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The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist

“The Escapist- dazzling Master of Elusion, foe of tyranny, and champion of liberation! Operating from a secret headquarters under the boards of the Empire Theater, the Escapist and his crack team of associates roam the globe performing amazing feats of magic and coming to the aid of all those who languish in the chains of oppression.”

Having just finished the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2001) novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay written by Michael Chabon, I was intrigued enough by the fictional comic book hero to find this metafiction graphic novel about The Escapist.  To continue the charade that Kavalier and Clay were real men this parody recreates the supposed decades-long publishing history of the character, starting in the Golden Age of Comics. This companion book is a homage to the comics of past eras and showcases The Escapist (plus Luna Moth) in many different styles and moves forward chronologically to how comics are typically drawn today.  The collection included a manga type story, a simply drawn gag style strip that would appeal to children, watercolors for Luna, plus all the Golden, Silver, Bronze and modern era types of illustrations and storytelling.

Some of my favorites:

The Passing of the Key– origin story as found in the novel.  Written by Michael Chabon and illustrated by Eric Wright in a perfect Golden Era vibe.

300 Fathoms Down– an elderly Escapist still has it and shows amazing abilities to withstand water pressure. Written by Mike Baron and drawn by Val Mayerik, a favored artist of mine, who illustrated Of Dust & Blood and The Legion of Monsters.

Old Flame– Luna Moth has a battle of the wits with the Devil himself. Written by Kevin McCarthy with a lovely painterly approach by Dan Brereton.

The Lady or the Tiger– gritty what-if story about how the Escapist must forgo love to continue fighting crime. Very emo. Written by David Gold and illustrated evocatively by Gene Colan.

Taking on a life of its own, in another book by Chabon, his essay collection Book-Ends, author Brian K Vaughn (famous for Saga) writes a brief story of fictionally meeting an elderly Sam Clay at a comic convention, and how Clay inspired him to become the “comic book genius”  he is today. Vaughn takes it further by writing the graphic novel series The Escapists.

But to understand ALL of this, you must first read the original novel (that I reviewed on Goodreads):

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

How I struggled with this book! A few years ago this book was highly recommended to me by a co-worker who loved it and thought I’d connect with the two main characters who are creators of a famed comic book series. At 600+ pages, I choose to listen to it on audio but after listening to half of the discs, I set it aside and listened to two other audiobooks before coming back to it and finishing it. By the end, I was in such an apoplectic rage that I could not comprehend why it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

The novel spans twenty years from the late 1930s to the mid-1950s and tells the tale of two cousins who are co-creators of a famous comic book character, The Escapist. The story begins in Prague as teen Joe Kavalier, who had trained to be an escape artist, immigrates to America, but not until he helps find and move the famed Golem of Prague (aside- a short story that Chabon wrote earlier about Joe’s childhood, The Hofzinser Club, was dropped into the novel and is now on season five of the LeVar Burton Reads podcast). Once in America, he joins his cousin Sam Clay and within a week both men have teamed together to create the famed Escapist comic. This was part of the novel I enjoyed the most, detailing how the men created the backstory for a very believable Golden Age hero. Success comes quickly for the duo, despite being screwed over for the rights by the fictitious Empire Comics, as it parallels what happened to so many young comic authors and illustrators back in this era. During this time Joe tries to help his younger brother Thomas and his parents immigrate but he is thwarted at every turn, and his anger shines through in the anti-Hilter storylines in the comics. When he falls in love with an artist named Rosa he feels guilty for finding love when his family is trapped in the Czech Republic. Sam gets the short shrift of the story for despite his personal struggles, his story is not developed, and that was a shame for I had began to hate Joe and hoped for more Sam. Tragedy occurs for the cousins, right as Pearl Harbor is bombed, and Joe makes a radical and very selfish decision.

After a brief interlude of Joe’s WWII experiences (which were just odd) a time jump occurs and we find Sam and Rosa married with a son named Thomas. At this point, I disliked every character in the novel, including the pre-teen. Joe’s prior disappearance is forgiven and swept under the rug, and the conclusion was very unsatisfying. The narrative thread of escape was effectively utilized throughout, but in fact, this story would have fared better with 100 fewer pages.

