Monday, July 15, 2019

Reader's Diary #2064- Bridget Canning: Newfoundland and Labrador Considers How to Maintain its Romance

Bridget Canning's "Newfoundland and Labrador Considers How to Maintain its Romance" is actually part 2 of a series of flash fiction stories from Canning, but I think it largely works as a standalone.

I say largely because I did find it jarring when I first realized that the province is being personified. Not that there was anything wrong with that (Wayne Johnston also did it pretty effectively with Colony of Unrequited Dreams) I just wasn't expecting it and I wonder if Part 1 set it up better.

Still, it definitely captures it. The line "Those who've left you get served a lifetime of nagging desire, a leaky faucet of yearning they can't turn off" particularly resonated with me.

I'm also a sucker for stories written in the 2nd person.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Reader's Diary #2063- Seanan McGuire (writer), Rosi Kampe (artist): Spider-Gwen Ghost-Spider

Spider-Gwen: Ghost-Spider is an off-shoot of Christo Gage's Spider-Geddon run. There's a scene in the latter in which Spider-Gwen is zapped away and trapped in another parallel universe and this tells her her time away.

In this reality, she encounters another version of herself who has succumbed to the dark side, become a villain in the vein of the Green Goblin (Gwen-Goblin). Spider-Gwen agrees to help Peter Parker and Mary Jane capture Gwen-Goblin and revert her back to hero-dom. In return, they agree to get back to the universe where she left to help all the other Spider-people defeat the Inheritors.

The Gwen-Goblin story line is okay. And I suppose there's something to be said about how we can can be pushed or pulled by life into good/bad directions, even a message about redemption-- but really that's been explored in the Spider-Verse stories before. I thought the collection worked best, however, once that Gwen-Goblin arc ended and Spider-Gwen returned. It maybe didn't work as well at that point as a standalone but as an extension of Spider-Geddon, it revisited some of the deaths that occurred and gave them more emotional heft than we'd been given previously.

The art wasn't my favourite. It reminded me somewhat of Howard Chaykin's work, of which I'm not a fan. His line work especially looked rushed. For the most part it wasn't that bad but some panels were real doozies.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Reader's Diary #2062- D. Boyd: Chicken Rising

When my wife first started coming home from university with and meeting my parents, she was taken aback somewhat by our tone with one another. We were loud, snippy, and some mornings if we were up before her, she'd awake thinking, to our surprise, that we were in an argument.

In D. Boyd's memoir about growing up in New Brunswick, she doesn't mention the volume of her parents voices, but they seemed loud. They also seemed, at times, a bit cruel. Usually finding fault, that sort of thing. I related to that as well.

But Boyd recalls it all with lots of humour, glimpses of insightfulness, and love. Her mother eventually develops more as a character and we see the softer side. Her dad, not so much, though nothing comes across as bitter even if it's clear that Boyd still doesn't agree with many of their parenting choices.

The art is great, simple but with just enough exaggeration and expressiveness to sell the emotions and humour and great use of details and shading to highlight her great talent.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Reader's Diary #2061- Jody Houser (writer), Stefano Martino (artist): Stranger Things the Other Side

Yes, like many others, I'm a fan of Netflix's The Stranger Things. Still working my way through the third season, but it's been great so far. The third episode may be one of the best they've ever done.

Wondering what we'll do when it eventually ends, I was pleased to see that Dark Horse comics picked up the comic book rights as the sci-fi/fantasy/80's homage series seems tailor made for comics.

And so far so good with Jody Houser and Stefano Martino's The Stranger Things: The Other Side graphic novel. This story revisits the first season of the show, but from a different angle; showing Will's adventure in the Upside Down. A couple of notes on that:

1. If you haven't seen the show, you likely have no idea what I meant by "the Upside Down" and likewise, I'm not sure that the book can standalone.

2. Houser totally nails the tone of the show. I am curious though about stories beyond the show and if they (Dark Horse, Jody Houser if she's still on board) ability to tell brand new stories. This one's plot doesn't break new ground.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Reader's Diary #2060- Gay Degani: Abbreviated Glossary

Gay Degani's "Abbreviated Glossary" is a flash fiction unlike no other. Well, maybe. I was reminded in a couple of ways of Hemingway's classic "Baby Shoes." Imagine that story as a blink in a series of life.

It's powerful and speaks volumes about life's rapid fires. It's told in chunks but they fuse together almost miraculously.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Reader's Diary #2059- Christos Gage (writer), various artists: Spider-Geddon

I do enjoy the Spider-Verse, the idea of many Spider-People, variations on a Spider-Man theme across multiverses coming together. I enjoy it actually a lot more than I thought I would, initially fearing it would result in a too-crowded world and losing sight of solo characters. The movie especially showed that such concerns could be overcome, but I also enjoyed the Spider-Verse comics collection from a few years back.

I didn't, however, find Spider-Geddon to be as successful. First off, it's really just a rehash of Spider-Verse. There are a couple of new fun characters (a favourite is Spiders-Man, a massive mound of live spiders in the shape of Spider-Man and collectively acting, er...somewhat, as the singular hero) but this time around it does feel too busy. It's hard to even care about the familiar ones when their masks never come off and they only get a line here or there let alone connect to the newbies. Even the villains, the vampire-esque Inheritors are lackluster this time around. Especially annoying was their tendency to dismiss the Spider-people as non-threats when clearly they were defeated before. Now instead of making them seem threatening, they just come across as stupid.

More appealing for me were the one-off stories in the Spider-Vault at the end, showing some of the new Spider variations in action in their own universes. These felt more creative and finally meant to do some character development.

)As a side note, has their ever been a Spider-Man variation who was LGBT or Q? How about one that wasn't able-bodied?)

