Thursday, December 31, 2015

The 9th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - December 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")

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

10 Years, 10 Great Moments- The Book Mine Set's 10 Year Anniversary

It was 10 years ago today that the Book Mine Set started. Starting as a very low key affair, I wanted to keep the anniversary low key as well, and try to come up with ten great moments. It was harder than I thought. First off, while the Book Mine Set has always been a book blog first and foremost, it's been there for me through many ups and downs that have found their way into the various posts: moves (Newfoundland to Iqaluit to Yellowknife), deaths (two grandparents, and mother-in-law), job switch (teacher to librarian), travel (New York, Japan, France, Florida, New Orleans, Alaska, the Yukon, England, San Diego), and so on. These may not have been moments as such, but nonetheless, I was glad to have a chance to share and to be supported.

But I was still able to whittle down the past ten blog years:

10. Queen's Jubilee medal- winning this was bittersweet. It was very nice to have my blogging efforts appreciated and recognized so formally, even if it did have ties to the monarchy (which I do not support)

9. The Great Wednesday Compare- Starting this was a lot of fun, pitting books or authors against each other created more interest than I'd ever imagined as people came to vote for their favourites. The Jane Austen crowd was nuts. It eventually ran out of steam and I retired it, but it was fun while it lasted.

8. Finishing Shakespeare - On Date I finally finished the complete works of Shakespeare. I'm not sure at the end that I gained more of an appreciation of Shakespeare, but I did gain more of an understanding. I don't think everything he wrote was genius, but I appreciated finding some gems that I hadn't heard of before. Coriolanus is now a favourite.

7. Finishing the Bible- Likewise, finishing the Bible. I started out trying to read and and review it as I would a novel, trying not to read it as a religious text at all. That was very difficult and I'm not sure that I always succeeded. I grew to enjoy seeing where so many references and figures of speech came from. It made me less religious in the end, but hey, I can now back up more of my opinions that I'll never be comfortable getting into in public.

6. Short Story Monday- For the past few years I've been up to one short story per week, all found online and for free.

5. Michael Crummey Interview - Bit of a crush on this guy. Galore is a favourite of mine and getting the chance to interview him was a dream come true.

4. National Post's Canada Also Reads- Long a critic of CBC's Canada Reads reliance on celebrities (one regular Joe wouldn't kill them), I once lobbied quite hard to land a spot on the show. Failing miserably, it all could have been quite embarrassing except that I was then asked to participate in the National Post's counter program, Canada Also Reads.

3. Joining the Graphic Novel Challenge- Back when it was first hosted by Dewey (R.I.P.), the challenge came along just as I was hoping to explore this Graphic Novel thing. It was the incentive I needed and wound up sparking a love affair between me and comics. I now read more for that challenge than for the one I host (see below). It's been hosted by Nicola these past few years and she's doing a bang up job.

2. Meeting Barb- There are so many "friends" I made through blogging, but Barb is the one I don't put quotation marks around. That's because in I got to finally meet her in person and she's been a family friend ever since.

1. Canadian Book Challenge- This is my crown jewel. I love hosting this challenge and have since I started it 8 years ago. I've "met" so many wonderful people through this challenge: Teena, Chris, Swordsman, Bill, Eric, Raidergirl, Wanda, Melwyk, Melissa, Irene, Heather, Shonna, Loni, Luanne, Mary R, Corey, Steve, Barb in BC, Jules, Melissa, Kim, Bybee, Teddy Rose, Pussreboots, and more (nothing personal if I missed you this time around!). I haven't been as good at hosting it in the past few years since I've been working on my masters, but next year is the 10th anniversary and I hope to make it huge. I'll probably also pass it off to someone else after that.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The 2015 Book Mine Set Short Story Online Anthology

52 Weeks = 52 Short Stories. All free and available online. If your life is too busy for one short story a week, you need to step back. Below you'll find links to all the reviews I wrote for Short Story Monday in 2015. Within those reviews you'll find links to the stories themselves. I hope you'll find it a good mix of world literature, genre fiction, flash fiction, stories written by well-known authors, stories by little-known authors, stories by surprising authors, entertaining and provocative stories. They are ranked from my least favourite to my favourite.

52. James Baldwin- "Sir Humphrey Gilbert"
51. Darth Marss- "The Life Tree"
50. Richard Rupnarain- "Where is the Mutton?"
49. John Scalzi - "An Election"
48. Lizzie Deas- "The Christmas Rose"
47. Hilary Boyd- "The Bed"
46. Jo Lennan- "How is Your Great Life?"
45. Aesop, translated by George Flyer Townshend- "The Fox and the Goat"
44. Charles Wilson- "Clipping Bud"
43. Jerome K. Jerome- "The Man Who Did Not Believe in Luck"
42. Kailee Carr- "Qu?ušin (Raven)"
41. Antonya Nelson- "Her Number"
40. Sophie Hannah- "The Tennis Church"
39. Jill Sexsmith- "Airplanes Couldn't be Happier in Turbulence
38. John Kendrick Bangs- "A Disputed Authorship"
37. Hans Christian Anderson- "The Brave Tin Soldier"
36. James Franco- "Just Before the Black"
35. Alec Niedenthal- "When the War was Over"
34. Jesse Eisenberg- "A Short Story Written with Thought to Text Technology"
33. Dania El-Kadi- "The Trophy Wife"
32. Sait Faik Abasiyanik- "Hisht, Hisht!"
31. Julian Gough- "The Great Hargeisa Goat Bubble"
30. Joe Stretch- "Hartshill"
29. Storm DiCastanzo- "Through-street"
28. Jaynel Attolini- "Bologna"
27. Robb Walker- "Reawakenings"
26. Michael Vocino- "Robby. A Gay Short Story"
25. Rebecca Rosenblum- "Ms. Universe"
24. M. R. James- "Lost Hearts"
23. Abdellah Taïa, translated by Daniel Simon- "Turning Thirty"
22. ZZ Packer- "Gideon"
21. Kerissa Dickie- "Wild Flowers"
20. Jim Harrington- "Just Another Day"
19. Selina Brydson- "Downriver"
18. Edmundo Paz Soldán, translated by Kirk Nesset- "The Legend of Wei Li and the Emperor's Palace"
17. S. L. Green- "Cartwheels"
16. Omar El-Kiddi, translated by Robin Moger- "The Wonderful Short Life of the Dog Ramadan"
15. Michèle Thibeau- "Metamorphosis Interrupted"
14. Magela Baudoin- "Vertical Dream"
13. Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj, translated by A. Delgermaa- "Dark Rock"
12. Zora Neale Hurston- "Sweat"
11. Albert Camus- "The Renegade"

