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Modern Fantasy

Sage of the Riverlands lives in the legendary city of God’s Helm. She moved there after school for a life of adventure – but ends up working in a cubicle, doing data entry for a boring old company. Through a series of unfortunate events, her roommate’s boyfriend steals an ancient amulet, said to have incredible powers. The mob who bought it illegally in the first place will do anything to get it back – up to hurting anyone who gets in their way. To recover the amulet and save the world, Sage must team up with her friends and coworkers for an epic modern adventure.

This one disappointed me. I thought I’d like it, considering it’s fantasy, but this was just too much. It’s like a D&D campaign set in an almost-real world. There are computers, cell phones, dating apps, student loans – but the pharmacies sell herbs and crystals, the gyms have archery targets instead of weight machines, and the phones are tiny scrolls. It’s… odd. And not in a good way. It all clashed together in some haphazard, half-baked, Millennial high fantasy.

It didn’t help that your typical fantasy stereotypes were present in this graphic novel. Of course the cleric is a nerdy med student. Of course the elf is an artsy, wannabe actor. Of course the barbarian is a meathead who speaks in simple phrases. And worse. I like fantasy and it’s tropes as much as the next girl, but again, this was way too much, and was incredibly detrimental to the plot and character development. Everyone stays the same by the end. There was no sense of urgency or grand purpose to the story at all.

The art does it no favors. It’s rendered relatively simply, as there is a lot going on. Sometimes, there is too much going on, as if this slim volume needs to show everything about this world, all the time, all at once. The reader struggles through as opposed to moving intuitively from one panel to the next.

I am honestly struggling to see how this was so acclaimed. It’s trying to be too much at once, and trips over itself in the process, leaving the reader highly unsatisfied at the end. Big skip.

– Kathleen

Roberts, Rafer, and Kristen Gudsnuk. Modern Fantasy. 2019.

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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.

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.

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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

Best Reads of 2017

As we did last year, we went through all the graphic novels we read and reviewed this year to give you a Top 10 list – the best of the best!

RoughneckNancy: Roughneck is a beautifully told standalone tale of a brother and sister’s quest to reconnect with one another and their cultural identity written and illustrated by the talented Jeff Lemire. Lemire handles the storyline of Derek and Beth’s Cree heritage with grace and respect. The reality of native families becoming disenfranchised from their cultural heritage, is mirrored in the excellent book The Outside Circle, which also deals with First Nation individuals whose circles of community were broken which led to fragmenting generations of people with no connection to their tribe anymore. The ending is open to interpretation, and while I at first looked at it one way, re-reading it I saw a more melancholy but poignant way of concluding the story.

 

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Kathleen: A review of this book is upcoming, but last week I read this graphic memoir, Lighter Than My Shadow . The illustrations were all drawn by hand by the author, who suffered from anorexia when she was younger. This is the story of her recovery, and all the difficulties and choices that came with it. I don’t want to spoil my own review (edit-added link!), but suffice it to say for now that the illustrations are among the most beautiful and effective that I’ve seen this year.

 

Nancy: This graphic novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s story, Kindred, was extremely well done. Butler’s original novel, published in 1979, was a ground breaking story that liberally dipped into historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy within a time traveling framework. The author herself called the story “a kind of grim fantasy”, and this adaptation shows just that. This was a heartbreaking story, and through the juxtaposition of Dana’s (the main character) experiences in two different centuries, this fantasy novel actually gives a highly realistic view of the slavery era.

 

 

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Kathleen: Beauty is an adult fairy tale in graphic novel form. It tells the story of Coddie, a fishmonger, who wants nothing more than to be beautiful so she’ll stop being the laughingstock of her small village. When a fairy grants her wish, however, she quickly learns that she can now have whatever she wants – at a steep price. The child-like art belies the serious messages and themes within. The figures are loose and almost caricature-like. The writing is phenomenal, with unconventional characters and fairy tale tropes turned slightly askew. If you like your fairy tales with more of a brothers Grimm than Disney flavor, this is perfect for you.

 

Nancy: Although the Superman: American Alien has Superman in the title, it is really Clark Kent stories. The seven stories are chronological and fill in the gaps in the Superman canon. We start with Clark as a boy learning how to fly, move through his adolescence, and finally settle in his early years in Metropolis. Every story is strong, and fits in seamlessly with what we already know about Superman. I highly recommend this book, for it humanizes Superman. The seven stories are all excellent, and they flow and connect into one another, to form the larger picture of who Clark Kent is and who he will be. A must buy for Superman aficionados!

