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Alex Brown

Pull List: Bow Down Before Raven the Pirate Princess and The Prince and the Dressmaker

I don’t know about you, but 2018 hasn’t exactly been a great year as far as I’m concerned. Is it better than the trashfire that was 2017? Only time will tell. But it’s only April and I’m already about done with everything. When I start to get all stressed out like this, the best way to calm me down is with a good book, or, in the case of this column, a good comic. So here are two tales about spunky royals and the unusual yet exciting circumstances they find themselves in. I give you the lovely, engaging, smile-inducing Princeless: Raven: The Pirate Princess and The Prince and the Dressmaker.

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John Scalzi’s Head On Stands Tall

FBI Agent Chris Shane is back in John Scalzi’s Head On, a quirky, complex sequel to 2014’s Lock In. First, a little background. Chris has Haden’s Syndrome, a disease where the infected is “locked in” their body. When the epidemic spread when Chris was a child, Hadens switched to living in a newly developed virtual space called the Agora. To interact with the physical world they use threeps, basically robots they can wifi into. Over the years, Hilketa was developed, wherein Hadens try to rip the heads of each other’s threep’s off in a violent sport that’s sort of a cross between soccer, rugby, and Robot Wars.

When a Hilketa player dies suspiciously on the field, Chris and their partner Agent Leslie Vann take on the investigation. The bodies pile up as leads grow cold, and nothing seems to make any sense. Bribes, arson, affairs, schemes, destroyed threeps, shady financial dealings, and one particularly important cat abound. Chris and Vann need to find out who killed Duane Chapman, but they’ll end up with an answer that’s more than they bargained for.

[“It’s never a dull moment around you, Chris…”]

Brujas, Ships, and Zombies in This Season’s New Young Adult Fiction

Another season, another massive pile of awesome young adult science fiction and fantasy books to read. In terms of inclusive diversity—particularly in regards to authors, characters, and #ownvoices—this wasn’t a great quarter for quantity (especially with science fiction) but the quality is off the charts. With plenty of sequels and new series starters, you should find plenty to occupy your time.

Something not on my list but high on yours? Share with the class down in the comments.

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Legion Season Two Is More of the Same, For Better and For Worse

You’re going to read a lot of reviews about how astoundingly amazing the second season of Legion is. This isn’t going to be one of them. It’s not that I don’t like the show—I actually enjoy it quite a bit—I just wish it had more… something, anything beyond surface appeal. Let me put it this way: up through the Admiral Fukuyama interrogation I was cruising along not hooked but not turned off either; by the dance off I thought, “alright, this is pretty cool;” and then I fell asleep during the light conversation with future!Syd.

[“If you feel something, say something.”]

A Tale of Two Americas: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

In Justina Ireland’s fantastic new young adult novel, Dread Nation, the world is upended when the dead rise from their graves at Gettysburg. In order to salvage what’s left of the US, the Civil War ends in a compromise that frees the enslaved but forces them into combat schools that train them to slay the undead shamblers. Jane McKeene, a Black teen born to a white mother, is shipped off to the most prestigious of schools, Miss Preston’s, where she hones her skills. During the day she trains with other brown-skinned girls eager to be selected as an Attendant to a wealthy white family (thus sparing them from the hardship of fighting shamblers on the frontlines), and at night she haunts the countryside, taking out shamblers and saving the innocent.

When her sometimes beau, Red Jack, asks for her help in locating his missing sister, Jane and frenemy classmate Katherine run afoul of a corrupt mayor and his clan of Survivalists, a political party made up of mostly white people looking for new ways to inflict old oppressions and subjugations on African Americans. The trio are hauled off to a fledgling town in the middle of Kansas built on secrets, lies, and horrific exploitation. All Jane wants is to get back to Baltimore and find her mother, but first she’ll have to outlast flesh-eating shamblers and racist white people.

