Friday, September 29, 2017

Reader's Diary #1676- Tsuina Miura (writer), Gamon Sakurai (art): Ajin Demi-Human

There's a lesser known Marvel superhero who belongs to the Great Lakes Avenger and goes by the name of Mister Immortal. He's played mostly for laughs which, though funny at times, is a bit of a shame because the concept itself need not be a throwaway concept.

Fortunately, the Ajin Demi-Human series explores the idea more fully. In this world, there are a few such people with such abilities and as you'd expect, they trigger a lot of fear and curiosity in the rest of the population, so much so that many have gone on the run so as not to be torn apart in the name of science.

I liked the first volume enough; besides the philosophical and ethical ramifications, the action is great, and the art reminded me somewhat of Akira which is a plus. I wasn't crazy Miura decided to give these immortal folks and few extra supernatural abilities as well, wishing he just focused on the unkillable aspect, but I'm a fan of superhero comics which are typically guilty of the same, so I can't come down on it too hard for that.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Reader's Diary #1675- Gengoroh Tagame, translated by Anne Ishii: My Brother's Husband

My Brother's Husband, by Gengoroh Tagame, is one of the more unexpected treasures I've discovered so far this year. It's a poignant and touching story of a Japanese single father named Yaichi, who is visited by the husband of his deceased and estranged identical twin brother, a Canadian named Mike.

I was surprised at first by the addition of a Canadian character in a Japanese comic, but an even better surprise was how well Tagame handled such an issue heavy book. Themes of homophobia and mourning run large and yet the issues do not compete with one another, nor does it ever feel didactic. Instead it feels like an organic, quietly beautiful story.

Holding it all together is the daughter, Yaichi's young and irrepressibly cheerful Kana who is too young yet to have learned prejudice.

Finally, Tagame's artwork completely complements the story perfectly. At first glance it's simple, yet it's also tightly focused and the character expressions are rich and realistic.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Reader's Diary #1674- Ernest Vincent Wright: Gadsby

If you've heard of Ernest Vincent Wright's novel Gadbsy it's most likely as a novelty book owing to the fact that it has over 50,000 words none of which contain the letter e. I've been curious about it for quite some time as I have long been of fan of poets like Christian Bok and the Oulipo who set up arbitrary constraints for themselves yet were still able to create works of art. Does Gadbsy have any artistic merit then or is it merely a gimmick?

First off, when I say "merely" I cannot pretend that this wasn't a lot of work. It is quite amazing that Wright was able to pull it off. (50,000 words is about 157 pages, by the way.) While I did begin to notice certain tricks he used (such as writing a lot of lists, for instance of zoo animals that did not contain e), I remained impressed. I only briefly entertained the idea of writing this post without any e's before I appreciated once again how difficult this must have been. No the!

As for whether or not it's truly art, I suppose that's too subjective to really answer but assuming quality factors into the assessment, I can at least speak to that. Without the e gimmick, I don't think this is an altogether enjoyable book. It does have a consistent voice (slightly pretentious but with a wry sense of humour) and there's a plot of sorts (Gadsby recruits the ideas and energy of youth to help build a remarkable city), but it tends to get boring. There is an antagonist but he does very little to prevent anything and therefore the book essentially lacks any real conflict. It's also sexist at times, stereotyping gender roles and diminishing the contributions of females. I suppose the pro-youth message is at least a little uplifting, especially in light of all of the current anti-millennial sentiment out there-- unless, of course, you're female, then the book would be far less uplifting.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Reader's Diary #1674- Jeremy Whitley (writer), Elsa Charretier (artist): The Unstoppable Wasp, Unstoppable! Vol. 1

I was very excited to find a trade paperback of Wasp  as I really enjoy female-led superhero comics. I was less excited, however, when I found out it featured Nadia in the role of the Wasp as I'd been hoping to learn more about the original Janet Van Dyne version (who does, at least, have a cameo).

Even after reading this collection, I'm on the fence about this Nadia incarnation. There's nothing terrible about her, but there's nothing particularly exciting either. She's super smart, she's always upbeat, she's a feminist. All good of course, but she seems like half a dozen other current female superheroes but without their flare or charm or any idiosyncrasy that would have helped set her apart (give me Squirrel Girl, any day!). It probably didn't help matters that it seems to take forever to even show her superhero powers.

A separate story at the end, written again by Jeremy Whitley but with an assist by Mark Waid, helped humanize Nadia a little better by showing how she reacts to stress. It didn't win me over entirely, but I'll at least acknowledge that perhaps the character is not the problem.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Reader's Diary #1673- Erskine Caldwell: Kneel to the Rising Sun

Given the recent news out of the U.S., perhaps it's no real surprise why I chose Erskine Caldwell's "Kneel to the Rising Sun" this week.

