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Invincible: Ultimate Volumes Five & Six

I’m half-way through the entire Invincible series! Mark has proved to be a flawed but very appealing superhero and the action never stops!

Volume Five:

This fifth volume has the theme of- who can you trust- as Mark grapples with Cecil Stedman, the leader of the Global Defense Agency. Mark has always followed Cecil’s commands, but Cecil’s use of the Reanimen and the looking past of Darkwing’s murderous past, show that he is morally corrupt. Another example is when Mark teams with the Wolf Man who has been wrongly accused of a crime, and Cecil won’t help out, because he feels he can not gain anything from him like he can from Darkwing. During this time Mark’s younger brother Oliver has acquired his powers and wants to start fighting villains, so Mark steps up to teach him how to utilize them, but Oliver himself makes questionable decisions, as he admits that he is not human and not subject to their morality. A bright spot is his deepening relationship with Eve and that the former Teen Team sides with him as they too realize that Cecil can’t be trusted. And in a parallel story, Allen the Alien and Omni-Man team up to break free of the spaceship they are imprisoned in and a secret is revealed about the Viltrumites. But what is Angstrom Levy planning…

Artist Ryan Ottley has really hit his stride with the illustrations. I liked the costume change (although the yellow was iconic) so he wouldn’t clash with Oliver’s new costume, which paid homage to Robin’s (DC) costume. Loved the 16-panel grid showing Invincible’s look in other multi-universes! 

Volume Six:

I am now halfway through this series, and it has hit its stride- Mark is no longer a new superhero, instead, he is an established warrior grappling with moral decisions of whether it is right to kill a villain or not. Levy sends dozens of Invincibles from other dimensions to attack Mark and the entire globe so every single Image hero is called into action to combat them. Two important heroes make the ultimate sacrifice to fight them, and cities across the world are left in ruins with millions of innocent bystanders killed during these battles. If that’s not bad enough, the Viltrumite Empire sends one of their deadliest soldiers, Conquest, after Mark. Their fight was excessively long and bloody. In another part of the universe Allen and Omni-Man team together after their escape and make plans to prepare weapons and allies for the impending war with the Viltrumites who want to take over Earth and breed with them to strengthen their dwindling numbers. In the aftermath of the two earlier battles the little pink aliens from Mars are planning their own conquest- poor Earth is just always under siege!

The illustrations style shifted a bit in the last half of the book, as original artist Walker drew parts of the story, but I have to admit I much prefer Ottley’s work now. Walker’s Omni Man and Eve’s faces were especially different and not to my liking. This series pulls together so many different plot threads and themes- it can be a bit much. It can veer between gore, campy fun and poignant emotional moments in just a few pages or even panels, giving me whiplash sometimes. Nevertheless, this first half of the series has been a romp and I look forward to the last half.

-Nancy

Sixteen different versions of Invincible!

Invincible: Ultimate Volumes 2-4

When I read the first volume of Invincible back in 2016, I loved it! Yet, it took the awesome new animated series on Amazon Prime Video for me to dive back into the series. Cory Walker, who was the co-creator with Robert Kirkman and did the illustrations for the first ultimate volume, was replaced with artist Ryan Ottley for all the remaining volumes and this change was pretty seamless. So expect me to go through the rest of the 12 ultimate volumes in the next few months! Some spoilers ahead.

Volume Two:

Mark aka Invincible and his mom are dealing with the fallout from the reveal that Mark’s father, Omni-Man, was actually a bad guy who was planning to take over Earth for his alien planet. His disappearance has left a void and Mark is struggling with his grief as he also tries to keep up with his senior year of high school, a girlfriend and of course fighting villains. There is a lot of character development as he struggles with balancing everything and keeping his identity secret. There are many many plot threads- the underwater duel ceremony (so ridiculous but so flippin’ funny), the Mars mission, an evil scientist on his new college campus, the multi-verse of Angstrom, the anti-hero Titan, and a love triangle with Eve and Amber. Sometimes the stories could become confusing, they’d drop a storyline, pick it up again unexpectedly, and then drop it again. This volume concludes with a story about Allen the Alien and gives some interesting backstories to Monster Girl, Rex Splode, The Immortal, Dupli-Kate and Atom Eve. I’m still digging the art and loving the font they use for explosions, with all the interlocking O’s.

