Vampirella / Dejah Thoris Collection

An alien ship crashes on Mars and Dejah Thoris is sent to investigate in Vampirella/Dejah Thoris Collection by Erik Burnham. As Dejah gets closer to the ship, she is attacked by a giant white ape. Just as it is about to eat her, she is rescued by a mysterious woman who rips the ape apart. The woman, Vampirella, starts feeding on it. Vampirella tells Dejah that on her planet the blood rivers have dried up and her people are looking for a new home. Dejah warns that her people believe they are being invaded and that their home will be overrun. Dejah’s people are ready to ambush and attack. They realize they must work together to stop a tragedy from happening.

The cover of the graphic novel would have you think Vampirella and Dejah Thoris are at odds. They face each other, Dejah screaming and Vampirella with her teeth clenched. This is a far cry from how their relationship plays out in the story. I found the graphic novel to be treading a thin line between displaying a tendency for female empowerment and the male gaze. I found it empowering for these two women from different planets to be working together to resolve a conflict. They are portrayed as being the most competent characters. The men are rash and quick to seek a violent solution to a problem. They not only want to stop the invasion but also enslave Vampirella’s people. The female leads are highly sexualized in their costumes. Vampirella’s costume seems like it could barely contain her bust. Often when her backside is shown, her outfit rides up her butt. Dejah’s costume can vary from looking like a warrior princess to a slave girl. It made me question if the writers were trying to have their cake and eat it too. Pacify women with a strong female character and entice the male audience with scantily clad women.

Vampirella/Dejah Thoris Collection depicts Mars as a planet that can be desert and also have a forest. Other alien creatures inhabit this planet. One looked lizard-like with hair reminiscent of Medusa’s wavy snake hair. I was unimpressed by the creature’s design. Two of the creatures were an ape and a hippopotamus. None of them were given any depth or purpose other than to attack our heroes. I would have liked to see more world-building and how all these different factions co-existed.

I do not recommend Vampirella/Dejah Thoris Collection for inclusion into any collection unless you have a Vampirella or Dejah Thoris fan base. I was very hopeful by the teamwork displayed between the two heroes, but ultimately the ending felt too abrupt and unsatisfying. The story did not pique my interest to seek out other titles or want to continue on adventures with these heroes. This graphic novel is rated for older teens. The graphic novel does feature violence, with Vampirella biting into and slashing other creatures. As previously stated the heroes are scantily clad. Also featured are models dressed in cosplay as the title characters.

Vampirella/Dejah Thoris Collection
by Erik Burnham
ISBN: 9781524109790
Dynamite, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: T+ for older teens

Red Sonja: Ballad of the Red Goddess and Red Sonja/Tarzan

I think it’s fair to say that Red Sonja is something of an iconic character in the comic world these days, and a well-traveled one: she’s met Spider-Man, the Witchblade, Vampirella, even Betty and Veronica. The fact that she has become such a comics phenomenon is amazing, because her original concept was to be an interesting occasional side character for Conan the Barbarian to encounter in his comics.

Ballad of the Red Goddess gives us a striking re-telling of Sonja’s origin story and first adventure; it focuses on how Sonja came to be the force of nature she’s now known as, while also telling the story of the ill-fated King Thallos. An unnamed bard weaves the two stories together, creating the titular ballad. It also includes extensive character and scene sketches at the end, as well as introductions from the creators. Red Sonja/Tarzan covers the kind of encounter Sonja is known for: wild, funny, and unexpected. Sonja encounters Eson Duul, who takes her special dagger, kills her horse, and doesn’t realize what an enemy he makes in the process. Cue time traveling shenanigans that lead Sonja to meet Tarzan in the Victorian era, then travel to other places and times hunting down Eson.

Now, the art of Ballad is absolutely stunning, but the content does cover a difficult topic, some of the art can be considered exploitative of women, and it uses some language that is generally derogatory towards women. A character is raped, and it’s shown in a way to still make the character seem attractive and sexual, which can be difficult for some readers. In general, there are definite problems with sexualized violence. Thankfully, the Tarzan collaboration does not suffer from the same problem.

Red Sonja/Tarzan does suffer from some fairly inconsistent art, unfortunately; there are several pages throughout where details change from panel to panel. In one instance, Sonja is shown putting on a boot only to kick someone with a bare foot in the next panel, then standing with boots on the panel after. The writing in this comic is pretty great though, standard Gail Simone humor mixed with darkness and just very normal human moments.

