A Business Proposal is a comedic story about a sneaky plan, born from desperation, and carried out by two good friends.
The plan is proposed by Yeongsuh Jin, who cannot bear to go on another blind date set up by her father. She offers to pay her friend, Hari Shin, to impersonate her on the next blind date and act in such a way that the date will not want to marry her. Hari accepts the job proposal, because she desperately needs the money to save her family’s business. She has no idea that the blind date is the new CEO at her workplace. Taemu Kang, the CEO, is desperate to get married as fast as possible, so that he can focus on his work without his grandfather nagging him about marriage.
Thus ensues a series of scenes in which Hari, pretending to be Yeongsuh, behaves in what she believes is a terrible way in order to push Taemu away, and the unbothered Taemu insists on marriage. Meanwhile, the real Yeongsuh meets Taemu’s secretary, Sunghoon Cha, and through a misunderstanding believes him to be Taemu. The two fall in love.
Eager to see Sunghoon again, Yeongsuh calls Taemu and arranges a date. The date reveals that she had the wrong Taemu, and that Taemu had the wrong Yeongsuh. Taemu doesn’t care that he had the wrong person and continues to insist on marrying Hari. Vol. 1 ends with Hari trying to decide whether or not to marry Taemu.
The writing includes many fun moments in which the reader becomes worried or frustrated for the main character. The storyline is engaging and hilariously tense. Hari’s character is fleshed out a comfortable amount for the first volume. However, a more in-depth description is needed for the other characters, especially Taemu. He is an expressionless workaholic without any backstory for explanation. Taemu’s expressed only that he wanted to quickly marry in order to get back to work. Some character history providing a bit of context would have been helpful in creating a connection to the reader. Perhaps, the backstory and connection will come in the following volumes.
With the visuals, Narak creates a lovely, balanced atmosphere. Each page is beautifully detailed in soft, cozy colors and gentle lines. Both the colors and line art give the reader warm, pleasant feelings, even while emanating the feelings of stress felt by the characters.
Adults (18+) will find this book appealing, because the main characters are working adults trying to figure out and manage work like and love life. Many adults will find that content relatable.
A Business Proposal Vol. 1 By Haehwa , Perilla Art by Narak Yen Press, 2023 ISBN: 9798400900334
He talks to the dolls in his toy collection, spits out razor sharp nails with stunning accuracy, and conjures forth curses upon those who have wronged him to wreak spiteful vengeance. In his latest foray into the macabre, Junji Ito aims the spotlight at one of the quirkiest characters from his horrific imagination—young Soichi Tsujii—in Soichi: Junji Ito Story Collection.
In the opening story “A Happy Summer Vacation,” Michina and Yuskue pay a visit to their second cousins in the rural town of Fukazawa. No sooner than they settle down to play a game of cards does pesky little Soichi, the unhinged eleven-year-old child of the Tsujii family, sneak up on them. Muttering incoherently, his mouth crammed with protruding nails resembling fangs (he supposedly sucks on them to supplement iron in his blood), he makes his intrusive appearance. Dismissing him as nothing more than a little brat, Michina ignores him, which prompts Soichi to cast a voodoo-like spell by hammering a straw doll resembling Michina to a wall. Strangely enough, in the middle of the night, Michina begins experiencing stabbing chest pains. Could Soichi really be capable of supernatural dark magic? What lurks within the skewed corridors of his twisted mind?
Other stories explore aspects of his character from multiple perspectives. In “Soichi’s Happy Diary,” Michina stumbles upon his diary and gains access to his deluded fantasies, the entries revealing how he methodically carries out curses on others with vengeful glee, with her being the first victim of his vicious pranks. But is he really jinxing others into accidents and mishaps, or are these mere coincidences? In “Soichi’s House Visit,” a schoolteacher pays a home visit to Soichi. However, Soichi places a hex on him, turning him into a cloth doll that bends towards his will, much to the shock of the students at school when they encounter the teacher’s erratic behavior. “Soichi’s Birthday” sheds light on his sickly grandmother, also known as “old lady prophet,” due to the ominous prophecies she spouts even though they rarely came true. But she predicts the birth of a demon child to be born on June 6 at six in morning and forms a special connection with him, believing he is destined to become a genius.
