Kate’s Review: “Locke & Key (Vol. 1): Welcome to Lovecraft”

Book: “Locke & Key (Vol. 1): Welcome to Lovecraft” by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez (Ill.).

Publishing Info: IDW Publishing, 2008

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Locke & Key tells of Keyhouse, an unlikely New England mansion, with fantastic doors that transform all who dare to walk through them. Home to a hate-filled and relentless creature that will not rest until it forces open the most terrible door of them all…

Review: Back when I was still in graduate school, I decided to look into Joe Hill’s comic series “Locke and Key”. I didn’t know that much about it outside of the fact that I loved Joe Hill, and I checked out Volume 1, “Welcome to Lovecraft” from the library with very little to go off of. I eventually tore through the whole series, with my husband giving me the complete set as my graduation present in 2015. Since I’ve had a good time re-reading graphic series that I’ve loved, I thought that I would make my next re-read “Locke and Key”. I remembered how much I enjoyed the series overall. But I had forgotten how bleak the first volume is. Like, holy shit this is relentless in its bleakness bleak.

Had it been a weekend evening as opposed to a midday during the week that I finished this volume, I would have been Roy Kent upon finishing. (source)

“Welcome to Lovecraft” introduces us to the Locke family, which has just experienced an unspeakable tragedy. The family patriarch Rendell was a principal of a high school, and two of his students broke into his home, raped his wife, murdered him, and attempted to hunt down his three children Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode. Now the surviving family members are moving back to Rendell’s childhood home out east, a humungous and strange mansion called Keyhouse where Rendell’s brother Duncan lives. What appears to be a couple of psychopathic teenagers run amok is, anything but, however, as the surviving assailant, Sam, is communicating with something otherworldly that is living in the well of Keyhouse from his prison cell across the country. This first volume does a lot of heavy lifting, from giving voice and perspective to all of the Locke kids (and how they are all faring after this tragedy), to slowly unfolding the demonic presence in the well, to staring to sprinkle in the magical systems and objects that Keyhouse has hidden within its walls. It is a LOT, but Hill manages to fit it all in without it feeling overwrought or hurried. Granted, the magical systems are barely touched upon as of yet, but I am a-okay with building up the family members and their dynamics first. Hill isn’t in a rush, and I think that the characterizations benefit.

The magical elements we do have remain shrouded in mystery. We know that there are keys, and we know that they can do different things, like make you be able to leave your body and travel in a ghostly manner, or change from male to female. But where they come from, and what the deal is with the demon in the well, who is communicating with both murderer Sam and youngest Locke, Bode. They keys are important, and we get a taste as to why. I loved how we slowly see how the demon in the well (unnamed as of yet) inserts itself into both Sam’s consciousness, and the role that it plays in Sam’s violence AND how it manipulates Bode because of his age and naivete. Again, we don’t know much about this demon yet. The creepiness is well established through other means.

But I had really forgotten how freakin’ dark this first volume is. From the attack on the Locke Family at the beginning to Sam’s cross country murder spree after he is set free by the well demon, I found this volume harder to read now than it was the first time I dove in. I will say that some of the worse stuff is left off page in terms of graphic content (specifically Nina Locke’s rape, and it is a relief that we didn’t have to see it), but Hill absolutely pulls out the horrors in the aftermath of it all. I don’t remember the rest of this series being this upsetting, but who knows, maybe I blocked it out? My point is that there are lots of content warnings here. None of this seems exploitative to me in how Hill writes it, but it’s still disturbing.

And finally, I had forgotten about how much I really like the art of Gabriel Rodríguez. It definitely has a ‘cartoon-y’ vibe, but he really knows how to capture pain, sadness, joy, and all things macabre in his designs.

Even though diving back into “Locke and Key” was a bit rough with “Welcome to Lovecraft”, I have a feeling that this is once again going to be a successful re-read. This is old school Joe Hill, and it was clear even then that he was a horror and dark fantasy force to be reckoned with.

Rating 9: A fantastical and incredibly grim start to a dark fantasy series I love, “Locke and Key (Vol.1): Welcome to Lovecraft” will suck you in from the get go.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Locke & Key (Vol.1): Welcome to Lovecraft” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Horror Comics/Graphic Novels”, and “Comics + Graphic Novels To Read for Halloween”.

Find “Locke & Key (Vol.1): Welcome to Lovecraft” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Bubble”

Book: “Bubble” by Jordan Morris, Sarah Morgan, & Tony Cliff (Ill.)

Publishing Info: First Second, July 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Based on the smash-hit audio serial, Bubble is a hilarious high-energy graphic novel with a satirical take on the “gig economy.”

Built and maintained by corporate benevolence, the city of Fairhaven is a literal bubble of safety and order (and amazing coffee) in the midst of the Brush, a harsh alien wilderness ruled by monstrous Imps and rogue bands of humans. Humans like Morgan, who’s Brush-born and Bubble-raised and fully capable of fending off an Imp attack during her morning jog. She’s got a great routine going—she has a chill day job, she recreationally kills the occasional Imp, then she takes that Imp home for her roommate and BFF, Annie, to transform into drugs as a side hustle. But cracks appear in her tidy life when one of those Imps nearly murders a delivery guy in her apartment, accidentally transforming him into a Brush-powered mutant in the process. And when Morgan’s company launches Huntr, a gig economy app for Imp extermination, she finds herself press-ganged into kicking her stabby side job up to the next level as she battles a parade of monsters and monstrously Brush-turned citizens, from a living hipster beard to a book club hive mind. 

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this graphic novel!

