Tag Archives: first second books

Review: Head Games

Out of all the writers I have read since I was a kid, there were a few, who blended their personal history with the characters in their books. I guess this is where the term “poetic license” was in its best usage. One of the first ones I came across is, Robert Beck, or as some people now him as, Iceberg Slim. His books, felt like this beautiful fusion of crime noir and allegory, that once you read a page, you wanted to read more, as it felt so effortless.

The way he described characters and even settings made you feel as though they were real, and they were not purely pulled form his imagination, but a caricature of a real person. Another writer, that made you feel like he was giving first person accounts, was Ernest Hemingway. One of his most visceral books, which has been adapted into a movie, is Old Man and The Sea, a stirring tale of a character very much resembling the writer amidst an incredible conflict.  When I heard about Craig McDonald’s Head Games, it very much reminded me of both wordsmiths, in speculation and the spirit of the eternal adventurer.

We are brought to the year of 1957 and are introduced to Hector Lassiter, who with friend, Bud Fiske, are being sold the skull of Poncho Villa, by a mercenary, Bill Wade, that is until the Mexican Army gets involved, a standoff takes place.  Bill gets killed and two men, searching for clues of where Bill has hidden the skull, scouring his notebook, they eventually gain another partner in crime, a starlet, Alicia Vicente, as the skull has many suitors, some from the Mexican revolution, who are still alive. Soon it becomes a race to the death, as they must travel southwest to where the highest bidder resides, but a gallery of shady characters, do their best to take the skull away from the trio.  By book’s end, a final faceoff , occurs, one that leaves the reader wondering who will get out of this in one piece.

Overall, it feels like those old pulp novels that Robert Parker and Dashiell Hamlett used to write, a time capsule of very different men and women. The story by McDonald is engaging, romantic and fearless. The art by Kevin Singles and Les McClaine is stunning. Altogether, a fun pulp graphic novel that romanticizes the characters and the time.

Story: Craig McDonald Art: Kevin Singles and Les McClaine
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Secret Coders Vol. 4 Robots & Repeats

Dr. One-Zero has added a new class to Stately Academy’s curriculum. But in “Advanced Chemistry,” they only teach one lesson: how to make Green Pop! While their classmates are manufacturing this dangerous soda, the Coders uncover a clue that may lead them to Hopper’s missing dad. Is it time to use Professor Bee’s most powerful weapon: the Turtle of Light?

Writer Gene Luen Yang and artist Mike Holmes again deliver an entertaining graphic novel in Secret Coders: Robots & Repeats, but that’s expected as each volume before has impressed effortlessly blending entertainment and education. For those who are unaware of the series, it follows three kids as they attempt to figure out the mystery of their school and eventually battle a villain, but they do so by learning computer programming skills.

What’s fantastic is that Yang teaches the reader as well, explaining each thing clearly and lessons build upon the last, exactly as you would in school. That education is wrapped up in a fun story that’s perfect for kids and adults alike. Even this adult has learned some stuff and taken part in the lesson “breaks” in between each chapter.

Holmes’ art has been great for each issue keeping things simple in a green, black, and white hue that has a geeky energy about it. The style, not quite sure what to call it, has a youthful fun about it all that reminds me of some of the latter 90s kids cartoons and every character has personality in how they look and act. There’s a minimal design in a way about the book but that lets you focus on the tasks at hand and the clues presented. Holmes’ also does an excellent job of creating pages where the programming is front and center while still moving the story forward. The two are blended in a way that feels natural, as if just regular dialogue.

Another fantastic entry into the series, one that I constantly recommend for parents to get their children. It’s education and entertainment together but done so in a way where you don’t know you’re learning. Can’t wait for the next volume in what is an absolute modern classic graphic novel series.

Story: Gene Luen Yang Art: Mike Holmes
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

:01 First Second provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Graphic Policy’s Top Comic Picks this Week!

Wednesdays are new comic book day! Each week hundreds of comics are released, and that can be pretty daunting to go over and choose what to buy. That’s where we come in!

Each week our contributors are choosing up to five books and why they’re choosing the books. In other words, this is what we’re looking forward to and think you should be taking a look!

