Although I couldn't put down "Kavalier and Clay," the super novel about superheros -- and how the comic book industry came into being in North America in the 1930s -- when it was published a few years ago, it's a long time since I have really read a comic book right through (I'm not counting newspaper "funnies" that don't seem so funny to me anymore). When I did read piles and piles of comics as a kid, my favorites were Archie, Al Capps' creations (loved the Shmoos), Superman, and my all-time favorite, Wonder Woman. She was my fantasy heroine. Then, as I grew older, I followed "adult" comic stips like Rex Morgan and Mary Worth over coffee in the morning. I confess that I find the antics of Sponge Bob and the various aliens that my grandkids adore only mildly amusing. But, in an age when Flash Gordon's lazer rays are fact, not sci-fi, adult comic books have become upscale, fashionable, and acquired a new name and popularity. They are now called graphic novels, and they have entered the realm of literature with panache.
Ivory Madison's "The Huntress" is the first time I have actually read a graphic novel. Not only does it represent a sea change in my reading habits, but I was also surprised to find that her book has both literary quality and artistic merit. Now I have a brand new Wonder Woman to admire, both the author and her heroine.
In terms of visual appeal, the book is gorgeous, both the representations of the characters and settings and the color choices. The shades of deep purple (one of my favorite colors) add to the sense of mystery and intrigue, and the amber tones add an appropriate atmosphere for the tender scenes. The story line employs many flashbacks, and, at first, I was a little lost, but before long I was "into" the story and could appreciate its careful design.
The book's introduction suggests that Ivory Madison's Huntress is the redefinition of an old folk story. Although I am unfamiliar with the original story, I certainly was empathetic to the situation of a little girl who witnessed the vicious murder of her whole family by Mafia gangsters and decided to avenge their deaths when she grew up to be a beautiful woman. Putting aside romance, she transformed herself into the Huntress to concentrate on this one goal. (There is an amusing interchange when she insists that an actress should be called an actor and a heroine a hero, that there shouldn't be a sexual differentiation, but finally decides that she is a hero called the Huntress.)
I particularly enjoyed two strains that run through the story: one is the appreciation of opera by the Mafia "family" members, even as they commit violent acts, and the other is the constant religious devotion of the Huntress. Religious symbols and visits to Catholic chapels permeate the story. The Huntress sincerely believes that, as the Avenger, God is on her side, that she represents good as opposed to evil, even though she harms others in the pursuit of justice for her murdered family. "We all think God is on our side," she muses. "The Huntress" also places considerable emphasis on the role of women. In Ivory Madison's version of the old folk tale, women can empower themselves. They do not have to go through life accepting domestic abuse or ending up "dead inside," and perhaps even literally dead, like the subjugated Mafia wives.
Towards the end of the graphic novel, the author playfully introduces other fictional female avengers made famous by the comics, superheroines like Batwoman and Catwoman, as they stake out their individual territories. Are they avengers or saviors? Is revenge justice? You'll have to read "The Huntress" to make that decision. Kudos to Ivory Madison for a splendid accomplishment!