Sunday, September 18, 2011

DCs NEW 52: PART 1

By Chris Wilson

I’ve observed comics fans lament, convulse, and conspire against DC Comics’ reboot that is now in week 3. A few fans have secretly admitted anticipating titles, although that group is still in the metaphorical comics closet for fear of revocation of their Geek Card.

If the comics investors and price gouging ebayers are factored out, the number of people who are picking up titles is larger –– much larger in fact –– than comics shops and fan boy forums led anyone to believe, as described in a recent Newsarama article. Someone is buying the comics and enjoying them, even waiting for second or third printings.

For The Graphic Classroom reader, the controversies hold less import than for mainstream comicdom. We are concerned with how comics –– new, old, and renewed –– can be used in the classroom and to enhance student learning. I have advocated for teachers to grab onto DC’s move and hold tight. Number ones make for a great place to introduce iconic characters to a generation who may be familiar with an icon through television, movies and toys, but haven’t read a single dialogue bubble or narration box about Superman or Batman.

ACTION COMICS #1 introduces the reader to a Metropolis that just recently discovered Superman. The Boy Scout is anything but. He is full of young adult angst and is concerned with information gathered by any means necessary to defeat the bad guys and less concerned about the methodology used to obtain his goal. ACTION gives us the less mature, more passionate Superman than the one we might be more accustomed to.

This younger Superman is clearly driven by social justice and the need to do right, but the larger issue of methodology is obviously too philosophical for him at the outset. This makes for an engaging read in light of today’s political, religious and cultural environment and would be a good choice for young persons to make text-to-world connections and analyze the literary themes and how they apply to modern life. I can see ACTION being used in many classroom settings. The obvious English Lit class comes to mind. However, I think any class that analyzes war, politics, or modern society and culture could find a use for ACTION.

DETECTIVE COMICS #1’s illustrations really stood out to me. Batman’s look is thick and thuggish, like a boxer turned superhero. His neck, forearms, wrists, fingers and ankles are formidable and dominating. It makes him terrifying albeit a bit less acrobatic. Seeing how he is sans super powers, Batman is covered in body armor: shin guards, forearm gauntlets, and knuckle pads that make his human aspects bleed through. I like it. Physically, the armor gives Batman protection from the beasts on the outside. Metaphorically, it says a lot about the haunts on the inside.

DETECTIVE is gritty, of course, which is conveyed twice on the front cover: The first with the erosion of the bat and the second with the font used. The entire book maintains the dark feel from story to art. One character has a mask made of human skin. Well, I assume it’s human skin, anyway. It was a nice touch, even if it’s been done before.

My only complaint about the art would be the design of the bat computer. Enough with the 70s nostalgia. A new comic should have spent more time on background design. I think DC would have been smart to hire Apple to lend a hand in the concept designs of his cave tech and Batmobile.

I think the story will be strong as it continues. I’ve always found Batman to be more focused on the very seedy or downtrodden parts of humanity as well as a great psychology study about the power of life trauma. Sociologists could have fun examining him and the interactions between society and Bat-Bruce.  Students could examine how past incidents –– good or bad –– have influenced their life path and how those incidents continue to impact their decisions. Students might also benefit from examining the public me versus the private me and the interplay between the two.

SWAMP THING #1 didn’t really feel like a #1 issue to me. New-to-SWAMP THING readers (like myself) will probably feel like they are missing all the information, or that they came into the story in the middle of the narrative. The art is cool and we may find that SWAMP THING really takes off after a few issues. The idea of the creature hidden inside is worth investigating.

BATGIRL #1 meets a great menace –– The Mirror –– who is out to destroy all the characters on his list. I instantly made a text-to-world connection with the movie Kill Bill when in the opening sequence The Mirror checked his To-Kill list.

The compelling storyline is the fact that Barbara Gordon was shot by The Joker three years ago, causing a severe spinal cord injury, whereby Gordon used a wheelchair for mobility. Now magically healed by some “miracle” she takes back the mantle of the bat. Along with the bat, she also carries a severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). At one point a villain pointed a gun at her gut and she froze from the fear of getting shot and paralyzed again. He got away and it was her fault.

