Battlestar Galactica: Echoes of New Caprica by Emily Salzfass et al.: C+

The beginning of Battlestar Galactica’s third season found the majority of what’s left of humanity living on New Caprica, a planet that had seemed like their salvation until the Cylons arrived and the occupation began. Some people joined resistance groups while others collaborated with the enemy to protect themselves and their families. Eventually, they were rescued, though no one lived happily ever after. With the exception of one story taking place during the occupation, the focus of Battlestar Galactica: Echoes of New Caprica is the effect the experiences of New Caprica have upon the survivors even after the planet is left behind.

“Teacher’s Pet,” story by Emily Salzfass and art by Chrissy Delk, takes place during the occupation. Former president Laura Roslin is working as a teacher and many of her lessons serve as a celebration of the history and culture of the now-destroyed colonies. The Cylons get wind of her curriculum and aren’t at all happy, but Roslin refuses to back down, even as she confronts the possibility that one of her students may be the informant.

Though the climactic moments are a little muddled, “Teacher’s Pet” is the best in the volume. Its tone is appropriately grim and there are moments where character voices seem spot on. One line from Roslin, “I’m a big girl; I can handle risk,” perfectly evokes her calm yet steely resolve. The art is not as successful as the writing, however. Characters are usually recognizable even though they don’t look like much like the actors that portray them (the Eights bear no resemblance to Grace Park, for example) but there was one random schlubby guy that I kept seeing in the resistance meetings that I couldn’t identify. I kept wondering who he was until he finally made an expression I recognized. Who was this mystery man? Chief Tyrol. Hardly a minor character.

“Shelf Life,” story by Richard Hatch (the actor who plays the story’s protagonist) and art by Christopher Schons, is set immediately after the colonists have been rescued from New Caprica. Vice President Tom Zarek is temporarily in control of the government and seeks to exact punishment on collaborators by creating small cells of trusted individuals who will try and execute them. These events do play out in the television series, but here we see more of Zarek’s perspective as well as how his decisions impact his oldest friend.

Some of the dialogue is a little cheesy (“When will we humans ever grow up?”) but the story isn’t bad. I appreciate that some small details from the show are included, such as Chief Tyrol’s tendency to be the last to cast his vote during the trials. Like “Teacher’s Pet,” however, the artist fails to capture many of the actors’ likenesses. For some time I thought they’d got the members of Galactica’s cell (The Circle) wrong because I couldn’t tell two female characters apart. Too, every scene has the same sort of dingy grey look to it, even those taking place on Colonial One (the President’s ship), which has a cleaner and brighter interior than a battlestar.

I found “Visitation,” story by Mike Wellman and art by Anthony Wu, to be the weakest of the three stories. While on New Caprica, Kara “Starbuck” Thrace was held captive by a Cylon and made to believe that her ovaries had been used to create a daughter. She becomes attached to the girl only to run into her actual mother after the evacuation from the planet. Now she encounters the girl again, living in unsavory conditions, and absconds with her.

My objection to the story isn’t that the events are implausible—the show certainly went to the “Starbuck is mentally unstable, does something crazy, and treats those who care about her like crap” well often enough—but because it’s simply a retread of the kind of thing we’ve seen before on the show quite a few times already. “Visitation” also had the strangest art of the lot. I understand an artist wanting to pursue their individual style and all that, but when I’m staring in puzzlement at an unidentifiable, weird-looking, block-headed dude who is then addressed as Helo, played by the undeniably hunky Tahmoh Penikett, then there is a problem.

The bottom line: If you’re a BSG fan who’s missing the show already, you could do worse. I found it kind of nice to revisit these characters at an arguably simpler time.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

The War at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks: B

Juniper, nicknamed Jun, is especially driven for a thirteen-year-old. She’s determined to become a doctor, and to accomplish her goal, seeks out the school with the best reputation for getting its students into esteemed universities. Her search leads her to Ellsmere Academy, a distinguished institution with 200 years of history and a high price tag. Her single mother can’t afford the tuition, but Jun’s brains enable her to win a scholarship to attend.

