Sunday, February 20, 2011


Page 1

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This is the front and back cover of the oversized, hardcover comic.

By Chris Wilson

Was it the enormous size (10 inches wide by 13.25 inches tall), the odd pairing of Superman and Muhammad Ali, or maybe the star-studded audience that made me buy this hardcover reproduction from 1978? I cannot really articulate what possessed me to get SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMAD ALI, but the minute I saw it, I wanted it. It’s old school. It’s a strange mix of superhero mythology and real life. It just looks cool.

Often times my students pick up comics just because of the cover art. The same goes for putting books down. The cover can make or break the success of a comic. This one screamed for me to pick it up. I did and so have my students.

Here’s the scoop. Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen head to downtown Metropolis for a story on The Champ. Finally, they find him shooting hoops with some local boys. Before the interview gets going, an envoy from the Scrubb alien race materializes set on putting the potentially threatening earthlings down. He offers a contest, a fight between Earth’s greatest warrior and that of the Scrubbs.

Superman and Ali must decide who is the real champ, but it must be fair. With the Scrubb’s home world warmed by a red sun, the fight between the powerhouses is fair and the boxer prevails, leaving Kal-El (Superman) nothing more than a bloody stump. Ali’s next bout is to battle the great Scrubb warrior Hun’Ya.

There is a scheme afoot on both sides, of course, and ultimately Ali and Kal-El defeat the evil and dishonorable Scrubb emperor Rat’Lar. His people revolt against him because of his lecherous goings-on and all is well in the universe. You surely didn’t expect anything less, did you?

This book is remarkable, hysterical, outlandish and enthralling. Not only does Ali’s personality jab through the pages, so does a patriotic sense of happiness. SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMAD ALI is a cultural and social story. It shows how comics are uniquely able to take on current events, philosophies, issues and controversies before other mediums can muster the courage or output a product.

It speaks volumes to me and reminds me that comics is an art form as close or closer to the contemporary consciousness of our mainstream society as any other art form. Comics speaks to the blue collar worker, the child and teen in school, the ideological college student, the ivory tower professor of academia, the middle income family, the Wall Street mogul, those who have lost hope and those who need to escape their stressful life for literature.

Old school art is re-colored for a new generation. While a lot of kids skip over Golden Age, Silver Age and Bronze Age comics, SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMAD ALI is just the kind of art that will entice kids, not turn them away. It may very well be, in fact, a gateway comic to the appreciation of older comic art.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 8 and older
The vocabulary in this book is on a much older level than what most 8-year-olds are used to.

Fisticuffs abound leading to some bloodied and bruised bodies.

There are some big words in this. Big enough to confuse and confound an 8-year-old. Despite the stereotypes many people have toward comics, this is a perfect comic to demonstrate the high level of vocabulary contained within comics. This works for a teacher. Many times in traditional literature, kids simply skip over words they do not know. They might use context clues to figure it out. They might stretch it out. Usually this is only when forced to do so.

Comics have this uncanny ability to draw kids in and make them want to read. Funny thing about that: When kids have an internal locus of control, when they are internally motivated to read because they want to, amazing things happen. They tend not to skip over unfamiliar words. Students will tend to stop and decipher words and their meanings. Why? Because they love the story and want to get what it is saying. A motivation to read goes a long way toward reading proficiency.

Authors: Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams
Illustrator: Neal Adams
Colors: Dick Giordano and Terry Austin
Lettering: Gaspar Saladino
Publisher: DC Comics
Genre: Superhero

Format: Oversized Hardcover
Edition: Facsimile
Pages: 80
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1401-228729

Highly Recommended
It has stayed checked out since I introduced it. What else do you need to know?

Sunday, February 13, 2011


By Chris Wilson

I have a big, fat problem with this book and it caused me some issues. You see, the cover art is deceptive, a point which prevented me from reading and reviewing this book earlier, unfortunately.

When I first picked up HOPE, I thought it was a story about Barack Obama becoming president and changing the world. It is not. When providing books about politics and religion to public school students, I want things even-steven. Angry parents, claims of indoctrination and controversies do not do the public school teacher any favors. At the time, I didn’t have any comics on President Bush or Ronald Reagan. I’ve since rectified that, obtaining political comics representing various positions of the political spectrum.

Here’s the kicker. This book isn’t about Obama or his presidency. My first clue should have been the historical fiction banner on the front of the book. I took one look at the cover and was worried. So I set it aside – editorial discretion is not an exact science.

Black History Month sparked my interest again and I picked it up. This time I actually read the banner on the front and the back cover, and I am glad I did.

HOPE is not about the president. It’s not about politics. HOPE is an inspirational story for African Americans in poverty, for those in despair, those who feel oppressed or chained in their own circumstances.

Anton Fox is a 14-year-old African American living in the projects –– the Congress Housing Projects, specifically. He has no hope for his own future and feels confined by the projects and poverty around him. Anton is failing his math class and takes his failure out on Mr. Charles his teacher. This good kid finds himself at the school on an early Saturday with red spray paint can in hand to take his anger and frustration out on his teacher. He no more than puts paint to brick when Officer Ernie Griggs catches him red canned. A first offense only lands Anton with community service, but it is still hard word and his mother is disappointed in him. It just so happens that he is charged with picking up trash on the National Mall in preparation for President-Elect Obama’s inauguration the next day.

