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Best Reads of 2018

It’s that time of year again! Here we’ve compiled our list of the ten best books we’ve read in 2018, and their consequent reviews, in no particular order. Enjoy!

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Superman: Grounded

Kathleen: Superman knows he’s not like any other man, but that doesn’t stop him from striving to emulate the best in humanity. However, he feels his moral center is deteriorating, and he’s unsure what to do. “What does Superman stand for? What does he mean to the regular citizens of this earth?” Clark asks himself. Well, he decides to go for a walk to clear his head. In his odyssey across the United States, he sees citizens going about their day and helps anyway he can. This book is the best iteration of Superman, and the struggle between his alienness and humanity, I’ve ever read. If you’ve run into Strascynski’s work for other superheroes, you’ll love his interpretation of Superman.

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The Plague Widow

Nancy: I enjoyed Brian Wood’s seven-volume Northlanders series, with the fourth volume being my favorite. The story takes place in the frozen Volga region in AD 1020. A plague has come to the seven hundred person settlement, so the local priest counsels strongly that the settlement goes under quarantine and those who show any sickness be banished. But what they don’t take into account is how claustrophobia sets in, and they find they locked the greater danger inside their walls with them. Hilda, a young beautiful widow with an eight-year-old daughter, is caught in the crosshairs as her former status as a wealthy woman is stripped when her husband dies of the plague. Destitute, with a long winter ahead, she struggles to survive. The excellent art by Leandro Fernandez captures the isolation of a Viking settlement in turmoil.

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Fables series (link to Deluxe Edition Book 1 and Deluxe Edition Book 15 and Series Recap)

Kathleen: Y’all thought I was done singing the Fables praises, eh? Not even close =P Those fairy tales you thought were fiction? They’re true, and the characters live among us. The Fables fled from their Homelands after a ruthless Emperor rose to power and took the Homelands for himself. In modern New York City, the Fables have built new lives for themselves, but the Emperor is just a world away, and he’s looking for them. Fables is one of, if not the best, long-running graphic novel series that isn’t a superhero comic. Thus, the writing doesn’t suffer from the usual tropes that plague superhero comics, especially as far as characterization. The art by Mark Buckingham is consistently top-quality as well and has become a personal favorite.

Marys Monster

Mary’s Monster

Nancy: An ode to Frankenstein, this is a poetic and beautifully evocative book about Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley, the author of the classic 1818 novel. This fictionalized biography by Lita Judge details Mary’s life from childhood onward and is told in free verse. Dark and lovely, the art brings Mary to life, just as Mary brought the creature Frankenstein to life. Judge’s moody black and white watercolor illustrations, paired with the sensuous verses, effectively show the ideals and passions that ruled Mary and her poet husband Percy. Mary’s tumultuous life helped shape her into a masterful writer and led her to create an unforgettable novel. She and her creature won’t soon be forgotten.

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The Ghost, The Owl

Kathleen: A little girl appears on the edge of a forest lake. She can understand the language of animals – which means she’s no longer living. She’s so small, scared, and confused, that Owl promises to help her find out what happened to her. Some of the other animals think that Owl should mind his own business, but he knows it’s the right thing to do… and will do it, no matter what anyone else says or thinks. This graphic novel was executed brilliantly. There are no panels whatsoever. Only the art connects the speech bubbles: the lines are graceful, sinuous, and gently guide the reader where they’re supposed to go next. It’s so brilliant, intuitive, and unlike anything I’d seen before, that I had to read it all over again as soon as I finished.

Rebels

Rebels: A Well Regulated Militia

Nancy: “A historical epic of America’s founding” and is very accurate in describing this exceptionally good graphic novel by Brian Wood and Andrea Mutti. It gives a window into the Revolutionary War era based in the NE corner of our new nation in the late 1700’s. Divided into six chapters, Wood first gives us a lengthy portrait of the fictional character Seth Abbott and his journey from farm boy to one of the well-respected leaders of the Green Mountain Boys. Then we are given shorter non-linear vignettes of other loyalists and patriots and their contributions to the war. Make sure you check out its sequel These Free and Independent States about Seth’s son John during the War of 1812.

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DC Showcase Presents: The Trial of the Flash

Kathleen: Barry Allen is about to start his life over again when the Reverse Flash escapes from his Speedforce prison and vows to end it on Barry’s wedding day. The Reverse Flash targets Fiona Webb, Barry’s bride to be, just as he targeted Barry’s first wife, Iris West. In the aftermath of the ensuing fight, the Reverse Flash is dead, Fiona suffers a mental breakdown, and Central City is torn on whether or not the Flash is a murderer. The jury must decide if Flash’s past heroic feats earn him a “get out of jail free” card, or if he must be held accountable for his actions like any other man. This is a run from the ’80s, and the writing contains the best of both the goofy, totally-out-there subplots of older comics and the moral gravity of modern comics.

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Star Wars: From A Certain Point Of View

Nancy: I love Star Wars! I love short stories! Together this anthology was a win-win for me. Forty authors celebrated forty years of Star Wars by contributing a story of a minor or supporting character from the ending of Rogue One to the finale of A New Hope. This book is a must read for all Star Wars fans. It strengthened and filled in gaps in the narrative and this new canon was a treat from beginning to end.

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Hey, Kiddo

Kathleen: Acclaimed children’s author Jarrett J. Krosoczka presents a memoir of his childhood. His grandparents took him in as his mother went to jail for heroin addiction, and her brothers and sisters (Krosoczka’s aunts and uncles) were going off to college. Krosoczka explains how he came to terms with his feelings about his unusual family through drawing and writing stories. Though I have not been exposed to his children’s works, I can without a doubt say that Krosoczka is a master of his craft. The illustrations in this graphic memoir, with their squiggly lines and limited color palette, are among the most effective I’ve seen in a memoir. Reproductions of family artifacts within also drive home the personal nature of this story and help make it more real to readers.