So why did I even stick it out? I did enjoy the behind the scenes look at how the comic industry got its start, the author could have a turn of phrase that I loved, there was a bit of a John Cheever vibe in the last third of the story, and I liked the mythology of The Escapist. In fact, The Escapist has taken on a life of its own and a metafiction comic anthology was created about the “history” of this comic book hero and an essay was written in another of Chabon’s books about Sam Clay. I’m glad I stuck it out, for I indeed liked a few parts myself, but as a whole, it was not for me at all.

-Nancy

Picture header from Tor.com

Rome West

On Thanksgiving, we celebrate the Pilgrim’s feast of 1621 for the year’s harvest and for their partnership with the Native Americans. Although this holiday smacks of colonialism, white supremacy and is historically inaccurate, let’s just imagine if America was “discovered” in 323 AD by the Romans and our timeline was radically changed.

Brian Wood, a favored author of mine (although he is currently mired in some sexual harassment controversy), along with co-author Justin Giampaoli, takes the trope of an alternate timeline and tries to breathe some new life into it. Told in eleven vignettes, the only thread is that all the characters are descended from the Valerius family originally from Rome.

323 AD Manahatta (NYC): Several Roman galley ships are pushed off course when a violent storm strands them in the Hudson River Valley area of modern-day New York. Legionnaire Lucan Valerius, who has a gift for learning languages, takes command when the Captain is washed overboard. When the Lenape tribe greets the bedraggled soldiers there is a small skirmish, but Lucan understands that diplomacy is the key to their survival, and this first contact leads to the first of future alliances with the Native Americans of the region. Each side believes their deal is the better of the two.

847 The City of Val Seneca (Rochester, NY): A 500-year jump is excessive, as we are led to believe that the descendants of a ragtag group of less than 100 Roman soldiers have remained a central force in government, and have retained the language and customs of their ancestors. As the only Roman men were soldiers, the only way they continued their bloodline was through intermarriage with the local tribes. So I find it incredibly unlikely that the Valerius family looks so white, and that Roman traditions are so prized.

990 The Outpost of Roma Dorsetus (Newfoundland): The Vikings discover an outpost in Vinland and the soldiers there put up an epic fight.

1492 Concordia (Caribbean Islands): Columbus lands and finds an advanced civilization speaking Latin already there. Shocked, he shares that the original Roman empire fell years ago, and makes reference to Jesus Christ, which seems to be news to the island leader. This seems off, as the original soldiers from Rome would have heard of Christ back in 323 AD, so this conversation seems disingenuous.

1503 Roma Auster (Norfolk, VA): In the eleven years since Columbus landed and his ships were seized, the Valerius family studied the European technology onboard, and are now weapon makers themselves. Alliances and wars with certain tribes are mentioned.

1545 Lepido (Panama): The Panama Canel is being constructed already? And Rome West is at war with the Aztecs? Alrighty then.

1869 Sioux Colonia (Davenport, Iowa): Now a Valerius heir is taking a leisurely transcontinental train around the nation and she thinks about the history of the nation, that has some parallels with our world. She meets a storyteller- obviously, Mark Twain is in any timeline!

1939 The Port of Barentsland (San Francisco, CA): A mass murderer is on the loose, seeming to target those with Roman bloodlines. The police struggle to solve these hate crimes.

1941 Washoe Colony (Lake Tahoe, CA): Love story with a bit of commentary on the Valerius family branch that the new bride belongs to. A sweet tale, but it didn’t fit with the other stories.

1979 Rome West, Capital City (NYC): James Bond is a Valerius!

1989 Roma Bareas (Portsmouth, NH): A college student faces extreme prejudice as public opinion has turned against the Valerius family and she is being judged for what her family has done centuries before. I actually wished this story was longer, for it had some biting commentary about cancel culture and paying for the sins of the past.

