Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: Reboots and continuations of superheroes

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reading these books here.

And now back to superheroes. I feel like there are more traditional superheroes than usual on the list, but am too lazy-slash-busy-with-other-life-things to go and look at old lists to back up the claim. My perspective is likely skewed. You may be anticipating more dissatisfaction but I liked all of these except for one – the one that you might thing I’d most like. Coincidentally, Brian Michael Bendis wrote none of them. I kid, I kid. Speaking of kids and what they grow up to be:

NEW SERIES, OLD CHARACTERS

QW_001_COVER_SOOK

Quantum and Woody, Volume 1: The World’s Worst Superhero Team

James Asmus, writer

Tom Fowler, artist

Valiant

Anticipation/Expectation Level: Went into it blind. Liked the goat on the cover.

My Reality: I found myself laughing aloud at this. Even though the premise is that Woody is a blundering ass who thinks he’s charming – which usually is a grating character type – and he causes his adoptive (Black) family heartache and problems, up to and including getting him and his adoptive brother new powers. Woody is grating, but not so much that he ruins the comic.

In looking up info about the book I saw that it is a reboot of a beloved 90s comic, so that is a fact. In the original comic Quantum and Woody are not brothers – I think the change is a good decision – it adds that Spiderman tinge of responsibility to the goings on. And there are probably other nods to the original that I didn’t get, having never read it. But that didn’t matter to me. I enjoyed it for its sense of fun and absurdity, and deadpan humor mixed with over the top situations.

Will teens like it?: I think they would. If they can find it.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

quantumandwoody

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Volume 6: City Fall, Part 1

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Volume 7: City Fall, Part 2

Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz and Mateus Santoluoco -some combination of writing and art I have not been able to define because IDW’s website is super slow and Amazon and Goodreads are no help to me.

IDW

Anticipation/Expectation Level: Although my most popular piece of writing and the thing I will be remembered for after I die is probably my defense of the TMNT movie from 1990 (and I think that’s great), I am not invested in the Turts in the wider world of popular culture. Except for the Original NES video game. It was fun to watch my sister play that. So I had never read the original comic or the new comic. I thought it might be fun, though.

My Reality: I confess that I read City Fall Part 1 and got bored during City Fall Part 2 and stopped reading because no one was forcing me to except myself. I think this is because of my personal reading tastes and not a failure of the comic. I think Eastman’s woodblock-influenced art is a compelling style and so is the other dude’s. There’s action, betrayal, pizza, quips, and pizza quips. April is, like, a teenager or something, and there’s a new girl who is kind of shady but also kicks ass, so I don’t see why it’s not a good comic. And it has good reviews from people who have followed it, so I’m going to defer to them. I feel like it’s not that exciting, but I don’t have any good arguments to put forth supporting my claim. I just wasn’t into it.

Will teens like it?: Inconclusive – I haven’t heard any teens talk about TMNT, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like these books.

Is it “great” for teens?: Clearly I’m not thrilled by it.

Art Taste:

tmnt001

 

silversurfer1

Silver Surfer, Vol. 1: New Dawn

Dan Slott, writer

Mike Allred, artist

Marvel

I haven’t read this yet because the holds list is long and there are only 2 volumes in the whole library system, and I guess people don’t read comics as fast as I thought they did. I predict that I would probably like it based on liking Slott’s writing on Superior Spider-Man and that I dig the cover.

redsonja1    redsonja2

Red Sonja vol 1: Queen of the Plagues. 

Red Sonja vol 2: The Art of Blood and Fire

Gail Simone, writer

Walter Geovani, artist

Dynamite

Anticipation/Expectation Level: Gail Simone is cool, even though I wasn’t into her Birds of Prey.

My Reality: Art of Blood and Fire came out in November and doesn’t even have a record in my library system yet, so I have no hope of reading it before the end of January unless I pay for a digital copy, and that’s not in my budget, sorry, so I’m basing my review on only the first volume.

Queen of Plagues is a tight origin/near-death/mythos-establishing story. I’m glad that for most of this Red Sonja was out of her customary chainmail bikini because it just makes me feel cold to see that. Volume one covers aspects of Sonja’s childhood, coming of age, and present state of confronting a plague and someone *important* come back from her past with a new, life-threatening attitude regarding Sonja. It’s not confusing in the book.

