Genre: Graphic Novel

Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar

Posted February 3, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Graphic Novel / 0 Comments

Superman: Red Son by Mark MillarTitle: Superman: Red Son (Goodreads)
Author: Mark Millar
Artist: Dave Johnson
Published: DC Comics, 2014
Pages: 168
Genres: Graphic Novel
My Copy: Library Book

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What if Superman never crashed in Smallville Kansas? What if he lands in the Soviet Union? How different would the story be? Mark Millar has created this alternative history in Superman: Red Son. Growing up in a Ukrainian collective farm, Red Son explores an alternate version of the Cold War. Rather than fighting for ‘truth, justice and the American way’, Superman works with Joseph Stalin and champions the communist ideals.

I was a little hesitant in reading Superman: Red Son; there was always a chance that this mini-series would just be propaganda, proclaiming the brilliance of Capitalism and the American way. While there is a little of this that bleeds through, for the most part, Mark Millar has taken a fair approach. If you think about the ideals that Superman has, it does closely align with the Communist ideal; equality for all. In the graphic novel, we often see Superman and Soviet leaders in disagreements about the way things should be done, reminding them of their own greed or desire for power.

There was an ideology within the soviet era of how a man should act, this is known as the new Soviet man. A new Soviet man is selfless, learned, healthy, muscular, and enthusiastic in spreading the socialist Revolution. I found it interesting how Mark Millar managed to capture this ideology and how easy it fits Superman’s own personality. While eager for the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact, Superman championed the Soviet ideals but would avoid violence whenever possible.

Interestingly enough, Mark Millar seems to capture a problematic America, that wish to intervene in the way the Soviet Union is run. While time and time again, Superman shows that he does not intend to inflict harm on the country. They still enlist Lex Luthor and S.T.A.R. Labs to help fight the spread of communism, exploring what I think was the major problem with the Cold War. If you look at the history of the Cold War, it feels like the majority of it could have been avoided if America just let the Soviet Union (and other Communist countries like Vietnam) fail on their own. This is obviously a personal opinion on the Cold War, I am aware that it was far more complex than an anti-communist war.

I may have read Superman: Red Son differently to others, but I truly enjoyed the experience. There are some interesting ideas explored, and I enjoyed the alternative versions of not only Superman, but other superheroes like Wonder Woman and Batman. There are a few flaws with the comic mini-series but for the most part, I found this to be a fresh take on the Superman story. It would be nice if this was a bigger series but for the most part Mark Millar wrote a great story and the illustrations by Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett were stunning.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Posted January 2, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Graphic Novel, Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

Fun Home by Alison BechdelTitle: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (Goodreads)
Author: Alison Bechdel
Artist: Alison Bechdel
Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006
Pages: 234
Genres: Graphic Novel, Non-Fiction
My Copy: eBook

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Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is a graphic memoir that chronicles the childhood of Alison Bechdel, growing up in rural Pennsylvania and her complicated relationships with her father. Alison Bechdel is best known as the person whom the Bechdel test was named after. The Bechdel test is a simple method that can be used to determine if a work of fiction (or movie) is gender biased. To pass the Bechdel test there must be at least two women, who talk to each other about something other than men.

Fun Home is a non-linear account of Alison Bechdel’s childhood with a strong focus on her relationship with her father. A complex relationship, Bruce Bechdel was a funeral director and a high school English teacher. He was obsessed with restoring the family’s Victorian home and often viewed his children as free labour. He was often cold and prone to abusive rage, Alison’s relationship with her father was a difficult one. At 44, he stepped in front of a truck and was killed; while never confirmed, Alison believed her father completed suicide.

After his death, Alison discovered her father was a closeted homosexual who had sexual relationships with his students and babysitters. Alongside this, Fun Home follows Alison’s own struggle with her sexual identity,coming out to her parents before actually knowing her sexual preferences. The graphic novel centres on Alison Bechdel’s thoughts about whether her decision to come out triggered her father’s suicide.

