Thursday, August 4, 2011


Suzanne Collins

(The Hunger Games)

Finally, after a month of putting it off I can write about Mockingjay, it's not as good as Catching Fire but it is a very exciting and satisfactory ending to Katniss's ordeal.

The weakest part of the story is the first half of the book. We are dealing with new characters and settings and it can be a bit tedious. This is on purpose, though because Katniss is feeling that same tediousness and slowness, so in part the reader is sharing her experience. The second half of the book is much better. It brings the excitement and the panic of the Hunger Games and the Quarter Quell but on a horribly larger scale.

The characters grow and mature though the story and the love triangle between Peeta, Gale and Katniss takes a turn for the worst. Peeta has been brainwashed by the Capitol to kill Katniss, and Gale is realizing his skills as a trapper can be used in the war against President Snow. Katniss' loyalties are tested. Their ending is predictable but the journey is full of twists that damage the couple and makes their epilogue the very definition of bittersweet.

Although Katniss' story has been told (in part- another problem might rise that needs the Mockingjay) there's a lot of Panem's history that I would like to know. It's big playground and other writers might do something fun with the different districts. I wouldn't mind more stories about the Rebellion of the Districts or the first ever Hunger Game. Hopefully, the movie (which is looking very very good) can spark Susanne Collins into writing more about Panem and it's citizens.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Battle Angel Alita Vol. 3

Yukito Kishihiro

The co-worker who lent me this didn't have volume two. It seems that all I missed was a human kid obsessed with Tiphares, the awesome city that floats above the Earth, and then his body got destroyed and he became a cyborg. Then Alita turned him into her pet project and he killed himself. So that's that.

Alita was so traumatized, as she should be, so she runs away to drown her pain in Rollerball. She's the best player in the third division. Ido finds her after a long search and because she doesn't acknoledge him, he decides to destroy her pride so she'll come back to him. What?

There's a lot of fast pace, arm ripping, panther kunst, blading action. All so Alita can become second class and fight the best player of that division, Jashugan. Who happens to be hanging out with Ido.

The climax of the book is Alita and Jashugan arm wrestling while talking about the power of Chi. He blows her arm with his Chi. This to Alita is like foreplay and even though Jashugan let her win you can feel the cyborgy sexual tension as his arm falls from his shoulder.

They are meant to be.

Dead Until Dark

Charlaine Harris

The first book of the Sookie Stackhouse series is very similar and completely different from the True Blood (Season 1) TV show it eventually morphed into. I won't go into spoilers, both the book and the TV show feature a murder mystery, but I will discuss Sookie and Bill's relationship.

Sookie in the book comes off a bit more stable than the TV version. It could be because the book is narrated by her and so we understand more of her motivations. She's not as wishy washy as you'd think but she is way more naive than you could realize.

One of the biggest differences between the book and the TV show is that vampires in the book are suffering from a virus, so they can't help drink blood. Or that's what they want you to believe. Everyone can smell the bullshit except Sookie. When she understands that she's been having sex with a dead person instead of an infected one, she pukes. Then promptly forgets about it because Bill is so dreamy.

Bill for the most part is very unlikable, and treats Sookie like a pet. Once she finally gives in and has sex with him, that's pretty much all he wants to do. Not that Sookie complains, but sheesh. He's not as romantic as the TV version or as fleshed out. One could argue that True Blood is as much Bill's story as Sookie's (or Eric's for that matter) and you kind of miss that in the book.

Most of the secondary characters in the book are just that, secondary. We hardly know anyone outside of Sookie's immediate circle of friends and family.

All in all it was an enjoyable quick read, but you can see how the writers of True Blood really fleshed out the world and it's inhabitants.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Battle Angel Alita Vol. 1

Yukito Kishihiro

I don't read a lot of manga, and when I do it's usually the girly kind, but since a co-worker insisted that I give it a chance here we are. It's set in a dystopian future (is there any other kind?) where a apparently wonderful city floats over the Earth. The refuse and the unworthy people live on Earth, and modify their bodies with cybernetics in order to survive.

Daisuke, a tinkerer of sorts, finds Alita among the garbage and in a paternalistic twist tries to fix her and protect her from the filth. He's not only a scientist but a hunter as well. The first story arc is very interesting, a mix between Jack the Ripper and Frankenstein. The payoff does not deliver though because even though this is meant to be a very dark story, it's surprisingly upbeat. Alita is ever positive and ever chirppy. Alita always triumphs and it's not because she has an awesome killer body (literally!) but because of her spirit.

The art is pretty standar manga fare but I'm sure it turned heads when it was first published. The color pages you sometimes find on the beginnings of collected volumes here are drenched in fine crosshatching and ink washes and I kinda wish the whole comic was like that.

I would be interested in reading more about Alita just to see how she matures as a person and how that affects her realtionship with Daisuke.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Parker: The Outfit

Darwyn Cooke

You'd think there wasn't room for improvement from the first book (Parker: The Hunter) but Darwyn Cooke manages to surpass himself in Parker's latest adventure. And by adventure I mean systematically destroying the Outfit because of revenge and money. Parker's favorite things.

The story is a bit convoluted but then again I don't like mob stories too much. Parker had plastic surgery since his last "adventure" and goes about recruiting people he can sort of trust, and hits on the Outfit. Stealing the money from the businesses and such. Parker gets what he wants, because he always does. He's Parker.

