Archive for All-Ages Comics

Holiday Gift Bag: Delilah Dirk

Already? Another visit to the Holiday Gift Bag? Well, we didn’t get new comics here yesterday because of a slowdown in shipping from last week’s ice storm, so I gotta have something to write about. So let’s talk about Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff.


You like swashbuckling adventure, don’t you? Nod your head — of course you love swashbuckling adventure. This story stars Delilah Dirk, an expert swordswoman, archer, and acrobat who travels the world stirring up trouble, and Erdemoglu Selim, a mild-mannered lieutenant in the Turkish Janissary Corps, whose greatest pleasures involve resting quietly and brewing excellent tea. Due to a misunderstanding — Delilah was robbing his employer, and Selim’s employer was an idiot — they end up on the run together, trying to avoid capture and execution while absconding with wonderful treasures.

Selim would really prefer to settle down alone in a quiet town, but he sticks with Delilah, partly out of duty and partly because everyone seems to want both of them dead. Actually, Selim might not quite admit it, but there are other benefits — adventure, flying boats, hair’s-breadth escapes, gold, tea, a beautiful woman who only almost gets him killed every few days… But will their amazing adventures end with them living lives of endless wealth or getting the pointy end of the headsman’s axe?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s an utterly beautiful comic. It’s a bit cartoony at times — and I know we’ve talked about how that ain’t a bad thing — but sometimes you turn the page and hit this astonishingly gorgeous landscape shot that completely transports you into the story.

Cliff is a fantastic storyteller — dialogue, characterization, body language are all hugely entertaining. Delilah and Selim are extremely appealing and charismatic people, and it’s a real pleasure to read about them, whether they’re gambling their lives against impossible odds or just sitting around their flying boat chit-chatting.

The action is just plain jaw-dropping. Bridges get blown up. Towers get holes punched in them. Bad guys get with swords and chairs, and thrown through windows, and clobbered with buckets and fists and feet and everything else they could get clobbered with. And there’s a flying boat. Did I mention that? A genuine flying boat. The action, again, is just plain jaw-dropping.

You’re going to want this for anyone who loves truly breathtaking swashbuckling adventure, for anyone who loves great comic book art, for anyone who loves fantastic female heroines and reluctant male heroes. Go pick it up, people, and do not delay.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Bandette

I got so much stuff I want to review for the Gift Bag, and so little time left before Christmas, so I’m gonna try to get all the reviews I can. Today, we’re going to talk about Bandette, Volume One: Presto! by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover.


That’s our lead character up there — Bandette, agile, laughing, clever, somewhat deranged Parisian thief. We meet her for the first time while she’s robbing an underworld figure of some small Rembrandt portraits — and she’s soon on the run from his heavily armed guards. Perhaps she could escape from them on her own, but instead she enlists the aid of her Urchins — friends ranging from little children to ballerinas — to get the bad guys thrown off the scent.

And even though Bandette is a notorious — yet daring and celebrated — thief, she is pursued by the police — so that they can ask her for help! Her skills are so remarkable that she can take down a gang of armed robbers without difficulty! Is there nothing Bandette cannot accomplish? Well, perhaps she cannot best the famed thief Monsieur. Perhaps she cannot avoid the assassins of Finis. Perhaps she cannot avoid the blade of Matadori. Perhaps she cannot vanquish the heart of the hapless Daniel.

Ha ha! How droll! Of course Bandette can do all these things!

Verdict: Thumbs up. This is a wonderfully charming comic. Can I say it’s delightful and still keep my street cred? I don’t care, I’ll say it anyway. It’s delightful. Completely delightful.

Colleen Coover’s artwork is fun and charismatic and kinetic and joyful and dadgummed delightful. Her artwork will make you fall in love with Bandette and Daniel and Monsieur and Matadori and the ballerinas and even gruff Inspector Belgique. If you love Colleen Coover’s art, this should be on your wish list.

And Paul Tobin’s writing is equally fun and charismatic and joyful and delightful. He stuffs Bandette and all her friends (and her rivals, too) with so much personality and life. It’s an extraordinarily French comic. Well, I’m not sure how authentically French it may be — probably not very authentically French at all. But it sure as heck feels French, and you’ll spend the next few days after reading it wishing you could eat in small cafes and looking at pictures of Paris and muttering all the French words you know under your breath. It’s a grand and delightful piece of storytelling.