[“In which I taunt the devil”]

Pull List: Abbott and Destroyer Take On Black Lives Matter

This month we’re stepping away from Big Two superhero comics to spend some time with two of BOOM! Studios’ best new series, Destroyer and Abbott. Although the two titles couldn’t be more unrelated in setting story, but both have killer hooks (literally), fantastic creative teams, and a similar underlying theme. If these aren’t already on your shelves, you have some catching up to do.

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“My Mother Is a Bird”: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan

On the same day Leigh Chen Sanders kissed the boy she’d pined over for years, her mother, Dory, committed suicide. She leaves no note, no reason or explanation, just a cavernous hole in the Sanders’ world. At first the grief is overwhelming. She feels trapped in her childhood home with her distant father and the bloodstain marking her mother’s demise haunting her thoughts. Then, the night before the funeral, Leigh is roused from her nightmares by a huge crimson bird calling her name. She knows immediately the bird is her mother, the whys and hows brushed aside in the face a daughter’s longing for her mom.

At the behest of the bird, Leigh and her father travel to Taiwan to meet her mother’s estranged family. Desperate to save her mother, to make contact, to be close once again, she digs through old family memories and unearths long-hidden secrets. With the guidance of the bird and a box of magical incense, Leigh is pulled between reality and fantasy until she can no longer tell the difference between them. What she learns on her journey won’t change the past, but may finally put it to rest.

[“I want you to remember”]

The Future Is Past: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

Kelly Robson’s killer novella Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach opens 250 years into our future. Many decades prior, catastrophic climate and environmental change forced humans into massive underground metropolises, or “hells.” Eventually, the plague babies—survivors of epidemics that burned through the hells in years past—braved the topside in an attempt to reclaim the land. One of those topsiders is Minh, a river rehabilitator in the struggling Calgary habilitation center. With the solid if not abundant financial backing of the banks, she and other plague babies were doing good work repairing damage to the earth to make it livable once more. And then the organization known as TERN invented time travel and everything fell apart. What little cash there was now goes to shiny new short term projects full of flash and bang rather than not so exciting long-term ecological necessities. Minh, who saw her livelihood and all her work’s meaning disregarded in the wake of TERN, is left bitter and bored.

When Minh gets the chance to use TERN to finally do some good, she pulls together a rag-tag crew and sets off to run river analysis in ancient Mesopotamia. At first, Minh, Kiki (an overeager grad student), Hamid (an old friend and wannabe cowboy), and Fabian (their TERN contact) have everything under control, but their well-planned expedition quickly falls apart. Tense interpersonal relations, historical conflicts, and shady tech wreak havoc on their project right from the beginning. The past, present, and future collide in unexpected yet devastating ways.

[“We’re on an island with a killer.”]

Rise Up! Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone

In the land of Orïsha, King Saran rules with an iron fist. A decade before, he had every last maji executed in a power grab that eradicated magic and thrust thousands into inescapable poverty. Denied access to the magic they would gain when they were older, the white-haired children of the maji, known as divîners, became the slaves of the empire, the lowest of the low. There is no escape and no hope, just pain and suffering and bondage. Until one day when a magical artifact reemerges from the sea.

Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone tells the story of how pampered Princess Amari teams up with rebellious divîner Zélie and her un-magicked brother Tzain to restore magic to Orïsha. While on their quest, they are chased across the kingdom by Prince Inan, a boy driven equally by self-loathing and duty to his country. At his father’s behest, Inan must stop the trio, even if it means murder. Allegiances are forged and shattered, promises made and broken, and hearts won and lost. This is Zélie’s only chance to save the world, but is she strong enough to beat back an army of soldiers and a nation filled with bigots?

[“They hate what you were meant to become.”]

What Comic Books Should Be Adapted Next?