The art is stunning. Cooke is in top form. His grays and blacks complement each other beautifully creating a sinister mood that persists even if it's a sunny day and Parker is drinking beer with one of his recruits. It ramps up the suspense. The ink lines cut through Parker's new face in angles and planes making him look determined and cold. I must admit I miss his pretty boy looks from the first book and it took me a while to get used to it.

The highlight of the book is a long sequence where we read about the guys Parker hired casing and hitting on the Outfit's businesses. It's done in the style of various magazines of the sixties and it's a showstopper.

The book as an object is beautiful too, the pages are a creamy yellow which complements the cool grey-blue tones perfectly. You can tell this is Cooke's baby and we are lucky to share the experience.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Catching Fire

Suzanne Collins

(Hunger Games)

What I like most about Catching Fire is the subtle way the story raises the sense of danger for Katniss. A meeting with President Snow is filled with tension and foreshadowing. The announcement of the Quarter Quell, that past victors will have to compete makes Katniss react so brokenly, we question her sanity. Everything is charged with a sense of finality and doom. It makes Catching Fire seem like a dark shadow of the first book.

The world building in this book is much improved. Katniss narrations are not as "expositional" since we already know what she's talking about. She can revel in little details, which is what I was expecting from The Hunger Games.

The new cast of characters is very fascinating, they are all very deadly indeed. The Quarter Quell arena is something of horrid beauty with exciting new traps. I admit I was entertained by the painful deaths of the victors. Katniss carries herself expertly, using her smarts and reflexes to survive but still being sweetly naive about the motivations and machinations of her fellow contestants. She's a joy to read about.

The ending is a great cliffhanger that made me run to the third book and devour it as quickly as possible.


Adrian Tomine

Everyone in Shortcomings is a bit selfish, but none more so than the main character Ben. He doesn't deal well with change, he's complacent and opinionated.

One of the main themes is how Ben views Asian women and White women. He is Japanese American, and so is his girlfriend Miko. She is trying to embrace her culture by supporting a local Asian film festival, but he is running away from anything remotely cliche or sterotypical. Miko accuses him of having a White girl fetish, because he likes to watch porn movies with blonde White girls. He denies it, but when Miko leaves for an internship in New York he immediately hits on a white young girl who works at the same theater as he does. He tries to kiss her and she rebuffs him in a very awkward moment.

Later, manages to have sex with a bi girl he met at a party. He seems to view White women only as recipient of his desires and not as people. Which is how many men view Asian women. When Ben visits Miko in New York he finds out that she's been cheating on him for a while with a White man who loves Asian things. Ben accuses her of being another Asian knick knack, and leaves New York in a huff having learned nothing from the experience.

The art is impossibly beautiful. The characters are really expresive and it's amazing what Adrien Tomine can do with a few inked lines. Enviorments and characters are rendered perfectly in a minimalistic but realistic way. The last sequence in the book is breathtaking and heartbreaking, and worth the whole reading experience.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Wrinkle in Time

Madeleine L'Engle

The wrinkle in time of the title referes to a tesseract, when you fold space so you can travel through great distances in a short time. If you like 90s movies, the Event Horizon traveled to Hell by way of tesseract. If you like Harry Potter tesseract is an earlier version of "dissaparate".

In a nutshell, some of the kids in the Murray family have been selected by a trio of angels disguised as old ladies to save their abducted Father in a distant planet. Charles Wallace (A five year old super genius), Meg (his rebellious sister) and Calvin (some popular dude) travel with the old ladies across the universe. First to Uriel, where winged half horse people are really happy about being winged half horse people. Here they see the big bad of the story, the Black Thing, an evil entity philophers have been fighting since forever. Eventually, they arrive in Camazotz. Here they find their father, and after many setbacks including losing Charles Wallace and Meg being seriously injured, Meg defeats the first Boss of the story. A huge brain working for the Black Thing.

This is the first of a series of books and it ends in a cliffhanger. I must admit I am not very curious about the story, and although I can't say that I didn't like the book I didn't love it either. I was put off by the overt christian themes, and Charles Wallace's dialogue. I like Meg but as a main character she was so unsure of herself. It was frustrating how everyone seemed to underestimate her. They accepted that she had loads of potential but didn't help her realize it. Given the stakes of the story (ultimate evil swallowing the Earth) I thought the romantic subplot of Meg and Calvin was forced. I still don't get why Calvin was in there at all.

I'm looking forward to Hope Larson's graphic novel adaptation. I'm sure it will help me get a different perspective on this story.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Chuck Palahniuk

Forget about Trainspotting, Pygmy is the most difficult to read book, at first. Urban legend says that Chuck Palahniuk wrote it in English, then had it translated into Chinese and then back to English. If it's true, the result is a mishmash of language that makes your brain hurt, but underneath this heavy style is an almost heartwarming tale of a 13 year old terrorist sent to the US to kill millions of people.

The most interesting part of the story is how Palahniuk humanizes Pygmy. We learn how deadly Pygmy is at the beginning when he rapes the bully harrasing his host family's younger male sibling. It's a brutal scene and serves dehumanize Pygmy in the eyes of the reader. Since the book is written in first person POV, the fact that Pygmy is describing the rape in detail to his superiors makes it even ickier.

