Showing posts with label graphic novel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label graphic novel. Show all posts

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Cute Girl network by Greg Means, MK Reed, Joe Flood


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the last of three graphic novels I'll be reviewing this weekend. This one ca,me form my excellent local library and I think it's my favorite of the three. The story is of Jane and Jack. It's illustrated with black and white line drawings by Flood. I was a little disappointed that writers Means and Reed didn't go the whole hog and name her Jill, since she introduces herself with a tumble.
It's not down a hill, but nothing is perfect, right?

Skateboarder Jane has been in town for about a month when she wipes out in front of Jack's soup cart. He supplies a free ice tea (in a bottle!) for her to soothe her injured coccyx. As the two interact more, they end up on a date and start liking each other, even though she's feisty as all hell and he is highly-prone to complete disasters.

Two of Jane's vampire romance-obsessed roommates freak-out when they learn she's dating Jack. Actually the vampire romance thing is pretty much a story all in itself, and I appreciated that; however, suddenly Jane finds herself introduced to the Cute Girls Network (not to be confused with the cukegirls network) - a loose alliance of women who dish out the skinny on guys you should avoid like the plague. Jane hears several embarrassingly gauche stories of Jack's history of bad conduct, but despite these dire warnings, she decides to stay the course.

The story is cutely illustrated and amusingly written, and it tells a fascinating and unusual story. I really liked the character Jane. She was definitely my kind of fictional girl. Jack was hilarious, as were the various roommates of both main characters. This was an excellent read, and I highly recommend it.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

James Bond Hammerhead by Andy Diggle, Luca Casalanguida


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher!

This is the second of three graphic novels I'm reviewing this weekend, and I started out thinking I wasn't going to like this, but it won me over as I read on! It's not your movie James Bond. Luca Casalanguida's illustrations bear no relation to any Bond from the silver screen. This Bond harks back much more to the traditional Ian Fleming Bond (there's even a cover shown towards the back which pays homage to the paperback Bond novels of the fifties and early sixties). It's not exactly Ian Fleming's conception of the character (who Fleming believed should look like a cross between Hoagy Carmichael and himself!), but it admirably fits the bill. That said, it's a very modern story in a modern world, so while it felt like a clean break from the movies in some regards, Andy Diggle tells a story worthy of any screenplay.

There's everything here you've come to expect from Bond: a big plot, continual action, a terrorist on the loose with a cool code-name, subterfuge, assassination attempts, double-cross, daring Bond exploits, and the inevitable cool Bond girl. Bond begins the story in the doghouse. M, in this story not a woman but an Anglo-African, kicks him out to an arms convention in Dubai where he meets Lord Hunt - Britain's biggest arms dealer, and his sophisticated and charming daughter, Victoria, who knows her way around weapons of any calibre!

Unfortunately, Lord Hunt is assassinated, and Bond and the young Lady Hunt are thrown together in pursuit of the villains, so once again, Bond is back in business looking for super villain Kraken, who seems to be targeting the very thing the Hunt weapons manufacturing concern is charged with renewing: Britain's aging nuclear deterrent. Bond is of course led astray, but in the end gets back on track, and saves the day.

Note that this Bond is a violent one, and the artist shows no fear of illustrating that violence. This might have been rather shocking before Bond was rebooted with Daniel Craig stepping into the role and making it more gritty and brutal, but still, there's rather more gore and red ink here than you see in the movies, so be warned of that. Overall, I really liked it, and I recommend this as a worthy read.


Betty Boop by Roger Langridge, Gisèle Lagacé


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the first of three reviews I'll be doing this weekend of graphic novels; it's from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher!

I'm not sure why comic book writers go to such lengths to put a completely different image on the cover to the ones you routinely find inside. It smacks of bait & switch. In this case, I didn't expect anything other than standard imagery inside, so the cover was pretty well-received and not resented for misrepresenting! Howard Chaykin's work here, colored by Jesus Aburto, is really was quite stunning, worthy of your screen wallpaper if not framing and hanging on a wall! I felt it a pity though, that someone isn't willing to buck tradition and do a whole comic like that, but it seems Betty is going to continue to be confined to the 1930's which was her era (and she owned it!).

Betty Boop is modeled (both in face and voice) on singer Helen Kane who was best known for "I Wanna Be Loved by You," and who sued Betty Boop's creators, but they cited the "boop-boop-a-doop" as originating with Esther Jones, and Kane eventually lost the lawsuit. I think she needed a better lawyer!

