Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Reader's Diary #1694: Stephen King and Richard Chizmar: Gwendy's Button Box

It's been a while since I've read any Stephen King, so when I came across a novella, I figured it was an easy time to give him another go. Besides being short, it had the added attraction of being co-written by Richard Chizmar. I enjoyed King's previous co-authored projects with Richard Straub and I was also keen on discovering an author unknown to me.

Not long ago I had read Arthur Slade's Dust and commented on how the villain, Abram, reminded me of a Stephen King character. Reading Gwendy's Button Box confirmed my comparison. Mr. Farris and Abram were definitely cut from the same cloth.

However, this is the titular Gwendy's story, and it's very much a coming-of-age tale. As a young girl enters puberty and begins to mature, she realizes how much power she has to affect the world, for good or for bad. In this case, the power comes from a mysterious button box given to her by a stranger (Mr. Farris), but it wouldn't be difficult for readers to ignore the box altogether, or at the very least, write it off as a placebo.

There's also a message here about self-restraint and as such, I'm sure some readers will be left longing for more disastrous drama than the book provided. I, however, was content with the death count! It's certainly one of King's less morbid tales and I would even venture as far as saying that it's his first YA novel though I haven't seen it marketed that way yet.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Reader's Diary #1643- Hajime Isayama: Attack on Titan Colossal Edition (1-5)

Reading the premise of Hajime Isayama's Attack on Titan manga series, I was expecting to find something along the lines of Jeff Lemire's Descender or Marvel's Galactus. Essentially there's a race(?) of giants (of varying sizes) that are terrorizing the Earth. The remaining humans (i.e., the ones that haven't been eaten) are held in a collection of walled settlements. Troops are constantly being trained for defense against the Titans, but they've had little to no success. The story mostly revolves around Eren who has a new ability that may finally help turn the tables.

I quite enjoyed the story, especially when it offered subtle commentary about how it must feel to be dominated my an outside force or culture. Not that this theme works as an analogy across the entire series, but it definitely pops up on occasion.

I was less excited by the art, especially the characters. Drawn in a rather sketchy style, they also come across poorly proportioned. Luckily this works for the giants as it gives them a scarier appearance. Also, I don't know if I just got used to it or if it began to improve, but I started enjoying the art more by the 4th or 5th book. There definitely seemed to be more effort put into the backdrops at that point.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Reader's Diary #1642- Destiny West: The Forgotten

If I don't read another story as disturbing as Destiny West's "The Forgotten" ever again, I'll be fine.

Not that it's a poorly written story, but it involves women confined to their beds and a man having his way with them. There's a bit of a twist at the end, but it doesn't make anything better. It makes it worse in fact, but at that point you'll be horrified enough so that it hardly registers.

There are a few typos that need to be fixed up but I suppose the distraction they provide could be a welcome reprieve.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Reader's Diary #1641- Jordan Abel: Injun

Beginning Jordan Abel's Injun, I was immediately struck by his inventiveness with the English language. Fans of poets like E.E. Cummings, Christian Bok, and bpNichol, will be especially happy. If you think all modern poetry sounds the same (i.e., gloomy and pretentious), take faith that some poets, like Jordan Abel, are not content to let the English language stagnate. As texting and social media have taught us, language is ever evolving 😐

Bonus points for those poets whose works are better on the page than aloud. Nothing against oral or slam poetry, but some of us are textual learners!

It is not until the end of Injun (and I wonder about this placement) that Abel described his process of writing the book. It is not, as it turns out, just inventive use of language, it is also found poetry; that is, poetry “found” in pre-existing text, text that was previously not considered poetry, and manipulated into poetic form. This makes the book even cooler; rare are entire collections of found poetry. More importantly, subverting the source material (in this case, old western novels where cowboys were good and Injuns were bad) gives the poems a strong sense of empowerment, often, for instance, using racist words against their original writers. Deconstructing, then reconstructing, often to make a brand new point. Brilliant.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Reader's Diary #1640- Luke Lieberman (writer), Walter Geovani (artist): Red Sonja Wrath of the Gods 1 - 5

Wanting to know more about this Red Sonja character, I recently found the Wrath of the Gods arc from Dynamite comics.

