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.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Reader's Doiary #1569- Bryan Lee O'Malley (writer), Leslie Hung (artist): Snotgirl: Green Hair Don't Care Vol. 1

Snotgirl is a successful fashion blogger with a much more glamorous online life than real life, and with boyfriend problems to boot.

Written by Bryan Lee O'Malley, I was immediately uncomfortable with the premise and the fact that a male was telling the story. A shallow fashion blogger? Is that a stereotype? Does it demean "female" interests? And the boyfriend issues? This certainly wouldn't past the Bechdel test.

But just as O'Malley might be question for his ability to fairly tell this story, perhaps I might be questioned for my ability to discern if this is offensive or fair to women. So, I went looking for critiques by females to see what they thought. If this discussion by the crew at Women Write About Comics is any indication (and I realize that they don't necessarily speak on behalf of all women), it didn't seem to be a major concern, at least not in the first issue. It was enough, at least, for me to put my concerns on the back burner and focus on other aspects of the story and art.

As you may have gathered from the title, this is a very quirky book. The humour (yes, sometimes of the gross-out variety) helps round off the edges of some very compelling characters, none more compelling that Snotgirl herself. Perhaps it's a by-product of the very current, very deftly handled theme (i.e., our online personas versus our our "real life" personas), but Lottie Person, a.k.a. Snotgirl, is a flawed mess.

I didn't, however, dislike her because of it. Sometimes I pitied her, and sometimes I definitely disliked her choices, but I liked her more in the end because she felt authentic. None of us are perfect, especially to the level that social media demands.

In the end, I quite enjoyed the book. It was super entertaining (it was different, it was funny, it even had a mystery that has hooked me enough to read the second volume) and had some real intelligent food for thought buried just below the surface.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Reader's Diary #1568- Miriam Toews: All My Puny Sorrows

While I enjoyed Miriam Toews' A Complicated Kindness while reading it, I seemed to have soured on
it somewhat as time passed. I recall finding her characters slightly too quirky to be believable. Since then I've encountered many more such characters in other books by other novelists and my tolerance for quirky has gone way down. I know it's not fair to say that Miriam Toews started it all, but it's hard to shake the feeling.

So, I wasn't overly eager to take on All My Puny Sorrows

Wow, I'm glad I did. Her characters are still left of normal, but toned down just enough to be believable. Very believable. In fact, and I'm almost hesitant to say it around people that have read the book, I found the character of Elf (the protagonist's suicidal sister) a lot like me. And no, this is not a cry for help.

Exploring themes of assisted suicide, depression, familial bonds, and more heavy topics, there was a real threat that All My Puny Sorrows would be so much of a downer as to be unreadable. Fortunately the likeability of the characters and Toews' wry wit (though not "hilarious" as an asinine Toronto Star review referred to it), kept the pages turning.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Reader's Diary #1567- Michel Hellman: Nunavik

I'm always a little guarded against those who visit the north for a brief period of time, believe themselves to be sudden experts, and then write a book about it.

So, it was with no little reservation that I picked up Michel Helman's Nunavik which serves as his travel memoir as a tourist across the northern communities of Quebec, in Nunavik. Still, I was instantly attracted to his style, which reminded me of Alison McCreesh's work. One odd feature, however, is his portrayal of himself as a polar bear while everyone else as human. If this were the case, I'm guessing he would have gotten himself shot very quickly!

Also, I'm more convinced that he managed to fairly represent the place. Perhaps artists are able to observe and process more quickly than I give credit. It felt, at least, like my experiences in Nunavut. And, I think he was fair; respectful but not afraid to point out negative aspects as well. Of course, Nunavut is not Nunavik, and besides spending a little time in the Kuujjuaq airport, I can't claim to be an expert on the place either.

Authenticity aside, it was an entertaining read.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Reader's Diary #1566- Aruna Harjani: The Tour Guide

For those who still think that a short story doesn't provide the space to develop a character, I invite you to read Aruna Harjani's "The Tour Guide."

