Thursday, July 27, 2017

Reader's Diary #1628- Marguerite Bennett and Cameron Deordio (writers), Audrey Mok (artist): Josie and the Pussycats Volume One

After enjoying the more modern, mature, and acclaimed titles from Archie Comics lately (Archie, Jughead, and Sabrina), I had high hopes for Marguerite Bennett and Cameron Deordio's Josie and the Pussycats.

Unfortunately I couldn't get into this one at all. Largely it was due to the humour. Sure there were lots of jokes but they seemed to land with a thud, shoe-horned into the story without really adding to it. And I'll acknowledge up front that humour is a personal taste, maybe this just wasn't for me. It just seemed that the punchlines, by and large, weren't punchlines at all but rather references to something in pop culture, as if that alone made it funny.

I also didn't come to care for the characters. Josie gets more development than the other two Pussycats, and while her character grows, she's still not exactly charming, seems to want fame for fame sake. Her friend Valerie thankfully gets a little spotlight toward the end, but her other friend Melody is woefully neglected except for supposed comic relief. She's also a confusing character; is she supposed to be an airhead or a genius or what?

Audrey Mok's art is fine, balancing realism against cartoonish expressions, and it's coloured wonderfully by Andre Szymanowicz and Kelly Fitzpatrick.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Reader's Diary #1627- Doug Urquhart: Eyes of the Husky

I'll be honest; the only reasons I chose to read Doug Urquhart's Eyes of the Husky was the fact that it was a) comics and b) written by a northerner. I wasn't particularly impressed by the art on the cover and the example of humour shown was of the "men are [insert stereotype here] while women are [insert stereotype here]" variety.

I adapted more quickly to the art, which is better than the cover would suggest. Also, Urquhart provides side notes to all of the strips, and many times these explain his artistic technique. He clearly knew very well what he was doing.

As for the stereotypes, yes, those remained bountiful throughout. He seems to think that true northerners, especially the men, are all great outdoors people. He'd probably be disgusted that a homebound dandy like myself have managed to live happily in the north for 15 years. In any case, the stereotypes are usually used to show humorous contrasts (between scientists and bushmen, men and women, man and beast, northerners and southerners) and though grossly generalized all seem to be in good jest. And I'll even concede that often I found some kernels of truth. More importantly I did remain amused.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Reader's Diary #1626- Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Stefano Caselli (artist): Riri Williams / Invincible Ironman Ironheart Vol. 1

Not that I don't enjoy many DC Comics, but I'm definitely a Marvel man. One of the sticking points for me for DC was the Teen Titans, most of whom were just teenage versions of existing superheroes. Perhaps it's my Marvel bias, but I'm not, however, opposed to the new versions of classic Marvel characters, most of whom are also teenage (Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, the Hulk, etc). One reason I'm enjoying them more is because— and it's about time— they're not white.

Of course, the stories need to still be good. It needs to feel organic, not forced. By and large, Riri's first turn as Ironman's replacement, Ironheart, is a success. She's a rich character with brains and just enough emotional baggage to keep her interesting without being over the top. There are a couple of moments where she (or Bendis) are arguably proselytizing progressive attitudes but the case could also be made that Riri is just meant to be a very woke character (fitting for her age).

The art is pretty decent; standard superhero-brand realism, but great character expressions and colouring.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Reader's Diary #1625- Nicole Mullen: Read This If Your Child Was Eaten By a Pelican

I stumbled upon Nicole Mullen's "Read This If Your Child Was Eaten By a Pelican" last week and because of the title, I just had to read it.

I was enjoying it quite a bit; it was as funny and bizarre as the title promised, plus it's got great description and a modern voice. Then I came upon the line,
I should have known that those dock pelicans, emboldened by the generosity and passivity of the sockless, boat-shoed and pancake-breasted weekend warrior sailboat fags that populate the docks, would not only see my son as non-threatening, but delicious even.
Yeah, that word "fags" jumps out. Clearly an offensive word, it's distracting to say the least. It also makes the narrator far less likeable. That's okay, I rationalized, I don't have to like a character to appreciate a good story. And maybe making her a bigot makes her more believable?

Then I came to end and saw the two sentence author bio: "Just a fun mom and a teacher at a retarded school. I like recipes and my kids."

Hmmm. Retarded school? Does this woman still have a job?

So I clicked on the link to her Twitter page and it turns out that Nicole Mullen is a pen-name of comedian Nick Mullen. And Nick Mullen, it turns out, is no stranger to controversy. I'm not going to weigh in on that as I don't want to expend the energy going through his work. (I can appreciate off-colour humour if done right.) But back to story at hand, I'll say that the 2 words in question above add nothing to the otherwise good story and unfortunately even detract from it. Negative shock value.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Confession Redux

It was ten years ago that I confessed to not having read some pretty major titles, books that no self-proclaimed bibliophile should have skipped:

1. Harper Lee- To Kill A Mockingbird
2. Jane Austen- Pride and Prejudice
3. Joseph Conrad- Heart of Darkness
4. Bill Bryson- A Short History of Nearly Everything
5. Joseph Heller- Catch 22
6. Vladimir Nabokov- Lolita
7. Gabriel Garcia Marquez- One Hundred Years of Solitude
8. J. R. R. Tolkien- The Hobbit
9. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle- The Hound of The Baskervilles
10. Charles Dickens- A Tale of Two Cities
11. Louisa May Alcott- Little Women
12. Ian McEwan- Atonement
13. Douglas Adams- The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
14. Don Delilo- White Noise
15. Carson McCullers- The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter
16. Richard Adams- Watership Down
17. Scott O'Dell- Island Of The Blue Dolphins
18. Salman Rushdie- The Satanic Verses
19. Madeleine L'Engle- A Wrinkle In Time
20. Katherine Patterson- Bridge To Terebithia

It was shocking. I could barely show my face in public. But now, 10 years later (at an impressive rate of 2 books per year!), I can finally say I am well-read.

