Pssh, like I’m going to discover a book about a barbarian riding a giant pug and NOT read the heck out of it.
When table buddy Sanford Greene told me about BattlePug at The Tangled Web’s Free Comic Book Day event, I knew I’d found a new favorite before I even opened the cover. Volume 1 of Mike Norton’s webcomic-turned-graphic novel follows the nameless barbarian, The Last Kinmundian, as he seeks to avenge the destruction of his home by killing the monster that obliterated it. Standard barbarian stuff, except that the creature that destroyed Kinmundy? It’s an evil baby seal.
And lacking a village to toughen and angst up his barbarian self, he finds plenty of toughening and angst when he’s rescued and enslaved by the Northland Elves. Who are basically Santa’s elves. Led by a dude who is basically Santa.
Did I mention that he also rides a big ol’ pug?
If you don’t already know what you’re getting into with this comic, these two panels sum up its style perfectly:
And those two panels tell me all I need to know to love the snortin’ heck out of BattlePug.
That said, for people who do not have an irrational love of pugs or comics conceived during Drink and Draws (as this one was. Obviously), it leaves a little to be desired. As mentioned earlier, its story is pretty standard barbarian-seeking-revenge fare, with its comedic elements (and mainly the pug) being the sole feature that make it stand out. There’s nothing particularly original or engaging about the characters, and the comedic elements are not handled in a way that makes them inextricable from the world. Kinmundy could have just as easily been destroyed by a giant kitten, and regrettably even the titular BattlePug could be interchanged with another similarly silly looking creature and still maintain the sense of humor.
A note for parents: While the main storyline is fairly kid-friendly (some blood notwithstanding), it’s told by the mysterious and sexy Moll, whose chosen article of clothing is a bed sheet, if anything at all. You rarely see anything more than a nice butt, but it’s worth knowing if your kid hasn’t reached a developmental stage that can handle butts.
BattlePug isn’t exactly a hidden gem, then, but readers looking for comics in the same ridiculous vein as, say, Axe Cop (another of my faves), will find some amusement here. Pug-loving readers like me, however, will likely be adding all subsequent books in the series to their collections. (In fact, I just requested the second from my local comic shop!)
Note: Holo Writing is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and, as such, may earn a small commission from any product purchased through an affiliate link on this blog.
Before God sends children down from Heaven, he gives them hearts. A child who swallows a blue heart will be a “brave boy,” while a child who swallows a red heart will be a “graceful girl.” However, when the mischievous angel Tink decides to play a trick, a child destined to be a girl ends up with both, and she’s on her way to being born before God can stop it. God thus curses Tink to life on Earth as a human; the only way for Tink to become an angel again is to reclaim the girl’s boy heart.
This task is not as easy as it seems, for the girl has just been born to the royal family of Silverland. This family needs a boy to continue the royal line, or else risk being usurped by the evil Duke Duralumin. The king and queen thus decide to keep her true gender secret, raising her as Prince Sapphire to protect their crown. Thus begins a fast-paced tale of adventure, mistaken genders, and the hijinks that ensue.
I usually don’t enjoy gender-bender manga, as the gender-bending aspect is often played for silly humor, but Osamu Tezuka’s Princess Knight, Part I is a rare exception. It reads like a twist on even modern fairy tales, where the princess is both damsel in distress and literally her own prince, and where her ever-changing gender is a source of legitimate drama, rather than an amusing plot point.
This permeates nearly every conflict she faces. Most prominently, the constant threat of Duralumin finding out that she’s not really a prince looms heavily, not only because of what it means for her but what it could mean for the kingdom. This conflict affects her in even small, if convoluted ways, too. At one point, a prince of a neighboring kingdom falls in love with her female “disguise,” only to pledge to kill Prince Sapphire in a later (unrelated) plot twist, not realizing that he and “the flaxen-haired maiden” are one and the same. (Talk about a complicated relationship!)
