Friday, June 30, 2017

The 10th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - June Roundup (Sticky Post— Scroll down for most recent post)

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

And in prize news, congratulations once again to Melwyk for winning a copy of Christal Doherty and Carla Taylor's How Raven Returned the Sun for taking part in last month's mini-challenge to read a Canadian book not originally written in English. Canadian Book Challenge mini-challenges are exclusive to members via email.)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Reader's Diary #1613- Terri-Lynn Quewezance: Wapihti

Terri-Lynn Quewezance's "Wapihti" is a heartwarming story of a young Woods Cree girl who wanders into a meadow to offer a green ribbon to the sacred guardian. There's a gentleness to the story, despite the approach of a wolf and a bear and this gentleness can largely be attributed to the peaceful demeanor of the girl. Along with the offering, she also helps other animals (a baby bird that has fallen from a tree, a trapped beaver) and almost as karma, Wapihti is spared, or at least, there's a sense of balance.

I haven't read a lot of calming stories lately, nor spent enough time with nature. This is a great reminder to do more of each.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Reader's Diary #1612- Christopher Priest (writer), various artists: Deathstroke Vol. 1 The Professional

Again, not a character of whom I was overly familiar, but unlike many of the others I've been recently familiarizing myself with, I'm not overly eager to learn more.

I also wasn't thrilled to see Christopher Priest's name attached to the character. I really hadn't liked what he'd done with Black Panther and before I got far into Deathstroke Vol. 1: The Professional, I could see that I was going to have similar issues. The man does not seem able to tell a straightforward story.

Granted, the pieces did come together over the course of the collection, but not enough to make me appreciated the approach. And, as an aside, it's a good example of why I still think trades are better than serials. I'd have given up after the first book, never giving the story a chance to fall into place.

I don't suppose, however, all the blame for my lack of enthusiasm can be pinned on Priest. I just don't like the character. He's a supervillain, so I guess I'm not supposed to, but in addition to being a jerk, he's also somewhat boring. Again, there were some tiny hints of a more complex character as the book progress, but I don't think enough to convince me to pursue him further.

The art, while admirably consistent considering the number of artists, is consistently utilitarian.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Reader's Diary #1611- Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente (writers), Dale Eaglesham (artist): Alpha Flight The Complete Series

I'd known about Alpha Flight for some time but admittedly it took some time for me to truly get interested enough to read them. Even now it was out of a pursuit to read the less popular superheroes. While I also knew they were supposedly Canadian, the fact that they were created by an American (John Byrne) dampened my enthusiasm somewhat. Also, they sounded a bit hokey.

If it's all as good as the Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, and Dale Eaglesham collection, I've been missing out.

First off, it's not as hokey as I thought despite having characters named Puck and Sasquatch. It's filled with Canadian stereotypes, but done lovingly so and once you move beyond that the characters are fully developed and complex in their own rights. There may be some issues with the First Nations and half-Inuk characters as such people have been exploited and misrepresented so often, but I am not in a position to analyze Shaman and Northstar, to weigh in on whether or not their representations are fair or authentic. I will say that as a Newfoundlander, I quite enjoyed the Marrina character, the alien raised by a Newfoundland couple and with many ocean related powers.

This collection details a new governmental party that uses an invasion to capitalize on people's fears and start stripping everyone of their rights and freedoms. Yes, unfortunately applicable in 2012 when this was written and still now in 2017. Perhaps more shocking with the Canadian setting but a good lesson for us not to be so smug and self-assured that it couldn't happen here (a corrupt government that is, not a hostile invasion from Asgardians or cavemen).

Dale Eaglesham (the only real Canadian on the creative team) provides crisp visuals coloured expertly by Sonia Oback.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Reader's Diary #1610- John Stanley and Irving Tripp: Little Lulu A Handy Kid

I've been mostly enjoying exploring old classic comic book and comic strip characters. Though, to be expected, most have at least a moment or two that underscores the times they were written, and usually in the most unpleasant of ways. I've encountered a lot of racism and sexism.

New with John Stanley and Irving Tripp's Little Lulu: A Handy Kid collection are issues of corporal punishment (spanking is the norm, even to the point of hauling down the pants of another family's kid and spanking them) and fat-shaming (one of the main kids is named Tubby).

If one can get past that, I suppose the farcical adventures of the little girl named Lulu and her gang of friends is mildly amusing. The art is extremely simplistic, which may or may not be a good thing. Maybe the weak gags would suffer from the slightest visual distraction.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Reader's Diary #1609- Mao Tse-Tung: Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung

Ah, some nice summer reading courtesy of Chairman Mao.

It may seem like an odd pick but I've been curious about it ever since I read a Wikipedia article on best selling books that put Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung on par with the Bible in terms of sales. Getting my hands on a copy and noticing how short it is, I figured, what the heck.

Nothing real surprising here. It's got that vintage Marxist propaganda vibe. Down with the Imperialistic Dogs! and so forth. But it's occasionally interesting.

