Kate’s Review: “Secret Six (Vol.6): The Darkest House”

12138927Book: “Secret Six (Vol.6): The Darkest House” by Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, January 2012

Where Did I Get This: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: As a member of the Secret Six is determined to bring back a loved one from the Gates of Hell using a ‘Get Out of Hell Free’ card stolen back in the first arc of the series. Meanwhile Bane must face his inner demons and make some crucial decisions regarding his future with the Secret Six!

Review: And here we are. We have reached the end of The Secret Six arc, pre- New 52. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, really. I put it off as long as I could. But the time has come to say goodbye to my favorite mercenary super villains (who are not really all that villainous). Which sucks all the more because it was a very indefinite goodbye, with little closure for really any of the characters I have come to love. In their final arc we go back to the beginning, bringing back the much fought over ‘Get Out of Hell Free’ card that was so coveted in Volume 1. I’m sure you can probably guess who wants to use this card. After all, Scandal Savage hasn’t really gotten over Knockout, even though she’s dating the very lovely Liana. But when she decides to use it, she finds that someone has backstabbed her and taken the card for themselves. Our next arc involves a Hail Mary attempt for the Six, with Bane deciding that it is time to try and take out his long held enemies once and for all.

I don’t know how I feel about the end of this. It was annoying that there was one last bit of backstabbing. I thought we were past this, guys. So much about this storyline left me feeling a bit cold. For one thing, Scandal, darling, you have a lovely, LOVELY companion in Liana. So why are you deciding NOW that you need to go get Knockout back from hell? I had thought that she had moved on and was very happy with her and Liana, as I feel that Liana is far more interesting than Knockout is. It didn’t help that Liana was put in a very precarious situation and Scandal was too busy trying to get her old lover back to really assist her until it was almost too late. THIS DID NOT SIT WELL WITH ME. It just felt weird to bring Knockout back right at the end of things. And maybe they didn’t know it was the end. But it feels needless.

I also am frustrated that Bane just decides that they are going to take out Batman’s allies, which in turn leads to their downfall as a team. This also felt like a weird plot choice to me! Especially since I thought that he was doing pretty well with this group of people, and was possibly done with this Batman obsession. But what do I know? I guess they just needed to end it somehow and so WHY NOT END IT WITH THE GODDAMN JUSTICE LEAGUE TAKING THESE POOR LOSERS OUT? I was pleased that Huntress was there to critique and criticize the whole concept of heroes and what makes a hero. Because let’s be honest, the thing that I like about Secret Six is that they are kind of ambiguous, and could be good if they really wanted to be. And not only could they be good, they are so inept at being totally bad (outside of MAYBE Bane) that there was no way they stood any kind of chance.

All of this said, there were things in this that I liked. More sweet moments between Jeanette and Deadshot (and her being very dominant when kissing him just made me grin from ear to ear) and a sweet scene between an isolated Ragdoll and Scandal were great, and when they were in Hell I was especially satisfied by what Catman got to see, given that his father was such a horrible person and has, indeed, ended up in this awful, torturous place. My favorite arc, however, was a date that Bane went on with Liana’s friend and fellow dancer Spencer. He took her to a carnival, guys. A CARNIVAL.

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This was everything I ever wanted.

So, while I was ultimately disappointed with the end of the series, I still loved “Secret Six” as a whole. I loved all of these characters. I loved Simone’s writing. I wish that there was more. I may have to see how the New 52 Secret Six are. But I feel like the originals will always hold the key to my heart.

Rating 7: A somewhat weak end, but Bane going on a date is so good. I’ll miss the Six.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Secret Six (Vol.6): The Darkest House” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Diverse Heroes in Comics/Graphic Novels”, and “Greatest Graphic Novels”.

Find “Secret Six (Vol.6): The Darkest House” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous reviews of “Secret Six”: “Villains United”,  “Unhinged“, “Depths”, “Danse Macabre”, “Cats in the Cradle”, and “The Reptile Brain”.

Kate’s Review: “Secret Six (Vol.5): The Reptile Brain”

10241987Book: “Secret Six (Vol.5): The Reptile Brain” by Gail Simone, Paul Cornell, Jim Calafiore (Ill.), and Pete Woods (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, May 2011

Where Did I Get This Book: The Library!

My Summary: The Secret Six have split up, with Bane and Jeanette on their own and Scandal, Catman, Deadshot, Ragdoll, and Black Alice remaining. But they soon find themselves on the opposing sides in a mission. Bane’s team is supposed to annex a lost world called Skartaris for the government, while Scandal’s team is hired by Mockingbird to kill them before they can. It’s Six vs Six, and not everyone may make it out alive.

Review: I hate it when teammates fight. This is one of the reasons that I was lukewarm on “Captain America: Civil War”, and had a hard time watching parts of “Batman Vs Superman”. I just want my favorite characters who are friends to remain friends and not hate each other. So when we got to this story arc of The Secret Six, I knew that I was going to a rough spot for me as a reader. Bane and Jeanette have their own team now, which would be fine if Scandal’s Six weren’t trying to kill them as ordered by Mockingbird. I knew that this was going to happen sooner or later, but that didn’t make it any less upsetting.

