Locke & Key Volumes 4-6, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez

Locke & Key, Vol. 6I managed to spread the first three volumes of this series out over the span of four months, but then RIP started and I love this series and I couldn’t help myself and read the last three over the course of 24 hours. As you do. I can’t say I’ve finished the series, thankfully, as I have been made aware of both an audio adaptation of the series and some one-shot comics in the universe that are not yet free to me but which might need to be purchased anyway because yes.

In these last three volumes, things get pretty intense, which is quite a feat for a series that started off with a violent murder. We finally get the backstory of Keyhouse and just how all those keys came to be in existence, and we find out how Dodge came to be, well, Dodge, and what he’s willing to do to make his evil dreams come true. Terrible things happen to people we’ve just met and people we’ve (I’ve) come to love. Awful truths are told and inevitable truths are encountered. Things go very very poorly, but, spoilers, things also turn out all right.

I obviously love the insane premise and plot of this series, with magic keys and evil schemes and spooky wells and mean shadows and supernatural enemies everywhere. But what I think makes this series so perfect is that Hill and Rodríguez depict all of this happening to actual real human beings with actual real human emotions and flaws (except when said emotions have been removed but that’s a whole other thing). Our kid heroes deal with kid problems and also adult problems that kids run into — making new friends, navigating relationships, dealing with an alcoholic parent, taking on adult responsibilities when no one else will. They also deal head-on with societal prejudices of race, class, disability, sexual orientation, and more, and force the reader to look at their own assumptions, like my very serious assumption that the dude with ridiculous facial hair was obviously going to be a bad guy (spoilers: somehow not at all?).

And, of course, the art is amazing. I’m much worse at describing my love for comics art than prose, but I think it’s right when I say that the drawings — the shapes, the facial expressions, a flip of hair — and the colors perfectly exhibit the emotions of the characters and the world around them. There are some interesting similarities in the way that some characters are drawn that I at first took for a mistake but may, looking back, be part of a larger story, and I love that I can see that in this book.

There are problems in the series, of course, from overly simplistic characterizations to completely unlikely dialogue to too-easy answers to the slightly-too-happy-for-me ending. But there is so much good in it that I am willing to let that slide, and then to seek out all the everything ever set in this universe, so clearly I am head over heels for this thing.

Are there any comics or stories in general that make you feel this way? What other series are the complete package like this one?

Weekend Shorts: The Inevitable Hoopla Binge

When I first started with hoopla, I thought I could be responsible. I could check out a trade here and a couple issues there, and I’d be fine. FINE. I could stop at any time.

But no, no I couldn’t. With one of my libraries offering me an absurd number of checkouts every month, I should have known it would only be a matter of time before I read 25 single issues over the course of three days. I’m fine.

Of course, this makes for terrible blogging as I can’t possibly remember all those stories enough to write about them, but here’s my best college try:

Giant Days, #5-12, by John Allison and Lissa Treiman
Giant Days #12It’s just, it’s so good, guys. It’s also appropriate that this series would lead to my downfall, as my beloved characters are also having some seriously bad times in this set of issues. My BFF Susan is off having an unexpected relationship that starts off okay but runs into some serious turbulence when Susan stops putting enough effort into it. Esther continues her term as Drama Queen with both an end-of-term panic over not studying for exams and an ill-advised relationship with a TA. Ed finally finds a girl who likes him back but that relationship fizzles before it even begins. Daisy stays relatively drama-free but does become temporarily obsessed with Friday Night Lights. The stories continue to be adorable and hilarious. I am mad at myself for reading all of these and not saving any for later.

Welcome Back, #1-5, by Christopher Sebela and Jonathan Brandon Sawyer
Welcome Back #1I actually own the first two or three of these in print, but am lazy and had hoopla handy so I read everything available there in one go. I’m kind of mad at myself for reading all of these, but for a different reason.

See, I own the issues because this was supposed to be a quick four-issue series, and I’m a weird backward person who buys those in issues but ongoing series in trades. But if you are proficient in numbers, you’ll see that I read five issues because someone decided to make this an ongoing series.

