From Beginning to End, Part 1: “Fables”

This summer, I had to say goodbye to two of my favorite graphic novel series (aside from Marvel’s Secret Wars, which I’m still trying to process) “Fables” by Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham and “The Unwritten” by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. I discovered both series in the middle of their publication. Happily, I had a several volumes already published to get me started until I began the grueling wait for new installments.

(Since this post is talking about an entire series, there may be spoilers. Look out for Hawkeye* – he’ll let you know.)

Part 1: Fables

2347555-fable_new_edition_coverThe first TP (trade paperback) of Vertigo’s Fables, “Legends in Exile” was published in 2002, and began with the murder of Rose Red, Snow White’s sister. We learn that the characters in classic fairy and folk tales are alive and (mostly) well and living in exile from their magical homelands, having been driven out by the malevolent “Adversary.” Now, they live in our world (the “mundy” as in “mundane”) using magic to protect their fantastical origins. Now, Old King Cole is the mayor of Fabletown, Snow White is the capable Operations Director and The Big Bad Wolf (or Bigby, as he is called in his human form) is the head of security. Those who do not have human form live on The Farm, mostly free to do what they please. We meet many, many other fairy tale characters through the series, with most carrying some semblance of their personalities we know from the story books. But, as we learn, they are far more complex than we mundies know them.

The first plot arc follows the resistance of and eventual all-out battle against The Adversary to regain the Homelands. Smaller plots are intertwined, introducing us to the motivations, conflicts and loves of the Fables. New and deadlier threats rise, war ensues and families are made (and broken). With such a rich source of characters, Willingham takes many liberties developing their personalities. Heroes are cads, cowards prove themselves to be kings and unlikely romance blossoms.

Issues #1-75 (volumes cover the first story arc of the war against The Adversary. There are also spin-offs and diversionary stories that focus on characters like Jack (of Jack and the Beanstalk, who ends up getting his own comic “Jack of Fables”), Cinderella and the Frog Prince among many others.  Some of these stories serve as good character development, other are complete stories. On the whole, most are entertaining, but as the series went on, I found myself skipping entire sections and skimming the rest.

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Banned Books Week: Graphic Novels

Last year, the American Library Association, along with the Banned Books Week planning committee, announced that Banned Books Week 2014 would have a thematic focus on comics and graphic novels. Even though we are now in Banned Books Week 2015, it is still important to focus on graphic novels and the censorship that happens to them because they are often clouded in an aura of mystery by those who don’t understand and those that don’t read them.

Some of you may be wondering what the difference is between a comic book and a graphic novel. I encourage you to think of a graphic novel as a format and not a genre, meaning that graphic novels encompass the same thing that the format of a book does, but just in a different format. A very simplified definition of a graphic novel can be found at the Get Graphic website where they say that graphic novels can be of any genre for any audience, but with all to most of the comic being done with pictures. Graphic novels can be fantasy, romance, horror, westerns, superheroes, fiction, non-fiction, and anything else you could possibly think of as a genre. Some people may like to interchange the phrase “comic book” for graphic novels, but that can conjure up the image of superheroes. Let’s just stay simple. Graphic novel = format.


Now that the description has been given, let’s delve into the fun part: figuring out what graphic novels have been banned and for what reasons. Every year, the American Library Association, also known as the ALA, releases a list of the top ten most frequently challenged books for that year. Further down on that page, there are more lists of banned books and the reasons why they are banned. (Check out this list put out by the CBLDF for Banned Books Week 2015 that lists 12 Challenged & Banned YA Graphic Novels.) In these descriptions, you will find references to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the CBLDF, a non-profit organization that posts cases on their website of comic books that have been challenged, censored, banned, etc.


the complete maus

In Maus, Art Spiegelman writes about the struggles of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s regime, and his son, a cartoonist who is struggling to work with the story of his aging father. Going on around the backdrop of guilt and survival are also the things that happen in normal day-to-day life: the stories of unhappiness, routine, and squabbles that we all live through. In one part, the son is interviewing his dad about his experiences. In another part, Spiegelman is interpreting his father’s life as a graphic novel, which each different race being depicted as a different animal. This Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel has been challenged for being “anti-ethnic” and “unsuitable for younger readers”. It has also been removed from shelves in foreign countries for having a Nazi swastika on the cover.


