Book Review: The Rise of Aurora West

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 13-01-2015

18465567The Rise of Aurora West, Battling Boy
Written by Paul Pope, JT Petty, Illustrated by David Rubín
First Second
September 2014

Acropolis has a nightly curfew, in the attempt to keep kids safe from the monsters who prowl the streets and the dark alleys. They have one hero. Haggard West, a rich scientist, avenging the death of his wife at the hands of one of these foul creatures. Joining him is his teenage daughter, Aurora West. By day she is trained by Ms. Grately in martial arts and by night she prowls the city with her father, hunting down the creatures of the night and stopping their mischief. But Aurora remembers and learns that her imaginary friend from when she was younger…may have had a hand in her mother’s death and may not be so imaginary. As she seeks to balance school, the night hunts, and finding out the truth to the past Aurora may find that she has taken on more than she can handle. And may need all the help she can just not to fall.

This is one of those books that’s difficult for me review, because it’s a spinoff/prequel of one of my favorite books from last year, Battling Boy. Because the book isn’t a direct continuation of Battling Boy, but instead focuses on one of its more interesting side characters, Aurora West, the art, layout, and writing style is different. And that isn’t a bad thing, it just makes it harder for me to review, as I try to keep in mind that this is a completely different book.

With regards to the art I actually like David Rubin’s style a great deal. The figures are dynamic and expressive, and his style really captures the feel of the battles and villains well. The problem for me though is that it isn’t the Aurora West that we met in Battling Boy. And maybe that’s part of a strategic decision since this telling her story before we meet her. But I feel in love with Pope’s version of Aurora and it’s hard to look at someone else drawing her. I know that’s a common thing among superhero comics and we all have our favorite artists that work on a particular character, but for me it feels too soon to have someone else draw her right now. And that’s not really Rubin’s fault, it just pulls me out of book a little bit.

Where I do have some issues though, is that the art and writing in some places at the beginning of the book didn’t quite jive well, particularly with some of the panel transitions. On some of the pages where the grid is broken or tilted at an angle towards the beginning of the book I fall out of the story, because I veer to the wrong panel or just something jars me out. And while I can stand back and look at the page and follow the logic, when I’m reading the story I get drawn out for a couple of seconds trying to figure out what’s really happening, and that’s not a good thing in an action/adventure/hero story. And maybe its because this is the first time this group has worked together and they were finding their footing. By the end of the story I didn’t see as much of this and did get swept into the last quarter of the book and it’s action.

When it comes down to it though, I had trouble with aspects of the story and the art. It just didn’t capture my attention the way Battling Boy did. And although this one didn’t work for me in places, I still love Battling Boy and Aurora West though, so I’ll definitely give the sequel a read because I want to know what happens next. I want to know who this mysterious figure is and what really happened to Aurora’s mother. I give it three out of five stars.

ARC provided by Gina at First Second

Book Review Special: Olympians Boxed Set

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 11-01-2015

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20518802Olympians Boxed Set (Box)

George O’Connor
First Second
October 2014

That’s right, its a book review special! The first ever boxed collection that First Second has put out, featuring the first six books in the Olympian series by George O’Connor! This series has been one of my favorites since I picked up the first volume and the following volumes have only gotten better and better.

Greek and Roman mythology has been one of my favorite parts of history for so long, but so many of the books, particularly for a younger crowd, are boring. Or overwhelming with the sheer amount of information! O’Connor doesn’t have that issue, because instead of focusing on the events, he focuses on the gods and goddesses of the pantheon and lets them tell the stories of history as it relates to them. It makes it fun and exciting to read because we get to see Zeus be unsure of himself at times, but trying to do what’s right without giving everything away. Hades being a hero, not the villain he is so often portrayed as. And Aphrodite? Man…who knew she wasn’t a clueless love god, but a master manipulator? O’Connor makes the world come to life by the story he weaves and by giving personality to the gods that we meet so that we can understand why they did what they did.