The pros of this story are that it gave Black Alice a lot more to do this time around outside of angsting. I also liked seeing King Shark make his Secret Six full debut, as he is so damn funny and obnoxious. It was also really neat that Simone decided to address some deeper themes in this arc, specifically that of annexation and colonialism. Black Alice has a lovely monologue about how using the people of Skartaris for their own agendas is wrong, and how they should be left to live their own lives and not ‘civilized’. It treaded towards a bit clunky in it’s execution, but it never quite got there because Black Alice is an earnest teenage girl and it works for her. Had it come from anyone else it might not have worked as well. There was also the watershed moment between Bane and Scandal, who have been at odds and butting heads for quite awhile now. They needed that moment, and I love their very loving, father-daughter relationship.

Speaking of father-daughter relationships, Vandal Savage comes back in this collection, and that was far less interesting to me. I didn’t really need a re-hash of Scandal going against her father’s wishes because she’s a lesbian. Make no mistake, I like that Simone was addressing the complications of this relationship because of who Scandal is (and why her father can’t or won’t accept it), and I really love that Scandal is uncompromising in her sexuality. Given the recent pattern in TV where lesbians have been dropping like flies, I like that in 2011 Scandal was here, being herself, standing up for herself, and not backing down or being thrown aside (though I should note that Scandal’s life isn’t totally immune to the bury your gays trope, as her lover Knockout died heroically and tragically). It just solidified what a creep Vandal is when it comes to his child, even though he does seem to deeply care for her. Complicated? Sure. Interesting? Not as much as it was the first time we addressed this wedge between them. The only benefit is that it gave Scandal more to do, and I am always for that.

We also got a great moment where Deadshot called Jeanette “Sweetie-Pie Cookie Puss”. Those two are just the best.

“The Reptile Brain” was a step down from “Cat’s in the Cradle”, but it was still a good volume. And soon I will be at the end of my “Secret Six” run, as the next volume, “The Darkest House”, is the end of the line.

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Rating 7: A dip from “Cat’s in the Cradle”, but some touching moments between Scandal and Bane, plus more Scandal character exploration, kept the heart firmly beating in this series.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Secret Six (Vol.5): The Reptile Brain” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Diverse Heroes in Comics/Graphic Novels”, and “Greatest Graphic Novels”.

Find “Secret Six (Vol.5): The Reptile Brain” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous reviews of “Secret Six”: “Villains United”,  “Unhinged“, “Depths”, “Danse Macabre”, “Cats in the Cradle”.

A Library Ladies Brief History: “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”

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Last week, the two of us had gotten together at Serena’s house to continue our long and drawn out re-watch of a show that both of us enjoyed in childhood. That show is “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” and it was a formative part in both our childhoods when it came to portrayals of Superman in popular culture. With the new trends of the DC Universe leaning more towards gritty and ‘real’ interpretations of their characters, it’s been very fun going back and watching a more light-hearted version of Clark Kent/Superman, and his best gal-pal Lois Lane. Even though there are a lot of things about this show that are painfully 1990s (see below for one of many fashion statements), the storylines, characters, and themes really hold up for 21st century sensibilities.

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I mean…. My God. (source)

So we thought that it would be fun if we took a fond look back on this show and the ways that it brought Lois Lane, Clark Kent, and all the important characters of Metropolis to life!

History of the Show

“Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” premiered on Sunday nights on ABC in September of 1993. Teri Hatcher was cast to play Lois Lane with Dean Cain as Clark Kent/Superman.

Before “Lois and Clark,” Hatcher was probably best known for recurring roles on “The Love Boat” and “MacGyver,” though one of her first jobs was as a cheerleader for the 49ers. These days people will probably know her best from the show “Desperate Housewives,” but to us she will always be known as the best damn Lois Lane there’s been. For the part of Clark Kent, the NFL was consulted once again, as they cast Dean Cain, a former player for the Buffalo Bills who remained benched for the entirety of his career due to an injury. He did commercials and guest roles before winning the role of Clark Kent.

The series creator, Deborah Joy Levine, was the show-runner for the first season. Unfortunately, the show’s time slot left it in direct competition with “Murder, She Wrote,” so top performance was not in the cards straight out of the gate. (Angela Lansbury was, and still is, a formidable foe.) But a solid second was the goal, and Levine and her writers knew they had to approach their characters in a way that would be family friendly, but entertaining for adults as well. In a departure from most previous Superman storylines and depictions, “Lois and Clark” refocused its story on the relationship between Lois Lane and Clark Kent rather than the exploits of Superman, with Supes’ dazzling feats of heroics often playing an exciting, but decidedly second, fiddle.

Between season 1 and 2 a number of changes were made. The show completely dropped the character of Cat Grant, the saucy and bawdy gossip columnist at the Daily Planet (played perfectly by cult TV show staple Tracy Scoggins), and replaced their Original Jimmy Olson, Michael Landes, with Justin Whalin to make Jimmy 2.0.

FUN FACT: In the commentary of the pilot episode on the DVD release, it was revealed that this recasting was due to a concern that Landes, also dark haired and eyed, too closely resembled Cain’s Clark Kent.

