Spring Forward with Great Reading!
With a successful and fun WonderCon@Home behind us, it’s time to check out what the Comic-Con Book Clubs have been diving into!
The Balboa Park group’s March selection was House of X/Powers of X by Jonathan Hickman (writer) and Pepe Larraz, R.B. Silva, and Marte Gracia (artists). Andrew led the in-depth discussion. House of X/Powers of X is Jonathan Hickman’s re-envisioning of Marvel’s X-Men.
The Book Club gave House of X/Powers of X a 4.5-star rating (out of 5) during the Balboa Park Rating Roundtable. Members liked the epic scope, complex theories, and big ideas in this interwoven collection of two brand-changing series. Also appreciated was the more significant role for longtime X-Men supporting character Moira McTaggert, the incredible artwork, and the excellent way Jonathan Hickman paid tribute to the core concepts of the X-Men while taking the series in new directions. Some members found it difficult to understand the characters and situations if they hadn’t read the X-Men before, a task made all the more tricky due to the frequent time skips.
The group also discussed the new philosophy of Professor X and the X-Men toward humanity, a point of view more aligned with Magneto’s than their old pro-homo sapiens allegiances. This conversation brought up the issues of ethics and morality in the team’s use of power diplomacy as well as their new resurrection ability. Members also talked about the development of a mutant culture and identity, and how Hickman’s focus on these issues parallels real-world social movements.
Members also discussed Descender, vol. 3 by Jeff Lemire (writer) and Dustin Nguyen (artist) as part of the ongoing Descender read-through.
In April, the Balboa Park Book Club will be discussing God Country by Donny Cates (writer) and Geoff Shaw (artist). In God Country, an elderly widower with Alzheimer’s is granted a magical sword and has to contend with the coming storm of otherworldly creatures invading Texas. The group will also be discussing Descender vol. 4.
The Downtown Group’s March pick was Dracula, Motherf**ker! written and lettered by Alex de Campi with art by Erica Henderson. Set in 1970s Los Angeles, an imprisoned Dracula is released by a Hollywood starlet. This act awakens some domestic drama for Dracula’s three brides and ensnares Quincy, a crime scene photographer who bears witness to the consequences of tangling with a monster.
Most of our readers love a good vampire story, with Sam bringing a stack of novel recommendations for anyone wanting more (Hello, Something Dark and Holy Series), Adriana moderated the discussion, which revealed that many enjoyed the book and its take on Dracula. Readers particularly liked the choice to represent Dracula as a real monster. This rejection of the typical glamorous vampire image made it a refreshing take on such a well trodden subgenre. No sparkly vampires in sight! With many characters in the mix, it was largely agreed that this has the bones of a great story but the book was such a fast read that it feels more like a setup for future volumes in which the concepts touched on here can unfold with greater depth. Almost everyone in the group was intrigued by Dracula’s three brides and would enjoy seeing more from their perspectives. The discussion even veered off into imagining a version of the reality show Sister Wives but starring these three vengeful brides.
One the most talked-about elements of the story was the setting. There was overwhelming agreement that Los Angeles works for a vampire story during any time period, but especially the 70s! Erica Henderson’s art successfully set the tone for both time and place, with her color saturation easily immersing readers in the pulpy tale. There was also great praise for the lettering by de Campi, making the book a well designed collaboration. Since this was a quick read, the group felt that it didn’t take full advantage of the decade and city but can see how it very much could if the creative team continues the story in future volumes.
In April the Downtown group will read Captain America: The Winter Soldier by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting, a timely choice with the new Disney+ series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, now streaming.
The Encinitas group’s March selection was the graphic novel adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, written by Ryan North, illustrated by Albert Monteys. Vonnegut's novel was published in 1969. The science fiction anti-war novel is based in part on Vonnegut's own experiences as a POW during the firebombing of Dresden in World War II. This 2020 book was published by Archaia, an imprint of BOOM! Studios.
