Better Angels: A Kate Warne Adventure

Better Angels: A Kate Warne Adventure dramatizes the remarkable true story of Kate Warne, the Pinkerton detective who foiled a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln on the eve of his inauguration. Blending madcap adventure with historical drama, this lively graphic novel delivers a timely story about heroism and resistance during a time of political disunion.

Kate Warne has already become one of Pinkerton’s most valuable operatives when she’s dispatched to 1861 Baltimore, where secessionists are rumored to be planning a presidential assassination. Taking on a pro-slavery persona in order to infiltrate the conspiracy, Warne soon meets her match in the form of real-life Confederate spy Rose Greenhow. Like Warne, Greenhow is a widow who defies the gender conventions of her day in service to political goals. But where Warne is committed to preserving the Union, Greenhow’s racist ideology has made her a committed defender of the slaveholding South.

This book hews fairly close to what little we know of Warne’s life, though there are certainly elements of historical license. As the Pinkerton Detective Agency’s first female detective, Warne uses gender roles to her advantage, slipping past her opponents by adopting unassuming personas such as fortune teller or society woman. Warne’s exploits, and those of her all-female team, have a Delilah Dirk zaniness, with familiar spy tropes (disguises! gadgets! explosions!) playing out against a historical backdrop. George Schall’s elegant artwork features a muted Victorian color palette and beautifully rendered period settings and costumes.

Author Jeff Jensen doesn’t shy from the painful history that animates Better Angels. Warne and the women around her—including an eminently likable Mary Todd Lincoln—are depicted as plucky heroes, but there are no simple victories here. Through the Pinkertons’ efforts, Lincoln’s assassination is merely deferred; Baltimore is dragged from the brink of secession but remains a city of enslavers. The book also poses questions about the meaning of Warne’s heroism against a backdrop of inequality—though I wish some of its analysis had gone a little deeper. Warne’s boss, Allan Pinkerton, is depicted as an opportunist motivated by greed and clout as much as patriotism, but this novel still read like good press for the Pinkertons, an agency that would later carry out decades of violence against organized labor. The sidelining of Black characters also feels like a missed opportunity; the sole Black Pinkerton, Kew, voices her discomfort with watching Warne effortlessly move through white supremacist circles, but Kew herself is an underdeveloped character, her name a throwaway James Bond joke.

Better Angels is an enjoyable adventure story that serves as an engaging introduction to Kate Warne and her legacy, and it’s an earnest, if flawed, attempt to wrest heroism from a disturbing period in American history. A winning cast of characters and strong production values make it worth considering for adult and young adult collections.

Better Angels: A Kate Warne Adventure
By Jeff Jensen
Art by George Schall
BOOM! Archaia, 2021
ISBN: 9781684157365

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Brazilian, Trans
Character Representation: American


The year is 1902 and nurse Jane Eyre is newly returned to London from the Boer War. After facing the horrors of combat in South Africa as a combat medic, Jane is having a hard time readjusting to civilian life, particularly regarding how society seems to think proper ladies should act. After years of having to do the work of a doctor in places where there was none, it is rough to be told you cannot do such things by men who have not seen what you have. Thankfully, Jane finds a sympathetic ear and kindred spirit in the Lady Estella Havisham, who helps Jane with another problem she is having – finding a suitable roommate.

Enter Irene Adler; an American and an actress, who is also in need of someone to help her pay the rent. Given Victorian London’s opinion of Americans and theatrical types, Jane is certain she and Irene will get along like a house on fire even before they meet. However, Irene is far more than a simple actress, living a double life that places her at war with both the respectable and unrespectable elements of society. Soon Jane finds herself drawn into Irene’s world and a conflict beyond imagining, as a foreign queen declares war on the British Empire for what they did to her nation and seeks the advanced science of Marie Curie to unleash a power undreamed of upon the world!

It is impossible to consider Adler without thinking of Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. (Indeed, the advertising for Adler described it as “The League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen.”) While this is an easy comparison to make, it is also an unfair one, despite both series having the same base concept of taking characters from Victorian literature and putting them into a story together. While Moore’s central conceit was to devolve the superhero genre to its penny dreadful roots and tell a Victorian superhero story, Adler’s tale is closer in tone to the pulp fiction and weird science stories that dominated popular fiction in the early 20th century.

