BATGIRL: SILENT KNIGHT REVIEW

Although Barbara Gordon will always be known as the iconic Batgirl, she never got a solo series named after her in the mainstream DC Universe until Gail Simone’s run in the New 52 reboot. (Although her animated series incarnation did get a series called Batgirl Adventures in the late 90s).

No, the first Batgirl to get a solo series named after her is the now little known Cassandra Cain.

Cassandra Cain has the distinction of being the only POC in Batman’s Bat Family (unless you count Dick Grayson with his Romani heritage- although that gets brushed aside), and one of the deadliest hand to hand fighters in the DC Universe. Not only that, but her immense skills meant that she garnered more respect amongst Batman and the Robins than any other Batgirl has recieved before or after her.

So, what was Batgirl’s first solo title like (excluding Batgirl Adventures)? Well, lets have a look at this 2000s series and see if it’s worth checking out.

THE ARTWORK

To say the artwork is hit and miss wouldn’t be entirely accurate. It’s highly stylised, and everything’s bold, blocky and fluid.

It has big, exaggerated, ugly faces, chaotic panel placement, deeply shadowed faces and often backgrounds and even whole panels are washed in a single color (usually blue green or red) in order to give it a moody, or ominous or more atmospheric feel, while all the civillian life scenes are more colourful and bright. There’s also a lot of line work and sparce dialogue, which gives it a really streamlined feel and made the action scenes a treat to read.

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Props really have to be given to the colorists John Costanza and Albert T Guzman for giving it this really dark, almost film noir feel here

All this works phenomenally for action sequences. Cassandra Cain is an all action no talk (literally- she’s a mute who they taught to read body language). So this art style makes sense… mostly. 

The only downside is that this exaggerated art doesn’t work as well for the more low key moments. In fact, some of the character designs can look hideous- Cassandra is the worst offender. Seriously, she looks a lot like the neanderthalls from Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur in some panels:

When you’re dealing with a tragic child warrior story similar to Dark Angel, Hitgirl, or Leon The Professional, you really need emotional subtlety. And it doesn’t help when Batman’s pulling an expression like this.

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This is a major emotional milestone, yet how am I meant to take this seriously?

Oh God, how can you take that face seriously? Just compare that to the subtlety of  Stephanie Brown’s expression in another Batgirl series:

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So much emotion in that one look, and its so subtle as well. This is a HUGE problem because when we have a character who’s mute – or only tals in broken sentences at best- and has no life outside being a warrior, you really need to rely on low key character moments, subtle gestures and facial expressions to draw us in and help us connect with her. The art doesn’t do that.

This isn’t helped by the double edged sword that is her costume. Don’t get me wrong, her Bat costume looks incredible, Black, sleek, and a monstrous mask that looks like something of nightmares. I really like this costume… and yet. A big problem is the fact that Cass was not originally a villain (not until an editorial mandate happened anyway). Cassandra is a tragic figure- raised as the ultimate assassin and forced to kill when she was too young to know what she was doing, let alone say no. She cannot talk, so she relies on expressions to get her mood across- and this mask that obscures her face robs her of a lot of character.

They say that the reason that Roman Gladiators wore masks was because it was easier to kill a man when they didn’t have to look them in the eye and acknowledge them as human. The same principle goes for Cass, as I reckon that the mask makes it harder to relate to her as a character. It doesn’t help that what with the stitching, it looks like a nightmare mask she’s trapped in.

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But still, she’s made to look like an actual badass warrior rather than cheesecake who contorts her spine to get her ass and boobs in full display every other panel. In that respect, no matter what I think of her costume’s flaws she’s still head and shoulders above 90% of other superheroines out there.

Ironically, as Batgirl loses skill and gains language, the artwork balances out and though is less dynamic and fluid, everything looks better. The characters are no longer an eyesore, though I can’t help but think the biggest thing this improvement achieved is making Cass look pretty, and made the civillian life scenes less of an eye sore.

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THE STORY

It’s an interesting story. Basically, Cassandra Cain is a half Asian girl who was trained from childhood to be an assassin by a killer called David Cain. The central gimmic is that instead of teaching her how to speak, she learned to read fighting moves as a sort of ‘language’, and thus she is mute. Honestly, I am not sure if this is one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever heard of, or the coolest.

