Archive for the ‘Superhero’ Category

heroRefreshing and reinventing old superheroes has become somewhat fashionable recently, with rather mixed results. Some characters, like Batman, have seen so many iterations that it is difficult to separate them all, or find new ground to cover without being completely repetitive or utterly discarding canon. One good thing that has come out of this trend is the resurrection of old characters that never caught on, but were worthwhile for one reason or another.

The Green Turtle was a World War II superhero with a very limited run. He was created by a cartoonist named Chu Hing, who was one of the first Asian-Americans to enter the American comic book industry, a business with limited diversity, especially back in 1944. Hing obscured the face of his protagonist so that, even if he was not allowed to make his character officially of Chinese descent, there is enough obfuscation for the reader to make their own decision about his heritage.

It is this character that has been brought back to life in The Shadow Hero. Living in Chinatown are two immigrants and their son, Hank. Each parent brings with them shadows of their old life and unfulfilled expectations from their new life. Hank is the reluctant heir to a melting pot of their issues. There certainly isn’t any early indication of his superhero future, as he is quite content to work in his father’s grocery store, nursing the hope to eventually pass it on to his own son someday. But no superhero comes to being without some trauma, and his parent’s legacies eventually, violently, come to alter their offspring’s future in unimagined ways.

Gene Luen Yang, author of the Printz Award winning American Born Chinese, brings a strong sense of time, place, and culture in this story. I don’t think I’ve ever read a superhero story where family and cultural heritage is this central to the creation and continued development of the character. The people surrounding Hank encompass a wide range of types without sinking in to caricature. His mother is especially complicated, being infuriating and relatable in equal measure. Parents want what’s best for their child, but so often their view of what is best is founded on what they perceive to be missing from their own life.

Recommended for readers of graphic novels, superhero stories, and anyone with an interest in stories about family dynamics.

Check the WRL catalog for The Shadow Hero.

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AvatarTheLastAirbenderI know that having children is a life-enriching experience but I didn’t expect my almost-grown children to get me hooked on an initially unappealing children’s T.V. show; Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender. At first the cartoons and martial arts action seemed cheesy, but the show delivers a compelling story filled with friendship, family (good and bad), coming of age, and sympathetic but realistically flawed characters.

The story is set in a fascinating universe where certain people have an innate ability to move and control physical matter, called bending. All benders can move only one element: either earth, water, air or fire. All, that is, except the Avatar who can bend all four, and this power is meant to be used to keep balance and harmony in the world. The Avatar disappeared over one hundred years ago which allowed the Fire Nation to wage a war to take over the world. In the first episode our heroes Katara and Sokka discover that the Avatar, Aang, has been frozen in an iceberg for a hundred years as a twelve-year-old boy. The three of them set off on journeys and adventures all around the world, gathering friends and enemies, such as plump, kindly General Iroh who dispenses sage advice and cups of tea, or short, blind Toph who seems helpless, but is much tougher than everyone else. The situation often looks dire, but as Katara says in the opening sequence, “I believe Aang can save the world.”

The well-developed universe includes real martial art systems as the basis for each type of bending and buildings, costumes and cultures based on real ancient Asian cultures (although sometimes mixed). But the best invention may be the chimeric animals! Aang has a huge, furry, guinea-pig-shaped Flying Bison named Appa that you can’t possibly see without wanting one.

There are many spin-off works such as the sequel The Legend of Korra  which expands on the story of the Avatar. It occurs seventy years later than Avatar: The Last Airbender and features that show’s character’s children and grandchildren. They live in Republic City which bears an uncanny resemblance to 1920s New York City.  There are also graphic novels some of which are drawn by the same artists and include original stories that are not in the original show like Avatar the Last Airbender: The Promise.

Like Doctor Who or Spirited Away this is great for the whole family to watch together. The stories are simple enough (and active enough) to appeal to the youngest set while the geopolitical wrangling and character development is enough to keep adults coming back for more.

Check the WRL catalog for Avatar: The Last Airbender.

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wonder womanShe’s one of the most memorable and enduring superheroes: an Amazon from Paradise Island sent to America to promote liberty and freedom while fighting suffering and injustice. She’s Wonder Woman (aka Diana Prince) and since her debut in 1941, her adventures have been chronicled in comic books, a daily newspaper strip, and a popular television series starring Lynda Carter. Wonder Woman’s adventures may be legendary, but the story behind her development is as incredible as any superhero story.