This is a fascinating insight into the mind of Alison Bechdel, not only as a memoir but the struggles that she faced while trying to understand her own identity. Drawn in a gothic style, Bechdel uses blue shading to give her art a dramatic feel. She even uses childhood diary entries to help capture the mood and feel. The dramatic artwork and emotionally charged writing complement each other and really help drive the story.

While I enjoyed Blue is the Warmest Color more as a coming of age story and a struggle with sexuality, Fun Home still remains a wonderful graphic memoir than really packs an emotional punch. Graphic novels and memoirs often get pushed aside and disregarded as works of literature but every now and then comes a work of art that proves this idea wrong. It happened with Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi; but Fun Home seemed to be the most common example that comics (I use the term comic as a catch all for graphic novels and memoirs as well) need to be taken more seriously.

I have been reading more comics of late and I have been impressed with the way art and writing can work together to tell a story. I like these graphic novels/memoirs that capture raw emotion, in the writing or art and I am trying to find more like this. While comics by Marvel and DC are a lot of fun, there are so many other works out there that explores this art from an interesting and new way. I really enjoyed Fun Home, it wasn’t a comfortable read but the experience was well worth the effort.

Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh

Posted December 20, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Graphic Novel / 2 Comments

Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie MarohTitle: Blue is the Warmest Color (Goodreads)
Author: Julie Maroh
Translator: Ivanka Hahnenberger
Artist: Julie Maroh
Published: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2010
Pages: 160
Genres: Graphic Novel
My Copy: Borrowed from a Friend

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Blue is the Warmest Color (Le bleu est une couleur chaude) took French graphic novelist Julie Maroh five years to complete. She started it when she was 19 and thanks to the support of the community she was able to finish this coming of age story. It has since been adapted into a movie directed by Abdelatif Kechiche and went on to be awarded the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

Blue is the Warmest Color takes place in 2008 following the death of Emma’s partner Clémentine. At the request of Clémentine, Emma has been granted access to her dairies. The diaries start in 1995 when Clémentine was a fifteen old girl, confused about her sexuality. It is within the diaries we discover her struggle with her sexuality as well as the relationships she had with Emma.

This graphic novel takes all the nuance of a relationship and plays it out within the pages and it does it in a way that is never cliché. This depiction plays on the highs and lows of the relationship between Clémentine and Emma, which allows it to explore the struggles as well as all the tender moments they share. However before the relationship starts and even as it blossoms there is also the coming of age story where Clémentine is trying to find herself as well as understand her own sexuality.

I am not a lesbian so I could not speak to this struggle with sexuality, however it felt so raw and emotional. I could not help but think the struggle or the emotions experienced were all real and possibly autobiographical. Julie Maroh has a real way with capturing the emotions of this relationships and she allows the readers to experience them along with the characters. This makes for an intimate experience and I was able to empathise with both characters even when they were making silly mistakes.

Julie Maroh is also the artist for this graphic novel and the art is the highlight of this story. The line work Maroh has drawn on to each page captures both expression and details beautifully. Then with the added colours, the pictures in each frame just pop. I love the way Maroh draw this comic and the sparing use of colour, each frame felt breathtaking and I think I spent more time admiring the art work than actually reading the story. Blue is the Warmest Color was originally written in French so I have to compliment Ivanka Hahnenberger for the translation. It is a real skill of a translator to be able to present the text in a beautiful that allows the reader to forget that they are reading a work in translation, but Hahnenberger pulled it off.

I am not sure how autobiographical this graphic novel is, but it is hard to imagine anyone writing these emotions without first experiencing them for themselves. It is interesting to experience a life that is different to your own and I want to read a lot more graphic novels like this one. This is at times beautiful and at other times heartbreaking. Blue is the Warmest Color had plenty of tender moments and by the end I think I had a little dirt or something in my eye because they were leaking.