Adler also has a stronger focus on its characters, with Jane Eyre becoming the Dr. Watson to Irene Adler’s Sherlock Holmes, but getting a bit more to do than offer Irene someone to talk to when exposition needs to be delivered. Lavie Tidhar’s focus on the characters and commitment to adding complexity to their motivations is such that one even feels a certain degree of sympathy for the villain Ayesha (aka the Amazon queen from H. Rider Haggard’s She: A History of Adventure), who shows surprising nobility by freeing the captive performers of a freak show while in the middle of plotting to kill thousands of innocents. There are also hints of a romance between Ayesha and her chief assassin, the vampire Carmilla.

The artwork by Paul McCaffrey proves equally well-crafted. The many action sequences of the story are well-choreographed and flow freely and smoothly from panel to panel, guiding the reader along. The character designs are also worthy of note, as McCaffery makes all the characters look distinctive so there is no chance of confusing any of the cast.

Adler Vol 1 is aimed at audiences 12 and up and I consider that to be a fair rating. There is a bit of bloodshed, with realistic depictions of garroting, radiation poisoning and bullet wounds, but nothing inappropriate to a T-rated graphic novel. Many of the literary references may fly over the heads of the intended audience, but adults will find a lot to enjoy in Adler beyond picking out the nods to characters from The Prisoner of Zenda and The Amateur Cracksman.

Adler Vol. 01
By Lavie Tidhar
Art by  Paul McCaffrey
Titan Comics, 2021

Publisher Age Rating:  12+ Only

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Israeli, Jewish
Character Representation: American, British, Central African, Lesbian,

Big Apple Diaries

With the twentieth anniversary of the September 11th attacks this year come new books that discuss the event or narrate an individual’s reaction. One of these is the graphic memoir Big Apple Diaries, written and illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez. Rewriting old diary pages from her early teenage years, along with additional information from friends, the author not only narrates her fears and anxieties that came about after the attacks, but the everyday struggles of any middle schooler. With the two intertwined, readers will find something familiar in her story.

Alyssa Bermudez finds comfort in drawing and writing in her diary. It certainly does help when she is dealing with the pressures of middle school, the constant traveling between her parents’ apartments across New York City, finding her cultural identity, and everything in between. But while preparing for the start of eighth grade, tragedy strikes. It’s September 11th, 2001 and the Twin Towers have collapsed. Everything changes for Alyssa and her home, but in the midst of disaster comes a bit of hope.

Bermudez’s memoir uses the journaling format that readers of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries are familiar with, but her visuals and comic pages take up either a whole page or a two-page spread. She uses a blue-grayish color scheme with highlights to accentuate a character’s face or emotions. While most scenes depict Alyssa going about her day at school or at home, she also creates short comics depicting her interests at the time (music, trends, pop culture, etc.) and fantasies involving her crush or her anxieties. The text itself reads like a typical diary page, with a date written on top of the page and sometimes a departing salutation directed towards the book. Readers will sympathize with Alyssa and understand her fears and anxieties over school and home. Including 9/11 in her narrative gives readers a glimpse into a disaster that affected so many people, especially those who lived in New York City at the time. The author also includes an author note in the back of her book, including black and white photos of her younger days and a discussion of her creative process.

For fans of journal books and graphic memoirs, Big Apple Diaries is a great choice. Bermudez’s story not only reflects the aftermath of a national disaster, but the common struggles all middle schoolers go through. Public libraries should consider this book for their children’s and young adult collections. The same goes for school libraries, especially those who work with middle schoolers and junior high students.

Big Apple Diaries
By Alyssa Bermudez
Macmillan, 2021
ISBN: 9781250774279
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Character Representation: American, Puerto Rican, Catholic

Plutocracy: Chronicles of a Global Monopoly

For anyone even vaguely familiar with our current political climate, a story of corporate control of the government is not new. Termed “plutocracy,” a ruling class is able to derive governmental power from their wealth. Abraham Martinéz’s graphic novel, Plutocracy: Chronicles of a Global Monopoly, seeks to create lore behind the evolution of a plutocratic society. Set in 2051, the global government is run by the ambiguously named corporation The Company. Determined to uncover the true, unauthorized story behind how The Company came to power, an anonymous citizen begins his investigation. 

The world of Plutocracy is a vision of a distinctly American dystopia. Though The Company is a global government system, our focus remains on the Western experience. Logistically, it is difficult to accept that one cohesive power, no matter how wealthy, would be able to control all countries, citizens, and cultures across the globe. However, Martinéz is not interested in providing a detailed analysis of The Company and its reach. Rather, he is interested in discussing the philosophical implications of being governed in a plutocratic society. Many, even today, could easily argue that the U.S. government is a plutocracy. Plutocracy takes a dive into what this means now—and what it could mean for the future. 

