Review: X-Men ’92 — Warzones!

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X-Men ’92: Warzones!
by Chris Sims, Chad Bowers, and Scott Koblish

★★★★☆

2016 (originally published 2015) • 128 pages • Marvel Comics

The greatest cartoon theme song of all time—and I will fight you on this point—is undoubtedly the theme tune to X-Men: The Animated Series. Composed by Ron Wasserman (who also composed the theme song for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, which kind of blew my mind), it’s sixty seconds of iconic synthesizers, illustrated by an opening sequence straight out of a comic book. (My favorite segment: the team crossing the screen from left to right while the word “X-Men” darts by in several directions for no reason.) It’s so good that Michael Kamen snuck in a sly musical reference to it in the score for X-Men. To me, it is the X-Men, although I never watched the show as a kid. (Although I did watch the entirety of season one at a friend’s apartment in college, and shrieked when Mister Sinister smiled for the first time.) When I went to go see X-Men: Days of Future Past at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, you can bet that they played the theme song and that I totally flipped.

There is simply nothing more X-Men. Nothing more radical. Nothing more, dare I say, nineties.

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Review: Bitch Planet — Extraordinary Machine (Vol. 1)

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Bitch Planet: Extraordinary Machine
by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, and Robert Wilson IV

★★★★½

2015 • 156 pages • Image Comics

While I’m familiar with the long history of feminist dystopian fiction (have I mentioned how much I loved Only Ever Yours?), I’m far less familiar with exploitation films, especially the women-in-prison variant. Nonetheless, the idea of reclaiming women-in-prison films for the purposes of feminist discourse naturally appeals to me. I also very much trust Kelly Sue DeConnick due not to anything like Captain Marvel (as I haven’t read her run yet), but to her adaptation of Barbarella (which I also haven’t read, but I’ve read DeConnick’s interviews regarding the art of adaptation). Reframing and adapting supposedly empowering female narratives from the past to actually be empowering? Nice.

Bitch Planet takes place in a future where women who are deemed noncompliant—i.e., too loud, too butch, too queer, too brown, too assertive, too “insufficiently feminine”—by the ruling Fathers. Women who are terminally noncompliant are arrested and shipped off to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost, nicknamed “Bitch Planet.” The latest crop of ladies struggle, suffer, and resist against their guards. But inmate Kamau Kogo is approached with an offer: put together an all-female team for the bloody Duemila sports competition. While kowtowing to the powers that put them in prison doesn’t appeal to Kamau, the opportunities it might provide, for both her fellow inmates and herself, do…

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Review: Help Us, Great Warrior!

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Help Us! Great Warrior
by Madéleine Flores

★★★½☆

2016 • 160 pages • BOOM! Box

How great is Great Warrior? SO GREAT.

I love Madéleine Flores’ little femme warrior green nugget, probably because she’s cut from the same cloth as one Usagi Tsukino: ferocious, childish, good-hearted, and always up for pizza, cute boys, and fancy clothes. Great Warrior catsits for cosmic deities. She slices sea monsters in half just to get her chips back. She eats an entire “cursed” pizza to save her village. (So brave.) All of Flores’ Great Warrior comics are funny little one-off gags featuring Great Warrior going about her unique lifestyle, with occasional recurring characters like Great Warrior’s other little green nugget buddies and cute warrior girl Leo.

So for Great Warrior’s print comics debut for BOOM! Box, BOOM!’s “gleeful” imprint, it was time to tell an ongoing story with Great Warrior and her buddies. So enter Hadiyah, the High Chancellor, who tasks Great Warrior with dealing with the sudden influx of demons in their world. Unfortunately, Great Warrior does not want to go a demon-hunting, especially when there’s a party in her village. But eventually, Hadiyah convinces (or just straight up tricks) Great Warrior and her best warrior buddy Leo to help. Which is how they discover a big secret about Great Warrior…

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Review: Star Wars — Darth Vader (Vol. 1)

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Star Wars: Darth VaderVolume 1
by Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larocca, and Edgar Delgado

★★★★½

2015 • 160 pages • Marvel

It’s embarrassing, but I’ll admit it—I wanted to read Star Wars: Darth Vader because I thought Kieron Gillen wrote “Thank the Maker.” If you’re unfamiliar with “Thank the Maker,” it is actually a 2000 Star Wars comic written by Ryder Windham about Darth Vader encountering C-3PO during The Empire Strikes Back. Vader flashes back to rebuilding C-3PO as a child, defending droid rights to his mother as she tells him that creating a droid is a big responsibility. I was so touched by Vader feeling actual pain over how far they’ve traveled from that point in time that I immediately determined to read… Star Wars: Darth Vader.

