Flash Fire

by TJ Klune
First sentence: “‘Nicky, yes,‘ Seth Gray groaned, and Nick had never been prouder of himself in his entire life.”
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Others in the series: The Extraordinaries
Content: There is a lot of talk about sex (a lot!) and being horny, but no actual. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8), but might be uncomfortable for some in that age group.

Spoilers for the first book, obviously.

Picking up a few months after The Extraordinaries left off, Seth and Nick are in a happy, healthy relationship. Seth has embraced his role as Pyro Storm, and Nick is trying to figure out how to control his powers. Things are looking good, and it feels like the only major decision they will have to make is what to wear to Prom.

But, of course, things are not meant to be easy for our heroes. There are some new extraordinaries in town, some of which may be good, but others… not so much. And, of course, Nick and Seth and Gibby and Jazz are going to have to deal with things that are way out of their league.

I think Klune is my new favorite writer! there is something about his writing and his storytelling that just makes me smile. It deals with serious issues — there are bis in here about police brutality as well as being open to admitting, owning, and rectifying one’s mistakes. I love that there are supportive adults in the book, that the kids are allowed to (mostly) be kids. It’s a joy to read and laugh with. It helps that Klune is brilliant at writing all sorts of relationships, as well as action scenes (important in a superhero book!).

I am definitely glad I picked up his books this year. I can’t wait for the next one!


The Extraordinaries

by T. J. Klune
First sentence: “Nick Bell stared at his phone as he shifted on his bed in his room.”
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Content: There is talk of sex, but none actual, and some mild swearing. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I think it’d be suitable for younger readers.

Nick Bell is obsessed with Nova City’s “Extraordinaries” — read: superheroes — but especially Shadow Star. He daydreams about him, he writes fanfic about him, and Nick has decided that what he really wants is to be Extraordinary like him.

Nick’s friends Gabby, Jazz, and Seth all think this is a bad idea. However, that is not going to stop Nick from getting and becoming who he wants to be.

Okay, that’s very lame summary of a very good book.It’d hard to say what Klune’s books are really about; this one I would peg as a rom-com with superheroes. There’s some great tropes in it, from both the romance and superhero genres, but it’s got a sly sense of humor that makes these tropes fresh.

Nick has ADHD and is a very adorable hot mess. It’s really only his friends (well, and his father) that keep him together. He makes bad (well, mostly awkward) decisions that put him in awkward situations. And I adored every minute of it. It helps that the reader is a LOT more aware of situations than Nick is; I think we are meant to figure out things way before Nick does, mostly so we can shake our heads and say “Oh, Nick” at the book. It was delightful.

I think I have a new favorite author. Klune’s books are absolutely wonderful.

Superman Smashes the Klan

by Gene Leun Yang and Gurihiru
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Content: There is some violence and use of slurs against Asian people. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

It’s 1946, and Roberta and Tommy Lee are moving from their home in Chinatown to a different part of Metropolis. They’re anxious about making new friends, and their father has started a new job which comes with new responsibilities. They begin to make friends, and Tommy earns a spot on a baseball team. But things don’t go smoothly: the (white) neighbors aren’t happy and soon the local Klan (of the Fiery Cross) are working to terrorize the Lees.

Which is where Superman comes in. The story of the Lees confrontations with the Klan are interwoven with Superman trying to figure out who he fully is. He is fast and strong, but he’s not really come into all of his powers (as we currently know them) yet. It’s a fabulous dual narrative as the Chinese immigrant Lee family deals with figuring out how to fit in and be themselves ans Superman (the alien immigrant!) figures out the same.

I picked this one up entirely because it won the Cybils Young Adult Graphic Novel and I wasn’t disappointed. Between the story by Yang and the art by Gurihiru, there is not only a fun and interesting story, but an incredibly relevant one. And a good reminder: Superman is a hero for everyone, not just white people. And that we’re all in this world together, so we should figure out how to make it work together. It’s an incredibly hopeful book as well as showing the evils of racism and extreme hatred. Definitely highly recommended.

Swamp Thing

by Maggie Stiefvater and Morgan Beem
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Content: There is some swearing, including a couple f-bombs. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Alec Holland is awkward socially, unlike his twin, Walker. He’d rather just spend his time in his lab, working on isolating plant’s memories and putting them in other plants. And when an unfortunate incident at home sends the twins to their cousin’s house in rural Virginia, Alec figures that’s how he’s going to spend his summer: with his plans, in a lab.

It doesn’t work out that way, though. It didn’t take long for Walker to fit in with the local teenagers, and get into trouble. And no one really takes Alec’s work seriously. So when things get a little out of hand, who’s to blame?

