Thursday, March 31, 2016

The 9th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - March 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 #1288- Charlie Huston (writer), David Finch (artist): Moon Knight, Volume 1 The Bottom

Impatient for Jeff Lemire's relaunch of a Moon Knight series and hearing a bit of a fan push to have Netflix take on this character, I decided to read up on the character, going instead for another highly recommended Moon Knight title Charlie Huston's 2006 run, starting with the collected volume one, The Bottom.

This was... not a comfortable read. It's dark, and I can see why Netflix would be a good home, especially given their successfully dark (and fantastic) go at Jessica Jones and Daredevil. It's so dark that I'm kind of shocked it wasn't published under Marvel's MAX line, home of their more adult and grittier comics. Finch seems to love drawing blood splatters and in one scene Moon Knight cuts off a guy's face.

But I can do dark. The uncomfortable part comes in the idea of Moon Knight as a hero. In the Bottom, we see the character at his worst. He's wallowing in self pity and has alienated everyone, addicted to anti-depressants and completely insane. I can get behind such a story. I'm sympathetic to mental illness and depression is the least of Marc Spector's (aka Moon Knight's) problems; more problematic is his multiple personality disorder. BUT, there's one scene in which Spector is shown punching Marlene, his supposed love interest. I believe in second chances, a shot at redemption, but there are lines we personally draw, and that's one of mine. I found it exceedingly difficult (impossible so far) to get behind such a character.

Plus, he's supposedly gotten his powers from an Egyptian moon god who reveals himself to be detestable in his own right. One wonders if the fact that the god has thus far targeted supposed bad people is not but a coincidence. Is Moon Knight supposed to be a hero or not??? We've gone down such roads questionable roads before (Daredevil, Punisher, and so on), but Moon Knight—at least in this volume— is even less supportable.

On top of the morality of it all, the insanity (which is so hard to do well), makes the book very confusing at times as we grapple to know what is really happening and what isn't.

Canadian artist, David Finch's work, is gratuitous, with little more innovation than that.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Reader's Diary #1287- Matt Kindt: Mind Mgmt, Volume 1 The Manager

Ah, the Jodi Picoult syndrome: great premise, poor delivery. Actually, if I'm being honest, Matt Kindt's Mind Mgmt reminded me more of Dan Brown. Also not a compliment.

The premise? All the passengers aboard flight 851 are inexplicably stricken with a case of amnesia. Actually, not all of the passengers. There's a child who seems to have been immune and even more curious, while the passenger manifest showed 81 people getting on board, only 80 were reported to have gotten off. A young reporter is determined to find this missing passenger and uncover the truth. But perhaps her mind is being played as well.

Sounds great right? Add to that the glowing blurbs all across the cover. A couple even promise that the book is real "mindf---!" I was prepared for some Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind kind of cerebral dance.

Instead, there's a lot of shooting around the world with vague nonsense posing as deep in the same way that a hotdog is a sandwich is deep to someone who's stoned. I really didn't care about the characters, nor did I feel I was ever given the chance.

The art, which seems to have been the more divisive aspect to most critics, I thought was a strength. That said, I'm not surprised that it drew some complaints; it reminds me tremendously of Jeff Lemire's art who I know has a love or hate aesthetic. It wasn't great enough to make me want to read another volume, but did help in redeem the book somewhat.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Reader's Diary #1286- Keith Giffen and John Rogers (Writers), Cully Hamner (Artist): Blue Beetle, Shellshocked

In the past couple of years, I've put myself through a crash course of superhero comics: reading what others have told me are quintessential titles for major characters and so on. Now I progress to part 2, learning about those lesser known characters.

That said, I had at least heard of Blue Beetle before. My son's mentioned him to me and he was in The Death of Superman, which I just read recently. Still, I had no idea where to start. Often in such a case I'll Google something along the lines of "Essential comics featuring " and see what titles I can come up with. While I could not find such a list for Blue Beetle, I did find quite a few people who seem to prefer earlier Blue Beetle stories when Ted Kord was behind the suit. In Shellshocked, the mantle has passed to a teenager named Jaime Reyes, of Mexican descent living in El Paso, Texas. 

