Kate’s Review: “DC Bombshells (Vol.6): War Stories”

35939533Book: “DC Bombshells (Vol.6): War Stories” by Marguerite Bennett, Aneke (Ill.), Mirka Andolfo (Ill.), Laura Braga (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The ultra-popular statues from DC Collectibles come to life in their own ongoing hit comic book series, now in its sixth and final installment!

The Bombshells face their final battle as a supernatural Nazi invasion begins! On top of that, Hugo Strange unleashes his failed lab experiments on Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy’s circus and Lois Lane has her chance to avenge her family on the villain — will she take the shot? Amid the chaos, discover Lex Luthor’s true colors as he reveals which side he’s really on, and what that means for the future of the Bombshells!

The incredibly popular DC Collectibles line is brought to life in these stories that reimagine the course of history! From writer Marguerite Bennett (BATGIRL, EARTH 2: WORLD’S END) and featuring artists including Marguerite Sauvage (HINTERKIND), Laura Braga (Witchblade) and Mirka Andolfo (Chaos) comes DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS VOL. 6. Collects DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS #25 and #30-33.

Review: I didn’t realize it when I reviewed our previous “DC Bombshells” Collection that “War Stories” was the last in the first large series within this alternate historical universe starring the awesome ladies of DC. I also didn’t realize that the second series, “DC Bombshells: United” was cancelled about a year into it’s run. Trust me, if I had known these things when we last visited this series, I would have gone on a long rant. In fact I’m pretty sure that I will be ranting before this review is through. But for now I’m going to try and focus on the big finale and pretty solid wrap up that was “DC Bombshells: War Stories”. Let’s see how long it takes me before I start going off. I’ll try to keep my cool.

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Don’t mind me, I’m totally calm. (source)

When we left off, Ivy and Harley were in Russia helping civilians out, Raven had stowed away with them to try and find her father, Zatanna and Constantine were trying to find her, and Kara and Lois Lane had tracked down Hugo Strange and found that he’d used some of Kara’s DNA to make a clone of her, whom he called Power Girl. Also there was another captive they rescued, named Superman. And The Suicide Squad showed up, led by Batgirl and including Frankie, Killer Croc, Enchantress, and Ravager. So in this volume, all of these stories come to a head. Sadly, this means that Wonder Woman, Batwoman, The Batgirls, and Mera are all absent from this final volume in this large arc/first series, and to me that didn’t sit right. I know that all of them are going to have more to do in “DC Bombshells United” as the focus turns to the home front and the ills the American Government commits against it’s own citizenry, but this was a significant end and shift, and I think they should have shown up in some capacity. But the stories here as they are are all pretty satisfactory in spite of this glaring absences. I especially enjoyed the Suicide Squad mission, which took our team into a German Sub in hopes of finding Luc, Batgirl’s long lost paramour. I liked this storyline  because while it continued the themes of Nazi occultism and mystic plotting, we got to see Edward Nygma and a few Lovecraftian-esque threats. Plus, this Suicide Squad is pretty excellent, all of them with a 1940s flair, which means that in my mind Killer Croc has a Mid-Atlantic accent and that just tickles me. Along with this already bonus storyline we get another one involving some of the Batgirl of Burnside characters, mainly Frankie, Qadir, and Nadimah dabbling in some magical mischief. It was a one off and didn’t really add much to the overall plot, but it was still enjoyable and fun to see more characters appear in this alternate timeline.

The climax of this series, however, comes with the Battle of Leningrad, as the Bombshells have to come together to not only fight Hugo Strange, Killer Frost, and the Nazis, but to try and save Leningrad and the people there. I liked seeing all of the ladies come together in one place, and I felt like they all got some decent moments to shine within this final battle. That said, it wouldn’t be a pivotal battle of a series if there wasn’t some sadness and sacrifice, and while it never reaches levels of Stargirl loss here, there are definitely repercussions and moments of sadness for some of our characters, which all were executed with deft emotion and feeling. What I love about this series is that it shows that sadness and pain are not weaknesses in our characters,, and it’s refreshing to see that some characters do get lost in their emotions, both in good ways and in bad ways. But even when it’s in bad ways you never get the sense that these emotions are bad to have, just that they need to be used in less destructive ways. Its a theme we see a lot in these stories and it makes me wonder if a comic that was starring the males of DC would be so bold as to take that stance. I think I know the answer to that, sadly.

