Alienated

Three teens named Sam (Samuel, Samir, and Samantha) go for a walk in the woods and discover a gooey cocoon hanging from a tree, in Alienated by Simon Spurrier. When they take a classmate, Leon, to see their discovery, one thing leads to another and Leon vanishes. The three Sams learn that the cocoon is an alien creature they name Chip. Chip has feet, but tentacles for arms and he wears armor on his face and chest area. Chip syncs his brain with the teens’, allowing the teens to share their thoughts and feelings through their minds. Each of them is hiding secrets and Chip will be the one to bring them out.

The story appears as if it is telling a science fiction tale that will either turn out to be a version of E.T. or War of the Worlds. Instead, it turns into a story about teens struggling with personal demons and Chip being the catalyst to help them find closure. What I liked about the group was the diversity among the three leads. Samantha is Latinx and Samir is a Muslim Pakistani. Samir also struggles with being gay and coming out to his family. Samuel on the other hand was a character I had conflicting feelings over. I didn’t find him to have an issue that I related to. He seemed more like a misguided youth who felt that his views were the only ones that mattered. Another character, Chelsea, is an antagonist to the main three. She’s an influencer, always taking videos of herself and posting them online. There is the face she projects to her audience, that of being a concerned friend of the missing Leon, where in private she only cares about fame, attention, and how many clicks she will receive.

The artwork stood out and so many sequences popped for me. The artist, Chris Wildgoose, knows how to draw your eyes in and make simple scenes stand out. For instance, one scene has all the school kids hanging out in the quad. You have Chelsea in the foreground wearing purple and a greyish blue. In the background, you can see the three leads wearing orange, green, and blue. The trees and grass are yellowish-brown. I love how the artist mixes and matches colors to contrast the action that is going on in the frame. Another thing I like is that the teens look like real teens, not in an exaggerated form. In other graphic novels I’ve read you might have contorted body shapes or eyes. Realistic-looking teens are easier to identify with and it’s easier to believe the story is taking place in a more grounded world.

I can’t recommend Alienated enough. I think it’s one of the best graphic novels I have read this year. The artistry is amazing and the story is one that any teen or adult can relate to. I would rate this work for older teens 16+. This story features storylines about alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, and suicide. These are heavy topics to grapple with individually, let alone all at once in one story. Trigger warning, there is a storyline that features a graphic depiction of self-harm. I found it quite unsettling and feel the artist lingered on it for way longer than I liked. 


Alienated
By Simon Spurrier
Art by  Chris Wildgoose
BOOM! Studios, 2020
ISBN: 9781684155279

Publisher Age Rating: 16+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)
Character Representation: Hispanic, Pakistani, Gay, Catholic, Muslim

Doctor Who: A Tale Of Two Time Lords

Legends are told across the universe of a blue box that shows up in times of great need. It can travel anywhere in time and space and is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Inside this blue box, which is known as the TARDIS, lives a being known as the Doctor. Sometimes the Doctor is old with young eyes. Other times the Doctor is young with old eyes. Sometimes the Doctor is a man. Other times the Doctor is a woman. At all times the Doctor is a champion of the downtrodden, never cowardly or cruel, who stands up against all tyrants, both petty and powerful.

Once, when the Doctor was a young and dashing man, he became stranded on the planet Earth in the city of London in the year 1969, with his companion; a human medical student named Martha Jones. The two had fallen prey to a quantum assassin known as a Weeping Angel; a curious being who displaced people in time and fed upon the potential energy released by that shift in spacetime. They were eventually saved by a clever woman named Sally Sparrow, who reunited the Doctor and the TARDIS… but for now they are still stuck in 1969 with no way out.

Now, an older Doctor, who is a witty livewire of a woman, has found herself in London in 1969 along with her current crew of companions; dyspraxic mechanic Ryan Sinclair, probationary police officer Yasmin Khan and retired bus driver Graham O’Brien. This is troubling, as the laws of time usually do not allow the various versions of the Doctor to cross paths, since this could cause a paradox that could destroy the universe. Unfortunately, a group of Weeping Angels are also now in 1969… and they are not the only alien menace with designs on London town!

A Tale Of Two Time Lords is the fourth collection of Doctor Who stories starring the Thirteenth incarnation of the Doctor published by Titan Comics and the first story to team the Thirteenth Doctor with an earlier incarnation; the Tenth Doctor. Despite this, it is a wonderful story for new readers of the comics and neophytes to the Doctor Who television series. The most fantastic aspect of this story, which is built around the classic Tenth Doctor episode “Blink,” is that Jody Houser’s script walks the reader through everything they need to know about the original episode, the concept behind the Weeping Angels and just how there are more than one version of the Doctor running around, in case you don’t already know. Established fans will not feel talked-down to, however, as there are also s a number of clever nods to the show hinting at the complexity of the Doctor Who universe that shouldn’t scare away newcomers. Indeed, it only encourages them to delve deeper into the lore of the show.

