Faith: Hollywood and Vine

by Jody Houser, Francis Portela, and Marguerite Sauvage
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Content:  There is your usual superhero blow-em-up fare, plus some awkward moments. This would be in the graphic novel section of the bookstore if we had it.

So, in my graphic novel class this summer, we (well, me and a couple other students) ended up talking a lot about representation by women (and diversity, though not as much) in the comics/graphic novels world. One of the other students said that Valiant did an okay job with representation, but mentioned Faith as a good example of a plus-size superhero where weight didn’t really come into play. I was curious, so I picked it up.

After a traumatic experience and a bad breakup, Faith Herbert aka Zephyr (she’s a psiot who can fly and has some telekinetic ability)  has moved from New York to LA to try and do things on her own. Donning an alias, Summer Smith, she gets a job as a content writer for a culture blog/website. Even though she hasn’t made many friends and her ex has a reality TV show, Faith is doing pretty well. That is, until she discovers that psiots are disappearing and that there’s a tie-in to the new, hot sci-fi show on TV. So, of course it’s up to Faith (with some help from a few friends) to save the day.

On the one hand, yeah: it was refreshing to see an atypical superhero doing cool and amazing things and being comfortable in her own body (or at least not having her body be the center of the story line). But, and maybe this is me, I think much of what was “revolutionary” by that is diminished by the fact that everyone else in the book is skinny and/or super built. What’s the point of making the main character look more realistic if everyone else (from her crushes to the love interest to the bad guys to her co-workers) is “normal” and she’s the odd woman out? I kept noticing that she was always the fat one, and felt — even though it’s written/drawn by women — that somehow they were trying to draw attention to her size. So, even though the plot wasn’t about her weight, the book, ultimately, ended up being about her weight. Which made me sad. (To be fair, maybe it’s just me?)

That said, I liked the story. I liked Faith, and her fangirlness. I liked her daydreams and her awkwardness and her moral code. And I liked the resolution in the end.

It wasn’t a bad graphic novel and I am glad I read it.

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Watchmen

by Alan Moore
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Content: There is graphic violence, swearing (no f-bombs though) and nudity (and sort-of on-screen text). It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

I wrote about this one ten years ago when I first read it, but I thought I’d write my thoughts that I turned in as well.

Intellectually, I know the Watchmen is a classic work of not only comic storytelling, but also a classic work of literature. However, while I can respect what Moore and Gibbons are doing, I didn’t like the experience. Partially it was the art; Gibbons’ art was completely subservient to the text, lacking very little originality. I did find the panel in issue 4, , the moment when the test chamber went off (9) and the particles dissolved Dr. Manhattan and the following few panels to be incredibly striking. But otherwise, I found the moment-to-moment and scene-to-scene art slowed down the narrative, especially through volume nine. I understand that, thematically, Moore is reflecting the world he saw when this was written in 1987 — a very sexist, homophobic (issue 11, p. 9, among others), and bleak world — and critiquing the way we use superheroes in our cultural life: None of the characters are honorable or admirable (like Superman or Captain America) or even serving the cause of justice, even if it’s in a vigilante manner (Batman). The backstories we learn (I’ll admit; I didn’t read the “excerpts” in the end; and felt like they were filer that added no substance to the actual plot line) don’t take away from the feeling that the characters are mostly individuals without any integrity in what they do. I wish he had allowed the women (all two of them) to be more than just sex objects — Sally, whose most significant characteristics were that she is aging and that the Comedian raped her (issue 2, p. 5-7), and her daughter, Laurie, whose sole purpose is to be a companion to her lovers, both Dr. Manhattan (issue 5, p. 11) and Dan Dreiberg (most of issue 7, but specifically p. 28). This is a reflection of both the mid-1980s society and popular culture, but doesn’t excuse the lack of development of these characters. Admittedly, Moore isn’t putting up hyper-masculinity as an ideal: Neither of the hyper-masculine characters of the Comedian and Ozymandias are admirable characters, while Rorschach, who would not be considered “masculine” at all — being called “queer” (issue 5, p. 27) and “runt” (issue 6, p. 8) among others — also happens to be the moral center of the series. He is the one who realizes that someone is creating a plot against “costumed adventurers” (issue 1, p. 12) to get them out of the way and in the end refuses to compromise his ideals forcing Dr. Manhattan to kill him (volume 12, p. 14). I did like the ending; while Ozymandias “gets off”, Dr. Manhattan’s prophecy that “Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing EVER ends” (issue 12, p. 27) is fulfilled in the very final panel, where readers see Rorschach’s journal detailing everything delivered to the newspaper, and the final image (issue 12, p. 32) is the same as the cover of issue one and the first image the readers see (p.1). True, there is a lot to think about and discuss — is it right to kill off millions of people just to save the world? — but it was not an enjoyable reading experience. If this had been my first foray into graphic novels, it might have turned me off on the format completely. Thankfully, it wasn’t.

My Hero Academia

by Kohei Horikoshi
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Content: There’s some violence. And it’s a manga, so you have to read it backwards which might be a bit of a challenge (it was for me). It would be in the manga part of the graphic novel section of the bookstore, if we carried it.

K has been obsessed with My Hero Academia (though she watches the anime version and reads them online) for a while now, and when I had a chance to read graphic novels for my class, she talked me into reading this.

It’s basically an alternative Japan where everyone has “quirks” (think X-men mutant-type quirks; in fact one of the reviews I read criticized this for being an X-men knock off, which I can see). Everyone, that is, except Izuku, a 15-year-old quirkless kid… who wants to be a hero. He wants to get into the top school — U. A. High School for heroes — he wants to have a quirk. He wants to be like his personal hero, All Might. Except he can’t without a quirk. Things change for him, though, when he does a selfless act, and All Might — who in real life is completely wasted away — gives Izuku his powers. Which means two things: Izuku gets in to U. A…. but he doesn’t quite know how to control his powers. Yet.

