Before he donned a mask and cape to fight crime in the streets of Gotham City, before adopting the mantle of the Dark Knight, a thirteen-year-old Bruce Wayne struggled to fit in with his peers at Gotham Preparatory School—a special school for kids gifted with superpowers. In this reimagined, alternate vision of the Batman, Stuart Gibbs (Spy School) and artist Berat Pekmezci introduce a refreshingly amusing and misshapen childhood of Bruce Wayne in Bruce Wayne: Not Super.
In a setting similar to Dr. Xavier’s academy of X-Men mutants, Bruce Wayne feels out of place at a school specially geared to train young students to harness and control their extraordinary powers. While Clark Kent wields super strength, Diana Prince moves with grace and dexterity, and Barry Allen zips by past the speed of light, Bruce lacks natural powers he can boast. Instead, he resorts to designing his own costume for a disguise through trial and error and invents his own set of gadgets to fit in with his classmates. On Career Day, he desires to become a vigilante to battle crime in the name of avenging the murder of his parents, much to the disappointment of the school principal.
In reconstructing a light-hearted rendition of Gotham City, Gibbs and Pekmezci create a world replete with amusing escapades and pranks among superheroes and villains alike. As a middle grader, Bruce Wayne tackles a coming-of-age role whose diffidence, clumsiness, and shyness gives way to hidden, innate ingenuity. While navigating the rocky landscape of interacting with his peers, he encounters comical situations and a montage of goof ups amidst an undercurrent of danger and brooding mystery rendered by Pekmezci’s deep shades of navy blue and indigo. Whether fending for himself in a game of dodge ball or masquerading as a vigilante to stop a theft in progress, each antic-packed panel captures a less than perfect crime fighter in the early stages of his quest to uphold truth and justice. Most charming are the quizzical expressions and persona of a young Batman who gradually discovers his true strength and latent abilities.
Highlighting the wonder years of adolescence, Bruce Wayne: Not Super delves into evolving themes of fitting in, developing self-esteem, doing the right thing, and finding one’s strengths and purpose. On his path towards discovering himself, Bruce Wayne learns that some powers emerge not from spectacular feats of strength, agility, or speed, but from within one’s natural abilities. This graphic novel infuses a fresh foray into a longstanding iconic superhero of the DC Comics universe, ushering in a welcome addition to middle grade collections and challenging young readers to discover their superpowers.
Bruce Wayne Not Super Vol. By Stuart Gibbs Art by Berat Pekmezci DC, 2023 ISBN: 9781779507679
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11) Creator Representation: Turkish,
Teen Titans: Robin was uncharted territory for me and yet oddly familiar at the same time. As a teen librarian, I was familiar with Kami Garcia’s novels, but I had never read any graphic novels she had written. I was likewise well versed in the Teen Titans characters, but this was unlike any Teen Titans comic I had read before. I didn’t recognize the name of artist Gabriel Picolo, but I recognized his art from various social media posts showing more slice-of-life Anime inspired takes on the Teen Titans characters.
This helped ease me into Teen Titans: Robin, which is the fourth volume of Garcia and Picolo’s series of young adult graphic novels. I hadn’t read the original trilogy of Raven and Beast Boy books, but that didn’t prove to be a major obstacle. This volume is surprisingly accessible to those who, like me, were lured in by the Robin name without any thought of this being part of a larger story.
The graphic novel opens in the thick of the action, with Rachel Roth, Garfield Logan, Damian Wayne and Maxine Navarro on the run. They escaped from HIVE and the man called Slade Wilson who had lured them in to become test subjects due to their amazing powers. At the same time Slade is hunting them they are also being hunted by Dick Grayson, whom Damian recognizes as the adopted son of his biological father.
As one might expect given the title, the focus of this book is on Damian and Dick and the difficulties they face in trying to start a supportive sibling relationship. Most of the difficulties are on Damian’s side, as he views Dick as the perfect son that his father chose to adopt, whereas he was literally left on Batman’s doorstep for him to deal with unexpectedly. Dick, for his part, has trouble trying to understand where Damian is coming from and why he has a hard time accepting help and honest emotion after being raised by a group of assassins. However, the story also continues the development of Raven and Garfield’s romance from the earlier books in the series, and sets up a romance between Damien and Maxine as well.