Find out what folks think below, and what comics you should be looking out for this Wednesday.


Top Pick: X-O Manowar #7 (Valiant) – I’ve literally just finished reading this for Graphic Policy’s review, and I cannot wait to get my hands on the physical copy from my LCS. That art is stoningly good!

Faith And The Future Force #3 (Valiant) – Time travel, humour and stubborn determination. Can Faith and the Future Force save the timestream? I hope not, because I don’t want this series to end!

War Mother #2 (Valiant) – It’s a Valiant book. Of course I’m looking forward to it.



Top Pick: Secret Coders Vol. 4 Robots & Repeats (First Second) – Always fantastic, this graphic novel series entertains and educates in how to code. The first three volumes have explained things well and taught me a ton. Add in a cute story and fun art and you’ve got the perfect combination of education and entertainment.

The American Way: Those Above and Below #3 (Vertigo/DC Comics) – Don’t think politics and entertainment go together? Read this series. Entertaining and thought provoking each series explores race relations, politics, and more. Most importantly, it entertains with each issue.

First Strike #4 (IDW Publishing) – Did you ever take your G.I. Joe and Transformers and have them battle it out when you were a kid? This even, is that and then some.

Marvel Legacy #1 (Marvel) – Kicking off the next phase of Marvel comics. We’re all intrigued as to what it will all mean.

Southern Bastards #18 (Image Comics) – One of the, if not the, best comic series on the shelves today. It feels like a bit since the previous issue but the series is no less the emotional gut punch and no time has passed at all.

Review: Is This Guy For Real?: The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman

Growing up as a child of 1980s, I am old enough to remember shows like MASH and Barney Miller. As I get a little misty-eyed thinking about those times, not only the people in my life, but how these shows shaped me and particularly, my sense of humor. I don’t think I would understand the joy of pulling pranks if it was not for Alan Alda’s Hawkeye in MASH. I would never understand sarcasm if was not Mark Linn-Baker’s cousin Larry in Perfect Strangers.

As these shows not only elevated what we thought comedy was supposed to be and into several different iterations of what it is now. Another show that came during that era, was TAXI. Like anybody who grew up during that era, that theme song plays in your head like a gentle breeze, a years later, it still leaves the viewer at ease. One of the stars that came out of that show, is Andy Kaufman, an indelible genius whose life was cut too short.

We meet Andy, as a child growing up in Long Island, New York, who loved television and from that, create his own characters, and much like the rest of us, shaped his sense of humor. He reader gets a purview of his many obsessions, from wrestling, to Elvis, to finally, comedy. In a stroke of genius, he combines all three and becomes the person who the world loves then and still now. By book’s end, we do find out how he dies but how many people he touched.

Overall, an excellent book, which reminds me so much of how much of a virtuoso Kaufman truly was. Kaufman’s story as told by Brown is told in the spirit of Kaufman. The art by Brown is always vibrant. Altogether, if you are of this era and of comedy in general, this book is a must buy.

Is This Guy For Real?: The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman is out February 6, 2018. You can pre-order it now.

Story: Box Brown Art: Box Brown
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

First Second provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas

My parents had stacks of vinyl in my house when I was growing up in New York. My parents grew up listening to music from the 50s on and even had some disco records lying around the house. The music my mother loved playing in the house was the music of 1960s. You can tell listening to any song of the era, that it was decade of reflection.

Especially Jim Croce, whose voice, much like Luther Vandross, you felt every word he sung and the sentiment it carried. John Fogerty, another singer of that era, when he was part of Creedence Clearwater Revival, had songs like Proud Mary but after recorded a song that spoke to that era, but came years later, Fortunate Son. Then there were the Mamas and Papas, whose penultimate anthem, California Dreamin, has been remade several times and is their most identifiable song. In Penelope Bagieu’s California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas, we get to find out about Mama Cass, before she was who we know her to be, as a struggling actress and how she became the cultural icon she is now.

