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Trade Paperback Review: Young Avengers, Vol. 1

Young Avengers: Style>Substance

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Colorist: Matt Wilson
Letterer: Clayton Cowles

Young Avengers Style Substance cover

Legacy isn’t a dirty word…but it’s an irrelevant one. It’s not important what our parents did. It matters what WE do. Someone has to save the world. You’re someone. Do the math. The critically acclaimed team of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie reinvent the teen super hero comic for the 21st century, uniting Wiccan, Hulkling and Kate “Hawkeye” Bishop with Kid Loki, Marvel Boy and Ms. America. No pressure, right? As a figure from Loki’s past emerges, Wiccan makes a horrible mistake that comes back to bite everyone on their communal posteriors. Fight scenes! Fake IDs! And plentiful feels! (aka “meaningful emotional character beats” for people who aren’t on tumblr.) Young Avengers is as NOW! as the air in your lungs, and twice as vital. Hyperbole is the BEST! THING! EVER!

I’d heard good things about this series and after being smitten by The Wicked + The Divine, by the very same creative team, I made the time to check it out. Part of the Marvel Now! rebranding initiative, the title was meant to entice new readers. So it’s something of a relaunch using existing characters but introducing a new group and storyline. I was familiar with one or two of the characters and wondered if I’d get lost, but after only a few pages I was rocking right along.

Young Avengers is a fun book, which is not to say it’s light. The teen years can be dark, full of emotion and angst and struggle. The trick is translating that to the comics page and turning it into something interesting, something with stakes.

This is something Gillen’s done quite brilliantly. Introducing the team via relationship dynamics, creating the conflict out of love and longing, and casting the villain as an invading alien parent all contribute to the intimate yet universal character of the story. Teens it turns out, are the perfect people for us against the world superheroics.
Come With Me if You Want to Be Awesome

The characters, action, and setting evolve like a mixtape. Dense, complex verses with catchy hooks and languid bridges combining toward a mood that intensifies chapter to chapter. Longtime Marvel fans will recognize familiar plot points and tertiary characters and honestly the more you know, the more clever it will all seem. But there’s no barrier to entry here. All you need is open eyes.

Use them to appreciate Jamie McKelvie’s frankly brilliant design. Propulsive eight panel grids give way to inventive two page splashes that demonstrate both what the medium can accomplish on its best days and how to keep experimental structures solidly on task. Of course this is aided by Matt Wilson’s colors. They make the right parts of every panel pop and subtly set the mood.

If you’re a Gillen fan, or a Marvel fan, or a fan of being awesome, you’ll probably like this book.

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Graphic Novel Review – Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying

Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying by Alan Moore
illustrated by Gary Leach and Alan Davis

Miracleman A Dream of Flying

KIMOTA! With one magic word, a long-forgotten legend lives again! Freelance reporter Michael Moran always knew he was meant for something more-now, an unexpected series of events leads him to reclaim his destiny as Miracleman! The groundbreaking graphic novel that heralded a literary revolution begins here in A DREAM OF FLYING. After nearly two decades away, Miracleman uncovers his origins and their connection to the British military’s “Project Zarathustra” – while his alter ego, Michael Moran, must reconcile his life as the lesser half of a god.

I read two issues and one trade of Miracleman when my roommate worked for one of the guys that used to set prices in the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. All of them were later issues. The trade was by Neil Gaiman. Apocrypha was weird and enticing and ultimately had to be returned.

Like a lot of folks, I wanted trades, collections, whatever. And like a lot folks I waited, and waited, and waited. When the legal issues with regard to the series were finally resolved, I was excited to finally see this masterpiece in the pulp. That’s the waiting talking.

This arc must be ground zero for grimdark. Frank Miller would spend a career trying to be darker and edgier than this. Watchmen, the gold standard for this perspective, is sort of thoughtful and melancholy by comparison.

There’s nothing here but anger and degradation. Planetary issue 7 spends a page parodying just how ridiculous it is and, well, I mean it adds sex midgets, but it’s otherwise pretty much accurate.

Planetary i7p18

It doesn’t so much deconstruct Superman as create an AU where nothing good is possible and every paranoid fantasy is true. Hate something, add it. Fear something, add it. It was inspired by a mashup of the old comic and Mad Magazine, so there you go. What if what might make Superman problematic was written for Mad fans?

Now I get it.

