Comic Book Corner Digs into Tragedy, Inspiration, and Fun

Photo by Joe Ciciarelli on Unsplash Logo designed by Dakster Sullivan

This week in Comic Book Corner looks at some titles that offer inspiration and introspection, sometimes even in the face of tragedy.

Eric catches us up to speed with a Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man issue starring the Marvelous Mary Jane. As fall marches forward, Archie looks backward in time to an era of Milkshakes and Sock Hops. Sophie takes us along on a literary road trip in the graphic memoir of Shing Yin Khor; before she explores the beauty and inspiration that can be found even within a devastating tragedy.

There’s so much to see this week in Comic Book Corner so let’s get started.

Archie 1941 (Trade Paperback)

'Archie 1941' Trade Paperback Cover Art
‘Archie 1941’ Trade Paperback Cover Art

Creative Team:

  • Published by Archie
  • Written by Brian Augustyn and Mark Waid
  • Art by Peter Krause
  • Colors by Kelly Fitzpatrick
  • Letters by Jack Morelli
  • Cover by Peter Krause

Milkshakes, Sock Hops, & War

Reviewed by: Sophie Brown

Archie and the gang head back to their roots in Archie 1941, a five-issue miniseries set in the year the series was originally created. In the words of its creators, the kids reading Archie way back in 1941 “needed an escape, because they or their loved ones were about to enter into the toughest situation the world had ever seen” so those early stories never reflected the realities Archie, Betty, Jughead, and Veronica would have had to face as real teens during WWII. Archie 1941 tells that story.

The story kicks off around the time of the gang’s graduation from high school and follows them over the course of several months as Pearl Harbor is attacked and the town of Riverdale is haunted by the spectre of the war with its young men disappearing in droves to go and fight overseas. Every character has their own story to tell and unique relationship to the war.

Archie terrifies his parents by going off to fight while Jughead deals with feelings of resentment and judgment over his father’s refusal to let him sign up. Betty lives in fear while Veronica has to figure out how to feel about her father’s profiteering while others are in crisis when she is the one who benefits from it.

I liked a lot about this book. While the majority of it is told from the perspective of the kids, some of the scenes featuring their parents were the most poignant to me. One scene between Hal, Fred, and F.P. in a bowling alley really spoke to me as they discussed their shared fears of trading their kids “for a star in the window” and that after missing out on serving in the Great War they may be “looking to live those experiences through [their] boys”.

There is a huge focus on father-son relationships here, all shown through the lens of two generations clashing over values and what it means to be a man.

I also really loved the art style here which fit well with the 1940s story without looking overly dated. Sadly, the whole book was let down by its ending, which felt rushed. While I liked some of the character development such as that seen in Hiram, Archie’s story felt more than a little cliched – although I suppose there’s only so much that even the horrors of war can drag down the milkshake and sock hop joviality of Riverdale.

Rating: 7/10

Conclusion: With a few extra issues, this could have been brilliant. As it is, this is a good book with a great premise that fell slightly short of the mark. It was an interesting pick for my first venture into the Archie comics universe (I’ve been a fan of the TV show for years) and I think Riverdale fans will find a lot to enjoy from this AU fanfic style tale. I’m already looking forward to the future volumes in this series that will see Archie and the gang placed into the 50s, 60s, and beyond.

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #11

'Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #11' Cover Art
‘Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #11’ Cover Art

Creative Team:

  • Published by Marvel / IDW
  • Written by Tom Taylor
  • Art by Juan Cabal
  • Colors by Rachelle Rosenberg
  • Letters by VC’s Travis Lanham
  • Cover by Andrew C. Robinson

Mary Jane’s Star Shines

Reviewed by: Eric Parrish

My two favorite issues of this young run of Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man have been standalone issues.

A few months ago, I raved about the adventure with Spider-Bite in issue #6 (read that review here). Another strong installment, this time focusing on Mary Jane, long a major supporting cast character, is presented in issue #11.

Mary Jane shines in many roles in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #11: girlfriend and supportive caretaker to Peter Parker, confidante, and friend to Aunt May, superhero mentor (in a surprise guest appearance by the “other” Spider-Man, Miles Morales), and savior-of-the-day to the New York neighborhood where the story is set.

In all of these situations, MJ is presented as a clever, confident, and decisive woman, a far cry from many damsel-in-distress personas that many female characters like MJ have been portrayed as over many years in comic books. Writer Tom Taylor does well with short, concise stories that spotlight the true strengths of a character, and that rings true in this issue – this Mary Jane is courageous, fearless, and heroic in her own right, and I hope this issue serves as a preview of what might be coming for MJ as she gets her own Marvel series in the next couple months.

Taylor’s script is tight and charming. Peter Parker/Spider-Man gets very little play in this story, coming home exhausted after a night of saving the city (and after a humorous exchange at a bagel shop) to set the stage for MJ’s day in the neighborhood. The banter between Peter and MJ is both fun and caring, and Taylor writes MJ with a dynamism that engages the other characters in the tale, including Aunt May as she continues to deal with her cancer diagnosis or Miles Morales as he attempts to handle a subway troll.