Anton discovers that he is not as imprisoned as he thinks if he will use his head (stay away from drugs, gangs, crime.) Office Griggs, you see, grew up in the projects and knows Anton’s mother. His story is one of becoming something more and moving out of poverty for a better life –– a story that Anton rejects. He is an adolescent and what teen doesn’t find the droning of adults about hope and futures and focus obscenely boring? The community’s excitement about the first African American president is more annoying that inspiring on Anton. History, it seems, is lost on him.

His persistent mother and his community service manager stick with Anton and teach him that just two generations ago –– 60 years –– a black person could not walk into a restaurant and eat with white people or drink at the same water fountains or go to the same schools. Now, an African American is holding the highest office in the land. Despite Anton’s harrumphs, his mother drags her boy to the presidential inauguration to stand in freezing temperatures for hours just so her son can witness one of the most social and cultural events of the boy’s life.

It is then that Anton comes to grips with his history, his heritage and his future. Anton realizes that the ghetto is not a predetermined prison cell. His mother wants more for him and for the first time in his life, he wants more too.

The construction of the book is very contemporary, urban if you will. It is a 56-page, comic-prose hybrid comprised of nine short chapters. It is smartly designed to help young people and struggling older readers make their way through the story. There is also a dictionary, pronunciation guide, discussion questions, bio on President Obama, and other supplemental information.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 8-13
Publisher’s Reading Level: Grades 2-3
Publisher’s Interest Level: Grades 3-8

Connecting students with real life and future prospects is an exhausting and sometimes seemingly fruitless endeavor. For those living in situations of poverty, abuse, neglect, or crime education often becomes a pointless exercise for them. Survival tops the hierarchy when it comes to existing. HOPE takes on the challenge of bringing hope to African American students by using a pivotal event to engage students, connect them to history and culture, and give them other options.

HOPE is a bit after-school specialish, but lots of successful efforts in elementary schools are after-school specialish. I think HOPE would be most successful and useful in elementary to help children see their potential, build dreams, and engage their future before they lose hope, before they become angry (or angrier), apathetic, despondent, or give up.

Author: Eric Stevens
Illustrator: Nick Derington
Publisher: Stone Arch Books
Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Library Binding
Pages: 56
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1-4342-1724-0


Saturday, February 5, 2011


By Chris Wilson

Four stories. Four African American icons. Four powerful contemporary leaders. BLACK HISTORY LEADERS is a compilation comprised of four Blue Water comics featuring President Barack Obama, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell and Oprah Winfrey. I got the book after Black History Month last year and held it just for February 2011.

This set of stories is better than some of Blue Water’s previous works in that the biographers took a less prominent place in the story, allowing the subjects to shine on their own. Previous biographies left me a bit discombobulated because of the strong presence of the author in the story. I found this very problematic in THE FEMALE FORCE series and mentioned it in my review:

Ultimately, his introduction as a character deflected the story away from these women and distracted the reader from the women he was showcasing rather than enhancing the narrative. Not only is that a disservice to these power brokers, but considering the huge hurdles women go through for equality, it disingenuous.

While some of the biographers took a similar approach in BLACK HISTORY LEADERS by inserting themselves into the comics textually and artistically, their presence was much less intrusive. I enjoyed this book much more.

Successes and failures, tragedy and triumph are in the forefront of these stories. Students will soon find out, if they did not already know, that Oprah Winfrey was molested as a child. All of these stories start with humble beginnings, leading to the power of education and determination. It is the social dream promoted in schools and will fit in well with state standards.

BLACK HISTORY LEADERS speaks directly to persons of color by showcasing the incredible impact contemporary African Americans have had on society. The fact that most of them came from humble beginnings gives hope to all students of any color that they can go far in this world despite roadblocks, discriminatory laws, or abusive families. 

Chris’ Rating: Ages 12 and older

During Colin Powell’s war days, there is a scene where he is leading a patrol along the Shau Valley. “Try to spread out. Don’t stay single file goddamn it. Didn’t you hear what I …” 

Where does a reviewer begin? Studies show that boys tend to like nonfiction more than fiction. If one is trying to engage male readers, then biographies (especially when they include information about war) may be helpful. If one wants to spotlight significant modern African Americans, then this has a lot to offer. Of course, a feminist studies class would benefit from the stories of Oprah Winfrey and Condoleeza Rice.

With the four leaders, a teacher could easily use a Jigsaw (a Kagan Cooperative Learning structure). Students are placed in Home Groups. Each students decides which specific aspect of the research project he or she will study. In this case, students would pick one of the four leaders. Let’s use Oprah. One member of the Home Group will choose to study Oprah. The students would then break up and meet with others who have elected to study the same leader. All the Oprah students from all the Home Groups would meet together and study Ms. Winfrey, recording all of the important or interesting information.

After the research is complete, the Oprah Group would split up and join their original Home Group. The Oprah expert would then teach each member of his Home Group all about Oprah. Each student in the Home Group would do the same. The Home Groups could then create a poster board, magazine, brochure, Power Point presentation, website, wiki or comic about what they have learned.

Not only is this approach student centered, but it is contemporary society. If a student creates an end project, then communication arts standards can also be applied to a mainly social studies event.

Authors: Chris Ward, Wey-Yuih Loh, Joshua LaBello
Illustrators: Azim Akberali, Dave MacNeil, M. Scott Woodward, Joshua LaBello
Lettering: Jaymes Reed and Wilson Ramos Jr.
Genre: Biography

Format: Paperback
Pages: 96
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1616239237