Kate’s Review: “Aquicorn Cove”

36482829Book: “Aquicorn Cove” by Katie O’Neill

Publishing Info: Oni Press, October 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: When Lana and her father return to their seaside hometown to help clear the debris of a storm, the last thing she expects is to discover a colony of Aquicorns—magical seahorse-like residents of the coral reef. As she explores the damaged town and the fabled undersea palace, Lana learns that while she cannot always count on adults to be the guardians she needs, she herself is capable of finding the strength to protect both the ocean, and her own happiness.

Review: When I saw that Katie O’Neill had another graphic novel coming out, I knew, I KNEW, that I had to read it. I loved “The Tea Dragon Society” so very much, and gentle and vibrant cuteness was something that I was needing after a stressful couple of weeks. While aquatic mythical creatures may not catch my attention as much as dragons do (unless it’s a sea serpent, as those are basically water dragons if we’re being honest), the cover alone had me screeching with joy. A girl riding some kind of weird water unicorn Pegasus thing?!

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The contrast of this with the horror graphics on my stack was striking. (source)

But the thing that I noticed about “Aquicorn Cove” from the get go is that there is a far more bittersweet undercurrent running through this story than there was with “The Tea Dragon Society”. While the imagery is just as cute and serene as the imagery in that book, the premise here is a bit darker. Lana is a girl whose mother was killed during a violent ocean storm, and that is why she and her father left their hometown in the first place. They are coming back to visit her maternal Aunt Mae as well as clean up the wreckage after another bad storm. Lana has a genuine connection to the ocean like Mae and her mother did, even though being back is painful for her and her father. When she finds an injured baby aquicorn she wants to nurse back to health, her love of the ocean has a tangible element it can attach to. Mae, too, has a connection to the sea, given that she is a fisherwoman and she makes her living because of it, but there is always going to be the painful reminder that the thing she loves took her sister away. They are both coping with the trauma of the loss, but they cope in different ways.

The Aquicorn society that Mae and Lana interact with has it’s own issues that it brings to the story. Aure, the head of the community, has struck up a long time friendship with Mae, as they have helped each other in various ways. Mae has taken objects and products from Aquicorn Cove and has helped her own community thrive. But the give and take relationship has started to crumble, as Aure thinks that the cost for her community has started to become far too great. O’Neill has found a relatable and easy way to show kids the importance of giving back to the environment, and while you understand Mae’s need and want to keep her community alive, you see the cost it has to Aure’s and the reef. There was one panel that is especially relevant where, when pushed back on by Aure, Mae says that her community shouldn’t have to change it’s ways because ‘this is how it’s always been’, and THAT struck a chord. Mae is never presented as a bad person, per se, just someone who is unable to see the consequences that her actions have for others.

The other big theme in this story is the importance of ocean conservation, and how it can be a matter of life and death not only for sea creatures, but for the human communities that live on the seashore. Aquicorn Cove’s reef is sick and starting to die, and without the protection of the reef that can help buffer the strength of ocean storms, the severity on land is becoming more and more devastating. Climate change scientists postulate that storms will become worse and worse as time goes on, and with more of these natural buffers dying off or disappearing the costs and the losses will be higher. At the end of the book O’Neill listed a number of ocean conservation resources, as well as information for the readers on what they can do to help restore the tenuous ecosystems. What I liked about this section was that it was easy to understand for kids, and while O’Neill did simplify it she never made it seem like she was talking down to her readers. She really hits home that we may feel like in our smallness we can’t make a difference, but how we can connect to our community, which can connect to other communities, and how that can help amplify our voices for change. The message was loud and clear, and I really liked it.

And yes, let’s look at how sweet the drawings are.

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EEEEE!!! (Source: Oni Press)
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It’s just so charming. (source: Oni Press)

The gentle design and all around charming style made the art pop and had me smiling from ear to ear.

“Aquicorn Cove” is another lovely graphic novel by Katie O’Neill, and with it’s important messages and themes it stands out from the crowd.

Rating 7: A cute graphic novel with a resonant message, “Aquicorn Cove” is a sweet story that brings out cute sea creatures and talks about the importance of our oceans.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Aquicorn Cove” is included on the Goodreads lists “Tween Graphic Novels”, and “Comics and Graphic Novels by Women”.

Find “Aquicorn Cove” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Infidel”

38812871Book: “Infidel” by Pornsak Pichetshote and Aaron Campbell (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Image Comics, September 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: A haunted house story for the 21st century, INFIDEL follows an American Muslim woman and her multi-racial neighbors who move into a building haunted by entities that feed off xenophobia.

Bestselling editor Pornsak Pichetshote (Swamp Thing, Daytripper, The Unwritten) makes his comics writing debut alongside artist extraordinaire Aaron Campbell (The Shadow, James Bond: Felix Leiter), award-winning colorist and editor Jose Villarubia (Batman: Year 100, Spider-Man: Reign), and letterer / designer Jeff Powell (SCALES & SCOUNDRELS).

