Review: X-23, Marjorie Liu

Using a Marvel Unlimited gift code from my beautiful pal Memory (thanks Memory!), I finally read Marjorie Liu’s run on X-23, just in time to know a bit about the character before watching OLD MAN LOGAN MOVIE. The run went through several artists, my favorite of which obviously was Sana Takeda, with Phil Noto as a close second.

X-23

If you’re not au courant with what was happening to the X-Men around the time this series came out (early 2010s), there’s kind of a lot to catch up on, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend this series as a starting place for the X-Men if you don’t have a baseline familiarity with the characters. However, Liu does a good job getting you up to speed, and I generally felt like I had a good grip on things: Laura, X-23, ended up on an X-men fighting force that made her feel like she’s good for nothing but murder. Wolverine got ?possessed? by a ?demon?, an issue that’s settled in the Wolverine comics but touches on these comics too (given that Laura’s a clone of Wolverine’s).

The baseline story here is that Laura’s trying to learn how to control the darkness within, and for Reasons(tm), in order to do that she has to go on a road trip with Gambit. Why Gambit? Who cares! Why road trip? Who cares! The comic gets into these reasons but I love Gambit and I love road trips so it would literally be impossible for me to care less about what pretense Marjorie Liu uses to make those two things happen. Gambit’s a character I have, ah, complicated feelings about,1 and it was nice to see him in a Wolveriney big-brother role with Laura.

My favorite of the mini-arcs, however, occurs in the third trade paperback (if you’re reading this in trade paperbacks): Laura agrees to babysit for Reed Richards and Sue Storm’s kids, and world-hopping dragon-fighting hijinx ensure because Valeria and Franklin are trouble trouble trouble.

Sana Takeda’s art is detailed and lush and adorable as it continues to be in Monstress. I’m thrilled these two creators connected while making X-23 and continued their collaboration, because I love the work that they create together.

The final issue of Marjorie Liu’s run on X-23 is….not great. If you are reading this series and you want to end on a positive note, close the book after the penultimate issue, the one that ends with Laura riding away on a motorcycle. It is for your own good and you will thank me. The final issue is this weird wordless, like, vision-quest story where Laura stays the night with the family of an American Indian family, and overnight she has this whole encounter with wolves and a shamaness in the forest. To have your only Indian characters throughout the whole series be wordless is not great, and to take a tourist spin through another culture’s religious traditions is not great, and I really wished this issue didn’t exist. As a sea of critics have said over and over again, Marvel would reeeeeally help themselves when writing about characters from marginalized groups to hire writers from those groups.

I am feeling very positively about minor X-Men characters right now, y’all! Please get at me in the comments and let me know what series runs with lesser X-Men I should be reading.

  1. On one hand: He’s a rogue! He’s our only pop culture Cajun! On the other hand: Yawn to the rogue womanizer trope, and could someone ever be bothered to actually research Cajun culture before they whatever I’m not even going to finish this question because the answer is so obvious.

Review: Jem and the Holograms, Kelly Thompson & Sophie Campbell

Well, Memory and Ana were correct: Jem and the Holograms is a joyous delight. I dragged my feet on reading it because I was not familiar with the original property, which should be no surprise to anyone because I know 0 things about pop culture prior to 2005 or so. But it turns out you don’t need to be familiar with the television show to appreciate the glorious weirdness of this comic.

Jem and the Holograms

The premise: Jerrica, Kimber, Shana, and Aja want to submit a video application to the “Misfits vs” competition, where a bunch of unknown bands get to compete against The Misfits in live performance. But Jerrica (their lead singer) has such terrible stage fright that she can’t get through a single song without choking. So instead they USE A HOLOGRAM OF HER and pretend the hologram lady (Jem) is their real lead singer. Hijinks ensue.

I dunno, if you enjoyed the first act of The Parent Trap or want to read about ladies tearing it up in the music scene with excellent eye makeup, I feel I can recommend Jem and the Holograms to you in good conscience. This volume mainly focuses on Jerrica and Kimber, but it’s clear that the background characters have their own desires and stories to tell, which I hope we’ll see more of as the comic progresses. It’s A+ to see Kimber’s budding romance with a lady and Jerrica’s budding romance with a dude treated with the exact same tone and respect; I am rooting for love all around!

