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: 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!

REVIEW: Don Vega (2020)

A graphic Novel by Alary Pierre

Don Vega by [Alary Pierre]
Cover, via Amazon

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 am Zorro!

I have recently become a fan of the Pulp character Zorro, with much thanks to the line of comics from Dynamite Comics. Eventually, I plan to read the original serialized novel, but I have read a few things inspired by it already and I’ve loved every minute. For me, Western Comics have become a surprise hit for me, considering its not really a genre I consume too much in any other medium. And of these, Zorro has easily become my favorite. Yes, you could say its more of a swashbuckling adventure, but a lot of it deals with cattle ranching and horse rearing, so I’m sticking to my guns lol.

Pierre Alary has set out to create what I assume is a new generation of Zorro if I recall the original chronology at all. Alta California has fallen, and a new wave of exploitation and evil has befallen the land. Memories of the man once called Zorro, “The fox” , is a distant legend that folks often cling to in order to have hope in a hopeless time. There are a group of farmers that occasionally don the trademark mask, to usually disastrous results. That is, until the “real Zorro” finally returns and begins to make life hard for gold-grubbing career criminals. This is presumably the son of the original Zorro, but it’s left vague enough that I would have to do more research to make 100 percent certain. Considering the time jump, it could even be the third Zorro…

An interior page towards the beginning, one of the “fake” Zorros

In this story, Zorro has been shifted from a Robin hood sort of character to a depiction of chaos and revenge. This Zorro borrows a lot from characters such as V from V for Vendetta, or even Spartacus. He exists as more of an idea, a thing that many people see as the only way to get people to rise up against oppression. As a result, there isn’t just one Zorro, there is a band of Zorros that ultimately help the “real one” in the end. I hope there ends up being a second volume of this, as this idea is the most intriguing part of the story, and I’d love to see how this pans out. Like, who is the leader of these fake Zorros before Don Vega came back? When did it start? who adopted the logo that children are seen painting on walls etc. Many questions that I’d love to see answered.

Due to this being seemingly “part one” of a longer story, it somewhat rushes to the climax at the end, and you really don’t get much characterization for Don Vega. Had there been a longer page-count I could see that this would have been different, but under the circumstance, this was good, and there weren’t any plot holes for the most part. If the author has anything else in English (I presume he is French) I’d love to read it, I see on Amazon, that he has written some Conan stuff, so I’m definitely interested.

All-in-all good entry into the Zorro franchise. Perhaps not perfect, as some ideas were not fully realized, but I enjoyed it a lot and will be patiently hoping for more. If you are a fan of Zorro, or swashbuckling or western comics, I’d definitely recommend this story. it’s an interesting take on the Pulp legend, and keeps you wanting more.

The Multiversity

The Multiversity

I’m torn between thinking this was good, and thinking this was somewhat pretentious. I like Grant Morrison, but he has a tendency to let his ideas get away from himself and we end up with something like Multiversity. This is a fine collection of one-shots that show obscure versions of DC characters in a lot of different circumstances all vaguely related to a possible apocalyptic event in all 52 universes of the DC “Multiverse”. The problem lies in that the “cement” that holds this book together, the story of a cursed comic book created by an evil organization to destroy reality, is easily the weakest part of the series.

This book comes across as far too ambitious for Morrison, who perhaps was trying to create a Watchmen-esque satire of DC’s obsession with these large cross-over events, and ended up making something that barely makes any sense. There is also an attempt to make the reader part of the story – ala The Neverending Story, that feels forced and unneeded.

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Some of the one shots were good – really good. I’m a sucker for Captain Marvel, so anything starring that character is always right up my alley, as was S.O.S, and The Uncle Sam vs Nazi Superman story. A few others were sort of bland. There was one in particular about a world of entitled DC teen superhero reality TV stars that overstayed it’s welcome to me pretty quick.

Perhaps the Most ambitious story here was Pax Americana, Morrison’s send-off of Alan Moore’s The Watchmen. The Watchmen was based on old Charlton Comics characters that ultimately were modernized to better work with the material. Here Morrison goes back to the original characters and weaves a story that is more of an art piece than an actual comic. The story is told backwards, that is each page turn reveals more about what happened before, and the reader is made to read in a bizarre figure-8 pattern that is a meme in the story. I kind of wish it would be it’s own book, but it was a bit over-the-top and considering Morrison’s hatred of Moore (and vice versa), could have been a jab at his nemesis in some way.

