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Thursday, November 28, 2019

Reader's Diary #2107- Various writers and artists: What If? With Great Power

I just recently read a collection of Marvel's original What If? comics and while I enjoyed it, they were dated and complained at the time that these non-canon stories weren't as outlandish as many of the canon stories that came after. In particular, Spider-Verse, with its myriad universes of alternate Spider-Men but the Spider-Man What If? stories to shame.

So I was curious to see a modern take on the What If? stories. Surely these would have to up the ante. Sadly, not really. In fact, the very first story has Flash Thompson being bitten by the radioactive spider rather than Peter Parker. Yawn. A later sees Spider-Man adopting a Punisher persona. Slightly better. The best ones though were the Exe-Men (a sort of X-Man/ Matrix mash-up) and a story in which Thor had been raised by Frost Giants rather than Loki raised by Odin.

All in all though the collection was lackluster.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Reader's Diary #2106- Bertolt Brecht, translated by Charles Laughton: Galileo

The version of Bertolt Brecht's Galileo that I had wasn't great for me. I enjoyed the translation and play itself but it begins with a long, dense introduction by Eric Bentley.

I'm a bit of a completionist so I suppose it's my own fault for sticking it through. He talks a lot about Marxist theory, which is not bad in and of itself but his treatment was very academic and dry for what I was in the mood for. Perhaps in a university setting? I was fearful that the play itself would be inaccessible. He also makes references to two versions of the play, while the book only contains one.

Fortunately I quite enjoyed the play and didn't find it dry or tedious at all. There were important themes, but there was also humour. While the introduction skewed me towards a Marxist analysis, really the play could be about anyone who defends or threatens a status quo.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Reader's Diary #2105- Chip Zdarsky (writer), Mark Bagley (art): Spider-Man Life Story

Chip Zdarsky's often better known for his humorous output and Spider-Man certainly makes enough wisecracks that Zardsky doesn't seem like a poor fit for the superhero at all. But if one was to come into Spider-Man Life Story thinking it would be a laugh-a-minute lighthearted comic, they'd be mistaken. Highly unlikely they'd be disappointed though.

Storywise, it's kind of genius. He takes Spider-Man back to the 60s when the character was first created and tells of how he got to the present day. Somehow though he manages to infuse the spirit and details of the decades with all the important Spider-Man storylines of the time, tweaked enough so that it's not a jumbled, confusing mess but a brilliant character arc and homage.

The art is unfortunate however. A story like this deserves something with the gravitas of someone like Alex Ross (Marvels, Kingdom Come). Mark Bagley's art and Frank D'Armata's art reminded me of Howard Chaykin's. I'm really not a fan, but even if I was I still think it'd be mismatched with this particular story.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Reader's Diary #2104- Kathryn Milam: Marlena Learns to Drive


I still remember studying the lyrics to Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" in my first year university English course and more specifically how the car symbolized an escape. It does for Marlena in Kathryn Milam's flash fiction "Marlena Learns to Drive" as well. It's not meant to be subtle though; Marlena knows darn well what getting her driver's license means.

Kicking the story up a notch though is the 70s backdrop. History tells us this was such an important time for women's liberation and that conjures up images of protests and bra burnings, but here we see its real, but no less important, effects in a quieter, everyday scene.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Reader's Diary #2103- Various writers and artists: What If? The Complete Collection Vol. 1

I was very excited to finally be able to sign up to Disney+ but I probably should have held off. I've been excited to enjoy all the promised new Marvel shows but it turns out none of them are ready. One of these shows is the animated What If? shows which, like the comics that spawned the premise, take a canon Marvel story line and explore what would have happened had there been one change. What if, for instance, Peggy Carter took the super soldier serum rather than Steve Rogers?

It sounds more fun that the first collection of comics turned out to be. Perhaps the problem is that Marvel has now been around so long, some of their more far out ideas that first made their appearance in What If? have now actually been done in canon plots. One of the stories here, for instance, asks what if three different characters were bitten by a radioactive spider? Well, the Spider-Verse has since done that, only much bigger and better. Likewise, there's a story here where Jane Foster becomes Thordis. So, Jason Aaron may not have gone with that name, but he did show Jane Foster wielding Mjolnir. And again, his version was far better developed.

One of the stories that I did actually enjoy wasn't a result of the premise at all. It asks what would happen if there was a team of Avengers formed in the 1950s and shows five heroes from Marvel's very early days that have either been long forgotten or remain really obscure. I do love reading about new or rare superheroes and certainly: 3-D Man, Marvel Boy, Gorilla-Man, Venus, and Human Robot fit that bill.

I also enjoyed the inclusion of old fan letters sent in from the original comics. I'm not sure what I found more surprising: that they didn't only publish positive letters or that they included everyone's full address. Who knew the series had so many fans in Calgary?

Monday, November 18, 2019

Reader's Diary #2102- Tania Hershman: Missing My Liar


I'm not sure if it says more about poetry or more about me that I expect and tolerate cryptically written poems more than cryptically written short stories. Tania Hershman's flash fiction "Missing My Liar" is, in the sense that I didn't get it, cryptic.

At first I thought the narrator's "liar" was another person, someone she expected to lie to her. Now I believe her liar to mean her ability to lie to herself. This, I believe, comes after a tragic event which has affected her thinking. But it's rather unclear.

As a poem, I suppose it's fine, but it's presented as a short story so...

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Reader's Diary #2101- Neil Christopher (compiler): Taaqtumi

Taaqtumi: An Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories may be one of my all-time favourite titles. An Inuktitut word that translates in English as "in the dark" it can also be sounded out in English to "talk to me". If this isn't a perfect title for a collection of Northern horror stories I don't know what is.

Thankfully it isn't just the title that's stellar, the writing inside is great as well. Authors include Aviaq Johnston, Ann R. Loverock, Richard Van Camp, Thomas Anguti Johnston, Sean Qitsualik Tinsley, Rachel Qitsualik Tinsley, Gayle Kabloona, K.C. Carthew, Jay Bulckaert, and Repo Kempt. Like all short story collections from diverse writers, you'll likely gravitate towards some more than others but I'd say I enjoyed all of these. I did perhaps have more difficult a time with the very complex sci-fi world building of a story called "Lounge" but I'm sure a second read would help.

I especially liked the various approaches to horror, from the supernatural to very plausible, from the more traditional to the futuristic fantasy.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Reader's Diary #2100- Ogbewe Amadin: Riddle


Ogbewe Amadin's flash fiction "Riddle" is told from the perspective of a child who is wrestling with the fact that her aunt is a witch. This is, according to her mother, a bad thing but the girl becomes less and less sure as the story goes on.

On the surface, it's fine to leave at that. There seems to be a budding awareness in society these days that a lot of supposed witchcraft was rooted in misogyny, the patriarchy, Christian-based bigotry, and just plain old fear of the different.This story can be added to the voice of those that resist such prejudice.

But even extending beyond that, the story can also be viewed as a pivotal moment is all childhood: when we realize that our parents may not be perfect and may hold views of which we don't always agree.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Reader's Diary #2099- Steven Volynets: Turboatom


I watched the first episode of the HBO Chernobyl series last night and loved it so much I had to follow up with a Chernobyl short story.

What both short story and tv show do so well is personalize the tragedy. But the tragedy in Volynets story almost takes a back seat to the coming of age story of its narrator. Yes his father dies from radiation exposure, but there are also plots about being bullied for being Jewish and about immigration.

It's a longer story than I typically read for short story Mondays but still held my attention.