Sunday Star Wars: Kanan First Blood – Comic Book Review

Somehow I managed to miss out on talking about the final issue of the previous volume, The Last Padawan, reviewed last week here. All the more power to me, as it was very open-ended – I’m lucky to be able to read both volumes practically in bulk, I’d have chewed my leg off if I had to wait for months at an end for the resolution of the Rebels side-plot at play.

First Blood reads like two of my favourite types of Star Wars stories – a typical Clone Wars TV series adventure wrapped up in a shorter, Kanan-centric Rebels episode script. The Clone Wars portion of this one is a direct prequel to the events of The Last Padawan, and sees the young Caleb strike a connection with Jedi Master DEPA BILLABA after her recovery from severe injuries at the robotic hands of GENERAL GREVIOUS*.

If this Clone Wars-era story were animated, it would most likely be a two-parter, the first one taking place on the Jedi Temple at Coruscant, the second seeing Caleb and Billaba battle against Separatist forces in the Outer Rim. The culmination here is a battle between Billaba and Grevious happening at the same time as Caleb faces off a Kabe Warrior, one of a race of grey-skinned humanoids encountered over one of Asajj Ventress’ arcs in the Clone Wars series. The Kobe warriors are proficient in the martial arts, and this one makes for an acceptable secondary antagonist.

Looks a bit like a some kind of a fallen Jedi, I thought upon seeing him first.

I continued enjoying every panel that showed Master Billaba – she’s at once vulnerable and resolute, and her connection with Caleb was fun to explore. Caleb himself – the young padawan boy, as opposed to Kanan, wasn’t anywhere near as interesting as in The Last Padawan, but that’s understandable. He goes through such a fascinating transformation

As for the Rebels sections, I enjoyed those well enough – seeing Kanan come to terms with what he went through over that first volume made for several excellent character moments, and I never say no to time spent with that delightful group of rebellious kiddos that is the Rebels cast.

What more is there to say? If you enjoy Star Wars, if you like Rebels and Clone Wars, this is a fun story with characters you already love. If you don’t…this isn’t going to win you over in any way. My score is a hint lower than the previous volume’s, at 3.75/5 stars.

*I don’t know why I suddenly began to mimic the opening crawl of a Star Wars movie but by Jim I like it!

Saturday Star Wars: Kanan The Last Padawan – Graphic Novel Review

I read this on the recommendation of a dear friend.

The first volume of Kanan, The Last Padawan is another excellent, heartbreaking story of the Jedi Purge and its consequences on those few padawans that made it through the cracks after Palpatine’s Order 66.

The first issue presents a very classic Clone Wars era story, with Kanan – his real name Caleb – fighting alongside Jedi master, Depa Billaba. I found the character of Billaba captured some of the finest in Jedi philosophy – her questioning the way the Jedi were forced into the command structure of the Republic’s army spoke to me of the underlying tension many of the wisest Jedi felt about their role in the Clone Wars. It reminds me of an older conflict in the universe, the Mandalorian Wars as spoken about in the video game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II.

The character of Caleb Dune earned my sympathies time and again, in his fight to survive and leave his old self behind, forced to change for survival’s sake. It’s difficult to lose everything the way he does, to suddenly have every belief and creed you’ve held your entire life a threat to your life.

But onto lighter aspects of this first volume – the smuggler Janus Kasmir, the separatist general, I loved everything about both these supporting characters. Especially Kasmir, he had that “rogue with a heart of gold” nailed! *Spoilers* It was painful, though, seeing Caleb break with both of them, feeling he had to keep them safe by breaking the bond between him and them. */Spoilers* Such a funny thing, bonds – we define ourselves by them, but we often seek to break with them when we feel the need for change. Kanan wanted a break away from who he was – he saw that as his only way to survival; and so he did. It’s a small tragedy, but a tragedy nonetheless.

There’s an element that doesn’t quite make sense, now that I’ve thought on it – the two clones, former friends of Caleb and Billaba, doggedly chase the Jedi Padawan without any apparent oversight from Imperial authorities. I’ll chalk this up to the transition period between Republic and Empire but it’s still a crack in what is otherwise excellent storytelling.

