Tag Archives: graphic novel

ARC Review — Vixens, Vamps, & Vipers by Mike Madrid

Vixens, Vamps, & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics

Vixens, Vamps, & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics by Mike Madrid. October, 2014. Exterminating Angel Press, 240 p. $16.95 ISBN:9781935259275.

“Between the covers of Vixens, Vamps & Vipers, fans will rediscover the original bad girls of comics—as fierce and full of surprises as they were when the comic book industry was born. From murderous Madame Doom to He-She, dubbed by io9 as “the most unsung comic book villain ever,” Mike Madrid resurrects twenty-two glorious evildoers in fully reproduced comics and explores the ways they both transcend and become ensnared in a web of cultural stereotypes.

Among the deadly femme fatales, ruthless jungle queens, devious secret agents, double-dealing criminal masterminds, and gender-bending con artists are some of the very first women of color in comics. These women may have been overlooked in the annals of history, but—like their superheroine counterparts in Divas, Dames & Daredevils—their influence, on popular culture and the archenemies that thrill us today, is unmistakable.” — Publisher’s Description

Women have not often been portrayed in comics in the most positive light, if even at all.  It is only in recent years that we have seen the emergence of strong female characters who were not spilling out of every stitch of  skintight leotard they put on.  Many times, they are shows as assistants, secretaries, or the damsels that need our hero’s saving.  Not so, in Vixens, Vamps, and Vipers!

Looking at comics published before the implementation of the Comics Code in 1954, Mike Mardid’s Vixens, Vamps, & Vipers shows us that while these Golden Age comics in no way promoted sexual equality, they did give us many strong characters, especially the baddies!  These women were cunning, ruthless, smart, seductive, independent, diverse, and very outspoken.  Everything we think women of the 1940s were not!  Mike Madrid’s brilliant and thoroughly researched commentary makes these characters come alive in the context of their times, but also how they relate to and helped influence today’s female villains and heroines.  In addition, stories referenced for each character are reproduced in full, giving the reader a wonderful insight into early comics, the 1940s, and brilliant stories they may have never seen otherwise.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in comics history, women’s studies, or mid 20th century history and culture.

Five out of five stars.

Many thanks to Exterminating Angel PressEdelweiss, and Mike Madrid for the opportunity to read and review In Real Life early in exchange for an honest review.  The final version was released on October 7, 2014.

Vixens, Vamps, & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics on Amazon

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Posted by on October 20, 2014 in Reviews


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ARC Review — The Hound of the Baskervilles (Dover Graphic Classics) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Dover Graphic Classics)

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Dover Graphic Classics) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted and illustrated by John Green. November, 2014. Dover Publications, 48 p. $3.99 ISBN: 9780486785073.

“The intrepid detective and his faithful assistant take on a supernatural challenge in one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s most popular mysteries. This graphic novel’s original illustrations accompany an easy-to-read account of Holmes and Watson’s investigation of a family curse. Readers will be irresistibly drawn into the search for a giant spectral hound that haunts the fog-shrouded moors.

This Dover Graphic Novel Classic offers readers ages 8 and up an exciting introduction to a time-honored tale. Expertly abridged and packed with dramatic illustrations, this version offers a streamlined narrative that retains all of the storytelling essentials.” — Publisher’s Description

Note: I took the approach of reviewing this title looking at it for what it is, an abridged graphic novel version of the classic Sherlock Holmes story meant for children.  As a result, I don’t address Doyle’s story, but rather the abridgment, artwork, layout, and effectiveness of this work as a graphic novel.

I wanted to like this one, I really did.  I am a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles, and I have always loved Dover Publication’s approach to the classics and they way that they work to make them accessible and easy to read for children and young adults.  When I saw the opportunity to review a graphic novel version from Dover, I was naturally excited.  Unfortunately this was short lived.

