Friday, June 22, 2018

Reader's Diary #1854- Mana Neyestani: An Iranian Metamorphosis

More than once I've expressed my shock and admiration for those cartoonists who tackle their home country's tyrannical regimes. The bravery that this must take!

Mana Neyestani's story is likewise brave but one feels the Iranian government inadvertently pushed him in that direction. According to Neyestani, he never set out to be controversial at all. Writing for the children's section of a newspaper, he accidentally insults a cultural group (who believed they were being called cockroaches, hence the connection to Kafka alluded to in the title). This group gets angrier and angrier and the Iranian government imprisons Neyestani believing him to have orchestrated a violent upheaval on purpose. He is denied a fair trial and interrogated mercilessly.

While he has since escaped Iran I nonetheless view his portrayal of his ordeal as brave; he must know that his likelihood of returning safely to his birth country has been vastly decreased.

I also found the inadvertent racial slur angle to be quite fascinating from a 2018 perspective. No one is denying that they shouldn't have been offended, but the reaction by the Iranian government is so over the top. It might cause some pause for thought for those who are so quick to condemn mistakes on social media; how far should their wrath go? Where is the line between taking victims seriously and due process? How drastic should a culprits sentence be?

One minor issue is the abrupt ending. There is a conclusion but it wraps up in a single page text-only epilogue.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Reader's Diary #1853- Raymond Briggs: Gentleman Jim

At only 32 pages, I still managed to go through some ups and downs reading Raymond Briggs' Gentleman Jim.

Right away I wasn't sure the brand of humour was going to be up my alley. Essentially the titular Jim is too stupid almost to exist. He decides one day that he's had enough of cleaning toilets for a living and instead wishes to become a cowboy. He's knowledge of the job, and indeed of anything a fully functioning adult should know, is sorely lacking.

Should I be laughing or should I be concerned that he doesn't have assisted living?

Fortunately, it becomes more and more absurd, to the point of funny, and at the end I even considered that Briggs had made a rather pithy statement on adulthood vs. dreams.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Reader's Diary #1852- Zac Gorman (writer), CJ Cannon (illustrator): Rick and Morty Volume 1

I don't watch as much TV as I used to. This is not some intellectual brag as there is not some "bettering myself" agenda, it's simply that I don't seem to have the time anymore. In saying that there are a few shows I'd like to be better up on. I'm way behind in my Marvel TV shows and I've been curious about Rick and Morty.

One thing I do seem to have time for, fortunately, is comics and so I thought I'd read a Rick and Morty comic to see what they're all about. Of course, I realize that the comics may not totally be an accurate representation of the writing on the TV show. I've read a few Simpsons comics and find them to be a mildly entertaining but no where near as great as the Simpsons TV show in its heyday, but at least readers would get a reasonable idea of what the characters are about (Homer's dumb, Bart's a troublemaker, and Lisa's smart and moral) plus the kind of humour (softly edgy, satirical). Any Rick and Morty watchers out there would be a better a better judge than I whether or not the comic captures the essence of the show.

From what I can tell, the humour is somewhere in between the Simpsons and Family Guy. It doesn't try to beat you over the head with satire and pop culture references like Family Guy but it's slightly edgier than the Simpsons. There's also a mix of Futurama in there with sci-fi based stories. Likewise the illustration is similar to the above three, perhaps with a touch of Adventure Time.

Which is all to say I was entertained and amused. I don't feel particularly enlightened, but it's the summer and there'll be other comics to scratch that itch.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Reader's Diary #1851- Warren Ellis (writer), Stuart Immonen (artist): Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E. Complete Collection

As it was slowly dawning on me that I wasn't particularly enjoying Warren Ellis's Newxtwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., the phrase "trying too hard" came to mind. Trying too hard to be funny, trying too be edgy, to be cynical, different, etc.

I knew I'd only recently read a Warren Ellis comic so I went back to review what I had thought of that one (Karnak), and lo and behold, that was my exact same criticism: trying too hard.

I then spent a lot of time considering that phrase. Can I really criticize a guy for trying? Well yes and no. If he is really trying, I think he's trying the wrong things; focusing on quick, irreverent wit rather than on compelling characters and story. But maybe he's not trying at all and just knows that this stuff sells. I'll acknowledge that I'm largely alone in my assessment of Ellis's work; the whole reason I read it in the first place was because it was on a list of "10 Marvel Graphic Novels You Need to Read Before You Die." Nonetheless, I didn't connect with it at all.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Reader's Diary #1850- Alexander Jablokov: Living Will

Alexander Jablokov's short story "Living Will" struck a particular nerve for me as it's about a married couple and Alzheimer's which runs in my wife's family.

It is the husband in this case who discovers that he's developed the dreaded disease and he's trying to upload his memories and personality into a computer before he gets too far gone.

Depending on who you ask, the sci-fi angle may not be as far out as it first seems. Jablokov's take here is particularly interesting as he suggests that it can never be the real thing. Indeed, the point here isn't to exist after death, or after his memories are gone. Through this emotional story, many philosophical questions about memory and humanity could be posed.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Reader's Diary #1849- Leanne Shirtliffe, illustrated by Georgia Graham: Saving Thunder the Great

It's been a while since I've read a picture book, let alone written about one on my blog, but I've finally read Leanne Shirtliffe's Saving Thunder the Great: the true story of a gerbil's rescue from the Fort McMurray wildfire and I'm counting it as my Alberta pick for the 11th Canadian Book Challenge*.

I've read a few picture books based on real life tragedies and haven't always enjoyed them. Sometimes the situations have been too specific and isolated to really need or appeal to an international audience, sometimes I've found them questionably too graphic and insensitive for younger readers.

Forest fires are a very real part of life in Yellowknife (hopefully not this summer as we've had a wetter than usual spring) and so I could relate to that aspect of Shirtliffe's book, but even if they were not, I think it would still be appealing. Kids of course will like the gerbil, but they'd also likely be drawn to the danger of the story which Shirtliffe wastes no time getting to. Parents, like myself, will be more likely drawn to the mom in the story who is determined to take her son's gerbil with her. Her son is off, safely, visiting his grandparents in Newfoundland and she misses him terribly.

I also don't think most readers would find it too traumatic. It helps, I suppose, that most of the damage was property damage and that it could have been much worse. That said, I will correct one detail in the author's note at the end. She writes that "the fire claimed no one." Maybe not directly, but two were killed as they tried to escape the town.