And finally, there is a whole new threat that comes from the Russian side and brings more storyline to Kara and her origins: Faora Hu-El from Krypton has arrived once more (seen previously WAAAAAY back when Supergirl and Stargirl were being used as Russian Propaganda), and boy has she brought some serious baggage to our finale. And since I want to discuss it here, this is our SPOILER ALERT moment that almost always pops up in this series. One of the things that “DC Bombshells” has done is made this universe and it’s characters and storylines very female centric, and that has altered some backstories here and there. The biggest alterations to date are pretty Kryptonian centric. Not only is Superman a clone of unknown origins created in Strange’s lab (as far as well know at this juncture), Kara’s own origin story is shaken up with the arrival of Faora, who tells her that she is a perfect being created by Faora, Alura, and Lara. It’s pretty neat and ballsy to reveal within this final battle that Supergirl, the last true Kryptonian (given Superman’s new origin) and most powerful being in the story,  is the product of three women and Kryptonian science. I have this image of ‘well actually’ toxic nerdboys pitching a HUGE fit about this. But that’s what “DC Bombshells” has always been about: it’s about women at the forefront, women supporting and loving and fighting women, and women as the main components of a story, with guys playing the traditional roles that women have played in comics for years. Frankly, it’s genius.

Which is ALL THE MORE REASON THAT IT SUCKS THAT DC HAS PULLED THE PLUG. Representation in comics is so important because representation in all types of media is important. With women being in the lead, women of all races, religions, and sexual orientations, “DC Bombshells” has been one of the best comic series DC has when it comes to representation (especially since apparently “Batwoman” is ALSO getting axed! Sure, I wasn’t a fan, but BATWOMAN IS IMPORTANT)! DC is still going to toss a whole lot of bank into it’s middling AT BEST movies (“Woman Woman” not included, and holy SHIT is THAT ironic given the context of this rant) and keep rebooting Batman and Superman over and over AND bastardize Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” universe for funsies, but it can’t throw a bone to a series where women are at the forefront and aren’t sexualized and objectified through a male-only gaze? IT’S UNACCEPTABLE!!!!

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Hey, I lasted awhile before I full on lost it, right? (source)

Well, regardless, this first arc of “DC Bombshells” comes to a solid close in “War Stories”, and while I know that “Bombshells United” isn’t as long, I’m going to really, REALLY savor it as I make my way through. These DC women continue to create a better world filled with compassion and justice, and I know that even though it’s ending that won’t change the importance of this series as a whole.

Oh, and is Black Canary going to show up in this next series? Asking for a friend.

Rating 8: A solid and mostly satisfying end to the first major arc of the “Bombshells” comics, “DC Bombshells: War Stories” is a wrap up with most of the characters we love, though a few notables were missing and it was very noticeable.

Reader’s Advisory:

“DC Bombshells (Vol.6): War Stories” is included on the Goodreads lists “2018 Lesbian Releases”, and it would fit in on “Diverse Heroes in Comics/Graphic Novels”.

Find “DC Bombshells (Vol.6): War Stories” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Lady Killer: Vol. 2”

30347784Book: “Lady Killer: Vol.2” by Joëlle Jones

Publishing Info: Dark Horse Comics, May 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The killer housewife is back! The Schuller family has moved to Cocoa Beach, Florida, where life carries on as usual. Josie continues to juggle Tupperware parties, her kids, and a few human heads. However, when someone from her past tails her on a hit, she may be in for more than she bargained for.

“Lady Killer is worth its weight in gold for the art alone, but the enigmatic Josie Schuller is the real appeal.”—Newsarama
“A level of violence that can only be described as Mad Men’s Betty Draper meets Dexter.”—Comic Book Resources

Review: Given that I enjoyed the first volume of “Lady Killer” by Joëlle Jones, it was a long and difficult wait for “Volume 2” to finally come out. Assassin Housewife Josie Schuller was a character that went above and beyond my expectations in the initial tale, an archetype that could have easily fallen into sex kitten kitsch lie so many other ‘badass’ women before her (Harley Quinn, anyone?). But the strength of her character lies within her complexity, and her multifaceted life and personality makes her an intriguing and fascinating protagonist, and I was excited to see where the choices she made in the previous book took her.

When we left Josie she had broken ties from the group that hired her on as an assassin. In a rather, uh, flamboyant way. Now she and her family (consisting of her husband Gene, her twin daughters Jane and Jessica, and her suspicious mother in law Mrs. Schuller) has moved to Florida, and Josie is working as a free agent assassin as well as maintaining the role of a perfect homemaker. By day she throws cocktail parties and barbecues, by night she’s killing targets. The duality of an ideal 1960s housewife and a cold blooded killer is both hysterical, but a bit barbed as well. Even hit women need to juggle it all, and have certain facades to maintain just as many women today feel a need to do so. I love seeing Josie interact with both her targets and her family. Her love and devotion to Gene is lovely to see (especially since he’s so clueless about who she is and what she is capable of), and little interactions with her daughters shows the fierce love she has for them and keeping them safe, be it from physical dangers or loutish, inappropriate men and their ‘humor’.