I enjoyed Kanan – I loved the art by Pepe Larraz, and writer Greg Weisman does a very good job telling a fine Star Wars story, which offers plenty of context to one of Rebels‘ most likable cast members. My recommendation? If you’re looking for an action-packed story with plenty of fun elements, you can’t go wrong with this. My score for it is 4.25 stars. I will be reading Volume 02 soon!

Giant Days Vol. 02 by John Allison – Graphic Novel Review

If you missed out on my joyful review of the first volume of Giant Days, you can click here.

I barely began my reading of the second volume of the brilliant slice-of-life when already I found myself transformed by it! How, you ask – and I won’t just tell you, I’ll show you!

You see here how one Esther de Groot (my two-dimensional female self) denounces the monstrous injustices of modern, post-industrialist society, a system that seeps away anything and everything unique about human beings! RISE UP MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS, TO BLOODY REVOLUTION. It’s a funny pictury, is wot it is.

What happens in this second volume, then? The girls go to a Christmas prom before leaving for Christmas Break – for those of you unaware, before the corona, we had a little something called trah-veh-ling, I think, it’s been a long time – and off they go, enjoying their break; only, Susan gets in trouble with someone who has a grudge against her. Issue 06 is about the girls finding out just wot has happened to fierce, angry Susan, and, would you know it? Before too long, Esther has to use her drama field, the one we spoke about in the previous review.

Oh, and mustachio man threatens some guys with the most worker class threat I’ve ever read, and I love it.

Did I mention that he and Susan smoosh booties?

Meanwhile, the third one – wot’s her name again? She has a crisis of personality. Or is it a crisis of consistency?

Oh, I got it! It’s Petal.

…No, that doesn’t sound right. Anyway, I have to give it to Tulip here, she steals the show throughout the volume, especially when she transforms into a weird Texan who wants to smoke meats – don’t try that at home, kids, you can’t handle it – after watching plenty of Friday Night Lights. But Daisy’s greatest trait has to be her absolute commitment to whatever metaphor she makes use of:

All is well with Susan and Daisy, even as the two of them face myriad difficulties. At the core, they remain true to themselves.

Esther, however – she gets into a bit of a toxic relationship with a guy in his late 20’s, a TA in her English Lit class. I’ll not get into it, but by the end of it, our goth princess of doom’s got herself sorted, I’d say:

This manic grin’s wot I live for. It was entertaining to see lovey-dovey Esther, quite unhinged, though:

Well, then. This second volume’s got everything the first one had – the cheeky humour, the brilliant characters, the art that never fails to express said characters in ways thrilling and hilarious; in a word, the heart. This is another 5/5 read for me. Get it, read it, laugh your heart out. It’s therapy, and it works wonders.

And now, having pronounced this graphic novel fit to read, I go to my rest.

That’s right, it is!

For Your Reading Pleasure, A Pair of WebToons Comics: Lore Olympus and Urban Animal! (October 5th Edition)

Lore Olympus

Romance isn’t my genre but the myth of Hades and Persephone has always stuck with me. What Lore Olympus does is, it reimagines the gods as living in modern society, with all that entails — technology, complex relationships, hints of egalitarianism that somehow fiercely contrasts with half the panels with Zeus in them, and more. It’s a distinctly late-2010s sort of comic book, distinctly American in the way it deals with some heavy topics and that’s no criticism on my part.

The chemistry between Persephone and Hades is incredible and without a doubt the webcomic’s driving force but there’s a lot more going on. Side characters get entire issues for their stories, such as the Eros/Cupid-Psyche side plot. Further, mysteries are introduced one after the other, making the world feel multi-layered and unique in unexpected ways. Surprises abound over the 80 or so issues of this comic.

And the art? Gorgeous, it has this pastel quality to it that is nothing short of breathtaking. I even made a pinterest board with a few of my favourite panels! Check it out, if you’d like!