Unlike other collections, this one centers on an antihero alongside recurrent side characters and plots, delving into an intriguing character study. While not packed with grotesque shock scares as in his other works, Ito manages to deliver a deeper, psychological exploration of an enigmatic character. The imagery exudes haunting overtones as in “The Four Layered Room,” wherein Koichi, Soichi’s older brother, needs to study for his exams and hires a contractor to build a soundproof room so he can concentrate and insulate himself from Soichi’s persistent pestering. The contractor—a sickly looking fellow—builds a super confining space enclosed by four concentric layers of walls. Claustrophobic angled shots unfold through a montage of panels, creating a creepy maze-like sensation as Koichi navigates the infrastructure of the house, playing a warped game of cat and mouse with his insidiously mischievous brother.
Dark humor mixed with hilarious moments fill the pages of this fascinating foray into the haunting conundrum of Soichi. Is he merely a mischievous brat craving attention? Or does he harbor a sinister machination against his family and the world at large, especially those who dare cross him? A fun, amusing, and quirky collection, this venture into the multiple facets of Soichi highlights a weirdly delightful exploration into one of Ito’s most confounding characters yet, serving up a unique blend of horror and eerie comedy to adult manga collections.
Soichi Junji Ito Story Collection By Junji Ito VIZ, 2023 ISBN: 9781974739028
Publisher Age Rating: 16+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Japanese, Character Representation: Japanese,
The first time you visit New York City is a rite of passage. It’s a magical metropolis, full of famous museums and people and shops, with people from all over the world making the pilgrimage every single day. Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki’s incredible new adult graphic novel Roaming lets readers spend time with three friends as they spend five days in the city, finding themselves somewhere on the path to adulthood.
It’s spring break 2009. Dani has dreamt of New York City; she was that girl who was reenacting songs from Rent in high school. Now a freshman in college, she’s apart from her best friend Zoe for the first time. The two friends are reuniting in the city for their getaway, with Dani bringing along her new friend Fiona, a fellow art school student. Dani’s been planning for this trip for years and she is ready for the three of them to see the sights of the Big Apple. Fiona will help them navigate; she has American parents and her brother lives in Brooklyn, so she’s very familiar with the city (and she won’t let you forget it).
But, even though it’s only been a few months away at school, Zoe is different. She’s shaved her head and only wears black. She isn’t as excited by Dani’s meticulously planned binder full of maps and activities as Dani hoped she’d be. Zoe finds herself increasingly intrigued by Fiona. Sure, she can be a bit of a know-it-all at times but, unlike Dani, she’s not acting like a typical Canadian tourist. She’s magnetic and new. The trio quickly finds they all are seeking much different New York experiences on this trip.
Roaming is a beautiful look at early adulthood and the intricacies of relationships during that time. The characters spend time essentially playing what it’s like to be an adult around the city, even as Dani resists it and tries to stick to plan. There’s worth in fulfilling the dreams you’ve had for yourself, even if it’s as simple as visiting all the museums and tourist sites. The story is simultaneously very simple and very intense. Dani, Zoe, and Fiona all experience and navigate situations both familiar and brand new.
The book is aimed at an adult audience and includes scenes with nudity, sex, and substance use. It is recommended for older teen and adult readers. With its 2009 setting, it is both incredibly nostalgic for millennials (the thrill of visiting a Uniqlo for the first time!) and just retro-tinged enough for readers currently in college (what life was like before most people had smartphones).
Mariko Tamaki writes characters who speak like your own friends, ones you can relate to and understand. Readers will find themselves wanting to be friends with every character and also annoyed by every character. Jillian Tamaki’s art is expressive with a simple, warm color palette. There are multiple conversations about art throughout the book. Tamaki mirrors this art in the captivating double page spreads throughout the book, including as day/chapter breaks. The art and the words fit beside each other perfectly, it is a true collaboration between the cousins.
Another graphic novel by the duo, This One Summer, was a smash hit and a Caldecott Award winner. Many of the readers of that graphic novel are older now and will find themselves just as drawn to Roaming. You may not find yourself understanding or knowing everything about these characters, the story is truly a moment in time, but you will find yourself engrossed and enchanted by this story of three friends and their 2009 spring break trip to New York City.
Roaming Vol. By Mariko Tamaki Art by Jillian Tamaki Drawn & Quarterly, 2023 ISBN: 9781770464339
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Japanese-Canadian, Gay, Character Representation: Canadian, Canadian-American, Gay, Queer,
Life isn’t easy for an ex-con. It is even worse when you’re an ex-supervillain in Twilight City.
