Star Wars: The High Republic, There is no Fear by Cavan Scott and Ario Anindito

A comic panel, we see Keeve Trennis' hand extended to a young boy. She says, "Thanks. Can you hold this?" The boy replies, "You mean it?" Keeve answers, "Sure, I do. Can't keep it floating up there all day, can I?" The Snapchat caption reads, "Fuck yes. Getting to hold a lightsaber is a baller (and effective) way to console an upset child. It would 100% work on me."
I’m just saying, this is everything I would have wanted as a child.

I have found the Star Wars extended universe a fascinating place since childhood. I read every Star Wars book our library had and then I created my own Stars Wars encyclopedia out of the information contained within — the result of having access to a computer, but limited connection to the internet. The official Star Wars universe has changed a lot since then, and the new tie-in books don’t really interest me, so I thought, why not check out the comics. I picked up “There is no Fear” at my local comic shop primarily because it was volume one of a trade paperback. It promised good art and the beginning of a story and that was all I needed.

“There is no Fear” takes place during the High Republic, before any Skywalker nonsense, and follows Keeve Trennis as she becomes a new Jedi. It’s a good place to go if you are like me and wanting to avoid any of the canon-fuckery caused by the sequel trilogy. “There is no Fear” does a really good job of introducing you to new characters and helping you fall in love with them, which is a credit to both good writing and compelling art. I was deeply invested in Ceret and Terec from the moment of their introduction.

A comic panel. Two identical humanoids stand facing each other, they are bald and their skin is stark white, and both of them are fairly beat up. The one on the left, Terec, is holding out a deactivated lightsaber and the one on the right, Ceret, is reaching for it. Terec says, "Here" as he holds out the lightsaber. Ceret replies, "Terec... the things we have seen. that the drengir did to us." Terec answers, "That is in the past, Ceret. Now we are whole once more--" The Snapchat caption reads, "I am so glad my boys are okay" followed by the crying emoji.

The only place I really felt like I was missing something was in references to a “great disaster,” and just generally how the Jedi had reached the point of launching a space station outpost in the Outer Rim. I feel like there are probably storylines that precede “There is no Fear” that I’m going to have to seek out to get those answers. That’s more-or-less how comics work though, you pick a starting point and then, in reading, you find where you want to go next to learn more, and this story is a super interesting one that brings a lot of new and exciting things to the greater Star Wars universe. It’s definitely going to be one I pick up as it continues weekly (it also doesn’t help that volume one ends on a cliffhanger that I must find out the resolution to).

The story feels, to me, very much like a classic EU Jedi story, where the emphasis is that, above all, the Jedi help, though that is something that provides resolution and conflict alike as characters struggle with being, maybe not human, but people with complex emotions. All of the characters, even the side characters, are incredibly well presented both in terms of writing and art. I greatly enjoyed the expressiveness given to the alien faces. I won’t spoil too much about the new antagonists introduced by this story, but I will say that they are a particular flavor of eldritch abomination that I greatly enjoy. It’s a similar kind of horror as found in “Bountiful Garden,” so if that interested you, this may too, though as this is Star Wars, it’s going to have more action alongside the creeping eldritch horror.

As always, I highly recommend going to your local comic shop to buy comics, and the book’s retail page even has a comic store locator option right there.

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School for Extraterrestrial Girls: Girl on Fire by Jeremy Whitley and Jamie Noguchi

[Image ID: A panel of Tara, a 15 year old Black girl, adjusting a bracelet on her wrist. The text boxes of internal monologue read: "I eve have this bracelet. I'm not really sure how it works, but my parents say it's vital to my health to keep it on. So, I do. It's important to do as you're told." The Snapchat caption reads "That's not sus at all." End ID]

To start with a quick summary: Tara Smith was raised with her identity as a an alien hidden from her, a tall task considering she is a species of lizard that catches on fire. A morning of missed “allergy” meds and a cracked “health” bracelet leads to her powers emerging and The Government getting involved. All is not lost, however, as aliens are normal apparently, they just stay hidden from the every day human for reasons. Tara can just go to a school, where she will learn how to control her powers, simple right? Wrong. This is high school, nothing is simple or easy about high school.

There are some overarching Big Plot things going on, but they happen mostly in the background of the story, though that’s not to say they aren’t important or don’t impact it. This is primarily a story about acceptance, finding friends, and learning to love yourself, and also everyone is an alien. It’s pretty great. It takes a step beyond your traditional high school story, grappling with difficult topics and loss in various forms and allowing the characters to be messy. It is absolutely a funny and heartfelt story, but mistakes are make and their repercussions born out. This messiness feels important in an age where I’ve been seeing increasingly black-and-white takes about media.

