in 1768 as a boy with a gruff father in the New Hampshire (later to become Vermont) wilderness, eking out a homestead.  English soldiers in the region are hated by the settlers, who are there under the New Hampshire grants.  Skipping ahead to 1775, seventeen year old Seth marries teen-aged Mercy after her father is forced off his land by the redcoats. The young couple establish their own household, but local Ethan Allen easily convinces him to join his militia regiment. At first fighting for their region’s independence, he then is willing to fight for the entire colonies’ independence. He ends up being away from his wife for seven years, and while certainly in danger during battles, Seth views his time with the militia as a grand adventure with his best friend Ezekiel, a fellow soldier. In 1783 Seth finally comes home to Mercy discovering a son, as he had been unaware his wife was pregnant when he left.

This narrative was a fascinating look into an average farmer’s life and the threats they faced from the British and the local Loyalists. The battles that Seth participated in and the living conditions of the soldiers were shown in detail, and you could feel the backbreaking labor and fear they lived with. It also showed a nuanced view of the women left behind, as Mercy suffered just as much while being forced to fend for herself in an unforgiving wilderness.

Image result for rebels brian wood

Goodwife, Follower, Patriot, Republican

Ever hear of the iconic folklore story of Molly Pitcher who stepped into battle to keep the canon shooting when her husband was shot? This story focuses on fictional Sarah Hull who in 1777 was the Battle of Saratoga’s “Molly Pitcher”. In later years her dying husband makes a plea for the government to give her a soldier’s pension for the work she provided. How her effort is disregarded by the representatives ties in with how sometimes women of today are also treated with indifference for their invaluable contributions.

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Liberty’s Daughter

Silence Bright, a young woman of mixed race, is caught printing and distributing leaflets in Boston that criticize the British in 1768. Thrown into Newgate Prison she is unbowed and the awesome quotes that I shall take to heart- “beware the bookish woman” and “hold fast” are used as she defiantly refuses to submit.

Image result for rebels brian wood libertys daughter

Occupation

In 1775 we are given a brief glimpse of Seth Abbott again in NYC as he holed up in an attic with free black Clayton Freeman. Seth can not understand why Clayton is a Loyalist, and fighting for a corrupt regime for he tries to convince Clayton that he should be fighting for the freedom of the colonies. What he doesn’t understand is that “freedom” will not come for all, and that many blacks made the hard choice of fighting for the Crown that promised them freedom and passage away from the colonies. This vignette made me think of our current president, especially with the quote “…how were the lies of King George (Trump) at all appealing? Was there something we were missing?”

Stone Hoof

A young Shawnee brave, Stone Hoof, helps soldiers build Fort Stalwart in the Ohio River Valley in 1750 and befriends Will Henderson. As his tribe are migrants, he is in and out of the region over the years until 1757 when his tribe attacks the fort, as they have aligned with the French who are fighting the British for this territory.  As both he and Henderson survive the battle, they meet for one last time, and each try to understand why the other believes what they do.

Image result for rebels brian wood stone hoof

 

Bloody Backs

In 1769 a young man in a London is given a choice- go to prison or head to the colonies as a British soldier. He clings to his idealism and loyalty to the Crown as he miserably slogs  through battle after battle. He meets an ignoble end by a Green Mountain Boy at the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780, never having achieved a rank higher than a lowly private, and for what- glory?

Image result for rebels brian wood bloody backs

The artwork throughout all the stories is superb. Several artists contributed to the six stories, and all convey an authentic feel to this era and region. The grittiness of wilderness living and the gore of war are shown in a realistic manner, with coloring that is evocative and helps convey the story even more effectively. I want to give a special shout out to artist Tula Lotay, who created each chapter’s cover art. Each page she creates is a beautiful homage to the coming story. In addition the extras at the end give some insight to the making of the book with some great essays by the author and some of the artists.

With this book, plus his outstanding Briggs Land,  Wood has vaulted onto the list of my top ten favorite authors of graphic novels! I will absolutely be checking out Wood’s Viking saga Northlanders and will pick up all future work in this series.