Volume Three:

Mark is settling into his new role as a superhero and adjusting to the loss of his father, but wait- an alien comes looking for help and brings Invincible to his insectoid planet, and guess who is there! Mark is a hella lot more forgiving than I would be, as he suddenly has to adjust to being introduced to his baby half-brother and helping fight off Vitrumites who come to collect Omni-Man. But that’s not all! Once he’s back on Earth with his brother in tow, he has to deal with the multi-verse of the villain Angstrom (I love all the dimensions that Mark was thrown into- with some digs at Marvel & DC heroes and an obvious Walking Dead dimension), the mad scientist at college and a scheme between Robot and the Mauler Twins. To top it off, he’s trying to keep his romance with Amber going, but all his adventures pull him away from her. It’s hard to be a superhero…

Volume Four:

There are so many plot threads that run in and out of these volumes, but the evil scientist who has created the Reanimen and the Mars mission get some significant storylines. But the fact that Mark is half- Viltrumite is always an issue, so the Viltrum Empire is an underlying concern especially when they send Anissa, a woman soldier to scare Mark and give him a warning. Allen the Alien also gets mixed up with the Viltrumites, letting himself be captured so he can meet Omni-Man who is in jail awaiting execution. Those are significant storylines, but that’s never enough, as Mark has some additional curve balls thrown at him. His mother has agreed to raise his half-brother Oliver who is growing quickly and his romance with Amber is floundering. Mark is never there with her since he’s always on some mission that Cecil, who leads the shadowy government agency, is always sending Invincible off to. Their relationship ends realistically, with Eve waiting on the sidelines.

Now I am far enough in the series to make some observations- Kirkman makes several uncomfortable jokes about being gay and is pretty damn sexist at times. The storylines can be hard to follow, as there is no transition between scenes and location, just bam, you’re somewhere new (The Walking Dead did this a lot too). There are Easter eggs and connections to other Image publications such as Brit or Savage Dragon showing up unexpectedly is some group scenes. At times there is a lack of consistency between panels- Allen was a completely different color at one time and sometimes his head is drawn at different ratios, and at one point Mark was inexplicitly the same color as Oliver. While I am still very much a fan of this series, I can’t completely fan-girl over it, due to some problematic issues.

-Nancy

Jupiter’s Circle

After recently finishing Jupiter’s Legacy, I was intrigued to read the two prequels which detailed the six heroes’ early days. While Mark Millar remained the author, the artist switched to Wilfredo Torres, with the two covers by original artist Frank Quitely.

Book One

Told in six chapters, the chapters center on the other four members of the team besides the married couple, The Utopian and Lady Liberty. Set in the 1950s and 1960s, the Union of Justice team members are still grappling with their new identities and the fame that goes along with their powers.

The book opens with the reveal that Blue Bolt is gay, who is trying to hide that fact from his team. J Edgar Hoover tries to blackmail him, and he tries to commit suicide under the strain of his secret, but the team supports him and Blue Bolt gets his revenge against Hoover.

The Flare has a mid-life crisis and begins an affair with a nineteen-year-old girl who idolizes him, so he leaves his wife and three children for her. A horrible accident shows the true colors of his young girlfriend, with his loyal wife coming back to him. This story infuriated me- he didn’t deserve the second chance his wife gave him after so publicly flaunting his new romance. Asshole.

Skyfox and Brainwave have never gotten along, as Skyfox is always baiting Brainwave. Known as a playboy, Skyfox finally falls in love but Brainwave lays in wait, looking for a way to finally get back at Skyfox. Although both men are jerks, Skyfox deserves what happens next to him.

There was definitely a Mad Men vibe, with lots of smoking by everyone (it was actually funny seeing the heroes with cigarettes) and the sexism. On a side note, in the original series, a seventh person from the boat group was featured- they looked younger, like a teen. This character has never been seen or mentioned again. I hate when there are inconsistencies like that. The art by Torres is solid, but part of my lack of excitement is because I am comparing it to Quitely’s art that helped define the series. That’s why I hate when artists change within a series, people get attached to a certain art style and it’s hard to accept the next style even if it is good.

Book Two

There is a true shocker in this book, as it is revealed that The Utopian, married his fiancé upon first returning, when you assumed he and Lady Liberty had married immediately.

The rest of this second book deals with the fallout of Skyfox leaving the team because of his broken heart, and how he gets mixed up with some Vietnam War and Civil Rights protestors. He briefly reunites with the team, just for a final confrontation with Brainwave. Skyfox is then cast out, becoming a villain.

Because of the recent Netflix series (which was very uneven, but I will save my thoughts for a future post Edit- it was recently cancelled so I’m not going to bother writing a post about the tv series) these four books have been repackaged online on Hoopla as Jupiter’s Legacy Book One and Two, with the original two as Books Three and Four. While I understand the reasoning for doing so, reading it in that order does a disservice to the series, for these prequels are rather trite and soapy, so if you read them first you might not want to continue to the better two. Miller is planning a sequel, Jupiter’s Requiem, which I’d be curious to read and hope that the entire series as a whole lives up to the promise of how it began.

