Haphaven

Raised to believe in all things superstition, Alex Zane Mills, is not looking forward to her thirteenth birthday, uneasy over the unlucky number. After being scolded by her mother that doesn’t understand the obsessive following of superstitions, Alex decides to take a moment to consider she is being silly to believe in Lady Luck shining down on her, resulting in her mother falling into a life or death situation. Now Alex must travel to a world where superstitions are law in order to save her mother and understand the history of her family’s luck.

Lion Forge once again brings another great read that was visually pleasing and presented the perfect balance of action and humor in less than 200 pages. Alex is dependent on the luck she is sure is given to her by her great grandfather Zane said to have gone off to marry Lady Luck herself, much to her mother’s irritation. When stepping on a crack literally breaks her mother’s back, Alex journeys to the end of the rainbow with a leprechaun with no hesitation. From throwing salt over the shoulder to knocking on wood before it knocks you back, the world of Haphaven functions solely on superstition, which Alex immediately eases into. She is determined to get a hold of a rabbit’s foot in order to save her mother, but finds that the foot is not only difficult to find, but is still attached to the rabbit.

Despite the graphic novel being very fast paced, it didn’t feel too rushed and even worked in the plot’s favor as Alex and the other characters are constantly on the move. Alex is a strong and intelligent young lady that isn’t afraid to leap into action even in the face of a danger that has her cornered. The art style uses soft colors beautifully that create especially emotional moments for the characters and features bright colors to place emphasis on certain objects in the panels. My only complaint is that Alex is seen always carrying around a bat that has lucky symbols carved into them that was given to her by her father, though she doesn’t use it as often as I thought she would. It becomes more of a symbol of her being unable to let go of this dependency on being given luck by her relative Zane and think this would have been more evident if she were to spend a few more moments looking down at the symbols on the bat rather than just swing them at some trees.

I absolutely recommend this graphic novel and if the cover does not peak your interest, then the first five pages surely will.

I was provided an Advanced Reader’s Copy by the teams at NetGalley and Lion Forge. Opinions expressed are my own.

PTSD

A soldier returned from war without an eye and a heavy weight on her shoulders, Jun is a woman forced to struggled for survival while carrying the memories of a war that continuously plays in her mind. PTSD is a beautifully illustrated story of how a returned soldier never truly left the battle and is now living on the streets struggling to cope with the terrors of war through isolation and drug abuse.

Despite the setting not being identified by name, the art style and landscape of this city indicates that this is based off of Tokyo. It is a city with what seems to have a high population of homeless, many of whom are veterans, and they are all fast and easy consumers of drugs that help these veterans cope with anxiety, restlessness, and panic attacks that Jun experiences on multiple occasions from nightmares to the distant sound of a child’s bicycle tire popping. She relies on drugs to cope and when she doesn’t have any, she will do anything to obtain more even if it means getting on the bad side of the dealers.

The art style gives a manga vibe to it, and it so colorful that you wouldn’t even think that these bright colors would work in a scene displaying people getting shot at. I’d like to point out that although there is plenty of action, this story is a focus on the trauma coming from war, not the war itself, so do not expect every other page to be action filled. There is warmth and character development from Jun and others and beautifully demonstrates the power of a community that comes together during desperate times.

From the colors to the types of lines in the art, there are so many details that play with the story that I couldn’t help get excited over. One key element that makes Jun’s character interesting is that during her panic attacks or moments of stress, her eye goes from being a perfectly shaped oval, to an oval that appeared to almost have been drawn by something with shaking hands, giving this look of disarray and terror on her face. They are amazing little details, but to the plot they are extremely important in portraying the struggles and emotional strain Jun and these other veterans are going through. I completely recommend this graphic novel and think it is a unique and important read to incorporate in the much needed discussion about the subject.

An advanced reader’s copy of PTSD was provided to me by NetGalley and First Second Books. All opinions and ratings mentioned are my own. 

Manga Classics: Les Miserables

This classics has gone through a multitude of adaptation through different mediums, from stage performances to the film and this manga is no exception to being a beautiful adaptation.

If you are unfamiliar with the novel, it was published 1862 by French writer Victor Hugo and is considered one of the most brilliant written works of the 19th century. The novel is definitely a tricky read, meaning you may read it the first time having no idea what you just looked at, but once you take in the plot you will agree that the story is one filled with much emotional turmoil and affection for the characters. There are a handful of characters the plot focuses on, but the primary story follows an ex-convict named Jean Valjean who is on a journey of redemption in a world plagued with poverty and unkindness that seems determined to not let Jean escape his past.

This Manga Classics edition is perfect for those that enjoyed reading the novel but would still like to see an adaptation with a less intense format. Thanks to the team at NetGalley, I was able to take a look at a reader’s copy of the manga and was pleasantly surprised how much I was taken to the manga within just a few pages. As someone that read the original novel over five years ago, I still found myself feeling shock and anger at the event depicted on the pages. It was difficult to imagine a manga art style being able to capture this historical text, but I was disproven and found the art held up the original writing and even clarified points in the plot I could never quite get right in the reading.