While political junkies may be underwhelmed by the relatively introductory level of discourse, Plutocracy is an excellent primer on plutocratic systems. In fact, the economical writing style and ongoing narration often make the comic seem as if it intends to serve as a learning text, rather than a dramatic narrative. With this said, the writing is a bit dry in places and the unraveling mystery of The Company often lacks suspense. And, yet, I do believe that Plutocracy would serve as a great learning tool and is certain to prompt much discussion. 

Similarly, many elements of the art in Plutocracy are sure to promote discussion. The world of the future is one of muted colors, emphasizing the lack of artistry and bleak worldview often associated with fascism. The logo of The Company is a constant presence throughout the book. This symbol, a combination of the hammer and sickle and the electronic start button, presents the disastrous combination of what Martinéz deems “social-capitalism,” in which the rights of a human are directly connected to how many company shares that individual owns. The artwork of Plutocracy is simultaneously overwhelming and repressive. Impossibly large spaces often contrast with small, dark corners. What Plutocracy may lack in the storyline is certainly compensated for in the artwork. 

Abraham Martinéz is clearly a talented graphic novelist. Though Plutocracy is identified as a graphic novel for adults, it may serve better as a learning tool for older teens. Plutocracy is a great addition to a young adult collection. There is no content that may be viewed as unsuitable for teens, such as overt physical violence or sexuality. Plutocracy is a great introduction for anyone interested in learning about the deep, ever-strengthening relationship between capitalism and government. Those coming of age during this era of plutocratic government will find Plutocracy especially harrowing and poignant. 

Plutocracy: Chronicles of a Global Monopoly
By Abraham Martinéz
NBM, 2020
ISBN: 9781681122687
Publisher Age Rating:  OT (16+)

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

Vampire The Masquerade: Winter’s Teeth

Vampire: The Masquerade (or V:tM) is probably the most successful role-playing game in history, apart from Dungeons and Dragons. The first game made for what became known as the World of Darkness setting, V:tM cast players in the role of the titular blood-sucking monsters, who spend their nights struggling to survive the Machiavellian political structure maintained by the eldest vampires, control the dark hunger that animates their undead forms, and retain what little humanity they have left. Generally V:tM is not a game of heroes and bold deeds, and that is well reflected by the new tie-in comic book series from Vault Comics.

“Winter’s Teeth” spins two different stories set among the vampires of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The first is centered around Cecily Bain, a freelance troubleshooter who reluctantly works as the muscle of the leaders of the Camarilla—the vampiric society that runs the nightlife of the Twin Cities and enforces the Masquerade that hides the existence of vampires from humans. Pressured to further tie herself to the local Prince, Cecily decides to claim the rare privilege of being allowed a “childe” and adopts Alejandra; a fledgling vampire seemingly abandoned by her creator and, by the laws of the Camarilla, an outlaw with no right to an afterlife. Thus does Cecily introduce “Ali” (and us) to the World of Darkness, even as she begins investigating Ali’s origins and a plot to overthrow the Prince.

The second story, “The Anarch Tales,” centers around a found family of Anarchs; vampires who live outside the structure set up by the Camarilla, but still try to maintain the Masquerade and their humanity. The central character here is Colleen Pendergrass; a thin-blood vampire who can pass for human and survive the touch of the sun but lacks the specialized powers most vampires possess. Colleen’s family takes a courier job that takes them to the Twin Cities, with each chapter revealing the origins of each member of the family and how the curse of vampirism altered them differently.

Fans of urban fantasy will find the stories of Cecily, Ali, Colleen, and company enjoyable, as Tim Seeley, Blake Howard, and Tini Howard do a fantastic job of establishing them as relatable, if not entirely likable, protagonists. What’s even more amazing is how well they establish the Vampire: the Masquerade setting and utilize the terminology of the game mechanics naturally within the context of the story. Newcomers who can’t tell a Brujah from a Gangrel will have no trouble getting into the swing of things, as the central story has Cecily showing Ali the facts of unlife and The Anarch Tales explains the Sabbath (i.e., vampires who embrace their inhumanity and seek to overthrow the Camarilla) as well as the particulars of some of the bigger clans and their powers.

