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

Big Apple Diaries

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

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

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

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


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

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

Flamer

The front cover of Flamer has a lofty quote from Jarrett J. Krosoczka: “This book will save lives.” It may seem like an overstatement, but when one finishes reading Flamer, they will invariably agree. Flamer may be a devastating read, but it provides a much-needed update to Dan Savage and Terry Miller’s It Gets Better Project that feels current in spite of its mid-1990s setting.

Aiden Navarro is spending his summer earning badges at Boy Scout camp. In the fall, he’ll start at public school, choosing not to return to the Catholic school he’s attended—and where he’s been relentlessly bullied—for years. Aiden is chubby, Filipino, and effeminate, all qualities that render him an easy target for the aggressively masculine white boys at his school (and, for that matter, at Boy Scout camp). Unfortunately, Aiden’s home life is difficult as well. His father is verbally abusive, and his mother leans heavily on Aiden for emotional support after their fights. At its best, Boy Scout camp provides Aiden a refuge, a space where he and fellow campers are free to rank their favorite X-Men characters and where friends value his thoughtful perspectives about how to treat their girlfriends with dignity. At its worst, though, Boy Scout camp is a hotbed of daily micro and macro-aggressions. One camper targets Aiden with a relentless stream of racist comments, and another holds Aiden down to pull out his ponytail, ripping out some of his hair in the process.

In spite of his discomfort with the homophobic jokes other campers make, Aiden is convinced he’s not gay. After all, as he puts it, “Gay boys like other boys. I HATE boys.” But after daydreaming that he is Jean Grey to his bunkmate Elias’s Cyclops and experiencing a handful of other clues—like an accidental erection in the boys’ shower—he begins to suspect he is different from his girl-obsessed peers. He writes to his BFF Violet to express his concerns. After a particularly embarrassing moment with Elias, and suspecting that Violet’s lack of response to his letter means she’s ashamed of him, Aiden reaches a breaking point. He contemplates suicide and is confronted by a humanoid manifestation of the fire inside him; a flame, often used as a pejorative for queerness, is literally his savior. This powerful moment is likely to resonate with anyone who has tried to push away an aspect of their identity only to realize it is integral to who they are.

Curato’s art, in colored pencil and ink wash, is predominantly drawn in thick, pastel-like black and white lines. Curato uses fiery spot colors to indicate particularly emotional moments, such as scenes where Aiden is being bullied or where Aiden feels conflicted about his Catholic background. There are three particularly powerful panels of artwork I’d like to highlight. In one, Aiden is sinking into a deep pool of water created by his mother’s tears. Another is reminiscent of the Rider-Waite tarot deck’s Nine of Swords: Aiden is covering his eyes in his bed in one corner of the full-page spread, while the walls around him are scrawled with his own negative self-talk. The third depicts Aiden, saved by the fire inside him, reborn as a phoenix in flames.

Curato includes a handful of practical resources alongside the narrative. Since the story takes place at summer camp, Curato seizes the opportunity to teach the reader about aspects of camping, such as different knot shapes, orienteering, hemp bracelet stitches, and how to find and use good firewood. Additionally, after Curato’s afterword, in which he details how Aiden’s story is similar to his own experiences, he shares information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the TrevorLifeline. 

Flamer doesn’t sugarcoat its subject material, so readers who enjoyed the similar handling of tough subjects for tweens in Tillie Walden’s Spinning and Kacen Callender’s King and the Dragonflies are sure to love this book. With its soft-edged illustrations and frequent daydream sequences, Flamer retains an otherworldly quality even while grounded in the real world’s brutalities. This truly intersectional queer graphic novel is a must-have for all libraries serving teens and adults.


Flamer
By Mike Curato
Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 2020
ISBN: 9781627796415
Publisher Age Rating:  14-18

Title Details and Representatio
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Filipino-American, Gay,
Character Representation: Filipino-American, Gay, Catholic

Sanpaku

The concept of sanpaku is that if you have white space above or below your iris that you are doomed. Marcine, the protagonist of Sanpaku by Kate Gavino, becomes obsessed with this idea. She discovers that famous people like JFK, Marilyn Monroe, and Abraham Lincoln have had this affliction.

The author of You are all Sanpaku, a real book that popularized the concept of sanpaku, Sakurawa Myoki, believed that sanpaku was the cause of the West’s decline. He argued that Americans were out of tune with their bodies and the universe. He believed that a diet of brown rice, umeboshi plums, and bancha tea were the cure. Also, that you had to chew your food at least 50 times. Marcine believes it’s a ‘load of crap’ before discovering that her Lola (grandmother) may have it. She becomes overzealous in her pursuit to escape sanpaku and gets rid of all her food except for a can of Spam. Despite all of Lola’s efforts, she soon passes away. Marcine becomes more determined to save others from the curse.