Review: Even though horror has almost always had stories with some kind of hidden themes within their works, I feel like as a genre people are starting to really realize the possibilities of metaphor for greater ills beyond a monster or a ghost. With books like “Lovecraft Country” and movies like “Get Out”, we are starting to see more expansion and room for not only POC characters, but also critiques of racism within our culture and society. “Infidel” by Pornsak Pichetshote is the most recent story of this kind that I have come across, and I can tell you that I was waiting very impatiently for my hold on it to be filled at my library. Given that NPR listed it on their ‘100 Greatest Horror Stories of All Time’ selection, my enthusiasm and anticipation was greater than most other books I request. It was also a lofty claim to make, and while I was open to the claim I wondered how much my own final opinion of it would line up with it.

Our story follows Aisha, a Muslim American woman who has recently moved into an apartment building with a tragedy attached to it. A few years before, a Middle Eastern man’s homemade bombs went off, killing a number of the tenants. Aisha and her friends, most of whom come from non-white backgrounds, are aware of the history, and aware of how the white tenants aren’t as welcoming to them as they are to non POCs. What Aisha and her friends don’t know is that the building is haunted by a very angry and aggressive set of ghosts. It’s Aisha that first sees the twisted and violent entities that haunt the complex, their rage focusing on her. The visual manifestations of these things are truly horrific, as they are warped and filled with rage and able to cause serious physical harm. Much like “Lovecraft Country”, racism and bigotry is the true villain of this book, with the ghosts targeting Aisha because of her Muslim faith and their association that gives them to the man whose bombs were their demise. Aisha isn’t the only one who has nasty encounters with the ghosts, as their ire holds a lot of the other characters hostage and puts them at risk as well. It starts slowly for all of them, noticing it bit by bit and making them wonder if they ACTUALLY saw something, or if it’s just a figment of their imaginations, a direct metaphor for those who are victims of racism in our day to day lives.

But the other kind of racism that Pichetshote shows in this book isn’t just the over the top obvious kind in ghost form; rather, it’s mostly micro-aggressions and fear based on ignorance and paranoia. Aisha is dating a while man named Tom, who has a daughter named Kris from a previous relationship. Kris’s mother is dead, and Kris is very connected to Aisha. Tom’s mother Leslie has just started warming up to Aisha and seems to be trying, though in the past she’s shown discomfort and flat out hostility towards Aisha and her culture. Aisha is more inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, though Tom and her childhood best friend Medina are not. There are also other tenants in the buildings who are more mistrustful of Aisha because of her faith. From a neighbor who is convinced she saw Aisha committing a crime (though Aisha herself at this point is a clear victim), to a woman who is actually in Aisha’s circle of friends but still doesn’t trust her fully, it’s these interactions that left me a bit more unsettled than the ghosts that pop out of the walls. These moments are based in realism, and show how people can be influenced by fear and prejudice even if they think they are open minded and accepting.

The artwork is stunning. There is a certain jarring atmosphere that the artist, Aaron Campbell, creates, with lots of vibrant colors and use of shadows. The ghosts within the building are especially grotesque, their distorted features harkening to disease and decay. At one point Medina refers to racism as a cancer, and the entities absolutely reflect that.

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Literal nightmare fuel. (source)

I think that one of the few criticisms I did have about this book was that it ended a little too quickly. I realize that this was very much a mini series, as it was only five issues all together, but for it to build slowly and complexly and then to be wrapped up very fast left me a little feeling unsatisfied. There were a couple of plot points that were tossed out into the fold that sounded like it would take a lot of work to get through, only to be resolved quickly, sometimes off page. Because of this, I did close the book wanting more.

“Infidel” is an effective story with some genuine scares. I highly encourage horror fans to pick it up, but know that it may feel a bit rushed by the end. That said, I am very much looking forward to see what Pornsak Pichetshote brings us next.

Rating 8: A unsettling ghost story that takes on racism and xenophobia in our culture, “Infidel” is a graphic novel with as many real world horrors as supernatural ones.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Infidel” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Horror Comics/Graphic Novels”, and “Against the Fascist Creep”.

Find “Infidel” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Victor LaValle’s Destroyer”

36100937Book: “Victor LaValle’s Destroyer” by Victor LaValle, Dietrich Smith (Ill.)

Publishing Info: BOOM! Studios, March 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The legacy of Frankenstein’s monster collides with the sociopolitical tensions of the present-day United States.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein beseeched his creator for love and companionship, but in 2017, the monster has long discarded any notions of peace or inclusion. He has become the Destroyer, his only goal to eliminate the scourge of humanity from the planet. In this goal, he initially finds a willing partner in Dr. Baker, a descendant of the Frankenstein family who has lost her teenage son after an encounter with the police. While two scientists, Percy and Byron, initially believe they’re brought to protect Dr. Baker from the monster, they soon realize they may have to protect the world from the monster and Dr. Baker’s wrath.