Garcia has a terrific grasp of the teen psyche and has done a marvelous job of developing the classic Titans characters from the comics into a form that grasps their essential personalities while conforming to classic young adult literature tropes. Her characterizations are well-matched by Picolo’s art, which grounds an otherwise fantastic narrative as the teens train their powers and abilities, building up to a thrilling chase scene that closes out the novel. The final effect is reminiscent of a children’s adventure movie, like The Goonies or The Monster Squad.
Teen Titans: Robin is rated 13+ by the publisher and I consider that to be a fair rating. There’s no sexual content beyond kissing and no violence beyond martial arts sparring. There are a few intense moments where Raven tries to use her powers to see through the eyes of her demonic father, Trigon, but nothing inappropriate to the intended teen audience.
Teen Titans: Robin (Teen Titans, bk 4) By Kami Garcia Art by Gabriel Picolo DC, 2003 ISBN: 9781779512246
Myths offer an enchanting ability to engage our imaginations since time immemorial, conjuring forth and reshaping stories with extraordinary fascination. The superhero narrative exemplifies a timeless myth that never grows old, and award-winning graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese,Superman Versus the Klan) and Bernard Chang (Batman Beyond, Teen Titans) infuse new life into a mythology drawn from a 16th century Chinese epic (Journey to the West) in the first volume of Monkey Prince: Enter the Monkey.
When a brawl breaks out in the locker room of Gotham High School, Batman and Robin rush to the scene only to find a mischievous trickster monkey proclaiming himself as the “MotherFlippin’ Monkey Prince.” Little do they realize that this magical misfit is really high-school teenager Marcus Sun, whose foster parents harbor secrets wrapped up in their work as purported freelance scientists. After getting bullied from a classmate at school one day, Marcus runs into Mr. Zhu, a corpulent janitor with pig-like features who bestows him with supernatural powers, transforming him into a monkey-like superhero. Marcus adapts to a nearly indestructible body that can shapeshift, ride on clouds, reattach dismembered limbs in combat telepathically, and other quirks. In time, he learns that Mr. Zhu is actually the Shifu (teacher) Pigsy of the legendary Sun Wukong, a nearly omnipotent monkey king from Chinese myth and legend.
The story revolves around the ups and downs of Marcus as he undergoes a process of self-discovery after gaining his newfound powers while grappling with fear, courage, and self-discipline. Sinister forces lurk in the background—from the uprising of a demon that possesses the Penguin in Gotham City to a pink-haired, kick-ass girl with a mouthful of razor-sharp fangs in Amnesty Bay. Vibrant, stunning colors of gold, red, and green from the Monkey Prince’s outfit create a stark contrast to the shady blue of Gotham City’s noir world. Intricately drawn characters occupy action-packed panels, energizing amusingly choreographed fight scenes echoing escapades from the classic Chinese myth. Episodic side plots crisscross alongside Marcus’s coming-of-age story, unraveling a somewhat confounding and complex storyline, though still maintaining a narrative momentum that intrigues.
Ushering in a brand new superhero to the DC universe drawn from the mythos of an ancient Chinese epic, Monkey Prince highlights a reluctant yet bold superhero with a playful persona whose purpose and role remains to be seen. Flashbacks to past adventures (Monkey Prince #0) reveal an epic battle against Darkseid, so perhaps DC comics will reprint those side stories to supplement missing gaps in a future volume. A mix of mystery, magic, and fantasy blend into a storyline populated by superheroes, supernatural monsters, demons, dragon kings, and more, making this a unique addition to adult graphic novel collections for readers seeking something bordering on mythic fantasies fueled with wild antics.
Monkey Prince, vol. 1: Enter the Monkey By Gene Luen Yang Art by Bernard Chang DC, 2023 ISBN: 9781779517098
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Chinese-American Character Representation: Chinese-American
When young orphan Billy Batson says the magic word, a bolt of magical lightning comes from the sky and transforms Billy into Shazam, the World’s Mightiest Mortal, an adult-looking, Superman-like hero that has at his disposal abilities like the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, etc. Billy Batson/Shazam looks like he’s cut from the same archetype as Superman, but his purview is the magical threats within the DC universe. He is also perhaps the most misunderstood. Though he has been portrayed as old-fashioned and hopelessly naive, even his nemesis Dr. Sivana refers to him as “The Big Red Cheese,” this is because he is a child in an adult body, which happens to be a popular power fantasy among children who have very little autonomy. Approaching the world with a childlike earnestness, Shazam also operates in a world where magic is real and dangerous, meaning there are plenty of opportunities for fantastical whimsy that’s perfect for kids of all ages. Librarians with fantasy fans and superhero readers will find plenty to love about the World’s Mightiest Mortal (or the Big Red Cheese).
Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!: Family Affair
At least a spiritual successor to Jeff Smith’s take on Shazam, this all-ages comic doubles down on the whimsical fantasy, thanks mostly to the artwork and the subject matter. Billy is still an adult when transformed, while Mary transforms into the same girl whose superspeed reflects her own boundless energy. Even antihero Black Adam is portrayed as a boy Billy’s age until he discovers the secret word and then becomes his archenemy.
Librarians (and readers) looking for an all-ages book, fans of sibling dynamics.
A continuation of Geoff Johns’s story, this book finds Shazam and his foster siblings fighting crime while keeping their superheroic activities a secret. Then the kids discover a train car that takes them to the aforementioned magical lands where they encounter everything from talking tigers to tin men. This also leaves their world at the mercy of villains like Dr. Sivana and Mr. Mind. Johns both creates a fun story with high stakes and expands the Shazam universe.
Fans of the movie and of Geoff Johns’s take on Shazam.
One jam-packed book that introduces every era of Shazam, from his days at Fawcett to his current movie starring Zach Levi. A collection of some of his best-known stories, this volume has everyone from the Shazam/Marvel family to antihero Black Adam. And at a price point of about $35 dollars (depending on where your library buys graphic novels), it won’t break the budget.
Those who want an overall introduction to Captain Marvel/Shazam, librarians who want to save money.
The origin story that inspired the movie. Writer Geoff Johns, responsible for most of the current DC Universe, imagines Billy Batson as a brash teenager who still has a good heart, which is why he’s chosen to be the wizard Shazam’s champion. Of course, as he discovers his powers, he also uses the fact that he looks like an adult to buy beer while also doing good deeds. This story also introduces a different kind of Shazam family, featuring sidekick Freddy Freeman and older sister/voice of reason Mary Marvel.
Teens who love magic and protagonists who aren’t squeaky clean.
Appears in the final part of Shazam!: A Celebration of 75 Years. Also reprinted as Shazam!: Vol. 1 (The New 52).
Jeff Smith, writer of Bone, offers a retelling of Billy Batson becoming the champion of magic. This series is notable because it presents Billy Batson and Shazam as two distinct personalities who switch places when one utters the magic word. It also offers some charming dynamics between Billy and Shazam, as well as Billy and his younger superpowered sister Mary, while also offering some retro thrills that might remind readers of rollicking adventure comics like The Adventures of Tin-Tin and The Rocketeer.
Kids (and adults) who like adventure comics, superhero comics, and Jeff Smith
Issue #2 is contained in Shazam!: A Celebration of 75 Years
Judd Winick, writer of Batman: Under the Red Hood and Hilo, tells the story of the first meeting between the World’s Mightiest Mortal and the Man of Steel. This book features the oft-repeated ritual of two heroes bonding over battling giant monsters and maniacal supervillains, but Winick, who also wrote the powerful biographical book Pedro and Me, knows how to give the reader an emotional gut punch that makes the meeting between these two heroes all the more sincere.
Fans of Superman, Shazam, and of comic team-ups in general. Fans of emotional depth in superhero stories.
These titles showcase Shazam’s appeal across different age groups while also keeping the basics of the character intact. Readers might see a lot of themselves in Billy Batson, and they should feel the tiniest bit of electricity when he says his magic word.
First off, let me say that no Aquaman haters should be reading this review. I grew up on the Gulf Coast, so I always loved Aquaman, and Denny O’Neil’s Green Arrow appealed to a tomboy like I was. I’m aware of those fanboys who say Aquaman’s powers are stupid and not that useful. I’m also aware of the ridicule that Green Arrow’s increasingly impossible trick arrows got.
Welllll…. then came Mike Grell’s The Longbow Hunters in the 1980s and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman in 2018. The characters have been reimagined in a way that makes them more mature, more human, dealing with human issues. Deep Target is the trade paperback of seven issues that also explore both characters in a new way, yet keep some of the classic aspects that past incarnations had.
