The Low, Low Woods is an atmospheric and surreal horror story set in the dying coal town of Shudder-To-Think, Pennsylvania.
Elements of feminism and malevolence come into play, as two young women El and Vee realize something is terribly wrong in their town. Years ago a fire moved underground into the coal mines, forcing their closures and gutting an already fragile economy. In addition, women began to exhibit strange episodes in which they were losing large portions of their memory. When this seems to happen to the two friends on an evening at the movies, they want answers. Readers then discover there is already a layer of magic, as a strange deer/human hybrid is sighted, skinned men are hiding in the woods, and there are rabbits everywhere with human eyes. There is somewhat of a Paper Girls vibe in this story, further supported that El and Vee ride their bikes everywhere, but late in the story the narrative takes a sharp and confusing turn. A witch who is trying to combat the cruelty of the men in the region, as previous sexual assaults are implied in the story but not seen, but her spells don’t always work the way she intended. The remainder of the story is the young women trying to give agency back to the women affected by the dark magic.
The illustrations by artist Dani are dark with a color palette using a lot of black and red. The panels are varied, often with a large picture with smaller ones layered on top with black gutters. But the lines can be imprecise and lacking details. For example, El who is a larger woman is often drawn blocky. But I did appreciate that the various characters were given a diverse look. There was a lot of dialogue and information given in text boxes, with a small font that made reading challenging.
I have read a previous short story, Blur, by the author Carmen Maria Machado through LeVar Burton Reads, and she is known for her LGTBQ+ storylines in the horror genre. While this story wasn’t exactly to my liking, I like how Hill House Comics is using a variety of authors to reach different audiences. I was pleased to receive an advance copy through NetGalley and I plan on reading more of this label’s graphic novels!
Joe Hill is having a moment. With his Locke & Key series now on Netflix, and his novels and short-story collections in high demand, DC has given him a prestige project, his own label- Hill House Comics. While not all of the graphic novels under this label will be penned by him, this first story is.
Set in September 1983, on Brody Island in Maine, the story establishes an 80s horror flick vibe. June is visiting her boyfriend Liam who is wrapping up his summer job as a deputy before going back to college in the fall. But a prison break (with a homage to Hill’s father Stephen King) puts their reunion in jeopardy. The two head to the police chief’s palatial estate during a growing storm and are amazed by the chief’s Viking artifacts collection. A battle-ax comes in very handy when the convicts land on their doorstep…
There are some twists and turns as to who the convicts are and who they are connected to on the island. As June fights for her life, grabbing the first weapon in sight, the ax’s power manifests in that the decapitated head is still alive and can continue talking. But heads begin to roll (!!) as June tries to find Liam and has to fight off several more criminals. Many secrets of corruption on the island are revealed by these talking heads. A final show-down discloses some heartbreaking truths and June obtains justice for a young woman who had been used and abused that summer.
Artists Leomacs and Riccardo La Bella really captured the era and northeast region well. There were crude jokes with some characters getting an almost Mad magazine type of caricature treatment, especially three times when a character is drawn with two heads as they are reacting to news. I loved the chapter breaks, as June’s basket fills and how the chapter numbers are symbolized. These sight gags, plus others, matched the tone of the narrative and made me laugh.
I enjoyed the dark humor as the horror-aspect of it all was played fast and loose. Thanks to NetGalley for this advance copy, for with this graphic novel as the first in the collection, I am looking forward to the others coming out in the months ahead. Joe Hill, both in graphic novels and books, is now definitely a favored author of mine.
Superman is trying to find his family. Lois and Jon are traveling the universe together, and Clark has lost contact with them. In the battle for Krypton against the peerless warmonger Rogol Zaar, his communication device was destroyed. Zaar was eventually banished to the Phantom Zone, where such villains such as General Zod are. It seems Superman has bigger problems, now that he’s discovered the entire Earth is somehow inside the Phantom Zone as well! Is this job too big for Superman, when he calls the Justice League for help? When Zaar and Zod meet inside the Phantom Zone, should Superman let them kill each other for their joint destruction of Krypton?
