Classic Fantastic: Blade of the Immortal

What It’s About?
It is the mid-Tokugawa era in Japan, and wandering samurai Manji’s body is infested with healing worms that make him extremely difficult to kill. This “gift” of immortality is actually a curse for his bloody history of killing 100 men, including his sister’s husband. He has been told by a mystic that the cure is to kill 1,000 evil men, so when a young woman by the name of Rin begs him for protection and vengeance against an upstart martial combat school, Manji and Rin’s paths become one. For the first omnibus or so, this is the gist of the series, but the cast, setting, and motivations blossom and take on lives of their own, and blessedly so.

By the end of the series, there are several perspectives separately driving the narrative, each applying different moral standards to the problems at hand. As the body count rises, cycles of vengeance are set in motion and allowed to drive characters to the point of obsession and mutilation. The initial “villain” of the series, Anotsu, seeks to break the established, relatively coddled order of peacetime sword discipline, attracting a motley crew of anything-goes killers. The Japanese government, in turn, hires agents and assassins to counter their movement, leading to Manji and Rin stumbling into conflicts far greater than they imagined. Selfishness, duty, ambiguity, ambition – watching characters clash as they pursue and escape one another is a perpetual highlight of the series. The story’s heights often involve pushing a conflict to its absolute boiling point then swapping to another scene and letting the reader’s dramatic irony detector in their brain go off like fireworks as the scenarios converge. The effect is downright Proustian and never gets old.

As the series goes on, there is a kind of a meta element in tracking Hiroaki Samura’s storytelling style and observing how he breaks out of his own conventions. Really cool sword fights as dramatic climaxes go a long way—Samura takes “swordsman passes by an opponent at the moment of evisceration” to a whole new level. As that effect becomes regular to the point of predictable, Samura sidelines the immortal Manji in order to focus on the motives and checkered pasts of ambitiously doomed characters, elevating the series to something admirable. Just about everyone is participating in a suicide squad of sorts for different reasons, and readers might find themselves rooting against Manji by the end. Shonen tropes like “fighting for my friends” or “proving I’m the best” sometimes apply, but character arcs also delve into how to let go of hatred or commit oneself to selfless acts.

Notable Notes
Samura’s style is one of a kind, and tracking its evolution throughout the series is another joy. He dropped out of art school to make Blade of the Immortal, and he cites classic art in interviews about his inspirations.There are pages that set a scene just so, that are more exhilarating than the standout duels and close calls. Samura and his team are masters of using touches of white to create highlights across landscapes, rooms, and faces that will stop you in your tracks. A spot of moonlight in a starless sky, a slice of brightness on the edge of someone’s cheek, a glowing torch advertising safety off in the distance – the fights are fast and heavy, but the quiet moments know how to command attention, too.

Consider this series rated M with good reason, and it’s not just lopped limbs and four-letter words. Characters have sex, including with prostitutes, and one long-running sadistic antagonist in particular derives pleasure from raping while murdering. Women are not strictly victims in this series—several are skilled, principled fighters who absolutely hold their own—but there are nonetheless a lot of violated women.

Having said that, the drama and carnage sometimes serve as a backdrop that makes the chapters of traveling and humor utter delights. The series earns big laughs whenever it slows down to show characters commenting on their journeys thus far or airing rumors about characters they haven’t seen in a while. Manji, Rin, and the rest are prone to exclaiming out loud when a situation gets out of control or downright weird (such as having to retrieve Manji’s body parts following a fight), which is another humorous highlight.

The “Demon Lair” arc is one of the greatest sustained combinations of setup, confrontation, and payoff I’ve ever read in action manga. It’s the culmination of Blade of the Immortal’s unique mixture of realism, anachronisms, sci-fi, and horror. It will spoil your expectations for arcs to come, for slow-burn schemes in other manga, and even for D&D campaigns.

Significance
Blade of the Immortal has been adapted into two different anime series, a live-action movie, and a novel.
The series won Japan’s Media Arts Award in 1997 and an Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material in 2000.

Blade of the Immortal influenced Naruto’s creator, Masashi Kishimoto, in a number of ways, including his style, plotting, and character design.

