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Batman: Nightwalker (The Graphic Novel)

Orphan Bruce Wayne is freshly 18 and freshly come into the trust fund he inherited from his parents. He gets in trouble his first night by trying to chase down a member of the notorious Nightwalkers gang. They’ve been targeting rich citizens of Gotham and stealing their money to give to the poor. His brief moment of vigilantism lands Bruce in big trouble: a period of probation working as a janitor in Arkham Asylum. Madeline Wallace, a girl who’s been arrested and committed for being in the Nightwalkers, draws Bruce’s attention. They begin a cautious and barbed relationship as Bruce tries to figure out who exactly they are and how to stop them. Madeline may be his only lead, but she’s reluctant to talk. Who is she, really? Whose side is she really on?

This is another adaptation of a “DC Icons” YA novel, this time originally by Marie Lu. Unlike with Wonder Woman, it feels like we hardly get to see Bruce Wayne before he became Batman, so this felt like a nice change of pace. We see the same determination, smarts, and inquisitiveness that led him to become the World’s Greatest Detective, but he’s not there yet. It shows readers that all heroes, even those without special powers, start somewhere!

However, I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief because even as an 18-year-old, Bruce still seemed overpowered. He was performing acrobatic stunts that I would assume Batman could do, but not Bruce at 18. He kept a relatively cool head in high-charged situations, which as we all know is hard for teenagers to do. I wonder if Bruce had maybe started training to become a vigilante before the events of this novel. If there was mention of Bruce training at martial arts and detective work in the original novel, it was lost in translation.

As is ever my nitpick with YA novels, there is another (to me) forced romance in this one. It didn’t even seem like a romance to me, but other characters insisted it was – what? There was very little introspective inner dialogue from Bruce that wasn’t directly related to the Nightwalkers mystery. I felt blindsided and confused by it and don’t feel it served the story at all. Maybe it was fleshed out more in the original novel, but if this was all they were going to do with it in the graphic novel, it would have been better to cut it out altogether.

To make up for the somewhat unbelievable story, the art was superb. Classic Batman colors are used to maximum effect: blue-gray overall with bright yellow highlights. It would have been very easy to overdo the yellow, but it was used carefully and sparsely, to ensure maximum emotional or action-packed impact. The backgrounds and landscapes are rendered somewhat realistically, while the figures have overly sharp and angular features to suggest the hardness Gotham has beaten into them.

While I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief for a few aspects of this story, this is still a good old-fashioned Batman mystery set before Bruce Wayne as Batman exists. The sharp art elevates this graphic novel adaptation.

– Kathleen

Lu, Marie, Stuart Moore, and Chris Wildgoose. Batman: Nightwalker (The Graphic Novel). 2019.

Wonder Woman: Warbringer (The Graphic Novel)

Before she was Wonder Woman, Diana grew up on Themyscira. It isn’t always easy being the youngest of an entire island full of warrior women. They were reborn as Amazons because they died nobly, with a goddess’ prayer on their lips – every single one of them except for Diana. Some call her Pyxis (clay pot), some say she’s made of mud. Diana is determined to prove her right to be among them during an annual race across the island. Along her route, Diana witnesses a shipwreck and rescues a girl about her age from the wreckage. Her name is Alia, and with her coming strange and terrible things start happening on the island. The girls discover Alia is a descendant of Helen of Troy, whose blood was cursed to make her a Warbringer: a harbinger of death and destruction. Diana removes Alia from the island to try and find a way to remove the curse. If it fails, Alia asks Diana to kill her instead, before she can start another World War. Killing another is against the Amazon code. Can Diana remove Alia’s curse, or will she be forced to do the unthinkable?

This is a graphic novel adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s YA novel (the first in the “DC Icons” series) that came out in 2017. At the heart of the story is the moral dilemma that Diana faces: is it better to spare one life yet potentially cause countless other deaths, or better to take one life to spare countless other lives?

I was appreciative of the Amazon’s origin here, as it was written first in George Perez’ run. Myths and deities other than Grecian are included as a result, though the focus is on Grecian myths primarily.

It being a YA novel, there was a romance between Diana and another character that to me seemed forced. There are representations of people of color – Alia herself is African American, which contributes to the story in multiple ways – and LGBTQ+ characters. Wonder Woman’s character is tolerant and accepting of all kinds of people, so I was thrilled to see many types of representation here – where it’s right at home!

Differing hues of sea blues and greens dominate the book. Other colors such as red and yellow are used as highlights. Decisive and precise lines accentuate the characters’ strength and determination. Though there is a lot going on sometimes, especially in the action scenes, the panels are never cluttered.