Marcine’s story takes place in the Philippines, where we can see the confluence of two cultures: Filipino and Spanish. Marcine goes to a Catholic private school, and works at a supermarket trying to catch shoplifters. The owner of the supermarket takes pictures of the thieves and posts their picture on a wall. Marcine discovers that her Lola had stolen some Durian jam. Temptation and the need to know what it feels like plague Marcine’s thoughts. She finds herself stealing a paper dog from the store.

Two events—one pulled from the real world, one fictional—have a huge impact on the kind of person Marcine will become. A woman named Vilma is up for consideration for sainthood. At the same time, we learn that Selena, the Tejano singer, has been killed by her manager. Many people feel great sorrow at the loss of Selena. Poetry is written, her music is played on the radio all day long. Sorrow turns into disappointment as a Jehovah’s Witness magazine proclaims that Selena was raised a ‘Jehovah’s Witness’. This leads the mostly Catholic population to assertions that Selena can’t go to heaven, or her death was caused by her religion because Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in blood transfusions. This goes to show how rumors can destroy or harm a person’s reputation. The same things happens with Vilma. A rumor circulates that Vilma was involved in a lesbian relationship. Vilma had sculpted a version of the Lady of Guadalupe, and used her friend as a nude model. For Marcine, these events reveal how gossip and not facts can impact a person’s legacy.

The graphic novel is the size of a small album. Every illustration is one panel only. The background on each individual page change. Some are in wavy patterns, square shapes, circles, or intricate tiles. This allows us to focus on the characters front and center and put everything else to the side. Everything is black and white, the only color being on the front cover. The art work seemed very basic with the patterns and characters populating the frame. I would have liked more action and less patterns.

Sanpaku is a story for those who like coming of age stories. It offers a unique perspective into a different country and culture. I liked the theme of not following rumors or religious fervor to discover your own path in life. I found Sanpaku to be very culture specific and for somebody outside the Filipino culture there were parts that went above my head. I would recommend this for libraries to expand their Own Voices collections and for those with large Filipino communities. While the story has some adult themes, I would find this suitable for older and mature teens to read.

Sanpaku
by Kate Gavino
ISBN: 9781684152100
Archaia, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

The Ancient Magus’ Bride, vols. 1-4

The daughter of two sensitives and a sensitive herself, Chise Hatori felt like an outcast even before she was abandoned by her family. With no other options available to her, the teenage girl decided to sell herself into slavery in the hopes of finding somewhere to belong, someplace where her ability to see faeries wouldn’t be considered strange, and where she might gain some respite from the teasing of mundanes.

To her surprise, Chise was bought by Elias Ainsworth—a seven-foot tall mage who was neither a man or a faerie but something in between. Though he was capable of hiding his true form behind glamours, Elias rarely bothered to so, allowing the animal skull that is his face to be freely seen when he is among his fellow mages. Chise’s surprise turned into confusion, as she learned that Elias had bought her because of her status as a Sleigh Beggy—a sensitive who draws magic into themselves as easily as breathing air. She was also stunned when Elias freed her of her chains, saying that he intended to make her into his apprentice… and then his bride! Now, Chise is growing into her new role as a fledgling magus, trying to learn what she can of the world around her and the power at her command. She also tries to get to know her new master, though she is quick to realize that human emotions are alien to Elias and that he bought her as much to try and better understand people as to understand her powers. Dark forces threaten them both, as Elias’s duties as a mage place him in peril, and Chise finds herself getting drawn into helping those in need against Elias’s wishes. Still, something seems to be growing between the new master and apprentice, something neither of them have the words or experience to name, but which might be love.

The Ancient Magus’ Bride is one of the most involved and complex fantasy romance manga it has been my pleasure to read. While stories of a young woman falling for a monster who seeks to become more human are nothing new (Beauty and the Beast ring a bell?), Kore Yamazaki builds a complex mythology to support the odd romance between Elias and Chise that mixes elements of traditional fantasy, Catholic/Anglican dogma, and Celtic myth. For instance, in the first four volumes, reference is made to the Wandering Jew, one of the main supporting mage characters tends to a dragon sanctuary, and specific fae such as selkies, Leanan Sídhe and Church grims are encountered as Chise pursues her education.

