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Two Dead

Tagline: “Stunning crime-noir graphic novel exploring the intertwining threads of crime, conspiracy, racism, and insanity in the post-World War II Deep South.”

When I saw this graphic novel was drawn by Nate Powell, the artist of the excellent March trilogy, I knew I wanted to give it a chance just based on that and eagerly requested it from NetGalley. His collaboration with author Van Jensen proved to be strong and I enjoyed this historical drama.

Gideon Kemp is a soldier who is fighting PTSD, who has recently returned from WWII and accepts a job as a police lieutenant detective in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1946. As Gideon is an idealistic rookie, Mayor Sprick warns him against the mob in the city and problematic Chief of Detectives Abraham Bailey. The officers are fighting a sadistic serial killer, and this white police force comes up against Chief Jacob Davis and his black police force when a victim is found in their jurisdiction. Ugly racial prejudices are shown, with postering and threats made, when the two groups should have been working together for the greater good.

Mob activity increases and Chief Davis tries to keep his brother Esau out of it, as racial tensions are about to explode. In the midst of this Chief Bailey is shown to be unstable, with lingering effects of guilt and schizophrenia affecting his everyday actions. All four men are caught up in the ugly cycle of violent segregation and are drawn together in an explosive finale. A fellow cop’s statement becomes symbolic, “Stay a cop long enough you go down one of three paths: you become a cynic, a reformer or a drunk” as justice is not always achieved.

Powell helps the book come alive, and makes the narrative flow through his powerful black and white illustrations. His work is historically accurate and he faithfully duplicates the era. Black backgrounds when there is violence was emblematic, but on the other hand, hard to follow. With a lot of speech bubbles to keep track of, I felt I was missing part of the story, for I was trying so hard to read the conversations that had small lettering. A second read of the story when it is published will be necessary to catch what I missed in the online version.

Far from a light read, author Jensen created a layered thriller, that was inspired by true events. I applaud him and Powell for showing how some deep-seated issues resulted in social ills for everyone in the community, and that they didn’t shy away from showing the tragedy that unfolded because of it.

-Nancy

Jenson, Van and Nate Powell. Two Dead. 2019.

Heroes in Crisis

Tagline: “How does a superhero handle PTSD?”

Superheros have been dealing with the repercussions of death and destruction for years and who better than author Tom King, a former CIA operative, to know that this would start to wear on these DC heroes. Thus Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman band together to build a secret mental health clinic in rural Nebraska called Sanctuary where heroes can go for anonymous assistance. It is staffed by androids and offers virtual reality reenactment and counseling to help them with their issues.

Event books seem to be my kryptonite with DC. While I rarely read about individual superheroes, except for Aquaman lately, I am a sucker for these stories that bring everyone together in sometimes implausible ways. So the story begins with Harley Quinn and Blue Beetle duking it out, as each accuses the other of being a murderer- and we soon find out that there was a slaughter at the Sanctuary with several heroes dead. While most of them are heroes of little note, Wally West who is the original Kid Flash, is one of the casualties. The Big Three are called to investigate, and they are dumbfounded, as they had put in place many safeguards to protect their traumatized brethren.

This story was filled with tons of lower-level tier heroes (or those who are “good” for now). Besides Catwoman and Jade (GL), I was unfamiliar with the other characters here. But the comment that Red Tornado makes is a sly joke about The Vision (who he looks like) from the Marvel Universe- that King wrote an amazing two-part series about.

The story had some incredible highs and lows. While I applaud the idea that superheroes would need counseling to process their grief and the insight that King brought to the large cast of characters, the ending was very convoluted. I had to poke around in The New 52 and DC Rebirth to understand why the culprit did what they did, and it still didn’t make a lot of sense. But no matter, this character will be yet again retconned and their crimes will not matter in the future. In addition, the release of private confessionals to the public and Lois Lane’s decision to go to print with the story rubbed me the wrong way. In real life, there are “outings” of people’s private lives all the time for sensationalistic effect, all in the name of the “public’s right to know”.

Yet, the book worked in smaller moments. There were some interesting pairings- towards the end Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Blue Beetle and Booster Gold band together to solve the mystery of what happened. As I don’t read a lot of DC, I was unaware that Harley and Poison Ivy were a couple, but the two of them have a brand new mini-series that takes place directly after this event, aptly named Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. I enjoyed seeing Batgirl prevent Harley from spiraling out of control, and the bromance between BB and BG. I looked up several of the heroes I was unfamiliar with, and the insecurities that the four Robins showed (see below) was pitch-perfect. Tom King is now known as someone who writes about deeper psychological issues, and that is readily shown in this story.

The artwork by Clay Mann, Travis Moore, Mitch Gerads, Jorge Fornes and Lee Weeks was absolutely outstanding. For so many artists, the style stayed remarkably consistent. The two-page splash pages that opened each issue were visually stunning, with distinct drawings of both small settings and large outdoor expanses. The nine-panel pages were my favorite, as each character was drawn with precision, with facial expressions showing their personalities and conveying the distress that they each of them was working through. Rich colouring and lettering also added to the top-notch illustrations.

All in all, a thought-provoking story that may trigger some difficult feelings for some readers, as mental health is a loaded topic for some, but is worth discussing and bringing out into the open. I was glad to read an online preview from NetGalley before it was published and will plan or ordering this graphic novel for my library.

-Nancy

I LOVED these panels about past and present Robins. All of them are insecure about their reputation, except for arrogant Damian.

 

Aquaman: Unspoken Water

After the Drowned Earth series, Aquaman’s fate is revealed in this new series by Kelly Sue DeConnick. This story begins with the amnesia trope as Arthur has washed up on a remote island, called Unspoken Water, and is saved by a beautiful young woman Caillie. He has no memory of his past and is hesitant of the water.  The few island inhabitants are a strange lot and later reveal that Caillie is the daughter of a sea witch that was banished long ago.

The story then moves into a complicated mythology-heavy narrative about revenge. The island inhabitants, not surprisingly, are not what they seem, nor is Caillie. When Caillie and Arthur try to find her mother Namma to end the curse on the island, they get more than they bargained for. Mera had an incredibly small role in this story, and although I assume Arthur has not been missing long, she is being encouraged to remarry as this story has The Odyssey overtones. Later she realizes he is alive, so hopefully, this remarriage nonsense will be put to rest. The end of this volume promises a future battle with Namma, and I would hope it also includes Arthur reclaiming his identity and reuniting with Mera later in this series.

The art was outstanding, with Robson Rocha and Daniel Henriques visualizing DeConnick’s tale in a beautiful way. The water scenes, with waves crashing, made you feel as though you really were surrounded by the ocean. The pages showcasing the ten Gods as they merged between their human form and their godly form included great detail and I spent some time looking up the Gods along with their cultural connections and history. The coloring was vivid and brought the creatures to life as they burst out of the panels.  The only minor issue I had was in Loc’s human portrayal, as it was an unnecessary caricature.

As I’ve been on an Aquaman and Mera kick lately, I was pleased to receive this advance copy of the graphic novel through NetGalley. It is always interesting to see different author’s and artist’s versions of a character, but of course, there are some adaptations that will be more favored. In my case, it was Geoff Johns’ The New 52 that I have liked best, as this story became quite muddled in the middle with the mythology angle. I might look into the aforementioned Drowned Earth series, because all the Aquaman and Mera books I have read have been stand-alone stories, and I want to see them involved in the Justice League as integral members of the team.

-Nancy

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.

 

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

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