Another wonderful thing about this comic is that when artist Sophie Campbell came out as trans over the course of the comic’s run, publisher IDW reprinted every issue to get rid of her deadname. That is absolutely putting your money where your mouth is, and I think it’s great that the publisher supported Campbell. Also great: Trans ladies being lead artists on comics! Woooooooo!

(Note: Sophie Campbell finished her run on Jem and the Holograms after the 17th issue and moved on to other projects. But that still gives me two (ish?) more trade paperbacks of this marvelous comic to look forward to with her art.)

So if the Trump administration is backing up on you and you need some pure, bright-colored joy in your life, check out Jem and the Holograms.

Review: Batgirl, Gail Simone

My DC project is officially launched! Not only has 19% of my reading been comics so far this year (though it’s early days), but I have also now completed half of my New Year’s Resolution re: DC comics, which was to read two substantial runs on two different DC comics. First up: Gail Simone’s Batgirl.

Batgirl

Gail Simone’s run on Batgirl follows Barbara Gordon as she’s getting back into the game of fighting crime on the streets after several years away. My main takeaway here is that Batgirl cannot cut a break. Every time she arrests one criminal who’s determined to murder her, another one pops up, like the world’s most sinister game of Whack-a-Mole. (Is that the game I’m thinking of? Where you whap the things on the head and they go back down into their hole but then another one pops up somewhere else on the board?)

A recent miracle cure (I know) has given Barbara back the use of her legs after a years-ago attack by the Joker. Though Barbara’s physically able to return to the work of catching criminals on the mean streets of Gotham, she still struggles mentally. Her reflexes aren’t what they used to be, and more significantly, the trauma of her attack by the Joker continues to affect her day to day. Simone’s excellent on Barbara’s ongoing feelings about what happened to her — she’s angry about it, and angry with herself for what she perceives as letting it happen, and memories of the assault flash into her mind at inconvenient times, leaving her frozen and stunned when she most needs to be up and fighting. But Barbara also refuses to be defined by her worst day, and she continues to get back up and keep on fighting evil.

Holy hell, Gotham is the worst. Is this typical of street-level comic books? I have most often read the mid-level ones, where the Avengers or the X-Men are saving the world from things, and I miss out the street-level fighters like Luke Cage and the Punisher. But goddamn, in Gotham it seems like nobody ever has a good day. Not the superheroes, not the villains, and for sure not the civilians. Everyone gets nonstop murdered. I prescribe a rousing course of trauma-focused CBT for the entire citizenry of Gotham.

Look, this is my first significant read of a DC comic, and I don’t want to overgeneralize here. But you know that perception that like, Marvel has the jokes, DC has the grimdark? Reading Batgirl did not shift that perception for me. It isn’t just that Barbara constantly has people gunning for her, although she does, and it isn’t just that Gotham is an unbearable violent shithole with no redeeming qualities, although it is. Reading this comic, I got so tired of Barbara facing mastermind villains who were specifically, personally targeting her trauma history, manipulating her into super-triggering situations, and then taunting her at great length about her inability to save her loved ones. Are there no villains in the DC universe who just want a whole bunch of money or to experiment on innocent civilians without involving superheroes? Do all the DC villains devote upwards of half their time to specifically ruining the lives of the heroes of Gotham?

These are not rhetorical questions. Please answer them in the comments. If the answer is yes I may need to rethink this DC reading project and also not buy that one shirt I wanted to buy.

I still really want this shirt.

Review: Monstress, Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

I’m going to start keeping records on how many books that bloggers scream about for one million years before I get around to reading them, and then when I finally do read them, it’s like “Well I should have done this a while ago.” Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s book Monstress, which in my defense has been checked out steadily from my library since the trade paperback came out (but I didn’t put a hold on it so it’s still my own fault), is one of those.

