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Max Landis

Best Reads of 2017

As we did last year, we went through all the graphic novels we read and reviewed this year to give you a Top 10 list – the best of the best!

RoughneckNancy: Roughneck is a beautifully told standalone tale of a brother and sister’s quest to reconnect with one another and their cultural identity written and illustrated by the talented Jeff Lemire. Lemire handles the storyline of Derek and Beth’s Cree heritage with grace and respect. The reality of native families becoming disenfranchised from their cultural heritage, is mirrored in the excellent book The Outside Circle, which also deals with First Nation individuals whose circles of community were broken which led to fragmenting generations of people with no connection to their tribe anymore. The ending is open to interpretation, and while I at first looked at it one way, re-reading it I saw a more melancholy but poignant way of concluding the story.

 

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Kathleen: A review of this book is upcoming, but last week I read this graphic memoir, Lighter Than My Shadow . The illustrations were all drawn by hand by the author, who suffered from anorexia when she was younger. This is the story of her recovery, and all the difficulties and choices that came with it. I don’t want to spoil my own review (edit-added link!), but suffice it to say for now that the illustrations are among the most beautiful and effective that I’ve seen this year.

 

Nancy: This graphic novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s story, Kindred, was extremely well done. Butler’s original novel, published in 1979, was a ground breaking story that liberally dipped into historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy within a time traveling framework. The author herself called the story “a kind of grim fantasy”, and this adaptation shows just that. This was a heartbreaking story, and through the juxtaposition of Dana’s (the main character) experiences in two different centuries, this fantasy novel actually gives a highly realistic view of the slavery era.

 

 

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Kathleen: Beauty is an adult fairy tale in graphic novel form. It tells the story of Coddie, a fishmonger, who wants nothing more than to be beautiful so she’ll stop being the laughingstock of her small village. When a fairy grants her wish, however, she quickly learns that she can now have whatever she wants – at a steep price. The child-like art belies the serious messages and themes within. The figures are loose and almost caricature-like. The writing is phenomenal, with unconventional characters and fairy tale tropes turned slightly askew. If you like your fairy tales with more of a brothers Grimm than Disney flavor, this is perfect for you.

 

Nancy: Although the Superman: American Alien has Superman in the title, it is really Clark Kent stories. The seven stories are chronological and fill in the gaps in the Superman canon. We start with Clark as a boy learning how to fly, move through his adolescence, and finally settle in his early years in Metropolis. Every story is strong, and fits in seamlessly with what we already know about Superman. I highly recommend this book, for it humanizes Superman. The seven stories are all excellent, and they flow and connect into one another, to form the larger picture of who Clark Kent is and who he will be. A must buy for Superman aficionados!

 

5820769-21Kathleen: Unfortunately, DC Rebirth has been a hit or miss for me, but the one story that I’ve consistently loved is Wonder Woman. Bringing Greg Rucka back to her title was the best decision they could have made! After discovering that she’s been tricked into thinking she could return to Themyscira at will, Diana sets out to discover the truth of herself and who has deceived her once and for all. She is vulnerable and human here, and I’ve cried shamelessly as she struggles to figure out the truth – her own truth, the truth of who she is. Greg Rucka is without a doubt one of the best writers of Wonder Woman. The art is nothing to sneeze at, either, beautifully detailed as it is!

 

Nancy: Vision- Little Worse Than A Man 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. 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.

 

 

 

 

91epsqx38slKathleen: The memories of her childhood ice-skating days became the subject of Tillie Walden’s graphic memoir called Spinning. The uncertainty of moving to a new city, starting middle school, and discovering her body and her sexuality make Tillie’s ice-skating routine comforting to her – until she starts questioning that, as well. The art is fantastic: only purples and yellows are used, and yellow quite sparingly, to highlight important parts of the story. Great blocks of deep purple around a single figure illustrate Tillie’s loneliness and uncertainty more than her words could.

 

 

Nancy: Briggs Land is an absolutely riveting new series about “an American family under siege” by both the government and their own hand. Set in rural upstate New York, Briggs Land is a hundred square mile oasis for people who want to live off the grid. Established in the Civil War era, the Briggs family would give sanctuary to those who wanted to live a simple life, but this anti-government colony has taken a dark turn in recent times. The village that grew within it’s fences has morphed into a breeding ground for white supremacy, domestic terrorism and money laundering. The second volume is scheduled to be released in late January, and I dearly hope it stays as strong as it’s debut volume was.

 

 

gunslinger-rebornKathleen: Like the rebel that I am, I read the graphic novel adaptation of The Dark Tower series titled The Gunslinger Born before I started the books. But let me tell you, it left me desperate for more and started my new-found obsession. The young Roland sets out with his two best friends to Mejis, where they are sent by their fathers to stay out of trouble. What they find in that sleepy little town is a conspiracy loyal to the Crimson King – and Roland’s true love, Susan, who may doom them all. I can’t say enough about the art in this book. I was in love with the stark contrasts and the way the figure’s faces were usually in shadow, leaving the reader to guess at their true intents. If the seven book series scares you, try reading the graphic novel first and seeing how fast you devour the books after that 😉

And there you’ve got your must-reads of 2017! We spanned several genres and publishers, and each of us had a DC and Marvel choice. Surprisingly Image didn’t make the cut. Here’s hoping 2018 brings us many more excellent graphic novels… we don’t think they made it hard enough for us to choose ;D

– Nancy and Kathleen

Superman: American Alien

This book was exactly what I needed! I loved it! I feel like I have been slogging through books for the last few months, some for my YA literature grad class, some for a quick read and others I have chosen for their messages. While I have read good solid books for those reasons, I have not read much that was just purely for my enjoyment.