captain underpantsThe Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey is a frequently banned/challenged series(the cover shown being the first in the series), so much so that it is number 13 on the top 100 list of banned/challenged books for 2000-2009. It has even been number 1 on the top 10 lists for many years. It is often challenged and/or banned for offensive language, anti-family content, sexually explicit, violence, or being unsuited for age group. In this book, Harold and George often get into hijinks that include turning their principal, Mr. Krupp, into Captain Underpants, so that he can defeat some kind of nefarious evil-doer that has descended upon the school. In case you are wondering why this book is featured on the graphic novel list, this book is filled with pictures and the boys are also working on their own comic strip, which sometimes takes up chunks of the book.


boneJeff Smith created Bone, a series of graphic novels, which, in the first of the series shown to the left, chronicles the lifes of three Bone cousins, Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone after they are run out of Boneville, their home, and are forced to find their way in a desert and then a subsequent valley. Smith spins humor, mystery, and adventure together into this story that people who have left home for the first time, people reminiscing, and especially kids will relate to as the Bones realize that everything now around them is totally different, overwhelming, and, of course, strange. The Bone series found itself on the top 10 list of frequently challenged books in 2013 for the following reasons: “political viewpoint, racism, and violence”.


dramaRaina Telgemeier has written many graphic novels that center around this age, but the one that causes the most issues in terms of banning and challenging is Drama. In this graphic novel, Callie, the main character, loves theater, but to her chagrin, she can’t sing. She is made set designer for this year’s production and has decided that this set for her middle school’s production of Moon over Mississippi is going to look amazing! As she is dealing with everything to do with the play, Callie also finds herself having to deal with the offstage and onstage drama generated by the actors that are chosen for the play. All around her relationships begin and end, while some fail to even start. This award-winning graphic novel was recently on the top ten list for 2014 for being “sexually explicit” and has also been challenged because of the inclusion of two gay characters.


stuck in the middleWhile the following book has yet to crack the top ten frequently challenged book lists, it has been pulled and challenged in libraries across the country. Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an Unpleasant Age is a collection put together from a wide variety of cartoonists detailing their own times in middle school. The point of this book is to show that while middle school and being thirteen is incredibly awkward and unpleasant, you will survive! The authors in this graphic novel are not afraid to deal with the nitty, gritty, uncomfortable topics that happen throughout middle school. This book has been pulled from two South Dakota middle schools and has been challenged in other towns as well for the following reasons: objectionable sexual, language, drug, and alcohol references. A few libraries allowed the book to be retained, but placed it in the professional collection, which requires students to obtain parental permission before they are allowed to check it out.


this one summerJillian and Mariko Tamiko created this New York times bestseller, Printz award Honor Book for excellence in young adult literature, and Caldecott Honor Book in 2014. This One Summer is about the story of Rose, whose family has vacationed at Awago Beach for as long as she can remember. There she is able to escape all of her troubles and truly slip into her refuge and summer getaway spot. Windy, her friend, is there as well, filling in as the little sister that Rose never had. Everything is perfect until this summer when Rose’s parents keep fighting, Rose notices that Windy is childish, and rose and Windy get things entangled in the drama of the older kids on the island. This graphic novel has been challenged for “age-inappropriate content”, an ultimate misinterpretation of the age requirements for the Caldecott Award, which is for books aimed at kids 14 and under, while This One Summer is aimed at kids 12+.


blanketsCraig Thompson wrote Blankets, a semi-autobiographical journey into his relationship with his brother, Phil, who he had to share a blanket with when he was younger, and his first girlfriend, Raina, who he also shared a blanket with. This graphic novel works to tell two entwined stories by flashing back to early experiences in Craig’s life while also pairing them with things that he is experiencing right now. This book dives into Craig’s upbringing in a religious family, how he handles his first love who he meets at a church camp, and also how he comes to terms with his religious beliefs as his life makes a whole bunch of changes. Raina’s family brings the added complication of Down Syndrome to their relationship while her parents are also dealing with a divorce. This book has been challenged because of allegedly obsence illustrations, depictions of sex and human body parts, inappropriate subject matter, and that the comic artwork would attract children who would then see the “pornographic” images.


