Across Five Decades: Old and New Black Panther Comics

Black Panther coverIntrigued by the release of the new Black Panther film earlier this year, I decided to try out some of the Black Panther comics which have preceded it.  I started with the only comic book I could find at my local library that had “book one” in the title, which turned out to be a 2016 rejuvenation of the series.  The slender volume I picked up was Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book Oby Ta-Nehisi Coates..

While I did not find A Nation Under Our Feet particularly coherent or artistically impressive, the comic does provide an intro into the Black Panther world for those who, like me, are curious about the latest superhero Marvel has transferred from comic book to silver screen.  Perhaps the best part of the comic is the last half, which includes a map and history of Wakanda and concludes with a snippet from the very first 1966 comic Black Panther appeared in, where Black Panther features as a character the Fantastic Four encounter.  (Or should I say face?  Black Panther has changed a lot since his first debut 🙂 .)

1966 Black Panther comicIn spite of cartoonish colors and somewhat cheesy dialogue, I found myself enjoying the older comic more than the new one.  The authors (Stan Lee being a prominent one) have a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor and use their powers as narrators to talk directly to the audience.  Further, although the artwork is not nearly as slick as in more recent Black Panther installments, I thought it was laid out well and kept the story easy to follow.  Finally, while certain tidbits—such as asbestos being an innovative material—certainly date the comic, I actually found these aspects to be part of the appeal.

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Only Love Can Break a Heart, But…

Considering Cathy Guisewite’s obsession with hearts and love, I thought a collection of Cathy comics would make an appropriate Valentine’s Day book review.  Only Love Can Break a Heart, But a Shoe Sale Can Come Close is a collection of Cathy comics from the 1990s.  Love, food, friends, work, and clothes all take center stage in Cathy’s humdrum but humorous life.

Cathy's dilemmaCathy’s best friend Andrea from the earlier comics has moved on and only shows up briefly at the end of the book.  In Andrea’s place is Cathy’s coworker and friend Charlene, with whom Cathy shares relationship and shopping woes and advice.  Irving is still at the center of Cathy’s slow-moving love life, and Cathy jealously competes with golf and Irving’s ex-girlfriend Julia for Irving’s attention.

Cathy and golf.JPGTo the annoyance of all the single women where Cathy and Charlene work, Charlene flaunts her happy relationship with her boyfriend Simon.  However, the envious coworkers enjoy their moments of triumph when Charlene’s happy expectations are occasionally disappointed.  Author Cathy Guisewite reveals in her Cathy comics the funny side of a modern woman’s world of shopping, relationships, and work.

Cathy's work.JPGThis collection of Cathy comics continues to display Guisewite’s witty humor.  Additionally, the artwork in Only Love Can Break a Heart, while still in Guisewite’s quirky and childlike style, shows how Guisewite improved as an artist in the two decades since she first began her comics.

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Note: If you want to read more about the Cathy comics, click here to view my other article on Cathy.

Hilo: Saving the Whole Wide World

Who would have thought Hilo could crash back to Earth with even less than when he arrived the first time (a name, shiny underpants, and a bad case of amnesia)?  Yet somehow, Hilo manages to do just that when he returns to Earth (or at least his toe does) in Hilo: Saving the Whole Wide World by Judd Winick.

Hilo pageHilo has returned, but as his friend D.J. explains, “It was a little weird” (1).  After disappearing through a portal at the end of The Boy Who Crashed to Earth, Hilo returns to Earth in pieces.  For normal little boys, returning in bits might be a problem, but not for alien robot Hilo, who quickly reassembles and warns his friends D.J. and Gina that his nemesis Razorwark is coming to Earth.  To keep Razorwark away from Earth, Hilo ends up stranding himself in the human world and must begin adjusting to everyday human life.  However, bullies at school, Hilo’s slowly returning memories, and aliens invading Earth through portals keep life far from peaceful or ordinary for Hilo and his friends.

As with the Zita the Spacegirl trilogy by Ben Hatke, the second installment of the Hilo series lacks some of the novelty of the pilot book.  That said, though, Saving the Whole Wide World is still an entertaining read and a fitting sequel to The Boy Who Crashed to Earth.  New characters like a magical warrior cat named Pollandra add a touch of freshness to the story, and the focus on friendship and courage provides the story with heartwarming and constructive themes.

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The Return of Zita the Spacegirl

Return of Zita the SpacegirlZita and her friends are back, this time to conduct a jailbreak, rescue prisoners from the corrupt Doom Squad that runs a penitentiary planet, and save earth from the evil Screed and their leader the Dungeon Lord.

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl brings back characters from the first two Zita books and introduces a few more.  While in prison, Zita meets a talking rag pile name Raggy and a skeleton named Femur who are two creative additions to the cast.  Ben Hatke’s artwork, characters, and story maintain the quality of the earlier books, and Return of Zita finishes the series strong.  Best of all, Hatke introduces new themes, pointing out Zita’s character flaw of impulsiveness that leads to problems in all three books.  When Zita tries to defend herself during her trial at the beginning of Return of Zita the Spacegirl, she admits that she didn’t think about the possible outcomes of her actions when she destroyed the asteroid, killed the Star Hearts, and stole a spaceship in the previous books.  The story doesn’t delve much deeper into this subject, but Return of Zita the Spacegirl shows that wrong means to a good end can often result in unintended and disastrous consequences.