 

5820769-21Kathleen: Unfortunately, DC Rebirth has been a hit or miss for me, but the one story that I’ve consistently loved is Wonder Woman. Bringing Greg Rucka back to her title was the best decision they could have made! After discovering that she’s been tricked into thinking she could return to Themyscira at will, Diana sets out to discover the truth of herself and who has deceived her once and for all. She is vulnerable and human here, and I’ve cried shamelessly as she struggles to figure out the truth – her own truth, the truth of who she is. Greg Rucka is without a doubt one of the best writers of Wonder Woman. The art is nothing to sneeze at, either, beautifully detailed as it is!

 

Nancy: Vision- Little Worse Than A Man is as far from a superhero story as possible. While grounded in the Marvel universe, with cameos by other Avengers and villains, this book is about our definition of humanity. This quietly ominous story had such power, and felt especially moving to me to read at this time when I worry about our nation’s future. I feel some in our country have embraced a bullying rhetoric, and turn a blind eye to facts and justice for all.

 

 

 

 

91epsqx38slKathleen: The memories of her childhood ice-skating days became the subject of Tillie Walden’s graphic memoir called Spinning. The uncertainty of moving to a new city, starting middle school, and discovering her body and her sexuality make Tillie’s ice-skating routine comforting to her – until she starts questioning that, as well. The art is fantastic: only purples and yellows are used, and yellow quite sparingly, to highlight important parts of the story. Great blocks of deep purple around a single figure illustrate Tillie’s loneliness and uncertainty more than her words could.

 

 

Nancy: 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. The second volume is scheduled to be released in late January, and I dearly hope it stays as strong as it’s debut volume was.

 

 

gunslinger-rebornKathleen: Like the rebel that I am, I read the graphic novel adaptation of The Dark Tower series titled The Gunslinger Born before I started the books. But let me tell you, it left me desperate for more and started my new-found obsession. The young Roland sets out with his two best friends to Mejis, where they are sent by their fathers to stay out of trouble. What they find in that sleepy little town is a conspiracy loyal to the Crimson King – and Roland’s true love, Susan, who may doom them all. I can’t say enough about the art in this book. I was in love with the stark contrasts and the way the figure’s faces were usually in shadow, leaving the reader to guess at their true intents. If the seven book series scares you, try reading the graphic novel first and seeing how fast you devour the books after that 😉

And there you’ve got your must-reads of 2017! We spanned several genres and publishers, and each of us had a DC and Marvel choice. Surprisingly Image didn’t make the cut. Here’s hoping 2018 brings us many more excellent graphic novels… we don’t think they made it hard enough for us to choose ;D

– Nancy and Kathleen

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

Athena Voltaire Compendium

I discovered this one while ordering books for one of my libraries. Have I mentioned lately how much I love being a librarian??? 8D XD

Meet Athena Voltaire: a beautiful aviatrix with a penchant for whiskey and bourbon and not taking anyone’s crap. She’s the daughter of a magician and was once in an air circus – and a land one! She’s put herself out for hire as a pilot, and she gets some pretty strange jobs. The Nazis are gathering ancient and mythical artifacts of great power that they can use to win the war. Athena somehow ends up in the middle of foiling their plans. Join Athena and her friends for all the non-stop supernatural Nazi butt-kicking you could ask for!

The comic recalled Indiana Jones as I was reading it, but you get a really cool heroine instead of Harrison Ford… and it never gets weird like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull did. This is a fun read that doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s non-stop action, no romantic subplot AT ALL (!!!!!!!! I’M STILL YELLING ABOUT IT), dynamic art, and great characters. Athena herself is witty, resourceful, talented, and remains skeptical about supernatural powers and beings despite all she’s seen. One of my favorite parts was how many places of the world she visits: Hong Kong, Tibet, South America, and much more. Awesome heroine kicking Nazi, vampire, and zombie butt with non-stop action and ABSOLUTELY NO romance? What more could you ask for in a comic??? Highly recommended ❤

– Kathleen

Bryant, Steve. Athena Voltair Compendium. 2015.