It seems like because of Sonja’s origin as a side character who shows up at random, her comics history is one of very episodic stories with no strong connection between them. There have been short runs of comics with reboots of her origin story periodically, but it’s just as likely to see her on an adventure with Spider-Man for a few issues, as mentioned before. As such, I don’t really feel it’s important to have any other Red Sonja comics in a library collection to want to add either of these works. Ballad is one version of her origin story, after all, and Red Sonja/Tarzan covers enough background to get a reader with no familiarity up to speed on just about all characters involved.

Otherwise, in terms of potential collecting, Ballad is on the tall side, at almost a foot tall, which means the pages are nice and large to be able to see all the beautiful detail of the art, but it might make it difficult to fit on a shelf easily. Red Sonja/Tarzan is thankfully the standard trade size, so no issues there. I can’t say I strongly recommend either; I enjoyed both for different reasons, but both were problematic as well in their own ways. Red Sonja in general is a great addition to a collection that has other fantasy comics, especially works like Rat Queens, which could be used as a comparison piece for a comics-based book club even.

Red Sonja: Ballad of the Red Goddess
By Roy Thomas
Art by Esteban Maroto, Santi Casas
ISBN: 9781524108076

Red Sonja/Tarzan
By Gail Simone
Art by Walter Geovani
ISBN: 9781524108472
Dynamite, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Teen+

The Boys Omnibus, vol. 1

In a world where superheroes are depraved and immoral and require a group of people to keep them in line, welcome to the story of The Boys Omnibus, vol. 1 by Garth Ennis. The graphic novel is very reminiscent of The Watchmen by Alan Moore. Thinking of the line, “Who watches the Watchmen,” in this case, The Boys, made up of characters Billy Butcher, Hughie, The Frenchmen, Mother’s Milk, and The Female watch every move superheroes make and enact their brand of justice. Billy Butcher is the leader of the group and he has a very personal reason for why he seeks vengeance against the main superhero team, called The Seven.

The story kicks off with Hughie, who is enjoying a date with his girlfriend at a fair. They banter and share a tender kiss. As Robin pulls back from Hughie, she is run over by a superhero known as A-Train. A-Train shows no remorse, nor does he take responsibility for what he has done. He just speeds away from the scene and expects the police to sort it out. Hughie becomes distraught and is accosted by Billy Butcher, who recruits him to be part of The Boys.

The art of The Boys feels very drab to me. It gives a sense that it is a world that is dark, gritty, and devoid of any moral character. The characters themselves are average looking. It doesn’t feel like any of the female superheroes were made to look sexy or for the male gaze. The only exception comes a quarter of the way into the graphic novel wherein, as part of corporate marketing, Starlight is given a skimpy costume to show off her assets. The violence is very visceral: blood spraying out, bruised faces, and bloody limbs. There is frequent nudity, and illustrated sexual acts. Ennis likes to juxtapose violence and sex back to back. It makes neither act pleasurable, and every bit full of pain.

I don’t believe a typical recommendation can be given on this particular graphic novel. It comes down to a matter of taste, and your style. If you enjoyed Kick-Ass by Mark Millar, this is definitely up your alley. For libraries, you have to consider your audience, and where they stand on misogyny and homophobia. There may also be interest since Amazon has debuted a television series based on these graphic novels. I found many elements to be problematic and challenging for my sensibilities. For instance, I found the treatment of female characters to be upsetting. There is a female character called The Female who is part of The Boys team. She is a mute character, and other than killing, we get no sense of her personality. The newest member of The Seven, Starlight a.k.a. Annie, is made to endure humiliation and rape by the other superheroes as an initiation into the group.

Another aspect I found problematic is the gay jokes, and how homosexuality is made to be perverse and used as blackmail. One superhero is blackmailed because The Boys have a video of him and another man. The superhero has to out himself on live television or The Boys will release the footage. The superhero ends up losing his position as part of the group. This scenario is used frequently throughout the volume. The Boys Omnibus, vol. 1 earns its adult rating because of the content and use of gory violence and graphic sex. It might be suitable for some older teens, but I think they would need to receive trigger warnings before reading.

The Boys Omnibus, vol. 1
By Garth Ennis
Art by Darick Robertson
ISBN: 9781524108595
Dynamite, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

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Related to…: Comic to TV

Mars Attacks!

Aliens attack Earth! Panic ensues! Humanity is lost! A father and son duo learn to rely on one another like never before. Mars Attacks! is a riveting story of duty and family set at the very brink of human destruction. With classic illustrations and a good dose of humor, Mars Attacks! is a non-stop adventure.

