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Jordie Bellaire

Star Wars: Princess Leia

I was gifted this book by none other than The Imperial Talker– a huge Star Wars fan, a new dad and good friend! I was anxious to read an adventure about Princess Leia, one of my childhood heroes and penned by the esteemed Mark Waid.

Set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, this story is about Leia dealing with the pain of losing her family and the entire planet of Alderaan. Immediately after the medal ceremony Leia approaches General Dodonna to see how she can help and discovers that surviving Alderaan citizens that were off world when the planet was destroyed are being hunted down by Imperial forces. Leia quickly finds pilot Evaan Verlaine, a fellow Alderaanian, to help her find and save their brethren. With a few slick maneuvers they escape to Naboo to find an enclave of musicians who keep their culture alive. I did appreciate the few panels that showed Leia seeing her birth mother represented in stained glass (see picture below) and feeling a connection without knowing why.  Smuggler and pilot Nien Nunb joins the women as they continue searching other worlds for survivors, and there is an intriguing subplot about what makes a true Aldaraanian when they discover an outpost of survivors that have intermarried with natives of that planet.

Author Mark Waid, who has written Kingdom Come and Strange Fruit, two favorites of mine, gives Leia a story to work through her grief. He addresses some hard questions: Is Leia still a princess without a world? What parts of a culture are worth saving? Should descendants of a people who now look and act different be considered valid citizens of Aldaraan? This one-off graphic novel tries to pull together many threads, but isn’t able to delve deep into many of the issues. I ended up wanting a bit more from this story than Waid was able to deliver.

The artwork was a mixed bag for me. The most glaring issue for me was that Princess Leia did not look like Carrie Fisher. Artist Terry Dodson made Leia a hottie with form fitting outfits and sexy come hither eye makeup and hair-dos. And it’s not as if he couldn’t replicate the actors who portrayed them in the movies, as the depictions of Padmé  and Bail Organa looked very accurate. There were several panels that lacked detail and definition; in particular, there was a scene of Leia as a child where she looked like a monkey with her face in profile and her hair flowing out like a tail.  I typically love the way Jordie Bellaire colors, but in this book the coloring was just standard, with some odd shading of faces.

I deliberately did not ask Jeff his opinions on the story he sent me before I read it, so I hope he gives me some feedback with his thoughts on the book. All in all, this was an enjoyable outing with Leia that gave a look at a gap in the Star Wars narrative that helps explain how the loss of her people shaped her into the general she became in later years.

-Nancy

Waid, Mark & Terry Dodson. Star Wars: Princess Leia. 2015.
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The Divided Earth

The Divided Earth is the final book of The Nameless City trilogy, and wraps the narrative up in a thrilling and satisfying conclusion!

Preceded by books The Nameless City and The Stone Heart, the story takes place in the fictional city Daidu, named by the Dao’s, the most recent conquering nation. However, due to centuries of conquest, the inhabitants of many different nationalities simply call it The Nameless City. This politically important Asian city sits alongside a mountain pass and is the only route to the sea, making it a critical location for trade and military movements. An ancient people carved a passageway through the mountain, but the technology they used has been lost to the ages.

The main characters are teen Kaidu, a Dao recently of the distant Homelands who is sent to the city to train as a soldier, a street-wise girl named Rat who has lived in the city her whole life, Ezri, who is the General’s son and who has just taken drastic measures to rule the city and his dangerous bodyguard Mura. These four young people have just discovered a mystical tome in the monastery that they believe has powers to dominate all the surrounding nations.

Ezri and Mura take the book that holds the formula for making Napatha, a powerful fire that can destroy armies and eat through stone, and plan to use it for the Dao nation to remain in control of the city. Both have complex and diverging reasons for wanting this power, and author Faith Erin Hicks deftly weaves in their back stories to explain their viewpoints. We see in the above panel how Ezri desperately justifies his actions, and his layered portrayal shows that he isn’t crafted to be a pure villain in the story.

Additional characters come into play, as adults from Kai and Rat’s life play integral roles in trying to thwart the war that Ezri and Mura are intent on starting. The conclusion has Ezri and Kai, two young men who come from privileged upbringings, face off. Paired with that, is the poignant confrontation between Mura and Rat whose backgrounds include tragedy and broken homes. These matches between the pairs show how similar starts in life don’t always lead to the same paths; as love and support from others and your own personal integrity can help shape you.

