Sunday, April 30, 2017

The 10th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - April 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 to Irene for winning a signed copy of Elizabeth Purchase's Warm for Winter for taking part in last month's mini-challenge to read a Canadian Picture Book. Canadian Book Challenge mini-challenges are exclusive to members via email.)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Reader's Diaty #1582- Genevieve Valentine (writer), Ariel Medel and Julius Gopez (artists): Xena Warrior Princess All Roads

I was only vaguely aware of Xena the TV show when it first came out. I definitely never watched an entire episode and what little memories I have the show were not altogether great. It looked cheaply produced and I wasn't interested.

That said, I would have had to have lived under a rock since then to not be aware of its cult following and legacy. When I saw that it had been turned into a comic series, I was suddenly interested. I think this character is made for comics.

Unfortunately the execution is this particular run is quite terrible. The story, which sees Xena and her sidekick/girlfriend Gabrielle teaming up with a band of female warriors known as the Harpies to stop the violent spread of Rome, is decent but the attempts at character building flounder. The personalities and motivations of various Harpy women are teased but never fully explored, and worse, Xena herself seems never gets a good focus. Gabrielle is developed somewhat better, which is fine for her fans, I suppose, but it's Xena's name on the cover.

More problematic is the art which goes from serviceable at the beginning (the characters somewhat resemble their TV counterparts), to suddenly horrible. And when I say suddenly, I mean without warning, without rhyme or reason part way through the 4th comic, the artist switches and the style is an atrocious mismatch. Filled with squiggly lines and arbitrary scratches, colours that looked dripped on to the page, it's difficult to look at and gritty when there's no reason to be.

Majorly disappointing. I hope someone else has a go because I still think the character has potential.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Reader's Diary #1581- Paul Dini (writer), various artists: Zatanna

My first exposure to Zatanna was through Justice League Dark comics. While I loved those, I cannot say that I was particularly drawn to Zatanna herself. As a member of that team, I thought she got lost in the shuffle a bit, certainly not the most interesting of the bunch. Now I kind of wish that I had read Paul Dini's collection of Zatanna comics first. I feel I have a better sense of the character and I'd like to review those interactions with her teammates again.

Paul Dini is perhaps best known for having co-created Harley Quinn. However, besides their disdain for pants, the two characters have little in common. Despite being magical, Zatanna is quite a grounded woman, pragmatic, professional, and confident. She's not without flaws, but for the most part, this magician has her act together.

The premise itself is neat: a personal with real magical abilities has a Las Vegas stage act and the plots are helped along with a pretty great rogues gallery that challenge Zatanna's typically level-headed approach.

One small misstep came with the introduction of a few different writers here or there and the problems caused by an inconsistent understanding of Zatanna. For instance, in one story it is stated that her magic cannot be used on living tissue yet there are examples everywhere in the book where she does just that. Rare is a superhero whose abilities are consistent across time and multiple creators, but in the same volume it was slightly distracting.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Reader's Diary #1580- Sarah Selecky: The Cat

Okay, I'll admit it but only because Sarah Selecky has gone first. I sometimes pretend that my cat has the reincarnated soul of a human. In "The Cat," the feline in question is the narrator's father. But in an interesting twist, the father had more cat-like qualities during his living days than the current cat has human-qualities.

Obviously there's a quirky sense of humour at play here but the exploration of a father-daughter relationship that was less than ideal is genuine and one that I am sure many people can relate to. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Reader's Diary #1579- Jeph Loeb (writer), Ed McGuinness (artist): Nova Origin Volume 1

Nova is one of those Marvel characters that has always been in my periphery, but beyond noting the ridiculous helmet (it looks like he swam into a starfish), I'd been almost oblivious.

I'm not entirely sure that this collection is the best jumping on point despite the "origin" in the title as it involves a passing down of the powers and therefore, I'm missing the origin of the original. That said, I suppose there's sufficient background.

The story revolves around Sam Alexander, son of a former Nova Corps fighter whose stories of previous outer space battles are chalked up as the ramblings of a drunken madman. However, once Rocket Racoon and Gamora arrive and Sam's powers are revealed when he dons the helmet, it is clear that there was much truth behind those tall tales.

I know some people feel origin stories are overdone, but I actually enjoy them. Seeing a character test out, make mistakes, and eventually learn how to control their new-found talents is typically very entertaining. As it was here as well, made more amusing by the presence of Rocket and Gamora. Beyond that, however, it was not particularly memorable.

Some of that lack of enthusiasm no doubt is attributed to the completely utilitarian art of Ed McGuinness. Expressions are exaggerated when the scene is to be funny, but it's all pretty unremarkable. Plus, Gamora is dressed in her skimpiest Vampirella-ish outfit, so I'll sexism on that.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Reader's Diary #1578- Mark Russell (writer), Steve Pugh (artist): The Flintstones Volume 1

One of the most unexpectedly good comics to come out of last year was Mark Russell's take on the Flintstones. Nothing against the Flintstones, of course, but it seems like so many comic publishers are scooping up every other extinct TV show or movie franchise that the idea of the Flintstones, not even the coolest of by-gone entertainment, was nothing to get excited about.

One thing that it's important to note is that unlike a lot of modern interpretations, I didn't find this one to be subversive of the original premise. But, to keep the "modern stone-age family" modern, there are some adjustments. It's frequently darker and more cynical (the chatter of the animal appliances, in particular), it's a little smarter, sophisticated, and worldly. It also provides a lot of social satire, but if you'll remember the original Flintstones (before it started pandering to juvenile audiences), satire's always been there.

All that aside, I didn't really get into this collection until about the 4th story. It took awhile, I think, for Russell to find his groove. In the earlier stories it seems that every aspect of society was being spoofed, whereas the writing in the later stories got tighter and the satire seemed more meaningful.

Steve Pugh does a fine job updating the look of the Flintstones, giving as much realism as possible without losing the original style.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Reader's Diary #1577- Peyo: The Smurfs Anthology

When I was a kid, I lived for Saturday morning cartoons and the Smurfs were easily among my favourites.While they're still obviously kicking around, they are certainly not critical darlings. And yet, I have often heard them in the same breath as Asterix and Tintin when people discuss the importance and legacy of European comics. Have the modern non-Peyo takes tarnished the Smurfs?

I'll say up front that computer animation does not capture Peyo's unique style. Something about his curvy lines, vibrant palette, and short/stubby characters is very welcoming. You want to be a Smurf and live in a Smurf village.

But some of the most annoying aspects of the Smurfs (to adults, anyway) were there from the beginning. Specifically, the Smurf-talk. Replacing every other word with Smurf wears itself thin fast (it gets a little more longevity when imagining it as the F-word, but that too loses its charm). I suppose kids like it. I was interested to note, however, that its usage is discussed and somewhat explained by a couple of human characters. I take it that to human ears, it all just sounds the same, but to Smurf ears there must be slight differences in pitch, inflection, and so on, that makes perfect sense.

The stories themselves are inconsistent in terms of quality, but even at their worst they're slapstick, adventure stories. At their best, there are clever satire. Again, I'm not sure how much the modern films do that. I haven't seen the latest, but the earlier two seemed to be but shallow marketing ploys.