Bettie Page: Curse of the Banshee

By most accounts, Bettie Page did not have a happy life. Billed as both the Queen of Pinups and Queen of Bondage (despite doing shockingly little BDSM photography), she retired from modeling and became an evangelical Christian just four years after becoming one of the first Playboy Playmates. She struggled financially in her later years, trying to assert control of her likeness despite most of the photos she’d posed for falling into the public domain. There is a cruel irony that Page may be more successful in death than in life, as her estate has made Forbes’ annual list of top-earning dead celebrities several times since her passing in 2008.

This knowledge makes Bettie Page: Curse of the Banshee seem somewhat distasteful. Although there were comics based around an idealized accounting of Page’s life as a model and actress published over a decade before her death, Dynamite Comics has gone a step further by publishing several series based around the idea that Bettie Page was also an agent for an unnamed bureau of the United States government. In these stories, she gets into all manner of shenanigans involving time travel, alien invaders and murder mysteries when she isn’t posing for girlie mags.

Bettie Page: Curse of the Banshee’s plot is pure creature-feature shlock. Paired with another agent named Lyssa, Bettie is dispatched to Ireland to investigate some strange murders at the request of the Irish Intelligence Agency. Bettie is chosen for this task because she and Lyssa are reportedly the best they have when it comes to supernatural cases. Soon they are butting heads with the local authorities, who are skeptical of both the idea that a monster could be responsible for the killings and that two attractive young women could truly be American spies. Naturally, the rumors of a ghostly figure are quite real and Bettie Page soon falls prey to… the Curse of the Banshee!

The script by Stephen Mooney resembles an Ed Wood movie in all the right ways. Mooney delves into some real Irish history and mythology with his discussion of how the stories of banshees were likely inspired by the Celtic tradition of keeners singing sad songs at funerals and the best keeners being called “bean sidhe”, or fairy women. This winds up having very little to do with the story, which degenerates into a zombie-fighting horror comic, as those slain by the banshee rise in its service, but it does show more craft and forethought than many horror comics.

Unfortunately, the characters are as flat as Bettie Page is not. All of the characters came straight from central casting, from the Irish cops who give Bettie and Lyssa a hard time to the priest who tries (and fails) to perform an exorcism on a seemingly possessed Bettie. Even Bettie and Lyssa don’t have much personality beyond “feisty heroine” and “beleaguered best friend.” While this does fit the genre, it is somewhat disappointing given Page was famous for the fun spirit she conveyed in her photos and the writing doesn’t quite capture that.

The artwork is similarly conflicted. Jethro Morales can draw a beautiful woman and does a good job of capturing Page’s likeness. Unfortunately, Morales’ figures seem stiff when they are required to move and many of the action sequences are (like Bettie Page herself) unnaturally posed. There’s also some incredibly obvious panel recycling, which would be bad enough if it weren’t occurring in a static scene of three characters talking while one of them is reading a book.

Bettie Page: Curse of the Banshee is rated for audiences 13+ and I think that’s a fair assessment of the comic itself. It may not be a fair assessment of some of the variant covers in the gallery that takes up nearly one third of this book’s total page count, as there are several photo covers that are fairly risque, even with CENSORED bars covering certain key areas. Fans of Bettie Page will probably find a lot they’ll want to look at in this comic, but vintage horror fans looking for a fun read should look elsewhere.

Bettie Page: Curse of the Banshee
By Stephen Mooney
Art by  Jethro Morales
Dynamite, 2022
ISBN: 9781524121372

Publisher Age Rating: 13+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)

Scarenthood

Those that consider graphic novels as a medium strictly for the young cite the fact that it relies greatly on pictures as well as words to tell a story, but those people might not be aware of the multiple examples of graphic novels tackling adult themes. These examples use a combination of pictures and words to convey a multitude of stories from a variety of viewpoints, including those adults who are responsible for the care and feeding of one or multiple smaller humans. One story that explores the POV of parents in the Irish paranormal mystery Scarenthood written and drawn by Nick Roche.