-Nancy

Briggs Land: Lone Wolves

“Secure the perimeter. Protect the land. Preserve the family.”

When I first read Briggs Land (V1) I said it was an absolutely riveting new series about “an American family under siege” by both the government and their own hand. Set in rural upstate New York, Briggs Land is a hundred square mile oasis for people who want to live off the grid. Established in the Civil War era, the Briggs family would give sanctuary to those who wanted to live a simple life, but this anti-government colony has taken a dark turn in recent times. The village that grew within it’s fences has morphed into a breeding ground for white supremacy, domestic terrorism and money laundering. So, would the second volume deliver following such a strong start? I’m glad to report- yes!

In this second volume an unsuspecting couple wander too far while hiking and inadvertently wander onto Briggs land from the southern border of Canada. They run into Grace’s youngest  son, Issac, a former soldier who panics that the couple will tell authorities that he is hiding out. While he doesn’t harm them, he locks them in a cabin and then consults with his mother and brothers Caleb and Noah on what to do.

Image result for briggs land lone wolves
My husband and I hike a lot, so I couldn’t help but imagine us accidentally trespassing on someone’s land!

When the local media start to  piece together the missing hikers with the Briggs family, law enforcement jump at the chance to surround the compound and lay siege to the armed community. As we learned in the first volume, don’t underestimate Grace. She has an effective plan for dealing with the law and the locked up hikers.

In the midst of all this jailed patriarch Jim Briggs, furious that he has been supplanted by his wife as leader, plots revenge. He still has strong ties and allegiances within the village, and plans a way to hurt Grace and regain power. But we are given a poignant flashback as to how Jim had callously used his son Noah as a cover when he attempted to assassinate the president twenty years ago, and we see why Grace’s sons and many in the community have sided with her. We also get some additional plot threads about Grace’s daughters-in-law. We learn some of the reasons they joined the family and discover their mettle in dealing with authorities and outsiders.

Several illustrators are credited with the art, and as such, sometimes the style can change significantly from one chapter to another. This is somewhat distracting,  but the earth toned color palette throughout gives it enough consistency. I loved the guest artists that did the variant art and enjoyed their interpretations of the characters. I’ve read enough graphic novels by now, that often at first glance I can recognize an artist’s style and know who drew it before I even see their credit.

This series is a perfect read in our current polarized world, with all the outcry about guns and the NRA. While I am a strong proponent of gun control, I can still enjoy this nuanced view of a militaristic family and the morally grey area in which they lead their lives.

-Nancy

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Wood, Brain, Mack Chater & Lee Loughridge. Briggs Land: Lone Wolves. 2018.

Briggs Land: State of Grace

Briggs Land is an absolutely riveting new series about “an American family under siege” by both the government and their own hand. Set in rural upstate New York, Briggs Land is a hundred square mile oasis for people who want to live off the grid. Established in the Civil War era, the Briggs family would give sanctuary to those who wanted to live a simple life, but this anti-government colony has taken a dark turn in recent times. The village that grew within it’s fences has morphed into a breeding ground for white supremacy, domestic terrorism and money laundering.

Patriarch Jim Briggs, who is currently serving a life sentence for attempting to assassinate the president, has been leading the sect and still making orders with the assistance of his wife Grace, who visits him weekly in jail. Dismayed by his corruption, Grace decides to make a power play for leadership in the community, despite her three adult sons being valid potential leaders themselves.  Eldest son Caleb is a businessman and white extremist who feels he is being passed over, Noah is the muscle of the family with a reckless intensity and Isaac is the recently returned soldier who may prove to be a wild card.

Grace proves to be a worthy adversary in this patriarchal society, and literally survives a power coup by those that resent a woman taking the lead of Briggs Land. She has a steely resolve, but shows a love for her family and compassion for those in need. However, although she seems to want to rehabilitate the compound and honor the original intent of this secessionist group, she is also willing to manipulate others, including the FBI agents that are investigating the family. Don’t assume anything about Grace.