Written by lauded novelist Victor LaValle (The Devil In Silver, The Ballad of Black Tom), Destroyer is a harrowing tale exploring the legacies of love, loss, and vengeance placed firmly in the tense atmosphere and current events of the modern-day United States.

Review: Victor LaValle is an author whom I greatly enjoy, as I don’t think I’ve read one thing by him that underwhelmed me. I really liked his mental institution horror story “The Devil In Silver”, I found “The Ballad of Black Tom” to be a fun deconstruction of a racist Lovecraft tale, and I REALLY liked “The Changeling” and how it made a modern day dark fairy tale out of New York City. So when my friend Tami told me that he had written a graphic novel that decided to take on “Frankenstein”, I absolutely had to read it. It was a long wait at the library, but when “Destroyer” finally came in I sat down and devoured it in one setting. Even if it ran me through the wringer and then some. I guess I never thought about how “Frankenstein” could be combined with present day socio-political themes, and yet LaValle meshed them so well that I was blown away.

The Monster has emerged from the Arctic in modern times, and his former longing of being included and understood has been thrown out the window. He is a beast that is intent on destruction of the human race, as he believes that it has wronged him, as well as everything else around it, and does not deserve to go on. In contrast, we meet a modern day descendent of Victor Frankenstein. Her name is Dr. Baker, and she, too, has her heart set on destroying the society that she has continuously wronged her. For her, though, that is mostly because she lost her son Akai after a witness mistook his little league bat for a gun, and police killed him. Her science experiment has brought Akai back from the dead, though her scientific genius has made him a wonder of modern technology as well as an undead twelve year old. It’s the perfect metaphor for the rage and despair that parents like her have felt over and over again, and her urge to destroy every part of the racist society that destroyed her life. Her rage and plotting is utterly terrifying, but damn does it make sense. I loved Dr. Baker, as you get to see her life before Akai’s death through flashbacks, including her time at a top scientific research organization (that basically fired her when she got pregnant, because heaven forbid a woman in a STEM profession want to start a family). That organization has also stolen her ideas and technology and intends to use it against her, which is another indictment of power structures stealing ideas from groups that it wrongs. LaValle does a very good job of showing how she could go from a bright eyed and enthusiastic young scientist to a revenge intent victim, and while I don’t think he ever makes it seem like her urge to kill everyone in society is correct, he makes you really understand why she’d feel that way.

Dr. Baker a great juxtaposition to The Monster, who has also decided to take a path of destruction because of his grievances. It takes those themes of science gone too far and what makes a monster and applies them to a T. Hell, the other little homages are also on point, like the names of the agents Percy and Byron, named for the two men to whom Mary Shelley first shared her vision of a Modern Prometheus. The Easter eggs are plentiful, and I had a hell of a time finding them. It’s a really fun thought exercise about what The Monster would possibly be like today if it finally left the Arctic, and boy is it bleak. I don’t know if I really like the idea of The Monster being reduced to, well, a monstrous/brainless being, because far too often has Shelley’s vision been misinterpreted from the thinking, and therefore plagued, creature of her intention. But in this case, I think that LaValle does it in a way that would be a potential foregone conclusion, and it does add to the symbolism all the more.

I really enjoyed the art work that Dietrich Smith brought to this story. It felt sufficiently comic book, but it also had bits of depth and darkness and shadow that conveyed various points of tragedy and sadness. I also liked the more abstract design of the cover (done by Micaela Dawn), though the drawing style inside was the design that I preferred. The details from the gore and the violence to the varied facial expressions are very well done.

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(source)

“Destroyer” is a superb reinterpretation of a classic story of horror and tragedy, and LaValle has once again shown his talent and retelling stories with a socially conscious lens that reflects today’s ills. It’s another update of “Frankenstein” that I think Mary Shelley would appreciate.

Rating 8: A dark and biting retelling of “Frankenstein”, “Victor LaValle’s Destroyer” takes a classic story and applies it to modern social justice themes with powerful results.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Victor LaValle’s Destroyer” is included on the Goodreads lists “Frankenstein Revisionist Novels”, and “Black Lives Matter Library Ideas”.

Find “Victor LaValle’s Destroyer” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Bombshells United: War Bonds”

39208018Book: “Bombshells United (Vol.2): War Bonds” by Marguerite Bennett, Stephen Byrne (Ill.), Mirka Andolfo (Ill.), Sia Oum (Ill.), and Sandy Jarrell (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, October 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Years ago, before she became the battling Bombshell known as Batwoman, Kate Kane and Renee Montoya loved and fought together in the Spanish Resistance, and even formed a family with their adopted son Jasón. But their lives were turned upside down, and Kate found a new life and a new love for herself in Gotham City.