Wonder Woman was created by a man named William Moulton Marston, a polymath, psychologist, and huckster heavily influenced by suffragists and early feminists. The story of William Marston and Wonder Woman is a fascinating tale involving feminism, psychology, the advent of comic book superheroes, unconventional relationships, and family secrets. Historian Jill Lepore explores the complicated life of William Marston and the development of Wonder Woman in her entertaining and provocative new book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman.

Lepore’s narrative is divided into four main sections: Veritas, which recounts the early lives and education of Marston and his childhood sweetheart (and later wife), Sadie Elizabeth Holloway; Family Circle, an exploration of Marston’s family life, including his polyamorous relationships with Holloway and a former student named Olive Byrne; Paradise Island, an examination of the development and success of Wonder Woman; and Great Hera! I’m Back, a discussion of Wonder Woman’s influence and legacy. This structure allows Lepore to unpack the nuances of Marston’s life, work, and relationships and how they relate to Wonder Woman in an engaging and accessible manner.

William Moulton Marston was born in 1893 in Massachusetts. He attended Harvard University, where he became interested in the movement for women’s suffrage. He was particularly fascinated by the British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst who, in 1911, was scheduled to speak at Harvard, but was later barred from speaking on campus.

Marston studied Philosophy and Psychology and was especially interested in determining whether or not deception could be detected by measuring systolic blood pressure. His research was instrumental in the development of early lie detector tests, and Marston testified as an expert witness in lie detection in several court cases.

After graduating from Harvard, Marston married Sadie Holloway, a Mount Holyoke graduate, and the couple stayed in Massachusetts to attend law school. They also pursued advanced degrees in Psychology.

While Holloway found work in New York as managing editor of Child Study: A Journal of Parent Education, Marston pursued a career in academia at Tufts University. At Tufts, he met Olive Byrne, niece of ardent feminist and birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger. Byrne became Marston’s research assistant and eventually moved in with Marston and Holloway.

Marston, Holloway and Byrne formed an unconventional family unit. Marston had a son and daughter with Holloway and two sons with Byrne, but they kept the true nature of Marston’s relationship with Byrne a closely guarded secret from everyone, including their sons. Byrne invented a husband named William K. Richard who died after a long illness, and wrote feature articles for Family Circle magazine using the name “Olive Richard.” In these articles, she discussed pressing issues of the day with prominent psychologist William Marston.

Over the years, Marston’s academic career fizzled, but he never stopped trying to promote his expertise in psychology and lie detection. He offered his services in the case of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the man convicted of the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh’s son; he also appeared in an advertisement for Gillette razor blades. His efforts met with limited success until he was hired by Maxwell Charles “Charlie” Gaines, the publisher of Superman, to work as a consulting psychologist. At the time, critics were concerned about the level of violence in comic books, and Marston had a solution: create a female superhero that possessed “all the strength of Superman plus the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” Gaines was intrigued and Wonder Woman made her debut in the fall of 1941.

For several years, Wonder Woman was a major, if occasionally controversial, success. Working with artist Henry George Peter, a fellow supporter of women’s suffrage, Marston brought his vision of Wonder Woman as a “Progressive Era feminist” to comic books and a short-lived daily comic strip. She was not without her critics, who expressed concern about her costume and the pervasive use of chains and other forms of bondage. In response, Marston told his publisher that the motivation behind the imagery was to draw the “distinction between in the minds of children and adults between love bonds and the male bonds of cruelty and destruction.”

Despite the controversy, Marston’s vision remained largely intact until his death in 1947. Wonder Woman’s adventures continued, but subsequent writers and artists produced iterations of Wonder Woman that barely resembled the concept Marston had in mind when he originally created her.

Lepore’s background on Marston, Holloway, and Byrne is lengthy, but it effectively provides the social and cultural context for the development of Wonder Woman. She covers a lot of ground in these chapters and her lively writing style keeps the narrative moving at a brisk and enjoyable pace. The chapters on Wonder Woman and her legacy are similarly well-researched and include footnotes, a comics index, and extensive illustrations showing the evolution of Wonder Woman over the years.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman is a satisfying look at the making of a superhero, and the social and political changes that shaped her development.