This boxed set is a fantastic addition to the pantheon, allowing all of the books to be easily collected in one place and showing off the gorgeous spine work that features half of Medusa! Plus it comes with a poster depicting the family tree of the gods and goddesses, as well as new artwork on the cover of the box showcasing more of O’Connor’s skills. Plus with this set you get one all of the little features at the back of the book that talk about the different characters, who they are, and other details to help you learn more about the Greek world. Even better, from a librarian perspective, they have a bibliography! A list of websites and recommended reading list to go to get more information.

I imagine that we’ll see another boxed set when the series reaches twelve volumes and I cannot wait. Heck, I can’t wait to read the next volume which will be Ares, the God of War! I give this megaset five out of five stars.

Set provided by Gina at First Second

If you’d like to read my reviews of books 3-6 you can find them here:
Hades: http://ashuping.net/blog/?p=53
Poseidon: http://ashuping.net/blog/?p=38
Aphrodite: http://ashuping.net/blog/?p=410

Book Review: Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 09-01-2015

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20696439Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics
Edited by Chris Duffy
First Second
July 2014

World War I. The Great War. Death and destruction on the largest scale ever seen. And yet…a movement began with the soldiers in the trenches, writers, poets, artists, and thinkers all. They’ve become known as The Trench Poets, writing about the war and their experiences, not as a romantic or noble enterprise, but as what they really saw and felt. The bloodshed of war, the senseless violence, the death. All things that people knew, but so often romanticized prior to this, but these poets chose to tell reality. Above the Dreamless Dead brings some of these works back to life to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the start of World War I, and to honor the dead.

Chris Duffy once again brings his editing prowess to bear, choosing twenty of the most moving poems and twenty talented artists to merge poem and comics into something new. Working in black and white, the artists have created illustrations and comics to capture the essence of the poem and show some of the horrors that the soldiers experienced, many things for the very first time. The artists range from Steve Bissette to Eddie Campbell to kevin Huizenga and more. Each artists brings their own style to the poem they’re working on which creates a wide variety and interpretation of the works.

Given that any anthology a reader’s impression and liking of the works is going to vary by taste, I’m not going to review the art. Instead I’ll say look take a look through the book, find the illustrations or comics that cause your heart to pause a beat, without ever reading the words. Stop at those. Read them and learn what the Trench Poets wanted to share. Take in the art that’s been created to help you feel what the Trench Poets felt. Take in the words and the art, even if just for a few seconds. And be moved.

This is a book that everyone should pick up. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a fan of history, or poetry, or war…this is a book that everyone should at least read one poem and comic from. To better understand a part of our history. And to maybe take something into the future. I give the book five out of five stars.

ARC provided by Gina at First Second

Book Review: The Zoo Box

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 07-01-2015

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9781626720527The Zoo Box
By Ariel Cohn, illustrations by Aron Nels Steinke
First Second
September 2014

Erika and Patrick’s parents are off for an evening fun, and if the kids behave they’ll get to go to the zoo tomorrow! First though, Erika and Patrick decide to have a bit of fun dressing up in animals costumes and exploring the attic. And what to their wandering and playful eyes appear? But a box that says “do not open” which tempts them to draw ever closer. And upon opening the box, that says “do not open” an entire menagerie of animals appears! They follow the animals and to a zoo, where they discover the humans are the exhibits! What will they ever do, when the animals say boo?

This is one of those books that you pick up and you can’t help remembering back to your own childhood and reading books like Jumanji or Where the Wild Things Are for the very first time. Books where children become part of the wild creature rumpus and everything is toppsy turvy. Wife and husband team Ariel Cohn and Aron Nels Steinke, have created a fun and enjoyable story, one that all ages can enjoy and think…what would you do if zoo animals were chasing after you? And while there isn’t much “text,” there is a lot happening in the story in the wordless panels and in the gutter space and none of that happens by accident. Ariel does a great job of communicating to the reader with no words Erika and Patrick’s adventure following the animals to and around the zoo, and then running back home, just ahead of them to escape. It isn’t an easy thing to do, but Ariel’s writing pulls it off well.