Reyes' heritage and the setting alone was enough to interest me. This was in 2006 when there was less emphasis on non-white male superheroes, so already a step in the right direction. Plus, it's not set in New York! And, despite not being a Ted Kord book (which I'll still need to read at some point), it's actually not a bad jumping on point for a newcomer. There's an origin story of Reyes' powers, plus it gives a little background of the previous two Blue Beetles, so there's enough to catch a reader up. That said, Reyes does mention a fight in which he helped out Superman and Batman and subsequently got abandoned, but I have no idea what that was all about and so it's not a perfect jumping on point.

Still, the book is fun and does a good job of introducing characters, good and bad. Jamie's friends and family are given enough personality to keep them interesting and while you sense enough about Reyes' connection to the larger DC Universe, he also has enough going on in his own life to carry solo titles. He's also a likeable kid.

Hamner's art is serviceable if just average. However, it's salvaged somewhat by the colouring. Lots of browns and yellows captures the arid climate of the setting, plus provides a great contrast to the Blue Beetle suit.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Reader's Diary #1285- Maris Wicks: Human Body Theater

It was over 20 years ago that I took my one and only Anatomy and Physiology class. Still, because it was such an interesting class, I am amazed at how much has stuck with me. I am even more amazed at how much of that is covered in Maris Wick's Human Body Theater, a non-fiction graphic novel aimed at kids.

That all said, while it's gotten rave reviews from educators and adults in general, my daughter was just okay with it. Sure, she picked it up and read a few sections, but other parts she felt were a bit dry. This despite Wicks' attempts to keep the information entertaining with jokes here and there, bright colors, and anthropomorphic cells and organs.

I think you'd have to still have to have a passing interest in anatomy and physiology to read this book cover to cover (as I did), otherwise it's simply a fine classroom resource or a reference book to pick at certain sections and to have them made clear.

Still, a far cry better than Masaharu Takemura's bizarrely sexist Manga Guide to Molecular Biology!

Reader's Diary #1284- Edna Ferber: The Woman who Tried to be Good

We're told in the beginning of Edna Ferber's "The Woman who Tried to be Good," that the titular character, Blanche Devine, had once been a "very bad woman." Just what she had done to acquire such a reputation, we're never told.

Given her name, which sounds like a pseudonym, and that she had lived in the House with the Closed Shutters, I came to the conclusion that she had probably run a brothel.

But as this is never stated, I'm wrestling with whether or not this was a distraction to the story and whether or not the vagueness was due to the time in which this story was written (the 1920s) when perhaps it wouldn't have gotten published in the Saturday Evening Post had Ferber been blatant about it, or it was meant for literary effect: perhaps overly Puritan judgement of the town is echoed in the fact no one can come right out and discuss prostitution,or perhaps Ferber is saying that whatever it was, it's not the point. The point is that although a woman wants a second chance, no one is willing to give it to her.

In that, I wonder how far we've progressed.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Reader's Diary #1283- Various writers and artists: Spider-Verse

There are a lot of Spider-People in Marvel's Spider-Verse. And if you take on the collected version, as I did, it can become a bit overwhelming. I kid you not, I dreamed about Spider-People one night while tackling this book.

If you've read my posts recently about the fun they've having over at Marvel, playing the what if game with their characters, and then mashing all of their what-if alternate universes together, then you'll also get the premise behind Spider-Verse. Basically, it takes the assumption that any Spider-Person that's ever been created (we're talking comics, animated TV shows, movies, manga, steampunk, parodies, even the Broadway Turn off the Dark Spider-Man) had been real and existing in their own universes. But now they're all in jeopardy as a group of vampires known as the Inheritors are jumping from dimension to dimension to hunt the Spiders down and feast on them. So the Spider-Folk jump as well, teaming up with one another to survive.

Considering how long Spider-Man's been around and how popular the character has been, you'd have to admire the ambition of Spider-Verse even if the final product didn't work. Fortunately, I'd say it did work.

It worked largely because the various writers and artists had fun with the idea. This is most evident in the scenes when Miles Morales, a recently created comic book Spider-Man, and the current animated Spider-Man, visit the old 60s TV cartoon Spider-Man. The art is remarkably in keeping with those times and it's hysterical. A few comments are made about skyscrapers that are only 6 windows wide, and about going past the same buildings over and over again. And yet, no one's legacy is really crapped on, jokes are all made with a loving respect and there's a sense that they all took the time to understand these various worlds and characters. Spider-Ham especially gets a surprisingly large amount of airtime and plays a more important role than I would have guessed. Why not? If Howard the Duck and Rocket Racoon can have their moment, why not Peter Porker? (Note to self: email new all-animal Battle-World concept to Marvel).