By its nature, an abridged version of a novel or story is going to be missing subplots or chunks of action, or have them explained away in a simple narrative.  The same formula was followed here, but with the unique feature of keeping most, if not all of the original dialogue intact.  The resulting story was then choppy and did not flow well at all, switching between John Green’s simpler descriptive terms and Doyle’s more formal Victorian language.  Since the idea here is to get readers “ages 8 and up” interested in the story, I felt that it fell short.  This type of editing should be an all or nothing proposition.  The language should be geared to that age and reading level advertised for it to be an effective introduction.  I would like to see a book like this in a simple form, then refer those students who are able to and ready to handle the more complex original text to then read that after.  The other downfall of this adaptation is that it had tried to oversimplify a complex story.  The themes, character motivations, and actions are quite mature and difficult to tone down for the recommended age group to understand.  I am afraid that much of the story is lost on this age group because of that.

I would be remiss in a review of a graphic novel to not address the artwork as well.  Reading the cover description provided in my copy, stated that this is not your average graphic novel, but rather one that readers can color themselves.  Because of this, all the drawings are simple black line drawings.  The lack of color aside, and explained, I found the art to still be lacking.  Most characters were lacking any depth, showed no emotion to the point of rigidity, and unfortunately, looked too similar in appearance to make them distinguishable without color.  Even as a coloring book, this work is lacking, as several panels and pages are simply closeups of a character’s face with their word bubble, leaving little to the imagination for a child to color.

While a wonderful idea and a unique concept to find a way to introduce children to classic literature, The Hound of the Baskervilles here falls short.  It is not really a graphic novel, nor an abridged, simplified version.  I would not recommend this for reluctant readers because of the liberal use of the original text, nor for graphic novel fans as it is barely that as well.  Perhaps only the Holmes or Dover completest would find this book to be a perfect fit in their collection, but otherwise it missed the mark.

Two out of five stars.

Many thanks to Dover PublicationsNetGalley, and John Green for the opportunity to read and review The Hound of the Baskervilles (Dover Graphic Classics) early in exchange for an honest review.  The final version will be released on November 19, 2014.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Dover Graphic Classics) on Amazon

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Posted by on October 7, 2014 in Reviews


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ARC Review — In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

In Real Life

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow, art by Jen Wang. October, 2014. First Second, 192 p. $17.99 ISBN:9781596436589.

“Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role playing game that she spends most of her free time on. It’s a place where she can be a leader, a fighter, a hero. It’s a place where she can meet people from all over the world, and make friends. Gaming is, for Anda, entirely a good thing. 

But things become a lot more complicated when Anda befriends a gold farmer — a poor Chinese kid whose avatar in the game illegally collects valuable objects and then sells them to players from developed countries with money to burn. This behavior is strictly against the rules in Coarsegold, but Anda soon comes to realize that questions of right and wrong are a lot less straightforward when a real person’s real livelihood is at stake. 

From acclaimed teen author Cory Doctorow and rising star cartoonist Jen Wang, In Real Life is a sensitive, thoughtful look at adolescence, gaming, poverty, and culture-clash.” — Publisher’s Description

“It is not gender, nor age, nor race, but your ability to work hard at what you love.”  This is the overall theme of In Real Life, the new graphic novel by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang that takes us into a virtual world with sixteen-year-old Anda, a bit of an outcast in the real world, but a fierce warrior and leader in her online gaming world.

Anda is your stereotypical teenage “gamer girl”.  She’s shown as a bit of an outcast, a little on the meek side, anerd, and a little chubby.  She is recruited one day in school to join a new MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), Coarsegold as a probationary member of an exclusive guild for girls only.  To the consternation of her mother, Anda is allowed to subscribe to the game on the condition that she only plays with other girls her age and has no contact with others, as mom fears online predators.  Soon, however, Anda discovers that there are people working illegally as “gold farmers” in the game.  They work to earn virtual money that they then sell to other players for real world cash.  Anda and her friend Lucy, who likes to be called “Sarge” are sent on missions to kill these gold farmers in return for payment into their PayPal accounts.

