A blink, a flash of light—only a moment for the world to be overrun. Suddenly, a mental-health getaway turns into a fight for survival when one young woman finds herself sheltering a young boy in a world full of literal monsters.
From Aftershock Comics, Ed Brisson, and Damian Couceiro, comes Losing California, the first volume of Beyond the Breach, a series about multiversal travel, horrific creatures, and the bonds people form in the midst of life or death situations.
Escaping a messy series of family and relationship situations, Vanessa temporarily leaves her life behind to take a road trip entirely for herself. In the span of a moment, electronics have died and the world around her is overrun with ferocious beasts from other worlds. Rescuing a boy from the carnage and joined by strange, friendly creature and a mysterious traveler from another existence, Vanessa and her new allies make their way through a world they don’t recognize, searching for safety as even greater threats close in around them. Soon, survival will not be enough—Vanessa will need to learn the truth about the incursion if she has any hope of recovering what she lost.
Brisson’s past work includes Deathstroke and Old Man Logan and though his gritty, action sci-fi style is on full display here, Beyond the Breach may offer something a little different for those who are familiar with his work. Though the story does deliver some key moments of character development and interaction along with the necessary world building to understand the larger events of the incursion, Brisson’s storytelling largely embraces a fast-paced narrative that matches the chaos and desperation of Vanessa’s experiences. From the initial chaos, through tense interactions with allies and enemies, right through the climax that resolves the initial arc while still leaving the story open for the next chapter. The journey often values action over an emotional core and trusts the reader to be comfortable with a bit of uncertainty along the way, but the Brisson nevertheless has shown he can deliver a cinematic story, and that remains the case here.
With bold colors and visuals that balance style with realism, Couciero brings the apocalypse to life across these pages. The action is shocking, often bloody, and leaps across the panels with each dramatic illustration. It’s the monsters that often take the forefront here, and Couciero has no shortage of things that crawl, fly, and devour their way through the world as Vanessa and those around her continue their journey. The art captures the familiar and the strange of this remade world alongside the strange beauty of the landscape and the turbulent emotions of the characters. Brisson’s writing aims high, and Couceiro is right there to deliver the story as it all plays out.
Aftershock doesn’t give an age rating for this title, but with strong language and graphic violence, it’s aimed largely at older teens and adults. Beyond the Breach shares some distinct commonalities with series such as Paper Girls and Oblivion Song, albeit with slightly more mature content. It’s not a necessary purchase for every collection, but if your readers have enjoyed sci-fi titles such as those, Beyond the Breach should sit comfortably alongside them on the shelves. Stepping on the gas from the very beginning, Vol. 1 is a brutal and ambitious sci-fi apocalypse road trip. Things get a bit weird, but for comics fans willing to leap between worlds, it’s a wild ride. Just beware—here, there be monsters.
Beyond the Breach: Losing California Vol. 01 By Ed Brisson Art by Damian Couceiro Aftershock, 2021
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
From Chisaki Kanai and Yen Press comes My Dear, Curse-Casting Vampiress. In an unfolding conflict between humans and vampires, one captive vampire woman will prove to be the weapon that shapes all their futures.
The story begins with Isuzu, who is a member of an elite government military squad tasked with taking down vampires who threaten the safety of Japan. After a battle with a particularly ferocious enemy, Isuzu and a coworker discuss rumors they have heard of a vampire named Baroque, a beautiful vampire known for expertly killing other vampires. Seeking to protect his country and his comrades, Isuzu decides to learn for himself whether Baroque exists. Only, the moment he finds her locked in a secure government facility is not the end of his fight—it is the beginning.
In breaking Baroque out of prison, Isuzu and his new companion end up battling the vampire who escaped Isuzu the previous day, and Baroque displays her ability to cast curses, dark magic many did not believe to exist. When they are captured, Isuzu is stripped of his military career, but top officials have realized that there is a connection between their former soldier and the vampire they have been unable to force to cooperate in all the years they have held her captive. They order Isuzu to become Baroque’s handler, and with their new weapon secured, they will bring the fight to their vampire enemies.
The only problem is, there are plenty of vampires with their own reasons for hunting Baroque. As for Isuzu and Baroque—they each have their own reasons for cooperating, but agreeing to work for the military, as well as work together, may have more consequences than either of them realizes.
