The Freeze, Vol. 1

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
–Robert Frost, “Fire and Ice”

The echoes of this poem rebounded in my head as I think back on The Freeze, volume 1. In Dan Wickline’s take on the apocalypse, the world’s inhabitants simultaneously freeze in place, with just one exception: Ray Adams. And not only is Ray unfrozen, but he has the power to unfreeze others.

Ray unfreezes several people without understanding his power: He simply touches them and they come to life. With four people unfrozen, someone speaks up and suggests that the group carefully consider who Ray touches next. With that logic, Ray selectively unfreezes people who have been identified as someone who can best meet the needs of a growing community—people who can grow food, get the power on, etc.—with the group trying to research the backgrounds of those best fit to be unfrozen. However, not all of those unfrozen can accept this new reality. Some see Ray as Noah or Christ, while others don’t trust his power or agree with the way their community is developing.

The philosophical and moral questions of how societies form and who gets to assess and mete out justice are asked in each passing page. Wickline does not beat the reader about the head with these questions, but poses them naturally as each conflict arises. He balances two timelines (Ray’s story of the Freeze and the present moment of a helicopter rescue mission) without confusion and does not spend too long on any one scene. While that does leave you with questions (Is Ray’s dog the only animal that’s unfrozen? How is the internet working?!), the mystery of the mutilated bodies and the intent of the helicopter rescue propel you through the story.

Phillip Sevy, the artist, is faced with the challenge of differentiating between frozen characters and those in action in a two-dimensional medium. Those who are frozen are cast in flat, blue-tinted colors, while those unfrozen are warm and rich with shadowy dimension. Objects in motion, like Ray’s taxi or the rescue helicopter, seem to glow against the flat images of stalled cars and crashed planes. While gruesome and likely disturbing for some readers, perhaps the most visceral and talented display of Sevy’s art is the frozen bodies who have had their hearts removed. He even explains his technique of taking pictures of himself repeatedly in various poses (calling them the “Council of Phils”) in the “Freeze Frame” section in the back matter.

With half-naked mutilated bodies and complex moral questions, this comic is appropriately rated M. However, teens are unlikely to be too affected by the gore, as such imagery is readily available throughout media. Reading this comic brought to mind not only Robert Frost’s poem, but also Stephen King’s The Stand in its consideration of how small groups of people adapt to form societies that inevitably devolve into parties of good versus evil. Despite the gore, the questions that the comic raises about morality and society merit this volume’s place on your shelves.

The Freeze, vol. 1
By Dan Wickline
Art by Phillip Sevy
ISBN: 9781534312111
Image/Top Cow, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: M

American Carnage

When FBI special agent Sheila Curry’s partner is killed by a neo-Nazi, she enlists biracial ex-agent Richard Wright to go undercover and gather evidence on a white supremacist organization led by the enigmatic and charismatic Wynn Morgan, who’s running for US Senator in California. Half-black, half-white, and able to pass for white for his undercover identity, Richard quickly finds himself swept up in violent loyalty pledges and attracted to Wynn’s daughter, Jennifer. What is Richard’s identity going into this investigation, and what will happen to it as he soaks in malevolent influences?

American Carnage could not exist as a children’s or YA title, and not just because of its bloodshed and language. It is a crime story that looks at the broken means people use to navigate broken systems. White supremacists and fringe political groups are the antagonists of the story, but the book’s message goes deeper than decrying racism and lionizing good cops. A left-leaning politician cynically leverages race relations to wrap up an election. Wynn gives two speeches, one to a black church and another to Richard, each time listing off the common ground between him and his listeners—and perhaps some readers, too. “When the police kill you and get away with it—that’s government… White civilization is the mother and father of the world. They know it. And they can’t bear the weight of knowing it… Supremacy is just another word for order. And order is what keeps us from chaos.” These musings and several others represent the slippery slope from reluctantly agreeing with a single shaky premise to orienting one’s worldview against entire races.

