Twelve reviews this week! What an onslaught! I hope you’re ready for books from all across the genre spectrum. It’s gonna get graphic! This week, I’ll be reviewing:
- Tarot Café: The Collector’s Edition, Book 2
- Sword Princess Amaltea, Volume 3
- The Spider King: Frostbite
- Robotech, Volume 1: Countdown
- Keepers of Lost Time
- Glint, Book One: The Cloud Raiders
- Supers: A Little Star Past Cassiopeia
- Chronin, Volume 1: The Knife at Your Back
- Belle: Beast Hunter
- Chronicles of Hate, Books 1 & 2
- Vampirella: The Dynamite Years Omnibus, Volume 4
- Mister Miracle
Stop back next week for even more reviews. And if you haven’t checked out Graphic Novel Weekly before, you can find all of the reviews, interviews, and previews here. Now let’s get into the real content!
Tarot Café: The Collector’s Edition, Book 2
Writer: Sang-Sun Park
Artist: Sang-Sun Park
Translators: Sukhee Ryu, Jennifer Hahm
Physical Copy: $17.99
Digital Copy: Only available as individual volumes at $5.99 each; Volume 3, Volume 4, Volume 5, Volume 6
Contains: Tarot Café, volumes 3-6
Exactly one month ago, my review of the first volume of Tarot Café: The Collector’s Edition went up on Graphic Novel Weekly. I said pretty nice things about, too. You can give the full review a scan here if you’d like. Otherwise, shall we jump in?
Pamela’s Tarot Café is still open for business, seeing “special” customers after hours, when Pamela reads their future in her tarot card in exchange for a magic pearl. The stories of Pamela’s customers seem to be getting darker, as she reads in her cards the stories of young women trapped in castles by their evil step parents, demons that offer their victims success before taking their life, and a tree spirit saving a young boy from his abusive father. Meanwhile, Pamela’s own story comes more and more into focus, as she is doused with a magic perfume that forces her to live out her worst memories over and over. Things are looking rough for the denizens of the Tarot Café.
Tarot Café continues to have a pretty strong showing. Its shifting from the focus of the individual stories to a heavier emphasis on Pamela’s own is being handled deftly. One aspect that I do struggle with is identifying the multiple people from Pamela’s background that are still involved in her life. With all of them having similar faces and luxuriant hair, hair color is my main way of differentiating them, although with hair styles sometimes changing across time, it does get a little muddled, especially given that the roles of these three men seem to have rotated.
That issue aside, I am finding myself much more drawn into Tarot Café than I had originally anticipated that I would be. Pamela has proven to be a good frame story for the narratives of others, along with being the protagonist of her own engaging plot. I am excited to see how all of these threads come together in the final collected edition.
CONTENT NOTE: This volume, as mentioned above, contains depictions of physical, verbal, and emotional child abuse, attempted rape, and one panel suggests the rape of a minor. All this out of context sounds extreme, and while these topics are intense and should be handled maturely, Tarot Café does just that. This volume never feels exploitative, however these topics should be kept in mind when deciding whether to read Tarot Café: The Collector’s Edition, Volume 2.
Sword Princess Amaltea, Volume 3
It is always a melancholic feeling for me to see a series end. Now, some series may have a stronger impact on me than others, and certainly shorter series are a different feeling than years-long ones, but there is still a sense of loss. I reviewed the first volume of Sword Princess Amaltea in my second issue of Graphic Novel Weekly (review here), and the second volume last month (review here). With volume three, Sword Princess Amaltea comes to an end.
Princess Amaltea and Prince Ossian, on the run from Amaltea’s sister Dorotea following her attempted sexual assault of Ossian, encounter a witch riding a dragon while crossing the mountains. This ends up being only the beginning of their troubles, as Dorotea catches up with them. When Amaltea and Ossian finally make it to the Grey Mountains Queendom and meet Queen Ylvasin, Ossian’s mother, Amaltea finds herself trapped in a duel to the death for the right to the throne and Ossian’s hand in marriage.
