Mooncakes Collector’s Edition

The life of Nova Huang, teenage witch, had been going through its usual motions: helping her grandmothers run their bookshop, loaning out spell books to the local magic users, and investigating the odd supernatural occurrence in the community. Naturally, she did not expect to run into her long-lost childhood friend and werewolf, Tam Lang, facing off against a malevolent horse demon in the woods. Currently on the run from those looking to steal their wolf magic, Tam turns to Nova for aid. What follows is a resurgence of unspoken feelings, their relationship deepening as they reconnect over hopes, fears, and uncertainties both old and new. In this brand-new collector’s edition of the Hugo Award nominee, Mooncakes weaves a beautiful story that will captivate readers with the wonders of magic, self-discovery, and the unshakeable strength of love and family, both born to and found.

Wendy Xu’s muted, yet charming color palette immediately engulfs readers into the atmosphere of the story, as the comic opens on a panel filled with the alluring reds, oranges, and yellows of autumn. A sense of coziness in the colors persists in the backgrounds, whether in the forest surrounding Nova’s town or in the book-filled backroom of her grandmothers’ bookshop. Even the clothing of the characters goes a long way in strengthening the fall vibes that linger within each page, displaying comfy sweaters and stylish button-ups and jackets. From the art alone, Xu’s illustrations bring about an urge to whip up the warmest, most comforting beverage, wrap yourself in a soft blanket, and nestle within them. The use of larger panels as well as a straightforward layout scheme make this an accessible read, its more character-driven scenes being the most standout portions of the story. Panels in which there is no dialogue are fairly common, relying completely on Xu’s artistic choices to accurately convey the underlying emotions of the scene. As a result of the depth and versatility of the characters’ expressions, each of these scenes hit their marks perfectly.

The story itself is mostly grounded, all fantastical elements aside. Nova and Tam’s relationship serves as the emotional crux and, though we fall into the middle of their developing romance, this does not make it any less compelling. Their constant support and loyalty to each other cements them as a couple we want to see succeed and overcome all odds. Both of them try to anchor the other through their own emotional insecurities, whether it is Nova’s fear of leaving behind the only family she has left or Tam’s doubt of their own abilities and need for acceptance and family. The open and honest communication between them is equal parts refreshing and endearing as we follow them through their shared journeys. This dynamic aside, the comic underlies the story with a healthy amount of humor with the characters naturally bouncing off of each other. Though the danger of whatever is lurking in the woods remains prevalent in the story, the action mostly takes a backseat to the exploration of the characters and their dynamics.

One element that Suzanne Walker and Xu weave expertly in Mooncakes is its representation, which, although present and utilized in the story, does not make up the sum of the characters. Both Nova and Tam are Chinese-American, with Nova also being bisexual, hard of hearing, and a hearing aid user, while Tam is genderqueer and goes by they/them pronouns. The intersectionality of these representations does not come off as “how many identities can we stack on top of each other,” but as realistic facets of these characters, as they should be. Neither of the main characters’ main conflicts revolve around these parts of their identities, nor does the comic completely shy away from how they do impact their lives. These two elements balance each other perfectly, leading to a representative material that treats its characters like people first and foremost.

Due to the art style of the comic, its themes on identity and acceptance, and the meaningful relationship between the main leads, Mooncakes is best for those 13 and up looking for a good mix of heart and humor with a paranormal edge. This special edition also includes a new introduction and afterword, as well as previously unpublished materials, such as concept art, scripts, and letters from the characters that give additional worldbuilding. Librarians and educators looking for more inclusive materials or character-driven stories for their collection should considered purchasing this title.