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She slits people’s throats but she’ll be damned if some creep says nasty stuff in front of her kids. (source: Dark Horse Comics)

One of the realities of Josie’s new life, however, is that by working solo she doesn’t have the support she had in the past, which makes flying under the radar more difficult. It was one thing to take out a target and have others there to clean up for you; it’s quite another to have to deal with it yourself, especially if you are a petite lady. I like that Jones was realistic in that Josie, capable assassin or not, struggled with body disposal and clean up, and had to turn to a shady character from the past, Irving, to help her with it all, as well as finding herself approached by another group that may want to strike a partnership. I like that Josie is frustrated that she needs help, and wants to continue her career on her own terms. But of course, with everyone having ulterior motives and underestimating the excellence that is Josie Schuller, nothing can come easy, and she finds herself the victim of the toxic assumptions that even though she’s a trained killer, ultimately she’s a woman, and therefore exploitable. The themes are evergreen, aren’t they?

Speaking of underestimating women, Josie isn’t immune to it. We get some background to her crabby and suspicious mother in law, Mrs. Schuller, who up until now Josie has seen as a mere thorn in her side. Turns out, Mrs. Schuller has a lot of stuff she’s been hiding, and some of her knowledge and backstory sparks off some dangers for Josie, and in turn their shared family. I am going to go into this a bit because I have a lot to say and dissect with this revelation, so consider this your warning for

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(source)

As it turns out, Mrs. Schuller used to work as a clerk for the Nazis. She’s now living a secret life in the U.S., hiding her past from those around her. I personally was uncomfortable with this revelation. While I like that it helped propel another plot line further along, it feels gross to me that this woman is pretty much getting off scott free as of now for being an honest to God Nazi. I appreciate the device of her being able to recognize ‘badness’ when she sees it, and that it means that she has some, um, skills that may come in handy down the line, but ultimately I really dislike that she is a foil to Josie. It’s a monster recognizing a ‘monster’ kind of situation, and I find it hypocritical that she wants Josie away from her son and grandchildren when she actively helped commit genocide. It’s a huge blip in what had, up until that point, been a stellar story, and sets it off kilter for me. But if we are willing to set aside the whole Nazi thing, it does show some interesting parallels between Josie and her mother in law, and how they both love their family fiercely in the face of hiding  very large and very dangerous secrets. Secrets that can’t keep sustaining themselves.The idea that Gene will forever be in the dark about Josie’s profession is a tedious one, and I was worried that we would continue to see Josie making roasts, stirring martinis, and keeping him in the dark to a laughable degree. But Jones makes a pretty ballsy decision in this volume that lays the groundwork for Josie’s perfect facade to start cracking as things become more and more out of control. We are left on a pretty big cliffhanger and potential gamechanger about this, as well as the return of someone who could REALLY mess things up for Josie’s personal life.

So Nazi storyline aside, I really enjoyed “Lady Killer: Volume 2”, and the growth and shift that Josie Schuller maneuvers within in. I had to wait so long for this volume, and I have the feeling the the next one will also be a wait. It’s one that I am more than willing to wait for, though. However impatient I may be.

Rating 8: A fun follow up with my favorite assassin housewife, Josie Schuller continues to buck gender norms and subvert expectations of 1960s womanhood! “Lady Killer: Vol. 2” keeps the fun going and I can’t wait for the story to continue.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Lady Killer: Vol.2” is included on the Goodreads lists “Great Graphic Novels (released in 2017)”, and should be included on “Women Creators in Comics”.

Find “Lady Killer: Vol. 2” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Source Codes”

34662772Book: “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey (Vol. 2): Source Codes” by Julie Benson, Shauna Benson, Roge Antonio (Ill.), and Claire Roe (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, December 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The origin of the new Oracle—the super-hacker who has become an invaluable ally to the Birds of Prey—is revealed in the newest collection of BATGIRL AND THE BIRDS OF PREY!

Oracle’s connection to the mastermind known as Calculator causes stain on his relationship with Batgirl, Black Canary and the Huntress. Black Canary goes undercover to discover the secrets of the woman called Blackbird, who can unlock any super-being’s true potential. But Blackbird doesn’t just enhance powers—she takes them for herself, making her an army of one who threatens the Birds of Prey’s biggest secrets. Can guest stars Green Arrow and Nightwing turn the tide against this incredible new foe? Or will they be Blackbird’s newest victims?

