Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The 10th 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")

And in prize news, congratulations once again to Irene for winning a copy of T. K. Boomer's Planet Song for taking part in last month's mini-challenge to read a Canadian eBook. Canadian Book Challenge mini-challenges are exclusive to members via email.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Reader's Diary #1595- Rick Remender (writer), various artists: Venom, The Complete Collection Volume 1

Confession time:I didn't mind Topher Grace as Venom in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3.

With that out of the way, and with hardcore Venom fans writing me off as a fraud and moving on, I'll also admit that Venom's not a character to whom I've paid a lot of attention. I used to think of him primarily as a villain, but I've since seen that he's sometimes considered a hero and well, all that has piqued my interest.

I do feel that Rick Remender's Venom gives a good sense of what the character is all about. Sort of. Venom is, in Marvel lingo, a symbiote. The name might be considered a misnomer considering that it triggers connotations of symbiosis rather than parasitism and Venom blurs that line. A sentient alien goo, it attaches itself to a human host and gives that person strength and shape shifting abilities. One also assumes Venom gets something from the relationship. So far, so good. But, if one leaves the goo attached too long (as Flash Thompson does from time to time in this collection), Venom begins to take over. It also seems to react to the hosts emotions and takes over when the host feels threatened or angry. Furthermore, human morals are not necessarily alien morals and when Venom takes over, the line between hero and villain is also blurred.

With such a unique and foreign concept as Venom then, it's a difficult character to pin down. Remender does what I assume most would in his case: focuses instead on the host. Enter Flash Thompson (not Eddie Brock of the aforementioned movie, though he does make an appearance). First introduced way back in the day, Flash was a high school bully to Spider-Man's Peter Parker. Here Remender fleshes out the character a lot more, giving him a background and what not. There's a pretty solid argument to make that he overdid the tragic angle (Flash is an alcoholic war amp with some pretty severe daddy issues) but this also makes the Venom angle edgier. If the symbiote reacts to human emotion, having him latch unto such an emotionally unstable wreck as Flash Thompson promises a lot of drama.

As a collection, it's pretty good, though calling it complete is not entirely accurate and there were a few moments when gaps were clearly filled in in stories not included here. Still, it's coherent for the most part and pretty solid exciting storytelling.

Despite the variety of different artists, the art is surprisingly consistent. Most seemed to have fun with the idea of an inky shape-shifting, slightly humanoid monster and went with it. The real task was honing in the chaos to still create something visually legible and they succeeded with aplomb. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Reader's Diary #1594- Barry Rosen: A Visit to Tim Horton's

Barry Rosen's "A Visit to Tim Horton's" very much reads like a joke: Sigmund Freud, Elvis Presley, and Tim Horton meet at the eponymous coffee joint. There are even a few punch lines here or there, but ultimately this reader's anticipation was not rewarded.

It's quirky and entertaining, though, and considering that it's all rather pointless, mercifully short.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Reader's Diary #1593- Chris Claremont (writer), John Byrne (artist): The Uncanny X-Men / The Dark Phoenix Saga

I've read a few solo X-Men titles, but surprisingly few featuring a team of them. But it was the word that "The Dark Phoenix Saga" would be adapted for a movie next year that drew my attention. It turns out to be one of the most respected storylines in the X-Men canon.

I suppose the underlying plot still holds up well enough. It centers around Jean Grey whose ever-increasing superpowers prove to be too much. He absolute power corrupts her absolutely, essentially turning her into an entirely different creature: the murderous and power-lusting Dark Phoenix. Her former friends and teammates a terrible emotional and physical battle as they attempt to destroy the Dark Phoenix while saving Jean Grey.

As a comic as a whole, however, it's terribly dated. The garish colours are all uniformly applied in that colour-by-numbers approach of the time; though I suppose, depending on your viewpoint, perhaps that could be seen as charming. Less debatable is the tendency to tell the story through narration and thought balloons.

I also felt that the story was dragged out a bit at the end, essentially wrapped up in the penultimate comic in the collection, but with a tacked out moon battle in the final issue.

On the plus side, a few essential characters are introduced in the comic, namely Emma Frost and Kitty Pryde.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Reader's Diary #1592- Lucy Clifford: The New Mother

Lucy Clifford's "The New Mother" reminds me of Dwight Schrute's cautionary tales for kids; overly horrific tales meant to teach children a lesson.

On that note, "The New Mother" is more creepy-weird than perversely violent, and essentially it's a lesson on not giving into temptations that will provide a few minutes enjoyment at the cost of misbehaving (a lesson just as applicable to adults).

Still, it's a bizarre and fascinating tale that reads more as horror than as a moralistic story.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Reader's Diary #1591- Various writers and artists: X-23 Complete Series

In the early 2000s Marvel began its MAX imprint with edgier, uncensored titles. I've read a few titles from this run, but how the X-23 stories didn't fall under this banner, I have no idea. They certainly disturbed me more than say, the Punisher.

Of course, we all have certain lines that make us more uncomfortable and child abuse is one of mine. If you've seen Stranger Things and were bothered over Eleven's childhood as a weaponized experiment, magnify that by... well, 11, and then don't let up on it. There's a lot of physical and emotional abuse is what I'm saying.

If that doesn't make you turn away, the stories are still thrilling and, perhaps because of the abuse and X-23's determination to be good, to rise above everyone's ill intentions and stop being used, it's next to impossible not to root for her. A secondary, but also compelling character is X-23's mother who is treated with an unexpected level of complexity for a comic book where good and evil tends to be black and white.

With many artists involved, it's not consistent in quality, but it's largely good. Mike Choi's work on the "Target X" story line was my favourite with its realism and artistic paneling, plus superior colouring by Sonia Oback.  

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Reader's Diary #1590- Dan Abnett (writer), Luke Ross (artist): Hercules Still Going Strong

Though he was in the periphery of many Marvel comics that I've read, I still didn't know much about Hercules. Of course, I'm a little familiar with the non-Marvel mythology, but I've been a little in the dark with how he's been interpreted by Marvel.

This is not a bad collection to understand his role at Marvel, though perhaps best to see where he's going rather than where he's been. It's not an origin story (i.e., how he has wound up in present day New York), but there are hints of his drunken, playboy past as he has now decided to get his life back on track, to stop being a joke and return to his hero roots.

The action is good (it involves a new class of "gods" who are trying to get rid of any left from the old mythology, but the sub-story of Hercules' battle with alcoholism brings it a notch higher than standard fare. Considering he goes around shirtless (and hairy) with a man-bun, the humanity angle was also much needed to take him serious as a character.

The art is fine, if rather generic.