I never was a big fan of Betty Boop (although I love the concept) and I've enjoyed some of the whacked-out animated cartoons which were really off the wall, especially for the era they were created in. In this series, which combines several comics, the arc is all about villain Lizard Lips. I wish there had been more variety but it was all LL all the time. Each story is self-contained, and LL plagues Betty in every adventure, obsessed with getting his hands on her house, for no reason that was apparent to me!

Betty always wins of course, and there's a lot of celebratory singing, which obviously doesn't work as well in print as it did in animation. Betty isn't as much of a sex symbol here, either - she plays more to cute than to Woot! This isn't a bad thing, but it did lend her a slightly neutered air. Since Betty began life as a sex symbol it would have been nice to see her let off the leash a little more in a comic book.

That said, she was extremely cute and I enjoyed the dialog, the references back to her original life and friends, and the quality of the artwork by the amazingly-named Gisèle Lagacé. She really captured the essence of the original, and is definitely an artist to keep an eye out for. So overall, this was a fun book, told good stories, and was very enjoyable. Despite the one or two relatively trivial regrets mentioned, I think it's a winner, especially if you're a big fan already.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Messenger: The Legend of Joan of Arc by Tony Lee, Sam Hart


Rating: WARTY!

This was a very disappointing graphic novel which I got from my wonderful local library about the woman the French know as La Pucelle d'Orléans. I think a woman like Jeanne d'Arc deserves a better memorial than this one because, deluded as she was, she did make her mark on history. This novel doesn't. It basically tells the same tale as everyone else does, so what's the point? The illustrations are indifferent and there was really nothing there to inspire me, which is sad given that Jeanne was said to have inspired an army to win a war!

Rising from an obscure childhood to become and legend and now, one of the nine secondary saints of France is quite an achievement, although it took five hundred years, all told. The problem is that the authors don't offer anything other than what you can read in Wikipedia - which for all I know might well be where they took their 'plot'. But apart from purely fictional and very trite conversations, they offer nothing more - just a by-rote, pedantic retelling of the facts, including several information dumps and much folklore unverified as fact.

I'll give just one example of how pathetic the invented dialog is. At one point the English drop a rock on Jeanne's head. She's in process of storming their castle when it happens. This evidently was a real event and she survived it. I suspect the real rock was a lot smaller than the one depicted in this novel, but in this story, evidently rather peeved, she says, "They throw stones at a girl? Show them what you think of that! To arms!" which is as pathetic as you can get and makes her look like a moron.

She's dressed as a soldier. She has short hair and she's waging war on the English dressed as a regular male warrior, and now she thinks she should be entitled to special treatment because she's a girl? I'm sorry but that line alone makes this novel total trash. The writer should be ashamed of himself for even thinking of writing it. I seriously doubt the real Jeanne said anything like that.

Michael, who is a Jewish archangel who supposedly communicates with her, is depicted as a long-haired muscular blond with white wings! In short, not a Judaic angel, but more like a Norse god named Thor. Pathetic. For this reason and others, this story doesn't seem organic. It doesn't seem life-like. It's more like reading a history book than ever it is a work which gives us the opportunity to enjoy and celebrate a living, thriving person exhibiting bravery you can rarely find in modern YA stories, and offering inspiration, and adventure.

That said it would be hard to repeat her story in any age (or in these days nation) other than one bogged down in religious strait-jackets and blind belief in ridiculous fairy tales. Only in such a world could someone so totally fool others in to believing they had a direct line to a god!

This would have made a much better tale had it been explored with a new light - that of a young deluded girl being elevated by men into a figure of inspiration when it served them, and discarding her callously when she was no longer of use, but that tale has yet to be told in this format, to my knowledge. I think this version cruelly under-serves her.

Another approach would have been to have shown how useless God is: in that he cannot do a thing for himself, always having to rely on mere mortal, weak humans to do his work for him, and then failing them repeatedly. I mean, is he an all-powerful god or merely another insane being no better than the Devil, whispering things in people's ears to make them do his absurd and contradictory bidding purely for his own entertainment?

I'm not a believer at all, but let's just pretend there is a god who for reasons unknown, wishes half a century later to reverse Agincourt, where the English soundly beat the French on their home turf, and who now wants the French to beat the English on that same turf. There's actually a whole other story right there about a schizophrenic god who doesn't know what he wants, but I don't want to pursue that here.