Characters constantly encounter racially and historically charged images. The aforementioned neo-Nazi’s baby is wrapped in a swastika blanket. A hitman who enacts a lot of violence against Richard wears a smiling Obama mask. Sheila, who is black, gets pulled over by a white cop who blinds her with his flashlight, leaving only his watch, badge, and white teeth visible in his silhouette. Two different scenes involve burning crosses. Richard has a nightmare based on his shooting of a black teen who was holding a cell phone. In these and less dramatic scenes, Leandro Fernandez’s art does an excellent job depicting a variety of realistic body types and outfits for the cast. Characters regularly switch between detailed and silhouette portrayals, suggesting matters of identity, concealment, trust, and highlighting specific colors and features of those characters. Dean White’s colors enhance the book’s many nighttime and shadow-drenched scenes, in moody blues and burning reds. Daytime scenes use lots of sickly green and yellow, a visual cue I interpret as Wynn’s secret empire seeming more palatable in the secrecy of night and being difficult to stomach in broad daylight.

The lack of a happy ending to this story is less of a spoiler and more like a reassurance that it doesn’t end in a cop-out. Nobody introduced in this story comes out the other side any nicer except maybe for Jennifer’s deaf daughter, Amy. Jennifer and Richard use sign language with her, and all of their gestures are subtitled. If Wynn is the propaganda barker, his daughter Jennifer is the shiny picture of white privilege: tall, blond, and against her father’s business in spirit (if not in action), her feelings are centered in all of her scenes. Wynn’s stooges, including Richard, want to sleep with her. She fields matters of life and death by her pool and on her smartwatch while running. She moves freely throughout the story, and the only time she is truly afraid, she genuinely looks like a sympathetic victim before slipping back into her calculating, spiteful mode. In a story that references Proud Boys, Crips, and Latin Kings, Jennifer is the most dangerous type of gangster: completely comfortable with the dealings and bloodshed happening around her.

“What’s it like to be black?” Jennifer asks Richard, who replies, “It’s different for everyone. And it’s hard for all of us. You want more than that, read a book.” That reply could also stand in for a couple of Wynn’s white foot soldiers in scenes where they complain of respectability and optics separating them from Wynn’s richer, more influential partners. The book never justifies white supremacy but does present enough of Wynn’s halfway-cohesive argument that particularly entitled or delusional readers could conceivably crib it for themselves. American Carnage is for mature readers, both in graphic content (bloody visuals, language using swear words and racial epithets) as well as carefully considering the nuances depicted. My hat’s off to Bryan Hill for packing so much into a nine-issue story. By the end of Sheila’s investigation, she and the reader will have some heavy moral quandaries to ponder.

American Carnage
By Bryan Hill
Art by Leandro Fernandez
ISBN: 9781401291457
DC / Vertigo, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: M (Mature)
Series Reading Order: (Wikipedia or Goodreads)

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Black, Multiracial, White
Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass kicks off a line of stand-alone stories from DC Ink, a new imprint of DC Comics aimed at young adult readers. While the story and characters take their inspiration from existing DC content, Breaking Glass does not fit into established the comics canon or current comics universe from DC’s main titles. The graphic novel reimagines anti-hero Harley Quinn (Harleen Quinzel) as a high schooler with a troubled life and a unique way of viewing the world. Harleen is new to Gotham, sent by her mother to live with a relative while her mother works to support them both. She faces challenges from day one with her living situation and new school; things eventually escalate until Harleen finds herself pitted against forces like gentrification, patriarchy, and inequality, and must work out the best course of action, legal or otherwise.

As a Batman fan and as someone who enjoys Mariko Tamaki’s work (such as This One Summer and Skim), I was excited to read this comic. At its core, Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass is an alternate origin story for the character that pays tribute to her other iterations through both the content and the artwork. Much like in her main DC canon story, Harley finds herself caught between reimagined versions of Poison Ivy and the Joker. Ivy is cast as a vocal, smart, and strong activist against all forms of inequality and corruption, and as Harleen’s best and only friend at school. Harleen doesn’t know the Joker’s identity behind his mask, but feels pulled toward his direct, immediate, and often violent methods of addressing perceived unfairness.

