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‘Paper Girls’ 7: The Present is Not a Gift

PaperGirls_07-1Paper Girls #7
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art and Cover by Cliff Chiang
Colors by Matt Wilson
Letters and Design by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Image Comics on July 6, 2016

So I’m going to drop the gambit of these posts being reviews. Let’s just assume I’m giving this second issue of the new arc 11 stars and move along. I know some reviewers fell out of love with Paper Girls as the first five issues progressed. I have not. The power trio of Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, and Matt Wilson continue to enthrall me. Paper Girls’ new arc keeps the intensity going, introduces a new era, and offers great surprises. If you liked the first volume, you should definitely pick up the new issues.

Instead of reviewing, this will be more of an unpacking of the issue. I’ll take a look at the references, reveals, connotations, and symbols and attempt to make some meaning. From here on, consider yourself in SPOILER TERRITORY.


Paper Girls #7 continues to muck about with the perception of 2016 to our three paper girls from 1988: is it a fantastic new world with amazing technology or a near dystopia of broken people and abandoned touch stones? Tiffany is celebratory that the world is even still here considering the wars and other apocalyptic news she’s used to seeing top of the fold. (By the way, the word “fold” ties together that time travel with the newspaper. Just saying.) Mac is down on the future, keeping to her cynical view. The reveal at issue’s end regarding what’s become of her in 2016 pretty much validates her attitude anachronistically. Erin, who is now looking into the life of her future self, sees a mixed bag. On the one hand, her future self never got married (pro!), but on the other, she takes drugs for anxiety (con!). If Vaughan and Chang’s 1988 was depicted with the nostalgic glow of dawn, the team gives 2016 the Sutro Instagram filter, creating a through-a-glass-darkly effect.

PaperGirls_06-1Chiang’s covers for the last two issues have brilliantly highlighted major themes of the new arc. For #6, he depicts the entrapment of routine with 40-year old Erin in a Matrix-y gray-green cubicle office, surrounded by repeated squares of screen, clipboards, sticky notes, binders and drawers, visually echoing Tiffany’s Editrix vision of playing Arkanoid and figuratively boxing Erin in.

The cover for #7 trades the green for an ominous dusky purple and the boxes for jagged cracks, repeated in the time travel lightning, the creeping weeds on the sides of the dead mall, and the cracks in the pavement of its parking lot. Dwarfed by these jagged lines are 1988 Erin and 2016 Erin. (Chrononaut Erin has not yet arrived to meet her fellow selves.) We usually see time as a straight line forward, propelled by the passing of minutes and the endless chain of cause and effect. But with time travel in the mix, timelines multiply off of each other like lightning, breaking into the potential futures.

1988 Erin mentions to 2016 Erin that she thinks this timeline is wrong and that she needs to go back to correct it, like in The Terminator. The reference is particularly  interesting considering the multiple sequels and reboots the franchise has had since 1984. While 2016 Erin states that it’s just a weird time for her, not post-apocalypse, the presence of Chrononaut Erin suggests that there is in fact work to be done to save the future. Her comfort with the technology and her ability to manipulate the Uber driver in the face of Godzilla-sized water bears suggests that this time traveling is now a thing she does. And she does it well. Who knows how many fractures of the time line have been created. Clearly at least three.

AwkwardErins.pngIn the meantime, 1988 Erin is sizing up her elder self, judging her drug use (prescription!) as indication of mental illness. 2016 Erin anticipates her younger self’s judgement and is emotionally relieved when the younger verbally validates aspects of the elder’s life. It is an existential question made concrete: Have you lived the life you wanted to as a child? Erin’s answer is a qualified “kinda.” 1988 Erin’s approval of the elder’s hair, shirt, and choice to remain untethered by marriage elicits a surprise hug, and the panel that follows, where the two strike the same embarrassed pose, is a highlight of the issue. Later, Tiffany and Mac set off to find their 2016 selves, and each of them are scared to see what they’ll be like. Mac’s house is closer, so they go there first, only to find that Mac died in 1992 of leukemia. Mac’s response is one of shocked detachment. She says they’ll be sure to update the subscription information, which offers an ironic understatement to strongly evoke emotional response from the reader.