I was very confused upon my first read-through. I couldn’t place it in the continuity. Upon looking it up I see that Superman’s Rebirth run ended in 2018, and The Unity Saga picks up where it left off. As I’m not done reading Superman Rebirth, I spoiled myself for the ending =P
Brian Michael Bendis writes Superman well. We see Clark’s longing for his family, his optimism in the face of crushing odds and discord, and his fallibility. That he has to call for the Justice League to try and get the Earth out of the Phantom Zone shows that even Superman needs help sometimes. He is sorely tempted, and sees the benefits to, simply letting two of his greatest enemies kill each other for what they did to his home planet.
In writing Superman, there is a fine balance to walk between making him overpowered and making him human. Bendis walks it wonderfully.
The art is on an epic scale. The land- and space-scapes are sweeping, the monsters gargantuan, befitting the dilemmas in the story. Superman is larger than life, and the art depicts it.
While I enjoyed this first volume in The Unity Saga, I think I’ll wait to finish Rebirth before I read more!
Bendis, Brian Michael, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Oclair Albert. Superman (2018, Vol. 1): The Unity Saga: Phantom Earth. 2019.
When his grandmother passes away, aspiring comic artist Tai Pham inherits her old jade ring. Turns out, it’s a lot more than it appears! Tai finds himself inducted into the Green Lantern Space Corps, with veteran Lantern John Stewart as his new mentor. Tai is very confused. It appears that there was much his grandmother didn’t tell him while she was still alive. In the wake of her death, vandalism against her beloved shop, the Jade Market, has gotten worse, and there is talk of it being torn down to make room for new development called The Gold Coast. A young businessman named Xander Griffin is the one who offered to buy the shop. He seems nice enough, but can Tai trust him? Is he a mentor too, like John, or does he just want to get close to Tai to get what he wants and destroy the Pham legacy?
It’s surprising that this is a middle-grade graphic novel. It was written so beautifully and eloquently about many issues: death of a loved one, accepting responsibility, and listening to your own instincts even in the face of adversity. While these issues can be very heavy, Minh Lê’s writing is heartwarming and compassionate, never talking down to his audience.
We also see here an age-appropriate look at what it means to be a person of color, in this case Asian, in America. Readers see Tai’s grandmother’s journey to America and her dogged pursuit of building her dream from the ground up. We see the Pham family struggle to decide whether to sell the Jade Market in the name of “progress” or to fight for what they love. This gentle look at gentrification is presented in a way that the target audience will understand, and will make for a great talking point in class or family discussions.
Andie Tong’s art is lovely. The lineart fluctuated depending on the setting, which was a cool design choice that subtly let us know of a paradigm shift. The lineart is messier, a little more chaotic, in the real world; in Tai’s imagination and in the realm of the Green Lanterns, it’s a little cleaner and more focused. There are also a couple of fun Easter eggs for long-term GL fans sprinkled in.
This heartfelt tale, of a welcome new POC in the superhero genre, will be beloved by fans both young and old.
Lê, Minh, and Andie Tong. Green Lantern: Legacy. 2020.
Superman Smashes the Klan is a wonderful graphic novel geared for young adults, yet will appeal to all ages. Author Gene Luen Yang deftly combines the mythology of Superman with timely topics of immigration and battling prejudice.
When you hear the word Klan, you will automatically think of the hate group that seems to targets blacks the most. But instead, Yang sets the story in 1946 and centers on the Lee family who are Chinese-Americans who have recently moved to Metropolis for their father’s new job as a scientist. Brother and sister Tommy and Roberta begin to assimilate into their new community after leaving Chinatown, but Roberta struggles more than her brother who is soon befriended by boys in the neighborhood when he shows a gift for pitching.
But soon the family is targeted by the Klan of the Fiery Kross, which is obviously a stand-in for the Ku Klux Klan. The chants they use and their justification of their actions are sadly a commentary on what is going on in America right now. Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen befriend the Lee’s but Roberta picks up on clues about Superman’s abilities and helps him confront his own issues regarding his own assimilation. This story is set early into Superman’s career, and he is shown as not able to fly, as he is suppressing his alien powers. This runs parallel to the Lee’s journey of embracing who they are and not being ashamed of their background. This narrative not only makes Superman more relatable to younger new readers, who might only view him as a demi-god, not a young boy who even in later years as an adult struggles with his identity.
