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January 8, 2021

4 New Graphic Novels from DC Comics

MK French

Graphic novels have been a great place to experiment with media, storyline ideas, and things that are hard to translate into film or novels. Some of these books have rebooted characters, or play up visual storytelling that would be incredibly difficult to do in a novel. Today, I have 4 graphic novels from DC Comics that have either recently published or are coming out this month.

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House of El: The Shadow Threat by Claudia Gray, Illustrated by Eric Zawadzki

House of El The Shadow Threat
January 2021; DC Comics; 978-1401291129
ebook, print (208 pages); YA fantasy
Zahn-Re is from one of Krypton's elite families, genetically destined to be a leader. Sera-Ur is engineered to be one of Krypton's fearless soldiers. Both question the strict caste system in their society, especially as the tribune seems to do nothing about the massive groundquakes shaking the planet. Top scientists Jor-El and Lara conduct a secret experiment that is meant to reform their planet from the cellular level up. Zahn and Sera are drawn into the center of the discontent and must join forces to investigate the hidden dangers truly threatening Krypton.

This is the first of a trilogy outlining the last days of Krypton from the POV of two teens from different classes. Those classes are defined not by race (it was wonderful to see different skin colors and even disabled Kryptonians in the background on many panels) but by the genetic codes they were programmed with. The upper echelons all manipulate genetics of offspring in order to have selected traits be prominent, while the poor living on the broken ground level of the planet have children the old-fashioned way and are looked down on for it. Zahn has a darker skin tone than Sera, and is part of the upper class that generally resents even having to see the lower classes; visually it's distinct by the colors used in their clothing even when the styles are different.

I really liked seeing more of Lara in this, as most movie renditions seem to forget her or don't give her a voice. She's a big part of the experiment, and she doubts the tribune as much as some of the poor do, even though she's from the House of Re before marrying Jor-El. She even says one of the lines that struck me while reading the book: "You weren't designed to enjoy your life. Only to sacrifice it." This is said to Sera, and it's certainly true. The warrior class looks at cold calculations and the end result of the mission, so that lost lives don't matter as much to them as lost equipment. Zahn is more idealistic than calculating, which is why he's drawn to the protestors and the underground resistance movement. As awkward as he is trying to help, his heart is in the right place. Both teens want to make a difference on Krypton and save the people when it seems like the government is ignoring any evidence that would invalidate their claim to Kryptonian supremacy.

The reader knows that this cannot last, and they're racing against a clock they don't even know is ticking. For their sakes, I hope they work as fast and find their way off-world before the end comes. There are two more books coming, so fingers crossed!

Buy The Shadow Threat at Amazon

Arkhamaniacs by Art Baltazar & Franco Aureliani

December 2020; DC Comics; 9781401298272
ebook, print (168 pages); children's comic
In Arkham Apartments, kids have special powers, no grown-ups, and their imagination feels real. Young Bruce Wayne, whose family owns the apartment building, is drawn to the fun and excitement there. He's determined to find out what's so different about this apartment building.

Billed as a "unique, cartoony take on a Gotham City unlike any we've certainly seen before," this book certainly is exactly that. It's meant for readers aged 8 to 12, much like DC's Tiny Titans and Teen Titans Go! lines. The two creators had worked on Tiny Titans, actually, and there's a sample comic from that in the back. This means there's no Dark Knight, Thomas and Martha Wayne are still very much alive, and Commissioner Gordon is more like the superintendent at the apartment building.

The art style resembled the kind of drawings you would see children in that age range use, so it really will appeal to them. The colors are bright and happy, especially when the Joker and his friends at Arkham are playing. In contrast, Wayne Manor is full of grays and blues and distances so vast it takes Bruce twenty minutes to walk to the dining room. Assuming he even finds the correct one, because he often doesn't. If Bruce turns a corner in Arkham, he finds another room with another resident, not more stretches of hallway. Bruce is very literal in the beginning, unable to see the apartment building's smile at him or the vivid colors in the sky above it. This is definitely a function of imagination, and the Joker has it in spades.

