Some people like their horror subtle: the creak of a floorboard, the howl of something in the distance, or a breath on the back of one’s neck. There’s also the kind of horror that doesn’t mind not just making readers nervous but leaving them nauseous. These works are often painted with the most vibrant, yet stomach-churning colors: blood red, intestine pink, and empty eye socket black. Some of Jonas Scharf’s artwork in Basilisk, Vol. 3 definitely fits into the latter category. Throughout the book, Scharf demonstrates how he has no qualms coloring with a gory palette. However, Cullen Bunn’s story helps keep the more insane elements grounded in a simply brutal revenge tale.
In volume 3, Hannah’s vengeance against the Chimera is nearly complete, but the battle has clearly cost her and those unfortunate enough to be around her when the Chimera or their faithful are near. Hannah and Regan, a Chimera whose gaze is lethal, are nearing the end of their individual journeys: Regan will soon find out about her missing memories and the Chimera’s true nature while Hannah will finally kill those who took everything from her. However, as members of the Chimera have died, their powers are split up among the survivors. This means that one person could end up with all five abilities to unleash upon the world
If volume 1 was about introducing readers to the terrifying Chimera, five people with terrifying powers related to the five senses, and volume 2 was about flipping readers’ expectations and setting up the conclusion, then volume 3 is the epic final battle that could potentially decide the fate of the world. Bunn’s final chapter reveals what the Chimera truly are, but it also keeps a tight focus on normal human Hannah and her quest to kill those who killed her family. The flashbacks Bunn peppers throughout this volume not only reveals why she attacks these beings with godlike powers, but Hannah’s tragic tale propels this story to its epic conclusion while its resolution might break readers’ hearts.
Scharf once again shows no hesitancy to display the visceral and sometimes explosive deaths throughout this book, but he also shows skills that have nothing to do with depicting what might be on a slaughterhouse’s floor. The book liberally switches between past and present and Scarf changes up his art style to clearly show where (or when) the story is taking place. This is a skill that goes beyond just drawing bodies in various states of death.
Now that the series has concluded, librarians might be tempted to get all three books in order to have the complete story, or they could wait to see if the publisher produces an omnibus or similar collection. Some factors that might influence this decision for librarians is if they have fans of gory horror among their patrons as well as patrons whose tastes oscillate between superheroes and horror.
Basilisk, vol. 3 By Cullen Bunn Art by Jonas Scharf BOOM! Studios, 2023 ISBN: 9781684158881
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Once & Future is the kind of sprawling, engrossing, chaotic tale that you don’t see every day. It’s incredibly well plotted and while it may have resolved itself in five volumes, it feels much larger than that. Now that the story is finished (at least for now according to author Kieron Gillen in the afterword), I think it is easier to give the series the endorsement it deserves because of how well it sticks the landing. The story itself is incredibly ambitious and reviews of the first volume might not have been overly effusive. To see the scope of it now in retrospect, the amount of weaving Gillen did to bring it all together and to do it in such a satisfying way is no small feat.
Once & Future, Vol 4: Monarchies in the U.K. opens with all of the United Kingdom pulled into The Otherworld, where Duncan and Bridgette are trying to find a place to hide long enough to regroup. They decide on Bridgette’s ancestral home, which here is actually the Grail Castle. Early in this volume another Arthur and Merlin step into this world and now there is a battle over who is the “true” king. This Arthur brings new knights with him, like Eliold and Yvain. Turns out that William Shakespeare was the greatest monster hunter of the accord and this is where all the talk of “stories” really coalesces. His secret armory is as much collected writings as it is weapons, but Bridgette is after his quill. This is about the time Mary shows up and complicates how Bridgette planned to get the upper hand in Otherworld. She is looking for the water god Leir or Lear who is now trapped in the waters of Leicester. This should be more than enough for one book, but Lancelot seems torn as to which Arthur to serve and then another Arthur and his army show up as a battle for the land ramps up. This volume concludes with Bridgette, Duncan, and Rose finding the person who is tied to the quill, Robin Hood.
Once & Future, Vol 5: The Wasteland introduces Robin Hood’s terrifying band of merry men and he inducts our three heroes in the group. They wind up discovering a new steampunk Arthur while Mary is at Grail Castle working her own angles. Did you forget the Green Knight was part of this story? I did. He’s back and book five doesn’t have time to waste. Bridgette’s new plan is to get the waters of the Lethe, which are waters of forgetting, and use them on the whole of the U.K. so that everyone forgets they know about Arthur and the stories, and hopefully pull them out of The Otherworld. Mary and Lancelot find poor, broken Galahad and try to get him to reach the Grail inside the castle, but it’s futile. December 24th rolls around and a bolt of lightning delivers a sword directly into a stone and proclaims “Whoever Draws This Sword Shall Be the Rightful King of England”, changing the plans. Now our heroes have to guard the sword from all the Arthurs, but they have some help in Sir Hempleworth from British Intelligence and some of his soldiers who have survived. While they hold their ground, Galahad finally reaches the Grail, but it costs him his life. This brings Mary back to her mother and the revenge she seeks against the first Merlin.
