BATGIRL AT SUPER HERO HIGH

BATGIRL AT SUPERHERO HIGH
Written by Lisa Yee
Published by Random House Kids

Reviewed by Marc Mason

How addictively popular are these DC Superhero Girls books? Let’s just say that before I could review book two, focused on Supergirl, it vanished into thin air. Now, did my twelve-year old step-daughter “borrow” it?

I’ve never found conclusive evidence.

Now, the third book in the series, focusing on Batgirl, is here, and I am pleased to report it is an absolute gem, continuing Lisa Yee’s fantastic work in bringing this version of these classic characters to life. Here, Barbara Gordon puts on the cape and cowl and joins the ranks of the heroes, even though she is without superpowers. Not only is that a challenge, but she also must navigate a very real teenage existence. Issues of confidence, learning who to trust, developing strong decision-making skills, and more arise, and all of it entertains as well as develops the character nicely.

One terrific sequence takes place in the lunchroom as Batgirl and Supergirl decide to defy stereotypes and stand up for the bullied and shunned Big Barda, whose reputation makes the other students avoid her. By leading by example (even though the encounter doesn’t go perfectly) it encourages the reader to do the same in their own lives. It isn’t preachy, but Yee’s delightful prose does the trick. And really, she’s quite good at this; all three of the books in the series have moments that lead the reader to ideas for being a better person in their own lives.

Of course, this is not the end for the series, and BATGIRL ends on a cliffhanger. Whatever comes next, I am sure it will have the same charm and grace that the first three in the series have displayed. I know one thing for sure: I’ll be happy to read it… and pass it on to my younger reader.

 

HILO – THE GREAT BIG BOOM

HILO: THE GREAT BIG BOOM
Written and Drawn by Judd Winick
Published by Random House Kids

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Let me get this out of the way immediately: HILO offers as much genuine pleasure to read as any book being produced today. It is, simply, as good a graphic novel series for younger readers that you will find on your bookstore shelves.

And I felt that way before this third volume arrived.

So it came as no surprise to me that Judd Winick outdid himself and that volume three is even better than the first two. Here, he gets to engage in significant world-building as the cast goes through a portal and lands on another planet. Oshun turns out to be the home of Polly the sorceress from book two, and hers is a place of magic and of belligerent alligators in medieval armor. The cast must navigate the oddities of this planet in order to try and find a portal back to earth or they could be stranded forever.

My goodness, is it a LOT of fun!

And Winick is clearly having a blast with the whole thing. The art gets more dynamic. The colors get more vibrant. The characters get deeper and more interesting. Everything here is filled with the joy possessed by a creative talent at the height of his powers.

My only complaint is that I have to wait a year for the next one. HILO is so much fun that I’m chomping at the bit for volume four.

 

HILO VOL 2

HILO: SAVING THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD
Written and Drawn by Judd Winick
Published by Random House Kids

Reviewed by Marc Mason

As good as the first volume of HILO was, the second volume is a quantum leap forward in terms of story, pacing, and art. Judd Winick is attempting to outdo himself, and he is succeeding.

When last we left the robot boy he had achieved a great victory at a high price: seeming destruction and an early exit from Earth. But as volume two gets underway we see him start to find his way back to Earth thanks to his toe.

hilo vol2

If I explained that to you, it would ruin a great gag. Not gonna do it.

Reunited with his pals DJ and Gina, he gets right back to enjoying the fruits of our planet and to experiencing things like trying to eat. But it isn’t too long before trouble starts brewing: rifts start appearing in the air and unusual creatures (and robots) start making their way through. When one of those creatures is a cat-warrior who is something of a samurai, the secret of Hilo’s existence may not remain secret for much longer…

Hijinks, tremendous battles, and incredible amusement follow.

To use Hilo’s favorite word, volume two of this terrific series is outstanding in every way. It is clever, exciting, drawn beautifully, has richer and deeper emotional stakes, and amazingly fast-paced. I continue to be extremely pleased to have this Judd Winick back making comics, not the one who did all those dark and gritty DC comics. This is his wheelhouse. Can’t wait for the next volume.


