Dungeons & Dragons: Ravenloft: Orphan of Agony Isle

Celebrity endorsements and a pandemic that forced many to stay indoors has helped the tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons (or D&D) achieve a kind of resurgence. While enduring in an age of Xboxes and Playstations, its current popularity boost has created a smorgasbord of D&D tie-in media, even whole universes that exist under the D&D umbrella. One such universe doesn’t even use a dragon. The Ravenloft universe of D&D has its players typically fight vampires and werewolves rather than fire-breathing dragons, but this world does provide a lot of storytelling opportunities, as demonstrated in the book D&D: Ravenloft: Orphan of Agony Isle, written by Casey Gilly and illustrated by Bailey Underwood.

The opening of this story might be very familiar to some: a dark, foreboding castle; flashes of lightning, and a creation that has just awakened. However, it is not Dr. Frankenstein who has brought his creation to life. The doctor in question is Viktra Mordenheim and what has awakened has no memory of who she was before. She chooses the name Miranda, and she mostly obeys Dr. Mordenheim’s rules, particularly that she should stay on the castle grounds and never venture outside, but Miranda is desperate to learn more about her past, even if it could cost her the new life she was given.

This book could initially be dismissed as heavily plagiarizing Frankenstein. However, the dynamic of Miranda and Viktra is just the wraparound story, and the majority of this collection features stories about other Ravenloft inhabitants encountering ghosts, sea monsters, and other creatures that stalk the night. These stories might vary in quality from one to another, but they all involve characters meeting gruesome ends, which brings to mind horror anthology films that also keep their individual terrifying tales tied together with a wraparound story.

The artwork itself is restrained, using a more spooky atmosphere rather than relying on visceral, full-on horror. The designs of the various characters even show a slight manga influence, which signals that the target audience of this book are young adults who are familiar with the world of Ravenloft and of D&D. There are characters that appear to resemble elves and halflings (or Hobbits, a term familiar with Lord of the Rings fans), meaning that Gilly and Underwood expect their audience to have at least a basic familiarity with the universe their characters occupy.

This book is definitely for a specific audience, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a niche one. There are plenty of people that, if they’re not currently playing D&D, then they remember playing the game and having fun, and there are still those who have fond memories of or wish to learn more about the Ravenloft setting. To see if this would be a good purchase for your library’s collection, look for signs in your own library. Does it have a Dungeons & Dragons group? Do you have the rulebooks and adventures for the game, and if so, how often do they check out? This book is a solid collection of creepy stories, but the entryway into them requires knowing something about the book’s dark and dreadful universe.

Dungeons & Dragons: Ravenloft: Orphan of Agony Isle
By Casey Gilly
Art by Bayleigh Underwood
IDW, 2022
ISBN: 9781684059560

Related media:  Game to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)

The Girl and the Glim

The Girl and the Glim is a part-cute and part-grisly graphic novel about a young anxiety-ridden girl saving a small town from hidden monsters. In the first volume of this new series, the author and illustrator, India Swift, creates a world that both captures the awkward and nerve-wracking realities of starting a new middle school juxtaposed against other-worldly monsters.

The cover is a perfect description of the contents within. A cartoon illustration of a cute girl illustrated with purple highlights as she embraces a pale fluff, while a menacing tower of black spidery monsters hovers above her, ready to attack. The comic opens with Bridgette, a young girl with large eyes and a head full of hair, laying on a broken floor as a cloud of torn pictures swirls around her. Bridgette is scared about living in a new town and a new school away from her friends. She has daydreams of a strong confident girl who impresses all the other students at school, when in reality she stumbles, is awkward, and is laughed at by her classmates. Swift has created a very real character in Bridgette.  Her emotions and ways of coping (or avoiding) will ring true with many readers.

The story continues in a typical new town/new school story, including moving boxes, busy parents, an empty house, and cringe-worthy encounters with other children at school. There is even an awkward meet-cute with a potential new friend in the neighborhood. Then the story begins to diverge into the paranormal.

It is a heartwarming coming of age story, about a young girl overcoming nervous anxiety in a new home with new people. However, those anxieties are manifested as monsters, and her newfound confidence comes as she fights back.

The illustrations are rich in color with strong lines and a level of detail that is common among middle-grade graphic novels and the cartoons those readers love. But this illustration style shifts when Bridgette falls down a steep hill behind the school. The color leaves the pages, and the illustrations become more chaotic, with much sharper angles and harsh black lines. A monster looms above her, well, not one monster, but a mountain of monstrous spiders with sharp teeth and spindly legs. These pages are filled with black and moments of angry red.

The power in comics comes from the marriage of illustration and text. The dynamic shift in tone through illustrations builds tension in a way that would be lost in another format. I found it to be beautifully executed in a way that adds just the right amount of horror for the young audience.

The book ends with some unanswered questions, and I am happily looking forward to the rest of the series to find out what happens. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I am confident it will be popular with upper elementary and middle school readers. Those readers navigating their own coming-of-age stories will find humor, comfort, and a thrilling story with The Girl and the Glim.

The book was originally self-published in 2017 and has been updated with additional pages in the current publication.

The Girl and the Glim, Vol. 1
By India Swift
IDW, 2022
ISBN: 9781684057412

Publisher Age Rating: 9-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)

Godzilla: World of Monsters

There are three separate stories where monsters and humans collide in Godzilla: World of Monsters. The first story, “Gangsters & Goliaths,” written by John Leyman, follows a detective chased by the Yakuza. He was framed for killing his partner and fled to Monster Island. There he seeks the assistance of Mothra. This story is my least favorite of the bunch. I found the Detective’s motives and actions perplexing. Most of the human characters, no matter what their age, have wrinkly skin. The scenes on Monster Island are vibrant, featuring greens and orange colors. However, the sequences back in the city are in grays and browns, conveying that it’s under siege by gangsters and monsters.