This is an impressive adaptation of the best-selling YA novel. The dilemma young Diana, and her diverse companions, face compels readers to keep going until the very end.

– Kathleen

Bardugo, Leigh, Louise Simonson, and Kit Seaton. Wonder Woman: Warbringer (The Graphic Novel). 2020.

Teen Titans: Raven

The day before Raven’s foster mom was to sign her adoption papers, they are hit by a drunk driver. Vivaine is killed, and Raven is sent to Vivaine’s sister Natalia and her daughter Max in New Orleans. Raven remembers the accident, and her foster mom vaguely, but nothing further than that. The doctors have assured her that her memory loss is only temporary With the help of Natalia, Max, and a mysterious boy named Tommy, Raven slowly feels like she’s getting back to normal. However, Raven can’t help feeling like she doesn’t want to remember something that happened before the accident. She’s also somehow able to hear what others are thinking… making high school more of a drag than it already is. Are these thoughts and feelings – maybe powers – a side effect of the accident, or are they something more?

This DC Ink’s reimagining of Raven’s origin story is compelling. Raven feels real. She’s scared, confused, and vulnerable: emotions that no teenager wants to admit that they feel. We see Raven struggle to accept help dealing with these big emotions, and cheer for her when she does. We learn along with Raven that the bonds of chosen family and sisterhood can be just as strong as the bonds of blood family – maybe even stronger. Kami Garcia sure knows how to play to her audience.

Gabriel Picolo’s art is lovely. The colors are for the most part black, white, and purple, with other colors as an accent or to draw your attention to an important detail. Raven is mostly rendered in full-color, as she’s the narrator and main character. Sometimes other characters are rendered in full-color instead of or along with Raven, if that character is talking or to illustrate their importance to the scene.

Above all, I adored the atmosphere of this book and the African-American women power that came along with it. The New Orleans magical mystique was palpable on every page. The magical elements are glittering with not a little dash of malice, as if to allure but also to scare. Natalia and Max are both African-American, and are both powerful witches in their own right. And that’s awesome!!! Max is a new character introduced in this book from what I understand. I do hope we see more of all of these characters in a future installment.

Kathleen

Garcia, Kami, and Gabriel Picolo. Teen Titans: Raven. 2019.

Grayson (Vol. 4): A Ghost in the Tomb

Teenagers are rising in Gotham under the common banner of Robin. They are banding together to protect the city in Batman’s absence. However, recent legislation pushed through by Councilwoman Noctua has made it illegal for anyone in Gotham to claim they’re a Robin, or even sport Robin paraphernalia. Gotham City PD is enthusiastically enforcing the new law. The real Robins, both old and new – Jason Todd (Red Hood), Tim Drake (Red Robin), and Damian Wayne (Robin) – are looking on in horror as these teens are being harrassed and arrested under the new law. They call on the only person they know who can help – Dick Grayson, known as Agent 37, Nightwing, and the original Robin. Together, they must make a choice. Will the Robins help these teenager, or turn them in as outlaws?

This volume compiles part of the story of the Robin War event that took place during Batman/Batfamily’s New 52 storyline. The Court of Owls play an integral role, this time as the Parliament of Owls, indicating that they have expanded beyond Gotham. It was refreshing to see the Robins on their own, out from under the shadow of the Bat. They have to figure out what to do, all on their own, without their mentor and guardian’s help. It solidifies that each of these characters are their own people and are each Robins, and heroes, in their own right.

Many artists worked on the Robin War, and thus the art is more varied than it’s been during Grayson. Overall it was a little looser, angular, and stylized than Grayson’s more realistic look. We do return back to Grayson after the Robin War, for about the second half the book, where Mikel Janin’s art takes center stage once again.

While I am enjoying Grayson very much, Robin War was the highlight of this volume for me. We got a little more variety in the art and it showcased all the Robins in the long history of the character. The story was an effective way for us to see that the sidekicks can shine just as much as their big box counterparts!

– Kathleen

King, Tom, Tim Seeley, Mikel Janin, and Jeromy Cox. Grayson (Vol. 4): A Ghost in the Tomb. 2016.

The Black Canary Archives (Vol. 1)

The DC Archives titles compile issues from a character’s archive. This one is Black Canary’s! Volume 1 contains her very first appearance in Flash Comics in 1947 up to a one-off in the early ’70s.