Superheroes, whether sci fi or fantasy, have been brought low as a plot point many times. So much that it might be seen as a tired trick if not written well. Simone writes it well in Red Sonja. Geovani backs it up with tight art – not exploitative but not going against the hyperbolic nature of Sonja’s existence. She’s not cheesecakey but she does wear a bikini normally. Geovani manages to make that not seem weird and objectifying.

Will teens like it?: I see lots of teens into the fantasy adventure stuff, and I think they would like this.

Is it “great” for teens?: It is grandiose, well written, and nicely illustrated, so yes.

Art Taste:

Layout 1

msmarvel

Ms. Marvel V.1: No Normal

G. Willow Wilson, writer

Adrian Alphona, illustrator

Marvel

Anticipation/Expectation Level: Very high.

My Reality: Lived up to the hype! Gosh, I loved this. Again, classic themes done well. Kamala Khan is struggling with her identity in multiple ways: as a Muslim kid in her family, as a Muslim kid in Jersey teen culture at large, and as a nerdy teenager among other teenagers. Then she becomes Ms. Marvel and is struggling with her secret identity, and how it intersects with her racial and cultural identity. Khan lives in a universe where the Avengers et al are real, so there’s also a real fanfic come to life element to her journey.

I have written here about how I was a big fan of Wilson’s novel Alif the Unseen, so I was glad to see her as a writer here. She makes it feel authentic and hyper-real, and Alphona’s art is the perfect complement, with thin pen lines and faces that can move from realistically modeled to frowny faces in a panel or less – both styles are gorgeous and fun. I’m also a fan of the coloring work.

Will teens like it?: They better because I’ll be shoving it in their hands.

Is it “great” for teens?: Heck yeah.

Art Taste:

kickass

ShadowHero-Cov-final2

The Shadow Hero

Gene Luen Yang, writer

Sonny Liew, artist

First Second

Anticipation/Expectation Level: Gene Luen Yang! High expectations. Also Sonny Liew is fantastic.

My Reality: It might be easy to believe that Yang dreamed The Shadow Hero up on his own, but it is based on a golden-age comic book whose origins are fantastic in and of themselves – its writer was not allowed to make his hero Chinese, so he just never showed the guy’s face! And a turtle like shadow follows him and is never explained! Click through from the cover image to see more info on Yang’s site.

The new imagining of The Shadow Hero is more complex and narrative based than its forebear. Set in 1930s Chinatown in San Francisco, it involves a young man, Hank Chu, who just wants to follow his dad and manage a grocery, a Chinese mob situation, ancient animal spirits and a mom who just wants a brave superhero son to be proud of, because after all, Americans have superheroes, so Chinese-Americans should, too! And her husband isn’t standing up to his extorters.

Liew does a great job evoking the era, and his customary great job drawing small-featured, a bit physically exaggerated characters who can change moods by just a subtle crook of an eyebrow or twist of the mouth.

Will teens like it?: Yes, but they might not rush to grab it off of the shelf because of its old-timey look.

Is it “great” for teens?:  Yeah.

Art Taste:

Shadow_New-1024x576

CONTINUATIONS

Batman_-_Death_of_the_Family

Batman Vol 3: Death of the Family

Scott Snyder, writer

Greg Capullo, artist

DC Comics

Anticipation/Expectation Level: I like Batman and Scott Snyder writing Batman, usually.

My Reality: Scary and grotesque, just how we like Joker stories, I think? Snyder keeps putting Batman in situations that play on his weak humanity. Joker’s story plays out very much like a serial killer drama, and that’s really what he is. In this case, gritty superheroism isn’t tiring to me.

Will teens like it?: Yes. Especially if they’re into Hannibal

Is it “great” for teens?: It’s a great example of a dark superhero book, so yes.

Art Taste:

jokercreep

 

We’re in the home stretch! I even got a free Crunchyroll trial so I could read some more manga. See you next week.

Reading the Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: New Superheroes, new series

by Tessa

Read about the reasons for this reading series here.

Every year brave teams of writers, artists, inkers, publishers etc. launch or re-launch a superhero series, going up against the big names of the pantheon. Last year one of the standouts was The Hypernaturals, from BOOM! Studios, which looks like it only existed for two collected editions. But every time I feel a little spark of hope that one of them will gain some readership momentum and last for a little while.

Or just get read and appreciated.