But then I remembered the Silver Age and Bat-girl’s plan to escape her enemy’s prison by cutting out paper bats and throwing them out of the window, and now it all of a sudden seems completely reasonable.

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Yes, this was completely normal in the Silver Age, which brought us time travelling Wonder tot, Rainbow Batman, Zebra Batman, Batgirl’s ‘Crime Compact’, as well as the demented Bat-baby

Anyway, this is an interesting concept, and creates a certain dilemna in terms of story telling. Since not only. It further shoots itself in the foot by choosing a costume that does not show her face, and an artstyle that does not lend itself to subtle expression.

The workaround was by making Batgirl more of a subject than narrator. Most of the first few issues are narrated by Oracle (Barbara Gordon, who was the previous Batgirl) and Batman. 

Now, a mute protagonist could present a challenge – it could involve Cass slowly learning how to talk, bonding with Oracle, maybe even remembering what her father taught her… but instead they went for an ass pull and had a psychic magically healing her. Seriously. 

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They tried to make it seem like less of an asspull by presenting it as Batgirl having to choose between being the ultimate warrior and mute, or a less skilled, average fighter but able to talk. However, this was clearly done because the writers wrote themselves in a corner by being mute, and didn’t know how to keep this up and keep her interesting. 

It’s a shame, because it was a genuinely interesting problem and there could have been a lot of character development involving bonding with Oracle as she slowly learned language and how to hit in- especially if learning language helped her remember what Cain said as he was training her. Instead we got what we got, with her language skills resulting in her fighting skills becoming more inconsistent, which was a shame, but still made for interesting reading.

It also had another disadvantage of constantly pitting Cass against Mooks. Interestingly, in spite of being by far the deadliest Batgirl and one of the best hand to hand fighters in the DC Universe, her debut fights and achievements are less impressive than Stephanie Brown’s. Even though Stephanie was in part defined by failure and weakness. Still, Stephanie went up against Scarecrow, the calculator, and even a brainwashed Huntress and Catwoman, as well rescuing both Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon.

Both Barbara Gordon and even ditzy Bette Kane got to debut against masked crooks. Here, most of the time Cassandra went against nameless, maskless goons and her biggest threat wasn’t any foes- but rather whenever the writing team needed to give her a random nerfing. This nerfing is explained by the fact that when she gained the ability to talk she lost the ability to read movements, and yet she appears to get her skill back after a training session with Lady Shiva and it still turns on and off.

Speaking of Lady Shiva, the biggest bright spot was their fight. Lady Shiva is one of the strongest martial artists in the DC Universe, whom Bruce trusted to train Tim Drake (the third Robin) and whom managed to knock Jason Todd (the second Robin) flat on his ass in A Death In The Family. This moment made for one of the strongest conflicts in the opening issue. Often, when I see a superheroine pitted against another female I raise my eyebrows slightly, because it just so often feels like ‘hmmm… this should be girly and this foe has a vagina- lets put them up against each other!’ I still remember when Babsy in Gail Simone’s run called half the DC Universe’s female superheroines in to help her and I was wondering ‘what? No Nightwing? Why ignore the male superheroes when the city’s at stake?’ But no, Lady Shiva and Cass Cain make sense. She is also an ultimate fighter who is dedicated to attaining the peek of skill.

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It’s been said that Batman is the least interesting character in his universe, and it’s his contrast with his Rogues gallery  as well as Superman and his allies that makes him interesting. I suspect the same is true for Cass, as her rivalry with Lady Shiva was great fun. Lady Shiva’s ideals and approach was the complete opposite to Batman’s. Plus, having two of the most badass Asian superheroines in the same comic was pretty awesome.

Another high point was that we saw a more softer and melancholy side to Batman. Far from being the immoving stoic, he genuinely cared for Cass, and was the perfect foil to Cass’ father who only viewed her as a killing machine.

Cain was another great villain, as his obsession with creating the ultimate killer was highly reminiscent of Lydecker from dark angel. I’m looking forward to seeing him in future issues.

