Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Abbreviations #23: Graphic Novels, Comics & Manga, Oh My!

Honestly, I have no idea what got into me last month, but I found myself devouring graphic novels and comics like nobody's business. I'm not complaining, as it's allowed me to read titles I've had my eye on for a while and I've discovered some new favorites in the process. But it's an unexplained current obsession of mine, so there's no rhyme or reason to the ones I picked out nor is there an actual explanation for how many I managed to read. 

(By the way, I'm only going to be talking about the first volumes of any given graphic novel series in today's post, just to keep things short and sweet, and will simply mention if I chose to continue with the series or not.)

Fun Home cover
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Publisher: Mariner Books
Publication Date: June 5, 2007
Source: Paperback borrowed from the library

I had a very vague idea of what I was getting into with Fun Home, just based on what I’d heard about it from my husband and friends. But I wasn’t prepared for how engrossed I’d become in this story, nor how I’d be greeted with an onslaught of feelings with each page turned. Alison Bechdel’s non-fiction graphic novel tells readers of her home life, particularly her complicated relationship with her dad. It really manages to capture portions of her life with a sharp narrative told in equal parts dialogue, narration and illustration (and the style of illustration was one I actually quite liked). The story is equal parts charming and heartbreaking, and while it’s not necessarily the easiest graphic novel to get through, it is really well-done. It’s definitely one of the more unique reads I’ve encountered as well.

Amulet, Vol. 1: The Stonekeeper cover
Amulet, Vol. 1: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi
Series: Amulet #1
Publisher: GRAPHIX
Publication Date: January 1, 2008
Source: Paperback borrowed from the library

I was constantly drawn to Amulet whenever I’d see it at bookstores or online, but never took the plunge. After seeing how Riley really liked it, I decided I’d try the first volume and proceeded to borrow it from the library. Guys, I should have just listened to my instincts, because I freaking loved this one! The story was fairly simple: Em, Navin and their mom have moved to their great-grandfather’s home; on their very first day, their mom is taken by an otherworldly creature and Em and Navin find themselves going after their mom into another world entirely. The art style was absolutely lovely, with vivid colors and images that drew me right in. And the story was quite charming! I really enjoyed getting to know Em and Navin, and I’m so excited to read more of their adventures. (And the fact that the novel left me with a ton more questions didn’t really bother me, just because I knew I wanted more already.) Very smooth set-up to the series, as well as being a satisfying volume all on its own. I’m definitely going to continue reading this series! (I already requested all the other volumes in this series from my library, and I'm just waiting for them to come in.)

Anya's Ghost cover
Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Publisher: First Second
Publication Date: June 7, 2011
Source: Paperback borrowed from the library

Anya’s Ghost is the story of a self-conscious, insecure girl named Anya, who is trying to figure out how to navigate her life best she can and whose life changes when she makes friends with the ghost of a girl in a well (that she has fallen into). It sounds pretty nuts, really, but it turned out to be a decent read all in all. I didn’t find it to be particularly memorable, as Anya is a character that rubbed me the wrong way and I just thought that the ghost girl was really creepy. But I can understand why many people would be drawn to this story, because it’s unusual and it’s charming (in its way). While it didn’t end up being my particular cup of tea, there’s no doubt in my mind that other readers might actually really like this one. (The art is pretty great though!)

Lady Killer cover
Lady Killer by Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
Publication Date: September 15, 2015
Source: Paperback borrowed from the library

I had a feeling I would enjoy this one, but I didn’t realize just how much I’d wind up liking it. Lady Killer is the story of Josie Schuller, who is both a perfect happy homemaker and a killer for hire. The juxtaposition of Josie’s two lives – her charm and lightness as a housewife and mother, and her ruthlessness and practicality as a hired killer – was so interesting, and very compelling to read about. Readers get to see Josie dispatch quite a few people quite cleverly, but we also get to see her try to figure out how to maintain the balance between both her identities. It’s a bit gory with all the brutality, and definitely not for younger readers, but I really liked it. It ends on a pretty darn satisfying note too, so it was well worth reading! I certainly wouldn’t mind more of Josie’s story. (And the art style is so appealing to me!)
Runaways book cover
Runaways, Vol. 1: Pride and Joy by Brian K. Vaughan
with art by Adrian Alphona
Series: Runaways #1
Publisher: Marvel
Publication Date: December 6, 2006
Source: Paperback borrowed from the library

