Sometimes heroism means fighting with fists or a sword; sometimes it means speaking up, and other times it simply means staying true to yourself. The heroes of this fall’s crop of graphic novels face an array of situations, from battles and invading monsters to parents with issues, all with surprising grace. But they aren’t plaster saints; every one of them has flaws as well as strengths, which makes for some interesting reading.
KEENAN, Sheila. Dogs of War. Illustrated by Nathan Fox. Scholastic. Nov. 2013. HC. $22.99. ISBN: 978-0545128872.
Gr 3 Up—This book is rated for younger readers, but the complex stories and art will have ample appeal for teens as well. The three stories tell of dogs and their human companions in three different wars (World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War), stressing the more human side of war with carefully researched depictions of life at the front and plenty of action as well.
POPE, Paul. Battling Boy. First Second. 2013. HC. $24.99. ISBN: 9781596438057
Gr 5 Up—Another book that is rated for younger readers but more appropriate for teens, Battling Boy is a classic superhero tale, set in a world ravaged by monsters and left vulnerable by the death of its protector. It is left to a boy sent down by the gods on his 13th birthday and the daughter of the fallen superhero to pick up the pieces and save the world. Pope is an acclaimed creator of superhero and independent comics for adults, and he has won three Eisner Awards for his work.
YANG, Gene Luen. Boxers & Saints. First Second. 2013. pap. $34.99. ISBN: 9781596439245.
Gr 7 Up—This is actually two independent graphic novels set in China at the time of the Boxer Rebellion, available as a boxed set or as separate volumes. Boxers follows the story of Little Bao, a Chinese peasant who becomes a leader in the battle to drive foreigners and their sympathizers out of China. Saints follows Vibiana, a girl who is rejected by her family and finds a place among the Chinese Christians. Inspired by the traditional gods and heroes of Chinese opera, Little Bao fights fiercely against the invaders and their Christian allies, while Vibiana has visions of Joan of Arc and believes she will set her country free. Their parallel stories tell of the two sides of the rebellion.
TOBIN, Paul. Bandette, Vol. 1. Illustrated by Colleen Coover. Dark Horse. Nov. 2013. HC. $14.99. ISBN: 978-1-61655-279-4.
Gr 7 Up—The red-headed super-thief Bandette relieves bad people of valuable items, but she also helps the hapless detective B.D. Belgique foil other criminals. Set in Paris, this is a breezy crime-caper comic that takes nothing seriously. The book ends on a suspenseful note, and the story will continue in the next volume. This comic was originally published digitally was nominated for four Eisner awards.
MINAMI, Maki. Voice Over: Seiyuu Academy. Viz. 2013. pap. $9.99. ISBN: 978-1421559704.
Gr 8 Up—Hime has dreamed of being a voice actress, ever since she met the star of her favorite anime, and she is elated to be admitted to a special training school for voice actors. Some of her classmates are already doing professional work, but Hime’s biggest obstacle is her voice, which becomes gravelly whenever she tries to sound cute. Veteran manga creator Maki Minami (S * A) doesn’t shy away from the clichés in this high-school romance, but she spins them into a very readable story that will delight shoujo manga fans.
RIGGS, Ransom. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: The Graphic Novel. Illustrated by Cassandra Jean. Yen Press. 2013. HC. $19.99. ISBN: 978-0-316-24528-9.
Gr 8 Up—Jacob Portman grew up hearing his grandfather’s stories about being raised in a children’s home, and looking at the uncanny photographs of his companions. When his grandfather is killed by a monster only he can see, Jacob goes to the home—and slips back in time to the world his grandfather left. This is a graphic adaptation of the novel by Ransom Riggs.
RYAN, Sara. Bad Houses. Illustrated by Carla Speed McNeill. Dark Horse. 2013. pap. $19.99. ISBN: 978-1-59582-993-1.
Gr 10 Up—Anne is a teenager who loves to photograph abandoned spaces; her mother is a hoarder to whom every object is valuable because of its memories and associations. Lewis helps his mother run estate sales, selling off the things people saved until the very end of their lives. This quirky romance touches on the same topics as Hoarders and Storage Wars reality TV shows, but with a more human focus, looking at the importance of different objects in the characters’ lives.
KON, Satoshi. Tropic of the Sea. Vertical. 2013. pap. $14.95. ISBN: 978-1-939130-06-8.
Gr 11 Up—The late Satoshi Kon is remembered as an anime director (Paprika), but this early work is fascinating in its own right. Set in a small seaside village, it is a classic story of the tension between tradition and modernization. For generations, Yosuke’s family has cared for a mermaid egg, returning it to the sea every 60 years and receiving a new one; in return, according to legend, the mermaid protects the village. When developers start building a resort, some see it as progress and some as destruction, and Yosuke is caught in the middle, defending a tradition he’s not sure he believes. The story is complete in one volume, and the art is straightforward enough that even non-manga readers can enjoy it.
YUKIMURA, Makoto. Vinland Saga, Vol. 1. Kodansha Comics. 2013. HC. $19.99. ISBN: 978-1-61262-420-4.
Gr 11 Up—Vinland Saga is set in the Viking era, so you can expect plenty of fighting (and gore), but there’s also a solid story in play. Thorfinn, the lead character, was raised by the Vikings who killed his father, and although he fights alongside them, he has also sworn to avenge his father’s death. This oversize volume starts with a bloody battle, but then pulls back to focus on Thorfinn’s childhood, his warrior father, and his family, with Leif Ericson himself playing an important supporting role. Yukimura is also the creator of the critically acclaimed science fiction series Planetes.
TIWARY, Vivek. The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story. Illustrated by Andrew C. Robinson and Kyle Baker. Dark Horse. Nov. 2013. ISBN: 978-1-61655-256-5.
Gr 11 Up—Brian Epstein was the Beatles’ manager who brought them from The Cavern in Liverpool to worldwide fame and iconic status. This fanciful biography is told with a light touch and often incorporates the same sort of humor as the early Beatles movies, but there are serious moments as well. Epstein was a gay man in a country where homosexual acts were a felony, and a Jew at a time when anti-Semitism was often a part of everyday life. The story shows him turning to pills to deal with his inner demons and ultimately being destroyed by them. Robinson and Baker deftly capture the look of the times with their colorful, almost whimsical art. One non-explicit scene of two men in bed and an afterword by Howard Cruse promoting marriage equality may raise eyebrows in some circles.
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