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Heroes in Crisis

Tagline: “How does a superhero handle PTSD?”

Superheros have been dealing with the repercussions of death and destruction for years and who better than author Tom King, a former CIA operative, to know that this would start to wear on these DC heroes. Thus Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman band together to build a secret mental health clinic in rural Nebraska called Sanctuary where heroes can go for anonymous assistance. It is staffed by androids and offers virtual reality reenactment and counseling to help them with their issues.

Event books seem to be my kryptonite with DC. While I rarely read about individual superheroes, except for Aquaman lately, I am a sucker for these stories that bring everyone together in sometimes implausible ways. So the story begins with Harley Quinn and Blue Beetle duking it out, as each accuses the other of being a murderer- and we soon find out that there was a slaughter at the Sanctuary with several heroes dead. While most of them are heroes of little note, Wally West who is the original Kid Flash, is one of the casualties. The Big Three are called to investigate, and they are dumbfounded, as they had put in place many safeguards to protect their traumatized brethren.

This story was filled with tons of lower-level tier heroes (or those who are “good” for now). Besides Catwoman and Jade (GL), I was unfamiliar with the other characters here. But the comment that Red Tornado makes is a sly joke about The Vision (who he looks like) from the Marvel Universe- that King wrote an amazing two-part series about.

The story had some incredible highs and lows. While I applaud the idea that superheroes would need counseling to process their grief and the insight that King brought to the large cast of characters, the ending was very convoluted. I had to poke around in The New 52 and DC Rebirth to understand why the culprit did what they did, and it still didn’t make a lot of sense. But no matter, this character will be yet again retconned and their crimes will not matter in the future. In addition, the release of private confessionals to the public and Lois Lane’s decision to go to print with the story rubbed me the wrong way. In real life, there are “outings” of people’s private lives all the time for sensationalistic effect, all in the name of the “public’s right to know”.

Yet, the book worked in smaller moments. There were some interesting pairings- towards the end Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Blue Beetle and Booster Gold band together to solve the mystery of what happened. As I don’t read a lot of DC, I was unaware that Harley and Poison Ivy were a couple, but the two of them have a brand new mini-series that takes place directly after this event, aptly named Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. I enjoyed seeing Batgirl prevent Harley from spiraling out of control, and the bromance between BB and BG. I looked up several of the heroes I was unfamiliar with, and the insecurities that the four Robins showed (see below) was pitch-perfect. Tom King is now known as someone who writes about deeper psychological issues, and that is readily shown in this story.

The artwork by Clay Mann, Travis Moore, Mitch Gerads, Jorge Fornes and Lee Weeks was absolutely outstanding. For so many artists, the style stayed remarkably consistent. The two-page splash pages that opened each issue were visually stunning, with distinct drawings of both small settings and large outdoor expanses. The nine-panel pages were my favorite, as each character was drawn with precision, with facial expressions showing their personalities and conveying the distress that they each of them was working through. Rich colouring and lettering also added to the top-notch illustrations.

All in all, a thought-provoking story that may trigger some difficult feelings for some readers, as mental health is a loaded topic for some, but is worth discussing and bringing out into the open. I was glad to read an online preview from NetGalley before it was published and will plan or ordering this graphic novel for my library.

-Nancy

I LOVED these panels about past and present Robins. All of them are insecure about their reputation, except for arrogant Damian.

 

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Grayson (Vol. 2): We All Die at Dawn

After crash-landing in the desert with his partner Helena, the deadly Midnighter, and a baby containing the heart of the Paragon, Dick has no choice but to walk to civilization – 200 miles away. To save the baby, Dick will walk. Midnighter follows, determined to take the baby, and the heart, for his own purposes. He asks questions that Dick himself is trying to get to the bottom of. Why does Spyral need the pieces of the Paragon? Who exactly is Mr. Minos, and what is his endgame? Will their questions on the secrets of Spyral die with the four in the desert, or will they live to figure it out?

The action and intrigue continue from Volume 1. We do see here a gentler side of Dick’s character, as he cares for the baby and plows onward through the desert. Midnighter is a little-known character, so it was nice to see him make an appearance in this volume. As we don’t yet know his motivations or alignment with Spyral, he only adds another layer of intrigue that we can unravel later on.

… I could go on, and leave a proper review, but I believe this panel, which is probably the greatest known to man, will just about sum up:

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My work here is done ;D

– Kathleen

Seeley, Tim, Tom King, Mikel Janin, Stephen Mooney, and Jeremy Cox. Grayson (Vol. 2): We All Die at Dawn. 2016.