-Nancy

Fitz/The Flare, Walter/Brainwave, George/Skyfox, Sheldon/The Utopian, Grace/Lady Liberty, Richard/Blue Bolt

Jupiter’s Legacy

When I saw a picture of hunky Josh Duhamel dressed as a superhero in a long grey wig, I was intrigued with this new series he was going to star in. Then I heard it was based off a Mark Millar graphic novel (which could be wonderful or terrible- there is no in-between) I wanted to give the source material a read before I committed to this series that premiers today on Netflix. It starts with a common trope- can the next generation of superheroes live up to the original heroes?

Book One

Starting in 1932, we are given a brief origin story, drawn as a throw back to the pulp-style comics that were churned out in the 1920’s & 1930’s with a vibe similar to Doc Savage, The Spirit or The Phantom. This sepia-toned introduction then contrasts sharply with the brightly colored modern day, filled with jaded Millennials who are second-generation heroes, who are all children from the original six. Chloe and Brandon, the young adult children of Utopian and Lady Liberty, are bored and resentful and absolutely not living up to their potential. Utopian’s brother Walter, who has amazing powers himself, starts to slyly convince his nephew Brandon that he should overthrow his parents and the entire world government. Leaving Chloe in the dark about his evil plans, Brandon convinces his fellow super-powered assholes they should take control and then they all do terrible terrible things.

Secretly pregnant, Chloe escapes and hides out with her boyfriend Hutch, who is the son of a former villian. Their son Jason turns out to have epic powers that they try to hide, but when Brandon’s leadership proves to be a disaster (no big surprise) this little family begins to make plans when they are discovered.

The art by Frank Quitely is very strong- capably going between the different time periods and showcasing the two generations and the many characters. He has a distinctive sketchy style for faces. Most pages have a four or five panel layout with only a few splash pages per chapter. This universe stands alone- it’s not a copycat of Marvel or DC- and was fully fleshed out.

This first book was a great introduction to the characters and story and I’m ready for more!

Book Two

Chloe, Hutch and Jason are on a quest- to find or rescue so-called former villains, who are actually good compared to the super-powered “heroes” in charge now. This book moves fast through the adventures of assembling a team and Hutch finding an additional surprising ally. Brandon and Walter continue their evil ways, and finally its showdown time. Chloe comes face to face with her brother and exacts revenge in regards to what he did to their parents.

This story arc was rushed, there were threads in the narrative that were left hanging and some character’s powers were either too much or too little with no consistency. There were some interesting aspects of the story that could have been expanded such as the alien connection, but a feel-good bow was added to the conclusion to wrap up everything. However, I was a fan of how Chloe, Hutch and Jason all picked up the mantles of family members they wanted to honor, and are planning a better future for themselves and the world.

The art remained a strength- I enjoyed all the varied costumes and some interesting backgrounds were drawn in. The cat and unicorn panel was a stand-out in the story, it was unexpected and fun. Plus, I liked the ongoing joke that simply wearing glasses was an adequate disguise (hello Clark Kent!).

This two-volume series definitely has me interested in following the Netflix series. In fact, I picked up the prequels, Jupiter’s Circle, and look forward to the sequel Jupiter’s Requiem coming out soon.

-Nancy

The Department of Truth

The world is flat. The moon landing was faked. Reptilian Illuminati rule the world. Most people don’t believe these wild conspiracy theories, but what if they became real because collective belief could turn these theories into reality? That’s where the secret Department of Truth steps in.

Cole Turner, an FBI teacher who teaches about conspiracy theories at Quantico, is attending a Flat Earth conference when he is convinced to get into a plane that takes him and flat earth believers to the end of the world where he sees that, indeed, the world is flat. Astounded by this, he disembarks with the others just to have everyone gunned down but him. He is taken to a bunker where he is interrogated about what he saw. There is some insightful conversation about why wild theories take hold, often it is about a loss of control in someone’s life, and the wish for them to come up with explanations that make them feel important and justified. The director (whose name will be familiar to you) reveals he and the other agents are from the Department of Truth and recruit him to to their organization.