This collection was way more successful than the recent Secret Wars collection. Not that the stories are necessarily stronger, it's just that this collection is way more complete. Whereas with the Secret Wars collection, some stories didn't really make a lot of sense because pieces were missing, having appeared in individual issues that weren't included in the collection, Spider-Verse is wonderfully complete. If any Spider-Verse plotline was as much as whispered at in an individual issue comic it was thrown in. The result is massive. I read the paperback version and it weighed a tonne. My wrists seriously hurt trying to read it in bed. Sometimes as well, the flow had to be sacrificed, and to get around that the editors told the straightforward arc and then included issues at the end that filled in any questions.

I don't know that it's perfect for newcomers because as I said, it's a bit overwhelming. But then again, there are so many Spider-People here, I don't know what sort of super-fan you'd need to be that you'd have been familiar with all of these, so to some extent everyone's a newcomer. I would say a passing interest in Spider-Man should suffice. One issue, just as with Secret Wars, is that it's all about the superheroes saving themselves. If you're interested in superheroes saving us regular folk, you'll be sorely disappointed.

With so many artists, it's hard to pass too much comment on the individual art and to be honest the only times it stood out was when it was remarkably good or bad. I've already commented on the stellar job Dave Williams did capturing the 60s cartoon show. Also fantastic was Sheldon Vella's pink and purple "Anarchic Spider-Man" which blended the Sex Pistols with Tank Girl with Mad Max. On the bad end of the spectrum were the ridiculously sinewy bodies drawn by Paco Diaz. You'd expect superheros to be muscular, of course, but his characters looked like someone spray painted a Body Works exhibit.

Still, overall a fun and epic ride.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Reader's Diary #1282- Jason Latour (writer), Robbi Rodriguez (artist): Spider-Gwen: Most Wanted?

You've got to hand it to Marvel (and I suppose DC to some extent) for building up such a roster of characters and then playing the "What If?" game with them. Imagine if Disney itself started to doing that with all of their characters. What if Pinocchio was set in Japan? What if Cinderella was black? What if the Little Mermaid was a gay male? It would be so much fun! Marvel, however, writes fan fiction for itself!

Spider-Gwen imagines a world where Peter Parker isn't bitten by a radioactive spider, but his girlfriend Gwen.

I'll be honest, until the Andrew Garfield movies, I didn't know a whole lot about Gwen Stacy. I grew up with reruns of the cheesy 60s cartoon and Mary Jane was Spider-Man's only true love. Mary Jane's also in this book— she's in a band with Gwen. But that's not where the weird alternate universe ends. Frank Castle, a.k.a. the Punisher becomes a police lieutenant and Matt Murdock, a.k.a. Daredevil, is a villain working for Kingpin.

So for sheer fan playfulness Spider-Gwen's got it in spades. It's also quick, funny, and along with the art, youthful, and hip. In that regard it reminded me of Cameron Stewart's Batgirl.

Yet while I enjoyed this a lot, I do question how well it will stand the test of time. I don't want to suggest that Latour and Rodriguez tried too hard, but there's something about it that reminds of those Totally Slammin'! soft drink and cereal commercial of the early 90s.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Reader's Diary #1281- Stuart Ross: The United States has Gone Crazy

Stuart Ross's "The United States has Gone Crazy" opens with a description of a blender and how it transforms two different liquids into something completely different. Given the title I thought at first that it was a metaphor for US immigration philosophy (a similar take on the more common "melting pot" idea). Turns out, I no longer think that was Ross's intent. Maybe it's something about different world cultures being united against a common enemy?

What his intent was, I'm clearly still unclear, and it's got me in a bit of a conundrum. There's a lot of quirk in this story (it's a dystopian world where other countries have to put up metal domes to protect themselves from raining US explosives but it's more the telling that makes it quirky), and typically I'm okay with quirk as long as it's in short form like this. I grow too impatient with it in novels.

However, Ross has also added an intriguing character simply called "The Stranger" that seems to be from a different time, and I find myself wanting to know more, wishing the story was longer, perhaps even novel sized.

In the end, I cannot decide if leaving me wanting more is a good or bad thing.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Reader's Diary #1280- One (writer), Yusuke Murata (artist): One-Punch Man 01

One of the more frequent complaints about Superman is that he's too overpowered to be interesting. I've been making similar comments about the Hulk lately. One-Punch Man takes that idea and runs with it. One-Punch defeats all of his enemies with... you guessed it: one punch. This time, however, it's not the readers who grow bored, it's the hero himself. What he wants most out of life is a challenge!