The artwork is also unique and memorable, with Elias’s design itself being notably alien and eye-catching. Yamazaki’s art perfectly conveys the weird beauty of her world as well as the nightmarish horrors that wait to catch the unwary off-guard. The sequences in which Elias sheds his preferred form and allows the shadows that empower him out lead to some truly horrific imagery.

The series is rated 13+ for Teens and I believe that rating to be a fair one. While Elias and Chise’s relationship is odd, there is nothing improper about it and there is no sexual element to the story at all, despite Chise technically being a slave to Elias’s whims. There is no hint of fan service in the artwork and nothing that would be inappropriate for most teenage audiences in my estimation, though some elements of the evil magic Elias and Chise fight (such as a man who sacrificed cats to steal their lives) may disturb some audiences.

The Ancient Magus’ Bride, vols. 1-4
By Kore Yamazaki
vol 1 ISBN: 9781626921870
vol 2 ISBN: 9781626921924
vol 3 ISBN: 9781626922242
vol 4 ISBN: 9781626922556
Seven Seas Entertainment, 2015-2016
Publisher Age Rating: Teen (13+)

Art Comic

There’s a kind of conflict between the representational art that drives the comics world and the world of “high art.” For decades the art world has worshiped at the altar of abstraction, much to the frustration of creators who want their work to directly reflect what they see in front of them. Similarly, creators who want to tell stories have felt stifled by art’s current atmosphere, which discourages artists from telling audiences what to think or how to feel. So, can a book attack the pretensions of the professional art world without becoming pretentious? Matthew Thurber’s Art Comic answers this question with a resounding “Why bother?”

Critics have met Art Comic with accolades. It even had a chapter included in The Best Comics of 2018 anthology. In a word cloud describing this book’s Internet reviews, “satire,” “hilarious,” and “merciless” would play starring roles. However, few critics have chosen to address the book’s many problems. Satire isn’t excused from basic rules of storytelling. Humor can have its own aesthetic, but any aesthetic needs to be chosen and executed with care. The book certainly has its funny points—the dead artist who eats the God of Art Heaven only to be applauded by his fellow artistes—but much of its humor feels unearned. Not only is there not much of a coherent story in Art Comic, there aren’t even many hints of a story worth telling.

Satire functions best when it comes from a place of love. This story demonstrates neither a love for art nor a love for comics. Thurber talks about real problems—hero worship, celebrity culture, commercialism, suppression of ideas and talent—in the art world without suggesting any improvements. It hits targets readily, but they’re all low-hanging fruit, ideas no one would openly defend.

There is a plot. In fact, there are many plots. An artist-turned-knight errant, questing like Quixote to destroy art’s vanities. A suicidal artist in an art-obsessed Heaven, outraged by the pointlessness of his posthumous creations. A black female art student who, finding no room for her religious beliefs in the secular art world, wanders the world in a boat, meeting pirates, serial killers, and the like. An evil cabal of vampires called The Group, sabotaging generation after generation of potentially great creators. Two human-appearing robots who constantly have sex. A group of porcine cartoons known as the Free Little Pigs, dedicated to bringing destruction to all commercial art. And then there’s Cupcake, possibly the main protagonist of this comics soup, obsessed with filmmaker/photographer/sculptor Matthew Barney, and apparently acting as Barney’s real life stunt double when the creator gets bored with his jet setting lifestyle. All of this adding up to one quintessential truth: too much chaos is boring. Art Comic’s people ricochet from plot point to plot point while in the background the two robots joylessly copulate. The best of them try to destroy art—all art—and have nothing to offer in its place.

The book’s visuals struggle as well. Thurber is a good, if straightforward, visual storyteller. That said, the book’s backgrounds vary between the lazy and the haphazard, with characters standing in monochromatic voids more often than not. Buildings are usually well-rendered, but the book’s sense of perspective is arbitrary, resulting in people with stunted legs looming larger than the buildings they’re rushing towards. The characters themselves are almost uniformly grotesque. It can be argued that this is an intentional choice, but in most comics characters are ugly for a reason; whether it’s Sluggo from Nancy or Tom Hart’s Hutch Owen, their appearance says something about them. Here each character, sympathetic or monstrous, is burdened with overdeveloped facial features and visible individual teeth in every panel. There’s no emotional expression in their faces or responses, or responses seem inhuman and unreal. All of these details taken in, as often as not the readers then have to watch these characters have sex. These visual problems combined with gratuitous sex and nudity throughout undermine any points that the text might be making about art, emotions, and depth. It forces a response the same way a crucifix immersed in urine does, but it’s equally trite and shallow.

