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Stiletto

I am a fan of crime thrillers, as my decades long reading of the Prey novels by John Sandford bears out. Thus, when I saw this crime-noir graphic novel on NetGalley, both written and illustrated by Palle Schmidt, I was intrigued.

Cop partners, young Alphonse and family man Maynard, are tasked with solving the killing of two of their follow police officers before Internal Affairs takes over. Signs point to a leak within the department and they try to find the mole before it’s too late. They are told by two higher ups at different times to report directly to them, which immediately shows possible layers of corruption. All they know is this person goes by Stiletto and no one should be trusted.

Surprisingly we find out who the mole is half way into the novel, and then watch this person desperately try to cover their tracks. It was truly depressing to find out who it was, as all the death and destruction that is wrought doesn’t truly benefit this person. Their life is still desperate and unhappy with no redemption in sight. But this book was not written to have a happy ending, and was a homage to classic cop movies like Serpico.  I also would compare it to the television show Breaking Bad that showed the main character’s justification for his descent into evil.

I don’t read many graphic novels that are both written and illustrated by the same person, but Schmidt capably does both. His watercolors were appropriately dark and shadowy, with a sepia color palette. Flashbacks had a blue over-wash which was helpful in differentiating the chronology. A shark motif is also used effectively to showcase the pressure and the feeling of being hunted that the men are feeling. Schmidt draws the cityscapes with a gritty precision as well as a whole cast of characters.

Schmidt’s world-building was excellent as it conveyed a somber atmosphere for this morally ambiguous tale, and I would be interested in what lays in store next for this corrupt police department.

-Nancy

Schmidt, Palle. Stiletto, 2019.

 

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Black Badge

Premise: “An espionage series about a top-secret, elite branch of boy scouts tasked by the government to take on covert missions.”

I was intrigued by the idea of elite scouts who infiltrate different countries undercover, as both my boys are scouts. At first I was amused at the idea of scouts as decoys, but the story by Matt Kindt proved to be more nuanced than I expected with some deeper themes regarding political and social agendas.

Kenny, Cliff, Mitzi and new team member Willy begin their adventure in South Korea with a mission of getting into North Korea to spy. When caught there (and anywhere else) they claim to be lost, and government officials never take them seriously as a threat and always release them. They next move to Siberia, and later Pakistan, and we are introduced to a larger web of connections and conspiracies. A lack of communication between team members and higher ups was an unwelcome trope and led to the reader, and the team themselves, questioning who could really be trusted. The book ends with an upcoming Hunger Games-esque competition between this Black Badge squad and other young scout teams.

The sketchy artwork by Tyler Jenkins, colored in with watercolors and gouache by Hilary Jenkins, was reminiscent of Jeff Lemire’s work (who does a variant cover). While this style can be imprecise for small details, it gives the story an appropriate restless and shadowy look. Flashbacks, which often were suspect, are shown as boldly monochromatic and give you visual clues of time shifts. The layouts were varied with some nice splash pages, with the outdoor scenes drawn especially well.

Thank you to NetGalley for giving me an advance online copy. This new series could potentially take off with the YA crowd, as an edgier and more mature version of Lumberjanes, for both sexes. I’ll keep my eye on this as a potential purchase for my library collection.

-Nancy

Kindt, Matt, Tyler Jenkins & Hilary Jenkins. Black Badge. 2019.

Mera: Tidebreaker

DC Ink is trying to capture the teen crowd by having established YA authors give some of their heroes new origin stories. In this outing, Danielle Paige reimages a teen-aged Mera meeting Arthur Curry for the first time. The timing is good, as the Jason Mamoa Aquaman movie is still fresh in people’s minds, plus I myself read two Aquaman graphic novels recently.

Mera is introduced as a rebel warrior princess of the underwater kingdom Xebel. Xebel is currently under the domain of the stronger Atlantis, and the inhabitants are chafing under their rule. Mera and a friend are caught defacing property, but a palace guard diverts attention from the Atlantanians so Mera can escape. The king later establishes that he wishes Mera to marry a prince in a neighboring kingdom, and later gives him a directive to find and kill Atlantian heir Arthur, as to establish Xebel dominance. Mera decides to do this herself and leaves to go on shore to find Arthur on her own. She quickly finds him, but things keep on happening to prevent her from carrying out her mission. Will she be able to kill Arthur when she has a chance, even after discovering he is kind and unaware of his heritage?