Georgia Graham's illustrations are big, colourful, and realistic; highly appropriate for this true story.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Reader's Diary #1848- Thomas Mann: Death in Venice

So Thomas Mann's Death in Venice is a rather piece of shit.

It involves a vacationer in Venice who becomes attracted to and obsessed with a young boy. He's a pretentious windbag from the get-go and he manages to get infinitely worse by trying to rationalize his sexual perversion as an intellectual, artistic idea.

He's better than Lolita's Humbert Humbert in that he doesn't act on his attraction (the boy remains unaware) but worse when you learn that he's actually based on a real-life experience of Mann's.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Reader's Diary #1847- Nick Drnaso: Sabrina

Nick Drnaso's style isn't one of which I'm typically appreciative. Sabrina, a graphic novel, has the flat kind of colouring of old Tintin comics and overly simple lines and lack of details that reminded me of Rutu Modan's Exit Wounds or airplane safety brochures.

Still, it fits this odd little gem of a story. Sabrina, it turns out, is a missing woman, and the story primarily revolves around her grieving boyfriend and his friend. While that premise isn't particularly odd, it soon delves into a critique of our conspiracy-minded society (with tones of InfoWars and their insanely awful Sandy Hook take).

What's lacking in the visual details is made up for in the minutiae in the dialogue and mundane moments that are intertwined with the potentially sensational missing-person story. The effect, for me anyway, was a pretty intelligent, albeit cynical, look at the way we process news nowadays. It's like we've become so accustomed to horrible news that it's become boring and so we've upped the ante with conspiracy theories.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Reader's Diary #1846- Dante Alighieri, translated by Henry Francis Cary: The Divine Comedy

Entire courses have been taught on Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy so I will not attempt to even approach such a lengthy intelligent discourse here. 

Instead, I'll simply recount my own feelings reading through a man's journey into hell, purgatory, and heaven. 

I started off quite enjoying it. The imagery was dark and psychedelic, reminding somewhat of the Book of Revelations. I also began to see it as a metaphor for a man weighing his options regarding a difficult decision. 

Unfortunately, it went on for a long time and I began to grow bored. I suppose a course might help draw out some of the scientific themes or historical references and therefore maintain my interest, but as a pleasure-read not so much.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Reader's Diary #1845- Lucy Maud Montgomery, adapted by Mariah Marsden, illustrated by Brenna Thummler: Anne of Green Gables

I'm wrapping up another year of participation in the Canadian Book Challenge and once again I was scrambling to find a book from PEI to read. I wasn't terribly excited to read Mariah Marsden's graphic novel adaptation, feeling I was already familiar enough with Anne of Green Gables, but I'd heard good things and in any case, wouldn't take a lot of time.

I'm certainly glad I did though. Marsden has done a wonderful job with this adaptation, choosing many wordless scenes to help set the tone and pace of the story and zeroing in on those quintessential moments (the "carrots" episode with Gilbert, the inadvertent intoxication of Diana, and so on). Nothing is lost and most importantly Anne's strong, loveable, curious, and melodramatic personality shines through, as infectious as ever.

Illustrator Brenna Thummler's work here is amazing. Charming and rich, highly stylized, with a flow that of a old China tea cup design. The characters' faces may not be to everyone's fancy, with eyes simplified to simple circles (a la Little Orphan Annie) and noses that are coloured a darker pink to form almost perfect triangles. Nevertheless, they are consistent and still manage (sometimes with a mere eyebrow lift) to convey a wealth of emotion.

A few stray thoughts:

  • Though the book was dedicated to Lucy Maud Montgomery, I thought it off that her name did not appear anywhere on the cover
  •  I've only been to PEI once but I don't recall trees quite as large as depicted here
  • I found myself wondering if Marilla isn't a good metaphor for PEI itself. PEI has a reputation for not exactly welcoming newcomers to the island but must, I would imagine, be won over by some folks.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Reader's Diary #1844- Tess Gerritsen: Playing with Fire

I read a lot of books traveling to and from Italy recently and am not yet caught up on my blog posts about them. I'm having a little difficulty remembering much and while ordinarily I'd write that off by saying that I'll remember the really good and the really bad and the rest probably didn't deserve much commentary anyway.

However, I do recall that I really enjoyed Tess Gerritsen's Playing with Fire but it took me going to Goodreads to remember almost any details. Though once I got brought up to speed with the plot, it all started to come back to me.

There are essentially two stories going on. In the first (and the frame) story, Julia Andsell finds some handwritten Gypsy music in a store while visiting Italy. When she gets it home and plays it on her violin, it seems to provoke a violent reaction in her young daughter. The second story tells the origin of the sheet music.

Playing with Fire was marvelously entertaining. It was an entrancing mystery, possibly with supernatural elements, and with important historical reminders regarding Italy's dark Nazi past. The ending was surprising but plausible. Julia's character was especially well done. (She felt authentic as she sometimes reminded me of my wife!) The love-torn musicians felt at times a bit too over-the-top to be real, but there are eccentric and obsessed people in real life, so maybe not.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Reader's Diary #1843- Katherine Mansfield: A Cup of Tea

While some of the themes in Katherine Mansfield's "A Cup of Tea," a short story about a wealthy woman deciding to take a street beggar home for tea, are worn on its sleeve (materialism, classism, feminism), I rather liked the cynical subtext regarding the idea of a selfless act.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Reader's Diary #1842- Tetsu Saiwai: The 14th Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama is one of those noteworthy figures of whom I'd normally have avoided conversations. Not because I had particularly controversial opinions on him but rather no opinion, no real knowledge about. Something about China, about Tibet. Embarrassingly, it's a historical/news story I'd not kept up on.

Tetsu Saiwai's The 14th Dalai Lama provided me a pretty good primer. Told in manga style (through westernized to read right to left), Saiwai's breakdown is pretty clearly told. (It's largely told from the Tibetan perspective though.)

I learned about his connection to Buddhism, how young he was when 1st chosen, his exile in India; all things I'd not known before. It all made for a fascinating story.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Reader's Diary #1841- Moshe Sakal, translated by Jessica Cohen: The Diamond Setter

I read a review (not of this book) earlier this week that had applauded an author for eschewing tidy ending, praising the fact that there were many loose plots ends unresolved by the book's close. It struck me as amusing that anything can be spun positively. I'm not suggesting that the reviewer was wrong, it was just interesting take.

