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:

YOHANCE-THE EKANGENI CRYSTAL- by Paul Louise Julie

I’m always on the look out for something new and creative, so when I heard that there was going to be a space opera inspired by African art, I thought ‘count me in.’ I waited for months in anticipation.  So now that it’s finally out, what was it like? Well, so far it’s only really the opening action sequence- but is it one hell of an action sequence with amazing use of art.

As you can probably see from the cover the graphic novel, the art work is extremely distinctive and looks great. I’ve never seen another graphic novel with art quite like that. The aesthetic combines African tribal artwork and designs with your typical star wars space opera design to create a slight variation on your typical space opera aesthetic. Not only that, but he also has an interesting use of colours: using bright reds or blues to give the planets a really unnatural, otherworldly atmosphere.

Stylistically, there’s a lot of improvement from his work on The Packabout how he uses the layout. Part of the strength also lies in how it’s formatted. It will often give you a massive picture of the environment and have a few smaller panels scattered around honing in on certain details or cutting away to a character in the ship. This gives it a really cinematic feel, and you genuinely feel like you’e watching a switching from shot to shot. It’ll often go from a bigger picture of the background . I mean, look at this.

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As your eyes dark from image to image it’s like different camera angles.The dialogue is also short, sparse and doesn’t clutter the page. This leads to a very streamlike reading experience and allows you to focus on the artwork and what’s going on in the page. This whole first issue plays out like a storyboard that’s better than the actual movie could ever be. There’s so much improvement from his first issue of The Pack in how he uses the page’s layout to his advantage, and it’s great to see him coming into his own.

However, there is one aspect of the art that changes this comic from flawless to  hit and miss, and it’s a big problem: the character designs. Mr Louise Julie has made this baffling choice of photo shopping a human’s face onto his character model, and it makes them look like some horrendous uncanny valley monstrosity. Like with a lot of his work with The Pack, he manages to cover this up by avoiding having people’s faces close up by focusing on the scenery, obscuring them by shadows or light, or by having the perspective so far away from the characters that you can’t see them properly. He gets away with it for the most part  (and Yohance is in his suit most of the time), but then we’ll get a close up of his badly photo shopped face and oh man….

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Look at the gorgeous design of the robot monkey when contrasted against that face. You know what this expression reminds me of?

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I don’t want to be reading this  action sequence and suddenly see angry baby! I mean, my God- the way it’s photo shopped is so awful. It doesn’t help that when we do get a close up he’s always pulling the most derpiest expression and he reminds me of one of those actors on those BBC shows for toddlers. It just pulls me out of the action and I have to try and ignore it before continuing- and that’s something you really don’t want for your main protagonist. It’ll be hard to get emotionally invested in later issues when the main characters are an eyesore to look at.

I’ve pondered why such an obviously astoundingly talented artist could put something so god awful in something so beautiful, and the only solution I can come up is that he’s great with backgrounds and lighting, but either he isn’t an expert at rendering faces or  his art style doesn’t lend to rendering expressive faces and he’s trying to compensate for it. Either way, this is not the way forward.

Now, onto the characters themselves. So far, we don’t know really know that much about them apart from the sci fi archetypes they embody. Yohance so far is the double crossing Rogue with the animal robot sidekick… Yes, he’s your Han Solo, your Captain Mal, your Spike Spiegel and every other galaxy hopping space scoundrel you’ve read about. Our heroine, Cana, isn’t a Black Leia Organa or Padme Amidala (like I was secretly hoping based on the cover art), but  she’s a rogue as well, and she and Yohance have a Captain Mal/ Saffron dynamic going on.

There’s nothing to distinguish them just yet, and their characters are very derivative, but it’s only the first issue and judging from what I’ve seen, the creator clearly has enough writing skill to make them interesting later on. I’m glad he didn’t try to do too much in one issue, and I’m glad he took his time to create a really memorable opening sequence.

Now there’s one other major landmine of a flaw with this book: the  price. I was so excited about this book that I purchased it right away and unusually (suspisciously) it didn’t tell me the page count, but judging by the price I expected it to be around about 130 pages. Yeah, I paid £7.70 ($9.43 for any Americans reading) for 39 pages. 39 pages. I have purchased a lot of graphic novels, comics and manga on and I’ve never had to pay anything like this for a kindle edition.