Check the WRL catalog for The Secret History of Wonder Woman

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Batman Week, Day 3. Today’s post highlights a small sample of Batman books for the younger generation.  These books are very popular at the library, so be sure to check the catalog if you don’t see these on the shelf!

Let’s start with a Junior Graphic Novel, Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight, written and illustrated by Ralph Cosentino.

This book covers the basics of the Batman story and introduces four familiar villains without going into a specific story of how they are vanquished. The layout is very similar to a picture book with many of the illustrations covering both pages. But like a comic strip, the book has word boxes and the familiar sound effects (boom! bonk! pow!).  While the story talks about Batman studying hard to outsmart the bad guy, the pictures show him using his physical strength to subdue the villain.

This one is recommended for grades 1-3. If you like the look of this book, Cosentino has written about Superman and Wonder Woman as well.

The library also has several titles in the Junior Easy Reader series by Scholastic.  I borrowed a few books for reading level 2 (reading with help) and level 3 (reading alone).  These were my favorite stories:

Level 2 stories like I Am Batman and Batman Versus Bane have pictures on every page, but also tell a simple story of how Batman uses his brains and cool gadgets to battle the bad guy. These stories in particular have illustrations reminiscent of the Dark Knight movies.

The Mad Hatter, a level 3 story, has a more complex plot and fewer pictures. The pictures are more comic-like with frames and word boxes, and the story is quick moving action. Once people report that their hats have been stolen, Batman quickly figures out that the Mad Hatter is once again in Gotham City. He catches up to the bad guys at a museum, but the Mad Hatter escapes with a cryptic message: “My next adventure will be my crowning glory!” Batman knows the villain is up to something big and has to figure it out before the Mad Hatter strikes again. Brains and cool gadgets once again help Batman make the city and its citizens safe.

batman3 And finally, the Junior Fiction chapter books include a DC Super Heroes series about Batman by different writers and illustrators. I picked up The Fog of Fear. This was the most complex story of the batch I collected. Written in chapters with an occasional picture, the book features many challenges for Batman to overcome. A master criminal called “The Scarecrow” releases a fog on Gotham City. It appears to be just a nuisance until Batman discovers that water will react with the fog to create hallucinations of your greatest fears. Batman has to figure out a way to clear the dense fog from the city. And in the process, he must help a friend who gets transformed into a vicious Man-Bat!

This is definitely another action-packed adventure for young fans who are ready for a bigger reading challenge. My only gripe was the illustrations. I love Legos, but didn’t like that the Batman in this series looked like a Lego character. Probably not a big deal for the audience this is actually aimed at—but I thought the illustrations from the Scholastic series were better. I also liked the added features at the end of the book—a profile of the villain, discussion questions about the book, and writing prompts for further activities.

Check the WRL catalog for Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight

Check the WRL catalog for The Mad Hatter

Check the WRL catalog for The Fog of Fear


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Batman Week, Day 2. With our regular comics blogger off at Comic-Con, we implored librarian and geek culture goddess Jen to write about a favorite Batman story arc. This one comes from the library’s collection of graphic novels for adults. — Ed.

We librarians are not known for our poker faces. We’re bad liars. So what to do when a co-worker (yes, Melissa, I am pointing the finger at you) comes to you in desperate need of a blog post. And not just any blog post: would you be willing to write a Batman blog post?  What she doesn’t know is that you have an entire storage box full of classic 1980s Batman comics. You hesitate, wondering if you can get away with the lie that you know zip about Batman. She waits. After a long pause, she whips out “that’s not a no!” And there you are. Stuck with the job.

Where do you start? There is just soooo much! You can’t go into your hidden stash and pick a comic. That could take weeks and she needs this thing stat. So I did what any smart librarian would do: I went to the stacks (bookcases for you regular folks out there).  And —yay me! — found a true gem of the Batman universe.

Batman: The Killing Joke was written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland. When you write about Batman comics you have to come to grips with the fact that many people over the years have not only told portions of his story, but many people have been tasked with drawing it. And in my mind these sometimes undervalued illustrators are just as important as the story’s writer. Actually, to be truly honest, I feel the illustrator is MORE important than the writer. Many a time I have picked up a story and put it right back down, left absolutely cold by the illustrations. I like realism in my graphic novel world. I don’t particularly care for comic-y looking illustrations, and I have a really, really hard time with jagged line artwork (not a huge Frank Miller/The Dark Knight Strikes Again fan.) Brian Bolland does a fine job and leaves it up to Alan Moore to hit the home run with his amazing story.