Monstress

You see that cover? Every page of Monstress is of equivalent, if not greater, beauty to that cover. Sana Takeda’s art is beautiful and dreamy and gives this work of fantasy an extraordinarily epic feel. The detail on every page is incredible, her characters feel lived-in, and with all of that, she doesn’t elide the brutality our main character, Maika, both faces and dispenses in just about every issue. I was hard-pressed not to screen-cap every page for y’all, because the art is just that gorgeous.

Monstress has received a huge amount of attention, deservedly, for the art, but the writing is also wonderful. I was warned repeatedly that Monstress was quite violent, and it is, in the manner of a lot of the secondary world fantasy I’ve encountered in my life. At the same time, it’s — can I say really fun? Is that glib? Our protagonist, Maika, is fighting against something evil that lives inside her, all the while trying to escape the many forces in her world that will stop at nothing to find her; and yes, that’s a recipe for violence and mayhem in secondary world fantasy. Maika is searching for answers about her own past and her mother’s, and she has a thing many people want and she is a thing many people want, and she has to find the answers before the bad guys find her. So when I say fun, I mean that this is a familiar type of story, which I enjoy, and it’s wonderful to see it played out so skillfully, with such superb worldbuilding, with end-of-issue surprises that make me gasp yet still feel completely earned, and with characters whose arcs over the course of the series I’m excited for.

LOOK AT THIS ADORABLE FOX GIRL MAIKA TRAVELS WITH

Marjorie Liu has said that she has deliberately written a book of only women — and as soon as she said it, I was like, “…Oh yeah. Oh hey. There are no men in this book.” Not actually zero, but very, very few. The soldiers are women, the slaves are women, the witches are women. It’s part of what makes this story so incredible, because what we see are a multiplicity of women with different ideas and motives and values — you know, a whole bunch of women portrayed as full people. Many of them women of color. In a comic written by two women of color. Doesn’t it make your heart grow three sizes? It does mine.

AND SERIOUSLY, THIS ART.

Particularly when you remember that Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda do not share a language and have to communicate with each other via a translator, this is an extraordinary marriage of the vision of art and writing. I love this comic to shreds and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Not Being a Dick: A links round-up

Since the theme of today is Not Being a Dick, this is your annual reminder that there are very few April Fool’s Day jokes that are actually funny (though Social Sister is in the midst of perpetrating one now), so you should probably just not do them at all.

How to not be a dick to women who write comics criticism. (Good news: It ain’t even that hard.)

Yes, Lovecraft was a product of his times. That doesn’t mean we have to be okay with his racism.

A thoughtful response to the recent “I don’t want to be Black Spiderman” issue of the Miles Morales Spiderman comic (by Brian Michael Bendis, a white dude).

I’ve seen a couple of pieces lately arguing that Hamilton uncritically props up the American dream (as in opposition to, one of them really weirdly argued, Ta-Nehisi Coates? it was a strange article), and I think this NK Jemisin post about fantasy in Hamilton does a good job of explaining why that claim is kinda beside the point.

BUT WHAT WILL YOUR MOTHER SAY? The questions women (but not men) who write about sex get asked.

On JK Rowling and appropriation of Native American cultures.

Neila Orr on the myth of upward mobility. For best results, pair this with Gene Demby’s piece about the Republican party turning on its core voters.

Charlie Jane Anders sums up the storytelling lessons she learned from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

And finally, because we live in a world run by a benevolent God, Anne Helen Peterson wrote a piece about Jennifer Garner’s transformation from sexy spy to ultimate soccer mom. Then, as we were basking in the glow of that, she wrote another piece about Sad Affleck. They’re both fire.

Have a fantastic weekend!!

Why can’t you shut up about Hamilton?: A links round-up

The marvelous Kiese Laymon on Confederate flags and SEC football.

On competing for the one single diversity spot in the writers’ room: Aisha Harris writes about the unbearable whiteness of TV writers’ rooms.

Nobody could be more excited about the new Star Wars trailer than stars John Boyega and Daisy Ridley.

Recovering the history of years in slavery, and the story of a forgotten forced deportation: An article that opens with an oddly upsetting anecdote.

New details emerge about that Harry Potter play! (It’s not a prequel, it’s a sequel! Joke’s on you, prequel-wanters! You’ll never ever learn more about the Marauders.)