Batman: Cacophony by Kevin Smith

Posted November 23, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Graphic Novel / 0 Comments

Batman: Cacophony by Kevin SmithTitle: Batman: Cacophony (Goodreads)
Author: Kevin Smith
Artist: Walter Flanagan
Published: DC Comics, 2009
Pages: 144
Genres: Graphic Novel
My Copy: Hardcover

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Batman finds himself trying to understand a strange relationship between The Joker and Onomatopoeia. The Cape Crusader soon has to choose between chasing down The Joker and this puzzling villain Onomatopoeia. Writer/Director Kevin Smith puts his love of comic books and Batman to a practical use and wrote the series Batman: Cacophony.

I picked this graphic novel on my honeymoon because I was curious to see what Kevin Smith would do with Batman. I wanted to see what Smith would do with this superhero and I was a little curious about the super villain he created. Onomatopoeia is an enigma and I wasn’t sure how to take him; he works well as a super villain but for the most part I am still not sure what to make of him.

I am a fan of Batman and have often enjoyed Kevin Smith’s movies (except Jersey Girl) but I found this collection to be a little juvenile. Smith’s humour is often childish but that is never a defining factor in his movies with the exception of Clerks 2, so I was expecting so much more. There wasn’t much in the way of a storyline in Batman: Cacophony and I ended with so many unanswered questions. This is only a three issue series and I have to wonder if there were plans for more.

Walt Flanagan’s illustrations were a lot better than the writing; while not great it was far more entertaining. Flanagan uses a lot of vibrant colours that help distract the reader from the rest of the series. I had to enjoy the small homages Walt Flanagan made to other artists; one that particularly stood out to me was The Joker dress from The Killing Zone. Flanagan adopts a very busy style and while I wanted to rush through the story, it was hard to do this with the art.

There are a lot of great Batman series out there and I am struggling to work out which ones to try and which ones to look over. I am sad to say that Batman: Cacophony is one that should have been overlooked but that won’t stop me from trying to explore the rest. I hope people will help me with recommending me some good Batman series to read.

Night of the Living Deadpool by Cullen Bunn

Posted November 11, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Graphic Novel / 0 Comments

Night of the Living Deadpool by Cullen BunnTitle: Night of the Living Deadpool (Goodreads)
Author: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Ramon Rosanas
Published: Marvel Comics, 2014
Pages: 96
Genres: Graphic Novel
My Copy: eBook

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Deadpool is a Marvel Comics mutant anti-hero best known for his dark humour (he is sometimes referred to as “Merc with a mouth”) and breaking the fourth wall in his comic. He is a mentally unstable mercenary, weapons expert and has regenerative healing abilities. The perfect hero to put into a zombie apocalypse and in Night of the Living Deadpool this is what happens.

The series begins with a nod to The Walking Dead, which is a homage to that classic opening scene in The Day of the Triffids. Deadpool wakes up from a food coma a few days later and finds that he has awoken to the zombie apocalypse. This four issue series goes on to make multiple references to the genre.

Writer of Deadpool Killogy, Cullen Bunn joins forces with a relative new artist, Ramon Rosanas. The series is a stylised black, white, and red (for Deadpool) with a very warped sense of humour. What stuck with me through this series was not just the references to classic zombie movies or macabre nature but the short, straight to the point approach to the genre. Comic book series can often go for a long time and while that is good, it was nice to start and end a series in one sitting.

I loved the art within this book; I liked how Ramon Rosanas avoided using colours within the comics. It highlights Deadpool as a character not like all the others, while leaving the focus on the drawings rather than the colours. This style is different to what is seen in Sin City but it works; flashbacks are in full colour so really it portrays the apocalypse as a dark time for humanity.

Because this series was only four issues, I find it hard to talk about this comic book. Everything happened so fast and then it was over. I enjoyed the short and sweet experience as stated before but the lasting effects are very small. I was left with memories of the references and art but nothing much more. I think this means that it will be a good series to revisit again; it is just a weird experience.

