Review: The Shadow Threat (House of El #1) by Claudia Gray

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: The Shadow Threat
Writer: Claudia Gray
Illustrator: Eric Zawadzki
Series: House of El
Genre: Superhero/Science Fiction
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Graphic Novel
Length: 194 pages
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: January 5, 2021
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: Superman

SYNOPSIS

Zahn is one of Krypton’s elites: wealthy, privileged, a future leader. Sera is one of Krypton’s soldiers: strong, dedicated, fearless. Their rule – bound society has ordained that their paths should never cross.

But groundquakes are shaking the planet’s surface. Rebellious uprisings are shaking the populace. Krypton’s top scientists — Jor-El and Lara — conduct a secret experiment that is meant to reform their planet from the cellular level up. Zahn and Sera must join forces to investigate the hidden dangers truly threatening Krypton. In the process, they form a bond that will endure past the end of the world.

MY THOUGHTS

Superman is not my favorite hero, but I was interested in this prequel to Clark Kent’s story on Earth. This series provides a background about Kryptonian society and the unrest leading up to the planet’s demise.

I really liked the two main characters, Zahn and Sera. They come from very different backgrounds, but they are both dedicated to uncovering the truth and doing whatever it takes to save their planet.

This installment ends on a major cliffhanger, and there is so much to be explored in volume 2!

Review: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Creators: Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, Lynn Varley
Series: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #1-4
Genre: Superhero
Audience: Adult
Format: Comics
Length: 224 pages
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: January 28, 1986
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: classic comic book characters

SYNOPSIS

This masterpiece of modern comics storytelling brings to vivid life a dark world and an even darker man. Together with inker Klaus Janson and colorist Lynn Varley, writer/artist Frank Miller completely reinvents the legend of Batman in his saga of a near-future Gotham City gone to rot, ten years after the Dark Knight’s retirement.

Crime runs rampant in the streets, and the man who was Batman is still tortured by the memories of his parents’ murders. As civil society crumbles around him, Bruce Wayne’s long-suppressed vigilante side finally breaks free of its self-imposed shackles.

The Dark Knight returns in a blaze of fury, taking on a whole new generation of criminals and matching their level of violence. He is soon joined by this generation’s Robin—a girl named Carrie Kelley, who proves to be just as invaluable as her predecessors.

But can Batman and Robin deal with the threat posed by their deadliest enemies, after years of incarceration have made them into perfect psychopaths? And more important, can anyone survive the coming fallout of an undeclared war between the superpowers—or a clash of what were once the world’s greatest superheroes?

Over fifteen years after its debut, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns remains an undisputed classic and one of the most influential stories ever told in the comics medium.

Collecting Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #1-4

MY THOUGHTS

While I am a huge fan of Batman the character, this is the first Batman comic I’ve read. I think it is especially important to consider context when reading this. This was the first appearance of the dark and gritty Batman we know today, representing a complete 180 from the campy and silly Batman of generations before. The Dark Knight Return also represents a shift in superhero comics being published for adult audiences.

When this story begins, it has been a decade since Bruce Wayne donned the cowl, but he can no longer ignore the growing crime gangs in Gotham or resist the call of his dark and violent nature. While this older and grizzled Bruce Wayne suffers an existential crisis, the world must decide if there is still a place for Batman.

The comic is very political. Gotham transitions to a new police commissioner, who has no tolerance for violence or vigilantes. Many pages feature “talking heads” giving news reports, to varying degrees of effectiveness. The new Robin is a girl, and she’s awesome. Some of the gangs and villains featured were bizarre, but this also brings back classic villains like the Joker. We also see what Superman has become in this new era.

I wasn’t crazy about the artwork, but the story was very well done. I can’t say that I was absolutely blown away, but I’m glad I finally read this seminal graphic novel. This earns a solid 4 stars from me!

Review: The Stonekeeper’s Curse by Kazu Kibuishi

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: The Stonekeeper’s Curse
Author: Kazu Kibuishi
Series: Amulet #2
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Middle Grade
Format: Graphic Novel
Length: 220 pages
Publisher: Graphix
Release Date: September 1, 2009
Source: Personal collection

SYNOPSIS

In this thrilling sequel to AMULET #1: THE STONEKEEPER, Emily and her brother Navin head for Kanalis, a beautiful and mysterious city of waterfalls, where they hope to find the antidote for the poison that felled their mother. That cure lies in the eggs of a giant serpent atop Demon’s Head Mountain, but the kids’ archenemy, Trellis, is headed for the peak, too. A battle that will engulf all of Kanalis is looming. It’s up to Em to triumph over evil while controlling the amulet’s power . . . without losing herself!

