Search

Graphic Novelty²

Tag

Marvels

Best Reads of 2021

It’s the post you look forward to all year – Nancy and Kathleen’s best reads! Here are GraphicNovelty²’s Top 10 Reads of 2021, in no particular order.

Kathleen: I surprised myself by reading a lot of nonfiction graphic novels this year – and happening upon so many GOOD ones. The first on my list is Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio. On Monday, May 4th, 1970, the National Guard opened fire on Kent State students peacefully protesting the Vietnam War. Thirteen seconds and sixty-seven shots later, the nation was left shaken. Creator Derf Backderf recreated the last days of the four students who died through interviews, eyewitness accounts, and archival materials. All illustrations are in black and white, in a style reminiscent of cartoons and comic strips popular at the time, but without being over the top. Everything available to us for this story was laid out very clearly and carefully, yet readers can’t help but be compelled to look for answers that aren’t there – due to willful silence or simply being lost to time.

Nancy: Marvels by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross was my very first read of 2021 and I loved it and mentioned that it might make the Top 10 list, and it did! This amazing story gives the perspective of everyday people living in a world populated with superheroes, villains and mutants. We see the world through their eyes as they try to make sense of the incredible things happening around them. Beginning in 1939, we first meet Phil Sheldon a young photojournalist and his friend Jonah Jameson who are amazed when superheroes begin to appear in New York City. The populace is at first scared and then in awe of these costumed avengers and soon admires them as they help fight for American freedom in World War II. But as the decades go by, in a 35-year span, perception of them waxes and wanes. The Fantastic Four are beloved for awhile but later pilloried. Later, the poor mutants get the brunt of the public’s hate. The photo-realism art style was outstanding and strengthened the narrative.

Kathleen: Mr. Freeze is my favorite villain, so imagine my delight when the YA graphic novel Victor & Nora: A Gotham Love Story was announced. Author Lauren Myracle and artist Isaac Goodheart reunite to present this tale of a young Victor and Nora. How do two teenagers meet in Gotham? The answer is a cemetery, of course. Both teenagers are mourning someone, or their future selves, but in different ways. Victor wants to cheat death by developing technology to stop it completely, but Nora wants to live what little time she has left before death by disease takes her. While at first the art and colors separate Victor into blues and Nora into pinks and oranges, as they become closer, the colors blend and become purple-y. What made it stand out for me was the compelling dialogue and story that stood so well on its’ own, it could have been unrelated to the Batman mythos and still worked.

Nancy: Harleen by Stjepan Šejić proves the adage, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” in this origin story of Harley Quinn, formally Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel, who meant to reform Joker and instead became his lover. Fans of this anti-hero will love this self-contained story about her downfall. I will definitely be looking for more work from Šejić who is both author and illustrator of this excellent graphic novel.

Kathleen: The best memoir I’ve read this year was And Now I Spill the Family Secrets by Margaret Kimball. Her mother’s suicide attempt on Mother’s Day 1988 is something her family simply does not talk about. Starting with this event, Kimball traces her family history backwards and forwards in order to understand how prevalent mental illness is in her family and how it affected her and her relationships with her family going forward. While a tough read on it’s own, the presentation intentionally made it more uncomfortable. The black and white illustrations are almost exclusively of scenery: a room in a house, the exterior of a building, or recreations of diary entries, family photos, and stills from family movies. There is no narrator to serve as a buffer between the reader and Kimball’s dirty laundry. We are simply left alone in a room with only her words to guide us. Easily the best presentation I’ve seen all year.

Nancy: Back in 2016 I read the first volume of Invincible by Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker & Ryan Ottley, and really enjoyed it, but it took the new animated series on Amazon Prime to get me to read volumes 2-12 this year. Why did I wait so long?! So this entry is more an ode to the entire series, rather than just one volume of it. The series took familiar superhero tropes and twisted them in unusual and bloody ways with fresh commentary on issues going on in our own world but adapted into the Invincible universe. 

Kathleen: Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human scoffs at the tired, boring, and uncomfortable way of sex education for a YA audience. Creators Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan address male and female reproductive anatomy, how sex works, and how to avoid STIs, sure. But they also talk about SO much more: gender and sexual identities and how to start defining yourself, how to ask someone out, how to talk to your partner about your sexual needs, the different forms masturbation can take, how to more positively see your body (and yourself!), and how to deal with difficult emotions that love and sex can bring up. Each chapter dealt with one of these topics, or a few closely related ones. Each chapter was also presented as a group of 2-4 highly diverse teens or young adults speaking with each other, reinforcing body positivity and breaking the stigma of never talking about sex with your peers.

Nancy: I loved Brazen! 29 stories of kick-ass women are shared- spanning centuries and continents. Author and illustrator Pénélope Bagieu gave each woman three to five pages and would start their story at their birth before proceeding chronologically and would touch on what made each woman so unique. I applaud the diversity found within, for while you might recognize a few names, most will be unknown to readers. Bagieu choose an Apache warrior, a Chinese empress, an astronaut, a volcanologist, a Greek gynecologist, athletes, singers, painters- even a bearded lady!