In terms of podcasts, while I’ve dabbled outside the non-fiction realm, I really haven’t listened to many fiction series. I did “Welcome to Nightvale” for awhile, I listened to “The Black Tapes” (probably my favorite of the fiction ones I’ve listened to), and I tried out “Limetown”. But overall, it’s gotta be true crime, movies, or books for the topics I wanna listen to. So I had never heard of the podcast “Bubble” when I saw that it had been adapted into a graphic novel by Jordan Morris and Sarah Morgan, the creator and a writer for the show itself. While I wasn’t certain about what to expect, the premise was promising and intriguing: a dystopian world, a stunted society that seems perfect, and a dangerous wilderness of creatures that could kill you? That all sounds great. Throw in some humor and it sounds even better. So I gave it a go, because I hoped it would stand on its own two feet, outside of a podcast shadow. And I don’t think that it quite did.

That isn’t to say that this is “Welcome to Nightvale” levels of inability to stand on its own. Here is what I liked about “Bubble”: the premise really is a good one. I liked the idea of Fairhaven, a typical city that runs on capitalism and the gig economy, and the people who live there and work within that economy. Satire about the drawbacks and pitfalls of a late stage capitalist society is kind of ripe for the picking, but “Bubble” does it well. Our main character, Morgan, is a woman living in Fairhaven now, but was raised in the surrounding wild area called The Brush, which is inhabited by creatures called Imps that are dangerous and prone to attack humans. Morgan knows how to deal with them, and when an Imp gets into Fairhaven she will kill it and bring it to her roommate Annie who will make it into drugs. Morgan’s company, however, starts up a social media gig app (think Task Rabbit) that will give people the ability to go kill Imps for profit. Throw in a hapless Postmates delivery guy named Mitch who is attacked by an Imp and given powers, and you have some fun main characters who are just trying to get by in a gig economy whose stakes are pretty damn high. I liked Morgan and Annie, and Mitch feels very Chris Pratt in “Parks and Rec”, so he’s pretty charming. And really, the entire idea is fun, especially when they all have to go into the Brush on a mission, involving a mysterious stone and the Brush living father Morgan left behind. SO much potential, right?

The problem I had was that “Bubble” never quite explored the potential enough for me. This is a story that really should have some pretty wide and complex world building to it, both inside Fairhaven and outside in The Brush. And we see bits and pieces of both when our main characters are interacting within. But we don’t really have the time to explore backgrounds, histories, or dynamics, as the plot is constantly moving forward. It’s entertaining, it’s quite funny at times, and the characters have lots of fun things to say to each other. But I never really felt like I got a true feel for the setting they are in. And the only character that I feel really got a lot of depth was Morgan, while everyone else, outside of a few hints and tidbits here and there, really kept in static place as the tale went on. There just wasn’t much room to breathe, and I don’t know if that is because that’s how the podcast goes, or if it’s more a limitation when translating the podcast story to a graphic novel. I suppose that I could go listen to the podcast to find out, but the story we have at hand isn’t really compelling enough for me to go and do so.

That said, I really liked the art! Tony Cliff has some vibrant color schemes that feel sleek and futuristic, and I enjoyed the character designs as well. The Imps in particular are pretty cool.

(source: First Second)

“Bubble” has its moments and some great ideas. I just think that it could have gone further.

Rating 6: A lot of entertaining moments, witty banter, and cool imagery. But it feels very rushed and not well expanded upon, world building wise, and some of the characters fall flat.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bubble” isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but I think it would fit in on “Podcast Books”, and “Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic Graphic Novels”.

Find “Bubble” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Sheets”

Book: “Sheets” by Brenna Thummler

Publishing Info: Oni Press, August 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The Library!

Book Description: Marjorie Glatt feels like a ghost. A practical thirteen year old in charge of the family laundry business, her daily routine features unforgiving customers, unbearable P.E. classes, and the fastidious Mr. Saubertuck who is committed to destroying everything she’s worked for.

Wendell is a ghost. A boy who lost his life much too young, his daily routine features ineffective death therapy, a sheet-dependent identity, and a dangerous need to seek purpose in the forbidden human world.

When their worlds collide, Marjorie is confronted by unexplainable disasters as Wendell transforms Glatt’s Laundry into his midnight playground, appearing as a mere sheet during the day. While Wendell attempts to create a new afterlife for himself, he unknowingly sabotages the life that Marjorie is struggling to maintain.

Review: Who says that ghost stories need to be scary? I know that when I cover them on this blog, they usually are. But there are also kind and friendly spirits, not just ones that want to make peoples lives miserable. “Sheets” by Brenna Thummler is one such tale, a ghost story for kids, but instead of focusing on scares and bumps in the night, it takes on friendship, loss, and moving on from tragedy. All themes that can fit within a ghost story pretty well. I had high hopes for this story, as ghosts are definitely my jam. “Sheets”, however, didn’t really give me what I wanted from it.

But let’s talk about what I did like first. The themes I mentioned above are all very well done in the narrative. We have two main characters, both of whom are dealing with these themes in different ways. For Marjorie, a thirteen year old girl running the family laundromat, she is still mourning the loss of her mother and adjusting to her new life. Her father has been so depressed that he doesn’t leave his room, and Marjorie is left to care for her brother, the family business, and to take care of herself. On the other side of the coin is Wendell, a ghost who lives in a world of other ghosts (who all wear sheets) who died when he was very young. He doesn’t really feel like he fits in in his new afterlife, and decides to hitch a ghost bus (loved this idea!) back to the living world. Where he finds himself in Marjorie’s laundromat, and their worlds collide. Both characters are dealing with loss and sadness, and I thought that Brennan did a really good job of exploring grief in ways that kids could understand without being condescending or grim. I especially liked her take on what the Ghost world is like, with lots of different designs for a bunch of stereotypical sheet wearing ghosts and some really humorous moments.