I’m going to be frank here: Sword Princess Amaltea, Volume 3 was a let down after the strength of the second volume. There were two major concerns I had with this volume. One revolves around Princess Dorotea, and the other around Queen Ylvasin. Spoilers lie ahead. Ylvasin ends up being the mastermind behind the plot, having (under disguise) been the one to kidnap Ossian, place him in the tower guarded by a dragon where Amaltea found him, guided Amaltea to the tower, lead the group of thugs who repeatedly attacked Amaltea and Ossian as a means of bringing them together, and then threatened to kill Amaltea until Ossian and Amaltea expressed their feelings for each other, at which point everything is revealed as having been part of her master plan. The master plan which included kidnap, abuse, and assault of her own son. Meanwhile, Dorotea explains that she only attempted to rape Ossian as a means of bringing Ossian and Amaltea closer together, and is rather rapidly forgiven because attempted rape being used as a tool makes total sense.
Now, if these elements had been done in a way that seemed to relate to the gender-swapped roles of the characters and was intending to speak to a behavior pattern performed by men and generally culturally accepted, I could understand it as a metaphor. However, instead it seemed more like a cop out to avoid the hard topics and to tie together the plot threads neatly. It left a sour taste in my mouth after such a strong second volume.
The third volume of Sword Princess Amaltea isn’t terrible, and it was nice to see Amaltea and Ossian’s plots completed. But there were some very problematic behaviors that the text seemed to tacitly accept, and that makes it difficult to recommend this one.
CONTENT WARNING: There is discussion here of child abuse and kidnapping, along with a rather problematic acceptance of sexual assault and attempted rape. As a reader, I was uncomfortable with how this was handled. Consider that these topics are present when you decided on whether or not to read this book.
The Spider King: Frostbite
I’m stretching the whole “graphic novel” part of Graphic Novel Weekly with this one, but I’m justifying it as over-sized one-shots being somewhere between single issues and graphic novels. Also, I’m from a time when $4.99 cover prices were reserved for longer works, and I made a snap judgment in the moment that I will now live with. Also, Vikings and aliens sounded pretty awesome.
Following on from the first volume of The Spider King, Frostbite picks up with Hrolf and company in the aftermath of the fight with the Spider King, searching for a new place to call home. Nothing goes simply, of course, as the path is barred by alien-possessed wildlife. The displaced Vikings must fight for their survival against alien foes if they are to continue their quest for a new home. In a brief back-up story, Sigrid gets sent on a fool’s quest, only to show the being who sent her that they were the actual fool.
I didn’t get to read the original The Spider King, so I came into this one a bit flat footed. That said, nothing in here was too terribly confusing, and the recap page did a fine job getting me up to speed. I did find myself struggling a bit with the way the plot and the art worked together. The art felt very cartoony, and it seemed to struggle at times with the more serious elements of the story. Nothing here was terrible, yet it wasn’t particularly engaging, either.
Fans of The Spider King my find this one worth a read, especially now that the digital list price has dropped below two dollars. But for casual fans, consider looking elsewhere.
Robotech, Volume 1: Countdown
As readers of this column are likely abundantly aware, I’ve recently discovered the rich world of Robotech comics. My journey started out with Robotech Archives: The Macross Saga, Volume 1, and has continued from there. For those interested, reviews of the first couple volumes of the Robotech Archives series can be found at the following links: Volume 1 & Volume 2. Titan Comics has also been releasing their own Robotech series, retelling the original “Macross Saga” from a more contemporary perspective. Having loved what I’ve read of the original series so far, I was really excited to give the new series a shot.
A decade after the crashing of an alien spaceship on what will become known as Macross Island, human technology has grown at an exponential rate thanks to “Robotechnology” discovered on the ship. Now dubbed the SDF-1, the ship is forced into an early launch when alien forces arrive and begin an assault on Macross City to retrieve the SDF-1. However, when you use untested alien technology, things have a tendency to not go according to plan.
Other than a twist at the cliffhanger ending of this volume, Brian Wood mostly stays true to the original story. Other than updated dialogue that sounds more contemporary, and an art style that is less cartoon-ish, this is almost the exact same story. This means your mileage may vary. I enjoyed the story, but it didn’t feel like it had quite the same luster since I had read the exact same story before, and relatively recently. Also, some of the updates, such as making the Zentraedi more mysterious, help to build suspense, but do so at the cost of the free-wheeling fun of the original comics.