I am a fan of artist Andrea Mutti’s sketchy work, who has collaborated with Wood before. The grittiness of wilderness living and the gore of war are shown in a realistic manner, with earthen tone coloring that is evocative and helps convey the story even more effectively. All the pages are divided into quadrants with some smaller panels within, there is no elaborate splash pages or large panels, but these workmanlike configurations match the tone of the story.

Overall, this story disappoints. The two authors take what Wood has done well in the past- detailing the rise and fall of a family over the years (Northlanders- Icelandic Trilogy), vignettes with characters studies (Rebels), and mixes it with social commentary (Briggs Land) but it doesn’t quite gel in this story. There are too many leaps of logic with too much time between earlier stories, and then there are too many clustered at the end. This graphic novel should have had more entries, and perhaps then it would have fleshed out into a more cohesive narrative, and become what the authors were aiming for but missed.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! May your choices today make your family proud in the future.

-Nancy

Wood, Brian, Justin Giampaoli, Andrea Mutti. Rome West. 2018.

Snow, Glass, Apples

For Halloween this year, my spooky choice is a twisted fairy tale from the esteemed Neil Gaiman whose dark and whimsical tales are sure to please.

He once again tackles the Snow White story, but in a different angle from his The Sleeper and the Spindle tale, as this story is told from Snow White’s stepmother’s perspective and she is far from a wicked witch. Instead, the twist is that young Snow White is the evil one, and is a vampire who manipulates others. Plus, there is quite the erotica element to this tale, so it is for mature audiences only.

The story begins with Snow White’s father, the virile and handsome king, discovering a teenaged beauty and taking her as a lover and eventually as his second wife. She is only a decade older than her stepdaughter, a pretty but secretive girl, who stays away from her. One night the girl comes into her chambers and the new queen beckons her closer, anxious to get to know her. But Snow White bites her and runs off leaving the queen distraught and scared.

Soon the king begins to weaken and before he dies the queen sees that his body is covered head to toe with scars that had never been there before. We are to believe his daughter sucked the life right out of him, leaving the queen in command of the kingdom.

The queen makes the radical decision to banish the girl and instructs a hunter to kill her and remove her heart. But as Snow White is of demonic blood, she remains alive in the deep forest and grows into a beautiful young woman, despite her pulsing heart being strung up in the queen’s chambers. Snow White preys on the forest folk and a few appeal to the queen for help, who has some mild magical powers herself. The queen is able to fool Snow White into eating a poisoned apple and her body is covered by a crystal cairn by the dwarves she had been terrorizing.

The kingdom settles down peacefully for a few years until a creepy-ass prince, who harbors some dark desires, comes to visit. And this is where it gets good! How the prince “saves” Snow White is deliciously twisted and perverse. Some of the earlier erotica between the king and queen is tame, compared to what comes next.

While Gaiman’s tale is excellent, it is the art by Colleen Doran that makes this book stand out. She draws in an Art Nouveau style and takes inspiration from famed artists Harry Clarke and Aubrey Beardsley. Her art is reminiscent of stained glass windows with deep jewel blues and purples. She incorporates mandalas and nature into the backgrounds, so the illustrations are a feast for the eyes. That the book has a storybook look, just adds to the fairytale motif. An artist’s note at the end tells of her research and the artistic process of inking these exquisite pictures.

A delightfully creepy twist on the Snow White fairytale, that paired with the beautiful art makes this graphic novel a must-read!

-Nancy

Sword Daughter

Sword Daughter is yet another Viking era tale told by Brian Wood of Northlanders fame, this time told by a young girl living in the Scandinavian region who survives a massacre on her village when she is a toddler.

The story picks up ten years later in 991 AD, and we discover that Elsbeth has improbably taken care of her father, who was catatonic with grief, and was the only other survivor besides her. First off- what? Although there is mention of Elsbeth trading with nearby seaside villagers, how did a toddler survive the harsh winters and stay clothed and fed during that decade before her father awakens from his fugue state? It defies logic. Getting past this was impossible, and colored my feelings towards the rest of the story.