There’s a lot in this title to appeal to a wide range of readers, whether they have previous knowledge of the character or not. I enjoyed the reimagining of most of the existing Batman canon characters, especially Ivy, who I think very much benefits from the changes. I had mixed feelings about Harley’s characterization. I do appreciate comics in which Harley leans more toward quirky than the vaguely-defined and problematic “insane,” and this comic achieves that. However, in the original canon, Harleen is an accomplished and intelligent psychiatrist, while the Breaking Glass version struggles with school work and demonstrates a lot of ignorance about the world around her. This may have been a deliberate decision to make her more relatable to readers, but I have seen a lot of DC de-aging and infantilizing their female characters (and a lot of stories that infantilize Harley or ignore her intelligence), and could do without this aspect. The story is told with first-person narration from Harleen’s perspective, and while there were a few moments that made me cringe or seemed to be trying too hard, overall the voice Tamaki develops for the character works well.

The artwork by Steve Pugh is excellent, and the shading work gives the characters real dimension. The use of color was strategic and pleasing, with lots of black/white/grey palettes and minimalism against which colored details could really stand out. There were plenty of visual references to things like Harley’s well-known harlequin-style costume. I was also very relieved that Harley and Ivy, two characters very frequently sexualized and objectified, were presented much more respectfully, like actual human beings—especially important considering their young age in this book.

It was also a relief to see a mixed-race Ivy and Harleen’s adoptive family of drag queens. DC has not always excelled in the area of representation, so a bit of diversity was a nice addition. The comic does well addressing important modern issues like gentrification and privilege, and the only young, white, male billionaire in the book is not at all admirable—quite a difference from the usual Batman dynamic. Difficult questions about the world are raised, and the book doesn’t necessarily answer them, which I see as a positive in content aimed at teens.

On the whole, Breaking Glass is both appropriate for and likely to be enjoyed by the age group it reaches out to. Readers don’t need to be previous fans of Batman or Harley Quinn, and high school-aged or young adult readers will probably find Harley and/or Ivy relatable and interesting. This is an alternate origin story with modern sensibilities, bringing the characters into the world today’s teenagers think about and encounter on a regular basis. Harleen grappling with morality and the right way to fight injustice is compelling and a good topic for people of any age, but may resonate especially with those who are just beginning to consider the inequity and unfairness in the world.

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass
By Mariko Tamaki
Art by Steve Pugh
ISBN: 9781401283292
DC Ink, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Young adult

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Character Traits: Multiracial
Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator, LGBTQIA+ Creator

Nancy Drew: The Palace of Wisdom

I think it’s safe to say most of us have heard of the infamous girl detective, Nancy Drew. Created in 1930 as the counterpart to popular teenage detectives, The Hardy Boys, Nancy has been solving mysteries for nearly 90 years. Nancy remains wildly popular as ever; she is everywhere from books to movies, to TV shows (with a third incarnation happening this fall on The CW). There is also the award-winning popular computer game series about Drew which you can buy on Steam and there is even an annual Nancy Drew convention. Nancy is also the inspiration for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars.

Nancy is everywhere.

In Nancy Drew: The Palace of Wisdom, Nancy has received a threatening letter and returns to BayPort after many years. After much admonishing from her friends for not keeping in touch, Nancy reconnects with bestie Bess Martin, along with Bess’s cousin, George Fayne, George’s girlfriend, Danica, the Hardy brothers; Frank and Joe, as well as newcomer Pete, to solve a cold case: the death of Pete’s mother. While digging deeper into Pete’s mother’s death, Nancy stumbles upon a drug cartel masquerading behind a commercial lobster company as the bodies continue to pile up. What do the drugs, lobsters, and Pete’s mother’s death have in common? A lot, it seems.

With a nearly 100-year-old property, it’s always dicey to see how the reinvention will turn out. Kelly Thompson, of Mega Princess, Jessica Jones, and Jem and the Holograms fame, stays true to her style with feminist and diverse characters. George is a lesbian and her girlfriend, Danica, is a person of color. Nancy’s love interest, Peter, is half-Mexican and half-Black. The diversity of the characters isn’t used cheaply and it paints a portrait of 21st-century life. Thompson’s version of Nancy and her crew are realized characters with their own personalities and quirks. The only umbrage I take with Thompson’s universe is she made the librarian, Mrs. Simpson, a stereotype, which rankles my librarian self. But I digress.

