Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The 8th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - September Roundup (Sticky Post— Scroll down for most recent post)

How to add your link:
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, September 02, 2014

Reader's Diary #1059- Neil Christopher (writer), Ramón Pérez (illustrator): The Country of Wolves

As a fan of both comics and Inhabit Media, I'm a little ashamed it's taken me this long to get around to The Country of Wolves, an Inuit legend retold by Neil Christopher and illustrated by Ramón Pérez. 

The Country of Wolves tells a story of two Inuit hunters who find themselves lost after an ice sheet they were hunting on breaks off and sets adrift. They eventually wind up ashore in an unfamiliar place and discover a village of iglus. However, their relief quickly turns to fear when they discover that it isn't an Inuit village, but a werewolf village. (There's also another twist at the end that I won't spoil here.)

Though the introduction to the book mentions this story as one that had been passed down by countless generations across the Arctic, it was one that I'd not heard of in my time in Nunavut and was pleasantly surprised to know werewolves had a place in their mythology. 

It's quite a scary tale, and I don't mean that with any disrespect at all (the intro refers to it as a "sacred story) and would be perfect for Halloween or perhaps for Carl's RIP IX Challenge. If the thought of werewolves doesn't scare you in and of itself, I should note that Pérez's illustrations of the creatures are terrifying.

I quite enjoyed Pérez's artwork. His dark shades of blue really capture both the setting and the mood, plus he strikes a perfect balance of realistic work that is still cartoony enough to draw you in to the emotions. My one complaint is that many scenes and images show so little variation that they look reused at first glance. An old lady's face, for instance, is front on on for six pages and if not for her mouth being parted slightly more in some scenes than others, she'd appear to be a simply trace and paint job. 

Otherwise, a highly enjoyable book.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Reader's Diary #1058- Laura Theis: I Dream of Sharks Again

It's taken me too long to decide on how I feel about Laura Theis's short story, "I Dream of Sharks Again." There's a sense of danger lurking, be it with a woman who has a recurring dream about sharks or her young niece that casually throws out the word paedophile. But the danger never really materializes. Literal sharks never appear and the niece has no idea what paedophile means. Instead we're left with a story involving unrequited love and insecurities.

The narrator winds up caring for another young woman who she finds puking and defecating herself in the street and who she recognizes as the girl who broke the heart of the guy that the narrator wants. The puking girl is now stripped of her power, is no longer threatening, and when the niece says, "You know, if the [shark] dream comes back tonight, just change into one of them. They can be your friends" it is apparent that the narrator is interpreting her own symbolism. Though I think it's interesting that she opts to turn into a shark rather than turn the sharks into humans.

post-it puke by ario_, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License
   by  ario_ 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The 8th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - August Roundup (Sticky Post— Scroll down for most recent post)

How to add your link:
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")

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Reader's Diary #1057- Paul Kupperberg (writer): Life with Archie #s 36 and 37

A couple of years back was the first time I used this blog to talk about Archie. At the end of a post about Archie Meets Kiss, I wrote that I'd "probably not be visiting Riverdale again any time soon." Any time soon was apparently only about a year later. Then, September of last year I wound up reading an Archie anthology. Now, close to a year later again, I find myself reading more Archie. Yes, it's turned into an annual thing. In my defense, I live in a house with two young converts. I've never been into Archie myself (and I'd still not consider myself a fan), but it's hard to not read an Archie comic when you're constantly having to push them aside just to find a seat. Add to that the way Archie comics have been in the news in recent years- what with Archie getting married, adding a gay character, adding a physically disabled character, and now the death of Archie, and, well, I'm a sucker for a good publicity stunt. Hats off to them for managing to stay relevant for more than 70 years.

Issues 36 and 37 are the final volumes in the Life with Archie series. I was aware of the series, but hadn't read any of them until now. Though Life with Archie ran earlier (1958-1992), when it was reborn in 2010, it was changed into an adult-theme soap opera following the alternate universes of Archie having married either Betty or Veronica.

