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The Wicked + The Divine: Volumes Eight + Nine

These last two volumes bring this series to a close! Read on to find out if I found the entire run wicked or divine!

Volume Eight: Old Is The New New

This volume proved to be very atypical…it doesn’t continue with the big reveals from the previous volume…instead it is an interlude of historical specials that had been released at different times during the five year run of the series.

455 AD- You think you know how Rome fell to the German Vandals? Think again! Artist André Araújo drew great historical backgrounds but was not as precise with his humans.  Color by Dee Cunniffe and Matthew Wilson.

1373 AD- Lucifer and Ananke have a battle of wits, as Ananke reveals she has brought the plague to Europe and beyond which resulted in the Black Death. There are religious overtones to this story as Lucifer is a mix of demon and nun. Art by Ryan Kelly and colors by Dee Cunniffe and Matthew Wilson.

1831 AD- Love this one- it features the Gods as Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelly and Claire Claremont during their famous retreat in Geneva in which the novel Frankenstein (for a beautiful retelling of the real Mary Shelly’s life read Mary’s Monster) was started. The art by Stephanie Hans was dark, lovely and appropriately Gothic looking.

1923 AD- This story read more like an Agatha Christie novella for it was very text-heavy with limited illustrations. Previous visits to the past cycles were but vignettes, but this story was very fleshed out and had direct connections to the modern-day cycle. By the time you read this story, you can catch Ananke’s manipulations that will crop up again. The Art Deco type illustrations by Aud Koch were outstanding and really added to the story.

We then have the uneven Christmas Special that included some vignettes of the Gods before they were chosen and some afterward- let’s just say there was a lot of sexy time. Then there are the Funnies- that included other artists making fun of the series with the Scooby-Doo parody being my favorite.

Volume Nine: Okay

This is it! Can Gillen and McKelvie bring this series to a satisfying close? Since Volume Eight was basically an interlude (although two of the previous historical stories will tie-in to this one), we basically are picking up from Volume Seven’s action.

Woden, Minerva and Baal are planning a concert to suck the energy of the Gods and concert-goers to supposedly prevent The Great Darkness, although Baal is but an unknowing pawn in the first two’s evil plan. Sadly, Baal’s justification for this mass-murder is due to Ananke’s previous manipulations of him.

Persephone has clued into Ananke’s manipulations and who she is masquerading as. She rallies the remaining Gods to stop the concert…but things don’t go as planned (of course). There are some more reveals, some deaths, some rebirths and a lot of fighting and chaos that occurs as the remaining Gods group together for the final showdown. As I don’t want to spoil the ending or let on who survives and who doesn’t, all I can say the final confrontation is epic. Many puzzle pieces are finally joined together, with connections to the past, but ultimately it is our advanced, modern technological world that finally thwarts Ananke. An epilogue ends the series on a somber note, and its slower pace lets you reflect on the nature of how we perceive others and how we let other’s perceptions of us color ourselves. As Laura, formally Persephone, wisely states, “Dreams aren’t real”.

The art in this series was absolutely divine. For a huge cast of characters, each God was inked with attention to detail and was so incredibly distinctive. The colors added maximum visual impact -with certain hues matching each God’s personality. There were unique panel configurations and the story always flowed. McKelvie, Wilson and Cowles have a partnership that rivals any other artist teams out there, for their style, colors and lettering can’t be beat.

This contemporary fantasy skewered celebrity obsession and media culture in a truly thought-provoking way…and yet, it was so damn confusing at times! There were several times I almost gave up on this nine-volume series, yet I persevered because the unique narrative and outstanding art kept pulling me back in. Ultimately, this series proved to be more divine than wicked, and I’m glad I finished it.

-Nancy

Catch up on the previous volumes:  One, Two + Three, Four + Five and Six + Seven 

The Wicked + The Divine: Volumes Six + Seven

This series has been both fascinating and completely exasperating. It’s been a LONG time since I read volumes one-five but once I heard the volume nine would wrap up the series, I figured I might as well finish it, as I was already halfway in. Is that a ringing endorsement or what?

Volume Six: Imperial Phase Part 2

An opening page gives you a quick summary and a who is who of all the Pantheon, as Gods cycle through the ages in a perplexing manner every ninety years. Some of the Gods are trying to understand the bigger picture around them, and are making alliances with their surviving brethren, while others give themselves to anarchy and extreme hedonism.