Frankie “Playtime” Follis was a prodigy, pushed into villainy by her mother after she manifested the power to make any toy into a weapon. Now, fresh out of prison, she’s unable to find any work beyond making drinks at a seedy bar catering to the low-level supervillains she’s meant to be avoiding as part of her parole. Still, Frankie keeps to the code of honor the blue-collar baddies abide by, though she wants nothing more than to rebuild her life and win back custody of her daughter, Maggie.
Unfortunately, Frankie is pulled back into the life after the archvillain called The Stickman kills Kid Dusk, the sidekick of Twilight City’s protector, The Insomniac. This makes the stalwart hero snap, sending him on a violent killing spree targeting every villain in town while searching for Stickman. With Insomniac’s fellow heroes covering up his crimes, it falls to Frankie and a rag-tag group of has-beens and henchmen to bring Stickman to justice while Twilight City is still standing.
Minor Threats is not a wholly original story. Much as Watchmen put a mature spin on the classic heroes of Charlton Comics, Minor Threats is a dark and darkly hilarious Batman story that DC Comics would never dare publish. Most of the characters are clearly parodies of Batman, Robin, Joker, Riddler and more. Yet there are some original ideas, such as Scalpel, a supervillain surgeon who makes her living offering off-the-books medical care to costumed criminals… for a percentage of their earnings, of course.
Writers Patton Oswalt and Jordan Blum make every joke one would expect regarding the silliness of costumed criminals, boy wonders and how many masked heroes need psychiatric help. Thankfully, Minor Threats proves to be far more than a collective of gags about popular superheroes and genre conventions. Oswalt and Blum bring true pathos to the five supervillains forced to become reluctant (not quite) heroes, developing them into full characters rather than cardboard cliches.
The five leads’ origin stories tackle a variety of serious issues, ranging from abusive parents to coming out of the closet to embrace true love. The effect is not unlike the duo’s previous writing for the MODOK animated series or The Venture Bros. Serious emotions mix with dark comedy to tell a truly original tale.
The artwork by Scott Hepburn is equally well done. Much like Dave Gibbons on Watchmen, Hepburn draws Minor Threats like a traditional comic book. This only adds to the visual dissonance as the action goes at right angles to every expectation of a typical superhero story.
Dark Horse Comics rates Minor Threats as appropriate for ages 14 and up. I believe that to be a fair assessment of the book’s content. There is a fair bit of violence and some disturbing scenes of children dying and parents being killed in front of their kids, as well as a bit of adult language. There is no nudity or sexual content, making this safe for most teen audiences.
Minor Threats A Quick End To A Long Beginning Vol. 01 By Patton Oswalt, Jordan Blum, , Art by Scott Hepburn, Ian Hrring, Nate Piekos, Dark Horse, 2023 ISBN: 9781506729992
Publisher Age Rating: 14+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Representation: Black, Gay, Neurodivergent, Ambiguous Mental Illness
In Layers: a Memoir, Pénélope Bagieu, the author and illustrator of the Eisner-winning book Brazen, explores the complexities of her youth with grace and wit. As adults, it is often tempting to view our past through a lens of cynicism or jest, especially when recounting embarrassing fumbles or difficult mistakes. However Bagieu cares for her younger self with respect, and in doing so she also respects the mistakes and fumbles of her young readers.
The book opens with the story of a beloved pet cat. The story is told with wit and humor, and some tears. You can’t share stories of childhood pets without tears, but it is a strong opening to a book that explores the complex spectrum of emotions associated with relationships and moments from our youth.
I think the intended teen audience will appreciate the emotional honesty of Bagieu’s work. Some of the memoir focuses on her days as a teen or in high school, but much of it follows her life in and just after university. It explores the awkward growing pains of this time, with a sense of pride for her younger self.
The memoir is split into chapters. They might better be characterized as comic essays, each one exploring a different theme or relationship. The stories are based on diary entries from Bagieu’s youth and range from lighter moments recounting some embarrassing story from her past to darker depths related to sexual assault and broken relationships.
In a few chapters, she illustrates difficult moments from her teen years paralleled against devastatingly similar ones from her life as a young adult. Literally paralleled. The stories from high school on the left side of the page, while the ones from her 20s on the right. It is a poignant choice to connect themes that are recurring elements in the lives of many young women who may read this memoir.