Robotech has almost an identical plot to the original while having a very different atmosphere and feel to it. Fans of space opera who are new to this series may enjoy this, and veteran fans might like seeing the new take. This isn’t a bad comic, by any means, it simply suffers from being a remake that isn’t as excellent as the original and doesn’t add anything significant to the mythos. It does, however, appear that there are some exciting events on the horizon, so I have hope for the future of this series.
Keepers of Lost Time
Writer: Miroslav Marić
Artist: Vujadin Radovanović
Translator: Dejan Savić
Publisher: Europe Comics on behalf of Darkwood
Physical Copy: *Digital Only*
Digital Copy: $8.99
Contains: Keepers of Lost Time, volumes 1-3
I find my interest piqued by exploring the comics of outside of the usual North American/British stuff that is widely available in the United States. Europe Comics has been a great facilitator of that, with their broad coverage of many non-English-speaking European countries. I can now check Serbia off of the list of places I have read comics from, thanks to this collection of the complete trilogy, Keepers of Lost Time.
Two cultures are juxtaposed off of each other, with one using advanced technology and machines, while the other deals more with earthy spiritualism and mostly Bronze Age technology. During one of their rare scheduled interaction periods, something goes wrong, and the two cultures find themselves deeply in conflict with one another.
This was one of the more confusing comics I have read. The art did not do enough to help distinguish characters from one another, the chapters are very disjointed and frequently disconnected from one another, and there never seems to be any sort of emotional payoff for the plot. I had to look at the back cover blurb to get a sense of what the overarching plot was, at times.
Keepers of Lost Time loses itself in a confusing plot and art that was not serviceable for this story. It sounds interesting, and it could have been really great, but overall it feels like a significant letdown. Unless you really want to explore Serbian comics, I don’t recommend this one.
Glint, Book One: The Cloud Raiders
Writer: Samuel Sattin
Artist: Ian McGinty
Publisher: Lion Forge
Physical Copy: $12.99
Digital Copy: *not listed at time of writing*
I’m usually on the lookout for exciting graphic fiction for younger readers in the hopes that I’ll find something worthwhile to pass along to my stepdaughter. So when I saw Glint, Book One: The Cloud Raiders, I was hopefully I had found a fun new series for her to read.
Loon Ozoa lives on Mora, a tiny chunk of rock barely surviving its trip through space. Loon’s grandmother is a powerful leader among the group who mines for energy critical to the survival of Mora, and Loon finds himself following in his footsteps. But when his friend Val Mol joins the Rightful Blade, Mora’s soldiers, Loon finds himself wanting to follow Val’s lead and find a different role to play within Mora’s social structure. However, Loon finds himself in a situation way beyond what he expected when he uncovers a governmental conspiracy.
I struggled getting into Glint. The writing felt stilted and convoluted in large chunks, and I found the art difficult to navigate at times, too. The faces of the beings all start to look the same, with different colors being the main way to differentiate the characters. I didn’t find this effective enough, and I wasn’t able to keep some of the characters straight. This was especially the case early on in the mines, as the mix of frequent perspective shifts and intermixed flashbacks with present storytelling created a morass of confusion that I struggled to wade through.
I had high hopes for Glint, but I found it wanting. If it really sounds like your thing, then consider skimming the beginning to see if it will be a good fit for you. Otherwise, consider another title among the large number of excellent graphic novels for younger readers that are currently available.
Supers: A Little Star Past Cassiopeia
Writer: Frédéric Maupomé
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions (IDW Publishing)
Physical Copy: 14.99
Digital Copy: *not listed at time of writing*
So when I heard the title Supers, I figured it was a super hero comic. Since it was coming by way of Top Shelf Productions, I knew it was probably more of a young reader-friendly, super heroes save the day, all is merry sort of thing. When I saw the cover, I at first wondered if I’d gotten the wrong book. When that avenue of approach proved flawed, I figured that maybe I had made a tragic mistake and I had picked up a book with *shudder* a moral. But I am nothing if not dedicated to bringing y’all accurate reviews, which meant I needed to give the book a read. Turns out, I’m very glad that I’m a stickler for reading every book.
Matt and his younger siblings, Lily and Benji, are new to town. They are starting at new schools where they struggle to fit in at times, make friends, make enemies, and generally encounter difficulties related to not being from where they live. However, they are a lot farther from home than their classmates realize. Abandoned on Earth, Matt, Lily, and Benji have to navigate being different and discover what it means to be a family.