I can see why — the series has an interesting premise in that there are people in the world (lots of people? Just a relative few? It’s not super clear) who are involved in some crazypants eons-long war for the purpose of which one hunts the other down, kills them, and then kills themself so that the two can reincarnate together and do it all again. Why this seemed like a great idea to whoever set it up, I do not know, but it leads to some very exciting intrigue and subterfuge so I am willing to suspend some disbelief for a while.

But what I can’t let go of is the fact that there is a pretty obvious ending that’s being built up to in issue four, but at the last minute the story swerves to accommodate the new ongoing nature of the series and ruins it. I don’t know if it would have been a great ending (I’ve been burned by miniseries before), but I can tell that it didn’t get a chance to be. Issue five was okay, but I’m not sure I’m excited enough about it to keep going.

Lumberjanes, #14-24, by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke Allen, Carolyn Nowak, and Carey Pietsch (and other people too)
Lumberjanes #14Holy Mae Jemison. This is what happens when you have a nice relaxing day off of work and you get all your productive stuff done early. You get to read ALL THE LUMBERJANES. What happened here, let’s see…

Well, badges, obviously, but also a crazy snowstorm that leads to some interesting and terrible camp backstory, mermaids with friendship problems, and some serious shape-shifter adventures. Throughout, our favorite Lumberjanes work through the lovely insanity of friendship to the max, including reining in loose cannon friends and dealing with new friends who seem like they’re taking over and wondering whether friendship is more important than personal development. These are some deep thoughts to be reading about at the same time as mermaids, I’ll tell you.

Reading all these issues at once was a little crazy in another way, as there was some serious turnover going on at Lumberjanes headquarters, with the departure of Noelle Stevenson as writer and the introduction of other writers and artists. I have to say, if I can’t have Brooke Allen I hope I can keep having Carey Pietsch going forward; I think the two of them have the best interpretations of the characters. Writing-wise the series seems pretty much the same, probably because it’s hard to go wrong throwing teenagers into crazy supernatural circumstances.

Lumberjanes: Beyond Bay Leaf Special #1, by Faith Erin Hicks and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Lumberjanes: Beyond Bay Leaf #1Bonus Lumberjanes fun! Comixology says this is a one-shot special, so I’m not sure what’s up with the #1, but whatever, it’s cute. This issue is a weird sort of The Last Unicorn-esque story about a magic ghost pony and a strange camper who has designs on the pony and on the Lumberjanes while she’s at it. It’s completely outside the realm of regular Lumberjanes, so you don’t really need to read it, but if you love this series I know you’ll read it anyway.

Weekend Shorts: Comics That Disappointed Me

I didn’t intend this post to be a total downer, but as I wrote it that’s what came out, so that’s what you get. Feel free to skip this post in favor of reading a really good book. But if you like it when I get grr-y and arrgh-y, read on.

Federal Bureau of Physics, Vol. 4: “The End Times”, by Simon Oliver and Alberto Ponticelli
FBP, Vol. 4I just can’t even with this series. It started off pretty well, with the pseudoscience and the cheeky tone and the interesting world building. But then the book got caught on this idea of a Big Bad Guy and some Ulterior Motives and the tone got more serious and the science, pseudo- or not, became a sidenote and the world of the story got too small to matter.

In this last volume… I don’t even know what’s happening here. Most of our heroes are still in the Giant Underground Bunker of Conspiracy-Land, and then Adam is off in space or wherever and something something dark matter and something something everyone’s dead? I think?

Meanwhile, my precocious child friend and her mom are wandering about, looking for safety on an Earth that is literally falling apart because reasons. There are reasons, but those reasons don’t make any sense, and neither does pretty much all of this book. I didn’t mind things not making sense when there were magic physics canyons; when it seems like I’m supposed to be understanding some Deeper Meaning it is the worst. On the one hand, at least the series is over? On the other, I wish it had been so much better.