There are a lot of things I enjoyed about Moshe Sakal's The Diamond Setter. The characters were developed well and were not typical sorts of characters I've encountered in most books. The Middle Eastern setting I found particularly fascinating. And there were lots of things I respected. Sakal's experimentation with plotting, including multiple versions of events, meta-commentary, allusions to 1001 Arabian Nights, just for a few examples.

But ultimately I was left confused. I'm not willing at this point to spin the experience entirely negative or positive, but I will go as far as saying it would probably take another read to get a better grasp on it all and make up my mind and I wasn't inspired enough to do so anytime soon.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Reader's Diary #1840- Mario Puzo: The Godfather

I've never been a fan of mafia stories. But, because of their pop culture significance, I still on occasion give one a shot. It never goes well. I even found the classic film adaptation of The Godfather boring. So imagine my surprise that I actually didn't mind the book!

I was engaged throughout and found it plausible and, despite being one of my usual beefs with the genre, didn't think it particularly glamorized the mob. It did have some provocative themes regarding fate and there was a cynical tone which I actually enjoyed in this time of Trump that suggested that large business and government were not much better in terms of questionable practices, effectiveness, and corruption.

Back to the non-glamorization thing though, the Corleone family is shown to be quite misogynistic and while perhaps less frequently commented upon, also racist and homophobic. Some I think helps in order to decrease any respect for such a lifestyle as the mafia, but I did question why Puzo himself. Granted every character in the book is flawed in some way and so asking for a good, strong, smart female character might be asking for a lot, just one that was at least as fully developed as the males would have been nice.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Reader's Diary #1839- Tom Rachman: The Italian Teacher

It took me a little while to get into Tom Rachman's The Italian Teacher, finding it at first a bit on the stuffy side. Were these lofty ideas about art veering too close to pretentiousness? Those ideas, plus the traditional style of Rachman's writing (though perhaps I should acknowledge the inventive time jumps) reminded me Robertson Davies.

Before long, however, it grew on me. More than art, the central theme became one of complicated (or ordinary?) father/ son dynamics and the insecurities that arise as a result. It's especially strained and significant here because the father is a world renowned artist and as a result, everyone (father and son included) has an inflated sense of his importance.

Having been in Italy while reading the book, I especially liked scenes depicted there, but I think I liked the portrayal of Pinch, the protagonist son most of all. He's such a realistic but humanly flawed character. His insecurities are totally believable even if occasionally frustrating. He has impostor syndrome, which I'm sure most of us could relate to, but sometimes the way he approached them made me wonder if he didn't have OCD or perhaps fell on the Austism spectrum.

I did, however, find myself wondering about the depiction of female characters. On the one hand, I think Rachman makes a fine feminist point about female artists not being taken as seriously as rhey should be. On the other hand, and while I recognize this was ultimately a father/son story, I question if the females here were as developed or as believable. (I especially found the return of Pinch's first love in the latter half problematic; more convenient for Pinch's story than plausible, I thought.) Still, perhaps female readers would have different takeaways than this. Anyone?

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Reader's Diary #1838- Hervé Bouchard: Harvey

I found myself really early into Hervé Bouchard's Harvey comparing it to works by other French illustrators and chastising myself for it. Clearly Hervé Bouchard is French, would I be making such connections if his name was Douglas McAllen? Was I stereotyping?

But then I thought about Japanese manga. It tends to have a clear, identifiable style, despite different approaches by individual artists. I think I'm just picking up on a French style. I'm noticing lines and fonts with a slight shaky, first-draft quality (think Sheldon Cohen's The Hockey Sweater), vintage colouring and patterns (think Isabelle Arsenault's Jane, the Fox, and Me), and characters are slightly exaggerated in their dimensions (think Sylvain Chomet's The Triplets of Belleville). 

I enjoyed these attributes in Hervé Bouchard's Harvey as well and they fit with the story of a boy remembering the day his father died; the childish observations, the gloomy tone with some lighter amusements thrown in. 

I didn't quite get the ending though. It felt like it was meant to be artistic, but without understanding the intent, it just came across as abrupt to me.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Reader's Diary #1837- Niccolo Machiavelli: The Prince

I don't know that we shouldn't be concerned that Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince still enjoys a readership today, nearly 500 years later.

There's a reason Machiavellian is a pejorative term for actions that serve the self rather than any real moral code. In The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli advises a prince how to conquer and rule based on historical precedent. His cold, calculating, matter-of-fact style is almost scary. If he advises befriending or granting favours to anyone it's merely to benefit the Prince and Machiavelli is just as quick to advise ruthlessness and cruelty if he deems it beneficial.

On my recent trip to Italy, I went to two torture museums. Yes, two. Reading Machiavelli's violent historical summary of Italy's past, combined with images of spikes, screws, and stretching racks, etc that would be awe-inspiring for their creativity if not for the horrible purposes for which they were created, all reminded me of the hypocrisy of the earliest European explorers to North America (Columbus himself was Italian). Imagine the audacity for those from such a methodically cruel, violent society to call the indigenous people they encountered "savages."

Monday, June 04, 2018

Reader's Diary #1836- Ren Watson: Hot Pink

"Hot Pink" is a great slice-of-life flash fiction story by Ren Watson. The details and imagery used are almost as good as the stuff that doesn't get said, the dangerous electricity lurking in the corners, related mostly to a relationship that may be a victim of society's masculine/feminine roles. The title is perfect, symbolic, purposeful, and hopeful in the context.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Reader's Diary #1835- Sharon Butala: Where I Live Now

I had a particular connection to my grandmother's house. She lived upon a hill in an old-fashioned two story roughly 50 steps from my own, or 11 good leaps if I was bolting home for supper. When she died about 10 years ago, her children debated what to do with the house. Sell it? They'd have strangers living on their doorstep. That wasn't an option. Tear it down?

That probability broke my heart. Fortunately the last, and only, couple of times I've been back since it was still standing. Though it was painful to look at. The first time I avoided it. The second time I went through it. If ever a person was connected to a place, it was her and that building; in my mind almost interchangeable. Tearing it down felt like purposefully forgetting her while leaving it felt like watching her corpse decompose.

I say these things and felt this way acknowledging that I no longer live there and so I do not resent the fact the house has since been taken down. Those family still living near it had their own reasons and complex relationships.