The artwork by Gurihiru (actually a Japanese illustration team, consisting of Chifuyu Sasaki and Naoko Kawano) is a fun throwback to the 90s style of comic animation. The illustrations are deceptively simple and will appeal to readers of all ages. The story flowed beautifully from panel to panel, with some outstanding one and two-page spreads. The colors are bold, with the primary colors of red, blue and yellow taking center stage. That these colors are found in Superman’s costume is a natural tie-in.
I was very impressed with this story. Yang wrote a nuanced story about the struggles of fighting adversity, calling out hate, maintaining cultural traditions while balancing fitting into a new home and battling back against preconceived notions. An afterword by the author clarifies his message in which he shares how racism against any race is unacceptable and shares his story along with his personal connection to the iconic Superman. This strong story may very well inspire readers to take stands against hate and racism they run across, and should be a welcome beacon for all Superman fans.
On our quarantine weekends, Fiancé and I have been marathoning movies. We pull out the couch (it doubles as a futon), sprawl out with pillows and snacks, and go to town. So far we’ve marathoned Lord of the Rings (extended editions, obvs), Batman (pre-Nolan and Nolan directed), Christopher Reeves’ Superman saga, the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, bounced around between some DC animated movies we haven’t seen yet, and now we’re working on the DC Cinematic Universe that started with Man of Steel.
I’m sure this has been done, because how could it not have been, but I couldn’t help thinking while watching Captain Marvel of the comparisons it drew to Wonder Woman. Watching Wonder Woman again only threw the differences into greater relief.
Wonder Woman is the DCU’s take on Diana’s origins. Set during World War I, Diana leaves her home, Themyscira, when she rescues a pilot named Steve Trevor. He carries important information that could end the course of the war. Believing that Ares, the god of war, is behind the rampant destruction, Diana spirits Steve off the island and pursues Ares to fulfill the Amazon’s sacred duty of protecting the world from the vengeful god.
Captain Marvel follows the story of Vers/Carol Danvers, a Kree Starforce member/human fighter pilot. After absorbing a vast amount of energy from an experimental engine, she gains incredible powers but loses the memory of her life on Earth. What she does remember comes back to her in dreams and short flashes. In 1995 she winds up back on Earth, escaping from the Skrull (with whom the Kree are at war), and instead of trying to get back to Kree, decides to team up with a man named Nick Fury to find out more about her past.
The simplest way to explain the plots of both movies is perhaps: flagship female superhero finds herself out of her element, and must find a way to save the world while simultaneously working within the confines of a setting she’s unfamiliar with.
Wonder Woman did this SO much better than Captain Marvel did, and here’s why.
The first reason is in the portrayal of the heroines by their actresses, and how they interact with their mentor of the world they are unaccustomed to. Gal Gadot’s performance of Diana suggested naive innocence and idealism. Diana is doggedly determined to rid Man’s World of Aries’ influence and stop the war, but she has very different ideas of how to do it than everyone else. She doesn’t understand all the hoops and red tape Steve knows they need to navigate, and gets frustrated with the inconveniences. Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is cynical, world-weary, yet focused and determined to do something too – and he’s willing to indulge Diana’s seemingly crazy ideas if she’ll help.
Watching these two – it’s magical. There’s real chemistry between these characters. Half the fun of watching this movie is watching Steve’s exaggerated, exasperated patience with Diana asking a million questions a minute, like a petulant child. Yet, you can’t help but love them each for it. Their relationship progressed organically from mentor/student to friends to lovers, all while remaining mostly equals, making it seem more real and believable.
Brie Larson’s portrayal of Carol was, to put it nicely, unemotional to the point of being flat. I suppose it was to show how the Kree are generally in strict control of their emotions… but Carol is human and not Kree, right? So despite her thinking she was Kree for most of the movie, it would stand to reason that we would see some excess of emotion from her at some point, right? Even if it was on accident?? Even in moments where it’s completely warranted and expected, such as her reuniting with her best friend, Maria – right???
The vibe I got from Carol and Nick Fury’s interactions were more of almost a buddy cop dynamic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s just less of that mentor-ship that we see going on with Diana and Steve. It’s clear both Carol and Nick have been around the block, albeit in different ways and in different galaxies. However, their connection seemed a bit forced to me; yes, they teamed up out of necessity, but if I felt Carol was feeling anything at all, it was smug arrogance, solely through her interactions with Fury. More on this in a moment.