First, Black Canary was featured in Flash Comics in Johnny Thunder stories. Johnny Thunder was a man who could summon a magic thunderbolt to help him in times of distress. Canary was a “Robin Hood” type at first, who stole from criminals to return them to their rightful owner. She soon grew so popular that she was co-billed with Johnny, then given her own feature in Flash Comics. Her backstory was fleshed out more: the nondescript and uptight Dinah Drake owned a flower shop by day, but transformed into the Black Canary to fight crime and solve mysteries, often coming to the aid of private eye Larry Lance.

Early Black Canary stories are fast and fun – but formulaic, predictable, and of no particular substance. I started skimming after a few stories under her own title because they followed the same exact format. This is definitely something you’ll want to read at the beach or when you need something that doesn’t require much brainpower to get through.

I did appreciate that, much like early Batgirl, Canary doesn’t take crap from her male counterpart. She gives Lance as good a ribbing as she gets. It didn’t seem to me that they particularly liked each other (though Lance obviously has the hots for Canary), so there was a weird jump in the book from 1949’s Flash Comics to 1965’s Brave and the Bold where they were married. I had known Dinah Drake and Larry Lance got married and had Dinah Laurel Lance (today’s iteration of the Black Canary), but I found it really strange that no more of their developing relationship was included in this book.

My favorite story from this volume was the previously untitled “The Canary and the Cat!” published in 1972. The art is phenomenal! The lines are bold and heavy, yet precise in a way that reminds me of printmaking. Canary herself is witty and savvy, and though Green Arrow is mentioned she doesn’t pine after him. I want more of this Black Canary!!!

– Kathleen

Various. The Black Canary Archives (Vol. 1). 2001.

Superman (Rebirth, Vol. 1): Son of Superman

The events of Flashpoint created two Supermen, with two separate timelines. Rebirth merged these two Supermen and timelines into one, and the result is the start of Superman’s Rebirth title.

Clark Kent and Lois Lane have a son named Johnathan Kent. The boy is half human, half Kryptonian, and is developing powers and resistances like his father’s. The three are happy, though Jon is both itching to and dreading becoming Superman like his father. Superman was not the only survivor of the past reality, however. The Eradicator, a machine from Krypton, has found the Kent family. He sees Jon as an abomination of Kryptonian blood, due to his part-human heritage; as such an abomination, he must be eliminated. Superman can’t defeat the Eradicator alone. Can Jon step up to the plate to defend his blood?

It’s easy to see why this Rebirth title was so acclaimed. It takes all the best parts of Superman and introduces a new challenge: Clark’s son. Part of the mass appeal of Superman’s character is that he believes anyone can be a hero, which is very inspiring. With Jon, we ask the question if he can also be a hero, if he will also be inspired and take his father’s values to heart and take up the huge mantle, or if he will forge his own path. It certainly will be an interesting ride as we see more of Jon’s character unfold.

Five artists worked on issues in this volume alone, making it hard to appraise. All was serviceable, and there certainly were not any weak links, but I enjoyed Gleason’s work best. I thought he was able to most effectively capture Jon’s childlike innocence and strong emotions, especially in the eyes. Like Jon’s character, I am eager to see how his design changes over the course of the arc.

I’ve said before that while I love Superman’s character, it’s been hard for me to find an arc that I really, genuinely enjoy. I do believe I’ve found one 😉

– Kathleen

Tomasi, Peter J., Patrick Gleason, Doug Mahnke, and Jorge Jiminez. Superman (Rebirth, Vol. 1): Son of Superman. 2017.

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass

Harleen Quinzel has a measly $5 in her pocket when she gets off the bus at Gotham City. Her mother has sent her to live with her grandmother for a while. To Harleen’s chagrin, she finds her grandmother has passed away, but Mama, the current tenant of her apartment, gladly takes in the eccentric teenager. Harleen’s spirits are not dampened by this turn of events; she embraces Mama and his cohort of drag queens just as enthusiastically as they’ve embraced her. However, big changes are coming to the neighborhood. The Kane family, who owns Millennium Enterprises, are looking to buy out the block to build upscale condos and “improve” the area. Harleen faces a difficult choice. Should she organize community protests with her new friend Ivy and her family? Or should she burn the corporation down with the mysterious Joker?

I have to say, this one surprised me. I’m not a Harley Quinn fan, but DC Ink has put out some fine stories, so I decided to check it out. This reimagining of Harley’s origin story will be hard to top.

Harley’s distinctive voice and character lent particular weight to the themes in this story: African-American and LGBTQ+ rights, gentrification, and poverty. As it’s written from Harley’s point of view, her colorful and optimistic speech firmly place us in her head. We see from the art more than hear from Harley about the injustice that happens in the world around her, showing the audience that while you can hide from problems in your head, you can’t escape the real-world causes and consequences. Harley ultimately has a choice: whether or not to see the problems, and how to respond to them. Is there a right or wrong way to fight for justice?