First off the arrangement caught my eye. The quotes are not arranged chronologically but rather by topic. So you might have a quote from the 50s, followed by one from the 20s, followed by one from the 30s. (Though that's as wide as the range goes.)

I also found it intriguing to read how devoted and studied Mao was on Marxism. I usually hear of Western culture adopting Eastern philosophies, not so much the reverse.

Finally, whenever one reads something as dogmatic as this, whether it be the superiority of socialism, communism, democracy, or capitalism, it's always more than a little frustrating to see how in denial everyone is over the possibility of corruption. My way is the good way, the perfect way, and that's that and will never change.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Reader's Diary #1608- Jim Starlin (writer), various artists: Warlock The Complete Collection

One of the big, after the credits reveals from the recent Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 film was the coming of one Adam Warlock. For fans in the know, this was exciting news indeed. As for me, I was more curious. I immediately had to educate myself on this character.

I'll say that James Gunn is definitely the right person to bring Adam Warlock to the big screen. This character is weird and as Guardians of the Galaxy shows, Gunn knows how to sell weird.

Adam is an artificially created humanoid with a gamut of superpowers (strength, ability to breathe in space, speed, flight, and more). To top it off, he also has a soul gem which can steal the "souls" of his enemies. More accurately, it seems to take their minds; their memories and so forth become readable to Adam. It seems that these ultimate powers are a lot to handle and Warlock often goes completely mad. While this is all obviously fascinating, he is nonetheless not an easy character to care for. Always in an existential crisis, his seriousness grows wearying. Hopefully Gunn will be able to infuse him with that wonderful GotG humour to take the edge off.

As for the comics, despite not connecting well with Adam Warlock himself, the sheer strangeness of the plots and wonderful 70s space-psychedelic visuals by Alan Weiss, Al Milgrim, and Steve Leialoha kept me enthralled. I can't say for sure that there's anything really intelligent about it all (hard to find parables here to connect to real life), but it's certainly unique.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Reader's Diary #1607- Doug Patrick: The Playground with Dad

I'm sure all of us parents have had those moments when we were not shining examples of parenthood. Fortunately I have Doug Patrick's "The Playground with Dad" to remind me that hey, at least I'm not that guy. The father in this story is the male that we all talk about when we say that yeah, maybe it's not a bad thing if masculinity dies.

It's written from the perspective of a young boy who has not yet accepted that his father is at best a dud. Writing from such a point of view, as we all know, is always risky. It's hard to write an authentic sounding kid. By and large Patrick accomplishes it, though there's one joke where the kid mistakes John Lennon as John Lemon that is hammered on just a tad too long. Small complaint really.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Reader's Diary #1606- Patrick Ledwell: I Am An Islander

In a lot of ways, Patrick Ledwell's I Am An Islander reminded me of Nancy Gardiner's Hairy Leg News. Both are pretty short on focus, but both do an admirable job of using disjointed, humorous anecdotes to depict a pretty average life in their respective province/territory.

That said, Ledwell's is set in Prince Edward Island whereas Gardiner's is set in the Northwest Territories. In some ways the places appear similar (both seem to eschew the pretentiousness and pace of larger city life) but in at least a few ways, they are also different. The way Ledwell described how Islanders will not rest until they traced your family tree just would never fly in the north. It's way too transient here for that.

Not all of Ledwell's observations are necessarily unique to the Island or even an Islander's perspective, but that's fair. Likewise, some entries are funnier than others. Nonetheless, it's a lighthearted, entertaining way to get a feel for Prince Edward Island and the culture. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Reader's Diary #1605- Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón: The 9/11 Report

Thanks to Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón I am convinced that most reports should be turned into graphic novels. Have you seen the original, non-illustrated 9/11 Report? It's huge. Plus, as important as it is, it has the connotations of a report: long, difficult, dry reading. If someone can use visuals to help condense the message, help people understand it, and even encourage people to pick it up, why not? I hope someone adapts the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well.

A few notable things jumped out at me:

1. Donald Rumsfeld started capitalizing on it from day one, on the evening of the attacks encouraging Bush to think broadly about who might have harbored the attackers, naming Iraq and Iran, yet notably not Saudi Arabia

2. While the report seems largely balanced and fair, I thought a line that criticized the FBI for spending more on fighting drugs than on terrorism missed the mark. Illicit drugs DO kill more people than terrorism, why wouldn't they?

3. At one they state that little or none of the weapons that the U.S. gave to the Afghani people in their fight against the Soviets was given to Osama Bin Laden. I don't consider myself a conspiracy theorist, but at worst this statement smacks of the U.S. trying to cover its own ass and at best, I'd find it incredibly dubious to suggest that they didn't wind up in Bin Laden's possession.