This reflection on grief and its relationship to place has been brought to me courtesy of Sharon Butala's Where I Live Now: A Journey Through Love and Loss to Healing and Hope. She analyzes her time in rural Saskatchewan while grieving the loss of her rancher husband. There are no hard or obvious conclusions but the exploration is warm and engaging, poignant, sad but not unbearably so, and inspiring in a gentle sort of way to contemplate our own existence but with particular emphasis on our relationships to people and place rather than on our navels.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Reader's Diary #1834- Carlo Collodi: Pinocchio

When I was a child, I quite enjoyed Pinocchio. I liked the Disney version and I can also vividly recall a Pinocchio pop-up book (especially a rather terrifying snake). Then I saw that Disney film again as an adult and found the story to be an erratic mess. I think some stories can be enjoyed by any age but to me Pinocchio is a child's story only. It's an adventure story that tries to squeeze as many adventures in as possible, regardless of how nonsensical or plausible it all becomes.

But while in Italy and seeing all the Pinocchio souvenirs available, I thought it was great that they'd still be proud of their classic children's literature character- much in the way, I suppose, Anne of Green Gables is still popular in Canada. I decided to finally read the original story.

This is not the Disney version. While some plot lines are familiar, others are not (Pinocchio accidentally kills the cricket off with a shoe early on). But the biggest difference I think is the personality of Pinocchio. Here he's pretty stupid, doesn't heed anyone's good advice, and tends to take folks for granted. He gets in a lot of trouble accordingly but it's hard to muster any sympathy.

Still the adventure element is still there and it's told in a jokey tone that I'm sure kids of today would still appreciate.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Reader's Diary #1833- Tanya Davis (poetry), Andrea Dorfman (illustrations): How to be Alone

Tanya Davis's poem How to be Alone, illustrated by Andrea Dorfman, could make a fine gift for those long-term single people, newly-single people, or people who, while part of a couple (or trio?), nonetheless like to be alone but society has convinced them that being alone is a bad thing.

I wasn't sure if I'd appreciate it at first, despite someone who does, in fact, like solitude. It began with the feel-good advice and literalness that I didn't really enjoy in Rupi Kaur's Milk and Honey. However, as a single poem it began to develop into itself and some of the scenes portrayed reminded me of the lightly provocative moods of better haikus.

The art by Andrea Dorfman has a folkish quality that suits the tone.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Reader's Diary #1832- Roberto Monti: 'He, I Say, He' or 'A Flash of Black Light'

(This is a pre-written post scheduled to appear while I am vacationing in Italy, Vatican City, San Marino, and Monaco.)

I began enjoying the voice in Roberto Monti's "'He, I Say, He' or 'A Flash of Black Light'" despite it making me think of Foghorn Leghorn more than the intended Zorro, mostly for how it oozed ego and bitterness.

It's about a guy who, when angry by some perceived injustice, had a lifelong habit of visualizing Zorro swooping in and dealing with in a better way than he is ever able to himself.

Not a bad premise, but I'll admit that I quickly and unfortunately grew weary of the ego and bitterness.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Reader's Diary #1831- Marjorie Liu (writer), Sana Takeda (artist): Monstress 1 Awakening

I'd like to think that I'm immune to cover blurbs but I have to concede that a couple on the back of the Monstress Volume 1: Awakening trade paperback influenced my thought process throughout my entire reading.

Neil Gaiman writes that "Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda take Eastern and Western comics storytelling traditions and styles, and create something wholly their own" and so help me, I could totally see it! It had fantasy elements similar to European stories with manga style art (especially some of the kawaii characters).

Then a blurb from an Entertainment Weekly writer states that "Monstress is dark, intense, and builds worlds in a way that doesn't focus on holding your hand" and that too played on my interpretation. I struggled at times to get what was going on and if not for that insightful review, I'm afraid I may have guilty of writing off the book as too difficult or even worse, convoluted. But it really wasn't. It was just rich. And more often than not, the world's mysteries came into focus.

Besides the manga leanings, Takeda's art is beautiful in other ways as well. Her use of intricate patterns and dark colour schemes complement the world and tone superbly.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Reader's Diary #1830- JoAnn Chateau: Bernie Goes to the Vatican

(This is a pre-written post scheduled to appear while I am vacationing in Italy, Vatican City, San Marino, and Monaco.)

JoAnn Chateau's "Bernie Goes to the Vatican" is a lighthearted story about a Bernie Sanders fan / dog-sitter. The connection to Bernie's Vatican speech, loss of the New York Primary, and walking an overly-enthusiastic dog is a tenuous but I think it's about finding solace through animals. In any case, it's an amusing tale and Chateau writes slapstick well.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Reader's Diary #1829- Libby Whittall Catling: The Mundane and The Holy

The Mundane and The Holy is nearly a perfect title for this collection of essays from newspaper columnist Libby Whittall Catling.

Dealing with her new life living in the bush in Reliance, Northwest Territories, the episodes are often practical (dealing with farming, hunting, cooking, and so on) but also with a philosophical bent. Holy typically conjures up ideas of Christianity but Catling's outlook is more land-based spirituality.

I wasn't surprised to see at one point she referenced Henry David Thoreau as I found myself prior to that drawing such comparisons anyway. And, to be honest, my comparisons were more in favour of Catling. I thought her style was far more accessible and humble while no less profound or useful. The only comparison to work out in Thoreau's favour was that there were too many typos in Catling's book.

I had to put myself in check a couple of times while reading it. For the most part, Catling's essays are uplifting. She seems to have found a real peace and contentment living far removed from society. She didn't downplay the dangers or the hard work, but nonetheless I found myself romanticizing it. Then I reminded myself that 1. I'm already content and 2. Libby moved there with a man who'd lived that lifestyle for 40 years and knows what he's doing whereas my wife and I would surely die within a couple of months tops.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Reader's Diary #1828- Richard Van Camp: When We Play Our Drums, They Sing / Monique Gray Smith: Lucy and Lola

Presented as flip book of novellas, Richard Van Camp's When We Play Our Drums, They Sing and Monique Gray Smith's Lucy and Lola are both part of a "Journey Fourward: Novellas on Reconciliation" series.