the complete persepolisMarjane Satrapi wrote the award-winning graphic memoir, Persepolis, about her struggles growing up in Tehran. Marji spent most of her childhood growing up in a family not short on live during the Islamist Revolution. She quickly had to learn how to manage her private vs. her public life in Tehran. As her family encouraged her to speak her mind, she often landed in trouble, forcing her parents to ship her off to school in Austria. In Vienna, Marji dealt with her adolescence away from her family, only to return home to face both the good and the bad. In the end, she self-imposed an exile upon herself when she became a young adult. This graphic memoir was number 2 on the top ten list of 2014 and has been banned and challenged for many reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint, graphic depictions, and also politically, racially, and socially offensive.

Here are some news articles that talk about Persepolis being banned. Many more are out there as well.


fun home

Now we’ve arrived at the graphic novel that has been ripping up the headlines recently in terms of people trying to ban it. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel is an autobiographical memoir that deals with Bechdel’s everyday life in an unnerving and darkly funny story about her family. Alison’s father, a man of many different talents and jobs, is a distant parent and a closeted homosexual. Alison yearns for her father, but as the stories or her brother and her running rampant through the “fun home,” also known as the funeral home, can attest, their relationship works through their sharing books. This book has been banned/challenged for LGBTQ themes and morality themes.


saga

 

 

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples is a sort of modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Alana, a winged soldier from planet Windfall, and Marko, a horned former prisoner of war from Landfall’s moon, are both on the run from their respective militaries. They escaped to give birth to their daughter, but now everyone wants them dead. Sheer luck seems to be the only way the family has survived and managed to escape into the galaxy. The Saga series is number 6 on the list of top ten most frequently challenged books of 2014 and was banned for the following reasons in 2014: anti-family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.


 

killing jokeYou may be wondering why there aren’t any superhero graphic novels on this list. Let me introduce to you Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke with Brian Bolland as the illustrator. This graphic novel was released as a a stand-alone by DC Comics in 1988. In this graphic novel, Bolland depicts the Joker’s brutal torture of Jim Gordon and his daughter Barbara. The psychological and physical damage done upon Gordon and Barbara are illustrated perfectly in this graphic novel and prove to forever alter the continuity of DC’s Batman universe as the shooting of Barbara Gordon leaves her paralyzed and ultimately leads her to becoming the Oracle. Alan Moore has had many graphic novels challenged/banned and Batman: The Killing Joke followed for the following reasons: it “advocates rape and violence”.

Here by Richard McGuire

978-0-375-40650-8Here by Richard McGuire is a deceptively simple book. It follows one particular room of one particular home and show us what happens there, from the distant past and into the far future. The occupants (if there were occupants) or whatever is there at that particular moment are captured in a single frame, each frame layered on top of another in seemingly random order. The space we watch was not always a house, nor will it be always be. The house itself has a limited lifespan, as do whatever and whoever was and will be there.

The pages themselves are not immediately recognizable as a narrative story. But, after a while, a story does emerge. Flipping back and forth, following the years in or out of order, there is a sense of both impermanence and of the enduring. It’s not a heavy-handed lesson, nor is this book one to page through quickly.

McGuire first used this concept in 1989 in a 36-panel comic also titled “Here.” Some of the panels are available to the public temporarily via The Way Back Machine, and the full comic was published in the 2006 “An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories,” edited by Ivan Brunetti.

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The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

Sculptor-HC-coverIf you had one chance – just one – to make a mark in this world, to show the world the depths and heights of your talent, would you take it, even if it meant your stay on this Earth would be severely and irrevocably shortened? Scott McCloud’s graphic novel The Sculptor poses this question to the young, disgraced art ingénue David Scott. Once at the height of the New York City art scene, David is now broke, nearly homeless, and with only one friend in the world after a public falling out with his patron. Still convinced of his talent, David despairs, drinking the pain away. Until, one drunken night in a café, his Uncle Harry appears.

Except, Harry’s been dead for quite a while.