The storyline about Gods Morrigan and Baphomet, the underworld couple with an unhealthy dynamic broke my heart.   Morrigan, previously as a human and now as a God, excused Baphomet’s behavior in the name of love, but now has become abusive and controlling of him. These two can’t escape from another and bound together in agony. Persephone, aka The Destroyer, continues to be a confusing and complex character as she seems to want to fight for good yet gives into temptation over and over again. Several Gods are murdered, and while I won’t spoil who dies, I was glad to see that the God that I absolutely hated, die. A twist with Woden ties in with Ananke, as the concluding pages shows that Ananke (who we all thought was dead) is an even better manipulator than anyone guessed.

As always, the art is beautiful with swirling vivid colors by Matthew Wilson. Artist McKelvie managed to fit in his numbered panels again. Some interesting variant art covers by guest artists are featured in addition to some behind the scenes storyboards which shows how the story and art are carefully choreographed.

Picture from Gizmodo article that includes an interview with Gillen and McKelvie

Volume Seven: Mothering Invention

What the hell is going on? I’m beyond confused! Basically what it comes down to is that two sisters duel it out over the ages- and who are the two sisters? Why it’s Ananke and Persephone!

The dates have always been confusing to me, especially with my big gap between reading volumes, but now we have non-linear flashbacks dating back thousands of years to when this mess of 90-year cycle of Gods began.  I was fascinated with the pages that showed Ananke every 90 years in different parts of the world when she is shown hugging a God, destroying a God or being killed herself. While I had no clue what was going on, I loved looking at the panels, for the clothing of people through the ages in their region of the world was fascinating (but what was up with the clothing in 1738 North America?). I applaud the artists for all the research they did to reflect all the different cultures beautifully.

There was a heartbreaking conclusion to Morrigan and Baphomet’s relationship with absolutely outstanding visuals during their fight, and my favorite God Baal had a fall from grace that came out of nowhere.  The remaining Gods, who are pop-culture saturated enigmas, are in chaos as this story starts it’s wind-down.

I hope to get to volumes eight + nine soon and put a bow on this unique series!

-Nancy

Catch up on previous volumes: One, Two + Three, Four + Five

The Walking Dead: Compendium Four (Volumes 25-32)

Kirkman, Robert, Charlie Adlard, Stefano Gaudiano, Cliff Rathburn. The Walking Dead: Compendium Four. 2019.

After fifteen years, this epic dystopian zombie series wrapped everything up in Volume 32!  I’m sad to see it come to an end, but it went out on Kirkman’s own terms and I was (mostly) pleased with its conclusion. There will be some spoilers throughout, but mostly in the review of the last volume.

Volume 25- No Turning Back: The residents of the three linked communities are out for blood once it is revealed to them what Alpha and The Whisperers did. The victim’s loved ones want immediate retaliation and don’t understand Rick’s reluctance in doing so. Rick and Maggie fight over their different leading styles and come to blows, and Paul shows he has Maggie’s back at all times. Rick goes to Negan and asks for his advice on how to handle the volatile revolt against his leadership. Let me repeat that, Rick asks an evil tyrant what to do next. Doubtful this is going to go well…

Volume 26- Call To Arms: This was the best volume in a long while! There were some great storylines followed up on, with room for growth. The militia begins their training, and Dwight continues to show leadership potential, although he claims to not want to be a leader. This reminds me of an earlier volume when Andrea tells Rick he is a better leader when he doesn’t want to be. Eugene makes contact with an unknown person on his shortwave radio. While he tries not to give away too much info and put the community at risk, I don’t have a good feeling about it. I’ve watched some of the TWD spinoff, Fear The Walking Dead and their radio interactions with another group did not end well for them. The best part of this volume was Negan’s escape (we all knew he would eventually!) and what he does afterward. As soon as you think he might have a tiny spark of humanity left in him, he destroys you. The ending was epic!

