Mute Power

Mute Power

A review of Savannah Houston-McIntyre and Andrew Hewitt’s Amya Vol 1 (2014)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Amya Vol 1 is a fantasy tale of mystery and suspense, filled with secrets and magic. It is about two kingdoms on the brink of war and the possibility of the return of a divinity who may be able to save everything. This is a tale of a secret, sacred history that is revealed in pieces.

Houston-McIntyre and Hewitt tell a story of a mute noblewoman who has incredible magical potential, the power to create illusions… but there are hints of something more about her personality. Amya touches the lives of those around her, changing them through her contact, but she begins to draw together a group of adventurers who are interested in supporting her. Though Amya is mute, she is not portrayed as defenceless and she is not someone who is seeking a “cure” for her mutism. She is a complex and powerful character.

Amya vol 1 is a tale of political power plays in a world of change, where there is a fight for half-elf rights, where patsies are set up as regicides, where young noblemen escape from family lands, and where myth and reality intersect in forging a new future.

To discover more about Amya and the creators of the comic Savannah Houston-McIntyre and Andrew Hewitt, visit http://www.amyachronicles.com/about/the-amya-team

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Coming of Age With Super Powers

Coming of Age With Super Powers

A review of Mariko Tamaki’s Supergirl: Being Super (DC Comics, 2018).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Canadian comic writer and artist Mariko Tamaki has frequently explored coming of age and that fascinating experience of being between childhood and adulthood in comics like Skim and This One Summer. She shows an incredible ability to draw her readers into those moments in our own past where we were in that awkward state of transition between childhood and adulthood and we sought out our own identities. in Supergirl: Being Super, Tamaki unites the awkward time of questioning identity in our teen years with the figure of the superhero… another figure for whom identity and transformation are a central issue.

We all remember what it was like to be a teenager and feel like we are in the wrong skin and like we don’t fit into our society… but that is magnified for Kara Danvers, a girl who just got her first pimple and exploded it all over her bathroom…. literally. Along with her friends, the young lesbian Dolly and track star Jen, Kara is seeking out what it means to be a teenager… but she is still holding back a secret from these friends. It turns out that her feeling of alienation comes from actually being an alien. Kara is from another planet.

Tamaki frequently explores the idea of being an outsider and what it feels like for a teen who is treated as though she doesn’t belong… as though her entire existence is at conflict with the world around her. In Kara Danvers, Tamaki is able to explore what it means to ‘pass’, keeping an identity secret from friends, teachers, and all of those around her, what it means to worry about being a danger to everyone around her, coping with post traumatic stress, exploitation, rejection from family, and the death of a classmate… along with the desire to do something to make this world a better place. Tamaki’s Supergirl is someone who holds onto the idea of hope that people will become better even when she is constantly faced with disappointment from a human race that is still shaped by bigotry, intolerance, exploitation, and hate.

To find out more about Supergirl: Being Super, visit https://www.dccomics.com/graphic-novels/supergirl-being-super-2016/supergirl-being-super

To discover more about Mariko Tamaki, visit http://marikotamaki.blogspot.com

Next Top Villain

Next Top Villain

A review of Jeff Lemire’s Thanos Vol 1: Thanos Returns (Marvel Comics, 2017).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Canadian comic book writer and artist Jeff Lemire has worked on independent comics, but has also worked with the comic company giants DC and Marvel. He tends to take his Canadian interest in grey areas and ambiguous endings into his comics for DC and Marvel, allowing for complex plots and characters.

In Thanos Vol 1: Thanos Returns, Lemire takes on one of the big villains in the Marvel universe, trying to add moral complexity to a character that has often appeared in comics as irreconcilably ‘bad’. Lemire is able to introduce some pathos for Thanos by portraying the villain in illness, creating a ‘god’ obsessed with Death… who is, himself, dying. Thanos is viewed as and views himself as a personification of strength, and Lemire explores what it means for someone who takes so much of his identity from his strength… to suddenly have to deal with vulnerability, with something that he would consider weak in others and would likely kill them for.

But what does the death of a powerful tyrant mean for others? This is a universal race to grab power in the perceived power vacuum that Thanos will leave, and Lemire uses this comic to comment on political power and the discourse of vulnerability on a universal scale. Revenge, the lust for power, and the desire to be significant are all wrapped together in the people who race to fill the perceived void that Thanos will leave. Lemire creates a race between villains to secure their place in a changing universe.

To find out more about Thanos Vol 1: Thanos Returns, visit http://marvel.com/comics/collection/62231/thanos_vol_1_thanos_returns_tpb_trade_paperback

To discover more about Jeff Lemire, go to http://jefflemire.blogspot.com

Who Said Unicorns Were Majestic?

Who Said Unicorns Were Majestic?

A review of Katie Shanahan and Steven Shanahan’s Silly Kingdom: A New Steed Indeed (www.sillykingdom.com , 2105)

People frequently portray unicorns as majestic, gentle, caring creatures… but not the Shanahans. In their comic Silly Kingdom: A New Steed Indeed, The Prince becomes obsessed with the fact that a neighbouring prince, Peatrid, manages to have a pet unicorn where The Prince only has the traditional steed of his kingdom… the llama. Obsessed with beating his rival, The Prince heads out with Markus The Kingdom Jester in search of a rare Nocturnal Black Unicorn.

