Staff Picks: Top Comics of 2022

Introduction

 Another year has come and gone, and the Features Team is proud to share our favorite titles from 2022. We hope you have a chance to revisit some favorites and discover new ones! 

Across a Field of Starlight

Blue Delliquanti

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Fassen--a soldier in an intergalactic war-- and Lu--a member of a secret commune with a passion for research--become friends after a chance encounter. They use a special channel to communicate and develop their friendship. When they are finally reunited, trouble soon follows, threatening all they care about.

Appeals to

Across a Field of Starlight is a fantastic sci-fi story exploring how systematic factors shape us and how to break away. Delliquanti's rich artwork expertly captures the setting and characters, and I loved the diversity of characters and viewpoints. Fans of queer science fiction and fantasy and readers who enjoy stories that question systems will find much to enjoy here.

Creator Identities:

Nonbinary |

Main Character Identities:
Nonbinary |

Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands

Kate Beaton

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Unable to find work in her home province, Kate Beaton worked two years in the Alberta oil sands in order to pay off her student loans. In this engaging memoir, she recounts the highs and lows of her experience—specifically the struggles of working as a woman in a male-dominated industry where isolation and grueling work are a key part of the workplace environment.

Appeals to

Beaton's nuanced portrait of working in a male-dominated field should not be missed; her discussion captures her and her co-workers' humanity while still exploring the bigger social forces at work. Her artwork captures the varied landscape and co-workers equally well and works to emphasize the humanizing message. Pick this up if you are interested in nonfiction about labor issues, gender, and inequality

Content Notes

Sexual assault; mental health (including a brief mention of suicide)

Creator Identities:

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Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Forest Hills Bootleg Society

Nicole Geaux

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The year is 2005 and the location is a small town in California primarily known for its Christian boarding school; the situation is four friends trying to figure out all the big questions by selling bootleg anime to boys at their schools. Understandably, this goes poorly and things get out of hand. This is a story of how bleak life can be, and that maybe it's okay that things don't turn out well. It's complicated and dark, with gorgeous art in a limited teal color palette.

Appeals to

For readers who grew up encountering anime in the early 00s, this can be a solid pick for the nostalgia of it. Also readers of Squad who like a darker story of friendship, or readers of Slip that appreciated the way the story dealt with processing a changing friendship.

Content Notes

There are a lot of sad or difficult topics in this, either seen frequently or just briefly mentioned: Christian-based discrimination towards LGBTQ+ people, eating disorders, grief, depression, cheating in romantic relationships

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Frizzy

Claribel Ortega

Rose Bousamra

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No matter what, it feels like everyone is always telling Marlene something about her isn't right: her skin's darker, she's not feminine enough, and her hair is the wrong texture. She dreads the weekly trips to the salon to have it straightened, and finally, with the help of her best friend Camila and her cool Tia Ruby, she starts to embrace her hair. Through it, she helps her mom let go of the past and embrace change as well.

Appeals to

While this is a great book to pick up for kids dealing with confidence issues around their hair, it's also a great story of a family learning to communicate better. This would be a great pick for readers of The Tryout or Miss Quinces, but also comics like the Berrybrook Middle School series.

Content Notes

Discussions of racism and colorism are kind of central to the book.

Creator Identities:

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Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Garlic and the Witch

Bree Paulsen

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After conquering many of her anxieties and fears when she went to encounter the vampire who is now a friend of the farm, Garlic is faced with a new problem: she might be turning human. But Witch Agnes has been so busy, and Garlic doesn't want to bother her. So she does what Garlic does best: go on a quest. This is a perfect sequel to Garlic and the Vampire, with all the charm and sweetness as the first book.

Appeals to

The gentle nature and focus on the natural world in Garlic and the Witch is a great choice for readers of Nightlights and Pilu of the Woods, and the adventurous side of Garlic's story can appeal to fans of the Hilda series. I could see this appealing to fans of the Tea Dragon Society series, with its gentle lessons on life.

