The Beauty, Vol. 1 by Jason A. Hurley & Jeremy Haun

*This Review is Spoiler Free*

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To be completely honest I had actually completely forgotten I had this book in my collection. I was doing a major bookshelf dusting and was on the shelf holding my graphic novels when BAM! I got to this cover and was unnervingly surprised. I lovingly…and possibly a little creepily…consider all my books “my children”, so to come across one I barely remember receiving as a gift was quite the shock. So of course considering I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately (hence the recent overabundance of manga/comic reviews lol), but am almost always up for a bit of horror I decided to give this neglected volume some much needed love. 

Synopsis: I like to put things in my own words, but the opening first few pages honestly sum things up quite perfectly so I can’t help but just quote it (Pgs 1-2 of The Beauty):

Two years ago , a new sexually transmitted disease took the world by storm. This S.T.D. was unlike any other that had come before. This was a disease that people actually wanted. “Victims” of this epidemic were physically changed by the virus. Fat melted away, thinning hair returned, skin blemishes faded, and their facial features slimmed. It became known as the beauty. The beauty quickly became a fad. Suddenly, perfect skin, flawless features, and a gorgeous body were only one sexual encounter away.

The only downside appeared to be a slight fever, but that didn’t seem to slow many people down. Now, over half the population has the beauty, and the other half of the country hates them for it. Anti-beauty cells have popped up around the nation. The majority teach preservation, reminding everyone that the beauty is still a disease. A few, however, have taken a more aggressive approach to stopping the spread of the beauty…

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Image from Pg 3. of The Beauty

Rating: 9.5/10 Unicorn Horns!

A page after such an intriguing introduction to the modern world setting of The Beauty, we meet detectives Foster and Vaughn of the local city’s Beauty Task Force as they respond to the possible anti-beauty murder of a young woman. Only once they arrive at the scene it’s clear things aren’t as they appear as the young woman, by all appearances, looked instead to have spontaneously combust while traveling on the train. Things are quickly complicated even further when the case is quickly pulled from them by the Center for Disease Control by “Federal mandate”. This leads both detectives Foster and Vaughn (an unwilling carrier of ‘the beauty’) to look into the buried secrets behind the mysterious STD and those seeming to keep this horrific secret from the general public.  

Honestly…I don’t have much negative things to say about the first installment of what looks to be a very promising adult series. The story had a really good flow to it and was riddled with action, thriller, conspiracies, and a great diverse group of characters. One thing I loved was the bits of real life socially controversial thoughts and ideas about beauty woven in here and there. The art was visually appealing, and though I can’t say the main characters were personally among my favorites they were very well created and felt pretty genuine. The only reason it’s not a 10/10 is purely because of personal reasons. I would recommend this to just about every story loving adult, but warn about explicit violence, language, and a couple nude and censored sexually explicit scenes. This was an amazing start to a series with such a unique idea I couldn’t praise it enough!

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Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodríguez

*This Review is Spoiler Free* 

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While at work one day about six months back I was desperately searching the Toronto Public Library e-catalogue for a novel to read. Absolutely nothing that I was interested in reading was available at the time which forced me to browse the selection of graphic novels that were on the site. I initially was not interested in reading a digital copy of a graphic novel because I had assumed it would be difficult to decipher the text. It actually was not a horrible reading experience and since then I have read a few other digital comics. 

After their father is killed, Tyler, Kinsey and Bode move to the family estate, Keyhouse in Lovecraft, Massachusetts with their mother Nina. The Lovecraft family are still on edge after the brutal murder of Rendell, but have dull comfort in the fact that one of his killers, Sam is in prison. Now with miles between the place of such a tragic family disaster they attempt to adjust to life in Lovecraft with the help of Rendell’s younger brother Duncan. The youngest of the Lovecraft siblings, Bode comes across a key that unlocks a Ghost Door which separates the soul of the person who “walks” through from their body. Using the key Bode is able to explore Keyhouse undetected. In the nature of all good fiction the story is not easy sailing from then on and the family soon has much more to worry about than just healing and moving forward.