Mooncakes Collector’s Edition
By Suzanne Walker
Art by Wendy Xu
Oni Press, 2021
ISBN: 9781620109731
Publisher Age Rating: 13-16

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Chinese-American, Queer, Genderqueer, Hearing loss
Character Representation: Chinese-American, Bisexual, Queer, Genderqueer, Hearing loss

Adventureman, Volume 1: The End and Everything After

Madness, mayhem, and mystery permeate the dieselpunk world of Adventureman—a retrofuturistic graphic novel series created by Matt Fraction and Terry Dodson. In the opening pages, readers are swept into a weird and fantastical world dominated by a villainous fiend known as Baron Bizarre, demon champion of the Ultravoid, who draws his power from the fear of all humanity. Championing the heroic efforts to topple his terrorizing regime is the noble Adventureman, who leads an all-out effort to undermine and vanquish this dreaded evil in Apocalypsdra—the concluding storyline to a comic book series that was never completed.

Switch over to the real world, and meet single mother Claire Connell, along with her ten-year-old son Tommy, as they attempt to decipher the missing plot elements of the unfinished cliffhanging story arc to Adventureman. The adventure begins one day at a bookshop where Claire works when a lady clad in Victorian attire slips into her shop, drops off a rare vintage edition of Adventureman, and vanishes just as mysteriously as she had arrived. A dark, shadowy figure then storms through in hot pursuit and from there, the mystery intensifies as the figure disintegrates into a swarm of flies, beetles, centipedes, and other nasty crawling vermin. Shortly thereafter, the comics world collides with Claire’s as she starts meeting outlandish characters and locales in a dark and sinister world populated by pirates, robots, ghosts, magicians, and a host of other animated characters with strange and wondrous powers.

Reminiscent of the uncanny weirdness in Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol and China Miéville’s Dial H, Adventureman integrates shifting parallel world elements mixed with a plethora of twists and wild chase scenes that steer off the map of reality. Stylized character designs of flamboyant superheroes and villains in this vibrant universe create a majestic period piece of epic proportions. At the same time, we are introduced to Claire’s boisterous Jewish family and her six sisters—each with a distinct personality—which offers comic relief at their vibrant Friday night Sabbath dinners, grounding Claire in her “normal” family life.

Fraction and Dodson’s writing and artwork transport readers into an alternate world within a world as Claire crisscrosses dimensions of reality and fiction, literally meeting characters that materialize from the pages of the comic series Adventureman. Each panel captures detailed elements with swift narrative action, incrementally building the mounting suspense amidst an ever-deepening mystery. The background conveys a noir-like sense of place and time coupled by extraordinary characters infused with exotic personalities and powers. Like a gigantic puzzle waiting to be unlocked, Claire and her son Tommy must navigate a labyrinth of intrigue and suspense every step of the way, each chapter serving as a springboard into yet another adventure.

Structured like a multilayered mystery jam-packed with madcap thrills in a dieselpunk world, Adventureman blends magic and science intersected by plot twisting intrigue at every turn. This first volume grounds readers in a fantastic, noir-like landscape and introduces the players, setting up the stage for even more surprises to come. A fun addition to library genre collections—particularly for those who enjoy indulging in quirky fantasies—this title aims to entice readers in a whimsical and confounding way.


Adventureman, Volume 1: The End and Everything After 1
By Matt Fraction
Art by Terry Dodson
ISBN: 978-1-5343-1712-3
Image Comics, 2020
Publisher Age Rating:
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)
Character Traits: Hearing loss

Mr. Kazarian Alien Librarian: The Black Hole Bandits

One sign of an excellent author is when they can sprinkle in completely made up words that fit so perfectly with a story, that you find yourself looking them up to double check that they are in fact not real words. Author Steve Foxe uses language creatively and humorously to create a world of adventure. From an octopus alien using twists on common expressions, such as “on the other tentacle,” to being glombuxed, this book is sure to get a laugh out of kids. 

Our main character, Mr. Kazarian, or Mr. K, turns out to be more than just a school librarian. He is, in fact, an alien working on learning as much as he can about human children. However, his research, and the entire galaxy are threatened when his evil cousin, Kronkold, invents a new device that can generate black holes. 