Once Dag awakens he vows revenge against the Forty Swords, the group who attacked his village and killed most of his family. This group is made up of a bunch of young radicals who have no fixed ideology, they slaughter simply for the pleasure of it. And off Dag and Elsbeth go in the name of vengeance. And that’s the rest of the story – this father and daughter journeying together to find the Forty Swords and challenge them. Dag tries to connect with his mostly non-verbal daughter due to guilt, with a bit of a Lone Wolf and Cub vibe, but I wasn’t feeling it. Stuff happens and then there is a flash forward with a mystery of what happened in the years between Dag awakening and Elsbeth becoming a young woman that leaves some story line threads for the future.

The art by Mack Chater is sketchy with an earth toned color palette, and it is very reminiscent of his earlier Briggs Land collaboration with Wood.  The only additional color is red, when there is blood spilled, plus the evocative red drenched panels during the attack on the village. There are some interesting choices in his panel placement, with a good flow to the narrative; however, some of the art lacks definition with the landscapes simply drawn.

Considering how much I typically love Wood’s work, this story is a real disappointment. While his Viking saga Northlanders is a real treat and his other Viking story Black Road said something fresh about faith and conversion, this story was lacking. What I really want Wood to do is to revisit Briggs Land with Chater and to also continue Rebels, his American Revolution series. So while this particular story didn’t work for me, I still look forward to future work by Wood and Chater.

-Nancy

Harrow County: Volumes Seven & Eight

Harrow County’s southern gothic thriller has drawn to a close.  I reviewed all eight volumes within six weeks time as this supernatural series hooked me in and I devoured it. The narrative stayed strong the entire series with no let down in the middle and the conclusion was everything I wanted it to be.

Volume Seven: Dark Times A’Coming

Kammi is back…as if there was any doubt she wouldn’t be! In this penultimate volume, forces are gathering to destroy Emmy and all of Harrow County. Emmy endures two significant losses but has no time to mourn as Kammi is relentless.  Bernice fights right alongside her and the two woman do their best to keep Emmy’s “sister” at bay. We find out why Emmy and Kammi are so important to the witch coven, and who they represent. Just as you think Emmy has scored a hard-won victory at the end, she makes a soul crushing decision and we know her biggest battle is still ahead of her.

As we head into the last volume, I wanted to give a final shout-out to Tyler Crook’s art. His  haint creatures were creative and varied, and I thought of his work and H.P. Lovecraft’s as being similarly inspired. His work came to define Harrow County for me with it’s townspeople, rural landscapes and sinister woods. The only complaint I had is of his giving Emmy and others too much of a red cheeked look- it looked as if they had bad head colds for no discernible reason, although I soon stopped noticing it. The two page spread opening this book was creepy awesomeness, and I will never look at a close up of someone’s teeth without flashing back to this series.

Volume Eight: Done Come Back

Emmy’s decision at the end of the last volume, which she thought would make her stronger, did the opposite. She has corrupted herself and betrayed her goodness by letting evil in willingly. She and the original witch Hester battle for dominance as the lives of everyone in Harrow County hang in the balance. The mythology runs deep in the story with the minotaur haint, The Abandoned, playing a significant role. The ending seemed appropriate to the feel of the series, and it concluded on just the right note. The story was fully told and brought to a fine end, but a whisper of  the narrative could be picked up for further stories if author Cullen Bunn and Crook ever wanted to revisit the series.

The afterword by Bunn and Crook was a bittersweet way to wrap up the series and it truly signified the end, as no storybook of Crook’s art bookend this volume. Bunn told an excellent story and brought it to a close in a satisfying way. A big plus in this series was that Bunn created a lovely friendship between Emmy and Bernice. It is a sad reality that friendships between two females in books often are non–existent, or their interactions revolve around a boy. But in this series the two friends have an authentic and deep friendship and there is nary a romance to be found. I loved that! Thus, this story is so much more than an atmospheric supernatural tale- it touches on friendship, destiny, good vs evil and the choices we make and how they define us.

I am so glad I visited Harrow County. This was a wonderful series that didn’t drag or go on for too long. Bunn and Crook told a strong story from beginning to end, with an epic arc that should satisfy all readers. Go ahead and visit Harrow County yourself- you will be glad you did!