“Jenny, shut up about Hamilton already, Gahd!” NEVER.

Kelly Sue DeConnick spoke with Alyssa Rosenberg about her comic Bitch Planet, and predictably, she has lots of interesting things to say. In particular, she notes that comics do a thing where “they will set up something to be deliberately salacious, and then pretend to have some ethical structure around it.” YEP. The interview is in two parts, here and here.

Are you excited for Jessica Jones? Or do you wish her backstory didn’t have to be so rapey? Or both?

South By canceled a panel about harassment in gaming because they’re afraid of getting harassed. Caroline Linders, one of the organizers of the panel, has a good rundown of what happened. BuzzFeed has withdrawn participation from the festival in protest. SXSW appears to be in damage control mode, but as of today, no final decisions appear to have been made.

Comics round-up!

The recent launch of Book Riot’s sister site, Panels, plus the many comics posts of folks like Sarah and Andi and Memory, have put more new comics on my radar than I have the money to keep up with. But now and then my library abruptly has all the comics I have been wanting, and then I get to do a jolly little binge. So here’s what I’ve been reading:

Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson

This is the same Noelle Stevenson of Lumberjanes fame! And, okay, this isn’t something the library had, because the print edition of Nimona won’t exist until May. It began its life as a webcomic about a girl called Nimona who shows up to be the sidekick to an arch-villain named Ballister. He isn’t in the market for a sidekick, and she is a powerful, bloodthirsty shapeshifter. It is all the best all the time, and the author’s comments under each day’s page are wonderful too. Here is a sample page that will demonstrate the delightfulness of the series as a whole.

(Note: One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to read more webcomics. I have already accomplished that! HA!)

The Manhattan Projects, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra

“What if the research and development department created to produce the first atomic bomb was a front for a series of other, more unusual, programs?” Hey, yeah! And what if those other programs involved aliens and monks and doors to other worlds and a bitter Albert Einstein and Wernher von Braun but absolutely no ladies? Would a lady comics fan such as myself find this annoying?

Yes. As it turns out, she would.

Pretty Deadly, vol.1, by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Ríos

Not what I expected! When the world said, “Death’s daughter in the Wild West,” I pictured a comic rather brighter-eyed and bushier-tailed than this turned out to be. If that sounds like a loony expectation for a book about Death, please note that DeConnick’s Captain Marvel — while certainly dark in spots — is on the whole a cheerful and bantery run of comics.

Anyway, this isn’t. It’s got the bloody-minded fatedness of a Greek tragedy and the do-what-you-have-to morality of an Elmore Leonard novel. Strange, dark, and beautiful, but nowhere near fun.

Rat Queens, vol. 1, by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch

The blogosphere is so high on Rat Queens I don’t even remember where I heard about it first. The elevator pitch is, it’s a bunch of diverse, hard-ass lady mercenaries doing adventures. After that I don’t know what else there is to say. It’s fun, it’s profane, it’s about fighting women who are fiercely loyal to each other. And the first volume ends with a nice little cliffhanger. More please!

Review: Skim, by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

“Being sixteen is officially the worst thing I’ve ever been,” says Kimberly Keiko Cameron at one point in the comic Skim. And the book certainly reminds you of all the things about being sixteen that were garbage — if not Kim’s particular problems, then certainly the general experience of being sixteen. Called “Skim” as an unkind joke — she isn’t slender, white, and blonde like the popular girls — Kim is an outsider at her private high school. She’s not an outsider in a Carrie way, but more in the sense that high school makes so many people outsiders: that the people at your high school just aren’t your community. Kim is looking for her community.

The ex-boyfriend of a classmate, Katie Matthews, kills himself. Not long after, Katie herself falls off a roof (on accident?), breaking both her arms. The school goes into mourning overdrive, requiring counseling for all students, releasing white balloons in honor of the dead, discussing what makes them all sad and happy. Skim is disgusted with the show of mourning for someone that most of them never knew, and the false enthusiasm with which many of her classmates embrace the idea of being Suicide Preventers to their peers.