The story is absolute genius. We see how a normal man, hounded by the pressures of providing for his family and the continual failures at succeeding at his chosen job, yields to temptation and has “one bad day.” Interposed with the flashbacks that make up The Joker’s bad day, we see Commissioner Gordon’s “one bad day” as provided by none other than The Joker. The Joker seems bent on proving to himself and all others that what happened to him would happen to anybody. In looking at the story deeper, Moore has sprinkled it with parallels, and we get to see that Batman and The Joker are really two sides of the same coin. Both men are created from “one bad day,” and in some ways both are insane because of it. If you like Batman and you haven’t read this story yet, I highly recommend it. If you have read it, but it’s been a while, it might be time for a reread. And while you’re reading, see if you can spot the origin of one of DC’s most amazing heroes, Oracle. And while all librarians are super heroes… some of us take it to a whole new level!

Check the WRL catalog for Batman: The Killing Joke

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All week, Blogging for a Good Book honors Batman, who is celebrating his 75th anniversary this year. To lead off, Laura reviews a book that takes us back to the Caped Crusader’s early career as a detective. –Ed. 

Since the basic premise of Batman is so well known, it can be reimagined countless ways and effectively applied to a wide range of storylines. In this version, Batman is not a lone crusader; he is merely the most recent member of a longstanding roster of familiar historical detectives, including Allan Pinkerton and Teddy Roosevelt.

The action begins with events that preceded the Lincoln assassination, which set loose a devious plot by an evil faction led by a southern gentleman who looks remarkably like the Joker. Like many comic bad guys, they are pinning their hopes on a remarkably intricate stratagem. This one might be a tad on the unbelievable side, even for a villain’s plan, since it will take 74 years to come to fruition.

The time lag brings the action into the modern day, which in this case is 1929. Poor little Bruce Wayne witnesses the murder of his parents and then gets sent off to boarding school for the next ten years. Fortuitously, his travels around the globe give him a chance to study a wide range of subjects, including criminology, oriental fighting techniques, and costume design, which are surprisingly useful for his later activities (although one can imagine the despair experienced by his school’s career counselor). His talents catch the eye of others, and he is quickly enlisted by the detective group. They are known to each other only by number, and as their most recent member, he is known as Detective #27. He has a lot to learn and not much time to do it, but at least he has, as always, the loyal Alfred by his side.

Will good triumph over evil? Or will the Joker’s minions rule the day? Find out next week…or just read the book. Recommended for graphic novel readers, historical fiction readers, and anyone who has spent time in Gotham and enjoyed it.

Search the WRL catalog for Batman: Detective No. 27.

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“The Time Lord has met many aliens, cyborgs, robots, and humans on his journeys through history and across the universe.”

DoctorWhoDoctor Who has clocked  almost eight hundred episodes over thirty-three seasons. If you add in the fact that the Doctor can travel to any time in history and any place in infinity, then it isn’t surprising that it can be a little difficult to keep all the characters straight. That is where the Doctor Who Character Encyclopedia comes in very handy. With more than two hundred entries from Abzorbaloff, the greedy shape shifting humanoid to the Zygons who met the fourth Doctor, it can’t claim to cover all of time and space, but it comes close.

November marked the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who–an extremely exciting event for Whovians. Those of us without BBC America on cable would have been left waiting for the Fiftieth Anniversary Special to come out on DVD except that, for the first time I have encountered, the Fiftieth Anniversary Special was kindly shown at movie theaters. Our closest movie theater showed it on IMax 3D on a Monday night, which is not my preferred format or time, but I had to go anyway. I didn’t dress up–unlike dozens of other Whovians young and old. They varied from around ten years old to well into their fifties or even sixties which is a very mixed fan base, but is not surprising for a show that started running before the moon landing and continues to attract fans.

The Doctor Who Character Encyclopedia is a well-organized book in which you can search for characters by name, or browse the Table of Contents where they are categorized by type such as “Alien,” “Companion,” “Cyborg,” or “Entity” with color coding matching their main entries. Each character gets a full page spread with a description, details about their origins, homeworld, which Doctors they met and how they fit into the stories. Sharp, bright photos, typical of Dorling Kindersley publishers clearly show the attributes of each character.