But a big flaw was to include an annual in this. It involved a completely different creative team and it feels out of place. It basically involves Batman and Batgirl pursuing this cheesecake Indian shapeshifter whom once they catch up with proceeds to infodump her whole life on them. It’s more focused on the plight of the untouchables and how they have few rights in India, and honestly, since this character has no relevance to anything I can’t bring myself to care about the conflict.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall, it may be flawed but with its brilliantly fast pace action, fluid artwork and an excellent standoff against DC heavyweight Lady Shiva, this series was a good start for Batgirl. In all honestly, a big part of the reason I love this is because as an unstoppable trained from birth, Cassandra Cain makes for an excellent power fantasy.

However, the issue is held back by the fact that Kelley Puckett clearly hadn’t quite thought through how he was going to handle Cass’s muteness and the central concept behind her fighting skills, and so the random psychic ‘quick fix’ solution made it feel so cheap. Even so, its definately worth checking out, if for no other reason than its an interesting part of the Batgirl legacy.

RATING:

3.5/ 5

REVIEW: THE BEAUTY VOL.1- by Jeremy Haun

I decided to take a chance on The Beauty and bought it based entirely on the cover, the basic concept and all the positive reviews that it was receiving. I mean- it was about an STI that you want to catch- one that makes you extremely beautiful, so it sounded like it could have been an interesting look at the media’s unhealthy obsession with beauty. And after reading it? Honestly- I don’t get understand the positive reviews. I honestly don’t understand what it is that people see in this, because this lacks any nuance and the plot relies on all government law enforcement agencies acting unprofessionally and everyone being utter morons.

Why are people so drawn in? Well, I think part of it is because people are enamoured with the concept and because the cover art  is consistently amazing:

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It’s beautiful and horrifying, gothic and artistic- and not just this one; all the different covers and alternate covers for this book look bloody amazing. I mean, look at them:

The covers are fantastic and suggest a beautiful high art concept.The cover tells you this series’ whole premise. A ‘what if’- what if there was a sexually transmitted disease that everyone wanted, that made you beautiful. It raised so many what ifs- like there could have been discrimination against those who don’t contract, or an epidemic of people cheating on their non contracted partners… and then this happened.

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It apparently makes your HEAD LITERALLY EXPLODE! Did this disease enter the human population  when someone fucked a nucleur warhead? How could an STI possibly do that?

Yeah, fuck nuanced complexity. The obvious head exploding side effect takes away the potential for a more slow burn, complex exploration of society’s obsession with youth and beauty. It could still happen in later volumes-perhaps showing people refusing the cure because the thought of living without beauty is so unbearable that they’d rather live a short life than be anything less than physically perfect-but the campiness and the lack of subtlety of this volume do not bid well for the future.

This first issue doesn’t really explore the themes of beauty in much depth, but instead turns into an action thriller with two police detectives going up against a massive conspiracy.

And heavens, the action is silly. The characters act unprofessional- this was less like a police agency and more two maverick detectives running around doing what they felt like with no input from any superiors- and the conspiracy to keep the negative side effects of The Beauty hidden felt contrived. I’m sorry, but IF SOMEONE’S HEAD EXPLODES AFTER COUGHING ON NATIONAL TV, AND PEOPLE ARE SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUSTING IN PUBLIC then you can’t keep that shit covered up! Especially since this is set in America and anything that encourages people to have pre marital sex would have a massage back lash from powerful members of the religious right (many of whom are wealthy and are in positions of power), so there would be hundreds of wealthy organisations looking to play up a negative angle of the beauty.

Furthermore, when one of your agents in charge of investigating the Beauty after the event is clearly trying to say something about the Beauty and THEN IS SUSPICIOUSLY DRAGGED OFF BY OTHER AGENTS TRYING TO CHANGE THE SUBJECT IN THE MOST EYE BROW RAISING WAY POSSIBLE, THEN THE CONSPIRACY IS OVER! Seriously, they were so blatantly covering it up… the fact that no one catches on defies suspension of disbelief more than the alien cactuses did from the Silver Age Batman comics. I mean, there are people who theorize 9/11 is an inside job based on the emergency service response time, and yet someone’s head explodes on tv, the FBI acts really suspiciously and they have a punch up in the corner and no one suspects a thing? Seriously?