Last week I reorganized my list of what comics I have left to review, to put them into genre and format categories. And it turns out there are only 2 entirely new superhero comics left on my list. I really liked one and really didn’t like the other.

Let’s start with the good news.

mara01_COVER

Mara

Brian Wood, writer

Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire, illustrators

Image Comics

Anticipation/Expectation level: I liked the cover and I like Brian Wood’s writing. I liked Ming Doyle’s art in the Tantalize adaptation even though the story was …eh.

My Reality: When I read this in March I wrote this on Goodreads: “I love the character designs, color palette, even the font choices. I was into the whole global volleyball phenomenon, so I wanted to read more about that and get to know Mara and Ingrid and everyone more through their interactions on the job. Mara’s transformation [into a superhuman] was so quick that there wasn’t much change from when we first meet her to when she feels inhuman – I think slowing down the action could have made it easier to understand her feelings–not make her more likeable or unlikeable, I don’t care if she’s likeable or not, but I wanted to get in her head more. And it was great that although everyone was generally beautiful they all looked like they had real faces, not ideas of faces.”

When I re-read it last week, I agreed with myself, but I liked it even more. It’s too bad that this only lasted six issues. I’m not even sure it was supposed to last longer, but Wood has created an interesting world that definitely could have been slowed down and expanded on without feeling like a rehash of other worlds and similar themes. Mara lives in a world where sports and the military are the ways out of poverty. Children are sent on those paths from a very young age. No one ever seems to achieve real independence, but it’s the best option in a broken global system. In that way, Mara, who is a top volleyball star from what might be a future US/North American empire, has a sort of Katniss-y feel to her – you wonder what her personality would be like if it had been allowed to develop normally, but she still has a strong presence as a character and makes a fascinating protagonist.

Will teens like it?: Yes. I don’t see any major impediments to teen liking.

Is it “great”for teens?: Definitely. It would even make a fun discussion book because it does end and isn’t just a jumping off point for a series.

Art taste:

Mara3

 

And then there’s

 

BRILLIANT_01_CVR

Brilliant

Brian Michael Bendis, writer

Mark Bagley, artist

Icon / 2012, Marvel, 2014

 Note: I’m not even sure this is eligible for the list because it looks like it was first published in 2012. But I’m going to review it anyway because I read it and took all these pictures of the ways it irritated me and I need to feel like I went through all that for a reason.

Anticipation/expectation level: Neutral. The cover did not look promising and I didn’t like Bendis’ latest All New X-Men that much, though.

My reality: What I think Bendis was going for here was “super-smart teen patter mixed with mumblecore sensibilities”. It read as self-satisfied smart teens not saying much at all. So many exchanges like this one:

patter

Um, well, yeah.

Or this:

I don't know what is happening either

I don’t know what is happening either

The basic premise is that hot-shot MIT type new adults figure out a way to develop superpowers. At least one of them starts using this power to rob banks and get money for more experiments, because the powers are taking over. This causes problems. They expect their friend who just returned from studying abroad or something to figure it out for them but he’s conflicted. If you want to see an inventive treatment of this plot, please watch Chronicle.

I was more interested in witnessing the alternate universe that these people live in.

A universe where a nice normal red haired girl with flipper hands, a nice girl whose choice of party outfit is a baggy hawaiian shirt, suddenly starts dressing in spandex capri pants to chill out in her dorm room once she becomes a real crush of the protagonist:

Untitled drawing

A world where stockings with seams are worn with the seams on the front. A world where a college professor also loves crop tops and capris, and chases down the stoner she slept with to destroy his cell phone. A world where house loungewear is hacked up bits of athleticwear.

totallynormal1

A world where having an argument with friends, jogging, and asking your hallmates for pot are EXTRA DRAMATIC activities with all the attendant eye-widening and posing involved.

normalstandingaround normaljog wtfpotsmokers

So, I was a little distracted from the story.

Will teens like it?: Yes, teens who are looking for a quick superhero read and have a thing for crop tops.

Is it “great” for teens?: It doesn’t feel like anyone was trying on this title. I’m sure that’s not true, but that’s how it feels.

Art Taste: see above.

 

YA Loves . . . Comic Books!

A List of YA Books That Love Comics!

by REBECCA, June 19, 2013

Here at Crunchings & Munchings we love young adult literature and we love comics! So, here is a list of books that combine two of our favorite things: YA books featuring comics and comic culture, and books about superheroes. All quoted descriptions are from Goodreads.