What makes this compelling also makes it quite controversial. DC got rid of one of their powerful and popular superheroes with a disability. Not only did that get rid of excellent and authentic disability representation in the DC universe, but also took from people an icon of someone who contributes to society, but in a different way. One of the worries is that miraculously healing Gordon does more damage, culturally speaking, to the disability world and perpetuates the stereotype that it would be better to be dead than to be confined to a wheelchair. The reality, however, is that people are not confined to a wheelchair. Rather, it is the chair that gives the person with a disability mobility and access to community and life. Author Gail Simone takes that point head-on when Gordon moves out of her father’s home to be on her own. Her new roommate sees the wheelchair life on Gordon’s van:

Roommate: “That’s my biggest fear, being trapped in a chair like that. Can you imagine? Like prison.”

Barbara Gordon: “She doesn’t mean anything by it. I know she doesn’t. She doesn’t know what it’s like, what the chair helps you do. And I guess I don’t feel like explaining that to her able-bodied-but-well-intentioned-self right now.

I have often praised Simone’s writing at The Graphic Classroom. She continues to surprise and delight me. Her upfront treatment of this disability stereotype gives me hope that BATGIRL will be a title that will continue to deal with disability in a reflective and intelligent way while giving students and teachers the powerful narrative we have come to expect from the BATGIRL line.

Revised Justice League #1 cover art with Wonder Woman as a super model as opposed to a warrior. Oh well.

JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 begins where the supers meet one another for the first time. It is the lynchpin for the other titles, but it did little to hook me and make me want to read further. It may be that JUSTICE is just more epic in scope and needs more time to develop into a powerful story. I do believe in patience and giving an author a chance to develop the characters and story. I did find a nugget in the Batman-Green Lantern exchange where Green thumbed his nose at Batman for not being a real super-powered hero like the others. I found it a perfect analogy to the current educational debate between intellectuals and anti-intellectuals. I think a high school classroom could have an excellent debate about education, intellectualism and working-class society. 

Justice League #1 original cover art with Wonder Woman's pants.

I must say, I preferred Wonder Woman's initial costume with the pants rather than the swimsuit look she has now. I think it's more modern and gives her more of a warrior look rather than a swimsuit model. 

DCs NEW 52: PART 2
Stay tuned. Next time I will examine the educational aspects of some other DC #1’s, including some more mature-oriented titles.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


By Chris Wilson

Comic biographies are tricky business, plagued with art complexity. When we read fictional stories, we create iconography based upon how the characters are described or drawn. Not so in a biography of a famous person because the reader is already familiar with what the person looks like.

Realistic art requires every single image of the person be spot-on accurate and recognizable. There is no room for wonky faces or goofy facial elements and no tolerance for strange positions or awkward faces or hands. They must look like themselves in each panel. Realism must be realistic. The other choice is iconic or cartoony art, whereas the image is not a replication of the person but merely an iconic representation. This approach allows for more artistic license.

Bluewater Productions has produced several nonfiction comics, all of which have used realism with differening success. The MARTHA STEWART comic surprised me because the internal art here is not realistic –– a gamble on the part of Bluewater, I would think. How will readers respond to cartoonish art in a serious, nonfiction comic?

I loved it.

As Scott McCloud puts it in UNDERSTANDING COMICS (pg. 30) “by stripping down an image to its essential ‘meaning,’ an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can’t.”

I found the iconic representation allowed me to place my own mental images of Stewart onto the comic character without taking me out of the story. With realism, I find I constantly compare the image of the comic book character to the real life character. If the art is outstanding, then I stay in the story. If not, I leave the comic to analyze how the image does not look proper.

In short, I was able to see Stewart as a character as opposed to a realistic drawing. For this reason, the iconic art worked exceptionally well. The story, too, was very interesting. Themes of her problematic relationships with others and her drive to succeed were fascinating.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 12 and older

Stewart has a lot of warts, especially when it comes to relationships. The comic hits those points strongly.

Click here for the lesson plan in pdf.

Author: CW Cooke
Pencils: Kent Hurlburt
Colors: Kent Hurlburt
Lettering: Warren Montgomery
Publisher: Bluewater Comics
Genre: Biography

Format: Comic
Color: Full color

Highly Recommended

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Interior art from "The 9/11 Commission Report: A Graphic Adaptation".

By Chris Wilson

Starting two weeks ago, the media started calling our school asking to interview teachers and students about 9/11. The September 11, 2011 attacks are a hard thing to teach on the elementary level. Most of our students weren't even born yet so their understanding is vastly different than some junior high and high school students. 

The media outlets find it fascinating how teachers bring 9/11 into the classroom –– if they do at all. I have compiled a list of comics that may be helpful when studying the attacks, the aftermath, our nation's response, the United States Constitution and democracy. A comics-based unit on these subjects would be very powerful and engaging in the classroom.




