There’s this tendency I’ve been noticing lately in certain fandoms to insist on stories that are entirely conflict-free, with frequent kissing — which I think is fine and very nice for fanfic, but not particularly compelling in commercially-produced entertainment.
For example, I was looking forward to watching Heartstopper, a queer teen romance on Netflix, until I saw a tweet praising the show for being free of “edge,” meaning confrontations or misfortunes. This was meant as an observation in the show’s favor, but to me it’s a signal that it lacks a story. A bunch of good things happening with no adversity to overcome seems … well, heterosexual. What’s the point?
A similar impulse seems to flow through a new graphic novel that I was looking forward to this week, which is a bit of a bummer for me but wonderful news for the person who enjoyed Heartstopper’s softness. But if edge is what you crave, good news — there’s a particularly sharp-cornered new horror series. Thanks as always to Phoenix for sorting through the new releases!
I HATE THIS PLACE ISSUE #1
A marvelously unsettling horror with plenty of twists and turns at a pace that’s breakneck (sometimes literally), I Hate This Place was previously known as Fuck This Place, and honestly both titles work quite well. Two women have just moved into a farm that they inherited from a semi-distant relation, and wouldn’t you know it, there’s ghosts hiding in the woods … and those apparitions, the women discover, are the least of their concerns. The action moves fast in this book — there’s no time for prevaricating about feelings, and no long lingering conversations about the rules of this creepy-crawly world. It’s just one smashing spooky scene after another, with splashy neon colors that contribute nicely to the pulpy nightmares and gore. A last-page reveal gives the horror an added gut-punch — not that we needed it, since the moaning ghouls and mystery-monster are intriguing enough already — but it was a real pleasure to first gasp at the surprise and then cackle with delight at how well it’s pulled off.
Rating: 🐄🐄🐄🐄🐄 (5/5)
Writer: Kyle Starks. Artist: Artoym Topilin. Colors: Lee Loughridge. Letters: Pat Prosseau. Alt covers: Easton Hawk, Ken Salinas, Robert Hack, Michael Walsh. Editor: Jon Moisan. Logo: Andres Juarez. Production design: Jillian Crab.
Publisher: Image Comics.
GALAXY: THE PRETTIEST STAR
Some readers may take this book’s wholesomeness as a fault, others a feature. The premise is smart: In a suburb some distance from Superman’s Metropolis, an unassuming teenager who looks like a teen boy carries a heavy secret and hidden identity, that of a presumed-dead space-princess. The burden of keeping the truth hidden weighs heavier and heavier with each day, until a new girl at school helps our heroine unlock her true nature. Lovely sapphic flirtation abounds, along with tearful self-discoveries through the application of makeup and feminine-presenting clothes. The story is heavily weighted towards triumphs and queer pleasure; though there’s some bigotry and cruelty from side-characters, the intolerance generally comes without serious consequences. That means that the plot is not particularly daring, surprising, or tense — it’s almost all good news from the first page to the last, which will disappoint readers hoping for adventure. But this book doesn’t exist to present action, danger, or much conflict; it’s a daydream of unlocking one’s hidden side with great comfort and joy. We’re told that our main character must stay hidden as a boy for her own safety, and the fact that she faces no great danger after shedding her mask seems like an odd omission. But maybe, sometimes, our reasons for withholding happiness from ourselves simply don’t exist.
Rating: 🌌🌌🌌🌌 (4/5)
Writer: Jadzia Axelrod. Art: Jess Taylor.
ALSO: TWO HEROES IN ONE BODY
Over at DC, we’re getting a new hero in Duo — or really two, since the character is really two individuals, a husband and wife, sharing a superpowered body. There’s also a new installment of Fables, the series in which fantasy characters secretly share our world. If you’re looking for something a bit longer, you’re in luck — it’s a big week for paperback and hardcover releases. Consider Swim Team, a cute all-ages story about … well, exactly what the title suggests. This week you'll also find collections of Tarzan, Witcher, and Firefly stories, as well as the excellent and haunting Mazebook.