The premise of My Dear, Curse-Casting Vampiress is not an entirely surprising one for manga, but it does set up an engaging dynamic nonetheless. With paranormal action and a tentative partnership/romance at the center, there are lots of engaging storytelling dynamics to be had here, and Volume 1 only barely scratches the surface of what is sure to follow.
While the overarching story is fun to read and sets up some exciting future adventures, the story does feel a bit rushed in its development and sometimes choppy in its execution—particularly in the hurry to introduce Baroque and kick off the main plot. The consequence is that character decisions and plot points do not always feel fully realized as the story charges ahead to its next scene.
In similar fashion, the art offers some excellent moments, both for characterization and action sequences. However, there are other points Where the rush of movement or combat somewhat obscures what is happening in a given moment. Beyond that, the mixture of stylization and realism fit the story well, and the manga is largely a dynamic visual experience that serves largely as an extended prologue setting up what is still to come.
Isuzu presents a familiar enough style of character within this sort of manga, but with enough personality that he is still entertaining to follow. And while much is made of Baroque’s beauty, and she often acts with the quiet timidity characteristic of female characters, the story gives her enough agency as well as combat ability and competence that she rises above simply being a token presence in need of guidance.
Yen Press does not offer an age rating, but My Dear, Curse-Casting Vampiress is solidly suitable for teen readers and older. There is regular violence along with some mildly suggestive content and language, but nothing that will be surprising to established manga readers. As far as collecting the series is concerned, this is not the strongest paranormal action manga on the shelves. If you’re light on budget, there are probably better options available. But if this is the sort of thing your readers can’t get enough of, there are enough promising elements in volume 1 that it’s at the very least a series worth keeping an eye on as the story continues to unfold.
My Dear, Curse-Casting Vampiress Vol. 01 By Chisaki Kanai Yen Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781975364908
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Japanese, Character Representation: Japanese,
When two high school students, one who believes in spirits and one who believes in aliens, challenge each other’s beliefs, it sets off a series of paranormal encounters that quickly spiral out of control in dramatic and absurd fashion.
One day, Momo Ayase intervenes to protect a boy at her school from being bullied, accidentally sparking a tense rapport with the loner she nicknames Okarun. This interaction leads to a challenge. Momo does not believe in aliens. Okarun does not believe in spirits. Because of this, Momo will go to a spot known for alien activity while Okarun will go to an area rumored to be haunted. The pair will then report back on whether they have become believers based on what they find. Neither of them is prepared for the consequences of this simple dare.
In a secluded tunnel, Okarun encounters the spirit known as Turbo Granny who tries to possess him while also stealing… shall we say, a specific part of his anatomy? Meanwhile, Momo runs across the Serpoians, a group of aliens searching for a way to reproduce other than cloning themselves. The encounters leave Momo and Okarun changed—through a mix of psychic abilities and spiritual possession—while also drawing the ire of Turbo Granny and an entire alien race. From this point on, life will never be the same. The pair is launched into an adventure of giant supernatural crabs and randy aliens as they try to make Okarun whole once again while also dealing with the increasingly eccentric cast of characters, human and otherwise, who are drawn into their orbit. Okarun and Momo have become believers—now they just need to survive the beings they never knew existed while also sorting out how they feel about each other. What could go wrong?
Dandadan is created by Yukinobu Tatsu and published by Viz Media. The story begins simply enough, but quickly gains a momentum that rarely lets up as Momo and Okarun are thrust from one situation into the next. Alongside alien encounters and supernatural attacks, Tatsu manages to deliver two characters the reader has no trouble rooting for, even with their personal complications. Moments of sincere emotion intersperse increasingly absurd battles against the paranormal enemies our heroes keep encountering. From early on, this series promise a wild ride, and Tatsu keeps delivering on a premise that has no issue being silly, horny, and wildly dramatic at every turn without overshadowing the characters and relationships that keep it grounded.
The art is fun to look at, too, often richly detailed and capturing the characters and settings in all their complexity. The action sequences play out in familiar enough manga style, but the visuals are bold and easy to follow as the super-powered action keeps raising the stakes. Tatsu also does a great job capturing the visual humor of the series, balancing absurdity and threat to create an epic adventure that never takes itself more seriously than it should. In the end, Dandadan is distinct, wildly fun, and over the top enough to be exactly the sort of story it sets out to be.