I love it, I do, I do, I do! And I can’t wait for more Olympian mischief, chaos and godly fun. Oh, yes, the humour is…it’s really good. The art works in tandem with every joke (and sets a fair few up all on its own) and it nails each and every bit of comedic set-up has great pay off.

Love those modern-day Olympians!

For my closing note, what astounds me most of all is, this is all the work of one single creator, Rachel Smythe. Rachel is chock-full of talent, that’s wot I think.

Urban Animal

You know what this one reminds me of? Kirkman’s Invincible and Bendis’s Ultimate Spider-Man. It might not be a superhero comic book but it threads similar ground – characters find themselves possessing great power and forced into doing something with it for everyone’s But it’s got the same quality of sleek, fun supporting characters and the art really reminds me of the expressive quality of Cory Walker’s illustrations.

Joe is a chimera, a champion of nature capable of transforming himself in different animals — to start with. A chimera’s abilities are pretty effin’ cool, let me tell you that. Reminds me a bit of Malazan’s D’ivers and soletaken — especially one character whose chimera ability allows him to transform into a mischief of rats.

The first season was amazing. While it tackles with a lot of familiar ground that superhero comics go through, like the young protagonist hiding his powers and flaking out on his friends and family, I thought this particular aspect of Joe’s story was handled well and the resolution came about naturally.

The second season has only recently begun but already it’s got me hooked!

Crazy revelations, cuteness, bloody murder and some serious psychological warfare on our main character all make for a great story that’s well worth the time investment. And the art is, as you’ve probably gathered by now, absolutely great. It really does remind me of Invincible but with a hint of something else there — and the colour gammut has a lot of these gorgeous amber and browns contrasted with the most stunning light blue that just spells trouble for everyone. Another one on my weekly list and it deserves to be on yours, too!

How about you? Any web comics you’re currently following with interest? Leave me a suggestion in the comments below! And if you’ve read any one of these two, tell me what you thought about them, what you loved, what didn’t quite work for you.

See you next time, Reader!

Die Vol. 01: Fantasy Heartbreaker by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans (Artist) – Graphic Novel Review

Kieron Gillen has written some of the finest comic books over the past decade. When I heard that he would be penning a new project that sees D&D and Jumanji come together, I was excited–thrilled, in fact! And when the first few pieces of art were revealed, I was ecstatic. Now, nine months after I first found out about DIE, I finally got Vol. 01: Fantasy Heartbreaker. The wait has been more than worth it.

The key concept behind DIE is the kind of idea that’s bound to win most RPG nerds over, and I stick to anything that has to do with ttRPGs like a bee to an unpollinated flower, so it was a match made in heaven from the get-go. But as a self-proclaimed expert on Kieron Gillen’s work, I’m also going to draw a comparison to some of his other work here, since DIE is thematically different and contrasts quite a bit with his other major recent work, WicDiv.

First off, who are our characters? A bunch of flawed, damaged individuals in their mid forties, all of them bound together by past tragedy and trauma but disconnected in every other way that counts. Dominic/Ash is our lead in this group of five, the tall blond bloke in the middle of the last panel from the page above, his character in the RPG gameworld a tall platinum blonde with the powers of a Dictator — “a diplomat with teeth. A cross between Cleopatra and Machiavelli” — definitely erring on the side of Machiavelli by the end of vol. 01.

The Dictator class has the power to control emotions with their voice; this power works kind of like Marvel’s Purple Man’s does but with a much greater degree of subtlety; it requires more ingenuity on Ash’s part, too. The other members of the party are Ash’s kid sister Angela, who plays a “cyberpunk” or Neo, which is basically a drug addict but instead of a human on crack, the Neo is addicted to Fae gold and as soon as she gets her hands on some, becomes a high-tech jet-pack wielding heavy-hitter (useless without any Fae gold, naturally); Chuck who plays the Fool and acts like one for the most part but is at the same time a pretty conniving guy; Matthew, who plays the Grief Knight, a warrior/paladin whose power comes from negative emotions; and Isabelle, the Godbinder, who used to be all edge and so wanted to be “some kind of atheist with gods for pets”. They each got a single many-sided die, each of them different from the others. The last one, the d20, went to Solomon — our sixth, the guy who came up with the game and who plays the Master.