-Nancy

Check out my other Harrow County reviews: Volume OneVolumes Two-Four, Volumes Five-Six

Harrow County: Volumes Five & Six

I’m all in for the Harrow County series, so you have the pleasure of several Harrow County reviews from me in a row. With middle volumes five and six, this story is ramping up the action towards the (hopefully) thrilling conclusion!

Volume Five: Abandoned

Volume four’s back story is continued in volume five with an explanation of who the giant minotaur creature, The Abondoned, is. Some outside hunters come to town to kill this haint, and Emmy does her best to intervene to prevent an epic bloodbath. As I suspected earlier, Emmy’s “twin” Kammi is not completely gone, and her meddling puts everyone in danger.

One of the guest artists and the colorist from volume three is used again for this volume, in the first two chapters. Again, I wish Crook had consistently stayed as the artist for the entire series, but McNeil’s artwork grew on me and was evocative enough to not break the narrative flow. But I was glad to see that even when guest artists are used Crook still draws the covers and the other artists are consistent with the opening two page spreads to each chapter. I continue to adore how Crook incorporates the words Harrow County into each of those pictures.

Volume Six: Hedge Magic

Hedge magic is a term that can mean someone who can use a weaker more informally taught nature type of magic. This comes into play as Bernice who has been taught snake handling magic by Lovey, confronts Emmy. But both Bernice and Emmy have been played the fool by Odessa, one of the witches that seemingly is good but isn’t. When the witch family learn that their plot to turn the friends against each other failed, they turn to an even more sinister way of defeating Emmy…

I have failed to mention that at the end of all the volumes Crook adds a sketchbook of some of his work, showing how the volume develops from storyboards to final inks. This is a fascinating behind the scenes look at how graphic novels develop. Sometimes he shows failed cover art ideas, other times he shows how he develops his characters. Also showcased has been some deviant art by other artists and some little joke drawings.  I look forward to these sketchbooks in each volume to see how Crook and Bunn developed their narrative.

Next week, I will conclude the series with volumes seven and eight!

-Nancy

Check out my other Harrow County reviews: Volume One, Volumes Two-Four, Volumes Seven-Eight

Harrow County: Volumes Two-Four

I just discovered the southern gothic supernatural series Harrow County and loved it! The story recently came to a close with it’s eighth volume, so I have the pleasure of being able to devour the entire series. As such, here are my reviews of volumes two, three and four.

Volume Two: Twice Told

In the first volume, Emmy discovered that she has powers and is somehow connected to witch Hester Beck who was killed by the townsfolk the day Emmy was born. Having survived an attempt of her life, the villagers now respect her and Emmy grows into her powers. She only uses them for good and becomes familiar with the supernatural creatures, called haints, that live in the surrounding area. But Emmy’s “twin” Kammi appears and upends everything. Kammi seems to be the mirror image of Emmy, as she is sophisticated and evil. Emmy’s best friend Bernice is wary of her, but Emmy is desperate for answers and overlooks Kammi’s behavior until Kammi confronts her with an army of evil haints. Emmy has her own coalition, but the ending seemed rushed, and I know this won’t be the last we see of Kammi.

Volume Three: Snake Doctor

In this volume we get some stand alone stories that do some world building for Harrow County. But I most enjoyed the middle story that centered on the appealing Bernice. It turns out Emmy doesn’t have the corner on magic, and Bernice becomes an apprentice of sorts to a snake handling witch who hunts out snakes that are manifestations of evil.  This should lead to Bernice being more of a partner to her best friend, which is a promising direction.