THE TOP TEN!!!
10. Renée Knight's "Faithful"
9. Pranaya Rana- "In the Hollow of Your Hands Hides a Heartbeat"
8. Lisa Moore- "The Challenges and Rewards of Re-entering the Workforce"
7. Aimee Bender- "The Rememberer"
6. Morgan Bailey- "Albeit for Small Mercies"
5. Lee Kvern- "In Search of Lucinda"
4. Ann Petry- "Like a Winding Sheet"
3. Jo Senior- "The Green Suitcase"
2. Katharine Brush- "The Birthday Party"
1. Kim Curran- "The Kiss"

Please consider joining me for Short Story Mondays in 2016.

Reader's Diary #1235- Renée Knight- Faithful


I quite enjoyed Renée Knight's "Faithful." Perhaps it could be read as a bit of a feminist tale; a woman wanting to have some alone time and feeling guilty about it, but it's a feeling I'm sure many of us males can relate to as well.

In any case, it becomes more than this and plays to our fears of taking such moments. Set on Boxing Day, there's a lot of terrific mood-setting imagery and I was enthralled from beginning to end. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

My Year in Review 2015 - Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels

Well, this marks a new record for me: 52 graphic novels/ comics in a year. One per week. It didn't come without a sacrifice, however. My regular novels and non-fiction reading suffered horribly to the point where I don't know if there's any point of doing a year end recap. Starting a new full job and still working on that masters, my moments for leisure reading have come in unpredictable spurts. Spurts that seemed better served by comics.

Anyway, this years mix is heavy on the superheroes and zombies. And while there were some great ones, my top 2 don't, incidentally, fit into either of those categories. That's neither here nor there. Just an observation. Lest I babble on, here's a recap of all the comics and graphic novels that I read in 2015, ranked from my least to most favourite:

52. Masaharu Takemura- The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology
51. Peter David, Paul Jenkins, Ramon Bachs, Shawn Martinbrough- World War Hulk Front Line
50. Paul Jenkins, Andres Guinaldo- Son of Hulk: Dark Son Rising
49. Geronimo Stilton- Who Stole the Mona Lisa?
48. George R. R. Martin, Daniel Abraham, Tommy Patterson- Game of Thrones Volume 1
47. Greg Rucka- Wonder Woman: Eyes of the Gorgon
46. Josh O'Neill, Andrew Carl, Chris Stevens- Little Nemo's Big New Dreams
46. Marguerite Abouet, Clément Oubrerie: Aya of Yop City
45. Jeff Lemire, Mike McKone- Justice League United, Volume 1
44. Yana Toboso- Black Butler, Vol. 1
43. Jim Davis, Dan Walsh- Garfield Minus Garfield
42. Darren Shaw, Takahiro Arai- Cirque du Freak, Volume 1 
41. Susan Hughes, Willow Dawson- No Girls Allowed
40. Various Writers- Guardians of the Galaxy: Best Story Ever  
39. Willow Dawson- Hyena in Petticoats
38. John Byrne, Mike Mignola- Hellboy: Seed of Destruction
37. Todd McFarlane- Spawn: Origin Collections Volume 1
36. Marika McCoola, Emily Carroll- Baba Yaga's Assistant
35. Konami Kanata- Chi's Sweet Home, Volume 1
34. Robert Kirkman, Sean Phillips- Marvel Zombies (#1-5)
33. Adam Glass- Suicide Squad, Volume 1: Kicked in the Teeth
32. Brian Bendis- Jessica Jones: The Pulse
31. David Alexander Robertson, Wei Tien- The Peacemaker, Thanadelthur
30. Michael Green, Mike Johnson, Mahmud Asrar- Supergirl, Volume 1: Last Daughter of Krypton
29. Jason Aaron, Daniel Acuna- Wolverine vs. The X-Men
28. David Alexander Robertson, Scott B. Henderson- Betty
27. Garth Ennis, Lewis Larosa- The Punisher: In The Beginning
26. Geoff Johns, Jim Lee- Justice League United, Origin Volume 1
25. Cullen Bunn, Ramon Rosanas- Night of the Living Deadpool
24. Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez- Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft 
23. Osamu Tazuka- Buddha, Volume 1
22. Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, Jorge Molina- Thor, The Goddess of Thunder
21. Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli-  Ultimate Comics Spider-Man
20. Weird Al- MAD Magazine, Issue #533
19. Adrian Dingle- Nelvana of the Northern Lights
18. Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore- The Walking Dead: Days Gone By
17. Matt Fraction, David Aja, Jarvier Pulido, Alan Davis- Hawkeye My Life as a Weapon 
16. Arthur de Pins- Zombillenium: 1. Gretchen
15. Roz Chast- Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
14. Kurt Busiek, Brent Eric Anderson- Astro City: Family Album
13. Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin- Doctor Strange, The Oath
12. Jeff Lemire, Travel Foreman- Animal Man, Volume 1
11. Kelly Sue DeConnick, David Lopez: Captain Marvel: Higher, Faster, Further, More
The Top 10!!!
10. G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona- Ms. Marvel: No Normal
9. Ryan North, Erica Henderson- Squirrel Girl, Volume 1
8. Gene Luen Yang- American Born Chinese
7. Cece Bell- El Deafo
6. Ed Piskor- Hip Hop Family Tree, Book 1
5. Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr- Batgirl of Burnside, Vol. 1
4. Takehiko Inoue-  Vagabond, Vol. 1
3. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Francesco Francavilla- Afterlife with Archie: Escape from Riverdale
2. Alison McCreesh- Ramshackle
1. Scott McCloud- The Sculptor