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Posted November 5, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Graphic Novel, Magical Realism / 0 Comments

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’MalleyTitle: Seconds (Goodreads)
Author: Bryan Lee O'Malley
Artist: Bryan Lee O'Malley
Published: Ballantine Books, 2014
Pages: 336
Genres: Graphic Novel, Magical Realism
My Copy: Hardcover

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Katie is a talented young chef running a successful restaurant. However her dreams are to open her own restaurant, a place where she can have more freedom and creativity. She has found the location for this restaurant has a backer (silent partner) and is working on fulfilling her dream. The problem is, everything is moving so slowly and she is starting to get impatient. What she really needs is a second chance, to fix the mistakes she has made and get her new restaurant on track. For Katie, she has the opportunity; a mysterious girl appeared in the middle of the night with some simple instructions for a second chance.

  1. Write your mistake
  2. Ingest one mushroom
  3. Go to sleep
  4. Wake anew

I’ve been a big fan of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series so I’ve been looking forward to see what will happen with Seconds. Luckily, the same humour and whimsical adventure is present within this new graphic novel. What I like about O’Malley is the way he takes a look at everyday situations in a fun and comical way. The added magical realism thread really helps explore the issues present within this book.

Seconds is full of existential angst and it explores the idea of making mistakes and he does it in a new and unique way. Unlike the Sliding Doors style where life is explored in two different situations, Bryan Lee O’Malley plays with the idea of correcting mistakes while Katie sleeps. Of course this has some humorous effects; Katie isn’t aware what has changed and this leads into a madcap scenario.

Bryan Lee O’Malley returns as the artist for his own books again and he has an interesting art style. There is an Asian influence in his art work; the big eyes and hair are not the only thing he takes from this comic book style. This influence can be found throughout his graphic novels in the characteristics, style and storytelling. What I like about Seconds is that he took his art style as seen in the Scott Pilgrim series and added colour to it. There are not a lot of colours used; the shading is often very simple and one shade but it works really well. The colour is just used to make the art pop; Bryan Lee O’Malley does great artwork, almost simplistic but it remains very expressive.

I am glad to have more Bryan Lee O’Malley graphic novels to experience but I am also reminded that he had another book before the Scott Pilgrim series that I need to check out. I do have Lost at Sea on my phone thanks to comixology; I just haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. I wouldn’t mind checking out The Wonderful World of Kim Pine as well but I know it is short. Bryan Lee O’Malley has become a favourite of mine and I hope he does something new soon.

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud

Posted October 29, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Graphic Novel, Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloudTitle: Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (Goodreads)
Author: Scott McCloud
Series: The Comic Books #1
Published: William Morrow, 1993
Pages: 215
Genres: Graphic Novel, Non-Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

I have been getting into comics lately and I am quickly discovering there is so much about this medium that I do not know. When trying to review a comic or graphic novel, I find it easy to talk about plot but talking about the art is difficult. I picked up Understanding Comics because there is so much to learn and I wanted a better grasp on the art form. And it is art, it might not be as highbrow as artists like Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet or my personal favourite Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, but it is still art. To exclude comics as an art form would be like removing Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollack or René Magritte from the art world because you ‘don’t get it’.

Now that I have had a little rant about art, let’s talk about comics and Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. This book is a graphical look into comics as an art form, exploring the history of comics and tries to explain the meaning behind the art. It starts off trying to define what a comic is, which I quickly realised was an impossible feat. McCloud ended saying “Comics are juxtaposed pictorial and other images in a deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer” but then went on to explain how problematic that definition can be.

A highlight for me was found in chapter two where Scott McCloud explored the vocabulary of comics. The chapter begins with explain René Magritte’s painting The Treachery of Images (1928-29), an artist I am a big fan of. I actually went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the hope to see The Treachery of Images, but it was currently on loan to the Art Institute of Chicago. What I liked about this chapter was how he took the meaning of this painting and expanded on it to help explain comics. He took something easy to explain and built upon that to the more complex ideas.

