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Mark Waid

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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Kingdom Come

I’d forgotten until I was halfway through this one that Nancy has already read and reviewed it… but by that point, I was committed to finishing it! The show must go on, right? And I figured I’d see how similar or different our opinions were on it =P

Just before his death, the Sandman begins to have terrible visions. His friend, Pastor Norman McCay, is with him in his final moments – but then the visions transfer to him after the Sandman passes. The visions are horrible, filled with fire and blood and thunder. The Spectre appears to Pastor McCay, saying that he needs his help, because Armageddon is almost upon them. He needs a human soul to help him judge whomever is responsible for the impending evil.

It is a new millennium, and the superheroes of old have retired, or gone back to their homes, or gone into hiding. The new heroes – the descendants or proteges of those who came before – act without thought or reason. One of them, who calls himself Magog, killed The Atom, causing a nuclear fallout across the American Midwest. Wonder Woman appears to Superman, pleading for him to come out of his self-imposed exile and show the world hope once more. He reluctantly agrees, but the world is not what it used to be. Humanity hasn’t retained the same morality or capacity for hope. Is it possible for Superman to stick to his old morals to reach the next generation, show them the hero’s way, and save humanity?

… Holy crap. This book challenges the role of superheroes in a new millennium and an ever-changing society – and succeeds. Though it was written in the late ’90s, it still holds up extremely well today. The heroes you know and love are seen here as older, some jaded, some still hopeful they can make a difference. They are caught between their love of humanity, their deep-rooted morals, and the realization that sometimes the world moves on without you, and you have to change and adapt to it rather than expecting the world to bend to your will (even if you’ve superhuman will). I loved how these things conflicted within each character. This goes for our narrator Pastor McCay, and the villains who appear too, not just the heroes. Spectacular writing by Mark Waid all around.

The art… I cannot say enough about it. Two words: Alex Ross. He makes magic with superheroes. He works in more of a photorealistic style, making your favorite heroes really come to life. His sense of color and lighting, especially when it comes to the metallic aspects of some costumes, is unparalleled. Since his style takes longer to render than usual comic book art, he usually only does covers – seeing a whole comic with his art is a real treat. I’m not exaggerating when I say you’ve never seen a comic book illustrated like this before.

TLDR: As an artist, Alex Ross makes me want to quit daily X,D

In short, Kingdom Come is a must-read for any comic book fan. Waid’s writing challenges the place of superheroes in a new society, which is only augmented by Ross’ spectacular art.

– Kathleen

P.S. I didn’t read Nancy’s review until I’d finished mine so I wouldn’t accidentally borrow her thoughts and ideas. I only knew she loved it, but the reasons why ended up being pretty similar. Except for the “One Year Later” ending… I HATED IT! EW!! GROSS!!! Save for that, we’re of the same mind on this one 😉

Waid, Mark, and Alex Ross. Kingdom Come. 2008.

Strange Fruit

I was encouraged to read this book by my trusted Graham Crackers comic book store staff. Their synopsis: what if a black Superman landed in the segregated South during the 1920’s? They have never steered me wrong with my purchases, and I was intrigued at how a superhero origin story could be upended by racism. In fact the title of the book is based off the song made famous by Billie Holiday, Strange Fruit, which is about lynchings and bigotry (video link below).

This magical realism tale is based off the historical 1927 flooding that affected many towns in the South along rivers. Blacks were disproportionately forced to shore up the crumbling levies, and were the ones whose poor land was most often affected the worst when natural catastrophe hit (as the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans was hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina in 2005). As the threat of disaster looms in this story, and racial tensions are mounting, an explosion occurs nearby. An alien ship has crash landed and out climbs a naked black man, whose ship disappears into the river muck. Mute, he is confused as to why white men dressed in their KKK regalia attack him. Another black man grabs the Confederate Battle Flag they dropped to wrap around our naked hero, who is sometimes referred to as Johnson (this refers to something he needs to cover) or Colossus. This covering courts controversy in town as he heads to the library to gain knowledge about this strange new planet. Just when political, social and racial tensions are reaching their breaking point, the levy also breaks, and his immense strength is utilized to help save the town. There is a rather grim conclusion, with no satisfying hero’s arc or hints of redemption available.

The artwork is amazing. Reminiscent of Alex Ross’s artwork in Kingdom Come (that Mark Waid also wrote), JG Jones’s artwork is photo-realism in style, and cinematic in scope. The panels often look like they are painted movie stills, with incredibly realistic looking characters. I am reminded of Dorothea Lange’s photography work of the Depression-era poor when I see how some of the people and community are portrayed, and I’m sure photographs of that time period were utilized for research by the illustrator when creating this story. The hero’s depiction seemed a bit overdone at times, but the underlying sinister legacy of racism came through loud and clear.