The story features four parents in Ireland who meet because their kids go to the same preschool, but who end up bonding because of a supernatural mystery. The cast of this book features Cormac, the main protagonist who the reader watches slowly fall apart. There’s also Jen, whose husband spends months working away from home and who is on Jen’s nerves when he is home. Rounding out the foursome is acerbic Siobhan and conspiracy theorist Flynno, who has a significant connection to the supernatural disturbances at their kids’ school. What begins as a diversion for the three parents from their lives of carting children and packing lunches becomes a threat to their lives and the lives of their children.

As a parent myself, I found myself heavily involved in Roche’s story, particularly Cormac’s, the character that gets the most attention. The supernatural entity that he’d unwittingly released has latched onto this single dad, affecting not only his sanity but his ability to raise his daughter Scooper. Cormac’s descent into self-doubt is sure to garner a lot of sympathy from parents who might feel they are not being the best caregiver. Cormac’s slippage is, however, closely followed by his new friends and it is initially through their eyes that we see Cormac struggle. When they come together to help him, it is a moment that showcases and further solidifies their bond. Roche does an excellent job of fleshing out the secondary parental characters, particularly Jen and Flynno. When at home, Jen shows signs of stress at always having her well-intentioned husband underfoot when it comes to raising their daughter. Flynno could have come across as a boisterous, unlikable know-it-all but Roche avoids this by diving into his backstory and giving him moments that let his heart shine.

The artwork hits the perfect balance for this kind of story. The characters do not look hyper-realistic; in some instances, they look like they could be part of a daily or monthly comic strip. In a story that is equal parts supernatural horror and comedy focusing on the mundane and mind-numbing aspects of parenting, the art style is a perfect fit. Indeed, the art and story, much like other great graphic novels, both work in harmony to tell a story with sympathetic characters facing down a mystical threat from Irish folklore that is worse than forgetting to pick up your child’s favorite cereal.

Scarenthood would be a great choice for libraries looking to fill their collection of horror graphic novels with something different, but this would also be a great choice for a library that has parents who wear t-shirts emblazoned with pictures of Frankenstein or The Lost Boys as they drop their little one off for storytime. Much like how parents are asked to maintain a delicate balance of being there for their small children while trying to carve out a life for themselves, Scarenthood maintains a balance of fun supernatural mystery and comedic look at the real-life funny-yet-frightening aspects of parenting.


Scarenthood
By Nick Roche
IDW, 2021
ISBN: 9781684058310

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Irish
Character Representation: Irish

The Last Witch: Fear and Fire

Be wary on Imbolc Day, when the witch, Cailleach, roams the woods, looking for children to feast upon. At least, that is the legend told in Saoirse’s village, warning anyone who dares to venture to the witch’s tower. Eager to prove herself, Saoirse, along with her brother, Brahm, goes to see if there is any truth to the old stories, only to fall right into the Cailleach’s clutches. From that point on, everything Saoirse knows and loves will change forever, as she discovers the meaning behind a mysterious mark on her shoulder, a dire threat to the world of apocalyptic proportions, and her own latent magic that may be more than she is ready to master. In this first installment of a new, action-packed fantasy series, The Last Witch: Fear & Fire begins a tale steeped in Irish lore and history, one that examines the responsibility of having power and the dangers of its corrupting influence.

