In a story told mostly through a series of flashbacks, Miranda’s world is revealed to be a massive multiverse connected through major storms that pop up suddenly and are known to be able to destroy the host world. Believed to be the last of her kind, Miranda is hops between worlds, hoping to find her parents after they got separated from her while trying to leave their universe during a destructive maelstrom. As Miranda learns how to survive on her own in a universe with water for wind and giant wolves, she finds a new family of shark dogs that help her. When one of the pups, Noodles, gets swept up in a storm, Miranda goes with him, starting her on her world-hopping adventure.
Normally, I’m not a fan of changing artists for each issue in a connected story, but in a multiverse tale it works really well as a way of differentiating and emphasizing certain characteristics of each world and the characters that live there. The colors are especially important, helping readers identify recurring characters. The individual issues hold enough story to stand on their own, while also weaving together overarching story threads.
Teenage patrons who are fascinated by Marvel’s multiverse will probably enjoy this new offering the most, especially if they like a well-rounded female lead. Patrons who enjoy sci-fi adventures will likely pick this one up as well.
Miranda in the Maelstrom, Vol. 1 By Riley Dashiell Biehl Art by Koi Carreon, Dailen Ogden, Jamie Jones, Drew Moss Action Lab, 2021 ISBN: 9781632296054
Adrienne Ashe never wanted to be a princess. She hates fancy dinners, is uncomfortable in lavish dresses, and has never wanted to wait on someone else to save her. However, on the night of her 16th-birthday, her parents, the King and Queen, locked her away in a tower guarded by a dragon to await the rescue of some handsome prince. Now Adrienne has decided to take matters into her own hands!
Princeless By Jeremy Whitley Art By M. Goodwin Emily Martin ISBN: 9781939352545 Action Lab, 2012 NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13)
Adrienne Ashe never wanted to be a princess. She hates fancy dinners, is uncomfortable in lavish dresses, and has never wanted to wait on someone else to save her. However, on the night of her 16th-birthday, her parents, the King and Queen, locked her away in a tower guarded by a dragon to await the rescue of some handsome prince. Now Adrienne has decided to take matters into her own hands! (Publisher Description)
Princeless By Jeremy Whitley Art by M. Goodwin Emily Martin ISBN: 9781939352545 Action Lab, 2012 NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Carmine, named for the colorant derived from the bug and House she will soon lead, is learning just how dark the world of the Cochineal House can be. Other family’s drama might involve arguments or cold silence, while hers involves people’s lives and family member’s painful deaths. The question is if Carmine can figure out the root of the problem before this family feud destroys them all.
This comic certainly keeps the title and its connotations close; much of the color palette in Carmine relies on splashes of red for accent against mostly muted greys and blacks. There aren’t really any blues in the comic aside from some small details. And yes, there’s plenty of blood. Otherwise, the art is simple, bordering on plain in some panels for the lack of detail or interest in backgrounds. The structure of panels on the page sometimes added to confusion rather than helping move the story forward, though others are nicely dynamic. I think it was purposeful, but there’s three characters that are almost identical, making it hard to tell them apart when more than one is in the same scene.
Unfortunately, the plot was more muddied than bloody. I found dialogue often hard to follow, like there were pieces of conversation missing that I was expected to already know, but was never filled in on. It also leaned heavily on aphorisms, which didn’t help the feeling of disjointed text when one person states a saying and then the next person replies in another saying. The characters mention terms and never define them, such as the rules of the House, what a Guardian is and does, what the seals really are and what they do, and what being queen means. Though Carmine is technically the protagonist, she isn’t actually in a whole lot of the comic, and affects the plot herself very rarely. It’s almost as if she’s a priceless object that’s very important to everyone else.
Definitely some content warnings here: discussions of rape, possible sex trafficking, a fair amount of male and female nudity including male genitalia, and facial mutilation. We have a character who is described as 17-ish, who has been used as a prostitute and had her face destroyed by her employer, possibly owner, so that no one could take her from him. Threats of rape are used by a few characters in different ways, and one character’s genitals are cut off (off page) then later placed on a table next to his head. Otherwise, there is really very little gore, just some blood.
The concept of Carmine was compelling, especially because I feel there aren’t a ton of urban fantasy comics out there not directly tied to existing franchises like Mercy Thompson or Dresden Files. And for readers of those, this might still be interesting enough to pick up, but I had trouble keeping up with what was going on, which made it hard to care about anyone by the end. Otherwise, I can’t say that I recommend adding this comic to a library collection, as I don’t feel it has enough of a story or visuals to make up for the shortcomings.