Creator Identities:

Main Character Identities:

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

M is for Monster

Talia Dutton

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In this Frankenstein re-telling, Dr. Frances Ai is determined to bring her sister back to life after an accident leads to her untimely death. When Maura's body rises she thinks she's done it. But is Maura the one who is in this reanimated corpse? And if it's not Maura, then who is it?

Appeals to

Fans of the original story will appreciate this new way to look at the same themes, what is life, and what responsibility the creator has to its creation.

Content Notes

Death, ghosts

Creator Identities:

Main Character Identities:

Recommended by

Tayla Cardillo

Mamo

Sas Milledge

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Jo goes looking for a witch to help with a situation in her home and finds instead Orla, granddaughter of the former village witch Mamo, who is adamant she's not the new witch for this village. As they work together to figure out why Mamo's death caused so much chaos, Jo and Orla learn more about their needs and the world around them. It's a beautiful comic full of vibrant landscapes and a realistic view of small village life.

Appeals to

Mamo is fantastic for readers of comics like The Well, Coming Back, or Tidesong that have small quiet magic and long moments of reflection, as well as dealing with the consequences of someone else's actions, and sometimes that turns out to be unprocessed grief.

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Messy Roots

Laura Gao

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This graphic memoir, with the color pallet of the beach sunset postcard, is a heartfelt coming-of-age story about finding your place in the world when the country you were born in is vastly different than the country you grew up in. That journey becomes even more complicated for Gao when they start to realize they aren't straight. Then COVID-19 happens and suddenly the place Gao and her family are from becomes the center of the world's attention, most of it negative.

Appeals to

This timely graphic memoir will resonate with anyone who is struggling to find their place in the world, especially if part of that journey involves reconciling two or more cultural identities within oneself.

Content Notes

Discuss of the COVID-19 pandemic

Creator Identities:

Main Character Identities:

Recommended by

Tayla Cardillo

Other Ever Afters

Melanie Gillman

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A princess falls for the goose girl but is stymied when her prestige and wealth do not influence her crush. A young woman enlists the help of a trickster to escape an unloving marriage. An individual's dead name starts to burn them when they are unable to tell everyone in their village their new name. These are just a sampling of the wonderful fairy tales you will find in Melanie Gilman's newest graphic novel.

Appeals to

These beautiful fairy tales filled my heart—they were warm and thoughtful, giving comfort and visibility and provoking thoughts about how things are. Gilman's amazing colored pencils bring the stories to life. Young and adult fairy tale lovers and misfits will find much to enjoy here.

Creator Identities:

Main Character Identities:

Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Our Not-So-Lonely Planet Travel Guide

Mone Sorai

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Uptight Asahi and easygoing Mitsuki can seem like an odd couple, always at opposite ends of things, but one thing they agree on is taking a trip around the world as a test of their relationship. If they can make it, then the two will get married! But first, they have to find their hotel. And somewhere to eat. It's part explainer manga, with tidbits of info about each country they visit, part romance as we see Asahi and Mitsuki learn to work together and communicate their needs, and all gorgeous art. Of course, this is a new series with only two volumes so far, so who knows where it will go from here.

Appeals to

While this is billed as boys' love because it is a relationship between two men, readers expecting sex scenes will be disappointed; this series will appeal more to readers of slower stories like Restart After Coming Home or I Hear the Sunspot, especially as this focuses on adults rather than high school students. So pick this up for readers who want more grown-up relationships with less pining and quiet shared moments of happiness.

Content Notes

Some discussion of discrimination against LGTBTQ+ people, but generally this is more to look at how different countries treat the community

Creator Identities:

Main Character Identities:

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Space Story

Fiona Ostby

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In a story that skips between the past and present, Hannah and Leah fall in love and start a family. However, their present is a struggle; Hannah is on a space station while Leah and their child Bird are stuck on a rapidly dying Earth. Leah and Bird are not about to give up though. Will they be reunited?