And One writes him many. If it takes a single punch to defeat a single enemy, how would he do against an army of enemies? Still too easy? How about if they were the size of insects?

This is clearly a writer having fun and the results are action-packed and hilarious. I've not sure that the premise won't wear itself thin, but the first volume is great enough.

Murata's art is also superb. Sharp lines with hatching and crosshatching to achieve way more detail than I expected in a trade manga series, it reminded me of Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira at times. That's not a small achievement!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Reader's Diary #1279- Jonathan Hickman (writer), Esad Ribic (artist): Secret Wars

When I was a kid, I was an avid He-Man doll collector. You could get the classic one of course, but then there was Battle Chest He-Man (you could hit his chest and it would roll to reveal a gash), there was the Prince Adam version (He-Man before he lifts his sword and shouts, "By the power of Grey Skullllllll!), and I'm sure many more. Still, when playing with them you always made these different version fit, creating new stories on the spot. It may not have made sense to adult listeners, but who cared?

And basically that's the essence of Marvel's epic "Secret Wars" event of last year. For years now they've been telling different stories with their characters, creating, in the process, different universes. In one Peter Parker dies, in another he doesn't, in another he's a zombie, and so on. In Secret Wars they wound up mashing it all together.

To do so, they've wrapped the story around the collapse of all known multiverses into a single planet with villain Dr. Doom playing God and ruler. They're are plenty— predictably— who are not happy with this and so most of the book revolves around the question of whether or not Doom can hold on to his power.

The collection (issues #0-#8) does not entirely work. Hickman tries admirably to infuse the story with a lot of religious and philosophical questions, but with the noise, such angles lose their focus. And to be sure, it's quite noisy, and not a good jumping on point for newcomers. Some characters get more "screen time" than others but with so much attention being shared almost no character is given much of a fleshed out plot. Doom, perhaps, is an exception but he disappoints in another way. Being given such extreme amount of power, it seems bizarre that he basically sits back and watch his destruction come. The only time he manages to impress is in his match against Thanos.

To be fair, the event was bigger than this collection (Marvel being the marketing geniuses that they are), and more intimate looks at individual characters and how each were affected by the Secret Wars events were given in their own series while all of this was happening.

Another major drawback is the complete absence of regular humans. It's all heroes all the time and part of the appeal to superheroes is when they save us muggles, not just themselves.

Ribic's art is decent enough, if nothing spectacular or particularly interesting.

Still, despite the many flaws, I had a great time with it. It was a particularly fun mashup if nothing else. It made about as much sense as Battle Chest He-Man meeting Classic He-Man back in the day, but for that rekindling that memory alone, was worth it.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Reader's Diary #1278- Kathy Hoopmann (Writer), Mike Medaglia (adapted by), Rachael Smith (artist): Blue Bottle Mystery / An Asperger Adventure

I was right to be skeptical that Kathy Hoopman's Blue Bottle Mystery: An Asperger Adventure would be didactic. Teaching what it's like to have Asperger Syndrome is clearly this book's raison d'etre.

Still, I didn't take too much issue with that because 1. I'm okay learning about Asperger Syndrome and 2. the mystery plot was engaging enough to look past the lessons.

The book revolves around Ben who, at the beginning of the book, is undiagnosed. He's frustrated by his struggle to understand people and others are frustrated with him. He does, however, have one close friend in Andy. They find a bottle, imagine that there's a genie inside and start making wishes. Then the wishes start coming true...

I actually thought the more subtle message of the book was more important. On the surface, there's a lot of talk about how Ben is different, but beneath it all we see that he is still a child and in many ways, still thinks and acts as one.

The art, while far from ground-breaking, is suitably expressive and bright with a hint of manga influence.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Reader's Diary #1277- Greg Pak (writer), John Romita Jr. (artist): World War Hulk

So, I've made to World War Hulk, the follow up to Planet Hulk, and together one of the most popular Hulk storylines ever.

In this collection, the Hulk has returned to Earth to seek revenge on those that sent him away in the first place. He also blames them, mistakenly as it turns out, for also blowing up his ship and killing his new wife.

It's a fine follow-up. Gone is the fascinating setting of Sakaar, Hulk's new home planet, but back are the familiar Marvel heroes. And, seeing Hulk take on Iron Man, Black Bolt, Doctor Strange, and Mr. Fantastic? You know there are going to be many great action scenes.