In the opening pages, we get a deep dive into the family, from her grandparents to her parents and growing up in Baltimore. The reader is introduced to characters who all tell their story, occupying their own chapter, all playing a part in Mama Cass’s upbringing. Eventually her talents lead her to put the Mamas and Papas together, where they would go on to make 5 albums in three years, a feat which modern musicians cannot seem to match their output. By book’s end, their personal lives eventually brought ruin to their public lives.

Overall, Penelope Bagieu portrays these famous figures as actual people who just so happen to have extraordinary talent. The story of the band could not have been in better hands than Bagieu. The art by Bagieu is both realistic and alluring. Altogether, a great book that will in short time make you a fan of this supergroup.

Story: Penelope Bagieu Art: Penelope Bagieu 
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Review: The Silence of Our Friends

The civil rights era, although it was last century, many of the same issues that were being fought for then, are still being fought for now.   Was recently asked by a friend, if we still need affirmative action because in their minds, institutional racism has gone away. Of course, my friend, has never been stopped by the police because he matched a description or have a whole room pause their discussions when they realize he was the only person of color. There is no way, these are close to what the type of discrimination, people of color faced after the Civil War through the Reagan era.

Even then, discrimination has never really ended, it just became not as obvious and even more insidious, which brings us to today’s climate, where faces of hatred are not hiding anymore. Ava DuVernay’s 13th, which was released a few months ago, highlights this vicious cycle, as the racism, obvious and not obvious, disclosed how this has affected the prison industrial system, and how the justice system is not necessarily formed to work in the name of justice. Cases like those shown in the documentary and recent release of the Central Park Five, shows a system where people of color are in constant danger. In The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos and Nate Powell, it weaves a tale where justice was this one time, righteous.

It is the summer of 1967 and we meet a white family in Texas, where the trial of Samuel Otis, has gripped the state and has them divided along racial lines. Because of the trial, both KKK and SNCC, have made their presence known. The other family that are our main characters are black, and face a drastically different and uglier life in Texas. Eventually, a peaceful protest turns violent, where a police officer gets killed and five black college students are put on trial for his murder. By book’s end, justice is served but a tragedy has taken a national hero, these two families are stronger than ever, as they are joined by their commonalities and their differences, as they understand at the end of the day, they are human.

Overall, an excellent book, which shows how hate can be overcome by love. The story by Long and Demonakos, is relatable, at time funny, and accurate to history. The art by Powell, is engaging. Altogether, a book that will make you rethink, the word” progress”, as there are some familiar scenes of recent events in this book, as it shows we have truly have not come as far as we think we have.

Story: Mark Long and Jim Demonakos Art: Nate Powell
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Tetris: The Games People Play

As long as I can remember, the world has been obsessed with games and game systems. I remember having one of the few Colecovisions on my block and everyone watching over my shoulder as I played Donkey Kong. Eventually Atari, became the next rage of game systems, and even more games came out. Few years later, Atari went away, and Sega and Nintendo became the systems that dominated every household in America.

Eventually Nintendo, at the time, was the last man standing, and they certainly capitalized on their dominance as they amassed a ton of video games and all their competitors’ customers. What I do remember, most of all, about Nintendo at the time, is Gameboy. The one videogame that everyone I know was playing even when Sega, Atari, and Nintendo, were competing was Tetris, which seems as it was simple, but was complex. In Box Brown’s sweeping telling of the history of the game, Tetris: The Games People Play from invention to the height of its popularity.

We meet Alexey Pajitnov and Vladimir Polhilko, a pair of computer scientists, that wanted to do something different with videogames, as the history of games itself is delved into in great detail including its benefits. We also meet Fusjiro Yamauchi, the founder of Nintendo, as the reader gets to know how he fell in love with games and how built his company form nothing, introducing innovations that every other video company in the world had never thought of. What we then get to see is a furious bidding war and testing of integrity of Alexey and Vladimir, as their lives have changed forever. By book’s end, a series of events between all the players including a tragedy, not only changed them, but also their fans and culture around the globe.

Overall, an extremely compelling story, that every fan of games would enjoy and need to know. The history as depicted by Brown, is suspenseful, engaging and at times, harrowing. The art by Brown, elevates the story. Altogether, an important story that needs to get in as much hands as possible.