This part of the story is fairly predictable – Death, dressed up as Uncle Harry (who bears a strong resemblance to Stan Lee) offers David a deal. He will give him the power master his craft – to sculpt any material with his bare hands – but he will only live another 200 days. Of course, David takes the deal, despite a very weird encounter with what appeared to be an angel on the streets on Manhattan.

As the story unfolds, David sculpts everything he can imagine. However, the art world (or at least his only remaining connection to the art world) is less than enthusiastic about what he produces. There’s a betrayal, a death, the sudden loss of all his work, a run-in with the Russian mob and, of course, a personal revelation. But, most importantly to the story, is the angel, who, as it turns out is just an actress with whom David has fallen instantly in love with. Uncle Harry pops in from time to time with nostalgic stories and fatherly advice. All the while, the clock is literally ticking.

While the story itself is fairly predictable (David even plays chess with Death a.k.a. Uncle Harry) and the love interest is a little too manic pixie dream girl, but the journey to the end is told well. David’s raw passion and desperation is palatable and the ending twist is surprising enough to leave a mark. The best part of the book, for me, was the author’s story on the very last pages about how he came to name David’s love. Cast in that light, the story becomes more meaningful and the message more salient: live for now, lest Uncle Harry catch you wanting.

Webcomics – From screen to page

Long ago and far away, I was unaware of the rise of the webcomic. That was until, a coworker (two, actually) began sending me links to blogs and Tumblrs they thought might fit my odd reading preference. And boy, did they create a monster!

For the uninitiated, a webcomic is exactly what you think it is – a comic on the web. Some are ongoing, newspaper-like strips, others tell a story that may or may not have a ending, some are even interactive! What is great about webcomics is that by their online nature, they are not limited to the printed page, nor must they conform to traditional storytelling standards.

Some webcomics, having been successful online, have published their webcomics as books. Some, like Noelle Stevenson’s “Nimona” or Kate Beaton’s “Hark! A Vagrant!” were picked up by major publishers. Others are printed using funds raised from Kickstarter, like “Derelict” by Ben Fleuter or “Ava’s Demon” by Michelle Czajkowski. Either way, it’s a fantastic trend and exposes webcomics to an even larger audience.

Here are some of my favorite web-to-print collections:

aumokd6pfdtuhq4dvfax_0Nimona by Noelle Stevenson – Set in a futuristic medieval world, Nimona, a young and impulsive shape-shifter joins up (well, forces her way in) with the supervillian Lord Ballister Blackheart. Blackheart, who was once a knight and lost his arm in a joust with Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, the kingdom’s champion. As Nimona and Blackheart pit themselves against the Director of the evil Institution, it becomes clear that no one and nothing is at it seems, especially Nimona.

You can check out the full comic from DPL (which I highly recommend) and see Stevenson’s other work on her blog and Tumblr. It’s especially worth it for the occasional non-canon “Nimona” mini stories she draws, and her obsession with “Hulkeye.”

 

 

Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks –  Canadian cartoonist Hicks’ “The shgcoverAdventures of Superhero Girl” follows our young superhero as she leaps tall buildings and clashes with the ninjas that seem to infest her otherwise boring city. She also faces the very ordinary challenges of being young and broke, social awkwardness and unfortunate cape-shrinkage.  The blending of superhero and the mundane creates a very funny and relatable story, winning Hicks an Eisner Award for Best Publication for Kids. You can check out the print book from DPL here, or read the whole comic online here (in black and white). Hicks creates several other webcomics, which you can check out on her blog here and on her Tumblr.

 

51tccYo6VVL__SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Hark! A Vagrant! by Kate Beaton – History nerds unite! Hark! A Vagrant is a collection of strips previously published on Beaton’s website, plus author commentary and a handful of previously unseen strips. Mixing both the historical and the contemporary, Beaton’s deceptively simple illustrations cast an erudite and witty eye on history, literature and pop culture. I will admit to needing to look up more than a few of the historical characters and events that appear in this collection ( especially those that had to do with Canadian history), but one needn’t be a history expert to enjoy the sheer silliness of the characters’ expressions and one-liners. Beaton also lampoons Nancy Drew, Aquaman, 1980s business women and her younger self, to name a few more modern targets, and the collection includes some singularly hilarious non sequitur strips to boot.