Though both Diana and Carol are superhuman beings, and warriors to boot, Diana is shown to be more well-rounded in the emotions department. There was never any point in Captain Marvel where I felt emotionally connected to Carol. I think this is more the fault of the writing more than it is Larson’s portrayal, which leads me to my second point:
The way misogyny is handled in both movies is VASTLY different, and makes a HUGE impact on the way the titular characters interact with their environments, and the emotional weight of each story.
You ever wonder why the No Man’s Land scene in Wonder Woman is so powerful? Why you cry like a baby every time you watch it? Admit it, you know it’s not just me 😉
It’s because, for the entire movie up until that point, we see Diana being told “no.”
No, you can’t be a warrior
No, you can’t leave home
No, you can’t dress that way
No, you can’t come into this war council
No, you can’t go to the front
Now, no one says these things in so many words, and it’s not always that obvious. It may be only on your second or third viewing that you REALLY pick up on all the subtle ways that Diana is being restricted – which mirrors what happens in real-life with instances of misogyny. It’s not always being told “no” exactly, more often it’s being dismissed or sidebarred – which we see Diana go through. When we get to the No Man’s Land scene, and Steve tells Diana they are not going to help the village of Veld, Diana has heard her last “no.”
It’s so powerful because Diana is FINALLY standing up for herself, what she believes in, her mission, and she is going to do it no matter what anyone says. It’s so powerful because she has tried to assimilate into Man’s World and to their ways, but she finally realizes that their ways don’t work, and she carves herself a new path, her own way. It’s so powerful because she is embracing her feminine power to save the world, and her ultimate superpower: not her brute strength, but her ability to provide hope in a completely hopeless situation.
The brilliancy and beauty of this scene is in the movie’s moves up until this point to try and hem Diana in, so subtle that it’s nearly subconscious. When you see her finally break free in this scene, the movie has earned all the ugly tears you shed over it, and then some.
Captain Marvel didn’t have an equivalent scene, though it tried to. Near the end of the movie, Carol confronts the Supreme Intelligence and breaks her inhibitor chip. It also gave us a slew of flashbacks to Carol’s childhood in which we are shown in quick succession how Carol has been told “no,” and that’s what’s allows her to break free and come into her full power, which we then see in the next scene: the “I’m Just a Girl” scene, where Carol fights her former Kree squadron for the Tesseract.
The problem with this scene – and with the movie in general – is Carol is explicitly told “no,” in so many words, in those flashbacks. We are beaten over the head with scenes like this:
Carol and Maria getting hit on by a sleazy guy at a bar
Carol and Maria can’t become fighter pilots
Carol needs to control her emotions
Carol can’t play baseball
Carol can’t go that fast on a go-kart track
… All because they are girls or women.
Carol, and the audience, are explicitly told these things, instead of being shown them. The subtlety that worked so well in Wonder Woman is missing altogether from Captain Marvel. The obviousness of the misogyny in this movie strip much of the meaning away from the instances in which they occur, or their motivation for Carol.
I mentioned above that I felt Carol to be a cold, arrogant presence throughout this movie – this is why. It felt as if she was so hell-bent on proving her worth, despite her being a woman, that that’s all her character became. This crippled her relationship with Fury. Instead of Fury becoming a guide to Carol when she returns to Earth, he became the receiving end of the superiority she picked up from her time as a Kree. It felt as if he was reduced to a comic relief sidekick alongside Carol, instead of the force of nature we had previously seen and known him to be. Though this is a prequel movie for Fury, and he arguably doesn’t quite have the experience to be a mentor yet as he’s early in his career, the fact remains that as far as she knows, he is still Carol’s bridge between Kree and Earth – and to me it felt like Carol knew better than he did.
Now, I know Carol was brainwashed to believe she was really a Kree. It seemed as if all the flashbacks from Carol’s former life on Earth shown in the movie were instances like these: blatant misogyny. What it really needed was more of Carol being a badass like Maria talked about during the kitchen scene. The Carol Maria talked about sounded awesome! She was a pain in her best friend’s butt! She was an amazing pilot! She loved to go out and dance and do kareoke! She was an aunt figure to Maria’s daughter, Monica! THAT’S the Carol we needed to see – the truly human Carol!!!
