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Best Reads of 2018

It’s that time of year again! Here we’ve compiled our list of the ten best books we’ve read in 2018, and their consequent reviews, in no particular order. Enjoy!

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The Joe Shuster Story: The Artist Behind Superman

Everyone knows Superman. Big guy, born on the planet Krypton but raised in Smallville, Kansas. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Fights for the ideals of truth, justice, and the American way. What you might not know is the fascinating story of how the idea of Superman was born.

Joe Shuster is a quiet kid growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. He likes to read comic books: the pulps, adventure stories, and detective mysteries, but the science fiction stories are his favorite. He dreams of becoming an illustrator some day, because of his talent for drawing. Through a cousin, he is introduced to Jerry Siegel, a writer with the same passion for comics. Together, they prove an indomitable team of not only creators, but friends.

When they came up with the character they called “Superman,” it was already after a series of successful and unsuccessful publications together, but they knew they were onto something big. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it as big as they thought. Through a string of corporate manipulations, Jerry and Joe were coerced into selling the rights to Superman. These two boys had basically built the superhero comic industry, and they were getting nothing for it. Joe was just content to get a paycheck and provide for his family, but Jerry was ready to fight for more. What’s more important? Staying silent and getting by, or raising hell and demanding change?

Though the book does center more on Joe, Jerry’s story is so entwined with his that it’s almost a dual biography. And though I knew their names, I had no idea how much Jerry and Joe had gone through to get Superman, the first and now arguably the world’s most popular superhero, published. At the time, between the World Wars and during WWII, there were biases and discrimination against Jewish people, which is partially why it was so hard for them to sell their work. Ultimately it was why it was so easy for publishers to manipulate them. Their story is heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful… like someone else we know, huh? 😉

The art is wonderful. It’s soft, more painterly than graphic, with very little of the hard lines and shading that we’re used to from superhero comics. The warm palette it’s rendered in evokes the nostalgia associated with the time period and the wonder of two teenagers deep in the creative process.

The best thing about the book is, it’s meticulously researched. There is a bibliography at the end for further reading, and a comprehensive notes section. I found the story so fascinating that I read through the notes! I am planning to check out a few of the materials listed in the biography, so I can learn more about Jerry and Joe’s story. This is essential reading for all Superman fans, but anyone interested in the history of the comic publishing industry will love it too.

– Kathleen

Voloj, Julian, and Thomas Gampi. The Joe Shuster Story: The Artist Behind Superman. 2018.

Superman: Secret Identity (The Deluxe Edition)

Clark Kent is just like any ordinary boy. He got his famous name from his parents and their highly original sense of humor. He grew up in Picketsville, Kansas, just a regular ordinary kid. He’s the frequent butt of jokes at school: asking if he flew to class, why his super-speed didn’t kick in when his books are knocked out of his hand, and the like. Clark Kent is ordinary – until he’s not. Overnight, he gains all the powers of Superman. Now he has a secret to keep from everyone he knows. His parents. His friends. The bullies. Snoopy reporters. As he grows and finds his own way in the big city, his secret threatens his work, his private life, and his blossoming romance (with a woman named Lois, of course). How can Clark possibly keep his secret and live a normal life?

Wow. Just wow! I haven’t read much Superman yet, but this is exactly what I expect a Superman comic to be. Part of the allure of Superman is, that Superman believes in you! In your ordinary self! To stand up and be a hero! This is what this comic is about. An ordinary kid from an ordinary town finds himself bestowed with powers and helps people in his own way.

The art is spectacular. It’s quiet, with muted pastel colors and soft shadows. But with the quiet comes the power. It underscores the utter ordinariness of the life Clark Kent lives, and that he tries to maintain as he grows older. The extraordinary powers he obtains can’t take away the contentment he has with his life – they only supplement it. The art, which is not flashy or over-the-top like so many other graphic novel art today, underscores this idea. Brilliantly done. This is already on my “Best of 2018” list ;D

– Kathleen

Busiek, Kurt, and Stuart Immonen. Superman: Secret Identity (The Deluxe Edition). 2015.

Superman: Grounded (Vol. 2)

In continuing his walk across America, Superman has come across… some sticky situations. A plant near Des Moines, Iowa, has burned down. Lois Lane was about to write a piece for the Daily Planet about the multiple safety and environmental code violations at the same plant. But after hearing the worker’s stories, Superman wonders if it’s not a good idea to keep it open, violations and all. He then starts guessing what he really stands for. Truth, justice, and the American way? Those all sound like words to him now. Feeling more lost than ever, Superman continues on his walk – or he would, if someone from what she calls the Superman Squad shows up and tells him he needs to find his faith again – or risk ending the legacy of Superman for good!