Kathleen: In My Last Summer with Cass, creator Mark Crilley shows us two girls who grow up, then apart, and maybe back together again through their art. Megan and Cass meet up for one last summer in New York City before their first year of college. They haven’t seen each other since they were little and their families used to vacation together in Michigan. They rekindle their shared creative spark and plan to exhibit their work in a real art gallery. Bold Cass pushes the more reserved Megan to take chances, but when does her critique go too far? This story of two friends trying to fix what broke between them was heart-wrenching and hopeful at the same time. The artwork appeared to be rendered in pastel or charcoal pencils, perfectly reinforcing the prevalent theme of reinvention.

Nancy: Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done? is a new graphic novel about Eddie Gein who was a necrophile serial killer who inspired Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs! This true-crime story was horrifying, yet of course sickly fascinating. Established author Harold Schechter who has written a previous book about Gein is paired with artist Eric Powell, and they proved to be a superb team to tell this tale. Darkly disturbing, and scarier because it is based on facts, this story is not to be missed for true-crime aficionados!

It was tough to choose our 2021 best reads! It seems roles were flipped this year, with Nancy having multiple excellent superhero comics on her list, and Kathleen only having one in favor of nonfiction and memoirs 😉 Thank you once again for another great year. Have a wonderful and safe holiday season!

– Nancy & Kathleen

Marvels

Happy New Year! 2020 proved to be a trash year, so I am hoping that this new year will be as marvelous as this graphic novel is!

After enjoying two podcasts about Wolverine last year, I heard Marvel had put one out about The Fantastic Four without realizing it was based partly on this graphic novel. I enjoyed the Marvels podcast and picked up this source material to accompany it. I was in a bit of a reading slump at the time, so after skimming it and seeing it was worth a deeper read, I put it aside to read after the holidays. 

This amazing story gives the perspective of everyday people living in a world populated with superheroes, villains and mutants. We see the world through their eyes as they try to make sense of the incredible things happening around them. Begining in 1939, we first meet Phil Sheldon a young photojournalist and his friend Jonah Jameson who are amazed when superheroes begin to appear in New York City. The populace is at first scared and then in awe of these costumed avengers and soon admire them as they help fight for American freedom in World War II. But as the decades go by, in a 35-year span, perception of them waxes and wanes. The Fantastic Four are beloved for awhile but later pilloried. Later, the poor mutants get the brunt of the public’s hate. 

Divided into four chapters, the narrative moves forward chronologically with Sheldon marrying and having two daughters as he follows and photographs the heroes, that he calls the Marvels, both for his career and for a book he is planning about them. He is an everyman, who at times succumbs to mob mentality but as the years go by he thinks critically about what having heroes in his world means, despite losing an eye when he gets too close to a fight between Namor and the Torch. There is a poignant scene set in the 60s where Sheldon recounts seeing a mob react during a Sentinals attack, and a riot breaks out. Sheldon comments: “The real story was the people who’d been scared too long…who’d been wound too tight and cut loose”. This has uncomfortable parallels to today, 25+ years after this graphic novel came out, as a certain populace seems to be glorying in a changed America and violence is a daily worry during this contested election. 

Alex Ross’s work is a marvel! He did for the Marvel universe what he would do again later in  DC’s Kingdom Come– he made all the heroes fleshed out and real. His trademark painted photo-realism style is exquisite, as each panel is a work of art. The research he did was evident, showing the heroes in their original costumes from the Golden and Silver eras of comics. He also is great at recreating period pieces, as the narrative takes place from 1939-1974 and he gets the clothing styles and the inevitable aging of the characters spot-on. 

To further strengthen this unique story, author Kurt Busiek shares his thoughts about creating this tale. He plumbs the Marvel comic universe for a timeline on how the heroes developed, and they are worked into the story. Thus, the book becomes an encyclopedia of sorts as heroes and villains move in and out of the narrative in cameos as Sheldon, his family and regular people are the true main characters in this story. In addition, Marvel great Stan Lee adds an introduction and other artists share their insight during chapter breaks. The story is then bookended with comic sources for all the hero references and Ross shares his artistic process. While the podcast based on this graphic novel was interesting, it centered on the second and third chapters only, and this entire book fleshes out the story more thoroughly.  Although only one day into 2021, I’m guessing this book will be a contender for my Best Reads at the end of the year!