Despite the gendered nature of its plot, though, the novel is surprisingly unconcerned with gender roles or politics (at least, beyond the basic OMG A GIRL CAN’T RULE A KINGDOM LET’s PANIC ABOUT THAT trope). The closest it comes to commenting on such topics is in a scene where Sapphire briefly loses her boy heart and thus, with only the girl heart remaining, becomes weak. At first the scene inspires an “UGH of course she would become all faint and pansylike without her boy heart,” but upon rereading, it also begs the question, “Is it better to have the associated qualities of only one gender? Or is it better to have a combination of both?” Though it’s a small scene and a simple question, it’s thematically very relevant, and the whole book is a positive answer to this question.
Refreshingly, it’s also not loudly self-aware of its theme, like many Strong Female Character books can be. More than anything, the novel is concerned with taking readers on an adventuresome romp through a fairy-tale-inspired fantasy land, rather than offering any commentary at all. And romp it does! Sapphire teams up with pirates, fights evil witches, swordfights through pretty much everything, and never once stops being anything but a swashbuckling hero/heroine (even though she occasionally does stop to cry over stuff). At 346 pages, it’s a pretty good size for a graphic novel, and yet I was still surprised by how much action was packed into it.
Because of its structure, Princess Knight is bound to appeal to both male and female readers who like this kind of story. There are some hurdles to jump, though, especially for readers who are accustomed to modern manga. Tezuka’s art, while iconic, may look a bit too cartoony and dated for some readers today. In fact, I’d initially avoided his work myself for that reason. Something about the art in Princess Knight, though, was absolutely charming to me, perhaps because it matched the storybook flair of the setting so well. It should also be noted that the art is printed very cleanly, and though the style is simplistic, many of the panels are quite pretty to look at. Another hurdle is the themed naming of the bad guys—Duke Duralumin (a type of alloy), Lord Plastic, Lord Nylon—which doesn’t contribute anything to the story other than inexplicable goofiness. (There are plenty of other goofy elements in the story, but they’re much better handled than this.) Lord Nylon also has a lisp that is rather insensitively played for humor, but it also contributes to a significant early plot point, so it’s not like it’s there without a reason. Still, after that plot point happens, it does read a bit unkindly.
These bumps are minor compared to the delight that is the rest of the book, though. With plenty of adventure, several unexpected twists, and a fun storybook quality, Princess Knight has quickly become one of my favorites.
I came across Princeless by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin at a local comic convention and didn’t have to think twice before picking it up. The cover alone promised all kick-butt girls, dragons, and adventure galore. It did not disappoint.
In Volume 1, when Princess Adrienne comes of age, she’s locked in a dragon-guarded tower because that’s A Thing That Happens to Princesses. Between the boredom of waiting and the dim-witted knights who show up to rescue her, she tires of this quickly. She decides that she’s going to be her own knight and so, with the aid of her dragon pal Sparky, rescues herself and embarks on a quest to free her sisters from their own towers.
A blurb on the front of this book calls it “the story Disney should’ve been telling for the past twenty years.” It’s entirely true. Adrienne is smart; the first few pages show a younger Adrienne tearing apart the plot holes in a traditional fairy tale. She’s also resourceful, and though she admittedly has a lot to learn about adventuring, she’s a capable heroine, well worth admiring.
Granted, she is entirely the “Not the Typical Princess” trope – a trope which, given that nearly every fictional princess these days is “Not the Typical Princess,” is becoming somewhat tired. However, Princeless makes this work by surrounding her with inversions of many other medieval fantasy tropes. Most obviously, despite the European-inspired setting, nearly every character in the main cast is a person of color. Likewise, Adrienne’s prince brother, who would normally be a heroic manly man in this sort of story, is meek and hesitant to inherit the throne, to the point where his father tells him to “stop being a woman.” Instead, his strength is found in his loyalty to his family and, unbeknownst to Adrienne, he plays a small but significant role in the beginning of her adventure.
Even the adventuresome elements are somewhat inverted. While it is all rollicking and fun, Adrienne encounters several practical bumps on her way to saving her sisters, discovering that dragons are hard to ride without saddles, and that it’s hard to fight in jangly armor that isn’t fitted to one’s body type. Though I usually prefer over-the-top adventure, it’s a nice change of pace to read about an adventurer whose problems are more mundane (well, for a person who has a dragon as a friend).