The handling of sexual topics is well done. It is a sex-positive book that does not use sex as a cautionary tale but does accurately portray the ways that young adults must navigate it. In one scene a nurse at a Planned Parenthood gives Bagieu advice on sexual health. In that essay, she notes how eternally grateful she was as a teenager to get clear and honest advice about sex from an adult. At a moment that for many may be filled with shame and embarrassment, she was treated with respect and care. I believe that Bagieu holds the same level of respect and care to her younger readers in the way she discusses sex in the book.
The hand-drawn black and white illustrations are not crisp and clean. The style isn’t dissimilar from her work in Brazen. But unlike in Brazen, she took away the color and added some chaos to the lines. When we look back on the chaotic time in our own lives in the transition from teen to adult, this stylistic choice is incredibly appropriate. Black and white pictures, with harried lines, are also reminiscent of the thoughts (sometimes in words and sometimes through pictures) scribbled into the diaries of young people.
Many adults, when imparting learned wisdom to the younger generation, condescend and/or tell their stories through rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia and focus on the lessons. However, despite telling stories from 20 years ago, these essays feel fresh and relevant to today’s teens. She does not organize the chapters on passed-on lessons, rather she focuses on honest snippets of her life. The moments of struggle juxtaposed against levity are honest and refreshing.
I think it is a strong choice for collections serving teens, and I think many young people will see themselves in the pages of the book.
Layers was originally published in France in 2021, and has been translated to English by Montana Kane.
Layer A memoir Vol. By Pénélope Bagieu, Montana Kane, , Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781250873736
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: French,
Zoe Thorogood received multiple award nominations for It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth, including 2023 Eisner Awards in the Best Graphic Memoir and Best Writer/Artist categories, Forbes’ “The Best Graphic Novels of 2022” list, and she won the 2023 Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award at the Eisner’s. Her art is evocative, engrossing and layered, grabbing readers immediately.
Zoe herself, however, is an entirely different story. She is certainly layered and complex, but she’s also self-conscious, shy, self-described as pathetic and suicidal. It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth is her attempt to record a six month span of her life and try to make sense of how and why she is mental and emotionally in the place she finds herself. A large portion of the story takes place during the Covid-19 lockdown period of 2021 and the sense of isolation many of us experience then is personified by Zoe, who was lonely long before then.
There is a lot of fourth wall breaking as Zoe directly addresses the reader in this book. Very early on she admits that she’s recently had suicidal thoughts, but she’s had them since she was 14 so it is nothing new for her. She is also quick to admit that this book may be an exercise in narcissism or it might help someone else, but it certainly is a selfish act. She’s hoping to bring us along on her journey to America for her first big comic convention she’s been invited to and her hope is the trip itself might be a journey of self-discovery. During the course of the story we’ll meet 14 year old Zoe back in 2013 and see what it was like for her to try and survive in school, watch Zoe meet her best friend in college and have her heart broken in America.
We see Zoe struggle with personal interactions in public with strangers, fans of her work, her parents and at time her friends. She illustrates her depression as a monster that follows her, a giant looming specter waiting just behind her. She illustrates multiple versions of herself and her personality in varying styles so that we can better see how she transitions in and out of comfort and confidence to stress and fear. I’ll point out here that the art in this book is phenomenal and truly aids every facet of the storytelling. There are times it is told in just black and white, other times with splashes of color and some pages are collage with photocopy and photographic elements. I was completely captivated throughout the book.
It is bold for a 22 year old to write a memoir as there is usually not much life experience to draw from, but this book didn’t suffer from a lack of self-awareness there. Zoe explores themes of isolation, self-worth and perception while pointing out to herself how wildly indulgent and vain it is. While it may not have provided a neat, tidy ending where all ends ‘happily-ever-after’, we did see a lot of personal growth from Zoe even as she simply engages with the idea that her younger self would see her current art as successful and fulfilling. She ends the story in a better place than we found her at the beginning saying, “Loneliness makes it hard to see the bigger picture. It makes you self-obsessed; not out of narcissism but because your own self is all you have. Your flaws, quirks, regrets, and mistakes begin to engulf you. Your own self begins to overshadow that bigger picture, but there is always a bigger picture.”