Supers is a sweet little story of three siblings learning to lean on each other as they struggle with being immigrants from another planet. As in the best of young adult literature, Supers examines the relationships of the characters in a mature way, rather than talking down to its readers. It is a charming story, and the art works magnificently to add atmosphere and warmth to the story.
Supers was not at all what I was expecting, and I would have missed out if I let that keep me from reading it. This is a wonderful story, and has a lot of appeal for younger readers. I highly recommend Supers to adventurous younger readers and their families.
Chronin, Volume 1: The Knife at Your Back
I am a huge fan of Frank Miller’s Ronin. It is one of the graphic stories that had the strongest impact on me while I was reading it. The combination of a plot of a samurai seeking revenge and a desolate future melded to create an incredible story. Seeing another story involving samurai and time travel, I decided to give it a shot.
Mirai Yoshida is a ronin, acting as a bodyguard for Hatsu, a worker at a tea shop who needs to travel across the Japanese countryside in 1864 to deliver an important message. However, Mirai is more than appearances would imply. Hatsu discovers a secret about Mirai that uncovers an entire future world that Mirai is a part of. But with complications from the future and dangers from the present of 1864, how will Mirai and Hatsu survive the upcoming fall of the shogunate?
Chronin is a bit lopsided. The plot took some time to find its feet, with the first half focusing tightly on Mirai and Hatsu before abruptly expanding out and spending the second half focusing on Mirai’s life in the future. The two plots show how they intertwine, but they don’t do so directly. Meanwhile, the art does a functional job of telling the story, yet it doesn’t always do the best job of creating distinct visuals of the faces, making it difficult at times to tell people apart.
This first volume of Chronin is ok, but misses out on a lot of potential. It makes the odd decision to end on a cliffhanger set before the 1864 plotline with Mirai and Hatsu, so readers already know how things will work out big picture. A little more editorial structure and direction could have made this a much more successful work.
Chronin is recommended for readers interested in the end of the shogunate era. It is a fast read, and demonstrates enough potential that it would be worth seeing how future volumes hold up. Consider waiting for reviews of the next volume before diving head first into this series.
NOTE: It is not particularly clear if the publisher provided the entire first volume or only a sizable chunk of it, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt. It might be worth perusing this at the store. If the publishers did only provided a chunk, then its possible that did a disservice to the overall work.
Belle: Beast Hunter
Writer: Dave Franchini
Artists: Ario Murti, Bong Dazo, Igor Vitorino, Eman Casallos
Publisher: Zenescope Entertainment
Physical Copy: $19.99
Digital Copy: Only available as single issues; first issue available here
Contains: Belle: Beast Hunter #1-6, content from Grimm Fairy Tales: 2017 Armed Forces Edition
Zenescope is well known for giving fairy tales a contemporary spin, which usually includes modernized language, contemporary framing stories or settings, and way less clothing for the female characters. Because that was the one thing that “Little Red Riding Hood” was missing… Anyways, Zenescope does put out some fun titles, such as their reimagining of Grimm Fairy Tales as a magic academy. They also put out some duds with stilted dialogue, so it is a big of a risk taking on a new series from them. Which is why I did it for you!
Belle DiMarco is the latest in a line of female beast hunters, working outside laws and sanctioned governing bodies to stop monsters that threaten humanity. However, there has been an odd string of monster attacks that don’t add up and hints of someone behind the scenes pulling the strings. When the most recent attack strikes Belle close to home, she knows that she needs to track down whoever is leading these beasts and set things right once and for all.
Belle: Beast Hunter has more pros than cons, which is a win. The art is effective, doing a nice job of moving the story along and making the monsters look suitably monstrous. The plot is fast paced and full of action and mostly good dialogue. Weak points do arise, as the dialogue sometimes sounds stilted, and the odd decision was made to make most of the second issue a plot that was all a dream that doesn’t have a significant tie to the plot. However, once the story got over that hiccup, it really knuckled down and became a fun urban action fantasy.
Belle: Beast Hunter posits itself as an update of “Beauty and the Beast.” Outside of the names, and one monster looking vaguely like the Beast, there aren’t really any ties to the fairy tale. If that is what you are looking for, you will be disappointed. However, if you just want a fun diversion with plenty of action, Belle: Beast Hunter is not a bad place to look.
