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Jeff Lemire

Bloodshot Salvation: The Book of Revenge

So…there’s a lot of blood in Bloodshot. Who woulda’ thunk it?

Having read virtually no Valiant titles except for Faith:Hollywood and Vine, I only had a passing recognition of Bloodshot, but no real understanding of who he was or his backstory. I picked up this digital copy because Jeff Lemire (who must be an android and not sleep because his output of titles is amazing) is the author and I’m a sucker for a good revenge story.

Bloodshot aka Ray Garrison is a former soldier who worked for the shadowy Project Rising Spirit, and whose nanites in his bloodstream could transform him into a killing machine with healing powers (shades of Wolverine from Marvel). His memory has been wiped several times, but he has escaped from the decommissioned PRS in the previous Reborn series, and has established a family with his girlfriend Magic. They have a baby daughter who seems to be perfectly healthy and free of Ray’s powers.

It’s all too good to be true, and frankly Ray decides to f**k everything up by going after Magic’s father who is a cult leader and has been harassing her to rejoin his compound. Plans go sideways, his daughter Jessie gets sick and PRS gets new funding and doesn’t want any former soldiers on the loose. There are time jumps, transfigurations and many many deaths. Then there is the required twist and cliff hanger to make you come back for future volumes.

The artwork is excellent, with a gritty realism and a subdued color palate. The artists are very fond of exploding eyeballs and showcasing gore. But I do have a complaint: the front cover is misleading. It shows Jessie as a young girl with the trademark white skin next to her father. This scene did not happen, and in fact, Jessie has not seen her Dad in years at this point. While I assume they will be reuniting in the next volume, this cover was very inaccurate.

I’m glad I had a chance to read this title through NetGalley, as Vin Diesel is signed on to portray Bloodshot in a movie adaptation, and now I have a passing understanding of the Bloodshot saga. I’m rooting for Ray’s family to have a happy ending, but we all know it won’t come easy.

-Nancy

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Best Reads of 2017

As we did last year, we went through all the graphic novels we read and reviewed this year to give you a Top 10 list – the best of the best!

RoughneckNancy: Roughneck is a beautifully told standalone tale of a brother and sister’s quest to reconnect with one another and their cultural identity written and illustrated by the talented Jeff Lemire. Lemire handles the storyline of Derek and Beth’s Cree heritage with grace and respect. The reality of native families becoming disenfranchised from their cultural heritage, is mirrored in the excellent book The Outside Circle, which also deals with First Nation individuals whose circles of community were broken which led to fragmenting generations of people with no connection to their tribe anymore. The ending is open to interpretation, and while I at first looked at it one way, re-reading it I saw a more melancholy but poignant way of concluding the story.

 

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Kathleen: A review of this book is upcoming, but last week I read this graphic memoir, Lighter Than My Shadow . The illustrations were all drawn by hand by the author, who suffered from anorexia when she was younger. This is the story of her recovery, and all the difficulties and choices that came with it. I don’t want to spoil my own review (edit-added link!), but suffice it to say for now that the illustrations are among the most beautiful and effective that I’ve seen this year.

 

Nancy: This graphic novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s story, Kindred, was extremely well done. Butler’s original novel, published in 1979, was a ground breaking story that liberally dipped into historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy within a time traveling framework. The author herself called the story “a kind of grim fantasy”, and this adaptation shows just that. This was a heartbreaking story, and through the juxtaposition of Dana’s (the main character) experiences in two different centuries, this fantasy novel actually gives a highly realistic view of the slavery era.

 

 

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Kathleen: Beauty is an adult fairy tale in graphic novel form. It tells the story of Coddie, a fishmonger, who wants nothing more than to be beautiful so she’ll stop being the laughingstock of her small village. When a fairy grants her wish, however, she quickly learns that she can now have whatever she wants – at a steep price. The child-like art belies the serious messages and themes within. The figures are loose and almost caricature-like. The writing is phenomenal, with unconventional characters and fairy tale tropes turned slightly askew. If you like your fairy tales with more of a brothers Grimm than Disney flavor, this is perfect for you.

 

Nancy: Although the Superman: American Alien has Superman in the title, it is really Clark Kent stories. The seven stories are chronological and fill in the gaps in the Superman canon. We start with Clark as a boy learning how to fly, move through his adolescence, and finally settle in his early years in Metropolis. Every story is strong, and fits in seamlessly with what we already know about Superman. I highly recommend this book, for it humanizes Superman. The seven stories are all excellent, and they flow and connect into one another, to form the larger picture of who Clark Kent is and who he will be. A must buy for Superman aficionados!

 

5820769-21Kathleen: Unfortunately, DC Rebirth has been a hit or miss for me, but the one story that I’ve consistently loved is Wonder Woman. Bringing Greg Rucka back to her title was the best decision they could have made! After discovering that she’s been tricked into thinking she could return to Themyscira at will, Diana sets out to discover the truth of herself and who has deceived her once and for all. She is vulnerable and human here, and I’ve cried shamelessly as she struggles to figure out the truth – her own truth, the truth of who she is. Greg Rucka is without a doubt one of the best writers of Wonder Woman. The art is nothing to sneeze at, either, beautifully detailed as it is!