In Richard's book, a preteen boy name Dene Cho has gotten at trouble at school and has been assigned to meet a local elder to learn about his Dene culture. This is somewhat up his alley however as he is very proud of his culture and in fact, it was a cultural misunderstanding that led to his trouble in the first place. He is quite angry about such trouble, especially given the way his people have been treated by schools in the past. He is also very concerned that things have not gotten any better. There's a sense that this has come at the right time in his life. While his anger is undeniably justified, where he goes next, how he uses this anger, could set the tone for the rest of his life. Thankfully the elder he befriends is patient and with the aid of stories and drumming, sets Dene Cho on a path of teaching and leadership.

I questioned if Dene Cho's character was just precocious or whether or not Van Camp's depiction was too heavy-handed. I also question if I'm in any position to judge how much subtlety another culture's messages need. In any case, I found the character of the school principal more personally provocatively. He's white and has a lot to learn about the local culture. On the other hand, he's been there for 27 years, which shows at least some dedication, and his assignment for Dene Cho (complete with an invitation to invite Elders into the school to help teach the staff and students) suggests it's not too late for him.

Monique Gray Smith's Lucy and Lola involves a set of preteen twins who are staying with their Kookum (grandmother) over the summer while their mother is off at school studying to pass her bar exam. They are upset at first to be away from their mom for so long, but thankfully their grandmother is a patient teacher and lets them know they are loved. They also meet up with their mother again for a brief but emotional reunion. It is then that the three generations discuss residential school ramifications and moving forward. Smith balances the heavy (but important) messages with a sweet and often funny subplot involving a pug.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Reader's Diary #1827- Mark Waid (writer), Alex Ross (artist): Kingdom Come

I recently read Kurt Busiek's Marvels and was blown away by Alex Ross's artwork so went seeking more, landing on Mark Waid's Kingdom Come originally written in 1996.

I wasn't as blown away this time. Ross's talent is still remarkable here; his lighting is unbelievable and his style with gouache paint lends a seriousness and respectability to a story with literary intentions.

But I'm less convinced about those literary intentions. I feel that Mark Waid circled around heavy, important themes but never quite landed on them. Or they were lost in a muddled story. It involves a aged and retired Justice League in a world that has now been overrun with new heroes with questionable values and methods. While taking on the newcomers, it's implied that the original characters were somehow responsible for this new state of affairs in the first place.

I feel like it could be a parable for the power passing from one generation to the next but I'd have to read it again to see if that works.

Because of the plethora of characters and busy plot, it was harder for me to attend to Ross's art.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Reader's Diary #1826- Iasmin Omar Ata: Mis(h)adra

I don't mean to suggest that they are the same simply due to the fact that they're both about people with epilepsy, but while reading Iasmin Omar Ata's Mis(h)adra I found myself recalling David B.'s Epileptic. But don't worry, the comparisons are all favourable. Both have beautifully creative ways of expressing what it feels like to have a seizure and largely colour is used in this expression. In Epileptic, it's with thick black inks, and in Mis(h)adra the yellow and pinks of healthy day to day life is contrasted with shocking blacks and reds (as well as "shaken" lines and shifting angles) during seizures.

Still, the experiences of the central characters are quite different. In Epileptic, a family grasps at any potential cure they can find, while in Mis(h)adra, Isaac struggles just to get someone to even believe him. 

Besides the fascinating look at a condition I've not actually seen in person (to my knowledge), I also enjoyed the softer, slower story about finding and accepting supportive people despite at times when it feels like no one will ever understand or care.

A final note on the characters; they reminded me stylistically of Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim art. No surprise, I suppose, to see that he provided a glowing blurb for the cover!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Reader's Diary #1825- Bill Braden: Aurora Up!

Bill Braden's Aurora Up! is essentially two books in one and while I personally found the first more interesting, this is not necessarily how others would feel.

I've been told a little about the history behind Northern Lights tourism in Yellowknife. The story goes that it wasn't that long ago that the first potential tour operator presented his case to local business groups and wasn't taken all that seriously. People traveling all the way to Yellowknife to see northern lights? Niche market at best. But even in the short span that I've lived here (going on one decade), I've noticed an astronomical climb in this kind of tourism. There are many operators around town and it's not uncommon to fly back home to Yellowknife and be one of a handful of locals surrounded by tourists.

The first half is mostly about northern lights in general. Braden gets into the various cultural interpretations as well as the science behind them. He even discusses photography tips. Yellowknife is particularly well situated to view the northern lights and Braden explains why.

The second half revolves around the City itself; the culture, the climate, the history, and industry. Again, tourists and other outsiders would likely find this half more compelling. For locals there's unlikely to be any new info here as it's rather surface level, and also, as it's meant more as a marketing tool, it paints a really rosy picture. I love Yellowknife (else I wouldn't be here), but like any other place, it's not perfect.

Still, as a souvenir, or as a tool to entice loved ones to visit, it's well put together, complete with Braden's gorgeous photos.

Reader's Diary #1825- Paul Jenkins (writer), Jae Lee (artist): The Sentry

Marvel's The Sentry has only caught my periphery before and even then, not often. I mistakenly thought the character had been popular back in the day but faded out of popularity over time. Interestingly, this made the reading of Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee's The Sentry trade paperback even better.

The story involves a character named Bob Reynolds, an every man (slightly overweight, bit of a drinker) who just happens to have been a superhero named The Sentry. Unfortunately, no one remembers him. For some reason he's been wiped from everyone's memories and any physical evidence of his heroic exploits have mysteriously gone missing. However, his nemesis "The Void" is returning and in order for The Sentry to save the universe, he will need his past superhero friends to believe and remember him.

I thought this was all clever enough seeing as The Sentry is not a particularly well-known superhero today and that it was rather tongue-in-cheek to make us think he's been erased from our, the readers', memories as well. Interspersed throughout this story are scenes from old classic Sentry comics...

Except! It's even more clever than that because this was in fact The Sentry's first appearance and those "old" Sentry comics were fakes. Jenkins and Lee just shoehorned him into history! And, thanks to Lee's masterful illustrations, it's entirely believable.

I've see this done before (Archie Comics did a similar thing with Kevin Keller), but not as well.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Reader's Diary #1824- Amir (writer), Khalil (artist): Zahra's Paradise

It shocks me sometimes how brave some writers are. Amir is Iranian and make no bones about it, Zahra's Paradise takes a scathing and explosive look at the current regime. Granted, from my understanding Amir is currently living in Canada, but still, what if he ever goes back? That said, if all of the accusations in this graphic novel are accurate, it definitely needed to be said.