The Fiction, #1-4, by Curt Pires and David Rubin
The FictionI saw this comic on sale at my local comic shop and the cover was pretty and the inside art was pretty and it was called The Fiction and please, how was I not going to pick that up? And then I never actually opened the issue that I bought because I found the whole four-issue series on hoopla and read them all in an afternoon.

Unfortunately, I mostly read them all because “all” was four and I had nothing better to do and I hoped, unrequitedly, that it would get better.

It starts off strong, with a guy finding an old book and then mysteriously disappearing. Then we get a flashback to that guy as a kid (I had pegged them as maybe 10 but I guess they’re actually 15-16?) hanging out with some friends as their parents get up to slightly abnormal parent things. The friends find one of these books, start reading it, and find themselves in a fictional world. And then they return — but one is left behind.

Intriguing, right? So the guy in the present day is lost in the fictional world again and his old friends go after him only to find that the world they remember has gotten rather more bleak in the meantime. And this is where things go off the rails, as the author pulls in a bunch of stuff about, like, a malevolent entity and bad things that may or may not have happened to those parents, and there’s unnecessary romance and the art becomes basically stock B horror movie footage of an evil world and it’s still pretty but it’s so done and ugh. And then the ending. Let’s not even talk about that.

So, yeah. Skip this one, unless you’ve got hoopla, a beer, and literally nothing better to read.

Weekend Shorts: Hoopla Trades

I talked about the awesomeness that is hoopla about a month ago, but really mostly about the wonder that is Lumberjanes single issues. I had indicated that I was going to read ALL THE COMICS on hoopla and report back, but of course best laid plans and all that.

However, I did use some of my monthly allotment to grab up various trade editions, so now I can tell you what it’s like to read in volumes rather than issues, and the answer is, well, basically the same as with their print counterparts. The biggest difference I found between the digital and print volumes is that in digital, my brain and thumb are poised to skip over all the non-essential pages, so sometimes I found myself in a new issue unexpectedly, or hit a switch in storyline and wondered if I’d missed the issue break somehow. Note to self: SLOW DOWN.

But otherwise I continue to highly recommend hoopla for your free-comics needs! I’m even strongly considering a tablet purchase in the near future so that I can read these comics in closer to full-size glory. But don’t worry, local comic shop, I’m also considering buying a lot of really pretty comics in the future now that I’ve seen them all tiny and loved them. It’s a win-win!

Here’s some of what I’ve been devouring:

iZombie, Vols. 2 & 3, by Chris Roberson and Mike Allred
iZombie, Vol. 2iZombie, Vol. 3I picked up the first volume in this series last summer when my beloved show was on summer break, and I liked it actually way more than I was expecting. I meant to read more, but I never got around to buying them. How convenient to get them for free!

Having them for free was probably a great thing, though, as I wasn’t as excited about them as I’d hoped. The first volume is so interesting and ends on such a weird note, and then the second volume starts off with a standalone backstory issue and when it gets into the main story again does a lot of rehashing of the premise that I found very boring. Then we get into Gwen’s backstory via Gwen having to interact with people who think she’s dead, which should be fascinating but is somehow just… not. I was disappointed in the second volume.

If I wanted crazy, though, Volume 3 delivers, giving us more strange things to worry about in the form of monster hunters and Dead Presidents (probably not exactly what you’re thinking…) and zombie hordes and a Big Bad who wants to do, I don’t know, bad things, and it doesn’t lack for twists and turns. It’s a little much, but I have to say that I am clearly loving the action in this series more than anything else, so it worked for me.

I’m intrigued to see how this is all finished up in the TEN ISSUE Volume 4 (that is an insane number of issues, fyi), but something that enormous is probably going to have to wait a while.

Giant Days, Vol. 1, by John Allison and Lissa Treiman
Giant Days, Vol. 1I never read the whole thing, but for a year or two in high school I was obsessed with the webcomic Scary Go Round, written and drawn by John Allison. When I heard about Giant Days, I was intrigued; when I realized it was written by Allison, I was hooked; when I saw it on hoopla I devoured Volume 1 immediately.