Gotham City’s greatest super-team is a force to be reckoned with in BATGIRL AND THE BIRDS OF PREY VOL. 2: SOURCE CODE! From writers Shawna Benson and Julie Benson (TV’s The 100) and artists Roge Antonio (NIGHTWING) and Claire Roe (WONDER WOMAN). Collects issues #7-13.

Review: It’s funny coming off of the Cameron Stewart “Batgirl” Series and jumping into the new “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey” series, if only because the same character is interpreted in such different ways. As much as I did like the more quirky and insecure Batgirl that Stewart created, a self assured and assertive Batgirl is more in line with what I am looking for in Barbara, and the Benson Sisters are really delivering in that regard. When we left off, Batgirl, Huntress, and Black Canary had reformed the Birds of Prey, with a new Oracle by the name of Gus. Gus is a hacker who seems to be a HUGE fan on Batgirl and her adventures, and is capable with the computer. Of course, is anything ever that easy in Gotham? Rarely. So along with the new faces in this series, we also get to see some old ones, faces that I was VERY happy to see when all was said and done!

The first thing that really struck me with this volume was that while Batgirl is the leader of this rag tag group of kick ass ladies, it definitely gives a lot of time to her compatriots. We saw a lot of Huntress and her backstory in the previous volume, but this time some of the attention and shine was focused on Black Canary, aka Dinah Lance. You all know how I feel about her so I will spare you yet another screed on her excellence, but it was nice seeing her get some meaty plot points this time around. Not only does have a lot of opportunities to show off her entire repertoire of fight skills, she also has moments of emotional growth and pathos. It’s easy to forget that of the Birds, she is the only ‘metahuman’, aka person with supernatural powers. Even though she’s a member of the team, she is the Other, and while Babs and Helena may see past this, Dinah is always aware of it. When other metahumans are being targeted and manipulated by a mysterious villain named Blackbird, Dinah takes it upon herself to go forth, undercover, and try to take her down. I loved this storyline because Dinah not only had a lot to do, but we got to see some of her insecurities, and she moved beyond being the sarcastic badass that she usually is within these stories. Also? ALSO????…… Oliver Queen, aka Green Arrow, shows up, and his main purpose is to look on at Dinah lovingly. There is a moment where he is encouraged to think about what he loves most in this world as his motivation, and he repeats ‘Dinah’ over and over and over again. As a gigantic Dinah/Oliver shipper, this turn of events was quite excellent.

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(source)

But it’s not just Oliver that makes an appearance I wasn’t expecting! Because two of my very best lady anti-heroes of DC also decided to drop in for fun, Catwoman and Poison Ivy! And these appearances harken back to older Birds of Prey realities, in some ways, as while Catwoman has always been a potential ally to the heroes and heroines of Gotham (if you’re willing to risk a future backstab), Poison Ivy has been in the Birds of Prey rotation in past iterations of the team. For her to come back and have a role, and hints at future interactions, is great not only for nostalgia, but also for the concept of girl power. DC has been KILLING IT in the girl power departments, as between this series and “DC Bombshells” ladies are taking charge and getting shit done.

And finally, we are now seeing some hints about Gus, our new Oracle. I was open minded about Gus as a member of the team (in spite of the fact I was hoping that Frankie was going to be Oracle), though it was obvious at the end of the last collection that he was perhaps hiding something. All of that comes out in the open in this collection, and while I don’t want to spoil TOO much, I do feel like it should be stated that one of the major components involves mental illness. I’m always worried that in stories, particularly in comics or more adventure-y tales, mental illness can be used in an irresponsible way to either bring in conflict or to give excuses for bad or violent behavior. But when it comes to Gus’s issues, it is made clear by her partners that not only is he still one of the team, but that he isn’t broken and that they will try to support and understand him in any way that the can. So not only do we have a character who has a disability, we have other characters who are willing to break down the stigma and still treat him as an equal. It was very heartening to see.

But sadly, it was recently announced that “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey” was cancelled by DC. So my love and enjoyment of this series has an expiration date. With this information, I’m considering just stopping my reading journey with these characters right here. It wraps up in a way that was personally satisfying to me, and knowing that it’s going to end (and with rumors of some questionable plot twists that make my blood boil) makes me feel like I should quit while I’m ahead. DC, as per usual, you are really, REALLY making it difficult to be a fan of yours (AND YES I’M STILL PISSED AS HELL THAT YOU CANCELLED BOMBSHELLS!!!!)! I swear, the moment they kill Catwoman to give Bruce some man pain (AND I WOULDN’T PUT IT PAST THEM!), I am OUT, so help me GOD!!!

For now, I’m just happy that I did get to spend some fun arcs with some great chicks who kick serious ass. “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey”, you burned brightly, and did justice to characters that I love.