Volume 27- The Whisperer War: Another strong volume- it picks up with Negan bringing home his “trophy” to show Rick his intentions. Negan claims that Rick and the residents of Alexandria should trust him, as he has dealt a hard blow to the Whisperers, and willingly came back to face them. Beta discovers what Negan did and vows revenge. Rick tries to bring all his allies together to fight the horde of zombies that the Whisperers are hiding among, but not all the outposts are willing to send their members to join Alexandria’s militia. The militia plans their strategy, but of course, things never go well out in the field. Negan’s continued evolution is fascinating, with a few hints as to what Lucille represented to him. Beta hasn’t seemed like a strong villain compared to the Governor, Negan or Alpha, but the references to his face never having been seen intrigues me. Is he someone we know from the past? One aside about the artwork- it was much too busy. There were several two-page spreads that had too many panels that were hard to follow chronologically.

Volume 28- A Certain Doom: Rick, Andrea and their crew face the largest herd of zombies yet, heading straight towards Alexandria due to the Whisperers pushing them in that direction. The town is a well-oiled machine under Rick’s guidance and they no longer strictly react, they have a plan of action. That’s not to say things don’t get out of hand or verge on chaos, especially when a minor power coup occurs, but the team works well together. We even get some character development and some enlightening banter between Rick and Negan when they are stranded in a building together for some time. But a quip by Negan about avoiding being bitten is a foreshadowing about what soon happens to a beloved original character. The conclusion of the book gives this person a proper send-off and the chance for many to be able to say goodbye before the inevitable death. The death will be sure to reverberate in future volumes and will lay a heavy weight on the remaining character’s psyches.

Volume 29- Lines We Cross: This was my quickest TWD read ever! This story was definitely a bridge book between the action of fighting the large zombie herd in the last volume and whatever Kirkman has planned next. Lots of little things happen: Rick is still reeling from the devastating death of a loved one, Jesus and Aaron fall in love and a triangle is hinted at between Carl, Lydia and Sophia. Maggie is furious that Negan is on the loose, a spunky new character Juanita is added to the mix, and Eugene and others set out to find the people he has speaking to on a ham radio. We discover who Beta is and it’s incredibly anti-climatic.

Volume 30- New World Order: Eugene and Michonne’s group finally arrives in Ohio to meet the woman Stephanie that Eugene has been communicating by ham radio with. Instead, they are met by a large group of soldiers, decked out in Stormtrooper type of gear, and taken to meet Lance who wishes to interrogate the group. Turns out they are on the outskirts of The Commonwealth, a group of survivors 50K strong. We then meet Pamela, the governor, and find out this large group has based their new society on a class system built upon what you did before the outbreak. While the city seems to be thriving, there is an underlying issue of the haves vs the have nots. Michonne is shocked to meet someone from her past and decides to stay in the Commonwealth, while Eugene escorts Pam to Alexandria to meet Rick. This is a promising arc that could turn the series in a new direction. Now years out from the outbreak, how does civilization rebuild? How do scattered settlements of survivors unite when each group has had different types of leaders and coping strategies? I enjoyed this book, that had no Negan and way less zombie attacks than usual, plus the art was crisper with some great layouts.

Volume 31- The Rotton Core: In the last volume, we are introduced to the Commonwealth, a large settlement in Ohio that has rigid class structures but has managed to thrive. I thought it established a promising arc that could turn the series in a new direction, for now, years out from the outbreak, how does civilization rebuild? Last issue and this issue had less zombie attacks, for I would think that now that people know how to prevent more zombies from reanimating, there would be less and less zombies to dispatch as the years went by. That gives people more time to refashion their world, and there would be many different ways in which this could happen. With this being TWD, we are force-fed that Rick’s way is best (it actually usually is) and other settlements should adapt to the way Alexandria is governed. So we get a heartbreaking showdown between Rick and another certain someone who wants change fast and isn’t willing to take no for an answer. We also get a lot of character development between others with new romances developing, but the shifting scenes between different settlements and characters were abrupt with no visual cues that the scene had changed- you were just supposed to know who lived in what settlement to know where you were now. BTW- Carl is an asshole and he and Sophia had better not eventually get together.

