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100 Bullets: Volumes 1 & 2

I’ve heard of this older noir series that ran from 1999- 2009 with 100 issues, but never checked it out until now, which is surprising as I like darker stories. And it certainly lived up to the hype I had heard about it…

First Shot, Last Call

Dizzy Cordova is a young Latina recently released from jail who is mourning the death of her husband and infant son who were gunned down while she was away. While on the bus home Agent Graves sits next to her and gives her a briefcase with an unmarked gun and 100 bullets to exact revenge on those that killed her family. We get a lengthy look at her gang-infested neighborhood and the hard life she and other women are living, showing how few possibilities await Dizzy. She finds out who betrayed her while she was in jail and exacts her revenge. We also get a shorter story about a bartender who was ruined by fake child-porn accusations, and Graves also gives him supplies to kill and tells him who is to blame.

The art by Eduardo Risso is very unique- characters at first seem like caricatures and the illustrations are very angular and dark-hued. But the urban decay is actually captured realistically and this art technique pays off in helping set the style for the entire series.

Split Second Chance

At first, I was under the impression the series would be short stories, only linked by the mysterious Graves, but author Brian Azzarello has a longer more ambitious story in mind. While some of these vignettes might prove to be stand-alones, readers begin to get a backstory on Graves and his shady connections. A character from volume one shows up and we are pulled into a conspiracy that runs deep. The central question is who is Graves and why does he pick the people he does to become vigilantes? Not all are successful for various reasons, but truth be told, I found some of the shorter stories more interesting than some of the longer linked stories. That one about the waitress was heartbreaking and unexpected.

The stylized art keeps you riveted, and while not everyone might like the look, it matches the stories and helps the series stand out. I’m unsure if I will continue reading further into the series, as it is a big commitment with 13 volumes, and conspiracy storylines are prone to becoming too convoluted. So while I plan to set the rest of the series aside for now, I have a feeling the story will pull me back in eventually.

Batman: A Death in the Family

I’ve never been a fan of the morose Batman, but I recently read the excellent Three Jokers which is built upon this book that killed off Jason Todd who was the second Robin, and the trauma that Batgirl endured at the hand of the Joker in The Killing Joke. This book collects the six-chapter A Death in the Family and the five-chapter A Lonely Place of Dying that introduced Tim Drake as the third Robin.

This 1988 book was groundbreaking in that it killed Jason, and he truly didn’t return as the anti-hero Red Hood until 2005. On top of that, it was up to readers to decide if Jason would live or die within a three-week period in which they could make a 50-cent call to a 900 number. Alas, his character wasn’t as popular as Dick Grayson who was now Nightwing, and his death was sealed by a slim margin.

A Death in the Family

This storyline occurred in the later years of the Bronze Age of Comics, so it still had the superhero look of past decades, but more mature themes were being explored. Jason Todd is shown pushing boundaries, by being petulant and too violent, and Batman and Alfred feel he hadn’t properly grieved his parents before becoming the new Robin. When told he needs to take a break from crime-fighting, he heads back to his old neighborhood and a former neighbor gives him a box of belongings from his parents. He discovers a birth certificate that shows he had a different mother than he thought, so going off a few clues heads to the Middle East to figure out which of three women she could be. But in an improbable twist, both Batman and Joker are there too. This part of the story has not stood the test of time, for the era of the 80s with Reaganomics is mentioned and the Iranian Allatoyah is shown in a very uncomfortable plot point in the story. The woman who was his mother (now retconned I believe, and no longer viewed as his mother in his bio) is perfectly awful and lets Joker attack Jason after they have been reunited. Spoiler alert- he is killed- but everyone knows that. The concluding chapters bring in Superman and yet another improbable plot twist with the Joker.

A Lonely Place of Dying

Can Batman be any more emo than usual? Of course, he can! He is now taking bigger risks as he feels guilty over Jason’s death. Nightwing who is now part of the New Titans comes to help his former partner deal with new threats from Two-Face. We are introduced to a brilliant and earnest teen, Tim Drake, who has pieced together clues and figured out Batman and Nightwing’s secret identities. He convinces them that Batman still needs a Robin, and who better than him?

An afterword by writer Marv Wolfman was interesting and gave context to the story. The art and layouts were good but rather standard for the time period. Joker’s face was so exaggerated that it was distracting for me and hard to take him seriously as a villain. While this book hasn’t changed my opinion of Batman, I’m still glad I picked it up for it is considered a classic and fills in some gaps in my DC knowledge.

Batman: Three Jokers

Three Jokers have emerged in Gotham- the Criminal, the Comedian and the Clown.