I liked the premise of this story a lot! A group of teens discover that their parents are part of a supervillain group, and are determined to escape their parents’ shadow and defeat them like true heroes. I really liked the characters! They’re all super unique in terms of culture, quirks and abilities, and I really enjoyed getting to know each of them. I feel like this volume was all about setting up their circumstances, and it was pretty darn obvious. While it had its moments, overall, the story was just okay. Still, I liked these characters enough to maybe consider picking up the next volume and finding out what happens next.

Lumberjanes book cover
Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen (ill.) & Maarta Laiho
Series: Lumberjanes #1-4
Publisher: Boom!Box
Publication Date: April 7, 2015
Source: Paperback borrowed from the library

If you like stories about camp and stories about friendship, then this would be a great graphic novel for you! The Lumberjanes – Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley – are planning to have an excellent summer, even if there are mysteries and supernatural beings and magic determined to get in their way. I honestly had no clue what I was in for with this novel, and I really feel like that did work in its favor! There’s this odd blend of contemporary and fantasy, but it totally works if you just let yourself run with it. I found the five friends really charming, the whimsy really awesome and the humor and silliness quite pleasing as well. All in all, it was definitely a fun way to pass the time. And I certainly think I’ll be checking out what happens next for the Lumberjanes! (I read the second volume shortly after this one, and enjoyed that one even more.)

Ms. Marvel cover
Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
with art by Adrian Alphona
Series: Ms. Marvel (Marvel Now!) #1
Publisher: Marvel
Publication Date: October 30, 2014
Source: Paperback borrowed from the library

I was promised that this graphic novel was going to be awesome – and it was. Ms. Marvel is the story of Kamala Khan, an ordinary gal who is one day gifted with extraordinary gifts that turn her into a superhero. This is her opening act, her introduction to the world, and it was a damn good one. I like the lightness of the tone, even as this story tackles teen issues like identity and direction (in life). I was so impressed by the integration of Kamala’s culture, as well as her own insecurities as a teen who is just trying to figure things out. And, of course, it was fun to read about a girl who gets to be a superhero, both because it’s fun to imagine and because it’s interesting to see what she’ll make of her new powers. I certainly enjoyed this first volume, and look forward to reading more! (I actually ended up getting all of the remaining published volumes out from the library and binge reading them. They were so fun, and I loved all the cameos!)

Death Note Vol. 1 cover
Death Note, Vol. 1: Boredom by Tsugumi Ohba + Takeshi Obata (ill.)
Series: Death Note #1
Publisher: Viz Media LLC
Publication Date: October 10, 2005
Source: Manga borrowed from the library

I’ve certainly heard of Death Note plenty of times, but I finally decided to take the plunge and get the first volume out from the library. I’m patting myself on the back right now for finally making an excellent life choice; this was really good! Death Note is about a boy named Light, who finds a “death note” that gives him the power to orchestrate anyone’s death (within the rules, of course). Light is determined to rid the world of terrible people, but not everyone finds his methods admirable. So, I was fascinated by the entire concept of the death note, and the mysticism that surrounds it. But I also really thought the cat-and-mouse game that ensues between Light and all the officials who want to catch this “mass murderer” as they called him was so fascinating, and I was constantly trying to figure out who was going to win. Of course, since this is only the first volume, we only get part of the story. But I’m definitely eager to read more volumes!