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It reached Batman villain levels of insanity when we had a guy in a mask ripped straight out of The Book Of Life shooting a major celebrity and going after two FBI agents in broad daylight. Why would you hire a crazed serial killer to cover up a conspiracy? Why not an SAS trained soldier who is proffessional, and can stick to the mission and carry it out in a reasoned and dispassionate way?

Also, is there any chain of command- any accountability? Task Force? Because the whole story revolved around two government agents running around blindly.

It may explore some themes later, and there are a few with potential to be explored in later volumes. The religious right’s objection that was briefly shown is a realistic consequence to The Beauty… afterall, they hate any kind of sexuality that isn’t very tightly regulated, and marital sex is the enemy of the highly puritanical religious reiche in America. However, since the glimpse we did get was of Westborough style fanatics with a ‘God Hates Beauty’ sign, the chances of this being done without delving into full Mr Burns level cartoon villainy is very slim. Yeah, it’s easy to mock the Westborough, but there’d be a lot of more mainstream Right Wing churches up in arms against this who are less obviously hateful and crazy, so the only objectors shouldn’t just be those who’ve gone off the deep end.

However, I do like the fact that the self hated closeted religious conservative has become such a cliche, that whenever we see a religious right wing fanatic we automatically assume that he must secretly be craving the dick in his life .

Another idea this graphic novel had going for it was the motive the enemy organisation had for their actions (I don’t want to spoil it here but it was a really convincing motivation and well thought up)- but the antagonists have gone sub Bond villain mustache twirling  level evil and, with their employment of crazy masked serial killer,  I have doubts of this being handled in any kind of sensible way.

However, with all the negatives, there are some things I liked. I think it treated the women in this novel equally to the men, and I like the relationship between the two cops. They had a good dynamic, were equals, and Vaughn (our heroine) was supportive of our male lead’s marriage. I hope they stay friends- because this is such a good and equal friendship- though I suspect that it might turn romantic at some point because his bond with her is so much stronger than his bond with his wife.

I also like how this novel seamlessly includes LGBT people in the novel as characters who are unstereotyped and fully integrated into the plot with no fanfare, although i did see a happy scene between a gay couple and thought ‘oh shit, we’re heading for gaydeath aren’t we?’

SPOILER FOR THE LESS CYNICAL I was right. This was annoying, especially since our leading heteros make it out okay, but at least with all the death in the novel it didn’t feel egrerious and I’m glad LGBT people were at least acknowledged and treated as human like everyone else.

THE ARTWORK

Honestly, for the artwork was decent and yet disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s well drawn, the colouring’s good, it has a great use of shadows and the character models are fine, but it was always more realistic and restrained which was a bit disappointing. I personally believe the cover art should represent the artwork of the story inside, and I was hoping for more beautiful artistic images like the cover promised; maybe with a less realistic and more dreamlike style, the siliness of events wouldn’t have seemed so jarring. Or it could have at least distracted me from the weaknesses of the plot like how J H. William’s artwork on the Batwoman comics kept me enjoying the series even when it became silly and incoherant.

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It’s more realistic artwork jars with the more insane elements of the plot, and its world and writing doesn’t have enough character to make it compelling. Also, I found the faces to not be particularly expressive- which is fine for those with The Beauty, as I guess they were meant to look artificial and like they had been botoxed the hell out of, but even the non Beauties don’t look very expressive. I mean, judge for yourself from the panels’s I’ve showed you, but I just don’t get a sense of character jumping out at me like I did when I was reading say, Saga or Ms Marvel- which I think is due to its more realistic style. I’ve hopefully shown enough of the artwork to give a general flavor (and if you think I’m full of crap, feel free to voice your opinion in the comments), but it just isn’t what I was expecting from the cover.

VERDICT: This is a fast paced thriller, and while it wasn’t memorable, for all its flaws it isn’t dull either. However, the action was so implausible and the villains so ridiculous and moustache twirlingly evil that it did destroy any suspension of disbelief I had.  It is a first volume and it could get better when it explores its central concept (the depths people will sink to for beauty), but so far this series does not display the depth and nuance necessary to do its central concept justice and I just don’t understand where all the positive hype is coming from.