waterbearVaughan gives a bit of symbolism in the form of the gigantic water bears. Chrononaut Erin mentions that size is relative, like time, and so as objects approach the time fold’s event horizon, they grow incredibly large. Erin brought an otherwise microscopic entity with her through the fold, but its size didn’t adjust back after the jump. Perhaps she wears tech that helps her size down again. Sidenote: water bears are officially known as tardigrades, which evokes Tardis. These tardigrades are now bigger on the outside. I also suspect that this particular microscopic organism was chosen for it’s visual similarity to the Cronenbergian Tardis that Heck and Naldo traveled in.

As for the symbolism, the theme that gets highlighted by the supersized tardigrade is the powerful effect of small things on an infinite timeline. The butterfly effect, you know? A little stowaway on Erin’s time travel boat becomes an epic monster and danger to humanity. In this way, Vaughan takes a semi-humorous oddity–water bear Godzillas–and ties it to the comic’s meaning. He’s been doing this from the beginning, making the details work to connote explanations for the story’s mysteries.

If you came for the translation of the chrononaut language, I shall not disappoint. The translations are after the decoder key below.

Paper Girls Time Traveler's Language Key Updated for 5

  1. HEY!

I continue to be pleased that the translation isn’t necessary but always adds flavor to the scenes it’s featured in.

Four new songs added to the Paper Girls Spotify Playlist:

  1. “There Will Still Be Time” by Mumford and Sons
  2. “Comfortably Numb” by Dar Williams and Ani DiFranco
  3. “I Thought the Future Would be Cooler” by YACHT
  4. “The Terminator Theme” by Brad Fiedel

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Advance Review: ‘Satellite Falling’ #1 is Primo Sci-Fi Noir

SatFall01-coverWritten by Steve Horton
Art by Stephen Thompson
Colors by Lisa Jackson
Letters by Neil Uyetake
Edits by Sarah Gaydos
Publish date May 11, 2016 by IDW Publishing

Since this is an advance review, I promise to keep it spoiler free. But I really want to tell you all about the wonderful details of Steve Horton’s new series for IDW. The story, the setting, the characters. The twists on familiar tropes. That will all have to wait until you can pick it up and read it too. Trust me, you’ll want to do that.

Instead, let me tell you what the series reminded me of. Firefly. Bitch Planet. Blade Runner. The Maltese Falcon. The Fifth Element. Maybe one of those is a favorite of yours? Maybe all? But Satellite Falling isn’t a rehash of any of those; it just shares a particular characteristic or two. A tonality. A character type. An aspect of setting or plot dynamic. It lives in that sweet spot between being unique and familiar, making it particularly pleasurable to read.

Here’s the set-up: Lilly is a fish out of water as the only human being living on the planet Satellite. She’s running away from a painful trauma, the loss of her love Eva. (Here, if this were a longer review, I might delve into the significance of naming these two women derivatives of Eve and Lilith, the two first women in Judeo-Christian tradition. Instead, I’ll leave that for you to ponder.) Lilly is a bad-ass bounty hunter with a heart of gold. She’s Malcolm Reynolds in Kaylee’s body. She works on contract for the local police force, but her skills make her too valuable to leave as a free agent and she gets forced into a job she doesn’t want but now can’t let go of.

Read the rest of my review at!



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‘Rat Queens’ #16 Shows You Can’t Go Home Again

RatQueens_16-CoverRat Queens #16
Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Art by Tess Fowler
Letters by Ed Brisson
Colors by Tamra Bonvillain



Rat Queens #16 brings our Rat Queens (minus Hannah) back home to Palisade, except the town has gone to hell in a handbag. The townies hide as groups of adventurer-mercenaries crowd the Testy Unicorn Inn, waiting for their chance to prove they’re the next big heroes, and getting into drunken brawls in the meantime. The Queens return to a puffed up reputation; they’re now the Heroes of Palisade, and everyone–from the traveling chronicler (not a bard!) to estranged family members–want a piece of them. Kurtis Wiebe presents a raucous romp as the women find that coming home brings no sense of comfort.