In my defense, I knew Gillen was writing a Darth Vader title when I saw a few pages of “Thank the Maker,” so the two naturally conflated in my mind.

In a way, though, Star Wars: Darth Vader answers the same question as “Thank the Maker”: how do you square Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker in light of the prequels in a meaningful way? And I don’t mean that in a joking way at all. I’m watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars while I get ready for work in the morning (this is how I watch any and all half-hour programs), and I’ve been very much enjoying how the show tries to balance Anakin’s character and bridge the gap between Jedi hero and Sith villain. He’s heroic, dashing, and loyal, but he’s also possessive, violent, and impulsive.

Kieron Gillen, naturally, has a very good answer to this question, which is Star Wars: Darth Vader. Continue reading

Review: Ms. Marvel — Generation Why (Vol. 2)

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Ms. Marvel: Generation Why
by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, and Jacob Wyatt

★★★★☆

2015 (originally published 2014) • 136 pages • Marvel

Ms. Marvel: Generation Why (or issues 6 through 11) finds newly minted Ms. Marvel, Jersey City’s own hometown hero, navigating the usual trials and tribulations of a teenage superhero—hiding her identity to protect her loved ones, interfacing with the larger world of superheroics, and, of course, saving the day. Specifically, saving the day from the Inventor, the strange cockatiel-human hybrid who has been kidnapping teenage runaways for assuredly nefarious purposes.

Generation Why keeps up the same high level of quality seen in Ms. Marvel: No Normal—unsurprisingly, as the only major difference in the creative team is Jacob Wyatt stepping in to illustrate issues 6 and 7. Wyatt plays nicely in the quirkier house style of Ms. Marvel (I especially love the way he draws Kamala’s prominent nose), but Adrian Alphona’s teen indie movie in a bottle style is still the most perfect complement to G. Willow Wilson’s writing.

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Review: Honor Girl

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Honor Girl
by Maggie Thrash

★★★★☆

2015 • 272 pages • Candlewick Press

I’m always fascinated by stories about the messy process of becoming a person, whether that’s by developing one’s own identity outside of one’s parent, developing a sense of morality, or developing a sense of one’s desires. Chalk it up to a sheltered childhood or a belated coming out, but that process is fresh enough in my own narrative that I’m always hungry to see someone else’s just to compare notes.

Maggie Thrash’s Honor Girl, a graphic memoir about Thrash’s experiences at Camp Bellflower and her first crush on a girl, falls perfectly into that category. Every summer, Maggie (as I’ll call the Thrash in the memoir to avoid confusion with the Maggie who wrote it) has attended the all girls camp as one of the few out-of-towners for years. She loves it, but, one summer, when she’s fifteen, she develops a crush on Erin, a nineteen year old counselor. Confused by both her first all encompassing crush and the fact that it’s on a girl, Maggie tries to make it through the summer like normal—but, of course, she can’t.

Maggie spends the bulk of Honor Girl puzzling out what’s happening to her, in a space that’s meant to be a safe haven for girls. But there are edges and limitations to even that, since it’s not a truly liberated context. Girls excitedly police each other’s gender presentation; Erin fights constantly with a girl named Libby over the ultimate safe space of the firing range; girls ritually tease and humiliate each other about crushes on the male members of staff. Once her crush on Erin becomes known to the main counselor, the counselor tells her that not only is being gay distasteful to talk about, but it’s an active threat to the innocence of the other girls around her. Because, I guess, queer kids aren’t entitled to innocence and safe spaces. Vomit.

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Review: Saga — Volume 1

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Saga: Volume 1
Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

★★★½☆

2012 • 160 pages • Image Comics

I think I read this too fast.

Saga has been relentlessly talked up to me ever since its inaugural issue in 2012. I’ve read the reviews. I’ve heard the good word. I’ve clapped eyes on the cosplay. Hell, I danced with a Prince Robot IV cosplayer at con once. Hype is such a hard thing to balance; some things are hype-proof (Hannibal wail okay that obligation is done for today) and some things… well, some things collapse like a flan in a cupboard, to quote Eddie Izzard, when exposed to such high hype levels. And that’s not to say that the hyped texts are undeserving of their hype, per se, but just that expectations and execution have unpredictable chemistry.