Image ID: A comic panel of Agent Stone, an older butch woman in a suit, leading Tara, who is now green skinned and lizard like in appearance, through a hallway. Agent Stone's first speech bubble reads: "And as silly as this part is, our treaties with other worlds mandate that in a closed environment like this, we're not allowed to have co-ed housing, so..." Tara interrupts with: "Wait, alien races also freak out about the gender binary?" To which Stone replies, "Binary? There's one very conservative race out there with seven different genders. But that is a headache for another time. Now, let me introduce you to--" The Snapchat caption reads: "I'm wheezing. This is so fantastic. I was not expecting anything like this to be touched on at all." End ID.}

Furthermore, there is something very queer about loving the monstrous and learning to love yourself when your perception of yourself is monstrous. As a queer person I found it very appealing as a coming of age story because of how the story dealt with perceptions of monstrosity and the self as monstrous. I don’t know if the intention was there to use aliens as a queer allegory, but the story as a whole certainly doesn’t shy away from queerness.

For example, our lead agent, Agent Stone, is very classically butch, and we also learn from Agent Stone that the reason the schools are split into boys and girls schools isn’t because of some gender binary hang up on the part of aliens, it’s because of the treaties they have with various governments, on Earth and elsewhere, which makes so much sense it’s hilarious. To cap it all off, one girl who Tara makes friends with, soap opera obsessed Kat, is very much rooting for Tara to fall in love with another friend Misako.

Image ID: Tara, Kat and Summer are standing in a hallway, all wearing simple grey and white school uniforms. Kat, an orange cat-like alien is saying: "Next weel on interstellar BFFs. Will Tara finally be reunited with her one true love?" Tara interjects with: "I told you, Kat. We're just friends." Kat replies, "This is my fan fiction, you stay out of it!" Summer, a dark skinned girl with long pink hair and an undercut, is laughing next to them with a speech bubble that says "Ha ha ha ha." The Snapchat caption reads, "There's nothing wrong with a bit of friend fiction XD." End ID.

“Girl on Fire” manages to do so many things in such a limited amount of space and it does all of those things well. I am eagerly awaiting volume two, which is slated to come out in October 2023.

Right now, you can order volume one here and pre-order volume two here.

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Bountiful Garden by Ivy Noelle Weir with art by Kelly Williams

[Image ID: The five issues of Bountiful Garden splayed out on a bed. The first issue is on top and the only one fully visible and is notable for being a Free Comic Book Day copy. The Snapchat captions reads "Spooky space time." End ID]

“Bountiful Garden” is a horror story about space and terraforming other planets, but not quite in a way you might expect. 

Our cast is a crew of children, most of whom appear to be teenagers at maximum. Jane appears to be the youngest, probably no more than preteen in age. They are woken from cryostasis 10 years early because something has gone wrong with the ship. 

Their mission is make a new planet habitable, they have two engineers, a botanist, an architect, a biologist and a military personnel member. Their ship has been stopped above a planet with no notable human inhabitants but traces of an old civilization, and lots and lots of plants. 

From issue one of the five issues mini-series, you get the impression that something wasn’t quite right with the mission from the outset. They aren’t the first terraforming mission that’s been sent out, and none of the others have ever been heard from again. “The signal’s too weak,” according to the government. Our military boy has complete faith, which makes a lot of sense, but the others aren’t so sure. It’s one of several things that sparks conflict between our crew.

Throughout the story we are teased about the planet, the strange plants growing on it, and the remnants of a religion, as well as about the backstory of the program on Earth that led to these six children being on this expedition. Something I really love was how seamless the backstory about the government program that was woven into the story through the characters. We learn so much about it through short moments of the characters ruminating and discussing why they’re even there. There’s a big pay out involved, but it goes to their parents instead of them, because they aren’t on Earth to collect it. For one person, this will help their parents escape poverty, for another, it inspires bitterness that their parents will be reaping the benefits of their work on an expedition that they were well aware had a high chance of them dying. 

The planet’s backstory is given in a different, but no less skillfully done, way, by the characters picking up clues within the text, glyphs found at ruins, strange dreams, and by clues presented directly to the readers that the characters don’t see. The most notable of these is an extra-textual fragment titled “Recording Found at Site 11A,” which appears at the end of issue four and tells the story of how the strange plants came and essentially terraformed the planet. 

The art really helps the haunting feelings come through too, the characters are so expressive and distinct, and the inkwash style allows it to be dark, yet vibrant at the same time.

Another thing of note that I enjoyed was how diverse the cast was. There was an even split of female and male characters as well as a diverse array of characters of different ethnicities, a breakdown that allowed for deaths without falling into racist and sexist tropes surrounding character death.

All in all, if you like horror, sci-fi and stories of how interpersonal relationships can fracture when people are isolated and trapped, “Bountiful Garden” is the mini series to check out. It’s newly available in trade paperback as of April 6th!  

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Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero, written by E. Lockhart

[Image ID. The cover of Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero. A young girl with curly brown hair stands next to a white great dane in front of the Gotham skyline in blue and orange. Up the left side of the book in large lettering is the title "Whistle" and above that sits the subtitle "A New Gotham City Hero" To the right of the subtitle the author's name is listed as "New York Times Bestselling Author, E. Lockhart." Below the title is "Illustrated by Manuel Preitano." The snapchat caption reads "The first explicitly Jewish superhero in 44 years LET'S GO." End ID]

“Whistle” is a fantastic introduction for a fantastic new superhero. It is at once a classic origin story and a breath of fresh air. Willow Zimmerman and her mother have struggled to makes ends meet as her mother’s (presumably adjunct) job as a professor doesn’t give them health insurance and she hasn’t been able to work as much because she is battling cancer. At the very beginning the mother mentions stopping treatments because of medical debt and I almost had a heart attack that she was going to hold the same narrative place as Uncle Ben. She doesn’t, but that is ultimately the catalyst for what eventually lands Willow in the annals of superherodom. 