The BBC obviously saw publishing opportunity in the interest around the fiftieth anniversary and this is an official BBC publication. If this book is out, our library has other books of background for desperate Doctor Who fans, such as, Doctor Who: A History by Alan Kistler or Doctor Who Whology: The Official Miscellany, by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright.

The Doctor Who Character Encyclopedia is a must-read (or a must-browse) for Doctor Who fans. If you are not a fan and are wondering what all the fuss is about try my review of the TV series of Doctor Who and check out some of the series on DVD.

Check the WRL catalog for Doctor Who Character Encyclopedia.

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hawkeyeWhile watching the Avengers movie in the theater (I admit, twice), I was intrigued by the characters of Hawkeye and Black Widow. Not having much knowledge of the Avengers outside of Iron Man and Thor, I found it interesting that there were members of the team who did not possess any superpowers or special flying suits. Experience and training will only get you so far when facing a massive army of technologically superior aliens from another dimension. Hulk may smash, but normal humans should be running in the other direction while screaming.

As expected, when a movie piques the public’s interest in specific characters from a comic universe, new material often follows. I picked up a copy of the first volume of the new Hawkeye graphic novel series, titled Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon. The series covers Hawkeye’s life away from the Avengers, where he lives quietly as Clint Barton in a rather crummy apartment building. He is assisted in many of his exploits by Kate Bishop, who is a member of the Young Avengers, and had previously stepped in for Clint when he took some time off from the Avengers. She is an equal, if not better, bowman than Clint.

Unlike other human superheroes like Batman or Iron Man, Hawkeye isn’t angsty, and there is a lot of humor injected into his interactions, especially with Kate. He fights mainly with his bow and an array of sometimes ridiculous specialty arrows, a method which is used smartly against him by the authors in a humorous segment where he keeps firing random arrows with somewhat unbelievable abilities. He tries to live as normally as possible, enjoying rooftop BBQs with his neighbors, buying a used sports car, and practicing his archery, but generally finds ways to get himself in trouble much as he might try to avoid it. It seems once you are identified as a superhero, groups of ninjas can’t help but attack you.

This volume is a quick but fun read. Recommended for fans of the Marvel Universe and anyone who is tired of having perpetually disagreeable and tormented superheroes.

Search the catalog for Hawkeye

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superiorMany kids have a favorite superhero that they look up to. Twelve-year old Simon loves Superior, a Superman-like immortal superhero with x-ray vision, super hearing, and freeze breath, not to mention immense strength and the ability to fly. In short, he is a perfect physical being, quite unlike Simon himself. Previously a healthy and talented basketball player, Simon was struck down with multiple sclerosis, losing the ability to walk and suffering attacks that leave him barely able to speak. He slowly lost all his former friends except for one, Chris, who makes sure to come with Simon to the movies once a week. Other than his trips with Chris, Simon lives like a turtle tucked into his shell, saddened and frustrated by his physical helplessness.

One night, Simon is visited by a monkey named Ormon, who grants him his biggest wish and changes him into a real-live Superior. Ormon assures Simon that everything will be explained in a week. Simon quickly learns how to use the awesome power he has been granted and saves people, averts disasters, solves world food shortages, and more. He even gives the local bully, who missed no opportunity to torment him when he was in his wheelchair, a well-deserved scare. Compared to his previous life, everything seems perfect.

Of course, a fictional superhero can’t come to life without causing some issues. The actor who has portrayed Superior in all the movies finds his own life quite complicated by the sudden appearance of his powerful twin. And the media is desperate to question the world’s newest hero, especially Maddie Knox, who is even willing to put her life on the line to score the first interview. But why was Simon granted his wish by Ormon? Everyone knows that nothing is free, and being given such an immense gift must come at some cost to Simon. What will the boy be willing to give up in order to retain his powers and never again return to his wheelchair?

The dialog is believable and the characters are relatable, which is no small feat when you are depicting everyone from a 12-year-old boy to a magical space monkey. The artwork is dynamic, adeptly expressing every emotion from innocence to terror. I enjoyed the alternative take on the regular superhero motif, with the hero character being more of a device than a personality. Recommended to readers of graphic novels, especially, but not limited to, superhero titles.