Sccccarrrrrrrry, as Chuck would say.

Only, it’s not a game, and after rolling their dice, our party of teens disappears from the face of the world for two years, without a sign left behind. That was then, as the first panel makes clear. Now, twenty seven years later, drinking in a bar with his sister, Dominic gets a little something for his birthday — a certain familiar d20 in a package without a return address, only a criptic ‘happy birthday’ message on it. In spite of his first impulse being to smash the damned thing with a rock, Dominic decides it’s not his decision to make and instead brings the band back together to discuss options. Soon as the die is in the open, however, it doesn’t seem interested in anything the members of our party might have to say. One minute, they’re all in Chuck’s parlour and the next…

“We’re back,” Ash says in this two-page spread in the completed Vol. 01.

Shit gets real.

Now that our characters are back in the fantasy world they lost two years of their lives in, things are markedly different. The world is a hodge-podge of familiar fantasy and sci-fi tropes with their own unique spin; it has some horrifying, bleak parts but beautiful ones, as well. Unfortunately, most of those latter ones are poisoned by the past and the memories that come with it. Seems like in their past stay, our heroes made choices that were less than wise, the kind of choices that have a steep price for everyone involved.

A stark reminder of one such choice comes early on, and I won’t spoil it but let’s just say it shows a lot of Ash’s personality as well as the scope and depth of their powers. It’s a damn good scene and probably the one during which I fell in love with this story. It’s the sort of sequence that

Following the first issue, we’ve got some heavy world building in the second, then some fluffy worldbuilding in the third, as Gillen himself describes it in one of the essays at the back of the volume (Guys! There are essays in the back of this volume! How cool is that?! I hope as all hell that’s something the next volumes of Die will also have!).

More about the world is showcased, and our characters shine in action. What’s there to say about it but…what brilliant, fantastic art! Dynamic, beautiful, downright stunning. Hans explains that she “cut the book into sequences, to which I assigned a colour gradient. Each has a meaning but almost all of issue one is a preparation of the double-page spread with the big reveal of the DIE world with intoxicating reds and vivid pure colours…ho, and space. All the sequences before that are bleak, almost claustrophobic; air is heavy, dark…” See, I was going to try and explain the difference as we build up to that reveal in the first issue myself, but Stephanie does it so, so much better. This is an excerpt from her essay, “The Space Between Words” on p. 181 of DIE Vol. 01. There is a lot there, in just over a page about her artistic choices, as well as the inspirations she drew from in designing this exciting cast.

This book would not be what it is without Stephanie Hans, that’s for sure. My recommendation? Get your hands on it, and do it quick! There’s so much to unpack on your own. What I’m giving this one is a full 5/5 on Goodreads, and a 10/10 in my heart.

Before I go though, I do want to take a minute to talk about the tonal difference between this and Wic/Div. While Wic/Div has always had a feeling of hopelessness underneath its loud, colourful surface (“Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead.“), it’s still vivid, filled with neon-coloured characters imbued with a sort of joyful ‘fuck you’ manner towards a world that’s out to get them.

DIE is bleak and brooding, a darker place at its very surface. It twists familiar tropes to a degree that’s barely recognizable, and it asks some fascinating questions about our relationship with RPGs not only in terms of our agency inside these fantasy worlds but also what the effects of that agency are on us. It’s the sort of delightful, “when you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes back” logic I have a deep appreciation for. The answers…well, I’m looking forward to delving into those, myself.

Thanks for reading!

Monstress, Volume 01: Some Good #%@!ing Art

There, I said it. That’s all there is to it.

What’s this? I should probably give you a little more than that? Persuade you, you say. Alright, don’t get your feathers ruffled like so, I’ll do it. I’ve taken the initiative now.

