Blade Runner 2029 Vol. 1: Reunion

The year is 2029. Twelve years ago, Aahna “Ash” Ashina was the LAPD’s greatest Blade Runner – one of the elite police detectives tasked with hunting down and killing any Replicant running loose on Earth. Yet Ash had a secret that would destroy her career were it discovered by her fellow cops; she was dependent on a rechargeable spinal implant to walk.

Ten years ago, Ash left the force and went on the run, acting as the protector and foster mother of a runaway girl, to honor the dying request of the Replicant clone of the girl’s biological mother.

Three years ago, Ash returned to a radically different Earth, where the manufacture of Replicants was outlawed after an attack on the Tyrell Corporation erased every record of every existing Replicant. Naturally this did nothing to stop the rich and powerful from ordering their own custom grown Replicant “servants” on the black market.

Two years ago, Ash rejoined the LAPD and the Blade Runners, joining the hunt for the last of the Nexus 8 Replicant models: the most human Replicants ever made. But Ash had a secret beyond her artificial spine. She had become part of the Replicant Underground, working to free the new Replicants who are born as both fugitives and slaves on Earth.

Now, Ash is relatively content, having found love with the Nexus 8 Replicant Freysa Sadeghpour. But a ghost from the past has thrown Ash’s new life into sharp relief; a ghost called Yotun, who is the only Replicant to ever escape Ash’s clutches in her old life and the leader of a Replicant terrorist cell out for revenge on the idle rich responsible for the creation of the latest Nexus 8 Replicants.

Fans of the Blade Runner franchise hoping for more of the same after Titan Comics’ excellent Blade Runner 2019 series will greatly enjoy this first volume of Blade Runner 2029. Michael Green, Mike Johnson and Andres Guinaldo, the creators on the first comic series centered around Ash’s adventures, have all returned for this second series and their respective contributions are as fine as ever. Green, who co-wrote the screenplay for Blade Runner 2049, continues to expand upon the setting of the original film, while slowly building up the elements he introduced in the sequel. Ana’s lover Freysa Sadeghpour, for instance, was a character in Blade Runner 2049.

Andres Guinaldo continues to capture the essence of the neo-Noir setting of Blade Runner. There is grit and grime aplenty, as befits the mean streets of Los Angeles. Yet there is also neon splendor and bright lights concealing the dark heart of the city’s underground, well rendered by colorist Marco Lesko. Suffice it to say the unique aesthetic of the movies is replicated perfectly throughout this book.

This volume is rated 15+ and I consider that to be a fair rating. There is nothing in Blade Runner 2029 that would be inappropriate for an older teen audience and nothing likely to upset fans of the original movies, which were rightly rated R for violence, nudity and sexual themes. There is nothing so overt in this collection, though there are some disturbing images of one body being impaled on rebar, a dissected corpse post-autopsy and some loose body parts in various Replicant labs.

Blade Runner 2029 Vol. 1: Reunion Vol. 01
By Michael Green, Mike Johnson,  ,
Art by  Andres Guinaldo
Titan Comics, 2021
ISBN: 9781787731943

Publisher Age Rating: 15+
Related media:  Movie to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Representation: Indian American, Japanese-American, Lesbian, Mobility Impairment, Prosthesis,

Blade Runner 2019: Volumes 1-3

The original Blade Runner was not a big hit when it was originally released in 1982, yet it has gone on to become a classic of science fiction cinema and inspire a sequel, Blade Runner 2049. While not directly adapting the Philip K. Dick story Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner encapsulated the themes of Dick’s dystopian world, where the best of humanity reached the stars, only to poison the Earth and abandon the poor and the sick to a slow death on a dying world. Yet even that existence is preferable to the life of slavery forced on replicants; artificially made beings virtually indistinguishable from real humans.

Titan Comics’ Blade Runner 2019 is the first original graphic novel series set in the world of Blade Runner. Beyond being officially endorsed as canon to the films, the series is co-written by Michael Green, who co-wrote the script for Blade Runner 2049. That alone ensures a higher level of quality than one might normally expect from a film tie-in comic, even when that writer is an Oscar Nominee for his work on the film Logan. Green is an experienced comic book writer, as is his co-author, Mike Johnson, with whom he previously collaborated on DC Comics’ New 52 Supergirl series. This makes them an ideal team for adapting the world of Blade Runner into a comic book format.

