Monday, November 30, 2015

The 9th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - November 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")

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Reader's Diary #1217- Brian K. Vaughan (Writer), Marcos Martin (Artist): Doctor Strange, The Oath

Again, another Marvel character that I'm not overly familiar with, Doctor Strange is nonetheless being made part of the ever growing and ever great Marvel Cinematic Universe (with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role!), and therefore I need to brush up.

I'm told that The Oath is a good place to start. Reviews I've read seemed to applaud the story, plus it gets into Doctor Strange's origins (important for a newbie like me) without it being the entire focus (important for those already familiar). And, of course, it's the critically acclaimed Brian K. Vaughan behind it, writer of Saga, Y: The Last Man, Pride of Baghdad and more, so I felt it was a pretty safe bet that I would enjoy it.

I did. While skeptical I'd find it all a bit silly (not just the fact that Doctor Strange's superpower is magic, but also that ridiculous cape), I was immediately swept up in the story, suspending my belief without hesitation.

In this tale, Doctor Strange travels to another dimension to secure a magical elixir that will cure his assistant, Wong's, cancer. It turns out to be even more powerful than he thought which makes him a target of an evil pharmaceutical company, and their very own magic henchman.

The cancer bit, at first, threw me for a loop. Perhaps a bit too real, a bit too tragic, when I'm trying to have fun with a Marvel comic, but that feeling was short lived. Plus, beyond the plot, the characters themselves were compelling enough to keep me going. The villain is not as flat out sinister as many comic book villains, the presence of Night Nurse (whom I've only heard whisperings of in Daredevil conversations) was a nice bonus. But Strange himself was also fascinating. His past and his ethics make him, frankly, more complex than strange but that's a good thing. I also thought the humour, particularly where his character is concerned, was well done. It's not one wise crack after another like Spider-Man or Iron Man, but there are occasional glimpses. At the end I didn't feel like I knew everything I needed to know about Doctor Strange, but just enough that I want to learn more.

The art was just okay. I'm a sucker for rich, detailed backgrounds, and Marcos proved capable here or there, but too often just seemed to the go very minimalist. There was also nothing particularly inventive or new.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Reader's Diary #1216- Charles Wilson: Clipping Bud

I've written an angry sounding review or two in my day. Sometimes I look back ashamed at such reviews, and in a rare case here or there, I still stand by it.

Charles Wilson's "Clipping Bud" seems to have inspired the angry sort. But not from me. Reading the comments that follow the story, I was sort of taken aback. Was it the best story in the world? No. I thought the dialogue in particular felt forced. But I was entertained there for a bit, and sometimes that's enough.

It seems one of the biggest issue that Wilson's critics had was the unrealistic portrayal of a grow-op. Out of my realm of experience, I can't say I'd have picked up that, but mistakenly I had believed that anyone who would have had experience with such matters would likely have been too mellow to care so much about Wilson's tale. The vitriol is kind of bizarre.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Reader's Diary #1215- David Alexander Robertson (Writer), Wai Tien (Artist): The Peacemaker Thanadelthur

The only biographies I remember reading as a kid were those old Values books by Ann Donegan Johnson. I particularly remember enjoying the Value of Determination: The Story of Helen Keller. But though I still enjoy reading biographies, and I still enjoy children's books, I'm not finding that I'm overly enjoying biographies for children. Earlier this year I tried Willow Dawson's Hyena in Petticoats: The Story of Suffagette Nellie McClung and the Susan Hughes/ Willow Dawson collaboration No Girls Allowed and both left me unfulfilled. I wish I could say the same for David Alexander Robertson's The Peacemaker Thanadelthur, but I cannot.

This is certainly not a comment on any of their subjects. Indeed, I found Thanadelthur, a Dene woman who strove for peace between her people and the Cree, to be an enormously compelling character. And I think it's an absolute necessity that people like Roberston are writing about important historical figures such as her. About time Canadian history acknowledges that it didn't begin with white European settlers (granted, they're also in the book). No, this is more a comment on me. When it comes to biographies, I want them fleshed out more than a child's book is likely to offer. But at least I've had exposure to this character. And at least kids who come across it will as well. Maybe Thanadelthur's name will stick with them as Helen Keller did with me.

Robertson's story, while scant perhaps on enough details to wholly satisfy me, is nonetheless interesting. There is a rather unnecessary frame story a sister is telling Thanadelthur's story to her brother as a lesson in courage so that he can deliver a speech to his class— but otherwise there is enough of an adventure to appeal to many children.

Wai Tien's artwork is rich in colour, with stunning landscapes and interesting angles.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Presenting... Book Mine Set Junior

Of course I'm proud of my daughter when she's not following in my footsteps, too, but this is pretty cool:

Please check it out and offer words of encouragement!

Reader's Diary #1214- Dania El-Kadi: Trophy Wife

The titular character and narrator of Dania El-Kadi's "Trophy Wife," reminded of a good form(al) poem. With so much free verse seeming to be the norm, it's distracting sometimes to come across a new poem that abides by more stringent rules. There's something almost depressing, unnatural about it. But, of course, when a great poet pulls it off you realize that the poem didn't shine despite the constraints, but rather because of them.

The trophy wife too, seemed at first, too, like something to be pitied. But she finds her freedom, however fleeting, and for that moment she sparkles. Ideas and life cannot be constrained.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Reader's Diary #1213- Michael Green and Mike Johnson (Writers), Mahmud Asrar (Artist): Supergirl Volume 1, Last Daughter of Krypton

I haven't seen the new Supergirl series yet, but that's out of a lack of time more than a lack of interest. Granted, I'm not overly crazy about the Supes in general. I'm not the first to complain about it, but they're usually wildly over-powered to have much drama. Still, I can acknowledge that there's been a good Superman story or two. As for Supergirl? I don't know a lot about that character. I saw the 1984 movie as a kid, but I remember next to nothing about it. So I was interested in learning more about her.

