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My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies

Ellie idolizes old singers and movie stars: Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, John Lennon, Elliott Smith, and more. One thing they all have in common? They were all drug addicts. Ever since she found a mixtape her mother made for her father (both drug addicts themselves), containing songs written and performed by drug addicts, Ellie has been obsessed with the old stars and their struggles with heroin, amphetamines, cocaine, you name it. So you could say it’s no surprise Ellie winds up in a rehab facility. What is surprising is she meets a boy. Skip is trying desperately to not throw this last chance away, whereas Ellie has no plans for getting sober. Once they realize their attraction for each other, will they recover together, or spiral back into old habits?

This one isn’t what you expect it to be. You go in expecting one thing, but by the end, it’s quite another. Brubaker and Phillips pull no punches here. The writing is excellent, big plot twist aside. We alternate between the present day and flashbacks to Ellie’s childhood, which give us more context. Each of Ellie’s flashbacks relate to the next slice of the modern day story in subtle ways that you only truly pick up on with a second read through. Sometimes flashbacks are too obviously related to the main story, but the fact that they aren’t here shows a deft hand. I was highly impressed.

The art uses color more than solid drawing to convey the overall mood and individual emotions.  Don’t get me wrong: the drawing is great, but color was the focus here. The modern day sequences are rendered in saturated pastels. While the characters for the most part are solidly colored in, the backgrounds are splashed with hardly-mixed color, suggesting chaos and uncertainty, even if the palette is cheerful. The flashbacks are in greyscale, but the splotches remain, again conveying the turbulence of Ellie’s childhood. The art suggests something is going on long before it happens, which is arguably more important than foreshadowing in the writing of a graphic novel.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that this isn’t the first collaboration by Brubaker and Phillips. This is a novella from their series called Criminal. Excuse me while I go check it out 😉 I was, again, very impressed with this graphic novel, and the way the writing and the art worked together to the conclusion you didn’t expect. I anticipate more good stuff from these guys.

– Kathleen

Brubaker, Ed, and Sean Phillips. My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies. 2018.

Death or Glory (Vol. 1): She’s Got You

Glory’s adopted father is dying. He needs to have a major surgery in order to have even a chance at survival. The money’s all run out, and Glory is getting desperate. She decides to set up a series of heists, stealing money from drug lords, to pay for Red’s surgery and save his life. It’s not really stealing if you’re already stealing from a criminal… right? But the first heist goes awry, and Glory soon finds herself in way over her head. Soon she’s dodging crooked cops and her ex-husband, all of whom trying to bring her in no matter what, in addition to well-meaning members of her trucker family. When things go from bad to worse, can Glory pull off her plan and save Red?

I admit I had to skim this one after a certain point. The story is interesting enough, but it was too violent for my taste. Strong language is fine with me, as are love scenes, but soon as one guy starts cutting another guy open with a chop saw, I check out. That said, most of it seemed well-suited to the story, and there were only a few scenes that I deemed excessive. Because of the violence, I’d have to say this one is adult only.

What I did enjoy about this one was Glory herself. She’s not some hero, and she’s not pretending to be one. She is straight up hurting for money and not willing to let go of someone she loves. She’s ready to do whatever it takes to save that person, even if it means breaking the law. Is that ethical? It’s up to the reader to decide. I’ve always been fascinated by stories like hers – it’s why I think Mr. Freeze from Batman is such a good villain. When written well, you question whether or not he’s even a bad guy. I questioned whether or not Glory was good here, and I loved it.

The art is great. The backgrounds and environments are rendered in sort of a dusty ’50s meets Wild West style. They’re rendered a little more carefully than the characters, grounding the reader in a plausible reality. The characters are a little more sketchy, a little more exaggerated, to suit the action-oriented story. Even though there is a lot of action, the panels are still laid out in a straightforward and easy-to-follow format.

Skip this one if you mind a lot of violence; but if you don’t, this story will take you on a ride-or-die roller coaster that has you questioning the morality of everyone involved.

– Kathleen

Remender, Rick, and Bengal. Death or Glory (Vol. 1): She’s Got You. 2018.

I Hate Fairyland: Volumes Three & Four

I Hate Fairyland is fluffin’ over, with the third and fourth books bringing this series to a fantabulous conclusion! I applaud writer and illustrator Skottie Young for keeping this series to four volumes, for as I said after my review of volume two, “I am leery of falling into a candy-induced coma if I read too much of this series.”