My biggest qualms with this story, however, really dock the points that I would have given it. Namely, the complete lack of any empathetic, responsible, and caring adults in Marjorie’s life, bordering on complete criminal negligence. I understand that this is a book written with a kid protagonist, and as such needs to give the protagonist more agency and independence than a regular kid would have in the real world. But I really struggled with it in “Sheets”. Marjorie is a thirteen year old girl who is running the family business herself, as after her mother died her father has been completely overtaken by depression and barely leaves his room. And if that had been the extent of it, I might have been able to swallow it down. Depression can absolutely be completely hobbling, and it’s not unrealistic for him to fail his children and to have Marjorie feel like she needs to pick up the pieces. My BIGGEST problem is that the customers she does have aren’t asking ANY questions as to why this child is running this place! Hell, they even get mad at her when Wendell messes things up, more inconvenienced about their laundry than they are concerned about a child, a CHILD, having to run the business in which they are patronizing! We get a couple adults who do question her life and how she’s doing here and there, but it’s never pursued. Perhaps it is strange for me to be questioning this in a story about literal ghosts, but I couldn’t get past it. It seems really farfetched, and spoiler alert, it isn’t really resolved! We get a deus ex machina at the end and Marjorie is STILL running the darn laundromat instead of, you know, living her life as a child. I’m just not sure about what this tells kids about Marjorie’s circumstances. Because oh man, her Dad really needs to get his act together.

And this could possibly be because of the fact the story itself feels a bit half baked. Marjorie interacts with Wendell here and there, they never really have super in depth moments, but we just kind of have to believe that the way it all wraps up is because of their friendship, which I never felt like was really explored. There is a connection that Marjorie and Wendell share even before he became a ghost, but it feels convenient and twee, and not used enough that it really felt important. Had their connection been stronger, both before and after his death, it would have been a more enjoyable relationship. As it was, it was hard to invest in the two of them as friends.

I did like the artwork though! It’s quite unique, and the designs of the ghosts are pretty darn cute. And as someone who appreciates a nice color scheme, I really liked the palette in this one.

“Sheets” didn’t give me the feel good ghost story I was anticipating, but I absolutely can see myself recommending it to kids who are looking for something ghostly, though maybe not too scary.

Rating 6: A really good examination of different kinds of grief, but ultimately felt half baked and unrealistic (even taking into account we’re dealing with ghosts!).

Reader’s Advisory:

“Sheets” is included on the Goodreads lists “Spooky Graphic Novels for Kids”, and “Friendly Ghosts”.

Find “Sheets” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.3)”

Book: “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.3)” by Sina Grace & Siobhan Keenan (Ill.)

Publishing Info: BOOM!Box, December 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: The critically-acclaimed series concludes as Daphne Walters must confront her former roommate Michelle, discover the mystery of just who’s behind that basement door and decide her entire future – this should be totally easy, right?

CRAZY, SUPERNATURAL, LOVE.

Daphne Walters’ life is complicated enough, living at Rycroft Manor with her ghostly friends and trying to figure out why everyone in LA is always 30 minutes late for everything important. So it’s TOTALLY the perfect time for Daphne to lose one of her friends, for the mystery of the ghost behind the basement door to be revealed and for Daphne to decide her entire future, RIGHT? And did we forget to mention that Daphne’s former roommate Michelle just unveiled a scheme to exorcise the friendly ghosts from Rycroft? Yeah, there’s that too.

GLAAD Award-nominated Sina Grace (Iceman) and illustrator Siobhan Keenan (Jem and the Holograms) conclude the acclaimed series that proves true love and friendship never dies!

Review: We find ourselves once again coming to the end of a series, and this time we are saying goodbye to the living and the dead at Rycroft Manor. “Ghosted in L.A.” is a very different beast from “The Sandman”, the other big conclusion in graphics I’ve had as of late, but one of the charms was its simplicity and heart that is content to just be a fun, funny urban fantasy. But that said, even something light and airy still needs to have due diligence done if it wants to end well. And, unfortunately, “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.3)”, the last volume of the series, stumbles.

We’ll start with the good. As someone who found herself invested in Daphne, Ronnie, and the ghosts of Rycroft Manor, I was mostly happy with how things turned out for all of them. I thought that Daphne’s arc, from aimless young adult to competent ghost friend and in general friend, was well done and realistic within what we know about the character. I liked seeing how she changed and adapted her relationships with her ex boyfriend Ronnie, and how she grows after living with the spirits at Rycroft Manor and learning from them. In terms of how her arc ends, and how the arc of the ghosts and Ronnie and everything else ends, I enjoyed the trajectory and found it to be funny, sweet, and just a nice ending to a nice series. I also appreciated that we did get SOME glimpse into Daphne’s roommate Michelle’s background, as she has mostly been a surly and grumpy foil who is very religious up until this point. This volume tries to show a little bit more to her, and I like that there was some context for her behaviour.