In fact, the one thing Captain Marvel did better than Wonder Woman was the inclusion of Maria’s character. What little we saw of Maria and Carol’s friendship was AMAZING!!! They had such a great friendship, of two women (one of them of color!!!) LOVING AND SUPPORTING EACH OTHER UNCONDITIONALLY!!! There wasn’t enough time spent on any female characters other than Diana in Wonder Woman for us to see any friendships form between her and another woman (though I am hopeful we see this between Diana and Barbara Ann Minerva in WW84, coming out in October at time of posting).
The movie needed more of this truly human Carol. The pre-brainwashed Carol as seen through Maria and Monica’s eyes, to make the audience care about her, and to make us believe that she is more than a single dimension: that of being a woman with something to prove. It’s otherwise difficult for the audience to remember that she IS supposed to be human, and therefore it’s difficult for the audience to emotionally connect with her.
The heavy-handed misogyny in Captain Marvel also strips away any and all emotional impact we are supposed to feel from anything – especially the final fight scenes, after Carol finally comes into her full power. The movie tried SO HARD to show us Carol’s girl power that that’s all her character was reduced to. When we finally get to the “I’m Just a Girl” fight scene, we just roll our eyes at yet ANOTHER in-your-face instance of Carol’s femininity. Captain Marvel hamstrung itself on its’ own feminism.
The dynamic of each movie within its’ respective universe is also interesting to think about. The DCEU was okay at best until Wonder Woman (the 4th installment) finally helped them to find their stride. While no DCEU movie they create afterward will come close to being on the same level, their subsequent movies have become overall lighter and more fun in tone than their predecessors – and more like the MCU.
The DCEU tried too hard in their beginnings to become what the MCU was in their middle that they rushed into a huge crossover with no other basis than Man of Steel, and failed at it.
The MCU is a carefully-crafted, decades-long cinematic event. I may be a die-hard DC fan, but even I can admit that Marvel’s movies FAR outstrip DC’s in scope, continuity, and storytelling. Captain Marvel was the third to last installment in the Phase 3 of the MCU saga – between Ant Man and the Wasp and Avengers: Endgame (technically, but I personally consider it the second to last because I don’t count Spiderman: Far from Home as being part of Phase 3, but that’s a post for another day). My point being, this movie is smack dab between a hilarious, high-stakes heist, and the epic ending to one of the greatest cinematic sagas in all of film history, and introduces a character VITAL to that ending, just one movie before. And it unfortunately feels like a slog to get through. It feels like forced required reading just before that cinematic climax that only serves two purposes: to explain the Carol-Ex-Machina moment in Endgame (disappointing), and how Fury lost his eye (even more disappointing).
The MCU tried to recreate with Captain Marvel what the DCEU did with Wonder Woman – a first movie for a female hero in their camp – and failed at it.
… Okay, now that I got my nice, objective views out of the way, I’m sorry I can’t hold it in anymore I need to say it the very biased way I said it to a friend: Captain Marvel??? More like Captain Knockoff: Superman Without Any of His Likeable Qualities Wearing a Chinese Bootleg Wonder Woman Costume
Y’all KNOW they PURPOSELY created CM’s costume to look TOO SIMILAR TO WW’S like JUST LOOK AT IT AND TRY TO TELL ME I’M WRONG
I think y’all knew which camp I was in to begin with, but I hope I explained the important differences between these two movies, and why those differences had a significant impact on each movie, sufficiently!
Helena Bertinelli, the new head of Spyral, has a bounty on her head. Rival agencies Checkmate and the Syndicate have had enough of her and want her dead. Her two best agents, 1 (Tiger), and 37 (Grayson), have gone rogue and she has no one to protect her. Once Dick hears Helena is in danger, he needs to make a choice. Does he give himself up to the agency that wants to kill him, to save the woman he loves? Or does he hope that she can hold her own? Dick Grayson must confront himself once and for all: who is he, truly? Dick Grayson, Robin, Nightwing, Agent 37, all of them, or none of the above?