Friday, July 05, 2019

Reader's Diary #2058- Tasha Spillett and Natasha Donovan: Surviving the City

Tasha Spillett and Natasha Donovan's Surviving the City isn't long at 54 pages; more of a comic than a graphic novel, but like a good short story manages to fit a lot of great ideas in.

It deals with two teenage indigenous girls in Winnipeg, best friends. But one of them runs away, leaving the other devastated and worried. The streets are full of dangers.

It touches on a lot of themes and topics including Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, systemic/colonial racism and danger, friendship, and cultural customs. In that regard, there's no doubt that the book was intended to educate. But the story is strong and enthralling and the art is rich and engaging in terms of colours and symbolism.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Reader's Diary #2057- Various artists and writers: This Place

This Place: 150 Years Retold is a collection of comics by various indigenous artists and writers. The "150 Years" is primarily a response to the colonial Canada 150 celebrations and it's all sort of brilliant that "Canada" doesn't appear in the title.The retelling, it could easily be argued, is about filling in conveniently ignored gaps in Canada's history and setting the record straight on some misconceptions and outright lies.

Each comic is drawn by a different team and addresses pivotal moments in First Nations, Metis, and Inuit history from 150 years ago up to the present and even beyond. Accompanying each story is an intro by the writer and a time line.

Clearly there's an educational intent of the collection but thankfully it doesn't come across as one of those Stay in School/ Don't Smoke / Beware of STIs type comics often foisted upon young readers because "comics are cool". The art and writing is typically incredible.

As a collection of course, there are bound to be ones you're more drawn to than others (for me Richard Van Camp's writing stood out, as did GMB Chomichuk's art) and there was a huge variety in styles and approaches and moods. There's anger, there's hope, there's laughter, there are tears.

It's all around a very solid anthology of artistic talent from "this place" filled with crucial stories.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Reader's Diary #2056- Frank Tieri (writer), various artists: Jughead the Hunger, Volume One

Archie Comics' horror line continues its surprisingly good run with Jughead: The Hunger series written by Frank Tieri and drawn by Michael Walsh, Pat and Tim Kennedy, and Joe Eisma. For me the 2 best horror comics they've put out has been the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Afterlife with Archie, but this is pretty decent too.

It sees Jughead as a werewolf, and with the subtitle "The Hunger" I suppose he's the obvious choice, but he was the main zombie in Afterlife with Archie, so I'd like to see another character have a starring role. Though it was a nice touch to have Betty Cooper as an undercover werewolf hunter.

On that note, I think the book managed to balance the old-school horror vibe with more modern sensibilities (making Betty a kick-ass, Buffy-type character). It's also got a little of the typical cornball humour that is trademark for Archie Comic, but the creative team was also not afraid to go for the more mature gore.

The art is pretty good, especially with the dark colours and panels typically in monochromatic reds or oranges. Similar to Afterlife in that regard.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Reader's Diary #2055- Roselynn Akukuluk and Danny Christopher (writers); Astrid Arijanto (artist): Putuguq and Kublu and the Qalupalik!

Roselynn Kulukjuk and Danny Christopher's Putuguq and Kublu and the Qalupalik is a perfect graphic novel for early readers. Telling a story of the mythical sea monster that garbs children who wander too close to cracks in the sea ice, they strike just the right balance of fun and scares.

For Inuit children, I'm sure it's great to see their own culture represented while non-Inuit children would also benefit from learning about other cultures. (Some may have already had exposure to this particular creature through the Robert Munsch / Michael Kusugak collaboration A Promise is a Promise).

Astrid Arijanto's art works wonderfully with the story, capturing the prettiness of a Nunavut spring landscape with simple but friendly and highly expressive characters that reminded me somewhat of Fisher Price Little People.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Reader's Diary #2054- ​Téa Mutonji: The Doctor's Visit

If you've ever gone to a mental health professional, there's a good chance you'll recognize the resistance of Kate, the roommate of the narrator in Téa Mutonji's short story "The Doctor's Visit" who recounts her first visit to a psychiatrist.The first time the doctor says anything close to a cliche, Kate balks. Dismisses her as an uncaring, quack.

What I found most interesting is that the verdict is really still out on this doctor but the point seems more about recognizing how difficult it is to take that first step for help. I imagine, as is the case with Kate, it's even more so when that there's trauma as an underlying cause.

Finally, I also enjoyed comparing Kate's friend to the doctor. Though the narrator has given Kate lots of advice prior to the visit (even what beverages she should drink), when Kate begins to tell her story, the narrator simply listens. It would seem, at least from this early stage, that the friend may play a key role in Kate's healing as well.

Mutonji has done a remarkable job capturing complex human emotions.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Reader's Diary #2053- Tom King (writer), Mitch Gerads (artist): Mister Miracle

Mister Miracle isn't the first superhero comic to contrast superhero life with domestic life. Off the top of my head, Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman did it with Animal Man, Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez did it with Spider-Woman, and Tom King himself did it before with Vision (drawn by Gabriel Hernandez Walta). I'll admit that I'm a sucker for these kinds of stories and it's particularly easy to be a sucker when they're as good as Mister Miracle. It's also no wonder that King and Mitch Gerads won Eisner Awards for best writer and best artist respectively.

Mister Miracle isn't the most well known superhero, and if I'd encountered him before now, I didn't recall. Originally created by Jack Kirby in the early 70s, he's an alien to Earth from the planet New Genesis who acts as a stage performing escape artist. He's immortal and has the usual superhero abilities (strength, speed, smarts, and stamina). He's also romantically linked to Big Barda, a reformed supervillain.

In this story, Mister Miracle and Big Barda are trying to move past their dark past (Mister Miracle was raised as the evil Darkseid's adopted heir) but a war affecting their birth planets and their friends keeps calling them back. Laid out like that, the plot seems simple enough. But it's so much more.