To be sure, the book is a work of fiction. The plot revolves around a mother and son trying to locate the whereabouts of their son/brother who disappeared after a protest. But, it presents the so called leaders as corrupt, inept, and even murderous. It also presents the general Iranian populace as being far more modern and progressive than I think most of us in the Western hemisphere would have assumed. I found that part fascinating. Likewise, how life there can seem so much like my own for one brief moment and then there's a scene of bodies hung from a crane.

Khalil's accompanying art had me struggling at times though. It's good, don't get me wrong, but it reminded me stylistically of Dave Berg's "The Lighter Side of" strip from MAD Magazine. That, combined with the flowing, loopy font gave a really satirical tone. But when I think of satire, I think of humour as well as political messages. There may have been moments of humour, but I'm not sure it was enough to warrant the style. When things were particularly gruesome or nasty, I felt the art worked against it.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Reader's Diary #1823- René Novella: Pythonesses

(This is a pre-written post scheduled to appear while I am vacationing in Italy, the Vatican, San Marino, and Monaco.)

Though the website on which René Novella's "Pythonesses" refers to it as a short story, I'm not sure in hindsight that it fits my own definition of that form. For one, it appears to be nonfiction and, while passing no judgement, I think short stories are fictional. Secondly, it's so brief and so unresolved, it would barely even meet flash fiction criteria.

Whatever it is, I nonetheless enjoyed this reminiscent tale about how two very different woman described the narrator in very different terms as a child, one positive, one negative. The voice is strong and you can tell with his subtle self-deprecation that he's chosen to believe the negative.

Why? I wish I knew.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Reader's Diary #1822- Ed Piskor: X-Men Grand Design 1

I'm a huge fan of Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree series and I also loved the idea behind X-Men Grand Design: to summarize 50+ years of X-Men comics into a coherent story. I still consider myself a student of comics, especially Marvel, and the X-Men franchise has been difficult at times for me to wrap my head around.

I'm not entirely sure yet though that I'm on board with the results. This 1st collector's edition sees only the first 2 of a planned 6 volume set and so my final verdict may have to come after it's all said and done. I see a lot of seeds being planted (especially for the popular Dark Phoenix and Apocalypse story lines), but whether or not it'll all come together, I'm not so sure anymore. Plus, X-Men history tends to get even more confusing once they started to add time travel and that hasn't entered into the equation yet.

I am following along for the most part, but at times it does feel disjointed; to the point where I went back more than once to see if I'd accidentally skipped a page.

That all said, I'm enjoying seeing the X-Men in their early days. I had no idea that Beast, for example wasn't always blue and wasn't always a genius. Nor did I know that Juggernaut was supposed to be Professor X's brother. So, clearly, my academic interest is at least being met.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Reader's Diary #1821- Various writers and artists: Archie Crossover Collection

It would seem that the good folks at Archie Comics have a very different definition of crossover than I. All of the stories in this collection are really cameos from real life characters (namely the Ramones, Lady Gaga, Michael Strahan, George Takei, and Mark Zuckerberg). Missing are some of the actual crossovers that they've done throughout the years: Archie Meets the Punisher and Archie vs. Predator, for example.

And, unfortunately, none of these stories are great. I found the intros to the celebrities to be awkward plugs and most often the Archie gang seemed overly squeaky clean (yes, even by Archie standards). There was a notable lack of rivalry between Veronica and Betty and Reggie, who's usually portrayed straddling the villain line, winds up with bizarrely evil grins despite saying nice things.

In recent years Archie Comics have done a lot of wildly interesting and creative things. This however is more similar to the classic Double Digest kind of material. So, it's mildly entertaining but utterly disposable.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Reader's Diary #1820- Raymond Yakeleya (writer), Deborah Desmarais (illustrator): The Tree by the Woodpile

In Raymond Yakeleya's author bio at the back of The Tree by the Woodpile and other Dene Spirit of Nature Tales he writes of Elders passing away and how important it is to keep telling Dene stories. It is in this vein that I admired and enjoyed the three tales in this simply written (aimed at juvenile readers) collection.

With the exception of the 2nd tale (which involves a hunter regretting the killing of a wolf), the stories are not high action but pass on a wealth of invaluable information. I was especially interested in reading about the land around Tulita, Northwest Territories and the perspectives on religion and faith.

I do wish the publishers had had a larger budget however, as it would have been nice to have more art. The illustrations by Deborah Desmarais were really nice but more of them could have helped break up particularly long passages of text. As well, a copy editor may have helped catch a lot of the typos and grammatical issues.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Reader's Diary #1819- Grant Morrison (writer), Jae Lee (artist): Fantastic Four 1234

Fantastic Four: 1234 is my 3rd time reading a book by Grant Morrison, the previous books being All-Star Superman and Multiversity. Unfortunately, I'd say Fantastic Four: 1234 had none of the positives of the former and all of the problems of the latter.

After watching Hollywood botch Superman in recent years with out of place grittiness, it was great to see Morrison find a way to lighten up the character, remain true to the roots, without being campy. But the Fantastic Four have also been botched with grittiness and this time I think Morrison has been as guilty as Hollywood.

And, as I complained with Multiversity, it's one thing to be creative, it's quite another to be confusing and while 1234 isn't as "out there" as Multiversity, I think some editing would have helped remedy some of the more confusing aspects.

Jae Lee's art was great though. It's gritty, which as I've stated above is an issue, but he can hardly be blamed for complementing the writer's depressing story.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Reader's Diary #1818- Martin Powell (writer), various artist: Jungle Tales of Tarzan

There's a curious foreword to Jungle Tales of Tarzan, a collection a comics based upon Edgar Rice Burroughs' short story collection of the same name and adapted here by Martin Powell with various illustrators. In this foreword, Robin Maxwell writes that despite the world recognition of the literary character, the countless adaptations and re-tellings and loosely based sequels have all "profoundly warped the original intent of Edgar Rice Burroughs." Just how, she does not say.

Never being overly interested in the character myself, the most recent Tarzan critiques I  heard were of the 2016 live action movie The Legend of Tarzan. I didn't see it, didn't really want to, but I did hear more than a few people call out the film for racist undertones. I thought (hoped?) that this is the warping of which Maxwell referred. Could it be that Burroughs' original creation did not have a racist subtext?

