Haunting ‘Secret Path’ Tells Tragic Indigenous History Through Art and Music

Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire

In 1966, an indigenous Canadian boy named Chanie Wenjack ran away from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School. He attempted a 400-mile walk home along the railroad through freezing weather, without knowing if he was even going the right way.

Through Chanie’s journey, Secret Path — an innovative combination of music and graphic novel available on Amazon as a paperback/MP3 download —  illuminates a darker part of North American twentieth-century history. Gord Downie of Ontario band The Tragically Hip wrote the words and music, while fellow Canadian and breakout comic book star Jeff Lemire drew the sequential art.

The first time I experienced Secret Path, I read the graphic novel with the music on in the background. The book is short enough to read within the album’s 41-minute running time, and is split into sections by song, so it’s easy enough to take this approach. Taken together, the music and art flow together well, with the images enhancing the words sung by Downie and the mostly acoustic folk rock bringing out the emotions in Lemire’s expressive character-work.

Since then, I have listened to the album quite a few times on its own. The music definitely can stand on its own. With the additional talent of Dave Hamelin from The Stills (another Canadian favorite of mine), Downie’s album carries the listener through the emotional highs and lows of Chanie’s walk, effortlessly evoking images of the boy’s tragic walk.

And as I listened, I found myself flashing back to the beautiful artwork by Lemire. I’ve been a fan of Jeff for some time — especially his more indie work like The Underwater Welder and Essex County, but also some of his writing credits for DC Comics including Animal Man. Lemire has a unique art style that I recall actually put me off the first time I laid eyes on it. But when I pushed ahead anyway, Lemire’s haunting compositions transported me to another world. From the first page of Secret Path, Lemire makes readers feel instantly sympathetic to Chanie’s plight. And he leaves us angry with the country that let such tragedies occur.

Angry, perhaps. But also glad that these fine creators have exposed this hidden history through such accessible storytelling. It’s beyond cool to see a project with such important purpose come together into an artistic masterpiece. What’s more, proceeds from the project will be donated to The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

So don’t wait — take the Secret Path. It’s a road worth traveling.

Adam Bender reads … Superhero Comics!

He also reads other people's books.
Adam also reads books by other authors

When Adam Bender’s not writing, he’s reading. Or doing other stuff, maybe. I mean, he can’t just be reading or writing all the time, can he?

But I digress (and switch suddenly to first person). Here is a selection of my latest book reviews on Goodreads. If you’re a Goodreads user, please follow me to keep updated on what I’m reading. You can even review my books if you want! The shoe is on the other foot now, eh?

Hm, that’s a weird expression. Oh well. Without further ado, book reviews! And today, a special SUPERHERO EDITION!


Moon Knight, Vol. 1: From the DeadMoon Knight, Vol. 1: From the Dead by Warren Ellis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A visual feast for the eyes! This comic is all about style — almost like Kill Bill in book form. There’s a lot of action and not a huge amount of dialog, so the pages go by fast. The writer and artist were definitely in sync with this one, making the images feel like they’re in motion.

Warning: this is a dark, weird and blisteringly violent comic. If you’re into stuff by Frank Miller or Alan Moore, you’ll probably dig it. But it’s not for the faint of heart!


Ant-Man, Vol. 1: Second-Chance ManAnt-Man, Vol. 1: Second-Chance Man by Nick Spencer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you like a little humor with your superheroes, Ant-Man is the comic book for you. Nick Spencer killed it on The Superior Foes of Spider-Man and the spirit of that (sadly) canceled series lives on here! In fact, it’s actually kind of fitting, since Scott Lang (Ant-Man) used to be a criminal himself and doesn’t have problems working with other reformed criminals.

The story here takes a lot of unexpected turns, which adds a lot of originality to a genre that can at times feel stale. In that way, I think that Spencer, like Matt Fraction, are really doing a lot to reinvigorate superhero comics.