The art by Stephen Bryne establishes Mera as the center of attention by keeping the entire color palate in muted green and blue ocean colors, except for Mera’s distinctive red hair. Bryne creates an appealing underwater world with varied sea creatures but also renders realistic portrayals of people below the ocean and then later in Amnesty Bay. I appreciate that he did not draw Mera as a bombshell, instead he drew a lovely but not too developed teen-age girl. She even wore flats to a dance! But…why in the world was Arthur  given dark hair? In all DC comics he is a blonde, so I wondered if this is a nod to the Momoa version on screen? It truly felt wrong to me.

The story had some huge holes you could drive a truck through. Plus it had insta-love which is a plot device that I hate. However, I believe it will be liked by the audience it is shooting for- teens. It was a solid origin story for a brand new audience that won’t get hung up on it not matching past established canon. I was able to read this story before it was published as I received an online copy through NetGalley. However, they put an embargo on reviews until it’s publication date on April 2nd, making me think they were not confident that it would be reviewed well. Another blogger clued me in this is standard with DC online books, but still. Nonetheless, as a marker of how I feel a teen audience will like it, I already have placed an order for it for my work library for the YA collection.

-Nancy

Manfried Saves The Day

Manfried The Man was a quirky graphic novel about cats and humans having their roles reversed. In this second graphic novel Steve, an anthropomorphic cat, and his pet man, Manfried return to save a man-shelter from being closed.

Steve’s cartooning work is taking off, as his drawings of his pet Manfried are becoming popular. A former slacker, he still struggles with work deadlines and life responsibilities, but his romance with his neighbor Henrietta is promising. When a rich developer puts Henrietta’s man-shelter in danger, the two of them plus some friends band together to raise money to save the shelter. An upcoming pet show with an unrealistically high money prize seems to be the answer to their prayers. Will Manfriend save the day by winning best in show?

The artwork is clean, simple and attractive; always with a six panel layout per page. I am so used to graphic novels having layouts that vary from splash pages to atypically placed panels that this setup is refreshingly simple. The juxtaposition of the roles leads to clever sight gags with the little men. Seeing the men dressed up in adorable Halloween costumes, to aid in their adoption at the shelter, was by far the best part.

The first book was more nuanced than I expected, but this second outing was a bit trite and had a Hallmark movie feel. Yet, if you are a fan of Manfried from the first graphic novel or the author’s Tumblr page, you will enjoy this sweet story about the men’s adventures. Thank you to NetGalley for the chance to read an advance online copy.

-Nancy

(Aside- How do these men reproduce? No women or children pets have been shown. Curious minds need to know!)

Bone Parish

Cullen Bunn has created a new dark and dangerous graphic novel series, and this necromantic horror story grabbed me on the first page and never let go.

A quick synopsis: “A new drug is sweeping through the streets of New Orleans—one made from the ashes of the dead. Wars are being fought over who will control the supply, while the demand only rises.”

The Winters family of New Orleans has discovered how to manufacture the ashes of the dead into a powerful hallucinogenic drug that lets the person snorting the drug to experience everything the dead person lived through when they were alive. In charge of this operation are Grace and Andre, with their four adult children. The oldest, Brae, is chomping at the bit ready to take over the enterprise and questioning his mother. Brigitte is the scientist who is the only one who knows how to turn the dead into ash properly and won’t reveal to others how to do so as to keep her position in the family safe. Leon and Wade end up doing much of the grunt work for the family, with both of them questioning the morality of it all.

As the popularity of the drug grows in the Big Easy, other drug cartels realize the scope of the operation and want in on the action. Several contact Grace with offers of buy-outs but she refuses. Not surprisingly they don’t take it well, and put a target on the family’s back. Some dirty cops are also involved, with Brae trying to control that aspect, but double crosses are part of the game.

There are a few twists and turns in the narrative, with a surprising revelation that will make you back track to look for clues. The story has potential for a thought provoking moral debate about drug culture and the sanctity of life and for the body after death. My excitement for this new series rivals what I felt for Briggs Land, another layered crime saga with an intriguing family led by a strong woman.

The art by Jonas Scharf was perfect for the story, and was reminiscent for me of Gabriel Rodriguez who illustrates the Locke and Key series, which is high praise indeed from me. He establishes the Winters family in a distinct manner, showing a welcome diversity within the family, in addition to when he draws other characters and realistic crowd scenes. The colorist Alex Guimarães really sets the tone with the coloring with an earthen palette for the everyday life, and vibrant pinks and purples to signify the hallucinogenic effect.

