Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The 9th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - May Roundup (Sticky Post— Scroll down for most recent post)

1. Click on the icon above
2. Add a link to your review. (Please link to your specific review, not an entire webpage.)
3. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book, such as John Mutford (Anne of Avonlea)
4. In the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. "This brings me up to 1/13")

Monday, May 02, 2016

Reader's Diary #1308- James Francis Dwyer: A Jungle Graduate

James Francis Dwyer's "A Jungle Graduate"could be a lesson on how to create an atmosphere of unease in a story, brilliantly appealing to our more base animal instincts. It's an especially interesting angle considering that a major theme of the story is showing respect for differences between animals and humans.

Essentially, it's a story within a story, as a man named Schreiber recounts an illustrative example, a warning tale, of a man who had little respect for the animal kingdom and the price he paid.

It's a pulpy little tale and as such you'll likely see the ending coming before it happens, but again, a great atmospheric story.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The 9th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - April Roundup (Sticky Post— Scroll down for most recent post)

1. Click on the icon above
2. Add a link to your review. (Please link to your specific review, not an entire webpage.)
3. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book, such as John Mutford (Anne of Avonlea)
4. In the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. "This brings me up to 1/13")

Friday, April 29, 2016

Reader's Diary #1307- Tite Kubo, translated by Akira Watanabe: Zombiepowder 1 / The Man with the Black Hand

Tite Kubo is better known for his Bleach series (which I still need to read) but the success of that drove many of his North American fans to explore his back catalogue. In serialized form, that back catalogue consisted solely of Zombiepowder.

In in brief introduction, Kubo seems to acknowledge the weaknesses of this series and excuse it for being his first graphic novel. "Mainly," he writes, "it's all battles. It's completely OK to just read it through without thinking about anything."

Well okay then. If I'm being honest, I didn't put a whole lot of thought into reading it in the first place beyond that it had "zombie" in the title. On that front, I was a little disappointed. Zombiepowder revolves around 12 Rings of the Dead which can bring the dead back to life. Besides the potential to turn the world into a Walking Dead-like utopia,  making them more of a hot commodity is their ability to give the living eternal life. Unfortunately, in this first volume, there are no zombies anywhere.

Almost making up for it is the criminal and ring-chaser Gamma Akutabi's amazing Dog-the-Bounty Hunter's hair (redundant). Beside Akutabi and his hair, the book also revolves his newly acquired young partner Elwood.

So, on the plus side is the hair and the action and a cool Western motif. On the negative side is the lack of zombies and art that is typical of rushed serialized manga (i.e., not a great deal of detail in any backgrounds).

An entertaining diversion, I suppose.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Reader's Diary #1306- Amy Wolfram (author), Karl Kerschl (artist): Teen Titans Year One (collected)

Never having been impressed with the idea of the Teen Titans in the first place, or DC's long standing trend of simply ripping off their old ideas and slapping the same powers on as many different demographics, and even different species in some cases, as they can, I nonetheless thought it might be at least fair to give one of their comics a chance. A good writer might still be able to salvage something, sell the idea, or place them in plots that are at least original.

I'll give Wolfram credit on that last point. I didn't mind the plots and the idea of the teens' adult equivalents being turned bad by a villain known as Antithesis, forcing the Titans to take them on and save the day, was a great way of establishing that they are a force to be reckoned with.

I still, however, didn't feel that Wolfram respected these characters much more than I, but the problem was I'd been hoping she'd change my mind. Most problematic are the characters of Wonder Girl and Aqua Lad. Wonder Girl comes across as physically strong, but otherwise a boy-crazy idiot. I get that she's a hormonal teen, but she should still be a little more complex than that. Aqua Lad, meanwhile, comes across as a laughably gross weirdo. For some Aquaman has always been a tough sell, but in recent years they've made strides in showing that he's not as lame as critics would have you believe*. Unfortunately, it would seem that Wolfram did believe it and in his teen knock-off version we get a pasty face geek who reeks of fish, gets advice from turtles, and breaks out in disgusting scales.

I was also not crazy about the art. My largest issue is one I don't know if I'd ever had before: pointy-ness. Small credit, I suppose, for being stylistically different than most superhero comics but if the result is knees that look like orange juicers, I'm not entirely convinced it was worth it.

