Alice: From Dream to Dream

It’s bad enough that Alice and her family moved back to Cincinnati from Chicago. It’s bad enough that she’s bullied at high school. It’s bad enough that she has to share a room with her older brother. But what makes it all unbearable is the fact that each night, just as she’s sinking into a deep sleep, Alice is woken by nightmares—and to make it even worse, the nightmares aren’t her own.

While the first few pages of this sweet, slightly superficial one-off graphic novel make clear that Alice is able to see another person’s dreams if she is sleeping near them, this fantastical ability of hers is never actually explained. Instead, the story moves right along at a quick and engrossing clip, introducing Alice’s family and her main concerns, building up a backstory, conflicts, and climax, and resolving it all in short order. Originally from Cincinnati, the Heroux family—Alice’s mom is black, her dad is white; she and her brother both have light brown skin and hair in varying degrees of curliness/kinkiness—returns after Mr. Heroux loses his job. Though Alice hates being back in Cincinnati and is bullied by an interracial group of mean girls at school, a silver lining is her reunion with her best friend Jamie, a white cis young man. A mystery begins to reveal itself when Alice’s mother confesses that her sister disappeared so long ago that she presumes her dead, Jamie finds a box of old letters hidden behind his father’s record collection, and Alice swears she glimpses a woman at the bottom of a cemetery pond.

With the help of a friendly school counselor, family truth-telling, and the use of Alice’s special powers, all that was once hidden is revealed by the end of the book, and the various characters continue on with their lives mostly for the better. The graphic novel is a straightforward one, including, but not digging in too deep, to themes of family secrets and friendship. The art depicts characters of many body sizes and races, and interracial friendships/other relationships are depicted as loving, supportive, and normal. The one exception to this rule serves as the anchor for the book’s mystery, but in both this case and the clearly positive ones, race is never explicitly addressed by the text.

With its identifiable characters, fast-moving plot, and richly drawn and colored illustrations, Alice: From Dream to Dream is a worthy recommendation for young adult readers—whether they’re reluctant or enthusiastic readers, familiar with graphic novels or new to the format, many teens will find this page turner an engrossing escape into fantastically-tinged realism.

Alice: From Dream to Dream
By Giulio Macaione
Art by Giulio Macaione Giulia Adragna Jim Campbell
ISBN: 9781684151806
Boom! Box, 2018

Meal

Yarrow is a budding chef who loves introducing people to insect cuisine. She moves from California to work at a new insect specialty restaurant, but her trajectory comes to a screeching halt when she offends Chanda, the head chef and owner. Yarrow has three days to prove to Chanda that her love of insect cuisine is a genuine passion rather than an interest in a fad. Is Yarrow up to the challenge? And will she be able to win the heart of her new friend Milani?

Meal is a sweet story that blends a queer romance with a personal exploration of individual relationships to food and culture. The characterization is excellent: Yarrow is an enthusiastic guide into the world of entomophagy, and the secondary characters—particularly Milani and Chanda—have well-rounded personalities and clear goals. This strong characterization allows the story to unfold naturally as the characters work out their relationships to one another and to the cuisine itself. Yarrow and Milani’s relationship is especially sweet as they work through their personal challenges and compatibility question together.

Meal also sensitively addresses the history of insect cuisine in cultures around the world as well as the experiences of minorities’ relationships to insect cuisine in a society with predominantly white Western values. The discussion of these themes are naturally included in the story: both Chanda and Yarrow share their experiences exploring and reclaiming that part of their heritage even as they prepare to share their passion with the wider community. Even though the story touches upon some heavy topics, the characters’ teamwork on the restaurant and Yarrow and Milani’s relationship balances the story.

Blue Delliquanti’s charming black and white illustrations contribute to the story’s warmth. Delliquanti’s character designs feature a diverse collection of body types, and the artwork makes the food recognizable and appealing. The gestures and quirks Delliquanti portrays compliment each characters’ dialogue and effectively convey the characters’ personalities and add emotional panache to the story.