The conclusion is satisfying, with a three year time jump to show a realistic wrap up to the story. A few details were a bit pat, but as the story is geared towards young readers, the arcs for the four main characters ended appropriately. I was invested in the city’s inhabitants and would love to visit them again in a future story by Hicks. As such, I was excited to be approved for this book by NetGalley, so I could get a sneak peek at how the series concludes.

Hicks has crafted a story that tied in adventure, friendship and the cost of war.  She creates a believable world inspired by 13th century China and her artwork was wonderful with the precision of her backgrounds and how she captures emotion.  The coloring by Jordie Bellaire is lovely- and her work should get a shout out, as a colorist’s work establishes an aesthetic that is a crucial part of the storytelling. This captivating trilogy is a must read, not only to a YA audience, but also with older readers who will enjoy the nuanced tale.

-Nancy

The Stone Heart

Faith Erin Hicks’s second book in her The Nameless City trilogy shines!

In the first book we were introduced to the fictional city Daidu, aka Dandoa, named by the Dao’s, the most recent conquering nation. However, due to centuries of conquest, the inhabitants of many different nationalities simply call it The Nameless City. This politically important Asian city sits alongside a mountain pass and is the only route to the sea, making it a critical location for trade and military movements. An ancient people carved a passageway through the mountain, but the technology they used has been lost to the ages. The main characters are teen Kaidu, a Dao recently of the distant Homelands who is sent to the city to train as a soldier, and a street-wise girl named Rat who has lived in the city her whole life. Their unlikely friendship helps prevent the General of All Blades from being assassinated in book one.

In this second book, the plot is more character driven, and Kaidu and Rat’s back stories are fleshed out. Not only do we learn more about their families, we get a brief interlude that goes  further into world building, for Hicks has created a believable and exquisite city based on 13th century China. In addition, we are shown an authentic friendship and realistic banter between Kaidu, Rat and others.

We are also given background on the General’s son Ezri and his mysterious green-eyed bodyguard Mura. Ezri and Mura are shown to be calculating and murderous, and both make decisions that can only lead to the ruin of the tenuous treaties that the Dao nation was making with other kingdoms. They storm the monastery named The Stone Heart, which houses irreplaceable books including a mystical tome that they believe will give them powers to dominate all the surrounding nations. What they do next sets in motion the narrative for the final book The Divided Earth.

I eagerly look forward to how Hicks will wrap up this powerful graphic novel series. Her art work and storytelling are absolutely first rate!

-Nancy

Hicks, Faith Erin. The Stone Heart. 2017.

The Nameless City

Faith Erin Hicks + Avatar: The Last Airbender vibe + mythology + friendship = must read!

I am reading The Nameless City with my library middle schoolers for our graphic novel book club early in August based off several requests of theirs for this book. Despite my love of FEH’s book Friends With Boys and my excitement for her upcoming collaboration with Rainbow Rowell, I had not picked this up on my own. I typically am drawn to more mature storylines, and as this graphic novel is marketed to younger readers, I had not made an effort to read it until I needed to. But the story is anything but basic.

The story takes place in the great city Daidu, aka Dandoa, named by the Dao’s, the most recent conquering nation. However, due to centuries of conquest, the inhabitants of many different nationalities simply call it The Nameless City. This politically important Asian city sits alongside a mountain pass and is the only route to the sea, making it a critical location for trade and military movements. An ancient people carved a passageway through the mountain, but the technology they used has been lost to the ages.

Young Kaidu, a Dao recently of the distant Homelands, is sent to the city to train as a soldier and meet his father General Andren. While out on his first walk with his father through the city streets he spots a young girl who is sitting on a roof and who nimbly runs away across the rooftops.

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Kai has reason to meet her again the next day when he slips out to explore the city unescorted, which is against the rules. He and the street-wise girl, named Rat, develop a solid friendship despite their differences, and she teaches Kai how to quickly move about the city overhead in an extreme style of parkour.

As Kai gets to know his bookish father, and the inhabitants of the city, he realizes that the 30 year reign of the Dao is not as stable as he thought. Undercurrents run through the political organization with the head leader, General of all Blades, and his son Erzi training new recruits to maintain their hold on the city. When Rat and Kai hear of a plot to assassinate the head leader they take action and much adventure occurs.

The art by FEH is spot on. She has created a believable and exquisite city filled with details in the architecture and in how she draws it’s varied people.  While many times Hicks gives her characters extreme Manga-type expressions, other times she is more subtle and the variety is appreciated. Colored by Jordie Bellaire, the  aesthetic is subdued with a pleasing earth tone palette.