Heart Transplant

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Vachss, Andrew & Frank Caruso. Heart Transplant. 2010.

I am partcipating in the timely #AntiBullyReads 2016 readathon that runs from November 14-20th. This Readathon is created and run by Sarah Churchill with the aim to start discussions about bullying and our bid to stand up for those who need it and never be a bystander. Check out this Goodreads page for more info. Earlier in the week I re-read Eleanor & Park, and had a guest post on The Green Onion about it, so I wanted to find a graphic novel that also dealt with bullying, which led me to Heart Transplant.

We first meet Sean as a nine year old, who lives a marginalized existence with a single mother who is more interested in her current boyfriend and her bottle of booze than her own child. When he discovers his mother and her boyfriend murdered, he is saved by Pops who is the father of the drug dealing boyfriend, whom takes him in and raises him. Despite the new stability, Sean is still bullied and an outsider at school. Pops tries some old-school methods of making Sean a man and taking him to a boxing gym to teach Sean skills to fight his bullies. Next we see Sean as a college student who learns some truths about Pops and the lessons he taught him when he was a child.

This coffee table sized book is quite clearly a “message” book, that didn’t quite hit it’s intentions as stated by the author on the inside flap or in the afterwards written by a social worker. Bullying is often supported by a society that does nothing to stop it, for when aggressors go unchecked, it becomes culturally acceptable (Trump!!). While the author’s lesson is worthy, the story narrative did not match. Pop encourages or turns a blind eye to Sean’s theft, provides liquor to a minor on several occasions, and teaches him to fight back physically instead of teaching other coping mechanisms. While I am not opposed to learning how to defend yourself ( I actually think it’s a good idea), it does not match the author’s intended purpose of changing the greater bullying culture.

I came away from this book feeling dissatisfied. I liked the purpose and the sketchy dark hued illustrations that were evocative of a rough edged childhood, but it fell flat for me. I can see merit in teachers reading it, but I could not truly recommend it to older youth for the mixed messages it presented.

-Nancy

antibullyingreadathon

Dragon Age (Vol. 3): Until We Sleep

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Gaider, David, Alexander Freed, and Chad Hardin. Dragon Age (Vol. 3): Until We Sleep. 2013.

The final installment of the Dragon Age series shows Alistair, Isabela, Varric, and now Sten finally on their way to confront the blood mage Aurelian Titus, who has kidnapped Alistair’s father. Varric sneaks into the fortress as the Qunari forces stage a full-frontal assault. There, he finds Mae, an old friend of his, being held prisoner, as well as King Maric. He is hooked up to some sort of device. Varric shoots it, and… wakes up in bed? Was he dreaming, or is he dreaming now? Can he find his friends in time to stop Titus once and for all? And what will become of King Maric?

This one was told from Varric’s point of view, like the first was from Alistair’s and the second from Isabela’s. That made this one my favorite XD There are a lot more supernatural and magical elements in this one as opposed to the other two, and they are handled well. The end wasn’t exactly satisfying from a reader’s point of view, but everything wrapped up and there were no loose ends. A wonderful fantasy trilogy for those who aren’t familiar with the game series, and a really fun add-on to those who are. These are on my to-buy list for sure =P

– Kathleen

Dragon Age (Vol. 2): Those Who Speak

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Gaider, David, Alexander Freed, and Chad Hardin. Dragon Age (Vol. 2): Those Who Speak. 2013.

The adventures of Alistair, Isabela, and Varric continue in this volume. They have traveled to Tevinter in search of Magister Aurelian Titus, who they’ve learned has kidnapped Alistair’s father. They confront him at a ball, but he escapes. They do manage to discover the location of his hideout, and set out at once. Isabela’s ship is chased and run aboard by Qunari forces, who capture them and take them to their island home. It is there that Alistair meets an old friend he never expected to see again, and asks for help in rescuing King Maric. It is here also, in a deep, dark dungeon, that Isabela – the mysterious, fierce pirate – must confront her past if she is to escape.

I really liked the art in this one. There were a lot of flashback sequences and the color palette changed accordingly to each one; very nicely done. It was also really nice to learn more about Isabela, though some of the decisions she made gave me chills. Everyone was kept wonderfully in character. I can’t wait to get to the next part!

– Kathleen

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