Meal is a unique queer romance whose thoughtful storytelling and diverse cast should hold great appeal for teen and adult readers. As an added bonus, there is a food essay by collaborator Soleil Ho and a collection of insect recipes at the back of the book. Delliquanti has also included some design sketches for those who enjoy seeing the development process. Meal is a great purchase for libraries looking to expand their graphic novel collection and is an essential addition to any LGBTQ+ collection.

Meal
Written by Blue Delliquanti and Soleil Ho
Art by Blue Delliquanti
ISBN: 9781945820304
Iron Circus Comics, 2018

James Bond 007: Case Files, vol. 1

I love espionage fiction, but I almost always hesitate before I pick up anything James Bond related. The original novels are tinged with some pretty blatant racist and sexist overtones, and most of the movies aren’t much better, in my opinion. That being said, I do enjoy watching Bond films, especially the Daniel Craig Bond films, since they take some active steps away from the racist and sexist tropes.

James Bond 007: Case Files takes all the best parts of the new Bond films, and packages them in this entertaining collection of comics. Each issue is its own self-contained story, written and drawn by different creators, and they expand the Bond universe beyond just 007’s missions. Of the four issues collected in this trade, only two directly follow Bond; the other two focus on Moneypenny and M.

The two stories that center on Bond, “Service,” and “Solstice,” play out like a typical Bond mission, minus the sex. Bond is classic Bond in many ways. He’s independent, willing to go off script, brilliant, and quippy. That being said, both stories are dramatically different. “Service” is a government-sanctioned, above board (or as above-board as you can get for a spy service) mission, while “Solstice” is much more murky.

“Service,” written by Kieron Gillen with art by Antonio Fuso, follows Bond as he attempts to thwart the assassination of the American Secretary of State. The story itself is a commentary on the “Special Relationship” between the US and the UK in the era of nationalism, but the message isn’t too heavy handed. It’s a little hammy, but it’s self-consciously hammy, just the way Bond should be. Gillen gives Bond several snappy, quippy retorts, and the whole comic generally nods to the peculiarities and absurdities of British espionage fiction, actual British Cold War espionage practices, and how national narratives about those practices play into current nationalism.

For someone who’s read way too much British Cold War era espionage fiction like myself, “Service” is an absolute delight to read. However, the script and the art do not mesh well together. Fuso’s figures are stiff and don’t convey movement or action well. This creates a problem during fight sequences, when “Service” goes several pages without any dialogue. The art just doesn’t feel as dynamic as the story.

“Solstice,” the issue written by drawn by Ibrahim Moustafa, excels at capturing Bond’s dynamic motion on the page. Fight sequences like you see in Bond movies are truly difficult to capture on paper, but somehow Moustafa does it. “Solstice” follows Bond as he pursues a former Russian spy attempting to infiltrate MI6 … by romancing M’s daughter. M wants the man removed, off the books, and sends Bond to Paris to do it. Because it’s under the table, Moustafa gets to lean in to old Bond tropes like secret weapons suppliers, fancy cars, luxurious hotels, gadgets from Q branch. It’s a great, fun story, enhanced by Moustafa’s script and superb art.

The first of the non-Bond stories is “Moneypenny,” written by Jody Houser with art by Jacob Edgar. The story bounces around in time between Moneypenny’s childhood and a mission protecting M while he gives a guest-lecture at a university in Boston. Essentially, it explores Moneypenny’s motivations for joining the service, and how she became M’s “assistant,” all while showing her to be a smart, capable agent. It’s a welcome change from the besotted secretary seen in earlier Bond films, and an expansion on the glimpse of Moneypenny we saw in Skyfall. Just like in Skyfall, Moneypenny is a woman of color, a welcome change from the usually lily-white Bond world, and Houser proves that writing Moneypenny off as a “just a secretary” comes at your own peril. Her story shows Moneypenny’s versatility totally independent of James Bond, and sets her up for more solo adventures. While the writing is solid, the art and panels struggle to show movement in the fight sequences, which was disappointing, especially because the fight sequence was just so dang cool.