Wonder Woman (Rebirth, Vol. 9): The Enemy of Both Sides

Aztek has come to Wonder Woman and asked for her help entering the realm of the gods to rescue one of her own. The legendary Amazon Atalanta has been missing for hundreds of years, and by Aztek’s description, it appears to be her. Diana can’t leave her aunt on her own any longer, but neither can Artemis, of the defected Amazons of the Bana-Mighdall. Atalanta is many things: an aunt, a legend, a hero – and three powerful women are coming to her rescue, whether the gods like it or not.

There is more to the story, but I can’t say anything further without spoilers 😉 Suffice it to say that this is a volume in which women of different viewpoints and talents come together for a common cause – which is always welcome, and appreciated! It was refreshing to see Aztek, who is a character I know little about, and for the Central and South American pantheon to have a bit of the spotlight, instead of the requisite Greeks.

This volume also contains the Wonder Woman 75th Anniversary Special, which is a collection of one-shots from many different writers and artists who’ve worked on Wonder Woman over the years. Many were no more than a few pages long, but captured Diana’s character succinctly and sufficiently at different points throughout her career. Here’s to another 75 years!

– Kathleen

Orlando, Steve, Laura Braga, Aco, Raul Allen, and Patricia Martin. Wonder Woman (Rebirth, Vol. 9): The Enemy of Both Sides. 2019.

Grayson (Vol. 1): Agents of Spyral

Dick Grayson is a hero to many. During the Forever Evil storyline, Nightwing was unmasked, his secret identity revealed, and (seemingly) killed on camera to millions of viewers. To many, that hero is now a dead man… but they don’t know Dick. The former Boy Wonder is alive, well, and now goes by Agent 37 at the spy agency called Spyral. Partnered with Helena Bertinelli, the agent known as Matron, they hunt down pieces of the slain god Paragon, whose organs have the potential to become weapons of mass destruction. However, Spyral’s lead man, Mister Minos, has another motive: he wants to use these pieces to discover the secret identity of every superhero on Earth. Of course, Batman is on to Mister Minos’ duplicity – and Dick is his man on the inside. Though Dick is, for all intents and purposes, dead to the rest of the world, he has more to lose now than ever: his sense of self.

There have been a few times in Rebirth where Dick and Helena’s spy days have been referenced, and I was curious for more context. This is a solid start to the series. We’ve seen Dick constantly struggle to get out of Batman’s shadow (it’s partially why he became Nightwing), so it will be very interesting to see if and how he manages to do it here, especially if he’s still working with the Dark Knight.

Speaking of Batman, it is a little annoying how he seems to know everything… including that a super-secret spy agency is up to no good. I’m curious to see how he knew this, and I’m sure it will be revealed as the story goes on. Also yet to be revealed are Helena’s motives for joining Spyral. And how a girl’s boarding school became their front! There’s a lot of fun to be had here, but intrigue also.

The art is nothing to write home about. It’s certainly servicable: anatomy is accurate, expressions and lighting are natural, and backgrounds are understandably toned down to focus on the characters and action. But it suffers in that it’s in your run-of-the-mill, everyday comic book style. While there’s nothing unique offered here in the art style, it’s a solid foundation from which to build a graphic novel in which the story has more focus than the art. I, for one, am looking forward to more of the story!

– Kathleen

Seeley, Tim, Tom King, Mikel Janín, Stephen Mooney, and Jeromy Cox. Grayson (Vol. 1): Agents of Spyral. 2015.

Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth

Usually, Wonder Woman is Kathleen’s domain, but when I saw this oversized graphic novel that was illustrated by one of my favorite artists, Alex Ross, I just had to read and share!

Published soon after the tragedy of 9/11 in NYC, this story is shaped by the shock of the American people that terrorism could happen on our own shores. As such, it is a hopeful narrative that shows compassion to all nations of the world. Paul Dini begins this story with Diana’s birth at Paradise Island, and her later wish to join ‘Man’s World’ as an ambassador to help mankind. Her amazing powers are appreciated by many and she helps fight evil in large and small ways. However, others do not respect her goodwill and often her intentions are misinterpreted and rejected. She asks for advice from Superman, who wisely tells her to work alongside people instead of above them. She takes his words to heart and no longer always wears her Amazonian outfit, so she can blend in with other cultures and help from within. Finally, her spirit of truth shines through for all to see.

Ross’s painted watercolors are beautiful as always and done in his trademark photo-realism style. Diana often is shown to resemble Lynda Carter, the iconic actress who played Wonder Woman on television in the 1970’s. The layout is not typical graphic novel panels, but often are two-page spreads or montages with a few thin black lines to differentiate the pictures and to direct the flow of the action sequences.  The people in the crowds are so realistic, you know that Ross is painting them from models as he did later in the superb Kingdome Come, which also featured Diana in the DC classic.