So, very early on, I began once again to despair about my gender. Sometimes I really don't get males. Red Sonja is supposed to be a kick ass heroine, leading one to believe her male creators were supportive of female empowerment. But then she's completely and constantly objectified. Always shown in an impractically skimpy costume (even in the snow!), scene and scene drawn from behind her so we get ass shots; it's all quite infuriating. Plus, the threat of rape is made several times.

I suppose the character herself remained compelling enough, but I think if I revisit her I'll read Gail Simone's take, who I've been told, has given her a much needed feminist makeover.

And I did wind up learning about the character, which was my primary goal in the first place. In these comics she's fighting alongside Thor against Loki and Odin. I found this especially interesting as Red Sonja began in life in Marvel comics and it is their version of these other characters that are perhaps more currently familiar. On that note, it was fun to compare the Marvel and Dynamite versions, and to consider how different (or similar) this story would be had Red Sonja stayed at her original publisher.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Reader's Diary #1639- Carleigh Baker: Bad Endings

Admittedly, I was attracted to Carleigh Baker's Bad Endings by the beautiful water-coloured salmon courtesy of Katie Green. That said, I think bees wound up playing a more significant role in this collection of short stories than fish, but that's neither here nor there.

I thoroughly enjoyed these tales. As the title would suggest, they are sometimes bleak but more often, and surprisingly, not. While the characters in these stories were all experiencing endings of sorts, and there was always the stress associated with said endings, there was typically a sense that it was for the best and that it was but the end of a story, not of a book.

This perhaps suggests that the stories didn't feel complete in their own right, and I've heard this from non-short story fans, that short stories leave them wishing for a novel. However, I did not sense that with Bad Endings. Baker has an art with characterization and with observation and the end result are fully realized snippets of life. The characters learn. They grow.

I read these stories over a few lunch breaks and I would highly recommend short story collections for such a clumped period of time. They provide a thoughtful and satisfying diversion to help wake up the brain and stir the emotions.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Reader's Diary #1638- Gina Balibrera: Álvaro

At times Gina Balibrera's "Álvaro" reminded me of Wayne Johnston's Colony of Unrequited Dreams. A theme throughout the story is one of art, or an artist, adequately interpreting a place. For me, Johnston's book does just that for Newfoundland.

A secondary, and more subtle theme, is one of the artist vs. the art. On the surface it seems that the narrator is suggesting that for her, the music of composer known as Álvaro best encapsulates El Salvador, but the way she constantly fixates on the man, not the music, I wonder.

As an added bonus to this provocative story, it's told in the 2nd person.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Reader's Diary #1637- John Bennett and Susan Rowley (editors): Uqalurait

Uqalurait: An Oral History of Nunavut, does an admirable job of collecting and communicating the history of Nunavut through the voices of elders, the keepers of a collective memory, detailing life either before contact with Europeans or day-to-day life where and when white Canadians were largely irrelevant.

Of course, transcribed oral stories and recollections cannot completely capture  hearing these voices in person. We miss the gestures and inflections, for instance, that can add so much. It is one-way, whereas sometimes (not always) when a person is speaking we would be able to ask questions for clarification, or even to help steer the direction.

Nonetheless, it felt pretty darn close to being there and I found myself missing hearing stories from my grandparents. Because they were in my thoughts, perhaps, I also found myself comparing and contrasting these memories with the lives lived by my ancestors (white Newfoundlanders). I also spent a lot of time considering how the Uqalurait memories would be interpreted and accepted by younger Inuit living in Nunavut today. They would have so much more context to work with than I.