I had heard good things about these comics around the time of its initial release and I intended to read them, just not at that time because I didn’t want my expectations to be unrealistically high. I am so glad that I made that decision and by the time I did begin the series I had forgotten what it would be about. It is a wise decision to go into reading these graphic novels not knowing much about the premise so that you are able to discover and be captivated by all the going-ons in Keyhouse. The story is incredibly intriguing and entertaining. You are initially sprung into the story with violence and as the story progresses you are able to overcome the initial shock/gore and develop an actual connection to the characters. Too often in a horror story, whether that be a novel or comic, the characters can feel under developed as the author chooses to focus on the scare tactics that they employ to entertain the reader. In Locke & Key the characters are fleshed out and they continue to evolve as the story, and the series as a whole, unfolds. 

In addition to the well executed storyline this graphic novel has exceptional artwork. Gabriel Rodríguez’s illustrations in this series is mind-blowing and his art style lends itself so well to the story. The illustrations themselves add an element of darkness and mystery to the story and facilitate the more grim elements of the plot so very well. I absolutely recommend this graphic novel to all comic lovers who are able to enjoy stories that have elements of horror. What Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez have been able top create within the pages of this graphic novel is truly great and has absolutely become one of my favorite “darker” graphic novels. I give Locke and Key a well deserved 7.25 Unicorn Horns out of a possible 10 when I consider that this review is supposed to be only on Volume 1 and not the subsequent books as well. 

Wayward: String Theory, Vol. 1 by Zub, Cummings, Rauch, Bonvillain, & Dillon

*This Review Is Spoiler Free*

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Hey mom…I’ve been seeing invisible glowing lines in the air that lead me to important places or terrifying supernatural shit

I picked this one up by random…okay, no, that’s a lie. I picked this up and decided to review it purely because it has a ton of kitties on the cover accompanied by a chick looking like she’s ready to kick-ass. Other than that I knew nothing about this series going into it. So never expected to find that this story is almost like a Japanese comic (manga) in American comic form. 6.5/10 Unicorn Horns.

Synopsis: This story, largely translated from Japanese, begins with main character Rori Lane moving from her father in Ireland to start over with her mother in Japan. On her way home from giving her new settings in Tokyo a quick tour she gets surrounded by a clan of cats, attacked by kappa (monsters/demons from Japanese Folklore), and saved by a strange cat-like girl. This of course, along with the strange red threads only she can see, leaves her beyond confused. As she obeys her urge to follow these threads before a dark threat descends over the city, she’s lead to dive further into her strange new power, and unveil the “patterns” to the puzzle of ‘what the heck is going on?’. These patterns often lead her to a variety of new people. All with strange powers of their own.

wayward_chapter1.pngpgs. 4-5 of Wayward, Vol. 1

Overall I enjoyed this story and liked all the characters- Rori, Shirai (Rori’s first friend who has strange powers of his own and must eat living spirits in order to survive), the strange-cat-girl named Ayane, and others we meet later on. Though I have to admit, the dialogue/character interactions felt off here and there. I also can’t say the story always flowed well, as there were some odd transitions and things that didn’t quite add up or felt choppy/rushed. Either way this urban fantasy is set in a different country from what I’m use to (outside of most manga/anime I’ve read/seen), and riddled with Japanese Folklore which makes it very unique in many ways, and stands out from the crowd (there are notes in the back of the book providing snippets of background information). 

The pictures on the other hand were beautiful and I LOVED all the pretty colours. According to the forward at the beginning of this volume the scenes of Tokyo, the high school Rori attends, the city’s people, and the overall feel of Japan were truthful depictions of the country as opposed to an Americanized and glorified view. I’ve never been to Japan so can’t really comment, but will say that it was pretty cool seeing a realistic depiction of Japan in comic format (again outside of some manga/anime). 

Though the execution of the story wasn’t the best the overall idea is very intriguing, and with the way the 1st volume ended I get the feeling things will get better. Much better. I can honestly say I am looking forward to more. This wasn’t a favorite, but I’d still recommend this to most urban fantasy, folklore (especially from Japan), and superpower fans.

I Hate Fairyland Vol. 1: Madly Ever After by Skottie Young

*This Review is Spoiler Free*

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LMAOOO!!! I’m still slightly new to the American comic book world -as much as I love the stories I’m admittedly a little afraid of all those Marvel volumes- but had started picking up and collecting some Image Comics to start with. I don’t have much to compare it to, but as a fan of comedic TV shows and movies I have to say that this is a good pick that caters to my type of comedy- sarcastic, a bit witty, crude and unapologetic. I’d recommend this to any fan of satirical comedy shows like Futurama, Family Guy, or Robot Chicken. I look forward to the 2nd installment and give it 8/10 Unicorn Horns

The story, pretty self-explanatory considering the title, cover page, and opening quote:

It was a nightmare. Nothing but the green of her hair…and the blood of my people.