As the story progresses, Pygmy finds himself remembering things from his trainning that shed some light on his upbringing. Little by little these memories move towards a more nostalgic space, especially when remembering his parents. He also finds love (albeit unrequited) in the host family's female sibling who is smart and athletic.

The story serves to critique American culture, especially religion and sex. Despite it's heavy and difficult style, it's a tame story (for Palahniuk) and pretty funny/disgusting. It even has a happy ending...kind of.

Monday, June 20, 2011


John Ostrander
Len Wein
John Byrne
Karl Kesel

I think that Legends is a mini series that introduces the Bronze Age in DC Comics, and it shapes what the heroes will be in this new age. They are meant to be Legends, larger than themselves. True heroes acting in a heroic fashion, until things change and all them turn into anti-heroes. Sigh.

Here Darkseid (remember him?) wants to mess with some heroes and change the way people perceive them. He hopes to corrupt their superhero persona and make us regular folk hate and fear them. As Darkseid plans, the Phantom Stranger and Desaad watch and comment.

Darkseid sends Glorious Godfrey to persuade the masses and for the most part he does an excellent job. They make people think that Captain Marvel is a murderer, in the process traumatizing poor Billy Batson. After that, more heroes encounter bigotism and we are introduced to the new Suicide Squad and the Justice League America. It all comes to a head in a huge battle where Wonder Woman is introduced (for the first time after Crisis on Infinite Earths) and Godfrey is destroyed by hubris and Doctor Fate's helmet. It all leads to different comics like the "Bwahahaha" Justice League, etc.

Legends is a nice little piece of history and even though it's heavy handed and cheesy at times, it was a fun read and a reminder of what some heroes should strive to be.

The Gunslinger

Stephen King

I fished this book out of the trunk of a friend's car. She was going to throw the books away or give them to charity and since I had read a bit of the Dark Horse comic I jumped at it and read it that week. (I am terribly behind with this blog).

The Gunslinger, Roland, is following the Man in Black across his world, a mixture of cowboy culture and sci fi-fantasy. Roland means to kill the Man in Black and get to the Dark Tower. The story has some flashbacks, to be honest they are the most interesting part of the novel, but the story feels very linear. You can see how Roland and the Man in Black are stuck in a "point A to point B" story, a path their creator makes them walk without any deviation.

The story is divided into vignettes as Roland encounters enemies or supernatural elements that hinder or aid him in his journey. The most dangerous to Roland is Jake Chambers, a small boy from another world stranded in this one after his death. Jake is the worst sort of trap for Roland, as he grows more affectionate and protective of him. Their relantionship leads to the two climaxes in the story.

In the flashback (I feel like I'm writing a Lost recap. The Lost writers worshipped Stephen King) Roland's mother is having an affair with Marten, a wizard. Roland feels betrayed by his mother and trying to avenge his father's honor takes the Gunslinger test earlier than expected. Roland chooses his hawk and sacrifices him so that Roland can win at all costs. We later find out that Marten is the Man in Black.

In the present the Man in Black forces Roland to choose between saving Jake or following him to the land beyond the mountains. Roland, of course, sacrifices another innocent in the hopes of destroying the evil Man in Black.

The book is richly layered and most of the characters get enough motivation and development. The female characters get the short end of the stick, as they are easily corruptible by the Man in Black and very subservient. It's a boy-man story through and through but I enjoyed it enough that I want to read the rest of the Dark Tower series.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Superman Earth One

J. Michael Straczynski
Shane Davies

In Superman Earth One, Clark Kent weighs his life options. Does he want to be the hero his parents rather obnoxiously want him to be, or does he want to "pass" as a normal but very gifted person all his life?

It makes for a very grim Clark Kent. He broods as he walks around Metropolis. He worries about having a job that will allow him to help his mother financially. He stares into the cityscape, a lot. He ponders how he can put his gifts into good use. He has an existential moment as he floats in space. He is very intense. And then suff happens.

The pacing is way off. The story starts really slow, and without build up throws a huge battle in the middle of Metropolis. Even if you consider that it has a filmic story structure, it's still too slow in the first act. At the same time everything feels too compressed. The character motivations get really muddled.

For example, in Superman's original origin (ja!) Martha and Jonathan couldn't have children and were too old to keep trying. Clark was a miracle to them, they found him by accident and he was exactly what they wanted. In Superman Earth One, Martha and Jonathan are very young when they find Clark and they decide to keep him because he displays super strength. But they'll tell everyone in Smallville that Clark is a bastard and that Martha's no good "laybout" sister made them take care of the baby! WHAT! For the rest of the story, they come off as salivating stage parents, sewing his costume, naming him and talking about branding. Ugh.

Lois and Jimmy get simplified. Lois even more so than Jimmy. Jimmy gets to be fearless searching for the perfect shot because the "truth" is there. Lois gets to debate why a reporter should be able to inject their opinions into the story. She gets shut down by Perry and since she didn't get to name Superman (Jonathan Kent did) and since she didn't write the first interview with Superman (Clark shows up last minute with one) all she did was report on the alien invasion, and save Superman's life AFTER Jimmy tried to do it by himself and failed. Uff.