At the same time, we have four students: Walden, TJ, Shea, and Dani, who need to complete a research assignment on a famous scientist. They team up with Mr. K to get all the research they need for their assignment, while helping to save the galaxy! We meet strange alien characters while the students are forced to get creative, even using a library card to help them escape. Oh, and they need to do all this before lunchtime. 

Real scientific facts are peppered throughout the dialogue, complemented with lots of jokes and clever plays on words. Additionally, Foxe has created wonderfully diverse characters. One of the students, Walden, has a cochlear implant. This isn’t mentioned in the story, it’s just a natural part of him. I haven’t come across this in any other children’s comics, so this would be a great title to add to your collection if you’re looking for diverse characters. 

The artwork in this book pops out of the panels. British artist Gary Boller keeps the backgrounds to a minimum, often with a simple solid color, or a single feature like a solid color bookcase, stairwell, or hallway. This allows the reader to focus on the excitement that’s unfolding and the details of the characters. Different font styles are used to emphasize action words, show conversational dialogue, and get the reader’s attention that scientific facts are being shared. A bright color palette and expressive faces makes for a fun visual experience that compliments the text well. 

Overall, this is a great addition to any elementary or middle school library collection. Especially for kids who have a passion for learning. This book is filled with interesting facts about black holes, outer space, and Einstein. Foxe used several credible resources, such as NASA Kids, to research all the material that went into this book. He includes a couple of pages of facts about black holes, a glossary of terms, and a page of questions to help the reader think deeper about what they’ve just learned. This would make it an easy book to read for an after school or library comic book club as the author provides a lot of great conversation starters. Children will enjoy this fact filled science fiction story.


Mr. Kazarian Alien Librarian: The Black Hole Bandits
By Steve Foxe
Art by Gary Boller
ISBN: 9781496598806
Capstone Press, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 8-10
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11)
Character Traits: Hearing loss

I Hear the Sunspot

What happens when a carefree, food-loving student with a huge appetite befriends another student with a hearing disability? This is the basis of Yuki Fumino’s I Hear the Sunspot, a heartfelt manga that dramatizes the intimate friendship between two college guys whose chance encounter evolves into a profound relationship. From that point on, their lives are transformed with each passing event.

The story begins one quiet afternoon when Taichi, an outspoken student, scampers through the streets, accidentally trips and takes a tumble down a path, crash landing on a nearby rooftop, where he meets Kohei Sugihara. Kohei, a freshman, is studying law and eats lunch on a rooftop everyday. When the free-spirited Taichi literally crash lands onto Kohei’s solitary lunching spot, a friendship emerges that deepens by increasing twists and turns.

Taichi offers to be Kohei’s notetaker. As their friendship develops, Taichi grows closer to Kohei and in some cases, runs to his defense. In one scene, classmates jeer at Kohei, accusing him of being standoffish, when in truth, they don’t even notice his hearing disability. Taichi reprimands their snap judgment, and through repeated encounters, draws closer to Kohei, their friendship advancing various levels of intimacy. What starts as a whimsical, chance encounter shifts into a deeper level of closeness, and into a quasi-intimate relationship.

Interior monologue and harbored feelings abound in fluid storytelling that unfolds as we learn more about Kohei. Fumino handles the character of Kohei with gentle care and compassion. From the moment they meet, Taichi befriends Kohei. Kohei’s disability is handled with sensitivity instead of being objectified. And, although this major conflict pervades the story, it’s not always the central focus.

Instead, the momentum evolves from the dramatic interplay between Kohei in relation to the other characters: how they perceive him and how he interacts with them. Most importantly, we are given a glimpse into the budding relationship Taichi builds with him as time passes.

The minimalist style of the character designs and facial expressions, sketched with wispy lines against a faded, grayish ambiance, belies the unspoken threads of connection between characters, drawing readers into a profound dimension of intimacy. Strategically rendered scenes in bleached hues reinforce the melancholy tone and solitary existence between Taichi and Kohei as they share a compelling attraction towards each other, yet are distanced by innocent misunderstandings. What evolves is a relationship that transcends mere romantic love or idyllic crush, but instead, shines with emotional depth and charming beauty.