Update: I just discovered that I missed one in my initial count, taking me to 53.  

Reader's Diary #1234- Arthur de Pins: Zombillenium / 1. Gretchen

A problem with trends is that some real gems get dismissed the second it's lumped in with the rest. Case in point, I didn't have high expectations for Arthur de Pins' Zombillenium; yet another zombie comic. But what a pleasant surprise. Zombillenium: 1. Gretchen is great fun, a unique story, and superbly drawn.

And while there are zombies, they're not the focus. Zombillenium is a monster run theme park. Think Hotel Transylvania meets Disneyland. This particular volume involves Gretchen, a witch intern and Aurelian, a new "recruit." There's some confusion at first whether or not he'll wind up a vampire or werewolf, but he winds up something... cooler, not to mention the reluctant new mascot for Zombillenium which may— if he can be controlled— save the park from lagging sales. 

So it may not have the most literary of aspirations, but it's witty and cool. Gretchen, for instance, rides a skateboard fastened to a flying broom. She likes to tell people that her father is Robert Smith (of the Cure). 

Then there's the art. Characters are highly expressive, adding to the humour, but there's hidden depth in the backgrounds, with colouring and watercolours that catch the mood, and brilliantly paced panels, slowing down to nearly identical panels for realizations and tension, but veering from that formula, picking up the pace or dropping stuff in the gutter when needed.

Best of all, this works as a single but sets up so much potential for future stories.

Reader's Diary #1233: Jason Aaron (Writer), Daniel Acuña (Artist)- Wolverine Vs. The X-Men

There something about superheroes battling each other that all fanboys and fangirls can't resist. It's why we had Celebrity Deathmatch, why a drunken argument between 2 educated 30 year olds can be reduced to who would win between a tiger and a polar bear (a tiger), and why Joss Whedon needed that Hulk-buster suit. So, Wolverine Vs. The X-Men is a no-brainer.

That's not exactly what I got, however. Collecting Wolverine #6-9, I gather that #1-5 would be more accurately titled Wolverine vs. The X-Men, but were collected as Wolverine Goes to Hell. This 2nd collection would better be titled Wolverine vs His Demons. Wolverine is possessed and if his X-Men friends can't exorcise him, Cyclops will have to kill him.

So, maybe not the fanboy experience I was after but I enjoyed it anyway. Not normally a fan of possession stories, I liked how it was explored in this tale. With several female X-Men going into Wolverine's mind to help him fight his demons, it took on an Inside Out quality as Aaron found various metaphors to represent the psychology of Logan/ Wolverine.

Not to be outdone, Daniel Acuña's art work, especially on the demons, was fantastic: dark and sketchy with nightmarish Lovecraftian imagery. I'd like to see what he'd do with a Doctor Strange title or perhaps a Lemire-penned Animal Man story.

Reader's Diary #1232: Marika McCoola (Writer), Emily Carroll (Artist): Baba Yaga's Assistant

Having heard so many glowing reviews of Marika McCoola and Emily Carroll's Baba Yaga's Assistant,  I just had to read this one.

Baba Yaga, for the uninitiated, is a character from Slavic folklore; a woods-dwelling woman who lives in a hut atop chicken legs, and seems to have been featured in many cautionary tales to children. Having not heard of this witch-like character before, I was intrigued by this angle and in that regard wasn't overly disappointed.

It did, however, feel like a mis-translation. It wasn't actually translated (McCoola lives in Massachusetts and researched Russian folklore for this book), but nonetheless felt like when I've read stories from other languages that I didn't quite get. I've been left to wonder if there's a cultural block, if it was translated poorly, or if I just read a bad example. Baba Yaga was interesting, absolutely. But I didn't ever feel like I understood what the character was all about. A bit of a trickster, scary but possibly with a good side, crazy but possibly with method to her madness. She didn't come together.

Of course, the book is not about Baba Yaga herself, but about her assistant, Masha. I'm not sure how old Masha's supposed to be, but in her late teens, I presume. She's applying for a job to become Baba Yaga's assistant based on an ad in a newspaper. She remembers Baba Yaga stories fondly, told to her mostly by her grandmother after her mother died. Plus, it's clear Masha wants to get out of the house now that her father is remarrying, and worse, she'll soon have a bratty young step-sister.