Despite those things, I did find it to be a compelling read (the timeline of the 9/11 attacks at the beginning is amazingly well done). Plus, it's a stark reminder that the U.S., and arguably the rest of the world, has still not healed entirely from those events. Nor, dare I say it, learned from it, despite a plethora of recommendations. One of the recommendations was for the U.S., to "offer an example of moral leadership committed to treating people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to [their] neighbors." I ask you: how is Trump accomplishing any of that?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Reader's Diary #1604- Bill Mantlo, Al Milgrom, and Chris Claremont (writers), various artists: Cloak and Dagger Shadows and Light

Despite having a couple of degus named after Marvel's Cloak and Dagger, I didn't really know a lot about these characters except for some rather silly sounding powers. Cloak can capture bad guys in his cloak while Dagger shoots daggers of light at them. Still, someone clearly saw enough potential here to give them their own TV series and so, I figured it was time to familiarize myself.

I'll give credit to writers Mantlo, Milgrom, and Claremont for selling this idea. If they can make me suspend my belief for those superpowers, they must have done something right. Those daggers also chill the blood and have healing powers for addictions. That cape acts as a sort of portal into a black abyss that is extremely difficult to escape from, damaging the captives' minds the longer they are there. You have to admit, these abilities are rather unique.

Plus, while the action is great, these are really character-driven stories. In one early story, for instance, Cloak and Dagger find themselves between Spider-Man and the Punisher, determining the path they want their heroics to take. Like all superheroes they are vigilantes, which comes with its own set of moral dilemmas, but now they must side if they act merely as judge (as Spider-Man) or as judge and executioner (as the Punisher).

There's also some interesting angles that come from the "fact" that Cloak and Dagger need each other to provide balance. A yin-yang scenario. Most of their stories revolve around fighting drug dealers, yet interestingly Cloak hungers for "light" almost as an addict himself. Dagger is able to provide it or he can consume it from bad guys. And both wrestle with whether or not these want these powers; Cloak for the aforementioned addiction, Dagger because she misses having a normal life.

The art is less than stellar. It's largely very typical of 70s and 80s, outlandish but uniformed colours, and so on. The largest issue though is Dagger's ridiculous costume with its dagger cut-out to reveal her navel and top of her breasts and yet somehow it stays in place. If I'm not adequately describing just how silly it is, allow Kate Beaton to take it from here.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Reader's Diary #1603- Erin MacNair: Thin Crust

Not knowing in advance that Erin MacNair's "Thin Crust" was sci-fi, I quite appreciated when that element made itself known. She sets the scene so peacefully with a fisherman just before the break of dawn and then, it happens.

What happens I won't spoil except to say that it's an apocalyptic tale similar in some ways to Stephen King's The Langoliers. Or maybe Horton Hears a Who. Or Marvel's Galactus.

Delightfully weird end of days story.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Reader's Diary #1602- Arthur Slade: Dust

It's been a while since I've read any Stephen King, so forgive me if my comparison to King's writing is not entirely apt. Arthur Slade's Dust is considered juvenile literature and Stephen King has so far eschewed writing for the younger set, but the villain in Dust could easily be another manifestation of King's Randall Flagg character, a supernatural villain who's jumped across numerous King novels. He can charm a crowd, even appear quite normal, but with sinister intentions and great power.

In Dust his name is Abram and he's a kidnapping charlatan who has an entire town, minus a pre-adolescent boy named Robert, mesmerized. Dust itself plays a few different roles; it's set during a drought so the entire Saskatchewan town in covered in dust, but Abram also collects a mystical sort of soul dust from children as well. That sounds crazy as all hell, but like the finest of horror writers, Slade managed to convince me to suspend my belief and eagerly go for the ride. Mesmerizing.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Reader's Diary #1601- Ed Lately: Remain

It's a common debate as to whether or not a likeable protagonist is necessary and if such a subjective measure should even enter into literary discussion. I'm of the mind that it usually is relevant, but Ed Lately's "Remain" provides an example where it is not essential. I didn't like that narrator, but I liked the story.

That said, it presents a hurdle right up front. The narrator/protagonist is long-winded, navel gazing, pretentious, and fancies himself a bit of a philosopher. But should one stick with it, once more details of the story are presented, it's quite an interesting tale of infidelity and the cynically humorous way the couple attempts to move forward.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Reader's Diary #1600 - Nancy Gardiner: Hairy Leg News

The description on the back of Nancy Gardiner's Hairy Leg News claims that this northern memoir is written in the "dry style of Erma Bombeck." Not having read any Bombeck before, I still wasn't sure what to expect and not many pages in, I wasn't sure it was a style that would appeal to me.

While the chapters are given broad themes, it's largely a collection of quick and often disjointed observations and recollections. Perhaps it's that quick pace that kept me moving forward and despite myself, enjoying it more as I went along.

It used to be the case that whenever someone new moved north there was a good chance they'd start up a blog, regularly updated with their newest experiences and insights. (Facebook, I think, has largely eliminated those, but still pretty much accomplishes the same.) No one really expected these to be "high literature" but they served their purpose in educating and entertaining their readers.

