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Turn Back the Pages: The Death of Captain America

Turn Back the Pages is a biweekly feature where I spotlight a comic that is not fresh and new. It may have come out a few months ago or even a few years ago. Maybe it was hyped and popular, or maybe it was an underappreciated gem. Whatever the case, it’ll be a great comic that’s well worth a read.

Death of Captain America Cover

Rumor has it that Captain America is going to die in the next Avengers movie.

If that happens, I’m going to bawl my eyes out in the theater, but it’s not the first time Cap has kicked the bucket (or even the fourth). Let’s take a look at one of the best stories to come out of the Star-Spangled Avenger’s tragic demise: The Death of Captain America: The Burden of Dreams by Ed Brubaker.

Our Story So Far

The book starts with a handy recap: Cap is dead. His girlfriend, Agent 13, has been brainwashed by evil psychiatrist Dr. Faustus. Bucky was captured by Red Skull while trying to get revenge, and Iron Man, the Black Widow, and Falcon are attempting to launch a rescue mission.

Did I mention this happens right after Civil War? Half the superhero community is unregistered and on the run, and tensions are high. Bucky blames Iron Man for Cap’s death, and Falcon isn’t exactly thrilled with him, either. Black Widow is nominally on the side of registration, but predictably, it’s complicated.

The Next Captain America

Bucky attacks Iron Man in anger over Steve’s death, but after an emotional confrontation, Tony talks him into taking up the shield. Red Skull, Dr. Faustus, Arnim Zola, and a whole slew of other bad guys have set in motion a plot to destroy the US government, and the world needs Captain America.

With Black Widow for backup, Bucky Cap leaps into action to stop their plot. But Steve Roger’s shoes are hard to fill, and there’s a steep learning curve when it comes to being Captain America. Unfortunately, Bucky doesn’t have a lot of time to figure it out before Red Skull’s master plan destabilizes the entire country. Continue reading

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Turn Back the Pages: Batgirl

Turn Back the Pages is a biweekly feature where I spotlight a comic that is not fresh and new. It may have come out a few months ago or even a few years ago. Maybe it was hyped and popular, or maybe it was an underappreciated gem. Whatever the case, it’ll be a great comic that’s well worth a read.

Cover of Batgirl Graphic Novel

Cassandra Cain is my favorite Batgirl.

I love Barbara Gordon, but honestly, I think she’s better as Oracle. And don’t diss Stephanie Brown in front of me, because she’s awesome, and I’ll probably write a review of her time as Batgirl at some point. But in my humble opinion, Cass will always be the best.

What’s so great about Cassandra Cain? Heck, where do I start? She was first introduced in the Batman: No Man’s Land story-arc. The basic premise was that after a major earthquake, the government evacuated Gotham City, cutting off those who chose to stay from the outside world and any kind of help.

Yeah. Take Gotham, which is a crime-infested hellhole on the best of days, and turn up the danger to post-apocalyptic extremes. It’s that bad.

The Girl

Enter the precious cinnamon bun that is Cassandra Cain: a mute, homeless girl who saves Commissioner Gordon’s life. She becomes Batgirl with the blessings of both Batman and Oracle (AKA the original Batgirl), but there’s more to her than meets the eye.

The Assassin

You see, Cass is the daughter of a notorious assassin. Her father raised her without ever exposing her to spoken language. Instead, she learned to read body language.

She can take one look at someone and know what they’re feeling—and exactly how they’re planning to attack. On top of her skills in hand-to-hand combat, being able to anticipate her opponent’s next move makes her one of the best fighters in the DC universe.

The Hero

So that’s the dichotomy of Cassandra Cain. She was raised to be a deadly assassin and can fight Batman to a standstill, but at the same time, her upbringing was so isolated that there’s a strange innocence about her.

Early on in her solo title, a psychic rearranges her brain so that she can process spoken language (which accidentally handicaps her combat skills for a while), but it isn’t an insta-fix. A lot of her character arc involves learning different words and how to read and write. Even once she can speak, she struggles to find the right words, and her sentences are halting and awkward. That’s something you don’t see a lot in comics—or any media, really.