RATING :

2 gorgeous covers out of five:

REVIEW: ARES, BRINGER OF WAR (OLYMPIANS 7) – by George O’Connor

This is what this entire series has been building up to: The Trojan War, and oh my God, is it completely and utterly glorious.

It begins with a battle; chaos in the battlefield; when strategy fails and it turns into a chaotic bloodshed. That’s when Ares appears. And this is introduced by an epic 300 style battle with an epic narration about war happening as we watch Ares kick the crap out of people. I mean, check out this panel and try and tell me that it’s not made of awesome:

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The whole novel is full of excellent fight scenes that really brings excitement back to The Iliad. We have the battle between the King of Sparta Menelaus against Prince Paris, Athena teaming up with Diomedes to wreak havoc on the battlefield, and of course that fateful, heart breaking battle between a grieving Achilles and Prince Hektor. The battles are exciting, not least because its not just a clash of swords, but a clash of characters- each with their own skills and agenda.

Though this novel is called Ares, he is not really the protagonist. This is very much an ensemble piece, and If anything, the story is about Athena, with Zeus playing the role of quiet chessmaster, observing silently from afar as the Gods fight, always in control. But even so, Ares isn’t forgotten and plays a very important symbolic role- being the foil to the manipulations of the seemingly more civilised Olympians.

One of the greatest strengths of O’Connor is that he is really far stronger at bringing a new perspective to the Greek Gods that were despised in the original myths. Athena and Apollo were two of the most beloved deities, and yet are far more cold and less sympathetic in this series, while the reviled shrew Hera, ditzy Aphrodite and the hated God of War Ares (the essential personification of masculine cruelty) are given a brilliantly complex portrayal. He is reviled by his own father Zeus in favour of Athena, and admits that while she is the Goddess of strategy, he is the God of bloodshed and violence is all he can bring. As a result, all he has is strength and he is constantly outwitted by Athena. And yet he has a sort of stoic nobility about him.

Even though he is the personification of violence, he knows what he is and there’s no deception about him. He never starts the battle- but he’s summoned as a result of all the other characters and their epic scheming. That’s pretty complex and is done in such a subtle way.

War of the Gods:

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I can’t talk about this graphic novel without its central draw, the war of the Gods. Oh my God, was it amazing. In all the previous books, we’ve been introduced to most of the main players- Athena, Apollo, Poseidon, Hera- and seen their strengths, know their backstory, grown to love O’Connor’s incarnation of them. Now we get to see them fight.

It is everything I wanted, and oh my God, was the confrontation between Hera and Artemis perfection… All this culminating in Hector vs Achilles, in which the tone changes… the war is no longer heroic, but sad and the weight of the bloodshed falls upon them.

The only downside:

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The one theme that bugged me is that it often contrasts Ares and Athena by the fact that he has children but she doesn’t, and therefore she’s far colder. It makes sense that Aphrodite criticises her for this (because that’s one Goddess not under her control), but this seems to be Ares’ and the novel’s assessment of her too and I’m not sure I think this is valid. It overlooks the reason why she had to be a virgin. The reason why Athena is a virgin is because the relationship between and husband and wife in ancient Greek society (especially Athenian) was so hierarchical, so unequal and riddled in misogyny that remaining a virgin was the only way she could be her own person, powerful in her own right and not lorded over by her husband.

Making her asexual and divorced from femininity was the only way the Greeks could relate to her, such an important Goddess because of their hatred of women. Afterall, Hera was the Goddess of marriage and the personification of the most typical way of life for women; she was Queen of the Gods and wife of Zeus and yet she was reviled in the Aenead, The Illiad and The Odyssey; Aphrodite was the personification of the feminine allure and was likewise portrayed as silly, weak and a cause of disorder. Divorcing herself from femininity was the only way she could be ‘the exceptional woman’ and a Goddess wielding so much power and agency, and this is something that really should have been acknowledged if we went down.

But still, this such an astonishingly minor quibble and believe me, it amounts to nothing doesn’t do anything to detract from how perfect and amazing this graphic novel is. Also, ‘not now Hermes, I’m gloating’ is one of my favourite lines in anything.

Verdict: This graphic novel is perfect in every way and every man, woman and child needs to read it now! I’d recommend reading its prequel Aphrodite: Goddess of Love first (which covers the judgement of Paris), for maximum impact.