WONDER WOMAN AT SUPER HERO HIGH

WONDER WOMAN AT SUPER HERO HIGH
Written by Lisa Yee
Published by Random House Kids

Reviewed by Marc Mason

A new series of superheroine young adult novels? An easily accessible way for the early tween set to get to know classic comic book characters? Strong characters, good role models, fun stories?

Where has the DC SUPER HERO GIRLS been all my life? I needed this for my daughter a decade ago!

wonder woman at super hero high

That said, I’m extremely pleased to see that it exists now, and the first book of the series, WONDER WOMAN AT SUPER HERO HIGH has dropped and it is a fun little tale of teem bonding, teamwork, social media, and learning how to be one’s best self, wrapped in glorious superheroic trappings.

A teenaged Wonder Woman, chomping at the bit to leave behind the Amazons and see the world, applies to Super Hero High and makes her way to a society that she does not understand and has no experience with. Here we have a Wonder Woman who is completely guileless, lacking even the basic knowledge of sarcasm as she wades into a school full of powered individuals like her. Her naiveté leads to a great deal of confusion as she navigates her new life, especially with Harley Quinn (cast as a Youtube queen here) as a roommate. And of course, traditional school cliques are in play, something else Wondy does not comprehend. What’s great about the way Lisa Yee writes it is that she manages to make Wondy’s experience universal to pretty much any kid experiencing a new school

This is a Wonder Woman who is relatable in ways we have never seen before.

Of course, you have to have genuine conflict, and there is plenty here to deal with. Jealous students trying to sabotage Wonder Woman’s success and get her expelled. A rival school of supervillains. A competition amongst schools with high stakes. All the stuff you’d want to see in this kind of story. Yee delivers in a big way as she creates this genre hybrid, truly putting together the best of both.

My one down note was that the story takes its sweet time getting moving. The first hundred pages, the pacing is slooooooooooow. But the characters are written in such a charming way that you still want to keep moving along and see where the story takes them. That’s good writing right there.

The final page ends on a “cliffhanger” though it is a harmless one. If you didn’t read the next book, you still got a complete story here. But with something this much fun, why wouldn’t you – or the tween girl in your life – want to read the next one?

9781101940594

COMICS SQUAD: LUNCH

COMICS SQUAD: LUNCH
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Random House Kids

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Back when COMICS SQUAD: RECESS came out, I was deeply impressed by its lineup of talent and the execution they brought to the page. With this follow-up, COMICS SQUAD: LUNCH, the series shows that was no fluke by producing an even better book than the first.

cs lunch

Let’s start with the talent involved. Jeffrey Brown. Jason Shiga. Jennifer & Matthew Holm. Cecil Castellucci & Sara Varon. Jason Krosoczka. Cece Bell. Nathan Hale. And the Peanuts studio providing a piece with the classis Charles Schulz characters. That’s an absolutely titanic lineup, and they do not disappoint. Everyone brings their ‘A” game and their stories are fun, smart, and have a heart that might just help a young reader learn something.

There can never be too many great comics and graphic novels for kids. So it’s almost like you get spoiled when you pick up a book that has this much great material in it for younger readers. Oh, and make no mistake – this stuff is perfectly entertaining for older readers as well. The best stories appeal to the kid in all of us. This book is quite successful in doing so.

And if it happens to encourage you to buy another book by one of these amazing talents, then that is a win, too. In all, I give this book my highest recommendation.


HILO THE BOY WHO CRASHED TO EARTH

HILO: THE BOY WHO CRASHED TO EARTH VOL.1

Written and Drawn by Judd Winick

Published by Random House

Reviewed by Marc Mason

For quite some time now, every time I walk past the “B” section of my graphic novels, I have stopped at BARRY WEEN and wondered “Where did that guy go?” Not Barry, mind you, but his creator, Judd Winick.

hilo

Of course, Winick hasn’t exactly been in hiding. He’s had quite a prolific comics output over the last decade. But those comics have mostly lacked what made stuff like BARRY WEEN and FRUMPY THE CLOWN so phenomenally great. His DC stuff never felt like it had the joy that permeated his creator-owned work. I haven’t seen that Judd Winick in a while.

But then I cracked open HILO: THE BOY WHO CRASHED TO EARTH and damn there he is. The writer and artist of BARRY WEEN is back… and his new young adult graphic novel series gets off to an absolutely brilliant start.