Now Kate is back in Spain, working with Renee once again to save the country from a tyrannical ruler…only this time the despot has unstoppable occult powers. His name is Black Adam, and he’s lived for millennia seeking the moment he can gain control of the powers of life and death.

Batwoman, Renee and Black Adam are all defined by whom they’ve loved and lost. But beneath the ancient streets of Madrid, a mystical labyrinth conceals the means to bring life back to the dead: a Lazarus Pit. 

With this incredible power, will Black Adam gain the final piece he needs to crush the entire world under his heel? Or will the dead have their own say in it?

Writer Marguerite Bennett (Batwoman) and artists Mirka Andolfo (Harley Quinn), Siya Oum (Lola XO) and Stephen Byrne (Green Arrow) bring fan-favorite Bombshell Kate Kane back to where she began…but how much will her past define her future? Collects Bombshells: United #7-12.

Review: I’m feeling a bit morose that this is going to be the second to last “Bombshells” story collection for the foreseeable future. I’ve moved on from being angry to depressed when it comes to this series being cancelled, and I’m thinking that I’m moving closer and closer to acceptance. There are a couple of reasons for this acceptance that are more on the unfortunate side, but more on that in a little bit. Because at the end of the day I still think that it is a damn travesty that DC cancelled this title just because of how unique it is and how it covers a vast swath of characters who come from diverse backgrounds and give diverse voices to the stories they are telling. And now it sounds like I’m reverting back towards anger, so before that happens let’s get to the nitty gritty of what worked, and what didn’t, in “Bombshells United: War Bonds”.

It’s been a little while, but we once again have caught up with Kate Kane and Renée Montoya, aka Batwoman and The Question. They have moved on from their final battle and have ended up back in Spain, where they first met and fell in love. But it’s also where they lost their adopted son Jasón, when mercenary The Cheetah murdered him for the hell of it. The loss is still gaping, and while Kate and Renée have found each other again the pain lingers. I liked that we got to see their grief in this way, as something that will always be with them, even if it isn’t as all encompassing as it had been initially. This theme of grief is where the crux of this story comes in, post-Franco Spain,’s new ruler is a whole new tyrant that we know as Black Adam, who is also haunted by a terrible loss from his past. He is looking for a way to resurrect his dead queen Isis, and has heard of a pit with magical powers that can bring people back to life. But it’s Kate and Renée who stumble upon it first, finding this Lazarus pit in the middle of an underground labyrinth. And who else do they find there, but Talia Al Ghul and Cheetah. And Cheetah is there because she has brought Jasón back to life, as she is now driven by guilt and a need for forgiveness and redemption.

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Me as I realized that this kind of plot point seemed VERY familiar… (source)

Okay folks, it’s real talk time. I really, REALLY appreciate that Bennett is trying to think beyond the usual physical and violent conflict resolution that we see in superhero stories, and I understand that it’s a fun way to show that women’s roles and stereotypes of being peacemakers and nurturers can be subverted into something powerful enough to stand up against super villainy. But, for the love of God, this is the fourth time that a nemesis has seen the evil of their ways thanks to spending time with the Bombshells (or in Cheetah’s and Paula Van Gunther’s cases, just kind of needing the conflict resolution to fit an upcoming plot device), and it is getting old. I am all for redemption arcs, and I think that it’s especially important that bad women in fiction get these arcs since it feels like men do when it suits the storyteller. But I want them to be complex and interesting, not just tossed together in a moment because of peace love and understanding. It also makes it so that our cast of villains becomes smaller and smaller, and you instead need to introduce new (albeit familiar) antagonists to stir the pot, like Black Adam. I will admit that I’m not as familiar with him, as Shazam (aka Miri Marvel as she is in this story) was never a title that I got into very much. But even if I had been into him, I feel like introducing a new huge big bad at this point was just another example of fantasy bloat that “Bombshells” is starting to see more of.

That makes it sound like that I didn’t like anything about this turn of events, and that’s not totally true. Like many stories with similar themes that come before it, Kate and Renée will have to contend with the unforeseen consequences of Jasón’s resurrection. Though it isn’t full on zombie Jasón or anything like that, you do get the sense as the story goes on that perhaps things won’t be as happily ever after as Cheetah intended it to be. I also liked that for Kate and Renée, Cheetah’s actions weren’t automatically welcomed with open arms. They didn’t forgive her automatically because of this, and I thought that that was a realistic and refreshing turn of events. It’s one thing of the Batgirls or Wonder Girls  are able to take a former enemy into the fold and show them compassion. But Harvey Dent and Clayface didn’t murder their kids just for the fun of it. I thought that Bennett hit that nail on the head, that atonement doesn’t automatically earn forgiveness.