Things quickly change, however, when one day Anda meets Raymond, a Chinese gold farmer.  They begin talking in the game and Anda finds out that he is her age, but works 12 hours a day in what amounts to a sweatshop earning gold for his company.  when she learns that he has health problems and is often since, but cannot get medical treatment because of his company policy and nation’s laws, she tries to seek help.  She finds loopholes in the law, and encourages Raymond to take a job action, similar to a strike, to seek better treatment at the same time displaying a leadership and confidence she hasn’t expressed in real life yet.

A wrench is thrown into Anda’s plans, and she loses her online access to the game for a time.  At this juncture, she faces reality full force for the first time after meeting Raymond and learns that in most of the world, things are not fair nor what they seem to be and she works to find ways to right these wrongs.

In this graphic novel, Cory Doctorow brings together all those elements that make him such a wonderful teen author.  There is a lot to get excited about here. — online gaming, a female protagonist who learns to grow strong, realistic interpersonal relations, and a dash of world economics and activism.  Jen Wang’s artwork adds beautifully to the story and without it, the whole concept of In Real Life would fall flat.  The depictions of Anda are perfect, both in here real life self and that of her online avatar.  The real Anda is a little nerdy and is shown as a larger girl who tries to hide it under sweatshirts, but she is never seen as shamed or shameful and that’s brilliant.  Her online avatar is the opposite, thin, lithe, a warrior with flowing bright red hair who fears nothing.  In Real Life  shows us that you can be anyone online, but that these online personas and feelings and friends can “cross over” into the real world as well.  Anda’s growth as a young woman in real life through her actions and friendships in the game are very evident and refreshing.

The elements of world politics and economics, as well as class and culture addressed through the relationship of Anda and Raymond are well done.  This is a short read, and as such, there isn’t much background provided as to the working conditions in China, nor the healthcare and treatment of workers but Doctorow is able to give a nice snapshot and overview of this as a means of helping bring some awareness to the issues while at the same time, using it as the primary driving force for change in his story.  Anyone looking for a very strong statement or call to action may be disappointed with In Real Life, but there is an opportunity and plenty of information presented for readers to do as Anda did and research these topics on their own to spread awareness.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed In Real Life as a coming of age story with definite appeal to young adults who play online games, and especially girls who do so, as there are very few books that address them specifically and few role models for them to follow.  A very quick read at a little under 200 pages, most can finish this in one sitting, as the action is fast paced and you will get lost very quickly in both worlds shown In Real Life.

Four out of five stars.

Many thanks to First SecondNetGalley, and Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang for the opportunity to read and review In Real Life early in exchange for an honest review.  The final version will be released on  October 14, 2014.

In Real Life on Amazon

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Posted by on October 1, 2014 in Reviews


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ARC Review — White Death by Robbie Morrison & Charlie Adlard

White Death

White Death written by Robbie Morrison with art by Charlie Adlard. September, 2014. Image Comics, 104 p. $14.99 ISBN:9781632151421.

“For four years, The Great War, World War One, raged across the planet. Millions were sent to their deaths in pointless battles. The Italian Front stretched along the borders of Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empires, in treacherous mountain regions. In the last months of 1916, a private in the Italian Bersaglieri returns to his childhood home in the Trentino mountain range to find it no longer a place of adventure and wonder as it was in his youth, but a place of death and despair. Amongst the weapons of both armies, none is more feared than the White Death: thundering avalanches deliberately caused by cannon fire… which, like war itself, consume everything in their path...” — Publisher’s Description

This is one of those rare times when I am a little lost for words about a book.  Honestly, I’ve been sitting here for a while thinking about how I wanted to approach this review.  White Death was a wonderfully drawn book, with an intriguing story, but I feel that there was something missing — something more I needed, but I cannot put my finger on it.

White Death was written by Robbie Morrison after the discovery of two bodies in the Italian Alps that were identified as young Austro-Hungarian soldiers from the First World War.  This is one of the few graphic novels that I know of that deal with World War I, and to my knowledge very few books at all cover this theater of the conflict.  In 1915-1916, over the course of five grueling battles, approximately 60,000-100,000 soldiers were killed in the Italian Alps by avalanches caused by enemy shells — The White Death. This is the story of those battles.