Set in Bali, the titular character is a heartbroken man who nonetheless puts on a smile for the tourists. Even worse, a large number of them are newlyweds. Is this a case of penance? That would be a difficult case to make. He doesn't seem to think he was ever at fault, nor does his disposition suggest his role is a punishment. Perhaps the newly in love reminds him of what he once had and he's choosing to live by the old adage, "it's better to have lost and lost, than never to have loved at all."

Of lesser importance, but interesting in any case, is the couple he's escorting around on this particular day. I'm still left trying to decide if their final request was selfish (ignoring the guide's woes) or sensitive (trying to distract him).

Friday, March 31, 2017

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

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

And in prize news, congratulations to Heather for winning a copy of Gordon K. Jones's Defending the Inland Shores: Newfoundland in the War of 1812 for taking part in last month's mini-challenge to read a book written by a past or current participant in the Canadian Book Challenge. Canadian Book Challenge mini-challenges are exclusive to members via email.)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Reader's Diary #1565- Kate Leth (writer), Eman Casallos (artist): Vampirella / Hollywood Horror

Kate Leth, whom I just happily discovered is Canadian, seems to have a knack for modernizing older comic book characters. Retaining enough character essence but making them contemporary, more attuned to today's values and issues (or as the young'uns might say, woke). She did so with Marvel's Hellcat and pulls it off again with Vampirella.

This is how Vampirella first appeared in 1969:

Believe it or not, this outfit got even smaller as time went on
Thankfully, there's been a lot of healthy discussion about the way that females have been portrayed in comics and we've seen some notable improvements. Indeed, the cover of Kate Leth and Eman Casallos's Vampirella: Hollywood Horror depicts an outfit much more conducive to kicking ass than showing ass.

Of course, vampire legends are often highly sexualized, and slut shaming Vampirella would be wrong, too. Fortunately Leth strikes the perfect balance with the character. Vampirella comes across as having a healthy sexual appetite. But even more impressively, Leth devises a way to reclaim the barely-there costume. Vampirella takes ownership.

Politics aside, this is a fun story. Alien vampires, werewolves, and demons? The camp of Hollywood is an ideal setting and the homage to old monster movies works perfectly. And the respect for the characters provides a much needed balance so that the novelty doesn't wear itself thin.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Reader's Diary #1564- Reinhard Kleist: Johnny Cash I See A Darkness

Considering myself a big fan of Johnny Cash, I've read and seen enough about the man that I don't feel that I really learned much about him through this graphic novel biography.

However, I did quite enjoy revisiting him and his music with this beautifully rendered comic. Reinhard Kleist's art is scratchy, like Jeff Lemire's, but inky and dark, like Charles Burns'. Both are fitting styles for a moody man-of-the-people artist like Cash.

Furthermore, Kleist works in other themes like the difference between factual truth and artistic truth that linger well beyond the book. In the end, where the man ends and the legend begins is almost irrelevant.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Reader's Diary #1563- Mikhail P. Artzybashev: The Revolutionist

With a title like "The Revolutionist" and by a Russian author, no less, one might suppose this short story would have lots of bearing upon what is happening currently in Russia.

It does, I suppose, but this tale of how a mild, mannered teacher might become a revolutionary, is not particularly profound.

It is enjoyable, nonetheless. Artzybashev's depictions of nature and weather seem almost Canadian, whereas the violent images were a somewhat surprising touch considering that it was written in 1917.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Reader's Diary #1562- Steve Gerber (writer), various artists: The Man-Thing The Complete Collection

Swamp Thing has recently become one of my favourite DC Comics characters and as a card-carrying Marvel fan it has pained me somewhat to think that they ripped off DC with the Man-Thing. The good news is I was wrong about that. The bad news is, it doesn't really matter. Swamp Thing still reigns supreme.

The first Swamp Thing appearance was actually a few months later than Man-Thing's. Perhaps tellingly, the creators of both monsters lived with one another at the time. And the whole originality question is moot when one considers that both were rip-offs of the Heap who was in turn a rip-off of It (not the Stephen King clown-monster).