-Nancy

Marvels podcast

“Based on the graphic novel by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross Marvels takes place in the aftermath of the Fantastic Four’s battle with Galactus, high above New York City, for the fate of the world. One intrepid photographer, an ambitious college student, and a cynical journalist embark on an investigation to confirm or debunk one of the most super-powered conspiracy theories of all time”

I was a big fan of the Wolverine podcasts, The Long Night and The Lost Trail, so I aimed to listen to another podcast, this time about the Fantastic Four (although I’m not a fan of them, esp Reed). This podcast gives the perspective of everyday people living in a world populated with superheroes, villains and mutants. We see the world through their eyes as they try to make sense of the incredible things happening around them. *Some spoilers ahead*

Galactus Cometh

Set in NYC in the 60s, reporters Phil Sheldon and Ben Urich witness the villain Galactus fight the Fantastic Four which brings down ruin and chaos on the city. Each chapter opens with snippets of radio broadcasts that are an effective way to convey background knowledge. 

Retribution

Although the battle could be the story of the century, photographer Phil rushes back home to be with his wife and daughters, feeling his priority is with them in what could be their last hours. Although Galactus is later defeated, he doesn’t regret his choice although it hurts him professionally.

Truth & Consequences

Ben tries to help an elderly woman to safety amidst the rubble of the city when Galactus suddenly disappears. Did the Fantastic Four defeat him? Was it an illusion? Jonah Jameson, the editor of the Daily Bugle newspaper, believes it was all a hoax and public opinion seems to agree. Ben and Phil want the truth, for the clues don’t add up. 

Monsters

Phil and Ben along with Marcia Hardesty, a budding college journalist, interview Ben Grimm aka The Thing, about the day of the invasion. He seems to be toeing the party line in what he shares, but an overheard conversation that he later has with his girlfriend Alicia seems to poke some holes in the hoax theory.  Aside- it was cool earlier in the podcast to hear Grimm’s trademark “It’s clobbering time!” during audio of the fight overhead in NYC. 

Warheads

Marcia recounts the protest against mutants (X-Men) she attended on her campus led by Senator Byrd that devolved into anarchy right as Galcutus invaded Earth. Anti-mutant sentiment is high, and she counsels a good friend of hers, Gary, not to reveal his fire-making abilities. But he wishes to stand with his fellow mutants and tragedy befalls him as the crowd erupts in violence. That the protestors wanted to send mutants to serve in the Vietnam War as “warheads”- weaponizing their powers for evil and avoiding the draft themselves was heartbreaking. 

Interference

The trio of journalists, Phil, Ben and Marcia (plus Peter Parker tags along) separately interview Sue Richards and her brother Johnny the Human Torch about what happened between them and the fight with Galactus. They too don’t know where Reed was for some time. Sue’s statement “Genius is best left alone” could prove prophetic.

I Feel Fine

Our intrepid journalists visit high school student Charlie Martinez, a genius who is a protegee of Richard Reed. One of her experiments that manipulates reality in large ways might have been used by Reed without her authorization. She feels he would be too moral to do so, but the other three disagree. 

Limits

Phil and Ben have the opportunity to interview Dr. Richards and his arrogance reinforces my distaste for him. He has Godlike illusions about his part in the battle and seems to reinforce the hoax theory because mere humans couldn’t comprehend his true intentions. Did he use Charlie’s “ignifier” (not sure I’m spelling that right)?

The Herald

Phil, Ben and Marcia get a chance to interview the Silver Surfer, who used to be in league with Galactus and would herald his arrival on planets that were to be destroyed. But he broke with Galcutus on Earth and turned against him helping the F4 defeat him. Earthbound for now, genius Charle helps him be able to speak, as his communication wavelengths had been compromised. Aside- The Silver Surfer has been largely absent from the Marvel universe movies, except for the 2007 Fantastic Four movie sequel. I’m surprised he hasn’t been utilized in the Avenger movies. 

Eyes Open

The truth is revealed to the public by Dr. Reed at a rally held by Senator Byrd. Reed reveals he made a deal with Byrd as to prevent more anti-mutant violence and thus took the blame for the attack. While Reed came off as the good guy at the end, I still think he’s a prick. Marcia gives a heartfelt speech about her boyfriend Gary and the journalists are redeemed. Phil thoughtfully shares about how even heroes are flawed, and yet everyday people can be heroes too, or as he calls them Marvels. Make sure you stick around for the credits, for as Marvel movies do, there is a major reveal at the end, that could lead to the next story/podcast!

While not as good as the Wolverine podcasts, Marvels was very worthwhile and I already have the graphic novel that this story is based off on reserve. I liked the different perspectives of everyday citizens and how they deal with all the chaos that results from living in the Marvel universe! 

-Nancy

Voice Cast: 

Seth Barrish as Phil Sheldon                                                                                                  

Anna Sophia Robb as Marcia Hardesty                                                                                          

Cliff ‘Method Man’ Smith as Ben Urich                                                                                   

Ethan Peck as Reed Richards (he plays a young Spock on Star Trek: Discovery!!!)

Gabriella Ortega as Charlie Martinez

Jake Hart as Ben Grimm

Louisa Krause as Sue Storm Richards 

Ehad Berisha as Johnny Storm

Teo Rapp-Olson as Peter Parker 

Daniel Molina as Silver Surfer 

Karl Kenzler as Senator Byrd 

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