This book only reinforced that Wonder Woman is a hero for the ages, but also ably connected her to our modern-day world. This lovely stand-alone graphic novel was a treat and I highly recommend it for both the message and the art!

-Nancy

Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 5): Art of the Crime

One of Gotham’s old villains, Grotesque, is back, but he’s upped his game. Where once he was a petty art thief, he’s now turned to murdering those he steals from, and poses the bodies in an “artistic” manner. Batgirl tries to stop him, but an attack from an electrical escrima stick throws off the implant in her back that enabled her to walk again. What’s more, her memory appears to be failing as well as her legs. She has trouble remembering who Grotesque is, what he’s up to, and how she even planned to stop him. With dogged determination, Barbara plows on to foil his deadly plans – but potentially at the cost of her mind, and her legs – for good.

The writing in this volume really highlighted why I think the Batfamily is so popular. Though none of them have special powers, they are determined and willing to put their lives on the line to do the right thing, and above all protect the innocents of Gotham City. Barbara’s iron will, especially after regaining the use of her legs, and keeping on fighting the good fight though she could lose the ability to walk again, really shone through here. There were a few moments between her and her father, Commissioner Gordon, that suggest it’s a hereditary trait, and were very touching.

This volume did, however, feature a change in Barbara’s costume… I hate it. I absolutely hate it. The Burnside costume was so cute, and modern, and refreshing. Best of all, it was practical: covered everything that needed covering, offered protection against slides across pavement and rooftops, and was undoubtedly warmer in the winter.

While the new costume does harken back to older ones, especially in the colors, I cannot get over the “mask.” You can’t even call it that! It hides nothing! All I heard in my head from the costume change on was Blake Lively’s line in the abominable Green Lantern movie, where she exclaims, “You don’t think I would recognize you because I can’t see your cheekbones?” (IMDB)

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Joshua Middleton’s variant covers are stunning, but unfortunately the best part of Batgirl’s new costume.

Keep up the great writing, but bring back the Burnside costume!!!

– Kathleen

Scott, Mairghread, and Paul Pelletier. Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 5): Art of the Crime. 2019.

T5M: Top 5 Dream Fictional Vacation Spots

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme from Goodreads, created by Lainey from Gingerreadslainey and now moderated by Sam from ThoughtsOnTomes.

Hello, friends! It’s my birthday today, and I just moved into my first apartment over the weekend, so I am BEAT! My muscles have never been so sore, even when I first started going to the gym and lifting weights. In fact, one could even say I need a vacation! Here are my top 5 dream fictional vacation spots ;D

5. Middle Earth

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I mean, I wouldn’t want to visit when Sauron is doing his bit with the Ring, but the scenic imagery in these books is unparalleled. Tolkien was a master of placing you in the environment so exactly, you’re surprised to look up from the book and realize you’re not there. Especially in the fall time! Autumn is my favorite season, so I’d love to visit then. Perhaps the elves, or the hobbits, to wander the explosively colorful forests or sample some cider. If I were braver I’d venture underground to visit the dwarves, but alas! I’m not made of such stern stuff.

He found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams. ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

4. Pellinor

 

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One of the things I love most about this series is the imagery. The descriptions of the countryside the characters journey through is reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, but I also love the food descriptions. Just as in Middle Earth too, there are many different regions with different types of food, and Alison Croggon details them all lovingly. I love to eat, so I’d travel to Pellinor for the food alone!

The taste on her palate was pungent and rich, the flavor of woodlands and dark earth simmered in sunshine. ― Alison Croggon, The Naming

3. Assassin’s Creed series

This one is a little unusual, as the Assassin’s Creed series takes place in real history, with some sci-fi elements. The biggest being that the main character relives the memories of his ancestors, which are locked in his DNA, by use of a machine called the Animus. Therefore, the games are highly accurate to their respective time periods, and totally immersive. I’ve since fallen off with this series (Black Flag was where I stopped playing), but I go back to the early games again and again. It’s easy to lose myself for hours in their landscapes.

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Assassin’s Creed is stylistically my favorite, as it takes place in the Middle East during the Third Crusades. Middle Eastern art and architecture is my favorite style, and was a joy to study in school. Playing a game within that place in history is a wonderful experience for me.

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The runner up would have to be Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, which takes place in Constantinople in the 16th century. That sprawling city, with it’s eclectic mixture of Middle Eastern and European elements, made me curious enough to research and seek out information on Constantinople, and the Turkish empire, on my own.

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And of course, who WOULDN’T want to visit the Renaissance Italy of Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood, and rub elbows with the master artists??? I think I need say no more ;D Hurry up and invent that Animus already!