Appeals to

Space Story was a bittersweet yet comforting story that I wanted to read again immediately after I finished. I love Ostby's storytelling decisions in the artwork, their character designs, and the fact that they include a variety of body types. Readers looking for a warm, ultimately hopeful queer story will find much to enjoy here

Content Notes

Brief nudity but in contexts where it makes sense to be naked

Creator Identities:

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Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Supper Club

Jackie Morrow

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Senior year can be tough. Classes, prepping for college, and extracurriculars, it can be hard to find time to just...hang out. Nora, Lili, and Iris come up with a solution. A supper club for a select group of their friends, held once a month so that they can make sure that they see each other before they all go away to college. But when life's demands get louder for all three girls, will they put supper club on the back burner?

Appeals to

If "sharing food with friends" is your love language, this book is for you.

Content Notes

Family member with a serious illness.

Recommended by

Tayla Cardillo

Swim Team

Johnnie Christmas

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Bree was not excited about moving to Florida, but she was hopeful she'd be able to join the math extracurricular at her new school. Instead, she has to take a swimming class! Thanks to her kind neighbor's help, Bree discovers a new interest and joins her school team. With the team facing the potential loss of their pool, can Bree help them win a championship?

Appeals to

Swim Team is a heartwarming story about never giving up and discovering new passions. Readers who like the coming-of-age and realistic challenges of stories such as New Kid, Roller Girl, and Click will likely enjoy this one.

Creator Identities:

Main Character Identities:

Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Buckhead

There couldn’t be a better example of the reimagining of classic science fiction elements into diverse multicultural-themed new stories than Shobo and Kambadais’s Buckhead. This comic shows that the reinvention of science fiction even reaches into the middle school. There have been many recent great adult African- and African-American based science fiction books, and now Buckhead enters the genre. Buckhead’s story has so many allusions to well-known science fiction movies that I couldn’t keep up—I wrote them down! I won’t mention them here, though. You’ll have fun finding them and pointing them out to your pre-teens – because this comic is fun for both them and you. Boom! Studios does it again!

Tobe is a software modder and the new kid at school, and everything is weird. NO, REALLY WEIRD. It’s not just that his dad disappeared before their move from Nigeria to the US, other kids mispronounce his name, and no one knows where Nigeria is. He saw a house on the way to school that his new friend Josue didn’t, everyone has the same tattoo on their neck, and other people keep freezing in place! Good thing he’s met a few good friends—they’ll all need to work together to figure out why there’s a huge AI video game in the basement of the school, a huge 3D printer and vat of goop in the auditorium, and dark men in black outside Tobe’s house at midnight! And his mom disappears at weird times—what’s her involvement in all this?

Artist George Kambadais’s lines and coloring are sharp and vivid and express the digital tech theme central to the story. The asymmetrical borders and panels create constant movement, though the pacing is a little awkward. Your middle-schoolers won’t notice. The characters’ joking and kidding with each other even in the face of world conquest make them likable, and little touches like Mel’s mouth stuffed full of fries in the lunchroom and the digitally rendered dog Shadow make it easy to love them. Plus, the dog wasn’t hurt, so good on you, Shobo! Letterer Jim Campbell’s work makes the eeriness of the evil creature Ewon plain. I did wonder why the computer lab had the old-style CRT monitors, if the school is in the US.

There is a funny reoccurring joke about not touching things – It made me think of various science fiction movies where this is a trope. Remember kids, don’t touch things that you don’t know about! Don’t click the .exe file, don’t enter the door with the skull and crossbones…in short, DON’T.

Buckhead is a definite buy for ages 7 to 13. The trade paperback compiles issues 1-5 and is a complete story which also explores the Yoruba culture of Nigeria. Add it to your middle school library and teach a social studies lesson around it!

Buckhead
By Shobo Coker
Art by George Kambadais
BOOM! Box, 2022
ISBN: 9781684158478

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)

Origins

The first clue that Origins was going to be a tricky read was on the credits page where three people are listed under “created by” and one person under “script by.” That is a very specific, and telling, piece of information given how grandiose the pitch from the publisher sounds. The BOOM! Studios description says: “One thousand years after humans have become extinct and replaced by artificial intelligence, a single man is brought back to life—David Adams, who created the technology that destroyed his people. Even with the help of the same android who revived him, Adams may not be enough to reignite the spark of humanity—and stop the AI overlords who plan to eliminate mankind permanently. Now Adams embarks on the greatest journey of his life, as he seeks to find redemption for his biggest mistake and discover if humanity can—or should—have any kind of future.”