Chronicles of Hate, Books 1 & 2
Moody, dark high fantasy can be really effective in comics. With evocative art and powerful storytelling, this can be a beautiful match between genre and medium. I’d heard of Chronicles of Hate and seen images floating around, but otherwise knew next to nothing about it. With the release of the complete edition containing both of the previously release graphic novels, now seemed like an excellent time to give it a read.
An unnamed slave that I believe is intended to be a deformed human works as a servant to the powerful fantasy warlords who like war and cannibalism. When the Earth Mother is killed, he escapes his shackles and sets out to save her, following a vision she sent him. He must gather three keys to unlock what appears to be a fancy chastity belt, after which he will become the Horned God and consort to the Earth Mother. This plan is complicated by three different armies all trying to fight each other and stop the deformed slave guy and his buddies, because the return of the Earth Mother will be the downfall of three different empires. Fantasy violence in a culture where women don’t wear shirts ensues.
For all the build up, I can’t say that I enjoyed Chronicles of Hate. I had issues with both the writing and the art. The art itself is really impressive, and Smith is clearly talented. However, the intensely dark inking makes the art frequently difficult to understand and lacking of visual crispness. The hyperreal art somehow still isn’t always able to effectively distinguish between characters, and the murkiness and the overly dark color of the art increases this problem area.
The plot, meanwhile, is a muddled mess. The presentation of befuddlingly choppy, with frequent abrupt scene shifts. Incredibly minimal dialogue also hinders reader comprehension. There is a sense of the mysterious to the magic of this world, but when none of the rest of the world makes much sense, then that mystery is just one more missing piece. Add to the lack of cohesion that Chronicles of Hate never actually demonstrates the meaning of the title. There is no more hate here than in any epic fantasy.
Fans of fantasy may consider perusing this to admire some grand double-page battle scenes. Otherwise, Chronicles of Hate really doesn’t give much reason for its existence. This was a real missed opportunity to do an interesting, mature, thought-provoking fantasy title.
CONTENT NOTE: There is some pretty graphic and gory violence in this title. It is stylistic in the way the violence in 300 was stylistic, but this title probably isn’t best for younger readers.
Vampirella: The Dynamite Years Omnibus, Volume 4
Writers: Joe Harris, Alan Moore, Dan Brereton
Artists: Jose Malaga, Ivan Rodriguez, Gary Frank & Cam Smith, Jean Diaz
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Physical Copy: $34.99
Digital Copy: $27.99
Contains: Vampirella: Scarlet Legion #1-5, Vampirella vs. Dracula #1-6, Vampirella: The Red Room #1-4, content from Vampirella/Dracula: The Centennial 1997
I had an odd introduction to Vampirella. I first encountered the character in Vampirella: Southern Gothic, and hadn’t had much to do with her before or since. I enjoyed Southern Gothic, so I scanned some other issues, and I was surprised that Southern Gothic was one of the more horror-focused and least objectifying of the bunch. I don’t have any beef with depictions of eroticism or sexuality, but I think it is pretty clear that there is a difference between a character who is embracing their body and their sexual identity and one who is wearing a suit that is clearly not an effective garment for fighting off vampires, werewolves, monsters, etc., and shows so much cleavage that it defies biology that the much feared nipple isn’t exposed. So why did I pick up this volume? After the first three editions of Vampirella: The Dynamite Years Omnibus collected the two ongoing series Dynamite released, this fourth volume contains a set of mini-series. While Southern Gothic, which I enjoyed, was not found here, I had hopes that these other mini-series (Scarlet Legion, Vampirella vs. Dracula, and The Red Room, along with the short story “The New European”) might avoid some of the more problematic approaches to the character and focus on the action-horror dynamic.