Check the WRL catalog for Superior

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sharknifeIf there are graphic novel fans out there who really like Scott Pilgrim but would prefer a little less plot and a lot more fighting and jokes, this book was made for you. Sharknife, Stage First is a frenetic, fun, and sassy volume filled with game references, youth culture, eggroll-seeking monsters, and a fortune-cookie powered superhero. Any pretense of seriousness is immediately put to rest on the first page when a character breaks the fourth wall to introduce herself and the town she lives in.

Chieko Momuza is a self-described “spazz-banana living in a cyclone of hyper.” Her father Raymond owns a Chinese restaurant that had the misfortune of becoming THE place to be in town. Why is this unfortunate? Because formerly the hottest spot in town was a smoke shop owned by a man named Ombra. Occupation: gangster. Like any respectable bad guy, Ombra can’t pass up the opportunity for a revenge plot. In the spirit of the best James Bond villains, his plan is ridiculous, obsessive, and bizarre: he plants mechanical monsters into the walls of the restaurant that come alive when they smell food.

Fortunately, the Momuzas have a bus boy, Ceasar (sic), who turns into a powerful being named Sharknife when he consumes one of Chieko’s fortune cookies. He fights off the bad guys and Ombra sends more, better ones. That’s it, the whole of the plot. This is a fun story, folks, not a deep one. These fights, which take up most of the space in the volume, are what you are paying the price of admission for. Interspersed in the action are sly gaming homages such as health bars, power ups, and key combinations for special attacks.

The lettering for the sound effects reverberates throughout the art with each crash and hit performing the sound for you through movement and line energy. Characters even step (or are thrown) in front of the sounds, and the text occasionally layers on top of several panels, fully integrating into the noisy landscape.

This is certainly a fast read with the only disappointment coming at the end of the book when you run out of pages. Fortunately there is also another volume to consume.

Recommended for fans of Scott Pilgrim and other hyper-but-clever teen literature. Not recommended for anyone who would grit their teeth at hearing someone say “oh noes!”

Search the WRL catalog for Sharknife.

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Is it possible to get hooked on a book from reading only one page? Because I think that’s exactly what happened. The initial panel in this graphic novel was just perfect, moody reds and blues and exquisitely rendered people and a one-sentence narrative box that tied it all together.

So I turned the page and was reminded of Fight Club, both the book and the film. And then I turned the page again and was reminded of American Psycho, both the book and the film, and anyway by that point I knew I’d found a winner.

Wesley Gibson is a harmless loser. His boss yells at him each day at his boring office job; his girlfriend is having an affair with his best friend; his idea of excitement is choosing the wasabi mayonnaise over the plain.

Then one day a woman introduces herself to Wesley while he’s standing in line at a deli. She pulls a gun from her jacket, shoots a bunch of innocent bystanders, and informs Wesley that he’s heir apparent to a vacancy in a sinister global cabal of supervillains. Oh, and he’s really rich now.

Back in the 1980s, all of the world’s supervillains had banded together to fight against the superheroes. They succeeded. Now Wesley, after a bit of intensive training to desensitize himself to violence, is poised to become the world’s most talented assassin. There are no more superheroes to kill off, but there are plenty of supervillains to keep in line, and there’s no shortage of ordinary human beings to attack.

To state the excessively obvious, this is a violent book. Sex and nudity are relatively modest, but the physical action is extremely violent (though not as violent as the general worldview). Ethics and morality don’t enter the picture, not even in an “honor among thieves” sort of way. There is not a single admirable character in the book. The depraved sensibilities of the supervillains serve to illustrate some very ugly truths about humanity, but still, most readers enjoy a bit of moral growth or social responsibility in their fiction. This isn’t a book for everyone, but for those willing to engage in a bleak and barren dystopia, the story is electrifying, with tumultuous action, witty dialogue, and great character anti-development.

Check the WRL catalog for Wanted


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Dr. HorribleThere is something a bit meta about blogging about a DVD about blogging, but I’m doing it anyway. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was originally released as a series of three 15 minute webisodes created by Joss Whedon (of Buffy-fame) during the writers’ strike. It has now been released as a DVD and is definitely worth checking out. It features the acting and singing talents of Neil Patrick Harris as Dr. Horrible, an aspiring super villain. He blogs (and sings) about his efforts to become a member of the Evil League of Evil, his nemesis Captain Hammer, played by Firefly’s Nathan Fillion, and his love for fellow laundromat user Penny.