Infused in this are rich, provocative themes handled with maturity and philosophy; depression, reality, and nature vs. nurture to name but a few. And all of this is balanced out with wit and slapstick. It's a damned funny book to boot.

All of which would be fine enough as it is, but Gerads' art matches the writing panel by panel. It's a mastercraft of a book and should be taught alongside Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. Especially great is the way he breaks the "rules" for effect. Blurriness gives particular panels glitchy-vibes showing Mister Miracle's tenuous grip on reality and peace. Darkseid's evil legacy cannot be contained in a single panel. Words and scenes betray one another as Mister Miracle and Big Barda risk life and death breaking into Darkseid's lair all while debating kitchen renovations, effectively showing how even the adventure-stuff is just par for the course for these two.

If I read a better comic than this this year, I'll have read two genius books.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Reader's Diary #2052- Brooke Hartman (writer), Evon Zerbetz (artist): Dream Flights on Arctic Nights

There are more than a few picture books that catalogue the animals that live in the north. What sets Brooke Hartman and Evon Zerbetz's Dream Flights on Arctic Nights apart from the rest is the art.

First off, Hartman's decision to set the book at night is a neat and unique choice and Zerbetz makes the colours practically pop off the black backgrounds (the text too is in white). I thought at first it was done in oil pastels but it turns out to be linocuts. In addition, there's a real flow to the pictures which perfectly complements Hartman's verse (which thankfully scans!) and the idea that it's all in a child's dream. It reminded me of somewhat of Van Gogh's Starry Night.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Reader's Diary #2051- Teresa Wong: Dear Scarlet

Mental health talk has come along way. I remember back in the day, when anyone had a mental health problem my mother would say they had a case of the nerves and leave it at that. Nerves was all encompassing. Except for postpartum depression. I distinctly remember her being surprisingly up on that and empathetic with sufferers, though she never experienced it herself.

Still, and despite progress in mental health recognition, a postpartum depression memoir is brave. There is still stigma attached and there's an idea of Motherhood that doesn't make it much easier for people like Teresa Wong. Her graphic novel Dear Scarlet: The Story of My Postpartum Depression wrestles with it in the form of a letter to her daughter. She knows, objectively, that there shouldn't be shame but the nature of depression is such that she felt it nonetheless.

There's beauty among the sadness and stress and hopefully others who experience postpartum depression will find some degree of solace in knowing they are not alone.

This is Wong's first graphic novel and so the art is a little amateur perhaps, but it's direct, reminiscent of Sarah Leavitt's Tangles in how it still conveys complex, real emotion even with simple art.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Reader's Diary #2050- Barry Loewer (Editor): 30-Second Philosophies

A short time ago I read and quite enjoyed Stephen Law's The Philosophy Gym. It was a very engaging and enlightening introduction to philosophy. Still not fully confident to progress beyond the beginner stage though, I thought 30-Second Philosophies, edited by Barry Loewer and with an introduction by Stephen Law himself, would be another fun choice.

Subtitled The 50 Most Thought-Provoking Philosophies Each Explained in Half a Minute, I think therein lay the problem. I, and assume Loewer, had mistakenly believed that these could be reduced to such brevity (dumbed-down?). Too often the ideas were confusing or else lacked the real life connection that Law's The Philosophy Gym found and explained so well and so entertainingly.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Reader's Diary #2049- Neil Simon: Lost in Yonkers

Lost in Yonkers, a play by Neil Simon, isn't necessarily fun but it's also not without some dark, dry wit here and there.

Basically it’s a dysfunctional family story about a multi-generational family living in New York in the early 40s. A couple of teenage boys are dropped off to live with their cold, impatient grandmother after their mother dies and their father needs to hit the road for work. There’s also an aunt with an unspecified cognitive disability and a low-tier gangster uncle.

There seems to be some debate in review circles whether or not books need to have likeable characters. Given the focus on dysfunction, it was quite likely for this play to become overbearing. Centering it on the boys though allowed me characters to root for. Would their grandmother’s bitterness lead them into a life of crime like their uncle or would they remain optimistic and warm like their aunt?

In addition to the plot, Simon has given some pretty decent character studies. In particular, the grandmother character becomes far more easy to empathize with before the play is through, though never rises to the level of sympathy. Less successful for me was the aunt character. What could be a compelling look at the sexuality of adults with special needs is hampered somewhat by an inconsistent and too-convenient range of cognitive abilities. Nonetheless, she is a charmer.

I'd be curious to see the play or movie though as it felt somewhat short, almost sit-com length.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Reader's Diary #2048- Robert Carlton: Hannigan's Backyard

Robert Carlton's "Hannigan's Backyard" begins with a nightmarishly surreal description of a garden that is almost Lovecraftian. It becomes clear though, as the story progresses, that childhood imagination and fear may be fueling the memory. The truth might be far less sinister.

It's a story necessarily rich in imagery but accurate in terms of emotion. It made me recall a house not far from where I lived as a child that had huge white concrete lions and chains out in front. It was ostentatious and way out of wack from the Newfoundland outport surroundings. I may have believed the man inside to be a James Bond sort.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Reader's Diary #2047- Daniel Kibbelsmith (writer), Ricardo Lopez Ortiz (artist): Black Panther Vs. Deadpool

Just a couple of days ago I wrote about a Squirrel Girl/ Ms. Marvel team-up and about how it worked so well because they offered balance to one another; Squirrel Girl could use a little more seriousness, Ms. Marvel could use more fun. A Deadpool / Black Panther pairing should take that idea to its extreme.