So yeah there's this alien invasion because (sigh) a planet that was constantly in war with Krypton made a deal with a mysterious character (Braniac? Braniac! Braniac!) and they blew up the whole planet and NO ONE was supposed to survive. So this alien comes and tries to kill Clark but he really forces him to grow up and become Superman. For the sequel, you have the possibility of more aliens attacking Earth plus the mysterious (Braniac) character (Braniac).

As you read Superman Earth One, you feel like you're watching a movie you've seen a couple of times. Familiar and different at the same time but frustrating all the way around.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Books of Magic

Neil Gaiman
John Bolton
Scott Hampton
Charles Vess
Paul Johnson

I keep returning to this book every so often because the fantasy is so primal. Who didn't think as a kid that magic was awesome. You just had to meet that certain stranger, find a book or a token, open the right door and bam! Magic!

It's too bad that Tim Hunter is untouchable thanks to Harry Potter. They are very similar, both are British boys with brown hair and glasses and they are both destined to be the greatest mages of their time.

In books of Magic, Tim is guided by the Phantom Stranger though Magic's past, by John Constantine and Zatanna through Magic's present, by Doctor Occult through Faerie and the Far Lands, and by Magic's future by Mister E. Neil Gaiman weaves DCs history around these voyages and gives you a sense of the history of magic in comics.

Books of Magic is full of wonderful tidbits. My favorite are: Zatara handling dead rabbits and explaining that he hides in plain sight. Zatanna and Tim partying with black and white magicians at Halloween, seeing Hamnet by Titania's throne in Faerie, and the weird green transparent humanoids living at the end of time.

So put down your Harry Potter and the whatever, if you want to read about true magic get the Books of Magic and the accompanying series.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Chicken With Plums

Marjane Satrapi

What I like most about this comic is the structure of the story. It simmers like a nice stew and as you stir the pot secret desires and connections reveal themselves in the most appetizing ways.

The story follows a man, Nasser Ali, a famous Tar (traditional Iranian percussion instrument) player. His wife in a fit breaks his Tar and since he cannot find solace in another instrument decides to lay down and die. He doesn't eat for seven days.

As he dies slowly, certain events in his life float to the surface of his memories and we come to find that no one in the story is blameless, or innocent, or truly guilty. They are all petty, foolish, grubby, selfish, heartbroken people.

The story has as many layers as the title dish, chicken with plums, has flavors and Marjane's unique illustrations provide the depth we need to empathize with Nasser, a selfish and tragic character.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Superman Family Vol. 1

The Betrayal of Superman (no credits found)

There's something endearing about Jimmy Olsen. He can be so arrogant and naive, at the same time. He's so smug about his endless queues of mad scientists clamoring for his attention and his face fills with childlike wonder as soon as the kooky inventions work!

In The Betrayal of Superman, through the most absurd and complicated events we see just what a real pal, Jimmy Olsen is. This is the theme of almost every single Jimmy Olsen story ever. This one is special because Jimmy pretends to be Scotland Yard with fake British accent and mannerisms.

Jimmy needs to help his other pal, an private PI who needs an operation and in order to get the money, he needs to solve the case of Superman's identity. Jimmy goes diligently to work. Getting a set of fingerprints off a cornerstone (Why Superman touches the cornerstone is not explained), a set of footprints in mud, figuring out his weight because Superman stood on a scale with a bunch of stones (for charity!) and then Jimmy subtracted the weight of each stone from the total, and measuring his height because Superman leaves cartoon cutouts of himself each time he breaks through a wall!

Here's the complicated part.

Jimmy calls Mr. X (the client) and arranges a meeting with Superman disguised in his secret identity. We are led to believe that Jimmy found out it was Clark, because Clark is at the house where the meeting will take place. Clark has his back turned to Mr. X so that his face is hidden. Mr. X shoots Clark because that is how you check to see if random people aren't Superman. I mean don't you check if bullets bounce off your neighbor? Mr. X leaves frustrated though because Superman never turns around and so never shows his face!

It turns out Superman was in on the case all along! Jimmy and his best pal Superman have a great time mocking Mr. X and taking the $1000 from this case to the Private Investigator in need of an operation! Everything is super duper!

Or is it? As Jimmy cleans his desk, he finds the photo proofs of Superman in different disguises and in one of them he has glasses! Superman sweats bullets until Jimmy rips the picture saying the glasses were drawn crooked. JA JA JA wink towards the reader and Superman is safe once again.

Queen and Country: Operation Broken Ground: Report of Proceedings 1

Greg Rucka
Steve Rolston

I feel kind of lukewarm with this comic. On the one hand I like government intrigue and officials playing off each other with hidden agendas, but on the other hand I know very little of British Intelligence to make heads or tales of what's going on.

The story follows Tara Chase who is Minder 2 in this agency, which looks like the CIA. They communicate with the CIA throughout the story, each agency owing the other favors. Tara was sent to Kosovo to kill a "General" dealing in arms and who knows what. She completes the mission, and gets home safely through the skin of her teeth. The guys who really liked this "General" retaliate in British soil and it all becomes a dialogue heavy discussion about whether to capture them alive or to kill them. Paul Crocker, the Director of Operations, wants them dead and he deals with the CIA and tries to keep Tara from becoming bait in the operation to capture them.

It's not as confusing as it sounds, but it's also not as exciting. I never thought Tara was in real danger, and all the different directors and rules left me confused. There was no personal interaction between characters, at one point I thought Tara might be pregnant or having an affair with Paul (it would explain why he is so protective) but nothing came of it.

