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A Librarian Takes on the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read A Superhero Comic with a Female Lead, Task 3

5 Apr

Last week I promised a post about my next completed task in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, and here it is!

Click here to read more about my Read Harder adventures. Learn more about Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge at this link. (Look for a post about Task 4 in this space soon.)

Ms. Marvel: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson and art by Adrian Alphona

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I chose to read “a superhero comic with a female lead” because my copy of Ms. Marvel: No Normal that I purchased shortly after it was published in 2014 recently turned up. I moved last year and many of my books were donated to Symposia Bookstore on Washington Street, gifted to others, or recycled (the latter was a painful but necessary choice in some cases) but Ms. Marvel made the cut of books I kept. The time was finally right to read it.

While I love graphic novels, I haven’t read many traditional comics from either the Marvel or DC Comics universes. As a kid I had comics about the late 1980s/early 1990s boy band New Kids On the Block (which can be purchased online!), but I don’t think comics purists would consider those legitimate comic books.

With Ms. Marvel I was intrigued by the concept of the heroine being a Muslim-American teenage girl living in Jersey City named Kamala Khan. Lack of diversity is a problem in books, but more effort is being made by publishers to remedy this. Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel is a step in the right direction. Check out the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign for more information on book diversity.

When we meet Kamala, she is a regular teenage girl whose religion prohibits her from eating pork, so she sniffs bacon egg and cheese sandwiches at her local deli while her friends roll their eyes at her. This is the first example of Kamala’s struggle with being part of two distinct but different cultures.

(Tangent: Where is the best bacon egg and cheese in Hoboken? I vote for Black Rail Coffee!)

Back to the topic at hand: The action starts one fateful night when Kamala sneaks out of her house to attend a party at the waterfront, where classmates she wants to be accepted by will be present. She is embarrassed by those classmates and her friend Bruno at the party and flees as a mysterious fog covers Jersey City. Kamala blacks out in the street, interacts with Captain Marvel, Iron Man, and Captain America (some of whom speak Urdu), and then awakens with superpowers.

She uses these powers to save the life of a classmate who is often unkind to her, but runs into trouble at home when her strict parents discover that she snuck out. The rest of the volume is the push and pull between Kamala trying to be a good daughter and friend while learning to harness her new powers and assuming her identity as Ms. Marvel.

I enjoyed the stories, and Kamala’s struggles feel authentic. The art was compelling and I liked the little details, such as the “Coma Chameleon” eye mask and “Nuclear Clean” for sale at the deli. I would purchase both, if those were real products.

My one gripe, as a Jersey City resident, was that the setting doesn’t feel like the real Jersey City. Sure, there were references to Grove Street, as well as a diss about the Greenville neighborhood, but the party at the “waterfront” reminds me more of Liberty State Park. Perhaps the intention wasn’t to topographically depict Jersey City and I am overthinking things. (I do that sometimes, I blame my English degree for training my brain to do that.)

Ms. Marvel was a fun read, and I look forward to reading the next volumes, which are available to borrow from BCCLS libraries. As for my found copy of Ms. Marvel: No Normal, I will pass it on to my comics-loving niece to enjoy.

What are your favorite superhero comics with a female lead? Don’t forget to shout-out your favorite bacon egg and cheese in Hoboken.

-Written by Kerry Weinstein

A Librarian Takes on the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read an All-Ages Comic, Task 1

18 Jan

This year I decided to follow the Book Riot Read Harder 2017 Challenge. I said the same thing about the 2015 and 2016 challenges but didn’t succeed. But this year I’d like to complete the challenge! Sharlene has inspired me with her Dewey Decimal Challenge, so like her, I will write about the books I read here for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge to hold myself accountable.

I set the barrier for entry low by choosing to complete the “Read an all-ages comic” task first. I recently became aware that Jem and the Holograms have been revived in comic book form, and immediately borrowed the first two volumes. As a kid I loved watching the Jem and the Holograms cartoons, which aired from 1985-1988 (seasons one, two, and three on DVD are available to borrow). What I remember most about Jem was her pink hair. I thought it was so pretty and believed that I would have pink hair when I grew up. While I lived through the era of using Manic Panic and even Kool Aid to dye hair wild colors, I never experimented with those means. But now I have something to talk about with my hair stylist…

Back to the comics!

Jem and the Holograms, by Kelly Thompson

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Jem and the Holograms, the first volume that collects books 1 through 5, establishes the Holograms’ origin story. Jerrica Benton is the manager and lead singer of the band, with her sisters Kimber the keytar player, Shana the drummer, and Aja the guitarist. The story opens with the band trying to record a music video to submit to a contest sponsored by the Misfits, but Jerrica’s stage fright impedes filming. After once again failing to perform and overhearing her bandmates’ frustrations with her, Jerrica goes home where she discovers Synergy, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) computer designed by her late father that allows Jerrica to transform into the fearless pink-haired Jem. As Jem, Jerrica is able to record the video, which takes off and threatens the Misfits, led by the volatile Pizazz, and breeds a rivalry.

I loved the art in this edition. Each woman has her own distinct style, and diverse body types are depicted. Truth be told, I prefered the Misfits’ edgier color palettes over the Holograms’.

The story was fun to read, too. A forbidden romance develops between the Holograms’ Kimber and the Misfits’ Stormer. Jerrica dates Rio, a reporter who is writing a story about the Misfits but becomes intrigued by the Holograms, in particular the mysterious Jem who is never in the same place as Jerrica.

Jem and the Holograms Vol. 2 Viral, by Kelly Thompson

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What makes Viral, the second volume that collects books 6 through 10, different from the first volume is the pop culture references. In the opening story, the exhausted Holograms argue over what movie to watch and we see their dreams where they are characters in their favorite movies that you will recognize, with Synergy playing a key role in each dream. I personally liked the story that imagined the Holograms and the Misfits as babies, a la The Muppet Babies cartoon (another childhood favorite!) with Synergy as Nanny, who we see only from the knees down. Viral ends with several cliffhangers and I am anxious to read the next volume to see where the story goes.

If reading these doesn’t give you enough Jem, you can borrow the recent live action movie of the same name on DVD or Blu-Ray. While I didn’t love the movie, I enjoyed Juliette Lewis as the band’s villainous manager Erica and Kesha’s cameo as Pizazz. What can I say, I think Pizazz is more interesting than Jerrica/Jem. Although regarding hair color inspiration, I am not sure green hair would be as flattering as pink.

So, this is my first completed Read Harder Challenge task. Stay tuned for the next one!

Do you have any special reading goals for this year? Let me know in the comments.

-Written by Kerry Weinstein, Reference Librarian

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