Volume 01: Awakening has a unique art style, slick and gorgeous, showcasing the full skill of Sana Takeda. Obviously inspired by Manga, it’s also informed by Takeda’s work on Marvel series such as X-23 and Ms. Marvel, resulting in an amalgamation that’s unlike most art I’ve personally come across:

Gold and brown and grey are often the colours that dominate the many panels of the first issues of Monstress in particular, creating a human world that looks luxurious but feels cold and metallic. Dominated by science and religious fanaticism alike, the human side of the world of Monstress is nothing short of disturbing. The upper echelons of human society are unnerving, to say the least — humans auction off arcanics (we’ll get to those in a minute) for pleasure, experimentation or …a meal. Disturbing how easily it would be to see this happening; all we need is a comfy distinction of human versus ‘other’ and what ammounts to cannibalism is suddenly acceptable.

Arcanics are half-human and half-ancient. That is to say, they’ll often look like humans, only they’ll usually have a fluffy fox tail, or cat ears or angelic wings; something giving away the fact they’ve got a bit of magical, immortal biped animal-like grandpa/grandma genetic material in them from several generations ago. Arcanics will always be mortal…I think. There’s a lot of them though. Part of the beef arcanics have with humans is that the power behind the human government. the religious Cumaea sect, has been chopping arcanics for their bones, producing a magical resource called lilium for a little while. Lilium has all kinds of wonderful properties — enhancing life duration, healing those at the very edge of death, and only Marjorie M. Liu knows what else.

Knowing this, it’s understandable how humans and arcanics traded some serious blows a while back, a war that ended in tragedy and death, and a tentative peace hobbled by mistrust and downright hatred. I mean, humans hunt cats and put them in cages because they are in fact an arcanist-allied race of hyperintellectual, many-tailed…well, cats. Nothing unusual about that, actually.

The tone of this graphic novel is dark, as you might’ve guessed by now. But it needs to be said and underlined: this is a dark story, a story of death and brutal violence, much of it perpetuated by our own heroine, Maika.

Maika

Maika is dangerous. Possessing power that no arcanic should, Maika’s ignorance of that same power makes her both horrifying and sympathetic. A tragic backstory plays up the sympathy but the power slumbering inside of her is hungry; and whenever that hunger manifests, we get treated to some pretty dark shit. As for who she is as a character? Determined, angry, looking for answers. There is an underlying softness to her, a caring that she seems intent of not showing but which nevertheless comes to display every once in a while, in particular towards the later issues of this volume, whenever we see supporting character and adorable girl-fox-who-is-scared-shitless Kippa.

Kippa is kutta! And by that I mean, cute. I don’t know what phonetic
nonsense I was going for there. She’s loyal despite being afraid most of time
— but she’s got a really good reason so don’t think any less of her.

See? She IS adorable!

What else, what else? There’s a cat! His name is Ren, he’s a nekomancer,
which I’m pretty sure sounds intentionally like a necromancer and that fucks with my head in several ways, mostly because I want to see a cat raise the dead, oh how I want that. New short story idea? You bet! But also, this cat is way too much like me, it’s uncanny.

If you know me, you’ll see the resemblance.

I am in love with this, and it’s no surprise how successful, popular and
critically acclaimed it has become. The writing is on point, offering dramatic tension, character development and plenty of conflict. The art, as you have seen, is a wonder. This truly is a praiseworthy graphic novel, an example of the heights that this mode of storytelling can reach, up there with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Kieron Gillen/Jamie Mckelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine. I’ve already ordered the next two volumes and can’t wait for the fourth, releasing in October of this year. I wish I hadn’t waited this long to get my hands on it, Monstress truly is that kind of story. No wonder it’s won a bunch of Hugo and Eisner(Nominee) Awards!

Oh, and the antagonists? Some of them are pretty fucking scary, and you just can’t put them in the ground, no matter how hard you try. Besides, no matter how hard you try, you won’t do as well as Maika Halfwolf will so you might as well take a seat, open up this volume, and enjoy the ride!