Set aside any quibbles about why this god even cares who owns France, when he's always been the "God of Israel," not anywhere else, and then not even the God of all of Israel, but a mountain god - a god of the hill tribes. Instead let's pretend he actually cares. If it's that important, then why pick an obscure girl from nowheresville? Why not pick the pope?

Better yet, why not do his dirty work himself, and de-materialize the English army? Instead, we're expected to believe that this purportedly all-powerful god cannot do the job and is forced to pick an illiterate and highly superstitious child, and force her to try and change history before abandoning her to misery and suffering. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and in effect means that this god murdered that child.

And for what? The war did not end with her. France did not become whole immediately because of her. Indeed, even after it became whole, it later fell to the English after Napoleon's depredations. Where was this god then? Where was his messenger then? France again fell to the Nazis, and in the worst way. Where was this god then? Where was the messenger then? What was the point? Why only one messenger in a suspiciously superstitious and ignorant time and then no more? Does this god not take a long view?! Or is the real story not that he's so petty and short-sighted, but that there really is no god other than what we sad and ignorant humans invent to delude ourselves with, and to satisfy our own petty needs of the moment?

It makes even less sense that he would then allow his savior to be burned, but he does have a history of throwing his Messiahs to the wolves, doesn't he? Even if he is real, he's not a god I want anything to do with. There's a far better story to be told about Jeanne than ever we've been given by those blinkered people who merely retell the historical plot points without any feeling or heart and add nothing new in the telling. I can't recommend this one at all.


Battling Boy by Paul Pope


Rating: WARTY!

I'm back again after taking a couple of weeks off from blogging to pursue illustrations for the print version of Baker Street, the e-version of which is released today.

This graphic novel was a bust for me. The most amusing thing about it was that when I first saw it on the library shelf I thought the title was "Pope Battling Boy" which I thought was hilarious. But no, it's just Battling Boy - the ''Pope part came from the author's pretentious conceit of putting his name at the top and the title below it, like this is supposed to mean something to me.

I'm sorry, but no! I don't borrow - and I certainly don't buy - a book for no other reason than that the author thinks I should because it's by him - or her. I read books based on whether they sound appealing, and I often get that wrong! I don't go by the title or by the pretty cover (yes, insanely melodramatic cover reveal authors, I'm looking at you!) and I really don't care who the author is, or what they've done previously. I'd hate to think people were buying my books just because my name is on them and for no other reason. People who think like that are morons.

I sure learned my lesson here with the confused and chaotic story and the indifferent illustrations I got. The basic story is that the super hero who protects the town in this purely fictional alternate world - but which looks exactly like ours - is killed by super villains whose sole purpose in life (other than dressing like mummies) seems to be abducting children - for reasons which are unexplained. A lot of things go unfortunately unexplained in this book because it's part of a series, which is one reason I thoroughly detest most series I've ever encountered.

The super hero has the absurd name of Haggard West. His replacement is his daughter who, again for reasons unexplained, has a different name from her father. But there's a second replacement. For reasons unexplained, it's a kid whose bar mitzvah is to be dumped into this world from the heavens by his Thor rip-off dad, so he can prove himself. He's given no instructions, no tools, and no training - for reasons unexplained. He's just left there to fight the monsters which invade this city routinely...for reasons unexplained.

For reasons unexplained, he has a set of t-shirts which are imprinted each with a different animal logo - mostly real, but in one case mythical. For reasons unexplained, when he dons a Tee, it doesn't give him the powers of the animal, it makes the animal appear and talk to him offering pretty much useless advice. For reasons which ought to be clear by now, I don't recommend this book.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Chimpanzee Complex Vol 2 The Sons of Areas by Richard Marazano, Jean-Michel Ponzio


Rating: WARTY!

Here's a problem with series that single books never have to face: unless you, as a reader, can get your hands on the compendium edition, you have to root out all the individual volumes! Thus, series are in no way written for the reader, but for the lucrative gratification of money-grubbing authors and publishers. This is one major reason why I will never write a series. It's not worth selling out for.

And how dumb does a publisher have to be to favor a series (which you know they do, especially in the YA world) when they have no idea how good it's going to be? All they have is the first volume and a promise of two or more follow-ups. They have no way of knowing how good or bad those will be, yet they would rather commit to that, blinded by cash rewards, than give three single-volume authors a chance because they can only rake in one third the money with one volume? Screw them. That's not a world I want to be a part of.

