Saturday, April 30, 2016

The 9th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - April Roundup (Sticky Post— Scroll down for most recent post)

1. Click on the icon above
2. Add a link to your review. (Please link to your specific review, not an entire webpage.)
3. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book, such as John Mutford (Anne of Avonlea)
4. In the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. "This brings me up to 1/13")

Friday, April 29, 2016

Reader's Diary #1307- Tite Kubo, translated by Akira Watanabe: Zombiepowder 1 / The Man with the Black Hand

Tite Kubo is better known for his Bleach series (which I still need to read) but the success of that drove many of his North American fans to explore his back catalogue. In serialized form, that back catalogue consisted solely of Zombiepowder.

In in brief introduction, Kubo seems to acknowledge the weaknesses of this series and excuse it for being his first graphic novel. "Mainly," he writes, "it's all battles. It's completely OK to just read it through without thinking about anything."

Well okay then. If I'm being honest, I didn't put a whole lot of thought into reading it in the first place beyond that it had "zombie" in the title. On that front, I was a little disappointed. Zombiepowder revolves around 12 Rings of the Dead which can bring the dead back to life. Besides the potential to turn the world into a Walking Dead-like utopia,  making them more of a hot commodity is their ability to give the living eternal life. Unfortunately, in this first volume, there are no zombies anywhere.

Almost making up for it is the criminal and ring-chaser Gamma Akutabi's amazing Dog-the-Bounty Hunter's hair (redundant). Beside Akutabi and his hair, the book also revolves his newly acquired young partner Elwood.

So, on the plus side is the hair and the action and a cool Western motif. On the negative side is the lack of zombies and art that is typical of rushed serialized manga (i.e., not a great deal of detail in any backgrounds).

An entertaining diversion, I suppose.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Reader's Diary #1306- Amy Wolfram (author), Karl Kerschl (artist): Teen Titans Year One (collected)

Never having been impressed with the idea of the Teen Titans in the first place, or DC's long standing trend of simply ripping off their old ideas and slapping the same powers on as many different demographics, and even different species in some cases, as they can, I nonetheless thought it might be at least fair to give one of their comics a chance. A good writer might still be able to salvage something, sell the idea, or place them in plots that are at least original.

I'll give Wolfram credit on that last point. I didn't mind the plots and the idea of the teens' adult equivalents being turned bad by a villain known as Antithesis, forcing the Titans to take them on and save the day, was a great way of establishing that they are a force to be reckoned with.

I still, however, didn't feel that Wolfram respected these characters much more than I, but the problem was I'd been hoping she'd change my mind. Most problematic are the characters of Wonder Girl and Aqua Lad. Wonder Girl comes across as physically strong, but otherwise a boy-crazy idiot. I get that she's a hormonal teen, but she should still be a little more complex than that. Aqua Lad, meanwhile, comes across as a laughably gross weirdo. For some Aquaman has always been a tough sell, but in recent years they've made strides in showing that he's not as lame as critics would have you believe*. Unfortunately, it would seem that Wolfram did believe it and in his teen knock-off version we get a pasty face geek who reeks of fish, gets advice from turtles, and breaks out in disgusting scales.

I was also not crazy about the art. My largest issue is one I don't know if I'd ever had before: pointy-ness. Small credit, I suppose, for being stylistically different than most superhero comics but if the result is knees that look like orange juicers, I'm not entirely convinced it was worth it.

(*Though, as I'd said before, I suspect that the amount of disrespect aimed at Aquaman was exaggerated by DC themselves so that he could have a "comeback," but nevertheless my point above remains.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

NL Government: Small Savings Now, Huge Costs in the Future

I had no idea when I woke up today that midway through the morning I'd be so outraged that I can hardly focus on work. But then I read this CBC News story about the Newfoundland government closing more than half of the province's public libraries.

I get that they are facing tough economic times because of their dependence on oil. I get that some tough decisions needed to be made. I even agreed with some of those decisions. But then I read about their tax on books (the first province to do so) and now libraries?

I'm at a loss. The province with the lowest literacy rates attacks literacy? How does that make sense? Make the books too expensive to buy and then make them inaccessible from libraries. In the article, it is stated that 85% of residents will still be within 30 minutes of a library. Even if we ignore the 15% who won't be, a 30 minute drive in a province with very little public transportation beyond the few major centers, is depriving the very ones who need access to libraries the most.