Beaton as two new collections coming out soon, “Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection” and “The Princess and the Pony.” Check out her website here, and her Tumblr, too.

Here are some more webcomics  that I enjoy, some in print and some only online:

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosch – Brosch has a deceptively simple illustration style and a talent for hilarious story telling. Her stories are taken, more or less, from real life and some, especially those about her Simple Dog, will give you stomach cramps from laughter. Brosh has also illustrated her own battle with depression with her signature style. Very much worth reading.

Ava’s Demon by Michelle Czajkowski – A young girl is possessed by a vengeful demon. To free herself, Ava must make a pact with her demon and carry out her plan for revenge and restoration. The art is absolutely stunning, especially when displayed digitally.

Derelict by Ben Fleuter – In a far future, the Earth is flooded and overcome with an alien fog which hides the “Miasmic Races.” Scavenger Dang Thu Mai is simply trying to get by, but her past, and the Miasma, continue to haunt her.

Apothecia by Taz Muir and Shelby Cragg – Eleven-year-old Jessie finds something horrific in the woods. What she does next will change her, and the world.

Red’s Planet by Eddie Pittman – From the animator of “Phineas and Ferb,” the comic begins with ten-year-old “Red” (because she has red hair, you see) as she runs away from yet another foster family. This time, though, it isn’t the police so find her, but aliens! Abducted and taken across the galaxy, she soon finds herself stranded with other abductees – a veritable menageries of strange (and grumpy) aliens.

One Way by Christopher Baldwin – What if the crew of a starship was, instead of being like “Star Trek,” a little bit more like “The Real World”? Sent on a first contact mission from which there may not be a return trip, Captain Francisco tries to keep his crew from killing one another (when you book a one-way trip, you don’t waste your A-team on it). The comic is mostly an on-going gag, but you can’t help but like this crew of total jerks.

Tired of Heroic, Noble Superheroes? Try Deadpool!

I think we can safely call this the Summer of the Superhero.

You can’t go anywhere without encountering blockbusters, books, graphic novels, and YouTube videos, dedicated to the adventures of the suped-up denizens of the DC and Marvel (and various Independent) Universes.

(especially at the Davenport Public Library—just saying)

But when everyone is fighting for truth, justice, and the way of whichever rebooted dimension they happen to currently inhabit, and everyone’s base superpower is to look fabulous in spandex, how can a single super stand out?

With the power of Pure Obnoxiousness, that’s how.

Marvel’s Deadpool (aka Wade Wilson, aka “The Merc with the Mouth”) isn’t your usual superhero.  And he definitely isn’t for the kiddies.

Deadpool Dead PresidentsOther superheroes have healing factors (Wolverine) and are known for their sarcasm (Spiderman and Hawkeye), still others are egotistical (Tony Stark), have mental health issues (Duh), or dubious reputations (Winter Soldier and the Black Widow), and whatever they say their motivations are, most of them are adrenaline junkies with easily ignored self-preservation instincts.

But only in Deadpool do all these traits combine to make a deadly, invulnerable, happy-go-lucky sociopath who could use a double dose of Ritalin every four hours.

DeadpoolHe’s often drawn as having multiple personality disorder (or being possessed, take your pick), surrounded by different narration boxes that argue with him or amongst themselves.  He’s also one of the few Marvel characters who knows that he’s a character, making him incredibly delusional by the standards of the other characters and impossibly self-aware by ours.  Or vice versa.

Deadpool himself is aware that he’s crazy by anyone’s standards—and he runs with it.  He takes on impossible tasks, talks directly to the reader (and the artists) whenever it’s inappropriate to do so, and takes full advantage of his cartoon status by acting like a happily-homicidal, R-rated version of a Roadrunner who read Wile E. Coyote’s playbook, stole his Acme catalogs, and hung out a shingle.

And his success rate is phenomenal, if you ignore the collateral damage.

Deadpool Draculas GaunletDuring the course of his Extremely Varied Career, he’s saved the world from alien invasions and  undead presidents, punk’d Dracula, kicked it with Hawkeye, and contributed interesting things (including an excellent post credit scene) to Wolverine’s origins.

This is a man who appeares to thoroughly enjoy his (wet)work.