With nearly identical origin stories (a scientist injects himself with a chemical, falls into a swamp, and becomes a rotting vegetable monster), the Man-Thing/ Swamp Thing differences begin to veer from there. The former has a demonic penis face, the latter a demonic vagina face.

But more importantly, the Man-Thing doesn't think but merely reacts to emotions and a vague sense of good/evil. The Swamp Thing on the other hand is quite a thinker. Steve Gerber, to his credit, managed to milk more out of the Man-Thing's premise than I would have thought possible, but in the end, he comes across as a bit of a dog. The Swamp Thing's writers throughout the years have been able to infuse him with existential angst which is far more interesting. (Gerber did touch upon such topics in his latter Man-Thing stories but had to rely on peripheral characters to do so.)

Perhaps owing to the existential angle, the Swamp Thing's artists were also able to make him a much more horrifying character with a creepy mix of psychedelic imagery and symbolism. None of the artists of Steve Gerber's Man-Thing stories were really able to do much that was truly frightening, except perhaps if you're terrified of garish70s colours. 

All this aside, I'm glad to have given the Man-Thing a chance and I'm still curious to see what R. L. Stine will accomplish with the character this year.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Reader's Diary #1561- Astrid Lindgren: Pomperipossa in Monismania

Revolver is often cited as the best Beatles album of all time, sometimes the best album of all time by anyone. It is ruined, however, by the opening track, "Taxman." Rich people complaining about paying taxes. Great riff or not, it's hard for me to get beyond that.

In "Pomperipossa in Monismania," Astrid Lindgren, the Swedish writer who was raking in the money from her Pippi Longstocking fame, however, made a better, and much more sympathetic case against her country's then marginal tax code which could result in independent business owners paying 102%.

Thinly disguised as a fairy tale, it's really not much more subtle than "Taxman" but there is at least a respectful acknowledgement of the role taxes pay in society. And 102% is outrageous.

It's a lightly humorous tale, perhaps made funnier because it so transparent.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Reader's Diary #1560- Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith (writers), Aaron McConnell (artists): The Comic Book Story of Beer

In some aspects, Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith's The Comic Book Story of Beer: The World's Favorite Beverage from 7000 BC to Today's Craft Brewing Revolution reminded me of Mark Kurlansky's Salt. Both took a food that most people probably don't give a second thought about, even while being enjoyed, and shared a surprisingly fascinating history of how that food has influenced society the world over.

An obvious difference between the two is that this one is illustrated. Much of the praise heaped on this book claim that the art makes an otherwise dull topic interesting. As a fan of Salt, which wasn't illustrated, I'd disagree. The history of beer would likely have been engaging even without Aaron McConnell's art.

However, McConnell's art acts as the hops, the flavouring agent. While it doesn't, as in many comic books, weigh equal importance to the text, doesn't add any new insight, it is good. It's consistently styled throughout, except when he veers to say, draw in the style of an old-timey political cartoon in order to complement the words. There's also a dry sense of humour that reminded of the Simpsons' Behind the Laughter episode with its over-the-top attempts at symbolism.

And, as a fan of craft beers but with little background knowledge to adequately explain why I prefer some beers over others, I can definitely say I learned a few things.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Reader's Diary #1459- Various writers and artists: Luke Cage Avenger

Luke Cage has had disappointingly few solo outings in the comics. This book is a collection of solo stories that were part of larger story arcs where Cage was but one of many superheroes. But after really enjoying the Netflix series, I'll take it.

Of course, coming from Netflix as a starting point, it's impossible not to compare the two. His origin story is slightly different, whereas his strict moral code is still rather similar. I enjoyed this comparison exercise.

That said, the compilation still leaves much to be desired. With a title like Luke Cage: Avenger, I was hoping to see more Avenger story lines. In the series and in this book, he comes across more of a solo street fighter. I'm intrigued to know how he would lead with a larger ensemble (there are some team-ups here, but not many, and certainly not with Luke in a leadership role) and even more interested in seeing him take on larger, global threats. Unfortunately, this collection doesn't really deliver on these fronts.