Thompson’s writing is smart and her voice clear and fresh with its customary wit and banter. Nancy’s inner dialogue sometimes borders on fourth-wall breaking and at times it can be a bit heavy-handed, but it is used to further the action along rather than just produce thoughts. While sex and romance are sub-sub plots, it does warrant the age range of Young Adult, a time when sex and romance can be a bit tricky, and Thompson pulls it off beautifully.

The art by Jenn St-Onge, Thompson’s long-time collaborator, is gorgeous. I love her view of the Bayport gang. In previous versions of Nancy Drew, Nancy is often drawn a bit exaggerated while here she looks like a normal teenager. The only thing missing is Nancy’s trademark blue convertible, but alas we can’t have everything. The visual storytelling is straight forward and constant as well as the characters themselves. The colorist, Triona Farrell, uses color as a shift in the storyline. St-Onge and Farrell are perfectly paired.

There is a lot to recommend about The Palace of Wisdom. It’s a quick read that introduces a new generation to Nancy Drew. The language and attitudes of the teens are on par with today’s generation, so the speech will feel natural to the reader. The characters feel like your best friends, so there is a definite connection between the book and the characters. The mystery can be a bit choppy at some points, but it still remains polished. The book ends with Nancy being handcuffed by the police, leaving the story open-ended. I reached out to Thompson to see if there will be a continuation of the storyline; the answer is no. There was a pitch to continue with the story, but Dynamite passed. This is such a shame, because The Palace of Wisdom is a lot better both storytelling and art-wise than most books on the market.

The Palace of Wisdom does not disappoint in capturing the spirit of Nancy Drew. There is some intrigue, romance (Bess and Joe! George and Danica! Nancy and Pete!), and of course sleuthing. While the story itself is more focused on friendship and togetherness in addition to the mystery, it does not diminish the undercurrent reality of racism, classism, and sexism that are so pervasive in the 21st century. Nancy Drew has always been a sign of the times, but this time she is as finely written as she should have been all that long ago and that is a huge relief.

Nancy Drew: The Palace of Wisdom
By Kelly Thompson
Art by Jenn St-Onge
ISBN: 9781524108496
Dynamite, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Young Adult

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Character Traits: Black, Latinx Lesbian, Straight

Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars (Collected Edition)

Like many people my age, the 2009 film, Whip It, was my introduction to roller derby. Ever since, I’ve been fascinated by the tough, brave people who take on pun-heavy names and race around a track to score points. Another fascination of mine is science fiction, particularly those stories that speak to issues of oppression and marginalization in unique yet apt ways. So Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars is a series that captured my attention immediately.

Trish is a fifteen-year-old girl (seven in Mars years) who works with her aunt and uncle on their struggling farm harvesting water from the land. They live on Mars along with other Earth colonists, called Terrans, after the Meltdown, Earth’s catastrophic environmental collapse. Most of the colonists are in ruinous debt to Arex, a corporation that leads the colonization efforts on Mars. Trish’s dream is to become a hover derby star, a sport identical to roller derby except it uses hover-skates instead of wheels. When she’s offered an internship position as a skategirl, she’s overjoyedbut her dedication to the team strains her relationship with her family, who need her working in order to scrape by on the farm. Her troubles are compounded when a native Martiana race hated and feared by all of the Terransshows up on the farm, begging for help. Between nursing the Martian back to health, skipping school to be a skategirl, and trying to prevent her family from economic despair, Trish struggles to stay afloat.

The worldbuilding is detailed and fascinating, complete with wiki-like entries about the history of the Mars colony and the sport of hoverderby in the back matter. It sticks close to themes that are common in science fictioncorporate overlords, heart-pounding hover-sports, oppressed native peopleswhile integrating fresh, interesting details, such as the Terrans’ aversion to wheels and the specter of the “TLA,” an indentured work assignment for those who have accrued more debt than they can ever pay. Trish’s community is diverse and believable, and the Mars colony is made up of people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures. Though the setting is complex, it is never overwhelming or unwieldy; the story moves quickly enough to be exciting, but never so fast that I felt confused or left behind.