Young has quite a distinctive illustrative style and is already well known for his past work such as Rocket Raccoon and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  Plus, his chubby baby superheroes are a fan favorite for variant art in the Marvel books. As such, he is the only artist I can imagine pulling off this storyline. Colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu gives the residents of Fairyland a candy-colored motif that is a perfect juxtaposition for green-haired Gertrude’s nightmare.

Volume Three: Good Girl

Volume three opens with a fun shout-out to comic cons as Gertrude actually looks forward to the annual Dungeon Festexpocon. There she acquires a super-fan who admires the destruction that she has wrought over the community. But as usual, that pairing doesn’t last and Gertrude moves onto the next disaster. We also get a lengthy origin story to her guide, Larry the Fly, but I wasn’t quite clear if it was a memory or a dream.

Our favorite psychopath decides to try something she hasn’t before in her quest to leave Fairytown- she is a good girl. Could this be the key to going home? However, after the swath of horror she has inflicted upon the Fairyland citizens for over 30 years, the creatures do not believe her and former foes come back to kill her. A trip to Hell seems apropos at the end.

On a funny note, when I went to pull these two books from the graphic novel collection at the library I work at, I couldn’t find them, although the computer said they were checked in. A new shelver of ours had put these two volumes in the kid’s graphic novel section, due to the look of this volume in particular.  I hope no youngster was traumatized by accidentally flipping through the very mature content!

Volume Four: Sadly Never After

Hell is filled with Gertrude’s former enemies who wish to make her suffer. As Gertrude is still longing for home,  the Devil plays with her insecurities and sends her to an alternate reality of her parent’s home. But he soon deducts that the real agony for Gertrude is to send her back to Fairyland. Back in Fairlyland, we meet Queen Cloudia who was vanquished in the first volume and who has now become Dark Cloudia. Bitter, she wants to destroy her former kingdom so some of the council leaders appeal to Gertrude to defeat her. They tell her that Cloudia’s defeat will earn Gertrude a way home.

While Gertrude’s way home is not straightforward and easy, the short epilogue with a grown up Gertrude back home is bittersweet, as it’s not exactly what she had been wishing for…

I loved the little jokes that you could find in the background panels, with dark humor and satire interwoven into it. The art remained fresh throughout and even knowing what kind of story this was, some of the violence and mayhem continued to surprise me. I will miss this foul mouthed sociopath, as Skottie Young created an unforgettable character in Gertrude.

-Nancy

Make sure you check out Volume One: Madly Ever After  &  Volume Two: Fluff My Life

Black Road: The Holy North

Black Road continues Brian Wood’s take on emo Vikings. Set in Norway in AD 1000, Magnus The Black is a warrior who discovers a secret among the new Christian priests who are laying waste to the Norskk culture and landscape. This isn’t an extension of Northlanders, instead this series is set up to be a mystery thriller and not as historically accurate.

Magnus is a bear of a man, who respects his pagan upbringing, yet realizes that Christianity is taking over the region and wants to help his people through the transition. However, this makes his unpopular with both sides, as neither fully trust him. A former soldier, he is grieving the loss of his beloved wife and wants reassurances from the Catholic priests that they will be reunited in Heaven together. He takes on a job of escorting a Cardinal from the Vatican up the “Black Road” to a new compound up North. The job goes sideways, and he joins up with Julia, the Cardinal’s adopted daughter and the local blacksmith, Kitta, to finish the journey northward. There they find a rogue priest, Bishop Oakenfort, who wishes to shift the power of the Vatican from Rome to Norway and for him to be in charge. Chaos ensues.

I’d also like to know Wood’s true view on Christianity and about his faith journey, as many of his works portray the Church in a very negative light. While historically accurate in many respects, his bleak and dark views only show the negative side of this era’s conversions, and is not a balanced viewpoint. But I obviously find it fascinating, as I keep on reading his graphic novels.

The artwork was solid, by Garry Brown who did the artwork for Wood’s The Massive series.  His style is rather blocky, which doesn’t always translate for faces, yet his backgrounds are detailed and the Scandinavian landscapes are well drawn.  Dave McCraig does the coloring, as he did for the entire Northlanders series, and effectively guides you through the changing chronology with color changes to signal Magnus’s flashbacks. I read the compilation of the series, which included V1-The Holy North & V2-A Pagan Death.  At the end of the book it included a mock up of the first issue, after which Wood changed direction and re-wrote parts of it, which was interesting to see the evolution of the story.

This Norse saga will appeal to all Northlanders fans, although like I said earlier, it is not a continuation of that series. Magnus The Black is a layered individual with conflicting desires, and this story has the potential to say something fresh about faith and conversion, so while I doubt the series will continue, I’d read more if it does.