Mostly that's what this is. A smash 'em up tale. Perhaps even less philosophizing than Planet Hulk. Plus, some of the same problems are there— the Hulk is still made too powerful. Somehow he punches his away out of magic? What is that? Also Black Bolt's voice is so powerful that a mere whisper sends the Hulk flying through the air, yet his eardrums remain in tact?

Still, smashy, smashy, as it may have been, it did have a poignant moment or two. One particularly great scene comes after the world seems to be rooting for the Hulk rather than the supposed heroes. Some folks, it turned out, felt very victimized by their brand of heroics and that it was time they be put in check. The Hulk sees how downtrodden the heroes appear by this turn of events and challenges them, "Don't like it, do you? It's not fair. Not the whole story. You have excuses. Explanations. You're innocent. These people don't really know what happened. They don't know what's in your heart." He pauses, "Now you know how it feels." For the dumb, angry green guy, he makes a fair point and we get a sense of why he's so angry. Well, that and his wife was blown up.

Romita Jr's art is superhero-comic stuff.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Reader's Diary #1276- Jennifer Hayden: The Story of My Tits

Wanting to get completely out of my comfort zone for a while, I thought Jennifer Hayden's graphic novel The Story of My Tits might accomplish that. It did and was exactly what I wanted: a perspective I'm not used to reading.

The Story of My Tits runs that fine line between memoir and autobiography. It has that more defined focus of a memoir (i.e., her tits), but also encompasses Hayden's entire life up to recovering  and moving on from a double masectomy. At times, tits are not the focus and instead Hayden reflects upon the complication navigation of relationships. Still, all of these relationships will come to bear upon her reaction to her diagnosis (both her mother and mother-in-law also had breast cancer) and her recovery.

It's extremely personal and I'm not sure that it would have felt as sincere otherwise, but I couldn't help but wonder about the feelings of some of those she wrote about in less than flattering lights. Granted, she acknowledges at the beginning have changed some names, dates, and even characters, but you just know there are some people out there saying, "hey, that's me!"

For such a heavy topic, there's also a surprising (and welcomed) dose of humour.

The art was interesting. There's definitely more work gone into the backgrounds, with hatching, cross-hatching and the like, while the characters themselves are very simple. I admit getting distracted quite often by Jennifer's long, beak-like nose (it's especially awkward when she's shown kissing her husband). I didn't quite get that, especially as there's a photo of the author on the back and her nose in real life is quite normal. Was it purely style? Was it self-deprecating? I'm not sure. Still, the wide-eyed and simple expressions did fit the story and its sense of bigger surprised by and having to decipher some much larger, complex issues.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Reader's Diary #1275- Kseniya Melnik: Strawberry Lipstick

When I hear the term "coming of age story," I tend to think of stories about teenagers at the cusp of adulthood. Kseniya Melnik's coming of age story "Strawberry Lipstick," however, tends to look at coming of age as a maturation process that (arguably more realistically) extends into adulthood and is depends upon experiences and how one faces and interprets them.

Set in Russia, beginning in 1958, with brief mentions of Ukraine and Turkmenistan, I found that compelling enough, but I also enjoyed the way Melnik challenged the idea that people matured faster back then simply because they moved into adult lifestyles earlier in life. It tells of Olya, a young woman who is impatient to enter into this adult world and willing, at least at first, to settle for less than her ideal and convince herself that things will get better on their own.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Reader's Diary #1274- Fabian Nicieza (writer) and Patrick Zircher (artist): Cable and Deadpool: Volume 2, The Burnt Offering

I'd heard of Deadpool long before I'd heard of Cable, but then when (spoiler alert) Ryan Reynolds announced that Cable would be in the Deadpool sequel, I figured it was high time to do some research ("research" being reading comics). It turns out that I'd been wrong to think of Cable as Deadpool's sidekick.

In the power and abilities department, Cable is superior to Deadpool. He's telepathic, telekinetic, and has exhibited time-traveling abilities. He also has some sort of techno-organic virus which grants him super strength, vision, and more. Another surprising fact I learned? He's the son of X-Men Cyclops and Jean Grey's clone. Huh.