This is a difficult read but not in the sense that it's poorly written (it's actually quite engaging), but for the topic of racism. Nonetheless it's a powerful story, one that could be especially helpful for those struggling with how to be an ally. (Spoiler: have more courage than Lonnie in this story.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Reader's Diary #1672- Tim Seeley (writer), Javier Fernandez (artist): Nightwing Vol. 1 Better Than Batman

I've spent the better part of this year exploring lesser known or at least slightly less popular superheroes in the Marvel and DC Comics canon. Nightwing barely fits that category, as Dick Grayson (once known as Robin) is certainly pretty popular. That said, I've still read very little about Dick Grayson; even most Batman comics I've read didn't involve him or have involved later incarnations of Robin. No time like the present to fill in my knowledge gaps!

As an added bonus, I also learned a little about the criminal underground organization, the Parliament of Owls. This group apparently first appeared in comics in 2011 but are becoming increasingly relevant at the moment. I wonder if DC is hinting at a connection to Nite Owl as they slowly begin introducing Watchmen characters into the mix.

In any case, I found Dick Grayson a compelling character while I wasn't overly found of the Parliament of Owls.

One of the things I liked most about Dick was his dependency on others. Though trying to break out on his own, he still finds himself partnering with others. In this book it was with anti-hero Raptor (who was also excellently developed). All in all, Dick is just an all around likeable guy; sometimes trusting to a fault, learning but not giving into cynicism.

The Parliament of Owls just reminded me of Marvel's Hydra or the Hand. And, I suppose it's not DC's fault, but I'm just getting tired of these shadowy, insidious groups that simply cannot be defeated.

The art by Javier Fernandez is great, slightly grainy and similar to David Aja's Hawkeye work, which fit the violence, and coloured smoothly by Chris Sotomayor in cool blues and blacks, mimicking the usual night setting and mood (not to mention Nightwing's costume).

Monday, September 18, 2017

Reader's Diary #1671- D.C. Archibald: Down the Line

D.C. Archibald's "Down the Line" is a fractured fairy tale based on Lewis Carroll's Mad Hatter and a particularly busy tea party. Actually, I'd say it's more of an homage than a fractured take; the latter of which I tend to think of as being slightly subversive to the original.

However, while D.C. Archibald's tale really (and wonderfully) captures absurdist humor of Carroll, I didn't see it as particularly subversive. Granted, he does veer from Carroll, introducing L. Frank Baum's Scarecrow and Tin Man characters into the mix (both of whom, let's face it, could easily fit in with the Alice in Wonderland crowd). Also, there is a some rather dark imagery at the end that could, I suppose be counted as a subversive twist. However, for the most part, I just thought it was a fun piece, a piece that could have been written by Lewis Carroll himself.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Reader's Diary #1670- Dennis St. John: Yellowknife

I was more than a little skeptical of Dennis St. John's Yellowknife novel. I couldn't find any evidence that he'd actually been here or had any real connection and the photo on the front depicted mountains, of which there are none in or near enough to Yellowknife to see (the Mackenzies are far to the west bordering Yukon).

Turns out that the locale hardly mattered despite the insistence of the title that it does. What little time St. John does take describe Yellowknife, is not accurate mind you, but he avoids talking about it for the most part. He gets a few last names right (such as Football) but then other details makes it sound like Alaska or Yukon. At best it's a hybrid of the three. The Mackenzie Mountains are, for what it's worth, a major setting.

Unfortunately the book falters on so many other levels that accepting a fictionalized version of Yellowknife and moving on is not really a choice. The pacing is problematic, with character development shoehorned into one exceptionally long chapter, the action is implausible, and the character motivations are just bizarre. Attempts at philosophizing are handled clumsily and unnecessary.

With some editing, perhaps it could be salvaged as a genre action novel by scrapping any ambitions of being high literature.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Reader's Diary #1699- Eileen Register: The Hurricane

No real mystery as to how I found this story. Nonetheless, "The Hurricane" by Eileen Register is a good story that I assume does an admirable job of capturing what it must feel like for someone living through such an event. It's based on a childhood memory of hers. I've been fortunate enough not to have experienced this, though came close with Irma. We had tickets booked and reservations for St. Maarten.

"The Hurricane" is a little heavy on the adjectives for my taste and therefore I found them distracting. However, if you're not averse to such descriptors, you shouldn't have any issue.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Reader's Diary #1698- Iskwé and Erin Leslie (story), David Alexander Roberston (adaptation), GMB Chomichuk (art): Will I See?

Will I See? is based on a story by Iskwé and Erin Leslie, scripted for a comic by David Alexander Robertson. It tells of a teenage girl named May who is guided by a mysterious cat to various small objects across a city. May collects these and, with the help of her kookum, adds them to a necklace. It is her grandmother's theory that these once belonged to indigenous women who have been murdered and gone missing. Later, finding herself in danger, May draws strength from these women and their spirit animals.