Reading Understanding Comics makes comics sound like highbrow pieces of art and maybe that is how we should view them. Instead of thinking about comics as a lowbrow medium, it is about time we experience the art and what it can tell us. In this book six major ideas around the art. Idea/purpose, form, idiom/style, structure, craft and surface; explaining how they can all work together to make great pieces.

There is a lot of information within Understanding Comics and I don’t think I have explored it all yet. It has equipped me with some new tools when reading and reviewing comics. The best thing about this book is the way Scott McCloud changes his art style and methods to explore the different ways you can execute the theories behind this book. I am glad he referenced all his work, especially when talking about other artists and how they write comics. The graphical representation of the art theory in the book helped me to understand comics a little better but there is just so much here that I will need to reread this a few times before it sinks in.

Archie: The Married Life, Vol. 1 by Michael Uslan

Posted October 26, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Graphic Novel / 0 Comments

Archie: The Married Life, Vol. 1 by Michael UslanTitle: Archie: The Married Life, Vol. 1 (Goodreads)
Author: Michael Uslan
Artist: Norm Breyfogle
Published: Archie Comics, 2011
Pages: 320
Genres: Graphic Novel
My Copy: eBook

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

When I was young tween, the only real reading I did was Archie comics. We had them in our house all the time; my parents must have thought they were safe enough because no one ever gets any action. There has been news recently about Archie being shot to death in the graphic novel Death of Archie which is the last book in The Married Life series. This news got me curious so I had to pick up the first trade paperback which covers the first six issues of this series.

I have always been on the side of Betty and never could understand why Archie would choose Veronica over her. Archie: The Married Life is split into two different timelines; almost like a Sliding Doors scenario, or, if you are a fan of Broadway, If/Then. This series follows the life of Archie married to Veronica and then Betty. There are some situations that are different in each timeline but mostly follow the same events. Unfortunately nothing much has changed since they were in high school.

Archie: The Married Life does try to look at the normal day-to-day issue facing adults but it holds back too much. For example, Midge finally breaks up with Moose because she is scared of his violent outbursts. This story arch could have gone into some interesting themes of emotional and physical abuse but it treads lightly around the topic. Moose does try and work on his anger issues but there is just so much more they could have done.

My favourite character was always Jughead and I enjoyed it when he hard a love life, luckily this is inserted into this series but not very well. He is getting married. I won’t tell you to who, but the only romance I saw between them was when they shared a milkshake at Pop’s Treat. This brings me to my next issue; why are they still hanging out at Pop’s Treat? I am sure it would be nice to have a place to hang but they could go to a bar or something different every now and then. They are working adults now, but they all still act like teenagers.

I think my biggest problem is the fact that this series is a sugar coated interpretation of what adult and married life would be like. No one has sex; although there was some alluding to an affair between Veronica and Reggie, but nothing happened. The series is still marketed to young tweens and this disappoints me, I thought Archie: The Married Life would have been a more adult look at the Archie world, I was wrong. I don’t even know if I want to continue, I might just read Afterlife with Archie instead.

Rocket Girl, Vol. 1: Time Squared by Brandon Montclare

Posted October 5, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Graphic Novel / 0 Comments

Rocket Girl, Vol. 1: Time Squared by Brandon MontclareTitle: Rocket Girl, Vol. 1: Time Squared (Goodreads)
Author: Brandon Montclare
Artist: Amy Reeder
Published: Image Comics, 2014
Pages: 120
Genres: Graphic Novel
My Copy: eBook

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Dayoung Johansson is a teenage cop from a high-tech future investigating a megacorporation for crimes against time. She goes back to New York in 1986 to investigate the Quintum Mechanics Corporation. What she finds is far different to what she expected. As she slowly pieces the clues while trying to navigate a different place and time. Discovering that what she knows about her home is really an alternate reality that shouldn’t exist.