It’s not that it’s not well constructed. Moore was a craftsman even then. It’s just that the idea was toxic. There’s a lot to say about governments, weapons and war, the responsibility and danger of power, and the fragility of identity.

But it’s all been hashed over again and again for decades. Supreme Power comes to mind. And I think that’s because Miracleman wasn’t part of the conversation for twenty years. As a result, we got the heroes as bad guys torn apart when their lives were turned inside out. If you’re curious about where that came from and why, it was A Dream of Flying.

But it’s terrible. Don’t read it.

Recommended for fans of Dark Knight III: The Master Race, The Punisher, and Daniel Tosh.

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‘Paper Girls’ #2: Nostalgia is Death

PaperGirls_02 CoverPaper Girls #2

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 November 4, 2015

Paper Girls #2 picks up immediately after the close of issue #1. One of our mummy-ninja mystery men is making a mad dash with his bag of stolen devices. The issue then goes on to offer deepening characters and relationships, developing themes, and more than a few surprises. Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang maintain the excitement, intrigue, and childhood nostalgia established in the opening issue while giving their readers much more to munch on.

The issue’s opening page gives text in the mystery men’s language. Decoded it reads: NOSTALGIA IS DEATH. The language is a simple substitution cipher. For a decoder key, click here. This appears to be the title of the issue and certainly captures both plot and theme of the narrative.Paper Girls 2 Translations

But whose nostalgia? The title language belonging to the cyborgs suggests that this is their story, though we remain rooted sympathetically with Erin and co. Perhaps nostalgia is what brought our cyborg trio to ’88. Certainly, death comes to the bag-toting mutant man. But the character that voices honest-to-goodness nostalgia is Mac’s stepmom, who mentions how she hated being 12, back in 1965, but that life only got worse from there, so that by the time adulthood struck, the whole thing just fell apart. Or perhaps it’s much more universally abstract. Like in The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Thus the death could be literal, as it is for Jay Gatsby, or metaphorical in how we cease living in the present as the past becomes ever-more gold-tinged through nostalgia.

To read the rest of my review, click through to PopOptiq.




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Graphic Novel Review – Jem and the Holograms: Showtime

Jem and the Holograms: Showtime by Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell

Jem and the Holograms Showtime

Meet Jerrica Benton – a girl with a secret. She and her sister Kimber team with two friends to become… JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS! But what does it mean to be JEM today? Fashion, art, action, and style collide in Jem and the Holograms: Showtime!

So, if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you won’t be surprised to learn that we wholeheartedly recommend Jem and the Holograms. We’ve devoted increasing attention to comics this year and Erin’s even doing some external writing for larger readerships. What you need to understand is that it’s all due to this masterpiece from Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell.

It’s not that we didn’t read comics. In my youth, I was guilty of encouraging the multiple cover foil embossed special card limited edition kind of thing that shook the industry. These days, we’re the folks with two shelves full of trades.

And we’ll get this one even though we own every issue. We’ll probably get a couple extra to give to friends and family during the coming holidays. The old theme song declaring Jem excitement and adventure, fashion and fame could not be more appropriate.

Collecting the first six-issue arc of this beautiful, heartrending comic, Showtime is basically the coolest thing to hit the racks since, um, probably superheroes. As a former fan of the cartoon, I feel confident saying the creators have as much or more love for the source material as anyone. And the characters are compelling enough to draw unfamiliar readers in.

The story’s simple enough. Struggling musicians Jem and the Holograms put their futures on the line by entering a battle of the bands contest hosted by established industry juggernauts The Misfits. With the help of a sentient holographic artificial intelligence, they overcome their lead singer’s stage fright and capture the public consciousness. Along the way they face danger, romance, and food fights.

Everything in Jem is full of high intensity bathos. A coffee house conversation has the same stakes as the collapse of a career. And while the writing, and especially the dialog propel the drama, it’s indelible largely due to the artwork.

Sophie Campbell depicts emotion like no other artist I’m familiar with. The comic could be silent and still provoke fiero or sorrow, cheers or tears. If that weren’t enough, each character is a distinct individual person with his or her, mostly her, own expressions and, more importantly, body type. In a medium where basically everyone tends to look the same, this is incredibly refreshing.

Jem Broadsheet

You’re more likely to see yourself in this title than pretty much any other. Strong, confident lines and an incredible eye for design make each encounter with a character an experience to look forward to. And when they come together, there’s no mistaking them.