This also marked the departure of Lex Luthor as the main over-arching antagonist (as John Shea apparently had a falling out with production), whose presence as a corporate villain set the focus for Season 1. Sadly, Deborah Joy Levine also departed the show after Season 1, along with the original writing staff. The network wanted a bit more focus on action and romance, and there is a noticeable tonal shift to a more over-the-top feel starting in Season 2. Instead of focusing on more realistic villains and undercover crime reporting, villains started becoming far more magical, supernatural, and fantastical. At times, this shift also resulted in an increased, and one has to imagine, unintentional, comedic factor with regards to the show’s villains. One remembers (fondly, I might add), re-imaginings of classic Superman villains, such as the Toyman, into gushing fountains of cheesy 90s goodness (this version creates toy rats that spray a goo into people’s faces, reducing them to a greedy, child-like state. This affect even works on Superman. He steals Lois’s candy, and it’s great.)

Season 3 was the most successful of the seasons ratings-wise, though much of the show became about a wedding between Lois and Clark that just couldn’t quite get off the ground. But by Season 4 ratings started to drop, the show got tossed around different time slots, and even though the titular characters did finally get married  “Lois and Clark” was eventually not renewed for a fifth season (though apparently they had been told that they probably would be).

FUN FACT: The wedding episode was timed to air with the release of the comic book “Superman: The Wedding Album” which featured the same marriage for the first time in 60 years; the first “for realsies” marriage that is, as there were several dream sequence type “fake outs” over the many decades previous.

The show ended with Lois and Clark, after being told that they wouldn’t be able to have any biological children together, finding an abandoned baby on their doorstep wrapped in a blanket featuring the Superman symbol. So ultimately, what was meant to be a cliffhanger, oddly helped wrap the show up in a suitably ‘happily ever after’ kind of way. The final episode aired on June 14th, 1997.

Lois/Clark/Superman Character Analysis

The show took a couple of interesting characterization stances when it came to telling the stories of Lois Lane and Clark Kent/Superman. The first was that it was made clear early on that Clark Kent does not have the usual life balance that Superman had in other comic and movie portrayals. In the show Clark lives in an apartment, acts like Clark when no one is looking, and doesn’t become Superman as we know him until the pilot episode. He is even unaware of his Kryptonian background until several episodes into the first season. In this way, it is firmly established that  Clark Kent IS his identity; Superman is his alter ego.

FUN FACT: To further emphasize this shift in dominant personalities, Clark Kent and Superman’s hair styles are swapped with Superman sporting the slicked back and stylized hair, while Clark Kent features the more natural and laid back floppy style.

Clark’s humanity is further highlighted with the many romantic blunders that he commits throughout the show’s running. We spend much of our re-watches throwing our hands up in frustration and saying “No, Clark! Not again! Lois…you can do better.” “No, she can’t, it’s Clark.” “You’re right, and I’m sorry for saying it, but really…?” Cain plays the role with a sincere but goofy take, always pulling back at the right moment to prevent the character from taking himself too seriously.

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Dean Cain (source)

Cain’s strengths definitely lie in his portrayal of Clark Kent. Due to the show’s focus on Clark as the character and Superman as the role, when Superman is on screen he is often saddled with the cheesier aspects of the show, a fact that isn’t helped by what are now very dated special effects. The character is further weakened by his isolation from the rest of the cast, often working against the aforementioned over-the-top villains for the most part with only dashes of interactions with a Lois who (especially in the first two seasons when she doesn’t know his true identity) is often at her most lovesick and ridiculous. While Cain is still effective in this role, the added layer of playing the character of Clark who is then playing the character of Superman adds a certain strain to his acting that can seem a bit forced at times.

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Teri Hatcher (source)

In the end, it is Hatcher who carries the show with the stronger performance. While Lois plays the usual ‘damsel in distress’ role, she is also written as a very competent and well respected reporter. From the beginning through to the show’s end, Lois is clearly the superior reporter and takes the lead in their professional life. And, let’s be real, their personal life too, once she gets the whole super identity thing figured out. Hatcher wraps up a character who could verge into the realm of overbearing and ridiculous within layers of sweetness, insecurity, and vulnerability that makes Lois completely relatable and endearing.

And ultimately, it is the undeniable chemistry between Cain and Hatcher that carries the show. The progression of their relationship, from strained co-workers, to friends, to dating, to married life, is always peppered with the perfect amount of humor, respect, friendship, and finally love, and is  joy to watch.

Other regular characters included Jimmy Olson, Perry White, and, in another notable difference from many Superman stories, the routine appearance of Jonathan (thankfully living!) and Martha Kent.

Villains

The villains on “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” ranged from fairly realistic corporate and crime moguls, to strange and out there time travelers, ghosts, or in the case of Spencer Spencer, a head on a deformed torso that he hides in a box.

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Played by a guy who looks like a Swayze Brother but isn’t a Swayze Brother. (source)

The show’s most recognizable villain, however, is Lex Luthor, played by John Shea.