It strikes me that this is something that young female readers are going to enjoy greatly. Bandette is a wonderful, fun-loving heroine, and many of her friends and foes are girls, too. It’s got swashbuckling thievery, ballerinas, romance, and Paris — all things which many girls like. But on the other hand, I know this book is also very well-loved by many male readers as well.

It’s definitely the kind of comic that should be great for readers of all ages and all genders. So definitely go pick it up.

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The Return of Zita

Crud, I don’t have a lot of time for a long review today, so we’re going to make this one kinda short.


Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

We reviewed the first book in this fun series by cartoonist Ben Hatke way back before Christmas. This one picks up shortly after the end of the previous graphic novel.

Zita, along with all of her alien and robot friends, has saved the planet of Scriptorius and is hailed across the galaxy as a hero. But she doesn’t really enjoy all the acclaim and attention. Luckily, she stumbles on a robot with a bad case of hero worship — and it’s able to turn itself into a close duplicate of Zita. Seeing an opportunity to avoid some irritating public appearances, she lets the robot impersonate her while she and her giant mouse pal go to the circus. Unfortunately, the robot loves being Zita too much, and the real Zita gets left behind by her friends. And when she tries to steal a spaceship to catch up with them, she quickly finds herself a wanted criminal across the sector.

And even if Zita can escape the cops and bounty hunters and soldiers who are tracking her, will she have a chance to get back to her friends? Will she be able to save yet another planet from certain doom without sacrificing her own life in the process?

Verdict: Thumbs up. If you loved the characters, art, story, dialogue, and all-around fun factor of the first “Zita the Spacegirl” graphic novel — and if you didn’t love it, there’s something bad wrong with your head — then you’re going to love the banana creme frosting out of this one, too. Ben Hatke has absolutely got it goin’ on, and you are going to want this on your bookshelf, or on the shelf of your kids or anyone else who loves great all-ages science fiction heroics.

I know, I know, it’s a short review, but don’t take that to mean this is an unimportant or inconsequential comic. It’s big fun, and you really should go pick it up. (Now I just hope Hatke will create some more Zita comics…)

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Holiday Gift Bag: Zita the Spacegirl

Time to dip back into our Holiday Gift Bag for some more recommendations for the comics fan on your list. Today, we’re going to look at Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke.

This is a wonderful, quick-reading all-ages comic, perfect for kids to read on their own, for parents to read to younger kids, or even for adults who enjoy fun science fiction adventures.

Our story starts when Zita and her friend Joseph find a meteorite with a small push-button machine inside. When they push the button, a hole opens up in space and tentacles drag Joseph away. When Zita finally stirs up the courage to pursue, she finds herself on a distant planet filled with bizarre aliens. And Joseph is being held captive and set to be sacrificed by scary monster aliens. And the push-button device gets broken. And the whole planet is going to be blown up by an asteroid.

Zita does make some friends. Strong Strong is, well, strong, but a bit dumb. Piper is a reluctantly helpful humanoid with a spaceship — but no fuel. Pizzicato is a giant mouse. One is a vengeance-obsessed battle-bot. And Randy is a nervous, broken robot. But they’re still not much of an army against an alien conspiracy, greedy con men, powerful and cruel robot foes, and again, a giant asteroid that’s set the destroy everything in mere days. Can Zita’s courage help to save the day?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy this incredibly charming story. The characterization is just plain grand, with villains you love to hate and heroes you love to love even as their personality quirks may infuriate you. The action is great, the suspense is frequently incredible, and the wonders and challenges Zita encounters are sometimes absolutely awe-inspiring — in terms of both “That’s fantastic!” and “That’s terrifying!”

And holy schmalokies, I love the art here. Hatke’s style is cartoony, open, friendly, even welcoming — that’s part of what makes the book such a page-turner, ’cause you want to just absorb more and more of his art. But he’s also great at depicting some of the incredible scale of this alien world and especially the dangers of the worst of Zita’s enemies.

Listen, you got kids? I bet they’ll wanna read this. You got daughters who crave adventure? It’s a stone guarantee they’ll wanna read this. You got a grownup on your list who loves audacious sci-fi derring-do and great cartooning? You’ll wanna wrap this up for ’em.

And there’s a sequel called “Legends of Zita the Spacegirl,” which I haven’t read yet — but if it’s anything like the original, you may wanna pick that up, too.

And even better: it ain’t gonna set you back much. It’s almost 200 pages of comics, and the price tag on the back is just eleven bucks.

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke. Go pick it up.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Supergirl’s Cosmic Adventures

Man, I still got stuff I want to recommend for your gift list, and time’s starting to get short. So today, let’s look at the infinite awesome that is Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade by Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones.