It's a short but instantly engaging story with very important messages. It also has out of this world art by GMB Chomichuk, using, what looks to be, a blend of photo-manipulation, print making, and collage; black and white with dashes of red for dramatic effect.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Reader's Diary #1697- R. Sikoryak: Terms and Conditions

R. Sikoryak's Terms and Conditions is definitely one of the more creative endeavours I've seen in a while. He takes iTunes' "Terms and Conditions" (the American version) and uses it as the sole text, while each page of visuals is a take on classic or popular comics, drawn phenomenally in the cartoonists' style but with one of the characters given Steve Jobs' classic look (trimmed beard, hair slicked back, blue jeans, black sweater, and white sneakers).

The results are varied, but never unsuccessful unless the goal is to make you actually read the agreement for once. I'll grant that I read it more fully than ever before, but towards the end I'll admit that I was still merely scanning. But that in itself helps solidify a point: these terms and conditions are ridiculous.(Having them spewed from the mouth of Homer Simpson or Ziggy just helps underscore this point.)

I can think of no other product that inflicts such a contract on its purchaser. Imagine buying a shirt and being expected to read pages upon pages of instructions on what you can and cannot do with that shirt, going into tedious details about liability should you say, strangle yourself with the sleeve or some other unlikely scenario, describing the responsibilities and limitations thereof of the button manufacturers, and so on. There's less involved with buying a car! Probably less with buying a gun. And in most cases we're talking about a 99 cent song or a 1.99 app. They can argue all they want about music and so on not being a "product" in the traditional sense but nothing takes away from the fact that their Terms and Conditions are surreal overkill; once again proving that Apple is all about aesthetics and ignorant when it comes to user experience.

Besides subtly helping emphasize that point, Sikoryak's adaptation is a true gift for any fan and student of comics. I was thrilled to have identified as many as I did (and there's a cheat sheet in the back for those I missed) and more often than not, whenever I thought of cartoonists that I'd like to see, they'd suddenly show up. From classics like Herge and Carl Barks right up to modern artists like Roz Chast and Gene Luen Yang. I was especially impressed by all of the Canadians covered. On that note, I'll end of with a list of the Canucks parodied in Terms and Conditions:

  • Seth
  • Ryan North
  • Todd McFarlane
  • Fiona Staples
  • Kate Beaton
  • Bryan Lee O'Malley
  • Mariko Tamaki
  • Jillian Tamaki
  • Lynn Johnson
  • Julie Doucet
(Did I miss someone? If so, please let me know and I'll them!)

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Reader's Diary #1696- Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray (writers), Moritat (artist): All Star Western Vol. 1 Guns and Gotham

All Star Western: Volume 1 Guns and Gotham is set in the 1880s, but it almost could have been written back then, too.

This trade collection is made up primarily of a Jonah Hex (the scarred gunslinger) arc, followed by a couple of additional, shorter tales involving a couple of characters unfamiliar to me: El Diablo and Barbary Ghost.

Of these three, the Jonah Hex story is the better and most salvageable. It revolves around him visiting the new city of Gotham, partnering with Amadeus Arkham, to take down a villainous and insidious crime gang. I'd wanted to know more about the Jonah Hex character and I felt I got a good sense of what he's all about. He's a no-nonsense kind of guy with his own moral compass, one that sees no issue with taking out the bad guys with gun violence. He often comes across as rude but we get a glimpse that even this is from his pragmatic outlook: those who get close to him usually wind up dead. The addition of Arkham, who the legendary Asylum for the Criminally Insane is named after in Batman lore, was an unexpected but pleasant treat.

However, there's nary a woman to be found and the first one who appears is a prostitute who is shortly killed off with her eyes poked out. The follow-up, non-Hex stories add cultural appropriation and stereotypes to the mix with ill-conceived Native American and Chinese characters. Good to see some diversity, I suppose, but I'm not sure this was the way to go. Of course, not being from those groups myself, I don't want to claim offensiveness on their behalf, but I'm skeptical the majority of folks from either camp would have been okay with this. It made for an uncomfortable read in any case.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Reader's Diary #1695- Linda Ferguson: This Heady Thing Called Love

Linda Ferguson's "This Heady Thing Called Love" is a fine story in that it's realistic, it's characters are believable. Unfortunately they're also annoying as all hell. It's told from the point of view of a woman who is in love with a smarmy, cheating, d-bag. Because it's her story and she doesn't really grow throughout the telling, it's also hard not to turn on her a little.

I wouldn't be able to take a whole novel of this character, but it's a solid piece of writing. I'm just thankful it's short.