Aron’s illustrations are simple and whimsical in nature that capture the lively moment of Erika and Patrick, and the animals they encounter. Some of my favorite scenes are of Erika and Patrick running up the stairs in the movement we often see young children running at, full limb and lose, thump, thump, thumping up the stairs. Even better is that the Erika and Patrick, while distinct characters in their own right, are drawn in such a way its easy for any kid to put themselves in their place. The home and other settings are familiar as well, helping to create a book and story that is easy to slip into. When we see the home it isn’t a perfect “picture book” home. It has a crooked picture on the wall, a softly glowing lamp with a titled light shade, and a book lying on the floor, spine up of course, waiting to be read.

If you’ve read some of the other reviews, just stop. This is a fun and enjoyable kids book. It is something that is meant to be read, shared, treasured, and read again and again. Remember what it was like reading Jumanji or Where the Wild Things Are, and let this be that type of book for a new reader. Enjoy the adventure and wonder what you would do if animals said boo to you. Four out of five stars and recommended for all ages.

ARC provided by Gina at First Second

Book Review: The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue presents Macbeth

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 02-01-2015

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Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 5.29.19 PMThe Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue presents Macbeth
by Ian Lendler, Illustrated by Zack Giallongo
First Second
September 2014

The Zoo has closed for the evening, and the visitors head home to visions of animals in their dreams, the animals are gathering, for the Play is the thing.  The Midnight revue has gathered to perform a grand production of Macbeth, for all to see.  Macbeth the regal lion, brave warrior and hero of the realm is well loved by all.  But his wife, Lady Macbeth dost wish for more and encourages him to eat the king, so that he may rule! Down this path madness does lie, but he does as she wishes for he loves her so.  As more animals disappear to cover his crime and as Queen Macbeth descends into madness, new heroes arise and the tragic tale comes to an end.

One of the things that I struggled the most with in school was reading plays.  Any play, but Shakespearean plays were always the worst.  I had trouble figuring out which character was speaking, how scenes fit together, and words always got jumbled in my head.  It was only when I discovered graphic novel adaptations of the plays did things really start to click for me, and after reading this adaptation I really wish I had, had this version to read!  It captures the classic story well, but adds some additional humor and asides to the audiences that make the play even more fun.  Ian has done a great job of adapting Macbeth so its enjoyable for all ages and making the characters into animals.  Macduff is a noir detective stork.  Lady Macduff is a cheetah, who can’t quite get the spots out.  The witches try to help their colleague perfect her evil cackle (she tries everything else first…including a nice Santa laugh.)  While Ian does tone down some of the darker aspects of the play, given that the book is for younger readers, he captures its essence and message perfectly.

I’ve been a huge fan of Zach Giallongo’s art since his previous First Second book, Broxo, and his illustrations in this book made me fall even more in love with his art.  While Ian crafts the perfect words for his characters, Zach brings them to life, capturing their expressions and movements perfectly.  Macbeth, a regal looking lion, moves with ease, but as he eats more and more animals, he begins to waddle and his belly extends and Zach captures it with ease.  My favorite character though has to be Macduff the stork.  Depicted in a trench coat and a fedora (I really wonder whose idea that was?) captures the essence of Macduff as a detective so well that I’m going to have a hard time imagining Macduff as anything else from now on.  Zach should also be commended, along with Ian, for making the more violent acts of the play into something a bit more cartoony with squirting ketchup substituting for blood and well placed animals blocking the view when needed.

If you’re looking for a literary analysis or think that Shakespeare has no humor, please look elsewhere.  On the other hand if you’re looking for something fun to introduce Shakespeare to younger readers, 5th grade and up, forge ahead!  Older readers will enjoy the humor and new look at Macbeth as well.  In fact, I think this book would work perfectly in a high school setting, helping students understand that Shakespeare does have humor to it, and that it can be fun and enjoyable to read.  I give the book four out of five stars.

PS:  I hear that a second volume is in the works, this time based upon Romeo and Juliet.  I can’t wait!

Review copy provided by Gina at First Second