Rating 8: A highly enjoyable return to this series with a lot of fun cameos, “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey (Vol. 2): Source Codes” gave us a healthy bit of nostalgia as well as some very compelling and new insights into our characters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Batgirl and the Birds of Prey (Vol.2): Source Code” is still kind of new and not on many Goodreads lists, but it is included on “DC Universe: Rebirth Collections”.

Find “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey (Vol.2): Source Code” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey (Vol.1): Who Is Oracle?”

Kate’s Review: “Batgirl (Vol.3): Mindfields”

28109909Book: “Batgirl (Vol.3): Mindfields” by Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher, Babs Tarr (Ill.), Rob Hayes (Ill.), Eleonora Carlini (Ill.), Moritat (Ill.), and Ming Doyle (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, April 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Batgirl’s about to lose the greatest weapon in her arsenal…because her mind is failing her! Are her ragtag group of allies ready to pick up the slack? And while Batgirl is down, it’s Black Canary to the rescue to discover the identity of a malevolent mastermind menacing Burnside!

Review: The reboot of Batgirl that happened during The New 52 tweaked the Barbara Gordon that had less dark doom and gloom angst, and more intrepid spunky quirkiness. But when Rebirth was announced, that meant that this reboot, too, was coming to an end, and that the character was going to move on. So now I come to the end of Batgirl’s time in the New 52, with “Batgirl: Mindfields”.

I liked the emphasis on team work and female friendship in this collection, as Barbara has to bring more excellent ladies to her team as her mind starts playing tricks on her, all because of a super villain named Fugue. She starts having memories that may or may not be real, and Frankie, Black Canary, and newcomers Spoiler and Bluebird make it their mission to help Barbara figure out who the mysterious Fugue is. I am always going to be happy to see Dinah Lance pop up, and while it took me a little while to get on board with Spoiler and Bluebird I eventually found them to be fun superheroes that I would like to see more of down the line. But the supporting character that really gets time to shine in this arc is Frankie, Barbara’s techie roommate who brings not only a great new character to the scene, but also some always welcome diversity. It was fun seeing her start out as a roommate and friend, and watching her turn into a much appreciated and needed ally. Frankie and Babs have a realistic and imperfect friendship, but they always have each other’s backs and will always be there for each other.

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Just look at the power of friendship! (source)

But even though I liked those aspects of this collection, I will admit that for me this was the weakest of the series. While it had some interesting elements of gaslighting and memory manipulation, I found myself barely invested in the Fugue storyline, and was kind of disappointed that ultimately, Batgirl herself had very little to do. Yes, I do like the power of female friendship, and yes, I liked the ladies that Barbara has brought into circle of friends and allies, but as I read it I felt that Batgirl herself had the smallest role yet in a series that is supposed to be about her at the forefront. Had this reboot of Batgirl gone on for more than three issues I probably would have been just fine with the spotlight being shared as much as it was. But this was basically a third of the Batgirl of Burnside series that didn’t feel like a Batgirl story, but a Birds of Prey story (don’t worry, I will be going back to that series soon!). It also felt like Stewart and Fletcher were trying to make a very special finale by bringing back almost all of the antagonists that we saw through the run, to end in a Battle Royale of them vs Batgirl’s Team. But it didn’t feel as satisfying as it could have specifically because a few of them were fighting superheroines that they wouldn’t have any beef with! What is the pay off of having Yuki and Yuri, the cosplaying villains from earlier in the series, fighting with SPOILER, who just showed up? That isn’t satisfying to me, it feels like padding out the plot.

Also, we barely saw any Luke Fox in this. If you are going to make a huge thing of Barbara choosing Luke over Dick Grayson (I’m still a bit sore about that. I really like Luke and he and Barbara are perfectly fine together, but Babs and Dick is one of my OTPs in the DC Universe), you had better make her relationship with Luke something more than a couple of after thought moments that feel more like ‘oh yeah she’s with Luke, they should probably hang out’. I’m not saying that Batgirl needs a man, nor that a relationship with a man should be a HUGE component to this arc, but why the whole song and dance of her picking him if it’s just left off page?

I think that the ultimate weakness of the Batgirl of Burnside arc was that it was trying a bit too hard to be DC’s answer to “Ms. Marvel” when it should have been trying to be it’s own thing. “Ms. Marvel” works because Kamala Khan was a brand new character that had room to grow and evolve without any expectations or constraints on her, so she could be the spunky young adult with relatable personal problems while still feeling genuine. When you try to apply this model to Barbara Gordon, who has been through so much already, it might feel a little odd to see her fighting manic cosplayers or taking selfies for social media clicks. I do like that DC is trying to reach out to new audience members, and I think that Batgirl is a great way to do that. But I also think that sometimes they tried to make her something that she wasn’t, and it therefore rang false.