In this strong Batman story, author Geoff Johns has pulled together threads from A Death in the Family and The Killing Joke, that ties in Jason Todd aka Red Hood and Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl, the two from the Batman Family that have been most affected by The Joker.

When a crime spree occurs, with video evidence, showing The Joker in three different places simultaneously, Batman realizes there is more than one. Jason Todd, the second Robin who was thought dead by the hand of The Joker, has reappeared as Red Hood who is now an avenging hero. But his brand of justice goes against the code of most heroes, who do not kill. Bruce and Barbara risk outing their secret identities if they reveal Jason killed the Joker that had so brutalized him, and Bruce feels great guilt for not being there for his former partner. There are several nuanced conservations about where to draw the line on justice, for Barbara has an equally valid reason for hating the Joker that had put her in a wheelchair for awhile, but why can she control herself and Jason can’t? The entire storyline was very interesting for all three characters and really added some gravitas to how all three have evolved over the years.

And we need to touch on the possible romance between Jason and Barbara- I read it at two different times and had two different reactions. On my first scan through the graphic novel, I saw the note and thought it was so romantic, and I wanted the two of them to be together. But then I read the graphic novel thoroughly and realized a relationship between the two would be toxic and one-sided. Barbara can’t save Jason- he needs to do the work on himself. He is looking for connection so when Barabara offered him kindness he morphed it inappropriately into love. Once he has healed, perhaps they could try, if they both want to.

The art by Jason Fabok is fabulous. With white borders, the vivid coloring stood out, and every panel was drawn with precision. I think the faces were especially well-done, with an almost photo-realistic approach. My only criticism is the absolute skin-tight costume that Batgirl wears. While there were some typical 9-panel layouts, there was also a lot of variety on the pages with different panel placements. I love Fabok’s work, but this was the first I’ve seen of his art since he works mostly for DC which I don’t read a great deal of.

Although this book came out in late 2020, it is still going strong and I’m so glad I purchased it for my library and read it myself. This is a Batman story not to be missed!

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Black Canary/Birds of Prey

Welcome to the latest installment in our yearly Fiction’s Fearless Females series! Michael of My Comic Relief kicked us off with his post on Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy of the Harley Quinn animated and comic book series. Kalie of Just Dread-full followed with Ellie and Sandie from the film “Last Night in Soho.” Look out for Jeff of The Imperial Talker’s post in just a few days, and Nancy’s post next week!

In last year’s post, I teased the heroine I had in mind for this year’s post. Our friendship theme for this year fit perfectly for who I had in mind: Black Canary. This was a prime opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, if you’ll forgive the pun.

Quick note: I’ll be talking strictly about the comics, as the movie with the same title shares… the title only. It not only doesn’t focus on Black Canary, but didn’t even include all canonical characters that make this team so special.

There are (to date) two iterations of the Black Canary character: Dinah Drake and her daughter, Dinah Laurel Lance, who we’re going to focus on. The character you think of when you hear “Black Canary” is most likely the second iteration. Though both are blonde bombshells and martial arts experts sporting tight leather bodysuits and fishnets, Baby Dinah’s signature superpower is her Canary Cry: a supersonic scream that she can control and direct. But as we’ll see, that’s not her only power…

The Canary Cry, as seen on the Justice League animated series (GIF source)

Baby Dinah grew up surrounded by heroes. Her mother, the first Black Canary, was part of the Golden Age Justice League of America. Naturally, Dinah wanted to be a crimefighter, just like her mom and the heroes who were family to her. Mama Canary, not wishing a vigilante’s dangerous life upon her only daughter, forbade it. In a classic #FFF move, Dinah went against her mother’s wishes to follow her dreams. She trained with Ted Grant (Wildcat) to become a martial arts expert and took up the mantle of Black Canary. She even starts operating out of a floral shop in Gotham, just like Mom did. She goes on to become a founding member of the Justice League International and joins the Justice League, where she meets Green Arrow (Oliver Queen), marking the beginning of their romantic relationship. After the death of her mother and a bad breakup with Oliver, Dinah finds herself adrift and unsure of what to do with her life. (Source)

Enter Oracle (the hero Barbara Gordon, or Batgirl 1, became after her paralysis due to Joker’s shooting, as outlined in my 2020 FFF post), seeking the perfect operative for her covert operations. This was the case in Birds of Prey #1 (the cover of which is the featured image for this post!), written by Chuck Dixon in 1995, published in 1996. The rest is history.