Thus my issue with this, a graphic novel translated from the original French (Le Complexe du Chimpanzé: les Fils d'Arès), the very medium which tends to be, almost by definition, episodic. The library had volume two on display which was odd, and it looked interesting from a brief skim. The artwork by Jean-Michel Ponzio looked pretty good, but they didn't have volume one. It would have been wiser on the part of the library to have not put this out there without including the first volume.

Anyway, I figured to take a chance (and it failed)! The story made no sense whatsoever, and I suspected that even had I read volume one, and assuming it had impressed me enough (of which I confess I have some serious doubts) that I ever made to to volume two, it would still make no sense. The problem (again definitive of series) is that the story really goes nowhere. In volume two there can be no beginning - that bus left with volume one, and since there is a volume three, there can be no ending here. So all we have is this free-floating story fragment, and I could make neither têtes nor queues of it.

The plot? Well, that's an open question. Other than its dedication to cheapening the achievements of people like Yuri Gagarin, Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin, what does it offer? Nothing that I can see. In volume one, set in 2035, a space capsule plunges into the Indian Ocean and when it's recovered, it's found to contain Armstrong, and Aldrin - and no Michael Collins apparently! Collins became the most isolated and lonely man in the world (or rather out of it) in 1969 when, having dropped off his two companions on the Moon's surface, he went behind the Moon alone, and was out of touch with the rest of humanity for a period of time! Yet not a word about him!

In this volume, we meet this woman who is going to Mars, leaving behind her daughter. No father is evidently in sight although there is this guy who is supposedly in charge of the young girl, but who he was I have no idea. He wasn't very good at what he was charged with undertaking, for sure. But more to the point, what woman would do that to a young child? Going to the Moon for a week or ten days, I can see, but going on a round trip to Mars for a year? That's child abuse. Her daughter feels it pointedly too, and runs away from home (she seems to be completely unsupervised), yet while I was mildly interested in the daughter's adventure, I had no interest whatsoever in the mother's non-adventure, which while commendable in that she was not your usual pale Caucasian protagonist (she was Asian) was boring.

And who, in 2035, has an encyclopedic knowledge of Russian cosmonauts from 1961 (I love the rotational symmetry of that year!) - such that she knows the middle name and exact dates of Gagarin's life milestones? This is an example of truly bad writing, and frankly, that was the weakest link here - not only did the writing make no sense, it wasn't even inspired. I really disliked this story.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Emily The Strange: Rock Issue by Rob Reger, Jessica Gruner, Kitty Remington, Brian Brooks, Buzz Parker


Rating: WARTY!

I'm not even going to dignify this drivel with a significant review because it's not worth my valuable time, and it was so awful I pretty much skimmed the whole thing. The only rock references are to antique and irrelevant musicians in this modern world and to actual rocks. I am so disappointed in this whole mini-series. It's trite, tedious, and boring beyond hellish. Skip it. Avoid this series altogether, and read instead the four novels and the newer graphic novel about Emily's band: Emily and the Strangers.


Emily The Strange: Let There Be Darkby Rob Reger, Jessica Gruner, Brian Brooks, Kitty Remington, Buzz Parker


Rating: WARTY!

This is volume three of a seriously disappointing four-comic series.

After enjoying a previous graphic novel which was my first introduction to Emily, and then all four of the novels written about her, I was really looking forward to these, but they were not at all what I had hoped for. far form it.

The problem was that this set doesn't tell a story like the others do. The title of the volume sets the theme for the content, which is a set of mini-stories which are neither entertaining nor in any way satisfying.

God made Woman in My Own Image The forerunner to Emily's duplication of herself in the Stranger and Stranger novel. Read that instead.
Emily Created Creatures of the Night Totally boring.
Scarytale theater felt staged.
Go to the Dark overshadowed by later work.
Danger in the Dark
What's Darker Than Dark? Unintellidrivel.

That was it - hardly anything and what there was of anything wasn't worth reading.


Emily The Strange: This Cover Got Lost by Jessica Gruner, Rob Reger, Buffy Visick, Brian Brooks, Buzz Parker


Rating: WARTY!

This is volume two of a disappointing four comic series I requested from the library and the only thing to distinguish it, apart from the admittedly amusing title, is the delightfully named Buffy Visick joining the writing team (along with Brian Brooks). How four writers can come up with so little in the way of entertainment is the real entertainment here.