It is a war on literacy and as such, a war on the poor. We know that literacy is able to get people out of poverty and if the government is going to deny people that opportunity now, they'll just have to pay for it later.

I am from Newfoundland, so I obviously care deeply, but even if you are not I hope you are equally outraged because other short-sighted governments will follow suit. Mark my words.

Please, please, please loudly voice your displeasure. Here or elsewhere.

Reader's Diary #1305- Kate Beaton: Step Aside, Pops

As a fan of Beaton's first collection, Hark! A Vagrant, I was greatly looking forward to this follow up.

I was not, however, as big a fan this time around. To be honest, many felt like leftovers. If I said the first time that a few were too esoteric and escaped me, this time I'd say it was the majority and in some cases I wondered if there even was a punchline. That said, just as I was ready to believe that I wouldn't laugh at all— about halfway through the book— finally some funnier comics started to appear. Her bit skewering the irrational fear of feminists was hilarious as was her revision of Cinderella. 

In Hark! A Vagrant I had also been impressed by the cartooning. It was largely the same with this collection except for a couple that stood out as terrible. In these, the sketches looked rushed and the speech balloons overflowed their panels. Again, there may have been an artistic reason, but if so, I just didn't get it. 

It was worth it in the end for the few chuckles, but I wish there'd been more.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Reader's Diary #1304 - Brendan Fletcher (writer), Annie Wu, Pia Guerra, Sandy Jarrell (artists): Black Canary Vol. 1 / Kicking and Screaming

Not having yet made time for the Green Arrow tv show, not as well-versed in DC as Marvel in general, I was unfamiliar with Black Canary until she popped up in Cameron Stewart and Brendan Fletcher's (excellent) Batgirl of Burnside. After that Fletcher's Black Canary solo series came out to glowing reviews and it was game on.

And it was great! I'd not go as far as saying it was as good as Batgirl of Burnside, but definitely a lot of positives. First off, the art is great. I recently spoke a little negatively about Wu's art in the new Archie series, but here it's a perfect fit. It's just rough enough to fit the energy and attitude of the punk rock story but not slip it into an ultra dark introspective piece that would betray the focus on fun. Wu doesn't do all of the art, but when (Canadian) Pia Guerra takes over it is less jarring than when Wu took over from Fiona Staples in the aforementioned Archie book. Black Canary, a.k.a. Dinah Lance, bears a striking resemblance to Kesha if Kesha only had one outfit. Lee Loughridge's colouring is also superb, with most panels being monochromatic, giving panels warmth where necessary and always adding style.

Story wise, as I said above, it's fun. Revolving around Black Canary, the rock band (a good fit for a superhero whose talent is a sonic scream), there's a silent, mysterious, and young guitar player among them who seems to be attracting the unwanted attention of some unsavoury, possible alien, folks. At times the music angle is played hard and its Battle of the Bands scenarios make it feel like a Jem and the Holograms episode. Now, I was a big Jem fan, so that wasn't a real issue for me, but if you're going for realism, it's probably not going to cut it.

On that note, I wonder why rock music still seems to be the default cool music? I'm a big rock nerd, but even I have to admit that in real life it's pretty much dead. Pop, EDM, and hip hop are far more popular, and in many cases more innovative than most of the few new rock bands who have sprung up in the past 10 years. I'd love for rock, especially good punk rock, to make a resurgence, but as good as Black Canary is, I doubt it's the needed catalyst.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Reader's Diary #1303- Isaac Asimov: The Immortal Bard

Among all of the articles written to reflect upon the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death last week was Linda Rodriguez McRobbie's compelling Smithsonian article "Is There Any Such Thing as a 'Bad' Shakespeare Play?" Not to give away anything that the article's tagline doesn't, but having finally finished his complete works last year, I am in agreement with her that yes, there probably is.

It would not be unreasonable after reading Isaac Asimov's "The Immortal Bard" that he felt the same way. Telling of a time-traveling Shakespeare, Asimov goes one further and even suggests that the bard himself would likely admit that all of his works were not created equal.