Another disappointment was the portrayal of Jessica Jones. I knew beforehand that in the comics Jessica Jones and Luke Cage were married and with a child. I didn't know that meant that Jessica Jones would be reduced to a nagging housewife. That really sucked.

As for the art and writing, as with any compilation with this many writers and artists involved, it was a mixed bag of quality. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Reader's Diary #1458- April White: Luck and the Long Dark

In the lead-up to "Luck and the Long Dark," April White writes that this was an award-winning entry in a short story contest to write in the style of Jack London, Robert Service, and Pierre Berton. Certainly Jack London's style comes through loud and clear and it is no wonder that she won.

Following the introspective male fighting to survive in a brutal north winter trope, is perhaps predictable, but the truly inspirational touch was to turn the story into an epistolary tale that, through the use of letters, also allows a female voice to shine through.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Reader's Diary #1457- Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis (writers), various artists: Scooby Apocalypse Volume 1

Archie Comics set the bar pretty high for subversive takes on their iconic characters beginning with the zombie-filled Afterlife with Archie. Now it seems everyone's getting in on the action. There's a socially satirical Flintstones, a gay, southern-gothic Snagglepuss, and an apocalyptic Scooby-Doo. Surprisingly almost all of these are meeting with critical and commercial success.

While I wouldn't go as far as suggesting that Scooby Apocalypse is as great as Afterlife with Archie, it is nonetheless pretty darn good.

Looking at the cover the most pressing concern is the hipster version of Shaggy. It's one thing to be subversive but it's quite another another to completely ignore the appeal of the original. Shaggy, I thought, used to be appealing for his total lack of awareness, not one to be caught up in dressing cool or current trends. This one has a hipster beard (complete with styled moustache), jewelry ear plugs, tattoos, and skinny jeans.

I can't say I ever came to accept this artistic decision, but I will say that the writing itself was good enough that I at least temporarily forgot about it. It's a bit of an origin story explaining how the gang all get together, as well as Scooby's ability to talk (however rudimentary). But the larger story is a sci-fi end-of-times story, complete with monsters and mind-controlling nanites (microscopic robots).

If it's not perfect, it is a lot of fun. In this most important way, it is very true to the source material.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Reader's Diary #1456- Riad Sattouf: The Arab of the Future

For this white North American male, Riad Sattouf's The Arab of the Future is a difficult book to discuss publicly. To be clear, Sattouf's memories of Libya and Syria from  the late 70s early 80s are not particularly flattering of either place. They come across as dirty, violent, backward, anti-Semitic, homophobic, and misogynistic just as starters. To say that I enjoyed the book: does this imply that I necessarily believe him? Or worst, than I'm racist towards Arabs?

I will say that I think the book accurately reflects what Sattouf has taken away from his experiences and I believe it to be honest in that way. I'll also point out the discord between the text and visuals. For most episodes, even the appalling ones, Riad depicts his childhood self as grinning and pretty nonchalant toward the whole thing (an exception comes later in the book when he becomes more scared of personal injury), but it is pretty evident that this is the 30 year old Parisian self writing it, revaluing and interpreting events from an altogether different perspective.

On those notes, and even because of any discomfort I might feel toward discussing it, I quite enjoyed this book. It's challenging philosophically but in all the ways a book should be.

It's not particularly challenging from a purely literary approach as the cartooning is simple and expressive. One minor difficulty I had was with the use of colours. For the most part panels are monochromatic with different locales taking on a different pastel. It was interesting to look at, for sure, but I found myself wondering if Sattouf had intended readers to draw more meaning than simply a change in geography.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Reader's Diary #1455- Lucy Knisley: French Milk

A few years back I ruffled a few feathers by negatively reviewing a local poet's work whose defense turned out to be that they were poems written for her diary, not originally intended to be published. Fine, I suppose, but we've merely shifted blame to the publishers (and their editors). Not that such a book can't be pulled off, acceptable to outside readers, but without an audience in mind, there's a real danger of it being an exercise in navel gazing.