In my personal opinion, Willow was activist minded enough that I think she would have found her way into the superhero conversation eventually. I think there’s a lot to be said for those superheroes who really do stand for community, activism and change even before they get their powers, and that’s Willow in a nutshell. She’s fighting for her community from page one. 

[Image ID: In the first panel, Willow, a teenage girl with long curly brown hair, approaches a deli counter with a friend, Garfield, a Black teenage boy. Willow says to the man behind the counter "This is my new friend Garfield. We desperately need Reubens." Transition to the second panel, Willow and Garfield are sitting at a table biting into their sandwiches. Mouths full Willow intones "Grhmmm?" and Garfield replies "Umm hmmm!" The caption reads "Show interest in a girl's activism and you've got a friend for life."

What takes her from activist to superhero, however, is one Edward Nigma, former friend of her mother’s, who offers Willow financial help when he hears that her mother is ill. Whether this was truly altruistic or if there was an ulterior motive there from the beginning isn’t entirely clear, but, regardless, Willow winds up working for Nigma as a runner for his less than legal poker games, which leads to a whole lot of guilt when she finds out who Nigma is and when Willow realizes that he and Poison Ivy are targeting her community with intent to buy up all the local property to gentrify the area. 

[Image ID: A comic panel of Willow's hands working open a puzzle box with the onomatopoeia "Twist!" The narration box reads "My mom's best childhood friend, Eddie Nachtberger, renamed himself E. Nigma in high school." The snapchat caption at the bottom of the image reads, in all caps, "Welp." End ID]

However, it was none of this that first drew me to “Whistle.” I picked it up because Willow Zimmerman is the first explicitly Jewish superhero to be created by DC in 44 years and her Judaism is important in a way that clearly impacts her worldview, something we don’t always see even with the existing Jewish heroes—I’m thinking specifically of Kitty Pryde of the X-Men whose Jewishness only recently started to play a larger role in her character again. 

The only thing that gave me a very brief moment of pause was when it was stated that Willow wasn’t particularly observant, which is a trope that is frequently used as a cop out to not have to deal with any actual aspect of Judaism, but that isn’t the case here, quite the opposite actually. Willow may not be as ritually observant as her mother, but she is still undeniably Jewish and her story deals in Jewish guilt, history and community. When she is conflicted about her work for Nigma, who gave her the money to save her mother, but is also the Riddler and involved directly with the destruction of her community, she seeks solace at her local synagogue, and it is the Jewish principle of tikkun olam, repairing the world, that influences why and how she operates as a superhero once she gains her powers. 

[Image ID: In the foreground Willow is rummaging through her dresser drawer for something to wear. Behind her, in the doorway to her room, is her mother, who looks gaunt and is wearing a headscarf indicative of chemotherapy induced hair loss. Her mother says, "I think you can lie and be a good person. You know the phrase tikkum olam?"  Willow replies, "Hebrew for world repair. Kinda like social activism." Her mother continues, "So, the key thing isn't truth or lies. It's that a person feels some responsibility for fixing what's wrong in the world." The snapchat caption is a drawn out "Yes." End ID]

This is a young adult graphic novel, but it’s very enjoyable for adult adults too and I would say probably also a decent read for kids as young as middle school. I would definitely recommend it if you need more Jewish heroes in your life. You can get it directly from DC here. 

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The Unfinished Corner written by Dani Colman

[Image ID: The cover of The Unfinished Corner, three children ages 12-13 sit atop the head of a giant lion. On the left there is boy with blond hair and glasses in a blue pullover, dress shirt and kippah, next to him is a girl with curly brown hair and pale skin in a overalls and a green shirt. She is holding a paint brush, from which Stars of David are trailing. To her right is a Black boy in a red shirt and red (possibly Spiderman themed) kippah and a girl with brown hair with blonde highlights in a black blazer. Above the image in an artsy yellow font is the title, The Unfinished Corner and the last names of the author, illustrator, colorist and letterer: Colman, Patrovicz, Cogar and Campbell. The snapchat caption reads: Everyone should go read this, it's amazing. End ID]

All of Creation had been completed except for the northern corner of the world. – Howard Schwartz, “Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism”

This bit of Jewish mythology is the foundation for Dani Colman’s fantastic, heart-warming tale, “The Unfinished Corner.” On the eve of becoming a bat mizvah, Miriam, a budding artist, finds herself, her two best friends, and one frenemy, spirited away into the world of Jewish myth, where they meet angels, demons and more; grapple with history both joyous and painful; and finish the titular unfinished corner. 