But here is the problem with everything getting wrapped up right now, albeit in a mostly satisfying kind of way. There is SO MUCH GROUND to cover, from plot points to character growth to relationship strife to general conclusions and climaxes, that cramming it all together in this one volume feels stuffed, rushed, and haphazard. Like, what all happened in the last volume that needed to be resolved? Let’s see: Daphne and Kristi had a huge fight; Zola is creating tension in the house; a strange door has started causing issues in the house; Ronnie is feeling caught between his human friends and his ghostly ones; Michelle is starting to get suspicious. That’s just to name a few. I don’t know if this series was cancelled early (as we’ve seen in other graphics reviews on this blog), or if it was always planned to end like this, but “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol. 3)” needs to pull together a lot in just one volume, and it suffers for it. What could have been drawn out mysteries and plot points (specifically the mystery of what is going on behind the mysterious door) end up being explained and solved nearly in succession, which completely undercuts the tension and impact of the story. We also find ourselves a bit cheated out of really getting to know some of the ghosts at Rycroft, as characters like Ricky and Pam are waylaid in favor of Zola since she is now a love interest for Daphne (also thrown together I might add). New conflict is tied up way too fast, and character exploration isn’t given its due. It was supremely disappointing, as I felt like this series has a lot of potential to dig into interesting things, especially given the ghost roster. I don’t want to take off too many points for this kind of thing, as perhaps this was all a bit of a surprise and things just had to be concluded on a shorter timeline. But it definitely made this the weakest of the three volumes.

But the artwork by Siobhan Keenan is still utterly charming. Along with the same designs that we’ve seen in the series, we dabble a bit more into some horror moments in this volume, which are reflected well in the drawings themselves.

I still think that “Ghosted in L.A.” as a whole is worth checking out if you like some lighter ghostly fare. It has humor, an inclusive cast, and a lot of heart. The end may be a bit of a stumble, but the sum of it’s parts is enjoyable.

Rating 6: A mostly satisfying end to the series, though it feels rushed and thrown together.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.3)” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but it would fit in on  “Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy Set in California”.

Find “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.3)” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “The Sandman (Vol.10): The Wake”

Book: “The Sandman (Vol.10): The Wake” by Neil Gaiman, Michael Zulli (Ill.), Jon J. Muth (Ill.), & Charles Vess (Ill).

Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1996

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: When a Dream ends, there is only one thing left to do…

THE WAKE

In which the repercussions of the Death of Lord Morpheus are felt, and, in an epilogue, William Shakespeare learns the price of getting what you want.

This is the tenth and final volume of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, described by author Mikal Gilmore in his introduction as “nothing less than a popular culture masterpiece, and a work that is braver, smarter and more meaningful than just about anything “high culture” has produced during the same period.”

Review: When I’m coming to the end of a series that I’ve spent a lot of time with, I almost always feel melancholy. It’s like saying goodbye for a comfortable friend. The interesting thing about “The Sandman (Vol.10): The Wake” is that we have already reached the crux of the ending of the story, and said goodbye to that friend. After all, at the end of “The Kindly Ones” Morpheus, aka Dream, died. For many stories, that would be the end. But Neil Gaiman knows that true closure means that there is a need for a wake. And that is what this final volume gives us: a moment of goodbye, some ruminations on the memories and the people that Dream has left behind, and the promise of moving on. It’s a volume that serves as an epilogue. And it’s beautiful.

Pretty much my entire being during this final re-read. (source)

As mentioned above, the real climax of the story was in the last volume, and now we get to see the fallout in the form of an actual wake for Dream, attended by not only his siblings, his friends, and other dieties, but also by mortals he encountered throughout the series (though they attend through their dreams, of course). I loved the quiet and gentle tone that this story took as we see those who loved Morpheus mourn and come to terms with his death, the most effective being that of Matthew, his messenger Raven, who is now lost without his master and friend. I haven’t really talked about Matthew in this re-read. He’s always around, ready to provide some insight or a sarcastic remark, but I found his journey to process Dream’s death to be the most bittersweet moment in this volume (well, it may be a tie, but more on that later). But his ambivalence ties into the other aspect of this whole plot point, and that is that, since Dream is Endless, and Endless are ideas and concepts, Dream isn’t really gone. Morpheus is. But now Daniel, Lyta’s son, has transformed into a new version of Dream, as the Endless are, well, Endless. As the other siblings say goodbye to Morpheus, they have to contend with meeting their new sibling, and Daniel!Dream (this is how I’m going to refer to him going forward) has to contend with starting over as someone new, even though he has elements of Morpheus still. It all connects back to the conversation that Morpheus and Delirium had with Destruction in “Brief Lives”, and it all ties up so wonderfully because of it. Daniel!Dream continues on, and nothing ever really ends.

There are two more stories in this volume which both serve as epilogues. The one that the book truly ends on has to do with Shakespeare, as earlier in the series we see the creative relationship and connection he has to Morpheus. But the other one, and the one that I think really works better, involves Hob, Morpheus’s immortal friend whom he meets up with at a pub ever century. Hob’s final bow is him with his current girlfriend, going to a Renaissance Festival, looking at how the life that he literally led at one time has now become re-enacted in modern times. It’s so poignant, knowing what he’s been through, what he’s seen, and seeing him meet up with Death and getting confirmation about Morpheus just feels like the right way for this series to end. I loved this story, as it has all the best things about Hob; his grumpiness, his sarcasm, and his deep love and respect for his friend.

I am so happy that we have “The Wake” to process the end of a truly magnificent series. “The Sandman” is so influential, so engaging and ambitious, and it changed comics as we know them. It doesn’t feel a need to go out in a huge and dramatic fashion, and instead opts for something more bittersweet, and it just fits perfectly. I’ll miss Morpheus. and Delirium, and Death. But luckily, I can always go back and start over again.

Rating 9: A lovely, sad, and hopeful ending to a truly remarkable and transformative series.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sandman (Vol.10): The Wake” is included on the Goodreads lists “Graphic Novels that Rocked My World”, and “Mythic Fiction Comics”.