MY THOUGHTS

I liked this a lot more than the first book. With the groundwork laid in the first book that introduced readers to Alledia and the magic of the amulet, there was room for so much more world building in this installment. It was so fun to see an actual town full of magical characters, fearsome elves, and talking trees.

I also enjoyed the new characters and the character development. Emily struggles to take control of the Amulet and do the right thing, while Navin earns more agency of his own.

There was more action in this installment as well, and overall it was a more exciting and enjoyable read. I’m excited to continue reading this series!

Review: Lumberjanes, Vol. 2 by Noelle Stevenson et al.

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: Lumberjanes, Vol. 2: Friendship to the Max
Author: Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen, Maarta Laiho, Aubry Aiese
Series: Lumberjanes #5-8
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Middle Grade
Format: Graphic Novel
Length: 111 pages
Publisher: BOOM! Box
Release Date: October 13, 2015
Source: Personal collection

SYNOPSIS

What a mystery!

Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are not your average campers and Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types is not your average summer camp. Between the river monsters, magic, and the art of friendship bracelets, this summer is only just beginning. Join the Lumberjanes as they take on raptors and a sibling rivalry that only myths are made of.

This New York Times bestseller and Eisner Award-nominated series is written by awesome all-star Noelle Stevenson and brilliant newcomer Grace Ellis, and illustrated by the tremendously talented Brooke Allen.

Lumberjanes, Vol. 2: Friendship to the Max includes issues 5-8.

MY THOUGHTS

Lumberjanes is fun and cute, but I’m not totally wowed by the storytelling in this series. Since this nicely wrapped up the plot lines introduced in Volume 1, I don’t feel compelled to continue with the series. I have the first two volumes in my classroom library for my comic book class, but I don’t see myself purchasing additional volumes in the series unless a high student demand develops.

Review: Lumberjanes, Vol. 1

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: Beware the Kitten Holy
Creators: Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, Brooklyn Allen
Series: Lumberjanes, Vol. 1 (#1-4)
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: MG/YA
Format: Graphic Novel
Length: 128 pages
Publisher: BOOM! Box
Release Date: April 7, 2015
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for Fans of: Nimona

SYNOPSIS

FRIENDSHIP TO THE MAX!

At Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s camp for hard-core lady-types, things are not what they seem. Three-eyed foxes. Secret caves. Anagrams. Luckily, Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are five rad, butt-kicking best pals determined to have an awesome summer together… And they’re not gonna let a magical quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! The mystery keeps getting bigger, and it all begins here.

Collects Lumberjanes No. 1-4.

MY THOUGHTS

This was cute and humorous. I loved the strong girl characters and the fun art style. I did not realize this was fantasy going into it, so that was a fun surprise.

However, I found the plot to be a bit vague and disjointed. Pieces didn’t start really coming together until the last issue in this collection.

I have pretty mixed feelings toward this. I enjoyed it, but nothing about it made me want to rush to pick up the next issue. I will read vol. 2 since I already own it in my classroom library, then I’ll determine my interest in continuing the series from there.

Review: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 1: Squirrel Power
Writer: Ryan North
Artist: Erica Henderson
Series: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1-4
Genre: Superhero
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Comics/Graphic Novel
Length: 128 pages
Publisher: Marvel
Release Date: September 1, 2015
Source: Personal collection

SYNOPSIS

Wolverine, Deadpool, Doctor Doom, Thanos: There’s one hero that’s beaten them all-and now she’s got her own ongoing series! (Not that she’s bragging.) That’s right, you asked for it, you got it, it’s SQUIRREL GIRL! (She’s also starting college this semester.) It’s the start of a brand-new set of adventures starring the nuttiest and most upbeat super hero in the world!

COLLECTING: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 1-4

MY THOUGHTS

This was so fun and hilarious. Doreen is a breath of fresh air as a superheroine. She is awkward, creative, and friendly. She doesn’t have typical comic book female physique, instead representing a strong and more realistic body type.

Squirrel Girl is truly an outside-the-box thinker. When facing villains, she finds creative, non-violent solutions to conflict (even though she’s totally strong enough to physically take on any adversary).

