April showers bring ma...ny new books
April showers bring ma...ny new books! Check out what the Comic-Con Graphic Novel Book Clubs have been digging into!
The Balboa Park group’s April selection was God Country by Donny Cates (writer) and Geoff Shaw (artist). Joshua led the in-depth discussion. God Country is about an elderly man with Alzheimer’s disease who regains his health and memories from possessing a magical sword, and his conflicts with his family (who want him to give up the sword) and with the godlike aliens (who want the sword back).
The Book Club gave God Country an average 4.25-star rating (out of 5). Members liked the efficient storytelling, interesting characters, and well-written dialogue in this stand-alone graphic novel. The group also liked the cinematic artwork, especially the two-page spreads, the philosophical theme of the cost of war, and the family interaction. Some members didn’t feel that the relationship between the father and son was gone into deeply enough and that at times there wasn’t a clear reason why things happened the way they did.
The group also discussed the concept of a god of swords, and what being one would mean. In addition, the club discussed the appropriateness of the setting of Texas and how well the vast, empty spaces worked for the story. Members also talked about the themes of wanting to hold on to identity and of obsession and not letting go.
Also discussed was Descender, vol. 4 by Jeff Lemire (writer) and Dustin Nguyen (artist) as part of the ongoing Descender read-through.
In May, the Balboa Park Book Club will be discussing Black Hammer Vol.1: Secret Origins, by Jeff Lemire (writer) and Dean Ormston (artist). Banished heroes from an earlier age, the old champions of Spiral City now lead simple lives in a timeless farming town. The group will also be discussing Descender Vol. 5, by Jeff Lemire (writer) and Dustin Nguyen (artist).
Chula Visa’s pick for April was Judas by Jeff Loveness and Jakub Rebelka. Judas explores the untold story of Judas Iscariot, one of the best-known figures from the Bible. While most may know Judas as the disciple who betrayed Jesus, no one knows what he may have been feeling or thinking leading up to that fateful moment . . . until now. Loveness and Rebelka take readers for an emotional and thoughtful journey through the lens of a person who may have been completely misunderstood since the inception of the Bible, forcing us to ask ourselves hard questions: Is life predetermined? Was Judas just as much of a sacrifice as Jesus was portrayed to be?
Eric moderated the discussion, and the club all agreed that the book was a worthy read. For some people, this was a ”complicated” and “uncomfortable” read because it reflects aspects of their faith that challenged some core beliefs. For others, this was a book that wasn’t exactly up their alley and would not have been something that they would have read. For everyone, the book was visually striking and an easy read, but also thought-provoking and emotionally charged. This book was given a unanimous thumbs up by the group.
For May, the group will read The Death of Superman by Dan Jurgens.
The Downtown group jumped on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier train with a reading of the storyline that started it all: Captain America and the Winter Soldier by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, and Michael Lark. With the Marvel Studios/Disney+ series at its halfway point as of the April meeting date, it seemed like the perfect time to see how it all began.
Moderator Gary talked about the good old days, when this story arc first came out issue-by-issue, and nobody knew the dark secret of The Winter Soldier: that he was, indeed (SPOILER ALERT!) Bucky Barnes, one of the two characters that Marvel never planned to bring back from the dead (the other one being Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben). In these days of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and TV series, that secret is long since out. Creators Brubaker and Epting crafted a great story, which included the reveal of The Winter Soldier, the death of Captain America, the eventual taking over of Cap’s role by Bucky, and the return of Steve Rogers. The group felt this story arc showcased a more human Captain America, making him a three-dimensional character and defining him as a real person. The realistic art style of Steve Epting worked well with the subject matter, too. And ultimately, since everyone now knows that Bucky is The Winter Soldier, this tale’s journey, not the reveal, was the real payoff.
In May the Downtown group will read Chu, vol. 1: First Course, by John Layman and Dan Boultwood.
The Encinitas group’s April selection was the first two volumes of Pluto, a manga series by Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka. Pluto is a reimagining of an Astro Boy story arc from 1964 called "The Greatest Robot on Earth." The story is set on an alternate Earth, in a near-future setting in which highly developed robots are common.
Karim led the discussion. Mary Elizabeth liked the unobtrusive world-building elements of the science-fictional setting. Luke liked the murder mystery providing an overall structure for the story. Robin also appreciated that the storytelling was more focused and disciplined than some other manga series, reflecting the fact that the story was planned as a limited eight-volume series rather than being open-ended.