Saturday, September 10, 2011


By Chris Wilson


Dr. Katie Monnin’s TEACHING GRAPHIC NOVELS is a superhero among textbooks for middle and high school teachers. Pedagogy, philosophy, research, practical strategies, lesson plans, graphic organizers, and most importantly a down-and-dirty explanation of the elements of comic literature are crammed into a 236 page, easy-to-read guide. You don’t have to read every page to get what you need to begin.

Monnin does what is necessary for practicing teachers: Tell us what we need to know quickly, give us reproducible tools to make it work effectively, attach it to national standards, organize the information well, and keep it simple.

Any ELA teacher who wants to introduce comics but is scared to death to do it need only grab Monnin’s text. By the end of the month, you will be ready to introduce your first graphic novel into your classroom. It’s that simple. Looking to teach middle school kids? Turn to that chapter. High school? There’s a chapter for that. Fiction, nonfiction, English Language Learners, media literacy –– it’s all there with explanations, graphic organizers and suggested titles.

If I were to recommend a single comic how-to textbook for secondary teachers to begin with, TEACHING GRAPHIC NOVELS would be it, hands down.

Author: Katie Monnin
Genre: Textbook
Pages: 236
ISBN-13: 978-1-934338-40-7

Highly Recommended


By Chris Wilson

If you’ve ever hung out with young boys very long, you’ve discovered that dinosaurs are a source of unending fascination for so many of them. The ferocity, the blood-drenched teeth, and the constant death battles (for food, territory and mates) make little boys go nuts. How could these prehistoric creatures not stimulate inquisitive minds?

DINOSAURS AND PREHISTORIC PREDATORS is an exciting journey back 65 to 200 million years ago (Cretaceous and Jurassic periods). Not only is there a wealth of interesting scientific information, but also the artwork is stunningly realistic. Just like Silver Dragon’s SHARK comic for Discovery Channel, this comic reads like a Discovery Channel show, thanks to the illustrations and panel layouts.

The information is broken down by dinosaur (Allosaurus, Ankylosaurus, Apatosaurus, Pteranodon, Sarcosuchus, Spinosaurus, Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops and Velociraptor), so the book does not need to be read in order. Chapters also make it easy for struggling readers to find a convenient stopping place, catch their breath, and synthesize what they’ve learned.

This is the T-Rex intro page.

I cannot imagine an elementary or intermediate classroom or school library being complete without this comic.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 7 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 9-12

The only reason this would be limited to ages 9  and older (publisher's rating) is because of the scientific language. Kids younger than 8 may really struggle to understand the science of the comic. However, I certainly argue that kids, regardless of age, should have access to the comic if they want it. When students have a desire to read and understand, then they will learn to read and understand. Don’t limit the book to any age. Some kids may only read the pictures. Others may find a reading buddy to help them. Teachers may read aloud. Parents may read with kids. Get this comic in their hands and kids will have the time of their lives.

Dinosaurs kill to survive. That means blood.

DINOSAURS AND PREHISTORIC PREDATORS is from Discovery Channel. So expect science and information about evolution. The writers have given a lot of information about adaptations in species, theories, hypotheses, and unsettled debates. Broken down into specific dinosaur chapters, the comic is full of information that teachers could use for science and communication arts. Writing prompts, vocabulary, big ideas and so much inference is included that a teacher could have a blast designing lessons specific to his or her class’s needs. DINOSAURS just screams for integrated units (science and com arts combined). Please keep in mind, there is one informational and three minor grammar mistakes. Engaged students will find them and I suggest bonus points to those kids. It will get others to read more closely and make it fun. The publisher is aware and corrections will be made to second printings.

Author: Joe Brusha, Neo Edmund, Robert Greenberger, Paul Kupperberg, Aaron Rosenberg & Jim Spivey
Illustrator: Caio Cacau, Dsagar Fornies, Alejandro Germanico, Christopher Gugliotti, Gordon Purcell, Robin Riggs, Rae Rochelle, Anthony Spay & Alessandro Ventura
Colors: Caio Cacau, Max Flan, Marcio Freire, Marcelo Macedo & Alex Siqueira
Lettering: Jim Campbell
Genre: Science

Format: Paperback
Pages: 120
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-0-9827507-4-2

Highly Recommended
Based on the mistakes, the book only deserves a Recommended, but when I factor in the fact that boys are fighting over the book in my room and the fact that the mistakes are small and will be fixed in second printings, I decided to give it a Highly Recommended.