Volume 32- Rest In Peace: Surprise! Kirkman unexpectedly brought TWD to a close in this volume after fifteen years of zombie madness! *Spoilers ahead*

I had enjoyed the story arc in the last few volumes of Rick and compony meeting survivors of the Commonwealth in Ohio that was 50K strong, led by a governor, Pamela. This large group has based their new society on a class system built upon what you did before the outbreak. While the city seems to be thriving, there is an underlying issue of the haves vs the have nots, and tensions arise as this new group sees how Alexandria residents are governed. As we moved away from the zombie outbreak there were fewer attacks, thus civilization could rebuild, and this was opening up new storylines but Kirkman was actually drawing the story to a close.

The pressure brewing between the two factions comes to a head, with important members of the Commonwealth planning a coup when a large zombie herd puts everyone in danger. Maggie, Carl and others join Rick in fighting them back, and in the aftermath, Pamela publicity loses the support of her people. As the Commonwealth stands on the brink of democracy instead of a monarchy, Pamela’s son Sebastian is furious at his loss of power and comes after Rick. The fallout of his actions are huge, and the storyline seems poised to go in a new direction. But it was all a fake-out as Kirkman followed up with a concluding issue with a significant time jump.

Twenty plus years have passed since Rick’s death at the hands of Sebastian, and the story shows us a grown-up Carl married to Sophia with a daughter of their own. The zombies are almost completely eradicated with a younger generation having no experience of having to fight for their very survival as older generations had to. Carl travels around the territory and we get to peek in at the lives of many of our favorite characters and see how Rick’s vision led to a better and safer world for them all. In fact, Rick is viewed as a savior with shrines to his memory.

When this sort of epic story concludes, there is no way to make all fans happy and as such, there were a few quibbles I had with some character’s final developments in the future. Negan, Juanita, Michonne, Jesus, Aaron, Eugene plus others are given adequate concluding cameos; but Maggie as President was turned into a leader who could not mother her son adequately because of her commitments, which was an ignoble end for her and Hershel. But my major issue was that Carl ended up with Sophia. He was allowed to sex it up with Lydia, while virginal Sophia had to wait for him until he sowed his wild oats. Lydia in the future was shown poorly as a morally questionable woman as she had dared to be sexually active as a teen with Carl. What a double standard for females and I really resented those angles.

Yet, overall, I was pleased with this concluding volume. Fifteen years is an amazing run, and Kirkman brought it to an end on his own terms and on a timetable that allowed him to go out while on top. I also would be remiss in not mentioning the talented artists- Adlard, Gaudiano and Rathburn- who gave us amazing artwork that brought the story to life. Kirkman’s concluding message to readers was a treat and explained it from his perspective. I will miss TWD, as it was a groundbreaking story that changed comics forever, but I am glad that it ended on such a strong note. In conclusion, remember these wise words- “In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living”. So…put down your phone and LIVE!

-Nancy

Aside- Compendium Four won’t actually be released until early October, but I’ve always organized my reviews under these covers, but I actually read this series as volumes.

Last time I wrote a TWD review on this blog was in 2016- I had wondered if Kathleen and I would still be blogging next time a compendium came out- but we are!!  🙂

Catch up on previous volumes at: Compendium One, Compendium Two, Compendium Three 

Middlewest

Skottie Young, known for his fanciful stories, does it again with Middlewest! It is an intriguing graphic novel that is a mash-up of the classic hero’s journey, steampunk and The Wizard of Oz.

Abel is a young teen living with his single Dad in the town of Farmington, and is going through the usual stages of teenage angst. But when he gets caught up with some friends and makes a poor choice his father overreacts and kicks Abel out of the house for an evening. They have words and his father flies into a fury transforming into a powerful tornado. Abel and his sidekick animal, Fox, escape onto a train but not before the tornado grabs him leaving a strange mark on his chest. Abel and the wisecracking Fox meet a hobo wizard that helps them escape from yet another bad situation, and eventually, they end up joining a traveling circus. All the while, Abel’s father is searching for him, and a mysterious woman at the circus might be able to help when chaos looms.

Jorge Corona’s art is reminiscent of Young’s I Hate Fairyland series, yet it is all his own. Abel’s world is an interesting mash-up of steampunk, fantasy and Midwest reality. The people are drawn with an exaggerated style that matches the fantasy aspect of the story. Corona includes details that will make you do a double-take, as he juxtaposes the every day with the fantastic.  Containers of some sort of pink liquid are everywhere, and while you assume they are fuel of some sort, it is never explained. The colors that Jean-Francois Beaulieu add are eye-popping, as they can veer between subdued colors of the surrounding countryside, and then they become bold especially in later sequences at the circus.

