2013 Graphic Novels Challenge

The 2013 Graphic Novel Challenge is about reading graphic novels, manga, or any collection of comic books. Since I own a fair number of these, I’m going to try to work through my pile. I’m joining at the basic level and reading 12 books.

This is a do-over from last year, when I accomplished exactly zero of these. I’m also participating in Pica Reads’ Graphic Novel Readathon, happening now through the end of the weekend. So I’ll be tackling hopefully a couple from this list before next week. Come join us if you’re interested in testing the graphic format!

My list for this challenge:

  1. Kill Shakespeare, Vol. 1 by Conor McCreery
  2. Kill Shakespeare, Vol. 2 by Conor McCreery
  3. Promethea, Vol. 1 by Alan Moore
  4. Carbon Grey, Vol. 1 by Paul Gardner and Khari Evans
  5. Captain Swing, Vol. 1 by Warren Ellis
  6. Hatter M by Frank Beddor
  7. Boondock Saints: In Nomine Patris by Troy Duffy and J.B. Love
  8. Oz: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Eric Shanower
  9. Oz: The Marvelous Land of Oz by Eric Shanower
  10. The Unwritten, Vol. 1 by Mike Carey
  11. Think Tank, Vol. 1 by Matt Hawkins
  12. Elephantmen, Vol. 4 by Richard Starkings

Check my progress all year on the sidebar or on my 2013 Challenge Index.




In My Mailbox (14)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme devoted to sharing the new books we’ve received, borrowed, or bought. For more information, visit IMM’s fantastic host, The Story Siren. You can visit other blogs that are participating in this weekâ??s IMM here.

I got an awesome haul of books through the library, gifted, or on sale this week. This is the frugal edition of IMM!

The Iron Duke (Iron Seas #1) by Meljean Brook
Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel
Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink
Deception (Haunting Emma #1) by Lee Nichols
First Draft in 30 Days and From First Draft to Finished Novel by Karen S. Wiesner

Received for ARC tour:
When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen from Around the World Tours

I make a habit of checking Amazon’s Bargain Books every few weeks to see if anything good pops up, and this week I jumped on sale prices for The Iron Duke, Prophecy of the Sisters, and Deception. I’ve wanted to read all of them for a long time, so I’m glad I got them on the cheap. 🙂 Dearly, Departed was a pre-order that arrived on Tuesday (happy release day to Lia Habel!), and the two writing books are for outline help pre-NaNoWriMo. I had a coupon for Writer’s Digest Shop, so hooray for discounts!

Borrowed from the library:
Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
Cate of the Lost Colony by Lisa M. Klein
The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel by Diana Gabaldon and Hoang Nguyen
Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

Graphic novels borrowed from the library:
Criminal Vol. 1: Coward, Vol. 2: Lawless, and Vol. 3: The Dead and the Dying by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Fables: Legends in Exile (Vol. 1) and Fables: Animal Farm (Vol. 2) by Bill Willingham, Lan Medina, Steve Leialoha, Mark Buckingham
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned and Vol. 2: Cycles by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, José Marzán Jr.

I’m trying to make better use of my library, considering it is so close to my house. They have a well-stocked young adult section for a small branch, and this week I stumbled upon an excellent stash of graphic novels that included some titles I’ve been DYING to read but wasn’t sure I wanted to buy. I’ve been getting a bit crazycakes with buying comics, so I’m happy that I can get a lot of great titles from my local library instead of spending money on them.

Fall Book Exchange:
Grave Witch (Alex Craft #1) by Kalayna Price
Kitty and the Midnight Hour (Kitty Norville #1) by Carrie Vaughn

I participated in the Fall Book Exchange hosted by Ruby’s Reads and I received these two ebooks gifted through Amazon from my Santa: Mickey at imabookshark! I told her to surprise me from my wish list and I was so happy to receive these titles as I’ve been meaning to read them both for a reeeeeeally long time. And just in time for next week’s Bout of Books Read-a-thon!