Not having read either incarnation of Life of Archie, I was glad to see a recap of the last four years, set in two universes post-Archie's wedding, but also a little taken aback by its tackling of such heavy themes as cancer, divorce, anger management, homophobia, and gun control. I'm not sure what I expected of a comic that was supposed to be more adult oriented, but it sounded more like the adults of the kids from Degrassi High than Riverdale. The weirdest moment, however, was a science fiction interlude in which Dilton hires someone to create some sort of time/space manipulator that threatens to unite the two alternate universes, in which Archie has married either Betty or Veronica. It's negated a la something out of Men in Black and the stories apparently returned to their mildly depressing but more realistic plots- unbeknownst to the central characters.

The whole alternate universe thing was handled quite strangely in the final 2 issues. Instead of Archie being killed in two separate story lines, he's killed in one, but we're never exactly sure which one. Was he married to Betty or Veronica when his death took place? I assume we're supposed to believe that fate would have led to that pivotal moment in either world. Sometimes the ruse is handled quite adeptly, as Archie thinks back with comments like, "I married the only woman I've ever loved" and in the context it feels natural, even if frustratingly vague (who?!). At other times it feels gimmicky; a speech balloon blocking his wife's face as he had married Tim's neighbour from Home Improvement.

As for the plot itself, it, I suppose, is satisfactory. It's not as dumb as you'd might think, though his death and the build-up showing Archie at a very reflective point in his life prior to it, might merit some debate as to whether it was contrived or tragically coincidental. In the final issue, it's set a year later and other characters reminisce about Archie and what he meant to the town. It was okay, but probably packed more of an emotional punch for those who have been faithful fans (though the comics of him as a teenager are still ongoing).

There was also some revisionism going on. Archie is presented as a pretty selfless character who spent his entire life just wanting everyone to get along. Of course, no one ever wants to speak ill of the dead (notable exception: Hitler, who's totally fair game), but there's reason to believe that Archie's sainthood might require a closer look. Still, after 70 years, loads of different writers, it's expected that there were some questionable missteps along the way. In a note from publisher John Goldwater at the end, it says, "Sure he stumbles, and makes mistakes-- don't we all?" and it was oddly one of the more honest comments in the book, even if somewhat dismissive.

As for the art, again I was pleasantly surprised. The barely modified, iconic looks are preserved (except in the alternate covers at the end-- an annoying trend I've been noticing in a lot of comics lately) but there seems to have been far more attention to background detail and the colouring was excellent, really capturing and enhancing moods.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Reader's Diary #1065- Blessing Musariri: Eloquent Notes of Suicide

I've noticed a huge change in the narrative surrounding the recent suicide of Robin Williams from the suicide of Kurt Cobain back in 94. I remember a lot of anger directed at Cobain, whereas the once-usual accusations of selfishness that inevitably came up whenever someone committed suicide, the few that dared speak such an outdated outlook this time around have been forced to apologize.

I have to believe that name calling isn't helpful. Williams or Cobain aren't going to hear it. And those currently suffering through depression? I can only imagine that making them feel worse about themselves isn't the way to encourage them to seek help. "I'm so depressed that I think I might end it all. Can you help me doc?" "No! And get out of my office, you selfish piece of s*&%."

But I'm certainly not suggesting that animosity towards those that take their own lives isn't a normal reaction. The thing is, I'm not sure, nor is anyone else, what the right way to feel is. The living are left with so many questions, often unanswerable questions, that must gnaw at their being.

I bring you Blessing Mussari's "Eloquent Notes of Suicide," a short story that takes the form of an investigator's case file notes as he tries to determine what drove a sixteen year old girl to take her own life. He looks for clues and while he fixates on the fact that the girl had given up talking (the result of some traumatic event?) he doesn't find solid answers and becomes consumed with the case. There's a twist at the end but I'm not sure how I feel about it. I actually felt the story was provocative and poignant enough without it. The end was somewhat confusing and distracting. Maybe such is suicide.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Reader's Diary #1064- Geoff Johns (writer), Andy Kubert (penciler): Flashpoint Vol. 1

I'm a sucker for Marvel Comics movies. Even so, I was surprised when DC blinked first in the showdown between next year's Batman v. Superman movie and Captain America 3. Both were scheduled to open next May 6th but a couple of weeks back DC announced that it would be bumping their release date up to March 25 instead, therefore avoiding a clash with Marvel. Now, as I say, I'm a fan of the Marvel movies. And most fans and critics agree that the Captain America movies have been surprisingly good. But, even I want to see Batman and Superman duke it out. These are iconic characters, both supposed to be on the same side. And then other Justice Leaguers are also making an appearance? Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash? Come on! We all love superhero ensembles. Now if it were going up against Marvel's next Avengers movie, that would be a real show down, but they backed away from Captain America?! That's crazy. I can only theorize that they must realize that they have a turd on their hands. Why else would they be afraid of the Captain?

