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Tom King

Grayson (Vol. 1): Agents of Spyral

Dick Grayson is a hero to many. During the Forever Evil storyline, Nightwing was unmasked, his secret identity revealed, and (seemingly) killed on camera to millions of viewers. To many, that hero is now a dead man… but they don’t know Dick. The former Boy Wonder is alive, well, and now goes by Agent 37 at the spy agency called Spyral. Partnered with Helena Bertinelli, the agent known as Matron, they hunt down pieces of the slain god Paragon, whose organs have the potential to become weapons of mass destruction. However, Spyral’s lead man, Mister Minos, has another motive: he wants to use these pieces to discover the secret identity of every superhero on Earth. Of course, Batman is on to Mister Minos’ duplicity – and Dick is his man on the inside. Though Dick is, for all intents and purposes, dead to the rest of the world, he has more to lose now than ever: his sense of self.

There have been a few times in Rebirth where Dick and Helena’s spy days have been referenced, and I was curious for more context. This is a solid start to the series. We’ve seen Dick constantly struggle to get out of Batman’s shadow (it’s partially why he became Nightwing), so it will be very interesting to see if and how he manages to do it here, especially if he’s still working with the Dark Knight.

Speaking of Batman, it is a little annoying how he seems to know everything… including that a super-secret spy agency is up to no good. I’m curious to see how he knew this, and I’m sure it will be revealed as the story goes on. Also yet to be revealed are Helena’s motives for joining Spyral. And how a girl’s boarding school became their front! There’s a lot of fun to be had here, but intrigue also.

The art is nothing to write home about. It’s certainly servicable: anatomy is accurate, expressions and lighting are natural, and backgrounds are understandably toned down to focus on the characters and action. But it suffers in that it’s in your run-of-the-mill, everyday comic book style. While there’s nothing unique offered here in the art style, it’s a solid foundation from which to build a graphic novel in which the story has more focus than the art. I, for one, am looking forward to more of the story!

– Kathleen

Seeley, Tim, Tom King, Mikel Janín, Stephen Mooney, and Jeromy Cox. Grayson (Vol. 1): Agents of Spyral. 2015.

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The Vision: Little Better Than A Beast (Volume 2)

The Vision series comes to a close in this second volume, and it brings all the pathos of a Shakespearean tragedy.

Considering my high regard for the first volume Little Worse than a Man and it’s inclusion on my Best Reads of 2017 list, surprisingly it took me a year to pick up and read this second volume. I knew that reading it in one sitting would be best, so the quietly ominous story could have it’s best effect. The conclusion did not disappoint, yet it did have a different feel than the first. The first volume showed how The Vision, a syntheziod, desperately wanted a family and how his creation upended what others considered human behavior. This concluding volume goes back in time and shows The Vision’s rationale for wanting to create a family, and his motives turn out to be a bit complex.

The volume opens with his past relationship with Scarlet Witch and how their unlikely romance resulted in marriage. The marriage deteriorates as Wanda’s delusion of having twin boys takes over (this plot point has always been confusing to me as Wiccan and Speed are now real Young Avengers) and a seemingly innocuous joke between the two builds and carries through to the end. It seems The Vision’s love for Wanda and her wish for family subverts itself in his later wish for the same thing, and how he creates his new wife Virginia.

When we are in present day we see twins Vin and Viv (again a connection to The Vision’s first twins) and Vin’s obsession with quoting some of Shakespeare’s work. A quote from The Merchant of Venice bring volume one and two’s titles into focus, “When he is best he is a little worse than a man, and when he is worst he is little better than a beast” and we know that the story is building towards an unhappy climax.

Themes of destiny and intentions are interwoven throughout the narrative, with many of the Avengers coming off negatively, with many injustices heaped upon the Vision family by them. Decisions certain family members make in the name of love or revenge, can be connected to their true humanity vs the shaky moral high-ground that others around them take.

The art in both volumes is excellent.  When The Vision is with his family the panels are precise and clean, with a more sketchy style used when he is out of the house and interacting with others. I believe this a subtle nod to The Vision feeling when he is with his new family he is in control and being less clear when he has to deal with the conflicting motivations of people outside his realm of influence.

This two-volume story is outstanding and really subverts the typical superhero narrative. There are many layers to the story and it touches on important themes such as xenophobia, definitions of humanity and love for family. While I feel the first volume was a bit stronger than this second one, the poignant conclusion is a perfect wrap up, and the team that created it deserves major respect.

-Nancy

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Ling, Tom, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Michael Walsh & Jordie Bellaire. The Vision: Little Better Than a Beast. 2016.

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

The Vision: Little Worse Than A Man

Meet the Vision and his family – he’s an Avenger and presidential liaison, plus his wife Virginia, and their twins Vin & Viv. Vision is a syntheziod, an android with synthetic blood and organs, who has has wiped his emotions associated with his memories to process more effectively. He has created a family and attempts to join society by creating a human persona.

But this book 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. So what is humanity? Well, Merriam Webster’s definition of humanity is: compassionate, sympathetic, or generous behavior or disposition,  the quality or state of being human, the totality of human beings; the human race.

The Vision family attempts to normalize their behavior, but are treated as outsiders and a threat by the community, for they do not meet society’s preconceived notions of what is acceptable. They are Others, a me vs them mentality. But as the story progresses, this new family shows more compassion, love and sacrifice than the people persecuting them. Events occur, some of their own doing, that puts their family’s existence into peril.  A metaphor that I found in the story was that the Vision family was like the water vase of Zenn-La they displayed in their home, for they are extraordinary beings trying to mold themselves into everyday humans, but just as the vase is toxic to flowers, their attempt to join humanity becomes poisonous. So, is their life just a charade, or more?

This story had come highly recommended to me from my beloved Graham Crackers Comic Store staff, and I can see why. I had purchased this copy for my library’s collection, and I had put off reading it for awhile. At first I read it in small snatches, but the story line didn’t coalesce until I started again from the beginning and read it in one sitting. 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.

Humanity as defined in the dictionary is sharing compassion with others and having a generous disposition. So let us take heed, and truly show humanity to ALL who are out there, regardless of their “otherness”.

-Nancy

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King Tom, Gabriel Hernandez Walta & Jordie Bellaire.  The Vision. 2016.

 

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