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Jordie Bellaire

Redlands

A trio of witches take over the rural Florida town of Redlands, and play both victim and villain as the years go by.

Volume One: Sisters By Blood

The story opens in 1977 when the corrupt Redlands police force are trapped inside their police station when a lynching of the witch coven goes sideways. The three witches- Alice, Ro and Bridget- demand sacrifice to remain strong and many officers are killed. Skip to modern-day, and the women are masquerading as police detectives who are dealing with a magical serial killer who seems to be on to them. There are some additional flashbacks to 1984 and a sex trade cartel that Bridgit is trying to infiltrate. I was rather confused at the end because it seems as if the soul of a teen prostitute long-dead inhabits Bridget’s body and wants revenge years later. In the midst of this, there are lots of sexual encounters and violence, but the idea of these flawed witches trying to right some wrongs was enough to capture my attention and wonder where the story will go next.

I am familiar with the author, Jordie Bellaire, as a colorist on many of my graphic novel reads, so it was interesting to have her in another role. She mixes together an intriguing horror and feminist vibe, reminiscent of Hex Wives that I read recently. The artwork is very sketchy, which I’ve noticed more of lately, and isn’t always a very attractive look. The women are drawn with a realistic but seductive look, as the female artist, Vanesa Del Rey, understands the feminine body. The coloring is dark to represent the swampy bayous of the region and the murky narrative.

Volume Two: Water On The Fire

After finding volume one intriguing, I looked up volume two to reserve but, but when I saw the cover there was no way I was going to order a copy through inter-library loan for my co-workers to see! Luckily, I found a copy through the online service Hoopla to read. While I am no prude, I was disappointed the cover is so very gratuitous.

This volume begins with a visit to the past- the way-back past! We find Alice in ancient Egypt (why would she be named Alice back then??), Ro in Viking era Ireland, Bridget during the Salem Witch Trial time period and their “Father” in all three eras who turned them all into witches and demands obedience. We learn more about Bridget’s police partner Casper (who is a ghost, hence the name), Ro’s adopted clairvoyant daughter Itsy, Bridget’s sometimes lover Laurent, and the revenge-seeking teen prostitute Nancy who is still inhabiting Bridget’s body- and it is becoming difficult to keep all the details straight.

This volume ends in a cliff-hanger of sorts- the witch’s evil father is pulling strings and setting the three women up to be on opposite sides of a crisis that only can result in bloodshed. It has been over two years since this volume with no more issues on the horizon, so my guess is the series was dropped. No loss- while it started out promisingly the narrative threads became too convoluted for me to understand or really care about. The artwork didn’t help, for it was often too scratchy and dark to pick up on details that might have helped carry the story. I hope that Bellaire keeps on writing, she just needs to streamline her stories.

-Nancy

No way was the cover going to be used in my post header picture!

Black Widow: The Ties That Bind

“Something is very wrong with Natasha: she’s…happy?!”

This thin graphic novel about Black Widow surprised me in how much I liked it, despite it being centered around the common trope of amnesia. Chosen as this month’s book club selection for the Goodreads group I Read Comic Books, I felt it was good timing as I’m planning to watch the new DVD release of Black Widow soon.

The story starts out with Natasha helping Captain America with a one-off mission in NYC, but then mysteriously being hit with some tranquilizers and falling off a building. Three months later she is spotted in San Francisco, as an architect, with a husband and toddler son. She seems blissfully happy, and the boy truly seems to be hers. What?! How could she have a child over a year old in three months time?

Clint (Hawkeye) and Bucky (Winter Soldier- why does he always wear a mask??) find her and are as confused as us readers. Do they intervene? Who is behind all of it? Unknown to them, Natasha’s sister Yelena has also found her and is trying to get to the bottom of it. A preposterous villain team has arranged it all (and how Natasha’s son came to be defies credibility, plus the question of her new husband’s past) but we need to have a suspension of disbelief and move on.

Natasha’s facade is showing some cracks as she steps in to help a woman in danger and discovers she had bad-ass skills and no memory of her past. Soon the villain team is after her so Natasha, Clint, Bucky and Yelena need to move quickly to save her husband James and son Stevie, as she rediscovers who she is. While this is supposed to be the first in a series, it feels like a stand-alone story, as the somewhat predictable ending seems to wrap up this chapter in Natasha’s life.

This book has an all-woman creative team which is appreciated and gives more weight to some of the emotional narrative threads. That Natasha has little time to grieve at the end and inappropriately has to comfort Clint and Bucky at the end, was intentional. Natasha carries the weight of the world on her shoulders and needs help in coping, not additional burdens, but isn’t that what women often do- carry not only their own problems but other’s issues too? The art and coloring were excellent, with an illustration change during flashbacks. Little Stevie was adorable, and I believe that Natasha’s time with him will change her. For a story that was a bit formulaic, it worked for me.

-Nancy

Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 7): Oracle Rising

The Terrible Trio stumbles upon an abandoned piece of AI calling itself Oracle. Upon rebooting, Oracle questions why she was abandoned by her creator: Barbara Gordon. Now, she’s out for answers and revenge, in no particular order. Babs has been pulling double duty with Congresswoman Alejo’s campaign, and Killer Moth’s latest reign of terror. He mentioned some kind of deal that was made with Lex Luthor, to give him weapons and technology that are normally outside his scope. But before she can investigate that, Oracle descends. How can Batgirl beat an enemy that she created to know her inside out?

Honestly? I couldn’t get into this one and found it boring. Probably the first time I’ve said that about a Batgirl comic =P It was too busy for me, story-wise. There was too much going on without much explanation. I found the art equally messy and busy.

I might give this one another try when pandemic brain isn’t too strong.

– Kathleen

Castellucci, Cecil, Carmine Di Giandomenico, and Jordie Bellaire. Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 7): Oracle Rising. 2020.

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

 

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.

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.

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

Image result for the nameless city
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.

Image result for rebels brian wood

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.

Image result for rebels brian wood

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.

Image result for rebels brian wood libertys daughter

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.

Image result for rebels brian wood stone hoof

 

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

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