Find “The Sandman (Vol.10): The Wake” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.2)”

Book: “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.2)” by Sina Grace & Siobhan Keenan (Ill.)

Publishing Info: BOOM! Box, September 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: NO ONE EVER SAID THAT THE AFTERLIFE WOULD BE THIS WAY! Daphne Walters is loving her new life at Rycroft Manner with her ghostly roommates – but trouble is right around the corner! Rycroft’s got new resident – the musician Zola – and she’s getting close to Daphne…and causing friction amongst the residents! Meanwhile, Daphne and Kristi, best friends since high school, might just be the ones who can’t find their way back to each other. And since trouble comes in threes, Daphne’s former college roommate Michelle threatens to cause trouble for Rycroft….because no one said moving to L.A. would ever be easy! From GLAAD Award-nominated Sina Grace (Iceman) and illustrator Siobhan Keenan (Jem and the Holograms) comes the next chapter in the hit series about friendship, love and living your (after)life to the fullest.

Review: So even though I enjoyed the first volume of the ghostly series “Ghosted in L.A.” by Sina Grace, I managed to completely miss that not only did the next two volumes come out, but they also wrapped up the series. Talk about being totally oblivious. But now is as good a time as any to catch up/complete this quirky series, so I bought the entire run and jumped right into “Volume 2”. You know the old saying.

Something like that. (source)

When we left off in Volume 1, the Rycroft Manor had just been thrown into a few drastic changes. The first was that after Maurice attacked Daphne, Aggi pretty much exorcised him from the premises. The second was that almost immediately a new ghostly resident arrived, a musician named Zola who was famous before her untimely demise. And that’s about right where we pick up. Zola is still coming to terms with her new afterlife, and as she keeps the other ghosts at bay, she and Daphne start to become close. In this arc we see Daphne relating to Zola while also fangirling over her a little bit, and while her friendship with Kristi is starting to really come apart at the seams, she’s starting to fall into another potentially unhealthy relationship with Zola. As a character Zola has a real chip on her shoulder, and as of yet hasn’t really wowed me (and with only one more volume to go I’m not convinced she’s going to get much more interesting, though I’m eager to be proven wrong). On the other ghost topics, Bernard is getting closer to Daphne’s ex Ronnie, and Shirley is starting to want to move on from Rycroft Manor. This was definitely a cool storyline thread, as we got to see a little mythology as to how ghosts function in this world, as well as a hint to a mysterious door in the manor that may be causing issues. Again, we only have one more volume to wrap it up, but I’m more confident in this thread than the Zola one.

What kind of caught me by surprise is that it wasn’t really the ghost stuff that connected with me the most in this volume, but the growing pains aspects of Daphne’s friendship with Kristi, her high school best friend. We knew in Volume 1 that they had a huge fight that stemmed from Daphne choosing to go to school in L.A. instead of staying closer to Kristi. In Volume 2, we see them try to repair their friendship when Kristi comes to visit, but it manages to only make things worse. I felt that Grace perfectly captures the angst and pain that comes with old friendships having to either evolve or die, and seeing it from both Daphne’s and Kristi’s perspectives gives the conflict a bit more grounding. It would have been easy to just make one or the other completely at fault, but given that that isn’t how things work in the real world, I appreciated the nuance that was brought to this side plot. Growing up and apart from those important to you in your youth is hard, and Grace depicted that really well.

And I still really like the artwork. It’s dynamic and vibrant, and it can also shift that vibrancy when it needs to convey something a little sadder, or more distant in the timeline. And I still love the design of the ghosts.

“Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.2)” has set up some questions going into the final volume. I’m sad that we have such a short run with all these characters, but I’m enjoying the ride and am glad that I jumped back into it!

Rating 8: A fun and intriguing continuation of a story about self discovery and ghosts, “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol. 2) is enjoyable and clever.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.2)” isn’t on many specific Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Comics + Graphic Novels To Read for Halloween”.

Find “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.2)” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Bury the Lede”

Book: “Bury the Lede” by Gaby Dunn & Claire Roe (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Boom! Studios, October 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Twenty-one-year-old Madison T. Jackson is already the star of the Emerson College student newspaper when she nabs a coveted night internship at Boston’s premiere newspaper, The Boston Lede. The job’s simple: do whatever the senior reporters tell you to do, from fetching coffee to getting a quote from a grieving parent. It’s grueling work, so when the murder of a prominent Boston businessman comes up on the police scanner, Madison races to the scene of the grisly crime. There, Madison meets the woman who will change her life forever: prominent socialite Dahlia Kennedy, who is covered in gore and being arrested for the murder of her family. The newspapers put everyone they can in front of her with no results until, with nothing to lose, Madison gets a chance – and unexpectedly barrels headfirst into danger she never anticipated.

Review: As I continue to try and up my graphic novel stats after a few months of a whole lot of novels, I found “Bury the Lede” by Gaby Dunn on a list about dark graphic novels with LGBTQIA+ themes and characters. Both wanting to get out of the fantasy realms of graphics, and always wanting to read more books by LGBTQIA+ authors about LGBTQIA+ characters, I found it at my library and placed it on hold. When it came I was a little shocked to see how short it was, but hey, a story about a young wannabe reporter getting close to a potential murderer in hopes of solving a baffling case? That could be covered in a trade paperback collection sized graphic, right? Right. Then it was too bad that “Bury the Lede” had far more plot points and aspirations than just that, because it’s a lot to cram into one thin book.