Morrison vividly brings to life the despair, heartbreak, and tragedy of war — using the avalanche itself as a metaphor in the sense that it is a terrifying force that consumes everything in front of it without mercy.  The raw storytelling, both in the trenches and in the towns and hospitals behind the lines remind us that war, no matter where or when is indeed hell.  There is a brother against brother element that you do not generally associate with World War I, but in retrospect, I see how this is true of any war.  Also very poignant is the way in which PTSD, or as it was then called – “Shell Shock” was dealt with.  Quite terrifying.

What really stood out to me, however, about White Death was the artwork of Charlie Adlard.  I am relatively new to graphic novels so this is my first time seeing Adlard’s work, even though I have a huge compendium of The Walking Dead waiting on my bookshelf!  As a result I came in unbiased to what he describes in his introduction as nothing less than a landmark book in his career.  The artwork was stunning and masterfully done in a way that was able to capture the intensity and horror of war that Morrison put into words.  The “charcoal and chalk dust” Adlard mentions in the same introduction to White Death seemed to jump off the pages, even through my e-reader, to make you feel dirty, cold, and sweaty with the troops all at the same time.  No other graphic novel has had that effect on me.

My only real criticisms of White Death, and those parts that seemed to have me wanting more were in the fact that I was having difficulty about half way through the book keeping some characters straight in my head, and therefore fully understanding the action and motivations and feelings being expressed.  This could be from my own lack of experience with the genre, but I feel that more detail in the story and the art was needed here.  Also, there seems to be so much potential to have provided more build up and more continuation of the story. I feel as though we were dropped right into the middle of an epic novel and  pulled back out before it was over.  This comes from my not knowing anything about this aspect of World War I, and because of White Death wanting to know so much more!  In a way then, I suppose it served a purpose.

All in all this was an excellent book, and one that makes it easy to see why it has been listed on a few “essential” graphic novel lists.  I highly recommend it to mature young adult and adult readers for the intense story, graphic nature or the art, and the brief nudity and adult themes in a few scenes and panels.

Four out of five stars.

Many thanks to Image ComicsNetGalley, and Robbie Morrison & Charlie Adlard for the opportunity to read White Death in exchange for an honest review.

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Posted by on September 29, 2014 in Reviews


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ARC Review – 24: Underground by Ed Brisson and Michael Gaydos

24: Underground

24: Underground  written by Ed Brisson with art by Michael Gaydos. November, 2014. IDW Publishing, 124 p. $19.99 ISBN:9781631400544.

“Find out what sent Jack Bauer spiraling into his darkest days as an international fugitive in the several years following the events of the final season. ” — Publisher’s Description

Jack is back!

24: Underground is a look at what has become of out favorite CTU agent after he had been branded a terrorist by the US government and sent on the run as a fugitive after the last full televised season of Fox Network’s 24.

In this book, we find Jack Bauer living as “Borys Melnchuk” in the Ukraine where he is working as a dock worker under the supervision of Petro and living happily with his girlfriend (and Petro’s sister) Sofyia.  All is well for Jack until in a whirlwind of events, Petro’s brother Roman runs afoul of the Russian Mafia, causing the gang members to seek out Petro to pay the debt.

Of course, Jack cannot let Petro deal with this all on his own and as a result jumps in to help on the promise that with one stolen shipment from the docks, the debt will be paid and all forgiven for Petro.  Things never go as they seem and soon the CIA in the Ukraine is aware of Jack’s presence there, the mobsters kidnap Sofyia as bait for Jack, since they have a personal vendetta against him, and there is that infamous race against time to get everything sorted out before innocent lives are lost in the crossfire.

Sticking to the familiar 24 formula, this story sees Jack betrayed and double crossed at several turns, bringing back the famous line: “I thought we had a deal!”  He’s also involved in several close firefights, gets himself a wound that needs tending to and has a hostage taken to being him out of hiding while running from two different groups after him for completely different reasons and without knowledge of each other. While a little predictable, this formula did work well on television, and it works well here.  Sometimes it feels a little rushed, but the twists and turns you would be expecting and familiar with out of a 24 story are all present and very well executed.