The contemporary, grounded story was compelling but I don't think it ever adequately came together, either. The job ad that Masha reads, for instance, comes across as something written by a crazy person. Masha, who seems otherwise grounded, doesn't bat an eyelash. And she remains unphased throughout. A straight man is necessary at times, but only because of his reactions which should, quite frankly, resemble what our own would be in the situation. Was Masha supposed to be imagining all of this? I wanted at least one character to hang my hat on, someone I could understand or at the very least, help me understand the story.

The art, from Canada's Emily Carroll, fared better for me. A cross between Pen Ward (Adventure Time) and Vera Brosgol (Anya's Ghost), the end result has a perfect balance of zaniness and normalcy. A deliciously sinister witch with a average, everyday assistant. In other words, Carroll largely achieved what I'd hoped the writing would have.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Reader's Diary #1231- Garth Ennis (Writer), Lewis Larosa (Artist): The Punisher / In The Beginning

I've signed up for another year of the Graphic Novels and Manga Challenge. Hosted by Nicola, it's one of the challenges I look forward to the most. This past year I read more for this challenge than even from the one I host (i.e., The Canadian Book Challenge). In fact, I had only signed up for the 2nd level of the challenge (i.e., 24) but I'm closing in on the top level (i.e., 52). The Punisher: In The Beginning marks my 49th of the year. So close!

I've wanted to read something about the Punisher ever since I heard that he was going to be included in Marvel Cinematic Universe, making his appearance in season 2 of The Daredevil next year. He's not a character I'd known much about other than his logo, but I was intrigued to know that he's likely to play a villainous role. I've quickly gathered that while he targets bad guys, it's his means of doing so that make his superhero status so dubious. Knowing the upcoming theme of the next MCU movie, Captain America: Civil War, with it's anti-vigilante stance it's a perfect time to bring The Punisher into the mix. Given how Netflix is the only corner of the MCU that seems willing to go dark, it's also the perfect place for him.

But if I wasn't overly familiar with the Punisher, I was completely clueless about Marvel's MAX comics line. Basically it's their R rated imprint. Yeah, the name is a bit much. And on that note, my fears that it would try too hard to be shocking and edgy did not turn out to be unwarranted. There are definite moments in here that made me say, "oh, brother." The only female character getting turned on by violence was, quite frankly, pathetic and a major drawback.

That said, not everything was gratuitous and I think the character demands an uncomfortable story. When you strip away the cartoonishness of other superheroes, he's not doing anything really different. For that matter, he also forces us to look at the context of violence. Is it ever the answer? Most of us aren't Gandhi and would feel a little naive to say no outright. There are certain violent crimes that all but the sickest of us would decry as wrong. Deciding when violence is right, however, is less clear and when someone says it is, it should be uncomfortable. Therefore The Punisher, Civil War plot lines, and so on, are needed to balance out the clear and typically unchallenged and black and white morality of superhero tales.

This is Frank Castle's, aka The Punisher's, origin story. It's dark and full of revenge. Despite it all, I didn't dislike him. Maybe I should have? Maybe that story-line will come?

The art is not bad. It's gritty and dark, and therefore fitting. I do wish, however, that Castle himself wasn't drawn as an over-sized grotesque freak. A part of his appeal is that he's not an actual superhero. He doesn't have any superpowers. Drawing him like a non-green Hulk kind of strips that away. Tim Bradstreet's cover version would have been much better. Likewise, Jon Bernthal is a great choice. I think Larosa would have gone with The Great Khali.




Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Reader's Diary #1230- David Alexander Robertson (Writer), Scott B. Henderson: Betty / The Helen Betty Osborne Story

Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story was not the first time that David Alexander Robertson tackled the story of Helen Betty Osborne with a comic book. In 2009 he had also collaborated with Madison Blackstone on The Life of Helen Betty Osborne: A Graphic Novel.

Disappointingly, however, I'm not entirely sure he much improved upon the first attempt as largely my issues with this book are the same as those written by reviewers Peters and Joyal regarding the 2009 book. There's no denying that this is an important story, with themes of violence and racism running deep. Helen Betty Osborne's life was ended tragically and an even larger tragedy would be forgetting her. For that Robertson should be commended.

However, I do hope that there will be a telling that better captures who she was. Initially in Betty, we get some of that as we hear her and her friend Eva discussing her fears about leaving for residential school and her dreams of becoming a teacher. Quickly, however, it starts to feel too much like a news report. There are details, but no depth. Murdered at such a young age, who Betty would have become we'll sadly never know. But I also wanted to know who she was before that. Perhaps that is, to a small degree, a success of the book: having created a longing for better understanding of her humanity, as well as the humanity of victims like her, rather than statistics.

Still, I'll reiterate that I don't think short comics are the best venue for a biography. I think that a real life needs more time and space to explore the complexities of who they are. She deserves more than 30 pages.

Earlier this year I also reviewed David Alexander Robertson's The Peacemaker Thenadelthur. In some regards, Betty is an improvement over that one. The frame story of Betty, involving a Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Women protest, is far more successful than the class presentation frame of The Peacemaker, as the protest is far more immediately relevant and important.

Henderson's art is serviceable if not a tad underwhelming.

