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 30, 2017

Reader's Diary #1597- Peter Milligan and Larry Hama (writers), Mike Deodato Jr. (artist): Elektra The Complete Collection

A funny thing happened while reading this collection: I went from hating the art to forgetting about it (not the same as enjoying it) while not minding the story-telling to hating it.

Mike Deodato Jr.'s art was sexist and lame. Elektra's body proportions and movements looked so exaggerated and impossible I seriously began to suspect that he used a Barbie doll. Worse still, he then broke that Barbie doll's spine so that she could heave out her chest as much as possible and dressed her a one piece that barely covered her vulva let alone her butt.. to fight in!

Thankfully I didn't mind Elektra's character and looked forward to getting to know her. The vengeful woman who is desperately trying her damnedest to be good is intriguing and likeable. Eventually however her story got bogged down with two dimensional side characters. I'd be okay with secondary characters, of course, put these were either poorly written or underdeveloped. First there was Mac, her Steven Segal-looking boyfriend without the personality. Then there was Konrad, a Broadway director whose personality gets trapped in a woman's body. I feel like they tried something progressive there, but failed miserably. There was nothing stating that Konrad was transsexual before and yet he seems to quickly come to peace with this new body. Um. I don't think the message that people should be happy regardless of the sex is of their current physical form is as progressive as all that. Finally there was Nina, a teenage girl that Elektra takes in early on in the collection, barely interacts with, then watches her get killed. Of course, being Marvel, she comes back to life and I guess it's supposed to be emotionally gut-wrenching when she then turns on Elektra, but the bond was never adequately established in the first place.

All in all, this was a disappointing collection.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Reader's Diary #1596- Kate Reuther: A Man Walks Into a Bar

Last week I had remarked that my Short Story Monday selection read like a joke. Coincidentally, Kate Reuther's "A Man Walks Into a Bar" uses this approach intentionally. And it's so much better for it.

I've long thought that good jokes were like flash fiction and I'm a huge fan of "into a bar" jokes, so this story was completely up my alley.

While playing homage to the puns, Reuther subverts the humor as the story progresses. If a man spends this much time walking into a bar, there's likely something very sad going on. Like Cheers without the laugh track.

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.