Well, these comics do. He's still "king of the jungle," feared by, and superior to, the black folks who live nearby. Sigh.

Maxwell goes onto write, "we think we know all there is to know about Tarzan and his beloved Jane, but unless we have read the original books, we know next to nothing."

Forgive me if this collection doesn't sell me on seeking those out.

(And lions don't live in the frigging jungle.)

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Reader's Diary #1817- Christopher Dominic Peloso: Tiny Ghosts Suicide is the Highest Form of Art

In the forward to Tiny Ghosts: Suicide is the Highest Form of Art, Christopher Dominic Peloso writes that Tiny Ghosts is "not really a comic." Just three sentences later he writes, "the comics tend to skew toward the creepy and supernatural."

But I see where his classification issue arises. Though Tiny Ghosts fits many accepted definitions of comics as art arranged sequentially in order to convey information, it is still rather unfamiliar to most people's schema of comics. For one, it's photos. For another, each story is just two photos long. And perhaps the biggest issue of all is the position of the text. We've become so used to speech balloons that when there aren't any, the comics seem strange. Even stranger when there is still text but it all falls beneath the photos, coming across more like a child's picture book than comics as we usually think of them.

The lack of clarity on the classification isn't the only interesting side to Peloso's project. While photocomics are rare, micro-fiction is nearly as uncommon, and this project started as a collection of two sentence stories that originally had no visual component. Photos were added after the fact in an effort to get more readers interested. Though more than just an after thought, he states that he tried to not just do a literal retelling. Sometimes the pictures, for example, presented an unexpected character or setting.

Of course, experiments and intentions are all good, but that doesn't necessarily mean it works. Fortunately, I'd say that overall I enjoyed the collection. As with any anthology of short stories, I had my favourites and ones I didn't particularly care for, but by and large, I found it to be a good mix of funny, thoughtful, somewhat dark tales.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Reader's Diary #1816- Erri De Luca: The Trench

(This is a pre-written post scheduled to appear while I am vacationing in Italy, the Vatican, San Marino, and Monaco.)

France and Italy, by outsider impressions, are romantic getaways (and not just in the "love" sense of the word). Though to the folks living and working there, especially in the blue-collared jobs (versus creative pursuits), that's got to be a bemusing notion at best.

In Erri De Luca's "The Trench" an Italian man is hired to dig a trench near Paris in search of a sewer pipe. He's somewhat worried that the trench will collapse. It doesn't get much more down to earth than this.

It's interesting because I don't trust myself as a reader here. I think there are hints at a more intriguing story, perhaps the main character has complexities, hidden motivations. Perhaps though it's just the idea of France and Italy that has skewed my expectations and it's really just some dude doing his damned job.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Reader's Diary #1815- Mike W. Barr (writer), Diogenes Neves (art): Suicide Squad Most Wanted Katana

I first noticed Katana in the Suicide Squad movie a couple of years back. I didn't really get a sense of the character that time around and have been curious ever since.

With the Mike W. Barr and Diogenes Neves trade based on the character (which was also published in 2016), I have a marginally better understanding, but also some new questions.

In this story about Katana's attempts to stop a fascist death cult from taking over the fictional country of Markovia, she comes across as an overly serious type, to the point of cheesy. Whenever she's asked who she is, she responds, "my name is that of my blade-- Katana." Still, she also seems to have a defined and personal moral code. And scenes where she interacts with a cat reveal a softer, more human side. The book also provides some insight into the character's mythology; particularly highlighting the souls trapped in her sword.

But that defined and personal moral code? It's defined in a way that would mostly only make sense to her. She's one of DC's anti-heroes and that's the part I'm still not entirely clear about. Several times she introduces herself in the book as being a member of the Justice League. So why, how she winds up with the criminal Suicide Squad gang, I'm unsure. This is not really a criticism of Barr and Neves, however, as they didn't need to get into all of that. I'm just saying that for a layman trying to get to know the character, the book is only moderately helpful.

I'd also be interested in hearing from women and from Japanese people about their impression of the character.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Reader's Diary #1814- Rebecca Hendry: One Good Thing

While I enjoyed Elizabeth Hay's Late Nights on Air, I was never comfortable weighing in on whether or not it painted a realistic picture of Yellowknife. Set in the late 60s, early 70s and therefore long before I came to town, hers wasn't a Yellowknife I recognized. Interestingly, while Rebecca Hendry's One Good Thing is only set a few years later, still much earlier than my time, I do think she captured the feel of the place; the geography and the people.

It is a rather slow story though and many times when I thought a plot was developing, it didn't amount to much. It's largely about a young girl who, new to the north, comes to love her new home but fears her time there will be short lived no thanks to her parents' rocky relationship and a mysterious altercation between her father and a family friend. The characters however are rich and developed and that, along with the descriptions of the town, kept me reading despite the slow pace.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Reader's Diary #1813- Ivy Noelle Weir (writer), Steenz (artist): Archival Quality

Archival Quality is wonderful graphic novel that combines a traditional ghost story with themes of friendship and mental illness. I'm skeptical, however, that it will find an audience.

Despite loving being a librarian, even I think that title is off-putting. The abundance of brown on the cover also looks a bit dull. Yes, there's a skull and a ghost, but is it enough? The images too are a bit on the juvenile side. I actually quite enjoyed Steenz's art throughout and it reminded me somewhat of  Faith Erin Hickes or Vera Brosgol. These are both stellar comparisons, of course, but they also write more for children or young adults. The way mental health and employment is dealt with in this book though? I think adults would appreciate it more.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Reader's Diary #1812- Mariko Tamaki: She-Hulk 1 Deconstructed

I've been a fan of Mariko Tamaki before but had not known her to do superheroes, so I was excited to see her take on She-Hulk. I'd also consider myself a fan of that character but I've been disappointed in the past to see her passed off on Marvel's more comedic line. I like their comedic line, for what it's worth (Squirrel Girl, Howard the Duck) and so on, but there always seemed to be hints of more serious story lines involving the character, references to other comics that I somehow missed. On the back cover of this trade, I feared I was in for this again. "Jennifer Walters," we're told, "survived the second civil war... barely." Alas, I didn't read much about Marvel's Civil War event (because nobody did).

Fortunately, and not suprisingly given Tamaki's skills as a writer, she gives Jennifer Walters a.k.a. She-Hulk the balance she deserves. There's humour but there's also pain. She gives the character a sense of weariness and guarded-ness (likely based on the recent civil war events) but presents her as intelligent and empathetic. In other words, she's a fully developed complex superhero.