Nana Cover
Nana, Vol. 1 by Ai Yazawa
Series: Nana #1
Publisher: Viz Media LLC
Publication Date: December 6, 2005
Source: Manga borrowed from the library

Nana is actually a story split into two parts, both about girls named Nana who are so very different from one another. The girls are growing up, making choices that will shape the rest of their lives, forming friendships and falling in love. While this is perfectly ordinary fare to read about, what truly makes this manga interesting are the two Nanas. They’re basically extreme opposites, which means major differences in the outcomes of this chapter in their stories. One Nana is reeling from a broken heart from a man she thought loved her but was only using her; the other Nana is forced to let the guy she’s in love with go to secure his own future as a musician. Both experience heartbreak and hope, and it is all too easy to get swept up in the dramatic circumstances they are both experiencing. While each girl’s part of the story ends on a definitive note, I certainly want to find out what happens next and will definitely be picking up the next volume.

Batgirl cover
Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Batgirl of Burnside by Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr (ill.) and Brenden Fletcher
Series: Batgirl Vol. IV #6
Publisher: DC Comics
Publication Date: May 27, 2015
Source: Paperback borrowed from the library

Before I picked this one up, I already had a preconceived notion of who Barbara Gordon was as a character, thanks to my husband. It caught me off guard to discover a Barbara who was young, impulsive, and very generation Y – but after a little adjustment time, I sank into this story and thoroughly enjoyed it. The Batgirl of Burnside chronicles Barbara’s move to Burnside, where she fights crime, works on her graduate thesis and also faces Batgirl impostors. It took a while for the story to pick up, in my opinion, but once it does, it gets really good – and then that ending happens, and I finished the volume feeling pretty impressed. It’s a fun take on Batgirl, though it certainly feels catered heavily towards the audience of young people today. While I’m not rushing to pick up the next volume, I think I may have to check it out just to see what happens to Barbara and her friends after the events of this story.

Step Aside, Pops book cover
Step Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton
Series: Hark! A Vagrant #3
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
Publication Date: September 15, 2015

It’s nearly impossible to describe Step Aside, Pops! because it’s such an eclectic collection of comic strips that feature humorous, imaginative takes on literature, history and pop culture. I read it in two sittings, though I feel like it is probably better experienced in smaller doses. But I honestly need to stand up and applaud Kate Beaton on her creativity and sense of humor, because it’s so spot on, even when it’s irreverent. While this collection might not be for the faint of heart (there’s definitely some NSFW stuff in there), it’s really entertaining. I found some sections more amusing than others, but all in all, it’s a cohesive bunch tied together by the thread of irreverence and humor that is apparently Beaton’s signature style. I’m definitely going to have to check out the other two collections at some point!

Welcome to Gotham Academy cover
Gotham Academy, Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher + Karl Kerschl
Series: Gotham Academy #1-6
Publisher: DC Comics
Publication Date: June 17, 2015
Source: Paperback borrowed from the library

When I first saw the cover, I had the inkling that this would be a fun read. Thankfully, Welcome to Gotham Academy proved me right! Set up to follow the hijinks and shenanigans that follow Olive Silverlock, a student of the prestigious academy that admits only the best and the brightest. Olive has to deal with the trauma of the past summer, the mystery that’s right under her nose and navigating the world of school hierarchies and friendships. It’s a fun adventure through and through, laced with just the right amounts of heart and humor. I also thoroughly enjoyed the introduction this provides to this eclectic bunch of characters and their school. It wraps up the mystery well, but leaves just the right amount of unresolved plot at the end (as well as the appearance of someone I am extremely excited to read about). I honestly just can’t wait to read the next volume! (I totally ended up buying the second volume, and it was really fun too!)

Rat Queens Vol. 1 cover
Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch
Series: Rat Queens #1-5
Publisher: Image Comics
Publication Date: April 8, 2014
Source: Paperback borrowed from the library

A group of girls who are best friends and kick monster butt? Yes, please. I honestly wouldn’t have heard of Rat Queens were it not for the online book community, and it would have been a crying shame because it was so, so good. It’s like Buffy meets Dungeons & Dragons (as far as I understand D&D to be anyway), and I couldn’t stop reading once I’d started. These characters are unique individuals, particularly the four Rat Queens who are very different from one another in personality and ability. The amount of sass and smarts these four show in the face of the mystery that they need to solve and the fights they need to win is really great, and I lapped it up eagerly. I honestly can’t wait for more adventures with these guys!