As if you needed more proof this series came about in the 90s, the English release reads left to right! This is no simple mirror flip – a “cut and paste” method was used to manually move panels around. Each volume contains a deeper explanation of this as well as Samura’s sound effects and anachronistic dialog.
Manji wears a giant Buddhist swastika on his back, and every volume of the series includes a lengthy disclaimer explaining the honorable history of the symbol and how it’s different from the Nazi swastika.

Appeal
Uninitiated readers may gravitate toward the bloody sword action and Manji’s cocky attitude, but the picaresque plotting and elegant dramatic build-ups are what usher this manga into the Classic Fantastic.

Why Should You Own This?
Each three-in-one omnibus is $22, which is a great deal for one of the best samurai manga ever made. And for the dedicated collector or librarian with money to spend, Dark Horse will be releasing a deluxe, hardcover omnibus edition in October of 2020, which will retail for $49.00.

Classic Fantastic: Blade of the Immortal
By Hiroaki Samura

VolumeISBN
Omnibus I9781506701240
Omnibus II9781506701325
Omnibus III9781506701721
Omnibus IV9781506705699
Omnibus V9781506705675
Omnibus VI9781506705682
Omnibus VII9781506706559
Omnibus VIII9781506708171
Omnibus IX9781506708188
Omnibus X9781506708195

Dark Horse, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: OT (16+)
Series Reading Order: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blade_of_the_Immortal (Wikipedia or Goodreads)

Browse for more like this title
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Japanese
Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator
Related to…: Comic to Movie, Comic to TV

Hilda and the Mountain King, book 6

Hilda’s adventures continue in this latest installment. For readers new to the series, the events in the previous book are recapped at the beginning: Hilda’s yearning for adventure has once again gotten her in trouble and she breaks out at night for a dangerous adventure. Both she and her mother were caught up with the trolls on the mountain and barely escape, but the adventure ends with the mysterious swap of a baby troll and Hilda…

This new story begins with Hilda the troll fleeing through the woods, panicked and bewildered, pursued by the “mother” troll. As both Hilda and her human mother struggle to be reunited, they also learn more about themselves, their city, and the trolls that live outside the walls. Hilda yearns to be back with her mother, but can’t deny her inner longing for freedom and adventure, as well as the exuberant joy she feels in exploring the trolls’ wilderness. However, she is also frightened by the trolls’ often violent and seemingly emotionless life. When she learns more of their history, she has to make a difficult decision as to who to trust if she is going to be able to return to her human form. Hilda’s mother is equally challenged, trying to care for the troll-turned-human baby while searching for her daughter, and realizes that without help she is unlikely to ever see Hilda again. Both Hilda and her mother make decisions that will have a permanent effect on the citizens of their town and the trolls whose land they have taken.

Although there’s no hint that this is the final Hilda book, in many ways it feels like a final story, bringing together the many themes of outsiders, complex issues of ownership, and Hilda’s own struggle between love for her family and her desire for freedom and adventure. From the first book, Pearson has thoughtfully addressed the issues caused by humans moving into the land of the wild, magical creatures. This comes to a head in the increasingly dangerous relations between trolls and humans in this story. Pearson avoids having Hilda discover that trolls are “just like humans” and everything is a misunderstanding. In many ways, Hilda realizes the trolls are even more alien than she had thought after she becomes one of them. There’s no final happy ending where all live together in perfect harmony, but there is understanding and acceptance of their differences and needs.

As suits the darker, more intense plot of the book, the color scheme shifts to grays, browns, and a more washed-out, stony blue for Hilda’s hair. These are interrupted by violent red images in flashbacks to the trolls’ past, with red-tinged images of blocky stone figures moving across a seeming wasteland of bare earth and caves. Readers who have previously visited the series will recognize the earth colors of the town, beige, pale yellow, and light orange, as well as some familiar characters like the hairy nisse, Tontu, who can take different forms.

This book will appeal most to fans of the Hilda series who are already familiar with our blue-haired heroine, and the quick recap at the beginning will help them remember the most immediate preceding events. Readers new to the series can start with this title, but they will miss the build-up of the characters and their motivations and will find themselves confused by the sequence of events. This is a must-have for libraries who own the previous titles in the series, especially since it continues from the cliff-hanger of the previous book, Hilda and the Stone Forest. For readers who haven’t met Hilda yet, recommend this series to fans of Amulet, the Moomins, and those who enjoy a more gentle read with strange and wonderful characters.