I enjoyed the art which started off, I thought, a bit simplistic. Backgrounds were often more basic  and it reminded me somewhat of comics from the 70s or 80s. However, they seemed to improve and increase in detail as the book progressed.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Reader's Diary #1811- Kurt Busiek (writers), Alex Ross (artist): Marvels

I just recently came across this article by Tom Baker at WhatCulture! called "10 Marvel Graphic Novels You Must Read Before You Die" and at number 1 he's placed Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross's Marvels.

Now having read it myself, I can't say that I'd argue. It is a remarkable book.

Marvels follows a photojournalist named Phil Sheldon whose been documenting a world filled with Marvels (superheroes) since the 30s to the present day (the 70s, in this case). Having seen others try this street view, adjacent to the action approach and it... not really succeeding, it's amazing how well Busiek pulled this off. It's never boring, not for a second; you get enough superhero action even if they're not the focus.

I really can stop thinking about what it all means. I think there's a strong case that the Marvels in this story are really no different to the everyday person, than our militaries and governments are to us in real life. At one moment they can seem heroic, at another demonic, and thus we keep see-sawing between fan-like adoration and hostile distrust. We never have the full story and what portions we get are controlled and though we know this, we still too often believe that reality is black and white.

And Busiek also makes this about comics. Comics give us these rich metaphors and the medium is as important as any other art that philosophizes on our existence.

Which brings me to Alex Ross. His art is stellar and the work he puts into these drawings and watercolours is evident and superior to most superhero art I've seen. It has a Norman Rockwell quality which is clearly intentional at times and fits the above themes brilliantly.

You do not need to be a long time Marvel Comics fan to enjoy this book by any stretch but if you are, you will certainly appreciate all the cameos and Easter eggs (including some non-Marvel references) immensely.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Reader's Diary #1810- Wei Dong Cheng (writer), Chao Peng (illustrator): Monkey King / Birth of the Stone Monkey

Monkey King: Birth of the Stone Monkey is the first of a 20 volume set of graphic novels based on the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en and adapted here by Wei Dong Cheng, illustrated by Chao Peng. This story revolves around a monkey named Sun Wukong.

I am told that in addition to incorporating ancient Chinese folk tales, there are elements of Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism as well. Not being much familiar with any of these philosophies/religions, I cannot say with any certainty that Cheng's adaptation represents them fairly or accurately. I can say that as an outsider, I still thought the book worked as as fantastical adventure tale, with Sun Wukong presented with superhero-like qualities and sometimes behaviours that I found similar to those of tricksters in many indigenous North American tales.

The art I thought similar to some unremarkable Japanese manga, though it was coloured nicely. Also, unlike most Japanese manga published for North American readers, this book goes in the more familiar left to right direction.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Reader's Diary #1809- George Orwell: Shooting an Elephant

George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" is a heartbreaking story in more than a few ways.

The most obvious is the shooting of, and subsequent suffering of, an elephant.

The other ways involve colonialism and its nasty ramifications. The story is told from a settler's point of view in Burma, a settler who has come to see the evil side of the Europeans that he nonetheless and regrettably represents. He knows some of his own prejudices are a product of this manufactured power dynamic as well, but still finds it hard to shake given his position.

It could make for a fascinating conversation as to whether or not the elephant works as a metaphor for the European empire, or perhaps the Burmese culture.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Reader's Diary #1808- John Layman (writer), Chris Mooneyham (artist): Predator vs Judge Dredd vs Aliens / Splice and Dice

I didn't have high hopes for this Predator vs Judge Dredd vs Aliens crossover. I've been bingeing on crossovers lately and have, by and large, been disappointed. Plus, I'd not consider myself a fan of any of the trio in this equation. So what a pleasant surprise this turned out to be.

No, John Layman isn't going to win a Pulitzer for this story, but it's fun, inventive, and easy to follow. A mad scientist is using alien (Xenomorph) DNA to "improve" life on Earth and can only be stopped by Judge Dredd and the Predators. Layman keeps true to the character identities and franchise mythologies and it all fits together perfectly.

Likewise Mooneyham's art isn't groundbreaking, but it's suitably realistic and grainy for the tale.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Reader's Diary #1807- Various writers and artists: Kraven's Last Hunt

First off, I should note up front that this "Epic Collection" from Marvel isn't just the "Kraven's Last Hunt" arc which was written by J. M. Dematteis and illustrated by Mike Zeck. In fact Kraven doesn't even appear until after 300 pages or so. Prior to that we get other important Spider-Man storylines including the death of Peter Parker's good friend Ned Leeds and Peter's marriage to Mary Jane Watson. So, while the title is a bit problematic, it's hard to complain that you get much more bang for your buck with this collection. Also included at the end are essays from some of the contributors, including a piece from Stan Lee who is happy that now that Peter is married he won't have to do his own laundry anymore (sigh), cheesy photos from a publicity stunt wedding with actors in bad Marvel costumes in the 80s, the Mary Jane Watson paper-doll wedding dress, and a selection of Stan Lee's Spider-Man newspaper strips.

The death of Ned and the marriage aren't as well done the later Kraven story and I'd forgotten how "aw shucks" the Spider-Man character is sometimes portrayed. When he's depicted as a teen this is less problematic than when he's an adult, as he was here.

Which brings me to another thought about the dilemma that both DC and Marvel have had over the years, resulting in reboots, new versions of the characters, but a lack of disappearance of the old characters. It seems like they were always stuck between Peanuts and For Better or For Worse. Do they age their characters or not? They seem to want it both ways and this has caused more problems than either approach would have if they just stuck with it. (Personally, I'd prefer if they just aged them and let replacements eventually take over.)

The art is especially garish in that 80s sort of way, which I admit I'm starting to appreciate. There are sometimes bizarre colour choices and very little shading outside of line work. Plus, Peter Parker has a bad perm, and having been there myself, this amused me to no end. Mike Zeck's art in the Kraven storyline is more artistic in terms of angles, close-ups, etc.

Plus, Dematteis' story is darker, more adult and artistic, and feels more inline with the acclaimed Watchmen and Batman stories from around the same period. Plus, he has to get props for somehow making the loin clad Kraven a less ridiculous, more compelling villain.