Spencer is an average guy. He doesn’t know what he’s doing with his life but he knows that he’s unhappy. His father, The Major, is an ex-Marine who is deeply disappointed in his son’s lackadaisical ways and that Spencer dropped out of the military. While the two share a tense visit, the Earth is attacked by alien creatures who appear bent on complete destruction. Spencer and the Major find themselves running for their lives.

They embark on a topsy-turvy adventure: crossing paths with a gun-friendly militia group with a cool dog, the actual military, and a paranoid survivor who attempts to kill the two of them when they try to hide in his bunker. In the end, Spencer must make the choice to either continue to employ his passive resistance mentality or return to his more primal instincts to survive. After taking one of the aliens hostage, Spencer learns that these creatures from outer space have used up their own planet’s resources and plan to make the Earth their new home. He then turns the creature over the United States government for further questions. In the end, though, is the martians’ situation really any different from the current state of humanity?

Mars Attacks! by Kyle Starks and Chris Schweizer takes a beloved piece of pop culture and provides a new look for the franchise. The dialogue feels lived-in. The conversations between Spencer and his father are organic and natural. Schweizer captures the bulbous, bugged-eyed look of the aliens perfectly. They are frightening enough to be a threat, but also ridiculous-looking enough to keep with the theme of camp. With a bit of thoughtful commentary on modern social requirements in the writing and eye-catching old-school illustrations, Mars Attacks is an alien invasion tale with heart. The apocalypse is nigh anyway, so might as well enjoy the ride.

Mars Attacks! is appropriate for older teens and adults.. There is some cartoon-y violence and bloodshed. Mars Attacks! will be enjoyable to readers of the Creepshow comics by Stephen King and fans of the original Mars Attacks! comics by John Layman.

Mars Attacks!
By Kyle Starks
Illustrated by Chris Schweizer
ISBN: 9781524109943
Dynamite, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Teen +

Mars Attacks!
By Kyle Starks
Art by Chris Schweizer
ISBN: 9781524109943
Dynamite, 2009
Publisher Age Rating: Teen +

Jeepers Creepers, vol. 1: Trial of the Beast

One particularly profound moment in my life was when I realized I didn’t have to watch scary movies to be cool. Since that realization, I haven’t subjected myself to horror movies, though I am willing enough to pick up a horror novel or comic. Jeepers Creepers, vol. 1: Trail of the Beast is Marc Andreyko’s comic remake of the 2001 movie, Jeepers Creepers, which I have not seen. Doubtless that contextual knowledge would’ve helped me as I read this comic, but alas, I went into this blind. Upon my exit, I can verify that I still have no desire to see the movie, though I vaguely understand the plot line.

The synopsis of the plot drew me to the comic: Devon is a grad student who’s researching American mythological monsters as part of his thesis. He first visits the Aztec ruins to sneak into the closed Temple of the Feathered Serpent. In the temple, Devon imagines the ritualistic sacrifice of young men to Quetzalcoatl. After being detained for trespassing, an old man hands Devon a box in which an old knife sits. Devon pricks his hand on it, and the beast is awakened. Devon returns to the States and later encounters a Cherokee man who gives him peyote. Devon dreams of the lizard god, and the comic follows Devon’s path as he draws inevitably closer to finding out the truth behind the myth.

Andreyko relies on blue boxes of inner dialogue to give the reader information about Devon’s thoughts throughout his experiences. However, the tone of this text was inconsistent with the action occurring. Perhaps one might be flippant when dealing with a monstrous lizard god come to life, but I would have been fine as a reader without most of that pithy inner dialogue. I think Andreyko could’ve used the background of the thesis as means of better explaining the myth of the monster; I completely missed that this being awakens every 23 years to consume flesh.

Kewber Baal created a very convincing lizard god monster. He aptly portrayed the blood and gore that accompanies a monster snacking on human flesh. The faces of all characters, including the monster, were very emotive, properly capturing looks of abject fear and disbelief. It was a lot to take in visually, however; I found myself overwhelmed by all the action taking place on one page and the disparate use of panes from page to page. This style of intense action and constantly shifting layout comes with the horror genre, but I still found it a lot to take in.

This comic is rated for Teens, and I agree with this rating. After all, it was in my earliest teen years that I was first subjected to horror movies, so this will not be new ground for many readers. However, as expected in a horror comic, the art is gruesome and the imagery often disturbing. I would be inclined to choose other horror titles over this one (e.g., From Hell, Locke & Key, Infidel) when shelving my library, but this comic will likely be a pleaser to those who love horror movies, especially the 2001 film version of the same title.