Image Comics rates this book as Mature and I would agree for the sake of placement inside a library. Suicide is already a tough subject to tackle with younger readers, but Zoe depicts (and comments on) her casual drug use and there is profane language sprinkled throughout. I wouldn’t tell older teens not to pick this up, it’s clear why it was nominated for so many awards, but for them especially I would point out Zoe’s disclaimer inside the cover about talk of suicide and her confrontations with it. I hope for her sake it was as cathartic to write as it is to read. Her frankness and honesty was compelling and I found myself rooting for her.
It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth By Zoe Thorogood Image, 2022 ISBN: 9781534323865
Publisher Age Rating: Mature
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Anxiety, Depression
The story opens on Planet Ferretonia, where the wide-eyed and lovable Feefs (short for Fee-Foo) has, as usual, a question. To the exasperation of the council member teaching the younglings, Feefs is curious about the world beyond Dook Dook Island, but the conversation is derailed when Feefs’ gadget-obsessed brother Meems (Meemoo) shows up to whisk Feefs away.
Meems has a plan for exploring the forbidden worlds beyond—using forbidden technology—in search of his vanished mentor. After an exciting (and humorous) adventure, the two pass through a portal to a new world…
Meanwhile, on Earth, Liza, a red-haired tween, is dealing with a lot of things. She misses her absent parents, her deceased guinea pig Pushkin, and hasn’t figured out a way to tell anyone that she’s struggling in school. Her concerned adult brother, Sasha, who is caring for her while working as a chef at the local diner, insists on dropping her off at the local animal shelter where she’ll have to talk to her best friend Lexi, whether she wants to or not. The meeting with Lexi is awkward, but he’s sympathetic to Liza not wanting to talk and takes her to meet their newest rescues—a pair of ferrets!
Liza’s problems are put to the side for the moment, as she becomes thoroughly invested in helping Meems and Feefs return to their planet and the three learn some gentle lessons about friendship, kindness, making mistakes, and not eating everything in sight. The story ends on a cliffhanger, with Liza poised for an adventure with her new friends.
Cooper’s art is chunky and goofy; Meems favors goggles and toolbelts while Feefs prefers dressing up in whatever he can find, including “borrowed” clothes from Liza’s stuffed animals. Both are fluffy with blends of beige, brown, and white fur, but their personalities are clearly different. Meems, with a little more fluff around the face, is nevertheless clearly the serious one, with fangs poking out from his habitual frown. Feefs is goofy and open, with big, exaggerated cartoon eyes and a wide, happy grin as he goes through life making friends with everyone he sees.
All of the human characters appear white; Liza has a thick curve of reddish hair and a little cowlick, her brother Sasha’s blonde hair is pulled up in a short ponytail and he has a shadow of beard and blue-inked tattoo. Liza’s friend Lexi has short, wavy brown hair and thick dark eyebrows and wears casual jeans and loose t-shirts and Leslie, the eccentric older woman they visit in the woods has a messy scruff of gray hair and a pointed, reddened nose. The most attractive part of Cooper’s art is her ability to capture the ferrets as both intelligent, sentient personalities but also as goofy pets. Meems wraps himself up in a blanket to brood, Feefs delights in soft blankets, and the guard ferrets in the Citadel, like real ferrets, prefer a good nap. Carson’s own ferrets and models are shown in the back of the book.
This is a light and fluffy but fun offering. There are a few thoughtful moments included, from Liza introducing herself with her pronouns to Lexi’s sympathetic listening and Leslie’s robust advice on making mistakes, but it’s mostly a lighthearted adventure story with lots of humor, silly drawings, and cute ferrets. The only caution is that this is very definitely the first book in a series, with a major cliffhanger, and that’s always a risk when you don’t know if the series will be continued or not. Hand to fans of Investigators, Ninja Cat, and Cat & Cat Adventures.
Ferrets from Planet Ferretonia! Vol. 1 By Liza N. Cooper Andrews McMeel, 2023 ISBN: 9781524876708
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11)
Colleen Madden has created a handful of picture books, but this is her first graphic novel and, although the plot falters in a few places, it’s overall a spooky delight.
Shelley Frankenstein, a little girl with exuberant black curls who generally sports a white lab coat, loves all things spooky and scary; from bad haircuts to creepy noises under the bed. She’s determined to emulate her ancestor and create a truly terrifying monster. After all, she’s got a whole castle and the inspiration of the historic monsters who live in on the grounds, including Frankenstein’s Monster, his Bride, and the Werewolf.