Not only that, Campell uses a clever, fluid layout for musical scenes that combines text and music video montage along with abstract streamers to evoke the energy and tone of an experience that’s difficult to express in static pictures. So a poppy love song comes with rounded edges and almost bubbly shapes while a pop-punk anthem comes with sharp lightning.

Do yourself a favor and check this one out. Even if it seems silly. Especially if it seems silly. You’ll be surprised.

Recommended for fans of truth, beauty, and transcendence.

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‘Paper Girls’ #1: Where are you going, where have you been?

Papergirls1 CoverPaper Girls #1

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 October 7, 2015

I am Erin (see byline and comparison photo). I was a preteen in 1988, sporting the same hair and stone washed jean jacket (though mine was pink). I was tough (especially in defending my friends) and responsible and Catholic. I had that pastel Sharp boombox, the jelly bracelets, the four-color pen, the love of The Far Side.  I had Tiffany’s Reebok high-tops and KJ’s stirrup pants, turtle neck, and overlarge sweatshirt combo outfit. I had many pairs of those slouch socks. So the setting of Paper Girls is uncannily familiar. The juxtaposition of elements of my childhood stored deep in my memory and the creepy, sci-fi unknown has awakened an immediate, obsessive engagement in me.


Nov. 1, 1988. “Hell morning” for four 12-year-old paper girls. Teaming up to minimize the abuse they might take from lingering drunk partiers, Erin, Mac, Tiffany, and KJ run into a completely unexpected adversary, and they’re clearly not locals. Image marketing calls it Stand by Me meets War of the Worlds. Vaughan brings his characteristic mix of the mundanely familiar and the fantastical to the storytelling, while Chiang amplifies the realism through his attention to detail, and Wilson color contrasts early morning blues with neon pink and yellow to evoke the late 80’s era and highlight emotional peaks. And in short, the collaboration is a-MAZE-ing.

For the rest of my review plus a deep look at references and a theory of what the girls have discovered, click through to PopOptiq.


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‘Lumberjanes Vol. 2’ is the Manlessly Abnormal Ideal

lumberjanesVol2Lumberjanes Vol. 2

Written by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
Illustrated by Brooke Allen
Colors by Maarta Laiho
Letters by Aubrey Aiese
Cover by Noelle Stevenson
Published by BOOM! Studios on October 7, 2015

Good news, everyone! If you liked what you saw in Lumberjanes volume 1, you will adore what comes in volume 2. Stevenson, Ellis, and Allen give you more of everything you loved: friendship, quirk, adorableness, amazeballs supernatural weirdness, gender diversity, youthful sincerity, and camp (both the place and the quality of art). Volume 1 only began to open the door on the strange events surrounding the Roanoke cabin Lumberjanes, but volume 2 reveals the mystery and closes the arc with satisfying spectacle, wisdom, charm, and humor.

The field guide framework to Lumberjanes remains crucial in grounding the comic. While volume 1 featured yetis and bearwomen, the events of volume 2 literally bridge the worlds of humans and gods, and the audience is asked to take such paranormal events as mere child’s play. The tone established by the tongue-in-cheek field guide parody continually re-establishes the mundane plausibility of middle school girls defeating, for example, supernatural velociraptors. These issues level the playing field between the two strata. Gods exhibit the worst vices and follies of humanity while humans rise above their flaws to become epically divine. The cartoonish style of art by Brooke Allen plays a powerful role in tonally jiving the mundane, supernatural, dramatic, and humorous within the field guide framework.

Read the rest of my review at Popoptiq! (400 more words!)


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Comic Review: Jem and the Holograms #7

Jem and the Holograms “Viral” Part One by Kelly Thompson illustrated by Emma Vieceli

Jem and the Holograms 7

Jerrica and her sisters face their biggest threat yet—success! Meanwhile, the Misfits aren’t taking these upstarts laying down… as they find themselves under new management…

Jem and the Holograms completed its first arc, “Showtime,” last issue. Big images, strong emotions, soul crushing conflicts. Even hard-as-nails Pizzazz nearly shed a tear, folks.

As you might expect, this issue returns to more intimate settings and focuses on the internal and the personal. The minutiae of everyday life. For rock stars anyway.

Jerrica struggles to prioritize various aspects of their burgeoning fame while Kimber agonizes over her shattered relationship. Surprisingly, both get some assistance from sparkly holographic supercomputer Synergy.

Across town, the Misfits face some challenges of their own. Their A&R rep is incensed about the disastrous fallout from their last performance. The band tries to play it off, but they’re getting a manager whether they like it or not.