Asimov's story is, for the most part, just a humourous tale (complete with punchline), but it does raise some important questions about the way we tend to infuse meaning (and subsequently, value) into literary works that weren't necessarily an author's intent.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Reader's Diary #1302 - Sang Eun-Lee: 13th Boy

So I wanted to explore manhwa, South Korean comics. Similar in style to manga, though traditionally left to right like western comics, they were something I only heard of recently through a comics and graphic novels course (i.e., the best course ever). What I didn't know at the time is that like manga, there are demographic versions of manga. Sunjung manhwa is the equivalent of shojo manga and aimed at adolescent girls. Sang Eun-Lee's 13th Boy is sunjung manhwa and, unfortunately, the only manhwa I could currently get my hands on.

Surprising then that at almost 40 year old white North American male wouldn't quite love this.

But, in my defense, I'm not even sure that Eun-Lee considers it a roaring success. At the end of the book she remarks on her main character, "I created Hee-So to be cute but rude and obstinate in love. But instead she just seems simple and stupid I don't know why."

On that note then, she's already identified my biggest issue with the book. The main character is a ditz, obsessed with a boy who doesn't love her in return and seems to care little about anything else. Hard not to think that adolescent girls wouldn't find that a little insulting.

Granted, beyond her, there were some interesting angles. At one point it looks like Won-Jon, Hee-So's obsession, is in love with another male. There's a little remark that such love is difficult because there are still those in society who are non-accepting, but other than that it's not presented as a big deal. It doesn't deter Hee-So at all which ordinarily might just confirm Hee-So's stupidity, but there's a chance he's just bisexual and so Hee-So might still have hope.

But there's also a chance that he's actually heterosexual and Hee-So has jumped to the wrong conclusion. A bit of mystery pervades the book and so it is easy to believe that some readers might be inclined to pursue the rest of the series. (What is not a mystery is who Hee-So will eventually end up with, so it is also easy to believe that many readers— such as myself— will bow out here.) 

The art, as I suggested above, is very manga-ish, though not particularly good manga. Typical of the rushed trade manga books it's not big on background details but big on traditional visual gags (for instance characters looked more childlike when throwing tantrums). A small plus in favour of the art is the reliance on textures and patterns to give a bit more shading and depth.

And so, while I'll give up on this series here, I haven't given up on manhwa altogether. And after that maybe I'll try to track down some manhua

Thursday, April 21, 2016

To my faithful readers: Thank-you for your patience these past three years.

... and now back to our regularly scheduled program.

Reader's Diary #1301- Alan Moore (writer), Brian Bolland (artist): Batman The Killing Joke

Two things that need to be said upfront:
1. I'm not a big fan of Batman
2. I think Alan Moore is overrated

On that note, if anyone resents that I'd bother reading The Killing Joke when clearly my mind was already made up, you best be moving along.

I like reading landmark titles in comics, and it's hard to get away from either Moore or Batman. Even now, in the Batman camp I should probably read The Long Halloween and eventually Batman '66. In Moore's camp, I still need to read Swamp Thing.

I don't really get the appeal of Batman. An elusive, brooding rich guy with no superpowers? He's far from charming, doesn't even try to be funny. An all around dud. I suppose I did like his portrayal in The Killing Joke. Though this is often considered the Joker's comic, not Batman's, there's an interesting angle that perhaps Bruce Wayne is as crazy as his enemies. Him and Joker might simply be two sides of the same coin. Okay, that's at least something.

As for the Joker, yeah, he gets a more complex picture than is typical, complete with backstory. And while many questioned if we're meant to believe the backstory, it at least works to make a more compelling character. If anyone's used to him being too cartoonishly evil, Moore sets him up with a level of sympathy but then, sadistically, makes his evil big, and ugly, and real.

Interestingly, Moore doesn't come across as overly proud of this particular book but I actually thought it better than a lot. I have found in the past that he likes to through a lot of self-indulgent and convoluted ideas into his stories, whereas this one was more straightforward.

Bolland's art is great. There's a lot of wordless panels that pace the book superbly and the colouring (newly done for this Deluxe version) was cool.

It's still far from the best thing I've ever read, but considering I was reading it more as a chore than anything else, I enjoyed it more than I expected.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Reader's Diary #1300- Matthew Inman: How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You

Like Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant comics, Matthew Inman's (aka The Oatmeal) How to Tell If Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You began life as an internet comic series.