Of course, a lot of the humor would be lost without the great artwork by Ramon Rosanos. There’s something about the facial expressions and body positions he draws that really enhances the storytelling. A lot of the cleverness in the writing could easily be lost without Rosanos on-board.

A fun book all around!


Iron Man: Demon in a BottleIron Man: Demon in a Bottle by David Michelinie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For quite some time, I’ve been wanting to read the comic where Tony Stark has a drinking problem. Okay, that sounds kind of weird, but it’s true. This is the volume that includes the classic “Demon in a Bottle” comic.

What I didn’t realize is that it’s mainly the one issue (the last in this collection) that deals with it. The first seven issues show Tony having occasional drinks but he doesn’t really hit rock bottom until the issue before the eponymous #128. The storyline up to that point focuses on Justin Hammer messing with Iron Man’s suit. It’s a fun but not totally absorbing superhero adventure, and I felt a bit bored at times. So, if you’re just reading this for the drinking problem stuff, you might be better off buying digital single issues of #127 and #128.

That said, that last issue is pretty great. It’s pretty interesting to see a comic take on an issue like drinking and do it in a way that feels organic to the plot. Even more commendable is that the guy with the problem here is Iron Man himself! I’ve seen a lot of comics address addiction issues through sidekicks and friends of sidekicks, so it’s great to see Marvel had the guts to use one of their biggest stars.


Robin The Boy Wonder: A Celebration of 75 YearsRobin The Boy Wonder: A Celebration of 75 Years by Bill Finger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like the Batman and Joker volumes before it, this another great hardcover reproduction of classic Batman stories. Robin is a character with an interesting history, because he’s had so many different secret identities. Each of them reflect the times in which they were created.

In this volume, you get a bunch of classic tales, including “Robin Dies at Dawn” (he doesn’t really) and the “Death in the Family” issue where the Joker kills Jason Todd, the second Robin (he really does). The collection kind of loses steam as soon as Tim Drake comes onto the scene, which was a bit surprising because I always liked the character in the ’90s. Maybe it’s because his issues tend to deal with teenager life stuff and I’m no longer a teen.

It’s definitely worth reading if you like the character, and there’s plenty of Dick Grayson here, but I would recommend some supplemental reading to get a better feel for the other Robins. For example, there’s only single issues here from the larger story arcs Batman: A Death in the Family, Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying, and Batman and Son. It’s worth checking out these other books to get a better feel for Jason Todd, Tim Drake and Damian Wayne.

You should also check out the excellent Batman and Robin: Batman Reborn, in which Dick Grayson is Batman and Damian Wayne is Robin.


Well, that’s the end of today’s edition of Adam Bender reads … If you’ve read any of the above books, I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments below! Or let me know what books you think I should read next!

Batman editor takes on The Wanderer

Rachel Gluckstern

Big news for my upcoming third novel! I’m excited to announce that Rachel Gluckstern will edit The Wanderer and the New West.

Rachel is an award-winning editor who worked more than ten years at DC Comics, including as editor of the Batman Group from 2010 to 2015. Follow Rachel on Twitter and check out her LinkedIn profile for more details. We connected on Reedsy, an innovative web platform that helps authors find freelance publishing assistance. Be sure to check out my interview with Reedsy co-founder Emmanuel Nataf.

Rachel will be doing content and copy editing on The Wanderer to sharpen my prose and, generally, to keep me from looking like a hack. I’d be lying if I said comic books didn’t influence the knockabout action in my new book, and I believe Rachel’s experience with action/adventure stories will really give the novel a boost.

I completed my own edits for The Wanderer last week, and–if you’ll allow my biased opinion–it’s a fun and topical book. The story is set in a possible future won by gun evangelists and advocates for hands-off government. Plagued by shootings, this America has returned to the ways of the Wild West, a lawless land where people make their own justice.

Keep your eye on this blog and please sign up for my newsletter for more updates!

Suicide comedy, zombie Jughead & epic gamers: What I’m reading

Authors are always reading. I mean… when they’re not writing, of course. Authors gotta write.