That being said, the weakest moment of Trish Trash is its ending. The conclusion ties up so neatly and quickly that it is unsatisfying, and the romance between Trish and a minor character is sparse and underdeveloped. Though the story builds at a satisfying pace throughout the first three-quarters of the book, it leads to a rushed finale. The art is vibrant and kinetic, and the panels benefit from the oversized nature of the book. Lydia Roberts’ backgrounds are detailed and arresting, giving the layout of Mars a consistent and believable look that is as much a character in the story as Trish herself. Abel’s characters have a wide variety of builds and skin tones, and their clothes are realistic and functional. The design of the book as a whole is undeniably impressive, and it’s absolutely worth the extra space on the shelf for its slightly taller height. The book includes the complete series and additional context in the form of encyclopedia entries in the back.

The book would fit in well with a teen comics collection, though it has broad age appeal; the complexity of the society coupled with themes of economic anxiety, indentured servitude, and immigration mark it as a book that may be more interesting to an older crowd. Though fans of Whip It or popular roller-centric comic series Slam! may find this book light on the actual details of derby, enough of the details of the sport are there that it is likely a satisfying read. And for those without much experience in derby but an enthusiasm for detailed, modern sci-fi epics like Saga or Bitch Planet, Trish Trash provides all the joy of a beautifully rendered Mars colony filled with resourceful young women determined to protect one another and push back against a tyrannical society.

Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars (Collected Edition)
By Jessica Abel
ISBN: 9781545801673
Super Genius, 2019

Weir Do, vols. 1-2

Anh Do’s new book series Weir Do is about a boy with a very odd name. Not only that, he comes from an odd family and he himself has a few, well, weird habits. But besides that, he is just a regular kid who likes to draw and is trying to to get through middle school. The story’s premise does have appeal for elementary school readers, but the author’s gross jokes may not be for everyone and the series itself does not have anything that sets it apart from other similar books.

In the first book Weir Do, Weir starts a new school year, which begins with everyone laughing at his name. Readers are introduced to his eccentric family, a new strange friend, and Bella, the prettiest girl in his grade. As Weir settles into his new social life, he tries his best to be not as weird as people perceive him to be, but it is easier said than done. In Weir Do #2: Even Weirder!, Weir is excited to be invited to Bella’s birthday party. But before the festivities, he needs to survive a school trip to the zoo with his grandfather, the weekly shopping trip with his money saving mother, and creating the best costume to impress his classmates and Bella.

This Australian series is very similar to other diary inspired novels, but these books are shorter and geared towards a younger audience. Each chapter is short, always narrated by the main character, and have illustrations related to the chapter’s plot. The illustrations, drawn by Jules Faber, are simple, black and white scenes of characters in their funniest moments or committing their weird behaviors. There are also scenes of Weir’s imagination going wild across the page and characters speaking in speech bubbles. Some parts of the text are in color or blown up, depending upon the scene or Weir’s description. Other than these details, there is not much about this series that sets it apart from similar titles. The stories themselves contain a variety of gross jokes, especially Weir’s flatulent father with a talent for belching songs, but it gets to be a bit too much.

Anh Do’s Weir Do series has a few humorous moments, but it does not stand out against other books. Librarians would want to consider Weir Do as an additional purchase for their collection. It does have some appeal for children in grades 2nd-4th, especially those who are not bothered by gross jokes, but there are other titles, such as Big Nate, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Dork Diaries, that should be higher purchase priorities.

Weir Do
By Anh Do
Art by Jules Faber
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9781338305586

Weir Do #2: Even Weirder!
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9781338305616
Scholastic, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 7-10

How To Spot a Sasquatch

Torres, having previously collaborated with Faith Erin Hicks on the Bigfoot Boy trilogy, returns with another Bigfoot story and a new illustrator. Torres addresses some of the same themes in this story; feeling out of place, trying to find your niche, and discovering the magic of the woods, but overall How To Spot a Sasquatch is a much more lighthearted story for a younger audience.

