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  • Anouchka Harris

A Year of Books: March

It's been quite a busy and stressful month, so I've been reading a fair few comics lately. Here's what I read and what I thought.

The Dark Vault by V.E. Schwab

Mercy by Stjepan Šejić

Slam by Pamela Ribon, Veronica Fish and Brittany Peer

Maneaters by Chelsea Cain, Kate Niemczyk and Rachelle Rosenberg

The Dark Vault by V.E. Schwab

I’ve been gradually making my way through everything V.E. Schwab’s ever written so... This is the collected volumes of The Archived and The Unbound. The main character is Mackenzie and she is a Keeper, one of the people whose job it is to return Histories to the Archive when they wake up and escape. What are Histories? Basically, they’re the dead. They’re copies of people, catalogued and stored. The Archive is a guarded secret and since the death of her grandfather, who tasked her with his duties as a Keeper, Mackenzie has to keep her life as a Keeper secret from everyone she knows. In The Archived, Mackenzie meets another Keeper, someone she can confide in, while at the same time coming to terms with her little brother’s death. Then she finds a History who doesn’t behave like the others. There’s something wrong with the Archive and Mackenzie doesn’t know who she can trust or what she can tell those she does. In The Unbound, Mackenzie deals with issues that sound an awful lot like PTSD as well as starting at her new school. When people around her begin to disappear, people she just crosses paths with, she’s unsure what parts of her paranoia are down to her trauma and which are justified.

Honestly, both these books are great. There are definitely strong echoes of Buffy in them both and it works really well. Mackenzie’s world is beautifully drawn. The sinister oppression of the Narrows, the vast coldness of the Archive itself and the eeriness of the Stacks, a part of the Archive that only Librarians can navigate. One of the things I liked best was Mackenzie’s power. She can ‘read’ the memories of objects. And she can ‘read’ people to an extent as well. Each person has a sound that she can’t block out when she touches them. From her friend Wesley’s heavy rock sound to her grieving mother’s sound of breaking glass and clattering, Schwab hits on a great method of description for her secondary characters.

I definitely enjoyed the second book more than the first. Not that the first was bad by any means, I just felt that the story improved, got deeper and more engaging, which was aided by the grounding provided in the first book. The pacing throughout is really good, keeps the story moving and keeps the mystery going. Lots of drama, lots of emotions.

Mercy by Stjepan Šejić

This is the first volume of the (long-awaited) follow-up to Šejić’s series Sunstone. It’s an adults-only, sex and relationships focussed comic telling the story of a few of the secondary characters we met in the original series. It’s structured similarly to Sunstone, with Alan and Anne recounting the events of their lives which ultimately led to them meeting and beginning a relationship. The narrative isn’t so much based on the ‘will they/won’t they’, but on the ‘how?’. The engaging characters and humour keep this story going. Oh, and a large part of it is about BDSM. So there’s that too.

There’s actually a surprisingly small amount of BDSM, especially in comparison to the first volume of the original arc. All the same, Mercy didn’t disappoint. There are other comics that vaguely tie into the Sunstone universe, although they don’t feature the same characters. Like Sunstone, they are focussed on sex and relationships. These are called Swing and Sugar, and while they hit on a lot of similar themes, I didn’t think they compared to Sunstone. I was very much relieved to find that Mercy was everything I hoped for. It filled in a lot of gaps in Alan and Anne’s backstories, but still left me wanting more. Unlike the original arc, Alan and Anne don’t even meet in this volume, which I think means there’s a whole lot more story to come! On the downside, I sure wish Šejić worked a bit faster...

Slam by Pamela Ribon, Veronica Fish and Brittany Peer

An awesome, funny, and relatable comic all about roller derby. It’s enjoyable enough that it makes me actually want to try roller derby. It’s written by Pamela Ribon, who was a story writer for Moana, which is one of my all-time favourite animated Disney movies. The comic follows friends Jen and Maisie (to give them their pre-derby names) as they begin to play, having graduated from being ‘fresh meat’. Jen is lonely and happy to find somewhere she can belong. Maisie is bouncing back from a bad breakup. When they get placed on different teams though, that makes their friendship harder to maintain. Mingling a bit of romance, friendship and extreme roller derby drama, this comic provided a lot of relief at a stressful time. It’s a pretty simple premise and it works. There’s a lot of humour and feel-good-ness to it, with vibes that aren’t dissimilar to Lumberjanes, although there’s a sad absence of raccoons and supernatural antics. The art is also gorgeous, lively and warm. I regret not reading this earlier, but there are so many great comics out there...

Maneaters by Chelsea Cain, Kate Niemczyk and Rachelle Rosenberg

I sat down with this comic and read it in one sitting. The premise is pretty simple and doesn’t hold anything back. A mutated virus causes teenage girls to transform into literal big cats during their menstrual period. The government’s answer is to fill the water supply with enough hormones to repress periods entirely. This is a darkly hilarious take on a recent trend in fiction; what if only women had superpowers and modern gender dynamics were flipped? This comic is hilarious until you realise what it’s parodying.

In the collected edition, there are three single issues of story and one which presents a fictional magazine, aimed at teenage boys, giving them advice on how to protect themselves from women. All the little details of this comic are brilliant. I love that it keeps the humour going just when you think it’s getting too dark to deal with. It’s a comic that manages to enrage me and find some kind of satisfaction for that rage at the same time.

That's all for now!


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