Friday, February 28, 2020

Reader's Diary #2139 Michael Allred, Steve Horton, and Laura Allred: Bowie Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams

On the credits page of the graphic novel Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams, rather than list roles as typical for such a book (writer, pencils, colours, etc) they instead list them as (Screenplay by, technicolor cinematography, and directed). While it left me a little confused as to who did what exactly, it did make me appreciate how much it actually felt like a biopic in the same vein as the recent Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman. All three used creative license and eye candy visuals and focused on a particularly successful period of a musician's life.

The period here ranges roughly from Bowie's beginnings as a musician to the retirment of his Ziggy Stardust character. I particularly enjoyed the cameos from other famous rock stars of the area: the respect/rivalry between him and Marc Bolan (T-Rex), the friendship with Alice Cooper (who knew?), and the mentor/mentee relationship which often reversed roles between him and Iggy Pop.

Though the book is beautifully creative in both storytelling and art, you still get a real sense of the facts. Albeit, it's definitely from a fan perspective and some of the more controversial rumours of Bowie at that time were notably absent.

At the end, there's a visual montage of Bowie's life after the Ziggy Stardust farewell concert and these images were a lot of fun, hopefully also a teaser for subsequent volumes.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Reader's Diary #2138- Victor Gischler (writer), David Baldeon (artist): Spirits of Vengeance War at the Gates of Hell

In the Marvel vs DC Comics debate, I'm a die-hard Marvel guy. Except for Justice League Dark which is almost on par for me (except when Batman shows up and ruins everything). Victor Gischler and David Baldeon's Spirits of Vengeance feels the most like JLD.

That said, it's very plot driven and while I was excited to learn more about Hellstorm and Satana, of whom I was unfamiliar, I'm still not overly knowledgeable. I'm also a little unclear as to why Blade was on the team (I would think Doctor Strange and/or Scarlet Witch would have made more sense). Still, the story was good and fast-paced.

The art was decent and well-coloured, though perhaps not particularly complementary to the story which maybe would have been paired with something either more "out-there" or goth. Then again, Baldeon's style here is more humorous and a case could be made that it added some levity to what could have been an overly heavy tale.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Reader's Diary #2137- Brandon Thomas and Khary Randolph: Excellence Volume One Kill The Past

I started off thinking I'd enjoy Brandon Thomas' and Khary Randolph's Excellence: Kill the Past much more than wound up happening.

The art was great, and remained so, but the story left me confused and wanting more. Out of the gate, the themes were evident: legacies, father issues, masculinity, identity. All good. But the world building was confusing. Heavy on magic and some sort of training institute with an muddled purpose and unclear family tree dynamics. It reminded me somewhat of sci-fi which often starts out writing like the reader already understands the world but subtle world-building and context helps the understanding come later. Unfortunately it never did become clearer here and instead even the plot got lost in it all.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Reader's Diary #2136- Przemysław Zańko: Acceptable Loss

It freaks me out a little that multiverses, that old comic book standby, aren't rejected outright by physicists.

In Przemysław Zańko's brilliant short story "Acceptable Losses," not only are such multiverses proven, but people have found a way to travel to them. Don't like the current version of your spouse? In an alternate reality, you can find one whom you are still very much in love. Okay, so none of this is new to Rick and Morty fans, but it's still a good story, especially when it revolves around a man who's about to shut down all the rest. It brushes up against the ethics; is this genocide? It even draws parallels to the ideas of open borders in our current reality.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Reader's Diary #2135- Neal Adams (writer), Denny O'Neil (artist): Superman vs. Muhammad Ali

Sometimes going into something with no, or low expectations is the best. I was attracted to the Superman vs Muhammad Ali comic more for the novelty than anything else. I'm not a huge Superman or even DC Comics fan but more importantly I thought the whole premise was a bit dumb. Yes, Ali was the greatest boxer of all-time but were we really to believe he could bit a superhero?

Thankfully, Adams addresses that and has Superman compete against Ali in a scenario where Supe's been stripped of his super-powers. Okay, so still comic book dumb but not dumb dumb. And it's fun. It has a classic Star Trek kind of vibe actually. Plus I think Adams keeps the essence of both Superman the character and Muhammad Ali the man in tact.

And the art by Denny O'Neill is fantastic. It has a classic comic book look but infused with a lot of detail that made me appreciate all the work that went in to it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Reader's Diary #2134- Sergio Aragones: Groo Friends and Foes

As a MAD Magazine fan, I was looking forward to finally reading a collection of Sergio Aragones' Groo stories. But it's probably more suited to fantasy fans and/or Conan the Barbarian fans who also have a sense of humour.

Like Conan, Groo is a muscle-bound wanderer. The similarities probably end there though. He's well-intentioned for the most part, though his assistance usually results in slapstick tragedy for those he's trying to help, thanks mostly to Groo's pea-sized brain. He also appears to have skipped leg days.