-Nancy

Wood, Brain & Garry Brown. Black Road: The Holy North. 2018.

Manifest Destiny: Volumes 5 & 6

The reimanging of the Lewis and Clark expedition continues as history, colonization and government conspiracies are shaken up together into a unique tale about the Corps of Discovery.

Volume 5: Mnemphobia & Chronophobia

In November of 1804 , Fort Mandan is built in North Dakota so the corps could winter safely before continuing on their journey in the spring. As soon as the fort is finished, a dense fog rolls in and everyone begins to experience paranoia and delusions.  All the creatures that the corps have encountered seem to come at them, and the past sins of the soldiers come back to haunt them. Thus the title of the book comes into focus, as the fear of memories and anxiety over the passage of time are shown.  It is during this chaos that Sacagawea goes into labor while battling her own private demons. Little Jean Baptsite’s birth is tempered by the knowledge of the subterfuge Lewis and Clark are planning regarding the infant, and Sacagawea’s strange acquiescence about it.

The art remains strong with layouts that are fresh and unique. The era is beautifully rendered with the clothing, guns, buildings and landscapes accurately drawn. Plus the creatures are freakishly awesome!

Volume 6: Fortis & Invisibilia

Mutiny! A few weeks after the dangerous fog, nerves are frayed and Lewis is obsessively monitoring the arch discovered nearby. Sargeant Pryor preaches to the soldiers and develops a following, creating a rift between those who align with him, and those that stay true to Lewis and Clark. Eventually Pryor plans a coup and the leaders are ejected from the fort along with others. The ghostly conquistador from Volume Four is moving between soldiers hoping to find the strongest leader to fulfill his diabolical plan for conquest. This volume was a bit of a convoluted mess, and I was having trouble keeping straight who was who among the soldiers.

This story dragged for me, as two volumes have been set in the fort, and the dead of winter hasn’t even begun. They need to pick up the pace of the storytelling for there is still much to tell of the journey, and they are nowhere near the Pacific Northwest yet. I checked when the next issue is out, and I don’t see a date yet, so I am worried that this series will ignobly end before the journey can be properly told. Despite my rough start with this series and these shaky middle volumes, I hope the entire scope of this re-imagined  journey can be properly told.

-Nancy

Read the proceeding volumes: Volume One, Volumes Two-Four

Rose (Vol. 1)

In a world where all magic disappeared with the Guardians and their Khats, a young girl starts to exhibit the old signs. Not many people remember, but her mother remembers the stories. The Queen Drucilla remembers: she’s the one who killed them all. She is rooting out anyone who, like Rose, starts to show signs of magic, and she’s not discriminatory about who else she kills. Rose’s entire village is eradicated, leaving her devastated, angry, and out for revenge. Once she meets her Khat, marking her as a Guardian of the realm – all bets are off.

I found the story pretty generic. It’s that classic high fantasy coming-of-age story, with the typical characters to match. The thing that bothered me the most was the Queen herself: all evil, no questions asked, with stereotypical dark skin. The art made the writing bearable, though. It was lush and detailed, like the prose of my favorite fantasy novels. It’s an okay addition to the fantasy graphic novel genre, but those who prefer more finesse in their writing might want to look elsewhere.

– Kathleen

Finch, Meredith, and Ig Guara. Rose (Vol. 1). 2017.

Manifest Destiny: Volumes Two-Four

Two years ago when I read Volume One: Flora & Fauna of this series that reimages the Lewis and Clark expedition, I hated it. I was turned off by the historical inaccuracies and the crudeness of the characters. But I recently decided to give it another go and picked up the next three volumes.

Never say never.

Continue reading “Manifest Destiny: Volumes Two-Four”

Saga: Volume One

An epic sci-fi adventure with liberal doses of violence and sex! Hey, if that doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will.

I have been circling this graphic novel for years and kept on pushing it off for one reason or the other. But recently Dani from Perspective of a Writer reviewed it, and I was pushed to finally pick it up myself.

The story drops you right into the birth of our narrator, Hazel. Literally THE very moment she is born with her mother Alana cussing and screaming, while her calm father, Marko, helps. You can tell that the parents are of different species, with their baby showing characteristics of both. Alana has no time to recover, as moments after the birth, the two fugitives are on the run as soldiers burst into the room trying to capture them. We learn that their two species are at war, and their secret marriage and birth of a hybrid child is strictly forbidden.  That this love blossomed among enemies must be kept from the public, and was eerily reminiscent for me of one of Star Trek: DS9 best plotlines on the series that showed the hate between the Bajorans and the Cardassians that cruelly ruled their planet for years.