Image result for strange fruit jones waid cover

However, the narrative turned out to be problematic at times. On my first reading, I thought the story was powerful and thought provoking, and I loved the artwork. But when graphic novels are multi-layered like this one is, I like to read it a second time and ponder the message more deeply, so I can better pull my thoughts together. The two men who wrote and illustrated the story were raised in the South as boys but are white men. So the question is can white men properly depict what blacks experience, since they are not writing from an #ownvoices perspective? I recently took a graduate class on diversity in young adult literature, and that was a topic that came up again and again, as white privilege is a very real issue. The book did have a foreword written by Elvis Mitchell, a black film critic, which helped give it some credibility, and he brought up that this story helps raise awareness of race in comics. Created with the best of intentions, but imperfectly framed at times, I found this book provocative and well worth reading, even if it just raises more questions than it answers. If any one out there has read this book, I’d love to hear what your thoughts were after you read it.

-Nancy

 

Kingdom Come

Kingdom Come
Waid, Mark & Alex Ross. Kingdom Come. 1996.

When IGN declared this story “One of the greatest comic book stories of all time” they were not far off the mark.

After I read Red Son and enjoyed it so much, this book was recommended to me by the manager at Graham Crackers, and he was spot on- I loved this book. The moralistic debate storyline and the artwork are top notch, and holds up 20 years after first being published. The Eisner Awards that were given to Alex Ross were well deserved.

Set in the near future, the iconic superheroes have retired, giving rise to a new type of “hero,” some of whom are children of the original heroes, many of whom are selfish and are out only for themselves. They do not care for the destruction that occurs when they fight among themselves (Marvel’s Civil War seems to borrow from this plot point in the beginning of their book) as they are lacking personal responsibility.  We are introduced to Norman McCay, a pastor who is the story’s POV narrator, and is shepherded around by The Spectre, The Agent of God’s Wrath. The two are privy to events, as an impending apocalyptic event looms.

Superman is in seclusion, after the death of his wife Lois Lane, but Wonder Woman visits him to ask that he reenter society to help ward off further catastrophic events, after a huge swath of America is ruined after two warring superhumans fight. The two reform the Justice League, with many heroes such as The Green Lantern, The Flash, Power Woman, and Red Robin joining them in solidarity. Superman approaches Batman, but is angrily rejected by him. Many other of the superhumans refuse to join with Superman so he reluctantly sends them to a prison, nicknamed The Gulag, to reeducate them. Although the Justice League try their best to help the world, their methods are not entirely successful and suspicions and resentment build in different factions.

Lex Luthor and his evil cohorts band together to form the Mankind Liberation Front, in which humans would regain control, just for Lex to control them in turn. Batman aligns with this group, along with a motley group of second generation superhumans. Lex’s secret weapon, Captain Marvel, comes out of hiding with his alter ego, Billy Batson, completely brainwashed by Lex. The group stirs dissent in the public, and when disaster looms in the too full Gulag, the true intentions of Batman come to light.

Wonder Woman, who has been pushing for a more militant stance due to her Amazonian heritage, leads the Justice League to the prison to quell the riot. As the rioters emerge, an epic battle ensues. Captain Marvel appears, and seems to be outfighting Superman. Can Superman appeal to him, and what will happen among the fighting factions?

The relationships between The Holy Trinity of the DC heroes- Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman- are perfect. Although I have not seen the newest Batman Vs. Superman movie, I am aware that there was criticism about how the guiding principals of the two heroes were changed.  This book stays true to each character’s back story, so kudos to Mark Waid for his familiarity with the history of all the superheroes!  As such, the Epilogue was a perfect ending. After my frustration with how clueless Superman was in Red Son about Wonder Woman, I thought this book ended the story in a wonderful way. The three heroes will remain united.

The artwork is photorealism in style and painted in gouache. This opaque watercolor dries to a matte finish so combining the painting, drawing and other graphic media (Photoshop) produced a unique look. I thought throughout the book that some of the heroes and public looked so realistic that models must have been used, and in the Apocrypha section my suspicions were confirmed, with a list of who the artist based his drawing off, with the bystander, Norman McCay based off Ross’s own father. The heroes were all aged realistically, and not caricatures of themselves; the greying, lines, and weight added were naturalistic. The layout was fun, with splash pages and varied spread panels utilized. Ross’s original idea for this story and his artistry are what made this novel superb.

I so needed a cheat sheet to help me with the many, many characters. As I am not typically a DC fan, I was not familiar with many of the supporting, second generation superheroes. This Wikipedia page helped me sort out everybody and how they were connected to one another. Sometimes clues in the panels helped me figure out connections, but for example, this site cleared up some confusion to me in regards to three family relationships of Batman. An added bonus in identification was at the end of the book there were several pages that identified every character with a picture and a brief description.

Final asides: I thought Captain Marvel’s name was Shazaam- a common misconception. I felt the meeting between Orion and Superman didn’t fit in with the narrative (it was not included in the first issue). If Diana is ageless why did her fellow Amazonian sister Donna Troy age? Speaking of Donna, loved the pic of her and Diana reuniting on page 77. In fact I thought Diana looked like Lynda Carter in that panel and Green Lantern/Jade looked like Linda Hamilton of Terminator fame. I shipped on Green Arrow and Black Canary, now mature with a daughter. I’m sure I’ll think up more things, and type in a few edits later 😉

I feel I have not done justice to this book, it demands a second & third read through with more time spent examining the pictures. I am very glad I dipped into DC books with this & Red Son!

-Nancy

Kingdom_Come_Vol_1_3_Textless

 

 

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