After the first one was so excellent, I was almost hesitant to pick this one up. I didn’t want my high expectations to not be met! But I’m happy to report the second volume was just as good as the first 😉 In trying to find the faith in his message again, multiple citizens, heroes, and even some villains, show Clark, and us, the gravity and importance of having Superman. The artwork was solid once again, but you came back for the story anyway.

– Kathleen

Straczynski, J. Michael, Chris Roberson, and Eddy Barrows. Superman: Grounded (Vol. 2). 2011.

Superman: Grounded (Vol. 1)

Superman can fly through space. He can move planets. He can do incredible feats. He’s a symbol of hope to many, but… how much saving people does Superman actually do? Humbled after the events of the 100 Minute War, Superman comes back to Earth – literally. He sets off walking across the United States, helping out when needed with normal things. Fixing cars. Organizing storerooms in small-town diners. People don’t understand. They think he’s crazy – the League especially. But Superman knows that even though he can do incredible things, the most incredible thing he can do of all is just to lend a helping hand when it’s needed.

This one was a suggestion from Walt over at comicreviewsbywalt on the last Superman comic I read, and boy am I glad I read it. I was laughing on one page, then ugly crying on the next. This one sure gave my heartstrings a workout. This one is another one you might need a hot drink handy for 😉 Seeing Superman, freakin’ Superman, walking across the U.S. just to help out ordinary people – well, it’s humbling and inspiring. Of course, there are a few action scenes to break up the otherwise leisurely pace. The art is good, but it’s the writing and solid characterization that keeps you going.

– Kathleen

Straczynski, J. Michael, Eddy Barrows, and G. Willow Wilson. Superman: Grounded (Vol. 1). 2011.

Superman Unchained (Deluxe Edition)

It occurred to me that as big of a superhero fan that I am… I’ve never actually read a Superman comic. The shame!!! I rectified that with this one 😉

Catching space stations plummeting to Earth with terrified astronauts aboard – business as usual for Superman. Once he’s taken care of the wreckage, Clark Kent writes a piece about him. However, seems Clark got his facts wrong. He wrote that Superman stopped seven objects, but there were actually eight. Superman took care of all of them… right? In his investigation, he finds handprints in the steel. Not many could have pushed it off course and harmlessly into the ocean. But if it wasn’t Superman… then who? Clark is about to stumble upon a secret the U.S. Government has been sitting on for 75 years, and there are some who’ll do anything to stop him from discovering it.

I enjoyed it, but I think there was too much going on in this story. There are multiple plot points that come together messily in the end. One part I enjoyed was seeing Clark’s inner monologue during the fight scenes. There was a lot more science-y stuff than I expected: velocity, UV spectrums, etc. It shows how intelligent Clark is to be able to think of that stuff on the fly! It did slow down the pace a bit for me, but I didn’t mind too much. There is a bit in the middle/end about the philosophy and agenda (or lack thereof) of Superman, which I found really interesting. This deluxe edition had a good number of variant covers at the end, all drawn in the different styles of comic book eras.

Again, I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure this was a good “beginner” Superman book. The story is a bit convoluted and it drags. There’s more emphasis on the action than any character development. The art is very good; a few two-page spreads at the beginning completely blew me away with the amount of detail. You’d probably have to really like Superman to fully enjoy this book. However, I do like Superman, I should read more, and I’m going to!

– Kathleen

Snyder, Scott, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Dustin Nguyen, Alex Sinclair. Superman Unchained (Deluxe Edition). 2014.

Forever Evil

The Justice League is no more! Instead the Crime Syndicate from Earth-3 in the multiverse have managed to “kill” most of the heroes and round up all the villains, so as to take over the world. The Crime Syndicate consists of doppelgangers Ultraman (Superman), Super Woman (Wonder Woman), Owlman (Batman), Power Ring (Green Lantern), Deathstorm (Firestorm), Johnny Quick (The Flash) and Atomica (Atom) with their Sea King (Aquaman) not surviving the trip over.

After busting dozens of villains out of jail, this group of seven demand obedience from the motley group in front of them. They explain that the strongest should survive, and the way the former heroes have been protecting the weak of the planet was wrong. Ultraman declares “Aeternus Malum”, which roughly translates to forever evil, to his new army. Thrilled to be allowed to act on their base instincts, this new secret society go out and create deadly chaos all over the world.

But not all is well within the crime syndicate. The seven argue endlessly among themselves, and fear that the creature that destroyed their previous world will find them here. We discover Super Woman is pregnant and secretly telling both Ultraman and Owlman that they are the father, so we know she is planning on playing them off one another in the future.