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John Shea as Lex Luthor. (source)

This interpretation of Luthor follows the John Byrne version of the character, who isn’t so much a mad scientist as he is a corporate villain with lots of money at his disposal. This version is the one that many people think of for Luthor these days, and Shea fits the part to a t. Shea’s Luthor is charismatic and charming, a villain that is pretty fun to hate. Or not hate, in Kate’s case. Shea has good chemistry with Cain in their antagonistic moments, but his chemistry with Hatcher crackles. The viewer can hate him for not only wanting to take down Superman, but also because he effortlessly and, one could argue, realistically romances Lois away from Clark. While it would have been an obvious choice to make him a bad boyfriend, Hatcher’s strong, confident Lane would never have tolerated that. So this Luthor is formidable in all ways, and the ultimate villain for the show.

And then the character was killed off at the end of Season 1.

This gave other villains time to shine. While a few of the comic book villains did show up (perhaps most notably Mr. Mxyzptlk, played by Howie Mandell), quite a large number were original.

FUN FACT: Aside from Lex Luthor, General Zod is likely one of the best known Superman villains. However, the show could not get rights to the character. Instead, they created a nearly identical character named Lord Nor who, alongside a group of Kryptonians, attempts to take over Earth in season 4.

Many times these villains would be B-lister guest stars, or people who made their name in other sci-fi/fantasy television shows or movies. You had Bruce Campbell playing Bill Church Jr., the leader of the nefarious organization Intergang. You had “Star Trek: Next Gen” alums Denise Crosby and Jonathan Frakes playing Lex Luthor’s ex-wife and a wealthy megalomaniac, respectively. Even people who had shows on ABC at the time would make tongue in cheek guest appearances, as was the case with Drew Carey from “The Drew Carey Show” when he played a realtor who accidentally summoned the ghost of a murder victim. Kathy Kinney, who played Drew’s nemesis Mimi on “The Drew Carey Show,” was the ghost, naturally. The villain-of-the-week became the name of the game format of the show, and the more scenery they could chew, the better.

Luthor did return a handful of times for a couple of small arcs (reanimation for the win!) But even he wasn’t unaffected by the new “the bigger the better” bottom line for how villains were portrayed. He went from a suave and chill super-villain with a bank account to a crazed science experiment gone mad with dreams of revenge and reconnecting with his lost love, Lois Lane.

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The new and not so improved Lex. (source)

Shea played both versions well, but it’s safe to say that he was more fun when he was tangling with Superman with an ice cold demeanor, unphased by most things that the Man of Steel could throw at him.

The upside to this carousel approach to villains is that the show really is, at its heart, about Lois Lane and Clark Kent figuring out their relationship, and Clark figuring out how to function both as himself and as Superman. So ultimately, it’s just as well that the villains, Luthor aside, never stuck around too long. The prolonged angst of dark and demented nemeses wouldn’t fit the tone of the show at all. The villains serve their purpose, but at the end of the episodes they are, usually, vanquished, and the status quo is returned for Lois and Clark.

Favorite Episodes

Kate:

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Look how thrilled she is to be working with him.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that my favorite episodes come from the first season, as that was the season that was more grounded in subtleties. I love “Pilot,” as I feel that it perfectly establishes every single one of the characters as the show is writing them. Clark Kent comes to the Daily Planet looking for a job and looking for a normal life, but by the end of the episode he’s taken on the Superman role in hopes of helping others. Lois has the perfect introduction in this, just coming off an undercover case that she has totally nailed. She is ambitious and snide, but clearly has a very good heart along with a good head on her shoulders. Her disdain for boy-scout Clark Kent as her new partner (a partner she does not want nor think she needs) is hilarious. Plus Dean Cain just embodies the persona of Clark Kent with his ‘aw shucks’ demeanor. And an MVP award has to go to Lane Smith, who is the best damn Perry White ever with his blustery attitude and ‘God I hate/love my staff so much’ demeanor. He takes a chance on Clark, but doesn’t let him off easy either. That’s the Perry I know and love.

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Lex wishing he’d just gone to the opera without Lois. (source)

I also have to give a shout out to the episode “Fly Hard,” the nineteenth episode of Season 1. In this one Clark, Perry, Lois, Jimmy, and Lex Luthor are being held hostage at the Planet by a group that is trying to find a large amount of money hidden in the building. This one I really like because it has a good amount of suspense, a very funny scene involving Cat being completely oblivious about her co-workers being held hostage, and one of the best pick up lines that Lex Luthor has given in the history of Lex Luthor pick up lines (“[Money] can’t buy brown eyes.” I’m sorry, I’m kind of a Lois/Lex shipper on this show because of how good Shea is when he’s on screen with Teri Hatcher). “Fly Hard” sticks out in my mind very prominently.

Serena: 

I definitely agree with Kate’s picks and would have listed them as well! For my picks, I’m going to highlight an episode from Season 2 and Season 3.

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Model citizens, these two! (source)

For Season 2, one of my favorite episodes has always been number 7 “That Old Gang of Mine.” It also perfectly illustrates the more nonsensical villains that were introduced in this season by featuring a mad scientist who, after discovering that he knows how to raise people from the dead, decides that the best way to impress people with this power is to bring back famous criminals such as John Dillinger and Al Capone. What is this plan?!? Anyways, Lois and Clark investigate, but while undercover, Clark gets shot. Of course, Clark, not being Superman, must “die.” This episode was a real turning point for Lois’s character with the realization of how deeply she depends on Clark’s friendship. Clark, too, also realizes how important his life in Metropolis is (Clark’s history before the timeline of the show involved him globe-trotting and never laying down roots due to his lack of a secret identity and inability to not help when he sees something going wrong). Their reunion is also very cute!