For myself, I believe in the power of absurdity, of Dadaist comics and comics based on somnambulist fantasies. However, this is a book that combines the frustrations of a long, meandering dream where nothing is accomplished with undergraduate discussions about the interference of the marketplace and the purity of art. It concludes nothing, choosing self mockery as its easy way out. It commits only to the ideology of Cynicism. There may be genuine emotions somewhere in this book, but behind its multiple absurdist backdrops, curtains, and facades, they are only obscured and lost.

Art Comic’s prominence means public and academic librarians may want to purchase it, though unlike a lot of better books it doesn’t need the help. Issues of quality and gratuity may keep librarians from purchasing it. It is a stand-alone volume with no sequels currently planned. Its primary audience is adult, as its topic is unlikely to interest teens or younger readers, and it belongs firmly to Adult collections.

Art Comic
By Matthew Thurber
ISBN: 9781770463004
Drawn and Quarterly, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

Browse for more like this title
Character Traits: Black, Lesbian

Kiss Number 8

On the opening pages of Kiss Number 8, we are introduced to our protagonist, Amanda, by way of all the kisses she has had in her life. The first seven are male and then kiss eight happens. It is the night of this kiss that changes everything for Amanda. The story quickly backtracks to show how Amanda came to find herself in a car kissing the last person she expected to kiss.

Amanda is a bit of a tomboy. She considers her dad her best friend. They spend every Sunday watching their minor league baseball team and every night watching their favorite TV show or playing video games. Her other best friends are Cat, a beautiful, outgoing classmate who loves going to parties, and good girl Laura, who is the exact opposite of Cat. Life is good for Amanda until one Sunday when her dad gets a phone call in the middle of the baseball game. He is secretive about who is on the other end and blows off Amanda’s questions. This sets her off on a mission to figure out what is going on. At first, Amanda assumes the worst: her dad is cheating on her mom. But as the clues come together and with the help of Laura, Amanda puts the pieces together. I don’t want to spoil the reveal. Although it is not some big twist, I think the story is more fulfilling if you figure it out along with Amanda.

The secret rocks Amanda in several ways, but mostly it becomes a catalyst for her. She begins questioning many parts of her life, mostly her sexuality. The reactions to the secret also show the true selves of many people in her life, including her grandmother, friends, and father. The story is set in 2004, so LGBTQIA+ awareness and tolerance was not as progressive. It’s interesting to see how in such a short time perceptions have changed (although the same reactions obviously happen currently).

Even though Amanda makes many choices that make you want to shake her, you still want to see her happy. You feel for her as she is figuring things out. It’s real and relatable. Every teen has had moments of questioning, whether it is their sexuality or just their sense of self. Amanda never labels herself and I think that is an excellent choice by Venable. It shows that sexuality can be something you don’t completely figure out and that is fine. You can still be happy and fulfilled without labeling yourself.

While Amanda’s story does end on a happy note, it still shows how sometimes your friends are not going to be your friends for life. So many teen novels will include arguments between friends, but normally they all make up in the end. Kiss Number 8 shows Amanda having serious issues with her friends and not all of them become her friend again. I thought this was a unique and normal aspect of friendship to depict—there are some people who are just not meant to be your friends and it is okay to walk away from that.

Most teen novels or graphic novels have a storyline about finding your place and there’s a reason for that. It’s a hallmark of adolescence. Kiss Number 8 is no different. Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw make a great team. Crenshaw’s black and white drawings are expressive and detailed and add so much to Venable’s story.

Kiss Number 8 is a beautiful story about finding your identity, sexuality, and real friends. This would be a great addition to any library and would be especially useful for LGBTQIA+ displays, programs, and awareness.

Kiss Number 8
By Colleen AF Venable
Art by Ellen T Crenshaw
ISBN: 9781596437098
First Second, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18

Browse for more like this title
Character Traits: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Trans

Evolution, Vol 1: Origins of a Species

Evolution is based on a simple premise (however scientifically questionable it may be): what if the evolutionary process went on offense? Instead of the commonly understood slow change to adjust to new environmental conditions, the evolutionary response to extreme climate change and pollution becomes a rapid transformation of humanity to adjust to the state of the world. But it’s still a subtle change (at least initially), and one which tries to keep itself secret. The story focuses on three people who have become aware of the situation, in different ways.

Dr. Abe Hurley (in Philadelphia) has dedicated his career to the issue. He lost his position at the CDC over his focus on it, and at the beginning of the story is making his living at a free clinic under an assumed name. Sister Hannah (in Rome) encounters the disease when a man commits suicide in her church—and later realizes that she is also transforming. Claire (in Los Angeles) finds herself involved with the evolution via a film producer who is an old family friend.

