Last Comic Standing

I'm not really sure why, but lately, I've been trying to expand my culture horizons in directions I haven't really gone before. For example, I've never watched anime, so I've been casting around for recommendations on shows a novice might enjoy. In the realm of books, the unexplored territory is comic books/graphic novels. I've read a couple here and there, of course, but in general, I'm a complete n00b.

I wanted to examine a wide range of styles in one, quick burst, so I devoured three really disparate titles in short order. As I mentioned in my last post, The Wolf Among Us was based on Fables, a comic book series that I'd often heard my fellow nerds discussing. It seemed like a great place to start, so I grabbed Volume #1 (Legends in Exile) and Volume #2 (Animal Farm) from the library.

The game helped prepare me for the universe I was stepping into, but the comic book series created by Bill Willingham is far more grim. In Volume #1 (2002), Sheriff Bigby tries to solve the grisly murder of Snow White's sister, Rose Red. Volume #2 (2003) is even darker, as innocent characters are targeted in a violent revolution originating at the Farm, a separate community for Fables that cannot blend into the human world. I always like the established-story-with-a-twist gimmick, as long as it's executed well, and Fables does a great job of porting fairy tale characters into a miserable, Earth-bound existence that they're constantly struggling against. Nothing in either volume blew me away, but they definitely grabbed my interest enough to continue with the series.

Speaking of established series, there is one comic book I'm intimately familiar with. My sister and I grew up reading Archie comics obsessively. And not just Archie himself, but the whole Riverdale gang. We read the Betty & Veronica digests, the Jughead collections, and my sister collected the Katy Keene romantic series. We snapped up anything that was available on a magazine rack or grocery store checkout line. The Archie series lost its luster at the end of the '80s, and was crying out for a reboot.

Well, wait no longer! Archie #1 (written by Mark Waid and drawn by Fiona Staples) was released this year, and I didn't even bother with the library this time. This is a title I wanted to own. It'd be very easy for an updated Archie to be overly goofy, or for it to swing in the other direction and be overly self-serious in response to Archie's carefree earlier days. Fortunately, it strikes a perfect balance. Archie and Betty have just broken up over something called "The Lipstick Incident", and Jughead and some incidental characters try to engineer their reconciliation at a school dance. Archie and Betty still have lingering feelings for each other, but Archie wants to see what's out there before he decides anything.

As issue #1 comes to a close, we learn that there's a wealthy new family moving to town. They even have a daughter. Wink, wink. The style of the updated artwork is beautiful, and surprisingly adept at making old characters look modern without turning them unrecognizable. I'm really looking forward to seeing where the series goes from here.

Finally, there was a 2015 graphic novel by Victoria Jamieson called Roller Girl, about a young girl's blossoming interest in roller derby. I had heard this book talked up on some podcast or other, and have several friends who are involved in the local derby league, so this seemed like a natural fit. It's very cute. Astrid's mom wants to expose her to all types of culture, and one of her ideas is to take her daughter to a local derby bout. Astrid immediately falls in love with it, and begs to attend a junior derby camp over the summer. Her best friend Nicole is less excited, choosing to attend a dance camp instead. As Astrid becomes more and more enthusiastic about derby and its customs, she and Nicole begin to drift apart.

In a way, a story about how girls respond socially to the time in their lives that they begin to change rapidly is well-worn territory. But combine that with some really compelling art, a nice message about self-acceptance featuring a well-written female protagonist, and a good entry point for kids to learn about a little-understood sport, and you have a really charming book that will help expand the audience for the graphic novel genre. Hey, it worked on me.

Fables, Volume #1 (Legends in Exile): B
Fables, Volume #2 (Animal Farm): B
Archie #1: A-
Roller Girl: B+


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