Reader's Diary #1229- Cullen Bunn (Writer), Ramon Rosanas (Artist): Night of the Living Deadpool

Deadpool is not a character I knew much about and the little I'd picked up hadn't particularly interested me. I thought his suit was too much of a rip off of Spider-Man and his reputation as the "Merc with a Mouth" made me feel it would be a lot of trying too hard to be edgy. The upcoming Ryan Reynolds movie has done nothing to assuage my fears. If anything they've added a new one: Deadpool is going to be a bro.

It doesn't help that my 10 year old has a fascination with the character and it doesn't look like I'll be taking him to see the film. I've lightened up a lot. I've even watched Daredevil and Jessica Jones with him on Netflix. Still that Deadpool movie? If the trailer is any indication, the questionable stuff is going to be relentless.

Still, he's a Marvel character and Night of the Living Deadpool involves zombies, so I figured it might be tolerable.

I ended up not only really enjoying the book, but even liking the Deadpool character.

Bunn has fun with zombie story tropes (Deadpool wakes up from a food coma, rather than a regular coma to find the world has gone full blown zombie-assault) but also adds enough unique elements to keep the story... er... fresh. These zombies talk. And not the "braaaaaiiiins" grunts either. Instead they yell things like, "God no, what am I doing?!" as they bite into a man's face. It adds a nice, if slightly horrific touch, to think they're helpless to control what their bodies are doing.

Deadpool, while he does come across as hilariously insane, also comes across as caring— more a hero than a anti-hero and because I'd been led to believe that he'd be more of a self-centered type (look at how twisted and funny I am!), this was a welcome surprise. I don't mean to suggest that it's a sentimental cheese-fest either. When he gets gets taken in with a group comprised in part by an old lady and a couple of kids, he tries to save them, seems to genuinely care about their well-being. They die of course, and Deadpool copes and moves on rather quickly, but still, for a moment there, he showed some humanity behind the punchlines.

Thankfully the punchlines were still there. I laughed out loud for a couple of scenes at least. At one point a character is whisper-shouting for the lost kids (he doesn't want to attract the zombies). Deadpool quips, "Yes! Great plan! Let's call for them in a whisper! That way, if they're just a couple of feet away, they'll come running!" Hilarious, and it doesn't make Deadpool himself necessary for the joke. 

The art too is great. Mostly in black and white, Deadpool himself is still red. For all of the above whining about Deadpool being an attention-whore, I actually liked this element. If nothing else, it set the book apart from generic superhero art and I've been whining about that for even longer.  

Monday, December 21, 2015

Reader's Diary #1228- Sophie Hannah: The Tennis Church


Sophie Hannah's "The Tennis Church" is about two women at their breaking points. It revolves around Charlie, a police officer begrudgingly spending Christmas with her in-laws. Perhaps not the distraction she would like, Charlie nonetheless gets a mysterious call from an old friend, Tasha. Tasha, as it turns out, has gone missing.

Trying not to give away the ending, it didn't go exactly where I thought it was going. I expected Tasha's issues would help put Sophie's into perspective, looking not as serious in comparison. Instead, Tasha's escape gives Sophie motivation. It's an interesting, tiny twist that speaks of individual levels of tolerance and inspiration.

Set up with tones of a mystery, I'm not sure that the story works entirely in that vein. It's resolved too fast and too tied too much to Charlie's inside knowledge to give this reader any sense of co-solving the crime as I've come to expect from such stories, but it's an entertaining Christmas story and the more I think about it, the more provocative I think it is.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Reader's Diary #1227- Alison McCreesh: Ramshackle / A Yellowknife Story

After seeing several of Alison McCreesh's collaborations on other people's books, I've been practically salivating for McCreesh (a former art teacher of mine) to publish something completely on her own. Finally, my wish has come true and it was everything I'd hoped it would be and more.

First off, the art is amazing. With pen and watercolours, McCreesh has depicted Yellowknife better than a photo album. She manages to capture the mood of the characters (though a simple cartoon version, it's amazing how well she even captures her own appearance!) and of the town itself through the use of colours (or not), the arrangement of panels, and  splash pages.

She does warn in her foreword, however, that it's not meant to be a portrait of the town but rather a glimpse through her (and her partner's) eyes; their impressions and new understandings as they first moved to Yellowknife back in 2009.

That, it turned out, was important for me to keep in mind. At one point, I felt a little offended. Trying to find a social circle, as well as housesitting their way around the City, she sometimes came across a just a tad snobbish. Or maybe more accurately, reverse-snobbish. Anyone not living in Old Town, especially the shack filled Woodyard, came across as hopelessly uncool. Concerned with mundane, square, and materialistic things.

However, I've quickly come to terms with it. First off, the sting was no doubt in part due to the fact that I don't live in Old Town. But I'll admit it-- Old Town is what gives this place character. Secondly, I suppose we all have some of that judgemental attitude. If I'm being honest, there's a certain section of town (that will remain nameless) that I, too, have judged for their ostentatious houses. But this is also why Ramshackle is so good; it's completely open and honest. More importantly, she's allowed to have a preference in houses and the people she associates with. In fact, it's the ability for her, or me, or others that have come to call this place home, to find kindred spirits from all walks of life in such a small town that makes this place so special.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Reader's Diary #1226- Various Writers & Artists: Guardians of the Galaxy, Best Story Ever

The subtitle of this Guardians of the Galaxy title is misleading for a couple of reasons:

1. It's not a single story
2. Therefore, it also cannot be the best

Had I known this was a random collection, I'd have been less eager to read it. It is made up of single, and except for featuring at least one of the Guardian characters, unconnected tales. These are written by a variety of people (Tim Seeley, Will Corona Pilgrim, Brian Michael Bendis, Mike Doyle, Joe Caramagna, Doug Moench, Scott Edelman, and Jim Starlin) with even more artists than I care to share here. So not surprisingly the quality is all over the place. I enjoyed the stories by Seeley and by Bendis the most and my least favourite was the Joe Caramagna/ Adam Archer "Free Comic Day" story featuring Rocket Raccoon. Those of us who were skeptical about the idea of a talking raccoon but nonetheless pleasantly surprised by the movie have our fears realized instead in this comic, coming across as overly cute and silly.