This issue gives the series a reset after the deep upheaval of the “Demons” arc. Hannah is absent, tucked away in the Mage U version of the Phantom Zone, and her friends have no idea how to rescue her. The Queens are attempting to move on by returning to Palisades to reconnect (for sex!) with those they left behind and perhaps find new direction. Reunion is the watchword, and the three seek out or are sought by the familiar and unexpected. The relocation of Violet’s brother to Palisade likely inspires the new arc’s title: “When Beards Collide.”

Read the rest of my review at


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‘Jem and the Holograms’ #14 Sifts Pizzazz’s Daddy Issues

Jem14_cvrAJem and the Holograms #14
“Dark Jem” Part 4
Written by Kelly Thompson
Art by Sophie Campbell
Story by Thompson and Campbell
Colors by M. Victoria Robado
Letters by Shawn Lee
Edits by John Barber

In an issue that seems to largely advance the plot, Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell take the time to linger on both bands’ insecurities and conflicts, reunite the divided couples, and develop Pizzazz’s familial backstory in Jem and the Holograms #14. A final tease of the showdown with Silica to come leaves the reader antsy for more.

The highlight of the issue for me emotionally was actually a low-point for a character. Pizzazz’s relationship with her father gets explored, and it ends up offering heavy helpings of both sympathy for our ailing Piz and insight into why she is the way she is. Vulnerability connects her to the audience but also illustrates why she would normally push it away. When those who are supposed to love you the most don’t, allowing anyone to love you at all is near impossible.

Read the rest of my review on PopOptiq!

Jem_14 Panel 1


Why I Appreciate the Ending of AMERICANAH

I’ve been reading (and teaching) Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s critically acclaimed novel Americanah for the first time this spring. Many of my students were disappointed with the ending, but not me. Here’s why. (SPOILERS, obvs.)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie by Beowulf Sheehan

Americanah has been a satire with serious bits since the beginning. That makes it a comedy. Comedy genre rule #1 is that it ends happily (often with a wedding). To turn tragic at the end with a character death to separate our star-crossed lovers would be a mishandling of the book’s genre at large.

While the middle part of the novel was definitely about race, and was perhaps the most interesting to us because it was ABOUT us (Americans), the novel as a whole was about Ifemelu’s (and Obinze’s to a lesser extent) identity, including race when she comes to America, but also family, love, public personas versus inner life, gender, class, and morality. Overall, it is a coming-of-age book, except the transition from child to adult is complicated by changes in geography and society. At the end, Ifemelu finds her way back to herself. She leaves the job she doesn’t believe in, starts the blog that allows her to write about the important issues of Lagos, pays her own way in life, makes peace with the previous loves whom she left in lurch, and ends up being on her own for seven months, probably assuming Obinze had decided to stay with Kosi, and more or less moving on. That Obinze returns to her doesn’t negate her own independence.

Obinze and Ifemelu are fated to be together. They are built to be a couple who are together despite society’s expectations. Remember how Obinze was fated by the “gods” to be with Ginika back when Ifemelu met him? It seems that fate, or gods in the form of society, are continually trying to keep them apart. Their ability to come back together does break up Obinze’s marriage, but it was a “transactional” marriage, and one that I think we all see as a “lesser” marriage. This is a “white person” belief according to Obinze’s friend, which ties their non-conformity to their time and interest in the West, but I don’t think it originated there. They were bucking society’s expectations for love from the very beginning.

But despite their fated relationship, Adichie keeps it real. If there is dissatisfaction with the ending, it is that love can’t conquer all without consequences. Adichie makes us look at the consequences of what’s life’s thrown at them and what they’ve chosen along the way in response. There are lasting effects, and finding each other again after all this time is no easy feat. Deciding to be together, openly, honestly, means ending other ties and recommitting, figuring out how to pursue love but also maintain duty. I believe that if Obinze says he’ll see Buchi every day, he will. But honesty is a big theme in this novel, and when Obinze says that one day Buchi will realize he’s been pretending to be a fully invested father who loves her mother, she’ll become resentful of the lie.