The comic is not without its flaws. However, most of them are minor. For some reason, the quality of the third chapter’s art falters in comparison to the art around it. It’s never off enough to be distracting, though. A bigger problem for me was that there are points where it feels like it’s trying too hard to be a commentary on sexist fantasy tropes. One chapter (also the third, in fact) is blatantly titled “On Sexism in the Armor Industry.” As relevant as the chapter is, I found it hard to believe that the female blacksmith introduced here designed and hand-made a whole line of armor for women without once realizing how impractical battlekinis are for protection—at least until Adrienne points it out. Throw in some stereotypical piggish behavior on the part of nearly every male in the scene, and the chapter reads like it was constructed solely to make a point. Fortunately, though, its actiony bits maintain the rest of the book’s sense of fun. And even with this forced point, it never reads like a preachy political pamphlet. Ultimately it treats its messages with the same sense of fun that it does its adventure.
That said, Princeless is a must-read for those who like to read about heroines with no time for princes. Still, casual readers of fantasy, comics and non, will find much to like in it, too.
If you’re part of that rampant, raving crowd looking for books about illicit underground spelling bees, boy are you in luck!
In Buzz! by Ananth Panagariya and Tessa Stone, Webster just wants to survive his first day of high school. But on the way, he stumbles upon a street brawl of a spelling bee and is quickly flung into a world of spelling battle royales, where spoken letters transform into explosions of force, where champion spellers must go by aliases, lest they be swamped by overzealous fans, and where the secret Spelluminati has darker plans that may involve Webster himself…
Buzz! might be the most fun piece of print material that I’ve read, ever, y’all. It takes talent to take a concept as ridiculous as this and turn it into something more than a B-grade guilty pleasure, and Panagariya and Stone, combined, are that talent.
As one would expect (or at least hope) of a story that is centered on words and wordplay, Panagariya has a blast with all the potential inherent in his topic. Some of his plays are obvious (The main character’s name is Webster. His sister is Merriam.), but the words chosen for the characters to battle-spell are often thematically relevant to the area of the story in which they appear. Beyond that, Panagariya recognizes the basic silliness of his concept, and he runs crazy with it. His story reads like a spelling-bee-turned-Hollywood-action-movie. Webster’s opponents, in particular, become increasingly outlandish in the best way as the story progresses. My favorite was The Cosmonaut, a combat-trained Russian cosmonaut who, through an accident, was left adrift in space with nothing to do but read books and play word games until he was rescued, at which point we’re treated to this delicious description:
“After a while, when he looked into the darkness, the stars themselves seemed to take on the shapes of letters. He was rescued six months later. They said you could see stars in his eyes, carrying messages only for him.”
Stone’s artwork is a massive delight on its own. I was familiar with Stone’s work prior to this book, having followed her delightful (if incomplete) webcomic Hanna is Not a Boy’s Name. (In fact, I discovered this book when researching what exactly happened to the webcomic.) The exuberance established in Hanna continues here. Energy bursts palpably off of every page, facilitated in no small part by the coloring of the artwork. In a clever color design choice, the art is in black, white, and selective uses of golden-yellow—perhaps a visual pun on the “bee” in “spelling bee?” Relatedly, her illustrations of the bees themselves are giddily wonderful to look at. Letters spring dynamically off the page in the early battles, or are illustrated in ways reflective of their word’s meaning. Later battles are illustrated with fun absurdity matching Panagariya’s writing. Especially adept spellers can manipulate the words they spell to have physical effects on their targets, or speak letters into existence for use as weapons, and Stone has as much fun with this as Panagariya does with his plot.
Granted, for all its goodness, it does take a certain sense of humor to appreciate this book. If you see “spectacular spelling battle royale” and instantly think “omg that is so stupid,” you’re definitely not the audience for it. But if you have just enough curiosity to pick it up and flip through it, that’s all you need. After that, you’ll be H-O-O-K-E-D.
Note: Holo Writing is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and, as such, may earn a small commission from any product purchased through an affiliate link on this blog.