Finally, “M,” the last story in this trade, focuses on … M, the head of MI-6. Instead of Ralph Fiennes, M is also portrayed as a person of color. In “M,” we see him leave his executive suite to handle a problem originating from his days serving as a British soldier in Belfast during the Troubles. A Unionist Protestant militia leader is blackmailing him to try and extort a list of IRA members who were granted amnesty, and it’s up to M to neutralize the problem. Declan Shalvey’s script captures the nuances of of Northern Ireland, and PJ Holden is a master of dramatic framing. Of the four stories in this trade, this one was by far the most suspenseful.

Overall, I really enjoyed James Bond 007: Case Files. It’s great espionage fiction, with nods to classic Bond, while also updating it for the 21st century. It’s smart, fun, and easy to follow. Because it is a James Bond title, there is a lot of violence, specially gun violence, and some torture is implied. It’s definitely a title for teen and up, but it would make a great addition to any library.

James Bond 007: Case Files, Vol. 1 
by Kieron Gillen, Jody Houser, Ibrahim Moustafa, Declan Shalvey
Art by Antonio Fuso, Jacob Edgar, Ibrahim Moustafa, PJ Holden, Dearbhla Kelly
ISBN: 9781524106782
Dynamite, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: (16+)

The Phoenix Colossal Comics Collection, vol. 1

As The Phoenix Colossal Comics Collection describes itself in the credits, “All the comics in this book originally appeared in the pages of THE PHOENIX comic, a weekly paper magazine published by a small team in Oxford, England.” With all due respect to that original format, this anthology-style book of kids comics is a blast. Ostensibly, this is a collection of six comics, each bursting with kid appeal. However, smart publishing decisions make this a rewarding title to navigate, luring readers through different kinds of stories and layouts and teaching them how to read comics in the process without ever saying so.

The book opens with a couple of characters, Tabs Inkspot and Quincy Trowel, welcoming the reader directly and introducing their “awesome comics for awesome people.” They pop up a few more times throughout the book, reacting to images and stories. A table of contents shows off banner art for six different titled comics, starting with the serialized science fiction adventure Trail Blazers by Robert Deas, which has four chapters interspersed through the book, and five comics placed between and among those chapters. One could almost call this “Trail Blazers plus five cute, entertaining cartoon breaks,” but each title is given plenty of room to shine, including Bunny Vs. Monkey by Jamie Smart, Doug Slugman P.I. by Joe List, Evil Emperor Penguin by Laura Ellen Anderson, Squid Squad by Dan Boultwood, Looshkin The Maddest Cat In The World by Jamie Smart, and some assorted mini-comics and gag panels by Jess Bradley, Chris Riddell, and Mike “Alexi Con” Smith.

Without reviewing 6.5 comics at once, here are the main draws of each title. Trail Blazers follows a hapless smart aleck, Troy Trailblazer, and his kick-butt friend, Jess, as they cross the stars chasing an intergalactic mystery involving data breaches, interplanetary warmongering, and action revolving around robotic superpowers and one killer laser-whip. Reading the chapters of this story as separate pieces feels like tuning in to an afternoon cartoon.

Bunny Vs. Monkey is a series of two-page comics about the pratfalls and reversals of fortune between Bunny and Monkey, starting off with friendly rivalries such as sled racing but eventually involving different animal visitors to their woods. These comics utilize color, sound effects, and deceptively cute animal expressions for maximum impact.

Doug Slugman P.I. is a series of one-page gag comics revolving around a private investigator who tries to solve others’ problems through absurd means. For example, dispensing advice through his sentient shin or causing an oversized hat to fit via increased reading and learning (causing one’s head to grow, you see). Each page comes with a one-liner above the title.

Evil Emperor Penguin is a series of four-page misadventures about EEP’s attempts to take over the world. The opening page is a map of EEP’s underground headquarters, a maze of labeled chambers that younger readers especially will enjoy following around the page.