Still, having not read any Guardians of the Galaxy comics before I enjoyed the collection in getting a sense of who they are (outside the movie) and how they evolved as characters. Perhaps the most drastic change was with Drax the Destroyer.

Best treated as a sampler.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Reader's Diary #1225- Lizzie Deas: The Christmas Rose


While Lizzie Deas is credited here, I'm not sure how much she actually contributed beyond the opening paragraph explaining the message of the legend "The Christmas Rose." The legend itself seems to be quite old. While it does involve the nativity scene, however, it does not appear in the Bible. Essentially, it's a Little Drummer Buy sort of message: it's the thought behind the gift that's really important. But rather than a kick-ass drum solo, in this tale the present is a Christmas Rose that sprouts from the tears of a maiden who is upset that she had no gift to give the baby Jesus. Cry and you'll be rewarded, I guess.

It's an fine story, though surprisingly has little connection to "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" which is why I decided to read it in the first place. (Feist's rendition is one of my favourites.)

My favourite rose by SilverStack, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License
   by  SilverStack 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Reader's Diary #1224- Ed Piskor: Hip Hop Family Tree 1981-1983

Way back in my impressionable youth, my older teenage sister and a couple of her friends did one of the coolest things I'd ever seen. In leather jackets and sunglasses they lip-synced Run DMC's "It's Tricky" at a community variety show.

What was that music??? In Twillingate, Newfoundland, I'd never heard the likes. So completely different and so cool. My first exposure to rap. Or was that hip hop? Didn't matter.

In any case, it made the new focus on Run DMC in Ed. Piskor's volume 2 of his brilliant Hip Hop Family Tree series an especial delight. Of course, I enjoyed reading about the lesser known names last time around, but seeing the birth of groups like RUN DMC and the Beastie Boys was pretty cool, too.

I didn't like the volume as much as the first one though. The late 70s New York setting in volume 1 was almost a character in itself, which I had really enjoyed. This time, early 80s New York seemed less prominent. However, I did enjoy the brief scenes in L.A.

I was also concerned at first that the oversized, newsprint classic comics look of the first volume had worn out its welcome. While it was perfect to capture comics of the 70s, wouldn't they have started to look different by 83? Fortunately, my doubts on that front were eased when Piskor fast-fowarded a panel here or there to the 1990s. Suddenly the colouring changed from faded halftone colours to more garish neon. Yep, this series is in good hands.

The story of hip hop at that time I found to be simultaneously frustrating and compelling. On the one hand, it started to get more of a business sense which seemed to take away some of the magic and cultural phenomenon of the first, but on the other hand, there also seemed to be more experimentation with sounds. Suddenly the difference between rap and hip hop became a thing. Artists played with electronic effects and debated if it should go with more disco or slower, more street sounds. Punk angst and themes attracted some while others wanted party music. It's not difficult to see the seeds of various subgenres forming even at this early stage.

I can't wait for Volume 3!

Monday, December 07, 2015

Reader's Diary #1223- Darth Marss: The Life Tree


A few years back, we gave our son the Star Wars boxed set and for six days following, him and I bonded over the films. He became a instant fan, and I became a bigger fan. But then, the movies were over. Not wanting to give up so soon, and not having yet discovered the glory that was Clone Wars, we turned to the internet and the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special.

I knew it was infamous. I knew it was supposedly awful. But we went for it anyway. Somethings are just so bad, they're good. Right? Right?

Ummm. Yes, it was so bad, but the novelty of that wore off. Fast.

Nonetheless, with The Force Awakens set to arrive a week before Christmas, I decided to once again go in search of more horrible Christmas-Star Wars fusion, landing (of course) on a fan fiction story called "The Life Tree."

Of course, the preposterous idea of aliens from a galaxy long ago and far away celebrating Christmas does not go unnoticed by the creators of such product, and therefore the aforementioned special is a "Holiday" special and Christmas Day is Life Day. Yeah. There's even a decorated tree for cripes' sakes.

Enter Darth Marss (sigh) with a story about such a tree. It revolves around a young Luke who insists on decorating a weather vane to resemble a Life Tree, despite a ban on the holiday. At the end there's a Life Day miracle.

It's bad, sure, but I wanted it to be worse. At least that would have been entertaining. Come on, Life Day's been banned? Where's the intergalactic equivalent of Fox News feigning outrage? So many lost opportunities. At least the Holiday Special got the craziness right. They milked it for about an hour and 15 minutes longer than necessary, but yeah it was crazy. A short fan fiction would have been the perfect opportunity, but alas Darth Marss (sigh) has squandered it by taking the story waaaaaaay too seriously.

This was not the fan fiction I was looking for.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Reader's Diary #1222- Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher (Writers), Babs Tarr (Artist): Batgirl of Burnside, Vol. 1

Well this was a pleasant surprise. I'm starting to think about by end of year rankings and Batgirl of Burnside easily just found its way into my top 10 comics and graphic novels.