Though that doesn’t mean he can’t get cranky about being an immortal pawn in someone else’s script, to the point of making the odd attempt to take down everyone in all the Marvel Universes . . . and beyond.

Deadpool has a lot to be cranky about—even the mildest of his many, many origin stories is a nightmare: a highly skilled (and highly irritating) mercenary soldier, Wade Wilson was diagnosed with fast-acting, lethal cancer. In exchange for a cure, he agreed to join the Weapon X program (the one that gave Wolverine his metal skeleton), which hoped to use him to create the perfect soldier. Unfortunately, the scientists at Weapon X miscalculated (or lied); their excruciating experiments did give him a healing factor that made him essentially unkillable . . . but it didn’t actually cure his cancer or reverse the horrific effects of the disease . . . or of the experiments.*

Essentially, his cells regenerate just quickly enough to keep the cancer and his battle damage from killing him—but what’s underneath Deadpool’s mask isn’t pretty.  And what’s between his ears, by most definitions, doesn’t have a firm grip on what’s left of its sanity.

Deadpool versus HawkeyeStill, Deadpool is loyal (at least to the highest bidder) willing to do almost any mission (for a price), and occasionally takes a shine to other heroes (especially Spidey, Cable, and Hawkeye) and “helps” them with their own missions in a way that really, really doesn’t . . . at least, at first.

He cares, sometimes, in his own way, and if his ideas of right and wrong are a little skewed, he deserves partial credit for trying. Maybe.  And it might, just might, be possible that the reason Deadpool is so completely, utterly annoying is that his invulnerability is only skin deep and he’s desperate to protest what’s left of the rest of him.

Most of the time, Deadpool wants to be The Hero—or The Anti-Hero of Awesome—of his own story, but his methods are madness.

Though even his worst enemies can’t deny that he makes it work for him.

And it really works for those of us who dare to try his kind of chaotic supercrazy.

 

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*In another version, the Weapon X experiments worked as stipulated, and Wade Wilson was a covert superhero for a while, until he (mistakenly or deliberately) killed one of his team.  He was sent to The Hospice, a rehabilitation center for damaged mutants and supers, which was actually a secret playground for the sadistic Dr. Killebrew.   The doctor and his staff made bets—in a “deadpool”, get it?—on which of their patients would survive their terrible experiments.  As it happened, Wade Wilson held on long enough to kill his torturers and escape . . . thus “winning” the deadpool and earning a new name.  Isn’t that cheerful?

Rat Queens Vols. 1 & 2

ratqueens

Allow me to introduce my new favorite band of adventurers, the Rat Queens!  Hannah the Elven Mage (and the daughter of necromancers), Violet the Dwarfen Warrior (and defier of family tradition), Dee the Cleric (estranged from her family of flying squid worshipers) and Betty the Smidgen Thief (always ready with a magical mushroom, candy, and two very sharp blades). Together, they rain destruction on their enemies or, if enemies be lacking, the bars and streets of the city of Palisades.

It’s the latter of the Rat Queen’s boisterous activity that lands them in jail (repeatedly) and at odds with the town’s council and mayor. The Queens – and the other bands of roving warriors bored to death in Palisades – are given one last change: complete the assigned quest, and all is forgiven. Unfortunately, the quest is a trap and the Queens find themselves in the middle of a very dangerous conspiracy.

Rat Queens Vol 1:  Sass and Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch introduces the Queens with spectacular action, violence and smart-assery. Whether in battle or recovering from it (with a raging party) the pace of the story never slows down. Bits of back story filter in, just enough to pique curiosity, although even without, the bonds between the Rat Queens are obviously very strong.

Rat Queens Vol 2: The Far-Reaching Tentacles of N’Rygoth  by Wiebe, Upchurch and addition of illustrator Stjepan Sejic begins with the Queens post-victory party. They are summoned to mayor’s office for what they expect is another tongue-lashing, but instead they’re offered a paying gig. Meanwhile, Sawyer, the captain of the town guard (and Hannah’s on again, off again lover) is kidnapped, his lieutenant attacked and the rest of the guard slaughtered. Over the course of the story, we also get glimpses into the pasts of our Queens – what made them into the warriors they are and how they were brought together. Oh, and Dee’s husband stops by with some very, very bad news.