Despite being a solid primer for the game and including some character sheets and other materials for players, Winter’s Teeth is a comic book, first and foremost, and the artwork perfectly suits the setting. Devmalya Pramanik and Nathan Gooden capture the Gothic splendor and horror of vampiric unlife. What truly completes the art, however, is the color art of Addison Duke, who renders most of the comic in a washed-out palette that subtly hints at the faded glory of the older vampire aristocrats and the muted half-life experienced by most young vampires.

Vault Comics rates this series as 15+, but I would suggest that it is more appropriate for adult audiences. As one might expect from a story centered around vampires, this series does not skimp on the bloodshed and there are many disturbing images of people being cut, stabbed, beheaded, set on fire, buried alive, eviscerated, defenestrated, and undergoing nearly any sort of physical punishment you can imagine. There’s not much in the way of sexual content, apart from the Prince of St. Paul (a vampire named Samantha) painting in the nude and even then only her bare backside is shown. While this is tame by the standards of True Blood and other similar shows, the story is mature enough to be best appreciated by adult audiences rather than most older teens.

Vampire The Masquerade: Winter’s Teeth Vol. 01
By Tim Seeley, Blake Howard, Tini Howard
Art by  Devmalya Pramanik, Nathan Gooden, Addison Duke
Vault Comics, 2021
ISBN: 9781939424808

Title Details and Representation
Publisher Age Rating:  15+ Only
Series ISBNS and Order
Related media:  Game to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Representation: American,

The Red Mother, Vol. 2

Jeremy Haun and Danny Luckert have returned with the second volume of The Red Mother, containing chapters five through eight. Once again, we follow Daisy, the victim of a brutal mugging that has left her with a prosthetic eye and a missing boyfriend. When we left Daisy at the end of the first volume, she was considering a job offer made to her by the enigmatic Leland Black. When we are reintroduced to Daisy, she accepts Black’s offer and continues a painstaking psychological journey to uncover the truth behind the horrific, spectral “Red Mother” figure that continues to haunt her. 

Haun, once again, delivers us great storytelling. Daisy is a fascinating figure, both as a trauma survivor and a woman with a voracious need to solve the mystery that surrounds her. Haun’s writing is fast-paced, engaging, and perfectly unsettling. Once again, Haun has a penchant for incorporating natural dialogue and mystery into what is a very unnatural horror story. I am thoroughly excited to continue following Daisy as she unravels the mystery of the Red Mother. 

In parallel, Luckert continues to deliver beautiful artwork and coloring to this story. Luckert’s ability to capture emotion and tone through his artwork is of particular note. We sense the foreboding and apprehension when Daisy enters Black’s workspace for an impromptu meeting. We see Daisy’s unending emotional distress. We feel the romantic tension between Daisy and her new love interest. And we definitely experience the panicked cringe when Daisy witnesses Black engaged in sex with a colleague. Luckert is a talented artist and his work ultimately elevates Haun’s storytelling. 

When practicing collection development there are two important factors to keep in mind. First, though this is a series that is ending soon. This means no years-long purchasing commitments. Second, The Red Mother, does seem to steadily be developing an audience among comic book readers. That is to say, though The Red Mother is not in high demand, it does appear to be in demand at comic book retailers. While this title may not fly off the shelves of your library, it is certainly a solid title to have available for patrons and an excellent pick to have in your back pocket for reader’s advisory. The Red Mother is the perfect pick for any adult comic reader with even a passing interest in horror. The Red Mother is absolutely worthy of consideration for your library.

The Red Mother, Vol. 2 2
By Jeremy Haun
Art by Danny Luckert
ISBN: 9781684156221
BOOM! Studios, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 18+
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Traits: American

The Red Mother, Vol. 1

Jeremy Haun and Danny Luckert’s The Red Mother has a cold opening worthy of a great horror film. A cute couple strolls home after a date. Suddenly, one half of the duo is pulled into black void, while the other is partially blinded in a fantastic display of red spatter across the panel. Our protagonist, Daisy, now must solve a few mysteries. First, what happened to her boyfriend, Luke, after being dragged into that black void? And, second, why is she now experiencing red-soaked visions of a skull-faced demon? Is Daisy actually experiencing supernatural hauntings or is it simply Charles Bonnet Syndrome, in which vision loss leads to visual hallucinations? No matter what the answers to these questions may be, I am certainly excited to follow Daisy on her journey.