Rating: 5 almighty smackdowns / 5

I HATE FAIRYLAND Vol 1-by Skottie Young

The humor around this centres on a bloody, cathartic subversion of the cheerful kiddie shows; a cute little girl entering the candy sweet fantasy world and hating every minute of it, before being slowly driven into an ax crazy murderous rage. With a premise like that, what could go wrong?

Well, quite a few things, but at the start, it’s pure comedy gold. We meet our heroine, Gertrude- our  Alice expy- getting sucked in to the magical fantasy land against her will. And the whole sequence is hilarious. The cheerful fairytal narrative playing which refuses to take into account the pain and misery that Gertrude is suffering in the panels. Gertrude is getting beaten, abused and sent into her own personal hell, while all the citizens of Fairyland smile, insensitive to her obvious pain.

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This is so deliciously cruel that it’s hilarious, and when we get to the breaking point where she blows the narrator to smitherines, it was hilarious. We see her get hurt and abused in this wonderland, the world that is usually fun and sweet actually turning into a groundhog day nightmare where she’s stuck there in child form for 27 years.

The artwork serves the story spectacularly as well. Young has created an incredibly cute, childlike asthetic that looks like every true fairytale land you imagine, so when the maiming does happen the juxtaposition takes maximum effect. We see brains, and blood, and cute little critters flattened in this bright, adorable artstle- it’s like if Nightmare on Elm Street took place in 100 Acre Wood.

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The problem is that after this strong start, things go downhill. The comedy relies purely on Gertrude being a jackass and maiming and everything in sight- which has potential, for a little while. With the right set up. After all, Happy Tree friends was funny, and Conkers Bad Fur Day had a similar concept of a crude, heavy drinking protagonist in a childish setting and was pretty creative, even if not always laugh out loud funny. But the problem is that the jokes didn’t have the right set up to land properly, and as a result the heroine is more annoying than the saccharine creatures she maimed.

At the beginning, we see Gertrude murder the moon (who is the narrator)The reason it worked when she shot the moon in the face was because our heroine had been pushed to breaking point: we’d seen her sucked into Wonderland, get continuously abused while a cheerful narration played, seen her trapped there for 27 years, all while having to listen to that same narration who’s insensitivity and lack of shits given about her pain made him seem sadistic. She was a woman on edge, and not only was this built up and cathartic, it was subversive because she’s not just saying ‘fuck you’ to the annoying creature, but destroying the forth wall and saying ‘fuck you’ to convention in a Deadpool and She-Hulk like way. The death was also extremely overkill and creative and a joy to read about.

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When she attacks the citizens of the town, she doesn’t have the same set up. The reason . In order to get to the payoff where blowing the citizens was justified, it needed to be set up; they needed to be annoying, Gertrude needed to be pushed to her very limit again. Maybe they could have annoyed her by singing cheerful songs at her, or constantly charged her with silly things like stepping on a crack or littering ala Demolition Man, or maybe she could have been lost and . But no: the reason they attack her is because she’s commiting a robbery- for no apparent reason.The creatures aren’t annoying and detestable, but just seem like perfectly nice, likeable creatures just trying to go about their daily lives, when Gertrude just randomly attacks them.

She’s senselessly hostile for no reason.In fact, she’s just such a two dimensional nasty that she’s actually a hundred times more irritating than the saccharine animals- she’s like that gobby 12 year old on X-Box live who has to be nasty and spiteful because they think it makes them look cool. I think Young is relying on our own annoyance with saccharine characters like The Care Bears and Barney The Dinosaur to make us hate the citizens of Fairyland, which doesn’t work. Even if you have analogues to existing characters, you still have to build them up and make them work in their own right.

When the Queen does send someone to deal with Gertrude, it’s because Gertrude is serial killer who’s committed mass murder. The Queen, far from being the antagonist, so far seems to just be doing what she has to in order to protect her kingdom. This could work if Gertrude was set up to bra villain protagonist and the Queen the real hero, but that doesn’t seem to be the case as it feels as if we’re supposed to think Gertrude’s reaction to this world is completely natural- which it isn’t.