Viz gives the series a mature rating with a warning of explicit content. The violence is never overly strong and the tone remains mostly comedic, but there are scattered moments of serious character death and other thematic issues aimed at more mature readers. The larger reason for the rating is simply the constant thread of sexual humor and innuendo that runs through the adventure. The visuals are limited to characters in their underwear and occasional non-graphic nudity, but the suggestive tones of the story—from recovering Okarun’s stolen “family jewels” to the Serpoians’ quest to reproduce—is clearly aimed at an adult audience. There is also occasional sexual threat and other thematic content that, despite the consistently humorous tone of the story, may not be for all readers.
The final verdict is that Dandadan is a madcap paranormal adventure that keeps raising the bar for how weird it’s willing to go. The series is a lot of fun as it introduces an increasing number of complications and fascinating side characters alongside Momo, Okarun, and their uncertain relationship to each other and the very strange world around them. The series is clearly aimed at mature readers, but it is absolutely worth picking up—both for those who are established manga readers and those who haven’t encountered the form before but are open to the sort of chaotic adventure and humor presented here. The first three volumes of Tatsu’s series are a fascinating ride, and I’m curious to see where it goes next.
The epic story of Beowulf comes to life as never before in the incredible clash between a group of neighborhood children and one fun-hating neighbor in the graphic novel reimagining Bea Wolf from First Second comics.
The story of the ancient hero Beowulf battling monsters is a familiar one. Though at a glance, Bea Wolf appears to be a dramatically alternate telling, at the heart of this graphic novel the spirit of Beowulf’s legend lives on. For the children of a comfortable neighborhood, the mighty treehouse called Treeheart is a legendary place of feasting on junk food and freedom from the rules of adults. Passed from one child monarch to the next, the children maintain their riches of toys and sweets as they defend their borders against teens, adults, and responsibilities. It all threatens to fall apart when they draw the anger of a neighborhood adult named Grindle who wants to silence Treeheart once and for all. In this dire moment, a hero will rise. This is where the legend of Bea Wolf truly begins.
Told in epic verse, the ancient poem lives on in these pages, just with a few more fart jokes and modern references than were in the original. In place of all that gruesome death, Bea Wolf finds its tension in the struggle between youth and aging, between the freedom of childhood and the perceived dread of adulthood. The story is bursting with youth run rampant. Among other things, Beowulf is a story of mortality and Weinersmith reframes that in a way relatable and accessible for children who long to run free.
Bea Wolf also maintains some of the complexities of the original in other ways. Though the children are set up as the heroes of the narrative, there is a measure of recognition that Grindle/Grendel is just trying to live his own life in constantly-disrupted peace. Bea’s bosting is not diminished in this child form of the title character and there are shifting power struggles throughout, even as the children gorge themselves on candy and carve out their refuge from the larger world. As an introduction for young readers to Beowulf, Weinersmith follows up the story with readily accessible backmatter explaining the history and significance of Beowulf, providing a launch pad for further discussion and future learning.
Illustrated by French cartoonist Boulet, the art of Bea Wolf is a delight to look at. With cartoon stylings and fun energy, the visuals capture childhood in a larger-than-life fashion that perfectly fits the grandeur of the telling. At the same time, the pictures embrace the aesthetic of a medieval manuscript as well as the historical epic that inspired this volume. With chapter breaks, dramatic scenes of confrontation and revelry, and a keen understanding of what this reimagining is meant to be, Boulet brings together the best of ancient and modern illustrations to create Bea Wolf as a modern story of epic proportions. And with natural diversity woven throughout the various children that cross the pages, lots of children should have the chance to see themselves reflected across the story.
First Second lists Bea Wolf as being for ages 8-12, and this seems like an ideal audience. Even with the modern touches, the epic verse style of the writing may be a bit difficult for younger children to work through on their own. But for young readers willing to embrace an unfamiliar writing style, or for children sharing the book with older readers or educators, Bea Wolf is a lot of fun and has plenty of richness to delve into along the way. (There’s lots here to love for older readers on their own, as well.)
All in all, Bea Wolf is a highly successful reimagining of an ancient classic, making the story of Beowulf accessible and enjoyable to young readers without sacrificing the spirit of the original. It should make a great addition to any graphic novel collection for older children on up.
Bea Wolf By Zach Weinersmith Art by Boulet Macmillan First Second, 2022 ISBN: 9781250776297
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: French
A request that can’t be ignored. Three semi-estranged friends on a road trip after years apart. Though they don’t understand the reasons that brought them back together, all three know that this trip may be a turning point in all their lives—and that’s before things get weird.
