While many of us are currently finding ourselves staring Fall in the face as we start school, enjoy our last beach day, or prepare for Ladies Con, it’s hard to remember that summer is technically not over yet. Well, at least it isn’t over officially until September 23rd, the first day of Fall. So until that time, there might be those of you out there holding onto summer with everything they have – and I’m here to help you with that. I have three get reading suggestions that will not only help you remember how the warm summer sun feels, but also how it can make you feel like no other season can.
For a lady who spends a lot of time talking and writing about comics, there are times when I am shocked by how little I seem to know about them. Out of the four ladies, I think it is safe to say that I discovered comics the latest. So while I am always reading and exploring new comics, I have found that I’ve still got a lot of catching up to do. Part of this catching up involves me going back and seeking out the “classics” – the ones you MUST read, the ones that made such an impression that they changed the character or the genre itself.
I know I’m not the only one with an interest in such things. The comic book sales each time a new Marvel or DC film comes out is proof enough of that. So while I educate myself on why there are two Human Torches and and which Captain Marvel says “Shazam!”, I thought it might be helpful to share what I’m reading and how accessible it might be to those of us whose main source of comic book universe info comes from movies and cartoons. The plan is a simple one: read the books and then share a lot of the who and what you need to know so you aren’t spending too much time looking up things on various wikis rather than enjoying the story. Think of it as our own comic book Cliffs Notes – a little something to help you out so when the big reveal comes at the end, you get it…mostly.
Well, Smalerie, and The Red Menace have done their reviews, and now it’s my turn. I read two Lego based graphic novels and one Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew book. Are these books something you or your kids might like? Take a read below and see!
Lego Ninjago #6 Warriors of Stone, and #7 Stone Cold
Lego Ninjago (ninja go, get it?) is Lego property that has expanded from building sets into cartoons, video games and now, comics. The comics follow the Masters of Spinjitzu: Kai, Jay, Cole, Zane and Sensei Wu, on various adventures. I read volumes 6 and 7 of this series. I went into these books pretty cold, but there is enough exposition in the beginning that I think you could hand a kid any volume and they can jump right in.
As Smalerie mentioned in her reviews, a friend of mine works at Papercutz and generously sent us some review copies of books. Papercutz is super cool, in my personal opinion, because they’re focused on printing all ages comics. While I can enjoy grim ‘n gritty adult themes and mature humor, I think that it’s important to also make comics that are great for everyone and anyone to read. Papercutz also provides teacher guides to some of its titles, a resource I’d love to see them grow. Reading comics should always be fun, but if it can also be a way to learn, all the better! So what did I choose to read?
Dance Class: African Folk Fever
I’ll admit that I thought I knew what this book would be about based solely on this cover – the young ballerina, surround by her peers engaged in African Folk dance, the dirty, dreadlocked drummer smiling vaguely in the corner, the look of confusion on the ballerina’s face – I was sure that this would be a long-form comic in which our ballet-star would be put off by her friends’ new obsession, and probably someone would learn a lesson about tolerance and differences by the end of the story.
WRONG, I was wrong! What they say about judging books by their covers must be true, because NONE of my predictions were right. There IS some African Folk dance, and some ballet, but there’s no real conflict between the two – the young ladies who form the central characters of the book – Alia, Julie, and Lucie -seem to love any and all dance equally. Additionally, Dance Class is not a graphic novel in the truest sense – it’s a collection of connected short-form tales about a group of teens at a dance studio. It reminded me of Archie or Caspar – humorous stories that are a bit longer than a 3 panel newspaper strip but never go beyond a few pages.
Thanks to the format, this is a quick read. The jokes are a bit corny, but cute, and the art is clean and easy to follow. I particularly like that the cast is racially and body-type diverse, although the curviest girl IS on a diet. While this is realistic for the dance world and is played for laughs, it still bums me out a tad. The cast also features male dancers, which was a pleasant surprise.
Overall, this book will mostly appeal to readers who have an interest in dance – many of the jokes are focused around the trials and tribulations of dancers – but if your kiddo really loves humor comics, they’d probably dig it, too!
Recommended age: 8-12
You might like it if: You had dreams of being a tap sensation; Archie Andrews was your dream crush
Power Rangers: The Terrible Toys
AUTHOR: Stefan Petrucha
ARTIST: Paulo Henrique
Now this book I went into with no particular expectations. By the time Power Rangers came out, in 1993, I was a sophomore in high school, and the show didn’t really capture my attention (which was reserved for Neil Gaiman comics and Monty Python reruns, thank you very much). So I had no particular nostalgia attached to these characters and wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this book. Imagine my delight, then, to find the story accessible and rather charming. Like most Power Rangers stories, from what I can tell, The Terrible Toys involves a plot by monsters from the netherworld (Nighloks, to the initiated) trying to break into our world, since it is generally nicer than their dank pit. In this case, the tricksy monsters play against type and instead of sending something big and menacing, they sneak in thousands of tiny, carbon copy monsters in the guise of action figures. When the tiny terrors wreak havoc in town (increasing their numbers exponentially for a quick and handy math lesson), the Power Rangers must stop them.
What I liked about the story is that, while there’s plenty of martial arts battles and fighting stances, the kids have to ultimately use their brains to defeat the monsters. Additionally, the teeny Nighloks themselves get some pretty snappy dialogue, and the two girls on the team, while not the focus of this installment, do get to be part of the action and disperse a fair number of monsters. The art is competent, with some extremely strange and original monster designs.