Hero by Perry MooreHero by Perry Moore

Hero by Perry Moore (2007)

“The last thing in the world Thom Creed wants is to add to his dad, Hal’s, pain, so he keeps secrets. Like that he has special powers. And that he’s been asked to join the League–the very organization of superheroes that spurned his father. The most painful secret of all is one Thom can barely face himself: he’s gay. But becoming a member of the League opens up a new world for Thom. There, he connects with a misfit group of aspiring heroes, including Scarlett, who can control fire but not her anger; Typhoid Larry, who can make anyone sick with his touch; and Ruth, a wise old broad who can see the future. Like Thom, these heroes have things to hide, but they will have to learn to trust one another when they uncover a deadly conspiracy within the League. To survive, Thom will face challenges he never imagine. To find happiness, he’ll have to come to terms with his father’s past and discover the kind of hero he really wants to be.”

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (2000)

“Joe Kavalier, a young Jewish artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdini-esque escape, has just smuggled himself out of Nazi-invaded Prague and landed in New York City. His Brooklyn cousin Sammy Clay is looking for a partner to create heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit America – the comic book. Drawing on their own fears and dreams, Kavalier and Clay create the Escapist, the Monitor, and Luna Moth, inspired by the beautiful Rosa Saks, who will become linked by powerful ties to both men. With exhilarating style and grace, Michael Chabon tells an unforgettable story about American romance and possibility.”

Rise of Heroes by Hayden Thorne

Rise of Heroes (Masks #1) by Hayden Thorne (2008)

“Strange things are happening in Vintage City, and high school goth boy Eric seems to be right in the middle of them. There’s a new villain in town, one with super powers, and he’s wreaking havoc on the town, and on Eric’s life. The new super hero who springs up to defend Vintage City is almost as bad, making Eric all hot and bothered, enough so that he almost misses the love that’s right between his nose. Peter is Eric’s best friend, and even if he does seem to be hiding something most of the time, he finds a way to show Eric how he feels in between attacks on trains and banks and malls. The two boys decide to start dating, much to the chagrin of their other best buddy, Althea, who has a terrible crush on Peter, and a secret or two of her own to keep. As the fight between the villain, known as the Devil’s Trill, and superhero Magnifiman picks up, Eric’s relationship with Peter almost ends before it begins when Eric finds out about Peter’s special talents, which might just rank Peter as a superhero in his own right. When the Trill takes an interest in Eric, too, Peter and Althea, along with Magnifiman and Eric’s normal, middle-class family all have to work together to keep Eric, and their city, safe. Can they figure out the super villain’s plan in time?”

After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn

After the Golden Age (Golden Age #1) by Carrie Vaughn (2011)

“Most people dream of having superheroes for parents, but not Celia West. The only daughter of Captain Olympus and Spark, the world’s greatest champions, she has no powers of her own, and the most exciting thing she’s ever done is win a silver medal in a high school swim meet. Meanwhile, she’s the favorite hostage of every crime boss and supervillain in Comemrce City. She doesn’t have a code name, but if she did, it would probably be Bait Girl, the Captive Wonder. Rejecting her famous family and its legacy, Celia has worked hard to create a life for herself beyond the shadow of their capes, becoming a skilled forensic accountant. But when her parents’ archenemy, the Destructor, faces justice in the “Trial of the Century,” Celia finds herself sucked back into the more-than-mortal world of Captain Olympus—and forced to confront a secret that she hoped would stay buried forever.”

How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis

How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis (2012)

“Eighteen-year-old Castaway Planet fans Brandon and Abel hate bad fan fiction—especially when it pairs their number-one TV crushes of all time, dashing space captain Cadmus and dapper android Sim. As co-runners of the Internet’s third most popular Castaway Planet vlog, they love to spar with the “Cadsim” fangirls who think Cadmus will melt Sim’s mechanical heart by the Season 5 finale. This summer, Brandon and Abel have a mission: hit the road in an RV to follow the traveling Castaway Planet convention, interview the actors and showrunner, and uncover proof that a legit Cadsim romance will NEVER, EVER HAPPEN. A Brandon and Abel romance: also not happening. Brandon’s sick of his struggle to make “gay and Catholic” compute, so it’s safer to love a TV android. Plus Abel’s got a hot new boyfriend with a phoenix tattoo, and how can Brandon compete with that? But when mysterious messages about them start popping up in the fan community, they make a shocking discovery that slowly forces their real feelings to the surface. Before they get to the last Castaway Planet convention, Brandon’s going to find out the truth: can a mechanical heart be reprogrammed, or will his first shot at love be a full system failure?”