In terms of what did work for me, there were some really cool ideas in this book. I love the concept of a budding journalist wanting to prove herself getting in a bit over her head. I really liked the sapphic obsessive relationship that our journalist, Madison, starts up with accused murderess and socialite Dahlia. On paper it sounds very “Silence of the Lambs”, with a prisoner perhaps manipulating an investigator, but also leading them to a much bigger case nonetheless. I thoroughly enjoyed every scene that Madison and Dahlia had together, the weird sexual chemistry oozing and crackling when you aren’t exactly certain if this is something you’re supposed to be cool with. That works so, so well. I also enjoyed the ‘ripped from the headlines’ character of Raquel Stief, a woman in an education position that is being considered for a place in the President’s circle of advisors and administrators, and who is CLEARLY based on that demon Betsy DeVos. There may have been some living vicariously going on here as I read, given that one of the true monsters in this story is Stief, and Madison is hoping to take her down. And hell, I liked that there was a broader conspiracy afoot, because something like that is a really good idea that has a lot of potential to explore. And as mentioned earlier, this book does have numerous LGBTQIA+ characters and themes, and any time we get some diversity in graphic novels written by Own Voices authors, it’s going to be positive.

But oh, the stumbles within the good ideas and broad themes. While the idea of a sweeping political conspiracy theory with implications that could go all the way to Washington D.C. is very interesting, this isn’t a very long book, and it all feels like it goes VERY fast. Madison uncovers connection after connection at break neck speed, and it gave very little space to breathe by the time we get to the big reveal and climax of the book. And while the book pulls you in with the mystery of Dahlia, the murder of her husband, and her missing child, by the time we do get to the revelations involving that whole thing, it feels like a bit of a cobbled together afterthought. So does the connection that Dahlia has to Stief. By the end it feels more like Dunn wanted to have an “All the President’s Men” kind of story, but thought that the only way to get people to read such a thing in graphic novel form was to throw in a nice carrot on a stick in the form of murder. And by the end, neither aspect felt wholly explored. Hasty plot points aside, in terms of the characters, there really isn’t anyone to root for. I like that Madison is determined, but not only do we really only get to see this one side of her, she is also wholly, WHOLLY unethical in her journalistic ways. I’m sure that it was meant to establish her as a morally gray character whose drive to do ANYTHING for a story is damaging, but that’s not exactly a new theme to stories about journalists. And if anything, she left the morally gray area and went into straight up villain territory (mild spoiler alert: she roofies someone to get information out of them. Like, holy shit.), but it never seemed to be treated as such.

But, I did like the artwork and the character designs. Claire Roe uses some effective shadows and colors to establish mood, and it definitely felt neo-noir in her illustrations.

I had expectations for “Bury the Lede” that weren’t met. Though it had glimmers of really cool ideas, the execution didn’t get off the ground.

Rating 5: Definitely has a well conceived plot with some good ideas, but it just felt like it was executed a little too quickly with not enough focus. Throw in unlikable characters, and it’s just meh.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bury the Lede” is included on the Goodreads lists “Journalists, Photographers, Etc. in Comics”, and “Novels with Bisexual Protagonists”.

Find “Bury the Lede” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Sandman (Vol. 9): The Kindly Ones”

Book: “The Sandman (Vol.9): The Kindly Ones” by Neil Gaiman, Marc Hempel (Ill.), Richard Case (Ill.), D’Israeli (Ill.), Teddu Kristiansen (Ill.), Glyn Dillon (Ill.), Charlie Vess (Ill.), Dean Ormston (Ill.), & Kevin Nowlan (ill.).

Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1995

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: The Penultimate volume to the phenomenal Sandman series: distraught by the kidnapping and presumed death of her son, and believing Morpheus to be responsible, Lyta Hall calls the ancient wrath of the Furies down upon him. A former superheroine blames Morpheus for the death of her child and summons an ancient curse of vengeance against the Lord of Dream. The “kindly ones” enter his realm and force a sacrifice that will change the Dreaming forever.

Review: If I’m being totally honest, as I was going through my “Sandman” re-read, “The Kindly Ones” was the issue that I was most dreading. For one, it’s long. It’s the longest of all the volumes. Normally length doesn’t daunt me, but knowing what was coming, added thickness just wasn’t getting me stoked for this part of my re-read. And the bigger reason, without spoiling too much, is that “The Kindly Ones” is really where the big, sad, frustrating and beautiful climax happens for this series. Yes, we have one more volume to go, but that’s all release and wrap up. “The Kindly Ones” is the action part of the finale, and it packs an emotional wallop.

Pardon me while I go stare aimlessly at a wall for a good long time. (source)

“The Kindly Ones” is the volume in which everything comes to a head. In “Worlds’ End” we saw a haunting funeral procession in the sky. In “Brief Lives”, Morpheus finally released Orpheus from his eternal life, though the consequences were sure to be dire. In the middle of the series, a faerie named Nuala stays in the Dreaming to live her life in a lonesome way. And way back, early in the series, we saw Morpheus tell Lyta Hall that her son Daniel would always belong to him in some way, as a child conceived in the Dreaming. All of these moments come together in “The Kindly Ones”, and lead to a huge consequence that destroyed me the first time I read this book. And knowing it was coming didn’t make it any less painful. But let’s move back a little bit.

“The Kindly Ones” is about vengeance, and retribution, and paying the Piper. It opens with an image of a ball of string, and ends with the image of a ball of string, symbolizing the circular events that this series has always been about, at least in part. Plot set up wise, Lyta Hall’s son Daniel is suddenly kidnapped. She assumes that not only is her only child, and last tie to her dead husband, dead, but it is at the hands of Dream because of what he told her about Daniel way back when, that he would always belong to Dream. Lyta, already a bit emotionally unstable because of her husband’s death, is basically destroyed, and hellbent on revenge. So she turns to The Furies (also known as The Kindly Ones), hoping that they will grant her vengeance against Dream and all he holds dear. It’s been building and simmering awhile, and now it has come to fruition: Lyta’s rage has serious consequences through the Furies, and characters that we met and have grown to love, or at least expect to be there, are victims to her wrath.