Two escaped slaves get superpowers, team up with Ben Franklin, and wreak havoc on their corrupt former owner. This tells you all you need to know about The Sons of Liberty.
This graphic novel, penned by Alexander and Joseph Lagos, is more National Treasure than history class, which is probably why it’s one of the most fun comics that I’ve read in a while.* Graham and Brody begin as slaves under the cruel Jacob Sorenson. When Sorenson’s son attacks Brody, Graham’s act of defense puts them both on the run, where they encounter Benjamin Franklin’s crazypants son, who has been electrocuting animals and, increasingly, slaves in effort to see what effect it has on their bodies. In this case, superpowers! (DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.) The boys proceed to befriend Ben Franklin, who gives them work in his print shop, and Quaker abolitionist Benjamin Lay, who teaches them the African martial art of dambe and suggests that they use their newfound powers to right the wrongs slavery has inflicted upon the country.
Normally I’m irked by historical inaccuracy in books, but I make a gleeful exception for this one. After all, via Authors’ Note, the writers are pretty blatant about the historical inaccuracy (see again: superpowers), and most of the relevant inaccuracies are so ridiculous that they’re instantly noticeable. For example, while Benjamin Lay was truly eccentric and loudly anti-slavery (as depicted in the book) he also had a hunched back (as also depicted in the book), which logically seems like something that would interfere with the learning of most martial arts (not depicted in the book). William Franklin, too, is such an exaggeratedly despicable character that it’s hard to see anything that he does as historically-based (other than his strained relationship with his father, which was accurate). Such exaggerations permeate the book, from the fictional slave hunter who outfits his dog collars with foot-long spikes to a terrifyingly huge Hessian character who has no problem scalping a person with his bare hands. These are all the things of over-the-top action movies, which make it easier to suspend disbelief for this particular tale.
Graham and Brody, however, are decidedly non-exaggerated characters, which is what makes the story work so well. Most of the problems that they face in the story are problems that would be faced by any runaway slave—having to evade slave hunters, trying to find food without being conspicuous, worrying about the friends and family they left behind, etc.—and even once they acquire their powers, they react as one would expect teens in their situation to act—terrified at first, and then WHOA THESE POWERS ARE AWESOME. Surprisingly little of the story centers around their powers, too, but this is far from a flaw. Between Lay’s abolition efforts, Franklin’s conflict with William, William’s own several duplicities, and both of Graham and Brody’s conflicts (that is, hiding from Sorenson while learning to use their powers), there’s more than enough to keep the reader interested.
The writing itself zips between each storyline quickly, but never feels rushed. Dialogue is particularly well-handled, with several characters possessing their own unique styles of speaking. The art, too, is energetic, with smart use of color, expression, and character design, even if the lineart beneath the color occasionally looks too quickly-drawn. (It’s far from bad, but every now and then a character will look off-model. It’s not frequent enough to interfere with the reading experience, though.)
Ultimately, The Sons of Liberty is more concerned with entertainment than education. Considering that this was its goal in the first place, it does it with panache—so much so that it might even make readers interested in the true history behind the story! At its heart, it’s an exciting fantasy romp through pre-Revolutionary America, and highly recommended.
*No offense to history teachers. Mine were magnificent, but I’ve had several teens refuse historical fiction because they say their history teachers ruined it for them.
One movie reviewer commented that the Pacific Rim movie watched like a sequel to a previous movie that the filmmakers forgot to make. This was possibly due to its quick prologue, which summed up the movie’s tagline (“To fight monsters we created monsters”) via disaster montage and then fast forwarded to the present of the movie’s story.
The graphic novel prequel Pacific Rim: Tales from Year Zero by Travis Beacham aims to fill the gap left by that prologue. As audience goes, it’s primarily for readers who think Pacific Rim was the best use of Hollywood resources EVER, but also agree with that reviewer in that the film could have used a bit more character development and backstory.