Likewise with Gardiner's Hairy Leg News. If someone is looking to know what life is truly like in the north (or can be; I acknowledge that everyone's experience is different), there'd be a lot worse places to turn than Hairy Leg News. Many passages are uniquely northern while others could be anywhere and it's that latter, but nonetheless important component that many northern books miss. Plus Gardiner's aww-shucks, self-deprecating approach keeps the whole thing light and engaging. It's as unpretentious as the north.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Reader's Diary #1599- Gabriel García Márquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude

I'd put off reading Gabriel García Márquez's classic One Hundred Years of Solitude for sometime owing to its reputation as a difficult read and its magical realism label (which in itself might be explain the reputation).

I didn't wind up finding it be overly difficult but it's one of those books that's probably as difficult as you want it to be. Of course, how much work one puts in would be directly correlated to how much one understands the subtleties and how much one understands it would be directly correlated with how much one enjoys it. In the long run, I am rather ambivalent toward it.

Describing the generations of the Buendía family from the fictional South American country of Macondo, One Hundred Years of Solitude is unsurprisingly long. There also doesn't appear to be any one central character (maybe Ursula?) and while a family tree provided at the front of the book helped me keep track of who was who, I eventually stopped referring to it. Not that I had it all memorized, I just stopped caring.

It is interesting at times, funny, tragic, weird. But I never really connected.

Despite that I found myself comparing it to Michael Crummey's Galore, which is one of my all-time favourites. I think the difference is that I grew up in Newfoundland, the setting of Galore, and I really understood the context. Loosely based, I'm told, on Colombian history and mythology, I'd likely appreciate One Hundred Years of Solitude had I either experienced that country's culture and history myself or if I put in some effort to research it myself. I will fully take the blame for not making such an effort, for being a lazy reader. In my defense, I don't have one hundred years of solitude to expend.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The 10th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - May Roundup (Sticky Post— Scroll down for most recent post)

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

And in prize news, congratulations once again to Irene for winning a copy of T. K. Boomer's Planet Song for taking part in last month's mini-challenge to read a Canadian eBook. Canadian Book Challenge mini-challenges are exclusive to members via email.)

Reader's Diary #1598- Box Brown: Tetris

I love when authors are able to take topic like beer, salt, or Tetris and make what should be a mildy amusing history at best fascinating.

Not a dig at the game, of course. You know the game was great. But how it was created and published? Do you really care? Maybe you should.

Brown begins by introducing us Alexey Pajitnov, a computer scientist in Moscow in the last few years of the U.S.S.R. Pajtinov is instantly likeable. He's a much a philosopher as a computer scientist, and a pretty selfless person to boot. Together, Pajitnov and Brown make a solid case for games as art.

Soon, however, it becomes a high stakes business story as Atari, Nintendo, Sega, and a handful of other developers travel the globe trying to secure the rights. It's complicated by the communist government, language barriers, and mistaken assumptions wind up having dire consequences.

Tetris becomes a subtle metaphor for people and companies scrambling to fit in. Art.

The visuals are simplistic but sufficient, like Tetris blocks, and a black/white/yellow colour scheme recalls the 1st generation Nintendo Game Boys.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Reader's Diary #1597- Peter Milligan and Larry Hama (writers), Mike Deodato Jr. (artist): Elektra The Complete Collection

A funny thing happened while reading this collection: I went from hating the art to forgetting about it (not the same as enjoying it) while not minding the story-telling to hating it.

Mike Deodato Jr.'s art was sexist and lame. Elektra's body proportions and movements looked so exaggerated and impossible I seriously began to suspect that he used a Barbie doll. Worse still, he then broke that Barbie doll's spine so that she could heave out her chest as much as possible and dressed her a one piece that barely covered her vulva let alone her butt.. to fight in!

Thankfully I didn't mind Elektra's character and looked forward to getting to know her. The vengeful woman who is desperately trying her damnedest to be good is intriguing and likeable. Eventually however her story got bogged down with two dimensional side characters. I'd be okay with secondary characters, of course, put these were either poorly written or underdeveloped. First there was Mac, her Steven Segal-looking boyfriend without the personality. Then there was Konrad, a Broadway director whose personality gets trapped in a woman's body. I feel like they tried something progressive there, but failed miserably. There was nothing stating that Konrad was transsexual before and yet he seems to quickly come to peace with this new body. Um. I don't think the message that people should be happy regardless of the sex is of their current physical form is as progressive as all that. Finally there was Nina, a teenage girl that Elektra takes in early on in the collection, barely interacts with, then watches her get killed. Of course, being Marvel, she comes back to life and I guess it's supposed to be emotionally gut-wrenching when she then turns on Elektra, but the bond was never adequately established in the first place.

All in all, this was a disappointing collection.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Reader's Diary #1596- Kate Reuther: A Man Walks Into a Bar

Last week I had remarked that my Short Story Monday selection read like a joke. Coincidentally, Kate Reuther's "A Man Walks Into a Bar" uses this approach intentionally. And it's so much better for it.

I've long thought that good jokes were like flash fiction and I'm a huge fan of "into a bar" jokes, so this story was completely up my alley.