A welcome entry into the diverse landscape of manga stories, I Hear the Sunspot is geared towards older teenagers given its exploration of the relational dynamics between a pair of college students. That this manga revolves around a character with a disability further highlights silenced voices, altogether showcasing characters with exquisite sensitivity and compassion. The whimsical friendship between two very distinct characters gives rise to dramatic flair and humor at strategic points that resonate with extreme poignancy.

I Hear the Sunspot
By Yuki Fumino
ISBN: 9781944937300
One Peace Books, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: OT (16+)

Browse for more like this title
Character Traits: Characters with Disability

 

Hawkeye, vols. 1-2

hawkeye1
   
Archer Clint Barton is better known to the world by his titles than his name: “Hawkeye,” “World’s Greatest Marksman,” and “Avenger”.  Barton is unenhanced, unpowered, and merely human, yet he holds his own in the superhero big leagues, despite being “an orphan raised by carnies fighting with a stick and a string from the Paleolithic era.”  But even superheroes can only save the world part-time.

There’s plenty of bow and arrow action in Matt Fraction’s new Hawkeye run, but the primary focus isn’t Hawkeye, the Avenger, but Clint Barton, the man who holds his own in the super-league, despite his lack of extraordinary gifts or powers. More than an action-adventure superhero saga, Fraction offers a character exploration of the man behind the bow, a contemplation of the reasons why Hawkeye fights rather than the way he does it. When he isn’t saving the world, he’s often trying to save himself.

Instead of the Avengers’ Mansion, Clint Barton makes his home in a run-down apartment building in Brooklyn, filled with normal people and owned by a bad man associated with plenty of other bad men. Protecting his home and his neighbors brings Barton into conflict with the city’s underworld and frequently puts him in danger at the hands of track-suited minions. Other Avengers make occasional appearances, but the focus remains on Barton as he lives outside that world. Equally human Young Avenger Hawkeye, Kate Bishop, appears regularly, and together the Hawkeyes will take on the mob, Christmas, international super villains, trick arrows, mysterious damsels in distress, and Superstorm Sandy.

Fraction’s fast-paced stories are original, clever, hilarious, and heartbreaking. Barton never stops trying to be the hero, even when—as he often repeats—things “look bad” for him. Hawkeye is more than his bow and his aim; indeed, Fraction’s Barton is at times painfully human in his vulnerabilities and determination to fight on in spite of them, as his compassion for others leads him constantly into harm’s way. Barton’s sidekick and protégé (and maybe something more), Kate Bishop, is well-crafted as a tough chick who takes no prisoners and kicks ass despite her socialite upbringing, even while wearing a designer gown.

As Fraction experiments with different storytelling styles, Hawkeye is not a straight narrative, but instead a series of connected events and experiences. David Aja and numerous other artists compliment each issue with fabulous artwork, and while purple dominates many issues, the art is as unpredictable as Fraction’s stories. Each issue offers something new for the reader to appreciate.

The paperback editions collect Hawkeye, vol. 1-6 and Young Avengers Presents, vol. 6 (vol. 1) and Hawkeye, vol. 6-11 (vol. 2). This includes “Pizza Is My Business,” the 2014 Eisner Award winner for best single issue. Marvel rates Hawkeye as Teen+, but more conservative communities might find that it fits better into adult than teen collections. In addition to the expected comic book violence—at times graphic when a man is shot in the eyes with arrows or a dog is beaten badly—Hawkeye includes strong language, implied sexual situations, and nudity. Regardless of whether the series’ audience is adults or teens, Fraction’s Hawkeye run should be considered a must-have for contemporary graphic novel collections.