Jon enjoyed the elements of the story showing the impact of artificial intelligences on human society. Travis saw similarities with Blade Runner, with both stories including meditations on what defines artificial intelligence and what defines humanity. Karim was intrigued with the story's suggestion that robots could feel trauma from being used as tools of war. Luke agreed, seeing the story as depicting robots suffering from PTSD.
Regarding the artwork, Richard especially enjoyed the brooding, noir atmosphere. The black and white artwork uses extensively detailed black and gray shadings, enhancing the dark atmosphere of the murder mystery. Karim also enjoyed the horror-style artwork used to depict a killer robot as a Hannibal Lecter–type character.
In May, the Encinitas book club will discuss The Daughters of Ys, by M.T. Anderson and Jo Rioux.
The Escondido Group 1 dove into Batman: Damned written by Brian Azzarello with art by Lee Bermejo. This dark and gritty tale explores the outcome of Gotham and Batman’s state of mind after his final fight with the Joker. Narrated by the otherworldly antihero John Constantine, his trippy and poetic musings lead readers through a haze of Batman’s inner turmoil and outer struggles with villains, as well as through formative moments of his past as child. Featuring cameos from classic Batman characters as well as crossovers from the greater DC Universe, Batman: Damned is a beautifully rendered nightmare that will leave you questioning everything you know about this titular hero.
Vince moderated the discussion and was happy to discover that everyone thoroughly enjoyed the art and story. Lee Bermejo is an artistic force to be reckoned with, and Brian Azzarello’s writing explores new possibilities and connections in the Dark Knight canon. Chris was astounded by the dark and realistic feel of the art. Miela loved that the storyline was so open to interpretation, and Nicole mentioned that this story fit well into the flexible, multilayered world of Batman. The ending left each person with their own unique conclusion. Nicole and Sophia loved the many portrayals of Enchantress, and details of her appearance as well as of the other villains made Nicole read the book a second time. Vince mentioned that this first-ever release under the DC Black Label initially received some backlash because of nudity and that the version the group read was the edited outcome. But all members felt that either version was worthy of praise.
In May Group 1 will tackle the graphic novel adaption Stephen King's Creepshow : A George A. Romero Film with art by Bernie Wrightson and Michele Wrightson.
Escondido 2’s April selections were My Hero Academia, vol. 1 by Kohei Horikoshi and Saga, vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.
Saga vol. 2 continues the story of Marko, Alana, and their newborn child, Hazel. Club members were excited to return to the world of Saga. This volume sets in motion many plot points and themes that continue throughout the series. Hazel is once again an unreliable narrator and leaves readers trying to guess what will happen. Lying Cat is the best character of the entire series. All club members are big fans. The highlight of the story is meeting Marko's parents. Many great moments occur from these family dynamics. The artwork by Fiona Staples is always a delight. One member commented that Alana looks like she's drawn similarly to the covers of the romance novels she reads.
My Hero Academia is the story of Izuku "Deku" Midoriya, who wants to become the greatest hero of all time. There is only one problem: He has no powers—until the day he inherits those powers from the current most popular superhero. From there Deku must enroll in U.A. High School to start his training as a hero. Some 80 percent of the population has powers ("quirks'') that range from super powerful to mundane. The artwork in My Hero Academia is fun, and there are tributes to superheroes and villains of all genres. All Might was a club favorite, with Deku a close second. Escondido 2 is looking forward to reading more Saga and My Hero Academia in the future. To date Saga vol. 2 is one of the highest-rated titles read.
In May, Escondido 2 will be reading My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Nagata Kabi.
April brought the La Jolla group to a lively discussion led by Nicole. The first book the group tackled was Once and Future vol. 1, written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Dan Mora. The members really enjoyed this story’s spin on King Arthur and Excalibur and how a group of people come together to beat monsters, along with the comedic factor Gran brought to a serious storyline. There was a great balance between serious, fun, action, and comedy throughout the story. Both those who were familiar with Arthurian lore and those who were not enjoyed the tale and are already looking forward to continuing the story to see what will happen next.
The second read for the month was the group’s continuation of Y the Last Man with volume 7, by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, and Jose Marzan. Once again the group dove in and followed Yorick and the gang on their adventure. After the last volume’s big reveal on why Yorick is the last man, we finally make it to Australia! Again, things don’t go according to plan, but the readers always enjoy following to see where they might go next and what will happen along the way. The group agrees Y is a lightning fast read; they are ready for volume 8 to see what types of trouble Yorick will get into next.
Next month La Jolla will be reading Invincible vol. 1: Family Matters by Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker, and Umbrella Academy vol. 2: Dallas by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá.