In the midst of the lawlessness and disorder, Lex Luthor takes stock of the situation and takes action. He has a powerful secret weapon that he had been working on for years, and puts it into play. We also discover that not everyone from the Justice League is gone. A certain someone, who often fights dark impulses (you have to know who I’m referring to!), joins forces with Lex and some other surprising villains to take down the syndicate.  The conclusion reveals who the mole in the Justice League was to allow the syndicate to take over, and Super Woman has another surprising disclosure.

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This was an extremely dense story, one that took me time to go through. While I have been reading more DC graphic novels recently, I still had to look up many characters to find out their backgrounds and how they connect into one another. There were some inconsistencies and some holes in the story that were distracting, but I felt as a whole, it was a very strong story. It made me think- can someone who has been evil for a long time, change? Does his/her new good actions erase all the bad they have done in the past? On the flip side, can someone who has been good but then makes a horrible choice, does that negate their past good deeds?

The artwork was fantastic. It took real skill to illustrate the 100 or so characters in the story. There was an amazing four page spread of the syndicate with the villains surrounding them, that I wish had been a pull out, so we could see the whole cast of characters at once. Despite this four page spread, there were hardly any other two page spreads, but there were occasionally one page panels. With black borders, the rich coloring stood out, and every panel was drawn with precision.

This New 52 crossover event was definitely successful. Not only was it a fun read, but the ending leaves some open story lines that can be built upon in the future.  I’m definitely interested in knowing what awaits the villains that survived and how that will affect the Justice League in the future.

-Nancy

Johns, Geoff, Davis Finch & Richard Friend. Forever Evil. 2014.

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

Mid-Year Freak Out Tag

I saw this recently and thought this would be a perfect mid-year review. I had fun going through my Goodreads data, and bonus, it highlights the other genres I read. My Goodreads challenge is 100 books, and I am currently at 59, so I am ahead of the game!

Best book you read in 2017 so far

Superman: American Alien was fresh and fun and exactly what I needed. It had seven short stories about what shaped Clark Kent into Superman, and was arranged chronologically from his childhood until his days in Metropolis. The stories fit right into Superman canon, and the different artists paired with author Max Landis made for a superb must read.

Best sequel you’ve read so far 

The conclusion to Revival had a poignant ending to the complete series, and felt true to the beginning. That I had a cameo in the last issue was an added bonus! Yes, I will find any excuse in the world to bring up again that I won a contest to be drawn into the series!

New release you haven’t read yet, but want to

This is a tiny bit of a cheat, as the third volume of ElfQuest: The Final Quest is released on July 11th, but I will purchase it soon afterwards. (BTW- The pec definition on the male elves is going a bit overboard)

Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

I am eagerly looking forward to Rainbow Rowell penning Runaways for Marvel! I thought the original had a great story line, so I think RR and Kris Anka working together will be gold.

Biggest disappointment

Civil War II– I feel like I have mentioned my disappointment in this book over and over again. I’m not even going to link the review- take my word for it.

Biggest surprise

Briggs Land by was recommended to me by Graham Crackers, my comic book store, and I was leery about reading about a rural armed white supremacy group- but it was very nuanced and timely to today’s political climate.

Favourite new author (Debut or new to you)

Jeff Zentner of The Serpent King. This book ripped my heart out, yet I adored it. I will definitely be reading what ever he writes next!

Newest fictional crush

I read a lot of graphic novels and YA books- and neither give me good options for a character that is crush worthy as I am a grown woman.

Newest favourite character

Botille from The Passion of Dolssa. Historical fiction at it’s finest! Set in 1241 in the countryside of Provensa France, after the bloody Crusades when religious fervor was still strong, the story details the unlikely friendship between Dolssa and Botille. Botille is a practical and loving peasant girl, whose act of kindness affects the whole town. I would want to be friends with her in real life.

Book that made you happy

The photography book Abandoned America:Dismantling the Dream  by Matthew Christopher made me happy. Why does looking at pictures of decaying and rotting building make me happy? I don’t know what that says about me, but I have followed this photographer and his website for years, and I like that he is achieving success for his passion. I enjoy learning about history and ponder modern society’s relationship with our past, and this book brings those thoughts to life.

Book that made you sad

Our Souls At Night by Kent Huruf was a beautifully melancholy novel, both in subject matter and in knowing this was Kent Haruf’s last novel. I have loved his Holt, Colorado set books, and will miss visiting the fictional town and feeling as if his townspeople are indeed real.

Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received)

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is a lovely book that is atypical in layout. It chronicles the scifi adventures of a group of people escaping from their planet that is under attack. Told through emails, schematics, military files, instant messages, medical reports and interviews- the graphics make for a fun read.

So there you have it- my mid year review! I could tag people, but as I wasn’t tagged myself and choose to do this, you can too!

-Nancy

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