Ms. Marvel: Civil War II

by G. Willow Wilson, et al
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
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.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World

squirrelgirlby Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
First sentence: “Doreen Green liked her name.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher
Release date: February 7, 2017
Content: There’s a bit of violence, but it’s mostly cartoonish. There are some complicated words and it’s a bit long for younger readers, but the chapters are short and action-packed and I think reluctant readers will take to it. It will be in the Middle Grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to 6-7th graders as well.

Doreen Green was born with the abilities (and tail) of a squirrel. For her her whole life (all 14 years of it) she’s been home schooled and told to keep her abilities secret. But she and her parents have recently moved to the suburbs in New Jersey, and there are Things that need to be Done, and can only be done by a superhero. And it looks like that Dorreen, with the help of her new BFFAEAE (best fried forever and ever and ever) Ana Sofia and the local squirrel contingent, is the hero her town needs.

I have to admit that it took me a bit to get into the feel of this book. I generally like the Hales’ sense of humor, but for some reason this one felt a bit too over the top for me. But, I settled into it (also: not really the target audience), and they had me laughing by the end. (I especially liked the text conversations with Rocket Raccoon.) I liked that Doreen’s parents were basically good people, and understood the need to get out of their daughter’s way. And even though the book started out slow, it finished exciting.

A lot of fun!

Ms. Marvel: Super Famous

msmarvelby G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona, Nico Leon
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Volume 1, Volume 2
Content: There’s some violence, and there are a few more mature themes, but K is interested in this one and I’d let her read them. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Kamala has a problem. She’s been invited to be a part of the Avengers (not the problem), but between that, school, and home commitments, it’s getting harder and harder to stay on top of things. And so, she doesn’t notice at first when her face appears on the billboard touting a new development in her neighborhood. It’s nothing she signed off on, but it turns out that the development not only plans on destroying her neighborhood, but also is brainwashing all of its tenants. And, with Bruno’s help, hopefully she’ll be able to stop the developers.

That’s the better of the two stories in this latest Ms. Marvel, though the second story (about some clones that Bruno and Kamala make in order to help her get to all of her commitments) isn’t as strong, it does have one of my favorite moments, when Kamala realizes that she can’t do It All. The art — even though I still don’t like the switch between artists and prefer Miyazawa’s rendition best — is fantastic, and I love that the people are really realistically portrayed and diverse!

This series is SO good.

Ms. Marvel, vol. 2

msmarvelby G. Willow Wilson, Elmo Bondoc, Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Ms. Marvel, vol. 1
Content: There’s violence, again, but not as much as other superhero comics. It’s in the Graphic Novel section, but A (whose 12) loves this. (I bet K would too, except for the romance-y parts.)

I know I should be reading these as they come out (but that would require either webcomic-ing it,or schlepping down to the comic book store), but it’s just easier to wait for these huge eight-book compilations to come out to catch up on the storyline.

I’m still loving this. It’s got some strong, good YA themes, of trying to figure out how to fit in the world and with relationships (both friendships and with boys). I loved the fangirl aspect, especially when Kamala meets Carol Danvers. That was a lot of fun. I liked how she met and fell for a Pakistani boy, who then turns out to be a lackey for a bad guy. Nice. And I liked the themes of acceptance vs. control. And the art — especially in the middle sections, which was drawn by Takeshi Miyazawa — was fantastic.

It’s all great and a ton of fun. Wilson has definitely come up with a modern superhero I can get behind. (Now, when are we going to get her movie?)

Zeroes

by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, Deborah Biancotti
First sentence: “More coffee?”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy pilfered from the ARC piles at my place of employment.
Content: There’s some talk of drug use (none of it by teens), a smattering of mild swearing, and one (unnecessary, misplaced, and kind of glaring) f-bomb.

Who are the Zeroes?

They are six teenagers, all born in the year 2000, who have discovered, over the years that they have extra-ordinary powers. Bellwether can charm a crowd of people into believing whatever he wants them to. Crash is bothered by electronics, and she can make entire systems, well, crash. Flicker is blind, and yet she can see through every one else’s eyes. Anon isn’t invisible, but he is easily forgettable; his parents once forgot that he was deathly ill and left him (to die) in the hospital. Scam has this voice inside him that can talk anyone into anything he wants, which is what gets all the Zeroes into trouble.