VERDICT: Overall, I Hate Fairyland has an uneven start and is very hit and miss. When the jokes are properly set up, it’s funny, but other times it just relies too heavily on the image of a cute little girl maiming cute animals being inherently funny- which is great on a t-shirt, but to carry a whole series? Whether the series will find its feet remains to be seen.

CONTINUE OR DROP: Continue for 3 more issues.

HADES: LORD OF THE DEAD (OLYMPIANS #4)- by George O’Connor

In this edition of O’Connor’s brilliant Olympians series, we’re introduced to Hades, the gloomy God of the Underworld.

Or rather, it tells the mother and daughter conflict between Demeter and Persephone, and later Demeter’s attempt to rescue her daughter. As O’Connor admits, this book is more about Demeter and her attempt to rescue her daughter, but Demeter: Goddess of the Harvest wouldn’t have the same ring as Hades: Lord of the Dead. Hades isn’t Sir not appearing in this comic, but he’s definately more a ball being thrown around in a conflict between mother and daughter. He’s mainly just very serious and stoic, and not particularly strongly characterized, which is an understandable choice. I mean after we’ve been given this….

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No matter how good your Hades is, he will always be in this version’s shadow.

Persephone and Demeter instead were the ones who got to take center stage, with an unusual twist in their story. What is that twist? You see, the original stories of Persephone and Demeter go that Persephone (then Kore) was going to pledge herself a virgin, but Aphrodite didn’t want another Goddess (like Artemis and Athena) to not be under her power. As a result, she got her son Eros to shoot an arrow into the heart of Hades, making the gloomy King become desperately enamoured with the young Goddess.

While she was playing in a field of flowers, he dragged her underground and forced her to become his Queen. Meanwhile, Demeter was besides herself in grief and searched the world for her daughter, turning it into a blistering cold wasteland. She eventually learned that Zeus was behind this plot, and demanded that she be brought back. Zeus ordered Hermes to retrieve Persephone and bring her back. Meanwhile, Persephone was tricked into eating food of he Underworld- just six pomegranate seeds (which some have interpreted rather phallically)- and that meant she could never leave. However, a deal was forged that she would spend six months in the underworld with her husband, and six above ground with her mother, and so when Persephone was with her mother, there would be joy and spring, but when she had to return, Demeter would mourn and winter would come again.

Now, O’Connor in his notes mentioned that every time we see Persephone after this myth, she’s always there as the Queen of hell. So, by that logic, this would mean that all the mythological stories involving her would take place in the Winter months…

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So O’Connor turned that little plot hole into a twist on the story. What if Persephone actually enjoyed being Queen of the Underworld (with all the power that entails?) What if Demeter was kind of an overprotective mum whom Persephone had to break free of?

In this, we see Demeter chase away every boy that went near Kore/ Persephone, and Persephone was having enough of it. Right before the abduction scene we have this little domestic:

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Of course, the boy Demeter was trying to protect Kore/Persephone from was Apollo, an actual rapist who stalked the nymph Daphne to the point that she turned into a tree to escape him, but whatever. Throughout the story, we see Persephone bond with Hades and grow interested in the underworld and like a rebellious teenage girl going through her Goth phase, she took on a darker appearance and revelled in her new freedom.

Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of this interpretation. I always loved the story of one mother’s epic journey to save her daughter, and the way she could stand toe to toe with Zeus as a force in her own right… Which she still does of course:

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That scene was pretty amazing and Hera once again is the secret star of this series; she’s the only God in the room who’s not even remotely surprised- this is clearly the Goddess who’s been married to Zeus for centuries.

That was a badass moment but  Demeter’s strength is a bit undermined by being the overprotective mother who in the end, was fighting for what even her own daughter didn’t want. It’s a very good take, but the original interpretation had such high emotional stakes, and a heroic Demeter,  that it’s a shame we couldn’t have seen that followed through.

But still, forgetting the story I hoped to hear, the story I got was still very good and it has another new twist on the mythology. The story doesn’t begin with any of our players, but rather, how the Greeks viewed the afterlife. It was a gloomy world where everyone was just standing around for eternity, stripped of their memories, waiting for the end of time. The only ones spared this fate were the mythical heroes, and obtaining that status was so hard it was virtually undo-able.