Of course, the "vs." in the title tells you up-front that it isn't a love-in. Black Panther clearly has little patience for Deadpool. However, they do team up do defeat Jack O' Lantern in Wakanda. As Deadpool himself points out, this is par for the course in such a crossover: two heroes hate each other at first but then must put their differences aside in order to defeat a common enemy.

It's funny, definitely falling more in line with a Deadpool comic than a Black Panther comic, and not without its charm. The art took me a while to appreciate. I do like when a superhero comic doesn't look like all the other superhero comics, but Ortiz's character work is scratchy and exaggerated almost to the point of grotesque. However, it also adds energy and humour, so complements the story well.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Reader's Diary #2046- Susan Orlean: The Library Book

My only knowledge of Susan Orlean was the brilliantly bizarre film adaptation (called Adaptation) of her non-fiction The Orchid Thief. In the film (starring Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep), a book about flower enthusiasts takes some wild left turns and is shockingly exciting.

The same might be said The Library Book (of which there are no film adaptations planned as of yet, to my knowledge). The "might" is not lack of assertiveness on my part, it's that I'm biased.

The Library Book deals with the burning of Los Angeles Public Library in 1986; the worst library fire in American history in terms of damage. Along the way though, Orlean discusses the history of the LA Public Library, of libraries in general, and looks at the direction and relevance of libraries today. The hook, I'm presuming, for people who are not library aficionados like myself is the number one arson suspect: Harry Peak. Peak was by all accounts an eccentric character and his most notable quirk was his compulsive lying.

Like Adaptation, the Library Book doesn't exactly follow a clear path. Peak's story is introduced early, but then left for a few chapters for Orlean to talk about libraries, then revisited. I assume that she's struck a great balance. Non-library folk, hopefully, will find something surprisingly interesting as they patiently wait to get back to Peak and the true crime angle. I, on the other hand, was just as (if not more), fascinated by the library stuff.

Of course, managing a Public Library myself, I was constantly comparing the LA Public Library to my own. It was clearly much bigger and they took on much more of an archival role than mine. They were devastated by the loss of materials, whereas my biggest concern would have been the lives of the patrons, staff, and firefighters. Not that people weren't a concern at the time, but there was a lot of emphasis on salvaging irreplaceable "things". On the other hand, the talks about budgets, the growth needs, the importance of libraries in serving the needs of the homeless? All those things definitely struck chords.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Reader's Diary #2045- Devin Grayson, Ryan North, G. Willow Wilson (writers), various artists: Marvel Rising

A fan of both Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl, I was pleased to see that they were teamed up in Marvel Rising, even better that G. Willow Wilson and Ryan North were on board as those two writers are the reason those two characters are so beloved.

It's a great balance too as Squirrel Girl is often over the top funny but could use more serious action, while Ms. Marvel often falls the other way. While this volume is more aimed at younger readers perhaps, it's still a fun romp for us old folks and I was happy to see Arcade appear as as a villain as I'd only just encountered him for the first time a short while ago in an old Captain Britain comic.

I did find myself thinking more about Ms. Marvel as a character than I had previously. Perhaps it's because there are a few rumours floating around about her appearing in an upcoming MCU movie, just after Marvel Studios has reclaimed the rights to the Fantastic Four, that I've taken note that she doesn't have any unique abilities. She can stretch? That's sort of Mr. Fantastic's thing. She can get big? That's Ant-Man's. But I suppose there are other MCU characters that have the same powers (Thor, Captain America, and the Hulk all have brute strength), so it's still possible to co-exist.

I also found myself thinking about the role of actual religions in a Marvel universe. It's odd to think about that this time around as Ms. Marvel's Muslim identity isn't focused on at all in this particular book like it was in some of the solo books I read, but I don't know how a character in that role can believe in the same Gods as they do in the real world, considering that universe has their own. The same thing goes for Daredevil and his Catholicism.

None of these thoughts are to suggest that the book didn't hold my attention, just that when I put it down I was thinking more about the characters than the plot.

Art-wise, it's a bit inconsistent which is not surprising considering that different artists were involved, but all did manage to infuse a lot of humour and youthful energy.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Reader's Diary #2044- David H.T. Wong: Escape to Gold Mountain

I'd heard but whispers of stories of the Chinese who first came to Canada, usually tied to their exploitation in order to finish the Canadian Pacific Railroad. It was ashamedly missing from the history I'd learned in school. I wonder if it still is? I'd like to think that Canada's at a slow turning point in acknowledging our racist, colonial, murderous past; a necessary turning point if we can ever get even an inch toward the ideal Canada a good many of us had been led (shockingly off-mark) to believe had already been achieved.

When I came across David H.T. Wong's Escape to Gold Mountain: A Graphic History of the Chinese in North America I thought it could serve as a good primer on the topic.

That it did. I'd thought from the name that it would have more to do with one of the gold rushes than it did, but Gold Mountain was the Chinese nickname for North America at the time. While following the fictional Wong family, the book is still largely steeped in facts, facts unbeknownst to me (such as head taxes, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Opium Wars, relationships with indigenous people, and so on). It's not exclusive to Canada, but also the U.S.. The family angle does provide an emotional hook but seeing some of the more graphic scenes (hangings, crushings) I'd like to think readers would have had an emotional reaction anyway. Perhaps the family helps the more optimistic takeaways of the story; resilience and overcoming great odds.

I wasn't overly enthusiastic about the art though. The character-work looked amateurish and the backgrounds, while more more realistic, look like they may be line tracings of old photos. It would also have benefited from colour.