Squid Squad is a nine-page comic about a trio of squids who fight troublemakers in the ocean and come with their own theme song.

Looshkin is a series of two-page comedy stories about a blue cat who generally annoys everyone nearby with madcap hijinks such as causing a racket trying to swat a fly with a frying pan, or harassing someone in a wizard costume under the belief they are an actual wizard.

The cumulative effect of these comics, especially upon first read, is like watching an episode of the old Nickelodeon variety show Kablam! (“Where cartoons and comics collide!” Search that jam on YouTube ASAP!) You never know what will pop up next, but the revolving door of comedy, chaos, and melodramatic Trail Blazers updates means no single element wears out its welcome. Young readers will have plenty of opportunities to latch onto the comics they appreciate most and skim the ones that don’t make as much of an impression. At the same time, the hopping between stories imprints several different artistic and layout styles to open readers’ minds about what comics can do. One minute, readers are hanging out with an evil penguin and his minions; the next, squids are combining into a battle robot to combat a wicked, vacuum-wielding diver. Across a variety of illustrative styles, color and punchlines lead the page-turning bonanza.

This edition is labeled Volume One, and ends with the invitation, “see you next time in Volume Two” along with a URL for following the weekly comic releases online. Shelve this title with your children’s graphic novels and watch it grow a comics reading habit on the spot.

The Phoenix Colossal Comics Collection, vol. 1
by  Robert Deas, Jamie Smart, Laura Ellen Anderson, Dan Boultwood, Joe List, Jess Bradley, Chris Riddell, and Mike Smith
ISBN: 9781338206791
Scholastic, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Ages 8-12

The Ghost, The Owl

In an isolated swamp, a mysterious figure appears, dancing across the water. The animals discuss who and what she is, but only one shows concern for the ghostly figure: an owl. Despite the objections of the other animals, the owl speaks to the ghost, promises to help her, and travels with her to try and see where she came from. Farther into the woods, they discover an isolated house, a young woman, and the terrifying man who is attempting to take her home, her land, and her self. Will the owl and the ghost be able—or willing—to protect her?

The plot is thin at best, mainly providing a vehicle for the elaborate, swirling art and the owl’s philosophical musings on offering help to others, whether or not there is a return. Intricately drawn creatures populate the pages, from the main character of owl and crow to smaller amphibians, reptiles, and birds. The ghost is a cloudy, mysterious figure with pastel-shaded billows of hair and form and huge, green eyes. Set against the owl, ghost, and the many friends the owl has acquired through his years of doing favors, are the mysterious owl parliament, with stylized figures—are they masks or spirits?—and the threatening man. Unnamed, he at first appears as a large, looming figure, threatening the dark-skinned, curly-haired woman, Jessica, who long ago helped the owl. As the story progresses, he becomes a demonic figure, cloaked in flames and blood, losing his humanity as he continually attacks the woman and her protectors.

The explanation of the ghost, who was the opening of the story, feels tacked on at the end. At less than 50 pages, there isn’t room for a lot of plot development, but the story leaves many questions unexplored. The frightening attacks and resultant gore, as well as the transformation of the ghost, aim this at a more mature audience although the sometimes pedantic discussion of helping others feels much younger. The closest read-alike would be Jill Thompson’s Beasts of Burden, but this slim offering falls far short of that cult classic work. Purchase where the art may be of interest or additional graphic novels for an older teen and adult audience are needed.

The Ghost, The Owl
by Franco
Art by Sara Richard
ISBN: 9781632293596
Action Lab Entertainment, 2018

Fence, vol. 1

When Boom! Box first solicited Fence in the fall of 2017, they billed it as a fusion of Yuri! On Ice (an anime about figure skating) and Check, Please (an amazing web comic about college hockey and baking). This was a great marketing move, because I immediately added it to my pull list, and I am more than thrilled to review the first volume.