But the secrets go deeper than keeping fringe theories from becoming fact. Since outcomes can branch off into many different scenarios, agents need to make split-second decisions that don’t always tidy up neatly. A heartbreaking example is shown of a single mother whose child was killed in a school shooting, who begins to doubt her reality when she goes down the rabbit hole of internet rantings. She begins to believe her son was part of a “crisis-actors” set up, and he is being held hostage by shadowy officials. More theories are brought up- what if modern day presidents have been puppets with their lives manipulated- including the Bushes, Clinton, Obama and Trump, all for some grand scheme?

The artwork is sketchy, abstract, and frankly, messy at times. While it is apropos that this shadowy tale also has shadowy panels, I found it overkill at times. There were some full page spreads that had overlays of other graphics in a collage format that gave it an interesting stylistic look. The colors are muted, except for some splashes of red and the mysterious woman in a crimson dress who always wears sunglasses.

The graphic novel ends on a cliffhanger as Turner is confronted with yet another secret society, and the question begs, who is telling the truth? Who decides which secrets need to never see the light, and which should be revealed? Why was Turner recruited and who is the woman with the strange eyes that follows him? This was a promising, yet convoluted story with an X-Files vibe, that could go either way in the next volume.

-Nancy

Middlewest: Books Two + Three

The three-volume Middlewest series was a mash-up of the classic hero’s journey, steampunk and The Wizard of Oz. The first book had been intriguing- it was about a teen runaway named Abel and how the toxic masculinity that his father has modeled affected him as dangerous magic begins to transform him into a monstrous creature.

Book Two

Abel’s breakdown in book one has led to him turning into a storm monster at the carnival in which he was taking refuge from his father. Ashamed at the destruction he caused, he runs away. I thought there was some nuanced dialogue about following him, with a friend wanting to follow him immediately, but the older leader of the carnival making the decision to stay and help the survivors regroup. Abel journeys into a forest with his sidekick, Fox, and discovers his grandfather, who has transformed part of the forest into a hellish winter landscape. His grandfather shows his true colors, and his cruelness drives Abel away into a nearby city where he is kidnapped to become a slave worker in nearby farm fields. All the while Abel’s father Dale continues searching for him. A bleak story about lack of self-control and its consequences.

Book Three

This last book was message-heavy! Abel gets to know the other youth trapped as farmhands, and their sad backstories make him realize he is not alone. Maggie, the carnival leader, is able to put together a group that wants to help Abel and they pick up new followers as they follow Abel’s trail. Dale has also found Abel, so all paths are converging for a battle. The generational rage is addressed, with sorrow and forgiveness concluding this three-part tale.

The art by Jorge Corona was fun and the bright colors by Jean-Francois Beaulieu incorporated a lot of pink, purple and orange that helped convey the emotional tone. This was a unique graphic novel series that brought up a lot of intriguing issues- but didn’t quite stick the landing. Dystopian and fantasy aspects tied into real and gritty personal plot threads, but I wasn’t sure at times what direction the narrative was going (and what happened to Abel’s mom?). Author Skottie Young has an interesting voice, and while this series didn’t do it for me, I will continue to seek out further work by him.

-Nancy

Undiscovered Country

Years ago, America suddenly walled itself off from the rest of the world and went silent. It has been shrouded in mystery until a message is received granting a small group approval to go inside. What awaits them?

We are introduced to a group of seven individuals who have been selected for the mission- the war hero pilot, Lottie a medical doctor and her adventuring brother Daniel, Ace who is an expert on American culture, a journalist Valentina, and two political representatives from warring alliances, Janet and Chang. Given specific coordinates, they take a helicopter into American air space but are shot at and they crash land in the desert. Confused as to why they were invited in but then attacked, they see a surreal Mad Max type of group coming at them, but luckily a masked man ushers them into the safety of a cave.

And this is where the story goes sideways. As they ran for safety the group saw that the vehicles coming at them were pulled by a motley assortment of creatures such as walking sharks and other sea creatures. The masked man leads them to a group of rebels who are hiding underground and talks of a mystical spiral that needs to be discovered that will help them solve the mystery of why America closed and why it has changed so very dramatically.

The art was strong, with a dusty and apocalyptic vibe. Fun was obviously had drawing the fantastical creatures and the strange armada of vehicles in this new America. While I found the storytelling confusing, the art tried to tie it together and give visual clues to help the narrative. I enjoyed the chapter breaks with quotes from former citizens of the US about their experiences when they became stranded outside of the borders. The book ends with a lengthy and informative afterword by the two authors, a timeline of events and many well-drawn variant covers.

