Gideon Falls, vol 1: The Black BarnGenres: Graphic Novels
, Horror Pages:
160 Series: Gideon Falls #1 Rating:
The lives of a reclusive young man obsessed with a conspiracy in the city's trash and a washed-up Catholic priest arriving in a small town full of dark secrets become intertwined around the mysterious legend of The Black Barn--an otherworldly building alleged to have appeared in both the city and the small town throughout history, bringing death and madness in its wake.
Rural mystery and urban horror collide in this character-driven meditation on obsession, mental illness, and faith.
Gideon Falls is something that’s probably slightly more in my wife’s wheelhouse than mine, since it’s a horror comic — but something about it piqued my interest and I decided to give this first volume a shot. I’m not always a fan of the art, which feels messy. Sometimes that adds to the tension or weirdness of a scene, and sometimes it just means that I’m not quite sure what I’m looking at.
As far as the plot goes, it’s genuinely weird and creepy. In this volume, few explanations are forthcoming: there’s a strange barn that appears and disappears according to its own rules, and it has been the cause of disappearances and deaths for a long time. It seems to have an echo in the city, as well. Our characters are a probably alcoholic Catholic priest who seems to be struggling with his faith, and a probably schizophrenic amnesiac in the city who searches through the garbage for bits and pieces which he believes to be parts of the Black Barn.
It definitely has tension and despite not being a horror fan, I’m curious about what is going to happen, and what (if anything) the explanation is for the horrors. I’ll probably give the second volume a try.
Rogue PlanetGenres: Graphic Novels
, Science Fiction Pages:
Salvage vessel Cortes tracks the Lonely Orphan, a planet with no star system to call its own. Somewhere on this hostile rock is a payload fit for a king. To attain it, though, the crew of the Cortes must brave razor rock, poisonous vapors, treacherous footing, and... the most mind-numbing horrors imaginable. Struggling to stay alive, they are beset at every turn by horrors from their own nightmares. Now, they have discovered that they are not alone on the planet, and the other inhabitants welcome them... as sacrifices to an elder god.
Stranded on a vicious, murderous, seemingly intelligent planet, the crew of the Cortes must reevaluate what it truly means to survive, and what they are willing to do in order to spare their own lives.
Cullen Bunn’s Rogue Planet is a fairly predictable sci-fi/horror story: a group visit a planet where they should, in theory, be able to get rich quick, led in by a beacon… and of course things go messily wrong, with gore and horrors a-plenty.
I didn’t think it stood out among that sort of genre, with the characters having little to make them jump out; the art was okay, but didn’t particularly impress me with “hey, that looks really neat” or “that’s gorgeous” or even “that’s a whole new way to make something look gross”.
It wasn’t bad in any way, I don’t think, just… fairly run of the mill if you’re an SF/F reader. I’d been hoping for something a bit more innovative, I suppose! I think it could be fun if you’re less versed on the tropes of the genre, since it’ll come as a bit more of a surprise.
Die: Fantasy HeartbreakerPages:
184 Series: Die #1 Rating:
The Wicked + The Divine writer Kieron Gillen teams up with artist supernova Stephanie Hans (WicDiv, Journey Into Mystery) for her first ongoing comic. Die is a pitch-black fantasy where a group of forty-something adults have to deal with the returning, unearthly horror they only just survived as teenage role-players. If Kieron's in a rush, he describes it as ""Goth Jumanji"", but that's only the tip of this obsidian iceberg.
I’m intrigued by this story/world — which is really accurately described as a “Goth Jumanji” — and at the same time feel like I don’t know what to say about it. Being just the first volume, it’s just a glimpse of the world and of what the characters might be: there’s lots of potential, lots of fucked-up emotional stuff for the characters, hints at how they relate to each other, etc… But it’s just volume one, and so it’s hard to judge where all that is going and how satisfying it might be.
It’s just also pretty dark, and the characters are pretty much all flawed and fucked up, so it felt weightier than the relatively short length of the story so far, and left me not quite sure if I want to invest the time in reading more.
The art is great, at least, and there’s definitely intriguing hints at what makes several characters tick. I think I’ll probably give volume 2 a shot soon, before I forget who everyone is!
Heartstopper: Volume 4, Alice Oseman
I should be clear that my star rating here is less about whether the book is good and more about my enjoyment of it… which, after three pretty light-hearted volumes, sank a bit when this book went rather darker and upsetting than the others. Volume 3 introduces Charlie’s eating disorder, but volume 4 shows that he has an eating disorder and OCD — both of which are painful topics for different personal reasons.
There’s still a lot of sweetness in it, as Nick and Charlie grow into their relationship a bit and grow up a bit. There’s also the support of their friends, and particularly of Victoria, Charlie’s older sister (who is completely awesome).
There’s also a very cute bonus comic about the two teachers who get together in volume three, which made me smile a lot. Actually, all the side characters and their relationships are lovely — not always perfect, but lovely all the same.
It’s definitely not bad, and if you’re prepared for it, I can see it being a very satisfying volume of the series. I just wasn’t expecting to feel so sad.