The similarities stop there.

Beaton's cartooning is original looking, while Inman's looks generic. I don't know why it bothered me so much this time, perhaps because it was a whole book's worth, but I really started to resent the lazy cartooning of most internet comics. Everything is just a series of simple circles with no detail. (You can see what I mean here.)

And I guess I'd be forgiving if it was at least funny, but the title's the funniest part. The title also isn't an accurate summary of the book. Cats plotting to kill their owners is but a small section, the rest is just random cat cartoons. Mildly amusing observations that most of us cat lovers have made time and time again. I did find myself smiling at a bit where a human and a cat switched roles, but the hilarity of seeing a person act as a cat has also been played out and done better.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Reader's Diary #1299 - Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Adrian Alphona (artist): Runaways / Pride and Joy

Yet another "Brian K. Vaughan Collaborates with a Canadian" project!

This time around it's for an original teen superhero group for Marvel. The Runaways first crossed my radar when I read an article suggesting they be added to the Marvel Studios roster of upcoming movies.

After reading the first collected volume, I'd be on board for sure. The diverse cast, the youthful energy and frame of reference, the sense of humour, the stories, the freakin' raptor... it would be nearly impossible to mess this up.

It tells of a group of teens who discover that their parents are most likely super-villains but suddenly have blossoming powers and abilities of their own. The teens against adults angle (their parents no less!) is brilliant.

That said, I do question if Marvel Studios would own the rights. One of them mentions being a mutant, and as far as I understand their licensing deal, any mutant falls in the Sony Pictures house. But I don't understand all the legalities behind it. Perhaps they can just ignore that aspect of the comics, call her a Inhuman instead and move forward.

It's not perfect. The dumbest loophole seems to with Karolina Dean whose superpowers were being supressed by a fake Medic Alert bracelet that her parents made her wear. It's a little hard to swallow that she'd make it all the way into her teenage years without ever having taken it off at least once before. Plus, cool as that raptor may be, it's not wholly original even within the Marvel house. Jack Kirby had created Moon-Boy and Devil Dinosaur all the way back in 78.

But small missteps aside, it's a fun and wild ride.

Adrian Alphona's work, who I first encountered with the Ms. Marvel series, is almost as great here. It's maybe slightly less psychedelic and lips are bit too pouty, but that's just being nit-picky.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Reader's Diary #1298- Mubashir Ali Zaidi: Smile

If I told you that Mubashir Ali Zaidi's flash fiction "Smile" combined premises of both The Sixth Sense and City of Angels you'd probably either long for or shudder to remember the late '90s. You'd also have a good sense of what "Smile" is about. It's flash fiction, however, so I don't feel like I've given away much that you'd have ascertained yourself within a couple of lines: a man has the ability to see the Angel of Death.

That set-up, however, raises a more unique premise: families call the man in to see if sick loved ones are fatally ill or not. I recently read another short story that asked the question: if you could know the date of your death, would you want to know? I don't know why but the answer to that question is more difficult for me than if I'd want to know the death date of a loved one especially if said loved one is sick.

So yes, a very short story that raises some provocative questions and considering that euthanasia is once more dominating Canadian headlines, not without pertinence.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Reader's Diary #1297- Sam Bosma: Fantasy Sports No. 1

Fantasy Sports No. 1 looks like manga packaged as bande dessinée and Sam Bosma is an English guy from the States. Already it's unique enough to pique my interest. But it gets even more bizarre from there.

It revolves around a girl wizard in training, named Wiz-Kid,who has just been denied her request to be assigned a new mentor. Her current mentor, Mug, is more brawn than brains, or at least more brawn that magic, and this does not impress her. Nonetheless they must continue on together and raid Egyptian tombs for magical artifacts.However, they come face to face with a guardian mummy named He of the Giant Steps who challenges them to a high stakes game of basketball (essentially it's like Charlie Daniels' "The Devil Went down to Georgia" with hoops in place of the fiddle).