Houser’s script is brought to life beautifully by Roberta Ingranata, who perfectly captures the appearance of the characters from the show. More importantly, Ingranata shows amazing skill as a visual storyteller, and the fast-pace chase scenes that are part and parcel of the Doctor Who experience are well translated into an illustrated fiction format under Ingranta’s pencils and inks. The color art by Enrica Eren Angiolini also deserves praise, being suitably vivid and eye-catching.

This volume is rated 12+ and I think that is a fair rating, if only for the use of language. I am referring, in this case, to the use of advanced scientific terminology younger readers might not grasp and not curse words. There’s nothing inappropriate in the text or artwork, so advanced readers of a younger age should be able to handle A Tale Of Two Time Lords with little issue.

 


Doctor Who: A Tale Of Two Time Lords
By Jody Houser
Art by Roberta Ingranata and Enrica Angiolini
ISBN: 9781787733107
Titan Comics, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 12+
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Character Traits: Black, British, Pakistani, Mobility Impairment, Muslim
Related to…: TV to Comic

Infidel

Think back to the 2008 election and the suppositions that flew about when a certain segment of the public found out Barack Obama’s middle name is Hussein and his father and paternal grandmother are Muslim. According to an interview with author Pornsak Pichetshote and artist Aaron Campbell, the seeds for Infidel were planted in 2008 when Obama stepped into the presidency and Islamophobia gained traction in the United States. Upon its publication ten years later, the story’s relevance has only multiplied, with the current administration’s multiple attempted bans against citizens from majority-Muslim countries entering the U.S.

Infidel is a horror comic that explores xenophobia and racism with a twist of the supernatural. Named one of NPR’s Top 100 horror stories, Infidel succeeds in the genre because many parts of its premise are just a little too real for comfort. The main character, Aisha Hasan, is a Pakastani-American Muslim living with her white agnostic boyfriend Tom and his daughter and mother. The family lives in an apartment building that recently experienced a bombing at the hands of a supposed terrorist. When Aisha begins having terrible nightmares and seeing spectres, she believes she’s just imagining things. But what she’s seeing proves altogether too real. As the plot unfolds, we find that parallel to our world is one filled with pure emotion, and the divide between our worlds can be torn by an event that creates an intense flare of emotion. After an immigrant is blamed for a bomb detonating in the apartment building, the veil is torn and the poltergeists of hatred and fear are unleashed.

The plot increases in complexity with each issue, and the trope of a haunted house is pushed to its limits. Characters project their own experiences of racism, sexism, and phobias onto the people who are different from them, failing to see when they’re doing what others have done to them. These fears and assumptions ask the reader not just to confront their own fear of people different than themselves, but also to ask where this fear stems from. Even if you’re unable to find an answer, the fact that you’re asking the questions allows for a dialogue when too often silence reigns.

In a digital age of horror flicks that vie to scare your pants off more quickly than the one before, it can be difficult to convey terror in a two-dimensional comic. However, Aaron Campbell creates suspense and horror with each panel. The deformed spirits leap from the walls and closets, gnashing their teeth and grabbing your ankles from under the bed. They scream filth at you, spewing slander that’s etched on the paper like carvings on a dead tree. Blood spatters, sprays, and seeps onto adjoining panels, reminding you that there is no real divide, no safety. In short, Campbell’s art renders Pichetshote’s story a living, rasping thing, even without cinematic tense music or the sound of wet flesh tearing.

By now, you’ve perhaps deduced that this comic is best saved for adult audiences. Older teens would probably do just fine with it. In fact, if memory serves me right, age 13 was when the pressure to watch terrifying horror movies first set in. However, the nuances of racism and xenophobia would perhaps be better appreciated by an older audience. Those who don’t fancy blood, demons, swearing, or general terror should avoid this book. Those seeking to create a more robust horror comic selection should purchase this right away. While a good horror story creates expectations, a great horror story like Infidel subverts them, leaving you with plenty to think about, long into the night.

Infidel
By Pornsak Pichetshote
Art by Aaron Campbell
ISBN: 9781534308367
Image, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: M

Browse for more like this title
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Black, Pakistani American,
Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator

Secret Smithsonian Adventures, vol. 3: It’s Treason, By George!