Now, up until this point, Black Canary had very rarely had her own book, in an “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” sort of situation. That changed with Birds. Though she shares the limelight with Oracle to start, Huntress in 2003 when Gail Simone took over the helm, and an ever-expanding roster in later years… Dinah is very much the heart and soul of the book. She might share the title, but she is the embodiment of everything the Birds come to represent over the course of the run.

Of course, the biggest themes of the book are that of friendship and found family. Barbara, in selecting Dinah as her first covert operative, gave Dinah a second chance to find her purpose as a heroine. Conflict in the earlier issues stems in part from Barbara and Dinah’s clashing personalities and work methods. Barbara as Oracle is methodical, meticulous, and organized. Dinah’s Canary is a little more loose and a go-with-the-flow type of gal. They each cause the other no end of grief, until they learn to trust one another. But once they do, Barbara and Dinah, along with Helena Bertinelli as Huntress later, grow so much closer than mere coworkers.

The cover of trade paperback Vol. 3 (reviewed here), which collects the beginning of Gail Simone’s run, when Huntress was added to the roster

In fact, it’s Dinah who suggests that Helena becomes part of the team. Barbara is resistant because she doesn’t approve of Helena’s more violent methods of crimefighting. But when Dinah welcomes Helena with open arms… what is she to do but give her a chance? And though Barbara and Helena clash the same way she and Dinah did in the beginning, and even through Helena’s brief departure, they learn to trust each other. With that burgeoning trust comes a deep respect for each other. They become partners, friends, sisters. They become a team in so many other ways than just a covert operations unit. And none of it would have happened without Dinah.

Dinah, as a character, is idealistic and humanitarian. She is (with few exceptions) willing to give everyone, even the most heinous villains, the benefit of the doubt and a chance at redemption, rehabilitation, and in Helena’s case, friendship. Helena had been an outcast of the Batfamily due to her violent tendencies, but Dinah does what they didn’t: give her a chance. Conflict within the team further arises from this clash of ideals. Barbara’s faith in others has been damaged due to the trauma she suffered. Helena naturally distrusts and is quite cynical of everyone. Dinah leads by example by being open, accepting, and willing to give everyone a fair shot.

For example, there’s an arc where Dinah and Sandra Wu-San (Lady Shiva) trade places for a year. The two women share a tentative bond, as they were trained by the same martial arts sensei. However, again, the two women are very different: Sandra is the world’s deadliest assassin, while Dinah has a code against killing. Shiva offers to further Canary’s training, but Dinah refuses, fearing her morality will slip. They arrive at this compromise instead. Dinah goes to train for a year as Sandra did, and Sandra joins the Birds for a year, calling herself the Jade Canary. Dinah hopes her time with the Birds allows Sandra to warm up to new experiences and helping people rather than killing for hire. The rest of the team might (and certainly did) call her crazy – but Dinah believed what she was doing was right: giving Sandra a chance to grow and change. (Sources 1 and 2)

The cover of Birds of Prey #95, showing “the two Canaries” (Image Source)

Dinah Laurel Lance, as Black Canary, might be one of three top billers on the Birds of Prey book – but she is the heart and soul of the story. Barbara Gordon as Oracle gave her the chance to reinvent herself as a hero, and Dinah went above and beyond the call. She showed herself, her coworkers-turned-sisters, and us the readers, the power of friendship. As corny as it sounds, Dinah’s greatest power is her loving acceptance of others and her willingness to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Though she is the loudest – literally and figuratively – of the bunch, her power comes from the quiet, understated kindness that she gives to everyone.

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you likely know that Birds of Prey is my favorite comic book series of all time. I’ve reviewed the entire series in trade paperback for this blog and am currently re-reading the newly published omnibus editions with my husband. It’s been a joy to take a deeper dive into the friendship this series is famous for with #FictionsFearlessFemales this year. Look out for the rest of this year’s series!

Kathleen

Wonderful Women of the World

Women change the world…what a perfect topic for Women’s History Month!

Various authors and artists have come together in this collection to honor real-life women. The women are grouped under categories such as strength, compassion, justice, truth, and equality- the virtues that Wonder Woman stands for.

This book is a mixed bag- as all collections are when you pull in different styles of storytelling and art. I was familiar with some of them, as several have written or illustrated other books in the DC Graphic Novels for Young Adults line.

My favs were:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Dissent- the iconic Supreme Court Justice who fought injustice and was a role-model for all! The story highlighted some of her more famous cases such as birth control, voting rights and marriage equality.

Keiko Agena: Asian America’s BFF- The author is an Asian American who always felt left out until she saw actress Agena on the tv series Gilmore Girls. The representation felt inspiring, and helped allow the author herself to explore and grow in her profession.