The artwork by Mack Chater is spot on for the gritty story and establishes the atmosphere of a trashy military compound. Sketchy with an earth toned color palette, the layout reminds me of storyboards, which is apropos as the series is being developed for TV on the AMC network. The Briggs family and the village as a whole are drawn realistically, with varied looks for these armed right wingers.  The only misstep is an oddly colored front cover to the graphic novel in which Grace is colored in blue with other family members in red. Lately I’ve seen the cover for the first issue used more often (picture with this post) which is more appropriate for the mood and frankly, just more attractive.

The world building in this story is superb, with this thinly fictionalized narrative being quite plausible in our current polarized world. There was also a short one-shot story in the back of the Avatar issue from Free Comic Book Day which adds another real world issue of meth dealership to the compound. Both stories make me anxious to find out what Grace and her complex family’s next moves will be in this fascinating crime saga.  Highly recommended!

-Nancy

ElfQuest Book 1

ElfQuest
Pini, Wendy & Richard. ElfQuest Book 1. 1981.

I fell in love with ElfQuest when I was in high school and my boyfriend who was collecting them introduced me to the World of Two Moons. Sometimes our dates would consist of us sitting side by side reading for hours and debating the finer points of elf lore. That my high school boyfriend eventually became my husband, makes this series dear to my heart.

Fire and Flight, introduces us to the Wolfriders, an elfin band that rides wolves and live in the woods, or as they call it, The Holt. Primitive humans are their enemies, and have captured one of the elves, Redlance. A rescue is mounted to retrieve their friend, but at great cost, as the humans burn down the woods in retaliation. All the elves and their wolves are able to escape to the caverns of the trolls, but due to some trickery the trolls lead them underground and abandon them near an entrance to a desert.

Raid at Sorrow’s End (part 1 & 2) has the elves, led by their leader Cutter, setting out across the sands in hope of finding a new home. On the brink of disaster they are completely shocked to find a hidden elfin village in the desert mountains. They barge into the peaceful village, creating chaos, for the other tribe is as shocked at their existence as they were. The Sun Villagers welcome the Wolfriders while Leetah, the Healer, uses her magic to heal Redlance.

The Challenge gives some important background to the story-as Savah the eldest Sun Village elf there, explains how the elves and humans became enemies and how the desert tribe came to be where they are. Cutter feels the pull of “recognition” towards Leetah, to the great dismay of Rayek, the Sun Villager’s chief hunter. Cutter & Rayek engage in a series of physical challenges in an attempt to win Leetah’s heart. The other Wolfriders have some character development in this segment, and we learn more about the family connections among them.

Voice of the Sun wraps up the intertwining of the two tribes, with Leetah accepting Cutter to be her mate. Rayek goes off into the great unknown and we are left wondering what will be the next adventure the elf tribes will face.

ElfQuest Book 1 contains the collected issues 1-5, that were originally in black and white, beautifully colorized for the graphic novel format. The artwork of ElfQuest is beyond amazing. While both Wendy & Richard Pini tell the story, Wendy’s art IS ElfQuest. The details are extraordinary, with every panel inked with precision. The woods, the caverns, and the village have such details- a complete world is being created. Each elf is unique in looks and personality, and you really start to know the tribe members. Although this first book is stunning, the continuing books of the elf saga continue to get better in both art work and storytelling.

The first comic came out in 1978 and new comics & graphic novels are still being produced today. The series has been published through many different publishers, from big ones such as Marvel and DC, to independent publishers such as WARP (Wendy and Richard Pini) Graphics and currently Dark Horse Comics. A wonderful website (http://elfquest.com/), which includes the stories published through 2014, is a must for fans of this cult classic comic. I hope that you will adore this series as much as I have, and yes, the series has been introduced to my children, so the next generation will love it as much as my husband and I have. ♥

-Nancy

 

Elfquest-group

 

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