For April, North Park read Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru. The book is loosely based on a story arc from the Superman radio show back in the 1940s; it follows a Chinese-American family, the Lees, moving into the suburbs of Metropolis after World War II. Tommy and Roberta Lee are the focus of the story as they deal with racism from other children in the neighborhood as well as targeted violence from the local Ku Klux Klan chapter. The KKK members are defeated with the help of Superman, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen, with Superman coming to terms with his own identity as an outsider or and immigrant to Earth.
Everyone enjoyed this book—even some members who had never read or enjoyed a Superman comic before. Members appreciated the parallel story of Superman coming to terms with his own Other status in society, even though he can pass as human. The group also found Yang’s portrayal of racism to be particularly nuanced, especially for a YA story. While there is the obvious racism of cross-burning and blowing up buildings perpetrated by the Klansmen, Yang also portrays the subtle racism Tommy and Roberta’s father faces at his new job, as well as the father’s own racism toward the black police inspector who shows up to the Lee household to investigate. The Klan itself is also more complex, with one member pointing out how they appreciated that the main drive of the KKK was revealed to be motivated by making money and cynically exploiting the racism of its members. Overall, the group felt that the story expertly addressed racism while wrapping it up in an entertaining Superman adventure.
The entire group also loved Gurihiru’s cartoonish style of art, feeling that the light tone of the art mitigated the intense and sometimes dark story being told. The bright colors and character designs felt ’40s era appropriate, as well as fitting for a Superman story. One last aspect that everyone really enjoyed (and some said made them appreciate the story retroactively) was the afterward in the collection. It’s an essay written by Yang that interweaves the history of the KKK, the history of Superman and his radio show, and Yang’s own experiences with racism to provide more in-depth context to Superman Smashes the Klan. After reading the entire story, several members wanted to listen to the 1946 radio drama to hear how it differed from the comic.
Next month, North Park will continue their long-read of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine, reading volumes 3 and 4.
First of all, the Oceanside group was happy to see several new faces (via Zoom) at the April meeting. The 2021 meetings thus far have brought several new comic lovers to the group, and their perspectives and input have added fun and variety to the discussions.
The theme for this month’s reading was “Anti-Heroes” and the group picked I Hate Fairyland vol. 1: Madly Ever After by Scottie Young as the reading selection.
Before diving into the book, there was some discussion of the anti-hero character trope and some major anti-heroes that have appeared in other comics, as well as movies, books, and other media. The group talked about how an anti-hero can be a character that would seem to be an unlikely candidate for the heroic role, a character that takes on the heroic role with great reluctance, a “good” character that sometimes does bad things for good reasons, or simply a protagonist with bad traits but still happens to be not quite as bad as the characters he/she is up against in the story.
I Hate Fairyland provides many great examples of the Anti-Hero theme. The main character, Gertrude, was magically transported to Fairyland when she was 8 years old. Unlike Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Gertrude couldn’t just tap her red shoes together and go home, nor does Gertrude have a crew of loyal and brave friends to help her on her adventure. Instead, she is given a difficult task to perform before she can go home. Twenty-seven years later, she is still stuck in Fairyland, trying to get home, and it has taken a severe toll on her sanity. Plus, the beautiful Queen of Fairyland is trying to kill her.
The story is filled with fairly graphic violence. Gertrude has become homicidal (although still with the appearance of an 8-year-old child) and bloodily kills any number of giants, ogres, zombies, demons, and other magical folk that get in her way. The group discussed how the jarring juxtaposition created by having all that violence set in a childlike magical fairyland was certainly the creator's intent. The group talked about some parallels the story has with real life, such as how it can be hard to let go of the past and accept the present and how it can be hard to shake the feeling that some people just have it easier than others.
Gertrude exhibits many anti-hero characteristics. She is a highly reluctant hero, forced to go on a heroic quest for which she is ill-prepared. However, on the way, she acquires numerous competencies. For one thing, she learns to be an excellent combatant, as evidenced by the body count that follows her wherever she goes in Fairyland. Gertrude is also completely unafraid of anything. In many ways, although she feels she has been set on this course against her will and is powerless to change it, she has become quite empowered in spite of everything.
Overall, the group enjoyed the book. The art is very impressive and the story is fun, funny, and moves along at a brisk clip. Several members said they intended to continue on to volume 2.
Next month, the Oceanside group is taking on the theme “Copycats,” looking at comics that are imitating, and hopefully expanding on, the previous work of other creators. The main reading selection is A Study In Emerald by Neil Gaiman and Rafael Albuquerque, a pastiche of Arthur Conan Doyle and H. P. Lovecraft. Sherlock Holmes is confronted by the Cthulhu Mythos!