In the third volume of the Secret Smithsonian Adventures series, middle school students Eric, Dominique, Ajay, and Josephine have just returned from wrangling dinosaurs in volume 2 of the series to discover that their work is far from over. The present-day United States is almost unrecognizable with soldiers on the streets enforcing curfews, family members accused of sedition, and everyone preparing for Coronation Day! The four young heroes head back to the Smithsonian, this time to the National Museum of American History, where the American Presidency exhibit is now devoted to American Monarchs. A dastardly villain is rewriting history, and it’s up to our four adventurers to set things right. Using time machines developed by the Smithsonian, the schoolmates must travel to the scene of George Washington’s farewell address, where Washington’s imposter is seeking a third term instead of stepping aside for a new president.

It’s Treason, By George! relies on background from earlier volumes, but provides some additional details about the origin of the Smithsonian’s time machines and why they were created. Readers are expected to be familiar with the good-guy scientists including Smitty who can speak to the protagonists across time and space and create holographic effects, and Al who runs the show at the Smithsonian. The villain Gould, also introduced in previous volumes, has additional backstory revealed in this book. However, it is never entirely clear what is motivating Gould to wreak havoc upon historical events. Perhaps forthcoming volumes will shed greater light on this mystery.

The full-color illustrations are simple and accessible to young readers, with crisp lines, bold colors, and an uncomplicated panel structure. The racially diverse main characters are portrayed realistically with expressive features. However, a lack of clarity in the portrayal of the historical characters is problematic. Since the storyline hinges on the villain reversing Washington’s historical actions, it is critical that the reader be able to discern the difference between the real Washington and the fraud, which is very difficult at times. Hamilton, Adams, and Washington are also nearly indistinguishable in some panels, further muddling the flow of several otherwise pivotal scenes, though dialogue does help clarify the action.

The concept for this series, and this volume in particular, is intriguing. It provides an opportunity for young people to explore history, and to become acquainted with the collections of the Smithsonian museums, as well as to contemplate the merits of a constitutional republican form of government. Unfortunately, the execution of this concept is more simplistic than would be desired for the intended audience. Whereas the text addresses complex ideas such as the peaceful transition of power within a modern republic, the plot lacks the depth preferable for the maturity of most middle grade readers. Additionally, the protagonists tend to break from adolescent speech patterns to provide precocious commentary about the historical events they are witnessing, and they lack the dimension to make them relatable characters.

While I had higher hopes for this series and this installment in particular, It’s Treason, By George! is a suitable addition to school and public library collections where historical graphic novels are in demand. The brief length will also enable this text to be used as supplemental material for classroom instruction.

Secret Smithsonian Adventures, vol. 3: It’s Treason, By George!
by Chris Kientz, Steven Hockensmith
Art by Lee Nielsen
ISBN: 9781588345868
Smithsonian Books, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

Classic Fantastic: Ms. Marvel

[Classic Fantastic is our series of features on the classics of the format—please check out our other picks for the most important titles, in terms of appeal, innovation, and storytelling, that every library should own.]

What’s it about?

Ms. Marvel is a window into the life of a Pakistani Muslim immigrant family. After a terrigen mist endowed Kamala Khan with superpowers, she became the new Ms. Marvel—a Ms. Marvel whose superhero outfit is a repurposed burkini. Kamala weaves between the worlds of the religious and the secular the same way she weaves between the world of the teen and the world of the superhero: she’s sometimes confident, sometimes uneasy, and never in one place for too long.

Within Kamala’s nuclear family and friend circle, we’re provided a variety of characters who express their faith in a variety of ways. Abu and Ammi, Kamala’s parents, are somewhat secular but strict. They disapprove of drugs, dogs, and dates. On the other hand, Kamala’s brother Aamir rebels through his piety by dressing in traditional dress with a kufi (skullcap). Kamala’s feelings about her faith are complex and contradictory. She’s quick to snark at Sheikh Abdullah’s lecture from the women’s section of the masjid, but she also remembers his wisdom at crucial moments.

Kamala expresses a similar ambivalence about being a supehero. The work takes takes her away from friends, sleep, and her beloved World of Battlecraft videogame, and she’s not thrilled about being treated like a kid sister in the Avengers. On the other hand, she gets to save the world.

What is clear, though, is that there are similarities between religious contemplation and serving as a superhero. Both require humans to think of the world beyond themselves, assess their courses of action, and work on behalf of the greater good.