Fence, Vol. 1 collects issues one through four, and follows Nicholas Cox, a scrappy guy from the wrong side of the tracks who dreams of becoming a world-class fencer. Lacking the funds to pay for formal training, he cleans up a fencing studio in exchange for lessons, and enters a regional fencing tournament. He’s confident bordering on cocky, and the bottom seed, so of course he’s eliminated in the first round by the enigmatic Seiji Katayama, a fencing prodigy. Seiji disdains Nicholas, and he has a lot to learn about sportsmanship, but still beats Nicholas 15-0. Nicholas vows to beat Seiji one day, no matter how hard he has to work.

Despite his disastrous loss, Nicholas is recruited by the head fencing coach of Kings Row, an all-boys boarding school with a middling fencing program. Nicholas accepts the offer of a shot at a fencing scholarship, thinking he’ll get another chance to beat Seiji, who’s being recruited by Exton, the top fencing school in the country. However, once Nicholas arrives at Kings Row, he discovers that Seiji, for some reason, decided to come to Kings Row instead of Exton, that Seiji is also his new roommate, and that they’re both competing for one of the coveted three spots on the varsity fencing team. Now, not only is Nicholas’ honor on the line, but also his scholarship—if he doesn’t win a spot on the team, he’ll lose it, and won’t be able to afford the tuition at Kings Row.

Overall, Fence is a joy to read and experience. The dialogue and story, by C.S. Pacat, is sharp and funny, and she easily integrates explanations and background information about fencing techniques and rules into the story. This makes the story and technicalities easy to follow, with the added bonus of looping the reader in without making you feel like an idiot. Fencing novices will have no trouble following the story, and near novices like me (thank you, one semester of fencing class) will definitely learn something new.

What makes this comic really stand out, though, is the art. Pencils are done by Johanna the Mad, a popular web artist who makes her comic debut with Fence. She excels at dramatic framing, and I paused many times while reading this book to admire just how well she captures movement and emotions, whether it’s the swagger of Seiji Katayama leaving defeated opponents in his wake, how cavernous and intimidating the salle (a room used for fencing) feels on the first day of tryouts, and Nicholas’ anguish in defeat.

With the uber-dramatic framing, sometimes Fence feels less like a graphic novel and more like Japanese anime. The flow of the panels and the story feel an awful lot like anime cuts, and the plot is a classic sports anime storyline. Although not a huge fan of anime myself (Yuri! On Ice is one of two shows I’ve seen in their entirety), I’ve been to enough Otakons and listened to my otaku friends talk about sports anime enough to recognize it when I see it. The tropes are all there, including the scrappy underdog, the characters who go from being rivals to friends to maybe more (hopefully—Seiji and Nicholas are still firmly in the “rivals” stage of that evolution), and even the odd-couple friendships. There’s even one panel where one character is so in awe of Seiji that a wreath of red roses appears around the aloof prodigy’s head.

You would think that this would make Fence tropey and predictable, but somehow it really, really works. All the elements—the dialogue, the pencils, the inks—come together to create a loving homage to sports anime in comic form, with enough twists to make the story original and exciting. You can really tell that Pacat and Johanna the Mad are in sync for the vision of this comic, and the result is an entertaining, fun book that would be a great addition to any library.

On top of all of its merits, Fence also features an incredibly diverse cast. You would think that the upper echelons of prep-school fencing would be overwhelmingly hormonal white boys, but the fencing team at Kings Row is made up of hormonal boys of all races, cultures, sexual orientations, and gender identities. It’s fantastic to see that kind of representation in this comic, and I hope other creators in the industry follow suit.

Fence, vol. 1
by C.S. Pacat
Art by Johanna The Mad
ISBN: 9781684151929
Boom!Box, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: (13+)

Goldie Vance, vols. 2-4

Spunky teen detective Goldie Vance is back with even more mysteries and adventures! After saving the day in Volume 1, Goldie and her diverse cast of friends and allies continue to keep Crossed Palms Resort safe for everyone.

