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 they 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.