My complete review of this amazing self-published debut is HERE, and my interview with author J.C. Lillis is HERE.

Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks

Evil Genius (Genius #1) by Catherine Jinks (2005)

“Cadel Piggott has a genius IQ and a fascination with systems of all kinds. At seven, he was illegally hacking into computers. Now he’s fourteen and studying for his World Domination degree, taking classes like embezzlement, misinformation, forgery, and infiltration at the institute founded by criminal mastermind Dr. Phineas Darkkon. Although Cadel may be advanced beyond his years, at heart he’s a lonely kid. When he falls for the mysterious and brilliant Kay-Lee, he begins to question the moral implications of his studies for the first time. But is it too late to stop Dr. Darkkon from carrying out his evil plot?”

The Summer I Became A Nerd by Leah Rae Miller

The Summer I Became A Nerd by Leah Rae Miller (2013)

“On the outside, seventeen-year-old Madelyne Summers looks like your typical blond cheerleader—perky, popular, and dating the star quarterback. But inside, Maddie spends more time agonizing over what will happen in the next issue of her favorite comic book than planning pep rallies with her squad. That she’s a nerd hiding in a popular girl’s body isn’t just unknown, it’s anti-known. And she needs to keep it that way. Summer is the only time Maddie lets her real self out to play, but when she slips up and the adorkable guy behind the local comic shop’s counter uncovers her secret, she’s busted. Before she can shake a pom-pom, Maddie’s whisked into Logan’s world of comic conventions, live-action role-playing, and first-person-shooter video games. And she loves it. But the more she denies who she really is, the deeper her lies become…and the more she risks losing Logan forever.”

My full review of The Summer I Became A Nerd is HERE.

Dull Boy by Sarah Cross

Dull Boy by Sarah Cross (2009)

“What do you do if you can deadlift a car, and you spend your nights flying to get away from it all? If you’re fifteen-year-old Avery Pirzwick, you keep that information to yourself. When you’re a former jock turned freak, you can’t afford to let the secret slip. But then Avery makes some friends who are as extraordinary as he is. He realizes they’re more than just freaks—together, maybe they have a chance to be heroes. First, though, they have to decide whether to trust the mysterious Cherchette, a powerful would-be mentor whose remarkable generosity may come at a terrible price.”

SO, what YA books about comics, comic culture, or superheroes am I missing? Tell me in the comments!

10 Reasons Why the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie will always be the best.

by Tessa

Hey dudes. I don’t have a book review today. I’d like to take some of your time to address a Topic in Classic Teen Movies.

Michael Bay recently told TMNT fans to “take a breath and chill” about his plans to do a new take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles… mythology(?).  (If you haven’t heard the newest rumors, he’s changing the title to “Ninja Turtles” and making them into aliens and not mutants).

I’m chill, Michael.  I’m just going to calmly point out why your movie will probably never top the 1990 version. For me. Based on your track record as a director.  Just a calm personal assessment of my tastes vs. your perceived tastes.

1. HENSON, no CGI

CGI may be cheaper, but it’s harder to give it any soul.  Jim Henson rules. Case closed.  I don’t think M. Bay’s turtles will give us a more fun or realistic moment than this dance:

2. Rad and Funky Soundtrack (reminiscent of Labyrinth in some places)

including terrible rapping over the end credits (it’s by Partners in Kryme)

Nowadays, movies have innocuous composed scores with moneymaking “soundtracks” featuring songs that never even get into the movie, except for one blustering, sounds-like-everything-else rock song that plays over the credits.  Where did all the funky synthesized horn sections go?  The made-to-order raps? The first time I really noticed this was the Nickelback song on the end of the Spiderman movie.

3. Normal “hot” April, not Megan Fox April

Hey look! April looks her age. She looks like she shops for clothes and hair products on the budget of a news anchor from a lower-tier station. She’s relatable. She’s sort of goofy.