You may remember I reviewed the individual issues of this series when it originally came out in 2008-09. I loved it then, and if you didn’t get a chance to read it then, it’s definitely worth the bucks to pick up the trade paperback.

What we’ve got here is an all-ages comic starring the best version of Supergirl ever. She’s still Superman’s cousin (this time from a part of Krypton that got zapped into another dimension when the planet exploded), but this time she’s a gangly, awkward pre-teen with a lot of enthusiasm and imagination, almost as much self-doubt, a poor grasp of her powers, and an even-worse grasp of life on Planet Earth.

Superman doesn’t really know what to do with her, so he gives her a secret identity and enrolls her in junior high. And she, like almost all junior high students, doesn’t like junior high at all. It doesn’t help that she’s the class freak — always asking weird questions about everyday life based on what she knows from futuristic Krypton — but she soon acquires a rival who’s really her much more popular imperfect clone, as well as a best friend who could turn out to be her worst enemy.

Author Landry Q. Walker and artist Eric Jones really turned out a brilliant comic book with this one. The art is whimsical, emotional, and frequently madcap — the writing matches it, maybe even goes beyond. Supergirl’s character is just plain fantastic — charismatic, goofy, awkward in that way that only teenagers can be — and when things get tough, she’s as likely to turn to her wildly creative imagination — often to her daydreams of herself as the hyper-competent and beloved “Moon Supergirl” — as she is to use her superpowers.

I think this would make a great gift for younger readers, both male and female — but it’d be especially appreciated by girls. Supergirl is a lot of fun — she’s frustrated by all the pointless junior high nonsense she has to put up with, but she also wants to be loved and adored by everyone — she reminds me of several girls I knew when I was close to that age. She’s got tons of moxie (Do the kids today still say “moxie”? Actually, did any kids every say “moxie”?) and charisma, and for all her clumsiness, she makes a great role model.

And the great thing about a lot of all-ages comics nowadays is that they’re often very accessible to adult readers, too. This comic is no exception — the dialogue is smart, the characterizations are excellent, the humor is entirely wonderful.

The book is available for about $13, and I’d recommend it for kids and adults — tons of humor, tons of excellent stories, tons of Kryptonite-powered awesomeness.

Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade by Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones. Go pick it up.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Yotsuba&!

I know I’ve got a fair number of readers who aren’t that familiar with comics, and they may be wondering what they could buy their comics-reading friends and family for holiday gifts. OR they may be looking for a good comic that they can read themselves. Let’s take another look into the gift recommendations…

Today, we’re talking Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma. As you might guess from the artwork, this is a Japanese comic book — what is usually called manga (as opposed to anime, which is a Japanese animated cartoon). You’re probably wondering about that funky “&!” at the end of the title — think of it as shorthand for “Yotsuba and (something)!” as every episode of this story is about Yotsuba discovering something and getting excited about it.

Yotsuba is our main character in this one. She’s a six-year-old girl living in a new city with her adopted father, Koiwai. Yotsuba is fantastically enthusiastic and energetic about everything. She loves to draw, even though she’s not very good at it. She loves to swim, even though no one else she knows is very good at it. She loves cicadas, frogs, flowers, fireworks, farms, and festivals. She’s fascinated by all the things you were fascinated with when you were six, if only you could remember what they all were.

Her friends include the family next door, the Ayeses, who are generally bewildered by Yotsuba, but more than willing to be dragged along with her antics and adventures. And there’s Jumbo, her dad’s best friend, who is just a shade under seven feet tall. None of them are as adorably loony as Yotsuba, but they’re all pretty completely cracked.

This is a slice-of-life comedy series. There are no giant robots, tentacle monsters, no evil diaries, no demons, no orange-clad ninja twerps. There’s just Yotsuba and her friends being adorable and awesome. I find something to laugh out loud at in every book, something to smile about in every chapter, and something that’s wonderfully fun on every page. I know, I know, the cynical thing to do is to say it’s just silly kid stuff. But there are no cynics when it comes to this book — I don’t know anyone who hasn’t read it who doesn’t end up loving it.

There are seven or eight volumes of this book out on the shelves now, but here are the first three to get you started. Each one will only cost you about $10, and these days, that’s just ridiculously affordable. If you get it, remember that to Western readers, Japanese manga reads backwards — you start out reading the back of the book and move on to the front, and the panels are meant to be read from right to left, instead of left to right. It can be a little confusing at first, but it’s easy to get adjusted.

Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma. Go pick it up.

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