The painful thing about Skim is that Kim truly just needs to find her people. Like high-schoolers everywhere, she’s trying on identities: perhaps she’s a Wiccan, with a bedroom altar where she burns sage to calm herself down; perhaps she’s an arty cool girl lesbian like the teacher she develops a crush on. But none of these identities settles into her, because she cannot find her people.

Ugh, y’all. Not knowing who your people are is just the absolute worst. I am feeling glum now because I’m remembering past versions of myself when I was struggling to find my people (college more than high school) and how miserable that was. I’m glad I’m an adult. Props to the Tamaki cousins for portraying so vividly how much it sucks not to be an adult.

What period of your life was the worst? I was happy as a clam in middle and high school, and then much of my college career was terrible. You?

Review: Boxers and Saints, Gene Luen Yang

Before I get started with this review, it’s time for PRAISE PLEASE, a segment I do sometimes because I need praise like oxygen. I decided that in 2014, I was going to read 20% non-white authors. I got a slow start because by the time I resolved this, I already had ten reviews scheduled or in need of writing, and they were all of books by white authors. However, in the first third of the year, my books have been 40% by authors of color. Half POC authors would be best, but I am still pretty pleased with myself.

(I’ve been surprised how overwhelmingly American my reading is, though! 65% American so far! I really thought I read more British authors than that.)

If you have been anywhere around the blogosphere over the last year or so, you’ve probably heard of Boxers and Saints, Gene Luen Yang’s companion-novel comics about the Boxer Rebellion. In Boxers, a village boy called Little Bao witnesses destruction, death, and abuse of power at the hands of Christians in China (both foreigners and native converts to the faith). Believing that he is possessed by the spirits of the gods, Bao organizes his friends and, later, men from many other villages into an army of “Boxers” to fight off the Christians. Vibiana, the protagonist of Saints, is an unwanted daughter whose interest in Christianity begins because she’s hungry and they feed her. Then she begins to see visions of Joan of Arc, and she tries to right injustices where she sees them.

People have made the joke before that many of the technical Academy Award categories boil down to “most”, not “best” — who did the most costume designing, who did the most acting — the idea being that the more a movie calls to its sound editing, its costume design, et cetera, the more likely it is to win that category. So I’m alive to the fact that I only mention coloring when it’s doing something unusual, and it doesn’t actually mean that the color folks for Hawkeye and Boxers and Saints are any better at their job than the color folks who aren’t being flashy all the time.

That said, I loved what Lark Pien was doing with color in Boxers and Saints. Day to day, Little Bao and Vibiana’s lives are drawn in dreary colors, grays and browns. But the visitations of the gods — Joan of Arc for Vibiana, warrior spirits for Little Bao — are drawn in vivid colors.

It’s hard to imagine a better representation of what these spirits mean to Vibiana and Little Bao: An alternative and a choice, in lives that have offered them very little opportunity to choose for themselves. That Little Bao gets caught up in the righteous fervor of the Boxer Rebellion, and Vibiana in practicing Christianity, makes perfect sense when cast in this light — they both yearn to be able to bring meaningful change to their lives and the lives of those they love, to be part of something greater than themselves.

In particular, Yang is brilliant at depicting the worsening atrocities of which Little Bao finds himself capable as the rebellion goes on. At first he’s joyful to be part of something greater, but the other side of that coin — he quickly finds — is that the something greater can have a life beyond simply what he wants. The spirits that possess him ask more and more of him. His own anger on behalf of those harmed by missionaries and British soldiers leads him to commit murders that feel both wrong and necessary.

I’m probably the last person in the blogosphere to read Boxers and Saints, but in case you are lagging behind as well, I’ll take this opportunity to further recommend them! They’re very user-friendly in medium (the comics panels are laid out in a way that’s easy to follow, with very little tricksiness that might mess up comics newbies) and in content (I didn’t know a ton about the Boxer Rebellion before beginning, and I never felt lost as to the broader context of what was happening). They’re the best YA historical fiction I’ve read in some time — strongly endorsed!

If you’ve read these, do you think they have the capacity to be a comics gateway drug a la Persepolis and Maus? I can very much see that happening, and I like the notion because it gets lame after a while to keep on recommending those two comics and only those two comics to nervous comics readers.