At its finest moments, and/or those moments when I was feeling most generous, Lucy Knisley's memoir French Milk worked fine as a travelogue. Otherwise, I found this 20-something's Paris tale to be self-indulgent, rushed, and aimless. A perfectly fine personal record of her trip, but the appeal for others is lost on me.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Reader's Diary #1454- Donald Hubbard: Meat Shop

Last week a couple of sisters who'd disappeared from Alberta way back in the 80s were found alive and well, kicking about in the U.S.. Though the details of the case were scant, many news outlets picked up on the story because perhaps of the happy ending but likely also because it's a sensational story that gets the imagination cranking.

Of course, when it's not a movie (or short story), we can more readily ignore the life that must have been lead to lead people to walk away unannounced, we can pretend that their lives, like all lives, are not inextricably entwined with others and to cut ties so dramatically affects everyone.

Donald Hubbard's flash fiction, "Meat Shop," has some fun with a similar idea, hinting at some of the high stakes involved, but still keeping it on the level of sensational entertainment.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The 10th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - February 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 Raidergirl for winning a copy of Garfield Ellis's The Angels' Share for taking part in last month's mini-challenge to read a Canadian book published in 2016. Canadian Book Challenge mini-challenges are exclusive to members via email.)

Reader's Diary #1453- Jeff Lemire (writer), Andrea Sorrentino (artist): Old Man Logan Volume 1 Berzerker

With the new Logan movie set to hit theatres this Friday, I thought I'd start looking at this older version of the Wolverine character that I've heard so much about. Not that Wolverine has ever been my favourite superhero by any stretch. He's always come across as too macho and too cranky for me.

Still, I quite liked this book. Written by Jeff Lemire, I'm not shocked at that. He gives Logan some of that fatherly angst that Lemire does so well, but also handles the strange premise expertly. Old Man Logan is initially set in a future where there are hardly any mutants or superheroes left. Logan himself has a family and refuses to use his claws. Even more strange, the Hulk's inbred and villainous offspring have taken over. That's all weird enough, but now with Logan's family slaughtered and him waking up back in the present day, he goes about trying to prevent it all by hunting down those that would be responsible some day. Being Marvel though, it turns out that the present day where Logan has awaken may not be the same universe at all.

If you can follow that, it's an interesting piece of sci-fi and with well-developed characters to boot. However there are still a couple of points worth mentioning:

1. It is marginally helpful to understanding the movie at best. The comics, of course, can make use of any character whereas the movie rights to these are all over the map. For now, you won't see the Hulk and the Wolverine in the same film, so there has to be some rather large changes.

2. Despite this being "volume 1" of the trades, there is an earlier series of the same title (written by Mark Millar, Brian Bendis, and Jeff Lemire respectively). Still, this Volume 1 (geez, Marvel doesn't make it easy to find one's way around, do they?) is a fine jumping on point and there's enough background info given to catch a reader up to speed.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Reader's Diary #1452- Ted Chiang: The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling

If you've seen the Black Mirror episode "The Entire History of You" you'll immediately recognize the premise of Ted Chiang's "The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling." It involves new bio-technology that revolutionizes memory. Cameras are implanted into people's eyes which record every waking minute of their days. It's aided by secondary technology which allows people to think about specific moments and have them replayed back almost instantly, either in one's mind or on an external screen for others to view.

Questions of plagiarism aside, what Chiang does with the idea is quite different. Not better, necessarily, but there's further philosophical debates that make it a very interesting take. Themes of written language versus oral storytelling, colonialism, the purpose of remembering and forgetting are all explored. It is all very well done.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Reader's Diary #1451- Hunter S. Thompson (writer), Troy Little (artist): Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Having read the non-comic version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas before, I can honestly say that the only reason I wanted to read this adaptation is because the illustrator is from Prince Edward Island. As much as I wasn't a fan of the original book, I will admit that getting the rights to turn it into a graphic novel is kind of a big deal.