The art was too cartoony for the story, and it was funny to read that many critics thought so at the time. It wasn't distracting but it did made me wonder why it wasn't as gritty as it could be. It could have been the sharp contrast between the Tim Sale covers and the interior art. Tim Sale's heavy inks would've helped the mood Rucka was going for. Shady dealings under the cover of daily life.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

On the subject of Race in The Hunger Games

Back in December I read The Hunger Games. Now as casting for the movie is well under way it seems Jennifer Lawrence is the top choice to play Katniss. Jennifer Lawrence was the lead in Winter's Bone which I thought had a LOT of similarities to Hunger Games. Both book and movie deal with the poverty predominantly white people suffer in the Appalachia.

This has stricken a cord with people who didn't place a specific race on Katniss (the main character in the books). She's described as having dark hair and grey eyes, but there's no mention of her skin "creamy, rich, or luminescent" adjectives anywhere. So in theory you can place yourself in Katniss no matter the race which is a good way to play it. Kudos, Suzanne Collins!

But the book does hint at problematic race relations in the Districts. They are separated by race, because Rue is clearly described as African-American(/Panem?).
"And most hauntingly, a twelve-year-old girl from District 11. She has dark brown skin and eyes, but other than that, she's very like Prim in size and demeanor."
[On a side note, the Hunger Games Wiki has a picture of Rue and she's shown as white. Whitewashing Wikis-- Good Lord!] Anyway...

So Rue has dark brown skin and District 11 (where she's from) deals with agriculture. She's kind of living in a "slave" like environment where they pick crops, get very little food, and have their lives dictated upon by higher ups. Oh yeah and Rue sings to signal the end of the day-- which I hope is a play on stories where slaves are so happy to be slaves that they sing-- or I also hope it's a small tribute to how slaves communicated escape planes through song so the higher ups wouldn't get it.

In this case, Katniss' life sounds more like the poverty stricken white people working in coal mines. Her District is more lenient, and Katniss enjoys a great deal of liberty compared to Rue. Katniss hunts and is respected for her ability and skill. But Rue is just another cog in the agriculture machine. Race plays a subtle but important part in The Hunger games and it would be a shame to lose it in the movie where in can play a more prominent role.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Brain Camp

Susan Kim
Laurence Klavan
Faith Erin Hicks

We bought this book for Faith Erin Hick's art and nothing more. That the story is actually good is a bonus.

This is one of the creepiest body snatcher type stories that I have read in a while. Parents are shipping off their lackluster kids to Camp Fielding where they become prodigies in music and sciences. Our main characters, Jenna (a fantasy geek) and Lucas (hoodlum with an abusive mom) are forced to stay at Camp Fielding and eventually find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy. It reads like a modern Twilight Zone episode including the ambiguous ending.

This could have been a cliche story but there's enough original twists that keep it interesting coupled with Faith Erin Hick's art and you get something that makes you nauseous, then makes you appreciate the simple lines and expressive gestures, and then makes you nauseous again.

It would make a killer animated series.


Marjane Satrapi

Marjane describes an afternoon chatting with her relatives and their friends, while drinking Samovar. The men are doing their thing, so the ladies are free to talk and gossip.

Much of this gossip is dedicated sexual and gender matters and how the Iranian society sees them and deals with them. The title of the story, Embroideries, refers to a surgery to renew your virginity. They speak of it like a commonplace thing although some of the women think it's a horrid procedure. The other conversations are mostly about how hard it is too keep your husband from cheating or about conned weddings.

The standout of the ladies is Parvine, she's an artist and very liberated. She's the most outspoken one, and it made me curious to see her life beyond the sanctuary of this circle. One of Marjane's themes is how the outspoken women change outside the house and underneath the vale.

The saddest (but kind of funny) one, who is not mentioned by name though, says she's never seen her husband's penis, testicles or semen. He turns off the light and jackhammers away. Since she had four baby girls she has no clue what the other's are talking about.

The book could have been a thousand pages longer, you really don't want to stop reading about them. You feel or wish that you had family that was half as interesting or as open in their conversations about sex and gender.

Marvel's Strange Tales

Various artists and writers

Since this is an anthology of different artists and writers doing their favorite Marvel characters, I'll focus on the standouts. The art in all of the stories ranges from fantastic to pretty good, but some of the stories fall flat and are downright "dark for the sake of dark" and I'm really not into that right now.

Junko Mizuno's Spiderman deals with moving to a city where everyone is a spider, and he's not so special. But instead of moving somewhere else, he stays put because Mary jane is enjoying living there. Cute as usual.

James Kolchalka's Hulk is very very cute and a bit like Charlie Brown which is great.

Jhonen Vazquez's M.O.D.O.K. was more of the same very morbid and funny, but it missed the poignant train. If you want a truly depressing M.O.D.O.K. tale read Nick Bertozzi's story. It will wipe the smile of your face.

All in all though the stories are not ground breaking and some are downright bland. It's a great art book though.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Hobbit

J. R. R. Tolkien

I had read The Hobbit in high school a couple of times. I think my mom bought it for me when she used to bring me used books from her shopping trips to Rio Piedras. I wasn't aware of the Lord Of The Rings, but I liked The Hobbit fine as it was.