After enjoying a previous graphic novel which was my first introduction to Emily, and then all four of the novels written about her, I was really looking forward to these, but they were not at all what I had hoped for, and nothing like the previous material I'd read in terms of quality, inventiveness, or entertainment value. I was sorry to leave this character on such a sour note, but glad I read these last, because if I'd have read these first, I would likely never have read anything else and would have been poorer for it.

For me the problem was that this set doesn't really tell a story like the others do. Instead they consist of mediocre red and black illustrations (which could be called media ocher, I guess! LOL! as long as we're about to talk of bad punning), which tell mini tales all of which seem to often revolve around poor puns which really can't be stretched into a longer story. The title of the volume sets the theme for the content, and I found it amusing on this occasion especially since graphic novel cover artist has such a big (an unwarranted) deal made over it, but a lot of the references are to the pop culture of yesteryear, many of them antiques now, so the appeal is very limited. I recognized most of the names of the rocks stars of yesteryear featured in one story, but only one of the album covers, so that entire two page spread was lost on me. Lost is what I was in this, often, so again the title works if in a way unintended by the creators.

The stories in this volume were:
The Lost Art of was an empty frame.
Lost in Vision - blind pursuit of anything like entertainment value.
Lostco This was genuinely funny and entertaining, but the sad thing is that this is the only article out of all four comics that was worth reading.
Beauty is Lost Ugly.
Lost City Should have been included in the boring first volume.
Lost in Space Too spaced out.
Scarytale Theater Bring down the curtain.
Lost my Mind Agreed. Don't write anything else until you get it back!


Emily The Strange: Chairman of the Bored by Rob Reger, Brian Brooks, Jessica Gruner, Buzz Parker


Rating: WARTY!

This is volume one of a disappointing four comic series I requested from the library. After enjoying a previous graphic novel which was my first introduction to Emily, and then all four of the novels written about her, Emily, I was really looking forward to these, but they were not at all what I had hoped for and nothing like the previous material in terms of quality, inventiveness, or entertainment value. I was sorry to leave this character on such a sour note, but glad I read these last, because if I'd have read these first, I would likely never have read anything else and would have been poorer for it.

For me the problem was that this set doesn't really tell a story like the others do. Instead they consist of mediocre red and black illustrations (which could be called media ochre, I guess! LOL!), which tell mini tales all of which seem to revolve around bad puns which really don't make the transition to a longer story. The title of the volume sets the theme for the content, but a lot of the references are to the pop culture of yesteryear, many of them antiques now, so the appeal is very limited. I recognized most of the names of the rocks stars of yester year featured in one story, but only one of the album covers, so that entire two page spread was lost on me. Bored is what I was, so the title works, if in a way unintended by the creators.

It was written by Reger, Brooks, and Gruner, and largely illustrated poorly by Parker. The main stories in this volume were:
Strange sauce, where Emily flavors cafeteria food with a concoction o her own and turns everyone into monsters. Boring.
Thirteen other uses for wire hangers Lame.
head in the clouds Thin.
Bored to death Stuffing nonsense.
Croquet with the damned Laughable, and not in a good way.
Grow'n Up vegetative.

That was pretty much it. A complete bust. I do not recommend this. By all means do read the other works on Emily, but nothing from this series is worth your time.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Emily and the Strangers Vol 1 by Rob Reger, Mariah Huehner, Emily Ivie


Rating: WARTY!

I must have slept through the nineties because I had never heard of "Emily The Strange" until I saw this graphic novel in my ever-adored local library. It called to me, but now I'm left lamenting what else is out there that I might never happen upon.

Emily, as represented in this short graphic novel, is completely lovable, from her 'tude, to the way she's drawn and colored. She's a perfect mix of Goth and Steamed-punk. I love her positive, if aggressive, attitude, her never-defeatist approach to life, and her very inventive G-Rated cussing, which was hilarious.

From reading around (yeah, I'm a shameless book slut!) Rob Reger's friend Nathan Carrico designed Emily in 1991 for a skateboard company(!). Reger created the designs, and he and Matt Reed brought them into the fashion world on T-shirts featuring this girl and 4 black cats (one of which no doubt had a ring-tailed lemur tail). Those cats have bred, because there are many in this story, and they're exquisitely depicted. I don't know anything about Emily Ivie, the evidently very talented artist, but co-writer (with Reger) Mariah (that's mar-eye-uh, not mar-ee-uh) Huehner describes herself as a "big old geeky nerd who loves talking about stories and storytelling." She lied! Her face isn't old and her eyes are very young which is probably why she can get inside Emily The Strange's head so readily.