One good reason in waiting this long to pick up the first volume is that I can pick up the second volume The Stone Heart immediately, and then the concluding volume, The Divided Earth, will be available in September. I look forward to reading the entire trilogy and highly recommend this series!

-Nancy

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Hicks, Faith Erin & Jordie Bellaire. The Nameless City. 2016.

Rebels: A Well Regulated Militia

“A historical epic of America’s founding” is very accurate in describing this exceptionally good graphic novel with it’s window into the Revolutionary War era based in the NE corner of our new nation in the late 1700’s.

Divided into six chapters, author Brian 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.

A Well-Regulated Militia

We first meet Seth in 1768 as a boy with a gruff father in the New Hampshire (later to become Vermont) wilderness, eking out a homestead.  English soldiers in the region are hated by the settlers, who are there under the New Hampshire grants.  Skipping ahead to 1775, seventeen year old Seth marries teen-aged Mercy after her father is forced off his land by the redcoats. The young couple establish their own household, but local Ethan Allen easily convinces him to join his militia regiment. At first fighting for their region’s independence, he then is willing to fight for the entire colonies’ independence. He ends up being away from his wife for seven years, and while certainly in danger during battles, Seth views his time with the militia as a grand adventure with his best friend Ezekiel, a fellow soldier. In 1783 Seth finally comes home to Mercy discovering a son, as he had been unaware his wife was pregnant when he left.

This narrative was a fascinating look into an average farmer’s life and the threats they faced from the British and the local Loyalists. The battles that Seth participated in and the living conditions of the soldiers were shown in detail, and you could feel the backbreaking labor and fear they lived with. It also showed a nuanced view of the women left behind, as Mercy suffered just as much while being forced to fend for herself in an unforgiving wilderness.

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Goodwife, Follower, Patriot, Republican

Ever hear of the iconic folklore story of Molly Pitcher who stepped into battle to keep the canon shooting when her husband was shot? This story focuses on fictional Sarah Hull who in 1777 was the Battle of Saratoga’s “Molly Pitcher”. In later years her dying husband makes a plea for the government to give her a soldier’s pension for the work she provided. How her effort is disregarded by the representatives ties in with how sometimes women of today are also treated with indifference for their invaluable contributions.

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Liberty’s Daughter

Silence Bright, a young woman of mixed race, is caught printing and distributing leaflets in Boston that criticize the British in 1768. Thrown into Newgate Prison she is unbowed and the awesome quotes that I shall take to heart- “beware the bookish woman” and “hold fast” are used as she defiantly refuses to submit.

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Occupation

In 1775 we are given a brief glimpse of Seth Abbott again in NYC as he holed up in an attic with free black Clayton Freeman. Seth can not understand why Clayton is a Loyalist, and fighting for a corrupt regime for he tries to convince Clayton that he should be fighting for the freedom of the colonies. What he doesn’t understand is that “freedom” will not come for all, and that many blacks made the hard choice of fighting for the Crown that promised them freedom and passage away from the colonies. This vignette made me think of our current president, especially with the quote “…how were the lies of King George (Trump) at all appealing? Was there something we were missing?”

Stone Hoof

A young Shawnee brave, Stone Hoof, helps soldiers build Fort Stalwart in the Ohio River Valley in 1750 and befriends Will Henderson. As his tribe are migrants, he is in and out of the region over the years until 1757 when his tribe attacks the fort, as they have aligned with the French who are fighting the British for this territory.  As both he and Henderson survive the battle, they meet for one last time, and each try to understand why the other believes what they do.

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Bloody Backs

In 1769 a young man in a London is given a choice- go to prison or head to the colonies as a British soldier. He clings to his idealism and loyalty to the Crown as he miserably slogs  through battle after battle. He meets an ignoble end by a Green Mountain Boy at the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780, never having achieved a rank higher than a lowly private, and for what- glory?

Image result for rebels brian wood bloody backs

The artwork throughout all the stories is superb. Several artists contributed to the six stories, and all convey an authentic feel to this era and region. The grittiness of wilderness living and the gore of war are shown in a realistic manner, with coloring that is evocative and helps convey the story even more effectively. I want to give a special shout out to artist Tula Lotay, who created each chapter’s cover art. Each page she creates is a beautiful homage to the coming story. In addition the extras at the end give some insight to the making of the book with some great essays by the author and some of the artists.

