Based on ancient Mexican folktales and with a layered protagonist, Bindle Punk Bruja is wholly new from anything I’ve read before. Half-Mexican and white-passing witch Rose dreams of owning her own illegal jazz club in 1920s Kansas City while trying to refine the powers she inherited from her abuela and weaving her way through various romances and the intricacies of a sexist, racist, xenophobic society. Along the way she meets with a bevy of characters both fictional and historical, including Al Capone and the KKK. From the first page to the last, Mesa’s debut draws you in and douses you with delicious Jazz Age imagery, clever dialogue, and beautifully rendered characters. Bindle Punk Bruja is fun, sexy, and downright dangerous at times, just like Rose. It has a certain bite to it, also like Rose. And it never slows down.
Magic, romance…and arsenic. Kulper plunges us into the boozy, rollicking, and seemingly shallow setting of one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels, but she gifts her readers with main characters whose sincerity and goodness glistens under the masks they wear, whose moral compasses always point North, even if they sometimes veer off the path a smidgeon. Better yet, this 1920s era crime novel sparkles with magical realism. Eighteen-year-old Ruby uses her ability to read minds to find horrid, evil men and then she puts her beautiful little darlings–an array of poisons she harvests from her mother’s beloved garden–to work to stop their abuses…forever. When she meets Guy, a young chemist’s assistant at the mortuary, sparks fly. But he has a secret of his own, and his investigative talents may be stellar enough to start to piece together clues about these mysterious serial poisonings, putting Ruby’s nighttime career at risk. Oh dear, what’s a girl to do? Just delicious!
Not only is this a love letter to comics, rich with the history of the comics industry in 1975, it also captures the gut and soul of a true noir in that it’s a gripping character study about the choices we make under great pressure. Come for the fantastic mystery and comics Easter Eggs, stay for Cuban-American daughter of immigrants Carmen Valdez who’s trying to find her place as a respected writer amidst the floundering old boys club culture of the New York City comics world where she’s an undervalued assistant at an indie comic book distributor. Right on the cusp of maybe finally getting her big break, a coworker is murdered and she’s suspected. Solving his murder, trying to save her comic book series from mediocre male writers, and grappling with her own personal (and secret) identity, Carmen needs to keep her head above water or risk drowning. Bonus: Panels of the comic book series Carmen creates in the novel, art and lettering and all, are interspersed throughout the novel, which adds to how inventive this genre-breaking triumph of a book truly is.
Philippine mythology finds its home in supernatural noir. Beautiful, imaginative, sometimes even breathtaking, After Lambana brings creatures of Philippine myths to the modern streets of Manila. Lambana, the magical realm of the Diwata, has fallen and the Magic Prohibition Act has been adopted. A mysterious new malady has started to spread through humanity, one that might be connected to magic, and young Conrad and his mysterious friend Ignacio spend one night traipsing through Manila dodging authorities while looking for a cure, sometimes resorting to using magical doors. The streets of Manila in this graphic novel are dotted with supernatural beings, some lurking in urban shadows, others walking amongst humans. But Conrad is the heart of the graphic novel, and he discovers his own backstory while we do, as we’re all propelled through the events of this one night together. The art is haunting and ethereal, and the story will latch onto you long after you put this one down.
Scalzi’s latest work sparkles with wit and charming snark, surrounded by all the best sci-fi movie tropes: a team of unlikely heroes, epic action scenes involving helicopters above a wild and unknown tropical jungle with air that’s thick like soup, scientists arguing about whose plan is the better plan, greedy billionaires recklessly fooling around with things they don’t understand to fill their pockets. Oh, and kaiju. All. The. Kaiju. The book begins at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, and just as our protagonist Jamie leaves behind his job as a food delivery app driver to step into an alternate dimension for his new mysterious job, Scalzi’s highly accessible and hilarious but sincere voice is the perfect escape from our own pandemic. We’re thrust into a world devoid of humanity and full of things that want to eat you, and things that want to eat them…who then get eaten by even bigger things. And finally: the kaiju, the creatures which this vast and invigoratingly terrifying ecosystem rely on to survive. As Jamie and his scientist teammates soon find out, preserving these insanely massive creatures to keep both worlds safe is worse than dangerous, it’s downright improbable. Kick back with a drink, turn on the Godzilla soundtrack, and let yourself have some fun. I really needed this.