The art in this collection worked better for me than it did in “Bombshells United: American Soil”, mainly because it didn’t feel as cutesy. There were also nice moments of pondering or waxing poetic on mythology that felt more muted and subdued, and I really took to it. Maybe it helped that during one of these sequences Kate ACTUALLY ACKNOWLEDGED THAT MAGGIE SAWYER IS STILL BACK HOME WAITING FOR HER. In any case, I thought that the design worked well and added a lot to the retro style narrative.

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(source)

As mentioned above, we are only getting one more collection of “Bombshells United” before it’s over. One more. There are so many things that haven’t really been addressed across the other characters, and given that there has been a new explosion of characters I’m worried that the focus is in no way going to be brought back to where it needs to be to have a totally satisfying ending where all loose ends get tied up. And while that is in part certainly the fault of the cancellation (I’m sure that Bennett had lots of really good ideas and paths on how and when she was going to take them on), it’s also in part an example of why exploding character rosters and plot lines can come back and bite you in the butt. As I slide closer to acceptance that this series has ended, I hope that in the next, and final, issue I will walk away with some satisfaction. And that Kate, Diana, Kara, Harley, and all the rest are given their due that they so richly deserve.

Rating 6: There was a lot to like about “Bombshells United: War Bonds”, but repetitive storytelling is starting to take it’s toll.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bombshells United (Vol.2): War Bonds” is not on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Girls Read Comics”, and “Show Me Your Queers”.

Find “Bombshells United (Vol 2): War Bonds” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “Monstress (Vol. 2): The Blood”

33540347Book: “Monstress (Vol. 2): The Blood” by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Image Comics, July 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Maika Halfwolf is on the run from a coalition of forces determined to control or destroy the powerful Monstrum that lives beneath her skin. But Maika still has a mission of her own: to discover the secrets of her late mother, Moriko. 

In this second volume of Monstress, collecting issues 7-12, Maika’s quest takes her to the pirate-controlled city of Thyria and across the sea to the mysterious Isle of Bones. It is a journey that will force Maika to reevaluate her past, present, and future, and contemplate whether there’s anyone, or anything, she can truly trust–including her own body.

Review: A popular definition of ‘insanity’ is repeating the same behaviors and expecting a different outcome each time. In this regard, I can call myself ‘insane’, because even though I wasn’t totally taken in by “Monstress” in it’s first volume, I went into “Monstress (Vol. 2): The Blood” thinking that perhaps this time something would be different. I really want to like this series, because it has so many features that draw me in: the art is beautiful; the world is dark and foreboding; two of the main characters are a Fox/human child and a necromancing CAT! Plus, monsters. Like, a seriously CREEPY monster. And yet, the joy that others get from “Monstress” continues to elude me.

I will start with the positives of this volume of Maika’s journey. Marjorie Liu has certainly made a creative world that her characters roam in. It continues to be complex and intricate, and it just keeps expanding. This time we get to spend time with a band of pirate Arcanics (those that are part human and part Ancient, and tend to have Animal characteristics), and on a mysterious Island of Bones where an Ancient creature named Blood-Fox resides. Maika is desperate to get answers about her mother, and perhaps figure out how to get rid of the Monster that’s living inside of her. All the while she’s being pursued by the Dawn Court’s Warlord, a military leader who also happens to be Maika’s Aunt. Ultimately, “Blood” isn’t really about the blood of battle, but the blood that runs in our veins and whom it connects us to. I liked seeing Maika try to find out some answers, and I liked that both Maika AND the Monster inside of her have to confront truths about their pasts that make them both uncomfortable. I also still have a great affection for Maika’s sidekicks, the sweet and adorable Kippa, and the sarcastic and somewhat mysterious necromancing cat Ren. As these three continue to travel together, they become more connected to each other, and they all balance each other out.

The art also continues to be gorgeous. There is less time in urban settings in this volume, in favor of taking it to the high seas and to a creepy as all get out island, which means there’s a bit less Art Deco influence. But Takeda’s style remains intricate and sumptuous, and I found my breath taken away a number of times as I turned the pages. The style for her characters also feels so unique, as all of the characters are stark contrasts from each other in their designs. I was especially impressed with the ghostly imagery that’s found on and near the Isle of Bones, as the ghosts are both ethereal but very present.

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(source)

But, like with the first volume, “Monstress: The Blood” still hasn’t made me fall head over heels for this series. I like the characters and the art, but the high fantasy aspects have not worked for me, and I found myself not as interested in it as I had hoped I would be. As the world continued to expand, I wanted more focus on the witches we’d seen in the previous volume. I’m connected to Maika as a character, but I’m not really invested in her story, which is hard for me to wrap my head around. Ultimately, it just comes back to my tastes about high fantasy, and how limited they are. That isn’t “Monstress”‘s fault.