Hilda and the Mountain King, Book 6
By Luke Pearson
ISBN: 9781911171171
Flying Eye Books, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 7 and up
Series Reading Order

The Boys Omnibus, vol. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Browse for more like this title
Related to…: Comic to TV

Teen Titans Go! Series (Capstone Stone Arch Editions)

Even when they’re not fighting supervillains, the Teen Titans have some wild adventures! These three volumes of Teen Titans Go! see the young superheroes hosting a sleepover, prank-calling an alien warlord, accidentally bringing their video games to life, and getting overly competitive at the mini-golf course.

These fast-paced stories have funny, and usually low, stakes. Who has been stealing Cyborg’s sandwiches from the fridge? What is in the mysterious package delivered to Raven? Will the girls-only sleepover at Titans Tower result in Starfire getting engaged to marry a demon? Each of these questions is posed and answered in just nine pages—usually without the Titans ever leaving the Tower.

Though the stories are short, the personalities of the Titans come through. They may be silly and exaggerated, but the main characters do feel distinct from each other. Starfire is the cheerful alien who still doesn’t quite get Earth customs and speech patterns. Beast Boy and Cyborg are buddies and pranking co-conspirators. Raven is reserved and theoretically scary but actually obsessed with their universe’s version of My Little Pony. And Robin tries to be the serious leader type except for all the times when he forgets about that and gets caught up in the silliness. Their interactions create plenty of funny situations. We also get brief guest appearances from other DC universe characters like Bumblebee, Jinx, Trigon, Batman, and Riddler. Readers who don’t know these characters probably won’t be too confused, but those who do recognize them will enjoy the surprise cameos.

These three volumes can be read in any order. Each sturdy, colorful hardback contains two stories plus a glossary and a couple of pages of ‘Visual Questions and Writing Prompts.’ The visual questions are mostly aimed at helping young readers understand the techniques used in comics, asking about things like what the facial expressions or symbols in a panel might mean. The writing prompts are generally in the vein of, ‘What do you think happens next?’

The art is zany, angular, and colorful, and will be familiar to anyone who has watched the Teen Titans Go! TV show. The characters have comically over-the-top facial expressions and body language. The action is easy to follow, despite often being weird and wacky in the extreme. (Demon pizza monsters, anyone?) The arrangement of panels varies from page to page, adding visual interest to the story. In some Teen Titans Go! comics I have previously reviewed (Teen Titans Go! vols. 1-5), different artists bring their own styles to each volume. These three volumes are pretty consistent in their art style, perhaps because artist Jorge Corona worked on all of them. (Other artists joined him for two of the volumes.)

These wacky, fast-paced adventures pack enough action and humor to feel like watching a cartoon. They’re simple enough for young readers and short enough for those without long attention spans. There’s a small amount of silly, cartoonish violence, but nothing scary. Fans of the Teen Titans Go! TV show will likely get a kick out of these volumes, and fans of the DC Comics universe in general might enjoy seeing it in a silly light. Hey, where else can you find out what happens when you prank-call Batman?

Teen Titans Go!
Food Fright and Par for the Course

By Sholly Fisch, Merrill Hagan
Art by Jorge Corona, Ben Bates
ISBN: 9781496579935
But Games can Never Hurt Me and Sleep Over
By Sholly Fisch, Merrill Hagan
Art by Jorge Corona
ISBN: 9781496579980
Prank’d! and Don’t Look
By Sholly Fisch, Amy Wolfram
Art by Jorge Corona. Lea Hernandez
ISBN: 9781496579973
Stone Arch Press, 2019
Publisher Age Ranking: Reading Level: Grades 2-4; Interest Level: Grades 2-6

My Brother’s Husband, vol. 1

In My Brother’s Husband, writer and artist Gengoroh Tagame takes a heartfelt look at what it means to be a family and gay in Japan.