I mean come on, I know this is an independent project and the guy’s gotta eat, but not only is this insane for a digital copy (the price is what I’d expect for a hard back edition), but this is financially unviable. I don’t know how long the series is going to be (but considering all we’ve had is the opening action sequence and we’ve only barely set up the plot, it’s going to be a good few issues), but who can pay £7.70 for what is essentially an opening sequence? And pay that for each installment? Not many people are going to be able to afford that, and since he’s an Indie publisher without the fan base of companies like DC and Marvel, he can’t really afford to charge a ridiculous amount- especially since he’s not big name yet. I personally don’t regret it- the artwork is gorgeous and it’s something I’ll gladly flip through again- but I can’t pay that price for each future issue.

VERDICT: This is an immensely strong start . However, because of how ridiculously expensive this is, I can’t recommend that anyone by this and I’d suggest either waiting for this to go down in price or for it to be collected in a larger volume. However, if you’ve got the cash to burn and you’re really desperate for an African themed sci fi, than I can assure you the quality is top notch. Also, for more of his amazing art work and a series centred around African aesthetic that’s more sensibly priced, I’d recommend giving his work on The Pack a look.

REVIEW: THE RAT QUEENS VOL.1 : SASS AND SORCERY- by Kurtis Wiebe, illustrated by Roc Upchurch

Do you like irreverent humour? Creative action sequences? Great characters? Heroines who care more about marauding and fighting goblins than falling in love? A fun adventure? Do you like actual fun?

Well, if you answered yes to any of those questions, then Rat Queens is a graphic novel you need to check out.

The story is basically about a party of four friends who go on quests in an MMO inspired world. We have Betty, a tiny perverted Smidgen (a sort of tiny troll or hobbit) who’s funny, loves her drink and her ‘special’ mushrooms; Hannah, a gobby magic user with an attitude problem and an arsenal full of lethal spells and even more lethal comebacks; Violet, a rebellious Dwarf who’s trying to forge her own identity; Dee, a social awkward healer who comes from a culture who worships Cthulu-or as she puts it…

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As you can see, the art is amazing– I’ve read a lot of comics, graphic novels and manga recently, and honestly I can say that this has some of the best artwork I’ve seen- seconded only to the work J.H. Williams did on Batwoman and the work Paul Louise-Julie did on both Yohance and The Pack.

Everything’s bright and colorful in this graphic novel and the character designs are very distinct. This is especially unusual in a series with female leads.Usually, the artist can’t bear to make them look like anything other than his ideal of the perfect woman, and what you’ll get is five models with different hairstyles and hair colour. Here, however, we have this:

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Look at how different the heroines are from each other, with completely different different builds, face shapes, skin tones and expressions that tell you a lot about their character. And not only that, but all the expressions on the characters are really nuanced. Check out the look of love and vulnerability on Betty’s face:

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And this picture of Dee and Betty:

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You don’t need to read the dialogue-or know anything about the characters-to see that they are good friends;  you can just tell from that picture the level of playful ease Betty has with Dee, and the amount of affection Dee has towards Betty.

The story itself is very simple and easy to follow, which is exactly what you want from an introductory arc. With less panels devoted to explaining the convoluted mess  intricacies of the plot, more time can be devoted to what this series excels at: the humour, the characters, the friendships and the action sequences.

And are the action sequences excellent. The fight sequences are really, really creative and kinetic. I mean, just have a look at this page:

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It’ll use lines and colours as backgrounds to create the appearance of movement and then cut to a white or black background for the killing blow. This works incredibly well, and when the fights come the shapes of the sides of the panels themselves will become more diagonal and may overlap, giving the feeling of a world thrown into chaos.

There’s also a lot of creativity involved. As well as the fights, the humor is on target and it affectionately satirises MMO games- like how the poor citizens of Palisade and straight laced cop Sawyer (who is the traditional Lawful Good protagonist who has a sort of ‘dating Catwoman’ dynamic with Hannah), just want the town not to be destroyed by maauding questers. Even if you don’t play MMO games, even if you’ve at least heard of World Of Warcraft than you know enough to get the humor.

On top of that, we get to the real crown jewel of this series- the characters and their relationships. Even though it’s only the first volume, we have a reasonable idea of our central characters and some of their relationships. What matters is their friendship, which always feels realistic thanks to the art and good dialogue. They fight and bicker like sisters who know each other too well, but they also clearly love each other and enjoy each other’s company and always have each other’s backs. It’s so rare to see strong female relationships which aren’t familial, and a comic full of great female relationships is something special.