I use the publisher description here because they unintentionally highlighted several of the issues I had with this story, the largest being how heavy handed the whole thing is. There is not a lot of originality to be found in Origins if you have any experience with post-apocalyptic story telling in any format. The protagonist being named David Adams is just biblical enough to feel contrived and the evil AI network is referred to as “The Network.” That android who was programmed to find and clone a new David is named Chloe. She is modeled on David’s wife and that adds a whole other layer to her being his surrogate mother. They upload old David’s memories into new David so he can try to restore humanity, but this opens the can of worms ‘does he deserve a second chance’ and how does that play out. This is also, obviously, the part of the post-apocalypse story where he learns from his own self where the secret location is of the key to saving humanity, The Vault of Life. They literally named it “The Vault of Life” as if the audience would not understand what was going to happen there.

The story is told through “Then” and “Now” time hops so we can see David as a child growing into the frustrated last-man-on-Earth he is currently. They spend most of the book traveling towards old David’s lab and Vault. They meet other robots along the way and questions of “humanity”, free will, slavery, and more all pop up. In the end, Chloe is “killed” and absorbed by The Network while trying to defend David. She realizes she has evolved beyond her original programming and The Network cannot handle what it is downloading from her consciousness. She says it wasn’t designed to withstand an attack from inside itself like this and isn’t ready for the altered programming. This is when we learn the thing that will save humanity from the robot overlords is love. Literally, actually love. It should have landed with some amount of weight, but this was telegraphed throughout the story and lacked any subtlety.

The art from Jakub Rebelka is visually distinct and works incredibly well for the giant landscapes, all the robots and most of the animals. There is a darker, muddier color pallet and heavy line work which lends to the tone of the book. The overgrown world feels textured and alive, which was one of the things that kept me turning pages. The part that lets the art down are the humans and there aren’t a lot of them so it sticks out.

There is not a publisher rating available for Origins, but I can see it finding an audience with teens and adults looking for a post-apocalypse story that is not full of zombies. There is very little objectionable content here with the exception of a few bad words. For anyone looking for a tale of a humanity trying to claw its way back, but without some of the gratuitous violence that accompanies some of those stories, this book has only robot on robot fighting.

Origins
By Clay McLeod Chapman
Art by Jakub Rebelka
BOOM! Studios, 2021
ISBN: 9781684155552

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)

Hollow

Izzy Crane, Sleepy Hollow’s newest resident and paranormal cynic, is getting a little tired with the town’s obsession of its famous local legend, the Headless Horseman. Even with Halloween right around the corner, Izzy has no time to focus on ghosts when making new friends at a new school has its own challenges, like her developing crush on local teen icon Vicky Van Tassel. That all changes, however, when the Horseman himself chases her down one night, bringing with him a deadly mystery that’s been haunting the Van Tassel family for generations. To save her from a gruesome fate, Izzy must team up with Vicky and jock prankster, Croc Byun, and face the malevolent force stalking Sleepy Hollow.

The writing team of Shannon Watters, co-author and co-creator of Lumberjanes, and debut author Branden Boyer-White brings new life into this legendary tale, with Hollow standing as a fresh reimagining for a new generation. Each member of the core trio carries a great amount of charisma, sparking from Izzy’s skepticism and determination, Vicky’s need for identity beyond her family name, and Croc’s goofball good-naturedness. Their dynamic with each other easily makes them a group to root for as they face conflicts both supernatural and domestic.  Izzy and Vicky’s relationship in particular serves as the heart of the story as the reader slowly sees them grow closer and navigate their feelings for each other, resulting in sweet scenes of queer teen romance, as well some comedic moments from a clueless Croc. Along with the sapphic representation, the comic holds a diverse cast, with Izzy being biracial and Latina, Croc Asian, and a side character/potential love interest named Marjorie using mobility aids.