Short chapters tell the story of Jay, a junior ranger who’s on a camping trip. He’s determined to prove that there is a Sasquatch in the woods, but the other kids tease him and even their ranger leader kindly tells him there’s no such thing as a Sasquatch. Unbeknownst to them all though, there’s a parallel story running behind the scenes; a curious young Sasquatch named Sass and her woodland friends are hanging around their campsite and amusing themselves playing tricks! When Sass hears the other campers making fun of Jay, she helps him out and eventually the two meet. Will Jay keep his new friend a secret or reveal her to the world to show up all the doubters?

The campers are a mixed group, each one identified only by their ranger names as birds. Their leader, Ranger Dove, appears to be indigenous. Martin (for purple martin) is black, Robin is a white girl, Wren is a white boy, and Jay appears to be Asian. Sass the Sasquatch has a pug nose, a coat of orange fur and her bare face, hands, and feet are white. She’s shown about average adult human size, with sturdy limbs and muscles that easily allow her to lead her forest friends in playing tricks and, with a lot of effort, knock over a tree to save Jay at an opportune moment.

Grand has a light touch and her illustrations bring out the humor, as well as the frustration, of Jay as he determinedly continues on his way, ignoring the sometimes cruel teasing of the others as he follows his dream. The woods are a bright collage of many different greens with the splash of Sass’s orange fur and countless tiny details, such as the whiskers on her forest friends, her bracelets of berries, and the recycled “furniture” in her cave with her bear family.

The text is simple and bold and well-matched to the sequential panels. This makes an excellent beginning chapter book for an intermediate reader; the text is mirrored by the actions and scenery in the panels, so they can pick up clues to the plot and characters both from the art and the words. The speech bubbles are carefully laid out to make it easy to follow the action and the story, although mildly scary at some points, is mostly funny and lighthearted. Jay is clearly not really bothered by the teasing, not even noticing most of it, and in the end it’s clear he’s happy with the choice he’s made and the friends he has.

Hand this one to fans of Torres’ Bigfoot Boy, Braddock’s Stinky Cecil, and the Scholastic Branches series.

How To Spot a Sasquatch
By J. Torres
Art by Aurelie Grand
ISBN: 9781771472777
Owlkids, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 7-10

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Picture Books (3-8), Easy Readers (5-9)
Character Traits: Multiracial

Open Earth

Sex-positive stories are few and far between. Female-centric sex-positive stories are even rarer. Open Earth by Sarah Mirk is unique in this way. The characters are all young, they all enjoy sex, and they all like to have sex with each other. This is the kind of story that doesn’t necessarily have a ‘point,’ but it’s a fun ride.

Rigo is a young twenty-something who lives with her parents in California, a large spacecraft currently orbiting the Earth. Due to political chaos and the devastation brought on by climate change, Rigo’s parents boarded this ship for what was supposed to only be a year-long scientific mission but ended up never returning to Earth. Rigo and her friends were all born on this ship and have never known life on Earth. They are the First Generation and they are determined to not make the same mistakes as their parents. They all believe in polyamory and everyone pretty much hooks up with everyone. They believe that exclusive couples can be bad for morale because they will isolate themselves. Rigo enjoys vigorous sex with several of her friends but holds a special place in her heart for Carver, a fellow scientist. Carver is looking for someone to share his apartment and Rigo really wants him to ask her. Tensions rise when another friend, Franklin, throws their name into the mix—more for practicality than passion. Instead of harboring bad feelings, Rigo and Franklin talk it out. Honesty is key to keeping everything copacetic. Franklin understands that Carver and Rigo have something special and decides to not stand in her way if she wants to live with him. Carver asks Rigo to ‘partner up’ and live together, but not be exclusive. After their first night together Carver wakes up to all of their friends enjoying breakfast. It’s a happy ending to a story with no real direction.

The language of Open Earth is easy, unpretentious, and bilingual. Rigo herself comes off as little immature despite her fluid sexuality because her dialogue is emphatic with lots of exclamation points. Compared to her peers, she comes off as the least developed despite being the main character.