 

Nancy: Vision- Little Worse Than A Man is as far from a superhero story as possible. While grounded in the Marvel universe, with cameos by other Avengers and villains, this book is about our definition of humanity. This quietly ominous story had such power, and felt especially moving to me to read at this time when I worry about our nation’s future. I feel some in our country have embraced a bullying rhetoric, and turn a blind eye to facts and justice for all.

 

 

 

 

91epsqx38slKathleen: The memories of her childhood ice-skating days became the subject of Tillie Walden’s graphic memoir called Spinning. The uncertainty of moving to a new city, starting middle school, and discovering her body and her sexuality make Tillie’s ice-skating routine comforting to her – until she starts questioning that, as well. The art is fantastic: only purples and yellows are used, and yellow quite sparingly, to highlight important parts of the story. Great blocks of deep purple around a single figure illustrate Tillie’s loneliness and uncertainty more than her words could.

 

 

Nancy: Briggs Land is an absolutely riveting new series about “an American family under siege” by both the government and their own hand. Set in rural upstate New York, Briggs Land is a hundred square mile oasis for people who want to live off the grid. Established in the Civil War era, the Briggs family would give sanctuary to those who wanted to live a simple life, but this anti-government colony has taken a dark turn in recent times. The village that grew within it’s fences has morphed into a breeding ground for white supremacy, domestic terrorism and money laundering. The second volume is scheduled to be released in late January, and I dearly hope it stays as strong as it’s debut volume was.

 

 

gunslinger-rebornKathleen: Like the rebel that I am, I read the graphic novel adaptation of The Dark Tower series titled The Gunslinger Born before I started the books. But let me tell you, it left me desperate for more and started my new-found obsession. The young Roland sets out with his two best friends to Mejis, where they are sent by their fathers to stay out of trouble. What they find in that sleepy little town is a conspiracy loyal to the Crimson King – and Roland’s true love, Susan, who may doom them all. I can’t say enough about the art in this book. I was in love with the stark contrasts and the way the figure’s faces were usually in shadow, leaving the reader to guess at their true intents. If the seven book series scares you, try reading the graphic novel first and seeing how fast you devour the books after that 😉

And there you’ve got your must-reads of 2017! We spanned several genres and publishers, and each of us had a DC and Marvel choice. Surprisingly Image didn’t make the cut. Here’s hoping 2018 brings us many more excellent graphic novels… we don’t think they made it hard enough for us to choose ;D

– Nancy and Kathleen

Secret Path

When I heard of the graphic novel Secret Path drawn by one of my favorite artist’s, Jeff Lemire,  I knew I wanted to read it, not understanding that it was so much more than a book. Secret Path is a ten song concept album written by Gord Downie paired with a graphic novel that tells the story of Chanie Wenjack.

Chanie was  a twelve year-old Anishinaabe boy who died in 1966, trying to escape from  the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Ontario, Canada. Chanie, often called Charlie, was trying to walk approximately 400 miles home by following the Canadian National Railway but perished of hunger and exposure.

Lemire’s interpretation of Chanie’s last journey is wordless, but with lyrics of Downie’s songs alongside the pictures. The residential school and Canadian wilderness are shown starkly with white, grey, black and blue colors representing his loneliness and isolation.  Only when Chanie is thinking of his family are his memories shown in contrasting warm hued colors. This is similar in how Lemire told another story about a First Nation’s family in his recent book, Roughneck.  Lemire also effectively frames Chanie’s sad memories of the school in an off-kilter method that keeps the adults heads out of the panels and draws his trademark black bird as part of the imagery.

While the graphic novel is excellent, it should be read in tandem to listening to the ten songs that were written by Downie before he even contacted Lemire to illustrate the accompanying book. Afterwards watch the video that combines the graphics and music into a haunting montage. Sadly, Downie died in October, but his music and the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund will be a lasting legacy.

While this tragic story highlights one individual, Chanie truly represents the hundreds of thousands of native children that the Canadian government took from their homes and sent to residential schools.  Canada doesn’t stand alone on trying to eradicate native culture, the United States government did the same to native families- ripping family and cultural connections from them and trying to get them to assimilate into what government and religious officials felt was appropriate. Kudos to Downie and Lemire for bringing attention to this shameful part of Canada’s (and America’s) history, for only through a truthful reflection can positive change and reconciliation be established.

-Nancy

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Downie, Gord & Jeff Lemire. Secret Path. 2016.

 

 

Roughneck

Roughneck is a beautifully told standalone tale of a brother and sister’s quest to reconnect with one another and their cultural identity written and illustrated by the talented Jeff Lemire.