Recommended age: 7-10
You might like it if: You’re a monster lover, a budding mathematician, or a kung-fu fan
Ernest & Rebecca: Grandpa Bug
AUTHOR: Guillaume Bianco
ARTIST: Antonello Dalena
Rebecca is your typical 6 and half year old in many ways – she loves to run around outside, she’s not a big fan of her parents’ divorce, and she can be a pain to her big sister, Coralie. She also happens to have a best friend who is a giant germ named Ernest.
This charming book is the third in a series of Ernest and Rebecca stories, so I’ll admit I don’t totally know HOW Rebecca came to have an oversize germ for a (possibly imaginary, possibly not) friend, but the whole back-story wasn’t really necessary – there’s a small recap to get you up to speed on who everyone is (adorably drawn by “Rebecca” herself) that does a fine job of orienting a new reader. In any case, it turns out that Ernest doesn’t have a big role to play in this story – most of the plot revolves around the fact that he’s gone missing during Rebecca’s vacation to her grandparents’ farm. Rebecca is distraught at first, but learns to make her own fun, befriending (most) of the neighboring children, exploring the woods, and learning some lessons along the way.
It must be noted that Rebecca needs these lessons – one of the things I enjoyed about this story is that she is no sticky sweet angel. Rebecca is a bit bratty and temperamental at times. However, she’s also no nightmare child who gets away with murder – she acts like a real kid would, and is punished appropriately when it’s warranted. The art is rounded and cute, and the characters have extremely expressive faces. Compared to the Power Rangers, this is a quieter, gentler story, but overall I think that gives it a bit more universality.
Recommended age: 6-10
You might like it if: You’re an adventurous kid, or the imaginary friend of one
What all-ages books have you read and enjoyed? We’re always looking for new books – tell us about ’em in the comments!
FTC Full Disclosure: I received free copies of these books from Papercutz. I was not compensated with money or a sweet samurai sword to write this review.
Since Smalerie has gotten us rolling on the comics front, we’re all gonna share our favorite series. Since I read everything in trade paperback I can’t strictly promise they’re all still ongoing (and Smal snatched up Fables!) but you should still be able to get your hands on ’em. Here’s my take on three series to sink your teeth into.
And speaking of teeth:
Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory
Plot: Tony Chu is a cop. He’s also a cibopath – he can take a bite from anything and get a psychic impression of everything that happened to it up until he took a taste. He tries to keep it under wraps, but when he uses his powers to solve a case, he ends up in a web of conspiracy that reaches from the North Pole to outer space.
Why Read it: Chew effortlessly sets the scene for an alternate America by changing one tiny detail about how we live that is totally brilliant and follows the logic of that detail the way out to the moon and beyond. And it’s really very funny, to boot, and a little bit gross, and super clever. It’s also a really great example of the integration of art and story that makes comics the rich and versatile medium that it is. Guillory’s style is cartoonish in a way that may not be for everyone, but adds little nuances, details, and Easter eggs that enhance the prose that Layman provides.
Bonus: Food. Granted, given his powers and his position as a cop, Tony eats a lot of things that are…unpleasant…by any definition. But! There are many more food-related powers in this universe, as it turns out, and as a food-loving lady it is exciting to learn what they are – and the inevitable consequences of each of them.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
Plot: There are several books in this series now, but the gist is that several figures from literature (originally Victorian literature, but the scope was later expanded) are brought together to form a super-team ala the Justice League. Characters like Captain Nemo, The Invisible Man, and Mr. Hyde fight off alien menaces, expose government corruption, and generally get up to all sorts of hi-jinks. If you’re familiar with the other work of Alan Moore, such as Watchmen or V for Vendetta, you can probably guess that this league is a bit more controversial than the ol’ JLA.
Why Read It: Well, for one thing, if you’ve never seen the abomination of a movie that they made out of this book – don’t, it’s horrible. If you have seen it, the book is nothing like that. This is a good thing. The book is instead an amazingly detailed love letter to literature, with every tiny throw-away character and detail being a reference to something. And yet, you don’t really need to know any of those references to enjoy the books – the stories have their own momentum and work even if you have no idea who Mina Harker or Allan Quatermain is. And speaking of Mina…
Bonus: Feminism. One of the things that drew me so much to this book is that the group is led by Mina. She gathers the bunch of misfits together, she tells them what to do, and they listen to and respect her (for the most part). And she does it all in a high-necked, flouncy Victorian dresses.
Starman by James Robinson and Tony Harris
Plot: Jack Knight is an antiques dealer – and loves it. He doesn’t want to follow in the footsteps of his father, Ted Knight, who was once the hero known as Starman – he’ll leave that to his older brother, David. But when David is killed by the son of The Mist, Ted’s nemesis from the old days, Jack may find that he doesn’t have a choice…
Why Read It: Okay, so this book isn’t technically “ongoing.” It ran from 1994 to 2001. But! It is absolutely one of my favorite series of all time, so I’m sending you forth to read it anyway. The story is a familiar one – the reluctant hero finds his way – but Robinson has such a good ear for story and dialogue that it feels new again. This was one of my earliest introductions to superhero comics (I was more of an indie kid) and the book is also a great way to learn about some of the less-known characters of the DC universe. The art by Tony Harris is gorgeous, too, especially the skyline of Jack’s home base, Opal City.
Bonus: Elongated Man. What can I say, I love the Dibnys!
So there you have it, three series I really enjoy. What books do you love? Tell us in the comments!