I wasn't expecting to, but I also learned a few extra things about Deadpool. In the movie Wade Wilson's personality is a bit messed up to begin with. The wise cracks that follow in the wake of the operation that left him with superhuman abilities don't seem vastly different. In this comic, however, they refer to Deadpool's erratic and unpredictable personality as being a direct result of that operation which also left his mental state in a permanent state of instability. Another thing about Deadpool in here is that he doesn't actually swear. Instead we get those comic symbolized swears. This is one of the reasons I never bought that the movie had to be R rated. The movie is great and obviously it worked, but I'm just saying they had more leniency than they let on. Bleeped could have been funny, too.

As for the relationship between Cable and Deadpool, that was lacking. I can't necessarily fault the writers on this, as I did jump into Volume #2, but for most of this book Deadpool spends more time with the X-Men than he does with Cable, so it's hard to get a sense of their dynamic. On the surface, it seems strange that there would be a dynamic as Deadpool comes across as a loner. That said, he also comes across as a nutcase while Cable as serious, and if the writer's can create a plausible reason for them to team up, such oddball pairings often reap great rewards.

The plot itself I flipped back and forth with on whether I was enjoying it or not. At one point it seemed as if this was another ethical dilemma tale about vigilantism. When I first started getting into superhero comics a few years back I found this angle fascinating and praised it for being appropriate for our times, but I've since grown weary of it as that's what they all seemed to be about, DC or Marvel. Good points and all, just done to death. Then when Cable planned to throw all of Earth's weapons into the sun, I recalled that being the plot of Superman 4, and well, I'm not sure that's the best material to be stealing from. Finally, when Cable revealed that he's been intentionally been trying to make himself a common enemy in an effort to unite the world the X-Men, SHIELD, the governments and militaries— I had to concede that the sum of all of these plots did create something more original than I'd been giving it credit.

That all said, it's very busy and probably not the most welcoming to comics newcomers. There's a slew of characters, and while I focused a lot on the messages above, make no mistake: this is about action first and foremost.

The art is fine. It's generic superhero stuff, but that gets a bit of a past as that's pretty much what the story is.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Reader's Diary #1273- Judd Winick (Writer), Guillem March (artist)- Catwoman / The Game Vol.1

I'd be okay with a tall, slender, big-breasted female superhero if there were a balance of other body types represented in such comics. (There's not.) I'm okay with a female superhero liking sex. Why shouldn't she? But sigh, sigh, sigh for Judd Winick and Guillem March's Catwoman: The Game Vol. 1.

First let's talk about that cover. This was drawn for straight, horny adolescent males, not for Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) to show how confident she is with her sexuality. Her boobs are hanging out (as they will in a ridiculous number of panels throughout the book) and those... "diamonds" spilling over her chest? Diamonds make no appearance in the plot whatsoever. It's one of the most pathetic, gratuitous things I've ever seen in comics.

Which is unfortunate beyond the obvious sexism issues because Winick's story isn't half bad and gets sold short because of those issues. Not that he's entirely off the hook. Selina is also problematically unable to resist Batman. Granted it's her comic not Batman, and one might assume that Batman is likewise unable to resist her, but that's the problem— you have to assume that part. Unbalanced as it is, it presents her as weak where Batman is concerned.

If you can get past all of that shit (and I can totally see why someone might not be able to), the action is good and Selina is quite a compelling character, despite her makers.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Reader's Diary #1272- Brian Azzarello (writer), Eduardo Risso (artist): 100 Bullets / First Shot, Last Call

If premises were everything, Jodi Picoult would have won a Pulitzer by now. So, despite how intrigued I was with the premise of Brian Azzarello's 100 Bullets series, it didn't necessarily mean I'd be gaga over the follow-through. So far, however, sooooo good.

The premise: a stranger shows up and offers various people a chance to get away with murder. He gives them a gun and 100 rounds of ammunition, plus assurances that law enforcement who recover said bullets from a body will cease investigation.

If the back cover is to be believed, this is meant to provoke ethical dilemmas in its readers. "If a stranger offered you the chance to get away with murder... would you take it?" Of course you wouldn't. It's absurd and you wouldn't trust the stranger enough to even have an ethical dilemma in the first place.

That said, the characters in this first volume are in such a predicament where they either have to do it or have nothing to lose anyway and it's still intriguing and there are still ethical dilemmas. Is killing a bad guy okay? And this stranger: what's his deal? Evil or not? How is he so well connected in the law-enforcement world? What if the guns get in the wrong hands (assuming there even are "right" hands)? The people in this book have only a few enemies at best, so why 100 bullets?