After sending his young daughter Kana off to elementary school, divorced stay-at-home dad Yaichi is surprised to find on his suburban Tokyo doorstep, a large, friendly, Canadian man who claims to be his dead brother’s husband. What follows is a sweet but awkward look into familial relationships and the cultural, social taboos still present in modern-day Japan. Kana serves as the bluntly honest conscience of this first volume by asking the questions adults are afraid to ask. This allows her bewildered father to ask questions about the biases of himself and of his community, ready to defend his new, albeit unusual, family member, and protect his daughter’s heart.

This is more of a slice-of-life story with larger issues at work but told in an easy-to-read language. It contains plenty of explanations of everyday life and customs in Japan for the hulking-but-affable Mike, as well as for the reader. The story covers some fairly common societal assumptions about homosexuality: whether gay individuals are a “bad influence” on children; do gay men find heterosexual men attractive; and how young gay people come out to their families. Bigger questions arise as Yaichi takes Mike on a tour of their hometown, which brings back memories of his twin, Ryoji. Mike, who’s still grieving, begins making an emotional connection with Yaichi and, especially, Kana.

Like Kana, I was charmed by Mike’s friendly, outgoing attitude and eagerness to learn more about his Japanese family. Her easy acceptance of the situation is what makes the story great. It is the adults who are most confused about the simple act of loving another human being. The child simply opens her heart and, I hope, her father and Japanese society follow suit. Gay marriage is not currently legal in Japan and, despite the openly embraced and highly-selling manga genres of yaoi, yuri, and bara, open homosexual relationships are still fairly taboo. I am definitely interested to see where the next volume takes the story. Yaichi has unresolved issues with his dead brother and subconscious worries about his daughter and Mike that manifest in dream sequences.

While the issue of gay marriage is an adult one, the manga is not inappropriate for teens or middle grade kids (depending on their maturity). The language, art, and ideas are presented in a straightforward manner without salacious details or sexual situations. This manga is Tagame’s first venture into an all-ages story. His previous work has been in mostly bara, sexually explicit manga geared towards homosexual readers. Tagame’s artwork isn’t typical of other manga genres. His male characters are hyper-masculine, sometimes bearish (common in bara). With simple, strong lines, and clean backgrounds, the characters’ faces are expressive and convey plenty of emotion to draw the reader into the story.

The comic was serialized in Japan in the seinen manga magazine Monthly Action in 2014. It’s been licensed in English and published in the US by Pantheon Books. Printed as a graphic novel in 2017, this volume is sold in a hardcover, omnibus edition, which makes it more expensive than most manga or graphic novels. It reads in classic manga style—right to left—and is also available in a Kindle version. The manga was adapted into a live-action television mini-series and aired in March of 2018.

As a realistic, slice-of-life manga it would fit in any collection. For yaoi fans like myself, it gives a different perspective on the real status of homosexuality and Japanese life.

My Brother’s Husband, vol. 1
by Gengoroh Tagame
ISBN: 9781101871515
Pantheon Books, NY, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: no rating

Tokyo Ghoul: re, vols. 1-3

Tokyo Ghoul: re is the sequel to Sui Ishida’s hit horror manga, Tokyo Ghoul. The setting is a Tokyo not unlike ours, with the exception that monstrous ghouls walk among us, disguised as humans, while preying on them for food. The ghouls are gruesome killers and operate similarly to street gangs or the mafia. They organize as clans and get up to all kinds of nefarious stuff, mostly eating humans and sometimes other ghouls. To combat the ghouls, there is a Commission of Counter Ghouls. This group works as a supernatural police force investigating murders and crimes related to ghoul activity. The book centers around one group of new recruits, the Quinx Squad, led by Haise Sasaki. Readers familiar with Tokyo Ghoul will quickly realize Sasaki is actually Ken Kaneki who is suffering from amnesia.

Kaneki was the central character in Tokyo Ghoul. In it, he survived an attack by a ghoul, but surgeons unknowingly transplanted a ghoul organ into his body. This organ, called a kagune, turns Kaneki into a ghoul/human hybrid. The kagune acts like a flexible, bony, deadly tentacle and is a ghoul’s predatory organ, emerging when the ghoul is stressed, in danger, or hungry. Kagunes are nearly indestructible with conventional weapons, so the CCG harvests the kagune from deceased ghouls to create weapons called quinques for their investigators.