There’s a lot to love about the story from the wonderful art of Rachel Petrovicz to the depth of care given each and every relationship. Something I particularly appreciated was the balance between humor and intense or heavily factual information. Avi, one of Miriam’s friends, is very well read and familiar with the Torah and its commentaries, and he acts as the encyclopedia of the group, giving necessary information to the reader while doing so, but it never stalls the story, and the footnotes (and I use that term loosely here) are brief and only give you what is needed to understand. 

It’s made clear, however, that knowledge alone isn’t enough to get them to their end destination. Miriam’s other friend, David, is a pillar of support throughout and is the only one with the ability to produce a proper shofar blast when they need it because of his years of playing the trumpet. Judith, the above mentioned frenemy, who’s only there because she was part of a group project that sorted them by last name, stands up to Azazel as they make their way toward the unfinished corner. 

These four also have very different internal feelings of what it means to be Jewish. Avi is incredibly studious and follows halakha closely; David is knowledgable about Jewish history from his travels; Judith is very comfortable in her Jewish identity, even though she doesn’t keep kosher, observe Shabbat or pray. Miriam, on the other hand, is feeling very conflicted her identity because she’s unsure of what defines her identity as hers in a way that is more than just, “I’m Jewish because my parents are.”

Their differences, however, are what enable them to overcome the challenges before them. Throughout the story their angel guide focuses on Miriam as the person of import, the artist, the only one who can finish the unfinished corner, but as Miriam goes on point out at the end, she never would have made it without her friends (and, spoiler, they are all friends by the end).

The relationships that are navigated between these four are far from the only relationships in the story, and even though they aren’t as front and center, they’re still rich and feel well rounded in an instant. You know exactly the sort of happy, teasing family dynamic that exists in Miriam’s household just from her parents’ introduction, and Asmodeus calling himself Lilith’s “house husband” is an entertaining and vivid descriptor of a whole relationship in a single statement. 

The book is labeled as juvenile fiction, but honestly, I think it would be highly enjoyable for children and adults alike. Anyone who enjoys Jewish mythology, has a complicated relationship with identity or faith, or is at a coming of age/turning point in their life, can find something in this story. Get it on Bookshop here.  

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Some Strange Disturbances: A Cold Winter’s Eve written by Craig Hurd-McKenney, feat. guest contributors

[Image ID: The cover of Some Strange Disturbances: A Cold Winter's Eve. Two figures are ice skating outdoors, Prescott and the Comtesse, Prescott has light brown skin and dark hair and is wearing a grey suit and a black bowler hat. The Comtesse is in a magenta dress with a white fur collar and a a matching feathered hat. The ice they are skating is cracking and beneath the ice is the shadow of a kelpie. The title "A Cold Winter's Eve" is displayed above this scene in a white and ice-blue color. The snapchat caption reads: "Spooky queers vol. 2.5a"

“Some Strange Disturbances” continues to be the gift that keeps on giving with the side story “A Cold Winter’s Eve,” a side side story and mini anthology.  

We see our protagonists, Prescott, Delilah, the Comtesse and Brandt, gathered together on Christmas Eve, it is following dinner, prepared by Brandt, and they have gathered in the parlor to share spooky ghost stories. While the framing story as a whole is written by Craig Hurd-McKenny, author of the main series, each of the stories told by the characters is written and illustrated by a guest author. There are seven stories in total, Prescott, Delilah and the Comtesse each telling two and Brandt telling one. 

All the stories are stunning and haunting in their own ways. I think my favorite is the second one told by Prescott, about a young man named Theo, who is haunted by the ghost of his lover Silas through the new telephone that was installed just after his death. It should be noted that there are stores that include racially and homophobia motivated murders. The murderers do get what is coming to them, but be careful if that is something you are sensitive to. 

Lastly, I want to talk about Brandt and his story. Brandt is mute and, as such, his story is told entirely without dialogue. Delilah, who we learn early on in the book has a limited knowledge of sign language, is the one who translates the story for their group, and translating sign language to the print form of visual only story telling is inspired. We don’t hear Delilah’s overlay telling of the story, we just get the visuals. It’s still showing Brandt’s disability through the structure of the comic. 

It is definitely worthwhile to pick up alongside the main story and I am very much looking forward to “Some Strange Disturbances: Nob’s Tale,” which is meant to be a companion piece to “A Cold Winter’s Eve” and is part of the HSP 2022 catalogue that is currently being kickstarted. The Kickstarter ends on November 4th, so be sure to jump on it soon (or sign up to get reminders for when it’s close to ending)!

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Some Strange Disturbances written by Craig Hurd-McKenney

[Image ID: two thin graphic novels laying overlapped on a desk. The cover of the one on top shows a circle of people at the base with their hands on a table surrounded by candles. There are also candles in the middle of the table. Rising from those candles is a green skeletal specter in a hooded robe. In the robe is the book title "Some Strange Disturbances" followed by the last names of the author and illustrators "Hurd-McKenney, Gervasio and Aon" in the bottom left corner the price of the book is listed as $9.99. The volume below is in shades of Blue and White with a few gold chain accents. The central figure is a dark haired girl surrounded flowers and above her is the snout of a dog like creature. In the top left corner the title is listed as "Some Strange Disturbances #2: The Lunchroom Under the Arch." End ID]

Queer Victorian horror. Three words and you instantly have my attention. Furthermore, the graphic novel format is a perfect structure for “monster of the week” style storytelling, which is more or less what we have with “Some Strange Disturbances.” In volume one, “The Rat King of Bedlam” they battle a rat king (the creature, not just a particularly regal rat) and in volume two “The Lunchroom Under the Arch” they get a two for one deal with a real horror and a faked horror.