We all know what Michael Bay thinks leading ladies should look like.  He’s interested in creating extreme worlds filled with only the most beautiful people.

hence Megan Fox & the model with 2 last names, and Kate Beckinsale in Pearl Harbor, etc. etc.

4. Romantic interest is kind of assholey libertarian guy in sweatpants

At one point Casey Jones mistakes “claustrophobic” for “homosexual” and gets offended.  It’s so stupid. Why did I have a crush on him as a kid? I guess I’m just into long hair.

This is probably not too far from a current Michael Bay romantic lead. But I think Casey Jones is more authentic of a character. Because I’m being contrarian. He’s a guy who’s into vigilante justice and thinks his misogyny is just good gentlemanly manners.  He never stops wearing sweatpants. Never.

5. Enemy wears sparkly pants

Speaking of pants.  Shredder rocks the glitter.  Shredder will probably be all molded rubber a la Batman or futuristic Teflon/plastic armor.  Sparkly polyester spandex is much more practical for being a ninja.  It also shows that he’s confident with his self-presentation because real men can wear anything and still be vengeful tyrants whose plan to rule the NYC black market involves being the mob boss of a bunch of teenage hooligans.

6. Tiny animated turtle saying “RADICAL RADICAL RADICAL”

self-explanatory.  This will definitely not be part of the origin sequence for the new Ninja Turtles because it is not serious or corny. It is pure joy.

7. Old NYC

I can see this place being dangerous, full of people living on the margins. A place where you can watch your TV on your fire escape and have it stolen out from under your nose. A place where mutant turtles live in the sewers and occasionally go to movies disguised only in fedoras and trench coats that barely cover their bulging green calf muscles.  The class divide is just roiling beneath the surface.

Today? Not so much. My new stereotypical view of New York City is that it’s full of rich people and no one is allowed to show art that is in any way made of cow dung.  Mutant Turtles would stand no chance here.

8. Sam Rockwell

Will Sam Rockwell be in the New Ninja Turtles movie? I guess it’s possible.  And he’s usually great in whatever he does.  But he won’t have the vital naivete and attitude of youth, like he does in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Rowr.

9. Farm interlude with voiceover and terrible drawings


Do you think that for even one moment Michael Bay would stop an explosive spectacle of alien turtle action to have some downtime on an old farm:

where the characters can catch a break from their enemies and commune spiritually with their lost Rat Master through a campfire:

with unexpected voiceover narration by April who has decided to document everything earnestly-drawn colored pencil??

NO.

I feel sorry for the children of today because this was my favorite part of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And they will not have such an interlude.

10. Fights where you can actually see what’s happening instead of first person shaky-cam fighting.

I’m so over shaky cam fighting. I’m looking at you, Hunger Games. Most directors these days seem to disagree with me, and Michael Bay is no different.  The action in Transformers was basically a CGI explosion of shaky silver and grey things rushing around.  I’d rather watch the classic Henson-created Turtles fight their way around old NYC, because I can actually see what’s going on when they fight.

All screenshots captured by me. More are here.

Adorable, homeless, angsty Justice: Shadoweyes, Vol. 1

Shadoweyes, Vol. 1
Ross Campbell
SLG Publishing, June 2010

Review by Tessa

Characters
Scout, aka Shadoweyes – a surprise shapeshifter
Kyisha, BFF of Scout, but not putting up with her shit.
Sparkle, upbeat and unlucky Pony Master
Noah, Kyisha’s boyf, with his own opinions about how to be a vigilante

Hook
It’s the year 200X. Humanity lives in a giant, cobbled together trash heap.  Scout finds herself suddenly able to transform into a bulbous-headed, harpoon-tailed, adorable blue creature: Shadoweyes.  Finally she can fight injustice the way she was meant to.

Worldview
Shadoweyes opens with a long view through deep space, past an asteroid and broken satellites orbiting a planet with a barren surface, towards a buried bridge, leading to a Blade Runner-esque city named Dranac, all looping highways and jumbled buildings, with trash stuffed in all the crevices.  This could be Earth’s future, or its past, or not Earth at all.  But the people of Dranac are distinctly humanoid (with cyberpunk style).

Scout and Kyisha are busy hanging out and designing Scout’s Crimewatch persona – there are apparently neighborhood groups dedicated to fighting petty and violent crime, which tells you a lot about how much the governmental structure must care about its citizens. Once the name “Shadoweyes” is decided on, they leave on their first patrol and notice a man being menaced by a brick-wielding youth.  In short order, Scout gets knocked out by said brick, Kyisha punches the dude, and a week or so later a recovering Scout goes into her bathroom and transforms into a little blue creature with a tail and light-sensitive eyes.  She can change back, but it’s really painful.