Nonetheless, the story telling is well-done and it's a story that needs to be shared.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Reader's Diary #2043- Shawn Kobb: Street Dog

The last time I was in Vancouver I was taken aback by how many homeless people had dogs. For protection, for companionship, it made sense to me. But as this is not something I've encountered in Yellowknife despite having a large homeless population, I found myself wondering about the complications; are shelters accepting of these animals? Is it possible to scrape enough food together for a second mouth? And what about the economics? I'm sure some people are dog lovers and are maybe even more likely to donate spare change, I'm sure there are others who deem it irresponsible and withhold donations (the same folks who'd withhold donations for a homeless person who smokes). Of course, a homeless dog owner would be able to weigh in on this and I could only guess.

Which is why I could not say with any certainty that Shawn Kobb's "Street Dog," a short story about a homeless man and his dog, depicts a situation authentically.  There's one particular passage that decidedly didn't ring true to me:

It’d probably be more interesting if I said he occasionally hunts down a rabbit and returns it to me so I can clean it and cook it up for the two of us. That’d be a lie, though. I doubt he knows how to hunt rabbits, and I sure as hell don’t know how to clean one. Lighting a fire is a good way to get the cops to come down hard on you.

This came across as a writer wondering aloud if a homeless person's dog could do such a thing and deciding against it rather than the thoughts of an actual homeless person.

Otherwise though, I believed the emotion of the story and quite enjoyed it.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Reader's Diary #2042- Jeff Parker, Michael Moreci (writers), Dan Parent (artist): Archie Meets Batman '66

I'm still holding out for a Batman '66/Wonder Woman '77/ Superman '78 (with Christopher Reeve) crossover, but in the meantime an Archie/Batman '66 is a pretty good fit too considering that the Archie gang was quite popular at the time. (There's a reference to their "Sugar, Sugar hit from the era.)

As crossovers go, it's pretty good. There's no traveling to an alternate dimension nonsense and both franchises get equitable treatment. Batman's rogues gallery decide they've had enough of their plans being thwarted in Gotham City and set their sites on Riverdale instead. Of course, villains don't always think things through and of course, Batman (along with Robin, Batgirl, and Alfred) just head on over to Riverdale as well. But with the adults in town being under the sinister Siren's spell, Batman needs to recruit Archie's gang to lend a hand.

The writing feels like typical Batman '66 while the art is reminiscent of Archie comics. And as both rely on a lot of puns and slapstick, it meshes quite well.

Best of all, there's a set-up for a sequel, likely to be set in Gotham City the next time around.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Reader's Diary #2041- Maggie Shipstead: Acknowledgements

I definitely have a contender for favourite short story of the year with Maggie Shipstead's "Acknowledgements". Particularly surprising considering how uncomfortable it made me.

It's a very meta-story about a man who's just written a novel and recounts a woman who inspired it all (much, I'm sure, to her chagrin).

I think, at my worst, in my younger days, I may have had a bit of this asshole narrator in me. Hence, the discomfort. But because it rings so true I'm in love with the writing. The nauseatingly pretentious, immature, entitled voice? My god, it's good.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Reader's Diary #2040- Nnedi Okorafor (wirter), Leonardo Romero (artist): Shuri The Search for Black Panther

I'm a bit fickle when it comes to humour in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I enjoyed both Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther but I thought the former needed to dial down the jokes while the latter needed to lighten up a little. That said, I did think the character of Shuri added some comedic relief and that's one of the reasons I think it was a break out role. I'm not surprised that Marvel Comics has since given her a title series.

I quite enjoyed Nnedi Okorafor's take. Shuri is very similar to her character from the movie but with some added depth. She's strong and wrestles with finding/maintaining her own identity with the expectations upon her by an admittedly wise ancestry.

Also, I'm so thankful that Okorafor also touches upon some of the issues I've had with some previous Black Panther comics, namely the patriarchal overtones and the idea of a monarchy (vs. democracy). Make no mistake, this is a smart comic.

But it's also fun! At one point Shuri has her soul sent into space and she winds up in Groot's head.

Romero's art doesn't have anywhere near the gravitas of that beautiful Black Panther cinematography but his lines are fast and simple, similar to Erica Henderson's work on Squirrel Girl, and again, perhaps this helps balance against the more serious themes.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Reader's Diary #2039- Dorotheé Floriane Conley: Tiled Floors

Lest anyone be caught off guard, the title of Dorotheé Floriane Conley's blog is Weird Short Fiction. That her first short story published there, "Tiled Floors" comes across as either a bad trip or a nightmare, is not altogether surprising.

Not typically a fan of surrealistic writing, I'm good with it in small doses like this. I appreciated the bizarre voice and imagery even if I didn't exactly understand it all. (How does a snail kick anyway?)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Reader's Diary #2038- Scott Snyder (writer), Greg Capullo (artist): Dark Nights Metal

I've read a few Scott Snyder books now and I can safely say, the dude has a pretty out-there imagination. I think it's great when focused (Swamp Thing) but less so when unrestrained (AD). Dark Nights Metal is somewhere in between.

It definitely doesn't feel like a Batman story and that's fine by be as he's one of my least favourite superheroes. Batman is the central character in this ensemble piece and it feels more like a Justice League Dark book than a Justice League book. John Constantine, Swamp Thing, and Zatanna do at least make an appearance (that corner of DC has always been my favourite). Essentially, it takes an evil parallel world (think "the Upside Down" of Stranger Things) but cranks it up to a heavy metal degree by giving the 52 Multiverses of DC Comics lore each their own gothic versions.

One distraction for me, and not one really to blame on Snyder but on all of these "event" stories of DC and Marvel, is that I focus on other superheroes I know that never make an appearance yet we get no explanation. Where, for example, was Supergirl during all of this?

The ending I found a bit weaker, a bit rushed, but not terrible by any stretch.