I also love the characterizations. Granted, a lot is spent in the world of Latino gangs and I don't have a way to judge that for authenticity. It was awesomely interesting and it felt real at the very least. That said, I've been embarrassingly inaccurate judging authenticity of other cultures before, so I can't say for sure if Azzarello paints a realistic picture (their vocabulaly, style, and so on) of Latino gangs or not.

Added to the fantastic storytelling is Risso's superb art. He uses a lot of negative space and the effect gives rich shadows and an aesthetic that wonderfully complements the dark, sometimes noir, tales.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Reader's Diary #1271- Kimberley Jean Smith: BOOM!

Recalling that I have a love for short stories written in the 2nd person and that I haven't read one in a while, I went looking for one online yesterday. And I looked and I looked. While it was easy enough to find writing coaches suggesting to give it a shot as a creative challenge, I could find almost no one who actually had. Finally I came upon Kimberley Jean Smith's "BOOM!"

Then I read that it was about a parent (and as it's 2nd person, that parent would be me), losing a child unexpectedly I almost didn't read it. Over the past few Short Story Mondays, I've been accidentally finding morbid and depressing short stories. They've been good, mind you, but a lot to handle. Then, last week I read Tom Hart's memoir about losing his daughter. Again, a great book, but I've had my fill of sadness.

With trepidation, I gave "BOOM!" a go. And while it was depressing, I'm still glad I read it. It was written really well and the choice of 2nd person is brilliant. The 2nd person POV is not entirely believable and that's why it works so well. I didn't feel like I'd become a mother who lost a kid via an unfortunate fireworks accident, but I did feel that this mother is self-reflecting, using the 2nd person to almost create a distance from her pain.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Reader's Diary #1270- Geoff Johns (writer), Ivan Reis (artist): The Trench, Volume 1

It was about when Geoff Johns started his run with this series that I first heard about the lameness that was apparently Aquaman. I knew, of course, from my own childhood that he wasn't the most popular of characters, but come on, just because he wasn't Superman, Spider-Man, or Batman didn't make him uncool. Those animal talking dudes were always my favourites.

Now I'm questioning whether or not DC didn't play up the whole laughable superhero thing. To have a comeback, you need to have something to come back from and to be sure, almost all of the humour in Aquaman: The Trench comes from how pathetic Aquaman is perceived to be. Then, lo and behold, he saves the day and he's loved again. Just as, miraculously, Johns has made us love the character again.

Marketing ploy and one punchline jokes aside, the book is still great. We get characters with complexity and a plot with surprising depth and ethical thought. Basically there are monsters from the Trench who make their way to the surface world to gather humans and other animals to bring back to their society as food. It turns out they are starving and Aquaman, not unsympathetic to their needs, tries, in vain, to find a way to help. There are tough choices to be made.

Reis' art is raised above generic superhero fare with his awesomely terrifying deep-ocean monsters and Arthur Curry's (aka Aquaman) flashbacks which are painted with softer watercolours, setting such scenes apart and giving them sentimental respect.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Reader's Diary #1269- Ed Piskor: Hip Hop Family Tree 1983-1984

Slowing things down to a single year for this 3rd installment of his Hip Hop Family Tree series, I was a little concerned that it would start to feel dragged out.

After reading it, however, it seems to have been a pretty important year with lots going on. It was definitely not boring!

It seems to be the beginnings of rap superstardom. Run DMC's career is taking off, the Fat Boys are on the scene, and a young LL Cool J is just making his mark. The Beastie Boys are there as well, but at this point they're still (they made an appearance in HHFT #2 as well) coming across as immature buffoons. Of course, we know that this didn't hamper the sales of their first classic, Licensed to Ill, but this is even before those days. They're as much about punk as hip hop at that point (though Piskor makes a strong case that the two genres share a very similar DIY attitude and healthy respect for one another). Also, did you know they used to have a female in the group? Yep, Kate Schellenbach of Luscious Jackson.

I was also interested in hearing some early talk about authenticity. Run DMC is praised for not having compromised their identity and LL Cool J is instructed early on to drop the outlandish Sugarhill "gaw-bitch" (in the words of Russell Simmons). Not that there aren't any compromises being made. White dancers are planted in TV performances, for example, in an effort to make the music more palatable to white audiences. Sigh.