Another kuddos has to go the diversity. It is AMAZING.  It’s not often you’ll get important black or queer characters in a series (although both DC and marvel are both making genuine efforts to change that, what with Batwoman and the new Ms.Marvel), but here we have a black woman and a bi/ lesbian woman as two of our main four characters.

For POC, not only do we have Dee, but we also have the most prominent male love interest (who’s described as the most attractive by the other girls), a couple of supporting characters sprinkled about, but also Betty’s love interest Faeyri who appears to be Malaysian or from another dark skinned East Asian ethnicity. Speaking of which, Betty’s relationship is treated equally to the rest of the casts; the focus of the novel is friendship and adventuring, so we have a few warm, genuine scenes between them but nothing that encroaches on Romantic Subplot Tumour . And also, I like Faeyri’s design:

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I particularly enjoy how Betty’s interested in does have the short hair style and alternative dress sense that you see a lot of queer woman donning. Don’t get me wrong- there are a lot of bi/ lesbian women who conventionally feminine, and they’re great and it’s always good to see them in media, but it’s very unusual for a butcher woman to be the love interest, and object of desire. It’s great to see a tomboyish lesbian of color can be desirable too.

Honestly, with so much good, this I’ve already read this volume twice, and I’m delaying reading the third because I don’t want it to be over.

RATING: 5/5 stars

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.

THE PACK- by Paul Louise Julie

I’ve read  a lot of vampire and werewolf fiction in my time, and the tropes and conventions sometimes get a little bit monotonous after a while. So when I heard of this- a werewolf story set in Ancient Africa, centring around the attempt of two brothers to escape Alavert and to get to Nubia, I was sold. How cool is that? Especially since in any book set in the ancient world, Nubias often little more than a kingdom that’s invaded by Egypt.

First and foremost, I absolutely have to mention the art work, and it is truly worth the price of admission. It has this really gorgeous way of rendering spaces, and its art style gives a feel for the time. I mean take a look at this:

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The watercolour, the bright colours, the reflections on the marble and the detail on the plant life really bring to life the opulence of the Egyptian palace. It’s not just this page- the entire book Is this well drawn and it’s an astounding experience. Clearly a lot of hard work and research has gone into creating an authentic looking ancient North Africa. As for the werewolves, they look a great. Take a look at the one below.

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The harsh black lines against the lush green forest really do lend it a primal, ancient nightmarish feel. The author said that because werewolves aren’t really part of ancient African mythology, he combined the wolf with some other creatures to make it more fitting, and it looks intimidating. Its build is strong like a lion, and its little mane and tail remind me a bit of a hyena- but either way, it’s all predator and  truly is the monster that frightened us as children.

So many different styles and colors have been experimented with in this issue, and it’s an artistic marvel. Because of this, I would strongly recommend it to absolutely anything, as this artwork you won’t see anywhere else.

As for the story telling, it’s okay, and Paul Louise Julie has the talent but is still coming into his own. The story of this issue is pretty simple- two brothers are part of a group of Nubian assassins who are slaves (albeit highly exulted ones who get to live in a beautiful palace and are given a lot of wine, women and privilege), and they want to escape. It’s a pretty decent start, and introduces us to the world and gives us a basic outline of the two brothers- ones more serious and wants to escape, the other’s more on the fence but gets thrown into things- but its downfall is it’s told in a needlessly convoluted way.

For some weird reason, we start off not at the beginning, but at events which take place near the end of the first issue, which is still close to the beginning of the saga. Worse still, we constantly cut between the two events. All it means is that what’s a pretty simple story becomes harder to follow and we’re constantly pulled out of the action of both events- the brother’s escape or Khenti’s capture- when things start to heat up, and it’s harder to get caught up in either of them.

There is no good reason for this. I mean, the whole point of this technique is usually as a way of giving it a feel of inevitability and tragic foreshadowing- like with Blood Brothers, where we’re shown that the story’s going to end in tragedy so that even during the happier scenes, an air of ominousness hangs around and we’re watching carefully to see how they build up to the tragedy. The same is true with Madoka Magica, and even Moulin Rouge, which used whiny one’s (I forget his name even though I’ve been forced to watch it so many times) retrospective narration to tell us that this is going to be a tragic love story.