Reading it now (after watching the Lord Of The Rings trilogy and almost finishing the books) it feels like a very rushed book. There are big battle scenes that flash by, and there's world building chapters that screech to a halt. Contrast the description of the Halls in the Lonely Mountain which go on and on in detail, with the really quick resolution to the Smaug problem. It's a similar situation with the characters, some you really get to know and others you forget are there. I forgot about half the Dwarves in the company of Thorin.

The Hobbit is more filmable than the Lord of The Rings trilogy so I'm not worried about the movie. What I'm very curious about is how the Ring will work. They really built it up as a sinister force in LOTR and in the Hobbit the Ring is just another magical object. When Frodo puts the Ring on it's a direct line to Sauron (because he was looking for it), but when Bilbo puts on the Ring it means harmless invisibility (and he exploits a lot). Since Bilbo loves to hide in times of trouble, and since in Fellowship of The Ring we never see Bilbo's point of view while wearing the Ring, I'm almost afraid that Bilbo won't be seen for a whole movie!

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Slippery Slope

Lemony Snicket

Sunny is separated from her siblings and Violet and Klaus must climb Mount Fraught to rescue her. In the way, Sunny learns some new recipes and Violet and Klaus meet new and old characters. Carmelita Spats is back, she was the bully in The Austere Academy (Volume #5) as well as Bruce from The Reptile Room (Volume #2) but the most important ones are: Quigley Quagmire! The third Quagmire triplet! (Quagmires were in The Austere Academy, then in Count Olaf's clutches until The Vile Village- Volume #7) The other new characters are the "Man with a beard but no hair" and the "Woman with hair but no beard".

The Man and Woman (for short) make Count Olaf very nervous, but intriguingly they are in disguise. They are doing exactly what Klaus and Violet did to hide themselves in the Carnivorous Carnival. The Man has a high voice and the Woman has a low voice. Even though it is explained that both sides of the Volunteer Schism are employing the same techniques for disguises, I can't shake the feeling they are not as evil as they seem. They are dead set on getting the Sugar Bowl with a secret message inside, and it could be because they are evil or because they are good Volunteers in disguise.

The theme of becoming villainous by fighting villains is explored here when the kids dig a pit to catch Esmé and trade her for Sunny. The kids regret it and invent another plan, but the line in the sand moved slightly.

The most alluring thing from the Lemony Snicket storyline is the letter hidden to his sister, where he writes that he is to meet her at the Hotel Denouement (the last safe place for Volunteers) and it is heavily implied by way of a recipe that the Baudelaire's mom is Lemony Snicket's sister and that she is alive! Here's hoping that it is true!

Wonder Girl #1

J.T. Krull
Adriana Melo

Cassie visits her mom at a archeology conference in London, but I don't know why. Her mom is so mean to her! She has the most hilarious sourpuss face during the whole visit! She even comes off as slightly stupid, asking Cassie why she couldn't fly on a plane like regular folk. But let's be real here, this is not an issue about Cassie and her mom patching things up, it's about meeting Solstice and how she's so well adjusted.

Solstice is Desi-american (or is she English?) and she's really, really cute! Her costume is bright and sunny, very simple but pretty. Like her! She's strong, and has light base powers. Solstice and Cassie fight Lady Zand! RULER OF ZANDIA! (sigh) and they win, duh!

The ending was kinda rushed, and I don't really believe Cassie's mom is that bitter. Solstice parents are super happy (like her!) but Cassie has a long way to go with her mom. It's only an issue (and a short one at that!) and I wish we'd have some space to explore her mom and her prejudices, because any parent would be proud of Cassie. Except that time when she hung out with the Kryptonian cultists.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier

Alan Moore
Kevin O'Neill

Rather than go in-depth into all the references in the text, or even try to explain the non-existant plot of this book, I will write about what a massive waste of time it was. Art aside of course, Kevin O'Neill does fantastic work as usual. Even in the 3D section of the book. It's all presentation, though, all the unpleasantness lies in the story and the book design.

We all know Alan Moore is obsessed with his prose work and forces it into his sequential work. Sometimes it works fine (Watchmen) sometimes not so much (Black Dossier). Black Dossier is not enough prose to be a novel, and there's not enough sequential art to qualify as a comic book, and the result is tedious and hard to read. In theory, it's fun to write in the styles of different genres but in practice it comes off as phony and, god forbid, amateurish. This is particularly true in the "beatnik novel- The Crazy Wide Forever" (UGH!) section of the book. It's so cringe worthy it caused me to give up on the book, once. I really have no idea what happened in those five pages! This an error in design as well as pretentious writing. The mass paperback novels they are trying to imitate are usually about 4 inches wide, so that even though the text in crammed in the sentences are an easy to read ten or fifteen words long. The Black Dossier is much, much wider and the sentences are longer but the text is still crammed in (for authenticity!). It makes reading laborious!
The strange format doesn't just affect the design of the book, but the story shifts gears and doesn't feel like a LOEG story at all. Here's the plot- Mina and a young Allan Quartermain steal the Black Dossier from Vauxhall (Military Intelligence HQ) they take a detour to Greyfriars where they find out the members of the Big Brother party, and all English spies went to this same school, and then head to the Birmingham Spaceport, where they escape in a rocket to Dunbayne and they meet their contact and they travel to the Blazing World. They were chased by James Bond, and in the prose works we learn a lot about this England and all the incarnations of the LOEG, as well as in France and Germany. Mina and Allan are actually reading the book with you, so it's all impossibly boring!
Other than to meet indirectly the character of Orlando, and to introduce copious amounts of sex there's nothing in this book that is necessary reading to understand volumes 1 and 2 of LOEG! Nothing! The essays talk about anything from the creation of Gods to Shakespeare to erotic literature to Mina's first encounter with Nemo, and in the end you are left with jumbled images of a greater story. The worst sin is that Mina, Allan (and all the rest) KNOW they are "supernaturals" of this world. That they are special and magical, because of their adventures. The other books gave you the idea that these were regular folks whose infamous exploits were recorded in books (Mina mentions reading Quatermain's stories twice!) and in a world were EVERYONE is a literature character, why are they so special? It cancels the concept of LOEG! It make's it another fantasy story.