The Bat

The best reason Cass is my favorite Batgirl is that she brings something unique to the Bat-family. Her mentor/mentee relationship with Barbara is nuanced and lovely. She has Batman’s respect and a nice dynamic with Robin (Tim Drake). Nightwing is the big brother figure, and she’s besties with Steph, and—well, there’s a lot to like here. If you’re a fan of characters choosing their own families, you’ll enjoy Cass’s book, because her real parents are total jerks.

And that’s Cass Cain in a nutshell (before the awful character assassination that happened later, but I won’t get into that). No Man’s Land is worth a read, but I’d recommend starting with her solo title. It’s a great introduction to the character and was the first Batgirl comic I ever read.

Are you a fan of Cass? Babs? Steph? I’ll fight you over who’s the best Batgirl in the comments!

I'll fight you gif

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Turn Back the Pages: Chew

Turn Back the Pages is a biweekly feature where I spotlight a comic that is not fresh and new. It may have come out a few months ago or even a few years ago. Maybe it was hyped and popular, or maybe it was an underappreciated gem. Whatever the case, it’ll be a great comic that’s well worth a read.

Chew graphic novel cover

“Kristen,” you say, “I’m tired of superheroes.”

I know, I know. You’d never really say that. Superheroes are awesome. But let’s say you wanted to try something a little different, something unlike anything you’ve ever read before. Then have I got the comic for you.

Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory is such a unique book. I’m not sure how to categorize it. Crime fiction? Science fiction? Humor? I don’t know, but whatever it is, it’s awesome.

The Basics

In a world where 116 million people died from bird flu (or what the government claimed was bird flu. It’s a conspiracy!), the sale and consumption of poultry is illegal, and underground restaurants that serve chicken dinners have cropped up like speakeasies.

Crazy enough for you yet? Because it gets better.

The Weird Powers

Our hero is Tony Chu, and he’s cibopathic. What’s that mean? To quote the first issue, “That means he can take a bite of an apple, and get a feeling in his head about what tree it grew from, what pesticides were used on the crop, and when it was harvested. Or he could eat a hamburger, and flash onto something else entirely.” The only food he can eat without his powers acting up is canned beets, so he’s pretty much blessed with suck, as TV Tropes would say.

Tony’s also a cop, and it doesn’t take long for his abilities to be turned to crime-fighting. Since he has to taste something to get a psychic impression, this ends up with him eating some very gross stuff. Just…the grossest stuff. If you’re squeamish, this is not the book for you.

The Hard-boiled Detective Story

The character dynamics are fun. Tony has a hotheaded cyborg partner, a boss who hates him to comically extreme extents, and a perky food reporter love interest (who has neat culinary-related powers of her own). The plot has all the twists you’d expect from a book that could fit in the mystery/conspiracy genre, and there are lots of schemes Tony foils that hint at larger intrigues. The whole thing has a sort of dark, noir atmosphere yet somehow manages to support some really over-the-top humor. It’s a weird book, but weird in a good way.

If you’re interested, start with volume 1 and see where it takes you. I guarantee it’ll be to a place you don’t expect.

Have you read Chew? Have you read anything even remotely like Chew? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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Turn Back the Pages: Spider-Girl

Turn Back the Pages is a biweekly feature where I spotlight a comic that is not fresh and new. It may have come out a few months ago or even a few years ago. Maybe it was hyped and popular, or maybe it was an underappreciated gem. Whatever the case, it’ll be a great comic that’s well worth a read.

Spider-Girl swings forward on webbing between skyscrapers

Confession time, Internet. I’m not that big of a Spider-Man fan. I like him well enough, and I’ll be seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming on Saturday, but he doesn’t make my top 10 list of favorites superheroes—or even my top 20. That being said, I totally dig Spider-Girl.

Who’s Spider-Girl, you ask? Well, that would be May “Mayday” Parker, teenage daughter of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. She’s from an alternate future where Peter and MJ’s first child wasn’t stillborn and that whole Spider-Man selling his marriage to the devil thing never happened (Ugh, I hate that storyline so much). And she is amazing.

The Spider-Girl series (plus The Amazing Spider-Girl and The Spectacular Spider-Girl) has a lot going for it. There’s the consistently good writing and art, for one thing. The supporting cast is a nice mix of old Spider-Man characters and new faces, and there are the great villains you’d expect from a Spider-Man rogues gallery. (Honorable crime boss and supervillain Black Tarantula is a standout—and also who I ship with Mayday. But then, I have a thing for hero/villain romances, which is probably obvious to anyone who reads my books.) But the best part of the series is Mayday herself: an incredibly likeable protagonist who, like her father, is often conflicted about being a superhero and makes great personal sacrifices to do the right thing.