Enter the first of two new, or nostalgic, depending on your perspective, cast members. Eric Raymond has been conspicuously missing from the comic since issue one. And he looks perfect. Fill in artist Emma Vieceli gives Eric the shifting  serpentine charisma he needs without a voice actor.

We also get a glimpse of Techrat, though he’s not named, at the end of the issue. I’m using his television pronoun, but the design is completely androgynous. The Misfits seem to have a way of attracting people with a hate on for the Holograms.

I have to admit that I already miss Sophie Campbell. I love the consistency of depiction across diverse body types and the emotional resonance of her art. She makes Jem magical.

However, Vieceli employs an impressive range of expressions and employs some creative stylistic tools that provide both humor and pathos. I’m looking forward to the next issue.

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‘Bitch Planet’ #5 Does Some World Shaking, Heart Breaking

BitchPlanet_05 coverI should have expected it–I mean, how could I not with the warning of “Steel yourselves for heartbreak. Which WIP with RIP?” on the cover? But I blindly went into the much delayed, but so worth the wait, issue #5 of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s genre-wielding, sci-fi dystopian feminist fist pump. It had been four issues since Bitch Planet had seen a death, and I was starting to feel a bit cozy in the small group of non-compliant women surrounding Kamau and Penny. I simply didn’t see it coming.

Which is exactly why DeConnick pulled this rug, and why she did it now. This is a world where the stakes are high, and lives, especially women’s, are severely undervalued. To become cozy, as I did, is to become complacent.

[The review is continued at Beware–there are big spoilers for the issue.]

‘Bitch Planet’ #5 Does Some World Shaking, Heart Breaking

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Comic Review: Jem and the Holograms #6

Jem and the Holograms “Showtime” Part Six by Kelly Tompson illustrated by Sophie Campbell

Jem and the Holograms 6

SHOWTIME SHOWDOWN! The Battle of the Bands is here—Jem and The Holograms will face off against The Misfits…or will they? Battle lines are drawn! Nemeses are born!

Jem and the Holograms is the title I wait for. I was a fan of the cartoon and this comic is its true and worthy heir. The story is great, building from personal places and playing out in public spaces. But the art is fantastic.

Sophie Campbell has reimagined what was essentially a doll line as real and diverse people. And she can make them look glam and fierce covered in mayo and kethchup and goop.

Jem 6 P1p2

In the aftermath of the foodfight triggered by Kimber’s recognition of Clash as the woman with bolt cutters, the must have feminist accessory of summer 2015, Jem and the Holograms find themselves in breach of their Vs! Contest contract. Both bands clean up and come clean. Sort of. We get a rare moment of everyone dressed casually and being brutally honest about their relationships. Campbell’s skill at portraying emotion shines in these pages.


Star crossed Kimber and Stormer suffer the agony of unanswered, unanswerable calls and texts. If you’d told me anyone, ever, could impart the emotional impact of a relationship in a downward spiral with drawings of smartphones, I wouldn’t have believed you. Now I’m the person telling you that.

I can’t think of a single comic book artist who so clearly lines up the depicted expression with the words being said and feelings in play. Jem and the Holograms is about these moments as much as it’s about fashion and fame. The final panel features both a declaration of war and plainly wounded pride welling in a restrained tear.

There are a couple cool references in this issue. Probably more than a couple, but these are stand outs. First, the Misfits’ guitar-shaped motorcycles from the very first episode, and first song, of the cartoon make an appearance.

Guitar Motorcycles

Check out their original incarnation in “Outta My Way.”

And the final act of the issue featuring Jerrica’s plan to upstage the Misfits as they close out their concert is reminiscent of Sex Bob-Omb’s battle with fifth ans sixth Evil Exes, the Katayanagi Twins, in Scott Pilgrim vs The World.

IDW has some preview pages up if you’re on the fence, but do yourself a favor and go pick this, and every other issue, up with the rest of your books today.


Comic Review: Plutona #1 by Jeff Lemire

Plutona_01-coverThe Breakfast Club meets Stand By Me meets Top Ten in Jeff Lemire’s new comic Plutona. The story straddles the line between coming-of-age realism and superhero fantasy, building one inside the other to offer a unique juxtaposition. Newcomer Emi Lenox’s art is reminiscent of both indie comics giant Daniel Clowes and Lumberjanes artist Brooke Allen. The initial issue effectively introduces the central characters through narrative and visual cues and sets the stage for their life-altering discovery. I will definitely be adding this to my pull list.