There’s just one problem; her parents, dressed in classic Edwardian garb for a family meal, refuse to allow her out at night to pillage graveyards. They’re more interested in veggie bacon than in her ambitions! With the help of Iggy, her blond-haired, rosy-cheeked little brother, she scours the castle for leftover toys she can use to recreate her ancestor’s fearsome experiments.
Unfortunately, far from being scared, her little schoolmates (dressed in costumes varying from sweaters and leggings to lederhosen) adore her creations. The cronkey! The boagiraffe! Each one is more adorable than before and Shelley is losing her cool when she tries one more time and makes… Cowpiggy. This time, she’s sure she’s discovered the secret to bringing to life a truly terrifying creation.
Unfortunately, Cowpiggy doesn’t live up to her expectations, so she takes her to be trained by the monsters in the apartments beneath the castle. When Cowpiggy emerges, she’s truly fearsome – but is that what Shelley really wants? It will take an encounter with a wise women and her horde of bunnies, a blizzard, and some thoughtful guidance from her parents before Shelley figures out how to continue the legacy of the Frankensteins.
Madden’s art is adorable, with plump-cheeked children, cozy striped sweaters, and hordes of darling bunnies. Readers will giggle at Shelley’s continued failure to make a spooky monster as each creation appears, more adorable and cute than the last. Shelley’s face is emotive, from her diabolical eyebrows, to her sadness as she realizes what it’s really like to be truly scared and alone. Cowpiggy, of course, is adorable, even when she’s being mean, with the body of a pig and the spots and stubby horns of a cow. The udders of the original “Lady Marigold” cow toy neatly disappear in the monster-making process, and when she’s not brainwashed into monstrousness, Cowpiggy bounces around the scene spreading smiles and little hearts everywhere she goes.
There are plenty of callouts from the original story, including Cowpiggy’s exile into the snow, after she follows her creator’s directive and scares the kindergarteners, as well as minor bits of wordplay and humor, like the glowing red eyes of “Creepy Jenny.” The plot does get a bit convoluted towards the end, especially when the old lady and her bunny horde are introduced. The message that nobody likes to be truly scared is confusing, although most kids will easily pick up on how Shelley has been violating boundaries and needs to be more respectful of others’ feelings.
While not perfect, this is a delightful series opener for young readers who enjoy a mildly spooky romp without being really scared. Hand to fans of Franny K. Stein or Junior Monster Scouts and other humorously scary beginning chapter books and graphic novels.
Shelley Frankenstein!: Cowpiggy, Book One By Colleen Madden Top Shelf, 2023 ISBN: 9781603095228
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11)
Life on the Isle of Man is peaceful and quiet, and it is driving Kay Farragher mad! An aspiring songwriter and singer, Kay dreams of a world beyond her rural village and caring for her ailing grandmother. She dreams of a life on stage and audiences outside of the pub where she works.
The problem with dreams, however, is that sometimes they become nightmares.
A chance encounter with a young girl named Mona on Halloween Night gives Kay more than she bargained for. Mona claims to have come from a world of eternal twilight, straight from the faerie stories Kay’s grandmother believes in. Soon Kay finds herself neck-deep in that world, where a horseshoe is a weapon, a hero of legend seeks the bride he was promised, and the scoundrels of two worlds seek to scheme their way out of their own dark bargains.
I had high expectations heading into Cold Iron. Apart from a fondness for Celtic mythology and horror tales involving faeries, I am a big fan of Andy Diggle’s writing and have been since his highly underrated run on Hellblazer. I was not disappointed.
Two things distinguish Cold Iron from similar stories. One is the setting, which draws upon the unique mythology of the Isle of Man, rather than the more familiar Irish Leprechauns or the Selkies of Scotland’s Orkney Islands. The other is the lead character Kay, who is developed far beyond being the typical strong female protagonist that takes center stage in many modern horror stories.
Kay is a conflicted character, being both a dreamer and a realist. She delights in entertaining children with spooky tales and songs at Halloween, but she doesn’t believe in the myths her grandmother accepts as gospel. She longs to see the world, but wants to maintain the family farm, even as she rebels against the idea of a comfortable life working in a fish and chips shop and marrying her on-again/off-again boyfriend. These details make Kay seem more sympathetic and more real, grounding the fantastic elements of the story.