While playing homage to the puns, Reuther subverts the humor as the story progresses. If a man spends this much time walking into a bar, there's likely something very sad going on. Like Cheers without the laugh track.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Reader's Diary #1595- Rick Remender (writer), various artists: Venom, The Complete Collection Volume 1

Confession time:I didn't mind Topher Grace as Venom in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3.

With that out of the way, and with hardcore Venom fans writing me off as a fraud and moving on, I'll also admit that Venom's not a character to whom I've paid a lot of attention. I used to think of him primarily as a villain, but I've since seen that he's sometimes considered a hero and well, all that has piqued my interest.

I do feel that Rick Remender's Venom gives a good sense of what the character is all about. Sort of. Venom is, in Marvel lingo, a symbiote. The name might be considered a misnomer considering that it triggers connotations of symbiosis rather than parasitism and Venom blurs that line. A sentient alien goo, it attaches itself to a human host and gives that person strength and shape shifting abilities. One also assumes Venom gets something from the relationship. So far, so good. But, if one leaves the goo attached too long (as Flash Thompson does from time to time in this collection), Venom begins to take over. It also seems to react to the hosts emotions and takes over when the host feels threatened or angry. Furthermore, human morals are not necessarily alien morals and when Venom takes over, the line between hero and villain is also blurred.

With such a unique and foreign concept as Venom then, it's a difficult character to pin down. Remender does what I assume most would in his case: focuses instead on the host. Enter Flash Thompson (not Eddie Brock of the aforementioned movie, though he does make an appearance). First introduced way back in the day, Flash was a high school bully to Spider-Man's Peter Parker. Here Remender fleshes out the character a lot more, giving him a background and what not. There's a pretty solid argument to make that he overdid the tragic angle (Flash is an alcoholic war amp with some pretty severe daddy issues) but this also makes the Venom angle edgier. If the symbiote reacts to human emotion, having him latch unto such an emotionally unstable wreck as Flash Thompson promises a lot of drama.

As a collection, it's pretty good, though calling it complete is not entirely accurate and there were a few moments when gaps were clearly filled in in stories not included here. Still, it's coherent for the most part and pretty solid exciting storytelling.

Despite the variety of different artists, the art is surprisingly consistent. Most seemed to have fun with the idea of an inky shape-shifting, slightly humanoid monster and went with it. The real task was honing in the chaos to still create something visually legible and they succeeded with aplomb. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Reader's Diary #1594- Barry Rosen: A Visit to Tim Horton's

Barry Rosen's "A Visit to Tim Horton's" very much reads like a joke: Sigmund Freud, Elvis Presley, and Tim Horton meet at the eponymous coffee joint. There are even a few punch lines here or there, but ultimately this reader's anticipation was not rewarded.

It's quirky and entertaining, though, and considering that it's all rather pointless, mercifully short.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Reader's Diary #1593- Chris Claremont (writer), John Byrne (artist): The Uncanny X-Men / The Dark Phoenix Saga

I've read a few solo X-Men titles, but surprisingly few featuring a team of them. But it was the word that "The Dark Phoenix Saga" would be adapted for a movie next year that drew my attention. It turns out to be one of the most respected storylines in the X-Men canon.

I suppose the underlying plot still holds up well enough. It centers around Jean Grey whose ever-increasing superpowers prove to be too much. He absolute power corrupts her absolutely, essentially turning her into an entirely different creature: the murderous and power-lusting Dark Phoenix. Her former friends and teammates a terrible emotional and physical battle as they attempt to destroy the Dark Phoenix while saving Jean Grey.

As a comic as a whole, however, it's terribly dated. The garish colours are all uniformly applied in that colour-by-numbers approach of the time; though I suppose, depending on your viewpoint, perhaps that could be seen as charming. Less debatable is the tendency to tell the story through narration and thought balloons.

I also felt that the story was dragged out a bit at the end, essentially wrapped up in the penultimate comic in the collection, but with a tacked out moon battle in the final issue.

On the plus side, a few essential characters are introduced in the comic, namely Emma Frost and Kitty Pryde.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Reader's Diary #1592- Lucy Clifford: The New Mother

Lucy Clifford's "The New Mother" reminds me of Dwight Schrute's cautionary tales for kids; overly horrific tales meant to teach children a lesson.

On that note, "The New Mother" is more creepy-weird than perversely violent, and essentially it's a lesson on not giving into temptations that will provide a few minutes enjoyment at the cost of misbehaving (a lesson just as applicable to adults).

Still, it's a bizarre and fascinating tale that reads more as horror than as a moralistic story.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Reader's Diary #1591- Various writers and artists: X-23 Complete Series

In the early 2000s Marvel began its MAX imprint with edgier, uncensored titles. I've read a few titles from this run, but how the X-23 stories didn't fall under this banner, I have no idea. They certainly disturbed me more than say, the Punisher.

Of course, we all have certain lines that make us more uncomfortable and child abuse is one of mine. If you've seen Stranger Things and were bothered over Eleven's childhood as a weaponized experiment, magnify that by... well, 11, and then don't let up on it. There's a lot of physical and emotional abuse is what I'm saying.