Following the events of Tokyo Ghoul, the CCG creates the Quinx Squad. This squad is special as recruits signed up to have quinques surgically implanted in their bodies, making them ghoul hybrids like Kaneki/Sasaki. (I will refer to him as Sasaki from here on.)

Volume one centers around introducing the Quinx Squad and how the CCG operates. The Quinx Squad’s goal is that its members will surpass the CCG’s star ghoul investigator, Kisho Arima. Of course, the Squad bumbles along, in spite of their powers. Sasaki struggles to control his subordinates and often flounders as the mentor he’s supposed to be. Toru Mutsuki is unable to get his kagune to manifest and wears an eye patch to cover up the ghoul eye he can’t make go away. Ghouls’ eyes glow red when fighting or eating but otherwise remain normal as part of their human disguise. Matsuki’s inability to hide his ghoul eye is a serious problem. Mutsuki also identifies as trans and the Squad is unaware. Kuki Urie is the new recruit with a chip on his shoulder. Urie thinks he’s better than everyone else and often makes foolish decisions. His arrogance leads him into things like not waiting for backup or chasing down ghoul suspects on his own. Ambitious and manipulative, Urie hates Sasaki and wants to be in charge. Ginshi Shirazu is the affable screw up. He joined the squad because he’s always behind on his bills and needed the money. The last Quinx Squad member is absent from the first volume. Saiko Yonebayashi spends her days locked in her room at the Quinx apartment. She spends most of her time playing video games and watching anime. She did really well on the Quinx aptitude test in school, so her mother signed her up for the financial compensation. Saiko doesn’t want to work but she really doesn’t want to go back to her abusive mother. Sasaki is empathetic to this situation.

Volume one of Tokyo Ghoul: re does a great job weaving the character introductions within the context of the storyline. There is a ghoul called “the Torso” that is killing women and taking their torsos, leaving behind the head and appendages. Quinx Squad isn’t supposed to investigate the case as they are still too green. Egotistical Urie decides he can solve this case, despite not being fulling trained. Through a series of events that leads to angering the more experienced squad handling the Torso case, Quinx Squad ends up collaborating with them at the request of a senior investigator. It’s a race to who can get a physical description of the Torso first. They figure out, based on the murder victims and locations, that the ghoul must be a taxi driver who picks up people around hospitals. All the victims have surgery scars on their torsos. The squad splits up to cover more ground, investigating  different hospitals. Mutsuki jumps into a cab following a hunch. The driver is the Torso. He attacks Mutsuki, ripping open his shirt, revealing his trans identity. There is an immediate backstory flashback. This reveal is an example of trans body horror and is incredibly disrespectful to trans individuals. It is degradingly played out for shock value. Mutsuki is able to get away from the ghoul and the rest of the team attacks. The Torso turns out to be part of the Aogori Tree Clan and a ghoul named Orochi shows up to save him. Sasaki goes head to head with Orochi and that’s when we find out Sasaki is part ghoul.

As in the original series, Sasaki continues an internal struggle with his internal ghoul personality. Sasaki, fighting in full ghoul mode, has a hard time regaining his control. The CCG, aware of this problem, is ready to eliminate him if he cannot control the monster within, but Sasaki comes back to himself. Volume one concludes with the squad finding out they will investigate the Aogori Tree Clan. Quinx Squad goes to the coffee house Sasaki used to hang out at when he was Ken Keneki. The ghouls running the place recognize him but he doesn’t remember them.

Volume two finally introduces Saiko Yonebayashi. Sasaki promoted Shirazu to leader and demoted Urie from leadership position to teach him humility. Now Shirazu is tasked with getting Saiko up and working which lends the story some comic relief.

The Quinx Squad is assigned the Nutcracker case. The Nutcracker is a ghoul who consumes men’s testicles. She also works for ghoul madams and there is an upcoming ghoul auction in which human victims will be auctioned off. A sting operation is put into place to get close to the Nutcracker and get into the auction. Since the ghoul is looking for women, the squad dresses as women, hoping to get an introduction to the Nutcracker at a nightclub.