The artwork by Nick Brokenshire, with colors by Triona Farrell and letters by Simon Bowland, manages a similar balancing act. Brokenshire proves equally adept at capturing the static beauty of the Isle of Man and in depicting the weird horror of the faerie realm. Farrell uses different contrasting palettes for both worlds, with the vibrancy of the twilight realm offering a firm divide against the stark reality of Kay’s life. Bowland also uses distinctive fonts for the Fair Folk, to subtly hint at their alien nature.
Dark Horse Comics rated this volume as appropriate for ages 12 and up. I think that might be a fair assessment of the story, which has nothing more objectionable than a bit of violence and a few curse words. The artist notes in the back of the book, however, feature some sketches of naked fairies that are a bit extreme for a T-rating. I would shelve this volume in the older teen or adult section just to be safe and since I think the story is more likely to appeal to older audiences, who can appreciate the full horror Mona finds in the future.
Cold Iron By Andy Diggle Art by Nick Brokenshire, Triona Farrell, Simon Bowland, Tom Muller Dark Horse, 2023 ISBN: 9781506730875
Publisher Age Rating: 12+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: British, Irish, Scottish, Character Representation: British,
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a franchise that has many different meanings depending on your generation. For some, it was a dark comedy, parodying the sudden obsession with ninjas that infused comic book culture in the 1980s. For others, it was a silly syndicated cartoon, with a lot of awesome action figures.
There was a host of animated series, live-action movies and more comics which followed. All different timelines, but with generally the same characters. No matter what incarnation of TMNT you follow, Leonardo leads, Donatello builds machines, Raphael is cool but rude, and Michaelangelo is a party dude.
I had heard that IDW’s new TMNT comics were a fair attempt to put a more mature spin on the concept. Yet I had not read any of the recent series until Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Armageddon Game – Opening Moves. Having read it, I can say that what I heard was true, but this may be the most awkward entry point into the series I could have possibly chosen.
The Armageddon Game – Opening Moves is an anthology collecting six different stories from across IDW’s TMNT series. The only common link between them is that they all connect to the character of the Rat King. Rather than being some sewer-dweller with the power to control rats, this Rat King is a chaos god and part of a pantheon of deities who have played games with humanity since the dawn of time.
With his siblings growing tired of the game, the Rat King has decided to kick things up a notch by manipulating various players into bringing about the end of the world. Hence the title “Armageddon Game”. This is a solid set up for a fantasy story. Unfortunately, this explanation does not come until the book is nearly half over!
Before that, we get a prelude showing Rat King reveling in a destroyed New York City, a reprint of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #84 (where the turtles show up to rescue some kidnapped children from Rat King) and the 2020 TMNT Annual. This story features Rat King taunting a recently resurrected and redeemed Shredder, who is determined to live a life of honor after somehow escaping Hell. This sets up the final two chapters, collectively known as “Opening Moves”, in which Shredder and his lover, the goddess Kitsune, explore the dreams of Rat King’s followers.
To describe this as convoluted would be putting it mildly. While I believe this anthology prints its chapters in order of release, the prelude feels like a non-sequitur. The story with the Turtles is good, but only serves to confuse things when it ends with Baxter Stockman deciding to run for Mayor and the next chapter opening with a description of how his reign has made life harder for Mutants in Manhattan. The writing isn’t bad, but it would save the reader a lot of trouble if it opened with the 2021 Annual story where Rat King introduces himself and the cast to the readers.
The artwork is similarly conflicted. There is a different art team on each chapter of this book. All of them are good artists, but there’s no real sense of visual unity to the story. This is often the case with anthology collections, but it is more vexing here where the book seems to be trying to relate a history, only to wind up jumping around in time.
IDW does not rate their comics, but I believe this volume to be on par with a T for 13 and up audience. There is plentiful action and adventure anf a few curse words, but no nudity or sexual content. The larger problems is that TMNT fans looking for a fun story will be more confused than amused by The Armageddon Game.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Armageddon Game – Opening Moves By Tom Waltz, Bobby Curnow, Kevin Eastman, Art by Pablo Tunica, Dave Watcher, Adam Gorham, Casey Maloney IDW, 2023 ISBN: 9781684059737
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)