And yes, I’m going to keep going. Even though I have been kind of left cold by the first and second volumes of this series, I REALLY want to like it, and I think that there are shades within these two volumes that make me think that I still can. So I’ve put Volume Three on my request list. And maybe next time I will have a more positive review to give. For now, know that my opinions of “Monstress (Vol. 2): The Blood” probably don’t and shouldn’t reflect the merits and positives of this series. So, like I said in my previous review, if you like high fantasy that has a bit of a darkness to it, you should absolutely check this series out. It will probably work for you better than it does for me.

Rating 6: Once again, I’m blown away by the amazing artwork, and I have a fondness for a few of the characters. But the high fantasy setting still isn’t gelling with me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Monstress (Vol. 2): The Blood” is included on the Goodreads lists “Girls Read Comics”, and “SFF Written by WOC and Non-Binary People of Color”.

Find “Monstress (Vol. 2): The Blood” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review (and Mini Brief History): “Aliens: The Original Comics Series”

33161041Book: “Aliens: The Original Comics Series” by Mark Verdheim, Den Beauvais (Ill.), Sam Kieth (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Dark Horse Books, April 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: In 1986, James Cameron’s “Aliens” brought to theaters the horrors of a new kind of war against a terrifying enemy. Long before Alien3 was even a glint in director David Fincher’s eye, Dark Horse Comics was already crafting a terrifying post-Aliens continuity for Ripley, Hicks, and Newt. 

Earth is overrun by xenomorphs with no hope of saving it for humanity. But that doesn’t mean just leaving it to the Aliens. Ripley has a plan to capture, from what they believe is the Alien homeworld, a “Queen Mother”–a super queen that rules multiple nests–and bring it back to Earth. There the Queen Mother will command the xenomorphs to gather where they can all be destroyed by nuclear bombs.

Collects Aliens: Nightmare Asylum #1-#4 and Aliens: Earth War #1-#4. Includes cover art for all issues.

Review: Even though Science Fiction isn’t really my preferred genre, if there is an excellent horror theme to it I’m assuredly going to be game. So it most likely isn’t shocking that I love both the movies “Alien” and “Aliens”. Not only does it have a solidly excellent female protagonist (Ellen Ripley for LIFE!), it also has a very scary adversary in the Xenomorph, a creature that is essentially a giant parasitic space bug that you COULD fight, but you have significantly better odds if you just run away. The first two movies in the “Alien” franchise are awesome, and while I love them both my heart probably belongs to “Aliens” the most. Not only does Ripley get to kick more butt, but she picks up a rag tag group of friends along the way, specifically the Colonial Marine Corporal Hicks, the android Bishop, and the orphan Newt, a girl saved from an overrun colony. “Aliens” ends with the Alien Queen vanquished, and Ripley looking forward to taking her life back with her new found family in the wake of the one she lost while drifting in space post “Alien”.

…. And then “Alien 3” happened, and it completely trashed that perfect ending by crashing the ship, killing off Hicks, Newt, and Bishop, and throwing Ripley into a new clusterfuck of a PRISON COLONY SETTING because apparently she doesn’t get ANY breaks whatsoever.

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How I feel about the “Alien” franchise post “Aliens”, if I’m being honest. (source)

What does this have to do with “Aliens: Nightmare Asylum and Earth War” you may ask? More than you’d think. SO, after “Aliens” came out, Dark Horse created two mini series set within the “Alien” universe, focusing on Hicks, Newt, and Ripley a few years after the action in “Aliens”. But when David Fincher’s dark for the sake of dark “Alien 3” came out, Dark Horse decided that it had to be retconned because HEAVEN FOR FUCKING BID THAT HICKS AND NEWT REMAIN ALIVE IN COMIC FORM. So Dark Horse went back and changed the names of Hicks and Newt to Wilkes and Billie, and they were SOMEHOW not Hicks and Newt in spite of the fact they were CLEARLY Hicks and Newt, and re-released the two series with a brand new ‘now agreeing with film continuity!’ seal of approval. Given how “Alien 3” ended and what happened to Ripley, what with her DYING, I don’t understand why the comics decided to change Hicks and Newt to fit THEIR deaths, but let Ripley come back unaffected. But whatever, what do I know? Happily, in 2017 Dark Horse went back and righted this wrong, and both “Nightmare Asylum” and “Earth War” were re-released in a hard cover collection with Hicks and Newt back in tact. And now that this “Short Brief History” has concluded, let’s get to the review.