Story: Box Brown Art: Box Brown
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Pashmina

The myth about Pandora’s Box, has many meanings and many interpretations, which mostly to do with being careful what you ask for and getting answers, you may not want. In truth life has many twists and turns, and facing those hard truths is, in the vein of Pandora’s Box. Family secrets as well, can be part of Pandora’s Box, as some secrets are buried deep. I bring this up, because I recently heard the mention of Jack Nicholson’s family story.

This is where he found out his Mom is really his grandmother and his sister is his actual birth mother, and is the inspiration for the new Disney show, Andi Mack. As you get older, the longer these types of questions go unanswered, the more encumbered you are by not knowing. You mix that with teenage angst, and you have a thoroughly confused and emotional young adult. In Pashmina, Nidhi Chanani explores these complexities along with being a child of an immigrant and being a child of a single mother.

In this book, we meet Priyanka, a bright young Indian American teenager, who has a talent for drawing and has a deeply religious mother, who worries too much for her, much like most mothers, where the question that has haunted her more than anything is who is her father, a question that her mother never answers and always changes the subject once it is brought up. Her talent leads her to win a cartoon contest, which her teacher, Mr. Perry encouraged her to enter. Her whole world changes one afternoon once she finds a forgotten suitcase, with some old pictures and a pashmina, which once she wraps herself in it, instantly transports her to a magical version of India, where she meets Mayur, a talking elephant and a Kanta, a talking bird. The pashmina, ended up being a vessel for all the women in this family, a way to escape, a way to truth. By book’s end, Priyanka had to find herself by going to India, meeting her aunt, and finding the truth that binds her, her aunt and her mother.

Overall, an excellent book that shows how family secrets can have power over your relationships, especially familial. The story by Chanani is heartfelt, engaging, and lighthearted at the most unexpected times. The art by Chanani, is deeply alluring, vibrant and stunning. Altogether, a universal story that teaches us that ultimately love is  supreme over all.

Story: Nidhi Chanani Art: Nidhi Chanani
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Shattered Warrior

Strong female protagonists in stories are more than trend, it has become part of the new normal. As Shonda Rhimes, talked about diversity a few months ago, at a panel, when asked how she employs such a diverse cast in her shows, she said something in the way of she is “Normalizing America”. As she shows on her shows, not only diversity when it came to race, but also sexuality and mental health. This normalizing does not only include television and movies, but also include print media.

The past few years has seen, an increase in these type of characters, especially in the books written by Philippa Gregory, in her telling of the War of the Roses. Another excellent writer, whose work has been recently adapted into a television series, is Margaret Atwood, whose stories shows trauma in a realistic light but also employs fortitude in her female characters. I cannot speak on excellent writers without talking about Gail Simone and Kelly Sue DeConnick, who both have forged female characters who have more mettle than their male counterparts. In Sharon Shinn’s and Molly Knox Ostertag’s epic graphic novel, Shattered Warrior, she introduces another great female protagonist into this entirely too short of a list, who has nothing left to lose, but must resist or assimilate.

We are introduced to Collen Cavanaugh, whose world and family has been destroyed by an alien race, as we meet her, the reader soon realizes she is, very much dispossessed and embattled, but has one friend, in Jann, a member of the resistance against the aliens, knowns as the Chromatti, and ally in Angit, who is part of the alien race, but is very friendly to her. She nevertheless soon realizes she needs a purpose which she finds, when she finds out her niece, Lucy is alive. What gives Colleen, fortitude, is what all heroes realize eventually, they must do something for the betterment of all. By the end of the book, everyone who is not who they seem to be and moving on from tragedy is never easy but love overcomes everything.

Overall, a moving odyssey of feelings that will keep the reader questioning what would they do in these situations. The story by Shinn, has you rooting for those who are oppressed and keeps you wondering what are the limits before one resists, proving that  these characters, are a study in patience. The art is luminous within characters and settings, and grimy when needed, but emotion is the essential paint of Ostertag’s illustrations. Altogether, an affecting tale, that shows the connection that makes us human, is what gives these characters hope to live another day.

Story: Sharon Shinn Art: Molly Knox Ostertag
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

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