I am glad that Barbara got to go beyond the angst and live her life a little lighter. As “Batgirl: Mindfields” wraps up her time in Burnside, I am very interested to see what she gets to do on her own in the Rebirth Arc. I was ultimately satisfied with the series as a whole, and hope that an even better iteration can be created now that a more fun loving Batgirl has been introduced to us.

Rating 6: The weakest of the “Batgirl” series by Stewart and Fletcher, but a fitting and satisfying end before it transitions to the “Rebirth” storylines.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Batgirl (Vol.3): Mindfields” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Ladies of DC”, and “Best of Batgirl”.

Find “Batgirl (Vol.3): Mindfields” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: 

Kate’s Review: “Clueless: Senior Year”

34623127Book: “Clueless: Senior Year” by Amber Benson, Sarah Kuhn, Siobhan Keenan (Ill.)

Publishing Info: BOOM!Box, August 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Haven’t got your hands on the newest installment of this 90’s teen phenomenon? As if!

Your favorite girls from Beverly Hills are back in an all-new adventure! It’s senior year and Cher, Dionne, and Tai find themselves in a bit of a crisis of self… Where are they meant to go, and what are they meant to DO after high school? Luckily they have all year—and each other’s help—to figure it out!

Review: One of my all time favorite movies is “Clueless”. When I first saw it in fifth grade (my mom brought it home for us to watch together), I was immediately drawn to Cher Horowitz, our well meaning but flawed protagonist. I wanted to be her, wanted to live her life and be as clever and kind as she was. As an adult I still aspire to live up to her standards, so when I saw that a new graphic novel about Cher and her friends was coming out, I really could have only one reaction.

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(source)

The story picks up shortly after the movie ends. Cher, Dionne, and Tai are starting their senior year of high school, and Ms. Geist challenges them and the other students in her class to determine what their post high school goals are by the end of the year, and to figure out what they want to be in the world. After this, we follow not just Cher, but also her best friends on a journey of self discovery that was both incredibly charming and completely empowering. In spite of my excitement over this book, I was also nervous because I hold this movie so close to my heart (and “Emma” as well, the Jane Austen book that it takes inspiration from). I was worried that it was going to perhaps rehash the movie in some way, or throw in drama for drama’s sake. But I am very happy to report that Amber Benson and Sarah Kuhn absolutely did justice to the film and it’s characters.

I first want to talk about the characters and the arcs themselves. I worship Cher Horowitz, but it’s important to remember that even though she gets her life together at the end of the movie, she’s still a teenager who is going to have moments of stumble along with moments of triumph. I was very worried about her relationship with Josh, the Mr. Knightley analog who is played by Paul Rudd in the movie. Cher and Josh are perfect together, but happy bliss usually means no conflict. And hey, I am aware that stories need conflict (even if that’s an easy grab for conflict). But I am happy to report that while I do wish that Josh had been around a bit more (but that’s all I will say), Benson and Kuhn took their relationship on a trajectory that felt realistic for the characters, but didn’t completely decimate the lovely romance that lives at the heart of it. And it was done in a way that we got to focus on Cher learning how to define herself without  basing it all on Josh and his needs. But the thing that caught me the most off guard in the best way possible was that we got similar treatments for both Dionne and Tai, Cher’s partners in crime but sidekick status only in the film. Dionne starts to suss out what it is she wants to be outside of a good friend and girlfriend, and gets interested in civics within the high school by running for class president. And Tai has a tough decision to make when she is accepted to art school, but a family tragedy makes her second guess what her priorities should be. This enabled them to move from “The Best Friend” (Dionne) and “The Ditzy One” (Tai) and become well rounded, three dimensional characters just like Cher. The justice given to these ladies was so, so satisfying.

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The power of female friendship at the forefront! (source)

A number of tributes to the movie are sprinkled throughout the comic, which varied from being absolutely adorable to kind of ham fisted and distracting. The not so good were the kind of glaring references that didn’t feel like they really belonged (yes yes, Cher does wear Alaia in the movie during the robbery scene, but referencing Alaia in the way this graphic novel did was kind of awkward), or were misused completely. But smaller Easter eggs were far more entertaining (Dionne’s campaign signs saying that Murray is ‘toe-up’, for instance), and I liked seeing them. I was also a bit sad that so many classic characters from the movie were missing. Mel, Christian, Lucy, Mr. Hall, and Elton were no where to be seen, and given that I love ALL of the side characters in the movie I was sad when none of those arguably important faces could even muster a cameo.