If that doesn't make you turn away, the stories are still thrilling and, perhaps because of the abuse and X-23's determination to be good, to rise above everyone's ill intentions and stop being used, it's next to impossible not to root for her. A secondary, but also compelling character is X-23's mother who is treated with an unexpected level of complexity for a comic book where good and evil tends to be black and white.

With many artists involved, it's not consistent in quality, but it's largely good. Mike Choi's work on the "Target X" story line was my favourite with its realism and artistic paneling, plus superior colouring by Sonia Oback.  

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Reader's Diary #1590- Dan Abnett (writer), Luke Ross (artist): Hercules Still Going Strong

Though he was in the periphery of many Marvel comics that I've read, I still didn't know much about Hercules. Of course, I'm a little familiar with the non-Marvel mythology, but I've been a little in the dark with how he's been interpreted by Marvel.

This is not a bad collection to understand his role at Marvel, though perhaps best to see where he's going rather than where he's been. It's not an origin story (i.e., how he has wound up in present day New York), but there are hints of his drunken, playboy past as he has now decided to get his life back on track, to stop being a joke and return to his hero roots.

The action is good (it involves a new class of "gods" who are trying to get rid of any left from the old mythology, but the sub-story of Hercules' battle with alcoholism brings it a notch higher than standard fare. Considering he goes around shirtless (and hairy) with a man-bun, the humanity angle was also much needed to take him serious as a character.

The art is fine, if rather generic.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Reader's Diary #1589- Heikki Hietala: Lord Stanton's Horse

I'm not usually a fan of war stories, but I can certainly be patient enough for a war-themed flash fiction.

What keeps Heikki Hietala's "Lord Stanton's Horse" compelling, even for non-fans of war stories, is the tension created by the withholding of information. In the story, a soldier is recounting a battle to a woman named Emily. She wants to know what happened to a man named Charles, yet the soldier seems more interested in discussing horses. The reason becomes clear.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Reader's Diary #1588- Kurt Busiek (writer), various artists: Conan The Blood-Stained Crown and Other Stories

I've never watched a Conan the Barbarian film but references have come up enough in pop culture that I not only was aware of the character but had also formed an impression of what he was all about: a meathead who solved most of his problems with violence.

Turns out, that's about right. Not to say I didn't enjoy this collection of Conan tales at all, but I've probably read enough for now.

Kurt Busiek, perhaps best known for Astro City, managed to still tell an entertaining yarn and mostly, counter-intuitively, by not focusing on the titular character. Most compelling are the stories that feature characters who themselves are enthralled by the legend of Conan and contrasting those against the "real" deeds of Conan.

Still it's all too much of a macho-grunt fest for me. The fantastical realm is brutally violent and unappealing and the women are eye-candy props for male readers. One female is presented as a capable fighter at least, but even then we're supposed to believe she'd choose to battle in a crop top, intentionally undersized to show as much under-boob as possible.

Art-wise, it's pretty great. Despite an assortment of artists, there's a consistent feel and Will Eisner's influence is everywhere. Plus the colouring and grit complement the tales perfectly.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Reader's Diary #1587- Vernon Oickle (writer), Julie Anne Babin (illustrator): Strange Nova Scotia

Vernon Oickle's Strange Nova Scotia is unlikely to make any national bestseller list, but that's just fine and I doubt he had any aspirations of that. It's the kind of book you see on a gas station counter. It'll sell a few copies to tourists and a few locals will have copies in their bathrooms, but that's likely to be it.

But as I'm not a local nor a tourist, how did I end up with it? A friend of mine recently moved to Nova Scotia and perhaps knowing that I'm a trivia buff, sent me a copy.

And to be sure, it's more a book of trivia than facts that anyone would really consider all that strange. I mean, the first baptism in Canada had to happen somewhere; that it happened in Nova Scotia isn't particularly odd.

I'm not sure how many of these tidbits will actually stick with me, but it was an enjoyable, slightly educational quick read. It also serves as a reminder that every little town in Nova Scotia and across Canada has its share of interesting history.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Reader's Diary #1586- Ed Piskor: Hip Hop Family Tree 4 1984-1985

A huge fan of this series, I don't know how I managed to miss the 4th volume of Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree series. In any case, I've now had my hands on it and once again Piskor's added to my music collection.

It's quite noticeable that the series has now slowed down to a volume per year. That makes sense considering that hip hop grew so much beyond its earlier days. There are more artists that Piskor must now report on.

I was surprised at the early entries of a few stars, notably D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince as well as Dr. Dre as I tend to think of them as coming onto the scene in the later 80s early 90s. Nonetheless, it was interesting to get some of their background stories. Conversely, I was also surprised that some of the old guard had still been hanging on in the mid 80s.

Unfortunately because of the plethora of artists, I was looking for a bit more narrative like had been in the earlier volumes. Sometimes it felt like Piskor was just shouting out a name and song. Still, he manages to still tell enough stories to keep me intrigued. The story behind the "Roof is on Fire" was especially fascinating.