Set in Los Angeles during the same time as Blade Runner, but with none of the film’s characters making an appearance apart from replicant magnate Dr. Eldon Tyrel, the first volume of Blade Runner 2019 quickly introduces us to Aahna “Ash” Ashina. Ash is widely considered to be the best of the LAPD’s Blade Runners; special detectives tasked with hunting down replicants who go into hiding on Earth. However, a lack of replicants to hunt and pressure from City Hall sees Ash temporarily reassigned to investigate the disappearance of Isobel and Cleo Selwyn, the wife and daughter of billionaire Alexander Selwyn. It soon becomes apparent that Ash’s assignment was due to more than a rich man demanding the best detective available, and Ash soon finds herself fighting to protect Cleo from an unexpected threat.

Green and Johnson’s scripts perfectly capture the themes of the original films and the reoccurring idea that the replicants and other artificial beings are more compassionate and noble than the fiendish organics that created them. Ash is a prime example of this, starting out with no sense of sympathy for replicants and unspoken envy of them, given her own dark secret. As a child, Ash was denied the right to follow her mother into the stars due to an unspecified spinal condition that renders her unable to walk without the aid of an implant that requires constant recharging. This makes Ash ironically dependent on the same technology she hates and leaves her needing to hide the truth of her disability from her coworkers in the same way replicants must hide from society.

The artwork flawlessly replicates the neo-noir theme of the films. Artist Andres Guinaldo boasts a gritty aesthetic that offers a detail-driven view of the future. The colors of Marco Lesko perfectly complete the pictures, with vivid reds highlighting moments of action and contrast with the cool blues and greens that dominate the larger narrative. Lesko also manages the neat trick of hiding neon shades in the background that hint at the splendor of the city center, even as the action largely takes place in the dimly lit shadows of the mean streets. Fans of the movies will be pleased, but the comics serve as a wonderful introduction to the setting for those who have not seen the films.

All three volumes of Blade Runner 2019 are rated 15+. I consider that to be a fair assessment. There’s no overt nudity in the artwork, apart from one cover depicting an exotic dancer in the middle distance, though there are several shots of Ash’s bare back that serve only to showcase her implant. Of larger concern is the book’s violent content and some detailed and disturbing images of people being shot and blood being shed. There is nothing that would be inappropriate for older teens, however, and indeed the comics are more restrained in what they show than the films.


Blade Runner 2019: Volumes 1-3
By Michael Green, Mike Johnson, and Andres Guinaldo
Titan Comics, 2019
Vol 1 ISBN: 9781787731615
Vol 2 ISBN: 9781787731929
Vol 3 ISBN: 9781787731936
Publisher Age Rating:  15+ Only
Related media:  Movie to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Representation: Indian American, Prosthesis, Wheelchair User,

The Unstoppable Wasp, vols. 1-2

We all know Janet van Dyne, The Wasp, but Nadia, The Unstoppable Wasp, is a whole other experience. She’s smart, she knows it, and she’s here to shake things up, starting with the scientific patriarchy. Oh, and take down the organization that kidnapped and raised her. And make friends, even with villains. And finish her dad’s projects. And maybe take the bomb out of her friend’s head. Who needs sleep?

Every once in a while, there’s a comic that has a very sound concept, but has trouble with follow-through. Unstoppable Wasp is such a case; volume one is interesting enough at first, though a bit unbearably cheerful and manic, before descending into just kind of silly to the point of feeling pandering. Volume two picks up at the end of volume one, ties them together, and adds in another level of depth and interest.

My primary problem with the Unstoppable Wasp comics is the writing; the first volume especially feels like one long advertisement for diversity in science, especially with the significant number of pages at the end dedicated to interviews with real women in science. Of course, they’re not just women in science, but women in science who also have social media handles and/or are involved in TV or YouTube.

That’s great, and sure, we should talk more about it, but within the story it comes across as the White Savior bringing together her plucky team of disadvantaged girls of color. Because, of course, the rest of the team are girls of color, each from a slightly different background. It doesn’t help that after forming the Agents of G.I.R.L. (an unfortunate acronym that matches the phrase Nadia ascribes to it), the plot never comes back to them for the rest of the first volume. Thankfully, the second volume circles back and gives more detail to each girl beyond just say, Black, into pop culture, quirky dresser, and engineer. Overall though, there’s a weirdly strong emphasis on whether they’re interested in fashion or not, adding to a Barbie feel.