As much as I loved the story, I have a few criticisms. The big one: how is the drug controlled by the user? How do they tap into the specific memory of the deceased, as they would have a lifetime of memories to choose from? How do memories from the past physically manifest in those who are taking the drug? Will this be explained, or do we just have to have suspension of disbelief and go with the flow? Also, while I love that Grace is portrayed as a powerful and still sexy matriarch of the family, she looks too young to be a mother to her children, especially Brae. I, myself, am a mother to three teens and I still want to be thought of as a hottie, but Grace should be realistically aged just a tiny bit more.

I believe this new series has a lot of potential for growth and I absolutely will be reading future volumes, as I wish to find out what consequences are in store for the Winters family and those who choose to take the drug. Thank you to NetGalley for approving me to read this novel early, as I believe this series could really take off after it’s release in March.

-Nancy

Book Love

Book love- I know it well. If you too love books, then this is the book for you!

Author Debbie Tung has created a relatable book of strips that details how bookworms feel about their beloved books. Drawn in black and white within a simple four panel format, the comic showcases a woman obsessed with books (I assume she is based on the author herself) and her understanding husband. So many of the strips hit home for me, as I have loved books since childhood. Libraries have always felt like home, so it comes as no surprise that I am a librarian, surrounded by what I love.

The premise of the book is all about book love, so there is no plot or characterization, it is ALL about loving books and sometimes avoiding interacting with people in favor of the books. Each strip can stand alone. At times the strips become a bit one-note, yet that is the basis of the book. As I do all the social media for my library, I hope some of these adorable strips become available for re-print (with author credit, of course!) because posts on book love are always a big hit at my library.

Thank you to NetGalley for giving me an advance copy; I just wish it was being published a few weeks earlier, so people could scoop up copies to give to the book lovers in their life. So, if you are a bibliophile, this book of comics is for you, and will be available in January!

-Nancy

Of Dust and Blood: The Battle at Little Big Horn

The 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, aka Battle of the Greasy Grass, is featured in this beautifully illustrated graphic novel.

The reader is witness to the days preceding the battle, and the battle itself through the eyes of a scout for the 7th Calvary named Greenhaw and a Lakota Sioux warrior named Slow Hawk. Author Jim Berry, hoped to give an equitable viewpoint of the battle in this piece of historical fiction, so he framed the narrative to be from two fictional men from either side, and who interact with the real historical figures of Sitting Bull, General Custer and Crazy Horse. Berry introduces the story with information about how he collected the historical research and how he reached out to the Native American community for translation assistance and fact checking. A map, art gallery and bibliography round out the book.

We first meet Greenhaw, who is penning a letter to his lady love Rose. Many of Custer’s scouts were Native American, or were of mixed ancestry and could translate for him, but that is never addressed in the story. While brave, he just wants to make it out of the battle alive, and be reunited with Rose.  Slow Hawk is a Lakota Sioux, who wishes to avenge the death of his brother and parents. In the panel below we see him replicate his brother’s war paint on himself, in order to honor him. When Crazy Horse gifts a new horse to Slow Hawk, he is ready for battle and will do what ever it takes to win. The chaos of battle is evocatively shown, and you are thrown in the middle of the battlefield, as leaders are making split second decisions that aren’t always the best. You will root for both Greenhaw and Slow Hawk to survive, but in war nothing is certain.

The art is a wonder in this story. Val Mayerik, who has illustrated for other graphic novels such as Conan and is the co-creator of Howard the Duck, completely elevates this story. He should branch out in his art career as the way he depicts war scenes and moving horses was just outstanding! While this story is certainly an abbreviated version of the battle, Mayerik’s art helped tell much of the tale. His strong coloring and care in which he drew the Native Americans and landscapes gave an authenticity to the entire narrative.

As a history fan, as soon as I saw this graphic novel listed on NetGalley I knew that I wanted it. The device of using fictional protagonists worked, as there are other novels about the leaders on either side of the battle, and this format allowed for balanced and sympathetic portrayals of both sides.  However, there were a few choices by the author that I questioned. In the introduction, a casual mention is made of a Native American descendant of Custer, as oral tradition says that Custer had a child with a Cheyenne woman – yet this fact is disputed, so giving a small explanation should have been included for those who are not aware of the story. I applaud that the Lakota language was used in the narrative, but a dying soldier speaking Italian with no translation was also shown, to jarring effect. I came away knowing that the author really did his research and wanted to give an accurate portrayal of this controversial battle. I recommend this book, both for the historic representation and the gorgeous art!