Set in 1960s Florida, Goldie is a valet at the beachfront resort her father manages. On the side, she is the assistant to the resort’s detective (although she sometimes runs the show). In volumes 2 and 3, Goldie takes on cases involving a stranded astronaut on the beach and possible sabotage on her frenemy Sugar Maple’s race car. Since the first volume set up the characters and the setting, these issues are free to explore the personalities and events happening in Goldie’s world. (At times, there is a reference to a storyline from a previous volume, but the author has included an asterisk that lets readers know what volume they can refer back to if they aren’t familiar with that detail.)

Volume 4 is when the story really starts to take off after the setup of the first three. The resort is hosting a music festival, but numerous problems keep happening. Walt, the resort detective, decides to let Goldie take charge of the mystery. At the same time, Goldie’s girlfriend Diane is getting closer to Chris who is helping organize the festival’s bands. Feeling jealous and scared of losing Diane, Goldie lets her personal feelings cloud her judgement, which jeopardizes the case. Even though Goldie has made mistakes before, this volume really shows her falter. But the most important thing is that Goldie recognizes that, owns it, and apologizes for it.

Through all the volumes, Goldie solves her cases with charisma and intelligence and with the help of her friends, girlfriend, and parents. She remains kind and welcoming to everyone she meets. But Goldie is also stubborn and she can get lost in her detective duties. In volume 2, she steps on her friend Cheryl’s toes, taking credit for a detail Cheryl noticed. This causes a fight between the best friends, but in the end Goldie looks at things from Cheryl’s perspective and apologizes. Volume 3 focuses on Goldie and her frenemy Sugar Maple. The two have a rivalry that has lasted since childhood. While they butt heads, Goldie still treats her with respect. No matter what, you root for Goldie (and Sugar Maple, who is a dynamic character on her own). Even when she is being jealous or selfish, you still like her. These may be mystery comics on the surface, but really every story revolves around friendship and how to be a good person.

The best part of the Goldie Vance comics is how effortlessly inclusive it is. There are characters of different races, sexualities, and personalities, but all of them get along and respect each other. Every character is fully formed and has strengths and weaknesses, making them realistic and relatable. There is no fanfare around Goldie being gay and there isn’t a big coming out scene. It’s just what she is. Goldie and Diane have a very sweet, chaste relationship. They have lives away from each other, but also support and care about each other’s hobbies.

Each volume has a different artist and the illustrations vary but are still cohesive. They have their own style, but they still look like they belong to the same series. The color palette holds it all together using soft pastels to color Goldie’s world.

These are inclusive, fun, entertaining reads that are recommended for all libraries. It is aimed at teens, but there is a strong crossover appeal to younger kids and adults. Give them to readers who enjoy Lumberjanes, but want something more realistic.

Goldie Vance, vols. 2-4
by Hope Larson and Jackie Ball
Art by Brittney Williams, Noah Ball, and Elle Power
Volume 2 ISBN: 9781608869749
Volume 3 ISBN: 9781684150533
Volumw 4 ISBN: 9781684151400
Boom! Box, 2017

Avengers Academy, vol. 2: Will We Use This in the Real World?

School can be tough when you’re a teen and it only gets harder when you’re in danger of becoming the next super-powered villain. The kids of Avengers Academy grapple with understanding superhero morality and figuring out how to live with their powers in Avengers Academy, vol. 2: Will We Use This in the Real World? This volume of Avengers Academy collects issues #7-13 of the 2010 series, and my review is for this volume alone, as I didn’t read the previous or following ones.

Avengers Academy is a school founded by Dr. Hank Pym (a.k.a. Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Yellowjacket, and Wasp, among others, at various points in his superhero career). The faculty: a handful of mostly less-well-known superheroes, along with occasional more-famous guest instructors such as Dr. Strange. The students: teens with powers who were previously recruited and tortured by Norman Osborn (of Green Goblin fame) in other comics. The teens struggle with understanding the morality and values the Avengers preach, while juggling concerns and self-esteem issues over their “abnormality” and the threats their powers pose to their own bodies.