I felt the complete opposite about the next story, “Cataclysm,” by Cullen Bunn. It opens up in red as if this is a city on fire and signifying the monster’s fury. This world is where the monsters have come and destroyed the world. The surviving humans believe that this is due to human sin and the monsters are punishment for it. They believe the only way to atone for their actions is to offer a human sacrifice. The human world is shown in yellow with scenes of destruction and decay. What I liked was the character development surrounding the grandfather character. He is given a back story, and we learn what “sin” the humans committed to bring about this cataclysm. The grandfather is bald on top with wisps of gray hair. In his eyes, you can see a person who wears the weariness and pain of the world on his face. This story has a satisfying ending and characters you care about. This story made the collection worth reading.

The final story, “Oblivion,” by Joshua Fialkov, tells the tale of time travelers from a parallel world who accidentally bring a monster back with them. They decide the only way to save their world is to find another monster to battle it and they may end up regretting that decision as the two monsters destroy everything in sight. The human characters wear colors like black or white, while the monsters are featured in colorful yellows and reds. The human characters aren’t drawn very realistically and look more cartoonish. There is more emphasis on the military and scientists than on everyday people. This story is very close to being one of my least favorites, as I didn’t find any of the human characters compelling. The one redeeming quality this story has is its ending, which will leave you feeling haunted about the decisions made to save humanity.

One thing across all three stories that I appreciated was the artwork and design of the monsters. As a Kaiju fan, I think they captured these creatures’ epicness, size, and scale. Their color hues make them stand out, and you can see the little details like their scales and spikes. Despite the monster artwork, the stories contained within the graphic novel are not as compelling. The stories assume that you are familiar with the monster verse and rarely name some of the classic monsters from the series. All of them make an appearance in these stories, and unless you have seen the 20 plus Godzilla films out there, you won’t know who’s who in this universe’s rogues gallery. Adults who grew up on the movies will enjoy this title. Those unfamiliar will find this a challenging read.

 


Godzilla: World of Monsters
By John Layman, Cullen Bunn, Joshua Fialkov
Art by Alberto Ponticelli, Dave Wachter, Brian Churilla
IDW, 2021
ISBN: 9781684058303
Publisher Age Rating: T

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)

Scarenthood

Those that consider graphic novels as a medium strictly for the young cite the fact that it relies greatly on pictures as well as words to tell a story, but those people might not be aware of the multiple examples of graphic novels tackling adult themes. These examples use a combination of pictures and words to convey a multitude of stories from a variety of viewpoints, including those adults who are responsible for the care and feeding of one or multiple smaller humans. One story that explores the POV of parents in the Irish paranormal mystery Scarenthood written and drawn by Nick Roche.

The story features four parents in Ireland who meet because their kids go to the same preschool, but who end up bonding because of a supernatural mystery. The cast of this book features Cormac, the main protagonist who the reader watches slowly fall apart. There’s also Jen, whose husband spends months working away from home and who is on Jen’s nerves when he is home. Rounding out the foursome is acerbic Siobhan and conspiracy theorist Flynno, who has a significant connection to the supernatural disturbances at their kids’ school. What begins as a diversion for the three parents from their lives of carting children and packing lunches becomes a threat to their lives and the lives of their children.

As a parent myself, I found myself heavily involved in Roche’s story, particularly Cormac’s, the character that gets the most attention. The supernatural entity that he’d unwittingly released has latched onto this single dad, affecting not only his sanity but his ability to raise his daughter Scooper. Cormac’s descent into self-doubt is sure to garner a lot of sympathy from parents who might feel they are not being the best caregiver. Cormac’s slippage is, however, closely followed by his new friends and it is initially through their eyes that we see Cormac struggle. When they come together to help him, it is a moment that showcases and further solidifies their bond. Roche does an excellent job of fleshing out the secondary parental characters, particularly Jen and Flynno. When at home, Jen shows signs of stress at always having her well-intentioned husband underfoot when it comes to raising their daughter. Flynno could have come across as a boisterous, unlikable know-it-all but Roche avoids this by diving into his backstory and giving him moments that let his heart shine.

The artwork hits the perfect balance for this kind of story. The characters do not look hyper-realistic; in some instances, they look like they could be part of a daily or monthly comic strip. In a story that is equal parts supernatural horror and comedy focusing on the mundane and mind-numbing aspects of parenting, the art style is a perfect fit. Indeed, the art and story, much like other great graphic novels, both work in harmony to tell a story with sympathetic characters facing down a mystical threat from Irish folklore that is worse than forgetting to pick up your child’s favorite cereal.

Scarenthood would be a great choice for libraries looking to fill their collection of horror graphic novels with something different, but this would also be a great choice for a library that has parents who wear t-shirts emblazoned with pictures of Frankenstein or The Lost Boys as they drop their little one off for storytime. Much like how parents are asked to maintain a delicate balance of being there for their small children while trying to carve out a life for themselves, Scarenthood maintains a balance of fun supernatural mystery and comedic look at the real-life funny-yet-frightening aspects of parenting.


Scarenthood
By Nick Roche
IDW, 2021
ISBN: 9781684058310

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Irish
Character Representation: Irish