One aspect that was somewhat disappointing was the villain, whose entire vibe just screams baddie from his first panel. Though his role is immediately obvious, I was hoping for something to make him stick out more, a hidden layer or an interesting motivation. And yet, from start to finish, everything about him comes off as surface level, which is a shame given the potential that comes from updating such an iconic story. I kept feeling like I was waiting for a reveal or explanation of his identity or actions, something to further his characterization, only for it to fizzle out at the end. While I was left wanting more in this regard, everything else about the story, from its characters to the reframing and revisioning of the Headless Horseman folklore, provided a good balance that left me satisfied in the end.

Artist Berenice Nelle captures the Halloween spirit with lovely crisp colors that ooze with autumn charm that matches the coziness of the small-town setting. While some panels have backgrounds that wonderfully utilize one or both of these aesthetics, there are several panels, especially as the story progresses, that only use a flat, solid color. The backgrounds in these panels typically succeed in getting emotions across, but may break immersion in the scene or cause it to be less visually interesting, especially if they take up the majority of the page. In this instance, the characters become the focal point of the panel and, for the most part, Nelle’s designs always manage to bring vitality to each scene. Facial expressions are emotive and carry a great deal of personality, and the character designs come together to form a distinct cast of characters. Vicky, in an act of self-expression, is constantly shown wearing different clothing styles leaning towards gothic, country, or preppy to name a few, and not a one looks out of place on her. Nelle’s illustrations hold an intrigue to them that makes readers excited to see what could be waiting for them on the next page.

Those that enjoy the supernatural shenanigans of Lumberjanes as well as the spooky style and characterization of Specter Inspectors will most likely enjoy Hollow, a story that leans more on the lighter, more comedic side of paranormal activity while still having its moments of danger and action. Teens and younger adults may gravitate towards this title for its sense of humor, moments of drama, and relatable issues, especially when it comes to living up to and trying to distance oneself from familial expectations, making it a good fit for the 13-17 demographic. Educators and librarians looking to fill their graphic novel collections with inclusive reimaginings in terms of story, characters, and tone should consider purchasing this title.

Hollow
By Branden Boyer-White, Shannon Watters
Art by  Berenice Nelle
BOOM! Box, 2022
ISBN: 9781684158522

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Lesbian,  Character Representation: East Asian, Latine, Lesbian, Queer,

BRZRKR

An immortal warrior who longs for peace. A researcher who wants answers. A government that wants a compliant weapon. As they delve into the mysteries of B’s existence, their interests are aligned—until they aren’t.

From Boom! Studios, BRZRKR Vol. 2 sees the return of Keanu Reeves’s supernatural soldier Unute who has killed his way across millennia. Now in the clutches of the U.S. government with a loose agreement of cooperation, B continues to lend his talent for violence to those who can help him find answers—and he hopes, eventual mortality. The story continues with a new military mission to retrieve an artifact with personal ties to B’s past as well as an experiment that may unlock the truth of his existence. However, on the battlefield and off, there are multiple parties, each with their own agendas, and in the quest to harness or escape immortality, some will win, and others will suffer. As a new experiment comes to fruition, B and those who surround him may find their paths forever transformed.

Rejoining Reeves, Matt Kindt continues to co-write the series, balancing B’s personal narrative with the larger intrigue and conflicts of the global storyline of the series. As with the first volume, the most compelling storytelling comes from B himself. Volume 1 saw the character wrestling with conflicting identities as a man and a weapon. Volume 2 sees him reflecting on those he has loved, taken from him across the centuries, while also pressing deeper into his own origins as a way to unlock his future. While this personal center continues to ground the story, the intrigue of government interests takes center stage here as competing researchers—some more moral than others—work to understand B’s origins. From a covert military operation, through an unanticipated escape across enemy territory, to a cutting-edge experiment with unintended consequences—the military storyline is less refined than the personal, but nevertheless propels the story forward into new territory as information is revealed and B’s existence continues to shape the course of history.