I’ll start with “Nightmare Asylum”. Ripley wasn’t seen much in this story, but I was surprisingly okay with this because it gave Hicks and Newt some time to shine. Set a fewish years down the line from “Aliens”, Newt is now a young woman, and has been living as a surrogate daughter/sister/friend to Hicks. They have been floating in space, as Earth has been taken over by the Xenomorphs and they escaped by the skin of their teeth (along with an android named Butler with whom Newt has been in a relationship). But unfortunately they run afoul a crazed General named Spears, who has gone full General Kurtz and thinks that he can make an army of Xenomorphs to fight against the Xenomorphs on Earth, namely by torturing and trying to condition an Alien Queen to make her control her brood lest he destroy her eggs. And while Ripley is nowhere to be seen for the most part, I REALLY enjoyed “Nightmare Asylum”, if only because Hicks and Newt (her in particular) had some fantastic story lines and moments of riveting action. Given that I have ALL the love for both Hicks and Newt, I am a-okay with the focus being on the two of them. For Newt it’s because she has taken on the role of the determined and scrappy Ripley character, and it shows how she has gone from scared orphan girl to be saved to an adult who is out to save the world. For Hicks it’s his continued journey of being a tough and competent soldier who is more than happy to let the tough ladies around him take the reins. He had the utmost respect for Ripley and trusted her, and  he has the same respect for Newt. And also, Hicks was played by Michael Biehn, who was foxy as HELL in the role, so yes, my libido has SOME influence over my affinity.

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AM I WRONG?! (source)

But I also REALLY liked the main plot with the crazed General trying to use the Xenomorphs to his own ends. Any “Alien” fan worth their salt is going to know that this is a TERRIBLE idea, but it feels original enough that it could totally fit within the hubris that we see so often in this universe. And with new but familiar protagonists coming in to deal with it it doesn’t feel like just another instance of  ‘Ripley is right AGAIN and why doesn’t anyone listen to her?’. Ripley can be right til the cows come home, but admittedly it would get a bit old. And yes, Ripley DOES show up, right at the end, so it doesn’t feel like she’s been forgotten or thrown to the side. One note I do have, though: I didn’t like that there were so many sexualized drawings of Newt. Sure, she’s an adult in this story arc, but was it REALLY necessary to have multiple shots of her in skimpy underwear and spread legs?

“Earth War” was next, and that one brings Ripley more into the fold. As she, Hicks, and Newt (along with other brave fighters) gather together to try and take Earth back, Ripley also has to contend with her leaving Newt and Hicks behind after “Aliens”. I liked the device that was used in this case, as it doesn’t feel too cheap (like “Alien 3” did, and no I will NOT shut up about how much I hate that movie) and also feels wrenching. To Ripley Newt was sort of seen as a stand in for her daughter, who died while Ripley was in hypersleep out in space, and so it was important to give a GOOD explanation as to why Ripley would have disappeared after “Aliens”. “Earth War” absolutely achieves that. But I think that the reason I found it to be the weaker of the two, in SPITE of Ripley’s presence, is that it feels very rushed. While the smaller story of “Nightmare Asylum” works in four issues, trying to cram a reunion for Ripley and her friends, information as to where she was that whole time, AND a battle to take Earth back from the Xenomorphs in the same number feels VERY rushed. Plus, I think that for me there was a HUGE disconnect from the artwork between the two, and I much preferred Den Beauvais:

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(source)

Versus that of Sam Kieth:

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(source)

I generally like Kieth (I REALLY like his work on “Sandman”), but I didn’t feel like it fit in as well with the content at hand. Which means I was taken out of it a bit more than I would have liked.

All that said. this collection is FINALLY back the way it is supposed to be, and I am SO happy that I finally got to read it. “Aliens: The Original Comics Series” gives “Alien” fans the stories that we’ve always deserved, and it gives Ripley, Hicks, and Newt a lot to do without getting dour or unnecessarily bleak. I greatly enjoyed this series as a whole.

Rating 9: The “Alien” continuation that we deserve to have, “Aliens: The Original Comics Series” is action packed, powerful, and a shining light on favorite characters from the first two movies.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Aliens: The Original Comics Series” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Supernatural (Not Superhero) Comics”.

Find “Aliens: The Original Comics Series” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica”

38369243Book: “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” by Paul Dini, Marc Andreyko, and Laura Braga (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, September 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The bad girls of Gotham meet the good girls of Riverdale!

Hiram Lodge (Veronica’s father) wants to invest in the future by building a university with free tuition for Riverdale’s residents. His site is a protected swamp on the outskirts of town, and once news of the plan reaches Gotham City, a certain eco-warrior (a.k.a. Poison Ivy) is determined to prevent the dream from becoming reality.

However, once Poison Ivy and her bestie Harley Quinn arrive, they get mixed up in the sort of hijinks that can only happen in Riverdale. At a superhero-themed costume party, the night’s entertainment–Zatanna– manages to place the personas of the Gotham City Sirens into the bodies of the town’s notorious frenemies: Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge. While Ivy (in Ronnie’s body) seeks to derail Lodge’s agenda from within, more than a few nefarious forces–from Jason and Cheryl Blossom to the Clown Prince of Crime himself–have their own foul plans.