This volume combines the first three issues of the Emily (and) the Strange(rs) mini-series in which her idol Professa Kraken dies, and she has the chance to win his octopod-inspired guitar - which is also conveniently haunted by his spirit. The story here is that Emily strives to win the guitar, and just as she is convinced she missed her chance, fate (and cats) conspire to put her in front. The odd thing, which I really didn't get, is that even though she won it, there's a condition attached to it: that in order to keep it, she must win the battle of the bands, for which the anti-social (if not sociopathic) Emily must put together an actual band.

The story then moralizes somewhat about team-work and 'can't we all just get along', so for me it lost some momentum at that point, but it was still enjoyable. I'd dispute that this is a young-adult story! It felt much more like middle-grade to me, but it was fun. The other characters in the band were interesting. There was the guy who factored into Emily's success in the guitar contest; I don't know what his angle is and I wasn't too fond of him. He's a fan, if not a stalker of Emily's, and he rather creepily named himself Evan Stranger (Even Stranger), but other than his weird addiction to Emily, he isn't strange at all.

There was also Winston and Willow, who are fraternal twins, but otherwise complete opposites, and there is Raven, who is a girl-bot which was made and then lost track of by Emily, and who is now working in a vinyl, record store where Emily encounters her again. She fascinated me, but got very little air-time. This band doesn't work until the final member turns up, the very orange Trilogy, and then they're winners all the way.

Now I'm interested in Emily. I'd like to read the story of her creating Raven, and also about her earlier history. I recommend this one.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Lady Mechanika Vol. 2: The Tablet of Destinies by Joe Benítez, MM Chen, Martin Montiel, Mike Garcia


Rating: WARTY!

This combines volumes one through six of the original comic books and was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

In a beautifully wrought steam-punk world, the young daughter of a friend of Lady Mechanika's is in need of assistance, and the Lady responds. Her father has disappeared on a quest in Africa, and Mechanika sets out to find out what happened. Her quest is lent added urgency when the young girl is kidnapped. Mechanika meets a mysterious guy in London, who offers air transportation to Germany, where the kidnap victim is, and where lies another clue pointing to a specific site in Africa, so they set off there, only to crash in the desert and be taken prisoner by slavers!

Meanwhile in interleaved portions, we get the view from the other end of this quest, where the professor and his assistant are under pressure to decipher ancient scripts and uncover what the villains believe is an unprecedentedly powerful weapon.

The adventure was well-written, fast-moving, and full of action and feisty characters, including the distressed young girl at the start. The artwork was beautifully done and colored. That alone would have been sufficient for me to rate this graphic novel as a worthy read, but what bothered me too much here was what I let slip by in volume one, and it was the sexualization of all the female characters. When the blurb says, "Lady Mechanika immediately drops everything" it really means her clothes, and for me, this is what brought this particular volume down.

I found it disturbing, because Mechanika is fine regardless of her physical appeal or lack of same! She doesn't need to be rendered in endlessly sexual ways to be an impressive character. It's sad that graphic novel creators seem so completely ignorant of this fact. It's like they have this phobia that their female characters are going to be useless and entirely unappealing unless their sexuality is exploited. I'm not sure if this failing says more about the creators or about their readership, but either way it's obnoxious and I sincerely wish they had more faith in women than they evidently do. Do we really want to be writing comics which only appeal to people who see women as sex objects and very little else? Do we really want to be perpetuating a message as clueless as it is antiquated, and which offers only the sleazy equation that girls = sex = girls? I hope not.

This abuse was bordering on being abused in the first volume, but it was nowhere near as rife as it was here, so why they went full metal lack-it in this one is a mystery. Unlike in the first volume, it was all-pervasive here, with full-page in-your-face images of scantily clad adventurers bursting at what few seams they had, entirely impractically dressed for their quest.

I guess I should be grateful that the African woman who joined Lady Mechanika wasn't bare-breasted, but what I most noticed about Akina (other than the fact that she at least had a Congolese name) was that she looked like your typically white-washed model from Ebony magazine, not like the Congolese woman she supposedly was, whose skin would have been darker, and her face broader and less Nordic-nosed-white-westerner than this woman's was.

Why are comic book artists so afraid of showing the real world? Do they think real Congolese women are unappealing? Or is it that they feel they cannot sell the sexuality of a black woman (as opposed to a pale brown one)? If this medium is to grow-up and maintain relevance and meaning, then this kind of bias needs to be dispensed with urgently, because it's bone-headed at best, and racist at worst.