The Red Mother is a beautifully illustrated and written comic. Haun is a great storyteller, allowing the plot to progress naturally. This comic is an excellent choice for fans of the horror genre interested in titles such as Clive Barker’s Hellraiser or Marjorie Liu’s Monstress. Readers will certainly empathize with Daisy throughout this comic. Daisy is a strong, intelligent woman dealing with the isolating aftermath of a traumatic experience. Conveniently, Daisy is also a connoisseur of puzzles, her passion being to identify and solve complex problems. With this skill, another layer of intrigue is added to the character of Daisy. Watching our protagonist solve literal puzzles, such as the 19th century wooden Victorian heart puzzle that mysteriously arrives at her door, is actually fun—a feat for any writer. And, like the wooden Victorian heart puzzle, readers will certainly enjoy seeing Daisy work through the puzzle of her boyfriend’s disappearance.

Similarly, the artwork in The Red Mother is thoroughly consistent and competent. Luckert’s strength seems to lie particularly in conveying complex emotions through his depictions of facial expressions, all of which thought and care were clearly put into. For instance, in one particular panel Daisy examines her face after being discharged from the hospital. A black eyepatch covers her now-missing eye. In this one, wordless panel, Luckert conveys pain, confusion, and a reluctance to accept the events that have transpired. My only disappointment related to the artwork in The Red Mother is the depiction of the ever-present demon (or, perhaps, “Red Mother”) in Daisy’s visions. Novices to the horror genre will probably get a kick out of the skull-faced monster. However, seasoned horror fans will most likely find this demon a little… bland. The human-like black torso; the long, sharp fingers; and the white, perpetually grinning face are all pretty run-of-the-mill otherworldly antagonist characteristics. Yet, given that this is only volume one, I remain optimistic that this demonic depiction will pay off.

The Red Mother is a fun, intriguing, fast-paced read for both longtime horror fans and new. Though, as of now, it seems like The Red Mother has not found a strong fanbase, keep this comic in mind for readers’ advisory. The Red Mother may not see constant circulation, but it will be a pleasant surprise for avid consumers of graphic literature. The Red Mother is a worthy contribution to any adult graphic novel collection.

The Red Mother, Vol. 1
By Jeremy Haun
Art by Danny Luckert
ISBN: 9781684155668
BOOM! Studios, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: (18+)

Browse for more like this title
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Traits: White Straight

Making Friends

For Danielle, sixth grade was perfect. She had her friends, did well in class, and felt comfortable. But once seventh grade starts, all of that changes. Danielle’s best friends are in a different class schedule and she feels lost and alone. All Dany wants is to have a best friend who understands her.

While cleaning out her late great aunt’s house, she finds an old sketchbook. At first, she just doodles in it, drawing the face of her favorite TV show character. But when that drawing comes to life (as a floating head), Dany starts to discover something is special about the sketchbook—anything she draws in it comes true. She wastes no time inventing Madison, a beautiful, popular, cool best friend, who is the answer to all her problems. However, when Madison starts to realize she was just conjured up from Dany’s imagination, things go wrong, leaving Dany more lonely than before.

While this graphic novel has an intriguing premise that tweens will be drawn to, the story doesn’t quite deliver. It is a little messy and switches from scene to scene quickly without much explanation or transition. Dany is unlikable and it doesn’t feel like she learns much in the course of the story. She complains about not having friends, but really her best friends are still there for her—just in a different class schedule. There are other classmates who are obviously trying to befriend Dany but she seems to take them for granted because they don’t fit into her idea of the “perfect” best friend. Instead of feeling sorry for Dany, I was left feeling like she just didn’t appreciate what she already had, which was a group of supportive, understanding friends. The main conflict of the story isn’t a conflict at all, making the story feel pointless.

In the end, Dany saves the day and her friends tell her they always knew how great she was. There are no real consequences for Dany and how she behaved. While this story has potential, it falls flat. Dany seems to finally relax and enjoy the friends she has, but it feels like too little too late. Instead of taking universal emotions that all tweens have—feeling alone and friendless— and showing how to deal with that maturely, Gudsnuk’s graphic novel features an unlikable character and a deus ex machina ending.

I can see this appealing to tweens and teens, since the art and characters are similar to Raina Telgemeier’s, but ultimately I would suggest passing on this one as it doesn’t bring anything new or unique to the genre.

Making Friends
by Kristen Gudsnuk
ISBN: 9781338139228
Graphix, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12