Greg Capullo does a fantastic job with the art with a healthy blend of Marilyn Manson via Steve Ditko that complements Snyder's dark psychedelia perfectly.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Reader's Diary #2037- Mark Russell (writer), Mike Feehan (artist): The Snagglepuss Chronicles

A fan of Mark Russell's surprisingly clever Flintstones comics a couple of years back, I was very much looking forward to his take on Snagglepuss as a gay Southern playwright. Then I heard it was illustrated by Mike Feehan of Newfoundland and I couldn't wait.

The Snagglepuss Chronicles is great and I want that said up front. It's a super interesting story about the cold war, the McCarthy Hearings, and homophobia. However, that it's Snagglepuss is pretty much irrelevant. Yes, other cartoon characters show up (notably Huckleberry Hound and Quickdraw McGraw) but they might as well have had regular names and been people. Russell used the Flintstones premise to satire modern society but it didn't seem like there was much concern about the source material here. Again, the story itself is wonderful but the packaging is altogether odd.

Feehan's artwork is really good as well, reminding me somewhat of Dave Berg's work (MAD Magazine). It is, however, hindered a little by the premise and I have to admit that the human-like legs on the cartoon animals were somewhat creepy and a whole lot distracting.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Reader's Diary #2036- Chris Miller: The Night of the Seven Fires

I've never seen Animal House, though I know it has a reputation as a comedy classic. So when I came across Chris Miller's short story "The Night of the Seven Fires" that supposedly inspired the movie, I figured I'd at least give that a shot.

Yeah, makes me glad I never went to a fraternity. I'd like to think shit like this doesn't go on anymore, but that's probably misguided optimism. It involves a hazing and I'm led to believe it's all meant to be funny.

The unfortunate thing is, the story's actually well written. It's descriptive, has a strong voice, well paced, but the plot itself is rather pathetic.

I'm now more than a little skeptical that I'd enjoy the movie.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Reader's Diary #2035- Stephen Law: The Philosophy Gym

I’ll admit that the impetus for my picking up a philosophy book was the sitcom The Good Place. One of the characters, Chidi, is a philosopher and he’s often schooling the other characters on famous philosophical thought and ethics. The results are typically provocative and hilarious. Apparently I’m not alone in my thirst for more and both libraries and bookstores are noting an increase in checkouts and sales of philosophy texts in the wake of the show. 

One such book I enjoyed recently was Stephen Law's The Philosophy Gym: 25 Short Adventures in Thinking. The Philosophy Gym shouldn’t be thought of as philosophy-lite as much as an introduction to major philosophical concepts in manageable, bite-sized chunks. My brain will got a workout without becoming overwhelmed.

Because of the easy to digest set-up, I looked forward to reading a chapter of The Philosophy Gym each day over my lunch breaks. Law does a wonderful job of showing philosophy’s relevance in other domains which are often taken much more seriously by the population at large: science, religion, law, and medicine in particular. In addition to stretching one’s mental muscles, I believe such books would also help us all become better debaters.That said, there were a few moments here or there where I wished he was actually present so I could ask "what about..." For the most part though he took pretty thorough looks at issues from a variety of angles. It turned out that many of my "what about" questions were answered just a little while later. I just had to exercise more patience.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Reader's Diary #2034- Greg Smallwood, Meg Smallwood (writers), Greg Smallwood, Greg Scott (artists): Vampironica Book One

Perhaps not as edgy as Afterlife with Archie or The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Vampironica is nonetheless a worthy addition to the ArchieHorror imprint.

In this first volume Veronica has been turned into a vampire but she's also trying to prevent the same fate befalling all of Riverdale. It uses a lot of classic Vampire mythology as well as tropes (there always needs to be a vampire expert, played excellently here by resident geek Dilton). Veronica, who can in other Archie comics be a bit extra, is well balanced. She's still a rich fashionista but she's likeable and sympathetic here.

The art by Greg Smallwood in the first three issues is gorgeous with pencil crayon highlights and colours that give a vintage (circa 70s/80s teen horror movie) vibe. Greg Scott takes over for the last 2 issues, which I always find frustrating when an arc isn't finished by the same artist, but still lovely art, albeit a bit more gritty.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Reader's Diary #2033- Various Writers and Artists: Captain Britain Legacy of a Legend

Always up to explore different Marvel Comics characters, I was especially interested to finally read some Captain Britain comics after a brief mention of (Brian) Braddock in Avengers: Endgame has led some to include that a Captain Britain movie may be in the cards.

From a movie writer's point of view, it's probably an exciting task given that the character, at least according to this collection, has been pretty ill-defined. A scriptwriter would have almost free reign.

But for a new reader, I don't feel that I have much sense of who he is. His origin story involves having his power handed down from Merlyn and his daughter Roma, and in that regard I thought of him more of a Thor or Hercules type character, largely inspired by cultural legends than of a Captain America character.

But not many of the stories capitalized on that great old mythology. The earliest stories here seem him fighting alongside Spider-Man inside of a villain's life-sized pinball machine. The dialogue is atrociously bad, narrating all of the action, but I suppose it's fun in a cheesy way. Then there's a series of black and white comics that do explore the realm of dragons and elves and whatnot, but then it goes into Alan Moore's run on the character. I know these issues have their fans and they're not terrible (a lot of Doctor Strange, Adam Warlock kind of psychedelia) but somewhat hard to follow and further disjointing just what the heck this character is all about.

But give him the big screen treatment and you can be sure that I'll be lining up.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Reader's Diary #2032- E.C. Segar: Popeye Volume 1

Having an interest in those odd pop culture characters that exist outside of Disney, Marvel, DC and the like and yet have existed for a long, long time, I was quite happy to finally get my hands of the first collected volume of E.C. Segar's Popeye strips. Actually, it begins as Thimble Theatre, but it's Popeye's first appearance.