The rest of the story is told at a fever pitch and it is all spoilers from here out, so I will simply say that even after introducing so many story lines and so much folklore, Gillen doesn’t forget to close a single thread. The amount of story arcs that get a fitting and fulfilling conclusion is actually really impressive. There are big plot twists, but none of them feel unearned. It is just a series of payoffs for storyline after storyline, some of which were set up in volume 1 and just left till now. I cannot think of another book I have read like this that manages to tidy up all the things it set out on the table in a way that demonstrates a clear plan and deliberate execution.
Dan Mora had to come up with so very many creatures, villains, and monsters for these books it is equally impressive he kept them straight. All of the different Arthurs have their own unique look and feel while also being tied just enough together that you know they are the king of their timeline. The pace of the narrative at times is driven by the energy and composition of the panels, which Mora won’t get enough credit for. This series owes a great deal to his attention to detail and ability to build multiple worlds or timelines that all reflect each other while standing on their own.
This series is best suited for older teens and adults due to occasional swearing a lot of fighting. It’s just bloody enough to not recommend to young teens, but there are enough high concepts here that it might not appeal to that age group anyway. That being said, you don’t have to be an Arthurian expert or remember how Beowulf goes to enjoy this. It is equal parts history lesson, literature class, and heavy metal album. Recommending this to libraries who might have been on the fence early is easy now because we can say definitively it is only five volumes altogether and they are worth it. It starts out complex and, while that does not really change, it gets easier to follow and the through line becomes a lot more clear. This is a worthwhile addition to an adult collection that wants something that is not superheroes, but has a tinge of familiarity to it. It is a pleasure to read and a truly satisfying conclusion for those who make it to the end.
Once & Future By Kieron Gillen Art by Dan Mora BOOM! Studios, 2023 Vol. 4: Monarchies in the U.K. ISBN: 9781684158294 Vol 5: The Wasteland ISBN: 9781684158621
Liliana, a planeswalker who can travel between planes aka dimensions, is taking time to reexamine her life as she teaches necromancy in Strixhaven. Unfortunately, her time there is interrupted by Tezzeret (another planeswalker)waiting in her office, where he attempts to kill her.During their battle, Tezzeret mentions some interesting facts about a planeswalker Liliana has never heard of in connection with a deadly opponent, Marit Lage. Once Tezzeret is defeated and flees, Liliana explores the vast Strixhaven library to learn more about Isona Maive, who has a rare amplification power. However, there is more to the story than the library reveals and soon Liliana must make a difficult choice: to be a hero or the villain.
Although this is a standalone volume, it is highly connected to the main comic series Magic from BOOM! Studios. There are several places within the story that are glossed over with a note that directs the reader to specific issues to read more. I don’t think this volume stands up by itself and would highly recommend that it only be added to collections that are also purchasing the main Magic series. This graphic novel series is not canon to the trading card game it is related to, but I loved learning more about the planeswalkers’ adventures and relationships. Isona is not currently part of the game, so it was exciting to explore an entirely new character.
The consistency of the artwork in this volume is great and each planeswalker is given a color scheme that matches their personality, making it easier for readers to follow the action depicted. I prefer when the same artist is used across issues for long running storylines, so it is great that the same artist is used for the main series as well as the side stories. This is especially helpful with so many different characters featured across arcs. High school and older readers will appreciate this world the most.
Magic: The Hidden Planeswalker By Mairghread Scott Art by Fabiana Mascolo BOOM! Studios, 2023 ISBN: 9781684158553
Related media: Game to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
In a world of monsters and monster hunters, not everyone faces the darkness with a weapon in hand.
Further expanding the world of Something is Killing the Children, series creator James Tynion IV hands off writing duties to Sam Johns for a fresh story featuring a new character and shining a light on a different corner of an increasingly complex world of monsters—both supernatural and human.
From BOOM! Studios, House of Slaughter: Scarlet offers a completely new narrative set in the aftermath of Erica Slaughter’s disruption of her order. With monster hunters spread thin and the future uncertain, Edwin Slaughter finds himself called away from his service as a scribe for the Order of St. George so that he may investigate rumors of monster activity at a summer camp. The job should be a simple matter of dispelling rumors, but there is something ancient beneath the lake and darkness creeping in at the edges. Even more dangerous may be the secrets of Edwin’s past, secrets even he himself no longer remembers.