Drakan looks like this but with way more buildings and garbage everywhere.

For Scout this is a perfect opportunity to fight crime, but she doesn’t know what the hell is going on.  Does this have anything to do with the brick or is it something that was waiting to happen to her, stuck in her genes?  As it gets harder and harder for her to change back, she decides to leave home and become a full-time vigilante.  Only Kyisha knows who she really is.

Then Scout saves someone half-dead. Someone who promptly kidnaps one of Scout’s classmates, the unbelievably peppy Sparkle.  And although she’s sick of being homeless and hungry, Shadoweyes now has a real goal to achieve. And an excuse to visit her mom.

What was the book’s intention and was it achieved?
One of the things I loved about reading Wet Moon, Ross Campbell’s other slice-of-life graphic series about a subtly creepy town in the Deep South was its matter of fact depiction of goth/industrial/emo kids of all shapes and sizes.  It was like all the token characters in TV or wherever had gotten together to create a real life for themselves (without realizing they were living right next to the set of True Blood and some of that otherworlidness was bleeding into their world.)  The same can be said of Shadoweyes, but the goth aesthetic seems less notable in a cyberpunk setting.  The characters care about what they look like, but they don’t seem to be consciously dressing to be part of a subset.  Maybe that’s what everyone looks like.

Another thing that I really like about Campbell’s way of settling us into the world of Shadoweyes is how he inserts information about the society without just outright making it part of a voiceover.  Within the first couple pages we know that Kyisha has a serious peanut allergy and that Scout has asthma, which clues the reader in to the possible environmental effects of living in Dranac, without totally spelling it out.

Although the story of a weaker person (class-wise and, in this case, physical strength-wise) gaining superhero powers isn’t new, it has a renewed strength here. It has grittiness via its setting and heart via its characters, and even humor, as when we see a view of Shadoweyes’ lair, covered with newspaper clippings of her exploits, and one particularly large headline reads: “Shadoweyes helps student with biology homework.”  While the plot moves along at a quick pace, it mostly focuses on the emotional turmoil of becoming Shadoweyes–with, admittedly, a long conversation in the last issue of the collection between Shadoweyes and Sparkle that could have been shortened or used the graphic format to better effect.  There are hints of more exciting conflicts to come, though, especially between Noah, Kyisha’s boyfriend, and Shadoweyes, as their views of when to let a bad guy go differ.  I’m excited to see where this leads.

Readalikes

Malinky Robot: Collected Stories and Other Bits
Sonny Liew
Image Comics, August 2011
If you dig the gritty collapsed-society feel of Dranac, check out the world of Malinky Robot.  There’s more gentle humor in here as Atari and Oliver try to suss out the pleasures of life at the bottom of society. The cover copy hints at this when it describes the stories as “featuring stinky fish, philosopher-labourers, and summer rain.”

The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury
Brandon Thomas & Lee Ferguson
Archaia Entertainment, August 2011
For the lovers of strong female superheroes, we have Miranda Mercury. She carries on her family’s legacy of space heroism. She kicks major ass!  A complex sci-fi swirl of buried intentions rides along on sharp lines as the plot twists and sizzles.

The Never Weres
Fiona Smyth
Annick Press, February 2011
A speculative work from a Canadian author! I could take or leave (alright, leave) the narrator character, but if you focus on the story of a infertile human race a century in the future and one teenage girl who loves art and has a mysterious past, then you’ll find an imaginative work with an art style that called to mind Keith Haring, a little bit.

Disclosures & Digressions
I noticed on some Goodreads reviews of this volume that some people have a beef with Campbell’s faces – that they’re all the same or that they’re expressionless.  Obviously I don’t hold those views, but I’ll just say that if you really want to see cookie cutter, expressionless faces, you should read Birds of Prey: Endrun.  It’s a prime example of why I get frustrated when I try to get into reading the main superhero canon, and why I find Campbell so exciting.