Troy Little wasn't able to convince me that it's a good book (just a rambling Hunter S. Thompson  trying to show how cool he is by doing stupid amounts of illegal drugs and treating everyone else like they're idiots), but I was nonetheless impressed with his artistry. Actually one thing I liked about the original was Ralph Steadman's illustrations. Perhaps one might see an influence in Little's work, but for an entire comic, I'm glad that Little's were more lucid. Granted, they were wild and psychedelic when suitable (often), but consistent enough to keep such an out-there story coherent. And just recently having been to Vegas, I think he did an admirable job of capturing it (especially the outdoor settings).

The zany characters too were well done. Expressive and exaggerated caricatures-- what other kind could he draw from the source material?

On that note, I'll definitely be looking for more of Little's work. Thompson? I'll pass.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Reader's Diary #1450- Bruce Handy: The Year in Internet Memes and Social-Media Obsessions

Written just a little over a year ago, Bruce Handy's "The Year in Internet Memes and Social-Media Obsessions" was surprising to find in the New Yorker. Frankly it feels like something a middle school English teenager might assign to his students, hoping to appear hip: try to work all the memes of 2015 that you can find into a short story, a mashup if you will.

Not that it's not an amusing look back at some memes that are hard to believe are 2 years old already, but it has about as much substance as the memes themselves. Again, fine, but the New Yorker? I suppose towards the end it gets a little into satire category (offering a subtle counter point), so the assignment gets an A-.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Reader's Diary #1449- Tracey Lindberg: Birdie

For all the counselors out there who think calling it a "break through" rather than a "breakdown," is wise: stop. It's cheesy and your clients will mock you behind your back. Not that there can't be some truth to the sentiment.

For all intents and purposes, Birdie, Tracey Lindberg's titular character, is having a breakdown. She was the victim of chronic sexual assault from a young age, had identity confusion, and made some decisions along the way she wasn't too proud of. Now she's drawn into herself, not communicating with those around her and not eating. Needless to say, on an emotional level, Birdie is a difficult read.

But it's difficult in other ways as well. Because much of the story is Birdie's reflections, the timeline is often confusing and the details are sometimes scattered. Sometimes, too, the story switches to the women around her. It's also very female-oriented and about Cree culture; two perspectives that I as a white male do not share. Even the grammar is unfamiliar. Lindberg invents new composite words to capture a feeling or image (e.g., smilesnarl).  Sentence fragments are par for the course.

For all of this, it was not only readable but left me feeling rewarded in the end. I felt as if I learned something about female relationships, about Cree culture, about the written language, about mental/emotional recovery, and most importantly about Birdie. Without that last part, it had the potential to be preachy, but it was all wonderfully grounded in this complex, likeable character... who, spoiler alert, has a break through.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Reader's Diary #1448- Makoto Yukimura: Vinland Saga Book One

I can't say that I was expecting to enjoy Makoto Yukimura's Vinland Saga as much as I did with this first book. A Japanese manga set in the Viking days of the North Atlantic would be a novelty, I assumed, but little more.

However, it really had it all: fine story-telling (the use of flashback in this first book is quite well done), compelling characters (each has a mysterious past), and great art (there's a couple of scenes, for instance, with close-ups of hands that have way more detail than I've encountered in manga in a long time). I also quite enjoyed the historical aspect and wound up appreciating the research that Yukimura put in. I found myself at one point following up with Google to explore the Viking/Christianity connection I had either long-forgotten or never learned.

All this and action to boot? I'm not surprised to see that the series won both the Japan Media Arts Awards Grand Prize for Manga and the Kodansha Manga Award.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Reader's Diary #1447- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The Arrangements

In "The Arrangements" Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie does the near impossible: she humanizes the Trump clan. This is not to be misunderstood as being pro-Trump or even creating empathy, but it goes a little way in at least explaining why the hell they are the way they are and what it is they're about.

The story, thankfully, revolves around Melania  whereas Trump is as much the spoiled, petulant brat behind closed doors as he is in public.