The second episode that I always love rewatching is in season 3 episode 13 “Tempus, Anyone?” Aside from Lex Luthor, Tempus is the second most-used villain in the show, appearing in 3 out of the 4 seasons. A time traveler from the future, Tempus for some reason doesn’t like good things and wants to prevent the utopian future that was created due to the actions of Lois/Clark/Superman, so whenever he shows up, time tomfoolery is sure to happen! His appearance in season 3 is his second attempt at disruption when he whisks Lois away to a parallel universe where things are very different. In that universe, Lois died years before meeting Clark. More so than almost any other episode, this is a “Lois episode,” not only featuring her as the well and true heroine of the story, but also highlighting how crucial her presence is to those around her, most importantly, to Clark.

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Also, Tempus has some of the funniest lines in the whole show! (source)

So, there you go! A very long winded “brief” history of our love for the 90s classic “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.” Are there any older tv shows that you consider lost gems? Let us know in the comments below!

(Many sources of information in this post come from the Wikipedia page on “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” and the references that can be found at the bottom of it.)

Kate’s Review: “Secret Six (Vol.4): Cat’s in the Cradle”

8616116Book: “Secret Six (Vol.4): Cat’s in the Cradle” by Gail Simone, Jim Calafiore (Ill.), R.B. Silva (Ill.), and Alexandre Palamaro (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, January 2011

Where Did I Get This Book: The Library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Gail Simone’s fan-favorite team of rogues and bad guys returns in an all-new collection that pits one team member against the whole group.This volume finds Thomas Blake – a.k.a. Catman – heading to Africa to find the three men who kidnapped his long lost son. Catman leaves a trail of destruction in his wake that threatens to destroy the Secret Six once and for all.

Review: As I am sure it was clear in my previous review of the series “Secret Six”, I was worried that the story was starting to become stagnant and repetitive. I knew that I still liked it enough to keep going, but I was starting to fret that things weren’t going keep my interest. But when I picked up “Cat’s in the Cradle”, I was immediately pulled back into the story, because the focus was, very clearly, going to be on Catman.

The thing about Catman is that of the entire group, he is the one who is the most morally ambiguous. He has been labeled a villain, and tries to wear that label with pride, but there is something in him that makes him tread towards goodness at times. We finally got some more insight into his past, and why he is the way he is. Spoilers: it’s absolutely heartbreaking. Along with being a story about underdogs and misfits, “Cats in the Cradle” explores the story of fathers and sons. The title alone, clearly taken from Harry Chapin’s song about a father and son relationship that is beyond broken, let’s you know what is in store. Catman finds out that his son with Cheshire has been kidnapped, and while he goes looking for the baby, he thinks about his own relationship with his father, who was abusive and violent.

I liked that Catman didn’t all of a sudden become a no fault hero in his son’s time of need. In fact, he was actually willing to sacrifice his son for his team, and then take bloody awful revenge later (perhaps it’s more fair to say he gambled with the baby’s life, as he was almost totally convinced that the kidnappers would balk). It was nice to see that in a moment where betrayal seemed inevitable, Simone made Catman find another way. I also liked seeing his past, and seeing just why it is that he’s so afraid of being a Dad, and knows that he can’t really be one because of the choices he’s made. I got very misty-eyed at the end. Okay fine, I cried.

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Accurate portrayal. (source)

It was also nice to see that while the team split up because of Catman’s decision (with Bane and Jeanette leaving the group), there weren’t any hard feelings between anyone. I was thinking that when the team split there would be a whole lot of drama, and yet they seem to be perfectly amicable and understanding. It was a nice choice, and not the obvious one.

And this volume marked the return of the funny and unique side stories! The first one involved the Six as prey in a ‘most dangerous game’-like situation, where a compound of wealthy men with Presidential aliases think that they can hunt the Six and live to tell about it….. I’m sure you can guess how well that goes. The other story was an alternate universe story of the Six, which took place in the Old West. It had some steamy scenes with Jeanette and Deadshot (yes please!) and some cute and fun moments with Ragdoll as a puppeteer. But then…. Well, it ended very dark. And I’m very worried that the ending is a hint as to what is to come in the last two volumes. It served as a reminder that these guys aren’t heroes, they’re villains. And villains aren’t known for winning in stories like this…

I am very pleased that the Six are going strong. I can’t wait to dig into Volume 5, “The Reptile Brain”. If they can keep up the momentum, I feel like this series is going to stick the landing. We can only hope.

Rating 8: The Secret Six are back on track, with new character development and some very dark themes. But the humor and the heart is always present.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Secret Six (Vol.4): Cat’s in the Cradle” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Diverse Heroes in Graphic Novels/Comic Books”, and “Swancon 2013 Reading List”.

Find “Secret Six (Vol.4): Cat’s in the Cradle” at your library using Worldcat!

Previous reviews of “Secret Six”: “Villains United”,  “Unhinged“, “Depths”, “Danse Macabre”.