So much literature ends with death and destruction of dreams and ideals. Gatsby. Heart of Darkness. Things Fall Apart. Hamlet. Cuckoo’s Nest. Slaughterhouse. White Noise. It almost seems like literature can’t be literature without the tragedy. Little value is given to the comedy or the book that retains hope. But comedy isn’t easy (try it and see). And maintaining hope in a world like ours, in the face of racism, poverty, body trafficking, and corruption (all topics Adichie deals with earnestly), is likewise hard. Ending on tragedy, in my opinion, is the easier way out. Finding a way to say, “Yes, you can survive this struggle, and it will define who you are, but it won’t crush you. Love for people and love for life will get you through,” that’s the bigger challenge. And the more important one.

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Image After/Image: ‘Jem and the Holograms’ #13 Revels in Duality

Jem13_cvrA-MOCKONLYJem and the Holograms #13
Written by Kelly Thompson
Art by Sophie Campbell
Story by Thompson and Campbell
Colors by M. Victoria Robado
Letters by Shawn Lee
Edits by John Barber


As the “Dark Jem” arc hits its full stride, the story takes off, fast and fun. Kelly Thompson built up an anticipation for what Silica and Dark Jem might bring during the last two issues, and Jem and the Holograms #13 pays off in humorous character hijinks and ebullient art by Sophie Campbell and M. Victoria Robado.

The colors on this issue are outstanding, tonally building the emotional content. Robado uses a bright and bold palette during the Misfits’ first concert performance with Blaze at the mic, then jumps back to the black and pastel for the characters under the influence of Silica. When checking in on a recovering Pizzazz, her signature green and purple are darkened to suggest a variation on theme with a Dark Pizzazz, one who is shadowed by depression rather than infected by Silica.

To read the rest of my review, click through to!

Stormer and Jetta eye their audience in JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #13

Stormer and Jetta eye their audience in JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #13



Cell by Cell: ‘Bitch Planet’ #6 Part 6

BitchPlanet_06-1In this Cell by Cell, I look deeply into the panels of Bitch Planet #6, pages 11-12, appreciating and analyzing the story and artistic composition.

Bitch Planet #6
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art by Taki Soma
Cover by Valentine De Landro
Colors by Kelly Fitzpatrick
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics on January 6, 2016

Click here if you’d prefer to see my review of the issue.

In these two pages, Mr. Braxton gets down to business with Makoto. And business is blackmail.

Page 11

Bitch Planet #6 Page 11In cell 1, Makoto gets aggressive about finally getting Doug Braxton to discuss the problem with the Polestar plans. But Doug calls for more saki first, though he’s already clearly drunk. Yume’s subtle sarcasm in the response that their out speaks volumes about her character and role in society. Any subversion from women must be heavily veiled, so as not to show up on radar or to be believably denied. The compositional lines all lead to Doug, and the lines and boxes created by the wall and hanging lights build a subtle effect of introducing the trap Doug is setting for Makoto.

Cell 2 shows the breakdown of niceties as Mack gets annoyed at Doug’s utter lack of forthcomingness. Makoto holds his chin in his fist, showing growing boredom with Braxton’s antics. He also turns to sarcasm with his comment about drinking lighter fluid. Meanwhile Doug just looks sad that the saki is gone. This is the brilliance of the character. On the one hand he is so clearly pathetic. He’s just a little kid, practically, an entitled brat. He’s got nothing of his own making, instead just appropriating other people’s culture and opportunities. But he’s as dangerous as an adder. The more he drinks, the more Mack thinks he’s getting the upper hand. But that is not at all the case. When Makoto finally gets Doug to answer his question, the response is dismissive, condescending, and smacking of his signature cultural appropriate: “You’ve shit the bed, Sensei.”

To read the rest of my analysis, click through to!