Jeepers Creepers, vol. 1: Trail of the Beast
By Marc Andreyko
Art by Kewber Baal
ISBN: 9781524107925
Dynamite, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Teen

Nancy Drew: The Palace of Wisdom

I think it’s safe to say most of us have heard of the infamous girl detective, Nancy Drew. Created in 1930 as the counterpart to popular teenage detectives, The Hardy Boys, Nancy has been solving mysteries for nearly 90 years. Nancy remains wildly popular as ever; she is everywhere from books to movies, to TV shows (with a third incarnation happening this fall on The CW). There is also the award-winning popular computer game series about Drew which you can buy on Steam and there is even an annual Nancy Drew convention. Nancy is also the inspiration for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars.

Nancy is everywhere.

In Nancy Drew: The Palace of Wisdom, Nancy has received a threatening letter and returns to BayPort after many years. After much admonishing from her friends for not keeping in touch, Nancy reconnects with bestie Bess Martin, along with Bess’s cousin, George Fayne, George’s girlfriend, Danica, the Hardy brothers; Frank and Joe, as well as newcomer Pete, to solve a cold case: the death of Pete’s mother. While digging deeper into Pete’s mother’s death, Nancy stumbles upon a drug cartel masquerading behind a commercial lobster company as the bodies continue to pile up. What do the drugs, lobsters, and Pete’s mother’s death have in common? A lot, it seems.

With a nearly 100-year-old property, it’s always dicey to see how the reinvention will turn out. Kelly Thompson, of Mega Princess, Jessica Jones, and Jem and the Holograms fame, stays true to her style with feminist and diverse characters. George is a lesbian and her girlfriend, Danica, is a person of color. Nancy’s love interest, Peter, is half-Mexican and half-Black. The diversity of the characters isn’t used cheaply and it paints a portrait of 21st-century life. Thompson’s version of Nancy and her crew are realized characters with their own personalities and quirks. The only umbrage I take with Thompson’s universe is she made the librarian, Mrs. Simpson, a stereotype, which rankles my librarian self. But I digress.

Thompson’s writing is smart and her voice clear and fresh with its customary wit and banter. Nancy’s inner dialogue sometimes borders on fourth-wall breaking and at times it can be a bit heavy-handed, but it is used to further the action along rather than just produce thoughts. While sex and romance are sub-sub plots, it does warrant the age range of Young Adult, a time when sex and romance can be a bit tricky, and Thompson pulls it off beautifully.

The art by Jenn St-Onge, Thompson’s long-time collaborator, is gorgeous. I love her view of the Bayport gang. In previous versions of Nancy Drew, Nancy is often drawn a bit exaggerated while here she looks like a normal teenager. The only thing missing is Nancy’s trademark blue convertible, but alas we can’t have everything. The visual storytelling is straight forward and constant as well as the characters themselves. The colorist, Triona Farrell, uses color as a shift in the storyline. St-Onge and Farrell are perfectly paired.

There is a lot to recommend about The Palace of Wisdom. It’s a quick read that introduces a new generation to Nancy Drew. The language and attitudes of the teens are on par with today’s generation, so the speech will feel natural to the reader. The characters feel like your best friends, so there is a definite connection between the book and the characters. The mystery can be a bit choppy at some points, but it still remains polished. The book ends with Nancy being handcuffed by the police, leaving the story open-ended. I reached out to Thompson to see if there will be a continuation of the storyline; the answer is no. There was a pitch to continue with the story, but Dynamite passed. This is such a shame, because The Palace of Wisdom is a lot better both storytelling and art-wise than most books on the market.

The Palace of Wisdom does not disappoint in capturing the spirit of Nancy Drew. There is some intrigue, romance (Bess and Joe! George and Danica! Nancy and Pete!), and of course sleuthing. While the story itself is more focused on friendship and togetherness in addition to the mystery, it does not diminish the undercurrent reality of racism, classism, and sexism that are so pervasive in the 21st century. Nancy Drew has always been a sign of the times, but this time she is as finely written as she should have been all that long ago and that is a huge relief.