I was pleased with book one of this new series and will be interested in finding out what happens to Abel and how the toxic masculinity that his father has modeled will affect him as the dangerous magic is beginning to transform him.

-Nancy

Young, Skottie, Jorge Corona & Jean-Francois Beaulieu. Middlewest. 2019.

Where We Live: A Benefit for the Survivors in Las Vegas

Where We Live is a riveting comics anthology to benefit survivors from the horrific shooting in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017, that killed 58 people and wounded hundreds more.

As with any anthology, this collection will not suit everyone’s tastes and pair that with a graphic novel format, and there are some illustration styles that will not appeal to everyone. However, this anthology included some big names such as Brian Michael Bendis, Neil Gaiman, Kurt Busiek, Jeff Lemire, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Gail Simone, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Mike Mignola and they all brought their A-game.

My Favorites:

Whoa, You’re From Vegas? What’s That Like? by Warren Wucinich

This opening story was a great choice to kick off the anthology- for it showed that Las Vegas isn’t just a tourist mecca, it’s a vibrant city that people live in, hence the title of the book.

All The Possibilities of Paper by W. Haden Blackman & JH Williams III

A powerful essay is shown on a splash page that hits you in the gut, especially if you are a parent and worried about school shootings.

Everything After by Justin Jordan & Tom Fowler

A poignant look at how everyday workers in the city, in this case, a female bus driver, can get sucked into a tragedy.

A Simple Twist of Fate by Jeff Boison & Tyler Boss

An almost wordless story about how careless remarks can be regretted especially when tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Ghost by W. Haden Blackman & Richard Pace

Can one parent’s anguish be enough of a voice for change? What if it’s many?

Biography of a Bullet by Scott Bryan Wilson & Cliff Chiang

This two-page story hit home with the message of bullets having their target’s invisible names written on them. I was already affected by it when I saw the word DeKalb at the bottom- one of the many locations of a mass shooting- which is a nearby town and the location of Northern Illinois University, my alma mater, which was the site of a shooting in 2008.  I teared up at this story due to the personal connection.

The Watershed by Gary Spencer Millidge

A ghostly girl starts to speak to a movie hero about the danger of glamorizing guns and how the Second Amendment was written at a very different time and thus shouldn’t be compared to today.

The Deadliest Man by James Robinson, Dean Kotz & Stefano Gaudiano

Two men from different eras, 1781 and 2018, are both hunting in the woods with guns of their time when they inexplicitly meet with deadly results.

Daddy’s Little Girl by Erica Schultz & Liana Kangas

This sad story details how mental illness can tie into gun violence and the role that concerned family might need to take if they suspect the potential for escalating violence.

Stains by Cameron Stewart

A comics artist is shown drawing ultra-violent scenes that are read by many. In the end, his hands are not just stained with ink but blood.

Stopping Power by Alex Paknadel & Chris Wildgoose

When school violence has become a norm, a parent takes extreme precautions to safeguard their child.

Several stories recounted survivor’s stories which gave it added authenticity and weight. There were also many stories about gun control that offered different viewpoints. Many of the stories include statistics and share the many factors that play into gun violence in the US. Many of the comics were powerful and made me tear up, or even better, made me think about the issues beyond that page.

I have read several excellent graphic novel anthologies that benefit different causes- Love is Love to benefit the Orlando Pulse shooting survivors and Puerto Rico Strong to benefit the island after the devastating back to back hurricanes in 2017- but this one is the best. Its varied artists and authors came together to create a nuanced anthology about a tragedy that was entirely preventable if only there were tougher gun laws.  While this is a strong collection, I hope there is not a need to create this type of graphic novel again.

-Nancy

Sleepless: Volume Two

I recently discovered the lush romantic fantasy series Sleepless and quickly read the duology. I just wish it had been a longer series, as I enjoyed the love story between Poppy and Cyrenic and think it could have at least been fleshed out into three volumes.