When taking in the comic’s immaculate and engaging artwork, it would be difficult to imagine this story told through any other style. V.V. Glass’ illustrations perfectly match each tone and setting, such as the dark and foreboding witch’s tower in the wintery woods, the dynamic expressions of the characters as they endure both great hardships and welcoming moments of mirth, or the truly epic displays of Saoirse’s magic. The full-page panels that capture the might of these powers are consistently stunning and excel in showcasing both the great beauty and dangers of the magic in this world. Glass’ character designs also assist in highlighting the more gruesome aspects of the comic, particularly in the designs of Saoirse’s witchy adversaries. Black Annis, the witch Saoirse and Brahm mistake for the Cailleach, wears an intimidating smile of needlelike teeth, along with a forked tongue and slitted eyes, a figure that feels as if she had stepped right out of a cautionary fairy tale. There is also the Badb, who wields air magic through her constantly shifting faces, some more frightful than the others. Though eerie at times, the style of the comic adapts easily to whatever mood the text conveys, whether it be light-hearted, mysterious, or simply magical, resulting in a satisfying narrative harmony.

For this first volume, the fast pace of the story manages to include a great deal of plot progression and worldbuilding without doubling down on staggering exposition or giving away too many answers at once. Though the reader learns a great deal by the volume’s conclusion, there are still more unknown elements at play, enticing readers to continue with Saoirse’s journey. Saoirse is a character that is easy to fall in love with: headstrong and determined with a touch of recklessness, but also holds an admirable responsibility to her loved ones. Her external conflict with confronting malevolent witches is paired nicely with the internal battle of controlling her ever-growing magic, ultimately coming to a point where she fears what she is truly capable of. With this comic being only the beginning of the story, it sets up an intrigue in how these feelings will develop and affect Saoirse down the road.

Truthfully, it is the darker, more complex aspects of the comic that give it a sense of identity. Imagine a cross of Avatar the Last Airbender, a Cartoon Saloon production (the studio behind The Song of the Sea and Wolfwalkers), with a healthy dash of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. As a result, you will get an enchanting yet perilous tale sure to appeal to those who flock to stories of grand, culturally-inspired adventures with an edge.

While the story does not contain explicit moments of gore, there are several gruesome moments that may unnerve younger readers, such as one instance of child-eating and a good amount of off panel deaths. Taking this into account, The Last Witch: Fear & Fire is most suitable for readers 13 and up and will fit in nicely in young adult or teen graphic novel collections that have a good circulation of epic fantasy stories or strive to diversify their collections with materials featuring strong, predominantly female casts.


The Last Witch: Fear & Fire
By Conor McCreery
Art by V.V. Glass
BOOM! Box, 2021
ISBN: 9781684156214
Publisher Age Rating: 14-17

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: British, Canadian, Nonbinary
Character Representation: Irish

Angel Season Eleven, Library Edition

I should be the target audience for Angel Season Eleven, and as a matter of fact, for a long time I was. I am a long-time fan of both television series, and a long-time comics reader. I’ve read and collected past comics of both Buffy and Angel, two shows whose runs have been extended by additional “seasons” of comics. I have even have gotten collections signed at comics conventions. As an added bonus, Joss Whedon had nothing to do with the creation of this book, so I can breathe a sigh of relief at not enabling him in light of recent accusations. All of this is to say, believe me when I tell you that this latest season… was not very good.

It’s not bad, mind you. The dialog can get a little stilted and exposition heavy, but is largely agreeable. The art is workmanlike, missing a lot of dynamism in the action or layouts, but perfectly easy to follow. Likenesses are fairly accurate, when appropriate. There’s nothing particularly offensive in the construction or the story of this comic. But it’s just so boring

Even the plot, which as a time travel caper in a series largely about fate and prophecy should be new and exciting, turns out to be a bit of a bottle episode. The broad plot is a time travel paradox visiting Illyria’s origins, Angel’s origins, and a pirate ship. It would honestly be a perfectly fine Doctor Who story, but doesn’t seem to fit with previous Angel tales.

Normally, I would explain more about the characters or the setting in this review, but the book isn’t particularly interested in that, so why should I be? This is strictly for fans of the show and previous comics. There isn’t much attention given to who the characters are or what they can do, or establishing much in the way of personality. The main characters are Angel and Fred/Illyria. There are some interesting wrinkles to Fred’s situation as she shares a physical form with an ancient demon, where previously on the television show it was explained to be just the demon, but things change. Even coming from a fandom background I found myself lost at times. Perhaps I missed a season? Angel’s the same as he ever was at any rate. The rest of his supporting cast is absent, and the book takes place in Dublin rather than California. 