Mary Elizabeth led the discussion. About half of the group had previously read the novel, about half had not. The group overall found the graphic novel adaptation to be thoughtful and challenging.
The group was intrigued by the time travel element of the story. (Lead character Billy Pilgrim is "unstuck in time," randomly reliving various incidents from his life.) Karim thought the time travel element demonstrated how Pilgrim's war experiences stayed with him his entire life. Richard saw the time travel as, in part, a metaphor for traumatic memories. Jon thought that although Pilgrim's time travel couldn't change the events in his life, Pilgrim could change his perspective on those events. Travis also pointed out the functional advantage of the time travel conceit, noting that the story would have been unsatisfying if told in linear time. Luke suggested that all of us live like Pilgrim, reliving aspects of our own past experiences.
Artist Albert Monteys used a simple, cartoonish style for the adaptation. Jon and Luke approved of the choice, believing that a more realistic art style would have made the darker story elements difficult to take. Mary Elizabeth appreciated how Monteys used color palette changes to make clear transitions from scene to scene. Karim was particularly impressed with the artist's depiction of natural spaces and the views of Dresden before and after the firebombing.
In April, the Encinitas book club will discuss the first two volumes of the manga series Pluto, by Naoki Uraswa and Osamu Tezuka.
The Escondido Group 1 read the page-turner Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaption by Octavia Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy and illustrated by John Jennings. It follows Dana, a young black writer who has just moved with her husband to a house in 1970s California. While unpacking, she is inexplicably sucked away from her reality and husband back into the 1800s antebellum South in an instant! Finding a young boy drowning in a river, she rushes to save his life, but her success is only met with disdain and violence by the boy’s family. She is suddenly jettisoned back to her own time where her astonished husband confirms what has just happened. As she fears, a pattern is established over the next few months where Dana is pulled back and forth to this dreadful time period whenever the boy’s life is in danger, for he is her ancestor. She must somehow survive among these bigoted and violent plantation owners who treat her and their enslaved workers horrendously, hoping that her influence will change the boy (and his legacy) for the better. But how can anyone stay safe and sane against a system so wrought with hatred and pain?
The group found this tale engrossing and impactful. Vince said he got invested right away. Nicole wanted to know if the graphic novel adaptation left anything out from Butler’s original novel, so she sought that out immediately after. She was surprised to find it was a pretty concise adaptation. Sophia really appreciated the realistic, no sugar-coated portrayal of antebellum slave owners and enslaved Black people. The strength of Butler’s words and Jennings’ drawings really lend themselves to the raw emotion Dana and other characters are forced to endure. Natalie found the art striking throughout and appreciated the mixed use of muted color panels and isolated parts like blood with more saturation. Seeing the story through panels was much more powerful than trying to imagine the details. Nicole thought the work was very poignant for modern Americans to study and really learn about how monstrous white slave owners were and just how rigged the mindsets of both white and black Americans were during this time. Sophia likened the twisted relationships between the characters of the past to those of an abusive household. As viciously as the white owners hated Dana and their black workers, they also sought approval and kinship from them at times. Nicole wished there was more to read about Dana and her husband’s future.
The title this group will explore in April is Batman: Damned by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo.
Escondido 2’s March selection was Daytripper by Gabriel Bá and Fabio Moon.
The back of the book reads "Daytripper follows the life of one man, Bras de Olivias Dominguez. Every chapter features an important period in Bras’ life in exotic Brazil, and each story ends the same way: with his death. And then, the following story starts up at a different point in his life, oblivious to his death in the previous issue—and then also ends with him dying again. In every chapter, Bras dies at different moments in his life, as the story follows him through his entire existence—one filled with possibilities of happiness and sorrow, good and bad, love and loneliness. Each issue rediscovers the many varieties of daily life, in a story about living life to its fullest—because any of us can die at any moment." Mimi led a thoughtful discussion on the moments of Bras’ life that stuck out to the book club. Each member had something different stay with them from the read depending on what life moments they'd experienced. This speaks to the power of the story of Daytripper and its message: Don't take anything for granted; enjoy and live your life as full as you can because in the end everyone dies. The artwork was surreal and magical. It made each important part of the story pop and resonate. Overall the group rated Daytripper 4.8 out of 5. Many will be coming back to reread the story every few years to see if it hits them differently.