It would all make for a compelling read except for the sad and angering reality.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Reader's Diary #1446- Greg Pak (writer), Frank Cho and Mike Choi (artists): The Totally Awesome Hulk Volume 1 Cho Time

The Hulk is one of Marvel's best known characters. He's more complex than people give credit and amongst superheroes, one of the more unique. That all said and while I don't particularly mind Bruce Banner or the whole Dr. Jekyll and Hyde relationship he has with the Hulk, if Marvel's doing an overhaul to give us a Korean American Hulk, the alter ego of one Amadeus Cho, I'm on board-- as long as it's good, of course.

And it is good. Not great, but good. It still, at this point, feels like it's in the early days of the character (Amadeus Cho, for the record, has been around for a while, Amadeus Cho as the Hulk has not). His sister is given a pretty lame role, kind of acting as the Jiminy to Cho's Pinocchio. Worst still is the B-98 Beta Robo Drone that flies, following the new Hulk around, transmitting messages back and forth to his sister. It feels like one of George Lucas's less than successful ideas for comic relief. The drone should be scrapped altogether and the sister should be given something more substantial.

I appreciate Pak's attempts to make this a unique Hulk, beyond just being a Korean American version of the old one. The main way he does this is by making him younger. As a teenager grappling with hormones, this changes the dynamic quite a bit. For an interesting new take, it has potential. With a giant monster of strength, wrestling to control said urges however, it also has potential for a sexist disaster on Marvel's front. Already I'm not wild about Amadeus Cho. He may be a genius, but he's way too much of a bro for my liking.

Still, the stories themselves weren't bad. His origin as the new Hulk is explained here, but in flashbacks that don't take over the main plot, which was a nice touch.

The art, first by Frank Cho and then by Mike Choi, is serviceable.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Reader's Diary #1445- Mezbauddin Mahtab: A Little Early Story

The ironic thing about such racist actions as Trump's recent travel ban is the way they wind up uniting and strengthening the very people they mean to destroy. Indeed, it's united Muslim communities with one another and with non-Muslims.

That said, there's still a residual effect that nuances and differences are ignored. This can be good, of course, when there's a common goal, but it also lends itself to stereotypes. Mezbauddin Mahtab's "A Little Early Story" is an excellent reminder that just as in other faiths, Islam has a huge variety of beliefs and even more importantly, differences come down to the individual level as well.

It's also superbly told; weaving in and out of various characters' heads, there's an energy and mesmerizing flow.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Reader's Diary #1444- James Tynion IV (writer), Freddie E Williams (artist): Batman / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 1

I love a good crossover, but I'd hardly consider myself a big fan of either of these two properties. I'll give credit for being an unexpected crossover, that's for sure.
It was only recently that I read my first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic, an anthology of the very earliest works by creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. I had to admit that I actually enjoyed it, found stories interesting, the jokes funny, and the art stellar. Unfortunately, the TMNTs in this book seem to owe more to the old 80s cartoon show than the comics. They are dumber, more bro-ish, and even have their old catchphrases (Cowabunga? Really, shouldn't that be updated?).

Batman is fine in the crossover, but he's such an inconsistent character, it's hard to say he's true to the essence anyway. Despite a consistent scowl, he's surprisingly patient with the turtles I suppose. And, I did like that the emphasized his detective skills which seems to have been forgotten nowadays.

The crossover story is fine in that it makes sense without seeming forced and has some good action sequences, playing to the fanboys who want to see the heroes clash before teaming up. The Shredder proves himself to be a two-dimensional villain, however, especially compared to Batman's rogue gallery yet it's The Shredder that gets more spotlight.

If you are a fan of either or both of these sets of characters, you'll likely be fine with this comic. Me? I was entertained briefly but ultimately underwhelmed-- about what I figured.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The 10th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - January 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 Nancy Gardiner's Hairy Leg News for taking part in last month's mini-challenge to read a non-fiction Canadian book. Canadian Book Challenge mini-challenges are exclusive to members via email.)