This creates an awkward situation with Mutsuki’s trans identity and he is obviously uncomfortable. However, Mutsuki makes a connection with the Nutcracker, and they get the information regarding the location and time of the auction. Suzuya decides to use Mutsuki as bait, which leads to Mutsuki in another dress, getting kidnapped and sold on the auction floor along with CCG investigator, Juzo Suzuya. All hell opens up when it’s Suzuya’s turn to be auctioned off. He has a prosthetic leg filled with knives that he unleashes into the audience. Volume two ends in chaos.

Volume three has multiple events taking place at the ghoul auction. This series is really good at threading subplots throughout the main story line and you really see that here. This is a high level CCG operation mobilizing all their squads. It can be a little chaotic keeping up with everything going on as there are a lot of quick cuts to the next subplot/main plot element. The reader is introduced to more ghouls like the Clowns, more members of Aogori Tree (who are providing security for the auction), Big Madam, and Kanae. Mutsuki keeps trying to get away, but is chased by the Torso and then by Kanae. Kanae works for Master Shu, the ghoul that was obsessed with trying to eat Ken Kaneki in the original series. He is sure that his master will enjoy eating Matuski and wants to bring him back with him. Urie ends up rescuing Matuski. Instead of regrouping with other squads, they strike out for Big Madam because Urie is only thinking about glory gained. It does not go well for him, but Suzuya steps in and deals with the Madame. His story is in Tokyo Ghoul and this wraps up some unfinished business from his past. Shirazu and Saiko go toe-to-toe with the Nutcracker and win by using the ghoul’s own traps against her. Meanwhile, Sasaki is in a fight with a ghoul who calls him Ken Kanaki, causing another internal struggle between him and his inner ghoul. Sasaki comes to terms with the fact that he is also Ken Kaneki. Another ghoul defends Sasaki because she was friends with Ken Kaneki while Sasaki is wrestling with his identity. Volume three wraps with the CCG debriefing the case. There were a lot of casualties on both sides, ghoul threats eradicated, and important intel gained.

Toyko Ghoul: re is a gory horror manga suited more for older teens and adults. The art is really well done and the fight scenes are so frenetic readers can feel the energy jumping off the page. There is so much happening in big action sequences that it can be a little confusing. Each character has a well thought-out design and all are easy to visually tell apart. Readers should read the first series for a better understanding of plot lines and character motivations. I did not read Tokyo Ghoul, but was able to follow the story well enough. I did look things up if I felt I was reading something about a character that I should know from the original series. Each volume has extra content at the end of the book: small character vignettes or even short stories which add some more depth. I really enjoyed Sasaki’s conflict over his identity. It is a great metaphor for mental illness or accepting one’s flaws and vulnerabilities.

Where this series fell apart for me was Mutsuki’s trans identity. His trans reveal is done in a very disrespectful way and he’s never given real agency over his plot line. Using him as bait and having him dress as a woman is a transphobic creative choice and is not the only one in this series. I can’t in good conscience recommend adding it to a library collection. An LGBT character needs to have agency over their own storyline and also have acceptance of that identity. That is not present in this manga.

Tokyo Ghoul: re, vols. 1-3
By Sui Ishida
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9781421594965
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9781421594972
Vol. 3 ISBN: 9781421594989
Viz Media. 2017-2018
Publisher Age Range: Older Teen

Hilda and the Hidden People

For those familiar with Pearson’s comics, Hilda and the Hidden People is a retread of the events of Hilda and the Midnight Giant and Hilda and the Troll, with some expansions and embellishments to pad the spare story out into a 170 page novel.

Hilda is a young girl living in a Scandinavian-esque northern valley she shares with trolls, elves, and giants. The young adventurer passes her days tramping around the hills with her deer fox Twig and filling her sketchbook, followed by cozy evenings curled up by fire with her mother. Life is peaceful until the pair receive threatening letters from a group calling themselves the Hidden People, demanding that Hilda and her mother abandon their home. When the invisible creatures lead an all-out attack on the house, Hilda’s mother begins to think that moving to Trolberg, the nearest human metropolis, might be the best course. Hilda, who loves the valley and her magical friends, is determined to neutralize the threat and change her mother’s mind about moving to the city.