And it all feels inevitable, like the pages in Destiny’s book. Gaiman pulls out all the stops and spares nothing, and as we are reunited with some characters, we say goodbye to others. And all the while, we watch Dream as he has to meet with his own destiny, and has to do so in the same lonely, isolated way that he’s had to endure so much before this. My God, it just hurts as you read it. Through the entire series Dream has been about responsibility above most other things, sometimes to his detriment, and because of his responsibility to another character he made a promise to in this arc, it leads to a terrible fallout. It feels both devastating and incredibly in character for him. We also have a lovely and incredibly painful call back to the first time we saw Dream and Death interact, amongst a flock of pigeons, as they have their inevitable moment before everything changes. Gaiman, you monster!

I will say, however, that “The Kindly Ones” has probably my least favorite artwork of the entire series. I know some people who love it, and hey, to each their own, but it feels discordant when compared to what is going on in the narrative.

“The Kindly Ones” is arguably the most epic and consequential of “The Sandman” series. It was a hard read again, even knowing what was to come. Up next is the epilogue to this series, “The Wake”.

Rating 8: “The Kindly Ones” isn’t a story that I really ‘enjoy’ because it hurts so much, but it’s a really well done bit of storytelling from Gaiman.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sandman (Vol.9): The Kindly Ones” is included on the Goodreads lists “Death Gods and Reaper Protagonists”, and “Mythic Fantasy Comics”.

Find “The Sandman (Vol.9): The Kindly Ones” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “The Magic Fish”

Book: “The Magic Fish” by Trung Le Nguyen

Publishing Info: Random House Graphic, October 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Tiến loves his family and his friends…but Tiến has a secret he’s been keeping from them, and it might change everything. An amazing YA graphic novel that deals with the complexity of family and how stories can bring us together.

Real life isn’t a fairytale. But Tiến still enjoys reading his favorite stories with his parents from the books he borrows from the local library. It’s hard enough trying to communicate with your parents as a kid, but for Tiến, he doesn’t even have the right words because his parents are struggling with their English. Is there a Vietnamese word for what he’s going through?

Is there a way to tell them he’s gay?

A beautifully illustrated story by Trung Le Nguyen that follows a young boy as he tries to navigate life through fairytales, an instant classic that shows us how we are all connected. The Magic Fish tackles tough subjects in a way that accessible with readers of all ages, and teaches us that no matter what—we can all have our own happy endings.

Review: I will be the first to admit that outside of my re-read of “The Sandman”, I’ve been slacking on the graphic novels as of late. But after dropping the ball on that, I have promised myself that I will try to be better, and make an effort to get some more in the review rotation. And let me tell you, I have a good one to start with, by a local author no less! I hadn’t heard of “The Magic Fish” by Trung Le Nguyen until I saw it pop up on my Goodreads feed, and once I felt comfortable getting physical library books again after our Fall/early Winter surge I requested it. I went in with little knowledge and expectations, and was thoroughly impressed with what I found.

“The Magic Fish” has a number of themes that swirl in its pages, and all of them connect through the importance and power of stories, namely fairy tales. The plot follows Tiến, a middle school boy who is the son of Vietnamese immigrants who left Viet Nam as refugees, and who don’t speak much English. To practice mother Hiền will have Tiến check out fairy tales from the library and they will read them together. We follow Tiến as he starts to accept his sexuality, and as he wonders and worries about what his parents will think when he tells them that he’s gay. This takes place in the 1990s, and while Tiền’s friends seem to be accepting, people at school, and society at large, is not as much, which makes him feel Othered. Meanwhile, Hiền left her home in the aftermath of the Viet Nam War, and hasn’t returned to see her family in many years. She and her husband are doing their best to raise their son in Minnesota, but being away from the home he had to leave is hard, and when she does go back it’s due to a very significant loss. I liked seeing both the themes of identity and immigration being addressed in the ways that they were, through some subtle and bittersweet longings, anxiety, and hope.

And then, the fairy tales. Both Hiền and Tiền bond through and are drawn to fairy tales, which intersperse within the narrative. The first two are various takes on the “Cinderella” story, one being the German “Allerleirauh”, and the other being the Vietnamese “Tấm Cám”. Story one is shared between Hiền and Tiền at their home, while the second is one that Hiền is revisiting while she is back in Vietnam. Both interpretations and presentations play into what we’re seeing in the moment, be it Tiền hiding his true self from his mother, or Hiền being reminded that sometimes fairy tales don’t have the happily ever afters that everyone seeks. But it’s the re-telling of “The Little Mermaid” that I liked the best, another shared between Hiền and Tiền, and subverted in a way that shows that we tell our own stories, and that we get to choose how they end. It’s all so seamless and lovely, and I greatly enjoyed it.

And the artwork. THE ARTWORK. Different stories have different designs, and again, they tie into what is going on in the moment on the surface and beneath it. For example, the three fairy tales all had different aesthetic designs for the art styles (my personal favorite was “Tấm Cám”, influenced by a 1950s Viet Nam French Colonial style), while moments in reality may have different colors depending on time and place. It always works, and all of it is beautiful.

“The Magic Fish” is a charming story that reads and feels like a modern fairy tale. I highly recommend that you read it if you love graphic novels.