The script cleverly comes full-circle at the end of the issue; MJ’s and Peter’s conversation mirrors their discussion at the beginning of the book and helps reflect how important they are to each other.

I was also very glad to see Juan Cabal back as the artist in this issue. Cabal’s illustrations seem to work well with Taylor’s scripts. Taylor places a great deal of emotion in his characters, and Cabal does well with displaying these emotions through clean, simple lines. Cabal’s action sequences are also energetic and tense, without being overbearing. Cabal’s penciling and inking are enhanced by the coloring of Rachelle Rosenberg, whose palette deftly switches between brighter colors in the daytime of the neighborhood to darker hues during the subway fight scenes. All in all, the script and art come together well in this issue.

Rating: 8/10

Conclusion: Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man‘s focus on Mary Jane delivers another standout issue. This one’s worth a read!

The American Dream? A Journey on Route 66

Cover Art for 'The American Dream? A Journey on Route 66'
Cover Art for ‘The American Dream? A Journey on Route 66’

Creative Team:

  • Published by Zest Books
  • Written by Shing Yin Khor
  • Art by Shing Yin Khor
  • Colors by [colorist(s) full name *optional*]
  • Letters by [letterer(s) full name *optional*]
  • Cover by Shing Yin Khor

An Intensely Personal Journey

Reviewed by: Sophie Brown

The American Dream? (subtitled A Journey on Route 66: Discovering Dinosaur Statues, Muffler men, and the Perfect Breakfast Burrito) is a graphic novel format memoir written by Shing Yin Khor.

Yin Khor is an artist and an immigrant from Malaysia who lives in Los Angeles, in 2016, they decided to take a trip along Route 66 all the way to Chicago in order to experience a bygone era of Americana. They documented the trip (taken with little terrier Bug) in the book. Yin Khor is the writer, illustrator, and cover designer so the whole book feels intensely personal as if you have been invited to read their personal diary of the trip.

Throughout its 150+ pages, Yin Khor passes through ghost towns, visits kitschy roadside attractions, meets bikers and wild donkeys, eats all sorts of diner food, and gradually grows tired of sleeping in their car with an occasionally muddy dog.

Along the way they comment on the decline of small-town America – the history of Route 66 being a microcosm of a much bigger story, experience thinly veiled racism, and discuss faith when confronted with the in-your-face religion seen in middle America. While away from these big issues, they paint pages filled with motel signs, statues, and experiences seen along the way.

This is a book that will make you want to pack a bag, jump in your car and travel across America. The writing is sparse but what exists of it is in turns funny, poignant, and thought-provoking, while the striking, watercolor art feels perfect for this story in its simplicity. It’s hard to say if there’s a message among these pages, even the author isn’t sure what they took away from the trip, but given that well-known proverb that life is a journey, not a destination, maybe it’s best that The American Dream focuses purely on the journey without thinking too hard about where it has taken us?

Rating: 8/10

Conclusion: I loved The American Dream and feel like this book will go down well with anyone interested in American history and outsider perspectives.

Grace: Based on the Jeff Buckley Story

Creative Team:

  • Published by First Second
  • Written by Tiffanie DeBartolo
  • Art by Pascal Dizin
  • Colors by Lisa Reist
  • Cover by Pascal Dizin

Beauty and Tragedy

Reviewed by: Sophie Brown

Grace: Based on the Jeff Buckley Story is exactly what it sounds like, a graphic novel telling of the story of singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley who tragically drowned after releasing his first album, Grace, which has gone on to be beloved the world over.

The book follows Buckey’s life very closely, opening with his invitation to play at the tribute concert for his father Tim, who he never knew. This event kickstarts Buckley’s career and, with dizzying rapidity, he has a record contract, forthcoming album, and impending tour.

Forced to throw a band together quickly, he recruits outsiders whose heart he values over experience or technical skill. The group is in a tiny van for months on end while touring, resulting in some emotional fractures in an otherwise close friendship.

Buckley’s lyrics are interspersed through the pages, as we witness the events which inspired them. A parallel story runs alongside Buckley’s. This story belongs to Henry Fisher, a young fan working in a donut store with a girl he wishes he had the confidence to ask on a date. Fisher is inspired when his friend makes him listen to her copy of Grace and he begins recording his own music.

Encountering Buckley after a live show, Fisher is eventually given the push he needs to take steps to begin his own career. Naturally, the story draws to a close with Buckley’s death when he drowned while swimming in Wolf River Harbor. The event is treated with respect, highlighting its tragedy without becoming vulturish.

Despite not counting myself as a Jeff Buckley fan (I own a copy of Grace but knew little about the man behind it), I fell in love with this story. The artwork is stunning and the blue and black color scheme reflect his painful life without seeming overly maudlin.

The pages in which Buckley plays Hallelujah at the Paris Olympia are some of the most beautifully drawn and stunningly impactful I have seen in years. The cover art is equally beautiful (although it did remind me strongly of Steve from season three of Stranger Things) giving Buckley an ethereal glow. This is a beautiful yet sad story that will appeal not only to fans of Jeff Buckley but to anyone with an interest in how music is made.

Rating: 7/10

Conclusion: Great for adult music fans but this one might be difficult reading for anyone not in good mental health.

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