And it is the best. Most of the comics I read are like iZombie — fantasy or sci-fi or just generally weird. Weird is so much fun in comic form. But this is that other kind of weird that I like, the kind that is quirky and sarcastic and just so wonderful.

The comic follows a group of friends at university (not college, ’cause Britain is weird) who are, as mentioned, quirky and sarcastic. They probably go to class, but we see them in the in-between periods, hanging out and being friends and making new friends and living in that strange bubble that is college, where everything is just so important. If you want to feel some serious college nostalgia, I very much recommend this book.

I love the three lady protagonists (especially Susan!) and I love how their escapades are things like attempting to stay drama-free or survive a terrible flu but also things like writing a feminist screed that gets a little out of hand. I am so excited to see what these ladies get up to next, and so glad that single issues are current on hoopla. Once more unto the breach!

Weekend Shorts: What the Hoopla?

My library has had a service called hoopla for a while now, with movies and music and stuff, but I wasn’t actually interested in it until I found out that I could get COMICS. But then I found out that I could only get comics if my library bought them, so I begged and pleaded our stuff-buying people until one day, POOF! COMICS.

The first thing I did, of course, was read five issues of Lumberjanes. And then like two days later I picked up my trade volume of those same issues at the comic shop, because my timing is impeccable. But whatever, I’ve got lots more issues to read with no trade version in sight, and also there are a bunch of other comics to read and love.

I thought it would be kind of terrible, reading on my phone, but my screen is just large enough that I can read the words without too much trouble, and of course it’s easy enough to see the big pictures. Small pictures and weird layouts require some zooming, but that’s easily enough overcome that I’m not running out to buy a tablet today. If you have a smaller phone, like an older iPhone, you might want to read on something else.

Also a downside is that my library has a monthly limit on checkouts, because unlike most borrowing services these titles are always available and thus pay-by-download for the library. For Lumberjanes this is especially terrible because each issue counts as one download, but if you’re catching up on some older series it’s not so bad because the trades also count as one download. And if you’re in my old stomping grounds of Cleveland, note that the Cuyahoga County hoopla site gives you WAY more downloads than the CLEVNET site. You’re welcome!

On to the comics!

Lumberjanes, Issues 9-13, by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, and Carolyn Nowak
Lumberjanes, Vol. 3The first four of these issues make up Volume 3 of the series, which starts with a standalone Spooky Horror Story issue which serves to show off some cool artists and their takes on the Lumberjanes and also to provide stories with varying levels of Spooky Horror. It’s super duper fun.

Speaking of artists, the main story arc picks up with a new artist, which is always a little jarring but seriously one of the characters looks so different that I legit had no idea who she was until I got to issue 13 from the original artist, and then I was like, oh, durrrrr. Everyone else is recognizable, though, and in fact I like this art style quite a bit, so I guess I’m just gonna have to get used to it.

Anyway, this arc is suuuuuper cute because Mal and Molly go on a daaaaaaate and it is totes adorbs until the Lumberjane thirst for adventure kicks in and then it’s totes dangerous but also way more exciting, so. There are dinosaurs and the bear lady and plans and awesomeness!

Meanwhile, the other Lumberjanes have no idea this is all going on and are in fact foregoing adventure ’til their friends get back. The irony! Of course, even their attempts to earn the most boringest badges are not without their own sense of adventure….

Not part of Volume 3, because now I’m reading ahead (she says about an issue that’s almost a year old), is issue 13, in which we flash back to the first day of camp and get the fun family backstories of our favorite campers (and raccoon!) and get a little more foreboding from the camp itself. What is up with this camp, seriously?

I can’t not love Lumberjanes. It is wonderful and adorable and fun and exciting and I am SO HAPPY that I can read all the issues on hoopla without waiting a billion years for the trades to come out.

I was going to talk about some more hoopla titles, but I think I’ve written more than enough today so you’ll have to wait until next time! If you’ve found any great titles on hoopla, tell me all about them!