Two other artists are featured in chapters one and four and I did not like it at all. They don’t even try to mimic the style of Tyler Crook, and it is his evocative art that defines the series. I have always liked series that were consistent with their author and artist such as Locke and Key, Revival, The Walking Dead, Manifest Destiny and The Wicked & The Divine. But perhaps that observation should be the subject a future discussion post…

Volume Four: Family Tree

In the fourth volume we finally get some back story on Hester’s powers and meet some magical “family members”. Odessa, who had been referred to in the previous volume, is shown, and while she seems to be a sort of mentor to Emmy, she and the others want to destroy Harrow County and all it’s inhabitants so Emmy will stay with them. Well, Emmy won’t accept that, and it turns out her so-called family underestimated her powers. This was a typical origins story- some answers are given, while raising many more.

Cullen Bunn’s story remains strong, as did Crook’s art. My reviews of the remaining four volumes won’t be far behind, as I am *dying* to find out the rest of Emmy’s story!

-Nancy

Check out my other Harrow County reviews: Volume One, Volumes Five-Six, Volumes Seven-Eight

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

Check out my other Harrow County reviews: Volumes Two-Four, Volumes Five-Six & Volumes Seven-Eight

Bunn, Cullen & Tyler Crook. Harrow County: Countless Haints. 2015.

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!

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Superman: Grounded

Kathleen: Superman knows he’s not like any other man, but that doesn’t stop him from striving to emulate the best in humanity. However, he feels his moral center is deteriorating, and he’s unsure what to do. “What does Superman stand for? What does he mean to the regular citizens of this earth?” Clark asks himself. Well, he decides to go for a walk to clear his head. In his odyssey across the United States, he sees citizens going about their day and helps anyway he can. This book is the best iteration of Superman, and the struggle between his alienness and humanity, I’ve ever read. If you’ve run into Strascynski’s work for other superheroes, you’ll love his interpretation of Superman.

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The Plague Widow

Nancy: I enjoyed Brian Wood’s seven-volume Northlanders series, with the fourth volume being my favorite. The story takes place in the frozen Volga region in AD 1020. A plague has come to the seven hundred person settlement, so the local priest counsels strongly that the settlement goes under quarantine and those who show any sickness be banished. But what they don’t take into account is how claustrophobia sets in, and they find they locked the greater danger inside their walls with them. Hilda, a young beautiful widow with an eight-year-old daughter, is caught in the crosshairs as her former status as a wealthy woman is stripped when her husband dies of the plague. Destitute, with a long winter ahead, she struggles to survive. The excellent art by Leandro Fernandez captures the isolation of a Viking settlement in turmoil.

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Fables series (link to Deluxe Edition Book 1 and Deluxe Edition Book 15 and Series Recap)

Kathleen: Y’all thought I was done singing the Fables praises, eh? Not even close =P Those fairy tales you thought were fiction? They’re true, and the characters live among us. The Fables fled from their Homelands after a ruthless Emperor rose to power and took the Homelands for himself. In modern New York City, the Fables have built new lives for themselves, but the Emperor is just a world away, and he’s looking for them. Fables is one of, if not the best, long-running graphic novel series that isn’t a superhero comic. Thus, the writing doesn’t suffer from the usual tropes that plague superhero comics, especially as far as characterization. The art by Mark Buckingham is consistently top-quality as well and has become a personal favorite.

Marys Monster

Mary’s Monster

Nancy: An ode to Frankenstein, this is a poetic and beautifully evocative book about Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley, the author of the classic 1818 novel. This fictionalized biography by Lita Judge details Mary’s life from childhood onward and is told in free verse. Dark and lovely, the art brings Mary to life, just as Mary brought the creature Frankenstein to life. Judge’s moody black and white watercolor illustrations, paired with the sensuous verses, effectively show the ideals and passions that ruled Mary and her poet husband Percy. Mary’s tumultuous life helped shape her into a masterful writer and led her to create an unforgettable novel. She and her creature won’t soon be forgotten.

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The Ghost, The Owl

Kathleen: A little girl appears on the edge of a forest lake. She can understand the language of animals – which means she’s no longer living. She’s so small, scared, and confused, that Owl promises to help her find out what happened to her. Some of the other animals think that Owl should mind his own business, but he knows it’s the right thing to do… and will do it, no matter what anyone else says or thinks. This graphic novel was executed brilliantly. There are no panels whatsoever. Only the art connects the speech bubbles: the lines are graceful, sinuous, and gently guide the reader where they’re supposed to go next. It’s so brilliant, intuitive, and unlike anything I’d seen before, that I had to read it all over again as soon as I finished.