Drawn by Ron Garney, the bold linework and dramatic paneling of BRZRKR moves between past and present, bringing the personal and the epic to life as centuries of narrative unfold across the pages. This volume spends less time on the more intimate moments of the narrative. Instead, we see more of B’s past in bold color as the violence of civilizations long faded unfolds in bloody detail across the page. And in the modern timeline, conniving government contractors and supernatural experiments cut their path across the page, bringing the cooperating, contrasting powers of the story alongside one another before spinning them off again, each on their own course. It’s not the most dynamic art in graphic novels, but the matte colors and bold scenes carry the narrative forward with each unfolding revelation.

All in all, Vol. 2 of BRZRKR is a satisfactory continuation of the story begun in Vol. 1. B’s story—which I consider the most interesting piece of the series—takes a step back in favor of the current government timeline, but enough of the key elements of the series remain to keep things compelling. As before, graphic violence, language, and some nudity mark this as a title aimed at adults, which matches with the publisher’s mature rating. But for those who enjoyed the supernatural stylings and epic warfare with a touch of personal soul searching that marked the first volume, Vol. 2 is a bold successor, and promises plenty more adventures and revelations still to come.

BRZRKR Vol. 02
By Keanu Reeves, Matt Kindt,  ,
Art by  Ron Garney
BOOM! Studios, 2022
ISBN: 9781684158157

Publisher Age Rating: M

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)

Maw

In the body horror genre, the horrific transformation of the human body doesn’t simply happen out of nowhere, Kafka notwithstanding. The transformation is usually triggered by some kind of catalyst, whether it’s Seth Brundle getting his DNA merged with a fly or Dr. Jekyll drinking some chemical concoction that unleashes his evil side. Then you have the catalyst that triggers the transformation of Marion Angela Weber, the protagonist in MAW, written by Jude Ellison S. Doyle and drawn by A.L. Kaplan. That trigger seems to be straight-up anger.

Marion seems content to drinking herself to death, but she is dragged by her sister Wendy to a feminist retreat on the remote island of Antgitia. What began as an attempt to heal Marion’s broken spirit becomes a harrowing encounter that fundamentally changes Marion. She develops a peculiar hunger, even as her body transforms into something not quite human. Then there are the men around the retreat who are afraid of what she is becoming. What follows is a night of violence where Marion shows all the men that have hurt her how badly she can hurt them.

MAW could be filed away as just another revenge story, but Doyle’s depiction of Marion pulls the reader into the story by having them empathize with her plight. Already recovering from an assault when she steps on the island, she is forced to confront that act again, something she is not prepared for. She is initially skeptical of what is happening to her, like many in these kinds of stories, but later learns to accept it. One could argue she even relishes in what she’s becoming.

When the body horror starts to actually happen, Kaplan’s art depicts it as something brutal happening to the person transformed as well as signaling that the men who have hounded Marion will soon feed her hunger. Drawing a lot of inspiration from sea creatures that haunt the ocean depths as well as our nightmares, Marion’s transformation invokes a great deal of fins, fangs, and claws. Indeed, seeing Marion fully become a monster that is finally able to fight back almost seems like a moment of triumph, when she’s finally able to fight back against all the men who have made her life miserable.

The book, dealing with many mature themes, has quite a strong feminist message, but it’s not delivered in a pandering way. Rather, it explores and even amplifies the terrors women have to go through when encountering men who refuse to take no for an answer. The book could end up a revenge fantasy, but it also explores the costs of becoming that monster, not the least of which is the loss of some fundamental humanity. Despite its fantastical elements, MAW is a book that ultimately is for people who like their horror brutal, both in its depiction of bloody violence and emotional trauma.