The story opens in the fictional small town of Pimitamon in northern Ontario, Canada, which means “crossroads” in Cree. This detail is important as it is symbolic for the theme of the story and recognizes the heritage of the main characters. We meet Derek Ouellette, a hulking former NHL player, who was kicked off his professional team for excessive violence on the ice. While he is a local legend, he is always on the defense for he is often baited by antagonistic men, eager to brag that they fought with the drunken brawler.

Derek has the support of Ray, a former childhood friend now turned police officer, and Al an older man who manages the ice rink in town. He will desperately need their help when his sister Beth comes back into town as she is addicted, pregnant and on the run from an abusive boyfriend. The siblings reconnect after many years apart, as teen-aged Beth had ran away when Derek left to join the NHL. When Beth’s drug addiction issues come to a head, Al lets the siblings use his hunting cabin out in the bush, so Beth can detox. Alone for the first time in years, Derek and Beth reminisce about their childhood with a Cree mother and a drunken white father. Tragedy in their family shaped them into who they are now as adults, but both want to break free of the violence and despair that engulf them, thus the symbolic crossroads from earlier comes into play.

Lemire handles the storyline of Derek and Beth’s Cree heritage with grace and respect. The sibling’s began to appreciate their heritage and take some steps in reconnecting with their mother’s family. The reality of native families becoming disenfranchised from their cultural heritage, is mirrored in the excellent book The Outside Circle, which also deals with First Nation individuals whose circles of community were broken which led to fragmenting generations of people with no connection to their tribe anymore. The ending is open to interpretation, and while I at first looked at it one way, re-reading it I see a more melancholy but poignant way of concluding the story.

The artwork is trademark Lemire, with sketchy and minimalist lines. Most of the story is in black and white with overlays of blue wash, which effectively shows the icy coldness of Canadian winters. There will be an occasional splash of red, showing the blood that Derek beats out of others. When the story has flashbacks to the sibling’s youth, more color is introduced, but with soft water colored hues. He captures the feel of small towns with their varied local inhabitants, and showcases the beauty of rural landscapes.

I enjoy much of Lemire’s work for Marvel, DC & Image, but it is his stories in Essex County and Roughneck that truly show his skill as an outstanding storyteller.

-Nancy

Lemire, Jeff. Roughneck, 2017.

 

Essex County Collected

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Lemire, Jeff. Essex County. 2009.

Essex County is a beautifully written love letter to the author’s childhood home in rural Essex County, Ontario, Canada. This three part graphic novel interweaves a hundred years of history and family connections into a heartfelt epic about regrets, memories and family roots.

The first story, Tales From The Farm introduces you to a hurting boy, Lester, living with his uncle after his mother’s death from cancer. He derives his strength from always wearing a hero’s cape and mask, despite the derision of his peers. He befriends a simple man in town, Jimmy, who goes along with playacting superhero stories with him. Jimmy has a connection to Lester that is hinted at but not confirmed.

The second longer story, Ghost Stories, shares the decades in the making estrangement of two brothers Lou and Vince LeBeuf. The story is told from Lou’s perspective, as an old man, whose memories merge in and out of the past and current day. The two brothers, both excellent hockey players, move to Toronto as young men to join a minor league hockey team called the Toronto Grizzlies. Vince’s girlfriend Beth is loved by both men, and ultimately the falling out between the brothers is over her. A question of paternity arises, with Vince and Beth leaving the city to move back to Essex County and marry. Lou stays behind, lonely and filed with regret, making a life for himself in Toronto. Twenty five years go by, and only his mother’s funeral brings him back home. It takes yet another family tragedy to keep him there.

The final story, The Country Nurse ties all the connections together. Anne is a widow who is a traveling nurse, and a caretaker to Lou. As a nurse, she is privy to many people’s lives, thus she sometimes has to prod people into making the best decision, and sometimes has to take matters into her own hands. Her loving spirit runs in the family, as a story about her grandmother emerges, showing the final community and family threads. Anne’s care helps heal some rips in some family dynamics and brings the story to a poignant conclusion.

The illustrations are done in black and white, and look deceptively simple. Lemire’s stark lines are reminiscent to me of children’s author/illustrator Bill Peet, known for his work at Disney and books about animals and rural settings. There are signs of connectedness through out the multi-paneled pages, once you know what to look for. Anne is shown sewing a quilt, for her story pieces all of the tales together into a whole just as a quilt does.  Before the final family tree is revealed, showing all the links between the families we have met on the preceding pages, you can see family resemblances take shape. The picture on page 10 and then again on page 442, show two young men a hundred years apart in history, in the same pose but for different reasons.

I’ve been reading this book on and off for several weeks now, savoring each story. Themes of what makes a family, living with decisions that can’t be unmade, and the hope of reconciliation run through out the novel and have given me much food for thought. Lessons I came away with after putting the book down: put away your pride and don’t wait until tomorrow to make an effort, for tomorrow is not promised. Now go kiss your mother!

-Nancy

Essex

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