A huge, mega, universe-sized thank you to Mickey for these books and to Ruby for hosting the exchange!

That’s it for now. What books did you get recently?

Comic Book Review: American Vampire Volumes 1 & 2

Book: American Vampire Volume 1
Author: Story by Scott Snyder and Stephen King
Publisher: Vertigo
Release date: October 5, 2010
Source: Bought from Graham Crackers Comics

Summary: (from Goodreads) From writers Scott Snyder and Stephen King, AMERICAN VAMPIRE introduces a new strain of vampire â?? a more vicious species â?? and traces the creatures’ bloodline through decades of American history.

This first hardcover volume of the critically acclaimed series collects issues #1-5 and follows two stories: one written by Snyder and one written by King, both with art by future superstar Rafael Albuquerque. Snyder’s tale follows Pearl, a young woman living in 1920s Los Angeles, who is brutally turned into a vampire and sets out on a path of righteous revenge against the European monsters who tortured and abused her. And in King’s story set in the days of America’s Wild West, readers learn the origin of Skinner Sweet, the original American vampire â?? a stronger, faster creature than any vampire ever seen before.

Don’t miss out as Snyder and King set fire to the horror genre with this visionary, all-original take on one of the most popular monster stories!
This beautiful collection features a new introduction by Stephen King and bonus art including character sketches, variant covers and more!

Book: American Vampire Volume 2
Author: Story by Scott Snyder
Publisher: Vertigo
Release date: May 31, 2011
Source: Bought from Graham Crackers Comics

Summary: (from Goodreads) While trafficking in a bestselling sub-genre, AMERICAN VAMPIRE introduces a new strain of vampire â?? a more muscular and vicious species, born of the American West.

Itâ??s Las Vegas circa 1935, and Skinner Sweet and our gal Pearl are about to learn the hard way that the bloodsuckers in Hollywood were nothing compared to what awaits them in Sin City.

In just a few short years, young police Chief Cash McCogan has watched his native city of Las Vegas go from cow-town to wild, glittering boomtown. And when the bodies of prominent businessmen start showing up drained of blood, Chief McCogan finds himself facing a threat much darker and deadlier than anything he could have imagined . . . and the only sure bet in town is that Skinner and Pearl are right in the thick of it.

Features issues 6-11.

First impressions: Scott Snyder and Stephen King did not set out to make a sparkly vampire tale. This is dark, scary, disturbing, and violent. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down.

Lasting impressions: This has become my most anticipated monthly comic. Skinner Sweet is deliciously evil, and reading his progress from being turned in the Old West, to taking over a Vegas brothel in the ’30s, to battling vampire genocide in WWII is terrifying and compelling.

Conflicting impressions: Multiple readings make this one a bit easier to follow. The history of vampires is somewhat re-created here, and the large amount of information and competing story lines can get confusing.

Overall impressions: American Vampire is a monthly comic, currently on issue 19, supplemented by a 5 issue miniseries, American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest. It follows Skinner Sweet, the first American vampire, and the vampire he creates, Pearl.

Stephen King jumped on board with this comic to tell Skinner’s backstory. Through the first 5 issues, he trades panels with series creator Scott Snyder, interspersing Skinner’s origin as a new strain of vampire born in the Wild West with his present saving/turning young actress Pearl in the 1920s. The back-and-forth in time works well for the most part, as I enjoyed seeing how Skinner became a vampire, but it also seemed to read like two different stories that didn’t need to be told simultaneously.

Pearl is an interesting character who goes through the most significant changes across the arcs of these volumes. Though Skinner saves her from a gruesome death by turning her, he does little to help her navigate her new life as a vampire. Determined to not turn out as sadistic as Skinner, she allows herself to fall in love with jazz singer Henry, though they are often on the run from the Vassals of the Morning Star (VMS), a group determined to kill vampires.