However, after Persephone became Queen, a new rite was added to the funeral proceedings: a rite that allowed the pure of heart (by Greek standards) whom had lived a good life to be reborn until they eventually reached the Elysian fields. This is a very clever interpretation of an old myth.

VERDICT: Although I enjoy the traditional telling of the Persephone myth, with the heroic mother, this was still a very interesting and mythologically faithful spin on the old tale. Not only that, but it was an enjoyable read and definitely worth it if you’re interested in Greek mythology.

REVIEW: MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR ISSUES 1

Moon Girl is revolutionary in not only is it trying to appeal to POC and female readers, but it’s also a comic book… aimed at children.

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Yes, I know it’s shocking, but Moon Girl and The Devil Dinosaur is perfect for its age group as it’s got so much going for it: a relatable child genius who’s capable but held back by the Big Bad Adults, bright and colorful artwork and most important of all: a gigantic Tyrannosaurus Rex. What ten year old wouldn’t want to read about that?

The art looks good and has a very cute aesthetic; lots of very soft, round faces, very bright colors and a look that makes it look like a very well drawn after school cartoon as can be seen below.screenshot_2016-10-22-00-32-58

But what this comic really has as its real asset is the heroine, Lunella. Lunella is a child genius who loves science. Because she lives in the Marvel Universe, that means no boring titration experiments and waiting to see if the test paper changes colour: we can skip all those hypothesis and get straight to the ‘science’ that  instantly give you superpowers ! As such, Lunella spends her days holed away in her room working on her most recent science project… a cool glowy orb with science fiction rings. And if fiction and video games has taught us anything, there’s nothing more powerful than glowy jewels.

Lunella is a really great child genius- .for a start, she actually comes across as a gifted child rather than a child who’s ‘gifted’ to compensate for the fact that she sounds too much like an adult because writing children is hard. She is smart, but she definitely still sounds like a kid.

What makes Lunella really fascinating because of her difficulties fitting in. Because she’s so advanced for her age, she has difficulty fitting into her age group, and struggles with the fact she doesn’t find school challenging. She’s dismissed by adults who just want her to conform, or won’t take her seriously because she’s a child.

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Feeling isolated from their peers is definitely something that the more nerdy kids that are likely to buy this comic can relate to (I say that as a former child nerd), and what child doesn’t hate being treated like a kid? And also, wow, actual scientific talk in a comic- and not just techno babble to justify the existence of an earthquake machine or whatever madhat device the plot wants to justify. That’s something unique right there!

And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how great it is to finally see a cool black girl taking the lead.  It’s rare to see a black person being portrayed as a genius (see the new Ghost Busters, with the black woman being the token non scientist), and when we do see a smart black woman she’s often… kind of boring and a little too perfect- as if the writers were so concerned with making her a role model that they forgot to make her a character. Here, not only is Lunella smart, but also memorable and well rounded character. With her and the likes of Katara, Princess Moana and Connie from Steven Universe, it’s good there are more strong WOC in media who get to be more than ‘token black girl in the group’, though there’s still a lot of work to be done.

When the story focuses on Lunella and her life, it’s really engaging. But the few pages where we’re introduced to Devil Dinosaur were… kind of boring. Moon Girl and the Devil Dinosaur follows on from an already existing series, Moon Boy and The Devil Dinosaur- which I haven’t read- but apparently it involves Devil Dinosaur and a neanderthal.

I wasn’t such a fan of the neanderthals’ design in this comic, as they just looked like people wearing monkey costumes. Some gang of mean neanderthals seem to be trying to steal the glowy device, but are stopped by Moon Boy and Devil dinosaur.

The weird glowy orb device our heroine’s found apparently allows time travel and Devil Dinosaur and the villainous gang of neanderthals were taken through the portal and are running amok in the town.I found those parts a trial to get through, as I really didn’t care about any of it and would rather get back to Lunella, although I guess that part was necessary to set up the story. Where it will go, I’ll find out with the next issue, but we’re off to a strong start.

VERDICT: Although aimed at a younger audience and the more… surreal… storyline will probably make it harder for an adult to get into, there’s a lot to like. Lunella is an excellent heroine with a lot of potential, the dynamic between her and the adults around her was well written and the art looks great. I’d definitely recommend this to any child, or anyone who wants to read about a strong WOC.