I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the culture and though there were many collective generalities, I also appreciated when individual personalities shone through. It really stood out to me, as an important reminder, when some of the voices disagreed (for instance, about which traditions and practices they are sad to have lost). Elizabeth Nutaraaluk's modern feminist comment "We women were treated as aaliit [outcasts] even though we were ordinary people just like anyone else" was particularly awesome. Less poignant, but still endearing, was the way Adam Qavviaktoq always declared that he was done talking. "I'll stop here for now."

Monday, August 14, 2017

Reader's Diary #1636- Sevim Ak: Moving to a New House

Sevim Ak's "Moving to a New House" is, in a word, strange.

The plot, of a boy who resents getting the smallest room in their house and decides to hide away from his parents out of spite, is reasonable enough. However the telling of it and the resolution are very odd.

The dialogue is stilted and rings untrue (possibly a poor translation?) and the ending seems to have no rhyme or reason. The author typically writes stories for children and perhaps with the right illustrations this would appeal to a child's imagination. As for me, I just didn't get it.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Reader's Diary #1635- Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz (writers), Dan Jurgens (artist): Booster Gold Vol. 1 52 Pick-Up

My first exposure to Booster Gold was with the Death of Superman comics and at the time I read it (just last year), I was not impressed. For a character as important as Superman, it felt odd that DC Comics wouldn't have sent in the other big guns as supporting characters; instead of Bat Man, The Flash, and Wonder Woman, we got Maxima, Bloodwynd, and Booster Gold.

To be fair to Booster Gold, I've since heard more about him and though he may not be the biggest name in DC Comics, he's got his share of fans. I was willing to give the guy another chance.

And though I'd not go as far as saying that the character has become a favourite, I didn't dislike him this time around. He's meant to be a bit of a laughing stock, but this time around Johns and Katz have infused him with more humility. He's been known (rather annoyingly, in my opinion) as being a bit of a fame whore, so it's kind of perfect that this time around, as a guardian of the "real" time line, Gold has to save the world behind the scenes. He's also made more likeable by his inability to get over the loss of his best friend (some argue, more than best friend): the Blue Beetle. Making him care deeply about someone other than himself was quite necessary.

Booster Gold is somewhere between a humorous character and an action character, but the writers, combined with Jurgens' expressive characters, find the balance admirably.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Reader's Diary #1634- Ryan North (artist), Erica Henderson (writer): The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe

Any fan of Squirrel Girl can tell you, she may have the super powers of a squirrel but she's not to be messed with. She's beaten up the biggest of the baddies before (Thanos, Galactus, and Dr. Doom) so how does she top herself? By clearing the entire Marvel Universe. Sort of.

Actually, there's a bit of a cheat. It's not the original Squirrel Girl but rather her evil misguided clone. Nonetheless, she joins the ranks of the Punisher and Deadpool as the few who have taken on the rest of the Marvel heroes and survived (interestingly both of these guys also fall to her this time around).

It's a typical wonderful Squirrel Girl tale with Ryan North's irreverent brand of humour and Erica Henderson's balanced complimentary goofy art.

I'm still longing for Squirrel Girl to show up in something that feels like canon, but I'll take these fun stories in any case.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Reader's Diary #1633- Tiana Reid: Stories From Saint-Martin

Early on in Tiana Reid's collection of "Stories From Saint-Martin," I found myself questioning the way I read. This constant comparing and contrasting to myself. At first I almost gave myself an easy out: it's just human nature. She talks about body insecurities, I think about my own. This is the way we read, I told myself.

But if it's truly human nature, why do schools spend so much time trying to teach it? Clearly it doesn't come natural to all readers. Maybe it doesn't natural to anyone, maybe it's all learned. Strong readers, we're told, make personal connections.

This makes the story all about you in a sense. I began to wonder, does this make us bad listeners?

Race, or more specifically racism against black people, comes up a few times in Reid's stories. As a white male, this is clearly not something I can truly relate to. I suppose that's where the "contrast" comes in (vs. "compare"), but I don't know, when I was reading those parts, I wondered if it wasn't wrong that I couldn't shut my brain off and just listen for once.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Reader's Diary #1632- Jeff Lemire (writer), Dustin Nguyen (artist): Descender Volume One Tin Stars

I don't know why I keep being surprised by Jeff Lemire's work. I'm a diehard fan and it's like I forget that every time I sit down to read one of his books, only to be blown away by his talent once again. The man tells a story like nobody's business.