What's the sound of tires screeching while a record scratches?

Yes, apparently my ranking as a reader has only risen to amateur. To be a professional, I will have to commit to reading the following:

1. Geoffrey Chaucer - The Canterbury Tales
2. Thomas Pynchon - Gravity's Rainbow
3. Jonathan Franzen - The Corrections
4. Anne Brontë - Agnes Grey
5. Ayn Rand- Atlas Shrugged
6. Charles Darwin - On the Origin of Species
7. Albert Camus - The Stranger
8. Nathaniel Hawthorne - The Scarlet Letter
9. Henry Miller - Tropic of Cancer
10. Dante Alighieri - Divine Comedy
11. Unknown - Beowolf
12. Ralph Ellison - Invisible Man
13. Nalo Hopkinson - Brown Girl in the Ring 
14. Chinua Achebe - Things Fall Apart
15. Charlotte Brontë - Jane Eyre
16. D.H. Lawrence - Sons and Lovers
17. James Joyce - Ulysses
18. Frank Herbert - Dune
19. John Kennedy Toole - A Confederacy of Dunces
20. Marshall McLuhan - Understanding Media

So, yes, a few doozies in there, but I'm guessing that by 2042 I'll have knocked them off of my list. In the meantime, I call on all authors to put a freeze on writing anything important so I'll have a chance to catch up.

How many of this 2nd list have you read?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Reader's Diary #1625- Various writers, various artists: Spider-Man Maximum Carnage

In some ways Spider-Man Maximum Carnage reminded me of Sam Raimi's infamous Spider-Man 3. Just as that movie was killed by bloat, so was Maximum Carnage. But just as there were kernels of good stories in Spider-Man 3, there was potential here as well.

For those still unfamiliar with the necessary Spider-Man lore, in the late 80s the world was introduced to one of his now legendary archnemeses: Venom. An alien symbiote that originally bonded with Spider-Man, it later did so with one Eddie Brock. Proving to be a quite popular character, Marvel kept him around and somewhat in the vein of the Punisher, made him an anti-hero. Yes, he went after bad guys, but his brand of justice was cruel and most often outright murder.  A few years later, however, Venom spawned a new symbiote that attached to a serial killer to create the psychotic Carnage. He was no hero, nor anti-hero, but a straight up murderous villain.

Having three characters in one book then should be a great way to explore the lines of vigilantism; where does heroism begin and end? But while this is touched upon in Maximum Carnage, it is sadly underdeveloped. Likewise, attempts at a debate regarding ends justifying the means were woefully inadequate.

Instead, the writers seem to just constantly toss new characters in and and out of the battle between Spider-Man and Carnage, often with little rhyme or reason. Spider-Man allies himself with no less than Black Cat, Cloak and Dagger, Firestar, Morbius, Captain America, the Iron Fist, Deathlok, Nightwatch, and Venom, while Carnage partners up with Shriek, the Spider-Man Doppelganger, Carrion, and Demogoblin.

Now I say the problem is one of bloat, but that's not entirely accurate. I don't think it's impossible to do a good story with an abundance of characters (Captain America: Civil War was pretty great), but quantity needs to be matched by quality for it to work. Sure I liked hearing the names of unfamiliar characters (I hadn't been aware of Carrion, Nightwatch, or Firestar before), but I don't feel that I really got to know them at all. They simply added to the noise.

As for the art, it was the early 90s, so it wasn't spectacular, but not terrible. A couple of exceptions that crossed the line into crap: Black Cat's impossible falling-off suit and this panel:

Monday, July 17, 2017

Reader's Diary #1624- Mary Hallock Foote: A Cloud on the Mountain

Mary Hallock Foote's "A Cloud on the Mountain" is one of those stories that would make for great classroom discussions.

It involves a woman named Ruth Mary who's destiny seems largely out of her hands, due largely to the sexism of the times. Analyze this story from a feminist perspective. Her family, who doesn't seem to really understand her at all (or make any efforts to), has pretty much arranged a marriage for her. But Ruth Mary is rather preoccupied with a traveling stranger who, in the end, remains somewhat indifferent to her. Is this stranger the "cloud" on the mountain?

So, yes, I did enjoy the food for thought. I was, however, left with a few stray observations. The beginning is odd and lead me to believe that it would be a story of a missing, perhaps kidnapped, child. (It's nothing of the sort.) Speaking of odd, there's a bizarre character named Angy whose slight unexplained, idiosyncrasies are distracting to the story. Finally, the perspective seems to follow Ruth Mary but suddenly switches to the stranger. The change is jarring at the moment, but makes a little more sense in the end.