I should back up. Let’s start with who “they” is and what they are doing. “They” is a group of three queer individuals in 1895 London. In volume one, in addition to battling a rat king, we are introduced to our protagonists and they are introduced to one another. We have Prescott Mayfair, a white gay man who in is more or less closeted and struggling with it; Delilah Quinton, a young, asexual Black woman who is in the patronage of a Lord and Lady who see themselves as white saviors; and the Comtesse, a trans woman whose father thinks she is possessed and has her institutionalized. Volume one, is just as much about them meeting as it is about the rat king, but the end of the story they have created their own found family, which even includes the guard from Bedlam who had been set to watch over the Comtesse.

[Image ID: Two panels the first is the interior of the Comtesse's antique shop. Delilah, a Black woman with short tight ring curls is holding a glass of champagne possibly and speaking to the Comtesse, a tall woman with carefully styled wavy hair, who is also holding a glass. Delilah says, "I must say, Comtesse, the store is lovely." The next panel is a close up of the Comtesse, who replies: "I so did have to find a use for all of Duddy's money, the payoff for burying my old self in the fire. It's best to live, and live well now, in my new life. That's what I intend to do, parents or no." The Snapchat caption reads: "I'm so happy for her" followed by the sob emoji. End ID]
[Image ID: Two comic panels, the first is of a London city street. There are people walking on a side walk against buildings and a horse-drawn cab is coming down the street from the carriage a speech bubble emerges and Prescott Mayfair speaks: "Brandt, I do so hope we're passed the indignity I put you through at Bedlam, knocking you out cold like that." The next panel cuts to inside the cab where Prescott and Brandt are sitting next to each other. Prescott is wearing a suit with a bowler had and a thin mustache. Brand has a very bushy mustache connected to sideburns and a top hat. Brandt has one arm over Precott's shoulder, motion lines indicate that he is patting Prescott's arm. Brandt's other held up in front of him as are both of Prescott's. Prescott continues speaking: "You are important to the Comtesse, and thus important to me. I hope you know this." The snapchat caption below the two panels reads, in all caps "Oh it's that Brandt." and then switches to sentence case for "The Comtesse wooed her jailor, love it." End ID.]

I know I called this “monster of the week” style storytelling, and it is, but there is an overarching plot thread that ties each volume together too. In volume two we see the specter (not a literal specter in this case) of the Comtesse’s mother return in flashbacks and ties to a medallion that is found at the scene of the haunting in the titular lunchroom, part of which turns out to be staged. This remains something that isn’t completely resolved by the end of the story and holds the threads for what will happen in volume three and seems to centrally involve the Comtesse.

[Image ID: Four panels. The first panel is a close up of a medallion, the pattern on it is a skull in and oval within a rectangle and a small diamond and star both above and below the rectangle. The next panel is a close of of a man's nose and eyes. His nose is rather bulbous and his eyes are shocked and wide. Panel three zooms out to show the man pulling the medallion over his head and ratty top hat his eyes are shaky and unfocused. In panel four the man seems coherent again with the medallion around his neck, he turns to a young woman with her hair done up in a bun and a high collared dress and says "Ya think you're better'n me, miss?" The snapchat caption reads: "Wuh oh" End ID]

Volume two also introduces us to new characters, some that will stay and some that don’t. Most notable of these is Nobuyoshi Yamamoto, or Nob, a Japanese man and sumo wrestler who is Prescott’s love interest. It is only through Nob’s actions that they win the day in volume two.

[Image ID: Screenshot of text, the lines that are not the focus are scribbled out in pink. The visible text reads: "The scene simply wrote itsellf. Prescott, in an opium stupor, is running to a meeting and slams right into this sumo wrestler. A sumo wrestler who, in that moment, steals Prescott's heart and his decorum." The Snapchat caption reads, in all caps, "Oh yes." End ID]

Something I really appreciated as someone invested in queer history, is the detail that went into portraying everything. We have afterwards in both volumes that discuss and give insight into the culture of the day. Volume one has sections on Fannie and Stella, two trans individuals; race and the practice of human zoos; and the trials of Oscar Wilde; and volume two discusses how the character of Nob came to be along with the cultural context of Japanese people in London during the period.

All in all, this is a thoroughly researched and beautifully written (and illustrated) series that I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in Victorian era history, horror, queer comics or any combination of the three.

The first two volumes are for sale here, and, in exciting news, the Kickstarter for Headless Shakespeare Press’ 2022 publishing catalogue, which includes “Some Strange Disturbances: Nob’s Tale” and “Some Strange Disturbances: The Demon Bride,” went live on October 4th! Now could not be a better time to get into this series.