Carmine vol. 1 Review 01 By Colleen Douglas Art by Alvaro Sarraseca ISBN: 9781632296030 Action Lab Entertainment, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: Mature Series ISBNS and Order
Title Details and Representation NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Science fiction and fantasy has had its hits and misses across media. Cult hits like the TV show Farscape are revered among passionate fans of the show. In comics we have Saga, the long running beloved space opera. On the flip side, flops like short lived TV series Legend of the Seeker and the movie version of Warcraft might have their dedicated fans, but overall they are forgettable entries into the genre. Twin Worlds is simultaneously a hit and a flop, at times making the most of its interesting moments, but also mostly floundering in sci-fi tropes and fantasy cliches.
Twin Worlds opens right in the middle of an intense action sequence with a dragon attacking robots and then cuts to soldiers on horseback capturing a group of enemies. Exciting stuff, right? Except for the matter that there is no context for what is happening. Captions relay the setting and time to the reader, but there is no real explanation as to what that setting or time means until well into the book, when it’s too late. Usually too much exposition can bog down a story, but in this instance, a total lack of it leaves readers guessing what is even happening on the page in the first place.
So what is Twin Worlds about? Years ago, a portal opened up, creating a mode of travel across the universe from Earth to the planet Tassaroth, where its inhabitants, the Tassanites, are led by a nation called Drakkara, whose leader, the Darukin, is leading a rebellion against the invading “Earthers” who are seeking a natural resource called govizide. The Earthers are aided by the Zila, a Tassonite tribe that has sided with Earth for reasons that this reviewer thought were unclear. At the same time, the Darukin is a member of the Vin clan, which just so happens to have a pair of twins in the family who are half-Tassanite, half-Earther, and you can probably guess how well that goes over with the two planets at war with each other. If you’re still confused, don’t worry—the book has a glossary to help make heads or tails of all this.
The problem with Twin Worlds isn’t that there is a glossary, it’s that the glossary is absolutely required to decipher what the story does not make clear. Supplemental journals from some of the characters help fill in backstory, but even these feel more like filler than adding something substantive to the story. When Twin Worlds does finally get around to explaining what’s going on the book is at its best. It’s unfortunate that this exposition comes later in the story when it is so desperately needed at the beginning. Whatever world building happens falls flat from the start because the world is never built, the reader is simply thrown in and forced to muddle through the confusion until it’s too late.
The art and design choices made in the book are better, but not by much. Letterer Lucas Gattoni makes a smart choice by using black and blue text to distinguish between the different languages being spoken in the book and there is an interesting editorial choice of denoting this in a “language guide” rather than just in the body of the story itself. Either way, the separate languages are a moot point. The majority of the book’s characters speak Native Tassonite, with the other language being Earther English, but the whole of the dialogue is presented to the reader in English, so the distinction is mostly unnecessary. Jethro Morales’ art is what you’d expect for the genre and the same can be said for Bryan Magnaye’s colors, which alternate between subtly different palates depending on where the action is taking place.
Twin Worlds is not a great comic. Is it OK? Sure. Are readers going to clamor for more of this series? Probably not. But even though this book never gains enough traction to pull in a mass quantity of readers, it has its merits, and for somebody somewhere, this is the cult middle ground between hit and flop that fills a genre niche.
Twin Worlds By Rami Al-ashqar, Jethro Morales, Bryan Maganye, and Lucas Gattoni ISBN: 9781632295651 Action Lab Entertainment, 2020
Children have such vivid imaginations. With just one push, they can transport themselves into another world and be whoever they want. That is all it takes for Seamus to imagine himself as a noble pirate with his friend Fitcher in Christopher Ring’s graphic novel Seamus (the Famous). Thanks to this active child, readers are taken on an adventure with heroic characters and dangerous foes.
When Seamus and his cat/best friend Fitcher find a bag of old toys Mom wants to get rid of, the duo imagine themselves as pirates searching for treasure. They have a trusty crew and an old map that will aid them in their quest to find the lost treasure of Gunnar Forkbeard. With the fortune they find they can help their friends Mama Pearl and Camellia, who need help in keeping the orphanage up and running. But with the evil pirate Barracuda and his sinister crew on their tail, the duo needs to do some quick thinking if they want to find riches and save their friends.
Ring’s graphic novel allows readers into the imaginative mind of a young boy. The author/illustrator provides a fun, adventure story that children will want to read with two main characters that work well together. You have Seamus, who prefers to be an honest pirate, fighting for those who need an extra hand and using his wits to defeat his enemies. Fitcher the cat provides a good dose of comic relief, as well as taking up the task of being the reliable skipper every sea captain needs. Ring’s pirate world is filled with a variety of characters with distinguishing features, such as the pirate crews’ colorful clothing and Barracuda’s mechanical lobster claw. His bright color palette and use of comic onomatopoeia draws the readers attention to the action of each scene. After the adventure, reader’s will learn about the author, his creative process, early artwork of his characters, and a brief look at Seamus and Fitcher’s next imaginative tale.