The art is also variable; the first volume is very smooth, but the girls all look strangely the same in body shape, facial features, and coloring. The exception is Lashayla, who is actually a darker-skinned Black girl, an unusual sight in comics. The second volume gives much greater visual variety, though Lashayla is strangely much lighter in skin tone, which is disappointing. The one consistent complaint I have with the art is that the girls all have overfull lips in both volumes. It’s a little disconcerting, but also something of a nod to older comics. Otherwise, the art does a good job of conveying the frenetic energy of Nadia and handling this very dialogue-heavy comic.

The most distinguishing feature of Unstoppable Wasp is that it discusses mental illness in teenagers. We’ve seen discussion of mental health in comics before, even in Marvel (consider the Mariko Tamaki run of She-Hulk), but as far as I know, almost never with youth. And the most remarkable part of it is that they don’t do a bad job of it. There’s discussion of likely genetic links, therapy sessions, and medication. There’s supportive family and friends, encouraging her to take care of herself. Mixed in with that is talk of having to separate the public, heroic image of a person and the personal image that can be more troubled. This means a brief discussion of domestic abuse; I wish that had been expanded a little more because it feels like that particular topic is brought up and quickly set aside, though not done poorly.

I can’t strongly recommend this series because the first volume is so rocky, but if you’re looking to add to your collection with more diverse superheroes and something tailored towards teens, Unstoppable Wasp is a solid choice. It would be a great suggestion as further reading for lovers of comics like Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, or Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat.

The Unstoppable Wasp, vols. 1-2
By Jeremy Whitley
Art by Elsa Charretier, Alti Firmansyah & Gurihiru
ISBN:

VolumeISBN
19781302906467
29781302906474

Marvel, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: T+
Series Reading Order: https://www.goodreads.com/series/208648-the-unstoppable-wasp-2017 (Wikipedia or Goodreads)

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Traits: Characters with Disability East Asian, Black, Latinx Queer,
Creator Highlights:
Related to…:

Geeky Fab 5, vol. 2: Mystery of the Missing Monarchs

Geeky F@b 5 returns with volume 2, Mystery of the Missing Monarchs, an educational adventure full of friendship and girl power. Geeky F@b 5 is a collaboration between pre-teen author Lucy Lareau and her mother, Liz Lareau, that tackles “geeky” STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) topics for young readers. The first book, It’s Not Rocket Science, brought together the group of friends for their first challenge: creating a new school playground. In volume 2, the girls discover an abandoned lot near their school full of native plants, monarch butterflies, and honeybees.They fall in love with their “secret garden,” but it’s soon threatened by a mysterious developer that wants to bulldoze the area to build a new convenience store. The girls must rush to discover the identity of the developer and find a way to save the endangered insects.

Although I personally enjoyed the first book more and felt the plot and writing was a little stronger, Mystery of the Missing Monarchs is still a worthy addition to the series. There is a healthy dose of educational content about monarch butterflies and the role they play in the ecosystem, as well as the dangers they currently face. As with the first book, the girls face a problem that seems insurmountable—something that would be a challenge even for grown-ups—but their determination and creative thinking, as well as the support of the adults around them, carry them through. This volume shares the same energetic, upbeat tone as the first, and does a good job making STEM topics accessible and interesting for young readers. Mystery of the Missing Monarchs can stand alone, despite being a sequel, so there is no worry about adhering strictly to the series order. The first chapter introduces the characters and setting, and makes for an easy entry point for readers.

An element I continued to appreciate in this comic is the diversity of the main group of friends. They are not only racially diverse, but one is adopted, and they represent a wide variety of interests and hobbies ranging from those often seen as masculine (math, computer programming, sports, etc.) to those often seen as feminine (art, fashion, singing, etc.). The comic does not gender these hobbies and doesn’t value one type at the expense of the other. In this volume, we are also introduced to the brother of one of the girls, who is a person of color with a disability.