Dr. Horrible’s current attempt to join the Evil League includes the creation of a Freeze Ray (“It’s not a Death Ray or an Ice Beam, that’s all Johnny Snow”) that will freeze time. When things don’t go quite as planned, word comes down from the Evil League that his application will be denied unless he kills someone.

Dr. Horrible is unbelievably funny, touching, heart-wrenching, and has catchy songs, too. The DVD features a sing-along commentary track and fan-created Evil League of Evil video applications which are, in some cases, just as funny as the blog they were inspired by.  Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from Dr. Horrible’s blog is to be careful what you say on your video blog, since both your nemesis and the police could be watching!

Check the WRL catalog for Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

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identity_crisisIf, hypothetically, someone completely neglected to read comics in her childhood like she was supposed to, how would this person, now a grownup, become familiar with the superheroes?


I posed this entirely hypothetical question to a geek friend of mine, explaining that the reader, hypothetically, was intimidated by superhero books because she wasn’t familiar with the decades’ worth of backstory associated with each character. Where should the newbie begin?

“Uhm,” said my geek friend. “You should. Um. Start with… Er. Um.”

He was stumped, but rallied gamely a few days later by suggesting a graphic novel by Brad Meltzer. And though I (hypothetically) had never cared for Meltzer’s traditional thrillers, I found him to be quite engaging in Identity Crisis. (Which I read for no real reason; it’s not like there was a great big gaping hole in my knowledge, or anything like that.)

Identity Crisis features several superheroes of the DC variety. (This means that Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are fair game, but not Spiderman, who is Marvel. To me this does not seem fair.) The spouse of one of the superheroes– I am not going to tell you which one– has been murdered. It’s a locked-room mystery, with no signs of entry or egress, no forensic evidence, and in fact no evidence of a crime at all, except for the bit about there being a dead body.

But the whodunnit bit was not the primary appeal. Instead I liked the story because I got to know and enjoy the characters. Meltzer draws them with depth, metaphorically, and artist Rags Morales draws them with grace, literally. Having read the book, I am proud to announce that I have formed my first tentative, independently-reached conclusion about a superhero, to wit: I think Green Arrow is kind of cool and funny, and if can recommend some other Green Arrow books, I’m listening.

There are some violent moments, but there’s nothing too awfully bloody, and the very worst parts are left to the reader’s imagination. Also, all of the women are busty and tall and gorgeous, which might make the female reader feel, in comparison, like a dumpy old cow– but even inexperienced readers of superhero books know to expect that, I suppose. Hrmph.

Check the WRL catalog for Identity Crisis

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the librarianIt was bound to happen sooner or later. A blog sponsored by a public library would eventually have to have a review of the movie The Librarian: Quest For the Spear. I may be putting my professional credibility on the line, but I have seen this movie several times and never fail to laugh at the comical situations and great one-liners in this over-the-top but funny look at one very special library and its librarian.  Noah Wyle is great as Flynn Carsen, a professional student in his thirties who has over 20 degrees and still lives with his mother, played very well by Olympia Dukakis.

When one of his professors finally gives him the boot so that he can experience life in the real world, Flynn is invited to apply and accepted as “The Librarian” of the Metropolitan Public Library. His boss, Judson (Bob Newhart),  charges him with the responsibility for protecting this secretive library’s vast holdings, which includes some of the world’s greatest treasures. When thieves break in and steal a part of a magical spear, Flynn is given the mission to recover the stolen spear and find its remaining two parts, which are hidden in different places at opposite ends of the Earth.  To help him on his task, he is teamed up with Nicole Noon (Sonya Walger) and together they risk life and limb to recover the three parts of the magical spear. There is lots of action that spoofs Indiana Jones and other action heroes, and a highlight is to see Bob Newhart as Judson take on a gang of thugs by himself near the end of the movie.

If you enjoy action comedies, or if you want to see a movie about a very different kind of library, or if you have ever enjoyed any of these fine actors in the past, including Noah Wyle (ER), Bob Newhart, Olympia Dukakis, and Jane Curtin (3rd Rock From the Sun) , then you should definitely give this movie a try. The Williamsburg Regional Library also has the next two movies in this series, which are also lots of fun to watch, The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s Mines and The Librarian 3: Curse of the Judas Chalice. All three are highly recommended.