Um, yeah. It certainly had quirk factor. It was also fast-paced and funny. I'm not sure I'd care to read any follow-up as I'm not a sports guy and at this point Wiz-Kid and Mug really haven't been developed sufficiently to make me care, but I found it good enough for some one time original entertainment.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Reader's Diary #1296- Felipe Smith (Writer), Tradd Moore (Artist): Ghost Rider / Engines of Vengeance

I've wanted to discover more about Ghost Rider ever since I heard that Marvel Studios got the movie rights back. I'm not sure that Felipe Smith's Ghost Rider: Engines of Vengeance was necessarily the right place to start though. A quick Google search reveals that the more popular versions of Ghost Rider revolved around either Johnny Blaze (played infamously bad by Nicolas Cage— though I've not seen those movies) or Daniel Ketch and in both cases the Ghost Rider rode a signature motorcycle. In Smith's version, the new Ghost Rider is a teenager named Robbie Reyes and he drives a muscle car. But, though not necessarily the more recognizable Ghost Rider, his is also one of the few titles reviewed well. 

And I did enjoy it. The Los Angeles gang-torn setting and the main characters (Robbie is Mexican-American and raises his developmentally-delayed and wheelchair bound brother) were such a welcome break from the norm. At this point, I still feel like there's a lot to learn about Reyes, but that seemed like an intentional part of his appeal. He comes across as a guarded young man, trying to do the right thing, but in a tough situation with many obstacles in his way. 

As for the Ghost Rider premise in the first place, I didn't find it as silly as I feared. The name Ghost Rider, for the uninitiated, is quite literal. Reyes becomes possessed (but not fully taken over) by a ghost named Eli who seeks vengeance against the gangs that killed him. Oh, and the ghost also gives the car supernatural abilities including the ability to merge with Robbie. Come on, no sillier than Thor. 

Moore's art was very interesting. There were things I didn't like (I wished the Ghost Rider's head better resembled a skull, and— as I'm not a fan— I didn't enjoy how much Moore's curvy lines reminded me of Paul Pope's work), but it certainly didn't resemble the typical superhero comic and so I respected that. Plus, the colouring was fantastic.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Reader's Diary #1295- Mark Dunn: Ella Minnow Pea

The subtitle for Mark Dunn's Ella Minnow Pea is A Novel in Letters. While it is an epistolary novel, there's a clever reason besides drawing attention to that fact; the novel is also about letters, the alphabetical sort.

Already you know this is a fun book with a LOT of wordplay.

Set on the fictional island country of Nollop, named after Nevin Nollop, the creator behind that typewriter-ific phrase The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, clearly this is a people who also enjoy language.

However, they are also a superstitious people. One day a letter falls from a cenotaph bearing the aforementioned phrase above Nollop's memorial statue. Some interpret this as a sign from Nollop that the letter (Z) is to be banished from their language. The island's Council makes it official: Z cannot be spoken, nor written. Of course, people are up in arms about it and not everyone agrees with the Council's divine interpretation, but the punishments are severe and so most do their best to cooperate. The letter is also dropped from the book.

Before long however, more and more letters begin to fall. Just as you think Dunn is going to take the easy way out, eliminating the rare letters first (which would be so coincidental that divine influence might be necessary), a D falls. By now people are protesting, people are slipping up and being punished, and others are quitting the island altogether.

It's humorous and very engaging. Beyond the word play, I appreciated the great vocabulary of those telling the story. Someone comments that they all speak in a funny, formal way and that would be accurate. It helps them, especially, when letters start to fall that many are able to still finds words with which to communicate without it becoming too awkward too fast (rest assured, it does become very awkward toward the end). It also makes the idea that a language worshiping culture such as this could plausibly develop such an unhealthy obsession.

Plus themes of religion, censorship, dictatorships and all of that jazz allow for many a discussion.

My only issue is that it focused too much on those opposed to the new laws. In effect, it came across that only a very small Council were in belief of Nollop's divinity and in support of the laws. As such, it made it seem very implausible that they wouldn't have been overthrown very quickly and very easily.

Shyamalanian loop holes aside, it was an enjoyably different read.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Reader's Diary #1294 - Mark Waid (Writer), Fiona Staples (Artist): Archie Volume One

A few years back the first Filipino restaurant opened in Yellowknife. I was so excited. Having had Filipino food before, I was so excited. It's also great when any new restaurant opens here, just to break from the monotony of limited options. Alas, it only survived a few months.