Seamus (the Famous) will make a great addition to any public and elementary school library. With its creative story and characters, this graphic novel is a great choice for readers in 2nd and 3rd grade. They may even want to explore their own imaginations and create their own adventures on the high seas.
Seamus (the Famous) By Christopher Ring ISBN: 9781632295521 Action Lab Entertainment, 2019
In an isolated swamp, a mysterious figure appears, dancing across the water. The animals discuss who and what she is, but only one shows concern for the ghostly figure: an owl. Despite the objections of the other animals, the owl speaks to the ghost, promises to help her, and travels with her to try and see where she came from. Farther into the woods, they discover an isolated house, a young woman, and the terrifying man who is attempting to take her home, her land, and her self. Will the owl and the ghost be able—or willing—to protect her?
The plot is thin at best, mainly providing a vehicle for the elaborate, swirling art and the owl’s philosophical musings on offering help to others, whether or not there is a return. Intricately drawn creatures populate the pages, from the main character of owl and crow to smaller amphibians, reptiles, and birds. The ghost is a cloudy, mysterious figure with pastel-shaded billows of hair and form and huge, green eyes. Set against the owl, ghost, and the many friends the owl has acquired through his years of doing favors, are the mysterious owl parliament, with stylized figures—are they masks or spirits?—and the threatening man. Unnamed, he at first appears as a large, looming figure, threatening the dark-skinned, curly-haired woman, Jessica, who long ago helped the owl. As the story progresses, he becomes a demonic figure, cloaked in flames and blood, losing his humanity as he continually attacks the woman and her protectors.
The explanation of the ghost, who was the opening of the story, feels tacked on at the end. At less than 50 pages, there isn’t room for a lot of plot development, but the story leaves many questions unexplored. The frightening attacks and resultant gore, as well as the transformation of the ghost, aim this at a more mature audience although the sometimes pedantic discussion of helping others feels much younger. The closest read-alike would be Jill Thompson’s Beasts of Burden, but this slim offering falls far short of that cult classic work. Purchase where the art may be of interest or additional graphic novels for an older teen and adult audience are needed.
The Ghost, The Owl by Franco Art by Sara Richard ISBN: 9781632293596 Action Lab Entertainment, 2018
Have you ever walked out of a DC movie and thought, “That was dark and gritty, but I want something even more dark and gritty?” If so, then The Consultant is definitely the comic for you. Its bright color palette notwithstanding, it’s chock full of all the plotlines and arcs DC has to cut from its movies to keep them PG-13, such as waterboarding, drugs, and murdered prostitutes. Basically the only thing this comic and its protagonist’s moral code shy away from is killing kids.
Written by Jason Sterr, the first volume of The Consultant follows Marcus Greenberg, a former Navy SEAL who now makes millions cleaning up after a superhero team called The Guardians. Well, cleaning up and making sure their messes never see the light of day in the first place. Greenberg knows how to spin a story, how to plant evidence, frame people, and how to blow up buildings. When Spartan, one of the Guardians (a character obviously based on Superman) commits manslaughter, Greenberg treats it as just another day at the office—the incident Spartan needs cleaned up has happened several times before.
Things start to get out of hand, however, when someone in Greenberg’s and the Guardians’ inner circle leaks the story to the police, and Spartan finds himself under arrest. Although Greenberg keeps his cool, his plans to keep the other Guardians isolated from the scandal become more and more complex and grandiose. When he realizes he can’t keep the situation contained, he starts leaking his own dirt on various Guardian members to keep himself out of jail.
The Guardians are clearly patterned after members of the Justice League—if members of the Justice League all had deep, dark, career-ending secrets. The Superman stand-in regularly commits manslaughter, the Green Lantern character is selling US military secrets to the highest bidder, and at least one character is addicted to narcotics.
I have to admit, it’s an interesting concept. Several of the plots Starr designs for the superheroes make total sense. The conversation two minor characters have about the state of the team speedster Vector’s brain and processing abilities is one I’ve absolutely had with my friends about similar characters, and it’s fun to see these plot lines and “what if…” scenarios explored. Even though this comic is about Marcus Greenberg, I’d be interested to see a comic about Vector that explored more of these themes.