D.J. is a young boy struggling with finding his identity, even amongst his own family. One of five kids, he feels as though each of his siblings has at least one extraordinary gift, while he (in his eyes) has not even one. Thus his self-image is that of being dull.

Everything changes when Hilo comes crashing out of the sky. Clad only in a pair of silver underpants that he likes way too much and missing his memory, Hilo latches onto D.J. quickly, patterning himself after his new friend. Together, they work to piece together who Hilo actually is and where he comes from, aided by D.J.’s long lost friend Gina.

What they learn would be a massive spoiler, so all I will tell you is that Hilo has some unusual talents, and that the trio runs into some nasty robots along the way.

I was sucked into HILO from page one. The characters are charming, the dialogue is witty and emotional, the action and plotting are terrific, and Winick’s art is as good as it has ever been. This book is a pure delight from cover to cover, perfect for young readers, yet also a tasty morsel for grown-ups looking for spirited fun.

Indeed, HILO ranks up there among the best work Winick has ever done, including PEDRO AND ME. It’s nice to see this Judd Winick again; I can’t wait to have book two in my hands.

STEVE JOBS: INSANELY GREAT

STEVE JOBS: INSANELY GREAT

Written and Drawn by Jessie Hartland

Published by Schwartz & Wade Books

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Advanced review; releases on July 21, 2015

My friends will tell you that I have a peculiar loathing for Apple products. That I regard the cult that has sprung up that salivates for each new product release is ridiculous. That I steadfastly believe the company to be the embodiment of corporate evil.

Those statements are all true.

stevejobscover

So you can imagine how far a biography of Apple’s co-founder – the man who’s policies and personality are a huge reason why I hate the company – would have to go in order for me to get through it, let alone say nice things about it. Yet I must say those nice things, because writer/artist Jessie Hartland has done a tremendous job of putting together a fair, complex, and intriguing look at Steve Jobs. Who he was, where he came from, why Apple once kicked him out, and why Apple took him back… all the puzzle pieces are here in a brisk, strongly told narrative.

We open in Jobs’ youth, exploring his burgeoning love for science and technology, then move forward to his friendship and partnership with Steve Wozniak. It is from that pairing that Apple was born, and shrewd move after shrewd move sees the two gradually build a juggernaut that will eventually dominate an industry. Of course, there are bumps and bruises to be had along the way, including Woz’s exit and Jobs being shown the door for a while, but Hartland’s way of telling the story never leaves any doubt as to why events wind up happening the way they do. Jobs is a man with a vision of the grand design, and he found a way to put as much money and as many people as humanly possible into service of that vision until the moment he died.

Hartland has an alt-comix style to her art, which makes for an interesting visual clash with a story about technology, a subject that generally revolves around perfect angles and we4ll-rounded curves. Yet the artistic style is part of what makes the book so accessible. By focusing on telling the story in a visually inventive way, you get the flavor of Jobs himself – innovate something completely great and not worry about everything else on the shelves.

There is also a healthy bibliography included, as well as author notes on how she made certain storytelling choices.

I didn’t come away from STEVE JOBS: INSANELY GREAT with a new appreciation for the company or products that the man spawned, but I did come away with a great deal of respect for the strong art and informative narrative that Hartland delivers. Obviously, the devotees will be head over heels for this one, but for me to give it a recommendation?

Strange days, indeed.

ALA, COMICS SQUAD, AND SECONDS

ALA, COMICS SQUAD, & SECONDS

Written and Drawn by Various

Published by Random House & Ballantine

Reviewed by Marc Mason

In my day job, I’m a professional library dork. There, I said it. Now you know.

Thus, when the American Library Association held its annual conference in Las Vegas at the end of June, I was on hand to see the true future of the comics medium. Spoiler alert: it isn’t Marvel and it isn’t DC. More and more, I am convinced that they are never be able to truly crack the book market in any meaningful way beyond their evergreen books (WATCHMEN, for instance). But the traditional book publishers are getting the job done, and getting it done right multiple times a year. ALA was all the proof you need.