2. Themyscira

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I mean, come on! It’s also known as Paradise Island! There are beaches to lay on and tan with the ocean steps away. There’s ancient Greek art and architecture galore for an art nerd like me. Plus, it’s protected by the Greek gods, so there’s a guarantee your vacation will be uninterrupted by mortal danger… and even if there is, the entire island is populated by badass warrior women, so you’d be safe. Who wouldn’t want to visit???

1. Agrabah

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Daring sword fights, magic spells, princes in disguise… wait, I think I’m mixing up my Disney movies, but I daresay the sentiment remains the same ;D The lush textures and flavors of Broadway and live-action Aladdin adaptations were totally spellbinding for me. What I wouldn’t give to wander the marketplaces of Agrabah: to run my hands over the silks and jewels, to taste the fruits and delicacies, and drown in all the scents! And visit the royal palace, to lounge sunbathing beside the fountains and make friends with a certain tiger ;D And, of course, if you’re up for a little adventure, the Cave of Wonders is only a camel ride away.

Any of my dream fictional vacation spots make your list, too?

Kathleen

Batgirl & the Birds of Prey (Rebirth, Vol. 3): Full Circle

The Birds have been quite busy. Babs has been gathering a lot of good intel lately, to stop crimes before they even begin. The team feels great, but Barbara herself… isn’t. She hasn’t told Dinah or Helena that she’s been getting all this intel from a backdoor she left in Calculator’s system the last time they ran in with him. When Calculator discovers Oracle has been snooping in his system, he becomes obsessed once again, and will stop at nothing to discover Oracle’s identity. When a former member of their team gets caught in Calculator’s crossfire, Barbara’s secret is unveiled. Dinah and Helena feel angry and betrayed. Is this the end of the Birds, or can they band together once more to defeat Calculator once and for all?

I’ve probably said it before, but I’ll say it again: this is my favorite Rebirth title. The new Birds keeps the friendship and sisterhood of Barbara, Helena, and Dinah at the core, while freshening up the characters and stories for modern audiences. I’d say this run is suited for middle-grade (depending on the maturity of the child) and YA audiences just as well as adult. This volume especially shows the importance of women standing and working together, which young girls need to see! Birds of Prey also shows that girls can overcome big differences to become friends, sisters, and teammates.

Unlike with Rebirth Wonder Woman (of which the more I read the more I realize background knowledge is needed for newcomers to the title), Birds of Prey doesn’t make background knowledge a necessity. Calculator has been after Oracle before in the original run, but it’s not vital to know the details before coming to this run. BOP has been the most newcomer-friendly Rebirth title I’ve read, and the most important for young ladies!

– Kathleen

Benson, Julie, Shawna Benson, Roge Antonio, and Marcio Takara. Batgirl & the Birds of Prey (Rebirth, Vol. 3): Full Circle. 2018.

Aquaman: Unspoken Water

After the Drowned Earth series, Aquaman’s fate is revealed in this new series by Kelly Sue DeConnick. This story begins with the amnesia trope as Arthur has washed up on a remote island, called Unspoken Water, and is saved by a beautiful young woman Caillie. He has no memory of his past and is hesitant of the water.  The few island inhabitants are a strange lot and later reveal that Caillie is the daughter of a sea witch that was banished long ago.

The story then moves into a complicated mythology-heavy narrative about revenge. The island inhabitants, not surprisingly, are not what they seem, nor is Caillie. When Caillie and Arthur try to find her mother Namma to end the curse on the island, they get more than they bargained for. Mera had an incredibly small role in this story, and although I assume Arthur has not been missing long, she is being encouraged to remarry as this story has The Odyssey overtones. Later she realizes he is alive, so hopefully, this remarriage nonsense will be put to rest. The end of this volume promises a future battle with Namma, and I would hope it also includes Arthur reclaiming his identity and reuniting with Mera later in this series.

The art was outstanding, with Robson Rocha and Daniel Henriques visualizing DeConnick’s tale in a beautiful way. The water scenes, with waves crashing, made you feel as though you really were surrounded by the ocean. The pages showcasing the ten Gods as they merged between their human form and their godly form included great detail and I spent some time looking up the Gods along with their cultural connections and history. The coloring was vivid and brought the creatures to life as they burst out of the panels.  The only minor issue I had was in Loc’s human portrayal, as it was an unnecessary caricature.

As I’ve been on an Aquaman and Mera kick lately, I was pleased to receive this advance copy of the graphic novel through NetGalley. It is always interesting to see different author’s and artist’s versions of a character, but of course, there are some adaptations that will be more favored. In my case, it was Geoff Johns’ The New 52 that I have liked best, as this story became quite muddled in the middle with the mythology angle. I might look into the aforementioned Drowned Earth series, because all the Aquaman and Mera books I have read have been stand-alone stories, and I want to see them involved in the Justice League as integral members of the team.

-Nancy

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