One thing I particularly liked about the comic was that the eventual solution to the main conflict was small-scale and realistic, making it seem achievable and inspiring for readers eager to follow in the girls’ footsteps. As with the first book, things tend to fall into place fairly conveniently for the story (characteristic of many books for young readers) but I felt the girls’ solution in this volume was more reachable than in the last. The comedy provided by Hubble the cat was a bit too much for me at times, but the humor might be just right for the target age group.

Artists Ryan Jampole and Jen Hernandez continue to serve up cute, distinctive characters in panels with lots of movement, energy, and color. There is a simplicity to it, with most of the attention focused on the foreground and the characters, which pairs well with the story and helps to move it along.

The Geeky F@b 5 series is a fun way to emphasize and teach positive messages about girls in STEM, female friendship, and children’s capacity for thinking about and addressing large-scale problems in the world. These important ideas are timely and useful for kids of all genders to be exposed to. It will be interesting to see how the series continues to develop as more books are created.

Geeky F@b 5, vol.2: Mystery of the Missing Monarchs 
By Lucy Lareau Liz Lareau
Art by Ryan Jampole Jen Hernandez
ISBN: 9781545801567
Papercutz, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 7-11

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Character Traits: Black, Latinx, South Asian,

Steven Universe, vol. 3: Field Researching

Steven Universe: Field Researching is volume 3 in the re-launched comic series that started in 2017. It collects issues 9-12 of the series based on the show Steven Universe. This volume fits right along with the previous volume, Steven Universe: Punching Up, presenting four contained slice-of-life stories about Steven, the Crystal Gems, and life in Beach City. Each of the four issues wraps up with no continuation into the next issue, and there is no connection to previous volumes, other than the general setting and characters. This makes it easy for readers to jump in without needing previous context, or to be caught up on the TV show. However, since there isn’t any introduction to world of Steven Universe, this is clearly a comic meant for existing fans with enough of a grounding to recognize and understand the characters.

The short stories in volume 3 focus primarily on how the Crystal Gems’ quirks and personalities affect otherwise fairly common experiences in Steven’s life, including a painting lesson, helping his friend Connie with her homework, taking part in a city-wide food competition, and having a sleepover. In each situation, there are unexpected challenges due to the Gems’ participation, and the characters must figure out how to resolve the issues. Despite the challenges to be faced, the comic’s tone is light and humorous. It never delves into the darker aspects or storylines that come up in the TV show, sticking to quick and fun interludes.

Although each story has the same basic idea to it and can occasionally seem repetitive, the comic on the whole is enjoyable. The book also follows the cartoon’s lead by presenting problems being addressed in a primarily non-violent and empathetic way. The content works for all ages, but the light storytelling and style of humor may appeal most to younger fans of the show. As Steven Universe tends to frequently have long hiatuses, the comic is a fun way for fans to stay engaged while waiting for more episodes.

The comic’s art mimics that of the show, and achieves it well. Characters and settings are easily recognizable and consistent with their on-screen appearances. On the whole, it seems like a smooth continuation of the official animation style that places the reader solidly in the existing universe.

The television series has a significant focus on inclusivity and representation, depicting characters with a range of races, ethnicities, body types, gender identities, and sexualities. In fact, the show has been nominated twice for the GLAAD (formerly known as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Awards, and featured reportedly the first same-sex engagement in an animated show. As the comics focus on the same world and characters, this carries over, but is less visible than in the cartoon. The existing context of the show is what provides the most representation in this case.

Steven Universe is a popular show across many age groups, so this is a good and relatively inexpensive addition to a collection that would make sense to shelve with children’s materials. The publisher’s recommended age group of 9-12 years old seems appropriate. As this doesn’t require having read any of the other spin-off comics at all, purchasing older volumes is not required.

Steven Universe, Vol. 3: Field Researching 
By Grace Kraft
Art by Rii Abrego, Whitney Cogar, Mike Fiorentino
ISBN: 9781684152445
KaBOOM!, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12
Series Reading Order

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16)
Character Traits: Indian American, ,
Related to…: TV to Comic

Geeky Fab 5, vol.1: It’s Not Rocket Science

Geeky Fab 5, vol. 1: It’s Not Rocket Science is an energetic book full of female friendship, determination, and acceptance for girls with strong passions and curiosity about the world. Co-created and co-authored by Liz Lareau and her 12-year-old daughter Lucy, the comic presents five girls celebrating their “geeky” STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) interests in pursuit of helping their school and each other.