So, despite the appeal of the art in general, and the entertainment value of the story, I can't condone these practices, and I cannot rate positively a graphic novel which is so brazenly perpetrating abuses like this one did.


Lady Mechanika, Vol.1: the Mystery of Mechanical Corpse by Joe Benítez, Peter Steigerwald


Rating: WORTHY!

This gathers volumes 1 through five of the single comic books and was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I had a better experience with this one than I did with the second volume of the series, which I requested at the same time as this. The steam-punk world is rendered and colored beautifully, and the story was an intriguing and entertaining one, well told. Lady Mechanika is a cyborg - inasmuch as such things went in Edwardian times. I am by no means a fashion expert, not even in modern times, so I may have this wrong, but the styles didn't look Victorian to me, notwithstanding what the blurb says. That's not a problem, just an observation. I rather liked them as it happens. Joe Benítez and Peter Steigerwald could probably make a living as fashion designers if they ever tire of comic books!

Lady Mechanika is quite evidently someone's creation, but her memory is impaired, so her origins are as much of a mystery to her as they are to us. I am wondering if the guy she meets in volume two (reviewed separately) might have some knowledge of that, but it remains a mystery in that volume, too! Her mechanical parts are her limbs, and her 'title' was given to her by the tabloids. Her backstory isn't delivered here or in volume two, so we don't know how she came to be a private investigator and adventurer. I was interested in this story because of the upcoming (as of this writing) live-action remake of the Ghost in the Shell movie, which is a favorite of mine. I'm looking forward to the new one.

When the story opens, the Lady meets the 'Demon of Satan's Alley' which appears to be some sort of a human animal hybrid and which isn't a demon but which has been demonized by the public. Some crazy guys blunder in and kill it before Lady Mechanika can talk to it enough to maybe find out what it knows of its past - and maybe of hers, too. She's not best pleased by that. Soon she's off adventuring and trying to track down this creator of mechanical melanges. In this regard, the story has some resemblances to Ghost in the Shell, including the overt and unnecessary sexuality.

There were some technical issues with this as there are with all graphic novels which have not yet clued themselves in to the electronic age. In BlueFire Reader, which is what I use on the iPad, the pages are frequently enlarging themselves to fill the screen which means a portion of the page is curt off, since the iPad screen and the comic book page size are out of whack compared with each other, the comic book being a little too 'tall and slim' for the 'stouter' table format.

This is something I can work with, but whenever there's a double-page spread, it means turning the tablet from portrait view to landscape and back again for the next page. This isn't such a hassle except that the tablet is self-orienting, so the page is constantly swinging around like a loose yard-arm on a boat at sea.

One image was a portrait-oriented double-page spread, and it was so set-up that I could not orient this to view it since the image always swung to the wrong orientation no matter what i did! The only way to actually see it as intended by the creators was to orient it as a landscape, then carefully lay the pad flat and rotate it while it stayed flat; then the image was view-able in all its glory, but this only served to highlight one other problem - the minuscule text. It's far too small for comfortable reading. I know comics are all about imagery, but for me, unless there's also a decent story, all you really have, is a pretty coffee-table art book. It seems to me that artists and writers might consider collaborating a bit more closely on legibility!

This is going to become increasingly a problem as the old school comic fraternity struggles to repel all technology boarders. Personally, I prefer e-format to print format as a general rule, if only because it's kinder to trees, which are precious. The sentiment is especially poignant when we read horror stories to the effect that 80,000 copies of Jonathan Franzen's novel Freedom had to be pulped because of typos. At 3 kg of carbon emissions per book, that's not a charmed system. You would need to read a hundred books for every one print book to balance the manufacturing pollution of an e-reader against that of the print version, but then your ebook comes over the wire at very little cost to the environment, whereas the print book has to be transported to you, even if only home from the store in your car.

But you can also argue the other side, which is that reading devices employ petrochemical products, and precious and toxic metals, and probably contains 'conflict' minerals which were mined in the Congo (curious given the location for volume two in this series!); however, you can argue that a multi-use device, such as a tablet or a smart phone, can be employed as an ebook reader without contributing to even more environmental carnage than it might already have caused. On the other page, you can also argue that a book never needs upgrading (as countless young-adult Jane Austen rip-offs have conclusively proven), will last for years, and can be recycled when done with. So you pays your greenbacks and you hopes you get the green back.