I Kill Giants cover
I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura
Publisher: Image Comics
Publication Date: September 1, 2009
Source: Paperback borrowed from the library

Confession: The first time I tried reading this, I had to set it back down because I found it really confusing and I didn’t particularly gel with the main character. But I decided to give it another go before I returned it to the library – and I’m glad I did, even though I still found some parts of the story muddled. Basically, this is the story of a gal named Barbara Thorson, who is a killer of giants. It follows her as she navigates school, friendship and family, and while things start to make sense by the end, it’s definitely really confusing at first. I think the art style is actually quite a match for the story, which is something I can appreciate. And I really like how the story unfolds too! It’s hard to get into (at least it was for me), but it turned out to be a pretty good read in the end.

Preludes and Nocturnes cover
Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III
Series: Sandman #1
Publisher: Vertigo
Publication Date: 2012
Source: Paperback borrowed from the library

I had no idea what I was in for when I started reading the first volume of Sandman, save for the fact that it was sure to be twisty and imaginative and oddly compelling – and all those things were totally true. This particular story centers on Morpheus after he finally escapes the prison the humans caught him in, and how he slowly regains control of his three tools of power – a pouch, a helm and a ruby. It’s a compelling story, with some fun cameos too (I had no idea those characters would show up, but I was delighted). However, it’s not for the faint of heart since it does get quite gruesome and disturbing (though you’ll have to really judge for yourself what you can tolerate). It’s still pretty compelling, and I’m really curious to see what happens next.

Robin Reborn cover
Robin Vol. 1: Reborn by Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Tom Lyle + Norm Breyfogle
Publisher: DC Comics
Publication Date: November 10, 2015
Source: Paperback purchased from Amazon

So, before I read this volume of comics, I was pretty neutral on the subject of Tim Drake. (Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne are my favorite Robins, in case you wanted to know.) But after I finished, I realized I had a newfound respect for Tim Drake. This volume tells the story of how Tim becomes Robin, and it’s quite illuminating. He’s got a different approach to it, for one thing, though a tragic story that fuels his fire is something he shares in common with the others. I really like how we’re given the opportunity to get to know Tim, to see his both his determination to succeed at being a great Robin and his fear that he won’t live up to the reputation the others built before him. It’s definitely a chapter in the Bat Family’s story that is worth a read, and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing Tim in action in future comics.

Battle for the Cowl cover
Batman: Battle for the Cowl by Tony S. Daniel and Fabian Nicieza
Publisher: DC Comics
Publication Date: December 11, 2012
Source: Comic purchased for Kindle from Amazon

I'm just really loving the Bat Family these days, and it's been really fun catching up on all their back stories and side stories and relationships with one another. My husband has been feeding the obsession by supplying me with all sorts of stories about the clan, and Battle for the Cowl is one of the latest. In this world, Batman is dead and without him, Gotham is falling to pieces: crime lords warring for turf, people in an uproar and no one there to help the police sort things out. Dick Grayson has his hands full trying to juggle crime fighting, rallying the team and looking out for Bruce Wayne's other Robins - Damian Wayne and Time Drake. But when an impostor Batman starts showing up and fighting crime in a style decidedly unlike Bruce's, Dick is forced to make a move. Now, honestly, there are some very loose ends regarding some side plots going on in Gotham. But I was completely interested in seeing all these Robins and other vigilantes reconcile what to do now that Bruce was dead. It was pretty compelling stuff, and I wasn't quite sure exactly where this was going to go. I will say that I'm quite satisfied with how that particular arc turned out, though I wish we had also gotten a wrap-up of what happens in Gotham itself with the crime lords.

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