Ellen Ochoa: Destination Space- Ochoa was determined to be an astronaut, and when turned down, doubled down on her training to learn the skills that NASA was looking for. I loved the group picture that showcased other women astronauts that represented firsts such as Sally Ride and Mae Jemison and included Ochoa as the first Latina in space.

Judith Heumann: How to Ignite a Spark- Heumann is a disabled woman fighting for Disability Rights. The story includes references to landmark cases that have moved forward legal rights for those who are disabled. Her advocacy helped push through Section 504- the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Edith Windsor: How One Women’s Love Changed a Nation- Windsor was in a long-term lesbian relationship, but the two were denied the right to marry. When her partner died and she legally was not recognized, she went all the way to the Supreme Court to fight for marriage equality. The illustration style was among my favorites in this collection.

Mari Copeny: Fighting for Flint- Copeny is a youth who helped bring awareness to the contaminated water that plagues Flint, Michigan. Her letter to President Obama brought attention to the community and she helped raise thousands of dollars to bring clean bottled water to the city. Her youthful passion has made a difference!

Leiomy Maldonado: Generational- showcases two different transgender individuals during different years colored blue vs red, and reveals how people have an easier time now than years ago in being true to themselves. Maldonado is featured at the end, as both unite in awe of her.

Despite the worthy intent of this book with some great biographies, I sadly was not impressed, for it seemed to be trying too hard. For a fantastic collection of short stories about women from history, read Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked The World by Pénélope Bagieu instead.

-Nancy

Today is International Women’s Day, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the fourth year with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of:  Fiction’s Fearless Females! For the next few weeks, we will have five bloggers sharing who they believe is a fictional woman to be admired, and we will share each entry of the series on our blog. First up is Michael from My Comic Relief– whose blog is must reading for his brilliant views on comics, Star Wars, social justice, Doctor Who and of course these DC ladies! 

By Michael Miller of My Comic Relief

It’s International Women’s Day and for the fourth year in a row I’ve teamed up with some fellow bloggers – Kalie of Just Dread-full, Jeff of The Imperial Talker, and Nancy and Kathleen of Graphic Novelty2 – to celebrate some of our favorite female characters in all of fiction.  This year I was having trouble deciding on who to write about.  I wanted to rewatch Harley Quinn on HBO Max and read Tee Franklin’s Harley Quinn the Animated Series: The Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour but should I write about Harley Quinn or Poison Ivy?  Then it hit me!  The entire show (and comic which serves as Season 2.5) is anchored in their relationship.  I would be hard pressed to write about one without writing about the other.  Plus, for a series celebrating “fearlessness,” it’s within their friendship where Harley and Ivy find and demonstrate the most incredible courage.  Standing beside each other, they (ultimately) own and face their greatest fears.  So I’m writing about Harley and Ivy and the type of friendship we should all be so lucky to have.

Given the focus of this piece it’ll have major spoilers for S1&2 of Harley Quinn as well as light spoilers for Tee Franklin’s (as brilliant as it is beautiful) Harley Quinn the Animated Series: The Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour.

Continue reading “Fiction’s Fearless Females: Harley Quinn & Poison Ivy”

Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story

Jessica Cruz is a high school student living in Coast City. She’s just gotten a museum fellowship and hopes to study the Aztec gods, her favorite exhibit. She doesn’t have time for parties or hanging out with her two best friends or her new friend from the museum fellowship, John Stewart – she’s got too much to do and too many expectations on her. Her parents are undocumented immigrants from Mexico, and Jessica herself is part of the D.A.C.A program – but that’s not common knowledge. She’s been keeping her head down ever since a popular mayoral candidate has been campaigning on making Coast City “safer” by advocating for a stronger I.C.E. presence. When Jessica’s Papá is arrested by I.C.E., she feels like she’s falling apart. As she isolates herself, bent on revenge, she dreams of two Aztec gods: one emphasizing hope and willpower, the other giving into her anger and destruction. How can she help her Papá if she can’t even help herself?

I cried at multiple points during the story. Jessica Cruz is a character near and dear to my heart, in part due to her Hispanic heritage. Spanish is well-executed in the dialogue, which lends an extra layer of authenticity to the story. I and many other readers will emphasize with her struggle to choose willpower or anger. The Aztec gods she dreams about are not only metaphors for these emotions, they represent the Green and Red Lanterns, respectively. John Stewart serves as a friend and mentor for her in the comics, and serves the same purpose here, as well as acting as a jumping-off point for conversations about intersectionality between Black and Mexican American experiences. Together, they choose where to focus their energies for the best outcome: in anger, or in hope?