It was especially disappointing because we have a very sizable Filipino community here and I was afraid that the failure of this restaurant might suggest that there wasn't a local interest and discourage others from giving it a shot. However, it was clearly a management issue. My fingers are crossed that someone else will try.

I bring this up because Mark Waid and Fiona Staples attempt at revamping the look and feel of Archie comics is not the first. In 2007, for example, a "New Look" series was met with a very negative reaction.  But thankfully Archie Comics didn't give up. People may have thought they didn't want a new look, but then, they'd not experienced Archie as drawn by Fiona Staples, the Canadian artist behind the award winning Saga series. It's freaking good. It still has a stylish but friendly cartoonish look, but with mere subtle tweaks she gives the characters honest-to-god emotion.

Unfortunately, Staples backs out after the first 3 issues, replaced by Annie Wu for the 4th, and Veronica Fish for the 5th and 6th. Not that either artist are terrible, but they slip more towards the old familiar Archie style, a little too cartoony and without Staples' nuance. Fortunately, the colouring by Andre Szymanowicz and Jen Vaughn is consistent— and great— and saves these later issues by giving the characters more depth.

Speaking of depth, it was in these later issues that I really appreciated Mark Waid's writing. It's not that he hadn't been good in the first three issues, but I'd been mistakenly giving all of the credit to Staples. It took the removal of stunning art to make me realize Waid's strengths. It's still true to the  charm and feel of Archie comics (he says in in his afterword that he didn't want to do an easy ironic take— which I hope wasn't a dig at the fantastically ironic Afterlife with Archie series), but also provides the characters with depth, a little more background and plausibility to their otherwise familiar personalities. When you consider that for the past 70+ years Archie comics were treated like PopTarts, a treat but no nutritional value, it's no small feat that Waid and Staples were able to provide substance while remaining true to the source inspiration.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Reader's Diary #1293- The Arrowheads: Avro Arrow / The Story of the Avro Arrow from its Evolution to its Extinction

Much has been said about the aviation marvel that was Canada's Avro Arrow. However, the focus has typically been on the controversy (perhaps even conspiracy, if you're so inclined) surrounding its cancellation. Just why it was considered a marvel in the first place often gets forgotten.

A group of fans (and you know they're fans because they named themselves The Arrowheads) decided to change that with this technical look at the Avro Arrow.

As a technical book, it's not always engaging nor always an easy read. However, it's not impossible for a layperson buff to access. Indeed, I did walk away impressed with the Avro Arrow, even if I've quickly forgotten specifications and the like. What I do recall is being taken aback by the scientific teamwork involved and the bravery and commitment of those doing the first test flights.

The book itself is short and the text is broken up with lots of photos, which helps break up what could be a monotonous read otherwise. It also comes with a very liberal dosing of exclamation points. Ordinarily I'd probably fault a book on this, but I don't this time around. I'm not an aviation-buff myself, but I found the enthusiasm of the Arrowheads to be infectious.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Reader's Diary #1292- Geoff Johns (artist), Ivan Reis (artist): Blackest Night

I've been sitting on my thoughts for Geoff Johns' and Ivan Reis's Blackest Night for a while now. I thought perhaps I'd come around on it, or at the very least, understand why I really didn't enjoy it. I've enjoyed other works by both creators, and this is supposed to be one of the better Green Lantern tales, but I found it all to be a bit silly.

And, not having been very familiar with the character before, that's an especially big problem because I'm starting to think I can never come around on him. I suspend my belief for superhero stories all the time, but this one pushes my limits.

In the Blackest Night, the universal protectors, the Lantern Corps have to unite against the Black Lanterns, zombified versions of the dead risen with the sole purpose to destroy all life.

Starting by acknowledging a premise that has weakened superhero storytelling time and time again, i.e., that no one ever stays dead in such comics, I was ready to get on board. I'm okay with such flaws if the writers have a way to drag it out into the open and give me a satisfactorily creative way of accepting it. Alas, Johns did not do that here. Instead, it became just one more nonsensical detail amongst many, also painted over with a thin veneer of quasi-religious overtones.