The second volume opens almost a year after the first, with Cyrenic awakening from his sleep after being released from his magical vow of eternal wakefulness. Poppy is being forced into a marriage of political convenience to Lord Helder, the very man she suspects of trying to kill her, but the king has blinders on and pushes her to go through with the wedding. Surprisingly the marriage ceremony does occur, but Poppy has her own reasons for going along with it. However, the wedding night spins out of control and Poppy and Cyrenic are on the run.

As Cyrenic is the first sleepless knight to be released from his vow, and deals with his recovery afterwards, there were some interesting perspectives from the other knights about if they too would like to be released. There were some thought provoking reasons as to why some of them would prefer to stay sleepless. The last half of the book is a long action sequence, and an additional villain is revealed, but the reasoning behind this second person wanting vengeance against Poppy felt ridiculous. During their escape Poppy and Cyrenic reaffirm their love, but it was rushed and could have been so much more.

The artwork was as lovely as ever, with the wedding scene being especially well done. The patterns and brocades of the clothing worn were exquisite. I felt the illustrations really lent to world building, for the interiors from the throne room to the kitchens combined into a believable kingdom. The coloring also added to the atmosphere with jewel tones for the courtly attire, decorations and poppy motif to earth tones for much of the action. Plus, Bini the fox was as adorbs as ever. An added bonus at the conclusion was alternative covers by other artists and some process pages that showed the evolution of the artwork throughout the story.

I do want to point out two glaring oddities. There was much made that Poppy’s mother is in her home country and can not return due to political issues and many letters are exchanged between the women. Although a wedding gift from her mother helps Poppy during a crisis,  we still do not meet her, even at the end when all has been resolved. And look at the picture above- these two are falling about 50 feet and land on a pile of bones. This would have killed them, instead they act as if it was a cushion, and then there is some throwaway conversation about the caverns and bones needing to be researched.

As a whole, this was an excellent short series. But there was definitely enough plot threads that could have been expanded upon that a third volume would have been very welcome. Author Sarah Vaughn created a beautiful fantasy world that artist Leila del Duca built upon, and I’m glad that I visited their magical realm!

-Nancy

Sleepless

Sleepless is a lovely romantic fantasy story that transports you to a lush magical kingdom where intrigue abounds.

Written by Sarah Vaughn, the co-creator of Alex + Ada, this is another strong character driven narrative that quickly has you rooting for the the star crossed lovers Poppy and Cyrenic. Lady Pyppenia is the recently deceased king’s illegitimate daughter and struggles to know her place, as her mother has been called away to her home country. Sir Cyrenic is the knight who is bound to her by a magical oath, in which he never sleeps, as to better guard her. When Poppy’s uncle takes over the throne, Poppy’s place is uncertain as she has few allies, but needs to remain to avoid a political scandal. Attempts are made on Poppy’s life and there are a few candidates: Poppy’s cousin who will one day succeed the throne and worries Poppy could lay claim instead, as well as a pompous knight who is trying to curry favor with the new reining family.

The world building is strong, and despite the story dropping you into this magical realm, there is enough explanation to understand what is going on. I quickly compared it to the story arc of  Monstress, yet it is lighter and more enjoyable. While the romance angle is strong between Poppy and Cyrenic, there is more to the story with political intrigue and a dark aspect to magic.

The art by Leila del Duca is lovely. She creates a fully realized kingdom with detailed backgrounds that make looking at the panels a delight. The era has a Renaissance feel with deep jewel tones adding to the atmosphere. The kingdom’s inhabitants are drawn beautifully as is their courtly attire, and there is a welcome diversity. And, I have to give a shout out to Poppy’s pet companion Bini, the cutest animal ever! This fennec fox like creature is always by her side and gives her a clue that her food is poisoned at one point.

I read this book quickly and have enjoyed looking back at the illustrations throughout the week. I found out there is a volume two that wraps up the story and I have it ordered already! I now await for how Poppy’s and Cyrenic’s story will conclude…

-Nancy

Criminal (Vol. 1): Coward

I recently read My Heroes have Always Been Junkies, and was impressed by it. It is a spin-off of this series, Criminal, by the same creative team: Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. This is the first volume of that series, which I was eager to get started.