With Mob, who can control a crowd’s mood, and her father, who is in deep with the Russian mob.

The question is: will the Zeroes be able to help them? Or are they just going to make things… worse?

It’s kind of hard to juggle multiple points of view in a book, and in this one they tackle six of them. Some of them — Anon, Flicker, Scam, and Mob come out with the best story arcs in the book — are really well developed. Others — Bellwether and Crash — aren’t so much. But, for the most part, the flipping between people helped push the story forward, and I found that I didn’t mind seeing the action from different perspectives.

And the story was pretty seamless, considering there were three authors writing. I was worried that it would be choppy, but whatever they did — editing, lots and lots of rewriting — worked.

It’s definitely a ton of fun.

Avengers: Rage of Ultron

by Rick Remender, Jerome Opena, Pepe Larraz, Mark Morales
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s geared toward adults, but I could see a teen who was interested in the Avengers being okay with reading this. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

I am running a Graphic Novel book group for teens (really, for whomever comes) this summer, and I wanted a Marvel Avengers one to start the group off (because of the movie). I did a lot of asking and digging to figure out if there was a stand-alone that those who aren’t into the universe (read: me) and who have only seen the movies (again: me) could understand. In the end, I settled on this one.

And on many levels I was right: it was a stand-alone (mostly; the ending was a bit ambiguous) and it gave me enough information to understand the story on its own terms, even if I didn’t know how it fit into the larger Marvel universe.

But: these are not your movie Avengers. And that was the biggest hurdle for me.

It’s a similar story to Age of Ultron: a robot was created by Hank Pym, and then when homicidal, deciding that humanity was worthless and needed to be exterminated. One of my favorite panels in this GN was the opening one: a “voice over” (what does one call it when it’s in book form?) of Ultron declaring humanity worthless while Captain America rushes around saving people from Ultron’s destruction. It’s intense and nicely done.

The Avengers beat Ultron, of course, and send him out into space. Then the story fast-forwards to sometime in the future, where Ultron has taken over the moon of Titan, enslaving the people there, and Starfox (Hubby had to explain about the Titans; good thing I have him around) comes back to a new group of Avengers, who are arguing about whether or not Artificial Intelligence counts as “life”. Some, like The Vision, argue that it is; that turning them “off” is tantamount to killing them. But AI like Ultron prove Pym’s point: they can’t be trusted. (I actually really liked the whole discussion of artificial intelligence and found it fascinating.) Ultron follows Starfox back and starts a big fight, one that eventually consumes all of the Avengers.

What I found most interesting were the underlying themes running through the GN: should AI be considered alive and be granted the same rights? To what point should the creator be responsible if the AI goes, well, crazy? I found it interesting that Pym called Ultron his “son” and felt, ultimately, responsible for Ultron’s actions, though I think he took it a bit too far.

The art was fantastic, with strong lines and bold colors. And there were some panels — the one I’ve mentioned at the beginning as well as one near the end of the book — that were simply amazing.

I don’t know if this is going to catapult me into reading other Avengers (or Marvel, aside from Ms. Marvel) GNs, but I really did enjoy reading this one.

Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal

by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some talk of teen drinking and some violence, but I’d hand it to anyone who loves superheroes and is willing to sit through the Avengers movie. It’s in the adult graphic novel section, but I wonder if it’d get more traction in the teen?

I’m sold. Seriously. I’ve heard the buzz (thanks to Leila and others) and I caved, and THEY WERE RIGHT. It’s worth it: you should read it.

(Do I need to say more?)