Lucy Monroe is about to start fourth grade at a new school. Her family just moved to Normal, Illinois, and it’s her first day at Earhart Elementary. She’s starting along with her sixth-grader sister Marina, who Lucy thinks is super cool. Lucy soon meets three other girls in her class, and the five become friends. They bond over their interests in topics girls aren’t “supposed to” like, such as math, science, computers, and sports. When the school playground is shut down for good for safety reasons, the girls band together, along with Lucy’s cat Hubble, and use their skills to help the school fund and build a new, creative playground at the end of the year.

The characters of Geeky Fab 5 are memorable and diverse, and I really appreciated that the girls have mixed interests. For example, the character Sofia likes computer programming as well as glitter, art, and fashion, while Zara loves math as well as music/singing. This makes the girls feel more real and rounded, while also mixing some hobbies traditionally seen as feminine with others often seen as masculine, thereby celebrating both at once rather than pitting them against each other. The group of girls is racially diverse as well, and Lucy’s older sister is adopted.

The comic has a lot of positive energy, with the girls finding encouragement from parents, teachers, and the school principal as they work toward their goal. The biggest challenges they face are from boys who think girls can’t or shouldn’t be involved in computers and science, and from older kids who try to sabotage their fundraisers for the playground. But the Geeky F@b 5 pull through to be celebrated by the whole town.

The art by Ryan Jampole is cute and fitting, and does a good job giving the characters lots of personality. Lots of exaggerated expressions, large sound effects, and action lines capture the liveliness of kids the age of Lucy and her friends, and the playful depictions of the cat Hubble add to the comedy of the story.

The book reminded me somewhat of Lumberjanes, but for a younger audience and without the supernatural elements. The girls’ strong friendship, unique skills and personalities, and dedication to encouraging and helping each other were welcome aspects. Teaching girls not only to feel confident about their geeky interests, but also to support each other and treat each other with compassion, are all essential messages, and it’s nice to see a comic tackling these well. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this series, and would be excited to see even more diversity of representation in future volumes.

Geeky Fab 5, vol. 1: It’s Not Rocket Science
by Lucy Lareau, Liz Lareau
Art by Ryan Jampole
ISBN: 9781545801222
Papercutz, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 7-11

Pashmina

Indian-American Priyanka, also known as Pri, is a comics-loving teenager who has important questions. She wants to know why her mother left India and who her father is, but her mother remains tight-lipped. After Pri discovers a pashmina (a kind of shawl) in an old suitcase, she finds herself transported to a bright and magical India. Convinced that she needs to visit the real place, Pri travels to India to discover the origins of the pashmina and herself.

Nidhi Chanani weaves together a story full of magic and realistic situations to form a charming narrative of identity and growth. Pri is a compelling protagonist, whose struggles to fit in are relatable. Pri’s determination, demonstrated through her persistent questions and decision to use her own prize money for airplane tickets, helps her to reach her goals. Chanani also includes a greater conversation about injustice and the importance of choice for women. As Pri comes to understand her identity and her mother’s story, she finds her strength.

Chanani conveys a setting filled with Pri’s close family and friends, school drama, the goddess Shakti, and magic. Because the main character and her family are Indian-American, the story naturally includes elements of Indian culture. The characters also use some Hindi words, and although the words are not explicitly translated, there is usually enough context for non-native speakers to get the gist.

Chanani’s artwork captures movement and body language well, and her ability to draw strong scenes add to the emotional power of the work. She also includes little details, such as posters of Sailor Moon in Pri’s room, to give a sense of the characters’ identity. Many of the illustrations are in black and white, and so Chanani’s judicious use of color effectively symbolizes idealism and packs a big punch at key moments.

Pashmina is a rich, sweet graphic novel about understanding your identity and finding your purpose. There is no gore or sexual content, but, given some of the more emotionally mature topics, this comic is ideal for readers ten and older. Readers looking for a work with a great feminist message will gravitate toward this one. I, for one, hope to see more work from Nidhi Chanai.

Pashmina
by Nidhi Chanani
ISBN: 9781626720879
First Second, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14