With this book, plus his outstanding Briggs Land,  Wood has vaulted onto the list of my top ten favorite authors of graphic novels! I will absolutely be checking out Wood’s Viking saga Northlanders and will pick up all future work in this series.

-Nancy

The Vision: Little Better Than A Beast (Volume 2)

The Vision series comes to a close in this second volume, and it brings all the pathos of a Shakespearean tragedy.

Considering my high regard for the first volume Little Worse than a Man and it’s inclusion on my Best Reads of 2017 list, surprisingly it took me a year to pick up and read this second volume. I knew that reading it in one sitting would be best, so the quietly ominous story could have it’s best effect. The conclusion did not disappoint, yet it did have a different feel than the first. The first volume showed how The Vision, a syntheziod, desperately wanted a family and how his creation upended what others considered human behavior. This concluding volume goes back in time and shows The Vision’s rationale for wanting to create a family, and his motives turn out to be a bit complex.

The volume opens with his past relationship with Scarlet Witch and how their unlikely romance resulted in marriage. The marriage deteriorates as Wanda’s delusion of having twin boys takes over (this plot point has always been confusing to me as Wiccan and Speed are now real Young Avengers) and a seemingly innocuous joke between the two builds and carries through to the end. It seems The Vision’s love for Wanda and her wish for family subverts itself in his later wish for the same thing, and how he creates his new wife Virginia.

When we are in present day we see twins Vin and Viv (again a connection to The Vision’s first twins) and Vin’s obsession with quoting some of Shakespeare’s work. A quote from The Merchant of Venice bring volume one and two’s titles into focus, “When he is best he is a little worse than a man, and when he is worst he is little better than a beast” and we know that the story is building towards an unhappy climax.

Themes of destiny and intentions are interwoven throughout the narrative, with many of the Avengers coming off negatively, with many injustices heaped upon the Vision family by them. Decisions certain family members make in the name of love or revenge, can be connected to their true humanity vs the shaky moral high-ground that others around them take.

The art in both volumes is excellent.  When The Vision is with his family the panels are precise and clean, with a more sketchy style used when he is out of the house and interacting with others. I believe this a subtle nod to The Vision feeling when he is with his new family he is in control and being less clear when he has to deal with the conflicting motivations of people outside his realm of influence.

This two-volume story is outstanding and really subverts the typical superhero narrative. There are many layers to the story and it touches on important themes such as xenophobia, definitions of humanity and love for family. While I feel the first volume was a bit stronger than this second one, the poignant conclusion is a perfect wrap up, and the team that created it deserves major respect.

-Nancy

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Ling, Tom, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Michael Walsh & Jordie Bellaire. The Vision: Little Better Than a Beast. 2016.

The Vision: Little Worse Than A Man

Meet the Vision and his family – he’s an Avenger and presidential liaison, plus his wife Virginia, and their twins Vin & Viv. Vision is a syntheziod, an android with synthetic blood and organs, who has has wiped his emotions associated with his memories to process more effectively. He has created a family and attempts to join society by creating a human persona.

But this book 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. So what is humanity? Well, Merriam Webster’s definition of humanity is: compassionate, sympathetic, or generous behavior or disposition,  the quality or state of being human, the totality of human beings; the human race.

The Vision family attempts to normalize their behavior, but are treated as outsiders and a threat by the community, for they do not meet society’s preconceived notions of what is acceptable. They are Others, a me vs them mentality. But as the story progresses, this new family shows more compassion, love and sacrifice than the people persecuting them. Events occur, some of their own doing, that puts their family’s existence into peril.  A metaphor that I found in the story was that the Vision family was like the water vase of Zenn-La they displayed in their home, for they are extraordinary beings trying to mold themselves into everyday humans, but just as the vase is toxic to flowers, their attempt to join humanity becomes poisonous. So, is their life just a charade, or more?

This story had come highly recommended to me from my beloved Graham Crackers Comic Store staff, and I can see why. I had purchased this copy for my library’s collection, and I had put off reading it for awhile. At first I read it in small snatches, but the story line didn’t coalesce until I started again from the beginning and read it in one sitting. 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.

Humanity as defined in the dictionary is sharing compassion with others and having a generous disposition. So let us take heed, and truly show humanity to ALL who are out there, regardless of their “otherness”.

-Nancy

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King Tom, Gabriel Hernandez Walta & Jordie Bellaire.  The Vision. 2016.

 

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