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Every time I walk out onto my balcony, I wonder, how did all these centipedes get up here?

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I live in an apartment that’s several stories up off the ground, though not high enough that my view is anything other than the vinyl siding of my neighbor. I’ve planted a couple of plants in containers so that I have something nicer to look at, and every time I water the honeysuckle, creepy little brown bugs slither up out of the soil. How’d they get there? Did a bird drop them off? Did they come with the plants? Do they like living in a little bucket, and how long will it be before they take an interest in coming inside the house?

For now, the centipedes and I have an uneasy truce, which is the most I think I can hope for. I used to live in a house in Los Angeles where, every time you ran the dishwasher, a swarm of termites would explode out of the cabinets. There was no hope of reaching an agreement with that collective intelligence, so if my current dirt-squatters are content to stay put, I’ll consider them more courteous than the humans who blast Now That’s What I Call Music at all hours.

I’ve been on the lookout for bugs lately after reading a particularly enchanting book about insects entitled The Bug Club, one of several fun new comics out this week. Thanks as always to Phoenix Comics for helping to sort through the new releases — and keep an eye out for a sneak-peek at Free Comics Day, which is Saturday.

THE BUG CLUB

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I can’t remember the last time I was so charmed by such gross creatures. Suitable for kids in the 6 to 8 range, Elise Gravel has created a wonderful love letter to insects with adorable illustrations and an enthusiastic, conversational tone. The author acts as a wide-eyed tour guide, happily cheering for the weird eyes of the caterpillar, the nose-feet of butterflies, and the alien guts of slugs. Have you ever met a kid who’s just REALLY into a particular topic, and they want to tell you EVERYTHING they know about dinosaurs/Tazmania/trains/Digimon? That’s the experience that awaits in this book, speaking to kids precisely on their level with an age-appropriate balance of gross-out facts and intriguing scientific detail. A copy of The Bug Club belongs in every school library.

Rating: 🐛🐛🐛🐛🐛 (5/5)
Written and illustrated by Elise Gravel.

CHEER UP: LOVE AND POMPOMS

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It’s Freaks and Geeks meets Hairspray — a teen coming-of-age story about defying preconceptions, especially those you hold about yourself. A moody high schooler named Annie needs to get more extracurricular activities on her resume, and to her horror she finds herself trying out for the cheer team. As luck would have it, Annie used to be friends with cheer captain BeBe, before they drifted apart two years ago. (Which is several lifetimes in high school years.) That forces a reckoning, with the two former friends reconnecting and patching up the differences that pushed them apart, navigating the traditional high school pressures of “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and “The Big Dance”(™). There may be no form of dialogue that is more challenging to write with authenticity than that of teenage characters; Seattle writer Crystal Frasier is more than up to the task, with wonderful chemistry and unforced, genuine emotion.

The pace of the story is a bit of a puzzler, though — conflicts are resolved early and fast, leaving the book with relatively low stakes heading into final pages. I could also have done with a little more cheerleading, which seemed initially like it would be a bigger deal. As it was, we barely spend any time with the characters out on the field; it reminds me of how My So-Called Life accompanies the characters to school but almost never shows them in class. But that having been said, if the most damning criticism I can muster is that the book reminds me of one of the greatest teen dramas ever made, we’re in pretty good shape.

Rating: 📣📣📣📣 (4/5)
Written by Crystal Frasier. Illustrated by Val Wise. Lettered by Oscar O. Jupiter.


THE UNBELIEVABLE UNTEENS ISSUE #1

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A weary comics artist is startled to learn that the stories in her books may not be entirely fictional — what she thought was a superhero tale of her own creation is, in fact, a repressed memory bubbling to the surface. This leaves her with a slew of questions: How did she lose her past; what is her true identity; and does the story that she planned to illustrate in the future hold clues to what happened in her past? It’s a nifty, twisty premise with plenty of potential. A spinoff of Jeff Lemire’s Black Hammer series, this new story requires no prior knowledge to dive in; but if you have no prior knowledge of the franchise, it’s less likely to pack much of an emotional wallop. Our protagonist doesn’t seem to have much tethering her to her life as a comic artist, so when it’s revealed that she’s not who she thought she was, pivoting to her old life doesn’t feel like a particularly difficult or interesting choice.

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Rating: 🎨🎨🎨 (3/5)
Writers: Jeff Lemire, Tyler Crook. Artist: Tyler Crook.


ALSO: BATMAN’S SPY BUTLER, A DOG FRIEND, and DRAGONS

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There are two fascinating Batman books out this week; Batman 89 is set in the world of the Michael Keaton film, and Pennyworth presents the mid-century spy adventures of Alfred. I love the look of Campisi, a new series in which dragons appear in our modern-day world; and Rainbow Bridge is a sweet story about a dog and his boy teaming up for one last adventure before they have to say goodbye forever. I’m not sure I have the stomach for one more new book out this week: Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?, which chronicles the real-life tale of the horrifying murderer who became known as The Butcher of Plainfield.

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