I have to say, for all the buzz I’ve heard about this book, it fell flat for me. I heard about Undiscovered Country a year ago and it sounded fascinating, for with our current political climate, this story seemed to be timely. However, despite many good parts of this graphic novel, all the pieces didn’t equal a cohesive story for me.  I won’t be continuing with further volumes, for while the group will be journeying on the Spiral, I felt this story spiraled out of control. So instead, if you truly want to read an excellent gritty dystopian tale that has a timely political message, you should read Warlords of Appalachia by Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Jonas Scharf.

-Nancy

Sugar (Vol. 1)

Twenty-three year-old Julia Capella is a student trying to put herself through college. It isn’t easy after using her tuition money to pay her sister’s medical bills after she was in a horrific accident. John Markham is a successful businessman, but freshly divorced. At his business partners, Richard’s insistence, he goes to a “sugar party” – one where older men and younger women mingle in hopes of becoming sugar partners. It’s an arrangement where the woman agrees to be the man’s partner (from platonic to romantic) in exchange for monetary allowances or other material goods. Richard swears by it – it saved his own marriage, after all! – but John isn’t so sure. That changes when he and Julia meet. He knows she’s in financial trouble, but Julia won’t take charity and her romantic sensibilities refuse to engage in a relationship where she feels like a hooker. They eventually agree that Julia will become his partner – his sugar baby – as long as Julia pays the money back. Their relationship started as an arrangement, but could it turn into something more?

This is the start of a companion series to Sunstone and Swing, both of which I’ve heard of but have yet to read! Both of these series are adult romance series, with sexually explicit material. Sugar is no different, but it appears to be more on the tamer side than Sunstone (which is about a lesbian couple who are into BDSM). The love scenes here are tender and not overly graphic.

What’s most interesting to me about this story are Julia and John themselves. They are both struggling, which makes them sympathetic. Though they have the same views as their audience at first about sugar babies and daddies, they communicate openly and honestly to come to a mutual agreement. That’s the strongest aspect of this graphic novel, I think: showing how important communication and boundaries are in any interpersonal relationship, whether or not it’s romantic.

The art is manga-esque in a few different ways. First, the features of the characters have long features and large eyes: Julia in particular, to suggest youth and innocence. Second, much of the details are in the characters and not in the backgrounds, to keep readers’ attention on the people and their relationships. Background effects such as hearts and bokeh bubbles are used occasionally, to highlight important parts or heightened emotions. While it’s not a manga, the art deliberately skews in that direction, to remind readers they are holding a romance story, such as they may find in popular romance manga.

As this is a sexually explicit graphic novel, I’d give it to older teens and adults, maybe younger high school students depending on the maturity of the reader. Teens could learn much from Julia and John’s example of communication about their relationship. Everyone else will fall head-over-heels for this romance – I know I have 😉

-Kathleen

Hawkins, Matt, Jenni Cheung, and Yishan Li. Sugar (Vol. 1). 2018.

Plutona

Plutona was a spontaneous read for me, as I was sorting through my library’s graphic novel collection and discovered this book that I didn’t know we owned, plus I had never heard of it. Intrigued with the Stand By Me premise and that it was penned by Jeff Lemire, I gave it a go.

We are introduced to five characters- superhero expert Teddy, insecure Diane, troubled bad-boy Ray, edgy Mie and her younger brother Mike- who all converge one afternoon after school on accident. Teddy is capespotting, looking for superheroes who guard the nearby Metro City and Ray is interested but doesn’t want others to know. When Mie and Diane arrives he resumes being a jerk, when Mike slips away to the nearby woods. Following him, all five then discover the dead body of Plutona, a female superhero.

The story includes five chapters, and concluding each chapter is a few pages of Plutona’s adventures and what led to her defeat and being found in the woods. The five youth feel that they should bury Plutona, but don’t wish to tell anyone the news of her death. Planning to meet after school the next day, Teddy arrives back to the spot early as he wishes to gain some of her powers by comingling their blood, and convinces Mike to do so too. What happens when the other three arrive is heartbreaking and the conclusion was melancholy and open-ended. This coming-of-age story left me wanting, as this character-driven tale had several characters that I despised.

The art is credited to Emi Lenox, although the Plutona interludes looked like Lemire’s trademark sketchy art style. The illustrations certainly set the mood, and Lenox created five diverse individuals whose personalities shown through the uncluttered panels. A concluding art gallery showed the five-issue covers, each featuring one of the youth. Jordie Bellaire always shines as a colorist, with these five covers being evocatively colored.

Growing up is not always easy, and some youth who can’t think beyond the here and now may end up making decisions that carry dire consequences. The bleak storyline led me to feel disappointed with this story, but as a stand-alone graphic novel, it effectively told a complete but sad tale.

-Nancy

 

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