Links
Ross Campbell is all over the internet!
Livejournal: http://mooncalfe.livejournal.com/
Deviantart: http://mooncalfe.deviantart.com/
Standalone page: http://www.greenoblivion.com/
Shadoweyes: http://www.shadoweyes.net/
Tumblr: http://mooncalfe.tumblr.com/
Oni Press Artist Page: http://www.onipress.com/creator/rosscampbell

I got this book from the library.

Photo by flickr user yakobusan

The Death-Ray: With Great Power…


The Death-Ray
Daniel Clowes
Drawn & Quarterly, 2011
(originally printed in Eightball #25, 2004)

Characters
Andy, goes through more than the normal adolescent changes.
Louie, aggro sidekick to Andy’s passive hero

Hook
Being an orphaned inheritor of nicotine-activated superpowers and a Death-Ray doesn’t always lead to teams of mutant friends with whom to fight built-in villains. Sometimes it just leads to moral quandries.

Worldview
If you set a superhero story in the world that Daniel Clowes’ characters populate, then you have to take out the “super” (unless you add “-awkward” onto the end of that), and put quotes around the “hero”.  Andy’s world may have enough fantasy in it to allow him his transformation, but otherwise we’re in a realistic late ‘70s high school setting, getting a look at the life of adolescent boys, with all of the cursing that implies.

Andy is a quiet, unmuscled boy with a pugnacious friend, Louie. Louie’s the type of guy who, after besting a classmate in number of pull-ups completed, offers a handshake and a “no hard feelings”, and when the classmate doesn’t respond, develops a lifelong burning hatred towards the guy.  Andy spends his days  fantasizing about the woman who cleans the house he shares with his grandfather and typing letters to his girlfriend, Dusty, who he met when he lived in California, full of the stuff you write when you don’t know how the heck to write a letter to someone you care about: “I guess I don’t have a lot in common with most other kids. I don’t really like rock music or a lot TV shows.  Louise listens to Punk rock with I hated at first until he explained it to me. …I love you so much. Why are we so far apart? I saw ‘Rocky’ finally, which was good like you said.”  From what Clowes shows us, Dusty is pretty much unresponsive.

One day, Louie peer pressures Andy into taking a puff of a cigarette, and Andy’s life is changed forever.  He can suddenly rip books in half (until the nicotine wears off) and beat up the guys that get on Louie’s nerves.  And his dead father also left him the legacy of a gun that makes things disappear.  The book follows Andy as he wrestles with what to make of such power, and how the only person in whom he confides reacts to the knowledge as well.  Because once you know you can right wrongs permanently, it gets harder to figure out the scale of right and wrong.

Intention Achievement

For me, the hallmark of a Clowes story is that people talk a lot and they say things that are just this side of weird, but not so weird that you couldn’t imagine overhearing someone having the conversation in a coffee shop or diner.  It’s like his books are populated with the best character actors around – more subtle than in Twin Peaks or a John Waters movie, but with the same underlying current of moroseness. I think the first time that I saw an excerpt of his work it was an exchange between two guys in a car and one was talking about how he had a valve in his stomach out of which he had to offload ketchup.

Putting the trope of superpowers into this world works really well. There are really funny teenage-boy moments, and really sweaty moments of existential dread, often marked by a change in the coloring or shading of the panels, as you can see here:

(There’s also sample pages up at Drawn and Quarterly!)

Clowes plays with the format of the book just like he plays with the concept of superpowers – many of his strips take the form of a full-color Sunday comic, but where the title panel would be there’s just a standalone portrait or scene – the word CIGARETTE? with Louie offering Andy his first smoke, and Andy saying “No, thanks”

Unlike most superhero comics, this follows Andy from adolescence to middle-age, and we see how  he has wrestled with a power he can turn on and off – and how it has affected his personality. Because the power (if not the Death-Ray) is connected with smoking, he can treat it like an addiction. I’m harping on it probably a little too much here – the metaphor isn’t overused in the book. It’s a tall but slim book, and Clowes is a master of brevity and characterization.  So I’m going to try to follow his lead and stop blathering on–if you like Clowes already, you’ll like this, and if you’ve never read him, this would be a good place to start.
Readalikes

Kick Me: Adventures in Adolescence / Paul Feig

Feig was one of the main writers and co-creator of Freaks and Geeks, and this is one of two books that he’s written detailing excruciating moments from his teenage years.

Disclosures & Digressions

I kind of love the endpapers, which feature this:

I got this book from: the library, but I’d like to buy it.

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