For those who are unfamiliar with Pacific Rim, here is its premise: Enormous monsters called Kaiju have come to earth through an inter-dimensional rift and plan on wiping out humanity because plot. Lacking any effective defense, humanity builds giant robots called Jaegers to fight them, and then they wail on each other for two hours. There is more to the story than that, but ultimately it comes down to “GIANT ROBOTS VS. GIANT MONSTERS,” and if you’re looking for more than that, Pacific Rim: Tales from Year Zero is not for you.
As the graphic novel’s title suggests, its story begins when the first Kaiju attacks and proceeds to cover the development of the first Jaegers, along with the emotional tumult that the characters go through when creating them. Overall, it’s a better-than-average book. For a story that moves as quickly as it does, it manages to pack in a lot of good character moments, with some of the most memorable characters being those who don’t even get that much page time (Not to say that they’re characters that will be memorable beyond the book—because they won’t—but they’re neat while they’re in the story). When characters from the movie eventually show up, their actions and dialogue are consistent with those of their movie selves. This is even true of fan-favorite Stacker Pentecost, the subtle bada** whose appeal in the movie was so intrinsically tied to Idris Elba’s performance. The art is a bit higher-quality than one would expect of a simple movie tie-in—stylish, with a few really good, high-action panel arrangements—but nothing spectacular for the reader spoiled on most recent comic art. It’s a quick read, and worth it if you already like Pacific Rim. However, how much you like the graphic novel itself will depend upon your reaction to this final point: There’s almost no Jaeger vs. Kaiju action in this thing.
This is logical, since the Jaegers only barely exist at this point in the story’s chronology, but readers who were hoping for continuous giant-monster-face-punching action like that seen in the movie will be sorely disappointed. The few combat scenes that exist are well-illustrated, which somewhat makes up for the general lack, but ultimately, Pacific Rim: Tales from Year Zero is more interested in its characters than its Kaiju. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I didn’t notice the lack of action until I’d finished the book, I was so distracted by everything else. Still, it’s a bit jarring in retrospect, since so much of the movie’s appeal rests in its over-the-top action sequences.
Ultimately, though, Pacific Rim: Tales from Year Zero is a good little read. It’s not likely to be remembered, even by the movie’s most enthusiastic fans, but it’s a fun way for a fan to spend an hour while wishing for Pacific Rim 2.
Yukiteru Amano is a perpetual bystander. Since he prefers not to interact with other people, he occupies his time by keeping a cell phone diary of random goings-on that occur around him. Oh, and by hanging out with his imagined friend Deus ex Machina, the God of Time and Space…who, Yuki finds, is not so imaginary after all. Seeing that Yuki could use a bit of excitement in his life, Deus decides that a game is in order. He gives Yuki and eleven anonymous people the ability to know the future via cell phone diaries—Future Diaries—and then baits them with this challenge: The last one remaining will inherit his position as the God of Time and Space. Yuki must now fight for his life.
Future Diary Volume 1 by Sakae Esuno reads like it wanted to rank on the same tier as Death Note and Eden of the East, but could never get itself together before the artist’s production deadline. It follows a similar structure as the aforementioned epic mysteries, giving common people extraordinary and morally complicated power and then forcing them to use it while combating unknown forces that are out to end them. However, the suspense that rose so perfectly in those series falls flat here, mostly due to disappointing characters and too-easy information reveals.
Yuki is not engaging as a protagonist; he doesn’t do much with his life and doesn’t think he’s worth that much anyway, which doesn’t give him much to strive for, which in turn makes him an irritatingly passive main character, even when his life is at stake. His eventual companion Yuno Gasai is far more proactive in the story, serving as his defender—but only because she has an obsessively stalker-like interest in him, going to such lengths as triggering an enemy bomb to blow up a school full of people who refused to defend him. And yet we’re supposed to be sympathetic to these characters.
Most of the twists in the story come without much effort, too. Yuki doesn’t even have to work to find out that Yuno is the second Future Diary holder—she just pops up and reveals the fact to him. Most of the others in this volume do the exact same thing, which makes the anonymity of Deus’ setup seem rather useless. Deus himself is not especially useful in the story, either. He disappears totally once the game is fully explained, which makes me wonder if the writer didn’t just toss him in as an excuse to get the mayhem rolling and give the characters something to fight over.