For instance, ALA has its own Artist Alley, and it is as good as you would find at any comic-con, if not better. Gene Luen Yang. Janet Lee. Raina Telgemeier. Dave Roman. Jimmy Gownley. Kean Soo. The list goes on. And if you think that librarians didn’t recognize the amazing resource they had in front of them, think again. One of the best things I saw at the entire conference was a little girl dressed in an astronaut costume, accompanied by her librarian father, so completely thrilled to be getting her picture taken with ASTRONAUT ACADEMY author Dave Roman. Friends, it was adorable.

Or you could have seen the extraordinary line stretching across five aisles for Raina Telgemeier as she was preparing to sign advance reader copies of her new graphic novel, SISTERS. That would be the same graphic novel that is getting a 200,000 copy first print run. Her previous book, SMILE, has a million copies in print.

How many Marvel or DC trades will do that this year? None. Think about that.

If you want to ignore young women readers – the ones who devour Telgemeier’s work – you do so at your peril. And you are wasting an extraordinary opportunity.

ALA was a stark reminder that there is a bigger world out there as pertains to comics, and it is the true mainstream.

comics squad recess

Two new book releases also get to the heart of that mainstream, starting with COMICS SQUAD: RECESS!, which features not only Telgemeier and Roman, but also Gene Luen Yang and Jennifer & Matthew Holm amongst others. Don’t recognize those last two names? Welcome to the true mainstream. Their BABYMOUSE series of graphic novels have dominated sales charts for years, and they’re up to 18 volumes in print. Young kids know these books, and they know them far better than they know what is currently considered mainstream comics.

The material in this book is incredible. Every talent involved is either an award-winner of some kind, a NY Times best seller, or both. And unlike most anthologies, there is no weak link here; every single person brings their A-game, delivering perfectly entertaining material for readers young and old. I was in love with this book from page one, and smiled al the way through to the end. This serves as a great book on its own, and it serves as a fantastic guide to the creators’ other works. Buy it. Immediately.

seconds

Also in my hands is SECONDS, the new graphic novel from writer/artist Bryan Lee O’Malley. This is his first major project since the completion of the SCOTT PILGRIM series, and he delivers on a massive scale. SECONDS is a 300-page hardcover in full color, and in both story and art, he has continued to grow and produce amazing material. The story introduces us to Katie, a chef who is struggling with her life and her decision to open a second restaurant. After an accident hurts one of her waitresses on the job, Katie is given an opportunity by a spirit who lives in the restaurant to alter reality and prevent it from happening. When it does, Katie seizes an opportunity to use the spirit’s gifts (against the spirit’s will) to begin changing her life at every turn, causing reality itself to begin to unravel.

To tell you more about the story would be to spoil some great surprises, so I’ll just say this: O’Malley amazes in the execution. Katie is kind of insufferable, yet he manages to keep her likeable enough that we root for her. The other characters are fleshed out nicely as well. The art? Gorgeous. The layouts and storytelling are even more innovative than some of the stuff in the SCOTT PILGRIM books, and the color work (by Nathan Fairbairn) gives the pages depth and added emotional engagement. In every way, this book is a huge winner.

And it will sell massive numbers, far beyond anything from the Big Two. Welcome, again, to the true mainstream. You’re seeing at it right here. Don’t get caught looking back. Don’t get left behind, standing and staring, waiting to see who Batman is punching this month. There are legions of kids and libraries redefining the comics market every day. It’s time we listened harder to what they – and their money – have to say.


NOVEL SEQUELS

NOVEL SEQUELS
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Del Rey


Reviewed by Marc Mason

One of the growing trends in graphic novels has been taking successful novels and moving their characters and settings into the sequential art realm for prequels, sequels, and in-betweens. Two series that have done so, Kim Harrison’s “Hollows” and Scott Westerfield’s “Uglies” both producing comics versions in the past year. Now both of those graphic novels have sequels on the shelves.

Harrison offers up BLOOD CRIME, which comes on the heels of BLOOD WORK. She is once again aided by artist Gemma Magno, who did part of the first book. This time around, vampire cop Ivy Tamwood and her witch partner Rachel Morgan find themselves both targets and pawns in a power struggle between warring factions in the supernaturally overwhelmed Cincinnati. At the same time, Ivy continues to struggle with her attraction to Rachel and her desire to bite her, drain her, and turn her into a thrall. One of the things that sets this series apart is that these two partners don’t just have issues over who is showing bad hygiene on a stakeout; it’s all about the barely contained sexual tension. The plot itself is sort of secondary; BLOOD CRIME is far more concerned with the underlying issues between the characters. In that, the book succeeds. Magno’s art is okay, but there are a couple of places where the storytelling gets weak, including a moment when Ivy dodges something, but we don’t see what it was, or why it was dangerous until panels later. As I mentioned with the first volume, this stuff isn’t high art, but it’s a passable diversion, and above average for this genre.