The first physical manifestation is witnessed by the doctor in the form of a child who has grown gills to eliminate asthma attacks. He theorizes that the disease is a viral infection, like the common cold. As the story proceeds, other sightings are far more extreme, grotesque whole body transformations which artist Joe Infurnari illustrates in fanciful (and gross) ways. There is a continual shuffling between the three characters, which is greatly facilitated by colorist Jordan Boyd’s different color palettes for each of their story arcs.

Hurley sees the evolution as a threat to humanity, as “us versus them.” The other two are just trying to cope with changes in their lives, following their investigations where they lead. They are a diverse group of characters, and it will be interesting to see where the story goes. The End of the World scene that opens the series does not foretell a positive conclusion. This is a graphic horror story that earns its Mature rating with rough language and horrific images.

Evolution, vol 1: Origins of a Species
By Joseph Keatinge, Christopher Sebela, Joshua Williamson
Art by Joe Infurnari, Jordan Boyd
ISBN: 9781534306561
Image-Skybound Comics, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: M

Browse for more like this title
Character Traits: Black, Latinx, Gay

Klaus: The New Adventures of Santa Claus

Written by the legendary Grant Morrison and illustrated by Dan Mora, Klaus: The New Adventures of Santa Claus brings together two original Christmas stories. Dan Mora was nominated for a 2017 Eisner award for best penciller/inker for his work on Klaus.

The first adventure collected in this volume, “Witch of Winter,” tells the tale of a buff Santa Klaus, recently freed from decades of captivity on the moon, on a mission to save two children who have been kidnapped by the evil winter witch. Along with kidnapping, the Winter Witch has taken over Klaus’ workshop, turned the elves against him, and coerced the puppet maker, Geppetto, into creating a soulless army ready to do the Winter Witch’s bidding.

The premise is so much fun. The art is amazing; Dan Mora created a winter wonderland ready for battle with surprising pops of colour that bring life to the images. To make the art even more appealing to readers, this Santa bears a striking resemblance to Keanu Reeves.

What fell surprisingly flat for me was the writing. The dialogue in the first half of “Witch of Winter” was stiff and predictable. While reading, I felt like there were gaps in text that made it challenging for me to be taken along on Klaus’ journey. But, as I continued to read, the dialogue got better, and I completely bought into the story.

Amidst varying incarnations of Santas from different times and different parts of the world, what I think other readers will really connect to are the two kidnapped children who are struggling to come to grips with loss and the death of someone close to them. It’s only the second Christmas since the passing of their mother, and Naomi and Ben, along with their father, are still very much feeling that loss. We’ll find that Naomi, who when we first meet her tightly clutches a snowflake pendant that belonged to her mother, is particularly susceptible to the Winter Witch due to this loss.

I was happy to see characters of colour included in the first story. Naomi and Ben, our kidnapped children, along with their father, are black.

The second story included in this volume is “Crisis in Xmasville.” It’s 1985 and Santas, that is, men in Santa suits, have taken over a small town in Delaware. And it isn’t even December.

The goal of these Santas? Space weaponry.

The price? Children.

Klaus is coming to town to make things right, but he’ll need the help of Grandfather Frost and Snowmaiden to save the day once more.

There’s a slightly different feel to the art in this issue, the colours aren’t as saturated and there’s a distinct pencil crayon feel to the panels. The monsters are more terrifying, the fights are bigger and the risks are higher for Klaus. In the first issue, I felt certain that Klaus was going to save the day, but in Xmasville the win isn’t a guarantee and Klaus might just lose companions along the way.

The cast of this issue is, unfortunately lacking in diversity.

The big difference between this story and the first is that Klaus’ adventure this time deals more with big corporations and aliens and less with an individual family. While I’m partial to the first story, both are a lot of fun, involve saving children (some things never change when it comes to Santa), and bring in other winter characters. Despite my rocky start with Klaus, I really enjoyed it. It is perfect for readers looking for an action-packed holiday read and of course, readers who enjoy Keanu Reeves look-alikes. I would keep this in my library’s adult graphic novels collection, but teens will enjoy the title as well. There is a lot of violence throughout Klaus, several characters become gravely injured or die. There are weapons and bloodshed, but nothing overly gory, and the language is clean. Still, I would not recommend it for young children hoping for a Christmas story.

Klaus: The New Adventures of Santa Claus, Vol. 1
By Grant Morrison
Art by Dan Mora
ISBN: 9781684152391
Boom!, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: adult