I'm still waiting for the style to change. The newsprint look of the first 2 volumes was great and complimented the comics of the day, but approaching the mid-80s I'd expect more garish colours to start appearing. I'm hoping Piskor didn't paint himself into a corner, the success of the earlier volumes preventing him for veering too far from the formula. We shall see!

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Reader's Diary #1268- Tom Hart: Rosalie Lightning

It's not often I shy away from a book because of the threat of an emotional wallop. But, I picked up Tom Hart's Rosalie Lightning from the library last week and read the summary and I wasn't sure I could handle it. It tells the true story of the unexpected death of Hart's daughter and the emotional impact it left on Hart and his wife.

The art in Rosalie Lightning is not beautiful. At times it even looks rushed. But it always feels purposeful. In the happier flashbacks, Hart and his wife have whole (be they still simple ovals) eyes, in the grief stricken panels, they're scratchy and hard to focus on. It makes sense. The most rushed looking panels take on an air of cathartic release.

A theme, and not a surprising one considering that Hart teaches sequential art, is the importance of signs and symbols. In the wake of Rosalie's death, Hart and his wife are always betrayed by signs, glancing back almost hopelessly to consider signs they might have missed. But eventually signs start to help them heal.

In the nightstand beside my bed is a stack of photos. My wife, who religiously updates our family photo albums, threw in a bunch of extras that she didn't have immediate use for. It's my sleepy, go-to well of bookmarks. When I was done with Rosalie Lightning, my bookmark fell out and only then did I realize that I'd been using a photo of my own daughter. A sign not to take things for granted.

Thank-you, Rosalie.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Reader's Diary #1267- Paul Jenkins (Writer) and Jae Lee (Artist): Inhumans (Collecting 1-12)

As much as I enjoy superhero movies— more than the comics, usually— I am a little concerned with how entrenched they're getting with their formulas. Marvel will always do light, even when they should do dark (i.e., the Age of Ultron), DC will always do dark, even when they should do light (Superman). It's all because Iron Man and The Dark Knight made a gazillion dollars each. Now that Dead Pool has made similar money, they'll all be cramming R ratings down our throat even when it doesn't fit.

I bring this up because Inhumans is not funny. There may have been a chuckle here or there, but if so, I've forgotten already. Now, it's a ways off (release date in 2019), but unless things change dramatically, Marvel is already planning to make this a comedy with no real peril at all. That would be a shame.

I didn't know much of the Inhumans going into this book, but I'd picked up pieces here or there. Agents of SHIELD has been featuring them regularly (which will be interesting to see if the movies still ignore their TV counterparts) and their mythos has featured a little in other comics. Ms. Marvel is perhaps the most popular character in recent Marvel Comics history to get her powers through Terrigen Mists. 

To back up for the unfamiliar: The Inhumans are supposed to be a species that begins life as human but then, if they are exposed to a Terrigen Mist, have latent superpowers revealed (often with physical mutations as well). This is all the result of genetic experiments forced upon humankind by an alien species many thousands of years ago. 

Many have speculated that their recent popularity, despite appearing in the comics back in the 60's is in no small part due to marketing and manipulation from Marvel Studios. Having given up (and no doubt regretting having to have made the decision) the movie rights to their wildly popular X-Men characters back in the 90s, it's very believable that they're hoping the Inhumans (basically mutants from a different origin) can fill the niche and reign supreme. 

What's fascinating about Jenkins and Lee's story, however, is how different the characters appear from X-Men. Or their other characters for that matter. For one, they barely appear as superheroes at all. They have powers, sure, but it's not like they really use them. Certainly not for the betterment of humankind. In fact, until they are attacked by humans, they don't seem to be using them to better Inhumankind either. They just seem to have them. They want to live peacefully, amongst their own and isolated from their human cousins. 

Their leader, Black Bolt, is intriguing though. He doesn't speak at all. His voice is his superpower and as much as a whisper could level a mountain. He must meditate so as not to talk in his sleep. He does, however, communicate telepathically through his wife and a few others. This means that artist Lee must capture Black Bolt's emotions and he does magnificently. He comes across as introspective but with a certain slyness as well.

For the most part Lee's art is strong throughout. Characters are drawn in sharp, realistic lines but with thick shadows befitting of Jenkins' story. As for the story itself, it's good, but feels a bit like a set-up story. In that regard, good timing on Marvel Comics to re-release it as a collected volume. Originally published in 98-99, it works today, giving a strong sense of the characters and providing a good starting point.