This was so much fun! (Once I got the hang of reading a manga. K had to explain it to me.) Seriously. I loved Izuku and some of the other kids he met at U. A.  Horikoshi has created some fun characters, and I’m curious to see what they will be doing next, since volume 1 was just Izuku (called Deku by his friends) getting his powers and getting into school. The whole series was a bit cheeze-tastic, which I don’t mind at all. In fact, I found it charming.

And I think I might pick up the next one. (K’s urging me to do it!)

Black Panther, Book 1: A Nation Under our Feet

by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze
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Content: There’s some violence (of course), but nothing else. I’d give it to a middle schooler or higher who’s interested in it. It’s in the Graphic Novels section of the bookstore.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect heading into this one; Black Panther isn’t a superhero I was really familiar with until the movie trailers started playing. But, it looked cool, and I thought I’d give it a try.

What I got was a really intriguing, somewhat complicated, very deep story about King T’Challa who comes back from being away (he was off fighting with the Avengers) and finding his country in chaos. He’s not sure if he can be a leader, or even really sure how to be the leader his people want. And it doesn’t help that there are two distinct groups rebelling against him. One has a mind-controller (I think) involved, and that’s the one T’Challa is most concerned with. But there’s this other one (to be honest, I liked their story better), a couple of women soldiers who go renegade and start punishing men for treating women badly (timely, no?) and decide that no one man should lead the country.

As I said, it’s a complex, fascinating story about what it means to have power, what it means to be a citizen of a country, and the dichotomy between holding on to one’s traditions and moving toward the future. There was a lot to think about in these four issues, and it kind of makes me want to continue the story, just to see what happens to T’Challa and Wakanda, in the end.

Renegades

by Marissa Meyer
First sentence: “We were all villains in the beginning.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s violence, but nothing graphic, and some mild swearing. It is is the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Nova grew up on one side of the divide, as an Anarchist. It was their side that was in charge for so long, until the Day of Reckoning, where the Other Side, the Renegades, took power. So, Nova grew up as a “villain”, resenting the Renegades, training to defeat them.

Adam grew up on the other side of the divide, as the son of the two most prominent Renegades. He believes in the mission of the Renegades, to bring justice to those who want to be outside the law.

When Nova’s home and life are threatened (because she was part of an assassination attempt that went bad), she is persuaded — mostly because she’s not well known — to join the Renegades and spy on them for the Anarchists. But, when she ends up on Adam’s team, things get… complicated.

This is a solid first in a series book. I like the world that Meyer has created: while she’s playing off the ideas behind the X-Men — there are people with special “abilities” that were shunned by society, and Meyer’s playing with what would happen if those people were in charge. There’s also a bit of Captain America: Civil War going on here, as well, with the exploration of the amount of responsibility a superhero should have for the “regular” people. And I liked the characters: both Nova and Adam were conflicted in their own ways. And while the (slight) romance felt a bit forced, it wasn’t enough to take me entirely out of the story.

I am definitely curious to see where Meyer takes the story from here.

Audio Book: Wonder Woman Warbringer

by Leigh Bardugo
Read by Mozhan Marino
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Listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some violence and several instances of mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I’ll admit that I’m on board with anything Wonder Woman right now, so I probably would have read/listened to this whether or not it was any good. Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about that, because in Bardugo’s capable hands, it was definitely worth listening to.

It’s a bit of a Wonder Woman origin story, starting with Diana on Themyscira and dealing with feeling like an outcast with the Amazons because she was born rather than earning her spot among them. So, when she inadvertently rescues a mortal from a shipwreck which sets off a chain of events — since the mortal is no ordinary mortal — Diana is forced to leave the island and head out into the mortal world to save her life, her island, and the world from impending war.

Okay, there’s more to it than that; the mortal, Alia, is the daughter of scientists who died in a tragic accident, and who is trying to find her place in the world, out from under the long shadow of her brother, Jason. Her friends, Theo and Nim are fantastic and definitely worth rooting for. There’s a lot of fantastic action (Bardugo knows how to plot a book), as well as some fantastic reflective moments (plus a wee bit of romance).

And Marino is a stellar narrator. Seriously stellar. She had me enthralled, glued to the narrative, anxious to hear what will happen next.

I really can’t ask for anything better.

Ms. Marvel: Civil War II

by G. Willow Wilson, et al
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Other is the series: No Normal, Generation Why , Super Famous
Content: Violence, mostly. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore, but it’s good for teens and up.

I’m not sure if I’m completely up on Ms. Marvel (it’s hard to keep track!)… but I picked this one up, and fell into it. Kamala is having issues at school and as a superhero – she doesn’t have time for her friends much anymore, and Bruno is no longer happy with being her “sidekick”. And then Captain Marvel asks Kamala to be the head of this predictive crime unit, where they take a psychic’s premonitions and then arrest people before they commit a crime. It’s going fine, until one of Kamala’s friends gets arrested for thinking about doing something drastic. Maybe predictive crime prevention comes perilously close to profiling?

Kamala tries to get out of it, but ends up alienating everyone, so she heads off to Pakistan to her family’s home, trying to find herself there. But not everything is quite as simple as it seems.

It helps that each issue is really its own arc, and that you don’t really need to know what went on before, which is good because I’m not sure I remember from issue to issue. That said, this one touched on some really interesting ideas, including profiling, and the costs/benefits of trying to stop crime before it happens. The side trip to Pakistan at the end was interesting, too, as was the Kamala’s parents’ backstory that was threaded throughout the issue. I keep picking these up because I love the story arcs that Wilson comes up with, and this one didn’t disappoint.