The art, as always, is wonderful. This time around, Piskor also makes use of a photo here or there which was a nice way of keeping things new as well as serving as a reminder that these books are based on actual people and events.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Reader's Diary #1585- Austin Bunn: The End of the Age is Upon Us

I'll try not to spoil too much, but a big reason why I enjoyed Austin Bunn's "The End of the Age is Upon Us" is because it came as a surprise to me that it wasn't science fiction.

It's a tragedy, it's an unrequited love story, it's a fascinating and well written story.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The 10th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - April Roundup (Sticky Post— Scroll down for most recent post)

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

And in prize news, congratulations to Irene for winning a signed copy of Elizabeth Purchase's Warm for Winter for taking part in last month's mini-challenge to read a Canadian Picture Book. Canadian Book Challenge mini-challenges are exclusive to members via email.)

Friday, April 28, 2017

Reader's Diary #1584- Stuart Moore (writer), Ariel Olivetti (artist): Namor The First Mutant Vol. 1 / Curse of the Mutants

Though DC Comic's underwater superhero Aquaman is undoubtedly more popular than Marvel's Namor, Namor predates the former by a couple of years. With DC having pushed Aquaman into the spotlight more often, he is also the character I am more familiar with.

Still, the more snippets of Namor I'd gotten of Namor through other comics, the more intrigued I was. Especially interesting to me was the idea that he's not always the nicest of guys, possibly even venturing into villain territory.

It was high time I explored this character a little deeper.

The first thing I noted was that they refer to him as a mutant and on the cover he's wearing the X-Men symbol. I hadn't known that he was part of that world and I suspect there was some retconning going on. In any case, with the exception of a visit from X-men Emma Frost and Loa, his X-Men connection seems a bit forced and unnecessary.

Still, the story is fun, if a bit convoluted at times. It involves underwater vampires and so, a scuba diving Blade would have made more sense than the X-Men, but I don't want to be too negative— there were freaking underwater vampires. 

Ariel Olivetti's art is pretty great. Lines are crisp and the visuals are lifelike, with a touch of fantasy. The last issue has a new artist whose work was decent if nowhere near as good as Olivetti's. The colouring, too, was wonderful with Olivetti's run, with a murky blue overtone that fit the tone and setting, but still clear enough to see the details.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Reader's Diary #1583- John Semper Jr. (writer), Paul Pelletier (Artist): Cyborg Vol. 1 / The Imitation of Life

I'm not sure where I'd come across Cyborg's origin story before, as I'm pretty sure this is my first time reading a comic book devoted entirely to the character, but I wasn't wild about having to reread his origin again (as much as I do love a good origin story).

Nonetheless I did appreciate what John Semper Jr. took to the table. It is revealed this time around that Cyborg's father and creator had doubts that he actually saved his son by joining his mind and body to a computerized machine, or rather had simply downloaded a reasonable facsimile. When Cyborg hears this it does a number on his psyche. What if his father's doubts are true? It raises a lot of philosophical questions about what it means to be human. When Cyborg, for instance, feels different than others and unable to relate: is that because he's really a robot or is it just a normal human feeling?

And despite Cyborg being so unique a member of society, Semper also has tried to describe a typical African American experience. I cannot relate to this, of course, but I always appreciate being introduced to a lens other than my own.

The art is typically strong, very detailed and suited to the tale, right up until the 5th comic in the collection which, just like happened in the Xena collection I read recently, switched artists for no apparent reason halfway through. Not only is it jarring, the new style doesn't fit at all with its overly cartoony characters and vacant backgrounds.

5th comic aside, a solidly entertaining and intelligent collection.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 24, 2017

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

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

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

Reader's Diary #1576- Laolu Poe Alani: Adéláìdé

Laolu Poe Alani's "Adéláìdé" may wear its philosophy and themes of ambition and obstacles on its sleeve, but it's also one of those short stories where a lack of subtlety seems the point.

Further, I loved the contrast of universal themes such as these with a pretty unique (i.e., Nigeria) setting. And the protagonist was compelling and likeable, even if a bit on the depressing side.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Reader's Diary #1575- Matt Fraction (writer), Chip Zdarsky (artist): Sex Criminals Volume One / One Weird Trick

Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky's Sex Criminals Volume One: One Weird Trick is basically a superhero tale. But it's a great superhero tale!

The trick, or super power, is to stop time after having an orgasm. Strange enough that one person has this ability, but when a couple discovers they share this ability? Yes, it's a love story, too. Now granted, I think this introduces an M. Night Shyamalan sized plot hole: does this couple always orgasm at the exact same time? That's a bit unrealistic.

But if you can get past that, it's quite an original and humorous tale. As of yet, the couple isn't exactly using their super powers for good. Okay, they've decided to rob a bank to save a library, and I think that's a good thing, but still not superhero territory just yet.