The other unpardonable thing Alan Moore does is waste the Orwell and Lovecraft mythos. Mina and Allan were in America during the Big Brother years which seemed to have been very easy to live through, and when they return to England in 1958, it's a society shaking off a few years of extreme socialist regime as if nothing really affected them. The Elder Gods are reduced to a few mentions here and there, and a hokey short story. Of all the times to NOT imitate genre, Alan Moore forgoes the heavy and paranoid writings of Lovecraft heroes for something light and stupid.

It would have been much better if Alan Moore had written two different stories each dealing with Elder Gods and Big Brother than this self serving mess.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Carnivorous Carnival

Lemony Snicket

This is the eighth book in the A Series of Unfortunate Events collection. The books follow the misadventures of the Baudelaire orphans as they escape from Count Olaf, who makes his living by killing families and children by setting their homes on fire to steal their fortunes. The Baudelaires prove too smart for his schemes though, because Violet is a fine inventor, Klaus is a fine reader and Sunny (the baby) is a fine biter and recently a fine chef!

Their lives since their parents died have been a series of miserable adventures, where not one of the adults who are supposed to take care of them do a good job. Count Olaf disguises himself and he either murders the Baudelaires' guardians, or sends them running. We know all this, because Lemony Snicket is researching the lives of the Baudelaires, and one of the most charming aspects of the books are he tantalizing tidbits he drops of HIS adventures and connections with Count Olaf.

The Baudelairse have been hiding in plain sight as freaks in the Carnival, while Olaf has been getting hints about the kids whereabouts from Madame Lulu, a fortune teller. Everyone is looking for the Snicket File which may contain information about who survived the fire in the Baudelaire mansion. The kids have hope that one of their parents is alive. They also want to know about V.F.D. which can mean many, many things. However, Olaf proves too wily for the kids this time and the ending of The Carnivorous Carnival is truly heartbreaking.

The theme of this book is whether trying to please everyone is a good thing since, if you give everyone what they want, you may end up giving in to the desires of murderous people like Olaf. It also teaches us to not give in to what other people expect of us, just because you are freaky doesn't mean you can't function in society. It also talks about how people enjoy violence and messy eating, which is a good definition of "Reality TV" as any.

I can't explain the charm of these books without mentioning just how clever they are. The writing is witty and super smart. There's a lot for the adults to enjoy, they are the most mature children's book you'll ever read. They are complex, and funny, and sad, and wonderful. You'll fall in love, I guarantee it.

Invincible Ultimate Collection Vol. 3


More setup in this volume, with Sinclair making more Reanimen, in a storyline that's been boiling since the beginning, and the Martian (who took the astronaut who was left on Mars' place) gives being a superhero a chance.

Invincible meets his Dad, Nolan who's married and has a baby. He's been living in another planet hiding from the Viltrumite Empire. They find him, and have bloody fight and in the end Invincible is left to take care of his half brother, and Nolan is captured by the Empire. Invincible takes his baby bro to his Mom, and she finally has something to make her stop drinking.

When Mark and Amber take a vacation to Africa to visit Eve, Angstrom Levy (the guy who could travel into alternate dimensions and ended up absorbing all his "alternates" information about said dimensions but was disfigured in the process) beat up Mark's mom and tried to kill Invincible by throwing him into dimensions. After, a while Invincible got the upper hand and accidentally killed Levy. He's stranded but the FUTURE Guardians of the Globe save him which begs the question, could Levy time travel? Because I thought he traveled to dimensions with different times...

The plots in this volume move at a nicer pace and the cliffhanger was really good. Even though I complain that the story-lines simmer too much, I must say that Kirkman does a great job at tying up loose ends, nothing is wasted but it's not predictable.

The Graveyard Book

Neil Gaiman

I am a big fan of Neil Gaiman's comics and novels (who isn't?) but I'm the first to admit that sometimes it's hit or miss. Neverwhere and Stardust are good, though not as great as American Gods or Coraline.

The Graveyard Book sadly, falls into the good not great category. Neil Gaiman has stated that this is his version of The Jungle Book, which I haven't read. I'm sure that most of my complaints about the story are because this is a retread of The Jungle Book and not a truly original story.