Kamala Kahn is a 16-year-old daughter of Pakistani immigrants, and she’s basically chafing against her life. She doesn’t like being Muslim. She doesn’t like having overprotective parents. She doesn’t like not being “pretty” and “blonde”. And so when Captain Marvel appears to Kamala (after a party she snuck out to) and gives Kamala an opportunity to reboot her life, Kamala wishes to be like Captain Marvel. Her wish is granted: she has super-powers. (And is tall and blonde.) Eventually, she figures out that the tall and blonde and “non-politically correct” costume isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. She accepts that she — Ms. Marvel, as she dubs herself — is Pakistani and goes with it, embracing (albeit reluctantly) her new superpowers.

Why did I love it? First: it’s a Pakistani girl superhero! She’s Muslim, and while she chafes against her parents’ rules, she’s faithful, which I appreciated. Which also means she’s a character of color: not all superheroes need to be white. (Or drawn with super-skimpy costumes, so yay for that as well.) But it’s more than that: Kamala is smart and funny, and the writing and art reflect that. I loved Kamala’s ordinary-ness, and her devotion to her friends (and parents), and her struggle to figure out what all this means and to accept who she is.

It’s completely worth the buzz. Fantastic.

Minion

by John David Anderson
First sentence: “I want you to know, right from the start, that I’m not evil.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Sidekicked
Content: There’s really nothing objectionable, and I ended up putting these in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore. It still feels slightly older than that, however. I just can’t place why.

Michael Morn is a villain. His adoptive father is one of those mad scientist types, who invents boxes that do… well, stuff. Like scrambling all the cameras, or maybe blowing up. And so the duo have committed crimes. Nothing extravagant, mostly just bank robberies when they needed the money.

But Michael also has a secret: he has unusual powers of persuasion. When he looks someone in the eye, he can compel them to do something. Sure, it has to be within the realm of possibility, but he can do it. So far, he and his dad have kept that power under wraps, only using it when they really have to. But with the arrival of The Dictator — a true super-villain — and his nemesis, the Comet, Michael’s life is about to change. And not necessarily for the better.

I remember liking the companion book to this, Sidekicked, but even so, when I picked this up, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. On the one hand, it’s a very clever take on superheroes and super powers. I like the world that Anderson has created, where being super isn’t necessarily an unusual thing and superheroes aren’t necessarily saviors of the world. And where villains are just people trying to scrape by.

That said, I felt that this one was missing something: A concrete ending, for starters. I won’t give anything away, but it left more questions than answers by the end. And it didn’t feel like a real middle grade (or even YA) novel, either. Michael did stuff, sure, but mostly he was reacting to the adults around him, and spent more time being their pawn (from this father, to the crime boss his father worked for, to The Dictator, in the end) and didn’t actually do anything. It felt like an elaborate set-up without much of a pay-off.

That said, it wasn’t bad either. Or, at least, not bad enough to put down. But it wasn’t satisfying in the end.

The Princess in Black

by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
First sentence: “Princess Magnolia was having hot chocolate and scones with Duchess Wigtower.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: October 21, 2014
Content: Yeah, there’s nothing but good fun here. And it’s simple enough for the younger set. It’ll be in the Beginning Chapter Book (grades 1-2) section of the bookstore.

Princess Magnolia has a secret. She’s a superhero, rescuing innocent and unprotected goats from the Big Bad Monsters. The thing is: princesses aren’t supposed to be superheroes. They’re supposed to be princesses. Right?

Well, aside from the stuffy Duchess Wigtower, no one tells Princess Magnolia she can’t. So, even though the Duchess is trying to snoop into Princess Magnolia’s business, she finds a way to sneak out of the castle to go whip those pesky monsters into shape.

As an aside, yes, Princess Magnolia is white. (Shannon Hale has said that’s partially for marketing reasons — if I heard her correctly — and partially because she’s modeled on Hale’s daughter, who is blonde and blue-eyed.) But the goat boy is not, and Hale promises further diversity (of race, at least) in the next book. (In fact, she showed us at KidlitCon a mock-up of the drawings, and they’re quite gorgeous.)

Liberally and cheerfully illustrated, this short chapter book was a delight to read, Hilarious and silly and just perfect for those who can’t get enough of Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series. (Same sort of humor and silliness as those as well.)

If Princess Magnolia has any other adventures, I’d love to read them.