If you’re thinking that much of Rat Queens sounds like Dungeons & Dragons, you’d be right. Aside from our four warriors, there are trolls, orcs, demons and guilds galore. Admittedly, this had undue influence over my first read*, but Volume 2 was so, so great that I re-read Vol. 1 and then read Vol. 2 again. This isn’t a series that you can jump into at the second or third collection. You miss much of the subtext and background that makes the series so enjoyable. The art in Vol. 2 is especially wonderful. I mean, how can you argue with Sejic’s portraits?

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One caution – Rat Queens is solidly for mature readers only. As I’ve mentioned, there is a great amount of gore, language and sexual situations (IMO, that’s one of the best aspects of the series, but to each their own.)

Safe questing, dear readers!
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* This isn’t to say that I have anything against D&D. I played it once, after working 10 hours, and no one had warned me there would be math involved. Absolutely not the game’s or the dungeon master’s fault.

Barbara Gordon: Batgirl, Librarian, Congresswoman

When I was in school, I always thought of librarians as superheroes. I would walk up to the desk, ask a question, and magically they would be able to find the answer for me in seemingly no time at all. I was amazed.

Did you know that there is actually a superhero librarian? Barbara Gordon, the second Batgirl, who replaced Betty Kane, the original Batgirl, in 1967, was also a librarian. Gordon’s civilian identity is Dr. Barbara Gordon PhD. With her doctorate in library science, Gordon serves as the head of the Gotham City Public Library. She is also as the daughter of Gotham City police commissioner James Gordon, filling her role in the library, and eventually becoming a United States Congresswoman.

Barbara Gordon’s version of Batgirl is the iconic Batgirl. If you see a comic book cover of Batgirl with red/orange hair, you’ve found Barbara Gordon!

the killing joke

As Gordon’s role as Batgirl progressed, she found the job to be less and less fulfilling until she pretty much retired from being Batgirl all together. An interaction with the Joker changed her course as Batgirl forever. In Batman: The Killing Joke, the Joker is on a course to seek revenge on Batman, the person who he blames for his disfigurement. This comic flashes back and forth between the present, where the Joker is wreaking havoc on Batman by going after his closest friends, to the Joker’s past, where readers are shown the Joker’s origin story as an ex-engineer in a chemical plant who happens to make some bad decisions and ends up disfigured and seeking revenge. Barbara Gordon is swept into the Joker’s revenge plot and is shot and paralyzed by the Joker as an attempt to turn her father, police commissioner Gordon, insane.

 

 

of like minds

Waking up paralyzed, Gordon realizes she can no longer be Batgirl and becomes the Oracle. Gordon has since become a symbol for PTSD sufferers and the disabled as she is confined to a wheelchair. As the Oracle, Gordon still relies on her library superpowers, becoming the computer superhero and information access giant for the entire DC superhero community. Examples of comics of Barbara Gordon as the Oracle are Gail Simone’s Of Like Mindsand also the books where Gordon, as the Oracle, helps the new Batgirl, Cassandra Cain, fight for justice in A Knight Alone and Death Wish. The Oracle joined forces with two others, the Huntress(daughter of Batman and Catwoman) and Dinah, a clairvoyant, to become the Birds of Prey in a DVD series aptly called Birds of Prey.

 

the darkest reflection

 

 

If you’re a fan of the new 52 comics, this back story may be confusing to you because in 2012, DC released Batgirl: Volume 1: The Darkest Reflectionin which Batgirl’s tenure as the Oracle is erased and she comes out of her paralysis slowly after she was shot by the Joker in the spine three years prior. In this first volume, Gordon reintroduces herself to life as Batgirl and and all the challenges that come with it.

 

 

 

batgirl year one

 

Another variation comic of Batgirl as librarian shows up in Batgirl: Year OneThis comic happens chronologically years before Gordon becomes the Oracle and even a Bird of Prey. She is portrayed as a girl between the ages of 16-18 years old who has already graduated college and seeks to become a member of law enforcement, an idea that her father and Batman quickly decide she has no business doing. Instead she takes a job as a library researcher and decides to rebel against Batman and her father by becoming Batgirl.

