Kriss by Ted Naifeh

Do you ever read something and feel little to no impact from the story? That’s how I felt about Kriss.

Kriss: The Gift of Wrath is the introductory volume to the Kriss graphic novel series. It is about a young man with a mysterious past who must fight a wild snow cat to save the townspeople and the girl he seemingly loves.

You honestly don’t learn anything about Kriss, the protagonist, in this first installment and that bothered me. He seems to be in love with a girl where he lives and he hates his “father”. His “father” isn’t actually his father. Other than that he fights the snow cat and meets what I interpreted as the gods of his existence. Unfortunately I don’t have a lot to say about the plot because there wasn’t much of one. Kriss is an angry character with a hidden past that we don’t glimpse, I don’t know the direction he is heading. To me he came off as an anti-hero, at first he appeared evil and it weirded me out.

The illustrations by Warren Wucinich were half dark and mysterious and half goofy. There is a character titled “The Lord Protectorate” and the way he was drawn looked comical compared to the rest of the gloomy scenes. It just felt like some of it didn’t fit in and threw me out of the story. Upon further investigation Wucinich illustrated some Invader ZIM graphic novels and I could see the art style hidden within Kriss. To me it felt flippy floppy and didn’t stick with one theme. A project like this should either be dark and gloomy, with the black and white with red contrasts or full color cartoon style like Invader ZIM, not both.

There really wasn’t a lot for me to base this review on because this volume was short and it was the introductory issue, I hope that Kriss improves over time because I see how the character could be compelling with his mysterious past. As of right now Kriss has earned a low 2/5 stars. I liked some of the art and I feel like it has potential, but right now I am not impressed.

Regardless of my opinion on this particular graphic novel I want to extend a huge thank you to NetGalley and Oni Press for giving me the chance to review Kriss.

Topside by J.N. Monk

Imagine living your whole life not knowing what the world outside is like? Then imagine that you royally messed up and you have to go outside to fix your mistake! In short, that is what Topside is about. Jo, a young maintenance technician makes a mistake that destabilizes her planets core and must go on an adventure to find Oblexium, the only substance that can fix her error. Jo comes face to face with a scam artist, a shapeshifter, and pair of bounty hunters in the form of a shark in a dress and a sentient lightbulb. Jo’s adventure gets complicated when agents from the interior, her home, start pursuing her with the thought that she has been abducted.

What I most enjoyed about Topside is that Jo finds friends in the most unlikely of places. Funnily enough, she stumbles upon these friends due to her likeability and sheer ignorance of the world beyond the interior. Monk creates a world of danger but also of acceptance. Jo, while skeptical, accepts these odd people around her for who they are and forms an interesting little gang of friends. I thought that it had a really good message for a kid’s graphic novel.

Also, Jo is an interesting and fun protagonist. She has this aura of exhaustion from the constant work, but she also has an enthusiasm that makes her enjoyable. The balance for this character is very good and it made me care for her. She is honestly just trying her hardest to fix her mistake and help her family move up in the world. She is an underdog and I liked her.

The pacing in this graphic novel, while quick, feels perfect for the target audience. It moves quickly enough to hold kids attention while also having enough detail for an adult to enjoy. One minute your following Jo as she wanders through an apocalyptic style town the next your in hot pursuit following the interior agents, it really holds your attention.

Something unique about Topside that I particularly enjoyed was the not so antagonistic antagonist. He is just a guy forced to do a job he doesn’t want to do, and he is forced to jump through a bunch of ridiculous bureaucratic hoops. He’s comical and seems to embody the tedious nature of office work and adulthood. I don’t hate him and I think that there should be more “bad guys” like him in children’s books.

I also want to praise Harry Bogosian’s illustrations in Topside, they are gorgeous. Jo’s appearance reminds me a little of Steven Universe, I’ve mentioned that show before and honestly I’ve only seen a few episodes, I think it’s great.

I give Topside a 5/5, I was really charmed by this one. As always thank you to NetGalley and also a thank you to Lerner Publishing Group, without them this review wouldn’t be possible.

Aquaman Vol. 1: Unspoken Water by Kelly DeConnick

While many felt let down by the recent release of the blockbuster film of Aquaman, this graphic novel is here to save the image of the hero altogether. With the rising popularity of the gold and green clad hero comes a graphic novel that expands on Aquaman’s origin story in a new and beautiful way. This is the type of story that should be featured on the silver screen.

Aquaman is a vulnerable hero in this story, he has lost his memory and his life has been saved by strangers. The island he has washed up on has been experiencing intense hardships, and it is up to Aquaman to save the day. He is an unlikely hero facing up against a powerful goddess who desires to turn the world to salt.

One aspect of this story I really enjoyed was the use of a new mythology, one I had never experienced before. We are introduced to old gods, then even older gods. It seems that this universe is built on something entirely different than we have read in comics yet, it is fresh and introduces us to a new version of Genesis, at least that was how I read it. It really builds onto its own history and creates a setting that can only expand from here, I imagine that history will only get richer and deeper as the series continues.

I also have to praise the illustrator highly, Robson Rocha is fantastic. The imagery is beautiful and while reminiscent of old school comics stick to the high quality of newer graphic novels. Rocha creates a vibrant world for Aquaman to explore. We see beaches and the depths of the ocean, from humans to gods the illustrations are impeccable. The illustrations only add depth to the story and creates ideal settings for the narrative.