This groundbreaking miniseries teams up two of fandom’s best-known duos, bringing the ladies of Gotham and Riverdale together for the first time! This madcap mayhem comes courtesy of Paul Dini (Harley Quinn) and Marc Andreyko (Wonder Woman ’77), with art by Laura Braga (DC Comics: Bombshells)! Collects Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica #1-6.

Review: I’ve been a long time fan of “Batman”, as you all are well aware. I also have a very special place in my heart for “Archie” comics, and not just the horror comics that have been so genius as of late. When I was a little girl I loved old school Archie adventures, and really liked following stories involving Betty and Veronica. When I saw that Paul Dini, a writer for “Batman: The Animated Series” AND one of the creators of Harley Quinn, had written a new Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy story with Marc Andreyko, I was already pretty on board. But when I saw that it was a crossover with Archie Comics, and it was ALSO going to star Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge?

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Two of my fandoms hi fiving each other in glee! (source)

Far be it from me to disparage goofy crossovers. As a former fan fiction author I have indulged in a number of crossover stories, some of which make absolutely no sense whatsoever, and I think that amusing and fun is one of the most important elements to do it successfully. But what makes the idea of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy meeting up with Betty and Veronica so excellent is that they are all the epitome of gal pals, in positive and negative ways. While Harley and Ivy are definitely supportive and caring friends to each other, they are morally ambiguous if we are being generous (and if we aren’t they’re straight up criminals). And while Betty and Veronica are pretty normal and functional people, they are best known for their portrayal of being frenemies all because of a boy (who is a total DUD, I might add). So to give these two sets of friends a little wiggle room to explore the depths of where their personalities can go, and therein critique their base portrayals they are pigeonholed into, is kind of genius.

Deriving a plot that is part buddy crime comedy and part “Freaky Friday”, “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” is really just a comedy of errors and some fun fan service for people like me. I don’t know what a Venn Diagram of people who love Harley and Ivy vs people who love Betty and Veronica would look like, but I know that as someone in the overlap I found this to be an entertaining romp. Once the full body switch happened and we got to see Betty and Veronica dealing with the hot mess that is Gotham, and Harley and Ivy letting loose at Riverdale High, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride for what it is. I liked seeing Betty and Veronica completely aghast at Gotham and the ridiculous crime it harbors, just as I liked seeing Ivy and Harley have to contend with Cheryl and Jason Blossom, a whole different kind of enemy than they are used to. There is also something incredibly satisfying about seeing Ivy and Harley have NO interest in Archie WHAT. SO. EVER. The banter and situational comedy the two sets of gal pals get into while in the body swap is entertaining to be certain, and they bring a new zest to some of the tried and true tropes of both fandoms. There are also other fun little shout outs and meet ups for members of the “Batman” and “Archie” fan bases: Sabrina Spellman getting to hang out with Zatanna was a delight, and the idea of Smithers and Alfred Pennyworth being old friends was super sweet.

The art is fun and a nice mix of both worlds. Laura Braga of “Bombshells” art fame is at the helm this time, and she has a style that kind of suits both universes. It’s chic and stylistic, but it also lends itself to superhero situations, or perhaps supervillain situations is a better description.

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(source)

But I think that one of the weaker things about this collection was that it really does read like fan fiction. That isn’t to say that this is inherently a bad thing; like I said, I used to write that stuff and still dabble even if I don’t publish it anymore, and I do like a fun nutty crossover. What I mean by that is that sometimes I felt like plot points happened less because of the plot at hand, and more because Dini and Andreyko thought ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…?’. And that tended to make for a weaker story. I’m thinking mostly about this whole strange subplot with Reggie dressing up as Joker for a party, losing his memory, and then believing that he WAS Joker. I didn’t really understand what this did outside of ‘look, it’s like The Joker is here but he isn’t actually, isn’t that FUNNY?!’ As far as I’m concerned, Joker is a little played out these days, Mark Hamill excluded. Plus, why is it that we feel like whenever there is a Harley Quinn story Joker should show up in some capacity? I am willing to give Dini a little slack here since he is Harley’s creator, but honestly, it’s not necessary and I’m starting to get sick of it. ESPECIALLY since Harley and Ivy are pretty solidly a couple in the DC verse now, and that wasn’t very clear in this, now that I think about it, which ruffles my feathers a bit. Again, Dini can get a LITTLE leeway since he’s the creator, but COME ON.

So while “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” was definitely a bit of fluff and fun, I had hoped that it would be more than that. It gave me joy in the moment, but I wish that it had a little more substance.

Rating 6: A cute and fun mash up of two of my favorites, but it definitely could have gone further than it did.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” isn’t on many Goodreads lists but I think it would fit in on “Crossover Fiction”.

Find “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” at your library using WorldCat!