In this wonderful post-Black Panther world, what we need now most of all are new and diverse comic book adaptations. Not just superhero stuff (especially not any more caped-crusader flicks starring white dudes named Chris), but other comics as well. In other words, if Hollywood wants to repeat the success of Black Panther and Wonder Woman, it ain’t gonna be with a third Guardians of the Galaxy movie.

So here are a few series I think would make great television shows or movies, and the people who should adapt them. I stuck to material not already in the development pipeline—hence no Chew, Goldie Vance, Squirrel Girl, Crosswind, Locke & Key, Lumberjanes, Y: The Last Man, Sandman, Nimona, or DCEU/MCU—but it was sooooo hard to narrow down to just a few. Gimme all the intersectionality you got!

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Pull List: Exploring Loss and Recovery with Hulk and the Runaways

I enjoy a good superhero comic as much as the next geek. But after awhile it can feel like I’m reading story over and over again with a rotating cast of characters. Sometimes I need to break up the monotony with something a little different. Superhero stories are great for telling fun, light, action/adventure tales of derring-do and big battles. But they can also tell deeper stories about trauma, mental illness, acceptance, making your own family, and what it means to be (super) human.

This month, we’re reading two comics dealing with recovering from the grief of losing people you love. Runaways is fairly new and Hulk on its last legs, but both are introspective yet revelatory.

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8 Books and Comics for Your Post-Black Panther Reading List

OK, so you’ve seen Black Panther half a dozen times now and can’t get it out of your head. What next? Don’t worry, dear reader, I got you covered. Here’s a little list of some comics and books to read to keep that Black Panther high going, covering work by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Christopher Priest, and Brian Michael Bendis to Nalo Hopkinson, Nisi Shawl, and Nnedi Okorafor, among others…

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Black Panther Is Far More Than Just A Comic Book Movie

Black Panther is a goddamn masterpiece. It’s as anti-imperialist as Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok with as much commentary on Blackness as Ryan Coogler’s own Fruitvale Station. By no means is it perfect, but it’s deeper than the typical superhero fluff. Coogler offers a fantasy of an independent Africa untainted by colonialism and exploitation, of what we might have had, of what was stolen from us. This is a film of the culture, by the culture, for the culture.

Spoilers ahead. Like, a lot of ‘em. Check out Emily Asher-Perrin’s spoiler-free review, otherwise get ready to dive into my new favorite Marvel movie.

[“Praise the ancestors!”]

Of Gods and Men: Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi’s harrowing yet beautiful novel, is the story of Ada, a young woman who believes herself to be inhabited by gods and versions of herself. She is ọgbanje, a concept from Igbo culture that means a child that is both coming and going, a kind of evil spirit that constantly dies and is reborn as a plague of bad luck to a family. But Ada doesn’t die in childhood, instead surviving through blood sacrifice and fracturing into multiple selves. As the years drag on, the psychic and physical stress of sharing a body with so many other beings each with their own contrasting demands, begins to take its toll. As Emezi peels back Ada’s layers, she exposes the culture clash between Indigenous beliefs and Western colonialism.

[“Here is the empty that follows it all.”]

Alice Through the Looking Glass: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

For as long as Alice Proserpine can remember, she and her mother, Ella, have been on the run. From what, Alice isn’t sure, but bad luck and ill-timing seem to follow them like a shadow. Ella never speaks of her reclusive mother, Althea, save scattered references to the once-famous but now lost book she wrote called Tales from the Hinterland. When Alice’s grandmother dies unexpectedly, Ella does the unthinkable: she settles down and gets married. Things are good for a while, longer than ever before, but once again darkness seeps in. One day, violence lands on their door and Ella vanishes, leaving Alice lost and frightened and full of fury.

With the help of Hinterlands superfan Ellery Finch, the only friend she has, the two teens set off to find Althea’s hidden estate known only as the Hazel Wood. All the while, sinister forces track their every move. The closer Alice and Finch get to her past, the more secrets are revealed. The Hinterlands may not be just a fairy tale after all…

[“Hell is caring about other people”]