The art is phenomenal. In both an homage to and deviation from your typical Batman, Gotham-style book, it’s rendered in cool sepia. Pops of color come through at critical moments or in flashbacks: Harley red, Joker yellow and purple, hot pink. It feels like reading an old black and white film where someone expertly colored over the reel in the most emotionally charged moments. There are a few Easter eggs and homages to Harley’s history sprinkled throughout that both old and new fans will enjoy.

The question Harley faces here, how to respond to injustice and what the right way is to fight for justice, is something many teens can relate to. The timely, yet timeless, message and stellar art make for a Harley origin story that will be hard to beat in the future.

– Kathleen

Tamaki, Mariko, and Steve Pugh. Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass. 2019.

Batman/Huntress: Cry for Blood

After the events of No Man’s Land, after Huntress thought herself proven worthy of Batman’s trust… he still doesn’t trust her. In fact, the only one in the Batfamily who seems to care for her at all is Nightwing. Huntress tells herself doesn’t particularly care, nor is she looking for approval from any of them – there’s a price on her head. Someone is setting her up to look like she’s killing members of the mob – who also happen to be members of her extended family. But Helena has already caught and exacted justice on the assassin who killed her parents and brother, and the man who ordered the hit. But one question still burns, after all these years… why was Helena spared, when the rest of the Bertinellis died? Clearing her name now may be tied to that old question somehow. None other than The Question is willing to help her out – if she’ll let him.

This one made more sense to me upon my second skim-through before writing this review. I would have very much appreciated a family tree or cast of characters page at the beginning of the book. Many characters from the mob appear in the book, of course, and Helena does explain who’s who and how they’re related – but one page of reference to go back to whenever you inevitably confuse people would have been welcome. It may have also gave the big plot twist a bit more weight, because by the time you get to who is really involved, you’ve forgotten who they are.

That said, with so many characters, there are also multiple layers of intrigue. It reads as if you, the reader, and Helena are figuring out who’s framing her together, bit by bit, eliminating suspect after suspect. Though Nightwing offers his help, Helena distrusts the Batfamily as much as they do her. Her drive to take care of this family matter herself is palpable in every page, and it really comes through in the art. The entire book has a grey tint to it; there are no bright jewel tones. Memories and backstory are colored in a cool sepia. Though there are lighter moments in the book, and they are appropriately written and colored, the overall tone is serious and somber.

Cry for Blood is a cornerstone Huntress story, but it’s also just a dang good read. This is a great example of how the writing and the art work together to set the overall mood of the book. I plan to read No Man’s Land next, for more context as to exactly why the Huntress and the Batfamily don’t trust each other… and because I seem to like reading backwards =P

-Kathleen

Rucka, Greg, Rick Burchett, and Terry Beatty. Batman/Huntress: Cry for Blood. 2002.

Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell

While on an undercover mission for the Justice League of America, Black Canary maybe accidentally got a spell put on her. A nasty one that’s causing the women she worked with on said mission to commit suicide. It’s only a matter of time before the spell takes her, too. She calls up her teammate and friend, Zatanna Zatara, to see if there’s a way out of it. Though Zatanna concludes it’s a bloodspell (one that’s bound to the person by – you guessed it – blood), she is certain she can break it if they find the person who put the spell on Canary. Trouble is… Tina Spettro is dead. How the heck do you break a spell when the one who cast it is dead???

DC veterans Paul Dini and Joe Quinones teamed up for this fun… well, teamup =P Though Green Arrow makes an appearance, along with a few other JLA members, the focus really is on Black Canary and Zatanna. Not only do we get the main story above, but we see how the two women met as fledgling heroes, and a few other fun flashbacks that give us more context about their relationship. Overall I got a Birds of Prey vibe from it, which with me, is never ever a bad thing!

What I found most interesting was Quinones’ renders of both women. The two are stylistically very similar – black jackets, dark leotards, and fishnet stockings. Quinones made the two women different visually: Canary has a bluer, cooler palette, and Zatanna’s is more mystical and warm purple. Zee is taller, with a more oval face and more delicate form and features; whereas Dinah is shorter, stockier, and a little more blunt, to indicate her incredible strength and physical prowess. These subtle differences in their designs tell us a lot about these characters before we even read any words!

For any reader who’s looking for girl relationship power remniscent of Birds of Prey, but who also likes a big slice of magic, give them this!

– Kathleen

Dini, Paul and Joe Quinones. Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell. 2014.

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