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Of Conflicts and Outsiders
This month on The Comics Alternative‘s Young Readers series, the Two Hep Cats with PhDs Talking about Comics review three new releases that are different in terms of setting and genre, but take on a common theme: the conflict that can occur when the inhabitants of a city or a region are confronted by outsiders who wish to stake their claim on the land itself or to alter the daily lives of the indigenous people who have lived there for a very long time.
Andy kicks off the show by introducing readers to another volume in Nathan Hale’s popular historical fiction series for middle school readers, Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales. The newest installment, Alamo All-Stars, presents a gripping tale of the battles that ensue among a number of groups who vie to take possession of the landmass that would eventually become the US state of Texas. As with other volumes in the series, the text begins as Nathan Hale, the captured Revolutionary War spy, extends his life by entertaining those British soldiers who are ordered to hang him for treason against the king. As Andy points out, even though the Alamo All-Stars focuses most specifically on the events leading up to and just after the battle at the Alamo in 1836, readers are encouraged to compare 19th-century immigration debates that set off conflicts between the Mexican government and the US immigrants, known as Texians, to the debates that continue today in relation to Mexican immigration to the US. In addition to highlighting Hale’s ability to put forward a complicated geopolitical conflict in ways that are engaging and even, at times, gently humorous, Andy and Gwen point to the useful resources for young readers, including a bibliography of history texts on Texas and Mexican history, and helpful resources for teachers and parents, including study guides that are available from Amulet Books’ website.
Next, Gwen introduces Faith Erin Hicks’s highly anticipated first volume in a fantasy graphic trilogy, The Nameless City, published by First Second and geared towards a middle-grade and high-school audience. The prologue introduces the reader to Daidu, a bustling city that sits in a strategic stretch of land that links a major river to the ocean. The narrator, a young explorer, notes that while “the City is named over and over” by conquering forces from the neighboring Dao, Laio, and Yisun Empires, no one has been able “to name it for long,” so the indigenous people have chosen to call it the Nameless City and to call themselves “the nameless.” As the story unfolds, Kai, the son of a prominent general from the Dao Empire, the city’s current ruling power, travels to the Nameless City in order to train to become a warrior. However, Kai is more fascinated with books and learning and soon becomes acquainted with Rat, a homeless orphan whose parents were killed during the Dao conquest. Andy notes that while the friendship that grows between the characters might first appear to be right out of a clichéd “different side of the tracks” plot, Hicks’s storytelling is far more sophisticated. As the narrative progresses, Rat and Kai learn from each other and join forces to encourage the city’s rulers to see beyond their dismissive view of the indigenous culture. Both Andy and Gwen admire Jordie Bellaire’s accomplished and effective work as colorist, and they point out Hicks’s ability to depict characters in motion in ways that are both visually stunning and effective in moving the narrative along.
The show concludes with a review of the first volume of Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s teen sci-fi series, Paper Girls, a collection of the first five issues of the Image Comics series. Set in 1988 on the day after Halloween, the story follows four twelve-year-old paper carriers who find themselves caught in the midst of what appears to be an alien invasion. Gwen praises the realism of the setting and the convincing portrayal of female adolescence as strengths of the series, and Andy emphasizes how the darker side of the 1980s emerges as the text unfolds. While some of the violence and language marks this as a series for older teens, the two PhDs suggest that these elements add verisimilitude to the text. They also advise parents that while there are other Vaughan texts, such as the Runaways series, that would be a good follow up for teen readers, there are other titles that Vaughan has written that are definitely more appropriate for an adult audience. Both Gwen and Andy highly recommend Paper Girls, Vol. 1 and are eager to see what happens next in the series.