DeConnick switches up how we envision Aquaman, he is not some silly hero that can speak to fish. He cries out for the aid of the ocean and he does receive it, he is not just some commander of fish but truly a hero that works in sync with the marine life around him. I think this version of Aquaman is definitely different than what I was expecting while still resembling the original hero, the newness does not lose the original character just enhances it.

The story felt more serious than I was expecting and it was a good thing. We do not need any more silly heroes in tights and underwear, we need heroes with emotional depth and rich backstory, DeConnick delivers.

I give this one 5/5, I truly enjoyed this graphic novel regardless of how skeptical I was in the beginning.

Also a huge thank you to NetGalley and DC Comics for allowing me the opportunity to review this graphic novel.

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker

Unique and cute as can be, Mooncakes is unlike any other graphic novel that I have read so far. The story is different and the illustrations are fun and colorful. This graphic novel definitely kept me entertained throughout with its simple story line and fantastical creatures.

In Mooncakes we follow Nova, a young and budding witch, and Tam a werewolf with undiscovered magical talent. Nova and Tam embark on an adventure to banish the demon in the woods behind Nova’s house, while also discovering their feelings for each other. This story is filled with quirky characters like Nova’s pigeon headed uncle and her sassy but wonderful grandmas. This graphic novel is sure to make you smile and feel fuzzy inside.

My favorite character is Tatyana, Nova’s best friend and science nerd. She brings a lot of humor to the story and I enjoyed viewing her paralleled views of science versus magic. Her constant desire to understand and her unending frustration with the “physics” of magic made me fond of her. As a character she felt well rounded and interesting. She reminded me of one of my childhood friends and that familiarity really endeared me to her.

Weirdly enough I did not feel the same connection to Nova or Tam even though they were the main characters. To me it felt like they took a back seat to the quirkier secondary characters, who were so well crafted. The grandma’s were also so unique and in my opinion were more interesting than Nova and Tam. I feel like I would have enjoyed their love story far more. Nova and Tam just felt like a regular teen romance with angst and a small side of secrecy. It just did not feel as original as I wanted it to. With Tam being non-binary and Nova being bisexual ( I believe this is the proper interpretation though I may be incorrect) I thought going in that the dynamic would feel unique and impactful, it didn’t. It seems their relationship was composed entirely of the same typical young adult romance tropes as any other YA novel. To me the characters just felt a little hollow.

While entertaining and composed of some unique character aspects this story didn’t diverge much from the usual YA plot system. I felt like it was a novel I had read before but with a different skin. I definitely did not hate it because I love YA, but it wouldn’t stand out in a crowd. It felt like it wanted to be like SAGA mixed with Steven Universe but didn’t quite meet the expectations of either. It really needs a characteristic that causes it to stand out from the crowd, some fatal flaw or even just raised stakes. You’re probably thinking, How is battling a demon not high enough stakes? Well in all honesty I didn’t feel any real danger because the grandmas’ are so over powered. I had a hard time envisioning the conflict as true conflict. It was like no matter what everything would be okay in the end. I guess in simple terms, my anxieties as a reader felt coddled.

On the other hand, the illustrations of this graphic novel are excellent. Wendy Xu made this novel absolutely stunning. The woodland spirits and the grandmas’ three cats were so cute. The world created is absolutely beautiful, it’s colorful while not feeling like an acid trip, and it creates a definite autumn weather feel. I could see myself sitting outside in the brisk air of Halloween reading this graphic novel. I am interested to see what else Wendy Xu has illustrated.

In all, I did not love this graphic novel. But, I also do not hate it. I think that if this story is to continue and really focus on Nova and Tam’s character development, my mind could change. There is a lot of potential here and I do not want to judge it too firmly because it was not a bad story, I just think that it could use some expansion. I give Mooncakes 3/5 stars with the strong hope that I get to see more in the future.

Teen Titans: Raven by Kami Garcia

Kami Garcia puts a fresh twist on the Raven origin story by throwing Raven into Louisiana to mingle with voodoo and spirits.

We are dropped into the life of Raven just as her soon-to-be adopted mother is killed in an accident. Raven is left without any of her memories and goes to live with her adopted aunt and cousin. Here we see her re-entry into high school while she adjusts to her new life, all while trying to remember who she used to be and also discovering who she is now.

This graphic novel does an excellent job of balancing back story and the self-discovery of who Raven is. Raven’s emotions feel authentic of a teen girl even while she is experiencing her powers for the first time again. Raven as a character is compelling in this story and I was interested to find out where her character was headed, it did not wane it was consistently interesting throughout.

While this is a super hero origin, I was impressed by the amount of normal teenage activity that mixed in with her supernatural abilities. We see Raven make friends, fall in love, and attend prom. The mix was very even and it did not feel like a typical young adult graphic novel. I found that it would be interesting to even the older comic book junkie.

My single issue with this graphic novel was how the dialogue was executed. The thought/speech bubbles changed color to indicate if something was verbal or in Raven’s head. This was a little hard to interpret at first because I was having a hard time discerning who was talking/thinking. After the first couple chapters I adjusted but I did find myself having to reread the beginning to understand exactly what was happening.

One thing that really stood out to me was the art style. The illustrations are gorgeous. The illustrator Gabriel Picolo did a fantastic job making the art style really stand out. The characters were gorgeous and so was the setting. You could really see Louisiana in the illustrations.

I give this graphic novel a 4/5. It was entertaining, the plot felt fresh, and the illustrations were beautiful. Aside from the one hiccup mentioned this graphic novel is amazing.

I was lucky to receive and advance copy from DC comic through NetGalley, so a huge thank you to both of them.