[Image ID: On a black background is an image Victorian illustration of a scene in a church. There are men standing on both sides and in the center a man in fine dress holds the hand of a woman in a coffin that is being propped up, with a priest behind them in a mockery of a wedding. Above this image is the text: "To be continued in Some Strange Disturbances: The Demon Bride." Below the image is the Snapchat caption: "Feral. I simply  cannot wait."

Coming later in the month from me will be a mini review of “Some Strange Disturbances: A Cold Winter’s Eve,” a SSD side story and short comic anthology.

If you enjoy my content and would like to see more, please consider buying me a Kofi or supporting me on Patreon!

Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood

The cover of "The Complete Angel Catbird" by Margaret Atwood, Jonnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillain. In the center of a red cover there is a white and orange cat man with owl's wings and gold feather pattern shorts. 

Snapchat caption: The title fucking sends me, but also I know what Atwood writes so.... excited to see where this goes

“Angel Catbird” is a campy and wildly entertaining superhero romp, from the classic chemical accident origin story to the wide range of eclectic characters such as Neferkitti, Count Catula and Babushkat to the super villain with questionable motives and even more questionable plans. 

Our hero, Strig Feleedus—and what a name that is—starts the story as a normal human before he’s hit by a car and spills the sensitive gene splicing concoction he’s carrying on himself, his pet cat (who had escaped and he was chasing out into the street), and an owl (who had been going after the same mouse as the cat). 

Which brings me to my first warning for interested parties. Animal death. There is more to “Angel Catbird” than a simple entertaining cat based superhero romp. The book also draws attentions to the dangers of allowing cats to free roam outside, and, as such, discusses and shows cat death, the endangerment of loss of a number of animals as a result of pet and feral cats, and the costs of poaching as well. 

The one full visible panel shows Strig Feleedus (Angel Catbird) torn about lifting a baby bird back into its nest. His thought bubble reads "Do I rescue it, or eat it?" while the bird parents cry "Thank you! Thank you! Put him back in the nest!"

Below the panel there is a shadow of a black cat and the blurb: CAT-BIRD MATH, Part 1: Cats are estimated to kill 100-350 million birds a year in Canada, in the US, the figure is roughly 2.6 billion, and in the UK, about 55 million. Feral and stray cats are thought to be the cause of more than 60% of those estimated fatalities, despite the fact that their population is smaller than that of pet cats. Protect your cat-save birds! www.catsandbirds.ca
A small dialogue box tells us that the image on the page is of Castle Catula. A classic looking medieval castle, with turrets flying flags and surrounded by a wall and hidden in a forest of pine trees. The road leading into the castle goes through a gate that is shapes like Count Catula's face, with humanoid cat structure and large bat ears. 

Snapchat caption: Not to quibble about your decor, sir, but....

This gives the story a tendency to feel a little heavy handed in those moments, but it’s hardly out of place in the overall tone. There are many fairly bonkers and heavy handed twists. Like, Count Catula has a whole ass castle within walking distance of a city and was sired by the Actual Dracula; the hacktivist group Anonymouse comes to the rescue to help the cats save the day; the villain is a rat-man and his plans are dramatic, over the top, and plotted with what I can only call mildly-competent buffoonery. There’s a lot to get across in a short amount of time, so I think we can forgive any fast paced heavy handedness. 

A panel with two female rats standing behind a mouse in the foreground. The mouse is wearing a V for Vendetta mask like the online hacker group Anonymous uses.

The rat on the right says, "Anonymouse is a secret mouse hacktivist group."

And the mouse says, "An a filthy good one, I must say!"

Snapchat caption reads: Absolutely losing it.

While I found the relationships a tad heterosexual to my tastes I did appreciate that polyamory wound up being portrayed as the Best Solution for a number of relationships. Count Catula thought that Dracula having three wives was too stingy and says that he has more than enough love to share amongst his many many wives (and he has like so many). The love triangle surrounding out protagonist Angel Catbird was also less irritating than many comics love triangles I’ve encountered. AtheenOwl (half-owl) and Cate Leone (half-cat) are both vying for Angel Catbird’s attention and it’s a hard choice, because his owl instincts veer toward AtheenOwl while his cat instincts veer toward Cate. It’s a non-traditional love triangle conundrum.

The answer reached at the end seems to be that AtheenOwl and Cate manage to get over their species differences and are going to share Angel Catbird, which sounds great to me. 

AtheenOwl, an owl woman with brown hair and tawny wings, wearing a Roman inspired helmet and chest plate over a red flowing skirt and is meant to invoke the image of the Goddess Athena, is shaking hands with Cate Leone, who has black hair and is in her human form wearing a red dress.

The dialogue goes:
AtheenOwl: Okay. I'm in. 
Cate Leone: Shake on it.
AtheenOwl: We can settle our dispute over the feathered fur guy later. 

Snapchat caption: Or ignore the feathered fur guy and date each other, though I would settle for a polyamory resolution.

Some of my other favorite bits include the entire existence of Babushkat who adopts my other favorite character Fog, who is a little abandoned kitten who looks spot on like a Victorian orphan boy.