-Nancy

Gothic Tales of Haunted Love

Gothic tales + haunted love + diverse characters = yes, please!

This strong anthology has 200+ pages of short illustrated stories that are horror-themed, as they are a tribute to 1970’s Gothic pulp novels. Each story has a different author and illustrator, with lends to many different styles within this collection. The stories are extremely diverse, with characters of different nationalities, cultures and sexual orientations plus they take place in several different time periods. This variety will give every reader some stories that they will absolutely connect with as there are stories with revenge motifs, historical heartbreak or the supernatural.

As with any anthology there are some stories that are stronger than others. Pair that with a graphic novel format, and there are some illustration styles that will not appeal to everyone, but the art as a whole is well done with evocative coloring. The book includes eighteen new stories, and one reprint of an original Korean Gothic comic. A prologue, art gallery and author bios round out the collection.

My favorites included:

Crush– Janet Hetherington, Ronn Sutton, Becka Kinzie & Zakk Saam: An African American governess falls in love with a widowed Sea Captain, father of the seven children she cares for. When he disregards her as a love interest, she obtains revenge.

The Return– David A Robertson & Scott B. Henderson: A Native American woman comes back from the dead to be reunited with her fiancee, but she finds a better man who sees beyond her beauty to what was in her heart.

Green, Gold, and Black– Cherelle Higgins & Rina Rozsas: Set in Jamaica on the eve of a slave uprising, an enslaved woman is giving birth. She is chained by her white mistress, for her husband had raped the woman and the child is his, and she is consumed by jealousy. This is the most heartbreaking of all the stories, although I found a nugget of hope in the end, depending on how you interpret the mother’s visions.

Mistress Fox– Megan Kearney & Derek Spencer: A bride shares an unsettling dream with her guests the morning after her wedding – the night before, her new husband had killed a maid that he was having an affair with. You know she is framing her cad of a husband, but there is one more sly twist at the end.

I received an online copy from NetGalley for an unbiased review back in April, but I had downloaded it close to it’s expiration date, and had to do a quick review based off only one day at looking at it online. That just wouldn’t do, so I ordered a print copy for my library, so I could re-read it and have library patrons enjoy it too. And isn’t that the point- to purchase a book you’d like to read over and over again- and then share it with others?!

-Nancy

Scarlet

Scarlet is a vigilante who is determined to fight back against a corrupt system and she uses violence for change. Written by Brian Michael Bendis, who is known for his skill in writing character’s dialogue, Scarlet is a deliberately provocative story meant to push boundaries. Originally released  in 2010, it is being re-released for it’s timely story line during this #MeToo, Black Lives Matter and Women’s March era, and I obtained a copy through NetGalley.

Scarlet is living life as a typical Portland teen when she and her boyfriend get targeted by a dirty cop’s drug pat down. When her boyfriend punches the officer and they make a run for it, they are followed and shot at. Her boyfriend dies, and Scarlet is sent to the hospital in a coma. The police cover themselves by painting the couple as drug dealers and the officers are hailed as heroes who saved the community from a drug cartel. When Scarlet awakens, she is furious and decides she wants revenge.

The gimmick is that Scarlet breaks the fourth wall and talks to the reader. Thus, the narrative is from her perspective and she is sharing what she wants you to know, so you get her spin on the action. This mostly works, but at times it’s a bit pretentious. Scarlet isn’t always likable, and can definitely be perceived as an anti-hero.  Her unsavory ‘violence is the answer’ motto is tempered by the realization that some big changes in our world have only come to fruition through violence. Martin Luther King Jr was able to further the Civil Rights Movement through love and non-violent means, but he was counterbalanced (and helped) by Malcolm X’s methods, as Gandhi was also helped by radicals. This is an uncomfortable truth that should be further delved into.

The artwork is stylized with an edgy noir vibe. Mostly drawn in black and white or with a muted earthen color palette, some splashes of color include Scarlet’s red hair, blood and occasional details such as a pride flag. The art is sketchy at times, but also includes photographic type detail. Artist Alex Maleev is fond of closeups of people’s faces, which can be hit or miss at times, but his unique style is a good match to the story.

This series is worth looking into further to see if Bendis finesses this culturally relevant story and develops Scarlet into more than a gun-toting cop killing hottie.  I look forward to Scarlet moving from vigilante to true revolutionary.

-Nancy

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