– Thaddeus J. Star, R.I.P.

Is basically a parody of fairy tales in general, so on occasion you’ll recognize themes/elements from scenes of well known fairy tales. All within the first 6 or so pages you get a bit of an Alice in Wonderland parody where a young 6 year old named Gert is whisked away, yelling and screaming, into a fairlyland. After a brutal and very bloody landing, the Queen of Fairyland sends her on an epic journey with an optimistic looking fly named Larry as a guide to find the magic key that will open a door to her way back home. On the 7th page, 27 years later, we have a now alcoholic looking Larry and an angry and psychotic looking Gert floating on a magic boat, flipping off and threatening the moon (in creative curse words I have to say) for insulting her. After she successfully…and very, umm, violently expresses her feeling for the moon the story goes on to follow the hilarious and always eventually violent adventures of the certifiable 47 year old woman trapped in a 6-year-old girl’s body.

I enjoyed this comic quite a bit. Gert is an incredibly insane and violent character that was a lot of fun to watch, and Larry, the straight man and unwilling side-kick, well…there’s not much to say about him to be honest, but his stoic ways do compliment Gert’s expressive homicidal ways quite nicely. The story line is nicely creative in some places and predictable in other ways, Gert will always do something crazy/stupid, but even then I was often surprised with the “how”. You may be able to tell she’s about to demolish a town, but really anything goes when it comes to how she’ll do it. I enjoyed meeting the host of other random and often hilariously creative characters and creatures, but more than that I loved the art. I’m a big fan of the style and have to say I really loved all the vivid colours used as well. 

The Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw Vol. 1 by Kurt Busiek (author) & Benjamin Dewey (illustrator)

*This Review is Spoiler Free*

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I’m officially hooked. A futuristic world filled with magic where humans have, I assume, as it hasn’t been explained yet, become extinct? Compelling characters, and a classic story-line?  This volume had it all, to say nothing of all the beautifully designed scenes and landscapes-ughh, those COLOURS though!! Autumnlands was a gift from a friend back when it first got released and I went into it, like I do with most stories nowadays, not knowing what the heck I was getting myself into, but the beautiful cover has been staring me down for weeks now so I finally decided to jump in- is my bias towards colourful art showing yet?

The Autumlands is a fantasy story written by Kurt Busiek set in the very, very distant future where not a single human being is in site (let alone heard of), and animals roam the world in the comfort of luxurious floating cities…or at least the wealthy higher class beasts do. The mass of “lower beasts” get to spend their days on the ground slaving for the higher class under threat of being punished by the gods should they step too far beyond their station (sound metaphorically familiar anyone?). This world of rampant exploitation and absolute dominance of the lower social class races is something our main character, Dunstan, son of a privileged magician, is just beginning to be introduced to. Though our main character has some doubts about things after seeing how his father deals with them, this all takes a backseat to a more pressing matter. The magic the beasts of this world rely on like we rely on fuel is quickly running out. After master magicians, sorcerers, and politicians world-wide came together in an effort to discuss possible solutions, one bold sorceress came forth to propose the impossible: reach through time to bring forth “The Champion”. A legendary and mysteriously human shaped (unbeknownst to them) hero in history said to be capable of unimaginable feats.  

There’s a major event I’d love to talk about here, but everything that I’ve mentioned so far only happens within the first 25 or so pages, and I don’t want to reveal anything further, but trust me it only gets way more interesting from there. There wasn’t a single character (especially the key character revealed later in the story) I didn’t enjoy reading about, even the bad guys. Dunstan’s character doesn’t stand out too much for me just yet, but I can tell that will soon change-was changing as the story progressed. A lot of the story felt pretty authentic to how different human beings would react when faced with so much adversity in a situation so foreign from them. I couldn’t help but compare and contrast some of the elements in this story with current society. Also, as I’ve pretty much already gushed about, the illustrations by Benjamin Dewey were easy to follow, visually pleasing, and quite detailed. Deceit, battles, devastation, magic, tactics, power plays, a touch of humour and hint of sci-fi, tactics. This was a really great read that, I’ve got to say, ENDED IN A CLIFFHANGER. Why?! Why would you do that to a person?!?! 