See the source image

The action never stops as this new family seeks to escape certain death and we find out that not only are the leaders of their respective races plotting their demise, but paid assassins are also on their trail. Just as they maneuver out of one scrape, they are thrust into another; however, with so many multi-layered villains, you are not sure if perhaps one will prove to be their salvation or not.

With the plot device of Hazel narrating the story, we obviously know that she survives until adulthood, but her references to her parents are deliberately vague, as to invite questions of their fate(s). Alana is sarcastic but kind and a true warrior, but Marko is my real favorite. He reminds me of my husband – a handsome and strong man who will do whatever it takes to protect his family. Marko is incredibly battle weary and will only use his family sword when absolutely necessary. Spoiler alert- there is a time it becomes necessary.

Fiona Staples’s art is perfect for the story. She immediately establishes the looks of a large cast of unique characters and creates believable alien worlds, with some awesome two page spreads. She definitely does not shy away from the explicit, for as I mentioned in my introduction there is a lot of sex. OMG, a lot. In many comics, sex is implied, but you don’t see the actual bits and pieces. Here you do. There is also a lot of violence, but it wasn’t gratuitous, as that’s realistic for a story about warring nations.

Now that I have finished the first volume, I will definitely be picking up future volumes. While the sex was excessive, the rest of the narrative is top notch. For me to be reminded of Star Trek: DS9 is the best compliment. I want to find out what happens to Alana, Marko and their baby, who is a symbol of their love and of hope for the warring empires.

-Nancy

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Vaughan, Brian K & Fiona Staples. Saga: Volume One, 2012.

Bingo Love

Bingo Love is a sweet and heartwarming story about a love story between two women than spans over 60 years.

The story begins in 1963 at a bingo hall, as two thirteen years olds are introduced to one another by their grandmothers. Told from the perspective of Hazel Johnson, a pretty and plump teen, she is immediately attracted to the cool California transplant Mari McCray.

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The two girls become inseparable best friends throughout middle and high school, but Hazel (also known as Elle) keeps her feelings to herself. Only when their closeness is looked upon with suspicion from their family, does Hazel first kiss Mari, and finds out the feeling is mutual. Spotted by Mari’s grandmother, the girls are shamed and quickly separated, with each girl being forced into early marriages to save face.

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48 years go by from their separation, and we are given a quick montage of Hazel’s life over the years with her husband James, a veteran of the Vietnam War, and their three children and families. Although Hazel has a deep affection for her husband, and adores her children, the marriage is empty of real love. When Hazel and her daughter and two daughters-in-law head out to their annual Mother’s Day bingo game when across the church hall, Hazel sees Mari for the first time in close to fifty years. Mari spontaneously kisses her in front of everyone, and Hazel’s quiet life is upended.

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Mari and Hazel reconnect and we find out Mari is a lawyer and still married herself with five children, but is willing to divorce her husband immediately for Hazel. While Hazel’s feelings are still as strong as ever for Mari, she is unsure about making such a radical change herself. She eventually does tell James, and we learn there are additional secrets in their marriage, and their lack of sexual life comes into focus as to why.

The conclusion of the story does have Hazel and Mari marrying and their children to coming to terms with their mothers’ new relationship. The two women have several happy years together, but old age is harsh for Mari and their time together is eventually cut short. This bittersweet but realistic ending was poignant, but the last page will make your heart happy.

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The artwork is a joy. It is bright and colorful, and gives a wide representation of skin tones and body types in the black community. I admired the outfits the two women wore through the years, and the backgrounds that included the homes and larger communities were fun to look at.

While I truly enjoyed this story and think it is perfect companion piece to Love is Love (in fact author Tee Franklin contributed a story to the anthology), there are a few missteps in this story. At only 92 pages, it felt unnecessarily rushed in spots, and could have been longer. I believe that their teenage friendship (all we were given was a two page spread) could have been expanded, in addition to Hazel’s later family life. Plus by choosing to center exclusively on Hazel, we had no insight to Mari’s life which left a huge void in the narrative. Hazel experienced almost no fall out from her reveal to her husband, and used terms that a grandmother would not say to explain her coming out. The secret that James referred to (we all can guess what it was at that point) felt like an easy way out of the marriage, and sucked the gravitas out of a story that tried to be realistic as to what women of that era endured.

I was pleased to be able to obtain a digital copy of this graphic novel from Edelweiss for an honest review. Despite my few criticisms of the book, I still believe it is a solid book and want to pick up a print copy and add it to my library’s collection. The diversity shown in the story is much needed and deserves much praise. More books like this please!

-Nancy

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