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I Read Comic Books

Heathen

Heathen was this month’s selection from the Goodreads group  I Read Comic Books as this month’s topic was own voices. At first, I wondered if the author, Natasha Alterici, was a half-naked woman Viking, but no, she is lesbian and we are given a fresh take on Viking mythology with a welcome LGBTQ+ storyline.

Aydis is a young Viking woman warrior who has recently been outcast by her tribe for she was caught kissing another woman and did not renounce her feelings like the other young woman did to save face. Her father was told to give her two choices- death or marriage, and her father knows she has the skills to survive on her own, so he lies and tells the villagers she is dead. Aydis wishes to take her destiny into her own hands, so she seeks Brynhild, a former Valkyrie banished by Godking Odin for disobeying him, and forced to marry any mortal who can free her from a magical mountain. Already the parallels are clear-  women are being punished by the patriarchy for going against their wishes of what they feel is proper.

A short interlude introduces us to Skull (aka as Sköll) and Hati who are two wolves from Norse mythology that are forever trying to eat the Sun and Moon. At first, their inclusion in the story seemed odd, but as the story progressed there was also Aydis’s talking horse Saga and the trickster God Ruadan who appeared as a bull. All of this contributed to the world-building of this fantasy-based Viking tale, in addition to Aydis’s journey to Odin’s decadent castle with the Goddess Freyja.

The art, also by Alterici,  really grew on me. Inked in black and white with a few sepia and blush overwashes and black gutters, it captured the iciness of the Northlands. The ladies were often very scantily clad lithe beauties, and I being a practical lass, wondered wouldn’t they be cold or more battle-worn? Then it dawned on me that guys aren’t the only ones that can admire the female form! While not a lot of background is drawn into the panels, it lent itself to a more character-driven story.

A fan of Brian Wood’s Viking series Northlanders, this similarily themed graphic novel was lighter with more of a mythology angle. I found it extremely appealing, and plan to read volume two that just came out of the planned three-volume series.

-Nancy

Alterici, Natasha & Rachel Deering. Heathen. 2017.
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Animal Man

Animal Man was this month’s selection from the Goodreads group  I Read Comic Books and because of it I was introduced to the kitschy awesomeness of Grant Morrison’s 1988 take on this B-level superhero. The graphic novel starts with a lengthy introduction by Morrison that explains how he and other Brits were contacted after Alan Moore’s success with Watchman and Swamp Thing, to give life to DC’s back catalogue of superheros. Morrison choose Animal Man and the rest is history.

The story establishes Buddy Baker as a married “everyman”, who as he nears thirty is having an identity crisis. In this world, heroes are common with Superman and Wonder Woman being the recognized top tier, with the other heroes scrambling to find a niche and a super-group. Buddy struggles to provide for his family, so he wishes to gain recognition, hoping to join a prestigious group and use his powers of temporarily picking up the abilities of animals nearby. Despite the campiness, the stories could be more nuanced than you would think. Animal cruelty,  family responsibilities, societal commentary and humanizing villains are all tied into the story lines. However, these themes are inconsistently used, as sometimes they are pulled together in  a witty way, but other times they are groan-worthy.

So let’s talk about The Coyote Gospel. OMG- I loved it. The jokes were so sly- starting with the trucker (who looked like Freddie Mercury) and hitchhiker singing the The Modern Lovers song Road Runner right before they accidentally struck the human like coyote in the desert. Animal Man is actually just a secondary character in this chapter as the coyote man and trucker duel it out. This homage to Will. E. Coyote in Looney Tunes, and comparing him to Jesus, was a trip. By coincidence I attended a small anime convention last week and as I was looking through the bins of posters of comic covers, I ran across the picture of Animal Man being painted on the road in an obvious crucifix symbolism. One week ago I would not have known who Animal Man was or the significance of the pose, but now I can claim more credibility as a comics fan!

I also picked up the recent Jeff Lemire version and absolutely hated it. The art was grotesque and I quickly put it down. Which goes to show that no matter how good the story is, art can torpedo a graphic novel. Luckily this first version has strong art with a Golden Age vibe and it elevates the stories. Artists Chas Truog, Doug Hazlewood and Tom Grummett, with some Brain Bolland covers, bring the Baker family to life along with the animal menagerie that Buddy encounters in every chapter. All in all, I enjoyed this graphic novel especially the deeper themes of animal rights activism that Animal Man advocated for.

-Nancy

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