I wasn't, of course, dreading reading it but I also wasn't holding out for anything that hit on all the right levels for me as much as this. I'm not much of a Batman fan, nor DC at all really, and the only thing I'd heard about Batgirl of Burnside beforehand, while positive, focused primarily on Batgirl's new outfit. (The outfit does merit mention: it's cool and functional at the same time, which is a rare combination for female superheroes in particular.)

The action's fast-paced, featuring an assortment of new villains, and while there are occasional dark moments it's nowhere as heavy-handed about it like Batman comics, and even balances it out with humour (do they think this is Marvel???). Further setting Batgirl apart from Batman, she's got some money issues, she's young, and just all around awesome; flawed at times but still immensely likable. Even greater, the way the writers tackle previous incarnations of Batgirl is nothing short of brilliant, even taking on the infamous paralyzation of Batgirl at the hands of the Joker back in 1988's The Killing Joke by Alan Moore. This is how a reboot should be done.

Batgirl also feels so wonderfully progressive. There's diversity everywhere (as in real life), but it's never a big deal. Just accepted— as it should be. Plus, Batgirl is smart and kicks ass, but she's not afraid to have fun.

But my absolute favourite thing about the book is the world creation. It's a place and generation heavily involved in social media and the writers and Tarr intertwine text, fictional (but totally believable) logos, (fake) music references, and the end result is a world that is not only fascinating but feels simultaneously real and like a satirical take on our own.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't call attention to the variant covers at the end. I'm normally not a fan. I've too often seen them used as an excuse to publish more offensive versions of characters and then the publishers absolve themselves of responsibility because they're somehow not "official" but after seeing the Batgirl/ Purple Rain variant, it makes it all worth it.

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")

Reader's Diary #1221- Magela Baudoin: Vertical Dream


Magela Baudoin's "Vertical Dream" is more of a snapshot than a story. I'm close to calling it a character study, but that doesn't quite capture it either. It's more of an episode study. It's about a girl who's about to be leaving home to attend university. In the restless sleep of the preceding night she's hit with some pretty profound insights.

In her thought processes, there is a growing awareness that others go through the same or similar moments of insecurities, but ironically that seems to make her feel more alone.

It's certainly a beautifully rendered piece, but steer clear if you're looking for something plot-driven.


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Reader's Diary #1220- Jim Davis, Dan Walsh: Garfield Minus Garfield

I'll give Jim Davis and Ballantine Books credit for their business savvy. In 2008 Dan Walsh managed to get the world's attention with his parody website, www.garfieldminusgarfield.net. People, it would seem, wanted the cat out his eponymous comic strip.

But Garfield Minus Garfield, the book, is credited to Jim Davis. Granted, they do include a foreword by Dan Walsh. In this foreword, Walsh admits getting nervous as his site began to get noticed. (Incidentally, Walsh didn't come up with the idea of getting rid of Garfield either, but he certainly was the most prolific with his results.) Would Jim Davis sue?

Davis probably could have, but whether or not he would have won is up in the air, parody laws being what they are. But even if he could have won, I'm not sure that would have been the greatest publicity. No, instead Davis let it slide and capitalized on it. Smart choice. I can't say I'd have had much interest in reading a Garfield book at this point in my life, but it's an interesting premise and here I am.

Like most kids from my generation, I read Garfield strips now and again when I was a kid. Truth be told, I was more into Heathcliff. But in hindsight, I think I just had a thing for underdogs (or undercats, as the case might be) because Heathcliff wasn't actually any funnier than Garfield. (As an aside, I was also more into the GoBots than the Transformers.)

On that note, I can't say that Garfield Minus Garfield is much funnier than the originals. Much has been said about Jon, Garfield's owner, appearing more crazy without the cat there. But, as Walsh himself points out, it's not like Garfield ever talked back. He's always shown with a thought balloon in comparison to Jon's speech balloons. And really, is talking to oneself all that much crazier than talking to your cat? If they really wanted Jon to look psycho, Garfield could have been replaced with a half-eaten sandwich, getting moldier as the strips progressed. Or better yet, remember Jon's old roommate that went missing, Lyman? How about if Jon was always talking to Lyman's severed head, floating in a transparent bag of ice water?

Granted some of the Garfield-less strips are funny, I suppose, but I found it more interesting as an art project. I like found poetry and mashups and this, to me, feels in the same vein as those. In many scenes Jon comes across as quite sad. Without Garfield's sarcastic commentary, the reader is forced often with long awkward pauses— to focus on Jon's mental state. He comes across as a much more sympathetic character, rather than a punch line, in the process. Of course, he also seems out right nuts at times, too, but you feel at this point that all things considered, he's entitled to a break down every now and again. Those points, I'll concede, are amusing.

Ballantine has published these with the original strips underneath for comparison purposes. That's a great idea, but occasionally it shows how Walsh cheated a bit on the idea. In one original strip, for instance, Jon and Garfield are having a sock puppet battle. In the final scene, the pathetic-ness of the situation occurs to both at the same time. Garfield thinks it's Jon's fault for not having dates that they have to play such games, Jon asks, "Wanna go get pizza?" However, in Walsh's take, he's also removed Jon's question at the end, resulting in a speechless scene with Jon and a defeated look on his face, holding up his sock puppet in silence. Sure it makes him look sad, but he should have been asking "Wanna go get pizza?" It still could have worked; it would have looked like he was asking this of his sock puppet, thus making him look even crazier. But I suspect it didn't fit into Walsh's more common statement, i.e., that Jon is depressed.