 

Kate’s Review: “Paper Girls, 1”

28204534Book: “Paper Girls, 1” by Brian Vaughan, Cliff Chiang (Ill.), Matthew Wilson (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Image Comics, April 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this smash-hit series about nostalgia, first jobs, and the last days of childhood.

Review: Though my book club, and other people in my life like my sister, swear by the series “Saga” by Brian K. Vaughan, I haven’t picked it up and am not really in much of a hurry to do so either. I know that Serena is probably side eying this review right now. Sorry, girl. That said, I have read Vaughan’s other really huge series, “Y the Last Man”, and that one I really enjoyed. I think that the difference is that “Saga” is big Space Opera sci-fi, while “Y the Last Man” is post apocalyptic, and of the sci-fi subgroups I much prefer the latter. So I don’t really know why I was surprised when I picked up “Paper Girls, 1” and it was another science fiction story. But “Paper Girls” fell in the middle of those two subgroups, and at it’s heart is more a coming of age, bildungsroman-esque story.

To give a bit more of a summary: The morning after Halloween in 1988, Erin the paper girl begins her route, joining up with other neighborhood paper girls Mac, KJ, and Tiffany in hopes of steering clear from the local bullies. But when their walkie-talkie is stolen by some mysterious guys in robes, they stumble upon a strange craft in the basement of a local house. Then people start disappearing, and more strange creatures appear. So the Paper Girls get pulled into a strange, end of world-like situation. While it may sound kind of simple, the way that Vaughan tells it is very real and very engrossing. Though I felt that KJ and Tiff wren’t given much to do thus far, Erin and Mac really shine, being portrayed as very three dimensional girls with complex, and in Mac’s case, difficult, backgrounds. Mac, the cigarette smoking tough girl, is pretty much Bender from “The Breakfast Club”, and Vaughan isn’t afraid to make her at times very unlikable (I was rather shocked by her entrance, as she calls one of the neighborhood bullies a ‘faggot’ and ‘AIDS-patient’. I realize that in 1988 it was Reagan’s America and there was a lot of scorn directed at the GLBT community, but realistic or not, it set my teeth on edge right out he gate). Erin is far gentler than Mac is, but that doesn’t make her any less fascinating or fascinating. She’s by far had the most exploration of their situation, and given the cliffhanger that we were left on in this volume it’s pretty clear that this is, ultimately, her story. And I’m one hundred percent okay with that. Hopefully Tiff and KJ will be given more to do as the series goes on, though the little snippets we got of them were fine and enjoyable.

I suppose that I should say that I was sort of disappointed that this is as sci-fi as it is. I guess when I read the descriptions I found online I was thinking it would be more “Blue Velvet” or “Twin Peaks”, but it is what it is and I did like the sci-fi elements for what they were. I highly enjoy the alien beings (if that is indeed what they are) and their kind of tenuous grasp on the English language. I also liked how there were symbols for dialogue for a few of the characters when they were conversing amongst themselves, and that the read has to figure out what is going on based on the visual cues that are being presented. This sort of device works VERY well in graphic novel form, as one can imagine, and given the prevalence both in and out of story, I want to learn more about these glyphs.

I also want to give a shout out to the gorgeous artwork in this comic. Cliff Chiang has done some other artwork for DC over the years, his most well known probably being some “Wonder Woman” for the New 52, which was incidentally one of the only things I LIKED about the new Wonder Woman arc. It looks simple at first glance, but the more you look at it, the more details you see. I think that he’s really making the characters and the story pop, and it’s a good match for the writing and story that Vaughan has given us. The cover alone just looks like an 80’s electric color bubblegum dream.

“Paper Girls, 1” has me hooked, and I’m sorry that I can’t just binge my way through it like I did “Y: The Last Man”. Fans of Vaughan’s work need to check this newest series out.

Rating 8: A fun sci-fi comic with some good characterizations. Some of the paper girls need to be explored more, but they are off to a good start. Plus the art is very funky and leaps off the page.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Paper Girls, 1” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Great Graphic Novels (Released in ) 2016”, and “Cover Buys”.

Find “Paper Girls, 1” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

X-Men: Days of Future PastWe are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last year and a half. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Books with Movie Adaptations.” 

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub! 

Book: “X-Men: Days of Future Past” by Chris Claremont and John Bryne

Publishing Info: Marvel, 1981

Where Did We Get This Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Relive the legendary first journey into the dystopian future of 2013 where Sentinels stalk the Earth and the X-Men are humanity’s only hope… until they die! Also featuring the first apperance of Alpha Flight, the return of the Wendigo, the history of Cyclops… and a demon for Christmas!?

Serena’s Thoughts:

I have a bizarrely expansive knowledge of the X-Men and a very limited list of actual comic stories that I have read featuring them. I’ve always loved the X-Men and I have strong preferences for certain characters and a fairly thorough knowledge of its history, but when it came to actually sitting down and reading them? Not so much. That made this month’s book club pick, courtesy of book club friend and fellow librarian, Alicia, a great opportunity for me to delve into the actual comics themselves.