Babushkat, a brown cat who is dress like a traditional Russian grandmother, with a colorful red and blue dress and white headscarf, is reaching out to a small cat-boy, Fog, who is gray and wearing a white shirt, waistcoat and newsboy cap. 

Babushkat's speech bubble says, "Here, little half-cat--I'll adopt you. I'll carry you in my apron." 

Snapchat caption: BABUSHKAT TO THE RESCUE

The long and short is that if you’re looking for a fun, campy comic with an emotional animal motivated through line that still retains a classic comic book feel, I would definitely recommend “Angel Catbird.”

Freiheit! The White Rose Graphic Novel by Andrea Grosso Ciponte

Cover of "Freiheit! The White Rose Graphic Novel." Three people (left to right, Sophie School, Alexander Schmorell and Hans Scholl) sand in front of a Nazi insignia that has a white paint smear through it. Sophia is holding books, Alexander has a paint brush in his lapel and Hans is holding a paint can. In front of them is crouched another man, Christoph Probst, who is holding a pamphlet.
In the bottom left corner of the cover there is a note in red stating that this is an uncorrected proof and not for sale.

I was really excited when I first heard about “Freiheit! The White Rose Graphic Novel,” in part because it’s a part of World War II history that I’ve been interested in, but haven’t had the opportunity to read much about. I’d previously read several short articles about Sophie Scholl—one of the book’s lead protagonists—but they had been sparse with the details about her involvement with a larger group, making her seem like a lone martyr figure. I hadn’t even heard the name “White Rose” until I picked up this graphic novel, which, I think, makes the book all the more important and timely given the importance of history in resisting fascism.

Two panels. One partially obscured, shows a formal portrait of Sophie Scholl and her name in her passport. The next panel shows Sophie sitting crosslegged in a train car, saying "I'm a student at the university." 

The Snapchat caption says "In all the stuff I've read about Sophie Scholl, I'd never actually seen much about the resistance group she was part of."

The book is very engaging and pulls you into the story immediately right in the middle of the action with Sophie and her brother Hans dropping a stack of leaflets down from the top floor a building into the main hall, before jumping back to a flashback that shows you how everything began, how a small group of friends (Sophie and Hans Scholl, Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell and Willi Graf) eventually became the White Rose. 

The story then moves quickly, following Sophie, into her discovery of her brother’s and their other friends involvements with the White Rose, and how they continue that through their military service, until they are eventually caught. Despite how quickly things move, it doesn’t feel in anyway rushed. The book has a very artistic flow to it, there’s no real background exposition to speak of, drawing your focus to the art, dialogue and the limited quotations the serve as background for various scenes. 

My particular favorite quotation used is the English translation of the song “Die Gedaken sind frei,” (“Thoughts are Free”), that is overlaid on a scene of Sophie working in an ammunitions factory.

Full page spread of Sophie working in a munitions factory, she is holding a shell and there are more laid out in front of her. 

There is no dialogue, but the text overlay is partial English lyrics of the song "Die Gedanken sind frei." They read, "No person can know them/No hunter can shoot them/ With powder and lead/Thoughts are free.*"

The asterisk points to a footnote that reads "'Die Gedanken sind frei' traditional revolutionary song, forbidden during Nazism."

The Snapchat caption reads, "I learned this song at a German summer camp and had no clue about the history behind it."

I will say I was a touch confused by that scene as I wasn’t entirely sure of what I was supposed to take away from it. It’s a lovely scene and gorgeously illustrated, as is the whole book, but it wasn’t clear to me if it was meant to imply that Sophie was doing sabotage work. There is discussion earlier in about encouraging sabotage in their leaflets alongside passive resistance, so I had wondered if this was tying into that, but I can’t say I know for sure since there’s no background exposition to explain the scene. I think some added points of additional exposition would have been nice, but as a narrative the story does hold up just fine without them. 

Something that I’ve always found true when it comes to World War II studies is how angry and upset and heartbroken I feel when presented with personal narratives, be they biographical or autobiographical. That emotional pull is something that “Freiheit!” does incredibly effectively. There is an incredible amount of characterization for such a short book, we see Sophie living her life as a regular student, we see Christoph with his wife and children, we see the Scholl family’s response to their father being arrested, and you know through all of it how it’s going to end. Arrest and execution. 

But the book doesn’t leave you on a sad note, it ends on a hopeful one, with the fact that the British took the final pamphlet produced by the White Rose and used airplanes to drop 5 million copies across German cities. This drives home that what the White Rose did mattered and, especially in todays day and age, that activism matters. Not everyone can make the sort of sacrifices that the White Rose did, but what they preached, passive resistance against a terrible “norm” is something anyone can do.

A panel showing the shadow of an airplane in the sky dropping leaflets. The adjacent text reads "In July 1943 the British dropped five million fliers quoting from the sixth White Rose leaflet on cities across Germany."

The snapchat caption reads: "Words live on."

“Freiheit! The White Rose Graphic Novel” is being published through Plough and will be released in February 2021. 