Descender is a superb piece of sci-fi with a richly developed world, emotionally resonant characters, and a plot that sees a surprise around every corner. Even the structure is creative. No where was this more clear than the second chapter when the robot boy Tim-21 is trying to escape from the villainous scrappers while every other page is a flashback in the form of his memories being slowly uploaded. Non-linear storytelling can be a difficult thing but it's achieved wonderfully here, the memory interruptions help build the tension yet are too beautiful to be frustrating.

Dustin Nguyen's watercoloured art helps gives depth to the story, especially playing up the more emotional angles. Try not to love Tim-21. It's impossible.

I cannot wait to read the next volume in the series.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Reader's Diary #1631- Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner (writers), Frank Stack (artist): Our Cancer Year

I was surprised to find, as I began Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner's Our Cancer Year, that so much of the story was not about Harvey's cancer, as the title would imply, but rather the Gulf War and how it affected the lives of Joyce's young friends.

This would soon change, moving these folks and this moment in history to the background. The cancer, not surprisingly, became all-consuming. This change in pacing and focus was brilliant. Harvey and Joyce's struggle was almost palpable.

I wasn't completely taken by Frank Stack's art, however. The settings were bleak, scratchy and inky, fitting the tone of the book wonderfully. I was less taken with his caricatures, or rather the inconsistency in his caricatures. Later in the book it made more sense that Harvey's look varied from panel to panel as the cancer and treatment took its toll on his physical appearance. It doesn't however explain why there was so much variation with other characters.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Reader's Diary #1630- Jim Starlin (writer), George Perez and Ron Lim (artists): The Infinity Gauntlet

I'll admit being super excited for the Avengers: Infinity War movie coming out next year. (Even more so since the trailer leaked online.) In the meantime, I'm trying to familiarize myself with the stories that inspired the movie and perhaps no comic has done more so than The Infinity Gauntlet story line by Jim Starlin back in 1991.

Of course, the comics are far less caught up with character usage rights as the movies and so, stories will be far from a perfect match. Wolverine, Silver Surfer, Dr. Doom, and Cyclops for instance, are all in the comic but will definitely not appear in the movie as their rights are tangled up in Fox and Sony.

Furthermore, the MCU has yet to really unify its television and big screen properties. And as disappointed as it makes me, it's unlikely the television characters will join the Avengers in fighting Thanos next April. On that note, the comic does perhaps provide a clue as to how the movie will handle the fact that it would be rather weird that superheroes such as Daredevil, Cloak and Dagger, Quake, Black Bolt, and so on would be sitting on their thumbs. Early in the comic, Thanos simply wields his new awesome powers to blink half of the universe's life out of existence. (Later, Nebula returns everything to normal, so no lasting harm done.)

That was actually one of the more interesting plot lines in the collection and one that I think could have stood on its own. The impact of such an action should be huge and explored. We get hints here: pilots disappear causing planes to crash, Krees blame the Skrulls for tragedy and vow vengeance, and so on. Instead, however, the focus remains on Thanos.

Not a terrible problem, as he's a pretty interesting character, but the superheroes themselves though they are many remain pretty irrelevant throughout. You can bet that Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans and the rest will NOT be irrelevant in the movie.

One reasonable concern in such a movie or book is whether or not it will feel bloated with such a giant cast. The comic handled handled it well by selecting a few for focus (besides Thanos, Warlock, Doctor Strange, and Silver Surfer get more page time), and I suspect the movie will just swap in the aforementioned big wigs. Though the rest will also be there in the perimeter and so, just as I don't think the comic was a good jumping on point for newcomers, the movie will assume a lot of familiarity with the MCU. It will be a fans-only affair for sure.