Kamala’s “greater good” is Jersey City, New Jersey. Jersey City is drawn true to real life, with views of the Freedom Tower poking out from across the Hudson River. Jersey City is home to lots of working-class immigrants representing different waves of immigration. Kamala’s best friend, techie sidekick, and quasi love interest Bruno is white, but he also identifies as an Italian immigrant. Kamala’s and Bruno’s relationship faces its expected turns over the series, including a moment where Bruno reveals his love for Kamala and Kamala, despite being boy-obsessed, tells Bruno she’s not about relationships right now.

Notable Notes

Even though Kamala and Bruno aren’t in love (or not really, or let’s not talk about it), their verbal sparring and references to nerd and gamer culture are delightful. There are references to RPGs, memes that have probably overstayed their welcome (doge, anyone?), and bitcoin, among others. These small moments don’t come across as gimmicky in the slightest, though I see how they easily could tire the reader—instead, they show an attention to craft.

What’s also notable in the Ms. Marvel volumes is the use of setting, color, and space. I have a hard time reading some superhero comics because I feel the action is too crowded on the page. In the interest of making superhero comics “exciting,” some artists lay in lots of scenes with BOOMS and THWACKS and character close-ups from torso up. Ms. Marvel goes the opposite direction. Instead of crisp colors, colorist Ian Herring gave the series a faded palette, and instead of lots of close-ups, we get scenescapes of a long-legged Kamala Khan making her way across Jersey City.

The two artists who drew most of the series, Adrian Alphona and Takeshi Miyazawa, have slightly different interpretations of Ms. Marvel. Alphona’s Ms. Marvel is leggy and gangly, and her poofy hair floats around her head defiantly. Alphona’s lines are sketchy and he attends to details around Jersey City like iron trellises and trash cans. Miyazawa’s Ms. Marvel, on the other hand, is sleeker with bolder lines and bigger gestures. The style feels more sci-fi than PATH train. All artists who have taken a hand to Ms. Marvel are keen on drawing her grimaces, pouts, and frustrations of daily life and superhero duty.

Significance

Ms. Marvel gives readers an opportunity to cheer for a heroine who looks like them and practices their faith. It takes the attention away from superhero duties as a white male act and shows how a woman of color can be a public servant who gets the bad guys, too. It’s not the only comic that portrays a non-white or non-male main character, but it does so with tremendous heart and openness. Wilson has developed a heroine who is so likeable and relatable to teens, because so many of her concerns are teen concerns and so much of her life is teen life. What teen on the planet hasn’t had to negotiate parent expectations, identity, and getting to class on time?

Appeal

Ms. Marvel appeals to new graphic novel readers as well as graphic novel fans who are trying out a new genre. The intent in this series seems to be to find as wide a readership as possible. The plot lines are simple and somewhat modular: the core characters stay somewhat stable and there are new villains and characters in every volume who are introduced. If there are some story lines that carry over from previous volumes, they are contextualized and explained clearly.

I also see Ms. Marvel as a bridge between Japanese comics and American comics. There are times that Kamala’s actions and depictions seem more out of an anime comedy—for example, at times her eyes bug a little bit when she meets somebody famous, and when she gets defensive with a friend, her eyes become pin-like and small. Kamala can be endearing even when she’s at her most annoying.

Why should you own this?

The Ms. Marvel series introduced comic book readers to Kamala Khan, a teen in Jersey City who is just trying to balance school, friends, overbearing parents, and World of Battlecraft. Superheroes have never had this much teen angst before. It’s about time Ms. Marvel became a must-read for every teenager on this planet and on any other alternate universe planets, too.

Ms. Marvel
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa, and others
Volume 1: No Normal
ISBN: 9780785190219
Volume 2: Generation Why
ISBN: 9780785190226
Volume 3: Crushed
ISBN: 9780785192275
Volume 4: Last Days
ISBN: 9780785197362
Volume 5: Super Famous
ISBN: 9780785196112
Volume 6: Civil War II
ISBN: 9780785196129
Volume 7: Damage Per Second
ISBN: 9781302903053
Marvel, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: T+

Ms. Marvel, vol. 7: Damage Per Second

Once again, the Ms. Marvel series introduces characters and plots that are relevant to contemporary teens. Kamala Khan isn’t just getting to know the Marvel universe, she’s figuring out the moral universe, too

Depending on how well you know Kamala, you may recall that she’s a pretty devoted gamer. Her vice of choice is online multiplayer games, where she is known not as Kamala Khan or Ms. Marvel, but as SlothBaby. I guess every alter ego needs an alter ego? Within the game, her guild friend, LeetSkillz, starts acting strangely and threatens Kamala by mentioning her address. If her online friends get wind of her true identity it could be bad news.