Regardless of that cruel, cruel ending (Thank GOD I didn’t read it back when I first got it, now it’s only 3 months will the 2nd volume is released- Feb 28th), I really enjoyed this story and can’t wait to see where things go from here.

7/10 Unicorn Horns!

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

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Seconds is an Adult Graphic Novel by the creator of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Bryan Lee O’Malley. I will admit that the purchase of this book was strongly influenced by the gorgeous hardcover with artwork. I had all the resolve in the world that regardless of whether I hated the story or not, it would become a permanent part of my collection, based on looks/presentation alone. Luckily for me, I absolutely loved the book. Seconds was one of the first graphic novels that I read, and that may have a good amount to do with why I enjoyed it as much as I did.

This graphic novels follows Katie, a Chef in a successful restaurant that is in the process of opening her own restaurant. Katie’s life isn’t perfect, as most peoples lives aren’t, and when she is approached by a mystery girl with a way to do-over the past and erase her previous mistakes in a form of a mushroom, Katie gladly takes them. The mushrooms come with four specific instructions in order for the do-over to be effective-instructions have a way of making things seem more legit-but Katie eventually overdoes it by trying to correct too many things in her life and things begin to go awry.

The actual story was well thought out and the artwork is absolutely stunning. I fell in love with so many things about these two aspects of this graphic novel. The writing was cheeky, sarcastic, humorous, engaging, and had a great flow to it. There are brilliant bits where Katie interacts with the Narrator of the story and the way that O’Malley works that into the panels is hilarious and enriches the story. The coloring is f’n amazing! Like…I mean…mind-blowing amazing! I loved the panels/pages where you get a wash of a particular color over everything in/on that panel/page (I’m sure there’s a technical term for that method, but it’s lost on me). I’ve grown to appreciate the skill of illustrators and colorists that are able to use variations of the same base color throughout a graphic novel. That is NOT the case in Seconds, although there are panels/pages with a strong overtone of a particular color, O’Malley and the Colorist for this book, Nathan Fairbairn are able to use color-and so many different colors-so effectively throughout this graphic novel.

I give Seconds a rating of 8-out of-10 Unicorn Horns! The story has aspects of mystery, sci-fi, and fantasy woven into it’s gorgeously colored pages. The story is intriguing and it’s incredibly easy to become engulfed in the storyline. Honestly, the ‘flow’ of this graphic novel is still one of my favorites up to today,two years after initially reading it! O’Malley is able to use both the text and art in a way that is so cohesive and purposeful. He is able to flesh out the characters and storylines in such a short amount of time/space and I have not come across very many graphic novels since reading Seconds that are able to accomplish this feat.

 

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang

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In Real Life is a Young Adult Graphic novel that follows Anda, a teenage girl who is introduced to Coarsegold Online, a multiplayer role-playing game through a presentation in one of her classes. A female gamer in Coarsegold visits her classroom and entices the female students to represent themselves as females in the game and join her guild on a one-month temporary basis. Anda jumps on this opportunity and soon starts kicking ass in the game. Eventually, she comes across a impoverished Chinese gamer who uses his avatar as a means of getting money in the real world by collecting objects in Coarsegold. There is actually a very great introduction to the graphic novel that is written by Cory Doctorow, and I highly suggest reading it before commencing the story itself. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the art style and coloring of this graphic novel. The art isn’t all clean lines and mono-coloured, which I appreciated. The colours were vibrant and bold, yet soft on the pages. The colours used in many of the battle scenes and that were used for many of the gamer’s avatars were imaginative and very easily stood out from many graphic novels that I have read in the past.

The story itself felt like it needed to be just a bit longer. In Real Life is supposed to take a look at the real-life repercussions of gaming, poverty, economics and culture. It is very evident what the authors are trying to get across through the contents, but somewhere the connections fell a bit flat. There needed to be more fleshing out on the subjects of economics and poverty…and the way that cultural experiences shaped the story.

Overall, the story is great and I think that it is a good read for readers in the target age group. The book is able to be a great conversational piece and is thought provoking, especially in high school where I wish I would have been able to read something like this for English class. Although I wish we would have been able to delve into social constructs, societal differences, and the ways that poverty drastically shapes lives…I still believe that this is a bold graphic novel. I give In Real Life a rating of 7-out of-10 Unicorn Horns and recommend it to any lover of graphic novels to give a try.