This is unfortunately the last volume in Grayson‘s run. And what a thrilling conclusion it is! In addition to the last few volumes, Annual #3 is included in this trade paperback. It’s a collection of short stories about Agent 37 and his spy skills, told from the perspective of a few different characters who witnessed him in action.
Overall, this series is a refreshing take on the superhero genre. Though characters who are, or used to be, superheroes, are the stars of the show, the James Bond twist is enough to keep things fresh without being too forced, cheesy, or dark. The breakneck pacing ensures you will not be able to put it down until the very end. The art is your standard comic book art, not offering much that’s new, but I believe that was a well-made decision to keep readers focused on the story and tension. Recommended for some high-energy summer reading.
Seeley, Tim, Tom King, Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly, and Roge Antonio. Grayson (Vol. 5): Spyral’s End. 2017.
Clark and Lois are hard at work helping Jon identify and control his growing powers. His unique mix of Kryptonian and human DNA means that he doesn’t have all of Superman’s powers – or he may have new ones! Luckily, the father and son of steel have plenty of opportunity in this volume to test them out. First, Jon’s science project accidentally teleports them to Dinosaur Island, where even they need to fight for survival! Then, a Frankenstein look-alike alien visits Smallville to take in a fugitive hiding in their midst. Unfortunately, it’s not only Jon’s parents that have an interest in his powers. Batman and Robin, known also as Bruce and Damian Wayne, have as well! What’s going to happen when the World’s Finest sons meet each other?
Of all comics I’ve read recently, I think I’m enjoying Superman’s Rebirth run the most. It’s fun, light reading that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Too many comics and their associated media today try to be as serious, dark, and realistic as possible – but that doesn’t always mean better!
What I’m enjoying the most is Clark and Jon’s relationship, not only as father and son, but partners as well. This is most evident in the Dinosaur Island story. There is a part where Jon is scared that he and his dad won’t make it home. Clark has to remind himself that Jon is only ten years old! He then reassures Jon as father to son, not as Superman to Superboy. These kinds of interactions show that while Clark knows all about being Superman, he is still learning to be a dad – it makes him less than perfect, which makes him more relatable.
The dynamic that Clark and Jon have is contrasted by the dynamic that Bruce and Damian have with each other. Bruce is overall – to put it lightly – harder on Damian than Clark is on Jon. This expectation of perfection suits Bruce’s character wonderfully, whereas Clark only asks that Jon try his best. While I don’t like Damian as a character (let alone Robin), it is really fun to watch him and Jon interact because of the fundamental differences in their personalities.
I’m looking forward to not only more of this Rebirth title for some fun summer reading – but also hopefully more World’s Finest teamups and interactions!
Tomasi, Peter J., Patrick Gleason, Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza, and Mick Gray. Superman (Rebirth, Vol. 2): Trials of the Super Son. 2017.
It’s election season! Barbara decides to volunteer for Luciana Alejo’s campaign as she runs for a Senate seat. Unfortunately, that puts her at odds with her own father, Commissioner Gordon. The biggest promise Alejo has made on her campaign trail is to clean up the corruption in the GCPD. While Barbara thinks that’s a good idea, Batgirl has ulterior motives for joining Alejo’s volunteer army. Politics in Gotham are dangerous under the best of circumstances, and someone is really gunning for Alejo. Ex-cop Jason Bard, whom Barbara has a history with, serves as Alejo’s campaign manager. He is willing to work with Batgirl to keep the hopeful Senator safe, but Batgirl isn’t too sure. Can they cooperate long enough to get Luciana elected?
I was reminded of some of the Batgirl comics from the ’70s that were featured in her Bronze Age omnibus. Barbara actually did run for the House of Representatives during the ’70s, to serve as the start of her character retirement. One of the issues featured in the omnibus showed Batgirl and Robin working on her campaign (and on official Bat business ;D ) in Washington, D.C. This story was a great throwback.
Something that was distracting for me were the exaggerated features in some characters, but only from a certain angle. It was just when a character was in profile that their lips and noses were just too big. The style was otherwise pretty standard comic book-y and reminded me a bit of the old Batman animated series.
One last thing… I still hate this new mask!!!
Scott, Mairghread, Paul Pelletier, and Norm Rapmund. Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 6): Old Enemies. 2019.