Volume 2 fast forwards through time to the 1930s, where we meet Cash McCogan, Las Vegas police chief, investigating a string of murders that make him cross paths with the VMS and vampires. Cash and the VMS are the subject of the spin-off miniseries, which puts them in contact with Nazi vampires out to purify the vampire race.

This series is beautifully illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque, who manages to deliver creepy and grotesque content without the images themselves becoming overly graphic. The vampires are drawn to achieve the effect the writers wanted – scary, not seductive. These vampires are more monsters than they are humans, and the cruelty of Skinner Sweet is a constant reminder that these vampires are not exactly woeful about the loss of their humanity. Although Pearl is more human than the rest of them, she can still attack with little regard for the pain she causes, particularly when she or Henry is threatened.

The unique history of vampires and the setting in varied important periods in American history make this a joy to read. This is pure horror at its best, with twists and turns full of scary things ready to jump out and spoil the party. Skinner Sweet is one of my favorite fictional characters right now, because despite his nasty and cruel ways, he is still lashing out at a monster he never wanted to become. Sure, he’s a bad guy, and was long before he even became a vampire, but he’s unpredictable and clearly has a soft spot for Pearl. I can’t wait to see where his story takes us next.

I highly recommend this series to all horror, vampire, and Stephen King fans.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Comic Book Review: Elephantmen Vol. 1 TPB

Book: Elephantmen Volume 1: Wounded Animals
Author: Story by Richard Starkings; Artwork by Moritat, Henry Flint, Tom Scioli, David Hine and Chris Bachalo
Publisher: Image Comics
Release date: July 2008
Source: Bought from Graham Crackers Comics

Summary: (from HipFlask.com) They were genetically engineered to be supra-human weapons of mass destruction, but ultimately dismissed collectively as Elephantmen. Hip Flask, Ebony Hide and Obadiah Horn count amongst their number; wounded animals who, despite their differences and origins, must live in the world of man.

Collects ELEPHANTMEN #1-7 featuring art by Ladrönn, Moritat, Henry Flint, Tom Scioli, David Hine and Chris Bachalo.

First impressions: I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book. I knew nothing about it when I ordered it other than that Lia Habel said the series is so good it has left her sobbing, and that it was about, well, Elephantmen. I love nothing better than a glowing recommendation, so I decided to spring for it despite my limited knowledge of the subject matter.

Lasting impressions: I think that in the future, Lia Habel should be in charge of determining all of my reading material. She has never failed to steer me toward incredible stories and this is certainly no exception.

Conflicting impressions: I don’t think you could pay me to say a bad thing about this one.

Overall impressions: This trade paperback collects the first 7 issues of the Elephantmen series, which follows a group of hybrid animal-men in the future. Billed as “pulp science fiction,” the story is dark and at times violent, exploring the consequences of private military experimentation when its products are introduced into society.

The Elephantmen, as they are collectively called, consist of Hip Flask (a hippo), Ebony Hide (an elephant), Obadiah Horn (a rhino), and others. They were born from experiments by the Mappo corporation to combine large animals with humans that could be trained to be the ultimate killing machines. They spent their youth under Mappo’s control, unaware that a world existed beyond pain and suffering. They massacred North African communities under the command of their brutal leader.

Fast forward 15 or so years, and the Elephantmen are now living in California, having been rescued by American forces. They now work as operatives for the U.S. government, and much of the focus of this book is on Hip Flask’s quest to track down an African doll/idol.

We also witness the prejudice they face in society. They are outcasts, misunderstood, and supposed to maintain a quiet presence, yet Obadiah Horn has risen to become a powerful corporate leader. He is challenging the status quo by getting engaged to a human woman, Sahara, who has her own history and ties to Mappo. There seems to be conflict brewing between Hip Flask and Obadiah Horn, particularly where Sahara is concerned.

Though definitely dark, the book is surprisingly touching, particularly in the opening issue. Ebony Hide has a conversation with a young girl named Savannah, who fails to understand the complexities or differences between people, as only a child can. Her unflinching desire to befriend, rather than fear, Ebony is a heartbreaking moment. Ebony feels he is only as good as his past actions, and the violence he committed in Africa haunts him. The gentle and giving soul he confronts in Savannah certainly gives him room for thought.