Leo is a criminal who plans a score from the first second down to the last wisp of exhaust from the getaway car. He’s the best at what he does, but he doesn’t do it anymore. Not after the Salt Bay job, where his best friend was killed and his father went to prison. Leo won’t end up in prison. He knows it’s exactly where he belongs, but what is life without freedom? When he is approached by an old colleague about a diamond heist, it’s five years after the Salt Bay job, and Leo is clean, but struggling. He’s caring for Ivan, a father figure with Alzheimer’s, and money is tight. Reluctantly, he agrees. When inevitably things go south, just as Leo planned, will he make it out alive and free?

I’m a little torn on this one. The story is compelling. We get a glimpse of what Leo is truly scared of at the end, which makes me want to read more. The whole read is an adrenaline rush. You wonder how could these characters possibly be more screwed up, how they could possibly get out of the trouble they’ve gotten into.

However, it was a bit too graphic for me. It seems I like psychological thrillers, like My Heroes have Always Been Junkies, more than this hard-boiled stuff. There is strong language, which I don’t mind, but the violence and drug use was too much. It is well-suited to the story, as we are reading about, well, criminals, but after a certain point it just turns me off to it. I’m not the right reader for this story, but I can see the appeal for others with stronger stomachs than I!

The art was well-rendered and appropriate for the story. It reminded me of The Wolf Among Us, the Telltale video game based on the Fables series, with the stark lighting and strong shadows on characters’ faces (leaving the reader to guess at their intentions; man I just LOVE THAT), but without the neon ’80s color palette. No, this story is situated in the real world, and the art reflects that with a murky palette instead.

I’m unsure if I’ll continue this series, but I can see why it’s considered an excellent example of a crime graphic novel series. The main character is mysterious, compelling, and while I haven’t read much crime, he seems like he’s a different sort of main character in a crime series. The writing is tight, tense, and fast-paced. The art ties it all together with dramatic lighting and a subdued palette. Kudos to Brubaker and Phillips!

– Kathleen

Brubaker, Ed, and Sean Phillips. Criminal (Vol. 1): Coward. 2015.

Norroway (Book 1): The Black Bull of Norroway

Sibylla is not your usual little girl. She craves adventure, not a husband. When she goes to see a witch with two of her peers to get her fortune told, she asks, “Will I ever get to sail a ship?” The amused witch tells her instead that she will marry – the Black Bull of Norroway. He is supposed to be a terrifying legend. Sibylla, however, isn’t fazed. When the Black Bull does indeed show up at her doorstep when she’s older, she readily packs her bags and goes with him. He is on a quest to break the curse that was put on him, and do to that, he needs a bride, a sword, and a shield. Sibylla is the required bride, but she’s ready to prove that she’s so much more than that. She puts her foot down and travels with him across Norroway, searching for the last elements and trials he must endure to break his curse.

I absolutely adored this graphic novel, adapted from a Scottish fairy tale, written and illustrated by two sisters named Kit and Cat Seaton. I’d say it’s middle grade to young adult, but I found it entertaining as an adult. Sibylla’s no-nonsense and tenacious personality was a big draw for me. She and Bull are a lot alike, but they also learn a lot from each other throughout this story. This is only the first volume, with (hopefully!) many more promising adventures ahead.

As such, the full backstory of Bull’s curse is only hinted at, and the repercussions of the curse on those close to him aren’t yet fully unfolded. Many times in fantasy, when there is a curse involved, it only involves and affects the one person on whom the curse was placed. Here, the curse affects multiple people, adding an extra layer of intrigue. By doing this also, it emphasizes the fact that the actions of one person have consequences for many. Very rarely do our choices impact only ourselves. I appreciated this aspect of the story most, and would be looking forward to more for that alone…

… If it weren’t for the art, too. It’s delightful! I don’t think it is watercolor, though there is an airy quality about it all the same, like you would get with watercolors. Both human and bull characters are adorably animated and expressive, bringing the story to life. The backgrounds and landscapes remind me almost of ancient Asian paintings. There is a soft and calming quality about them, much like those old works, that I enjoy.

This is the first installment in what promises to be a delightful series, filled with intrigue, adventure, and two stubborn heroes learning to live with and like each other. I am highly anticipating the second volume.

– Kathleen

Seaton, Kit & Cat. Norroway (Book 1): The Black Bull of Norroway. 2018.

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