This series has so many positive messages for young readers. I am fortunate that my school library purchased a class set of this graphic novel last year. I can’t wait to read this with the 8th graders in my Comic Book class, and I need to acquire more volumes in this series!

I will definitely post an update once I’ve had a chance to use this in the classroom.

Review: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Nimona
Author: Noelle Stevenson
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Graphic Novel
Length: 266 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: May 12, 2015
Source: Personal collection

SYNOPSIS

The graphic novel debut from rising star Noelle Stevenson, based on her beloved and critically acclaimed web comic, which Slate awarded its Cartoonist Studio Prize, calling it “a deadpan epic.”

Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from Noelle Stevenson. Featuring an exclusive epilogue not seen in the web comic, along with bonus conceptual sketches and revised pages throughout, this gorgeous full-color graphic novel is perfect for the legions of fans of the web comic and is sure to win Noelle many new ones.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

MY THOUGHTS

I grabbed this book off the shelf of my classroom library, and I’m so glad I took the time to read it for myself so I can better recommend it to students. Nimona was so cute and heartwarming! I loved the campy and cartoony humor. The minimalistic art style placed the reader’s focus on the character and plot development. I appreciated that Nimona looks cute and sweet but she is actually incredibly powerful and morally gray with realistic emotions.

There was so much depth to this story about good versus evil and what defines heroes and villains. This looks like it will be a fun and simple fantasy story, but it is so much more than that, with a full range of complicated and lovable characters.

Series Review: Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

SERIES STATS

Overall Rating: ☆☆☆☆1/2
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Audience: Adult
Publisher: Image Comics

Series & Pub. Dates:
Vol. 1 (#1-6), 10/23/2012
Vol. 2 (#7-12), 6/19/2013
Vol. 3 (#13-18), 3/19/2014
Vol. 4 (#19-24), 12/17/2014
Vol. 5 (#25-30), 9/9/2015
Vol. 6 (#31-36), 6/29/2016
Vol. 7 (#37-42), 4/4/2017
Vol. 8 (#43-48), 12/27/2017
Vol. 9 (#49-54), 10/2/2018

Content Warnings: language, sex, nudity, violence, human trafficking (including children), substance abuse, domestic violence, miscarriage, death… I might be missing stuff, there’s a lot

SYNOPSIS (Vol. 1)

When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.

From bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan, Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults.

MY THOUGHTS

Saga is a wild and weird adventure through the galaxy. Narrated by Hazel (who is born at the beginning of the story), Saga tells the story of her family’s journey to find safety and evade pursuers from both sides of a galactic conflict who view her parents as traitors and her existence as an abomination.

These comics are FOR ADULTS. I was a little uncomfortable with the graphic visuals and mature subject matter when I first started the series, but the storytelling is so dang good I kept coming back for more, averting my eyes from the images I didn’t want to see.

I was continually amazed by how much each new installment expanded upon the already fantastic worldbuilding and developed the characters emotionally. You will grow to love this little family of misfits and an array of side characters. On top of their fugitive status, they deal with everyday family issues in profound and relatable ways as Hazel grows up. Saga tugged on readers’ emotions from the beginning and was never afraid of crossing lines, but the last few installments in the series were particularly heartbreaking.

This is a bold, bizarre, and bingeworthy series with no boundaries, and I highly recommend it for sci-fi and fantasy readers looking to give comics a try. Fingers crossed the series returns soon, because I cannot get over that last cliffhanger!

Interested in reading this series? Check out my full review for Vol. 1!

Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Saga, Vol.1
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Audience: Adult
Format: Graphic Novel
Length: 176 pages
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: October 23, 2012
Source: Purchased
Content Warnings: language, sex, nudity, violence, human trafficking (including children)

SYNOPSIS

When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.

From bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan, Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults.

Collecting: Saga 1-6

MY THOUGHTS

This series has been highly recommended to me. I bought the first volume at a comic convention a few years ago, but I didn’t get around to reading it until recently. I wish I had not waited so long!

I always love a good tale of a galaxy-wide, interplanetary war. This story focuses on a couple of star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of the conflict who just want a place to raise their newborn child in peace. However, both sides want to eradicate this family of deserters.

Surprisingly, this story is narrated by Hazel, the infant, making me wonder when she is actually telling this story and increasing suspense about the future in later volumes.

This story is strange, bizarre, and compelling. The worldbuilding is very well done, blending science fiction and fantasy elements, and I look forward to exploring more parts of the galaxy in future installments. We also meet several side characters, and I am curious about how their storylines will intersect.