Luckily, she has the help of one of the Hidden People, a diminutive elf named Alfur. It turns out that the Hidden People aren’t so much hidden as invisible—in order to see them, considerable paperwork must be processed. Hilda soon realizes that her seemingly isolated home is actually surrounded by a sprawling community of tiny elves of which she has never been aware (and to which she has apparently been causing some inconvenience). As Hilda struggles to reach a peaceful resolution with the leaders of the Hidden People, she is also caught up in a different puzzle. A mountain-sized giant has been stalking the hills at midnight, and Hilda is the only one who has seen him. Hilda finds that her small elf problem may be unexpectedly connected to her giant mystery—and that moving to Trolberg may not be so bad after all.

Hilda and the Hidden People is the first of several illustrated middle grade novels Flying Eye Books has planned to coincide with the debut of the Hilda animated series on Netflix. Originally created by Luke Pearson as a series of large-format graphic novels, Hilda is adapted to prose by British author Stephen Davies, with illustrations by Seaerra Miller. Miller does an admirable job capturing Pearson’s characters and aesthetics in chapter headings and occasional full-page illustrations. Unfortunately, Davies has not captured Pearson’s authorial voice nearly so well.

Davies’s adaptation is rather bland as a whole, and he writes Hilda as very young and excitable—absent is the dry humor and wiser-than-her-years self-assurance of Pearson’s graphic heroine. Much of the dialogue comes straight from the graphic novel, though vocabulary seems to be simplified in places. Visual jokes are retained, but don’t come across in prose without additional (and unfunny) explanation. Most significantly, this adaptation lacks the sense of folkloric texture and everyday magic that is so present in Pearson’s comics. The book reads as a young middle grade or advanced chapter book, and although the Hildafolk comics can be heartily enjoyed by an adult as easily as a child, I don’t expect Hilda and the Hidden People will be much enjoyed outside the seven-to-ten audience Flying Eye is targeting.

Hilda and the Hidden People is a serviceable introduction to the world of Hildafolk for young middle grade readers. It doesn’t stand well on its own as middle-grade fantasy, and will work best as a tie-in for fans brought in by the new animated series. For existing fans of the comics, this novel is not a particularly good supplement. It adds no new material to the stories and largely fails to capture much of the sophisticated charm and snarky tone of the Pearson’s work. Two more Hilda novels are scheduled for 2019, the first of which, Hilda and the Great Parade, is due out in January.

Hilda and the Hidden People
by Stephen Davies, Luke Pearson
Art by Seaerra Miller
ISBN: 9781911171447
Flying Eye Books, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 7-10

Your Pal Archie, vol. 1

When I was a kid, I got a lot of joy out of reading snippets of Archie and Betty & Veronica comics while waiting in line at the grocery store with my parents. There was something about these short stories, all seemingly pulled from a vast and cyclical pool of common cultural knowledge about the going-ons in Riverdale, that captivated me from a young age. In a lot of ways, I credit Archie for instilling in me a lifelong love of serial stories and graphic narratives, and Your Pal Archie has the potential to do this with a new generation of readers.

Like the original Archie comics from the 1940s and 1950s, Your Pal Archie consists of ten standalone stories that focus on the life of high schooler Archie Andrews, his best friend Jughead Jones, socialite Veronica Lodge, and girl-next-door Betty Cooper. The four teenagers, along with other friends and rivals, get into silly situations together in their small American town of Riverdale.

Your Pal Archie comes on the heels of the explosively popular CW television series Riverdale, which places Archie and his friends within a modern murder mystery. Riverdale sparked a renewed interest in Archie, and with that interest has come several new projects. These include modern comic series about Archie, Jughead, and Betty & Veronica, as well as the imaginative Archie Horror imprint, which publishes Afterlife with Archie, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and other spooky re-imaginings of the classic characters. Though Riverdale’s dark reinvention of the Archie universe has been massively successful, Your Pal Archie is something else entirely. Intended as a family-friendly homage to the classic layout and storytelling of the original strips, Your Pal Archie is unique from the other titles coming out today.