Green Arrow and Aquaman have somehow switched powers and identities! Oliver Queen is now the King of Atlantis, with the power to use the Trident of Poseidon, and Arthur Curry is rich and has a non-stop supply of trick arrows and the talent to use them (unlike Grell’s longbow Robin Hood-type persona who eschewed using arrow trickery.) In this world, Arthur’s staff call him “Arthur Queen” and Oliver is surprised when Arthur’s staff address him as “Oliver Curry”. What the heck is going on? Like Peter David’s Aquaman, Arthur has long flowing blond hair and a fierce visage, but no spear for a hand like the David version. Both find that they share each other’s memories in their new and old personas.
Is the brief appearance of Captain Anderton and Scorpio in the first few pages of the comic somehow to blame for this? Scorpio has been looting the past and future for treasures to sell, but something has gone wrong with the timeline, and Captain Anderton and his crew are in for a big surprise. Can Green Arrow and Aquaman get along long enough to fix it? What will they have to give up in doing so?
This trade paperback was published to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Green Arrow and Aquaman. The gentlemen are looking good indeed! New costumes that combine the present mixed roles with past incarnations show the writer and artist have knowledge about those eight decades as a DC institution. Arthur Queen’s armor is designed with a SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) which is a neat invention. When he’s topside, his costume has a “Robin-Hood” type hood that is reminiscent of the Longbow Hunters days. The pencils and colors are bright and sharp, and while the pacing, direction and action are a bit confusing on some of the pages, the storyline is interesting and easy to follow. I did have to go back a few pages to figure out “what just happened?” a couple of times. It might be more challenging to follow the action within the pages online, especially since there’s so much battle, oriented ALL (and I do mean ALL) over the page in every direction.
I won’t give any spoilers here, but there are unanswered questions left within the plot that I wondered about after finishing the book. It was hard for me to tell if this was sloppy storytelling or if these were left open for a future issue run. Even if that was the case, this story stands on its own, and no previous issues need to be read before this one.
It was fun to see these guys again! There is lots of comic violence and battling with weapons, but no sexual situations and no realistic graphic brutality. This title would be a fun addition to a Young Adult collection, and is suitable for ages 14 and up.
Green Arrow and Aquaman: Deep Target By Brandon Thomas Art by Ronan Cliquet DC, 2022 ISBN: 9781779516893
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
It is said that a little knowledge is a most dangerous thing, and one defiant magician from the pages of Alan Moore’s classic Swamp Thing inevitably maneuvers past perils standing in his path to sneer in the face of danger. A wise-cracking, double-dealing supernatural detective who escaped the jaws of hell, he is known as none other than the enigmatic and self-proclaimed John Constantine. In DC Comics’s trend of reimagining classic iconic characters, Kami Garcia (Teen Titans: Raven, Beautiful Creatures) and Isaac Goodhart (Victor and Nora: A Gotham Love Story) conjure forth a younger version of the notorious laughing magician venturing into adulthood in Constantine: Distorted Illusions.
The story starts off in London with an 18-year-old Constantine who, at the beckoning of his stepfather, secretly exploits an opportunity to hone his magic powers from the Lady Maguerite Delphine—a high-ranking sorceress of an elite magician’s society—as an excuse to take a trip to the U.S. Instead of serving as a magician’s apprentice, he would prefer to hook up with his best friend Monica and jam with a punk band dubbed the Mucous Membrane. While hanging out in Washington D.C., he pays a visit to Lady Delphine only to be booted out of her mansion for his reckless curiosity, but not before swiping a book of spells from her arcane collection, thus triggering a series of dangerous misadventures. Constantine teams up with a ragtag group of friends and dabbles with trick illusions to amplify the visual effects for their punk band gig. One spell leads to another until a vengeance spell is unwittingly cast, summoning forth an unspeakable evil that threatens to consume the very soul of one his friends.
This inventive take on the hellblazing magus presents a daring, self-assured Constantine whose heedless actions catapult him into a heap of trouble with deadly consequences, and drags his friends into messy predicaments. Along the way, he falls for a brunette named Luna at a night club, oblivious that she harbors a secret of her own. The plot unravels rapidly across different locales with panels shaded in dark purple and midnight blue, casting a mystical aura. As the action escalates, panel borders twist and bend, creating a supernatural, psychedelic ambience, throwing the characters into pandemonium. Garcia highlights a youthful rendition of Constantine whose impetuous boldness casts him into a whirlpool of misfortunes.