If you’re a Spider-Man fan, you’ll enjoy the familiar blend of high school drama and superheroics. If Spider-Man isn’t your thing, you might like that Mayday focuses more on avoiding pointless fighting and trying to reform her foes, and that she has a support network in her family that Peter never did. The Parker family dynamic is my favorite thing about the series. I love seeing happy, supportive families in superhero fiction (or any fiction, really). Peter and Mary Jane continue to be an awesome couple, and reading about a retired Spider-Man being an overprotective dad is just plain fun.

I’m going to link to the first volume (which is super affordable at only a few bucks for a manga book-sized collection), but the nice thing about Spider-Girl is that it was a long-running series. So if you like it, there’s a ton of material to read. Plus, Spider-Girl is part of the bigger MC2 universe, so you’ll meet lots of other heroes like A-Next, the future Avengers team that came together when Loki (Who else?) attacked, and the X-People, a new version of the X-Men led by Jubilee.

If you’re looking for more web-shooting and wall-crawling after watching the movie, you could do a lot worse than your friendly neighborhood Spider-Girl.

Do you have a favorite Spider-Girl storyline? Want to share your thoughts about Spider-Man: Homecoming? Let me know in the comments.

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Turn Back the Pages: Agents of Atlas

Turn Back the Pages is a new biweekly feature where I spotlight a comic that is not fresh and new. It may have come out a few months ago or even a few years ago. Maybe it was hyped and popular, or maybe it was an underappreciated gem. Whatever the case, it’ll be a great comic that’s well worth a read.

Agents of Atlas Cover

Superhero comics are like Nutella—they go with everything. You can mix superheroes with science fiction, espionage, urban fantasy, or even 70s kung fu movies, and it works. On a superhero team book, genres get thrown into a blender (Superman’s sci-fi roots plus Wonder Woman’s mythical origins, with a dash of Batman’s crime noir, for example). But few teams encapsulate that delightful hodgepodge of different elements better than Agents of Atlas.

The Agents of Atlas were the Avengers before the Avengers. Formed by the government in the late 1950s, they saved the world a few times and disbanded soon after. Now, over fifty years later, they’re pulled back together to face a shadowy new threat. The team is as follows:

  • Jimmy Woo: FBI agent and team leader. Got old, nearly died, and got young again, but lost his memories in the process. Figuring out who or what nearly killed him is the driving force of the plot.
  • Venus: Self-proclaimed goddess of love. Sweet and adorable. Often topless. Voice can mesmerize people and make them stop fighting.
  • The Uranian: Dude with a complicated backstory from the planet Uranus. Kind of mopey, but has a cool spaceship.
  • Namora: Cousin of Namor, prince of Atlantis. Swims, flies, and punches things really hard.
  • M-11, the Human Robot: Mysterious yet helpful robot. Doesn’t talk much.
  • Gorilla Man: A man who got turned into a gorilla by a curse, and as a side effect is immortal. Can shoot guns with both his hands AND feet. The best.

Agents of Atlas #1-6 tells a complete story, and considering that it’s only six issues, it’s amazing how writer Jeff Parker manages to make each character so well-rounded and pack the plot with so many twists and turns. It starts off with a flashback to the team’s golden age, goes to Jimmy on the brink of death in the present day, and then it’s off across the globe to get the team back together and track down leads.

This is a fun book. Not that there aren’t dark moments, and the characters are forced to acknowledge truths about themselves that they’d rather not face, but it’s wrapped up in action, adventure, and a twisty espionage plotline with an ending you won’t see coming. The Agents of Atlas just seem to enjoy each other’s company and saving the day, and it’s a treat for the reader to go along for the ride.

I’d recommend you buy the graphic novel, since it has cool extras in the back like character sketches, author’s notes, and reprints of the characters’ first comics from the 40s and 50s. Bonus material is important, because once you finish this story, you’ll definitely be wanting more.

Have you read Agents of Atlas? Interested in checking it out now? Let me know what you think in the comments.

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