All in all, this is worth reading, but as a whole “Graphic novel”, it fails to seem like anything other than a stack of one-shots. It’s a shame because something like this could have been huge.


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Utopia: Episode 2 (2013)

Spoilers and speculation ahead:

 

At the end of episode one, our recurring question of “Who is Jessica Hyde?” seemed to finally be more clear, but we don’t get to that right away. Episode two of Utopia starts in the same shocking fashion as the previous episode. Just in case we all forgot the crux of all the show’s intrigue, a sought after manuscript for a second volume of an infamous graphic novel called the “Utopia Experiments” makes another appearance. If you recall, the book was written by a man who supposedly not only predicted the future, but went crazy and killed himself because of the first volume. Could it be a coincidence, or is the group of assassins seeking the book a dead giveaway that the pages of loose paper are more than they seem? This time we see a man looking at a hidden copy he has stored in his cellar, away from the prying eyes of a nondescript vagrant rummaging through trash nearby. After pulling up boards from a secret walled stash, the man wraps his find, places it in a post box, and nonchalantly jumps in from of a large truck on a highway.

jessica-hyde-utopia-episode-2-Fiona-OShaughnessy

One of my biggest unanswered questions from episode one was the relationship between the health civil servant storyline and the graphic novel. I assumed we would have to wait weeks to find this out, but luckily this was explained (somewhat) within the first ten minutes. It seems that an organization was created in the 1970’s to stop bio-terrorism from the Soviet Union. Dubbed “The Network”, this organization answered to no nation and was left to get their job done by any means necessary. We can surmise that the graphic novel somehow predicted something to do with the network since we learn of the author’s connections to the organization. In the previous episode, we also found out that Becky’s dad died of a manmade disease called DEALS and the genetic code for DEALS was imprinted into the pages of the book. We find out that the two unconventional assassins that have followed around the main characters are in some way associated with “The Network” – we finally have a sliver of a clue what the over-all plot of this story is!

The cinematography is strong in this episode as well as the first, and even the small touches like a yellow camera filter used on most outdoor scenes, gives the show an otherworldly, almost unsettling, feeling. The saturation doesn’t make the show look purposefully old, like some other productions try to do with yellow filters, but it makes grass greener than normal, the sky brighter, and anything yellow REALLY stand out. I’m not sure if this is just a nod to the fact that the show’s logo is a simple yellow title card, or if there is some other meaning hiding in the background. General color theory holds that yellow is the color of sunshine. It’s associated with joy, happiness, intellect, and energy. This seems in stark contrast with the themes of the show other than the name “Utopia”, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

utopia-episode-2-bridge-assassin

The inclusion of Fiona O’Shaughnessy as Jessica Hyde is a welcome addition to the cast as her robotic, distant, and unfeeling nature really helps to offset the eccentricities of the rest of the cast. She’s like a cross between La Femme Nikita and Linda Hamilton’s character from Terminator. You can tell that she’s been out there running from “The Network” for years and has become a master manipulator in the race to stay alive. She hardened, has little empathy, and trusts few people. Her character has a mysterious past we learn a little about involving her father’s position in all of this. You see, Jessica’s father was originally named Philip Carvel – the man who originally helped start “The Network”. Carvel ended up in a psychiatric ward where he was given a new name – Mark Deyn – and started drawing as part of his art therapy. I bet you can see where this is headed: Deyn was the man who created “The Utopia Expiriments”!

Episode two of Utopia seems to have all the answers, but I wonder if we can take the Wilson Wilson view in all of this: This all seems well and good, but what if the whole thing isn’t this simple, I bet this is merely a cover for the real conspiracy within. Aside from that, they did tease us with another whopper of a question – Who does Becky work for? She’s been at odds with Jessica since day one, and for the most of the program I assumed it was just catty girls being catty girls as usual. Towards the end of the episode we see her slip into a payphone and inform someone that she has Grant and he knows where the manuscript is…..dum….dum…DUM!

 

utopia-episode-2-jessica-hyde-eplosion

 

Onward to episode three!