Last Daughter of Krypton is an origin story. I know comics nerds have had a hate on those lately, but when I'm out to learn about a new character, I can appreciate a good origin story.

Is Supergirl's origin story a good one? It's not half bad. Of course, if you know Superman's story, you kind of know hers. Her home planet of Krypton is no more and her father sent her off to Earth to survive. But in reference to Superman's story, its interesting in that Kara, aka Supergirl, is a teenager when she arrives, unlike Kal-El, aka Superman who arrived as an infant. But something must have gone wonky in the whole time/space travel because while the left Krypton within days of one another, Kal-El has had time to age into a man, Kara arrives as the same teenage girl she was when she left. That's an interesting angle.

And, while you need familiarity with Kal-el's (Clark Kent's) story for the comparison, I actually find Kara's has a bit more to play with. As an infant, the Earth was Kal-el's norm, as were his superpowers. It's only once he aged he started to realize, or was instructed by his adopted parents, that he was actually different. Kara realizes how bizarre everything is from the get-go. No one speaks the same language and she has these awesome new powers. That's a lot to cope with!

About all that... It was, I must say, good to have it acknowledged that the people on Earth are not speaking her language. That's something that's bugged me about Marvel's Thor. But, if we're going to explain the language, I wished they had also addressed the fact that the Kryptonians look humanoid and also provided some rationale on that front. Oh well, I've gone with sillier stuff before.

Speaking of silly stuff, let's also reflect on those Supe Powers. X-Ray vision, ultra-strength, laser eyes, flying? Check, check, check, check. But now the Supes also have mind-reading abilities? Seriously? Is that new?


Sigh again.

Okay, belief suspended once more. It's all good.

Except for the way the writers frequently explain the plot through character thoughts and dialogue. Seems forced.

Geez, I'm coming across harsher than I felt. Believe it or not, I did find this to be a fun book. Kara's a pretty cool character. Plus, the villains, i.e., the Worldkillers, are fantastic. They don't give a lot of backstory, except that they were basically a Kryptonian science experiment gone wrong. But the vagueness and the sense that yes, they're bad, but they can't really help it (in the words of Jessica Rabbit, they were just drawn that way), make them compelling. Their powers are cool and best of all, they aren't all humanoid.

The artwork is decent, nothing particularly noteworthy except for again, the villains, in whom the artists finally show some creativity.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Reader's Diary #1212- Brian Bendis (Writer), various artists: Jessica Jones, the Pulse

I had slight reservations about Jessica Jones' The Pulse (Complete Collection).  Mostly I was looking forward to it. I've enjoyed other work by Brian Bendis, I knew little about Jessica Jones and love learning about new Marvel characters, and mostly I'm just stoked for the new Netflix series. (After watching how great Daredevil was I have high hopes!) But, when I found out the premise...

The Pulse, it turns out, is supposed to be a feature of the fictional newspaper, The Daily Bugle (yes, the one from Spider-Man). Jessica Jones gets hired as a reporter to cover the Pulse with its focus on superheroes. As Jones herself is an ex-Avenger, J. Jonah Jameson expects she'll bring both insight and intel to paper.

So far nothing to worry about, might even be interesting. But then I discover it's supposed to be the street view of Secret War, a much larger comic book event a few years back, not to be confused with Secret Wars, an storyline from the 80s, or Secret Wars, a storyline from the past summer because Marvel absolutely sucks at naming things. Anyway, Secret War (2004) culminates with an Avengers vs. X-Men smackdown. Could be good.

Except, I read World War Hulk Front Line earlier this year and it had remarkably similar idea. Instead of showing an exciting superhero war, it aimed to show the affects of the superhero war on the muggles, er... regular folks. It sucked. It was boring and didn't work as a standalone volume at all. So enter my aforementioned slight reservations.

Well, I needn't have worried too much. Jessica Jones isn't a boring old muggle... geez, why I keep doing that?... what I mean to say is Jones isn't an ordinary human and can quite hold a story on her own. True, there wasn't even a hint of the Avenger/X-Men battle, but Jones' fights a good fight when she needs to. Especially great was the punch she landed on the Green Goblin.

If I'm being honest though, the humanity (the non-superhero-ity?) actually works as well. Yes, Jones has superpowers, but it's dealing with common concerns like being pregnant that balance out the silliness and give the book something different, something compelling. The plethora of cameos (Wolverine, Spider-Man, Captain America, and more) don't hurt either.

None of this is to say the book is perfect, it's just better than the Front Line book. It still has issues. J. Jonah Jameson hires Jessica Jones to work at the Bugle and she never seems to do anything for them. The only Pulse stories actually revolve around Ben Ulrich, another reporter (also from Front Line and the Netflix Daredevil series), but whereas his plots and Jones intersect in the earlier part of the book, by the end Ulrich's stories seem completely unconnected. His discovery of another washed up B-Superhero, "D-Man", is interesting, I suppose, but why it was necessary in a Jessica Jones collection? I have no idea.

The artwork is wildly inconsistent. Everyone gets what J. Jonah Jameson is supposed to look like, but holy crap, you could hardly recognize Jessica Jones or her husband Luke Cage from one panel to the next.

The standout artist in the whole collection for me was Michael Gaydos whose grainy artwork gave the whole thing a slightly-off, pulp fiction sort of vibe. Like an out-of-tune soundtrack. But that's good! It stands out from the average superhero look.