If anything, the basic concept of the Future Diaries is neat. The participants don’t all receive the same information about the future; rather, their information comes through a filter based upon the kinds of information they kept on their phone before Deus’ game. Yuno’s unsurprisingly specific Yukiteru Diary only updates information about Yuki’s future, while another character’s Criminal Investigation Diary updates information about crimes, and another’s Escape Diary about the possibilities for escape in any situation. Yuki’s Random Diary contains the broadest picture of the future, but is rarely about his future, since he never wrote about himself in his own diary. These gaps in information alone could have played into a grand thriller of a plot, but they don’t even come close to doing so, much like the rest of the comic.
Future Diary is a paragon of squandered potential. It could have been a fantastic psychological thriller, but unfortunately, lost itself in unlikable characters and half-done everything.
Lizzie Newton is equal parts Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes, a budding mystery writer who does more than write mysteries—She solves them, too. No one wants to believe this of her, though, because this is the Victorian era, after all, and women don’t do that sort of thing. This is why Lizzie must hide her talents behind a masculine pen name and send her deductions through her lawyer-in-training fiancé, Edwin. But this doesn’t stop her from traipsing onto crime scenes as she sees fit, prodding corpses, and showing up everyone who thinks she’s wrong with a cute grin and the power of logic and science.
I didn’t expect much of Hey-jin Jeon’s Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries Volume 1 simply because I’d never heard of it before. Now that I’ve finished it, I can’t help but wonder why. It’s a true gem of a comic.
What’s most impressive about Lizzie Newton is the number of things that could have gone wrong in the comic compared to the number of things that it did very well. The illustration on the cover—wide-eyed Lizzie, smiling sweetly in a frilly dress—led me to expect the adventures of a vapid girly-girl who stumbles clumsily but adorably into her solutions because that’s what happens in manga where the protagonist is a cute girl. Lizzie is anything but. While she is absent-minded, it’s in an intellectual way—She’s so distracted by the thrill of solving a mystery that it never occurs to her that it is NOT OK to poke her finger into the bullet hole in a corpse’s head before the police even arrive to investigate the scene. And though she is, for all appearances, a cute Victorian lady with limited practical sense, there’s a real brain behind that bonnet, and a personal collection of books and scientific equipment to back it up. She’s a perfect combination of “feminine” cuteness and “masculine” logic, without being an exaggeration of either. Her relationship with Edwin is also refreshingly positive. Edwin himself is a capable (as opposed to amusingly bumbling) companion. Though he does, of course, become exasperated with Lizzie’s absent-mindedness, he’s ultimately supportive of her investigative hobbies and does what he can to make Lizzie’s discoveries known—in her name. In fact, in addition to portraying a female protagonist who is productively interested in science (as opposed to using science for comedic, explosive effect), the comic makes a notable effort to say, “You know that famous male scientist who discovered that thing? Yeah, half of that work was done by an un-credited woman” (in this face, Ada Lovelace, who wrote the language for the Analytical Engine that preceded Charles Babbage’s unfinished Difference Engine). Yet none of these feministic elements are ever preachy. Lizzie Newton is definitely a Girl Power/Girl-Who-is-GASP-Interested-In-Science book, but it’s more interested in its amusing characters and the details of its plot to dwell on the social concerns that it brings up.
Plot-wise, it’s an interesting whodunit, though the process Lizzie follows to solve the mystery is more interesting than the mystery itself. I never really cared about who may or may not have killed whom in the story, but that was mostly because 1) they were background characters anyway, and 2) the rest of the comic is more interesting.
The art in the book is also worth a mention. The detail that artist Ki-ha Lee puts into costumes and settings is reminiscent of Yana Toboso’s Black Butler, as is the occasional tonal shift between dark, dramatic illustration and funny chibis. In fact, I’d go as far to say that this manga is what Black Butler would be if it involved a detective and an actual point. Tonally, the two are almost identical (even if their stories are ABSOLUTELY dissimilar). The care put into the artwork also recalls Kaoru Mori’s Emma, which was noted for its artist’s obsessive interest in Victorian details, even if her character designs were a bit blah. Lee’s designs lean more toward Toboso’s distinct, expressive characters. Either way, the artwork is lovely and enough reason, on its own, to read the book.
Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries, then, is an excellent manga for readers who enjoy a good mystery with wonderful art, a dash of scientific investigation, and a sneaky lot of girl power spunk. (Note: The back of the book claims that it also contains “a spot of Jane Austen,” which it doesn’t, unless you count the fact that Lizzie shares a name with one of Austen’s protagonists. Also Jane Austen was Regency, not Victorian, so GET YOUR LITERARY PERIODS STRAIGHT, MARKETERS. Anyway, regardless, Austenites are likely to enjoy it because frilly dresses and pride-and-prejudice-smackdowns and stuff.)
Comic adaptations of Shakespeare are hardly new, but in my experience, rarely are they well-done enough to be appreciated outside of a “Here, read this comic because you’re having trouble with the Shakespearean language in the play” context. Of the several that I’ve attempted, only a few have been books that I’ve reread for their entertainment value. Most of the others I haven’t been able to finish, and all of those left me with exasperated groans in my throat, just waiting to be unleashed when I came upon the next Shakespeare comic.
In fact, that is exactly what happened when I came upon this comic. When I first saw a thumbnail of Romeo and Juliet: The War, my reaction was *EXAGGERATED SIGH-GRUMBLE*, “Does the world really need another futuristic Romeo and Juliet ripoff?” The fact that it was Romeo and Juliet made it worse. Generally I hate stories that feature protagonists being both in love and stupid at the same time, which is what Romeo and Juliet is, at its heart. Oh, the original has all that iambic pentametered loveliness, too, but I can get that in every other Shakespearean work, many of which are far more interesting than this one.
Key to my exasperation with this book was the fact that I was looking at a thumbnail that was the size of, well, a thumbnail.
Then, one day, I came upon the actual cover in person, which sent me into fits of fangirlish glee:
This version of Shakespeare’s classic sets the familiar story in the far future, making both families consist of cybernetically- or genetically- enhanced supersoldiers, and then having them duke it out in a wondrous spread of futuristic glowing lights and shiny metal that makes the book look like a printed cousin of the Mass Effect games (which is not a bad thing because even the loading screens are fun to look at in Mass Effect games.)
Romeo and Juliet: The War is not simply a slapdash adaptation of a classic made for SparkNotes purposes, either. (Not to hate on SparkNotes, by the way. The SparkNotes graphic novel version of Hamlet is one of my favorite Shakespeare-inspired comics.) It’s an impressively crafted work, and despite all the crazy technological changes, the basic story is still intact. I wouldn’t recommend reading in lieu of the original if you’re reading it for class, as you’ll end up answering questions like “Why were the Montagues and Capulets enemies?” with “Because they were such awesomely superpowered soldiers that they defeated everyone else in the world, leaving only themselves to fight!” (which, FYI, is not the Shakespearean reason). However, as a complement to the original text, it’s pretty good. Some changes are made to certain minor points in the plot, but—dare I say it?—these changes actually improve upon Shakespeare’s story, or at the very least make it more dramatic reading.
Basic accuracy is the least of this book’s good points, though. All of the other good points rest in its art. The art in this comic is not merely pleasant to look at. Everything about it is expertly accomplished, from the dynamic panel layout, to the characterful color design, to the wondrous and colossal scale of it all. The book makes frequent use of detailed full-page and multi-page spreads, and more than once I found myself stopping in the middle of reading simply to gawp at what was on the page before me. This is a graphic novel that comes very close to reaching the height of Capital A Art.
The only truly disappointing part of the book, for me, was the lack of an author or artist’s note in the back, as I was genuinely curious to know what happened to make this unexpected bit of awesomeness come about. The only extras included are some pieces of concept art, which are cool, but not as interesting as a look into the writer’s and artist’s minds would have been. I also had a problem with Romeo’s hair, which being the shaggy mop that seems to appear on every stylish teen boy’s head these days is going to look dated as soon as we’re out of the 2010s. But that’s just me being picky because there’s nothing else to complain about.