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X-Men: Marvel’s Snapshots, “And The Rest Will Follow” written by Jay Edidin

Two copies of Marvels Snapshots: X-Men propped up against a laptop screen. The copy in the front has the alternate cover, with a classic comics look a young Scott Summers is surrounded by the shadowed figures of the Fantastic Four, Spiderman and Iron Man. The tagline reads "It's an age of marvels and monsters, Scott Summers! Time to decide, which are you?!"
The one to the back is the standard cover, with an adult Scott Summers portrayed from the shoulders up firing his eye beams down at a diagonal across the cover. 
The snapchat subtitle reads, "Time for X-Men."

So I went into this excited because I’ve love Jay’s work already and I also trust Jay as someone with good opinions and thoughts on the Summers brothers. 

Now I’ve read one-shots/minis series’ of Scott Summers’ origin story before, the two that come immediately to mind are “X-Men: Children of the Atom” and “X-Men Origins: Cyclops,” but “Snapshots” rapidly outpaced them as my favorite. It’s not the most comprehensive look at Scott’s backstory, it doesn’t even begin to touch on Mr. Sinister, but what it does do is create a tangible look at how Scott’s past has impacted his present, in particular his past prior to Professor X and the X-Men. 

The story is focused on Scott during his time at the orphanage where he lived after the plane crash that “killed” his parents prior to and immediately after his mutation manifesting, and the main plot is Scott trying to figure out where he fits in the world and struggling with a slew of mental health issues after the plane crash. 

At the same time superheroes emerge on the world stage, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, etc. and we get to see Scott view superheroes through the eyes of a civilian. Not Cyclops, not even knowing he’s got powers of his own yet. One line I particularly loved was, “They talk like the Fantastic Four are movie characters, but they’re real people,” which I think is just a fantastic thing to think about considering the kind of public perception Scott himself attains as an adult. 

The main thread that the story follows is Scott hyper-fixating on superheroes and the idea of superheroes being born from tragic circumstances, but helping people. The experiences of the Fantastic Four gaining their powers through a freak accident is paralleled with Scott’s plane crash: “Four people climb into a cockpit. Strap in. Take off. Something goes horribly, horribly, wrong.”  

Comic panel. A young Scott Summers sitss as a table writing, there are magazines and books about superheroes surrounding him.
Scott's narration reads "I obsess about things. Get fixated and I can't let go. I know that. But all of this feels important, like something I should recognize--maybe something that got lost with everything else."
The snapchat caption reads "That's hyper-fixation bay-be" in all capital letters.

This leads to Scott going to see Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic speak, where he winds up involved in his first superhero/super villain fight as a bystander. This leads to Scott’s budding interest in tactical planning and then his mutation goes off.

Comic panel. A young Scott Summers is shown in the foreground to the right side of the panel reading Sun Tzu's The Art of War. In the center background there are some menacing looking bully types and to the left there is a young child running and the edge of a swing set. 
Scott's narration reads: "I know I'm obsessing again. But it makes sense like almost nothing else ever has. I want things to be as simple as Sun Tzu makes them sound." 
The Snapchat caption reads: "Why am I not surprised that Scott would get special interest invested in The Art of War."

The flashback section concludes with Scott struggling once again with who he is. Is he a monster that the Fantastic Four would fight? Or is he like them, can he help? And, because this is Scott Summers the answer is the latter. Something else I really loved about this scene was that Scott came to that realization on his own, he didn’t need Professor X to validate his worth.

Four comic panels.
Panel 1: A close up of an air conditioning unit being help up on a crane, the cables holding it up are breaking.
Panel 2. Close up of the faces of several white men, frightened and trapped underneath what appears to be fallen scaffolding
Panel 3: Close up of Scott's face his eyes are squeezed shut and his hand is shaking as he lowers his ruby quartz glasses. 
Panel 4: Close up of the cable holding the air conditioning unit breaking with a snap.
Scott's narration, which runs over all four panels: "If I do that-- if anyone sees-- there has to be something else. But there isn't. Those men probably have families. Kids. I'm not a monster. I'm not. Well, Summers, you wanted to make a difference. To do something." 
Snapchat caption: "You can do it Scott!!!"

Which brings us to the very final scene: in the nebulous “present” Scott is giving orders for what appears to be a mission to rescue three of the Fantastic Four, and we see Scott as Cyclops taking to Reed Richards and he quotes to Reed something that Reed had said during a TV interview while Scott was at the orphanage. That, for me, brought everything together absolutely perfectly. In one speech bubble, we understand the importance of the entire rest of the story and how foundational these early experiences were for Scott. It’s also just a great ending from a storytelling perspective too, it’s a beautifully wrapped one-shot that doesn’t leave you wanting for anything. 

One more thing of note, if you are neurodivergent like myself, you may have noticed my use of the word “hyper-fixation” which is a term used in describing certain behaviors characteristic of autism and ADHD. Scott reads incredibly neurodivergent and not just in a throw away sense and it’s very easy to pick up if you are familiar with those kinds of neurodivergencies. Furthermore, this is intentional, Jay has stated himself that he was writing Scott as autistic. Of course, Word of God only means so much, but in my opinion, the proof is more than there. 

While this issue came out several weeks ago, you may still be able to find it by reaching out to your local comic book shop — I got mine through Books with Pictures — and you can get it in digital through comiXology.

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