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December 21, 2019

3 Graphic Novels for You

by MK French

Graphic novels can take on many different kinds of stories, and the various styles of art can really add to or change the flow of the story. Comics aren't just for superheroes or children anymore. Here are three very different stories that I read this year.

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Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki

September 2019; DV Ink; 978-1401283292
ebook, print (208 pages); YA superhero
Harleen has been living above a cabaret with the drag queen Mama ever since her mother sent her to live in Gotham while working on a cruise. That area of Gotham is part of a wave of gentrification, however, and soon they won't have a place to live. She's angry and will have to side with her friend Ivy from Gotham High to work for a peaceful solution, or with the Joker, who plans to take down Gotham's corporations one at a time.

This volume is written by Eisner Award and Caldecott Honor-winning author Mariko Tamaki, and is in the same vein as Lauryn Miracle's Under The Moon. The art is mostly black and white with flashes of red, in keeping with traditional Harley Quinn colors. The DC character is reimagined here as a young adult for younger readers, so Harley Quinn isn't starting out the gymnastic psychiatrist that had been working with the Joker at Arkham Asylum before he broke her mind. Instead, as the first of the YA branded DC Ink imprint, Harleen Quinzel is a weird high schooler and destroys things not for the joy of chaos, but because she's starting off as an anti-hero. Growing up poor and constantly moving means that she and her mother had always been hovering around the poverty line, and she got a record while trying to right the wrongs she saw. Ivy is also reimagined here as a woke high school activist trying to campaign for equality, awareness of the potential harm done to the planet, as well as the woeful lack of representation in media by women or people of color.

Teenagers often don't feel as though they can do much, especially when you have families like the Keanes, who are rich and own Millenium Developments. They intend to buy up the entire downtown area, so that local grocers, the cabaret, and much of the lower-rent areas would be redone in their image of the future. Just to drive home that they're obnoxious, their son is Ivy and Harley's classmate and blows off their suggestions for the film club, and their followers are only too willing to smash in windows and spray paint the businesses that are trying to hold out against gentrification. In a similar vein, the Joker here is also reimagined and also very willing to vandalize and set things on fire.

Those aware of the tropes will figure out who is who long before the reveal, but it's a great start with a whole new series. The Batman mythos has been redone and reimagined several times, and this isn't the first time it's been done in YA format. Rather than the potentially sillier DC Girls series or some of the other teen comics, this is a potentially darker series. There are bombs, slurs, the F-bomb, and actual juvenile hall. It's darker in a realistic way, and it'll be fascinating to see how the rest of the series continues. I adore Harley Quinn in the main continuity, and this loopy teenage version is just as much fun to follow.

Buy Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass at Amazon

Goldfisch #1 by Nana Yaa

January 2018; Tokyopop; 978-1427857675
ebook, print (208 pages); manga
Morrey Gibbs is a fisher-boy on a world with mutated animals called anomals. He was cursed so that anything he touches turns to gold, and he is on a quest to lose that ability.

The volume, like all other Japanese manga brought over by Tokyo Pop, is read back to front and right to left. There's a helpful page for English readers to remind them of that fact.  Nana Yaa is both the author and illustrator for this manga, and the art is gorgeous. The history is fascinating and outlined in the beginning when Shelly saves Morrey from a trap. A meteorite falling to earth released mutagens that affected all life forms. Plants grew larger and upset ecosystems, animals consistently exposed to the waters had erratic mutations, and people could only swim in it wearing protective gear. Morrey's immune to the water's effects, and at least he has Otta, his trained otter, to help him eat and use the restroom. Further into the volume, we get more of Morrey's story, as to how he gets the golden touch, and there are some clues that might point to why he can breathe underwater and why his father is missing. It's a sad story, which brings Shelly to tears, and she is more than willing to help him out. Zaka, the voodoo priestess's son, accompanies them.

This is a really engaging world, with action sequences on the quest for artifacts.  There's enough mystery to hook in the reader for future volumes, and Morrey is an adorable twelve-year-old determined to think the best of everyone. He's come up with a lot of clever ways to deal with the Midas Touch and generally has to stay out of the towns. There's a reason why he wants to get rid of this touch, and he does the best that he can. I wish him well on this and in future volumes!

Buy Goldfisch #1 at Amazon

Hellicious, Vol. 1 by Mina Elwell and Alan C. Medina

Hellicious 1
October 2018; Starburns Industries Press
978-0988936362; print (96 pages); YA, humor
The devil's granddaughter Cherry is a prankster and trying to make friends. She loves it in Hell but has a hard time finding playmates. They keep "breaking," so she keeps searching. Rock star Briggy Bundy seems to be the only mortal that thinks she's fun, but he's not dead. Yet.

Cherry, like most seven-year-olds, just wants to make friends and play. However, she is the devil's granddaughter and her mother is a demon as well. Her mother is busy destabilizing politics for mortals while her grandfather tends to be lazy and gives out awful advice. Cherry wants to be a grim reaper and isn't content to wait a hundred years or so before she gets to the "good" evil souls like serial killers, and is disappointed with the speech she gets about keeping a mortal soul as a pet.

The art is actually fairly cute and reminds me of the Bleedman webcomics that I used to follow years ago. Her character design is that of an ordinary human, and some of the foods are also distinctly human. At the same time, Cherry's mother and grandfather look fairly demonic, there are all sorts of odd creatures and skeletal outlines of dead souls, and creepy things that had once been people moving around the Hellscape. The volume is taken up with Cherry trying to hide the fact that she has Briggy in Hell with her when he doesn't actually belong there. It ends on a cliffhanger, which would lead into volume two.

Buy Hellicious #1 at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband and three young children.

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