I cannot emphasize enough that this is for ADULTS. There is a lot of mature content, including explicit language and illustrations, some of which made me feel uncomfortable considering the comic format. Still, this story is fascinating, and I look forward to continuing this series.

Book Review and Teacher Thoughts: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆1/2
Title: The Stonekeeper
Author: Kazu Kibuishi
Series: Amulet #1
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Audience: Middle Grade
Format: Graphic Novel
Length: 192 pages
Publisher: Graphix
Release Date: January 1, 2008
Source: School Library

SYNOPSIS

Graphic novel star Kazu Kibuishi creates a world of terrible, man-eating demons, a mechanical rabbit, a giant robot—and two ordinary children on a life-or-death mission.

After the tragic death of their father, Emily and Navin move with their mother to the home of her deceased great-grandfather, but the strange house proves to be dangerous. Before long, a sinister creature lures the kids’ mom through a door in the basement. Em and Navin, desperate not to lose her, follow her into an underground world inhabited by demons, robots, and talking animals.

Eventually, they enlist the help of a small mechanical rabbit named Miskit. Together with Miskit, they face the most terrifying monster of all, and Em finally has the chance to save someone she loves.

MY THOUGHTS

This graphic novel is creative and suspenseful, blending fantasy with some steampunk elements. While this is written for young audiences, it deals with some heavy topics, including death and separation/loss of parents, starting in the prologue.

Emily is a brave and curious heroine. She cares deeply about her family members and would do anything to save them, which leads her to make some rash decisions. Despite her brother Navin’s hesitations, she wholeheartedly embraces the amulet as she tries to save her mom.

I am not quite sure what to think of the amulet and its magic…is it good or evil, or does it depend on how it’s used? There is a lot the audience does not learn about the alternate world where this story takes place and its magic, leaving a lot to be explored in future installments.

While it was an exciting adventure, I didn’t completely connect with the story. However, it raises lots of interesting themes that I can’t wait to see explored in the rest of the series!

TEACHER THOUGHTS

I teach a Comic Book elective class to 8th graders, and we read this together since my school library has a class set of the first book in the series . I enjoyed sharing this story with my students. I’ve seen this recommended for ages 9+ so I worried it might be a little young for my 8th graders, but they loved it. Only a couple students had already read the Amulet series, and all of my students got really into the story, which pleasantly surprised me.

I found a motion comic with a great audio production on YouTube that I played while students read along in their books. I will link that below, along with some of the other teaching resources I used with this unit.

After we finished this unit, I bought the boxed set of books 1-8 for my classroom library because so many of my students wanted to continue reading the series. I haven’t continued the series myself yet because I’m letting my students take turns with the books first. I wish I could get class sets of the entire series, but for now I’m happy to see so many of my students excited about reading this series!

STUDENT THOUGHTS

Students’ final assignment was to write a book review for The Stonekeeper. Out of an abundance of caution for my students’ privacy, I will refer to them only by their first initial. Here’s what some of them had to say:

“I think if you enjoy adventure books this is for you. The story is overall great & well layed out.” -E

“I think this is a good book because of the story line. In the beginning she loses her dad, and now she wants to protect the mom at all costs. I just like it when they give the character a strong motivation.” -A

“I love this book because it was sad, but was heroic. She was all about saving people.” -J

“I love this book because the characters are very kind to each other.” -C

“It has a lot of mystery and suspense through the whole story and every page.” -A

“It was a simple book to understand, the pictures were nice and colorful. The characters were likable. The story was dramatic and interesting.” -R

“It has a lot of action, and the characters feel real. The plot is pretty clear. There’s character motivation in each and every single character. It’s a good book for people who want an exciting adventure, with great visuals.” -T

“There is a lot of action and the book is sort of a cliffhanger so it makes it more interesting.” -J

“There is a lot of action and you can never expect something is going to happen. When you start reading this book you will think it’s not good but it will surprise you for sure.” -A

“It was awesome and exciting. You wouldn’t drop this book once you start it.” -L

TEACHING RESOURCES

Motion Comic/Audio by Noah Hakvern on YouTube
Lesson Plan for the Amulet Series from Scholastic
Amulet Book One Reading Guide by Jennifer Leverentz on TPT
Amulet: The Stonekeeper – Mr. Price’s Book Blog
Using Graphic Novels in Education: Amulet – CBLDF