With Sam Johns writing the script, this new volume in the House of Slaughter storyline adopts a slightly different tone from previous volumes. There are still plenty of monsters, but Edwin is not a hunter. With less action, our hero—a scribe with eidetic memory—has time to ponder the nature of the monsters themselves. As he debates with his monstrous familiar, Scarlet introduces a more philosophical bend than the series has previously seen. Still, as much as the story contemplates its big ideas, it doesn’t lose track of the fact that in this world monsters are real—and they are always dangerous. Ultimately, Scarlet does occasionally get weighed down, pondering its own ideas, but I love seeing a series take a risk, and even if this volume isn’t the best of the series, Johns brings a welcome new perspective to an engaging world.
Capturing all of this on the page, Letizia Cadonici delivers art that is both grim and fantastic, shaping a world that fits this story while complementing the visual style established elsewhere in this series. Eyes and masks remain a focus, telling us things about the characters as they issue veiled threats and navigate a hostile world. From flashbacks and moments of gruesome violence to sequences of art and imagination, Cadonici brings bold life to this newest chapter, populating Tynion and Johns’ world with both hunters and prey.
BOOM! doesn’t provide an age rating for this volume. These series have always walked a line of maturity, offering certain appeal to teen readers while dealing in horror imagery and sometimes graphic violence. Scarlet offers much the same content as previous volumes, though its slower story and more idea-driven writing will likely appeal more to the older edge of the target audience. Though the story largely stands alone, it’s most likely to be appreciated by those who are already familiar with Something is Killing the Children and the previous (though unconnected) story arc in House of Slaughter.
While Scarlet may not be the strongest entry in this universe, it definitely will not disappoint existing fans while also delivering a bold volume in its own right. It’s a comic that dares to try something a little different while maintaining the connective tissue of what has come before. With dramatic monster action alongside big ideas, House of Slaughter: Scarlet continues to be a horror series well worth adding to any collection for older readers.
House of Slaughter, vol. 2: Scarlet By Sam Johns Art by Letizia Cadonici BOOM! Studios, 2022 ISBN: 9781684158546
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
There are many conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy. One of which is the possibility that Lee Harvey Oswald’s body has been switched before his burial. Investigations in the 1980s have concluded that it is indeed him but, if the theory was correct, how would it happen and why? Written by Chirstopher Cantwell, illustrated by Luca Casalanguida, and colored by Giada Marchisio, Regarding the Matter of Oswald’s Body delves into a fictionalized version of the theory and the ones involved in its creation.
In the year 1981, Lee Harvey Oswald’s body was exhumed and sent to Parkland hospital to be investigated. Flashback to 1963, four outcasts are chosen by a shadowy figure for a job. There is wannabe cowboy and bank robber Shep, guitar player and car thief Buck, civil rights activist Rose, and failed FBI candidate Wainwright. With the promise of a cash reward and a better life, the group takes the job. It’s simple: kidnap a lowlife who looks exactly like Lee Harvey Oswald. When the job is done, however, the truth behind their work slowly leaks through. With their lives on the line and their country in mourning, everyone considers abandoning their work but that is indeed easier said than done.
There is no shortage of fictionalized accounts of JFK conspiracy theories but what is different about Regarding the Matter of Oswald’s Body is the creators’ choice to focus on Oswald himself. Sure you hear about the assassination within the comic and witness Jack Ruby’s attack, but other than that, it is all about Oswald and how far up this assassination plan goes. Cantwell’s writing gives each character their own personality. They are not just a group of similar minded outcasts. The story itself is filled with little mysteries and plot twists that keep the readers guessing. The jumps between 1981 and 1963 keeps the readers interested in the story, allowing them to question whether or not it is Oswald in the grave and not another government coverup Casalanguida’s artwork from panel to panel allows action scenes to flow nicely, with each character moving from one end to the next. Detailed line work on each character and the setting provide readers a look into the early 1960s. Marchisio’s colors provide brighten views of open landscapes and dark scenes in secret hideouts. The creative trio work well together, bringing life to a story about deceit and government cover ups. Lastly, readers are treated to maps, texts, and newspaper clippings surrounding the event and essay samples that discuss ideas behind identity and body doubles.
Regarding the Matter of Oswald’s Body is a good choice for any public library’s graphic novel collection, especially those who cater towards patrons who read American history and government conspiracy. With great storytelling and detailed artwork, patrons will be intrigued with what this graphic novel has to offer.
Regarding the Matter of Oswald’s Body By Christopher Cantwell Art by Luca Casalanguida and Giada Marchisio BOOM! Studios, 2022 ISBN: 9781684158454