I found there were both things to like and to dislike in this run of seven issues. Though the volume and the stories stand alone pretty easily, readers will get more out of it having read the previous six issues, and those with a broader knowledge of the Marvel Universe will benefit the most. Aside from Pym and Quicksilver, most of the existing characters included are more obscure and haven’t yet featured in any of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, so it may not be the best place to dive in for fans coming straight from there. Knowing more about the characters can backfire, though. Pym spends a great deal of the comic grieving for and even considering resurrecting his ex-wife Janet van Dyne (the Wasp). Knowing what I do about his past abuse of her, and her choice to no longer be with him, I found it pretty difficult to sympathize, or to wish for their “happy” reunion.

The story takes the teens and adults through a number of pretty serious issues, finding creative ways to address topics like abuse/trauma, self-harm, and body image. While many will find this relatable and will enjoy the exploration of these ideas, I felt they were fairly surface-level in their portrayal and in what the comics ended up saying about them. Most of the stories are wrapped up within a single issue and aren’t afforded much of an in-depth look, and some of the topics, such as self-harm, feel pretty glossed over or brushed off. There are also instances such as a scene where two characters discuss their negative feelings about their own “abnormal” bodies while simultaneously dropping fat-shaming insults about a fellow super teen. Realistic, perhaps, but not a great look.

In terms of inclusivity, the book at least tries tries. The teens are mixed in terms of gender and race, though the adult heroes lean heavily white and male. Dating and sex come up, but there’s not a single non-heterosexual relationship in sight, even in the “Superhero Prom” issue. While some of the teens might consider their superpowers a “disability,” there are no characters depicted with disabilities we would recognize in our world.

The art overall is adequate but not terribly interesting, and at points is even awkward. Through the seven collected issues, three different pencillers (primary artists) are featured, though the art stays fairly consistent. I noticed a number of perspective issues, strange and unnatural angles, over-dramatic expressions, and a fair amount of awkward posing and/or exposure of female bodies. One particular panel sticks in my mind: the young Veil waking up and arching her body in a way no human woman has ever stretched upon awakening. The adult Cat-person hero Tigra also spends the majority of her time in a bikini with a bra that definitely offers zero support. To be fair, this is her usual costume in the comics canon, but she wears other clothes sometimes, even in Avengers Academy, and I wouldn’t mind seeing her outfit changed up more. Her near-nakedness opens the door for a fair amount of male gaze-steeped artwork.

Overall, the book isn’t terrible but isn’t particularly innovative, either, and I believe there’s better stuff out there. The publisher’s age range of 12+ seems appropriate, and younger readers might find more to interest them than older ones will. Pre-teens and teens may enjoy seeing themselves in the young superheroes and the issues they struggle with as they attend this unique school, and the book offers some fun—just not a whole lot beyond that.

Avengers Academy, vol. 2: Will We Use This in the Real World? 
by Christos Gage
Art by Mike McKone, Tom Raney, and Sean Chen
ISBN: 9780785144960
Marvel, 2011
Publisher Age Rating: 12+

[Editor’s note: This year (2018) Marvel started releasing Avengers Academy: The Complete Collection which recollects this series. So far two volumes have been published.

  • Volume 1 (collecting issues #1-12 plus crossovers): 9781302909468
  • Volume 2 (collecting issues #13-20 plus crossovers): 9781302909451

Further volumes may be forthcoming.]

Game for Adventure, vol. 3: Chavo the Invisible

Nordling’s wordless series based on traditional childhood games continues with an exciting adventure based on Capture the Flag. As the streetlights turn on and the sky darkens, children begin to gather with their flashlights in a pleasant, green park. Two older children start choosing sides and little Chavo is disappointed to be chosen last of all. The children raise their flashlights and…they are transported into a twisting, blue and purple alien landscape. The game is on!

Chavo is thrilled to be chosen to hide his side’s flag, but then discovers everyone else has taken off without him, into the enemy’s territory! Can his courage and quick-thinking save the day?