The artwork in this graphic novel is phenomenal as well.  It’s dark, very dark at times, but this adds wonderfully to the tone and feeling of the story.  Granted, we have to remember that 24 always took place over that 24-hour time period so this is expected.  Even more important in the art is the way that Gaydos has captured the edge of your seat quality of Brisson’s writing and story and shows that in the settings, and especially on Bauer’s face.  You really can believe that Keifer Sutherland is there on the page with the familiar intense look and I swear, I was able to read all the lines in his voice and felt that intensity of tone as well. All of that said, this is definitely not a book for the kids.  The brutality and graphic nature of the Russian thugs, as well as Bauer’s fighting style are vividly portrayed and may not be for the weak of heart.

Overall, this is a high quality, albeit short and a little rushed work.  Easy and quick to read at a little over 100 pages, I would have been much happier with another 50-75 fleshing out some of the characters a little more and building up to the final action.

Four out of five stars.

Many thanks to IDW PublishingNetGalley, and Ed Brisson & Michael Gaydos for the opportunity to read and review 24: Underground.  The final version will be released on  November 12, 2014.

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Posted by on September 28, 2014 in Reviews


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Book Review: The Secret History of D.B. Cooper

The Secret History of D.B. Cooper

  The Secret History of D.B. Cooper by Brian Churilla. 2013. Oni Press, Inc., 114 p. $29.99.  ISBN: 9781934964910

After jumping from a Boeing 727 on November 24, 1971 with $200,000 and a parachute somewhere between Portland, Oregon and Seattle,  Washington, D.B. (Dan) Cooper entered American history as one of its most mysterious figures.  Even with an exhausting manhunt and continuing FBI investigation, the fate of the hijacker, and his ransom, remain unknown to this day.

Author Brian Churilla plays on this mystery in his new graphic novel, ostensibly telling is the “secret history” of D.B. Cooper.  In this interpretation, Cooper is actually a CIA secret agent and assassin working in one of the famed MK-ULTRA projects known as Project Oculus during the height of the Cold War. Using psychotropic drugs, Cooper was able to enter into another plane of existence where he was able to fight demons with the aid of a one-eared teddy bear  sidekick and his own samurai sword.  In reality each demon he was able to slay in the alternate reality was a Soviet target who would then meet his end in a very similar, and ofttimes gruesome fashion in this world.  Using these methods, Cooper has been able to assassinate over 60 high ranking Soviet officials.

Problems begin to arise for Cooper when it is revealed that he has entered and worked in this demonic alternate reality so often that he is no longer able to separate this world from that in his mind.  Add to this formula Cooper’s own personal mission/vendetta, a Soviet agent on his tail in the demonic world, and an internal CIA investigation of double agents in this one, and you have the whole formula for The Secret History of D.B. Cooper.

All in all this was a very fast paced, visually appealing novel.  As long as the reader is able to wholly suspend belief and embrace some of the conspiracy theories surrounding the MK-ULTRA project and CIA then it will be a very enjoyable one as well.  Don’t go into this graphic novel looking for theories and the history of the actual D.B. Cooper, although the real life events do tie nicely into this fanciful interpretation.  My only critique is that the story did seem a little rushed and forced at times; some revelations are a little cliche and others merely seemed there only to cut a page count.

I give The Secret History of D.B. Cooper 3 stars out of 5 because it is a fantastic premise and a well written and drawn story, but I really wanted it to be a little longer.  More time on Cooper’s personal life, which is key to understanding his motivations with the CIA, as well as the Soviet counter project would have been very welcome and would have fleshed out the story quite a bit more for me.

I would only recommend The Secret History of D.B. Cooper to higher-level Young Adult readers and adults because of the gore and mild language.

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Posted by on March 27, 2013 in Reviews


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