Spoilers ahead!

Plutona offers two initial impressions: the cover depicting disaffected teen Mie and the opening page of four panels of extreme close-ups of the dead body of a superhero. This juxtaposition creates an interesting new take on one of the most epic of narrative tropes in comics–the death of a superhero, but now through the eyes of a naive, personal perspective rather than a global peril one. These opening images set the path for the rest of the narrative.Plutona01_Preview_Page4

Crucial to this issue, though, is the introduction to our four teens: Teddy, Diane, Ray, and Mie. Each gets a page depicting their time before heading off to school. The top panel gives an extreme close-up of their eyes, setting up mirroring images to pair them: Teddy and Diane, Ray and Mie. The effect overall of repeating the structure of their pages is to beg a foil comparison. They have aspects in common, Teddy’s fixation on superheroes ties to Diane’s new puppy Loki who ties to Mie’s brother Mike. But they also each have their unique qualities. For instance, rather than being prompted by a parent to get to school on time, like the others are, Ray is the one waking his father for work. Their parent-child relationship is reversed.Plutona01_Preview_Page5

To emphasize their uniqueness, each of the four gets a color that dominates their page. Teddy is green, Diane purple, Ray gray, and Mie orange. Though I don’t yet have a full theory on the symbolism of each color, the use of them continues in interesting ways through the rest of the issue. As the teens come together on the street on their way to school, all of their colors intermingle in the background. Later, when Teddy and Ray meet on a grassy hill, the color choice for the panels is a dull yellow, as if their colors of gray and green were mixing. When Mie shows her dominance over Diane by pressuring her to let her wear the punk jacket, the wall behind them is orange. Thus, Emi Lenox’s art emphasizes the kids’ relationships, visually offering clues to the emotional significance underlying the scene.Plutona01_Preview_Page6 (1)

Additionally, this issue must establish the world of the narrative. After the initial panels of the dead superhero, there is a landscape shot of the setting: a city in the distance, a small town closer in the frame, a river running past the two. The sun beginning to rise from behind mountains, the sky purple-pink pastel. A forest of trees everywhere else, surrounding the human settlements. The landscape is idyllic, yes, but the engulfing forest suggests that outside these human civilizations is wilderness and chaos, the threat of animal nature.Plutona01_Preview_Page7

Teddy’s page establishes the relationship with superheroes. He’s listening to news reports from Metro City of superhero and villain activities, logging them in a notebook, and sharing them with others online. To him, the superheroes are a public fascination, like celebrities, and he spends his free time “capespotting.” His room is plastered with posters (one is of Plutona) and news clippings.  The radio report sets up analogs to the superheroes the reader knows. C.O.M.Bat is Batman, for instance. The depiction of Plutona, with the astrological symbol for Venus and thus woman, on the chest of her uniform, suggests her analog to be Wonder Woman, although the information we get through the comic within the comic gives her a wildly different backstory. The prevalence of superheroes in their world reminded me of Moore’s Top Ten.

Although the comic is only getting started, the death of Plutona begs some interesting symbolic reading. Her use of the Venus symbol connects her to femininity and by extension, through her power, feminism. In her comic, she struggles to fill all of her roles: waitress, mother, savior to the city. Her dual identity creates strife for her, attempting to do too much. In fact, she’s pulling a double shift at the Double Dipper Diner. Perhaps this is meant to critique the working mother or the notion that women can do it all. Her death, then, could have further implications regarding the role of feminism in society or even just comic books.

In a more universal way, the death of the hero could mirror the coming-of-age of these teens. Becoming adult is often the awaking to the reality behind illusions. Their hero is dead. Perhaps their innocence too. Darker stories are already being suggested behind the facades of identity. Ray especially clearly sports two identities, like Plutona. To the other teens, he’s a rebel bully, tough and independent and borderline criminal. He smokes and calls them offensive names like Tugger and Chubs. When Teddy asks him what happened to his eye, Ray responds he got into a fight with a 9th grader, but the suggestion is that he’s being abused at home. The kids’ foray into the woods at the end of the comic likewise suggests they are going to be digging deeper into their true selves and seeing what they’re really made of.

Lemire’s Trillium showed me he’s a writer of creative, parallel storytelling and unique vision. I see the beginnings of those same traits here and am intrigued to see where this goes.