In any case, I've recently found myself switching allegiance to DC once again and picked up the surprisingly good Flashpoint graphic novel written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Andy Kubert. It involves Barry Allen, aka the Flash, waking up one day to discover his world's reality has been completely altered. He no longer has superpowers, Batman is really Thomas Wayne (Bruce Wayne's father), no one's heard of Superman or the Green Lantern, and perhaps most surprisingly, and importantly, Aqauman and Wonder Woman are waging war against one, a battle so extreme that millions of lives have been lost and the entire planet is in danger.

An Associated Press blurb on the front of my edition says that it "uses superheroes in ways that may surprise both first-time readers and long-time fans." But make no mistake, long time fans will certainly appreciate Flashpoint more and better appreciate the impact. That said, I wasn't a long time fan, knowing virtually nothing about the Flash and only a minor bit of trivia about any DC characters other than Batman and Superman, but I still really enjoyed it. There are loads of peripheral and lesser known characters here. Cyborg, the Enchantress, Element Woman, Captain Thunder, Citizen Cold, the Outsider, and many, many more. DC fans would no doubt have a field day, and they'd also be able to know what impact this alternate reality has had on them. For a relative newcomer to the world of DC, I admit that Flashpoint was overwhelming at times, but for the most part, the story itself was easy to follow and honestly, quite exciting.

For the most part, I enjoyed the artwork. It's gritty, but balanced nicely with bright colours to take the edge off (it's been a complaint of mine and plenty of others that the DC movies have gone overboard with the dark, gritty look). However, occasionally I was annoyed at the full or double page spreads that looked more like promotional posters rather than art that enhanced or furthered the story.

All in all though, an entertaining comic. And for the record, I think it would make a great movie.

Reader's Diary #1053- PJ Sarah Collins: What Happened to Serenity?

I don't know if we've reached peak dystopia yet, but surely in 2011 when PJ Sarah Collins published What Happened to Serenity? there was still some elbow room in the YA market. In the Canadian YA market? It's probably still a veritable prairie of youthful misery.

What Happened to Serenity? is told from the perspective of a teenage girl named Katherine who lives in an oppressive and isolated society in the year 2021. Supposedly they are the last survivors of an ecological revolution, but two events provide a combined catalyst, setting Katherine off on a mission to find out the truth which she now feels has been kept from her. The first is a mysterious note found in a cornfield that begins, "Everything is not as it seems." The second is the disappearance of her best friend's younger sister Serenity. Katherine must decide who she can trust and whether or not the truth is worthwhile, but she pursues and eventually escapes the confines of her town, meeting up with outsiders. Skeptical of the outside world as well, she nonetheless gets the answers she has been seeking and exposes her society to the world at large.

I wasn't off to a good start with this book from the very moment that I discovered that Collins was using Serenity as a play on words, as in what happened to her friend's sister named Serenity, and what happened to enjoying the peaceful, structured community; or what happened to the... serenity? I hate when authors give their character's overly convenient names for them to pun with. Then I started to notice all of the other dystopian books and movies that had very similar elements: The Giver, 1984, even M. Night Shymalan's The Village. I won't go as far as suggesting that Collins' stole these ideas, but she had to have been aware of them and I think she could have avoided it better.

That said, there were some positives. I enjoyed the hook at the beginning. There was a major focus on the importance of asking question, which I felt was handled less conventionally. And the setting was definitely a plus. I won't spoil what it was anymore than I already have, but I'll say that I was more than halfway through before I realized that I was reading a dystopian novel, not a post-apocalyptic novel, and that subtle difference created a mystery which was almost satisfying enough to make me overlook the book's lack of originality in other areas.