Rating 8: A lovely coming of age story with magical moments and gorgeous artwork, “The Magic Fish” is a joyful and emotional tale of family and the power of stories.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Magic Fish” is included on the Goodreads lists “Queer Graphic Novels”, and “Comic Book Club Recommendations”.

Find “The Magic Fish” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Sandman (Vol.8): Worlds’ End”

Book: “The Sandman (Vol. 8): Worlds’ End” by Neil Gaiman, Mike Allred (Ill.), Gary Amaro (Ill.), Mark Buckingham (Ill.), David Giordano (Ill.), Tony Harris (Ill.), Steve Leialoha (Ill.), Vince Locke (Ill.), Shea Anton Pensa (Ill.), Alec Stevens (Ill.), Bryan Talbot (Ill.), John Watkiss (Ill.), & Michael Zulli (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1993

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Caught in the vortex of a reality storm, wayfarers from throughout time, myth and the imagination converge on a mysterious inn at WORLD’S END. In the tradition of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, as the travelers all wait out the tempest that rages around them, they share stories of the places they’ve been, the things they’ve seen… and those that they’ve dreamed.

Review: We’ve entered the last fourth of my “The Sandman” re-read, and after the strong note that we ended on at the end of “Brief Lives” I was, admittedly, disappointed to see the number of illustrators coming into “The Sandman (Vol.8): Worlds’ End”. That many illustrators can only mean one thing: we’re getting a number of stand alone short stories. This has been something we’ve seen Gaiman tinker with as the series has gone on, but given that I haven’t remembered many of them as I’ve gone through this re-read, it kind of goes to show that for me these moments of pushing boundaries of storytelling aren’t as effective as the main plot of Morpheus and his siblings. I figured that the same would be said for “Worlds’ End”, and for the most part I was right. Except for one significant moment near the end. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

“Worlds’ End” is an homage to “The Canterbury Tales”, as a number of travelers have found themselves at a mysterious tavern that seems to meet at the nexus of dimensions. There are humans, creatures, entities, and spirits, and all have wound up at the Worlds’ End Tavern due to a strange ‘reality storm’ that has thrown all of them out of their home planes. We arrive with Brant Tucker and his travel companion Charlene, after he crashes her car in the middle of a snowstorm that happens to be occurring in June. Clearly something is up, and as he and Charlene take shelter, the other travelers engage each other with stories to pass the time. As someone who hasn’t read “The Canterbury Tales”, I wasn’t lost, per se, but I was wondering if I was missing something because of my ignorance. The stories range from fantasy to surrealist to creepy. Two really stood out for me in the stand alone stories list. The first is “Hob’s Leviathan”. For one, it brings back fan favorite and Morpheus friend Hob Gadling, but it doesn’t center him at the heart. Instead it focuses on “Jim”, a girl who has disguised herself as a boy to travel on sailing ships. As Jim and Hob travel, their ship encounters a humungous sea serpent. Jim wants to tell the world; Hob knows that the world won’t listen. I liked this one for two main reasons. The first is the reintroduction of Hob. I love Hob! He’s a fun character and it was fun seeing him through the eyes of someone else. The other is Jim, as any tale that has a woman trying to extend past societies expectations is a-okay in my book.

The other story I really liked was “The Golden Boy”. At one point during DC Comics’s Bronze Age there was a character named Prez Rickard, who was a teenage president of the United States. In “The Golden Boy”, Gaiman expands and adds complexity to this concept, following Prez as he maneuvers as President through multiple crises of 20th Century America, which is very clearly a country that has burned brightly but on the verge of starting to burn out. While Prez is never swayed by corrupting influences (specifically an otherworldly entity called Boss Smiley, who looks like the Smiley Face Icon from the 1970s), the ills of the world beat him down and he fades slowly out. It’s a strange and bittersweet but also hopeful story, and one that was VERY weird to read in the America that we’re living in right now.

The other original stories in this collection didn’t really connect with me. But there is one final story that is by far my favorite in its power, its emotion, and what it shows is on the way. The last tale is that of the travelers at Worlds’ End who are still waiting out the storm, and wondering what has caused this strange event, as it certainly must be something significant and ghastly to do such damage to reality. And then, across the sky, they see a funeral procession. They don’t know what they are seeing. We as readers don’t really know what we are seeing. But we do see various Endless in the procession, with Delirium and Death trailing behind at the end. Brant describes the entire thing in a sorrowful and yet dreamy way, and once we get to the end and see Death and the look on her face…. Guys, I wept. I think that in part it’s because I know what’s coming. But it’s also such a beautiful moment filled with poignancy and loss. This story was my favorite, and if shifted my perception.

The artwork in this collection is, as you may imagine, incredibly varied (LOOK AT ALL THE NAMES AT THE TOP OF THIS POST). Gaiman says in an afterword in my edition that he wanted to showcase all these different artists talents, and he does. But my favorite was definitely Gary Amaro, who created the funeral procession with such celestial grace and dejection that it just cuts me to the bone.

“The Sandman (Vol.8): Worlds’ End” is the last of the standalone story collections in the series. I’m glad to move on to the rest of the main storyline and characters, but I will say that the end of this one is probably the most powerful moment in the series for me. I’m glad to have been reminded of it.

Rating 7: Another collection of unrelated stories shows off Gaiman’s creativity and the illustrators’s talents. But after a strong previous story arc I was a little underwhelmed, outside of a powerful moment of foreshadowing…

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sandman (Vol.8): Worlds’ End” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best of Vertigo Comics”, and “Books for the INFJ”.

Find “The Sandman (Vol.8) Worlds’ End” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed: