REVIEW: Hard Melody (2021)

A graphic novel by Lu Ming

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Nearing forty years old myself, its easy to look back at the last twenty years or so, and look at every bit of missed opportunity I had, every bit of wasted potential, and every misstep. It’s important to move forward with one’s life to avoid falling into a trap of a mid-life crisis at best, crippling depression at worst. For the book Hard Melody, we see three guys in exactly the same predicament – having the potential to have been big Chinese Rockstars in the past, their lives have moved on leaving their dreams behind.

Three thirty-year-old friends reunite in Beijing after nearly 10 years apart. They used to be free-wheeling rock-and-rollers without a care in the world, but now, after tasting their own variation of freedom in new China, they are tormented by how unforgiving and unglamorous life had become. Nothing at all like the fame and fortune they dreamed about as kids.

This book is fairly tough due to its subject matter, and there was a bit of Chinese cultural stuff that I was unsure of, but between the mature storyline and the artwork (which is amazing) I was hooked. As a stand alone, this is a great book, and stands as both a societal look at Chinese culture, as well as a way for the reader to think about how they plan to move on with their lives. Many peak far too young, and their later life suffers due to it, hopefully nobody suffers the same tragedy as seen here.

REVIEW – Elle(s) (2021)

A graphic Novel by Kid Toussain & art by Aveline Stokart

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

When I first started this, I wasn’t too sure what to expect – the art style and setting made me worry I was about getting into a twee book for teenagers, but I was definitely wrong. While the premise may sound somewhat similar to the recent Disney movie Inside Out, only a superficial likeness is there – Elle(s) adds the extra layer of being about mental health issues, and what it means to love somebody with mental health issues into the mix, which makes this so much more. The depiction of “split personalities” is on par when accounts I’ve heard on various TV shows and podcasts – i.e. dominant personality controls everything and person sees everything in third person view – so that was interesting. It would interesting to see somewhen in the clinical psychology field review this.

Elle is just another teenage girl… most of the time. Bubbly and good-natured, she wastes no time making friends on her first day at her new school. But Elle has a secret: she hasn’t come alone. She’s brought with her a colorful mix of personalities, which come out when she least expects it… Who is Elle, really? And will her new friends stand by her when they find out the truth?

While volume one leaves this chapter as an unfinished mystery, and could easily turn into something supernatural and weird, I’m hoping it stays as grounded as volume one – as it was a surprise to me how much I enjoyed it.

Europe Comics continues its trend of quality comics that always seem to surprise me. I will definitely need to seek out the next volume upon publication to see where this story ends up going. Don’t let the cover fool you into thinking this is something other than what it is, and give it a try – It’s good stuff.

REVIEW: Elecboy Book 1 (2021)

A graphic novel by Jaouen Salaün

One part Mad Max, and one part Blame!, Elecboy takes some of the better tropes from dystopian/post-apocalyptic fiction and makes it something of its very own. Europe Comics has done a fine job of introducing me to many comics and creators that I have not been familiar with, and this is yet another entry that has caught my attention.

“In a devastated cityscape, a lone man fights off creatures of fearsome power: white, winged, serenely impassive, and capable of terrifying transformations… Decades later, in a desolate American southwest, a meager colony of human survivors ekes out a precarious existence between dwindling water supplies and magnetic shields that screen them from roving bands of aerial attackers. An ancestral upper class presides, while in the lower city, laborers do the hazardous work of keeping everyone alive. But all that may be about to change when the mysterious Joshua comes of age…”

Jaouen Salaün is a French writer and artist that has apparently been trying to bring the pages of Elecboy into life for over 18 years. Good news is, the story is fairly good, and more importantly the art is absolutely GORGEOUS, I want to see more of this guys creature designs more than anything. They remind me a bit of Tsutomu Nihei a tad, it would be interesting to see if that was one of his influences in any way.

This book is part one in a series, and tells a fairly compelling story until a cliffhanger ending made me sad that I don’t have more to read. I’ll have to keep checking back with the publisher to see when more of this is released. To be honest, I have come to the conclusion that I’m fairly confused as to why Europe comics isn’t bigger than what it is. They consistently have better content than other companies that feature a lot of European comics such as Heavy Metal – here’s hoping they take off at some point in the future.

REVIEW: Michel Vaillant: In the Name of the Son (2021)

A graphic novel by Denis Lapière, Philippe Graton – Art by Marc Bourgne, Benjamin Benéteau

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Time to jump out of my comfort zone, and read something different than my normal diet of Manga, dark comics, and occasional superhero comics. I can’t say I’ve ever read a comic based on racing in any way, so this is a bit of a new one for me. A new comic from Europe Comics, Michel Vaillant is coming soon to an eBook reader of your choice.

“Michel Vaillant is the star of all the biggest international auto racing circuits, and he’s revving up for a whole lot more than just a spin around the block. The Vaillant team finds itself up against new technological innovations, as well as some disconcerting changes in the world of auto racing. The fate of the Vaillant dynasty is in the hands of three generations of men and women. The first challenge is to fight their way to the top on the race track, with their sights set on Formula 1. The second is to try to keep the family together, despite increasingly differing points of views. And it will be up to Michel to ensure their success on both fronts.”

I was on a bit of a Tintin kick a few months ago and read a whole bunch of Belgian and French comics like Blake and Mortimer and Freddy Lombard, so the style of this comic immediately reminded me of those. I went back and did a bit of research and discovered that this was, in fact, an older comic that did indeed feature in the very same magazine. It’s funny when you can spot the tonal differences between some of these publications and their comics.

Despite not really being too much into racing, though I did watch Top Gear religiously in the past, I actually enjoyed this. Its probably because it wasn’t bogged down with laborious car racing descriptions and relied on the human drama to tell the story, the technical aspects were just there to spice it up.

The linework in this comic’s art is incredible, especially in backgrounds and technical aspects of the cars and other machines. Half of the time I spent reading this, was be looking around the pages taking in the gorgeous old-school art-style. Comics have sometimes veered towards a more cartoonish look as of late, and art styles like this, with highly detailed pen lines, make me feel nostalgic and give me hope that everything borrowing from the same style-sheet is soon coming to an end.

I was sad to see that this ended on a colossal cliffhanger, so I will try to keep an eye out for the next installment if I can. It’s crazy to think that there are so many diverse types of comics in Europe, it often makes me sad that The US market is over-saturated with superhero books in most of the main houses. That isn’t a dig on superheroes, but I’d love the diversity they have – I would have never likely read this otherwise. Great book, can’t wait to continue it!

REVIEW: The Vain (2021)

A graphic novel by Eliot Rahal

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Generic Vampire stories are a dime a dozen these days. If you don’t just have a weird version of Bram Stroker’s Dracula, but this time he’s in SPACE or something, you have the other side of the coin that alters them beyond recognition, perhaps into teenage sparkly pretty boys – and it all sucks for the most part. For me to get into a modern Vampire story, it has to be something different (but keeping with the lore), and this volume by Eliot Rahal fits the bill. Spanning more than 40 years, The Vain tells the story of a group of Vampiric survivors – changing with the times to stay alive at any means necessary. If that includes enlisting in the military to kill Nazis, or starting a vampire drug cult in the 70s, if thats what it takes that’s what they do.

Chicago, 1941. A blood bank is held up in a robbery, but no cash is taken—only blood. It’s the latest in a string of similar robberies and as the United States prepares to enter World War II, FBI Agent Felix Franklin is certain it’s part of a wider plot to weaken the United States by depriving it of its blood supply. But the truth is much more sinister.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like this at first. At times, some of the art in the book was somewhat simplistic, but as the story goes on, it improves drastically. The dialogue is also kind of janky in spots, but overall the script is pretty good, and you honestly can’t beat the setting. Vampires living through the Cold-War is something I’m pretty certain I’ve never seen before. As it went on, I was interested to see how The Vain (their WWII Codename) dealt with the zeitgeist of whatever decade they had made it to. The book didn’t overstay its welcome, and had a logical ending that made sense.

I haven’t read much by Oni Press, although I have seen them at Comicon in the past. Once Covid-19 dies down I will have to do a deeper dive on their library if conventions ever come back, I’d love to see if the quality of this book continues on.

REVIEW: Shadowman by Andy Diggle Deluxe Edition (2021)

A Graphic Novel by Andy Diggle (Author), Stephen Segovia (Artist), Shawn Martinbrough (Artist), Doug Braithwaite (Artist), Renato Guedes (Artist)

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I don’t want to beat a dead horse on here regarding my love for Valiant Comics (but you can read me gushing about it here), but this Comic is yet another series that confirms that. Shadowman, is a long running character that has persisted for nearly 30 years in different forms, The character probably hit its peak in the late 1990s when a cult classic videogame hit the shelves, its a shame a rumored film was never produced during this time, as the property was especially hot then. The current iteration of the character is a much less 90s-riffic version of the original Shadowman, Jack Boniface, and his exploits fighting foes from the underworld using voodoo powers.

The rise of the Shadowman! For years, Jack Boniface believed that he knew the true story of the Shadowman loa – the true story of the curse inside him. He was wrong. Now, the man once known as Shadowman is returning home to sharpen the weapon within… and unleash a reckoning on the evils of our world that will soon send shockwaves through heaven and hell alike… Superstar writer Andy Diggle (Green Arrow: Year One, The Losers) joins high-octane artists Stephen Segovia (Action Comics), Shawn Martinbrough (Thief of Thieves), Doug Braithwaite (Justice), and Renato Guedes(Action Comics) to reveal the full scope and power of the Shadowman mythos in an oversized deluxe edition hardcover of the series Nerdist calls “killer”! Collecting SHADOWMAN (2018) #1-11, and SHADOWMAN/RAE SREMMURD #1, along with more than 20 pages of rarely seen art and extras!

FIRST WATCH: Andy Diggle & Stephen Segovia Descend Into the Deadside with  SHADOWMAN #3, Hitting Stores In May! - Comic Watch

When I last left the character, he was bound in eternal servitude in the underworld, and I wasn’t sure where the comic was going to go afterwards. I think I’ve missed a portion of the story past that, but they allude to everything in the narrative pretty well. This actually could be a decent start for somebody new to the series, it doesn’t get bogged down in past lore, and re-introduces everything slowly. At it’s core, Shadowman is Valiant’s main “magic” comic ala Constantine or Doctor Strange, if we think in terms of rival companies. What definitely sets it apart is the emphasis on Voodoo lore, and the setting itself.

While I had an advanced review copy of this in digital format, I have purchased hardcover deluxe editions from Valiant in the past, and they are really good production-wise and great bang for your buck. Instead of buying 3-4 trades at fifteen a pop each, they usually collect an entire series in one volume and price it to where you get a decent discount. I’m sure this will follow suit.

This is another solid edition in my Valiant Comics library, and I really love the character. I should have quickly reviewed this for Black History Month, as Shadowman is a VERY solid overlooked black superhero that more people should know about. Then again, that’s Valiant’s M.O. most of the time, being inclusive, but in a natural way, unlike some other guys that do it in the fake corporate way. Highly recommended if you have not checked these guys out before.

REVIEW: X-O Manowar Book 1 (2021)

by Dennis Hopeless

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I’ve been a fan of Valiant Comics for a while now, especially since their relaunch about a decade ago. I think what sets them apart from other companies headed by out of touch movie execs or cartoon mice, is that they have their finger on the pulse with what fans actually want to read, and don’t pump tons of “fluff” into the market and over-saturate and shrink their audience through constant relaunches and special events. They have been amazing to interact with at conventions, and I honestly say say enough good things about them. Today’s topic is a graphic novel of the 2020 X-O Manowar book from Dennis Hopeless, I will admit, I’m about two years behind on keeping up with Valiant due to work keeping me VERY busy as of late, but I definitely wanted to read this as everyone’s favorite Visigoth Warrior is always one of my favorite titles.

“Save the day, destroy the world… Torn from the past and bonded with a living alien armor, will X-O Manowar become the hero the world needs now? As a futuristic force arises to destroy the planet, only this ancient warrior king has the courage to stand against impossible odds! Harvey Award winning writer Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum (All-New X-Men) and breakout star Emilio Laisio (Marvel’s Spider-Man: Velocity) unleash Valiant’s most powerful protector! Collecting X-O MANOWAR (2020) #1-4.”

This most recent storyline adds some grounding the the character that I really enjoyed. Prince Aric, in the past, has been somewhat distant from much of humanity considering his personality and origin of being a warrior from over a thousand years ago. This sticks him into a domestic situation, as he attempts to live amongst the people he tries to protect – all to a variable amount of success. One can’t help draw comparisons to either Spawn or Thor, which both had similar grounding to those characters that made them have a bit of humanity. Also, the “fish out of water antics” are perfect for a bit of humor. We are also introduced to a advisor-type character that is not unlike Elon Musk in real world terms, in Troy Whitaker. I’m not convinced he isn’t a villain as of yet, but he does help X-O with his image problem.

This is a solid read, and a perfect starting point if you’ve never read anything from Valiant before. If you are jaded with comics, or are tired of the nonsense “the big two” are always up to – give this a try! It’s honestly bee hard to go back after I started reading comics that are fun again.

REVIEW: Hercules Intergalactic Agent: Book 2 The Intruder (2021)

A graphic novel by Zabus & art by Antonello Dalena

Apparently, Hercules Intergalactic Agent: Book 2 The Intruder is the second book in a series that I was unaware of, I only realized after I started reading and saw the tiny “book 2” that was sighed an audible “oops.” Thankfully it’s honestly pretty easy to grasp what was happening despite missing the “first episode” as it were. It tells the story of a couple of underdogs, bottom of their class, students at an intergalactic agent school.

“Hercules and Marlon are in their second year of intergalactic agent school and they still have a lot to learn! But when their teacher is bitten by a strange alien creature, they’ll need to put down the books and leap into action because the sickness affecting Teach seems to be spreading throughout the school…”

While this isn’t really meant for kids, as it alludes to cursing a few times, the messages in the book would be good for a kid’s book – never judging a book by its cover, and having compassion for all living things. It has a pretty strong allegory to the recent string of migrant and asylum seeker crises that have arisen as of late, which makes it a pretty forward thinking book. The allusions could be a tad heavy-handed, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The art is fun, and it reminds me of something from the 80’s Heavy Metal movie.

REVIEW: Brontë (2021)

by Manuela Santoni

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

“Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë—faced with an ailing father and an alcoholic brother—pursue independence through art in this graphic vision of the lives of three legendary writers.”

Going into this, I sadly did not know much of the Brontë sisters aside from a passing knowledge of how the initially wrote under pseudonyms, ad their untimely deaths due to tuberculosis at relatively the same time. This book did an amazing job filling in the gaps for the most formative time period of their lives – the moment that they decided to start publishing their writings to help save their family. With an ailing father, and a deadbeat brother addicted to both alcohol and opium, the sisters set aside their fears of judgement and finally publish their works to much critical acclaim. It was not until death met their mighty blow, that much of the world found out the true nature of the three writers that took nineteenth century England by storm, and defined that time period for many people in the modern era.

Manuela Santoni has a simple pen drawn art style that was interesting to see. At a few moments, some actions are hard to understand due to this stylistic limitation, but the script is there to cover for it. all-in-all this was a very well-done book and very informative.

REVIEW: The Two Lives of Penelope (2021)

A Graphic Novel by Judith Vanistendael

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Before today, Judith Vanistendael was completely off of my radar as a comic creator, which is a complete shame as she has put together easily the best book I’ve read this month. Rendered in gorgeous watercolor paintings and poetic text, The Two Lives of Penelope is not your typical comic book and is a VERY emotional roller coaster ride for the short time that one is reading it. Dealing with a heavy topic such as the mental health issues that arise when one spends too much time in a war zone doing humanitarian work, This book was both not easy to read and not easy to put down at the same time. Nothing particularly heinous happens in the comic, I just feel bad for the entire family, that despite their troubles, are hanging in there.

“Penelope is a Belgian physician who works with Doctors Without Borders in war-torn Syria. She returns to Belgium when she can in order to see her husband and daughter, but the transition is hard. Her latest trip home for the holidays proves even tougher than usual, as the coexistence of the two excruciatingly different worlds she inhabits becomes increasingly fraught.”

Taking place in the middle of the still raging Syrian Civil War, this book tells the tale of a humanitarian surgeon attempting to spend some time with her family before she travels back into the war zone. In many ways, this should be a time to relax, but sadly her life is now that of a war doctor, and her home life is increasingly hard to cope with. Penelope has PTSD (or something similar), and cannot connect to the needs of her family anymore – when one deals with war atrocities on a day-to-day basis things like a style of preferred winter coat, or a daughter worried about her nose size are no longer of great significance. She is haunted, both literally and figuratively, by her job – and can’t seperate from it anymore – it is her now. Everyone deals with this the best they can, and sadly we do not get any resolution – one can assume Penelope is still in Syria to this day.

Every once in a while, you come across a comic that surpasses the medium and is an instant classic – for me The Two Lives of Penelope is up there with comics such as Persepolis and even Maus, as a comic tackling a VERY tough subject matter in such a way that it becomes something that should be required reading. I will definitely check into other works by the author, and keep an eye on this, as I really hope this book gets the attention it deserves.

REVIEW: Babylon (2021)

A book by Laurent Galandon, Frank Giroud & art by Philippe Nicloux

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Another day, another book by one of my new “companies to look out for”, Europe Comics. Babylon is another French comic, translated into English. I’ve recently come across a handful of their comics, and have really enjoyed them. Comics from western Europe have an entirely different feel to them than either the United States or Japan, focusing more on mature stories vs superheroes and the like, and for that I love them.

“If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him, Max Ferlane is your man: a good man with skills a bad past has left him. Now he’s trying to leave that bad life behind, put those skills to good use. He’s in the Congo rescuing a young girl from an arranged marriage when an old employer turns up: the Babylon Agency, specializing in high-profile political exfiltrations. Max is forced into a different, far more dangerous mission that will take him deep into warring jungles and his own past mistakes. For Max’s PTSD hallucinations are only getting worse…”

At first glance, and in the initial few pages, I figured this was going to be a bog-standard run-of-the-mill mercenary for hire story, but was surprisingly wrong when things took a weird turn. There are times in the book, where you are led to believe that things have suddenly gone VERY science fiction VERY fast, but its not what you think. Having the book take place somewhere in Eastern Africa, was also interesting, and gave the setting a bit of a political edge that I really enjoy in European Comics. That said, In many ways, Max Ferlane is somewhat of a cliché character in comics, one part Snake Pliskin, another Max Payne (if anyone else remembers that game), but this doesn’t detract from the story in any way.

This is the first part of a multi-part story, and I will eagerly be waiting for the next chapter. With my quibbles aside regarding some clichés, The setting, plot, and characters are cool enough to keep me reading. Yeah, it’s basically “Escape from Congo”, but that’s honestly better than most of the actual sequels to that franchise.

REVIEW: The Cimmerian Vol. 2 (2021)

by Sylvain Runberg, Robin Recht, Robert E. Howard

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

By Crom! Conan The Cimmerian has appeared in comics almost nonstop since the 1970s (even a few appearances beforehand). Whether it be Marvel Comics, Dark Horse Comics, or Dynamite Comics, there is always some company producing their take on the legendary, thief, barbarian and king. In the U.S., I’m pretty sure that Dynamite still has the Conan rights (I could be wrong), but in Italy, Ablaze Publishing had an interesting option: they could freely publish comics related to Conan, without specifically calling them “Conan” or “Conan the Barbarian” comics, even though that’s what they are. Thus “The Cimmerian” was born.

This series is a pretty cool alternative to the other Conan Comics out there. About half of the book is comprised of adaptations of classic Conan stories The People of The Black Circle, and The Frost-Giant’s Daughter. The rest of the book, aside from the typical art section and cover gallery, found in most trade editions, are the entire prose versions of the same stories, originally printed in pulp magazines such as Weird Tales or Fantasy Fan Magazine nearly 100 years ago. Due to the properties interesting status in Europe, they have the freedom to do something like this without dealing with multiple rights holders, and I absolutely LOVED it.

This is as true to a “true” take on Conan can be. All of the heavier stuff such as gore and sex, that other comics might avoid, is here in the open just as Robert E, Howard intended. The dialogue can be a bit verbose in places, especially in The People of the Black Circle, but that can be directly tied to the size of the comics that were published and the amount of dialogue in the original story.

I went into this without reading the first volume, but plan to go back now that I see the quality of this is en pointe. While the typical issues that arise from translating a comic are there a bit, its not bad, nor does it detract from the story. As a HUGE Conan and Red Sonja fan, I’m glad I had the opportunity to read this.

REVIEW: Marsupilami: The Beast (2021)

A book by Zidrou & Frank Pé

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

After reading another book by the aptly-named publishing house, European Comics, and absolutely loving it – I decided to wade into their catalogue to see what else they had to offer. I picked Marsupilami based on the cover, as it looked fairly interesting. I’m glad I did because this was a great comic in each and every way.

“Belgium, 1955. A mysterious animal is caught in the jungles of South America and transported to Europe on a cargo ship, where it ends up starving and half-dead on the outskirts of Brussels. François, a young boy with a fondness for taking in strays, finds it and brings it home to his mother and his menagerie—his best and only friends. As the son of a departed German soldier, François is the favorite target of every bully in school. Nobody can identify the strange creature with the voracious appetite and the stupendously long tail, and François figures his new pet is perfect for show-and-tell… But with a wild beast and a small classroom, things quickly get out of hand. Will this spell the end for François’s new animal friend? The real story of the legendary Marsupilami!”

Marsupilami is an interesting story, not too different than a typical “dog bites somebody and the villainous neighborhood busybody wants it put down” story with a number of interesting twists. First and foremost – the setting. This takes place in Belgium a decade after the end of World War II. With the war over, some wounds take time to heal, and being seen as someone that had ANYTHING to do with the German occupation put that person in a bad place. Thus the plight of our hero Francois, a boy relentlessly bullied at school due to being the lovechild of a Belgian Woman and a German Soldier, he retreats into a world of taking care of exotic animals in his very own home menagerie.

Next up we have the “dog” which is a crazy cryptid of some sort – seemingly a monkey with feline attributes and a 30 foot long tail. I was initially worried this would be a simple horror story with “The Beast” going on a rampage, but truthfully he seems pretty intelligent and acts only in self-preservation. whether it be animal smugglers, or The bullies at Francois’ school – something is always trying to attack the poor creature. Francois and his family, including the animals, are his only allies, it seems.

This was part one of a two part story, it’s hard to read it without the other half, but I quite enjoyed this. The setting was awesome, and the tropes were used well to create something wholly unique. I can’t wait to finish this, but hope that it doesn’t end on a huge downer.

REVIEW: Wild West (2021)

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A graphic novel by Thierry Gloris & Lamontagne Jacques

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I’m a big fan of European comics (which is coincidentally the name of this books publisher, but I mean the geographical area), usually because they don’t worry about keeping everything for children at all times, and treat the material far more seriously than in either Japan or America. That isn’t to say its all gore-filled pornography either, its just like the difference between an HBO show and a Disney+ show in terms of sensibility, if that makes sense. I’ve been on a big Metal Hurlant and Heavy Metal kick as of late, so I was intrigued to see a French language comic (translated, of course) about Calamity Jane, and how a European publisher would handle the “origin story” of the famous frontierswoman.

“The westward drive of Americans after the Civil War was unstoppable. For some, the vast territory meant new wealth and new opportunities. The ever-progressing railroads made many rich. Whereas others found their fortune selling the flesh of the less fortunate. In a brothel in Omaha, all manner of destinies intersect in a violent collision that many won’t survive. This is the incredible story of Martha Cannary, a young woman who shrugged off what destiny had in store for her and made herself into a legend.”

Wild West comic book sample Calamity Jane

Wild West is a quick read at only 66 pages, but it tells its story well, and doesn’t linger too long. Honestly, I hope they produce more of this, as this is basically the story of her beginnings and her first encounter with Wild Bill Hickock and up to her enlistment into the US Army under the pretense that she’s a boy rather than a woman. The thing about Calamity jane, and whether this book is historical, is that most of her backstory was created as a booklet to market her “character” at a series of tours that she participated in. I assume a lot of this was embellished, and sadly we’ll never know for sure. Not much is said about her time working as a prostitute (which is the focal point of this story), so I imagine there is a lot of artistic liberty here, with something that already had some to begin with.

All-in-all, this was a great comic with exquisite, detailed artwork. for fans of history, western comics, European comics, or just adult comics in general, this would be a great addition to your collection. I’m not certain that the book is available physically in the US, but a digital copy (like the one I have) is very affordable. This is a publisher that is now on my radar, if their quality is this good on everything, I’ll have to do some more research.

REVIEW: Freiheit! (2021)

A graphic novel by Andrea Grosso Ciponte

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

There’s a tendency, in World War II scholarship, to almost entirely concentrate on Hitler and the battles of the war, keeping some of the more human aspects of the war in the background. Even the Holocaust is usually spoken about in vague terms if its not explicit something like a diary or journal of one the victims. Something I knew almost nothing about, prior to this book, were internal German resistance groups. I knew they absolutely had to be a thing, but seeing as they did not overthrow Hitler on their own, it’s usually relegated to a footnote in many books. The White Rose was one such group, and this graphic novel tells their tragic story.

With an entire nation blindly following an evil leader, where did a handful of students find the courage to resist? The university students who formed the White Rose, an undercover resistance movement in Nazi Germany, knew that doing so could cost them their lives. But some things are worth dying for. The White Rose printed and distributed leaflets to expose Nazi atrocities and wake up their fellow citizens. The Gestapo caught and executed them. Sophie Scholl was twenty-one; her brother Hans, twenty-four; Christoph Probst, twenty-three; Alexander Schmorell and Willi Graf, twenty-five. But the White Rose was not silenced. Their heroism continues to inspire new generations of resisters. Now, for the first time, this story that has been celebrated in print and film can be experienced as a graphic novel. Italian artist Andrea Grosso Ciponte’s haunting imagery will resonate with today’s students and activists. The challenges they face may vary, but the need for young people to stand up against evil, whatever the cost, will remain.

Description

The story in Freiheit! is told largely from the point of view of Sophie Scholl, who has become disillusioned with the government of Germany due to their strong-arm policies and mistreatment of Jews. Prior to the events of the book, her brothers were arrested by the Gestapo, setting in motion their membership into an underground resistance movement of intellectuals that produced subversive pamphlets calling the Nazi leadership into question. One nice touch, is that translations of these documents are included in the book.

The art style and overall composition by Andrea Grosso Ciponte was very moving and vibrant despite the book’s muted color palette. Each panel, even the most subdued, is treated like a scene in a film – interesting transitions, camera angles, and blocking are all well-done. It gives this book a VERY cinematic feel.

I enjoyed this a lot, and plan to look at some other books by the same publisher pretty soon. The book has served it’s purpose of making me interested in The White Rose, and I may also look into a book about the Scholl siblings at some point. Having historical documents in the back of the book was a great touch, and immediately elevates this to the status of being a teaching tool. I once took a class in college about The Holocaust, and I honestly really wish this was out at that time. This would have been a great story to share with my class. Solid book, definitely recommended.

REVIEW: Haru’s Curse (2021)

A Manga by Asuka Konishi

Cover

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Natsumi’s little sister Haru was her whole world—and now she’s gone. After the funeral, Natsumi reluctantly agrees to date her sister’s fiancé Togo. But as their relationship develops with the passing seasons, Haru’s memory lingers over them like a curse. Asuka Konishi’s English-language debut is a nuanced and affecting portrait of the conflict between romantic and familial love, and of the hard choices that face us all in making our lives our own.

Description

I usually stay clear of romance manga because its generally childish, basically pornography for men, or entirely comprised of slapstick comedy, usually taking place in high school, and is so far distanced from my life that its like me watching Disney Channel sitcoms meant for children. I gravitated towards reading Haru’s Curse for two reasons: I love atypical art styles in anime/manga, and the description sounded mature and somewhat thrilling for a romance manga.

The art style thing comes from my distaste of how most anime has looked for the last decade or so, I’ll likely upset people here, but I feel most of the Moe Manga boom from 2008 onwards looks the same and tells the same stories, and this style has infiltrated just about every non-shonen property. The tall, angular art style in Haru’s Curse reminds me of CLAMP or its derivatives upwards of 20 years ago. I love it when manga artists are willing to move away from the stylistic norm, even if it’s a throw-back of sorts. Usually, to me, its a sign of quality. and it definitely was.

Internal page

Storyline-wise, the way Asuka Konishi writes is refreshing. Most romance manga follow the tried-and-true cliched plot of 1) girl lusts over dreamy and brooding guy 2)he has mysterious past 3) they go headlong into love 4) some obstruction gets in the way 4) they work through it and are together, or in some cases the main characters die etc. It gets tiresome and seems too formulaic. This story is somewhat flipped on its head as it jumps point of view a few times, even telling the story from the male protagonist’s POV a few times. The couple in question only start “dating” as some sort of mourning for Natsumi’s younger sister Haru, who has died of cancer. Once they meet a requirement of her proposal, that Togo takes her to all the places that he enjoyed with Haru, their relationship abruptly ends. Or at least, that’s what they think. I don’t plan to spoil everything, don’t worry!

All of the main characters are written as real people, none are “Mary-Sue” perfect people, and each has flaws. Seeing the story from all points of view was great, and gave depth to everyone. This comic deals with issues like arranged marriages, familiar pressure, and even Japanese societal norms that really leaves you on the edge of your seat like any good drama would. I don’t normally say this about this genre, but I think this has been my favorite manga of the year so far, and I will try to find a way to read the author’s previous work, Raise wa Tanin ga Ii (something like: I’d Prefer It If We’re Strangers in Our Next Life).