The style and storylines of this title closely mirror the original strips, unlike the other current offerings within the Archie universe, which generally sport a new artistic style and follow one consistent storyline from issue to issue. Aside from Archie’s updated haircut and a subtle redesign of everyone’s outfits, Your Pal Archie sticks to the conventions of the classic stories from the grocery aisles of yore. Artist Dan Parent, notable for his introduction of Kevin Keller, the first openly gay member of in 2002, is a longtime member of the staff and manages to channel the classic artistic style with delightful accuracy. Writer Ty Templeton, known for his work on superhero titles such as Batman & Robin Adventures, sticks to the time-tested formula for an Archie story and does not stray far from the slapstick physical comedy and wacky situations that made the original comic strip popular.

While Your Pal Archie does not contain any surprises or deviations from the classic series, it will not disappoint longtime fans. The book is aimed at children 9-12 years old, and while the stories will be appealing to this age group, it is more likely that older kids and adults who recognize the Archie brand will be most likely to pick it up. It would be an excellent purchase for libraries where classic comic strips like Peanuts and Garfield circulate heavily. It would also be a great place to start for those without a current Archie collection, and may be a more universally appealing purchase than most other current offerings from Archie Comics. Your Pal Archie promises to be the first in a series of volumes, though the stories within are self-contained and can stand alone.

Your Pal Archie, vol. 1
by Ty Templeton
Art by Dan Parent
ISBN: 9781682559215
Archie Comics, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12

Runaways, vol. 1: Find Your Way Home

Occasionally in comics, it’s time to “get the team back together again”. The new Runaways series is no exception. The original concept followed Nico, Chase, Gert, Karolina, Molly, and Alex as they learned their parents were super villains in the Marvel Universe and went on the run together to escape them. With a TV show on Hulu, it is an obvious time to relaunch this series. Marvel has also brought in young adult novelist, Rainbow Rowell of Eleanor & Park fame to write the series. There aren’t many people who could follow up on Brian K. Vaughan’s well known run on a book he created, but I was genuinely excited to see what Rowell could bring to these characters. If the first volume is any indication, it will be a fun ride.

Rowell starts off with some challenges. The team is spread to the wind, several original characters are dead, and it’s hard to call a bunch of 20-year-olds who have lost their parents, “runaways”. Other than Molly, they aren’t kids anymore.

The story begins as Chase finds a way to bring a former teammate back to life. Thus, the first part of the story involves Chase and Nico catching this newly alive character (and the readers) up on what teammates have been doing since that character’s death. Once the exposition is taken care of, these three teammates go out to gather the rest of the team. What they find is that everyone is leading fulfilling lives and are reluctant to start being heroes again. When they reach their youngest and strongest member, Molly, the conflict of this first book in the series starts in earnest.

Molly is living with her grandmother and seems to be thriving. Her grandmother is warm and friendly and seems to understand everything the kids are going through. Yet, in order for them to be Runaways again, history must repeat itself. Soon, we find grandma is up to no good and the team must break free of her influence and go on the run again.

The core team is back together and Rowell captures the characteristics of each team member well. The revived character is now one of the youngest members and past relationships are more complicated (it will be creepy if they revive romantic relationships for this character as their partner is now an adult). Rowell brings a lot of humor to the team and it is welcome. It might be challenging to introduce new readers to this book because their history is so complicated, but I expect future volumes will shine since the complex part of gathering the team again is done.

One of the strongest points of this book is the artwork by Kris Anka and coloring by Matthew Wilson. Anka’s linework is clean, yet still more realistic than cartoonish. His faces are particularly good as he can convey a range of emotions with minimal drawing. Wilson brings vibrant colors to bear on the various skin colors and hair colors of the characters. Fashion is always important to young characters who don’t have costumes and both Anka & Wilson bring style and panache to these characters’ wardrobes. The art team is top notch.

Most libraries with extensive teen graphic novel or YA selections will want this book. Followers of the previous books, Rowell’s fans and people interested in the TV show will want to take a look. I’m hopeful that future volumes can shine a spotlight on these great characters and help them reach a new audience. Runaways was the first in a wave of young superhero books that led to Ms. Marvel, Squirrel-Girl, and many more great new heroes. They deserve more time in the spotlight.

Runaways, vol. 1: Find Your Way Home
by Rainbow Rowell
Art by Kris Anka and Matthew Wilson
ISBN: 9781302908522
Marvel, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: teen