I laughed at some of the nods to comics, cartoons, and movie versions of Batman. He has a huge rogues gallery, a fair number of whom are mentioned in this volume, and even Ace makes an appearance as his puppy. This is not a side to the characters that I've seen before, which is at once startling and fun to see. As much as I'm not the target demographic for the book by a large margin, it's still an adorable book to read and a nice change from some of the grimdark story arcs that show up in the comics.

Buy Arkhamaniacs at Amazon

Teen Titans Go! Roll With It! by Heather Nuhfer, P.C. Morrissey, Agnes Garbowzka, and Sandy Jarrell

Teen Titans Go Roll With It
November 2020; DC Comics; 978-1779504302
ebook, print (152 pages); children's comic
Robin is the Basement Boss of the tabletop game Basements and Basilisks, but his strict adherence to the rules and need to win makes it difficult for others to enjoy the game. The team finds a new Basement Boss, who actually lets them win some quests. Now they're focused on playing constantly, ignoring their duties in Jump City.

This is a hilarious sendup of Dungeons and Dragons, the classes and rules system, miniatures and maps, and the player vs. DM dynamic that occurs in some games. Teen Titans Go! often feels like caricatures of the old Cartoon Network Teen Titans show, which I still deeply miss. Sometimes the caricatures feel annoying, so I don't watch Teen Titans Go! as much as I used to. This comic doesn't have the annoyance levels cranked up to 11. Robin is still a control freak, so it translates here as him being a rules lawyer GM determined to have characters cooler than the players and to have an Ultimate Big Bad that the players can't take down. The classes picked for the team's B&B characters are hilarious: Starfire is a barbarian, Beast Boy is a druid, Raven is a sorceress and Cyborg is a fighter whose armor was fused to him. Discussion about their classes and alignments at the beginning of the comic is much funnier if you've ever played tabletop games and had to figure out if your character is good, chaotic, or evil.

The main plot of the story itself involves the distraction of the Teen Titans so that Jinx could do her thing in Jump City without interruption. This could very well be an episode of Teen Titans Go, and they did have other episodes with gaming and B&B. Having Jinx as the Titan's baddie in this volume means the stakes to save Jump City are higher. They not only have to solve quests in the game world, but they have to make sure it crosses over into the real world. It's such a fun concept to see, and it's drawn out in this volume very well. This is a fun book that really makes me want to give Teen Titans Go another try.

We Found a Monster by Kirk Scroggs

We Found a Monster
January 2021; DC Comics; 978-1779500526
ebook, print (160 pages); children's comics
Casey is a normal kid in Serena Mar except for one thing: he's a monster magnet. Monsters have been coming to his home needing a place to stay, food to eat, and a lot of attention to keep from being lonely. He has to make sure his father doesn't realize they're in the house and still go to school. Zandra is the new girl at school and finds out about the monsters he keeps. She found a monster, too, and needs his help to take care of it.

This comic book is aimed at children ages 8 to 12, but anyone with a love of monsters and monster movies can still enjoy this. Kirk Scroggs has written a number of other children's books, and this one is written as if it's Casey's comic. Each page is made to look like lined notebook paper, with sketches of the monsters, handwriting style printing for the text, stenciled numbers and letters for the times, and the appearance of stickers or washi tape keeping notes on the page. It's such a fun style to look at, and the story was just as engaging as the art.

The tie to the DC universe is mentions of heroes and Gotham City. The main story revolves around Casey, taking care of the monsters as best as he can and keeping their secrets, as well as Zandra, a girl with a monster and secrets of her own. Casey isn't sure he can trust Zandra with the identities of his monsters, especially when he's concerned that regular townspeople would want to destroy the monsters in his care. An evil droid is trying to hunt down monsters, too, adding to his motivation to keep them safe. He has a bully making fun of him at school, a father that wants him to do chores as well as schoolwork, and an inner drive to be different. I can really sympathize with Casey, who has so much on his plate. When he learns that some people can be trusted, he is still tired but not as tense at the end of the book.

This is a wonderful book about friendship and responsibility: a message kids will absorb without even realizing it. Casey opens his notebook saying this is the thirteenth one and closes it with hints that there are more stories in his future. I hope there really are because this was a fun comic to read.

Buy We Found a Monster 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, three young children, and a golden retriever. 

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