The premise and visual gags grew old for me before long however.

Nice to see what he's all about but not enough to make a longtime fan out of me.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Reader's Diary #2133- Greg Egan: Bit Players

It took me a while to get into Greg Egan's short story "Bit Players." It begins with a bizarre scenario in which the Earth's gravitational pull has altered to pull East rather than down. The protagonist, Sagreda, however knows enough about physics to know how it's not possible and that rules are being broken. It sounds like an interesting premise but something of the delivery just makes it come across as Egan himself having heard the gravity-premise elsewhere and rather than just criticize it directly, threw a thin short story over his arguments.

Then it takes a bit of an unexpected turn in which it's revealed that the story's characters are actually AI characters in a video game and composites of real life humans. The plot still fizzles a bit, but it's overall an interesting piece.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Reader's Diary #2132- Various writers and artists: The Tomb of Dracula

After reading a disappointing collection of Blade comics recently, I went back to where it all started. His first appearance was in Marvel's Tomb of Dracula series from 1973.

He's really only the focus of a couple of stories in the collection, but still much better than the more recent one I read. Dracula is, of course, the star and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

A vampire fan, I wasn't particularly fond of Bram Stoker's Dracula. However, he seems tailor-made for Marvel. If you think of all the powers he has, they all pretty much have their equivalents in X-Men. He's shown to shape shift, control weather, hypnotize people, fly, possess superhuman strength. He's a super-villain! (I still think the aversion to crosses is pretty asinine though- does he never encounter a lowercase t?)

Plus the art and stories were great pulpy horror tales.

If they want to introduce Dracula into the MCU, that'd be just fine by me.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Reader's Diary #2131- Jack Crawford: Ineffable Romance

Recently, in anticipation for an upcoming trip to Guadeloupe, my wife and I started watching Death in Paradise, a lighthearted crime drama that is filmed there. And it's odd to call a show where there's a murder every week lighthearted. But even those that don't share my dark sense of humour seem to appreciate these type of films and books.

I wonder where Jack Crawford's flash fiction "Ineffable Romance" falls in this weird spectrum that ranges from cozy mystery to darkly shocking. It involves a murderous couple who meet and start a romance while each having gone to dump a body. I enjoyed it and found it amusing though I wonder if it would appeal more to fans of Murder She Wrote or of Dexter. Personally, I'd place it solidly between.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Reader's Diary #2130- Johanna Stoberock: Pigs

Recently I read Yoko Ogawa's The Memory Police and while I enjoyed it, I'd be reluctant to recommend it, assuming that the vague nature of its theme(s) would prove too frustrating for too many people.

Johanna Stoberock's Pigs has a similar parable sort of vibe and the ending comes with many questions remaining. However, it's faster paced and most themes are at more accessible, so I think it'd be a safer recommendation.

In a nutshell, there's a small group of kids stranded on an island with a herd of pigs. But not just any pigs, garbage eating pigs which comes in handy because this is where the world's garbage washes up. They're miracle pigs though, able to eat anything including metal, glass, and even toxic waste, with no ill effects. However, there's also a group of adults on the island who are selfish and shallow and dangerous.

Pigs and islands and kids likely allude to Lord of the Flies, but this book has more of an environmental message. I believe that they're kids may represent the way most people if richer countries view the people of "third world" countries without giving much thought to how our capitalism and pollution affects people there. There's another broken adult who comes to live with them and I think he may represent those that visit such countries with "white saviour" complexes (and fail miserably). Perhaps the adults already on the on the line represent those that, while are more aware of such countries, only see them as another resource to exploit. Not sure what the pigs themselves represent though. There's definitely a message about tipping points in there as well. But with all this talk about representation and possible symbolism, it could make for a great book club selection.

Monday, February 03, 2020

Reader's Diary #2129- Jaye Wells: I Can Dig It

Seems like I've been reading a lot of vampire stuff lately, first Blade, then Jaye Wells' short story "I Can Dig It," and I'm currently reading Marvel's The Tomb of Dracula. When I was a kid and really into monsters, vampires were my absolute favourite so it's been a fun time revisiting that.

And fun is a perfect way to describe "I Can Dig It." Though it involves grave-digging, vampires, and a murder, it's far more comedic than scary. Still in a short space Wells effectively establishes the story's take on vampire lore and laws, plus offers an engaging voice.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Reader's Diary #2128- Marc Andreyko, Don McGregor, Bart Sears: Blade Blood and Chaos

Image result for blade blood and chaosI probably wasn't as excited as most when Marvel Studios announced that they'd be revamping Blade with a new movie. I was excited, I suppose that Mahershala Ali would be taking the title role, as he's a great actor, but shamefully I was pretty in the dark about the character. I still haven't seen the Wesley Snipes films and I'd never read any Blade comics. He may have popped up in a cameo or something in some other comics, but I can't recall any.