Saga is the story of Alana and Marko, two soldiers from different worlds at wars—Landfall, an empire rooted in science, and Wreath, Landfall’s moon, whose inhabitants practice magic. The two worlds have been at war since time immemorial, but because the deconstruction of either planet would destroy the other, the war has been outsourced to other planets. Landfall soldier Alana falls in love with her captive, Wreath soldier Marko, and the two escape… and have a baby, in a society where Landfall’s people and Wreath’s people loathe each other. The concept of them having viable offspring is offputting, but valuable. So we’ve got two soldiers on the run from their respective governments, desperate to protect their new family and escape the war, and the forces on their tails: the forces of Prince Robot IV, Landfall’s heir apparent, and the Will, a mercenary sidetracked in this volume by the discovery of a child sex slave ring.

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Review: Ms. Marvel — No Normal (Vol. 1)

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Ms. Marvel: No Normal
G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, and Jacob Wyatt

★★★★½

2014 • 120 pages • Marvel

I have a Ms. Marvel poster in my kitchen.

I got it while making the comic book store/dead mall rounds while I was living in Denver. I wandered into a comic book store in a pretty dead strip mall, where I found both a Xena: Warrior Princess doll (which I did not buy, shame on me) and, on the freebies table, a Ms. Marvel poster to promote the then brand new title. I snatched it up and left it in the back of my car for weeks before I packed it up. It traveled with me all the way to New York, where it now graces my fridge.

Since then, Kamala Khan has blown up like few comic book characters. She’s gone from writing real person fanfic about the Avengers to being an Avenger. Both her and her self-titled series are seemingly adored by millions, if I can extrapolate out from my queer lady geek-centric Twitter feed. And seeing as she has been watching me eat breakfast for a year (shepherding me through my tragic abandonment of morning dairy), so I supposed it was time I finally sat down and read the first trade collection of her wildly successful title.

It will be no surprise to you that I adored Ms. Marvel: No Normal. Continue reading

Review: The Shadow Hero

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The Shadow Hero
by Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Sonny Liew
★★★★☆
2014 • 176 pages • First Second

On Monday, The Mary Sue republished Lilian-Ann Bonaparte’s Black Girl Nerds essay on the importance of racebent fanart, “For Black Girls who considered Esmerelda Black when Cinderella wasn’t enuf: The Importance of Race-Bending Fan-Art.” It is well worth a read—Bonaparte specifically fixes on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the greatest of the Disney Renaissance films—but Bonaparte makes herself very, very clear at the end of it: “Race-bending is radical, progressive and imperative for the WOC who are starved for more positive representation in media.”

Gene Luen Yang, I think, would undoubtedly agree with Bonaparte. Given his measured but angry response to the atrociously whitewashed Avatar: The Last Airbender film (could have had it all, rolling in the deep, etc.), it’s very tempting and, I think, rewarding to think of The Shadow Hero as Yang’s opportunity to avenge the scores of Asian characters who have been whitewashed over the years for the sake of appealing to a “wider” (which is a very odd way to spell “whiter”) audience.

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Review: Ōoku: The Inner Chambers—Volume 3

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Ōoku: The Inner Chambers—Volume 3
by Fumi Yoshinaga

★★★★☆

2010 (originally published 2007) • 232 pages • Viz Media LLC

I have recently discovered that I have somehow gotten someone else addicted to Ōoku: The Inner Chambers. In my local library system, books don’t really recirculate back to whatever library from whence they came; they just stay at the library they were most recently returned at. This makes for a surreal browsing experience when I’m trying to milk as much air conditioning as I can out of the library before popping over to the drug store. I’m surrounded by books I’ve already read.

My fellow fan, however, is farther along in the series than I am—which is fine with me, because that means I never have to wait for the next volume.

Previously on Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, we were exploring the origins of the matriarchal (but not quite…) society of Japan, something kept secret from the rest of the world. The Redface Pox continues to cut down Japan’s male population. The secretly female shogun Iemitsu (only her favorite lover calls her Chie) has been happy with her lover and seeming soulmate, the former monk Arikoto. Lady Kasuga, the power behind the throne, approves, so long as Iemitsu provides a male heir.

The only problem is that Arikoto appears to be infertile, forcing Kasuga and Iemitsu to look elsewhere. But even as Kasuga clings to the idea that a male heir is the key to Japan returning to normal, the working women of Japan must face the inevitable fact that the Redface Pox is not going to stop.

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