In April, Escondido 2 will be reading My Hero Academia, vol. 1 by Kohei Horikoshi and Saga, vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.
For the March selection, the La Jolla book club chose two books, heavy in mythology.
The first book, Thor: God of Thunder, vol. 1: The God Butcher, follows the Marvel Comics version of the character Thor, from Norse mythology.
The cinematic universe version of Thor has increased the character’s popularity in recent years. As a result, some of the La Jolla club readers were surprised at the book’s “seriousness” as compared to the light-hearted film Thor: Ragnarok.
Thor’s comedic aspects may be more pronounced in the movie, but this comic book story (which preceded the movies) makes it obvious that the cocky, braggadocious, absurdness of the movie character has been affectionately inspired by Thor’s comic book incarnation.
The God Butcher is the first collection of writer Jason Aaron’s years-long stint writing Thor. The story’s time-jumping plot gives it a lot of historical “weight,” and the frequent use of important-sounding names (names of people, names of gods, names of planets, and so on) helps to “ground” this fantasy in reality.
The art, by Esad Ribic, is beautiful, and the collection really benefits from having a single artist.
Unfortunately, The God Butcher collects only 5 issues of the 11-issue story arc, and readers would definitely benefit from instead reading the complete collection, Thor: God Of Thunder by Jason Aaron, vol. 1.
The second mythology-laden story read by the L club was Sandman, vol. 3: Dream Country, written by Neil Gaiman.
Different mythologies are showcased in each of Dream Country’s four collected issues (Calliope, A Dream of a Thousand Cats, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Façade). Gaiman expertly uses these mythologies for world-building and introducing important elements of the Sandman’s own mythology.
In Calliope, drawn by Kelley Jones and Malcolm Jones III, and in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, drawn by Charles Vess, the mythologies of ancient and classic literature are mined when the Sandman is revealed to have familial ties to one of the muses of Greek mythology and personal ties to the fairy creatures of William Shakespeare’s play.
In A Dream of a Thousand Cats, Gaiman’s feline tale establishes that the Sandman/Dream universe has some original mythologies of its own (but it’s the adorable kitty drawings by artist Kelley Jones that left the biggest impression on some La Jolla book club readers).
And finally, in Façade, with art by Colleen Doran and Malcolm Jones III, superhero mythology is explored, helping to cement the Sandman Universe firmly in the DC Comics Universe.
With four very different stories, each with its own mythology, Dream Country was a lot to digest for the La Jolla group. Fortunately for some club members, this was made easier by simultaneously listening to the corresponding chapters of The Sandman Audible adaptation. And despite nightmare-inducing flashbacks of reading Shakespeare in high school, club members all agree to continue reading Gaiman’s Sandman epic.
Next month, the La Jolla book club will read Once & Future, vol. 1, written by Kieron Gillen with art by Dan Mora, and Y: The Last Man, vol. 7: Paper Dolls, written by Brian K. Vaughan, with art by Pia Guerra and Jose Marzan Jr.
For the month of March, the Mission Valley Group read the Eisner Award–nominated Once & Future, vol. 1: The King Is Undead, written by Kieron Gillen, with art by Dan Mora and colors by Tamra Bonvillain. Once & Future is Gillen’s take on King Arthur lore, and it hits the ground running.
The group found the fast-paced action enjoyable, and the art style very much lent itself to the flurry of events in the story. The characterizations were endearing, with the character Bridgette being the group’s favorite. Gillen wove elements of King Arthur and his knights’ story throughout this first volume and, at times, some of the more obscure details were lost on a few of the group. That being said, the general consensus was that the group enjoyed the story and the art and had fun going along for the ride.
The Mission Valley group will be reading Lady Killer by Joelle Jones in April.