As per the world of comics, the actual collection we read was an assortment of different issues that were combined in such a way as to provide background and further character insight into the cast most heavily featured in the prominent story line, the titular “Days of Future Past.” This being the case, a few of the actual separate issue stories were rather hit and miss for me. While I understand why they were all included, there were times in the first half of the story where I was skimming through a lot of exposition about who/what/where things are in the world of the X-Men at this specific point in time. So, too, we take a bizarre trip up to Canada at one point and fight a Wendigo?? Again, with some thought, it becomes clear why these issues were chosen, specifically the ones that introduce Kitty Pryde, but they were also a bit off putting in their disconnection to each other. I enjoyed them all, but I was very excited by the time we got to the main story arc.

“Days of Future Past” was definitely the highlight of the collection, which is only fitting. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, particularly the fact that Kitty Pryde was our protagonist. While many comics (and comic movies as this very one proves) heavily feature male heroes, it was a breath of fresh air to see this story unfold under the guidance of a young, female character. Further, at this point in time, Storm is leading the X-Men and Mystique is heading up the “Group of Evil Mutants” (yes, the villains’ team name is something stupid like that). So, woman power all around!

Storm has always been one of my favorite characters, so it was fun reading about her in this role. While she questioned her abilities in comparison to Cyclops one too many times for my liking, she did give Wolverine a lovely smackdown later on which fully made up for it. Mystique, on the other hand, is decidedly more interesting in the movie version than in the comic. This largely comes down to the fact that the movies have re-worked Mystique’s whole backstory and Jennifer Lawrence is awesome at anything she does. In the comic story, however, she does very little other than stand in the background saying things like “I’ll get you, my pretties” and then running off at the end shouting “Never mind, I meant I’ll get you next time!”

All in all, I very much enjoyed finally sitting down and reading this comic book. The art was colorful and fun and definitely felt like a trip back in time, considering when it was published and the styling used at that point. I would definitely recommend it for anyone interested in X-Men comics or for those wanting to know the basis for the movie.

Kate’s Thoughts:

Like Serena, I have a pretty good working knowledge of The X-Men universe and many of its idiosyncrasies. I haven’t read many of the comics, but I’ve seen most of the movies and I’ve read a lot about the characters and how they connect to each other. So going into “Days of Future Past,” I was familiar with all of the characters and what makes them unique. But actually reading an X-Men comic is kind of a new thing for me! I was very stoked when Alicia picked it for book club, and was totally engrossed by it once I opened it up.

I definitely think that the main arc of this story, the “Days of Future Past” arc, was the strongest of the collection, though there were others included as well. I think that my favorite one outside of the main arc was the one about Nightcrawler’s Birthday party and then his descent into Hell, mostly because I love Nightcrawler as a character. But also because book club pointed out the ridiculous pile of presents that he gets, including a glamour shot of Wolverine?

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We couldn’t agree if it was a egotistical gift from Wolverine, or if Nightcrawler asked Storm to get him a picture of Wolverine. Either option is perfect.

I also want to mention that the Canadian Wendigo looked more like a Yeti. I understand that this collection chose these comics to help bolster the characters that we focused on (specifically Kitty) or to give context, but I wasn’t used to having the lack of linear storytelling that many comics collections have now. This distracted me quite a bit, sadly, and made it hard for me to get on board fully until we got to the main event.

So let’s get back to “Days of Future Past.” Much like the movie, it’s about the X-Men trying to prevent a dystopic future by going into the past and stopping one bad moment from happening (specifically the assassination of a Senator which bolstered anti-mutant sentiments), which in turn led to large mechanical Sentinals to be created to kill mutants, and anyone with super powers (goodbye, Avengers, it was nice knowing you). The thing that I liked best about this storyline was the fabulous and amazing Kitty Pryde. I was shocked when I read this and it was HER, and not Wolverine, to go back in time and try to save the future. I loved seeing a teenage girl get the hero spotlight in this story, and really this entire collection. Kitty Pryde was given so much to do, which was a breath of fresh air. Storm was also given the spotlight to shine in, as the leader of the X-Men at this point in time. While she had her moments of self-doubt, I liked that she was supremely badass throughout the stories that we saw her in, while still being portrayed as a relatable and genuinely cool person. I do think that it was a shame that they felt a need for her self doubt to be manifested in ‘Boy, I sure wish that Cyclops was here because HE would know what to do.’ Not because I don’t want Storm to have humanizing moments, but because I didn’t really care for it being like ‘a white dude could do this better.’ Luckily, she showed herself to be very powerful and a great leader, so I will give it a pass.

I was sad to see that Mystique had such a small, two dimensional role. I know that it’s mostly the movies that gave Mystique more to do, but she has always been my favorite character in the X-Men universe, so seeing her reduced to a “I would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for you meddling mutants!” caricature was hard for me. I like my Raven conflicted and filled with angst. I did, however, like that little exchange between her and Nightcrawler, given their actual connection in the mythology (and if they do it in the new X-Men movie “Apocalypse” I will be so happy).

Serena’s Rating 7: Very good, though some of the issues that were chosen to support the main story weren’t my favorite.

Kate’s Rating 7: Highly enjoyable, but the two dimensional aspect of the villains were frustrating while the additional storylines sometimes felt out of place.