Polly, Moho, and Piter, along with their friend Héctor, once bonded over their love of music and their dreams of where life might one day take them. Years later, those dreams have not come to pass and their time together has turned into memories tinged with bitterness—until a final request from Héctor draws them together to carry their friend’s remains to an X he marked on a map where each hopes to find some sort of resolution.
It sounds like a simple road trip, right? It should have been, but add in an ex-circus monkey and two mercenary brothers in cowboy hats, one of whom carries a banjo. The journey takes them away from an angry cowboy, through a ship graveyard, and into the sights of a stranger whose livelihood may be less than legal. At first, it seemed that the greatest struggle would be getting along with one another, but as each situation spirals more out of control, finding what lies at Héctor’s X may be the least of their difficulties.
From IDW and Top Shelf Productions, Ashes is the debut English-language graphic novel from acclaimed Spanish cartoonist Álvaro Ortiz. Blending dark comedy and drama with touches of absurdity, the book weaves the characters’ pasts and presents together with glimpses of broader history in a thoughtful whole that considers the way human stories play out across the years. Bold and unique, the result is a fun road-trip adventure with action and surprises that ultimately reveals itself to be a simple but moving examination of grief, growing up, and finding your own way in a world that doesn’t always go quite the way you want it to.
Ortiz’s illustrations are stylized and cartoonish, but with a seriousness to the characters that works well in capturing the blended tones of the writing. Though it occasionally takes a touch of effort to separate flashback from the present story, the art largely succeeds in bringing together the pieces of the story as it unfolds. Capturing subtle moments of humor as well as the grander moments of stillness, the art is distinctive, fun to look at, and connected tightly to the story Ortiz builds here.
IDW does not list a rating for this title. Throughout the story, there are instances of strong language, violence, nudity, and drug content—among other things—and though the visual style does lessen the impact of the content, it remains a title best suited for older readers. In the end, Ashes is a quirky book with some truly touching moments. Not every scene lands perfectly, and a brief appearance from a strongly queer-coded villain feels somewhat cheap, but overall it’s well worth the investment for readers looking for something a little different, comics in translation, or stories with some dramatic themes that still manage to have fun along the way. Additionally, fans of Kyle Starks work such as the Six Sidekicks of Trigger Keaton will likely appreciate both the artistic style and storytelling present here. It’s a bit of a chaotic graphic novel, but that’s clearly intentional, and Ortiz ultimately does bring it all back home again with touching sincerity.
Ashes is a wacky road trip with heart and it’s worth tagging along with these characters as they discover what lies at the X on the map that brought them back together.
Ashes By Álvaro Ortiz Top Shelf, 2023 ISBN: 9781603095174
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Spanish Character Representation: Spanish
When art, commercialism, and greed collide, what will be left standing at the end?
From Chip Zdarksy and Image Comics comes Pubic Domain, a graphic novel about the people who make comics and the companies that control them. Miles and his brother, sons of accomplished comics artist Syd Dallas, have spent their lives under the shadow of their father’s reputation and his most famous creation, the popular comics superhero franchise, The Domain. Syd was instrumental in bringing The Domain to life in stories that would entertain fans for decades, spawning a complex and profitable IP that has expanded into films and merchandise. But with his famous creation in the hands of a powerful studio, Syd has received little credit or money for his creation.
When Miles, struggling as a journalist and with a failed relationship bringing him down, discovers an old contract that challenges assumptions about who owns the rights to his father’s most famous comics creations, it sparks a period of soul-searching as well as a potential legal battle against a powerful corporation that values nothing so much as its own well-being. Every member of the Dallas family has been struggling to find their way in a world that cares little for their well-being, and this new battle for the Domain will change all of their lives one more time.
Balancing cynicism with a love of comics, Public Domain serves as a harsh criticism of an industry that sometimes shuts out creators in favor of chasing the next profitable market wherever they can find it. However, while Zdarsky draws a bleak picture of selfish characters who care little for artistic integrity, he sets them alongside others who are driven by a love of creation. From Syd, the legendary artist, to a young comics collector, and a personal assistant who dreams of one day creating comics for herself, Public Domain never forgets the fans and dreamers who make up the best of what the comics industry can be. With intimate and complex characters, Zdarsky’s series is an examination of an industry intimately framed through the drama and dreams of Syd and his family. Humorous, tragic, and heartfelt, this story is a microcosm narrative with implications for anyone who loves reading other people’s stories or telling stories of their own. Condemning the corporate machine while dreaming of the way things can be, Public Domain is big ideas wrapped up in compelling narrative.