The art is truly unique, and the most memorable I’ve seen in quite some time. The square figures evoke ancient Aztec and Mayan carvings. While greens and blues are the dominant colors, the backgrounds and background figures are often washed in one or two colors. Overall, the palette is desaturated pastels – but because it looks as if they were watercolors painted wet right over pencils. It has that distinctive gray tone. I LOVED it and lapped it up like water.

If the gorgeous art isn’t enough to wow you, the story of a teen desperate to settle a war within herself to help her family and community will definitely knock you out. This is going on my Best of 2022 list.

Kathleen

Rivera, Lilliam, and Steph C. Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story. 2021.

I Am Not Starfire

Mandy is superhero Starfire’s daughter. They’re opposites in every way: Starfire is tall, thin, tan, and glowing with power and being adored by millions. Mandy is shorter, bigger, loves black, and has zero superpowers and one best friend in Lincoln. She recently walked out of her SAT exam and isn’t planning to go to college. She wants to get away from anything and everything having to do with superheroes, including being the child of one. Things might be taking a turn for the better when Mandy’s paired up with Claire for an English project. The Claire whom Mandy won’t admit even to herself that she has a crush on. When a picture of Claire with the Teen Titans shows up on her social media after a study session at Mandy’s house, and Starfire finds out about the missed SAT exam, it looks like things can’t get any worse. But something from her mom’s past catches up with her and Mandy is forced to make a choice – and see just how much like, or unlike, Starfire she really is.

Nancy recommended this one to me, thinking I’d like it. She knows me so well 😉

Lincoln himself best summed up the book on page 155: “What I said was we hold our parent’s hope for a new future, but that future isn’t necessarily going to be what our parents thought it would be.” At its heart, this is a story duality and trying to carve yourself a place in the world outside your parent’s influence and expectations. Each character is struggling with this in a different way. Mandy doesn’t have superpowers like her mom, but doesn’t want to follow a predetermined path such as college either. Lincoln is a first-generation Asian American and does want to go to college to make systems better for POCs. Mandy’s life looks perfect on social media, but she also carries expectations of others that make her be a person she doesn’t want to be.

The art reinforces this by constantly setting up different dualities. Mandy and Starfire are often positioned across the panel or a whole 2-page spread from one another, reinforcing how different they are by simple distance. Starfire’s colors are primarily pink, yellow, and purple, while Mandy’s primary colors are black, grey, and green. When they do find common ground in the end, their placement side-by-side feels earned and we see that they compliment each other rather than set each other off. The lineless style art is very modern, not like “traditional” comic book art of the ’80s, when Starfire was first introduced. This further reinforces the idea of forging your own future ahead, rather than sticking with what your parents did.

Older middle-grade readers, YA audiences, and up will love Mandy’s journey of figuring out who she is and what she wants outside of her mother’s influence.

– Kathleen

Tamaki, Mariko, and Yoshi Yoshitani. I Am Not Starfire. 2021.

Pearl: Volume One

Can an accidental assassin find love in a rival group?

The story is about an albino Asian-American young woman named Pearl, who is a tattoo artist, who inadvertently gets involved with the San Francisco Yakuza mob. Written and illustrated by the Jessica Jones team of Brain Michael Bendis and Micahel Gaydos, it is set in Bendis’s Jinxworld.

Pearl meets Rick, a fellow tattoo artist, and saves him from an assassination attempt by a rival Yakuza clan. Her local crime boss, Mr. Miike forces her to become an assassin for his group, as she showed a killer instinct that he plans to use to his benefit. Thus, the story is somewhat of a Romeo & Juliet inter-generational crime saga, as Rick and Pearl are from rival clans.

Gaydos’s photorealism art was in full display and was a strength in the story. The tattoo work and the San Francisco cityscapes were especially beautiful, with a muted blue and pink color palette. But, OMG, all those speech bubbles! While Bendis is known for his snappy dialogue, he is also known for overdoing it, and that was the case throughout the story. Gaydos did his best to incorporate all the dialogue into the panels, in fact, he just leaned into it on one page, with Mr. Miike’s dialogue just spiraling around him.

Chosen as January’s graphic novel selection by the Goodreads group I Read Comic Books, I appreciated being pushed to try a book I would not have picked up on my own, however, it will be a hard pass for me in regards to reading further volumes. The self-indulgent dialogue, the problematic issue of neither author or artist being Asian, plus my lack of connection to Pearl or Rick made this a one-and-done.

-Nancy

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