Having been more familiar with the old original cartoon than the comic strip, I began being surprised, then pleasantly surprised. There are quite a few notable differences from the cartoon: spinach is never mentioned, Bluto, Wimpy, and Swee'Pea have not yet made an appearance, and Popeye spends more time with Olive Oyl's brother Castor Oyl. Besides these trivial differences though, I was happy to find that there were some generally funny moments (of the Looney Tunes, punny and slapstick variety) and that the adventure stories ran the length of many strips compared to the one-offs I'm used to from most of the Funny Pages.

It's a long volume though and it definitely outwore its welcome. I was enjoying Castor Oyl at first, reminding me somewhat of Phoncible Bone from Jeff Smith's Bone comics with his constant scheming. He was even getting some character development as the strips went on. However, I guess Popeye struck a nerve with fans and Segar allowed him to take over. But perhaps more troubling he froze Popeye in place. Like Jimi Hendrix always having to light his guitar on fire to appease his audience, Popeye had to remain a simpleton who solved all problems with his fists. Worse were the occasional glimpses of racism and misogyny.

I'm glad to have read them but do not feel compelled to read the subsequent volumes.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Reader's Diary #2031- Julia Christensen: No Home in Homeland

Add it to the list of things most Southerners don't realize about the North: there is a huge problem with homelessness here. This tends to shock people as they have no idea how anyone could survive our temperatures without a roof over their head. The sad truth is, many don't.

It's a complex issue with no easy solutions and Julia Christensen does an admirable job identifying the issues and providing much provocative thought around the context and necessary truths that must be faced before we all move forward. Perhaps the biggest takeaway for me was the idea of homelessness as compared to houselessness. It is the latter that we often mean, but when we consider the cultural damage of colonialism, it widens to an even more severe concept of homelessness. Of course, homelessness and houselessness are dangerously intertwined.

Another very important point stressed by Christensen is the contradiction to the idea that homelessness in the North is a Yellowknife/Inuvik problem when it is often the lack of supports and resources in the smaller communities that push or pull people to the larger centers.

Sometimes I'll admit that the book was overwhelming. It was especially difficult to read about the lack of second (or additional) chances. Once someone is down it seems frightfully, near on impossible, to get back up. Fortunately, Christensen was able to share examples of some that did overcome it all and these are inspiring to say the least.

The book is dense though and at times repetitive, reading like a thesis which introduces an idea, am exploration of that idea, and then a summary of that idea. I do wish there was a plain language version of the book as I fear many of those of whom the book is about would find it inaccessible.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Reader's Diary #2030- Lucy Robinson: The Plunge

Lucy Robinson's "The Plunge" has a great, wry sense of humour that is needed for a story such as this with what could otherwise be too hefty themes; aging gracefully and fear of a parent's mental decline.

There was one moment which felt a little contrived (it involves someone hitchhiking though it turns out the ride was pre-arranged with her new boyfriend) but otherwise I enjoyed the story.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Reader's Diary #2029- Vicky Daddo: Eye of the Beholder

I don't know if it's due to my cynicism, what I normally read, or the times we're living in but most of the time while reading Vicky Daddo's "The Eye of the Beholder" I was expecting the positive, happy story to take a dark turn.

A woman recalling her wedding day, with beautifully rich imagery, I thought it was bound to end with a divorce, death, or spousal abuse or something of that nature. Pleasantly it did not go in that direction. But that's not the only surprise...

Monday, May 06, 2019

Reader's Diary #2028- Kevin Spenst: Grotesqueries of the Gods

Kevin Spenst's flash fiction "Grotesqueries of the Gods" is a darkly funny tale of a serious man and his imaginative dog. It seems to support the old saying, "the more people I meet, the more I like my dog," even though it doesn't wind up making a whiff of difference to the dog in the end.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Reader's Diary #2027- Gary Newhook: How a Small Newfoundland Town is Saving Canada's Urban Middle Class

Gary Newhook's "How a Small Newfoundland Town is Saving Canada's Urban Middle Class"is a flash fiction story prompted by 1949 newspaper article titled, "How a Small Newfoundland Town is Saving Canada." However it's set in the current day.

Itself told as a newspaper article, it seems to present the situation of mainlanders snapping up cheap property on the island as a symbiotic relationship. However, as this is barely fiction, many real life Newfoundlanders today recognize the sly subtext in the story, subtle hints that the short term gains of locals may have dire consequences down the road. Not symbiotic, but parasitic.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Reader's Diary #2026- M. Shayne Bell: The Thing About Benny

M. Shayne Bell's "The Thing About Benny" is a short story with a bit of a science fiction edge, though it's hardly unfathomable. It deals with a world and time where the Earth's plant species are going extinct and two botanists are in search of plants that people are raising in their homes and offices but are no longer found in the wild.

Giving the story an extra quirky and interesting angle is that one of the botanists is named Benny (like Benny Andersson) and obsessed with Abba. He draws inspiration in his detective/science work from listening to their songs on repeat.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Reader's Diary #2025- Gail MacMillan: Ghost of Winters Past

I've not read a lot of romance, a few more lately perhaps, but still not a lot. So I'm still not in a place to really know: are romance books supposed to be cheesy? Are they usually? And if so, is that part of the fun? I can get behind that. Characters and situations in Gail MacMillan's Ghost of Winters Past are a little over the top. The villains are villains, plot contrivances abound,  the couple who disdain each other at first come to fall for each other by the end, and it's all rather soap operaish (if soap operas were set in the wilderness of New Brunswick). I can respect this being someone's thing. It's entertaining and there are even themes of higher significance if one cared to look (toxic masculinity, for example).