Personally, I like to write short book reviews on Goodreads (follow me!). Here’s a selection of some of my favorite recent books.

A Long Way DownA Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nick Hornby writes like people talk and his books are about ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives. A Long Way Down presents one his most dramatic premises — four people intending to commit suicide run into each other on the top of the same building.

Hornby takes a unique approach of alternating perspectives every chapter. The effect is not unlike a documentary, in which interviews with several people are woven together to create a single forward narrative.

Because of the three act structure, large amounts of dialogue and relatively static set pieces, I could really imagine this acted out on the stage. In that way, it felt a little less “novel-y” than other novels, but if that kind of thing doesn’t bug you, then full speed ahead.

I should add that this is a funny book. Yeah, okay, it’s about suicide. But it’s great fun watching the characters’ personalities clash. In many ways they don’t like each other, but at the same time they realize they need each others’ help to keep going.

I really got to liking each of the characters, too, even though they’d done things (and continue to do things) that are not completely likable. And really, it’s a testament to Hornby’s talent that he can pull off a comedy about wanting to kill yourself so effortlessly.

 

Afterlife with Archie Book 1: Escape from RiverdaleAfterlife with Archie Book 1: Escape from Riverdale by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! Who knew adding zombies to Archie would make it so good?!

I never really got into Archie Comics, but this fresh spin goes all in on the horror while preserving the characters everyone knows (yes, Archie is still waffling between Betty and Veronica).

I can’t say enough about the artwork by Francesco Francavilla — who is known for his horror stuff and not your typical Archie artist — so I won’t try.

So yeah, Afterlife with Archie is a total blast. Read it now!

 

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ready Player One is the geekiest book I have ever read. That’s a compliment. Gamers, sci-fi and fantasy lovers — this is your book.

Even if you don’t understand all the references, you’ll understand some of them and get a big grin on your face. Meanwhile, the fun narrative — mixing action, comedy and romance — will keep you reading every day until Game Over.

If I have to nitpick, I’d say there’s sometimes a bit too much explanation about how the world functions, both in the virtual OASIS and the dystopian near-future real world. The hero Parzival often pauses to explain the rules when probably the reader could figure these things out along the way.

In the end though, I think your enjoyment of this book ultimately comes down to whether you like fun. Do you like fun? Yes? Well, then…

Ready Player One!

Check out all my book reviews!

Noir, cowboys and asteroids: What I’m reading

Not sure if you knew this, but I regularly review books on Goodreads. I have an author profile there as well, so please follow! Anyway, thought I’d share a few of my latest reviews.

Countdown City by Ben H. Winters

I love the premise of this series. An asteroid is about to crash into Earth, destroying everyone… but Detective Henry Palace wants to keep on solving ordinary murders and missing person cases.

In the end, you get a compelling mystery that would work as a novel in its own right, surrounded by an equally gripping per-apocalyptic atmosphere, all injected with a healthy dose of conspiracy theory!

Countdown City reminded me what I loved about The Last Policeman (the first entry in the series), and I think Winters’ writing is even stronger in this second book. Looking forward to the next one!

Valdez is Coming by Elmore Leonard

I loved how compact and straightforward this Western was. It’s got everything you want for the genre–a character seeking justice, a power-mad cowboy, gunfights and chases through the desert.

My only complaint is that the love story is a bit thin and not so compelling.

Overall, this is a blast and a good choice if you’re just getting into the genre.

Scene of the Crime by Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark and Sean Phillips

A gritty crime/noir from one of the best crime writers in comics. Ed Brubaker writes an interesting mystery and the memorable characters here really bring it to life. The people in this story feel human thanks to their flaws, baggage and, yes, senses of humor.

Also loved the art by Michael Lark — that guy knows how to draw a vintage car, man.

The deluxe hardback is a real treat. The printing really makes the artwork pop and I appreciated the behind-the-scenes look on how this story came together.