To celebrate the sunny long weekend I decided to sort out our comic book collection, which had become several scarily tall piles around the house. We already had the boxes, the plastic covers, the back boards – I just had to combine them and give them some kind of order. The latent librarian in me thoroughly enjoyed it. And it reminded me of how many said comics I wanted to read, so I read a handful.
This is a gorgeous graphic novel about a teenage girl going through a difficult time. Barbara and her younger brother Dave are being cared for by their older sister Karen, but their situation feels precarious. Barbara won’t stop telling everyone that she kills giants, that the handmade bag she carries is her secret giant-killing weapon, and everyone is getting fed up of humouring her. What is this fantasy life all about? How much does she really believe in it herself? Can her new friend Sophia and the school counsellor get through to Barbara before something awful happens?
The art is manga-inflected, which feels right with the dark fantasies and darker themes that are gradually revealed. It’s heartfelt and sad, so much so that I pretty much wept through the last 20 or so pages. If anyone ever doubts that comics and graphic novels can deal with deep, nuanced themes, this is the story to show them. I can’t recommend it highly enough. (Thanks to Purple_Steve for the reading suggestion!)
Published 2014 by Image Comics.
Source: I bought this locally but can’t remember if it was from Excelsior or Forbidden Planet.
The 2013 reboot of Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja was a masterclass in how great superhero comics can be. The characters and relationships were subtle, the dialogue clever and funny, the storytelling methods inventive (a whole issue narrated by a dog! another told in sign language!) and the design truly striking. So when they stepped down there were some rather large shoes to fill and it’s inevitable that I agree with the consensus that this volume just isn’t as good. That said, it’s still pretty great.
A present-day story about Clint and Kate (Hawkeye and his protégé, also Hawkeye) rescuing some scary-looking super-powered kids is drawn in a similar bold style to David Aja’s, while a flashback story about Clint and his brother Barney is in a very different watercolour style. At first the relation between the two tales isn’t quite clear – how does Clint and Barney running away from their abusive foster father to join the circus have anything to do with Clint and Kate’s witty sparring while they break into an enemy stronghold? But it gradually becomes clear that both stories are about big life choices, about reconciling your career with who you are as a person.
Published 2015 by Marvel.
Source: Excelsior Comic Shop, Bristol.
This was a slightly random choice, because I’m always looking for good female characters and writers in the comics world, and I’m also intrigued by Black Widow. This collection includes a fairly detailed history of the character who has been around since 1964 but mostly appeared in other characters’ stories (I think in fact this is the first time she has had her own title since a brief run in the 1970s, spurred no doubt by the popularity of the current Marvel films).
In this story, Natasha (Black Widow) is viciously attacked and almost killed, but rather than rallying to her cause, her fellow Avengers are distrustful of her because the US government is accusing her of collecting highly secret information on the Avengers and the US. Which she was, as a form of insurance, and now that information has been stolen by her attacker. Can she persuade the Avengers to help her track down her assailant and prevent those secrets from getting out?
It’s a good storyline for exploring Natasha’s precarious position as ex-Soviet spy and as former lover of multiple Avengers (this is what happens when the male:female character ratio is so skewed) and it’s told perfectly well, but there is nothing outstanding here. The dialogue isn’t witty or moving and the art is a little sexualised in a manner I had hoped was considered old-fashioned now.
Published 2010 by Marvel.
Source: Borrowed from Tim.