Packed with thrills, intrigue, romance, and deadly magic of supernatural proportions, this chapter in the Constantine saga navigates the delicate terrain of relationships, trust, dangers and consequences of taking risks, and assuming responsibility for one’s actions. Longtime fans will also witness a more down-to-earth and inexperienced Constantine whose moral compass steers him on a path towards redemption. Constantine: Distorted Illusion will add a lively dose of supernatural horror and edginess to young adult graphic novel collections.
Constantine: Distorted Illusions By Kami Garcia Art by Isaac Goodhart DC, 2022 ISBN: 9781779507730
Publisher Age Rating: 13-17 NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Fifteen year-old Desideria “Dizzy” Olsen just knows she’s destined for greatness. One day, anyway. But so far, it seems like everything she tries—from ballet to trumpet—just ends in total disaster. So when a portal opens up right in front of her when she’s about to toss her roller skates into the donation bin along with the rest of the accouterments from her abandoned hobby attempts, it suddenly seems like everything is falling into place after all!
It turns out that fate (and new mentor Chipper) has a new mission for her: take on the mantle of ‘Burb Defender and use her newfound powers (plus super cool gadgets like the Helmet of Helping and the Blaster Bracelet) to save her hometown from evil monsters known as Negatrixes and their bad vibes.
As the pressure mounts and Negatrixes multiply, Dizzy starts to realize that there might be more to being a Chosen One than potential fame and cool superpowers. With her own personal Negatrix looming, will the ‘Burb Defender and her new friends the Rollers be enough to defend Ruseberg from the biggest threat yet?
A sweet, silly, and action-packed romp that touches on Chosen One tropes, new friendships, and figuring out who you are, Getting Dizzy is a delightful and enjoyable read for teens and tweens. Refreshingly, the core cast of characters is diverse without being didactic about it: Dizzy is Latine-coded, Scarlett seems to be East Asian (unspecified), Payton is disabled (born without a left hand), and Av is Black and non-binary. This cast is a reflection of the world teens are currently living in, and it’s nice to see them just exist, and not have their identities pointed out in any specific way. Specific traits of each member of the friend group come into play in a vital way later on, and are things unrelated to their race, gender identity, or ability. Instead, what’s important about each friend are qualities like always seeing the beauty in everyone or being incredibly smart.
With the story opening on a younger Dizzy’s dream of ballet stardom clashing with the reality of name-calling at school, the tone is set right from the start. Fiercely independent (just like her mom), Dizzy isn’t afraid to rise to a new challenge. At least, not at first. Like many young people, she’s a big dreamer who probably wishes life was more like a movie montage, especially when learning to fight the Negatrixes means re-learning how to roller skate (and falling. A LOT — an experience writer Shea Fontana is quite familiar with as a former roller derby player).
No stranger to the superhero genre herself thanks to her experience writing for the DC Super Hero Girls series, Fontana infuses the graphic novel with a solid mix of one-liners, goofy idioms, and moments of seriousness. From quick-witted dialogue like Payton’s quip about leaving the rest of her left arm behind when she moved from Seattle to Chipper’s speech about participation trophies and why sometimes it’s the people who aren’t good at something who get chosen, the dialogue helps Dizzy and her friends feel grounded in reality, even when they’re blasting Negatrixes back into portals with colorful magic. While the superhero antics are fun, teens and tweens will likely find themselves drawn to the themes of friendship, perseverance, and figuring out how to fight against our own anxiety and negative emotions, even when it feels easier to just give in.
Illustrator Celia Moscote, known for their gorgeous work on the graphic adaptation of Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath, succeeds again here in bringing Fontana’s cast and this imaginative setting to brilliant life on the page. The Negatrixes feel scary in a Pokémon-esque, cartoonish sort of way, keeping the terror lower stakes and accessible for both younger and older readers. Emotions are rendered in great facial expressions, and the visual pratfalls are hilarious. The colors are bold and vivid, especially the magic: that sparkles and swirls give off a magical girl element perfect for our resident ‘Burb Defender.