So I thought I'd remedy that with the collection Blade: Blood and Chaos (originally released in the 90s). Yeah, these were awful.

The first Blood arc wasn't horrendous. It was set in New Orleans, which is always cool, and the story was passable, but the art left a lot to be desired (looked rushed), and worst of all it was cancelled after three issues with a huge cliffhanger.

The next Chaos arc wasn't, unfortunately, cancelled. This thing is a mess from start to finish. The art is bad, the dialogue is ridiculous, and the story is a convoluted to the point of being incomprehensible.

I suppose I got a bit more insight into the character's origins but man, any character deserved better than this. The only bonus? Marvel Studios has a pretty low bar to do better than this.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Reader's Diary #2127- László Krasznahorkai: I Don't Need Anything From Here

It's not unusual for flash fiction to blur the lines between short story and poetry, but I still prefer those that have a plot (and a resolution for that matter, otherwise it seems like an introduction to a longer piece).

László Krasznahorkai's "I Don't Need Anything From Here" however definitely falls further into the poetry side despite the New Yorker's labeling it as flash fiction. Actually, it's more like a personal mantra or prayer (complete with religious themes of the afterlife). Perhaps there's a hint of plot in the very last line, but that's generous.

Whatever it is, it's pleasant and some would even say beautiful.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Reader's Diary #2126- Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder: The Memory Police

Yoko Ogawa's The Memory Police had such an unusual premise that I was entranced. Essentially there's an island on which things randomly start disappearing. Not disappearing exactly but rather start being erased from memory and followed up by people getting rid of the forgotten things. The reason and exact science of what happens remains elusive. There are some, now unfortunate, souls on the island however who don't forget. These are rounded up by the dreaded memory police. The narrator of this tale decides to hide one of these folks, a la Anne Frank, in a secret room in her house.

Though I enjoyed it, it would be a hard book to recommend. It's bound to be too frustrating for a lot of readers. It has the feel of a parable or a metaphor for something but I can't put my finger on it. I would like to find another reader to hear their theories. Throughout, mine changed. Was it something about those ideas that get edited away during the writing of a book, forever forgotten? Is it something about losing our individuality in love? Is it about the ephemeral nature of life itself?

Answers do not not come. The mystery, combined with Ogawa's rich but accessible descriptions, held me much longer than I would have thought. Still, I'd not judge anyone who gave up on it or who were angered by the ending.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Reader's Diary #2125- Jerome Stern: Morning News

There's a line, a word really, in the first paragraph of Jerome Stern's flash fiction "Morning News" that I cannot shake for how much I like it. The narrator has just gotten bad news, clearly has a very short time to live. Then: "The doctor, embarrassed, picks me up off the floor and I stagger to my car."

What business does the doctor have being embarrassed? Like there's something unreasonable about this guy's reaction. Is the narrator projecting? Does the doctor deliver so much bad news that this particular reaction is the most undignified he's ever seen? How much do I love embarrassed here?

The story overall is wonderful. It should be bleak but I found it darkly hilarious. Like there even is a proper way to deal with death? Or with life either for that matter.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Reader's Diary #2124- Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips: Bad Weekend

I don't know why it's striking me so odd that I just found Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' graphic novel Bad Weekend good. Maybe it's my personality, maybe it's the nature of book blogging, but I tend to want to label things as great or terrible. Bad Weekend didn't strike me as either of those things. Good seems almost insulting? Or as a review, lazy?

I enjoyed the characters in Bad Weekend the most. It's told from the perspective of a reluctant chaperone for a cantankerous old comics legend to a local convention. The legend, Hal Crane, reminded me a hybrid of Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and a few others whose talents and amazing past work too often provide excuses for currently shitty behaviours and personalities. So not a likeable character by any stretch but a wholly plausible one.

The story though didn't overly excite me. Again, it was good, and gave a little insight into Hal as a person. Plus, the art was realistic and gritty with muted colours which complimented the tone and pace of the story. I'd be hard pressed to find any fault except that it didn't personally thrill me as a package.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Reader's Diary #2123- Daniel David Moses: Coyote City

A few years ago I created a list of plays that I felt I should have read but had not yet gotten around to reading. I worked away at this list, not religiously or anything, but tracking them down on occasion and tackling them when the mood struck:

1. Ann-Marie MacDonald- Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)
2. Joseph Kesselring- Arsenic and Old Lace
3.Thornton Wilder- Our Town
4. Oscar Wilde- The Importance of Being Earnest
5. Tennessee Williams- A Streetcar Named Desire
6. Eugene O'Neill- The Iceman Cometh
7. Edward Albee- Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
8. David Mamet- Glengarry Glen Ross
9. Tom Stoppard- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
10. Neil Simon- Lost in Yonkers
11. Agatha Christie- The Mousetrap
12. Moliere- Tartuffe
13. George Ryga- The Ecstasy of Rita Joe
14. Daniel David Moses- Coyote City
15. Sally Clark- Moo
16. Anton Chekov- The Cherry Orchard
17. Euripides- Medea
18. Tony Kushner- Angels in America
19. Lorraine Hansberry- A Raisin in the Sun
20. Bertolt Brecht- Galileo

I've enjoyed most (not so much Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf?) but a favourite was also one of the hardest to track down: Daniel David Moses' Coyote City. It's funny, smart, thought-provoking, and creative.