Hawkeye
My Life as a Weapon, vol. 1
ISBN: 9780785165620
Little Hits, vol. 2
ISBN: 9780785165637
by Matt Fraction
Art by David Aja, Javier Pulido, Steve Lieber, Jesse Hamm, Francesco Francavilla
Marvel, 2013
Publisher Age Rating: Teen+

Hawkeye, vol. 1: My Life As a Weapon

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Yes, the book deserves all the hype that it’s getting. Hawkeye, vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon is as pretty and action-packed as you’ve dreamed. There are a lot of great things to go over, so let’s dive right in.

First, you like Clint Barton. He’s a guy you could see being friends with. He’ll have dinner on the roof of his building, he’s a great prankster, and maybe you could pal around with him. Of course, sometimes he’s abducted off of the roof by a few S.H.E.I.L.D. agents onto the massive helicarrier. That could put a damper on your afternoon cookout.

It’s random escapades such as abduction, or extortion, or dog rescuing that this book promises. As the book so smarmily informs you at the start of every issue, these are the moments in between the Avenger’s world-saving epics. Before I go any farther, I would like to thank Matt Fraction for the success he’s had in delivering this type of story. Many comic fans are familiar with the joke of having [insert currently popular superhero] on every major team. The idea that any one person (super or otherwise) could have that much time is laughable. However, Hawkeye, vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon tells exactly those moments. Almost every issue is a standalone tale about what happens to Hawkeye over a short span of time. Maybe it’s 8 hours, 24 hours, 2 weeks, but it’s never long enough that I entertain the thought, “How is he doing all of this?!”. While that might not seem that commendable, it’s actually a fantastic storytelling challenge. You need to tell vignettes that are insightful about a character, but you have to strip away everything that most people think is cool about him. If Fraction isn’t allowed to invoke more than a cameo from an Avenger, and has to leave out just about every supervillian, he’s left with a man and his bow. So you begin to see how very impressive it is that Hawkeye unfailingly proves to entertain issue after issue.

Of course, what’s helping captivate the reader’s attention is some drool-worthy art. David Aja deserves every Eisner nomination that comes his way. He has such an amazing inking style. It’s realistic, but the line is weighty and borders on cartoony. No matter what he’s depicting, backgrounds, actions, or finely tuned expressions – you get enough of an outline to perceive the drawing then heavy blacks. There’s no gradient in between, so the presentation is clean and confident.

With an inking style that depends so heavily on contrast, a bad coloring job could ruin it. Luckily, Matt Hollingsworth knows exactly what to do with Aja’s work. The compilation of art and color really elevates the look of Hawkeye to higher strata than most comic art. Hollingsworth frequently relies on the complimentary color scheme between yellows and purples. No matter how normal the scene is, we always are reminded that we are in Hawkeye’s world. With all of the attention to detail that this team puts in, it doesn’t matter what antics Hawkeye is up to. It is instantly readable and stunning. While other artists cycle in and out, there’s an obvious care in selection and consistency. The writer, colorist, and letterer remain unchanging and fastidious. Even when Aja is not behind the brush, you don’t feel cheated.

There are a lot of small things in Hawkeye that make it a delight to read. There’s a female co-star who is just as snarky and competent as Hawkeye. Clint obeys most of the laws of physics, and the consequences of being a human in a super-powered world. When he breaks something, it means bed rest. New York looks like New York. Which means there’s different cultures all over, fantastic architecture, and occasionally the mention of cat urine. It seems simple, but when so many comics still stare at us from their whitewashed, cleft chin faces, it is so wonderful to be able to point to Hawkeye as a counter example. Here is a superhero comic that respects art and character and storytelling.

Marvel designates this title for T+. There’s definitely some blood, plenty of action, and if I counted right, exactly one Barton butt. So even if I wanted to argue for it, you can’t exactly pass this book out like candy. However, in every way this book can, it excels in the art of comic booking. So while you wait for kids to grow into teens, you can just keep rereading your copy, and it won’t be wasted time.

Hawkeye, vol. 1: My Life As a Weapon
by Matt Fraction
Art by David Aja
ISBN: 978-078516562
Marvel Comics, 2013
Publisher Age Rating: T+ (12+)