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AS AN UNAPOLOGETIC ELTON STAN I FEEL VERY ATTACKED THAT WE WERE DEPRIVED OF HIM. (source)

I really liked the artwork for this book too. Not only did Siobhan Keenan really capture the styles and imagery from the movie, be it through outfits, faces, or background, she brought a fun and bubblegum pinache to the illustrations. With some potential manga influences as well just for funzies.

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Bottom line is that if you like “Clueless” the movie, this graphic novel will never meet your standards of perfection. But it comes pretty close, and does a great job of carrying on the stories of these excellent teenage girls. I would say that it definitely improves upon the characters of Dionne and Tai, which is so excellent to see. Definitely check it out. If you miss it, I assure you, you’ll be totally buggin’.

Rating 8: A fun follow up to one of my very favorite movies! The nostalgia is great, and the characters are all fleshed out with a lot of positive girl power messages.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Clueless: Senior Year” isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Black Girl Comics”, and I think that it should also be on “Girls Read Comics”.

Find “Clueless: Senior Year” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Who Is Oracle?”

31383619Book: “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey (Vol.1): Who Is Oracle?” by Julie Benson, Shawna Benson, Claire Roe (Ill.), and Roge Antonio (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, April 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: A part of DC Universe: Rebirth!

The Birds of Prey prowl the street of Gotham once again! The sisterly, crime-fighting trio–Batgirl, Black Canary, and Huntress–get the band back together in the aftermath of DC Universe: Rebirth, but they’re not reconnecting for nostalgia’s sake. A mysterious new criminal operative called Oracle has declared war on Gotham. Barbara Gordon, a.k.a. Batgirl, and a.k.a. cyber-superhero Oracle in a previous guise, takes exception to someone smearing her legacy. Writing duo and sisters Julie and Shawna Benson, along with breakout artist Claire Roe, reunite the femme fatale crew in Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Volume 1: Who Is Oracle?!

Review: So okay, my last foray into the “DC: Rebirth” world left me feeling a bit cold. Batwoman deserved so much more than that. So when I saw that my library had “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Who Is Oracle?”, I was hopeful that another series near and dear to my heart would get some better treatment within the “Rebirth” series. I’ve been feeling kind of meh towards it as a whole, between Batwoman’s progression and the whole ‘let’s take Alan Moore’s characters and put them into this new series even though he no doubt hates that‘ thing (and I could rant forever, but I shan’t). But I’m willing to give it a chance, as a DC fan through and through. So thank goodness that “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey” feels so, so right.

This is yet another origin story for the Birds of Prey, but Julie and Shawna Benson do a good job of starting from partial scratch without dismissing the original intent of the group. See, originally the Birds of Prey had Barbara Gordon as Oracle at it’s center, and that’s important because that was when Barbara was still wheelchair bound. When she was Oracle, she was arguable they most important member of the Bat Family, and also was great representation for those who have disabilities. Then Barbara’s paralysis was ret-conned so she could be Batgirl again, leaving Oracle behind. In this telling, Babs and Dinah “Black Canary” Lance formed the team when Barbara was still Oracle, but then disbanded shortly thereafter. It is NOW that they are coming back together that we are introduced to the other member of the band, Huntress, who is the other best known member of this team through the years and versions. But the motivations for them are darker this time around. Barbara is angry that someone calling themselves ‘Oracle’ has started sending her messages in a game of cat and mouse. And Huntress has her own personal vendetta that brings her into the fold.

It is definitely darker than other iterations of the Birds of Prey, but I feel that as a reboot, it works pretty well. I like that the motivations aren’t built out of pure nobility, and that Barbara’s relationship with her alter ego Oracle is complicated as hell. I personally love Oracle and I love that after Alan Moore (him again!) basically tried to destroy Batgirl in “The Killing Joke” when Joker shot her in the spine, Barbara Gordon came back more powerful and more essential than she had been before. But I also think it’s important to remember that Barbara turned into Oracle because of the horrifically traumatic experience of being shot. Barbara’s link to Oracle is a double edged sword, and I think that this series has done a pretty good job of addressing that thus far. I also like that Huntress is given some pretty brutal traits in this narrative, as Huntress has always been a bit wild but this story gives that wildness a reason and a very rough origin. There is also a stark contrast between her brutality and her Catholic faith, which has been touched upon a bit and I hope we see more of it. And then there is my girl Black Canary, one of my favorite members of the DC Universe with her snark, sarcasm, and determination built from abandonment. We get a bit of her backstory and motivation as well, and I like that she gets to do a bit more than be the sassy and brassy lead singer of a punk band (I had such high hopes for that series). Plus there’s a panel of her going to town on a plate of nachos and I felt such a kindred connection to her in that moment. The Benson Sisters are giving these girls some good stuff to work with, and I couldn’t be happier.