But Marcus Greenberg is the main character, and he’s interesting enough by himself. He narrates the entire comic and the glimpses inside his thought processes and overall state of mind never fail to be interesting. Greenberg will gladly torture, mindwipe, extort, and kill in order to get the job done, and his narration is mostly free of self-reflection or struggles with morality. He knows exactly where he stands, what he needs to do, and what he needs others to do. He never regrets what he does, and he’s willing to sacrifice everyone around him as long as he survives. He’s very smart, very vicious, and ruthless. The only line he refuses to cross is child murder.
Still, by the end of the comic, I was left trying to puzzle out if he was actually evil. He’s certainly an opportunist and clearly insufferable, but I still haven’t quite made up my mind if he’s truly evil, or just driven exclusively by self-interest.
Ultimately, that’s the point of this comic. The world is not black-and-white. A superhero may perform heroic acts, but it doesn’t make them a hero. A former Navy SEAL may get his hands dirty cleaning up a superhero’s mess, but what if that’s the lesser of two evils?
This comic gave me a lot to think about. If you’re looking to fill an anti-hero-shaped hole in your collection, or if you’re looking for something that’s more gritty than a Batman trade, I’d recommend it. Keep in mind that it is not at all suitable for young readers—the language is foul, there are a couple of torture scenes, a prostitute is murdered, and there’s a full panel showing her bloody corpse. It is also not a comic book to buy if you’re looking for diverse characters—I counted only three women who speak more than once, and there are only a few characters of color.
Even with all of these qualifiers, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued about where The Consultant will go in its next volume.
The Consultant, vol. 1 by Jason Steer Art by Daniel Maine, Francesca Zambon ISBN: 9781632293527 Action Lab Entertainment, 2017 Publisher Age Rating: (18+)
Raven Xingtao, whose story begins in the third volume of Princeless [see our review here], Jeremy Whitley’s Eisner-nominated series, is the daughter of the Pirate King and an accomplished pirate in her own right. She is heir to her father’s fleet, but her two greedy younger brothers convince her father that because she is a girl, she should be imprisoned for her safety instead.
Book One, aptly titled Captain Raven and the All-Girl Pirate Crew, opens with Raven, newly freed from the tower in which her scheming brothers imprisoned her, on the hunt for a crew to sail a ship she’s stolen from another pirate. Book Two (Free Women), Book Three (Two Boys, Five Girls, and Three Love Stories), and Book Four (Two Ships in the Night) follow Raven and her crew as they learn to work together, face down their rivals, and grow strong enough to confront Raven’s brothers.
Initially, the story focuses on Raven’s single-minded quest for revenge, but as she assembles her all-female crew and sets sail, the story increasingly focuses on the connections among the women on-board and the way they protect and care for one another. The ship becomes a haven against the incompetent grandstanding common among the pirate men who challenge them along the way. Raven’s crew consists of women of diverse races, sizes, abilities, and sexualities. Multiple main characters are openly LGBTQ+, including Raven herself, and the friendships and romantic relationships among these characters feature prominently throughout the series.
Jeremy Whitley writes every issue of Raven the Pirate Princess, and it is similar in tone to Princeless. Raven and her crew are funny, resourceful, and endlessly supportive of one another as they learn to work together as a team. While this is not an Own Voices story, Whitley navigates Raven’s feelings and experiences, and those of the other crew members, with grace and thoughtfulness. Artists Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt (Books 1-3) and Xenia Pamfil (Book 4) complement the story with scenery and characters that are distinctive and rich in detail.
While Princeless is suitable for audiences of any age, Raven the Pirate Princess includes content that may be better suited to the tween and teen crowd. For example, when Raven is interviewing pirates to form her crew in Book One, most of the humor hinges on the reader understanding the references behind the sexism of the male candidates (“You’re probably not even a real pirate girl,” one laments. “I bet you don’t even know what Captain Fraction’s name was before he changed it!”). Though younger audiences may certainly enjoy the series, and there is no content that would be inappropriate for this age group, some cultural references and tongue-in-cheek jokes may fly over their heads. This title will appeal most strongly to readers who recognize and appreciate these references to real-world frustrations.
There is one caveat to my enthusiastic support of Raven the Pirate Princess: there is a sharp thematic change between the third and fourth volumes. Book four came out after a year long hiatus and features the opening arc of a new title (Raven The Pirate Princess: Year Two). The focus of the story veers sharply away from the camaraderie and revenge narrative driving the first three books and toward shallow disagreements and manipulative cat-fighting among the crew members, whose personalities deviate significantly from their Year One counterparts. The plot of books 1-3 goes unmentioned entirely. It is a significant and jarring departure from an otherwise very strong series.