The story follows a little baby whose family is murdered by one of the Jack of Trades. The baby wanders to the Graveyard and is adopted by the ghosts, and given Freedom of The Graveyard. The books are divided into short stories from Nobody's life (the little baby), and his guardians (the ghosts and Silas- a mysterious creature). There were a lot of great ideas in the stories, and in true Gaiman fashion all the threads are tied neatly in the end. Still, the big picture doesn't flow at all, some important elements are abandoned for Bod's relationships with the ghosts, and the ending is a bit unsatisfying, and it's all because Neil Gaiman was set on doing The Jungle Book. The Graveyard Book would've shined as a comic, but as a novel it's just ok.

Invincible Ultimate Collection Vol. 2


Mark is dealing with going to college, and with the dissolution of his family. His father is MIA and his Mom is drowning her loneliness and sorrow with drink. Mark's good attitude abides, though, so he approaches every challenge positive that he'll figure a way around it. As far as his personal life, he's devastated over his family, but he knows to put it aside so he can be a student and a superhero. This is what I like most about Mark, he doesn't dwell, but he's not denying his emotions, they're boiling underneath the surface.

Mark's adventures as Invincible are varied, and this is the part I didn't like. This whole volume feels like a huge setup for Invincible's villains. The stories are vignettes that for now don't have much to do with Marks life. Whether, Invincible escorts some astronauts to Mars only to leave one of them behind possessed by parasites or Invincible unwittingly helping a new "kingpin" of crime take over, the payoffs will be in the future. The most tiresome of these setups, is the multiple dimensions storyline. Since we didn't actually see any of the other worlds, and I honestly didn't care about the characters, I found it tedious. Over all, even though most of the villains are interesting or funny, the pacing of their stories is slow, but since this is the result of focusing on Mark's personal life, I don't mind.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Yotsuba&! #9

Hiyohiko Azuma

Asagi attempts to catch candy at a hot air balloon race. She's waylaid by the savage children. You can almost hear her "oomph!".

Batwoman #0

J.H. Williams
W. Haden Blackman
Amy Reeder

This story is all about Bruce Wayne trying to figure out if Kate Kane is Batwoman, and if Batwoman is trained and ready to be part of the franchise. This makes perfect sense because Bruce hasn't seen Kate or the whole Cult of Cain business. When Batwoman first appeared, Bruce was having his forty nights in the desert to exorcise his demons, and in Final Crisis almost no one saw Kate at all! She a was a "blink and you miss her" Female Fury. So now, finally, Bruce can see what all the hoopla is about. This is a great introduction to Kate-Batwoman for people who missed Rucka's run on Detective Comics.

What is really perfection in this comic, is Amy Reeder drawing Kate in civilian life, and JHW drawing Batwoman proper. Amy Reeder gives Kate an instant likeability by making her look modern (no more frumpy nineties clothes!!), cool and you know, like a regular young lady! JHW continues drawing a moody and feral Batwoman, with extreme closeups to vicious smiles drenched in red lipstick. The art is so good it makes your back teeth hurt.

Yotsuba&! #8

Kiyohiko Azuma

Yotsuba&! is the only manga that makes me laugh out loud much to Carla's chagrin. So instead of going over the whole story, I'm posting the panel that made me laugh.

Yotsuba was so scared by the haunted mansion set up in Fuuka's school that she ROLLED out. ROLLED!
Ahhh Yotsuba!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Batman #666


I usually don't buy a lot of Batman comics, but after RIP and all the new titles that started after, I decided to give many of them a chance. Streets of Gotham and Gotham City Sirens I dropped pretty quickly, Detective with Batwoman and Batman and Robin became top of the pile choices. I must confess I really like Damien as written by Morrison in Batman and Robin.

So I took advantage of the New Year's Day sale and bought Batman 666 for $.99 through Comixology. It's the Future, I think it might be 20 years hence, and Damien is the new Batman. There's a heavy "Frank Miller" vibe with Damien monologuing and posturing. This Gotham is headed for the Apocalypse as orchestrated by the remaining replacement Batmen at the beginning of Morrison's run.

Bruce and Dick are gone, and Babs is the commissioner. A nod to the Batman Beyond animated series, maybe. She's very resentful of Damien and even has an anti-Batman policy. Damien kills the bad guys if he has to, a radical change of policy for Batman. However, he follows his father's other rules closely and he is always well prepared for any occasion.

What strikes most about this story, is that Damien doesn't seem to have an alternate personality. Bruce Wayne ditzy playboy or Dick Grayson's charm and idealistic young man were necessary respites from being Batman and Robin, but Damien has no other life than being Batman. He is alone, with no Robin to help him and no Alfred to keep him steady. Alfred is a cat, and Damien tends to his wounds alone. This is a stark contrast to the Batman: Brave and the Bold episode "Knights of Tomorrow" where Damien is Selina and Bruce's son and follows his father's footsteps by becoming Robin to Dick's Batman, and later on by having his daughter be Robin to his Batman (a clear nod to Dark Knight Returns).

There's also the fact that Damien alludes to selling his soul at the age of 14 to someone who could be the Devil or is actually the Devil in exchange for Gotham's survival. This is why he can get shot a couple of times and not die although he feels pain. So after fighting a Batman who thought he was the anti-christ, it turns out Damien is the anti-christ and he's waiting for the Devil to came claim him? Well if there's someone who can kill the Devil, other than the Saint of Killers, I guess it would be Damien. Bruce would be so proud!