After reading so many graphic novels about regular people who also have superpowers, I’ve been seeing superheroes everywhere! Maybe that’s the metaphor of this genre: We’re all superheroes. Sometimes all it takes is to be needed or noticed in order for our superpowers to surface.
Here are a few more selections for libraries and classrooms:
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Little Nimona wants to be a badass, except she’s just not that bad, if we overlook how she doesn’t mind killing people and encouraging others to do the same. But then again, Nimona is a shape-shifter, so we’re never quite sure what to think of her.
What Nimona really wants is to be the sidekick of Ballister Blackheart, the nemesis of the all-controlling Institution and former friend of the Institution’s hero, Ambrosius Goldenloin. But maybe she’s a monster who becomes a young girl when it suits the monster’s purpose. After all, she spends a certain amount of time in the form of a ferocious dragon. (My favorite incarnation is Nimona’s comedic shark form.) There are three different stories of how Nimona came to her strange abilities and powers, none of them quite convincing, but the version of Nimona we see is the spunky young girl who doesn’t back down to anyone or anything and, as Blackheart says,”She grows on you.”
I really like Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona, a rollicking graphic novel that keeps shifting and blending genres. Is it a science vs. magic story? A classic good vs. evil tale? A coming-of-age journey? A dystopian vision with a Katniss-like superhero? Yes, Nimona has touches of each of those, but it always avoids settling into any one form, just like its namesake central character.
Give Nimona a try. She’ll win you over, and then you’ll wonder if that’s a good thing. Readers of all ages will find a lot to ponder and talk about in this colorful adventure.
The Lunch Witch by Deb Lucke
The Lunch Witch has some funny bits and moments of appealing grossness, but the story kind of falls apart at the end. The spell at the plot’s center is cancelled through a surprising antidote that comes from nowhere and is explained by a shrugged “Who knew?” The drab color scheme works well with the art, and I especially liked the stains and blemishes on virtually every page. Less appealing are the stereotypical portrayals of teachers and other school personnel. I think some kids will like The Lunch Witch, especially around Halloween time.
Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War by Michel Chikwanine
Michel’s story is tragic. Kidnapped at age 5 and forced to kill as a rebel soldier, Michel eventually finds his way home only to have his family ravaged by war before he is able to immigrate to Canada. With all respect to Michel and others with similar experiences, Child Soldier doesn’t hold together very well as a reading experience. Although the book is heavy on text, very little of it is directly integrated with the art. The supplementary material at the back is useful but too ponderous for the young readers most likely to encounter Child Soldier. This book can be helpful for students and teachers working on a nonfiction or social studies, but few are likely to choose it on their own or recommend it to their friends. Still, it helped me understand some of the background of international conflicts that I didn’t really know about.
Space Dumplins by Craig Thompson
Space Dumplins is pretty standard fare for a science-fiction comic: A precocious but vulnerable youngster and her alien pals attempt to rescue a family member against all odds. In this case, the odds are truly odd: planet-chewing whales and their diarrhea. Yes, diarrhea.
The story has some vague Biblical references, and some left-wing commentary, and some right-wing commentary. I couldn’t put all that together. Maybe I was trying too hard. The art here is both busy and impressive–kind of like Where’s Waldo–but it all comes together in a fast-paced adventure with doses of silliness.
The Golden Compass Graphic Novel, Volume 1 by Philip Pullman
I read this in one sitting and was pretty much lost from the get-go, probably because I have no familiarity with the source material, Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass series. I understood that the main character is a rambunctious girl named Lyra who lives at Oxford. Beyond that, I was lost in characters and locations galore, magic animals, magic contraptions, multiple identities, and some armored bears.
Because very few of the fantasy elements are explained here, I assume that this graphic novel version of The Golden Compass is intended for those who already know the story and the imagined world in which it takes place. The artwork is rich, especially in the depiction of the various settings, so I can give benefit of the doubt that those already familiar with Pullman’s plot will find new angles to appreciate in this adaption.
Miles Taylor and the Golden Cape: Attack of the Alien Horde by Robert Venditti
New to his school, 7th-grader Miles Taylor has enough to think about, and then he finds himself suddenly imbued with the powers of Gilded, the superhero everyone relies on to fight bad guys, fend off disasters, and rescue innocent bystanders. Miles Taylor and the Golden Cape: Attack of the Alien Horde is the first installment of a promising new series that shifts from text to comics whenever Miles morphs into Gilded.
An evil alien army fixes its sights on Atlanta, although the first attack causes surprisingly little concern. Miles is more concerned with stereotypical junior high troubles: how to deal with bullies, how to be cool around the school’s cutest girl, and how to deal with the friction between his parents. When trouble calls though, Miles becomes Gilded and does what he needs to do to help goodness prevail.
The combination of text and comics in this series should make it an excellent ladder for young comics fans. The action unfolds with a sensibility that is likely to appeal to them, and several of the characters are also comics fans.
Prison Island: A Graphic Memoir by Colleen Frakes
Prison Island is a graphic memoir from Colleen Franks based on her family’s time living on McNeil Island in Washington state, home of the prison where her parents both worked. This made for an unusual childhood: ferry rides to and from school, inmate-escape lockdowns interrupting birthday parties, and daily encounters with wildlife. Told through a flashback frame of visiting the island as a young adult during ceremonies surrounding the prison’s closing, Prison Island offers a view of an interesting living arrangement from both childhood and adult perspectives.
Maybe I’m a little persnickety about such things, but I was pulled out of the story a couple of times by misspelled words and run-on sentences in the cartoon balloons. Still, I liked the characters and appreciated the insights into what it means to a child to live isolated from classmates but close to prisoners.
Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal and Ms. Marvel, Vol. 2: Generation Why by G. Willow Wilson
Kamala is 16, Pakastani-American, Muslim, and a Marvel comics fan. Then something weird happens, and she finds herself imbued with superpowers she uses for good when transformed into Ms. Marvel!
Volume 1 is engrossing as it introduces Kamala and her family, friends, and enemies. Ms. Marvel will do wonders in Jersey City … when she’s not grounded by her parents or in trouble at her mosque.
“Generation Why” doesn’t carve out as much new territory as the first volume of the new Ms. Marvel series, but that isn’t really a criticism. Kamala Khan is still the first 16-year old “Pak-American” superhero, and in this episode she speaks out about the importance of her generation sticking together and not giving up on itself.
I admire the humor of this series, as well as the inventive artwork that combines text and graphics in new (at least to me) panel formats. This comic should have wide appeal, and its Muslim superhero is an obviously welcome positive portrayal of a demographic under-represented in literature for young readers
Hilo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick
Hilo crashes to Earth wearing only silver underpants and yelling “AAAAHH!” He doesn’t know where he came from or why he is now on Earth, so he spends a lot of time saying “I don’t know.” Hilo is a fast learner though, especially with the help of his newfound friend D. J., a kid who thinks he isn’t good at anything.
Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth will help younger readers ask questions about what makes us who we are. Is it where we come from? Is it our friends or family? Is it how we learn? Is it our activities, sports, or talents? Or is it something in our hearts?
This is apparently the kickoff of a new series. Hilo and D. J. are appealing enough that they should wear well throughout upcoming episodes, especially if the artwork remains bright and colorful, and the dialogue stays funny.
I hope these little reviews are helpful to you. Another forty or so new graphic novels are in my TBR pile, and I hope to post another installment like this soon!