Cells at Work! Baby 1 (2021)

A graphic novel by Yasuhiro Fukuda

Cells at work! is one of those little surprises I found last year when I was still subscribed to Kindle Unlimited. While seemingly every new manga coming out is some sort of isekai story – the plot of Cells At Work! was rather refreshing despite its simplicity. The main series told the story of the relationship between a lowly red-blood cell and her budding relationship with a heroic white blood cell while they go about their lives trying to keep their home healthy. The way biological functions were realized on an anthropomorphized scale was cool, and vaguely educational. I later found some of the spin-off works such as Code Black (which was gender swapped and dealt with a destructive person heavily drinking and such), and enjoyed them as well. This is the first time I’ve heard of this detour from the main story- and I’m pretty excited as we now have cells living inside a baby:

BEING A BABY IS HARD WORK! Join these cute baby cells as they work hard within their tiny body! A mini-Red Blood Cell picks up oxygen from the helpful ladies at the Placenta, and meets a White Blood Cell for the first time, in this adorable spinoff of Cells at Work! But when tremors begin to shake their world, they’ll need to consult the Gene Library to find out what’s going on! Could this be…a contraction? And might their body soon have to…fend for itself?!

Official description

This book still tells the story of a Red Blood Cell, however rather than seeing her task of delivering oxygen throughout the body as some sort of delivery job ala the Post Office, this book starts out in a pre-school setting sort sorts with all of the Red Blood Cells first learning how to deliver it then transitions to the setting we’re all used to. The story takes us from forty weeks into the pregnancy, to the birth, and finally into some situations a baby might have in their small life such as removal of the umbilical cord, eating for the first time, and the lungs being filled with fluid etc. This all leads up to a viral attack, and the introduction of fan favorites – The White Blood Cells, this time in chibi form. We see this through the relationship between Red Blood Cell and her big brother that watches over her, and keeps her out of trouble (or at least he tries).

Interior art

I will give this book props for not just being a total rehash of previous books with chibi characters, or a book with wall-to-wall jokes. I’m thinking of the Attack On Titan spinoff set in a school, and how awful it was. This stands on its own, and honestly is paced largely the same as the other books, it just has a different setting an somewhat different characters.

I enjoyed this book a lot, and it is a great volume in the ever-growing Cells at Work! saga. Honestly, I think the only thing left for them to do would be a animal version of it, or something about viruses (they did bacteria already I suppose). We’ll see where it goes I guess. If you like Cells at Work! you will enjoy this, if are not familiar with what this is all about, it stands on its own for the most part and could be read without prior knowledge of the other books. Definitely, a recommendation.

REVIEW: Manga Classics – Romeo and Juliet (2018, 2020)

An adaptation of the 1597 Classic by Stacy King, Crystal S. Chan, and Julien Choy

Romeo and Juliet: Manga Classics

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

This is the second book by Manga Classics that the gracious folks over at that company were nice enough to let me peruse, with the first Being The Count of Monte Cristo. I won’t bore everyone re-treading the same pre-amble as with that review, but I will summarize that I very much enjoyed that edition, and love the idea behind the whole initiative – an attempt to get kids and younger adults to get into classic literature without throwing huge 800 page tomes their way. I felt the respect for the source material was, perhaps, one of the best things about that book – as it avoided the many pitfalls others have fallen into making “manga versions” of things when they were not, in fact, a part of the Japanese manga (comic book) scene.

Romeo and Juliet is the classic tragedy of western literature. Created by William Shakespeare, it is tale of two very young lovers from Verona, Italy who defy the wishes of their feuding families, get married then, and tragically, end their own lives in the name of love. It is their deaths that ultimately help the rival families of the Capulet’s and Montague’s find reconciliation. Manga
Classics brings an incredible new reading experience with this adaptation of Shakespeare’s most popular and frequently performed plays: Romeo and Juliet.

Manga Classics product page
Romeo and Juliet | Ch01 Pg04

Going into this book, I was somewhat worried, as the Count of Monte Cristo is largely available in Modern English readily, whereas any adaptation of a Shakespeare play has a choice – keep the archaic, yet poetic language of the original play, or adapt it into modern language and perhaps lose some of the wordplay and witty dialogue. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the dialogue was largely left intact from the source material, albeit cleaned up a tad. While this could make it hard to read for some folks, this would make it a great source to help one’s understanding of the language in the actual book – I recall occasionally using a supplementary Cliff notes book in high school whenever doing a Shakespearean assignment (I was big on British Lit back then) – honestly this would have been way better.

The art style is clean, well done, and consistent with many shoujo comics of the near past without losing itself to modern clichés. I personally love the manga style from the middle to late 90’s, so I especially liked this one. I will say that, of the two, I preferred the Count of Monte Cristo a bit more, but that could be that I’ve read Romeo and Juliet so many times that it does not hold the same “oomph” as it once dead, whereas I’ve never fully read The Count. All-in-all, still a solid read and a great addition to anyone’s manga or classical literature library. As I said in my previous review – Schools and libraries should really look into getting a ton of these, you’d probably be surprised how popular they’d be.

REVIEW: Tankies (2021)

A graphic novel by Garth Ennis, Carlos Ezquerra, Hector Ezquerra, Tony Avina and Simon Bowland.

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I’ve been a fan of Garth Ennis for a while, and while I definitely enjoy his classics such as Preacher or The Boys, I have grown very fond of his lesser-known military-themed books ever since I did a promotion a while back and inquired a whole slew of Battlefields books. When I saw that this volume was available, I jumped at the chance to check it out. I think the one thing I appreciate the most about these books is that, while definitely casting The Allies as heroes in most books, he doesn’t pull punches. Bad things happen in war, and its important to show that – for far too long we’ve been fed a steady stream of overly-patriotic Captain America vs Hitler stories, completely undermining the fact that war is horror-incarnate. Ennis excels at showing the human side of war, and the toll it takes.