When Zita finally returns home, she will not be the same girl who left, for her adventures have changed her.  Now, Zita is ready for whatever lies ahead, whether on Earth or in space.  Her adventures have taught her about courage, friendship, and most of all about herself, for as Hatke quotes at the beginning of the third book, “I went coast to coast, and from star to star / That’s how you learn, just who you are” (1).

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Say Hello to Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth

hilo-coverMeet Daniel Jackson Lim, or D.J. as everyone calls him.  As a middle child of middling capabilities in a family of extremely smart, athletic, and successful brothers, sisters, and parents, D.J. thinks there’s only one thing he’s good at:  being friends with Gina, his next-door-neighbor.  Since Gina moved away, though, D.J. has been alone and has lost the one part of life in which he felt successful.  Now, life is just average.  One day, though, a little boy hurtles from the sky and craters into a field behind D.J.’s house, and Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick begins.

D.J. soon discovers that the newcomer in the backyard is just as unusual as his method of arrival.  Ecstatic, curious, and talkative, the boy introduces himself as “Hilo,” and D.J. quickly learns that a name, shiny underpants, and a bad case of amnesia are Hilo’s only apparent worldly possessions.  After smuggling Hilo into his house, D.J. feeds, clothes, and befriends him.  Before long, though, Hilo’s past begins catching up with him, and D.J. finds himself caught up in life-threatening adventures with his new friend.  D.J. realizes that, in addition to being a good friend, he’s good at something else:  running for his life from alien robots.

hilo-comic-pageJudd Winick and artist Guy Major have designed a colorful, quirky book which has illustrations that match the exuberance of its characters.  Hilo is both fun and easy to read due to well-planned panels.  Even though the panels are irregular in size, varying from full page spreads to five sections on a page, the transitions between pictures are simple and smooth.

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick is a hilarious story peopled by funny characters with personalities that remain believable, even in a fictional story.  This book will entertain and delight audiences of many ages with its characters, setting, and new twist on science fiction and alien stories.

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Gary Larson Greatness!

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A few weeks ago I wrote an article (here) about Dave Coverly’s comic strip Speed Bump, in which I mentioned another comic strip called The Far Side. While The Far Side is no longer being actively produced by its creator Gary Larson, the strip’s magnificence has been well documented in multiple book collections for those of us (like me) who are too young to have ever read it in the newspapers.

006  005Larson uses role reversals between animals and humans, science, as well as a keen knowledge of the English language to create humorous situations. I have always gotten a kick out of reading the collections of The Far Side comics, and would highly recommend them. You won’t be able to find any of The Far Side comics available on the internet, but check at your local library or buy a volume or two for your own collection.

Note to Parents: The Far Side contains an evolutionary worldview in many of the strips. However, while possibly being a negative, it could also generate good discussions about science. Also, some of the jokes can be crude and are not suitable for younger readers.

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Bone: An Epic in Storytelling

Bone, by Jeff Smith, is epic not only in length but also storytelling. Running 1,332 pages, and telling a story of friendship, loyalty, duty, and sacrifice, Bone is a story that can be read and enjoyed by a wide range of readers.

Bone follows the adventures of three cousins: Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone. After being run out of their hometown and crossing a vast desert, they discover a valley wherein the greatest adventure of their lives will take place. Jeff Smith tells his story with wit and plenty of humor as he follows the cousins’ many adventures. Though character change does not really take place in any of the three main characters in the story, their actions and attitudes are portrayed in such a way as to cause the reader to desire the traits of some over others. For example, Phoney Bone is constantly trying to defraud people and get himself rich. However, over and over throughout the story his schemes for money only end in pain and financial failure. So, although Phoney never changes, Jeff Smith is able to communicate that love of money above all other things is bad and will only end in ruin.  In contrast, characters like Fone Bone who display loyalty and a sense of responsibility are shown in a positive light. In his story, Jeff Smith not only communicates many admirable traits through characters, but he also uses the situations his characters find themselves in to communicate his ideas. For example, he shows how lies, even when made with good intentions to protect, end in distrust and hurt relationships.

In Bone, Jeff Smith does portray a relativistic worldview, which basically says that what is “truth” for one person may not be “truth” for somebody else, but the worldview should not be a problem for readers who perceive it for what it is. Despite the relativistic leanings in the story, Bone still has many good themes and tells a truly heartwarming story. Since Bone is fantasy there are lots of monsters, some magic (called dreaming), and a good bit of violence in the later chapters of the story.

From a technical standpoint, Bone is well done. My copy has black and white illustrations, but there are colored versions available. Jeff Smith uses a very simple layout for his panels which makes it easy for the reader to follow and understand the narrative. Following in the footsteps of the panel layouts, Jeff Smith’s artwork is simpler visually speaking, without a huge number of lines involved in each panel, but always very effective. Other than a few instances where an arm or leg on a character seems out of proportion, the artwork is very consistent.  Jeff Smith’s ability to time events with pacing between the comic panels, and draw very expressive representations of characters’ feelings, means that the comedic moments are very funny and that the story can sometimes be told simply by the characters’ features without the aid of words.

In conclusion, Bone is a great story that has many good themes and ideas. The story is fun to read, and it is probably my favorite graphic novel. That said, readers should be cognizant of the relativistic worldview present in the story so that they can pick the good from the bad, and right from wrong. Despite the incorrect worldview, Bone holds many good messages and is an entertaining read.

Happy Reading!

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