Graphic Novel Review: Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman

Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman. Lerner / Graphic Universe, 2019. 9781541572843. 104pp.

Gillman’s follow-up to As The Crow Flies is a beautifully drawn (with colored pencils again!) historical western featuring queer characters, set in New Mexico Territory in 1861. (Confederate troops under General Sibly had just taken the southern half of the territory and renamed it. Gillman explains the history in annotations at the end of the book.)

Grace is fleeing her family in Georgia and Civil War conscription, heading by stagecoach for California where she hopes to work in the theater. En route the demonic Ghost Hawk robs the coach and kidnaps Grace, hoping for a ransom. Back at Ghost Hawk’s camp, she removes Grace’s bonnet, and it’s obvious from Grace’s growing beard and instant irritation at being unmasked the she was assigned male at birth. But Ghost Hawk treats her like the lady she is, and as they swap stories she even tells Grace about her dream of a last big heist and settling down to raise goats. Ghost Hawk’s plan involves busting up a Confederate cotillion to find out what they’re up to, and selling that information to the Union. Soon Ghost Hawk and Grace are partners in the venture and, after a quick trip to a fabulous tailor, they head for the party.


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Graphic Novel Review: Superman by Brian Michael Bendis

The Man of Steel by Brian Michael Bendis, with a host of famous and amazing artists. DC Comics, 2018. 9781401283483. Collects The Man of Steel 1 – 6.

Superman: Action Comics Volume 1: Invisible Mafia by Brian Michael Bendis, illustrated by Ryan Sook, Patrick Gleason, Yanick Paquette, and Wade von Grawbadger. DC Comics, 2019. 9781401288723. Collects Action comics 1001 – 1006.

Superman Volume 1: The Unity Saga: Phantom Earth by Brian Michael Bendis, pencilled by Ivan Reis, Inked by Joe Prado and Oclair Albert. DC Comics, 2019. 9781401288198. Collects Superman 1 – 6.

Bendis has been writing for Marvel for years, and recently started writing for DC instead. I’m not alone in being very (almost said “super”) excited to see him make this move. I haven’t looked forward to reading a Superman comic since Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman.

Start with The Man of Steel. Clark is now married to Lois. They have a super-powered kid. Lois has quit the Daily Planet under somewhat mysterious circumstances. A BIG bad villain named Rogol Zaar comes to Earth to complete his cleansing of Krypton — he claims to have destroyed it way back when, and he’s come to finish the job. First stop: Metropolis, or was it the tiny Kryptonian city, Kandor? Plus someone is setting fires in Metropolis, but the tough new Fire Chief is one the job.

Bendis plays with time nicely, and it sets up the two next books very well.

Action Comics Volume 1 continues the story of the arsons. This is a small scale story about criminals who operate in Metropolis under Superman’s nose, with amazing art and colors. Bendis adds a bit of realism to Lois and Clark’s marriage, which is my favorite part of a great graphic novel.

Superman Volume 1 continues the Rogol Zaar storyline. Earth is in jeopardy and all the heroes pitch in. We get to see some of Krypton’s greatest villains on the battlefield, too. The art is epic.

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Graphic Novel Review: Smell My Foot! by Cece Bell.

Smell My Foot! (Chick and Brain) by Cece Bell. Candlewick, 2019. 9780763679361. 70pp.

Brain isn’t very smart. Chick likes to tell Brain and Spot the dog what they should have said, especially about what to say to be polite. Spot takes Chick home for lunch, which has two meanings. Chick doesn’t realize she’s on the menu, but Brain does. (Minor spoiler: Brain saves Chick.) Warning: features lots of foot sniffing, though that’s probably obvious from the cover.

A funny, short graphic novel perfect for early readers, from the writer/illustrator of El Deafo.

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Guest Graphic Novel Review: White Bird by R.J. Palacio

White Bird by R.J. Palacio. Random House, 2019. 9780525645535. 220 pp

Wonder is a multiple award-winning children’s book, the story of August “Auggie” Pullman, a young guy with facial deformities who has to deal with bullies in his junior high after he stops being home schooled. The biggest bully at Beecher Prep is Julian who receives the most extreme punishment for the way he treats Auggie.
White Bird a sequel of sorts, or at least a related book — it’s a graphic novel told from Julian’s point of view when he Skypes his grandmother Sara (whom he affectionately calls “Grandmere”) for a Humanities project. Grandmere tells him about growing up in an affluent home in Germany where father was a well-respected surgeon and her mother was a math teacher. She was their only child and admittedly a little spoiled. Life was good until Nazis started raiding Jewish homes, schools, and businesses. Her mother was taken to a camp in Auschwitz. She didn’t and doesn’t know know what happened to her father. Grandmere’s school was raided but she was able to escape with the help of a social outcast, Julien, who hid her in his family’s barn. His parents hid her in the hayloft while the raids continued. She lived there for over a year until Germany surrendered. 
The white bird of the story is a dove that represents peace and freedom. Julien’s Grandmere reflects on how her father referred to her as a bird when she was younger, and as he threw her into the air. The imagery plays into the end of the story, too, after she hangs up the phone, picks up the newspaper, and sees a headline about the US border patrol.
This is a beautifully inked graphic novel, a haunting and powerful story of the Holocaust. Palacio is a brilliant artist and storyteller.
Thanks to Murphy’s Mom for this guest review.
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Graphic Novel Review: BTTM FDRS by Ezra Clayton Daniels and Ben Passmore

BTTM FDRS by Ezra Clayton Daniels and Ben Passmore. Fantagraphics, 2019. 9781683962069. 300pp.