The publisher does not provide a suggested age range for readers, but I would recommend older teens or adults. The time travel plot and paradox have hints of Doctor Who and it can be shelved very similarly. The content is about on par with the show, meaning there is horror and violence, but neither is taken to any extreme. 

If your library already has the previous season collections of Angel this could be a good addition. Perhaps it makes more sense in company with comics Seasons Nine and Ten. It has been a while since I read those, and my memory is foggy. I would not recommend it as a standalone volume, however. It is unlikely to attract new readers to the series based on the art or writing merits, and will not make very much sense. If you’re just starting, I would recommend finding earlier seasons or the current reboot by Hill and Menikov.


Angel Season Eleven, Library Edition
By Corinna Bechko
Art by Geraldo Borges, Zé Carlos
BOOM! Studios, 2020
ISBN: 9781684155286

Related media:  TV to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chosen Ones

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chosen Ones

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chosen Ones is a collection of six short stories set in the world of the TV show. The collection was released in 2020, over 15 years after the series finale, and investigates the show’s legacy through five historical Slayers and one story about Buffy herself. Each story explores either how the Slayer was told she was chosen or examines a time in a country’s history where the Slayer worked to make things better for women.

“The Mission” takes places in 1808 America as the indigenous Hutash works against the Spaniards and shows the origins of a Hellmouth, which fans will immediately recognize from the TV show. “The Eating of Men” shows how Silvia must stake her own nanny after witnessing the vampire kill her father in 14th century Bologna—this just after we are shown how much Silvia adores her vampiric nanny and the way this woman encouraged Silvia to develop her cleverness. “Behind the Mask” is a delightful piece that follows Adelaide at a masque ball in 1820 Paris. She’s seen discussing the recent disappearances from other high society events just before being led away from the ball by a mysterious gentleman, where it is revealed that she was hunting him. “Where All Paths Lead” features Buffy and is the most confusing story in this collection. She appears to be trying to stop the opening of the Hellmouth by battling the demon mother amidst little recollections of the past during conversations with a helpful demon full of dire news. “The Hilot of 1910″ is set in the Philippines and combines Western vampire lore and local aswang lore into a story that has our protagonist, Matay, questioning how to define a real demon. Our last story is “The Sisters of Angelus.” Set in 1947 Dublin, Una knows that she is the Slayer, working with her tinkerer grandmother, when her friend is sent to an asylum for unknown reasons. While trying to rescue her friend, Una discovers that the nuns running the asylum are actually vampires who worship Angelus and feed on their charges. 

Overall, this collection expands on the diversity seen in the Buffyverse while examining historical prejudice or stereotypes. Each story looks at a cultural aspect or stereotype of women while challenging the truth behind it. The art ranges in style to match the time period or culture while managing to be cohesive, which is not always the case in anthology graphic novels. The artwork does get a bit graphic during the violent scenes that accompany each of the six stories, so it probably shouldn’t be placed in a collection where younger readers will easily find it. If you have adult or older teenage fans of Buffy, this book would do well in your collection as they will pick up on the hints and Easter eggs nestled within these pages. (Fans of Buffy who have been conflicted about reports of creator Joss Whedon’s abusive behavior will likely be relieved to know that Whedon himself has had no involvement with this title.) This collection might also be of interest to anyone that likes to read vampire stories in general, although it may not resonate with them as well if they’re unfamiliar with the lore of the Buffyverse.


Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chosen Ones 
By Mairghread Scott, Celia Lowenthal, Alexa Sharpe, and Nilah Magruder
Art by Ornella Savarese, Lauren Knight, Moran Beem, and Caitlin Yarsky
BOOM! Studios, 2020
ISBN: 9781684155972

Related media: TV to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)