Also, I should note, that the title and premise might lead some to believe that it's pornography. I'd beg to differ. In fact, there's quite a lot of really frank and important talk about healthy sex. It comes in an entertaining package, true, but this is far from smut even with all the genitals.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Reader's Diary #1574- Derf Backderf: My Friend Dahmer

There was a time when I'd have been all over a book about Jeffrey Dahmer. (I had planned, for a while, to be a forensic psychologist.) I no longer, however, looked forward to reading about Dahmer's gruesomely depraved murders. Not that I didn't think I could handle it, I just felt that I had long since heard enough of the lurid details and wouldn't find it particularly interesting.

However, reading My Friend Dahmer, I quickly rekindled my interest in the psychological and sociological aspects of serial killers. In most cases, and as it turns out, in Dahmer's as well, there's a toxic brew. Dahmer had major psychological problems (sexually attracted to dead men) and the sociological conditions at the time (70s, rural Ohio, dysfunctional family) were not exactly conducive to him getting help, or even to reach out for help.

This is not to suggest that Derf Backderf, who knew and hung around with Dahmer, presents an entirely sympathetic picture. In fact, he's very clear in his intro that his sympathies come to an abrupt halt when Dahmer first kills. Still it comes a little closer, perhaps as close as anyone can ever really get, in understanding how something like Jeffrey Dahmer happens.

It's not, for the record, gruesome. As the book ends after his first human kill, we are largely spared from the more shocking details. (I say mostly as end notes do get into such things, but fortunately they lack the visuals.)

Art-wise, the characters reminded me of a cross between Charles Burns (Black Hole) and Don Martin (MAD Magazine), which may not necessarily be a perfect fit for the story, but the strange essence of the 70s and the peculiarities of teenage years, are both there at least and it's not as jarring as you might expect. In black and white, a liberal use of ink gets the emotion across when needed.

My Friend Dahmer has been adapted for a movie which will be released this year.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Reader's Diary #1573- Erik Burnham (writer), Dan Schoening (writer): The New Ghostbusters

Sigh. There goes my run of amazing graphic novels.

The New Ghostbusters by Erik Burnham is bad. Very bad. It seems to owe much more to the old cartoon than the old movie and nothing to the new movie, except that it has female ghostbusters.

Its humour consists of unwitty sarcasm and slapstick. The story is needlessly convoluted and easily resolved. The characters are uninteresting, almost interchangeable with one another.

Even the art is bad. Schoening relies on goofy expressions and the setting and layouts are pretty unremarkable. I will say, however, that he at least did a better job than the cover artist, Carlos Valenzuela. Valenzuela seemed to have no idea what the final characters would look like. I somehow missed the Sofia Vergara/ Jennifer Lopez hybrid and the Indiana Jones with the oversized head.

Seriously, no redeeming qualities. Perhaps all the excellent comics I've been reading in recent weeks are making me judge this one extra harshly...

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Reader's Diary #1572- Kelly Sue DeConnick (writer), Valentine De Landro (art): Bitch Planet 1 Extraordinary Machine

I've been on a very fortunate roll with some pretty amazing comics lately and that trend continues big time with Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro's Bitch Planet 1 Extraordinary Machine.

It will come as no surprise given the title that Bitch Planet is quite a provocative read. It revolves around a dystopian world where women who don't comply (i.e., put up with male crap), are sent to an outer space prison camp known informally as Bitch Planet. On top of it all, a select group of these women are now expected to compete against men in a rigged competition, all for ratings in a televised event.

Make no mistake, these are tough, independent women with a range of personalities and backstories and it's next to impossible not to root for them (except of course, if you're a misogynistic a-hole).

Even more engaging is the awesome art. Influences from Tarantino to Lucha Libre to vintage comics to 1950's B-movies abound, complementing the drama with sensationally ironic eye-candy. Violence is in the air and it feels empowering!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Reader's Diary #1571- Tamar Merin, translated by Ari Liebermam: What You Looking At?

While Tamar Merin's "What You Looking At?" is set in Israel and touches upon the Hebrew language, it nonetheless resonated with me. The older I get and the longer I live away from Newfoundland, the more the idea of never being able to go back (metaphorically, not physically), nags at me. And as for my kids? Newfoundland is but a holiday destination. They enjoy it but understand on a surface level at best.

As the mother in "What You Looking At?" struggles to adapt back to life in Israel after having lived in the U.S. and to see her son, still very Americanized, it seems that pop culture (read American culture), might be enough common ground to act as a starting point. Merin leaves this to the reader to decide if it's a good or bad thing.

It does end rather abruptly for my taste, but it's an interesting portrait in time nonetheless.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Reader's Diary #1570- Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Cliff Chiang (artist): Paper Girls 1

I'm not sure that the 80s was the perfect decade to set a sci-fi mystery, but Stranger Things and Paper Girls certainly make a strong case.

Make no mistake, Paper Girls rocks. Centered around 4 kick-ass tween girls who run paper routes, the story takes one mysterious turn after another, getting weirder and weirder. Aliens? Time-travelers? Dinosaurs? Check, check, check.

Combine that with Cliff Chiang's ability to totally capture the 80s vibe (check out the hair-sprayed bangs on Erin!) and gorgeous colouring by Matt Wilson and you've got a series that I cannot wait to continue.