Readers who have experienced the previous titles will recognize several characters, including Belinda and Andrew. Chavo is a strongly relatable character, drawn with a shock of dark brown hair, light brown skin, and a determined face. Kids will instantly sympathize with his disappointment as he’s passed over again and again, his panic as he’s thrown into a frightening landscape, and eagerly try to guess what he’s thinking as he tries to come up with a plan to save his team—and the game.

Although wordless, even readers who have never played Capture the Flag will be able to figure it out from the clear movement of the players. Personally, I have never figured out how the game works until now, so if it made sense to me, anyone could pick it up! The landscape is creepy, but not too scary. Twisting vines and jungle scenes, accompanied by a scary snake-venus fly trap, give a sense of an alien landscape, as well as clearly defining the opposing teams; one side of the landscape is purple and the other blue, matching the two teams. Readers will be quickly drawn into the game and experience some delicious shivers, while still realizing it’s the really the park underneath.

Wordless books offer numerous opportunities to build visual literacy and encourage imagination, and Chavo the Invisible could also be of use in the classroom in focusing on predictive, narrative, and social-emotional skills. A diverse cast of characters, not just in race but also in behavior and personality, offer more opportunities for kids to relate to the story. A strong addition to the Game for Adventure series, both teachers and librarians will find this a useful title for their collections.

Game for Adventure, vol. 3: Chavo the Invisible
by Lee Nordling
Art by Flavio Silva
ISBN: 9781512413328
Lerner Graphic Universe, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 5-9

Scales and Scoundrels, vol. 1: Into the Dragon’s Maw

Classic fantasy adventure tales usually involve a band of heroes setting out on a sometimes noble, sometimes self-serving quest. Scales and Soundrels definitely follows this template yet adds some interesting elements along the way. The series title tells the reader a lot about what this series is about and where it is going.

We are introduced to a young woman named Luvander (Lu) who is incredibly strong and appears to have some magical abilities. She likes treasure and gets into trouble frequently for cheating and stealing. While getting out of one jam, she stumbles upon another and saves Prince Aki and his band as they are attacked by roaming thieves. Before long, he has convinced her to join him in his quest for the “Dragon’s Maw,” an ancient treasure. The prince must complete a quest showing courage and bravery before he can assume the throne of the Scarlet Sands Empire, and looking for the treasure of the “Dragon’s Maw” fits the ticket. Along with him is his “Shadow,” Koro, who must protect him no matter what and the dwarf, Dorma Ironweed, who starts out as comic relief but ends up on a quest of her own.

Many adventures ensue and we slowly learn more about each character. That all the main characters are women or people of color or both, sets this series apart from the standard fantasy tale. This fact might make a genre-savvy fantasy reader examine each character’s motivation a bit closer. Actions that we’ve seen a white male character make time and time again look different due to the diverse characters and setting. What is Luvander’s secret? Why does Aki seem to be shirking his duties with his carefree attitude about his quest? Why is Koro so suspicious of Lu, to the point of being deceptive? The villains are enigmatic and full of their own secrets as well. By the time I reached the cliffhanger at the end, I was eager to get my hands on volume 2.

The artwork by Galaad is reminiscent of Jeff Smith’s Bone and anime films like Princess Mononoke and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The lines are clean and the cartoony style sends the message that this story is for most ages. The color palette is mostly muted browns and orange, but they still pop off the page and add vibrancy to the story. Galaad also brings some interesting perspectives to his panels. When Lu kicks an adversary, her foot seems gigantic as is stretches across the page and it pulls the reader into the story.

Image does not have many all ages books, so they promote this story as a tale for “everyone.”  I’d say anyone eight and up could enjoy the story so far. However, there is violence, including a scene where a hero stabs a villian in the eye, so it might not be for absolutely everyone. Despite that, Scales and Scoundrels is a solid purchase for any juvenile graphic novel collection and most upper elementary libraries. It would go nicely with Bone and other fantasy graphic novels.

Scales and Scoundrels, vol. 1: Into the Dragon’s Maw
by Sebastian Girner
Art by Galaad
ISBN: 9781534304826
Image, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: All ages