My Fav Things is Monsters

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters

Nancy: The review for one of my favorite books wasn’t even on our blog, as I had written it as a guest post for Reads & Reels! My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is an extraordinary and ambitious graphic novel. Equal parts memoir, murder mystery and coming-of-age drama, the art in this book is beyond amazing. New author Emil Ferris has created a story set in Chicago in the late 1960’s, with the story framed as a graphic diary written in a notebook by Karen Reyes, a ten-year old girl living with her single mom and older brother.  But what sets this story apart is the author’s choice to represent Karen as a werewolf, with the device being that Karen perceives herself as a monster. I eagerly look forward to the sequel and answers to the mysteries found in this unique book.

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Batman: White Knight

Kathleen: I had to make an honorable mention here. After Batman force-feeds the Joker an unknown medication, the Joker seems to be… cured? The newly reformed Jack White, along with Harleen Quinzel, is crusading to deliver Gotham City from the Dark Knight, whom they’re painting as the biggest criminal of all. Other than the corrupt Gotham Police Department, of course. Some in Gotham support White and his message, while others believe it’s all another Joker scheme, albeit more elaborate than usual. This one turns every assumption you have about Batman on its head and makes you question whether he’s doing good – or if he’s just another criminal trying to prove that he’s a hero. The art is appropriately dark, moody, and carefully detailed in a Gothic style.

There you have it! Our list has DC representation from Kathleen, as that is her favorite publisher, but surprisingly Nancy’s list did not include two of her usual favorites- Marvel and Image. Smaller publishers got a shout out on both lists which is a great development. We hope you check these books out and enjoy them as much as we did!

-Kathleen & Nancy

Batman: The Killing Joke movie

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After recently reading the book, The Killing Joke, I wanted to watch the animated straight to DVD/Blueray version of the story. As with any beloved book, could a movie represent what was so popular in the book?  Could a director and animation crew match Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s vision in the story? Did it meet expectations? Well…yes(ish).

Indeed they tried, but a big criticism is the imagined prologue that was added on. This almost 30 minute segment was about Batgirl, and her sexually charged relationship with Batman. Perhaps they felt this was necessary for the source material is a relatively short book, and even with the extended prologue the movie only clocked in at 77 minutes. While this add on was interesting about Barbara and her motives, it made her seem needy and much younger than the book portrays her. Plus, the sex issue with a former father figure was skevy. This would have made a great episode of a Batman tv series, but wasn’t well matched with the classic story.

Once The Killing Joke story began it got back on track. The animation tone matched Bolland’s illustration style, with the red crayfish and Barbara’s yellow shirt being duplicated faithfully. The voice actors were all superb, with Mark Hamill’s voice as the Joker being a standout. I’m glad they had him do the voice, knowing he would again be voicing the villain was a draw for many to watch this adaptation.

The ending fell a bit flat for me. I felt the book’s ending conveyed more power and ambiguity to Batman’s and Joker’s interaction. I felt in the movie they were just buddies laughing at a bad joke, instead of the questionably ominous ending of the book. Thus, I would give the movie a tepid recommendation, for it was interesting to compare the book to the movie.

Final thoughts: Although it received a R rating, for it contained some sexual content and violence, it felt like a PG13 movie to me. Teens could safely watch it in my opinion.  As most super hero movies give a little Easter egg at the end, this remained true in this movie, so make sure you stick around through the credits.

-Nancy

 

Batman: The Killing Joke

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Moore, Alan & Brian Bolland. Batman: The Killing Joke. 1988.

I needed to read this novel and see what all the fuss is about- after all it is on our Recommendations list. Did it live up to all the hype? Yes and no.

First and foremost,  I am not enamored of Batman for he’s grumpy and skulks around in the shadows. I am not typically a DC fan, so I am not aware of some of the background history of Batman lore, although I do know who Barbara was and will become. One of the reasons this novel is considered a stand out is that in 1988 the level of violence was more extreme than other comics in the past. But after reading Locke & Key and The Walking Dead recently, the violence in this novel did not strike me as excessive ( I am desensitized to it, which is actually kinda sad) . All of this already puts me at a disadvantage starting the story.

I was reading the deluxe edition, that is both drawn and re-colored by Brian Bolland. In this edition, his original concept is now done the way he envisioned it. The illustrations are beyond good, with eye popping bold colors added in contrast to the more sepia colored panels. Joker is a vision, and I liked this rendition of him better than others by other artists.

Alan Moore is a legend, so you know the origin story for Joker is golden, although highly suspect.  Some of Joker’s dialogue is spot on such as:

“So when you find yourself locked onto an unpleasant thought, heading for the places in your past where the screaming is unbearable, remember there’s always madness…madness is the emergency exit.”

“All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy”   His statements actually make…sense.

In the end, Joker’s manipulations don’t have the desired effect on Commissioner Gordon, but they just might on Batman. The ambiguous ending between Joker and Batman can be interpreted in many different ways. This draw your own conclusion setup is what elevates this story. On my first read through, I thought the story was just meh. On second read through, I understood some of the nuances and got a lot more from it.

This deluxe edition has a lot going for it including a introduction by Tim Sale and an afterword by Brian Bolland. Bolland also adds a bonus story that true aficionados will enjoy, but did nothing for me. While this story did not even come close to making me a Batman fan, I do see why this story was groundbreaking and is loved to this day. As such, it was tuned into an animated movie recently, with mixed reviews.

-Nancy

Kathleen- I am calling you out, for I now have read several DC novels, and you have yet to review a Marvel one. I have been pleasantly surprised at some of the DC storylines, so now I want you to find a Marvel book and enjoy it!

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