A supposed reason that Garfield Minus Garfield was such a hit is that Garfield is shown as kind of pointless to his own strip. Again, this was another good reason for Ballantine to include the originals. While this does appear to be true in some strips, it's certainly not all of the time. Garfield often works as a straight man, and his reaction to Jon's strangeness is necessary. At other times, he's actually the protagonist, not simply a target for Jon's musings and complaints. In one Garfield-less strip, for example, Jon comes strolling by, walking upon his fingertips with his shoes tied together and back around his head. "Mister funny man!" he yells. True, the Garfield-less one works: Jon looks like he's gone completely off the deep end. But the original works as well. In the first panel, Garfield is thinking, "I'm not tying Jon's shoelaces together anymore." The next panel, he continues, "It's too dull." And finally, in the third, Jon comes by as described above, and Garfield concludes, "I'm forging new frontiers." I liked such comparisons the best; when each strip represented two very different ideas, without pointing out any weaknesses in the other.  

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Reader's Diary #1219- Chip Zdarsky (Writer), Joe Quinones (Artist): Howard the Duck, What the Duck?

Howard the Duck surprised many a Marvel fan last year, showing up in a after the credits scene following The Guardians of the Galaxy. After the disastrous 1986 movie, not many thought he'd ever have his day on the big screen again. Not that many cared, I suppose. For many, he was a bit too silly in the first place and perhaps the joke had worn thin.

I will admit that I liked the movie. I will also admit that I was 10 and liked a lot of crap. Still, I liked anthropomorphic ducks. I raised ducks, and my favourite Disney and Looney Tunes characters were Donald and Daffy respectively. So I was cool with Howard.

The Guardians of the Galaxy cameo was brilliant. After just watching a movie about a superhero raccoon and semi-talking Vin Diesel, moviegoers were ready to accept anything. Not surprisingly, the renewed interest in Howard the Duck found him in the pages of Marvel once more. More surprisingly, the creators were able to keep the momentum going and even garnered glowing reviews. Howard was back. He was fun, and weird, and there was honest-to-god action.

I won't disagree, though I'll cheapen the praise somewhat. First of all, I'm an easy sell with fun, weird action. Hell, one of my favourite comics this past year was Squirrel Girl, and she's the queen of such stuff. But perhaps it was my enjoyment of Squirrel Girl that lessened my enjoyment of Howard. Simply put: Howard is not as funny. That said, the writers try harder, but I think therein lay the problem: they try too hard. There's a "throw-everything-at-the-wall" sort of quality and the end result is inconsistency. Slapstick, wit, self-deprecation, potty humour, silliness, puns, satire, it's all in there, and sure, there are some real laughs. Unfortunately, I also thought there were a lot of duds. Not so many that I didn't enjoy the book overall, mind you, but just not as great as I hoped.

I also, for some reason, expected it to have a noir, Sam Spade thing going on. Perhaps it's that great cover, Howard in that brown suit, in that quintessential private eye office. It's true he's a private eye in the book, but that look and feel is lost in both the art and writing inside.

The cameos, however, were great. The aforementioned Squirrel Girl shows up (albeit in a non-talking role), as did Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man, Thor (the new, female version), Doctor Strange, the Fantastic Four, and She-Hulk. Wanting to know more about She-Hulk, that was an especially unexpected treat.

Quinones art is okay. It's nice and colourful and the expressions are comedic, which suit the book well, but once again, sounding like a broken record, not terribly inventive. That's probably been my number one complaint with superhero comics this year, but ironically it's the better drawn superhero comics that I've also discovered this year (Animal Man, Hawkeye) that are making me judge the generic more harshly.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Reader's Diary #1218- Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura: Black Butler, Vol. 1

I'm starting to think that it's shonen and shojo manga that I have most difficulty with. It's definitely the most manga-ish of the mangas, filled with a lot of (to me) unfamiliar styles and symbols. Characters get mad and suddenly their pupils are gone, they have fangs. Insignificant characters who are acting silly suddenly appear as doll/puppet versions of themselves.

This is in no way a complaint on my part. North American comics have their own lexicon that I'm sure must look crazy and confusing to other audiences. It's more of an issue with myself, who clearly needs more practice and familiarity. Right now it's a distraction more than anything else. Still, it might serve as a warning to other English adults who are hoping to get into manga; maybe starting at manga aimed at teens (i.e., shonen for boys, shojo for girls) is not the easiest place to start.

With that all in mind, the premise of Black Butler was pretty engaging. Sebastian, the Black Butler himself, is butler to a young preteen looking boy named Ciel who seems rather mopey, wears an eye patch, and is the head of the notable Phantomhive family. Already there are questions you're just dying to figure out. But even better, as some of those answers do get answered in 1st volume, new questions arise. Why is Sebastian so skilled at everything. First more domestic stuff, but gradually fighting, and even... well, I don't want to give too much away.

The art, aside from all the aforementioned manga iconography, has a rather goth appearance. (Goth as in the modern black eye-liner and finger nails look rather than Gothic, the medieval European style). It seems rather fitting, nonetheless, as there's something cool and questionably sinister about Sebastian from the get-go.

On those notes, I can see why it's been a popular series. As for me, I'm unlikely to return to it any time soon. The slapstick of the peripheral characters annoyed me, I'll admit, but more than that I'm just not interested in starting a 21 volume series at this point.

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: http://www.bookminesetjunior.blogspot.ca/

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.

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.