Maw
By Jude Ellison S. Doyle
Art by A.L. Kaplan
BOOM! Studios, 2022
ISBN: 9781684158409

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

Getting Dizzy

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,

Eat the Rich

Authors who insert a social message into their books might do so subtly, said message coming across as an “aha” moment once the reader finishes the book. Authors might also insert the message into the book with little to no subtlety whatsoever; the social message of the book is evident in the plot summary. While that has the danger of being didactic, sometimes the results can be fun. Eat the Rich, written by Sarah Gailey and illustrated by Pius Bak, is one such book.

The story begins with Joey meeting her boyfriend Astor’s family for the first time. Astor is from the exclusive and affluent neighborhood of Crestfall Bluffs, and Joey is very anxious about saying the wrong thing, not knowing how to sit, and just not belonging. There are traditions in Crestfall Bluffs, and there is a clear social divide that Joey does not want to get on the wrong side of. Joey must learn to survive among the cutthroat one percent and that includes accepting their unusual and rarefied tastes.

Hugo-Award winning author Gailey weaves a very straightforward story, one that rockets toward the gore and bloodshed promised by the book’s cover; there is no dancing around the fact that people in this story die and die horribly. This jump to brutality, however, doesn’t make the book feel rushed, not when the story’s also a character study of Joey’s motivations and her desire to fit in with Astor’s family. There are times where Joey appears to be the victim and others where she is the victimizer. Indeed, there are plenty of red splotches in Eat the Rich’s universe, but there are also many different shades of gray.

Bak’s artstyle does paint a grim yet vivid picture of Crestfall Bluff’s rapacious-yet-well-fed underbelly. Bak shows a knack for capturing the faces of these characters as their smiling veneers fall into the expressions of tortured souls and even hungry devils. And Bak also displays a knack for displaying their physical insides, which are spread open, bleeding, and repurposed into delicacies that are to (let someone else) die for.

Eat the Rich relishes its depictions of violence with ghoulish glee, and that could draw the gorehounds who can watch most horror movie violence without batting an eye. But the book is more than just heavy-handed, though macabre, symbolism drenched in a visceral gravy. The characters go beyond just rich and hungry. Everyone in this universe benefits from this disturbing arrangement, which means the horrors committed can be rationalized away, at least for a little while. If this book did have a message, it’s that the descent into darkness isn’t always an express elevator; sometimes it’s a slow walk down a gilded staircase. The downward spiral can start with just a few compromises.

Eat the Rich
By Sarah Gailey
Art by Pius Bak
BOOM! Studios, 2022
ISBN: 9781684158324

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation:  Nonbinary

Better Angels: A Kate Warne Adventure

Better Angels: A Kate Warne Adventure dramatizes the remarkable true story of Kate Warne, the Pinkerton detective who foiled a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln on the eve of his inauguration. Blending madcap adventure with historical drama, this lively graphic novel delivers a timely story about heroism and resistance during a time of political disunion.

Kate Warne has already become one of Pinkerton’s most valuable operatives when she’s dispatched to 1861 Baltimore, where secessionists are rumored to be planning a presidential assassination. Taking on a pro-slavery persona in order to infiltrate the conspiracy, Warne soon meets her match in the form of real-life Confederate spy Rose Greenhow. Like Warne, Greenhow is a widow who defies the gender conventions of her day in service to political goals. But where Warne is committed to preserving the Union, Greenhow’s racist ideology has made her a committed defender of the slaveholding South.

This book hews fairly close to what little we know of Warne’s life, though there are certainly elements of historical license. As the Pinkerton Detective Agency’s first female detective, Warne uses gender roles to her advantage, slipping past her opponents by adopting unassuming personas such as fortune teller or society woman. Warne’s exploits, and those of her all-female team, have a Delilah Dirk zaniness, with familiar spy tropes (disguises! gadgets! explosions!) playing out against a historical backdrop. George Schall’s elegant artwork features a muted Victorian color palette and beautifully rendered period settings and costumes.