I know nothing about DC’s Swamp Thing, so I went in completely blank to this origin story. But, I loved it. Maggie has a way of capturing inner conflict — can Alec just fit in? Can he figure out his plants? Why is he doing this anyway? — and the super natural. And Beem is a perfect fit for this: she embodies Maggie’s descriptive qualities and brings them to life: the art is lush and dark and beautiful. It’s a gorgeous book.

And while the ending felt a little rushed, I think it worked. It definitely left some room open for us to see where Alec will go from here. A really good graphic novel. Hopefully, Beem and Stiefvater will team up again!

You Brought Me the Ocean

by Alex Sanchez, illustrated by Julie Maroh
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Content: There is some kissing and some bullying. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Jake has always had a dream to study the ocean. Except, he lives in New Mexico with his mom — his dad disappeared when Jake as born — and no way of getting out.

It doesn’t help that he feels different: not just because he’s not sure if he’s gay (spoiler: he is), but because he’s always had these weird “birthmarks” on his body. It doesn’t help that his best friend, Maria, wants to take their relationship to the next level, either.

It’s less a book about superheroes, though it is set in the DC universe, and more about one kid coming to own his own truth. He comes out, he finds out who his dad is and what his marks mean. All of this, while falling into a relationship with Kenny.

It’s nice that the adults are fully formed; you understand Jake’s mom’s paranoia, and Maria’s parents are incredibly supportive. Kenny’s disabled father had the biggest arc: he starts out seeming unacceptng and homophobic but turns out to be supportive of his son.

It’s an incomplete story: I thought Jake would have a chance to face his father or at least move forward, but no: this book is about Jake fully becoming who we was meant to be.

And that’s a good thing.

Miles Morales Spider-Man

by Jason Reynolds
First sentence: “Miles set the good dishes on the table.”
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Content: There’s violence, but not graphic and some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) but I’d give it to a younger kid who was interested.

Yes, I did pick this up because I adored Into the Spider-Verse. I liked Miles Morales as a character, and I wanted to spend more time with him. Aside from the movie, I have no knowledge of Miles’s backstory or comic history, so I’m pretty much operating blind.

The basic plot is that Miles is kind of tired of being Spider-Man, and mostly just wants to focus on school. Except he keeps getting called into the office, first for leaving class (his Spidey sense was tingling) and then for a minor theft, for which he was totally framed. And it feels like his history teacher is super antagonistic toward him. And maybe it’s not an evil plot to take over the world, but maybe it is.

And on top of all that, he’s struggling with school and friends and fitting it. Not to mention the crisis about being Spider-Man; maybe he’s just not cut out for this.

My first reaction? It was fun, but heavy on the social justice. Not that that’s a bad thing. I liked the book well enough; Reynolds is a great writer and Miles is a great character. But… perhaps I would have liked it more had I been more invested in Miles Morales as a superhero. Coming in with as little knowledge as I did, I kind of felt like I was missing something. I caught similarities between the book and the movie, but it wasn’t enough or deep enough for me to truly love this book.

Ben Braver and the Incredible Exploding Kid

by Marcus Emerson
First Sentence: “Sixty miles per hour.”
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Others in the series (it’s probably better if you read this first): The Super Life of Ben Braver
Content: There’s fart and poop jokes (of course). There’s also lots of illustrations and white space with short chapters. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

This is a second in a series, and for many reasons (well, time mostly) I didn’t read the first. From what I can tell: Ben Braver is a perfectly normal kid who got sent to this boarding school for kids with superpowers. And he saved them from an evil supervillain. Except no one at the school knows that Ben doesn’t have powers (well, except for the Headmaster — who’s about as reliable as Dumbledore — and his best friends). It’s the new year, and there’s a new menace — sort of — and Ben’s doing his level best to hide his lack of powers while he gets more and more popular.

Actually, this one is more about the ability of fame to go to one’s head. Ben gets SUPER obnoxious while he gets more and more attention, but (of course) everything comes crashing down around him. And when the real threat presents itself, he does what he can to save the other students, but in the end, it’s an outside person (whose appearance was explained away in a sentence) who solves the problem. (Yeah, I have a problem with easy solutions like that.)

I really wanted to like this one more than I did. I think I was hoping for something fun and funny, and while there were some amusing points (humor is REALLY hard to do), it kind of all just fell flat for me. (There was one one-page comic that made me laugh, but that was it.) It’s probably great for the Diary of a Wimpy Kid crowd (I didn’t like those much either) and for those reluctant readers who want a lot of illustrations in their stories. But it really wasn’t my thing.


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.

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!)