Meanwhile, photos have been going around of Clara, a classmate at school. Clara is humiliated and embarrassed about photos that were intended to be shared only with her boyfriend, who claims he kept them private. Ms. Marvel and her friends Mike, Zoe, and Nakia step in to support Clara and befriend her.

It turns out these events are related. Player LeetSkillz unintentionally downloaded Doc.X, a virus designed to spread quickly and take on the traits of its users. Doc.X has the power to control not only technology, but minds, too. Though Kamala can resist it’s control of minds, the virus has an unusual blackmail offer for Kamala: spread the virus into a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility or else the virus will release the love letters that Zoe wrote to Nakia but never sent. Ms. Marvel briefly considers making good on Doc.X’s order before she stops herself: “If I cave in to a bad guy, am I still one of the good guys?” Kamala’s guild meets up in real life and she hatches a multi-phase plan to defeat Doc.X once and for all.

It’s fun to watch Ms. Marvel’s fighting style develop over time from mostly physical force to a blend of strategic thinking, physical force, peer leadership, and a dash of techie know-how. This volume artistically celebrates Kamala’s special brand of dorky superhero in all sorts of ways, from the bags of chips that are by her side when she’s gaming to a physically unflattering depiction of her with her spidery elongated legs or sitting with her guild at a LAN party at the Circle Q. (“Are you nerds seriously having LAN party in a convenience store? Man, this is some peak Jersey right here…”) I always appreciate how the Ms. Marvel volumes buck the old-school trend of female superheroes with idealized and hyper-sexualized physical traits. Ms. Marvel is about kicking ass, not having one.

However, I felt that Doc.X as a villain and the volume itself presented some questions and issues that weren’t explored further or resolved. This seemed particularly rife for potential in a volume about secrets, surveillance, and how we use the internet, because we know Kamala’s weak for Bruno and we know she doesn’t always display the finest judgment when it comes to teen life. I would have liked to have seen Kamala’s personal life enter this volume more, particularly because she says “We all have secret identities. Secret identities, but no secrets, and it sucks.”

This is a terrific volume for those who are already fans, but I would encourage newer readers to start earlier in the series.

Ms. Marvel, vol. 7: Damage Per Second
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Mirka Andolfo and Takeshi Miyazawa
ISBN: 9781302903053
Marvel, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: T+

Ms. Marvel, vol. 6: Civil War II

I’m pretty sure I know Kamala Khan. She’s that student who raises her hand to say something brilliantly wrong. She lets her enthusiasm override reason and common sense. She’s loyal to friends, but she acts before she listens.

Kamala Khan’s superhero self, Ms. Marvel, faces some of the same issues as Kamala Khan the Pakistani-American living in Jersey City. In one panel we see Ms. Marvel leaping from one building to another with the newly rebuilt One World Trade Center in the far distance. In the real world, some (most notably Donald Trump) accused Muslims in Jersey City—families exactly like Kamala’s—of celebrating the destruction of the original World Trade Center on 9/11. In the fictionalized world, this volume’s villains have a similar obsession with order and keeping the peace.

In nearly all of the volumes in the Ms. Marvel series, there are distinct and direct parallels to contemporary issues, and the muted tones and high realism of the artwork is meant to remind us that superhero life and real life aren’t so far apart. If Ms. Marvel were more…dare I say…heroic, these comics could come across as overly preachy and moralizing, as if Ms. Marvel were the Smokey the Bear of racism and classism. Instead, readers are invited to see Ms. Marvel work her way through issues, too. When Captain Marvel introduces Ms. Marvel to Becky St. Clair and her cadre of predictive crime fighters, Ms. Marvel is in awe of the ability to stop a crime before it has the ability to harm others. Tyesha, Kamala’s friend, tries to warn her that such a system could cause new problems, not resolve the problems that already exist. While Ms. Marvel’s evolution from stopping crime to stopping unnecessary oppression is swift and predictable, it is still satisfying to watch.

Characters who have made larger appearances in other volumes make a small showing here, and readers learn more about Kamala’s family life in Pakistan, setting the stage for future international adventures.

The Ms. Marvel series continues to be a refreshing delight for teen readers who are looking for a superhero who is as worried about fighting crime as she is getting a college scholarship.

Ms. Marvel, vol. 6: Civil War II
by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Adrian Alphona and Takeshi Miyazawa
ISBN: 9780785196129
Marvel, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: (12+)