The artwork is bright and colorful. Despite living in such an enclosed and industrial environment, the characters’ living spaces are cheerful and inviting. The characters themselves are drawn in such a way that the reader can instantly understand their personalities. Rigo is soft and curvy—she is comfortable in her skin and loves her body. Carter is skinny with sharp edges that shows a more serious side. Franklin is non-binary and is confident in their appearance. The artwork works well for the story and adds dimension.

Open Earth is a fun story that centers on the lives of a small, diverse group of friends. The fact that they are in space is not the focal point of the story. The focus is on their personal dynamics, their openness, and their optimism. This graphic novel is appropriate for an older teen and adult audience. It is not appropriate for young children as there are several scenes with fairly graphic nudity and sex. Other graphic novels that with similarly open attitudes toward sexuality are The Pervert by Michelle Perez, Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, and for the those who like the more sci-fi elements, Saga by Brian K. Vaughn.

Open Earth
By Sarah Mirk
Art by Eva Cabrera, Claudia Aguirre
ISBN: 9781620105016
Limerence Press, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 18+

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Character Traits: Latinx, Multiracial Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, Pansexual, Genderqueer, Nonbinary

Misfit City, Vol. 2

A quick recap of the first volume of Misfit City: Best friends: Ed, Wilder, Macy, Dot, Karma, Macy’s step-brother Todd, and Pip (the dog) discover a treasure map found in the chest of a long thought dead sea captain. Running from the Captain’s alleged long lost relatives, Luther and Millie Denby, the gang go on an adventure of a lifetime to find the treasure while navigating through friendships, love, trust, and growing pains. Volume 1 ends when Luther and Millie nearly kill Macy, and the gang finds Captain Denby himself by the entrance to a secret cave. What will happen next?

Follow up series volumes are like a band’s sophomore album; they’re not always as good as the first one. This is not the case for Misfit City, Vol. 2. The gang is in full force here, Kristin “Kiwi” Smith and Kurt Lustgarden keep the dialogue and pacing smooth as the story progresses. In an interview with Smith and Lustgarten, the two talk about divvying up the work where Lustgarten handles most of the action sequences while Smith handles the snappy dialogue during connecting scenes. Smith and Lustgarten, partners in work as well as in love, make brilliant co-writers as the transition between scenes is seamless.

The original art team of Volume 1 is also back, with line work by Naomi Franquiz and colors by Brittany Peer. Both Franquiz and Peer are as on point with the art as Smith and Lustgarten are with the writing. The artwork is smooth and crisp. I really appreciate the near sepia tones of the work. Bright colors are used sparingly but effectively as the action and plot progress. This is a difference from the first volume where the colors used were as striking as the gang’s personalities, but that is not to say it’s not effective here; rather the story has grown darker in tone, so the coloring selection seems wise and appropriate.

While my earlier review didn’t go into depth regarding the first volume’s inclusivity, I should clarify that by this I mean the series is inclusive of body type, sexuality, background, and race, to name a few things. Dot is a plus-size asexual girl, Ed is a tall, thin lesbian, Macy and her step-brother Todd are black, and the deputy sheriff is a Sikh. This book has a relatable character for nearly everyone. I personally connected with several characters, and it was nice to see representation of myself in a book which seems to so rarely happen. Smith is known for her riot grrl power writing and pop culture references (she wrote or co-wrote the scripts for the movies Ten Things I Hate About You and Legally Blonde), and these tendencies are in full power, which enhance the books’ appeal.

Does Volume 2 answer the questions posed in Volume 1? The short answer is “yes.” Smith and Lustgarten finely tune and solve the original mystery and a few subplots are also tightly closed. However, and this is a big however, in volume 2 they present new story lines and mysteries that open the door to future volumes, except, depressingly enough, there doesn’t seem to be any word on furthering the series. Sadly, Boom!’s website marks issue #8 as the series’ final volume, though we can always hold out hope for a revival.

I highly recommended Misfit City, Volume 1 and the same goes for Volume 2. The endings, as they were, are satisfying and the characters are well developed. Volume 2 is clearly a must-have if you’ve started the series. I would highly recommend the series for teen collections since there is a wide variety of representation in the book that can appeal to many. However, adult readers will also find a lot to love here. The girl power attitude and struggles of being a teen are also well thought out here. I would also consider adding it to lists for LGTBQ+ novels and art.