A welcome addition to tween and teen collections, Getting Dizzy is a lighthearted but meaningful compilation of an initial run of four comic issues that leaves readers on a cliffhanger and hoping for a potential sequel. Hand it to fans of graphic novels like Sebastian Kadlecik’s Quince, Sam Humphries’ Jonesy, and anyone who enjoys stories featuring magical girls, superheroes, and the power of friendship.
Getting Dizzy By Shea Fontana Art by Celia Moscote BOOM! Box, 2022 ISBN: 9781684158386
Publisher Age Rating: 12+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Latine, Nonbinary , Character Representation: Assumed Hispanic or Latine,
People of a certain age might remember sitting in front of their televisions or going to their local cinemas and watching some horror anthology series. Rather than one complete narrative, these series usually featured a collection of stories that all ended with some kind of gory or terrifying twist. They might be connected by one overarching story, but the stories themselves could vary in tone and even quality. DC’s new foray into horror utilizes this format while connecting itself to the latest movie in The Conjuring franchise. However, DC Horror Presents The Conjuring: The Lover can claim itself a prequel to the movie The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, but it owes way more to those classic horror anthology series of the past.
The main story, written by David L. Johnson-McGoldrick and Rex Ogle, focuses on young Jessica who is having a tough time adjusting to college life. Not only does Jessica miss her best friend, she feels a supernatural presence following her, one that is making her paranoid as well as isolating her from friends and family with terrifying results. Along with the main story, there are small stories focused on the artifacts found in the artifact room of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the protagonists of The Conjuring series. These stories, written by popular comic writers like Scott Snyder and Tim Seeley, range from tales of cursed music boxes to a wedding dress with a dark history.
One problem with anthology series featuring different writers and creators is the quality of each story typically ends up uneven; there might be some good stories sprinkled among the lackluster ones. However, the stories, both the main tale and the multiple artifact stories, are all pretty solid. Johnson-McGoldrick and Ogle’s story is a textbook example of slow burn that comes dangerously close to too slow for many readers, but the writers give Jessica enough layers and create enough of a sense of tragedy that she garners the readers’ sympathies. The other stories make use of their limited space and tell complete, forceful narratives that deliver sickeningly satisfying twists.
Garry Brown’s artwork in the main story feels very familiar to fans of the Conjuring movie series, with long panoramic views of rooms where Jessica is in one corner and something sinister is hiding in the other corner, which is draped in shadow. The artwork in the Artifact stories, though done by varying artists like Denys Cowen and Kelley Jones, all rely on slight variations of a realistic, painted style that makes the book almost feel like a Vertigo comic from the 1980’s. But what really plunges this book into bloody nostalgia are the spoof ads scattered throughout, all of them presenting the dark humor of many of those shows the overall book draws from.
Though this book says it connected to the Conjuring, serving as a prequel of sorts, it is in the most tangential way. Many of the stories in this book could simply stand alone in a horror anthology.This book is not only for adult horror fans, but for horror fans that fondly remember anthology series (or are younger and just now discovering them). If they are checking out DVDs of Creepshow and Tales from the Darkside, this would be a great recommended read.
DC Horror Presents: The Conjuring: The Lover By Katie Kubert, Editor Art by Steve Cook, Design Editor DC, 2022 ISBN: 9781779515087Related media: Comic to Movie
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
I’m always impressed by creators—whether they are artists or writers or something in between—who have the wherewithal to sit down and create something new. Creativity is hard work. It takes time, energy, and patience. I’m in awe of writers especially who can sit down and put a plot together, create characters, and tell a story.
Because of this, there seems to be a disconnect when I praise the work but don’t find the finished piece, well, very good. It feels traitorous somehow. I have never written a book or painted a picture so who am I to judge?
But that’s the thing about critiquing: you may not have had the experience creating but you do have experience in appreciating creative endeavors and also figuring out what appeals to you.
All of this is to say that Lords of Invention, a self-published work by Trenor Rapkins, does not appeal to me. It is neither good nor bad, it’s just fine, but it is not something I would recommend. There seems to be a disconnect with the author’s intent and the final result which is a shame because the period of history (early 20th century) and the concept are ripe for picking.
The Lords of Invention is a take on Edison vs Tesla. If you’re not familiar with the rivalry, Edison and Tesla were two inventors at the turn of the 20th century who competed against each other, notably Tesla’s AC current for electricity vs Edison’s DC current. (Tesla “won.”) It wasn’t just about electrical currents, but it was about anything really that powered the scientific mind. Edison ended up with over 1000 patents to Tesla’s 300, but some argue that Tesla’s work held more importance to science than Edison’s.