The story revolves around a lovestruck young woman who gets a phone call to reconnect with her boyfriend in Toronto. The only issue? He's been dead for six months. Is she crazy or is there something supernatural going on? At the end, comparing the situation to tales of Coyote's trip to the land of the dead (the cast is from a First Nation), Moses made me really consider what the truth was and if it even mattered. Themes of grief, memory, legacy, and love abound.

Not I'd like to see just one of these performed!

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Reader's Diary #2122- Megan James: Innsmouth

Megan James's Innsmouth, a comedic Lovecraftian graphic novel, is excellent. It honours the source material (but not the man behind it; more on that in a bit) while infusing the weird brand of horror with a cool story, wonderful characters, and humour.

In the introduction, James acknowledges that Lovecraft was a xenophobic twat but the man himself put his ideas into the public domain, so they were fresh for the reclamation. And reclaim them she did. Thankfully she salvaged the weird sea/inter-dimensional themes, but then made one of the main protagonists a smart, hijab-wearing, Muslim. Further, her know-it-all/know-nothing and hapless coworker, I believe is meant as a stand-in for Lovecraft himself (which is perfect).

The art is great, with a style that is consistent with the tone and pace, though I wish for the more way-out there sequences it was a bit brighter and/or glossier. 

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Reader's Diary #2121- Nnedi Okorafor (writer), Tana Ford and James Devlin (artists): Laguardia

Quickly becoming a fan of Nnedi Okorafor's work, Laguardia, a sci-fi graphic novel, further entrenches my appreciation.

The cover of Laguardia shows a pregnant woman protesting with a bunch of aliens (the outer space kind) who also happen to be aliens (in the immigration sense). One of the many signs reads, "Immigrants Make America Great!" and most modern readers know why such a book would be relevant today.

The fascinating, maybe fascinatingly depressing, thing is that the book doesn't really present a dystopia at least compared to how I think it would go if aliens did actually try to move to Earth. Considering how poorly we treat humans, I think if aliens were left alive, left to protest, that in itself would sadly be progress.

On top of the obvious statements about open borders and injustice, Okorafor also delves into some of the more complex issues. When people do immigrate, for instance, are they aware of, are they sensitive to the locals who themselves may be mistreated? I couldn't help but think about refugees to Canada and whether or not they consider the complex relationships between the indigenous peoples and colonizers.

She also works in a love story.

Laguardia is full of thought and imagination and is wildly entertaining. Better still, it's complimented wonderfully with rich art and colours by Tana Ford and James Devlin.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Reader's Diary #2120- Lauren Fox: Happy This, Congratulations That

I so badly wanted Lauren Fox's "Happy This, Congratulations That" to keep going.

But, I suppose, that's as much as praise for the preceding story as it is critique of the abrupt ending.

She does such a wonderfully engaging job of developing the narrator's character, supported with a wealth of realistic details. It could be on the depressing side (the narrator recounts her divorce and how she went from dental hygienist to working in a mall bakery. But on the other hand, I sensed that she found sound solace in her observations while working there: we're all miserable and going through crap.

Friday, January 03, 2020

Reader's Diary #2119- George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott (writers), Harmony Becker (art): They Called Us Enemy

While Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott assisted with the writing, the graphic novel They Called Us Enemy is George Takei's memoir detailing his time spent as a child in American concentration camps; a result of racism and wartime fear.

While definitely not a "both sides" sort of book, it's quite notable for the balance. Presenting himself as an optimistic sort of kid who could find positives anywhere, even as far as fond memories inside the camps, he (with subtle but strong emotions depicted in facial expressions by Harmony Becker) manages to show the stress and hurt of his parents as they coped during such traumatic times. Of course, as he grew older and talked more openly with his parents, Takei quickly understood the injustice of it all.

Likewise, he's takes a nuanced and balanced approach in his reflectionson those interred Japanese-Americans who signed loyalty oaths to to the US versus those who chose not to.

While he doesn't belabor the point, Takei acknowledges that this important piece of history is just as relevant now as it ever was, perhaps even more so under Trump's crazy, fascist, and racist rule.