Check the WRL catalog for The Librarian: Quest for the Spear

Check the WRL catalog for The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s Mines

Or try The Librarian 3: Curse of the Judas Chalice

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There’s a reason nobody recognizes that Clark Kent is Superman, and it’s not the powerful disguise of a pair of square-rimmed glasses. He’s hiding behind the fact that he is BORING. The same holds true for other heroes: Batman. Wonder Woman. Spiderman. Let’s face it, the only thing colorful about these folks is their clingy outfits. Everything else about them is strictly off-white with a hint of beige. 

Give me a good supervillain anyday. OK, they’re evil. And they talk too much. And they always lose in the end. You probably say the same thing about most of your friends behind their backs, and you still hang out with them.

Austin Grossman understands that the average superhero has the personality of pressed-wood, oak-finish furniture. That’s why he has written most of the delightful Soon I Will Be Invincible, a blend of superhero fantasy and literary fiction, from the perspective of the villain Dr. Impossible. Even though he’s the smartest guy in the world, Dr. Impossible knows he will probably lose. He knows he has a problem with making speeches before he has completed his evil plan. He’s got lots of other flaws too, flaws that make him funny and interesting.

In Grossman’s alternate history, heroes have corporate sponsors and military contracts. A superhero team called the Champions is the reigning power, but Corefire, its strongest member, is missing in action. The brains behind the team, Blackwolf and Damsel are distracted by their recent divorce and the next strongest Champion, Lily, is only recently reformed from life as a villain. Their best hope may be Fatale, a cyborg and the newest member of the team (who alternates narration with Impossible), but she’s still busy trying to fit in.

Grossman uses all the clichés of the superhero story to great effect, and still manages plenty of surprises for the reader. It’s like Alan Moore’s classic graphic novel Watchmen but much cheekier. This fine first novel that should please anyone who has ever cracked a comic book or watched a superhero movie.

Check the WRL catalog for Soon I Will Be Invincible

Soon I Will Be Invincible

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Yep. That Kevin Smith. Same guy who did Dogma and Clerks up and decided to write a graphic novel. All you fans of the movies can rejoice, because his book reads just like his movie scripts: it’s funny, it’s cerebral, it’s irreverent, and it’s deeply, deeply satisfying.

This is actually the second Kevin Smith Green Arrow graphic novel, a follow-up to Green Arrow: Quiver. The hero is The Green Arrow, a superhero with a viscous shooting ability, though no supernatural talents. The Green Arrow has been with DC Comics since the 1940s, but he’s never been mega-popular like Superman or Wonder Woman. Yet Kevin Smith managed to take this lesser character and create a book that proved extremely popular with comics fans.

But this is the great part: you don’t have to be a hardcore comics reader to like this book. You don’t need a lifetime habit of reading DC Comics to like Sounds of Violence. All you need is an appreciation of clever writing and enjoyable illustrations.

At the start of Sounds of Violence, Ollie, a.k.a. the Green Arrow, is dealing with ordinary domestic problems: can he convince his protégé Mia to get to school on time? How can he bond with his newfound adult son Connor? Should he call his ex, the ravishing superhero Black Canary? These mundane questions evaporate when an unknown villain shoots Connor in the head. Until the very end of the book Connor’s fate remains up in the air, and even when he recovers at the story’s resolution, the villain remains at large, despite a gory climactic confrontation with the Green Arrow. Though the illustrators’ bold colors and clean artistic renderings make the frequent violence especially realistic, the most disturbing scenes revolve around the emotional trauma suffered by Connor’s family as they wait to see if he’ll live or die. It’s not for the squeamish, but it’s a fun book if you don’t mind seeing violence and some PG-13 sex.

Check the WRL catalog

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Nineteenth-century literature meets the superhero graphic novel: characters including Mina Harker, last seen in Bram Stoker’s Dracula; “science pirate” Captain Nemo; adventurer Allan Quartermain; and both Jekyll and his alter-ego join forces to save London’s East End. Detailed panels, cultural allusions, and a witty, complicated storyline make this a stunning blend of literary fiction and science fiction. Sex and graphic violence figure prominently. You may be interested in seeing the movie, too, though be warned that most people did not care for it when it was released. 2002, 741.5 Moo.

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