Although the book has Superman in the title, it is really Clark Kent stories. The seven stories are chronological and fill in the gaps in the Superman canon. We start with Clark as a boy learning how to fly, move through his adolescence, and finally settle in his early years in Metropolis. Every story is strong, and fits in seamlessly with what we already know about Superman.

Max Landis wrote every story, and he chose perfect pivotal moments in Clark’s life to explain how a relatable Kansas farm boy became the iconic Superman. The various artists and colorists elevate the stories, with the different styles adding dimension and heart to the narration.

Dove ( art by Nick Dragotta, color by Alex Guimaraes) A sweet story about Clark as a boy learning to fly. The relationship between Clark and his parents is so heartwarming, as they look to help him under extraordinary circumstances. The artwork is appealing, with a slight Manga feel to some panels. The first red cape is shown, and I love the concluding panels of Clark’s vacation ideas for his family.

Hawk ( art & color by Tommy Lee Edwards) Clark is now a teen, with a budding relationship with Lana. His best friend Pete and the sheriff are aware of his powers, and implore him to help with a robbery/murder than happened nearby. Clark demurs but secretly slips out to confront the gang. He doesn’t have a thought out strategy, but luckily Pete comes to his aid during a tense moment. He has a poignant moment with his mom, and you see him wanting to use his power for good, but he is still getting a handle on all it represents. The art is sketchy and dark hued to represent the confusion of adolescence.

Parrot ( art by Joelle Jones, color by Rico Renzi) Now college aged, Clark won a free trip to the Caribbean, but plans go awry when he and pilot crash land in the ocean. Luckily a yacht is nearby, and when he and the pilot climb aboard he is mistaken for Bruce Wayne. Deciding it’s easier to go along with the ruse, he parties with the revelers, and Oliver Queen makes a brief cameo. He has a one night stand with a beautiful woman, as his relationship to Lana has ended. That this appealing red headed partner ends up being a future villain ( I won’t spoil who she is) is awesome. The coloring is bright and fun, and shows that Clark is a typical young man who wants to have fun.

Owl ( art by Jae Lee, color by June Chung) Clark has now moved to Metropolis and met Lois Lane. He has a moment when he re-meets Oliver Queen (who is now secretly Green Arrow) and because of their last meeting, Oliver gives him a reporting scoop over Lois and introduces him to Lex Luthor. Lex is full of himself and brags on to Clark about how superior he is, and plays mind games with Clark. While in Lex’s building, he meets young Dick Grayson, and the two converse. Later back at his apartment Batman appears, not fully understanding who Clark is. I love how the Bat gets smacked down by Clark, who discovers his secret identity. This was my least favorite of the art styles, for Clark and everyone else had similar small eyes and thin lips, and no one really looked right to me.

Eagle ( art & color by Francis Manapul) Clark is refining his look, knowing he has to hide his identity, and he has started to make a name for himself in the city by fighting criminals. He has another run in with Lex who inadvertently names him Superman, and gives him the ideas and morals that will symbolize who he is.

Angel ( art & color by Jonathan Case) Smallville friends Pete and Kenny visit Clark in the city, and help shape him into what we recognize as Superman. They keep it real, and remind him of his roots,  while pushing him to be more responsible for what he does and what he symbolizes. His friendship and family relationships are what fundamentally shaped him into the man he is, which gives him his moral compass. The artwork pays homage to old school depictions of Superman with a 1940/50’s vibe.

Valkyrie ( art by Jock, color by Lee Loughridge) An alien is attacking the city, and Superman and he engage and have a conversation about his home planet. He begins to realize while he is obliviously an alien, his true home is Earth. Best line: “I’m not from Krypton…I’m from Kansas”. He and Lois have a sweet reunion, and she shows him that she loves him as Clark, which fills in the last gap of him now being ready to be the adult Superman. The artwork is gritty and shows the carnage that fighting villains causes.

There also were some fascinating and wonderfully illustrated interstitial shorts between the stories that added background or was a villain shout out. The Castaways (Matthew Clark & Rob Schwager) gave a backstory to Jon and Martha Kent’s past, while Revelations (Evan ‘Doc’ Shaner & John Workman),The Real Question (Mark Buckingham, Jose Villarrubia & John Workman), Vampire ( Steve Dillon, Rod Ries & John Workman) and The New Jimmy (Matthew Clark, Rob Schwager & John Workman) were all vignettes about villains in the Superman universe.

Although I am still firmly in the Marvel camp, I have been disappointed with some recent reads (next Friday’s book will get a scathing review), and I have read some old and new DC titles that are superior in story and artwork. This book and other DC titles such as Red Son and Kingdom Come, and many great titles from Image Comics are chipping away at my Marvel base.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this book, for it humanizes Superman. The seven stories are all excellent, and they flow and connect into one another, to form the larger picture of who Clark Kent is and who he will be. A must buy for Superman aficionados!

-Nancy

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