Here, there’s absolutely no point of this- what is it meant to foreshadow? That there’s going to be conflict and werewolves in it? Well, it’s called The Pack and it tells us it’s about werewolves in the description on the site, so there’s no need to tell us that. Is it because the writer feels they need a way to hook us? It begins (chronologically) with an assassination attempt- that’s action enough.

Also, there’s the bizarre plot hole that although the older brother keeps on saying that he wants his younger brother, when they escape the palace he splits up with him for no reason and says ‘see you in three weeks’. Why do they split up to go to the port to take them to Nubia? I know, story wise, why it was necessary to have them separated (so the younger brother-Khenti- can meet the wolf) but there’s no good reason for them to. They were both together and were both going to the same place, and splitting up would just increase the risk of losing one another. It was contrived.

What really needed to happen, storywise ,  was for the older brother- Nekhet-to give his younger brother instructions on what to do if they got separated, and for them to be put under pressure by pursuing Egyptians and for them to lose each other in the chaos. This is an important plot beat that was skipped, and as a result that moment just left me scratching my head.

The other problem is the character designs; they work fine and the simplicity makes them more reminiscent of ancient art, but most of the time the characters are heavily obscured by dazzling light or dark shadows.

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Can you really tell any of them apart? I can’t. It could get really difficult  figuring out who was speaking, and I had to reread and reread certain parts to figure out who’s saying what. Also, I thought the person narrating at the beginning was the older brother when in fact it was the younger brother.

Honestly, the story’s there, the writing has promise, and the art and concept are both absolutely perfect, but it’s not quite there yet thanks to some shakey execution. However, one of the big problems- the needless and convoluted framing device- is going to be out of the window in the next issue, and from what I’ve seen with his later work on Yohance, his skill at the craft does improve, so I have hope for future issues and am definitely down for the ride.

VERDICT: This graphic novel is absolutely worth checking out. The concept of a werewolf story in Ancient North Africa is utterly original, the art work is one of a kind and worth the price of admission alone. The execution of the story so far is a little shakey, but it’s the first issue of the author’s debut series, so there’s plenty of potential for it to get better as the author settles into the writing.

For a look at The Pack Part 1, click here.

REVIEW: APOLLO (Olympians 8)- by George O’connor

Mighty Apollo is known by all as the god of the sun, but there’s more to this Olympian than a bright smile and a shining chariot. In the latest volume of Olympians, “New York Times” bestselling author George O’Connor continues to turn his extensive knowledge of the original Greek myths into rip-roaring graphic novel storytelling.

It’s interesting to see how the stories of Greek myth play out when O’Connor depicts them in his modern day graphic novels. In Hera, he managed yet to turn the arch-villain of Greek mythology into a harsh but admirable character; he portrayed the adulterous, vengeful, tyrannical Zeus as a flawed but lovable chess-master; even Aphrodite, the woman ultimately responsible for the Trojan war and the tragedy of Dido, was given new depths. It says a lot that even O’connor wasn’t able to find anything remotely likeable in Apollo, one of the most recognized and exulted Gods of the Greek pantheon. And he didn’t even touch on the Cassandra myth. Continue reading REVIEW: APOLLO (Olympians 8)- by George O’connor

REVIEW: HERA- THE GODDESS AND HER GLORY (OLYMPIANS BOOK 3)- By George O’connor

The story of Hera, Queen of the Gods, and the heroes who won her favor.

Volume 3 of Olympians, Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory, introduces readers to the Queen of the Gods and Goddesses in the Pantheon. This volume tells the tales of the many heroes who sought and won Hera’s patronage, most notably Hercules.

In Olympians, O’Connor draws from primary documents to reconstruct and retell classic Greek myths. But these stories aren’t sedate, scholarly works. They’re action-packed, fast-paced, high-drama adventures with monsters, romance, and not a few huge explosions.

O’Connor’s vibrant, kinetic art brings ancient tales to undeniable life, in a perfect fusion of super-hero aesthetics and ancient Greek mythology.

Before there was the Jeremy Kyle show, there was these two: Zeus and Hera, the world’s original high-drama power couple. Zeus and Hera are well known for destroying everyone around them in their explosive marital fights; in what began as a playful debate over which gender gets more pleasure out of sex, Hera ended up blinding Tiresias for taking Zeus’ side- while Zeus in turn gave him ‘special disability powers’ to see into the future. And then there was Hera’s penchant for driving everyone mad. Continue reading REVIEW: HERA- THE GODDESS AND HER GLORY (OLYMPIANS BOOK 3)- By George O’connor