For the most part then, I went with the flow. But this is not to say I enjoyed everything. My largest issue was with the bizarre introduction of a helpful First Nations ghost at the beginning and end of the book. I say bizarre because it uses an unfortunate trope (the ancient, magical "Indian") and is wholly unnecessary to the plot.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Reader's Diary #2024- Konstantinos Poulis: The Leonardo DiCaprio of Exarcheia

While I'm not usually a fan of dream sequences in fiction, I think they were used to good effect in Konstantino Poulis's short story, "The Leonard DiCaprio of Exarcheia" as they really gave insight into the main character's psyche. They also lead to some provocative questions as to whether or not they are causing his unhappiness or rather a symptom. Questions about ambition and drive, while universal themes, are contrasted against the uniquely Greek setting.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Reader's Diary #2023- David Byrne: How Music Works

I'd consider myself a part-time fan of David Byrne. Beyond a few singles (Talking Heads and solo work), I'm not overly familiar with his music and definitely not the man. For all that, I managed to have an idea of him that wasn't supported by reading his book How Music Works.

Not that the book is really an autobiography (he does, however, use anecdotes and examples from his own life and career to illustrate his points), but I'd pegged him as decidedly more avant-garde than he comes across in his writing style. He's certainly artistic but his ideas are expressed very lucidly and with scientific, economic, and historic support.

It's a fascinating book for both fans of music and musicians themselves delving into a whole slew of music related topics. On that note, I suppose the title doesn't exactly capture the theme of the book but nor is there a single theme besides music. It's really a series of essays each with their own angle, ranging from the business side to the cultural growth of music. I think one of my favourite takeaways from the whole book is the way we tend to create constraints for music, whether intentional or or not, and yet we find a way to create music despite it all and fitting for the various contexts.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Reader's Diary #2022- Carson McCullers: Wunderkind

Carson McCullers' short story "Wunderkind" is about a young girl whose confidence in her piano playing abilities has been shaken. Once spoken of as gifted, it seems that she and her piano teacher are now having doubts. It doesn't help that one of her peers, who'd also been referred to as such, seems to actually be living up to his reputation.

So many rich themes to explore her: envy, confidence, changes in life direction, and so forth. As a former teacher, I also found myself thinking of how hard it was for me to teach English language arts. Once a favourite subject of mine, one where some of my own teachers heaped praise, I found that I just couldn't teach it and didn't particularly enjoy teaching it. Once you got past the technical side, how did one teach creativity? Not something in which I ever felt successful.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Reader's Diary #2021: Youssef Dadudi: Monk!

Jazz is one of the few musical forms I haven't been able to get really into. I respect it (the talent, the artistry) but sometimes I find it difficult and I really need to be in the mood to give it a try. But I do try. While reading Youssef Dadudi's graphic novel biography of jazz legend Thelonius Monk I listened to his music and I must say, they went together quite well.

There's real movement in Dadudi's art, some experimentation, some improvisation with both the art and story telling, but also real substance and defined personality. Perhaps some Will Eisner, perhaps some Toulouse Lautrec influences? There's a flow to all of it, a rhythm and style. It's largely accessible though.

Monk himself is pinned down I suppose as much as a naturally enigmatic man like him could be; he came across as loyal friend, fast-thinking sometimes impatient genius with a better knack of communicating through music than words, sometimes crippled by mental illness, and sometimes a cliche. He sometimes comes across as the quintessential jazz stereotype with his "cool cat" lingo, his sunglasses-goatee-funky-hat appearance, and all his talk about the notes you don't hear being so damned important.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Reader's Diary #2021- Alex Murchison: Into Blue

Delving into the world of photocomics last year, I was excited to stumble upon Prince Edward Island photographer Alex Murchison's Into Blue: Circumstances and Fate on a Summer Day.

It's a short book that falls somewhere between a picture book (though aimed at adults) and a comic. It doesn't have all of the usual comic book features (lacking speech balloons and gutters, for example) but it does have sequential pictures and more than one photo per page which are pretty much equivalent to panels. There is text in the sidebars that tell a story but in conjunction with the photos.

The photos are quite well done; crisp, and artistic, with an great actress/model helping capture some of the emotion. The photography itself also convey emotion especially with the lighting turning darker as the story delves into darker content.

It is a story about a woman seeming to take an innocent stroll along a beach. She soon, however, happens upon an unpleasant mystery and in turn is reminded that she too was trying to escape from something unpleasant in her own life.A downer? Perhaps, but still adroitly told.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Reader's Diary #2020- Ellie Scott: But It's Only Rock and Roll

Ellie Scott's flash fiction "But It's Only Rock and Roll" isa light-hearted, quick story about a middle aged couple going out for a fun night of karaoke and re-living some of their wonder years. The man is the singer, the woman is his fan.

It's also, for me at least, a story about confidence and the attraction that brings.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Reader's Diary #2019- Deb Olin Unferth: Likable

My wife and I are currently, seemingly, switching paths. She's becoming less social, whereas I am becoming more so. We're roughly the same age as the main character in Deb Olin Unferth's "Likable." This woman is also wrestling with a change in her sociability but unlike my wife and I has the added complication of social anxiety. She believes she become more unlikable the more she talks.

There's a sense that maybe a self-fulfilling prophecy is at work which complicates the ending-- while making it decidedly more wicked.

It's a very relatable piece with a sly sense of humor.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Reader's Diary #2018- Maggie Bolitho: Same Old

There's something about Flash Fiction, perhaps that their length is typical of jokes and punchlines, that makes twist endings particularly common.

I'm not 100 percent sold on the twist of Maggie Bolitho's "Same Old" because I questioned for a second that a character was actually a dog and maybe I'm an idiot, but I did appreciate the tone (lightly dark and funny is always good) and that Bolitho shared the writing prompt that led to the story in case we want to play along at home.