After D-Day the largely untried Allied armies meet their seasoned German counterparts on the killing grounds ofBocage country. As Panzers and SS units turn the French hedgerows into a slaughterhouse, a lone British tank crew struggles to rejoin their squadron. Their only hope lies in their commander, Corporal Stiles—but does even this wily old trooper stand a chance against the infamous Tiger? Newly promoted but just as angry, Sergeant Stiles enters the battle for Germany in command of a Sherman Firefly—capable of taking out any tank thus far encountered. Unfortunately, the enemy have a new tank of their own, the mighty “King Tiger,” with twice the firepower of the original. As Stiles and his men join the Allied advance into the Nazi homeland, they find worse horrors than Tigers lurking in the German twilight.

Book description

This volume is comprised of nine comics, grouped into three separate story-arcs in the life of Sergeant Stiles, a tough as nails tank commander from Newcastle that has seen it all in the world of mechanized combat and is one of the few who has lived to tell the tale. Usually lamenting on the poor state of British tank engineering in the face of ever increasing mechanical brutality from Germany, Stiles is well respected despite his Geordie accent being a focal point of mocking. One little tidbit I enjoyed was that we learn Stiles is Pagan when they were forced to shell a German church, makes me like him even more.

The third section takes place during the Korean War, which I am glad to see. My Grandfather served in that war, and I always think it gets largely ignored by just about everyone, so seeing it here was awesome. It was crazy to see the shift in battlefield tactics. German tank commanders in parts one and two almost seem aristocratic and machine-like vs the relentless hordes of Chinese soldiers they come across in Korea. Men climbing on the tanks, trying to drop bombs in the engines, doing suicidal attacks. Sheer insanity I can imagine.

Carlos Ezquerra (1947–2018) was the artist for this series, and I have seen him do the pencils for much of Ennis’s war books – he’s great at the technical side of historical aircrafts, tanks, guns etc, as well as depicting humans and the actions of war. When I saw that the book was dedicated to him, I was sad as he was always a n artist I looked forward to seeing in this genre. Best known as one of the original creators of Judge Dredd, Ezquerra will be VERY missed.

This was a great book, and any fan of war comics, history, or honestly anyone into comics at all should check out. Stiles is a great character, and I’d love to see him pop up again, although I’d imagine this will be all as it ends in a decent spot. I loved the afterward, which is a lengthy essay detailing where some of the ideas for the book came from, you can tell Ennis is interested in teaching history here, and as a history buff, I loved it.

REVIEW: Teddy (2021)

A Graphic Novel by Laurence Luckinbill; Adapted by Eryck Tait

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

July 1918. Preparing to speak to an eager audience, 61-year-old Teddy Roosevelt receives the telegram that all parents of children who serve in war fear most: His son Quentin’s plane has been shot down in a dogfight over France. His fate is unknown. Despite rising fear for his youngest son, Teddy takes the stage to speak to his beloved fellow citizens. It is, he says, “my simple duty.” But the speech evolves from politics and the war, into an examination of his life, the choices he’s made, and the costs of his “Warrior Philosophy.”

Official description

Teddy Roosevelt is one of those Presidents that comes to mind when one thinks about the great orators that we have had in the past in that very office. I won’t get too political here, but recent events in the political world make me look back at old speeches and feel some weird sense of nostalgia for a time that is WAYYYY before my time – a time when The President was remarkable and gave intellectual lectures as speeches rather than ridiculous messes designed for sound-bites. This graphic novel, about Theodore Roosevelt, encapsulates this very well as it showcases a oration by Roosevelt that is intertwined with biographical information.

Despite being a history major, I am not 100% certain that this was an actual speech or if its pieced together from various speeches and ideas that Roosevelt espoused. Either way, the storytelling here is remarkable. The speech is right after Teddy has learned that his son is missing fighting Germans during WWI – he was told that giving a speech in his state of mind was likely a bad call, but he does it anyway. He talks about his rough upbringing as he was very sickly as a child. It was only through sheer perseverance and respect for his father that he was able to largely overcome most of his ailments or at least learn to keep them at bay.

Interior page

Giving the speech as a former President, Roosevelt lashes out at President Woodrow Wilson, the man that unseated his chosen successor William Howard Taft, and himself when he attempted to run for a third term. Wilson is accused of causing deaths of many (including Teddy’s soon, not confirmed dead at this point) and paving the way for German domination of the world. The speech is fairly “hawkish” and really shows the mindset America was in at the time. The speech is peppered with an overview of Teddy’s life, and what it means to be a real patriot as well as other themes.

I absolutely loved the story here, and despite being skeptical of the format initially, it works very well. The art style, minimalist with blacks and blues, is great and not something you see too often. I’d love to see more of these made from other well-known speeches in the future. This is honestly a great book, as one could toss this into a school library or assign it as a class project, and I think kids would really gain a bit of extra understanding that merely just reading a speech or textbook does not allow. Definitely recommended!