Rebels

Rebels: A Well Regulated Militia

Nancy: “A historical epic of America’s founding” and is very accurate in describing this exceptionally good graphic novel by Brian Wood and Andrea Mutti. It gives a window into the Revolutionary War era based in the NE corner of our new nation in the late 1700’s. Divided into six chapters, 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. Make sure you check out its sequel These Free and Independent States about Seth’s son John during the War of 1812.

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DC Showcase Presents: The Trial of the Flash

Kathleen: Barry Allen is about to start his life over again when the Reverse Flash escapes from his Speedforce prison and vows to end it on Barry’s wedding day. The Reverse Flash targets Fiona Webb, Barry’s bride to be, just as he targeted Barry’s first wife, Iris West. In the aftermath of the ensuing fight, the Reverse Flash is dead, Fiona suffers a mental breakdown, and Central City is torn on whether or not the Flash is a murderer. The jury must decide if Flash’s past heroic feats earn him a “get out of jail free” card, or if he must be held accountable for his actions like any other man. This is a run from the ’80s, and the writing contains the best of both the goofy, totally-out-there subplots of older comics and the moral gravity of modern comics.

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Star Wars: From A Certain Point Of View

Nancy: I love Star Wars! I love short stories! Together this anthology was a win-win for me. Forty authors celebrated forty years of Star Wars by contributing a story of a minor or supporting character from the ending of Rogue One to the finale of A New Hope. This book is a must read for all Star Wars fans. It strengthened and filled in gaps in the narrative and this new canon was a treat from beginning to end.

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Hey, Kiddo

Kathleen: Acclaimed children’s author Jarrett J. Krosoczka presents a memoir of his childhood. His grandparents took him in as his mother went to jail for heroin addiction, and her brothers and sisters (Krosoczka’s aunts and uncles) were going off to college. Krosoczka explains how he came to terms with his feelings about his unusual family through drawing and writing stories. Though I have not been exposed to his children’s works, I can without a doubt say that Krosoczka is a master of his craft. The illustrations in this graphic memoir, with their squiggly lines and limited color palette, are among the most effective I’ve seen in a memoir. Reproductions of family artifacts within also drive home the personal nature of this story and help make it more real to readers.

My Fav Things is Monsters

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters

Nancy: The review for one of my favorite books wasn’t even on our blog, as I had written it as a guest post for Reads & Reels! My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is an extraordinary and ambitious graphic novel. Equal parts memoir, murder mystery and coming-of-age drama, the art in this book is beyond amazing. New author Emil Ferris has created a story set in Chicago in the late 1960’s, with the story framed as a graphic diary written in a notebook by Karen Reyes, a ten-year old girl living with her single mom and older brother.  But what sets this story apart is the author’s choice to represent Karen as a werewolf, with the device being that Karen perceives herself as a monster. I eagerly look forward to the sequel and answers to the mysteries found in this unique book.

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Batman: White Knight

Kathleen: I had to make an honorable mention here. After Batman force-feeds the Joker an unknown medication, the Joker seems to be… cured? The newly reformed Jack White, along with Harleen Quinzel, is crusading to deliver Gotham City from the Dark Knight, whom they’re painting as the biggest criminal of all. Other than the corrupt Gotham Police Department, of course. Some in Gotham support White and his message, while others believe it’s all another Joker scheme, albeit more elaborate than usual. This one turns every assumption you have about Batman on its head and makes you question whether he’s doing good – or if he’s just another criminal trying to prove that he’s a hero. The art is appropriately dark, moody, and carefully detailed in a Gothic style.

There you have it! Our list has DC representation from Kathleen, as that is her favorite publisher, but surprisingly Nancy’s list did not include two of her usual favorites- Marvel and Image. Smaller publishers got a shout out on both lists which is a great development. We hope you check these books out and enjoy them as much as we did!

-Kathleen & Nancy

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