Veteran comics scribe Devin Grayson returns to work with Westerfield on UGLIES: CUTTERS, picking up where UGLIES: SHAY’S STORY left off. Artist Steven Cummings also rejoins the mix. After the events of the previous book, rebellion has failed, and everyone in the cast has been turned into a Pretty. This includes some issues with memory lapses, as the ruling class doesn’t quite want the kids to remember their attempts to fight the system. But when Shay bumps into members of her old gang, those memory blocks start to fail, and the entire group once again tries to find itself and to find a new way to rebel against what they perceive as a corrupt society. No matter what has been done to her face and body, something about a life of parties and high fashion, with these kids, it just doesn’t fly. At its heart, CUTTERS is a pretty standard teen romance, but the trappings that the creative team gives it are slick and interesting. In particular, Cummings’ work has a dynamic look to it that infuses the story with energy and excitement, even in the quieter moments. The target audience for this work will devour it with gusto.





NEW GRAPHIC NOVELS

NEW GRAPHIC NOVELS
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Various


Reviewed by Marc Mason

Three spiffy new hardcovers have hit my desk lately. Let’s take a gander at them, shall we?

I was a huge fan of the Louvre-inspired graphic novel series even before I went to work for NBM Publishing, and I remain one after my departure. Thus, I was pleased to see another entry as ROHAN AT THE LOUVRE hit shelves recently. As with each of these books, it is radically different than the previous one, and in this case, than any of the others, period. ROHAN brings manga to the world of the Louvre, and Japanese artist Hirohiko Araki is the first non-French artist to participate in the endeavor. The story itself also ventures into horror territory, melding Euro and Japanese influences sweetly. Rohan, an artist, meets a mysterious woman who tells him of a painting made with the blackest ink ever, a story he forgets until one day he visits the Louvre and tries to see the painting. There, tragedy and terror unfold as the consequences of seeing the piece set in for Rohan and those around him. Everything here works; the art is lovely, the colors are striking, the story is interesting, and the presentation (hardcover and in proper right-to-left format) is excellent. The Louvre series continues to be absolutely magic for readers.

GENETIKS (Archaia) is also quite visually striking, and has the usual excellent production design I’ve come to expect from the publisher. The story is the real standout here, though. Thomas Hale, a research in a bio-lab, had given the company a blood sample when he started work. Unknown to him, they have been attempting to decode the human genome, and in Thomas’s case, they actually succeed. However, in order for the company to protect its assets, they want him to do something highly unusual: sign himself over to them as their property. Thus, he becomes privately owned by his employer. (Raise your hand if you think that turns out well. No?) Protest groups, friends, conspiracies, and machinations upon machinations… the whole mix is here, and writer Richard Marazano pulls out all the stops to keep the pace moving quickly and keep the reader guessing as to what is really going on. The art by Jean-Michel Ponzio is heavily photo-referenced, but never stiff, and it helps the story flow. The one real downside here is that this is listed as volume one, and you get left with an awfully large cliffhanger. Dunno when part two ships, but “soon” would be good.

While it seems to be sweeping up geeks and non-geeks alike, I have never quite gotten the fever for George R.R. Martin’s GAME OF THRONES (Bantam). It just isn’t my thing, in neither prose nor television. Thus, I’m probably not the best person to tell you about the graphic novel either. That said… this beautiful-looking book certainly presents the material well. Writer Daniel Abraham does a solid job of taking the material and shifting it to the comics medium and making it understandable and accessible and artist Tommy Patterson does effective work in keeping the storytelling clear and effective. This hardcover collection of the Dynamite Entertainment single issues gets a number of added bonuses, including a preface from Martin himself, and a lengthy sketch and design gallery. If you’re a fan, this is something you would definitely want to have on your bookshelf.