In The Lords of Invention, the main character, Augustus Scott, is a world-renowned inventor who sails to Europe to demonstrate his new inventions. While he is gone, his house is robbed and the robber kills Scott’s wife and daughter and then burns the place down. The hint is that a man named Levi Pickett is to blame. Pickett is an inventor himself who works at manual labor and can’t quite get the funds or interest to fuel his work. The rest of the story is Scott’s determination to prove that Pickett is responsible for the death of Scott’s family and stealing Scott’s work.
Except, we don’t really get that impression that Pickett is indeed the person who burgled Scott’s home and killed his family. We get a shadowy character caught by Mrs. Scott one evening but there is no suggestion that this is Pickett or any indication that would tie Pickett to the dastardly plan. Could it have been someone else? This is the biggest downfall of the book is the plot is haphazard and all over the place. It is often slow and events are not tied together in a coherent way. I found the “is it Pickett or is it not” plotline to be confusing. The book is self-published and there is no nod to an editor, which this story definitely needed to get the plot moving and cohesive.
The art is also done by Rapkins as a digital painting. Rapkins has a several page addendum to the story as to how and why he created the work as well as how long it took him. He chose digital painting to give it a steampunk feel and I can see that but it’s very subdued. I found the art to be strong in some places and weak in others, especially with shading and coloring. The lettering is the Blambot typeface which is to give it the comic book style appeal. Again, an editor and an actual letterer would have been a plus for this book, since the placing of the font was inconsistent with the story and some of the color choices faded in with the background making it hard to see.
Digital painting also gave the figures and objects a very flat appearance. The figures seemed to be blocky and their movements stiff. They didn’t feel, well, human.
The Lord of Invention looks and feels like a school project and not a professional piece of work. Rapkins has some talent, and it pops here and there, but ultimately not enough to make this book a success.
The Lords of Invention By Trenor Rapkins Art by Trenor Rapkins, 2021 ISBN: 9781736425916
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Jeffrey Brown sets Batman and Robin (Damian Wayne in this iteration) in an everyday, real-world setting to hilarious and heartwarming effect in this fresh take on the world of Gotham.
The story opens on Batman and Robin’s nighttime surveillance. When Robin mistakes a couple locked out of their car for criminals and attacks them, a frustrated Bruce Wayne tells his son he needs to work on his patience and observation skills. To help him with that, he takes Damian out of his fancy private school and enrolls him in Gotham Metro Academy.
Howard, a Black boy who loves comics and superheroes, is one of the most well-liked kids at Gotham Metro and with good reason: he’s friendly and caring, he’s smart, and he’s the most gifted athlete in the school. Kind kid that he is, he takes Damian under his wing, but Damian, who sees Howard as a competitor, is immediately suspicious and acts like a jerk.
In alternating viewpoints signaled to the reader with different colored narration boxes, Damian and Howard tell the story as they see it: Damian thinks Howard is out to get him, and Howard doesn’t understand why the new kid doesn’t like him. In a nice contrast to the usual brooding Dark Knight, Batman is played for comic relief. When he over-analyzes a simple crime and lands himself in trouble, Damian and Howard must put their differences aside and learn to work together.
A diverse group of good-natured kids help ground Gotham Metro in a realistic middle-school setting, with lots of casual chat and banter packed into the smaller format book. Most pages are uniform with six panels, but the clean lines prevent the detail-filled artwork from feeling cluttered, and those details show readers an ordinary side of Gotham City that we rarely see. The art has a classic comic feel in that Batman and Robin’s costumes are in the brighter, pre-1990s blue/gray and red/yellow, with a colorful palette in what appears to be water color giving it a soft, fresh look.
As he did in his Jedi Academy series, Brown makes it easy for readers to imagine extraordinary heroes in ordinary circumstances. Just as you’d expect, Batman is kind of awkward when it comes to dad stuff, and Damian, who can be insufferable in the DC canon, is really just a regular insecure kid. Howard is a great addition to the team. Share this title with kids who like their superheroes with a good dose of humor!
Batman and Robin and Howard By Jeffrey Brown DC, 2021 ISBN: 9781401297688 Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11) Character Representation: Black