Fashion designer Darla moves into a big apartment in an old building in the Chicago neighborhood where she grew up, the Bottomyards. Weird shit starts to happen. A dude working for the power company is pulled into the basement by some kind of duck-thing, then starts ranting about reptilian hybrids, and Darla and her friend find what look like entrails in Darla’s toilet. Cue a Scooby-Dooby-by-way-of-David-Lynch adventure with a bit of social commentary thrown in along with a few hilarious touches. My favorite character is Plymouth Rock, a rap star who dresses up as a pilgrim, and who also lives in the building.

This is a small format, original graphic novel from two creators who have been hitting home runs lately: Daniels (Upgrade Soul) and Passmore (Your Black Friend). It’s a beautiful bit of grotesque weirdness in which the writing and art really flow, and that you can read in a sitting. Enjoy.

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YA Book Review: What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee

What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee. Simon & Schuster, 2018. 9781481476560. 199pp. (The page count is deceptive. The book has a few very short paragraphs of text on every other page, with the facing page having a single Chinese character for a number between one and 100, arranged sequentially.)

Will walks to and from the dollar store where he works, to and from school, past places and people. He talks to Superman (a guy who lives on the street), to a kid who shows him the butterflies that land on his garage, and to his socially challenged but kindhearted boss, Major Tom. Will thinks about cornbread all the time, which is a way of thinking about his dad, who used to make it. And sometimes he thinks about his friend Playa, who was raped by three guys at a party after Will left. He hasn’t talked to her about that, or about his dad, or anything for a while. But Will has a good heart, and after doing a few nice things for the kid with the butterflies, he decides maybe he can do a few nice things for Playa, too.

This is a short, poetic, big-hearted story that I read in a very short amount of time, and which I’m going to reread again, I’m sure.

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Book Review: The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Z. Hossain

The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Z. Hossain. Tor, 2019. 9781250209115. 167pp.

After thousands of years, Melek Ahmar, the Lord of Tuesday, Most August Rajah of the Djinn, awakens in his stone sarcophagus. The spells that kept him there have rotted, like most of the earth. He soon meets a Hume who refuses to tremble before him, a pistachio eating Gurkha named Bhan Gurung who lives in a hovel in the mountains, with enough tech to create a healthy microclimate around him. Ghurung tells the djinn of Kathmandu, whose citizens are now governed by an impartial AI named Karma. They set out for the city because Melek Ahmar needs worshipers and is determined to rule again.

Soon Melek Ahmar is trying to raise hell there, to have a little fun and get some respect. Gurung wants revenge, but that comes later. There’s a well-behaved sheriff in town, and he and his lover, a high ranking soldier, may be all that stand between Karma and the Lord of Tuesday. It’s hard to raise hell, even for a djinn, in a paradise where everyone can pretty much have what they want. Maybe things aren’t quite as perfect as they seem in Kathmandu, though.

Gurung is a hilariously deadpan man who stands out in his crowd of zeros — he not only has zero karma points, he’s removed the implants that allow him to be recognized as a citizen and to interact with the virtuality. Melek Ahmar is as full of himself and his power as he is with disdain for everyone else, and is constantly spouting insults and bragging. The sheriff is a puzzle, one of the only folks still determined to contribute to a society where no contribution is required.

This is a fun, very readable novella.

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Graphic Novel Review: Murder Falcon

Murder Falcon by Daniel Warren Johnson (writer, artist) and Mike Spicer (colorist). Image, 2019. 9781534312357. Collects #1-#8 and a bunch of covers, so it’s a good value at $19.99.

Giant monsters are attacking but don’t worry, Jake brought METAL (and his guitar). When Jake starts playing, a muscular cyborg bird, Murder Falcon, appears and saves the day. The harder Jake shreds, the stronger MF becomes.

If you need to know more than that, this book isn’t for you, though it’s worth noting that the art is fantastic, the writing is great, and there’s a lot of heart in this book. The monsters are amazing, too.

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Oh Josephine! by Jason

O Josephine! by Jason. Fantagraphics, 2019. 9781683962106. 174pp.

Another book full of deadpan, four-panel perfection from Norwegian cartoonist Jason. There are four graphic novellas in this book. The first, in which Jason walks Ireland’s Wicklow Way, includes absurd moments like when he gets lost and imagines Bono and others commenting on a news story about his death. Napoleon appears in one, and in another there’s a crime and a woman trying to choose a name for her baby. My favorite is the short, absurd biography of Leonard Cohen — I have no idea how much of it is true I didn’t expected it to make me laugh so much. Highly enjoyable.

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