Book Club Notes and Questions:

We’re still going strong with the Movie theme in our book club at the moment, so we watched the 2014 film “X-Men: Days of Future Past”. This was a strong second outing for the prequel X-Men cast featuring Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, and Michael Fassbender. And as you can’t have an X-Men movie nowadays without Hugh Jackman, the biggest change to the story line was swapping out Kitty Pride for Wolverine. This switch was heavily discussed at book club, and while we all understood the reason for the change in the movie landscape (how can you NOT use Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine every chance you get??), we also mourned the loss of a strong, young, female protagonist as the story’s lead. Peter Dinklage is also a fun addition, and people are still talking about the amazing Quicksilver scene.

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The game already happened, and it didn’t end well for you, “Age of Ultron” Quicksilver! (source)

1. How do the other issues included in this collection add to the primary storyline? Did you enjoy any one particularly and why? Was there one that could have been left out?

2. Did you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?

3. How did you feel about the character of Mystique in this story? How did she compare to how you think of Mystique as she has been in the film universe, or in more recent comics?

4. There are significant character/storyline changes between the movie and the comic. Which of these changes did you appreciate and which would you have changed?

5.  How did the swap from Kitty Pryde to Wolverine affect the story? Which did you prefer? What additions or detractions did each character’s perspective bring to their version?

Reader’s Advisory:

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is included on these Goodreads lists: “The Best of Kitty Pryde”, and “Essential X-Men”.

Find “X-Men: Days of Future Past” at your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “Secret Six (Vol. 3): Danse Macabre”

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Book: “Secret Six (Vol. 3): Danse Macabre” by Gail Simone, John Ostrander, Jim Califiore (Ill.), Peter Nguyen (Ill.), and Doug Hazlewood (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, December 2010

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: John Ostrander, the co-creator of the SUICIDE SQUAD, teams with fan-favorite writer Gail Simone for this epic team-up between the SECRET SIX and the SUICIDE SQUAD. Amanda Waller and her Suicide Squad capture Deadshot to try to force him to rejoin their ranks, but his current teammates in the Secret Six don’t see that happening any time soon. As the two groups begin to go toe-to-toe, the Black Lanterns show up and force the teams to join forces and put aside their differences in order to defeat the heroes and villains that have risen from the dead.

Review: One of my bigger apprehensions about getting into a long series or comic arc is that the story lines will start to lose their sustainability. Sadly, this has started to happen for me and the Secret Six. The good news is that it is still a very strong comic, and I’m hoping that it just had a little hiccup. But I want to talk positives first. It was really neat to see Amanda Waller show up in this arc. For those who may not know (but many of you may know by summer’s end), Amanda Waller is a decidedly shaded grey character from the DC universe who is also in charge of The Suicide Squad. Since Deadshot has done time with them as well, she comes into the storyline in hopes of poaching him back. Of course, his current teammates have opinions on this, and they are not going to let him go without a fight (even if there is some infighting going on amongst the Six as well, what with Bane the self appointed new leader and replacing Scandal with Black Alice).

While it was fun seeing a cameo from The Suicide Squad (specifically Waller, a badass boss who knows what she wants and is super awesome), there was another cameo of sorts that, when combined with the OTHER cameo, made this story less about the Six and more about the DC Universe as a whole at the time of it’s writing. That is The Blackest Night arc, in which Black Lanterns (not Green nor Red) arrive on the scene and start resurrecting the dead, a huge problem when faced with a bunch of dead antagonists. I know this was one of those large spanning plots that DC likes to do from time to time, but seeing as I am not familiar with Green Lantern and his mythos, nor have I read Blackest Night in any form, I found myself more irritated that Secret Six got pulled into this whole thing than excited about the crossover. Maybe if I knew more about the Black Lanterns things would be different. But I’m not convinced.

I am also very done with the unnecessary drama of betrayal and mistrust. Can we go one arc without The Six having issues with each other in one form or another? I am legitimately frustrated that Bane and Scandal are on the outs as of now, because I just want this group to have a good dynamic. I do believe that villains can, in fact, have good partnerships, and if they were able to have good partnerships it would make these already very interesting and rewarding characters all the more interesting and rewarding. Instead we get a group of people who, yes, thus far have come together in dark times and crisis. But I feel like it’s building up for a break in the team, and I don’t want that because 1) it’s kind of an obvious drama play, and 2) I just want them all happy and cooperative, okay? There also wasn’t really a funny little side moment in this one, as the standalone story was about Deadshot and how bitter he is. Not a lot of belly laughs in that one, guys. And that was a serious detriment to the collection. I’m hoping that isn’t a sign of what is to come in the last three volumes…

I remain mostly optimistic about the Six, as we are getting back to the base plot and we may be seeing more of Amanda Waller along with our misfits. As of this writing I am still waiting for Volume 4 from the library, so there may be a gap before I can continue the adventures. Here’s hoping for more Jeanette, more Catman, and more unity!

Rating 6: While there is still strength and creativity, sidetracks to Blackest Night and some repetitive storytelling made this the weakest volume in the series thus far.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Secret Six (Vol. 3): Danse Macabre” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Graphic Novels for Adults and Young Adults” and “Diverse Heroes in Comics/Graphic Novels”

Find “Secret Six (Vol. 3): Danse Macabre” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous Reviews of “Secret Six”: “Villains United”,  “Unhinged“, “Depths”