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.