The idea of a rainbow-spectrum league of protectors reminded me of John Michael Higgins and Jane Lynch talking about their ridiculously bizarre colour-based faith in A Mighty Wind:
This is not an occult science. This is not one of those crazy systems of divination and astrology. That stuff's hooey, and you've got to have a screw loose to go in for that sort of thing. Our beliefs are fairly commonplace and simple to understand. Humankind is simply materialized color operating on the 49th vibration. You would make that conclusion walking down the street or going to the store.

Why exactly is a league of universal beings limited to the colour-spectrum visible to the human race? (Even worse, each colour has been given a personality trait akin the equally stupid Allegiant series.) Speaking of humans, it was nice that Reis attempted some alien races that weren't exactly humanoid, but they did all have to a finger in order to wear a ring. See what I mean? The whole concept is hard to get behind.

But I think it bothered me the most because I found myself thinking of Scott Snyder's Swamp Thing. He, too, took ideas about death and colour and spiritualism but for some reason it worked. And it's that that vague notion of "some reason" that's eating at me. The only thing I can think of is that Blackest Night felt too bloated; too many characters, too much going on. I didn't come to care much about Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern at the center, and the colour-based life and death thing also had less time to germinate. At least I think that's why.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Reader's Diary #1291- Arthur C. Clarke: The Nine Billion Names of God

Always skeptical when it comes to vague talk about religion in popular art (my suspicion is that it too often gives the appearance of profundity though it has no point at all), I'm undecided about Arthur C. Clarke's "The Nine Billion Names of God."

It's not that he avoids some real points, themes, and statements. There's stuff about how all religions basically worship the same god, how science and religion make impossible bedfellows, and the idea that maybe it's possible that one can get too close to the truth about god. And these are fine, if not wholly original even back when Clarke wrote the story.

My issue is more with the overall plot. A group of monks are using a computer to discover the true name of god. At the end (spoiler alert), we assume that they are successful as the stars start to go out. If this interpretation is correct, however, it has merely reduced god to Rumpelstiltskin.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Reader's Diary #1290- Don McLellan: The Green Honda

Ever get hung up on a technical detail in a story that distracts from what otherwise might be a fine plot?

In Don McLellan's "The Green Honda" that technical detail involves an illegal police scanner. The owner, a man named Archie, likes to eavesdrop on stakeouts and drug busts. The problematic distraction is the inconsistent description of the audio. Sometimes, we're told, there is atmospheric interference and what is happening is unintelligible. Yet, later we're told that the technology (of microphones attached to officers' lapels) was so refined that "Archie could discern the pounding of a heart or a constable slurping coffee, every burp, every groan, every sigh."

Which is it?

Not really important to the plot, which involves a man taking life into his own hands, but nonetheless it's a short enough story that the unreliable/ super high quality audio problem was hard to look past.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Reader's Diary #1289- Margreet de Heer: Religion / A Discovery in Comics

I have not always felt comfortable talking about religion. I used to and I have had strong opinions on it. Then I found myself in a position where I was not at liberty to say how I truly felt. Not a healthy position to find oneself in. Now that I'm not, however, I don't feel the need to release. Instead, I just appreciate a reasonable, respectful, and grounded discussion.

Enter de Heer's Religion: A Discovery in Comics. Taking a look at 5 major world religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism) de Heer gives a brief synopsis on each faith; their practices, holy books, and history. I can't say I learned anything new, though it was nice to brush up on things I'd forgotten. I also would have liked it to have been longer, focusing on still more religions, branches, and denominations. I'd have loved to have read something about Sikhism, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Mormons for instance.

Still, there's a calming effect to de Heer's delivery, humorous but intelligent and respectful without sugarcoating facts, that I enjoyed regardless that there wasn't a lot of new insight. The cartooning itself is simple but has flashes of creativity. Especially appreciated was her use of literal eggshells when she acknowledges sensitive topics.

Speaking of sensitive topics, yes, she does draw Muhammad, and yes, she acknowledges it as a  controversial act. She defends it by giving examples of Muslim artists who have famously done the same without controversy, but I'm not all that sure that would get her off the hook in some eyes (considering that de Heer herself is not Muslim). She also states that the Quran only forbids the worship of images, not images themselves. Again, not having the Quran myself, I cannot say whether or not I agree with her interpretation, but it like the book overallwas a brave thing to do.