Misfit City, Vol. 2
By Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith, Kurt Lustgarten
Art by Naomi Franquiz, Brittany Peer
ISBN: 9781684151721
Boom! Studios, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen (16+)

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)
Character Traits: Black, Multiracial, Lesbian, Queer, Asexual, Genderqueer, Nonbinary
Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator, LGBTQIA+ Creator

Faith: Dreamside

For a comic about three different women from the Valiant universe, Faith: Dreamside is surprisingly accessible. Each of the three leads represents a different take on super-heroics: the flying and levitating Faith Herbert (Zephyr) uses a Clark Kent/Superman dynamic to separate her personal and superhero lives; the transformative Monica Jim (Animalia) is on the run from government agents for using her powers to stand up for oppressed children, and Shan Fong (Dr. Mirage) uses her occult powers as the professional lead of a paranormal investigation television show. The plot is straightforward. Faith saves Monica from a police standoff. Monica is haunted by ghosts, so they consult with Shan, who takes them to a realm called the Dreamside to see where these ghosts originate. After a big showdown with a nightmare creature, everyone goes home as friends feeling a little better about themselves.

Why should they feel a little better? Each of them brings baggage from the past. Faith’s superhero persona was previously framed for murder, so she resorts to saving people on the down low. Monica is navigating the trauma of losing several friends and allies among her Renegade group. Shan’s late husband Hwen, with whose ghost she regularly socializes, has asked her to move on with a living partner. Despite these setbacks, all three flex their powers with confidence and operate as a competent trio. Writer Jody Houser deserves credit for maintaining a balancing act that allows all three women to deal with personal conflicts throughout the main story without losing focus. Dave Sharpe’s lettering places dialog, narration, and sound effects out of the way of the main action, always leading the eye to the next focal point. The final-act boss battle with Dreamside’s vicious Belu is taut, but effective. His introductory monologue sets up a villainous concept that is easy to understand and immediately personal: “The first moment a being became aware of a hope, a dream that would remain unfulfilled… that was me.”

Artist M.J. Kim is skilled in the levels of expression and fantasy settings required to tell this kind of genre mashup. Nightmare creatures, devious ghosts, kaiju projections—all are rendered with appropriate detail, with excellent palette choices from colorist Jordie Bellaire. In one scene, our heroes walk through the seemingly bright and cheery Dreamside, oblivious to the decaying and corrupted environment that waits just beyond. Kim and Bellaire’s artwork shows off the contrast to wonderful effect with a spread showing off the bright, daycare-esque happy images of clouds and smiling flowers alongside progressively drearier, rotted wasteland. Belu’s growth from a relatively cute little snake into a majestic king of nightmares is impressive, including its horns, wings, scales, four eyes, and split face.

Kim and Bellaire’s teamwork applies to the human moments, too. Scenes of depression and mourning surround characters in black background. A shot of violence is drenched in red. Faith’s flashbacks to her youth are colored so that people pop out against monochrome backgrounds, a nice parallel to how her levitation powers grant people and objects a golden shine. Shan’s actions and wardrobe are consistently blue and white, including the glowing effects on magic and ghosts. Monica’s curly hair and spunky expressions make rooting for her an effortless pitch, and that’s before her transformations take over a page. This story ends only four issues in, which can feel a little tidy plot-wise, but the characters are so distinct and fun to watch that readers shouldn’t mind.

Faith: Dreamside is another efficient home run from Valiant. It ought to serve as a fair entry point into the worlds of its diverse leads, whether it’s to discover where they’re from or where they’re going. Hand this comic to teens who want to see a black girl turn into a Godzilla-ish monster (and a kangaroo!), Undertale fans who thrive on seeing happiness and fortitude tested by personal nightmares, or pop culture junkies who will find a friend in the collectible-hoarding, reference-dropping Faith.

Faith: Dreamside
By Jody Houser
Art by M.J. Kim
ISBN: 9781682152973
Valiant, 2019
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