He quickly discovers that his prey is far less gentle than he had assumed… and far more of a trickster herself. In a set of Wiley Coyote and the Roadrunner-like attempts to catch the unicorn, The Prince and Markus end up realizing that the unicorn they are searching for has a wicked sense of humour and a lot of attitude.

Like their first Silly Kingdom comic, Katie and Steven Shanahan combine the magical with the hilarious, bringing the reader on a ridiculous adventure into a world of mishaps and magic. In this second comic, the Shanahans focus even more on the visual than they had in their first comic, stepping away from the conversion from radio play to graphic medium and instead getting into the storytelling power of images. They allow the images on the page to tell their own stories, relying on the power of expressive faces to reveal their own internal narrative and set the tone for dialogue that is used.

To find out more about Silly Kingdom: A New Steed Indeed and the work of Katie and Steven Shanahan, visit http://sillykingdom.tumblr.com/about

Wiley, Weird, and Wizardly

Wiley, Weird, and Wizardly

A review of Katie Shanahan and Steven Shanahan’s Silly Kingdom: Alengrimrickshaw’s 211th Birthday (www.sillykingdom.com, 2011)

By Derek Newman-Stille

I just got back from the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) and one of the first things that caught my attention was a short comic by Katie and Sreven Shanahan called Silly Kingdom.

As adorable as it is hilarious, Silly Kingdom: Alengrimrickshaw’s 211th Birthday is a tale of the magical in the mundane. It is a story of magical mishaps and jealousy by a 211 year old wizard who is jealous of a jester who performs magic tricks as part of his act. Katie and Steven Shanahan’s playfulness suffuses every page of this short comic involving an overly optimistic princess and a prince who enters far too easily into existential crises. This is a cute, fast paced, and exciting comic that brings humour and the fantastic together.

Silly Kingdom: Alengrimrickshaw’s 211th Birthday was originally a radio play that was adapted into graphic form, providing a fascinating view on the process of converting a tale from one format to another. One would think this would create a text-heavy comic, but the Shanahans have been able to adapt the story effectively to graphic novel pacing. The story is as much told by the hyper-expressive facial features and exuberance of movement by the characters as it is by the dialogue.

To discover more about Silly Kingdom: Alengrimrickshaw’s 211th Birthday and about the ongoing work of Katie and Steven Shanahan, go to http://sillykingdom.tumblr.com/about

A Squirrelly Comedy Duo of Doom

A review of Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol 3 (Marvel, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

In addition to continuing to be incredibly adorable, Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol 3 continues to play with narrative in fascinating ways. The comic continues to use elements of commentary at the bottom of each page, playing with the messages given on the comic page itself. It employs twitter feeds as a method of conveying dialogue and interacting with the wider Marvel comics universe (though most of the tweets are directed at Iron Man). This method allows for a different engagement with ideas of speech beyond just the typical speech bubble. Background narratives about characters are provided by cards that Squirrel Girl keeps with her that outline the stories and abilities of various baddies in the Marvel universe, and of course these cards are created by Deadpool to create a connection between these two characters that defy the conventions of superheroes and add a comical meta-narrative to their stories. North and Henderson add on different tech features of storytelling in this narrative by including things like Wikipedia pages and “While You Were Out” notes that allow for a different engagement with narrative, allowing the character to speak to those who aren’t present on the page and will likely not acknowledge these notes. They are an opportunity for the character to engage in a frustrated soliloquy about her experiences.

I am always incredibly impressed by the way that The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl achieves her victories through negotiation and conversation rather than the traditional superhero method of “punch until villain is incapacitated or accepts your viewpoint”. For this volume, Squirrel Girl first makes a mistake when encountering a villainous character and attacks him, but later questions his intentions and whether she should have attacked him in the first place. She later revisits an old enemy, Doctor Doom. North and Henderson play with the idea of Doom, exaggerating his narcissistic personality by having him rename everything after himself, creating DOOMipedia, DOOMhenge, and even a programming language that consists of variations on the name Doom. Squirrel Girl’s sense of play comes up against Doom’s utter seriousness in a comedic duo trope of the comedian and the straight man that accentuates the humour of the situation. 

To discover more about The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, visit http://marvel.com/comics/characters/1010860/squirrel_girl 

Planets Contaminated

A review of Crystal Yates’ “Earthsong” (Overmorrow Media)
By Derek Newman-Stille

“Earthsong” is an incredibly beautiful and chilling fantasy graphic narrative. Crystal Yates plays with light and images of fabric to create a comic that, while dealing with serious issues, also feels like a warm blanket wrapped around the reader. 

Crystal Yates’ “Earthsong” is an interplanetary fantasy where the planets themselves take on life and consciousness. Some of these planetary spirits interact with their creations, their children, but most have been content to sleep. Many of them have slept right through a crisis that has been happening throughout space and on their own surfaces. A contamination has leaked onto the surface of planets that attaches itself to various of the planet’s sentient children and, if unchecked, will destroy the lifeforce of the planet itself.

The planets got together to deal with what was occurring and decided that the best way to solve the issue of contamination is to remove contaminated people from their planet and place them on a new planet and the planet who named herself Earthsong has become a host for all of this misplaced travellers. These planet children end up on Earthsong without their memories, dropped into a complex battle they know nothing about.

Yates explores ideas of quarantine, contamination, the loss of selfhood, and the desire to learn about oneself in “Earthsong”, creating a narrative about planetary contamination that isn’t about pollution but reminds us of the fragility of our place on our planet nonetheless.

To find out more about Earthsong and read some of the online comic, visit http://www.earthsongsaga.com