(*Though, as I'd said before, I suspect that the amount of disrespect aimed at Aquaman was exaggerated by DC themselves so that he could have a "comeback," but nevertheless my point above remains.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

NL Government: Small Savings Now, Huge Costs in the Future

I had no idea when I woke up today that midway through the morning I'd be so outraged that I can hardly focus on work. But then I read this CBC News story about the Newfoundland government closing more than half of the province's public libraries.

I get that they are facing tough economic times because of their dependence on oil. I get that some tough decisions needed to be made. I even agreed with some of those decisions. But then I read about their tax on books (the first province to do so) and now libraries?

I'm at a loss. The province with the lowest literacy rates attacks literacy? How does that make sense? Make the books too expensive to buy and then make them inaccessible from libraries. In the article, it is stated that 85% of residents will still be within 30 minutes of a library. Even if we ignore the 15% who won't be, a 30 minute drive in a province with very little public transportation beyond the few major centers, is depriving the very ones who need access to libraries the most.

It is a war on literacy and as such, a war on the poor. We know that literacy is able to get people out of poverty and if the government is going to deny people that opportunity now, they'll just have to pay for it later.

I am from Newfoundland, so I obviously care deeply, but even if you are not I hope you are equally outraged because other short-sighted governments will follow suit. Mark my words.

Please, please, please loudly voice your displeasure. Here or elsewhere.

Reader's Diary #1305- Kate Beaton: Step Aside, Pops

As a fan of Beaton's first collection, Hark! A Vagrant, I was greatly looking forward to this follow up.

I was not, however, as big a fan this time around. To be honest, many felt like leftovers. If I said the first time that a few were too esoteric and escaped me, this time I'd say it was the majority and in some cases I wondered if there even was a punchline. That said, just as I was ready to believe that I wouldn't laugh at all— about halfway through the book— finally some funnier comics started to appear. Her bit skewering the irrational fear of feminists was hilarious as was her revision of Cinderella. 

In Hark! A Vagrant I had also been impressed by the cartooning. It was largely the same with this collection except for a couple that stood out as terrible. In these, the sketches looked rushed and the speech balloons overflowed their panels. Again, there may have been an artistic reason, but if so, I just didn't get it. 

It was worth it in the end for the few chuckles, but I wish there'd been more.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Reader's Diary #1304 - Brendan Fletcher (writer), Annie Wu, Pia Guerra, Sandy Jarrell (artists): Black Canary Vol. 1 / Kicking and Screaming

Not having yet made time for the Green Arrow tv show, not as well-versed in DC as Marvel in general, I was unfamiliar with Black Canary until she popped up in Cameron Stewart and Brendan Fletcher's (excellent) Batgirl of Burnside. After that Fletcher's Black Canary solo series came out to glowing reviews and it was game on.

And it was great! I'd not go as far as saying it was as good as Batgirl of Burnside, but definitely a lot of positives. First off, the art is great. I recently spoke a little negatively about Wu's art in the new Archie series, but here it's a perfect fit. It's just rough enough to fit the energy and attitude of the punk rock story but not slip it into an ultra dark introspective piece that would betray the focus on fun. Wu doesn't do all of the art, but when (Canadian) Pia Guerra takes over it is less jarring than when Wu took over from Fiona Staples in the aforementioned Archie book. Black Canary, a.k.a. Dinah Lance, bears a striking resemblance to Kesha if Kesha only had one outfit. Lee Loughridge's colouring is also superb, with most panels being monochromatic, giving panels warmth where necessary and always adding style.

Story wise, as I said above, it's fun. Revolving around Black Canary, the rock band (a good fit for a superhero whose talent is a sonic scream), there's a silent, mysterious, and young guitar player among them who seems to be attracting the unwanted attention of some unsavoury, possible alien, folks. At times the music angle is played hard and its Battle of the Bands scenarios make it feel like a Jem and the Holograms episode. Now, I was a big Jem fan, so that wasn't a real issue for me, but if you're going for realism, it's probably not going to cut it.

On that note, I wonder why rock music still seems to be the default cool music? I'm a big rock nerd, but even I have to admit that in real life it's pretty much dead. Pop, EDM, and hip hop are far more popular, and in many cases more innovative than most of the few new rock bands who have sprung up in the past 10 years. I'd love for rock, especially good punk rock, to make a resurgence, but as good as Black Canary is, I doubt it's the needed catalyst.