Author Jeff Jensen doesn’t shy from the painful history that animates Better Angels. Warne and the women around her—including an eminently likable Mary Todd Lincoln—are depicted as plucky heroes, but there are no simple victories here. Through the Pinkertons’ efforts, Lincoln’s assassination is merely deferred; Baltimore is dragged from the brink of secession but remains a city of enslavers. The book also poses questions about the meaning of Warne’s heroism against a backdrop of inequality—though I wish some of its analysis had gone a little deeper. Warne’s boss, Allan Pinkerton, is depicted as an opportunist motivated by greed and clout as much as patriotism, but this novel still read like good press for the Pinkertons, an agency that would later carry out decades of violence against organized labor. The sidelining of Black characters also feels like a missed opportunity; the sole Black Pinkerton, Kew, voices her discomfort with watching Warne effortlessly move through white supremacist circles, but Kew herself is an underdeveloped character, her name a throwaway James Bond joke.

Better Angels is an enjoyable adventure story that serves as an engaging introduction to Kate Warne and her legacy, and it’s an earnest, if flawed, attempt to wrest heroism from a disturbing period in American history. A winning cast of characters and strong production values make it worth considering for adult and young adult collections.

Better Angels: A Kate Warne Adventure
By Jeff Jensen
Art by George Schall
BOOM! Archaia, 2021
ISBN: 9781684157365

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Brazilian, Trans
Character Representation: American

The Expanse

For hardcore fans of the television and book series of the same name, The Expanse graphic novel adds little of substance to the space opera universe it is set within.

Set between seasons 4 and 5 of the TV show, this book focuses on an investigation, led by former Martian marine Bobbie Draper, into a smuggling ring run between Mars, Earth, the Belt, and possibly a new party. Aided by Chrisjen Avasarala, former Secretary-General of the UN based out of Earth’s Luna, the pair quickly get in over their heads.

For those who have not read the books or seen the show, the story is a thrilling science fiction space opera with a large cast of characters. Mars is its own independent military planet, with intelligence and strength praised above all else. Earth sees itself as the head of the galaxy, with political leaders constantly negotiating alliances and trying to unearth what Mars or the Belt is up to. Belters are those who belong to neither planet, instead normally residing amongst or beyond the asteroid belt or dwelling on other planets’ moons. 

Between all these is the limitless space, or the expanse, and many of our characters fly through it between these planets and various space stations. There’s ample source material here for an exciting story, which is why it was so disappointing to read a story that feels like filler material. Writer Corinna Bechko pens a plot that is given no resolution, as the story she begins finishes in the fifth season of the TV show. For fans of the show, this also takes the “impending doom” feeling so prevalent in the show’s most exciting moments and makes it essentially non-existent. We already know how this story ends, so the stakes are not even present. It would have been more exciting, for new readers and for fans, to get a story that fleshes out some unseen corner of the universe instead of time spent with well-known characters. Add to this some rather stilted dialogue for both Bobbie and Chrisjen, and the graphic novel is skippable for even the most die-hard fans.

All of this could have been saved if the art by Alejandro Aragon captured the commanding presence of Avasarala or the stern resoluteness of Bobbie. But it just doesn’t. Often the character’s faces are like blobs with lines, with little definition given to the expressions being conveyed in the text. Chrisjen is often the victim of this, with her face being drawn amorphous to the rest of the ways her character is depicted. Add to this the many, many panels given very dark colorations and we end up with a rather muddy representation of what The Expanse could be.

Age ratings for The Expanse seem to be mixed. The publisher suggests teen, but I could not find a lot of information about this series online. I would say teen is an ok rating though, as there is not any content within that would be too adult for that age range. However, the TV show itself probably appeals to the older teen and adult crowd, so I would place this title where they have easy access.

However, when it comes down to it, I would not recommend this graphic novel to a friend, let alone a library. If for some reason, the friend is as obsessed with the TV show as I am, I would feel it my duty to let them know they are wasting their time. For a library, there are many other graphic novels and comics worthy of your budget. If you have a big following of the show at your library, I’d ensure a constantly maintained collection of the prose series over this graphic novel.

The Expanse
By Corinna Bechko
Art by Alejandro Aragon
BOOM! Studios, 2021
ISBN: 9781684156917

Publisher Age Rating: 13+
Related media:  Book to Comic, TV to Comic

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