Given that this is an omnibus of mini-series, there isn’t one plotline that traverses through the entirety of this collection. In Scarlet Legion, a secretive underground group is making a whole lot of human sacrifices in an attempt to raise Chaos. The Scarlet Legion seeks out Vampirella as the key sacrifice to complete the summoning of Chaos, while the Sisterhood, a Catholic Church-backed squad of female vampire killers, wants to capture Vampirella to keep her out of the hands of the Scarlet Legion. Vampirella has to attempt to stop the rise of Chaos, making some unsavory alliances in the process. Vampirella vs. Dracula seeks the titular characters playing out the same struggle over and over, throughout time, as they begin to realize that they are trapped within the confines of the original story (with the addition of Vampirella, of course). Vampirella seeks out a way to stop the cycle and Dracula, and begins to wonder if that’s possible. “The New European” follows the same metatextual idea of the characters being trapped in a looping plot through time, and seems to be the inspiration for Vampirella vs. Dracula. The Red Room pairs up Vampirella with a local sheriff as they seek out the Red Room, a bar that hosts cage fights between vampires and other undead beings in an attempt to save a kidnapped young woman. Fisticuffs ensue.
There were some engaging stories to be found here. The conceit behind “The New European” and Vampirella vs. Dracula was really interesting, and while it did get played out to the point of tedium, it was still a great concept. Scarlet Legion reminded me a fair bit of Top Cow’s Magdalena, which means sexualized female protagonist, weird Catholic hit squad that’s made up of sexualized females, lots of action, and problematic discourse on some topic or another. In Scarlet Legion’s case, there is some racist discourse about people who live in a jungle and sacrifice humans to the demon they worship.
Concerns about the objectification of Vampirella are warranted, as well. There are gratuitous angles on every page, and the female characters always seem to fall into a position in which they can show off all of their assets in a sexy manner. “The New European” and Vampirella vs. Dracula really take advantage of the implicit sexuality of Bram Stoker’s Dracula to include lots of naked female vampires with convenient shadows just keeping this book from falling into R territory.
This volume wasn’t all negatives. In particular, The Red Room was a very engaging story that called on Vampirella to be a tough-as-nails pit fighter, and was a lot of fun to read. The other stories also had moments, but not enough to make up for their downsides. Fans of Vampirella will probably appreciate this volume, but those looking for a fix of the action/horror combo might be better off looking elsewhere.
Mister Miracle is one of the characters born out of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World explosion following his departure from Marvel. He took the new mythology approach he introduced in The Eternals at Marvel, and blew it up on the big screen at DC, construction the cosmology of the New Gods. Mister Miracle, the ultimate escape artist, saw quite a bit of coverage, but in recent years hasn’t made much of a significant impact. Meanwhile, Tom King had just finished up his rather stunning run on Vision at Marvel, and shifted over to DC to write Batman. Which is when these two worlds collided, leaving us with Miracle Man.
You just know a story is going to be happy when it opens up with the protagonist bleeding out on a bathroom floor after he just slit his own wrists. The story continues this dark angle, as Scott Free, Miracle Man, struggles to make it through his life. His responsibilities as a husband, as the son of the leader of the new gods, his childhood trauma, and his mental health are all leaving him overwhelmed and unable to continue. Yet things only get worse as Darkseid obtains the anti-life equation and leads the forces of Apokolips in waging a war against New Genesis, home of the New Gods. Scott Free must navigate his life as the conflict that rages around him becomes almost as desperate as the conflict that rages within himself.
First and foremost, this is a personal tale of Scott Free, as well as his wife, Big Barda. It does have action and an intergalactic war between gods does occur, but the focus is always on Mister Miracle’s personal struggles throughout. And in that, it is brilliant. Much as he did with Vision, King dives deep into the inner ravages of his tortured protagonists, peeling back the layers on the realities behind the extraordinary exteriority they present as super heroes. This is a heavy read, and it will really hit home at times with readers. Yet through it all, it presents itself along a path of hope, and readers will be fighting right alongside Scott as he seeks meaning to his life.
Miracle Man is highly recommended to adult readers seeking a heady, mature comic that asks deep existential questions and doesn’t provide easy answers. This feels like a continuation of King’s work on Vision and, before that, his novel A Once Crowded Sky.
CONTENT NOTE: As mentioned above, Miracle Man does include pretty direct depictions of a suicide attempt, and the characters discuss significant childhood trauma. These could both be triggering, so please keep them in mind as you consider reading this collection.
Luke Forney and/or GeekDad received copies of each of the graphic novels included in this list for review purposes. If you are reading this article anywhere other than on GeekDad or GeekMom, then you are reading a copy not authorized by the author. Please check out other Graphic Novel Weekly articles at www.geekdad.com