 

 

If this tiny glimpse into the life of Barbara Gordon, a real librarian superhero, caught your attention, feel free to click on the links to check out those materials and visit the library catalog to search for any superhero comic that may interest you.

Road to Perdition and John Looney

I love learning about local history. One of my favorite things to do is to do research and see if there are any local people who have become famous and have made it onto the national radar of notice. My newest local famous Quad City discovery is John Looney.

road to perdition dvd My journey into John Looney’s life began with the movie, Road to Perdition. This movie stars Paul Newman as John Looney, an Irish Gangster, and his adopted/surrogate son, Michael Sullivan, played by Tom Hanks. Sullivan is a hit man committing murders for his boss, Looney, who just happens to be in tight with Al Capone and the Chicago mobsters. Looney is highly involved with mobster scene in the “Tri-Cities,” which are Rock Island, Moline, and Davenport. (This is when my interest was piqued!) Mass confusion and violence happens when Sullivan’s son stows himself away in his father’s car and unwittingly witnesses a murder at the hands of his father and Looney’s biological son, Connor. After that murder, Connor feels the need to protect his father and sees the only option to be killing Sullivan’s entire family.. This movie is loosely based on part of the lives of John Looney and his son, Connor.

(This movie was based on a graphic novel, Road to Perdition, that was also written by a Quad City native, Max Allan Collins, born in Muscatine, Iowa.)

With my interest piqued after watching the movie and then reading the graphic novel, I citadel of sinwanted to learn more about John Looney’s real life. I found a biography entitled, Citadel of Sin: The John Looney story. In this book, Richard Hamer and Roger Ruthhart map out Looney’s life from birth to death. John Patrick Looney was the oldest boy of eight children born to Patrick and Margaret Looney of Ottawa, Illinois in 1866. His father moved to America in 1855 from Ireland and the family eventually settled in Ottawa, where John was born. John worked for the Western Union at the Rock Island train station in Ottawa as a telegrapher in 1881, before he moved to Rock Island in 1885 and became the head of the city telegraph station there.

In Rock Island, John’s life changed. He became interested in politics and wanted to become a prominent, wealthy, and respected member of the community. Before he turned 23, Looney was in charge of several precincts in Rock Island and was elected President of the Fifth Ward Democratic Club. Looney then passed the state bar exam and opened up a law practice. The law practice introduced him to many shady underground characters and that way of life eventually consumed Looney, leading him to manipulate the law to get what he wanted and descending into lawlessness. Check out this book to learn more about the infamous John Looney and the impact he left on the Quad Cities.

 

Hilda Series by Luke Pearson

Luke Pearson’s Hilda graphic novel series is whimsical, funny, and excruciatingly charming.  Hilda is a blue haired girl living in a magical world filled with trolls, invisible tiny people, exotic birds, flying giant cats, and a lonely wooden man.  Hilda is a kind, thoughtful person, and her character develops nicely throughout the series. Although created for children, this series is a delight for all ages.

hildafolkHildafolk is the first and the shortest book in the series.  This quick introduction to our curious heroine takes the reader on an adventure through (what Pearson calls) the Scandinavian wilderness (with a large dose of magic).  Hilda camps in the rain, draws some interesting rock formations, and has a run-in with a troll.

Hildafolk is followed by the remarkable Hilda and the Midnight Giant.  In this hildamidnightsequel, Hilda begins finding tiny letters demanding that she and her mother move away.  Isolated in the countryside, Hilda cannot figure out who would be demanding that they move (particularly in such a tiny fashion.)  As Hilda solves the mystery, a beautiful hidden world is revealed and Hilda and her mother must decide if they should stay in their beloved home and risk stepping on their neighbors, or moving on to start a new life in the city.

hildabirdHilda and the Bird Parade takes place (spoiler!following their move to the city, where Hilda is trying to learn to fit in.  Used to being able to roam the countryside free of supervision, Hilda and her mother are both trying to navigate city the new dangers and lifestyle changes brought on by city life.  When Hilda befriends a talking raven, she has an adventure that shows her that her new home could be just as exciting and beautiful as the one that she left behind.