Graphic Novel Roundup

The Shadow Hero
by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew
First sentence: “In 1911, the Ch’ing Dynasty collapsed ending two millenia of imperial rule over China.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some violence (graphic, obviously), but that’s about it. It’s a higher reading level, but I wouldn’t be adverse to giving this to the superhero loving 9- or 10-year-old. It’s in the teen graphic novel section of the bookstore.

In the 1940s, the first Asian-American, Hing, was hired by a small comic press to draw a superhero. The producers/owners wanted The Green Turtle to be white but the way Hing drew The Green Turtle, you really couldn’t tell. It was a short-lived comic, and Hing never gave The Green Turtle’s backstory.

Which is where The Shadow Hero comes in: Yang and Liew imagine The Green Turtle’s origin story.

And what a story. Yes, this is a superhero comic: the kind of nerdy, unambitious boy who gets a super power, but not without great cost. Our hero is Hank Chu, the son of Chinese immigrants. All he really wants to do is run the grocery store in Chinatown with his father. But, Chinatown is run by the mob, people who extract “taxes” from the businesses. Hank’s dad forgets a payment once, and the mob comes down on him, hard, killing him in front of Hank. That spurs Hank (kind of; his mother had been pushing him to become a superhero for a while) into action: he’s going to take down the mob, going after the boss.

Like all of Yang’s work, this is wonderfully drawn, and the story is compelling. I’m not a huge superhero comic person, but I couldn’t put this one down. It’s definitely a story worth reading.

Mr. Pants: It’s Go Time!
by Scott McCormick and R. H. Lazzell
First sentence: “What are you laughing at, Mr. Pants?”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s a perfect beginning chapter graphic novel. Words are simple and large print, but the humor is abundant and the pages keep turning. It’s in the beginning chapter book (grades 1-2) section of the bookstore.

This is one that our Penguin children’s rep (who has the most delightful Irish accent) RAVED about. She said, “Seriously: you just have to read it. It’s hilarious!” I put it off for a while, until she came again (there’s a sequel coming out), and reminded me: “You HAVE  to read this.” So, I did. And she’s right: you have to read it. It’s hilarious.

It’s the last day of summer, and Mr. Pants — a cat with two cat sisters and a human mom. No, I don’t understand, either — wants to go play laser tag. Except his younger sisters — Foot Foot and Grommy — have other ideas. Foot Foot wants to play with her new toy. Grommy wants to go to the Fairy Princess Dream Factory. Mom has to go shopping. The deal is this: Mr. Pants goes along with all this stuff (he doesn’t want to do, obviously), and they can go play laser tag.

Much like Babymouse, this is a gold mine for hilarity. There’s also some gender-bending going on; Mr. Pants is your typical “boy”, but he’s also accepting of his sisters’ likes. (Which, I think, is typical for a boy with sisters. Ask me, sometime, about the summer I was into Little House on the Prairie. I was Laura, and my brother was Mary.) It’s everything a beginning chapter book needs to be: colorful, funny, interesting, and good.

This One Summer
by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
First sentence: “
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a half-dozen f-bombs as well as mild swearing, and one of the minor characters gets pregnant. It’s in the teen graphic novel section for those reasons.

Every summer since she was five, Rose and her family would go to their cabin by the beach. She has her best friend there, Windy, and enjoyed the days playing, exploring, hanging out. But this summer is different. Rose is 13 (I think; she seemed 13) and she and Windy are talking about growing up (boobs were a big topic). And her mother and father are fighting. Quite a bit. Rose gathers from eavesdropping that much of it surrounds their failed attempt to have another baby. Which just makes Rose feel unwanted.

Add on top of that their observance (mostly from sneaking around) of an unfolding drama in the little town where their cottages are: a boy who works at the convenience store got his girlfriend pregnant and doesn’t want to accept responsibility.

It’s an interesting graphic novel, one that I think I didn’t like as much as I could have, solely because I was not the right age. But the 12-to 14-year old crowd, especially girls, would relate. It’s about changing, and accepting the future, and figuring out friends, and understanding the world. And it’s perfect for its target audience.

Just not for me.