Rocket Girl: Time Squared is the first five issues of this bright and quirky series that combines high-tech gadgets in a time where New York wasn’t exactly a safe place to live. Just a quick search of New York in the 1980s and I found that the subway system saw over 250 felonies committed every week. It was a dark and gritty time to live in this great city. So when you read a comic that is full of bright art work set to this gritty backdrop the contrast really stands out.

The past and future also play off each other within this series, Dayoung Johansson is a teen cop and when she lands in 1986 she meets a police petrol. She bosses them around like she would normally do in her 2014 reality but obviously gets a different response from these police officers. It is obvious to say that Rocket Girl is all about clashing; the vibrant colours against a gritty city, past and future, and the list goes on.

While this is a lot of fun to read sometimes I found that the series attempted to get too complex, which can often raise questions about the science. The artwork was too busy at times that you had to spend extra time on once panel just to absorb everything and make sense of it. This tended to throw the flow off but only remains a minor setback.

I would have liked to see more of an exploration into the moral issues of time travelling and alternate realities but I know this is only the beginning of the series and that there is still time for this. I’m not sure where this is going to go, I can imagine that Dayoung would want to return to her alternate reality but to what lengths would she go to make sure that reality will happen? Brandon Montclare has set up a good premise and teaming up with Amy Reeder for the art means we will continue to see vibrant colours in this strange little story.

Black Widow, Vol. 1: The Finely Woven Thread by Nathan Edmondson

Posted September 14, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Graphic Novel / 2 Comments

Black Widow, Vol. 1: The Finely Woven Thread by Nathan EdmondsonTitle: Black Widow, Vol. 1: The Finely Woven Thread (Goodreads)
Author: Nathan Edmondson
Artist: Phil Noto
Published: Marvel Comics, 2014
Pages: 144
Genres: Graphic Novel
My Copy: eBook

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Is it weird that I am drawn to heroes in comics that don’t have any powers? Batman and Iron Man’s only power is the power of money but I tend to be more interested in people like The Punisher (maybe his power is the power of not dying). So recently I read Matt Fraction’s series featuring Hawkeye and I wanted to explore my favourite Avenger, Black Widow. Thanks to a recommendation, I have now started the new Marvel Now! Black Widow series by Nathan Edmondson and illustrated by Phil Noto.

Natasha Romanov is Black Widow, a Russian soldier of fortune/assassin with a strict moral code. Her back story is a little sketchy. Through the course of the series there are hints that she once was a Soviet super spy but Nathan Edmondson intentionally keeps her past a mystery. Yet we still get a better idea of the character that is Black Widow and she really knows how to kick ass.

The Finely Woven Thread combines the first six issues of the new Marvel Now! series that follows Natasha on her different jobs which slowly start to piece together. Further into the comic Black Widow finds herself facing the Hammer of God, a mad Russian Orthodox monk wreaking havoc on the world. Soon Natasha is hired by Maria Hill and S.H.I.E.L.D. and together they work towards uncovering just what is going on.

It is hard to summarise the plot of this series as there is so much going on and I don’t want to give too much away. It all seems random but in the game of espionage these things start to come together and you get the sense that there is something bigger lurking in the shadows. In all honesty I’m about ten issues into the series and I can’t remember which other heroes or villains appeared in the first six issues but there are some great cameos.

At times the writing by Nathan Edmondson is a little weak and clunky, you get the feeling that he is all over the place but then I also suspect that it will start to make sense and come together in future issues. However what stands out in this series is the art; Phil Noto has done an amazing job and I’m not quite sure how to explain it. It reminds me of water colour paintings, with rich and vibrant colours throughout the pages. It is just stunning to look at the art and yet it still feels very much like a comic book.

Recently I asked for some recommendations into the world of comics and I am happy with what I have in my wish list so far, but keep them coming. I will be continuing this series of Black Widow and I’m curious to see where it goes. It is a real joy to read a superhero that is not only a woman but also someone without superpowers.