Plus, the art is super fun. It does a good job of being dark and dour, as well as putting splashes of color to give it a bit of spunk.

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I will admit that the eventual reveal about Oracle left me a little cold. I’ve mentioned before that I have my OWN opinions on who should fill the Oracle role now that Barbara is back in the cowl. But I’m going to be open-minded and stick it out to see where this goes. This is a series that has it’s talons in me, no question.

“Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Who Is Oracle?” is a very strong start to a series that I am very excited to follow. I’m finally invested in a “Rebirth” arc storyline, which has let me breathe a sigh of relief when it comes to the future of DC.

Rating 8: Grittier than the “Batgirl” comics, “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Who is Oracle?” gives some complex and kickass ladies some dark things to do. Also, Black Canary is the very best and it’s great to see her again.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Batgirl and the Birds of Prey (Vol.1): Who Is Oracle?” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it would definitely fit in on “Kickass Women in Superhero Comics”.

Find “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey (Vol.1): Who Is Oracle?” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Prince and the Dressmaker”

34506912Book: “The Prince and the Dressmaker” by Jen Wang

Publishing Info: First Second, February 2018

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

Book Description: Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

Review: I first want to extend a special thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book!

It’s almost Valentine’s Day! While the hubby and I are pretty low key when it comes to the holiday, I do enjoy the little bits of romance that I see here and there. Given the holiday, it’s an appropriate time for me to talk about one of the cuter romances that I’ve read as of late! Before I saw it on NetGalley, I hadn’t heard of “The Prince and the Dressmaker”, and I requested it on a whim. I sat down one day thinking I’d at least start it, and then ended up reading the whole thing in one sitting.

Jen Wang has created a very gentle and quiet story about friendship and identity with “The Prince and the Dressmaker”. Within it’s pages we meet Frances, a quiet but ambitious dressmaker, and Sebastian, a Belgian Prince who also likes to dress in womens clothing and become Lady Crystallia. While Sebastian’s gender identity is kept vague, I am going to refer to them with they/them pronouns and as gender non-conforming/non-binary. I liked how Frances and Sebastian both interacted with each other and how they found a mutual understanding and respect within their Prince/Dressmaker relationship. Their friendship is sweet and simple, and I loved how it progressed as the story went on. While it did ultimately end in romance (Spoiler alert I guess?), I think that Wang approached it in a way that didn’t feel schmaltzy or in a way that negated the friendly, non romantic intimacy that had existed between the two of them at the start. I also feel that it’s important to have representation of more non-binary and gender non-conforming characters in stories, especially in positive, non-tragic ways, so Sebastian’s story arc was a story that I was happy to see. I will, however, say that as a cis straight woman the lens through which I approached this book and the story it tells is probably not the same as someone who would identify in other ways, and therefore I’m not sure that I can gauge whether or not it’s a good representation.

Frances’ story arc was the weaker of the two character progressions, but I still found it to be one that was engaging. She wants to become a designer, but as a woman (and a lower class one at that) she has very little agency and control over her life. She sees this arrangement with Sebastian as a way to get her work out there, and then finds herself in a place of power that she cannot speak of, lest it betray Sebastian’s secret. I also enjoyed her quiet but strong willed personality. Her strength may not be loud, but it is there nonetheless, and her moments of triumph were undoubtedly satisfying. And I don’t know why it struck me, but I loved that her hair is purple. Her entire character design just struck me as resonant for some reason. Possibly because I, too, like to wear my hair in a side braid and have thick eyebrows. Her expressions and facial designs really get her emotions across, so even though she was a bit more soft spoken I felt like I always knew what she was feeling.

The art, too, was fabulous. It fit the mood of the story well, simplistic and soft but popping off the page. There seemed to be some influence from manga and anime, but Wang also has made a mark of her own with the design. The imagery also harkens back to the time period of the regency (I think?) era. The fashion styles are absolutely gorgeous and delightful, with lots of colors used for Lady Crystallia’s dresses that just made me smile.

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Overall, I found “The Prince and the Dressmaker” to be a calm and charming story with a complex and heartfelt relationship at the heart of it. If you are looking for something to read this Valentine’s Day, seek this one out.

Rating 8: A gentle and sweet graphic novel about identity and friendship. While I can’t speak to the accuracy of the depiction of non-binary gender identity, the story had complex and likable characters and a lovely central relationship.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Prince and the Dressmaker” is included on the Goodreads lists “Graphic Novels Featuring LGBTQ Themes”, and “2018 Books by Authors of Color/Native Authors”.

Find “The Prince and the Dressmaker” at your library using WorldCat!