The Museum club continues its predilection for the works of Brian K. Vaughn, this time reading Saga, vol. 1, illustrated by Fiona Staples. This group continues to select Vaughn’s work because of his consistent writing, compelling stories, and issues he explores. Moderated by Damaso, the group discussed their enjoyment of the comic timing, ease of reading, and genre crossing, and most did/will continue reading the series.
Members found hope in the narrator’s voice because it assured readers that they survive the high-stakes setting of an interplanetary war. Most of the characters in the large ensemble interested everyone. It was helpful to have the different lettering styles for the different characters (the narrator, the Robot royal family, etc.), though there was some disagreement as to the necessity of the diacritics around the Esperanto spoken by Marko’s people.
Some felt the amount of swearing was lazy and one-dimensional, while others did not feel that way. Philosophically, however, the group was of one mind: war, and the oft-times undiscussed catastrophe of outsourcing it away from the lives of the actual warring parties, is devastating beyond just the body count of the combatants.
A good deal of praise was lavished on Fiona Staples’ art, which was easy to follow and beautiful, with rich color palettes and expressive composition, and easy-to-differentiate faces (a complaint from other works). A discussion about the nudity and sex ensued wherein the members who had read further into the story assured those who had only read volume 1 that the sexuality has true purpose. Generally it was agreed that the purposeful non-male-gaze of the rated R aspects made it less gratuitous or annoying. The group looks forward to more Saga.
March begins North Park’s long-read for the year, starting with the first two volumes of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s epic The Wicked + The Divine. Every 90 years, 12 gods of varying faiths and religions reincarnate as humans, to be worshipped by humanity for two years before dying once again. In the mid-2010s these gods, including Lucifer, Baal, and Woden, come back as musicians performing concerts for thousands of devoted fans. These musician gods act just like modern pop stars, which is to say just like spoiled gods. The first two books follow one such fan, Laura, who wants more than anything to be a god herself. After tagging along to an afterparty with some of these gods, she ends up trying to exonerate Lucifer for a murder she didn’t commit. Along the way she becomes entangled with the lives and power struggles among the other gods.
As seems to be the case with many of our book selections, many in the group weren’t totally drawn into the story until the end of the first volume. One member, Ernesto, didn’t think that he would have kept reading after the first issue if he were reading these as monthly releases. However, most members who were hesitant reading the first volume got invested with Laura’s journey by the second volume. Speaking of Laura, members appreciated her as a teen protagonist and the reader’s entry into this world. They also enjoyed that Laura was a protagonist of color.
One aspect that didn’t divide the group was Jamie McKelvie’s artwork. Everyone loved his style, especially his covers: close-up portraits of each character with popping colors by Matthew Wilson. Wilson has become a group-favorite colorist, with his coloring just as eye-catching as in Paper Girls, the groups 2020 long-read. McKelvie also incorporates interesting graphical effects in the book, pixelating the images that depict gods using their powers, compared to the clean linework he uses for the rest of the comic.
In April, North Park will be reading Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru’s Superman radio drama adaptation Superman Smashes the Klan.
The Oceanside group selected Batman: Three Jokers by Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok to discuss this month. This graphic novel was published in November 2020 by DC. Although the world of Gotham with Batman and Joker was not new to any in the group, this one took a different spin on the many personalities of the Joker. The story questions how many Jokers there actually are and how many Batman has been fighting all these years. Bruce Wayne is joined by Barbara Gordon and Jason Todd, who both have their own memories of being victimized by Joker’s brutality. Although the three of them have their own drama, they need to find a way to work together.
The group found the artwork to be terrific and the story quite ambitious. There are many references to past story arcs, and knowledge of The Killing Joke would be helpful. However, even without that knowledge, the story is enjoyable, keeping readers guessing until the very end and leaving them to theorize what comes next for the characters.
In April, the Oceanside Club will be talking about anti-heroes while discussing I Hate Fairyland, vol. 1: Madly Ever After by Scottie Young.