Patience & Esther: An Edwardian Romance, S.W. Searle
Patience & Esther is a cute graphic novel featuring a lady’s maid and a parlourmaid in an Edwardian house, who become friends, fall in love, and decide to make their way in a world that is beginning to talk about women’s suffrage. Esther is in fact Indian, and the comic is also very positive about Patience’s weight. It’s a sweet story, focusing on the love between them and their will to make their way instead of their setbacks. It’s worth noting that there are several very explicit sex scenes as well.
I feel like the impulse to make it a very positive love story was nice, but it made the whole thing lack bite for me. I quickly realised that in every case they’d figure things out. There’s definitely a place for that, but with only the barest edge of reality in there (when Esther has trouble getting a job) their triumphs felt easily won as well.
Overall, it’s enjoyable and I like the art style, plus the notes at the end about some of the historical details.
Fence, vol 1, C.S. Pacat, Johanna the Mad
I don’t know anything about fencing, so I can’t really comment on how well this portrays fencing, and indeed, that’s kind of not what I was interested in. It kept popping up when people were talking about Heartstopper, though, which I really enjoy, so I thought I’d give it a chance. It follows two fencers: Nicholas Cox and Seiji Katayama, plus other fencers at the school they both attend. They are, of course, bitter rivals — each with their own reasons for needing to become better fencers and beat those at another school, Exton. We don’t see much of Seiji’s motivations so far, but I’m sure we will.
The art is clear and easy to follow, and I like the character designs. The story hasn’t really got very far at this point, but I’m definitely ready to keep following it up — Nicholas’ motivations aren’t super unique or anything, but it could be a fun trope-filled ride, and I’m here for it. It feels like a shounen manga with queer characters, and I’m happy with that. Let’s see where the next volumes go!
Foxes in Love vol. 1, Toivo Kaartinen
I’ve loved the Foxes in Love Twitter feed for a while, so I haaad to have this collection of the various strips once it was announced… and a friend obliged. I’ve seen them all before, but they’re still so delightful.
There’s no overarching story or anything, so you can dip in and out as you wish. Instead, it’s a collection of slice-of-life strips, showing the lives of Blue and Green, who love each other very much. You get their musings about how lucky they are to be together, how they deal with setbacks like depression and bad days, little bits of silliness… it’s always delightful, or when it’s a little sad, it’s still always sweet because the foxes have each other.
Also, sometimes it’s just too real, e.g. this one: into the pit of irrational conclusions! I’m better about that than I used to be, but ooooh boy that rang true.
Princess Princess Ever After, Kate O’Neill
Princess Princess Ever After is a short graphic novel which features a familiar fairytale trope (a princess in a tower)… with a few additions, such as the fact that another princess comes to rescue her, and the fact that her sojourn in the tower was of her own choosing (to some degree) thanks to her sister undermining her and making her feel worthless. The prince they come across needs help from them… and in the end, the two princesses get married!
It’s really really cute, and I appreciate Sadie’s anxieties and difficulties — Amira is completely kickass, but Sadie is strong in her own sweet soft way; they’re very different people and yet both strong. The art is cute too, and I want Amira’s haiiir. (Also I don’t, because long hair is a pain in the butt, but it looks cool.)
It is a bit expensive for how slight it is, but it’s full colour and beautifully presented, and suitable for quite young readers.
Bloodlust & Bonnets, Emily McGovern
I was sold on this pretty much right away by two things:
- “I hope you like honey, because I have a bee in my bonnet.”
- “It is I, Lord Byron. You know, from books.” “However did you find me?” “My eagle, Napoleon. He’s psychic.”
It’s a madcap ride, featuring Lucy (a girl who is rather unsure of her place in life and what her value might be), Lord Byron (from books), and Sham (“are you a boy or a girl?” “yes”). They’re not always in harmony (in fact, mostly they aren’t), but they’re hunting down vampires, each with their own motive. There are some great bits, including Lord Byron’s room full of rabbits, Sham’s bucking of gender norms (“is that Ms Sham or Mr Sham?” “no”) and fun dialogue.
However… it’s a bit too madcap, and that started to grate on me. It’s a bit “this is funny and quirky because I’m so ~*~random~*~!” I was in for a few chapters, and then my attention started to drift just because it was so scatterbrained. It sort of wraps itself up, but I found it kind of unsatisfying because it didn’t really seem to mean much. There was a bit of a power-of-friendship theme in the formation of the group, but otherwise… shrug. It sort of fizzled to a stop.
It was fun, but I’m glad it was from the library and can go back there now. If I ever gave half-stars, I might be inclined to now, to give it a 2.5.
Heartstopper, vol 2, Alice Oseman
Volume 2 of Heartstopper basically just continues the adorableness. If you’re not interested in a comic about a pair of boys — one gay, one bisexual — becoming friends, figuring out they’re into each other, and coping with things like coming out and getting along with each other’s friends, then it probably isn’t for you. The art is all in the same style on the cover, kind of doodly, and somehow that makes it more adorable to me, as well as quite distinctive (though there’s a couple of other artists with a similar sort of aesthetic).
I love the way Charlie and Nick are with each other; they have a couple of misunderstandings, and yes, one of those is at the start of this volume and is due to not actually communicating… but for the most part, they do communicate, and it’s lovely.
Look! It’s just adorbs:
They’re consistently adorable and I am so tempted to race ahead and read the whole darn thing. Buuut instead I’m being good and purchasing it volume by volume as it comes out.
(That Patreon with so many pages ahead is tempting, though…)