Nancy Drew: The Palace of Wisdom
By Kelly Thompson
Art by Jenn St-Onge
ISBN: 9781524108496
Dynamite, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Young Adult

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Character Traits: Black, Latinx Lesbian, Straight

Charlie’s Angels, vol 1: The Devil You Know

Charlie’s Angels: The Devil You Know is a television revamp comic published by Dynamite that collects issues 1-5 of the single issues. This comic publisher has published a fair amount of TV and movie tie-in comics, so it was only a matter of time until Charlie’s Angels got the Dynamite treatment. It’s written by John Layman, who fans may know as the writer behind the Eisner-winning Chew. He is joined by artist Joe Eisma, who is known for his artwork on the Eisner-winning Morning Glories. The duo creates a solid, fun comic that pays homage to the classic 1970s TV show while updating the property for modern audiences.

The first issue drops the reader into a 1970s nightclub called the Limbo Lounge where the Angels are undercover. Then it cuts to an almost perfect frame by frame of the original show intro which explains how Jill Munroe, Sabrina Duncan, and Kelly Garrett were police officers who were not appreciated for their talents until Charles Townsend took them away from all that. Charlie recognizes their potential and hires them at his private investigation firm. They now work for him despite only getting instructions via Charlie’s go-between Bosely and a speakerphone. They have been hired by the owner of the club, Theodore Gardner, who is also a ventriloquist, to expose his mob boss partner’s bad dealings. This is a classic Charlie’s Angels storyline. Only on 1970s television could a ventriloquist be the headliner at a hot Los Angeles night club. But the plot thickens because at the end of the first issue we meet two East German punks dressed all in white who knock out and kidnap Ted Gardner. They show up in the next issue to kidnap Charles Townsend (whose face is obscured of course.)

This is where the plot matures into a cold war thriller rooted in a classic 1970s detective show. The East Germans are working to overthrow the United States by kidnapping President Jimmy Carter. To do so, they need Ted Gardner’s voice acting ability as he can sound like the president and Charles Townsend. This way they can manipulate the Angels into traveling to Vienna to foil a KGB plot to trade U.S. nuclear secrets. However, the man who the Angels think is KGB is actually Agent Jeremy Bryce who was in deep cover for the CIA before they blew it. The Angels realize their mistake and try to make it right. Which means they have to get into East Germany to a CIA safe house. They inform Charlie of this, but not the exact location of where they are because they are suspicious. It’s not uncommon they get sent into a situation where the police are unable to infiltrate, but state secrets and espionage are a different game. They give a false location to see what will happen which results in faking their deaths and catching the bomber who they interrogate for more information. The Angels also think it’s suspicious that President Jimmy Carter happens to be giving a speech in Europe while they’re there.

Next up we meet the inverse of Charle’s Angels; Helena and her Satansbraten, who have been hired by the East German punks. The Angels end up double-crossing the Satansbraten because they don’t know which Angel is which, and each woman has a specific skill set. Sabrina is the tactician, Jill is the sharpshooter, and Kelly is the martial artist. By doing a swaparoo, the Angels rescue President Carter saving democracy as we know it. They also hatch a plot to save Charlie and Ted who are being held captive at Charlie’s mansion. They get Bosley to bring three fake angels (who will go on to become Angels later) and say he’s switching sides. The fake Angels take on the East Germans and free their captives. Every bad guy goes to prison, and the Charlie’s Angels are awarded the Presidential Medal of Heroism. It flashes to the future where the original Angels are now in charge of Townsend Investigations.

This comic is so much fun! If your library already has a fair amount of Dynamite TV and movie tie-in comics then this is an automatic add. Is it a groundbreaking comic? No, but it’s incredibly entertaining and provides enough fan-service while telling a much more advanced plot than the average viewer would expect. As a long-time Charlie’s Angels fan I was pleasantly surprised by the fast-paced cold war plot. Someone new to the Angels can easily pick up this comic up as a layman as it gives a good foundation for who the Angels are and what they do. The art is spot on for the 1970s fashions and it’s easy to tell the Angels apart while reading. A more junior artist would blur the lines between Kelly and Sabrina since they’re both brunettes. I also liked that the art wasn’t over the top cheesecake in regard to our Angels and their Satansbraten counterparts. The TV show was referred to as “jiggle tv” by critics, so it’s nice to see the ladies are shown as strong heroines who can handle themselves while wearing fashionable attire. The back matter features a cover gallery which does have some cheesecake imagery, but that’s just a few covers. Most of them are tasteful and play up the adventure aspect of the women going undercover.

Charlie’s Angels, vol 1: The Devil You Know
By John Layman
Art by Joe Eisma
ISBN: 9781524108489
Dynamite, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Teen+

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