Once there, Jun makes friends with her eccentric roommate, Cassie, and quickly earns the enmity of Emily, a cruel classmate who picks on the other students while excelling academically. Jun and Emily clash a few times, the incidents escalating to the point where each girl faces expulsion, and ultimately learn the truth about one of the school’s oldest legends.

Perhaps the biggest flaw of The War at Ellsmere is how much it reminds one of other things. You’ve got the dark-haired, bespectacled protagonist entering a castle-like boarding school environment peopled mostly by the progeny of families of long standing. The protagonist makes friends with a red-haired and freckled classmate who is smarter than it initially appears and who is continually taunted by the bully of the class and said bully’s two loyal minions. There’s also a spooky forest nearby that, as the stories go, houses supernatural creatures. Sound familiar? Too, the idea of the daughter of a single mother earning a place at a ritzy private school only to encounter a mean yet brilliant adversary is straight out of Gilmore Girls.

On the positive side, Jun is a likable character with believable flaws. She’s smart, but occasionally boastful about her own intellect, and unhesitatingly defends Cassie from Emily’s verbal abuse. When the difficulty of the coursework at Ellsmere catches her by surprise, Jun is challenged to exert more effort in order to succeed. She also inspires Cassie, previously content with her poor grades, to work harder and to achieve some distinction as a writer. It’s very nice to read a story presumably aimed for teenage girls that has nothing to do with romance, and instead features a solid female friendship and a protagonist who places a high priority on learning.

There are quite a few plot threads going on simultaneously, but Hicks handles them skillfully. Because Cassie has discovered a talent for writing, for example, it makes sense that Jun would give her a tape recorder for Christmas. It didn’t even occur to me that the recorder would figure in to the big climactic moment of the story, but it does. The backgrounds of Jun and Cassie are explored a bit, and each even undergoes some character growth by the conclusion, which is impressive when one considers the brevity of the book and how it also contends with schoolwork, fitting in, bullying, and a supernatural mystery.

The art in The War at Ellsmere takes a bit of getting used to. At first, I found it rather unattractive, and Cassie’s design—with her snub nose, freckles, and large eyes—reminded me of something out of The Ren and Stimpy Show. After a time, though, I grew accustomed to it. Lines are thick and chunks of solid black abound, but it’s still very easy to tell what’s going on and there is an admirable range in the characters’ facial expressions, as well.

On the whole, I enjoyed The War at Ellsmere. I’m not sure where the story could go from here, but I for one would love to read more featuring these characters and this setting.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

The 9 Lives 1 by Bayou and Rachel Manija Brown: D

The 9-Lives are cat-like aliens, banished to Earth by their planet’s elders and barred from returning home until they have sacrificed eight of their lives for a human. 9-Lives are required by law to have a human owner, but Conri is determined not to relinquish his freedom. After getting caught stealing a bit of leftover food from a restaurant, he is rescued from his pursuers by Adrian, a human who claims he doesn’t want a pet and allows Conri to stay in his apartment.

The first chapter is simple set-up and is enjoyable enough, in an utterly fluffy way. After that, though, the story becomes a real mess and seems incapable of settling on any one tone. For example, in the beginning of the second chapter, Conri spots a mouse and engages in a “comedic” chase, causing lots of “hilarious” damage to Adrian’s possessions in the process. By the end of that same chapter, he’s slitting his wrists. As if this weren’t enough, in chapter three, he’s fallen into the clutches of the mafia.

The art is competent though quite generic, and panels of humans walking down the street with their 9-Lives remind me of similar panels from Chobits, since the 9-Lives’ ears look very similar to a persocom’s. Also, I’m annoyed that Conri is described and depicted as “a calico male.” Okay, I suppose such a thing could be commonplace on the alien planet, but it really just seems to me that the creators didn’t bother to research calicos at all. If they had, they’d know that 99.9% of them are female.

The teen rating is entirely appropriate for The 9 Lives, meaning nothing truly creepy happens. Adrian does, however, have a perverted neighbor who’s obsessed with the possibility that Conri might have eight nipples.

Verdict: A tiny bit creepy. Mostly just bad.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.