In addition to writing, Zdarsky also fully illustrates this comic, bringing engaging visuals and stylized realism to the pages. With distinct colors and accessible art, Zdarsky builds a world in which we can readily recognize the reflection of our own. It is this familiarity that helps Public Domain succeed. In a world where movie studios are looking for the next breakout franchise and studios fight with creators for creative control over projects, Zdarsky’s fictional world is our own, reimagined just enough to allow us to see it from a perspective we maybe haven’t quite considered before.
Image rates Public Domain for mature readers, and between strong language and the more complex themes underlying the story, it is likely best for adult readers—though there is nothing here that older teens will find particularly objectionable. And though a story about the comics industry may sound like something aimed at a niche audience, Zdarsky’s grounding of the narrative in an empathetic family drama ensures that the message of the series never overshadows the characters that shape its center. Timely and complex, Public Domain is an engaging story carefully crafted by a noteworthy comics creator with daring and passion. Across these pages, Zdarsky himself appears to wrestle with questions about the industry he is a part of. A worthy addition to any collection with an older reader base, it’s a story that should appeal, not only to artists and creators, but to anyone involved in fandom—anyone who has ever loved a story and felt their life changed for the better because someone, somewhere put pen to page and brought their imagination to life for anyone who cared to read it.
Public Domain, Vol.. 1: Past Mistakes By Chip Zdarsky Image, 2023 ISBN: 9781534324572
Publisher Age Rating: M NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
In a world of monsters and monster hunters, not everyone faces the darkness with a weapon in hand.
Further expanding the world of Something is Killing the Children, series creator James Tynion IV hands off writing duties to Sam Johns for a fresh story featuring a new character and shining a light on a different corner of an increasingly complex world of monsters—both supernatural and human.
From BOOM! Studios, House of Slaughter: Scarlet offers a completely new narrative set in the aftermath of Erica Slaughter’s disruption of her order. With monster hunters spread thin and the future uncertain, Edwin Slaughter finds himself called away from his service as a scribe for the Order of St. George so that he may investigate rumors of monster activity at a summer camp. The job should be a simple matter of dispelling rumors, but there is something ancient beneath the lake and darkness creeping in at the edges. Even more dangerous may be the secrets of Edwin’s past, secrets even he himself no longer remembers.
With Sam Johns writing the script, this new volume in the House of Slaughter storyline adopts a slightly different tone from previous volumes. There are still plenty of monsters, but Edwin is not a hunter. With less action, our hero—a scribe with eidetic memory—has time to ponder the nature of the monsters themselves. As he debates with his monstrous familiar, Scarlet introduces a more philosophical bend than the series has previously seen. Still, as much as the story contemplates its big ideas, it doesn’t lose track of the fact that in this world monsters are real—and they are always dangerous. Ultimately, Scarlet does occasionally get weighed down, pondering its own ideas, but I love seeing a series take a risk, and even if this volume isn’t the best of the series, Johns brings a welcome new perspective to an engaging world.
Capturing all of this on the page, Letizia Cadonici delivers art that is both grim and fantastic, shaping a world that fits this story while complementing the visual style established elsewhere in this series. Eyes and masks remain a focus, telling us things about the characters as they issue veiled threats and navigate a hostile world. From flashbacks and moments of gruesome violence to sequences of art and imagination, Cadonici brings bold life to this newest chapter, populating Tynion and Johns’ world with both hunters and prey.
BOOM! doesn’t provide an age rating for this volume. These series have always walked a line of maturity, offering certain appeal to teen readers while dealing in horror imagery and sometimes graphic violence. Scarlet offers much the same content as previous volumes, though its slower story and more idea-driven writing will likely appeal more to the older edge of the target audience. Though the story largely stands alone, it’s most likely to be appreciated by those who are already familiar with Something is Killing the Children and the previous (though unconnected) story arc in House of Slaughter.
While Scarlet may not be the strongest entry in this universe, it definitely will not disappoint existing fans while also delivering a bold volume in its own right. It’s a comic that dares to try something a little different while maintaining the connective tissue of what has come before. With dramatic monster action alongside big ideas, House of Slaughter: Scarlet continues to be a horror series well worth adding to any collection for older readers.
House of Slaughter, vol. 2: Scarlet By Sam Johns Art by Letizia Cadonici BOOM! Studios, 2022 ISBN: 9781684158546
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)