The thematic elements in this book around war, animal experimentation, love without boundaries, and the consequences of power are beautifully explored through the rich plot and gorgeous artwork. The images are complex and easy to follow, with neither the text nor the art outshining the other. Instead, they work in perfect tandem to convey the story with ease, and I could not put down this book until I’d finished it.

For anyone interested in the subjects explored through this title, with even a passing interest in comic books, I urge you to give this one a try. Check it out from a library, borrow it from a friend, or even read the first issue for free online. I get that it’s not going to appeal to everyone, but if you even think you might like it, you simply must read this book.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

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Comic Books – Yay or Nay?

It’s all Lia Habel’s fault.

I was happy with my comic book ignorance up until yesterday. I didn’t need to know about the vast array of characters, plots, and settings they explored. I was blissfully unaware that comic books had anything to offer other than superheroes and skintight clothing. If you had told me that I was missing an opportunity to experience an exciting genre of literature in comic books, I’d have told you that if I wanted my stories envisioned for me I’d watch the movie.

Oh how I have been humbled.

On Tuesday, Lia Habel tweeted her enthusiasm for Ruse. Perhaps “enthusiasm” is the wrong word. More like “rabid fangirly devotion.”

If you are a #steampunk or into comics drop everything NOW and GET THEM. It was the best series EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER. –via @LiaHabel

What else is a girl to do on her lunch break besides search Google for more information on this series? You say steampunk, I come running.

Image courtesy Marvel Image Gallery

Ruse is a Victorian-era comic that follows renowned detective Simon Archard and his partner, Emma Bishop. The book is told from Emma’s spunky perspective, which allows us to admire Simon’s intellect and problem-solving while feeling her frustration over being called the wrong name and getting ignored by society and the press for her contributions. She’s also hiding a secret from Simon about some mysterious powers she wields…

Ruse originally ran from 2001-2004 and in March, Marvel issued 4 new books (this was the news that got Ms. Habel so excited). The series sounded cool and with such a glowing recommendation I decided I’d check it out. After work I headed to a nearby comic book store for the first time. I was quite nervous, worried the fanboys would peg me as the outsider I am and chase me off with pitchforks.

My fears were unfounded. The store was busy (Just after working hours in the Loop? You don’t say!) so I was able to wander and browse free of any hairy eyeballs or raised brows. As luck would have it, the store had not only all four issues of the Ruse new release, but issues 1-12 of the original run. At about $3 a pop, I figured I’d just buy them all. I spend that much on books all the time without batting an eye, so why not comic books as well?

When I got home, I read numbers 1 and 2 of the original and number 1 of the new series. And I was shocked to find I actually really enjoyed them. Like, really enjoyed them. Instead of being annoyed at the lack of words, I let myself relax and get into the illustrations and see what wasn’t being said. Normally I despise having words interpreted for me, and prefer to put my own slant on things (see: why I hate movie adaptations; why I like reading plays instead of going to the theater) but in this case, it was an entirely new experience.

I’ve read a couple of graphic novels in the past, usually because they had been or were going to be turned into movies (300, V for Vendetta, Watchmen, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns) and I had the hardest time getting into them. Maybe it was the length that was the problem. Maybe I just wasn’t reading the right story for me. Whichever it was, my attitude toward the genre has undergone a complete 180 degree shift. I went to another store near my house last night and picked up a few new books that caught my interest. I’m even considering starting a collection of a series that is adapting the L. Frank Baum Oz books, which I already collect and adore.

I’m so new to this that I’m kind of stumbling around in the dark. Other than Alison Can Read’s Manga Mondays feature, I’m not aware of any bloggers focusing on graphic content. Do you read graphic novels, manga, or comic books? Would you be interested in hearing more from me as I explore this genre? I’m curious to hear what you think about it.

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