This adaptation is especially useful to student and educators reading the original text and may be experiencing some difficulty processing or breaking down the reading. Jean Valjean goes through multiple names in the plot as he escapes his past, so seeing his journey visibly makes it easier to keep track.

This manga works well as an introduction to the Victor Hugo novel as it avoids the dense parts of the original to focus on the bigger plot points of the story. Because there is so much going on in the story to fit in this manga, the pacing is a bit fast as time is constantly being manipulated in order to speed the timeline of the plot’s entirety. You can notice at times that the manga is clearly trying to quickly get to the more tense moments of the plot, which unfortunately cuts time from the more slow and emotional scenes.

Overall, the manga was a great adaptation and I recommend it to those who enjoy the original novel or would like to know the plot but have no desire to read the original text.

Godshaper

In a world where the law of the universe no longer apply, every person finds themselves with a god, a manifestation of their wealth and social status. But with every situation there is an exception. There exists those who are incapable of possessing a god, yet have the ability to manipulate other people’s gods, called godshapers. 

Ennay is a godshaper, he is seen as the lowest of the low in society, yet he is needed in order for the possessor of gods to be able to adjust their gods to their satisfaction. Alongside him is Bud, another exception to his new world as Bud is capable of thriving without needing of a human to worship him. The two are a strange but powerful pair as their existence doesn’t seem to apply to the rules of society, much to the dislike of many. 

This series is one of the most beautifully illustrated stories I have ever read. There is so much color from the people and the setting, even the gods seem to glow with these unnatural colors, making them appear to stand out on the pages. By brilliant glow to the gods solidifies the idea that behind every person is a god, which is what stands out the most, because in order to strut your importance, you must make your god stand out above everyone else. 

This story a beautifully way of showing the materialistic ways of society and how society has come to worship the wealthy just as these possessors of gods use their gods as a means of wealth and self-importance, becoming dependent on these beings. It is also no coincidence that this plot features a black main character. Ennay isn’t regarded as a lower being because of his skin color, but the treatment he received from others is near identical to the treatment of people of color in today’s society, especially with the wealthier class. 
What is unique about Ennay is that he is a main character doesn’t aim to change the way he is being looked at. If anything, he is completely obeying the rules of society and is determined to get away from it all and make money while participating in these underground musical events in which he feels can truly be free and unjudged. It isn’t until he and Bud become part of something bigger that he begins to notice the way society now function for him and everyone else. He experience a desire to be like everyone in society but then comes to realize that simply because the majority of society works a certain way, it doesn’t mean it is the way it should be.

This is a story that definitely requires a slow reading in order to appreciate the colors of the illustrations. Ennay’s occasional change of appearance is beautifully illustrated as his sexuality and expression of self is depicted on the pages. You can’t help but appreciate the obvious time and effort taken into creating this masterpiece. I completely recommend this graphic novel to you and hope it makes you drop your jaws in awe as it did for me. 

Upgrade Soul

If you could become a better you, would you?

That is the basis of this beautifully written and drawn graphic novel by Ezra Claytan Daniels. Hank and Molly are an older couple, one having inherited a fortune and the rights to a character in the entertainment industry, and the other a brilliantly known geneticist. Molly has a direct hand in the field of science, with Hank being a deep pocket in support of research. A chance encounter leads to the two becoming involved in an underground research project that intrigues the two and prompts them to become the test subjects. 

The Upgrade project aims to take the aging bodies of Hank and Molly to create something better, stronger, and practically immortal. The project is clearly dangerous, but Hank and Molly see this as a once in a lifetime opportunity and ultimately decide to give their bodies to this experiment in the hopes of becoming strong healthier versions of themselves. A better them. What awaits them after the experiment, although much more capable than their original bodies, comes this terrible realization over the horrors of encountering something far better at being you than you. 

The grainy looking texture of the art gives the atmosphere this almost soft and tender feeling when reading, which definitely helps in making the plot raise the hairs on your arms when the plot is anything but gentle. The detail of the character only adds to this feeling when Molly and Hank are seen after the experiment in. which they appear so frail, as though their life-force was sucked out of them, making the results of the experiment even scarier for their larger plump looking bodies. Despite their appearance, the doppelgangers, if you can call them that, are far more superior to the original bodies in strength, intelligence, and health. Molly’s mind is deteriorating whereas Manuela’s is flourishing with memories of things she has never truly experienced herself. Hank’s fight against destroying the black body of his book character is questioned by Henry, who points out changing times, infuriating Hank. There is growing tension between the originals and their counterparts, as though the new bodies are slowly finding ways to snuff out the originals. 

There is honestly so many characters, but Ezra is able to perfectly capture all of these personalities and struggles, especially when their lives start to connect through situation and emotional connection. You can feel the plot getting up a cliff that makes you plummet at a certain point, creating such an emotional response that you can’t help but feel for these characters, whether you despise them or wish for them to make it out of their struggles in one piece. 

Based in Los Angeles, Ezra Claytan Daniels is an illustrator and artist known for his work, The Changers. His latest work, Upgrade Soul, was a recipient of the Dwayne McDuffie Award and was listed in Publisher Weekly’s Top Books of 2018.
You can follow Ezra on Twitter.