Despite my disappointment in the fourth installment, it is worth purchasing the series in its entirety, as Raven the Pirate Princess is still ongoing. Book Five: Get Lost Together was released on June 26th. While Princeless vol. 3 establishes the context for Raven’s story, it is not necessary to read Princeless before beginning the Raven series. Raven is structured with new readers in mind, and the first pages provide enough exposition to follow the story fully. This series is an excellent purchase for fans of Princeless and other high-energy and relationship-driven adventure series, including Lumberjanes, The Legend of Korra, and Misfit City.
Raven the Pirate Princess, vols 1-4 by Jeremy Whitley Art by Rosy Higgins,Ted Brandt, and Xenia Pamfil vol 1 ISBN: 9781632291196 vol 2 ISBN: 9781632291295 vol 3 ISBN: 9781632291400 vol 4 ISBN: 9781632292643 Action Lab, 2015 Publisher Age Rating: 9-12 years
Confident, acid-tongued Cassia Caraway is new to Mason Montgomery Prep School. Popular girl Saffron and her Lady Rangers (think Girl Scouts with attitude) rule the school and monopolize all the brownie baking in town. Poppy Pepper is quiet and kind and just wants to make it through junior high untouched. Eighth grade has just started for all three girls and the next year will be full of family issues, crushes, baking, and criminal activity.
Nutmeg, a planned 15-issue series, begins with Cassia and Poppy befriending each other and concocting a plan to take down Saffron. What starts as a simple brownie sabotage, turns into an underground baking business with the girls selling their all-natural, but hallucinatory brownies called Patty Cakes. Teased as Betty and Veronica meets Breaking Bad, Cassia and Poppy begin supplying the tweens and teens of their suburban town with their brownies, but things do not go as planned.
As we meet back up with Poppy and Cassia in Volume 4, which collects issues 10-12, the two girls have ended their friendship. Poppy has become addicted to the girls’ brownies and Cassia feels betrayed after being lied to. As the girls go their separate ways, we see them struggling to find their footing without each other.
Cassia turns to an unlikely partner and continues the brownie business while Poppy confides in a classmate and starts to find help for her addiction. Meanwhile, the town’s teen detectives are starting to figure out who and what Patty Cakes is. One of the aspects that makes Nutmeg stand out is that it focuses on the so-called criminals while the good guys are the secondary story. Teen detectives Anise and Ginger add a hint of suspense as they start tracking down who is selling the Patty Cakes, especially as people start to get hurt from the brownies.
This is the penultimate volume, so the story feels like it is coming to a conclusion. It does end with Cassia reaching back out to Poppy for one final sabotage on Saffron. While Wright juggles several different storylines well, it can feel rushed at times as they try to fit everything in. In Volume 4, there were several points where scenes switch with no transition which left me feeling like I’d missed a page or two. However, the multiple storylines allow a good insight into the different lives and personalities of tween girls, which is very enjoyable and inclusive. While Poppy and Cassia are the main story, we also get glimpses into Saffron and her family, Saffron’s best friend Marjorie as she finds a new group of friends, and Anise and Ginger while they pick up clues. This is a chaste comic recommended for ages 11 and up, but it does show the girls experiencing crushes on both boys and girls. At times the idea of brownies being special and inducing hallucinations feels ridiculous and unbelievable, but the secondary stories of the girls keeps the story moving and relatable. The diverse, flawed, and real characters are definitely the biggest strength of the comic.
With soft and pastel illustrations, this could easily be overlooked as a cutesy tween-girl comic with no substance, but the comic delves into serious and very real, issues relevant to junior high students. Nutmeg addresses themes of addiction, divorce, death of a parent, morality, and growing pains of being a tween girl. While there is also no clear year setting, I am fairly certain it takes place in the past due to the lack of technology or internet. The girls’ hairstyles and clothes look like they are in the 1950s and they use landline phones. Yet, the language and story are timeless and still pertinent to modern audiences.
Nutmeg is an enjoyable comic that would appeal to young teens. It has the sweet, colorful illustrations to draw in readers, but a story that many kids would find comfort and identity in. Each issue ends with a section called “The Cooling Rack” that packs in a bunch of extras. Volume 4 includes a Poppy paper doll, recipes, a bonus comic, and fan art. This is a planned 15-issue comic, so if you purchase Volume 4, you need to have Volumes 1-3 available as well since this is a continuing story. I recommend purchasing the eBook version since it is the easiest to obtain.
Nutmeg, vol. 4: Late Winter: Coven Cleaner by James F. Wright Art by Jackie Crofts and Josh Eckert ISBN: 9781632293626 Action Lab Comics, 2018 Publisher Age Rating: 11+