For this volume, I think it worth reading in any format, and I recommend it if you can overlook the sexploitation which is relatively restrained in this volume.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Wraithborn Redux by Marcia Chen, Joe Benitez, Joe Weems, Victor Llamas, Studio F, Mike Garcia


Rating: WARTY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I should have paid more attention to the 'redux' portion of this title! It makes me wonder what went wrong with the first one that necessitated this one. For me, this one failed also, and there were multiple reasons for it. One was that it offered nothing new, and brought nothing original to this genre's table. Worse than this, we have a supposedly heroic female main character who is always in need of rescue. It was pretty sad.

Add to that the absurd over-sexualization of every single female character who appeared in this story - except of course the designated "Fat One" who actually only looked 'fat' because all other females in the story were anorexic everywhere except for their breasts. There was school-bullying running rife with no teachers in sight. There were trope cliques and not a single thing that was fresh or refreshing to read. Overall, it was a decidedly pathetic effort at redux-ing trope and cliché. And that was just the school. The demons and those which controlled them were no better and no more inventive.

Just how many warmed-over tropes were there here? Almost too many to count. We have the designated hero raised and trained by eastern monks. There was a twist to this: that the untrained unsuspecting girl gets the power he was trained for, and this is what attracted me to this story, but even that twist was a fail in the final analysis because this girl was so clueless and so helpless. Even when she began to warm up to her role, she was still completely lackluster and unappealing.

In her we had the semi-orphaned nondescript girl who's a nervous wreck, and who's bullied by cheerleaders! Seriously? Who can't kick a cheerleader's ass?! This girl, Melanie, has your standard quirky, supportive friend. There's a red under the bed (literally red-haired here), and demon dogs which came straight out of the Alien movie series. They were not the only movie rip-off. Kalin, the guy who was supposed to be the wraithborn dude, is a rip-off of Kylo Ren, right down to the first initial, the sword, the black robes, and the ridiculous and totally unnecessary face mask. Seriously?

These morons fight with swords when a machine gun would have done a better job on the Alien dogs in a tenth of the time. What the hell is wrong with these writers and artists? Sword-fighting dudes and pneumatic females? Please! Get a life! Get a clue. Come up with something truly original. Then you won't have to wonder why your comic isn't selling. This one was crap and I certainly do not recommend it. In fact it's comic books like this that make me think it's worth petitioning not for a maturity rating aimed at those who read the comic, but a maturity rating for those who write and illustrate the thing so I get some advance warning of what I'm getting into.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson


Rating: WORTHY!

The compiled results of a web comic, Nimona is possibly the best graphic novel I've ever read. It's certainly up there in the top five. I was quite blown away by it, for the artwork, the humor, the plot and the story. It's brilliant! Noelle Stevenson is of Lumberjanes fame. I reviewed a volume of that unfavorably back in May, 2016. I'm happy to positively review something else she has done!

Nimona comes off as a young and ambitious girl who is ready to get her feet wet in the world of villainy. She volunteers to work with the evil Ballister Blackheart in his endeavors against his old friend, now arch-nemesis, Goldenloin, but in the course of this story, the question arises as to who is really a villain here and who is the golden hero.

Lord Blackheart isn't interested in having an assistant, but when he discovers that Nimona is a shape-shifter - and can shift into any shape - animal or person, he realizes she might have some value as a hench-man...woman...wench? The problem is that he has a code of conduct to which she evidently doesn't seem very interested in adhering. She's all for havoc and chaos, whereas his villainy is less brutal and more structured.

Nevertheless, they learn to work together and they discover the government is hoarding jaderoot, which is a deadly poisonous material and very dangerous to work with, even in small quantities. But how is Blackheart to get word out about the government's villainy in hoarding large quantities of a mateirla they themselves had banned, especially when he's a well-known villain himself? Maybe Nimona can help with that!

I dearly loved this story, and I consider it well worth the eighteen dollar asking price in the hardback print version I read. I recommend it highly.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare, Matt Wiegle


Rating: WARTY!

No Fear Shakespeare is a collection of "translated" Shakespeare texts - in other words, delivered in modern English instead of in the antique lingo with which Shakespeare was familiar. A PDF of Romeo and Juliet done in this way with the original English alongside it can be read online here. I reviewed Hamlet done this ways back in January 2017, and liked that one. This one just didn't get there for me, but it is a simpler introduction to Shakespeare if you want to try to get a handle on him.

Everyone knows the story to one extent or another, but to me this story has always been a really bad YA love story. In fact, in a way, if we include Rosalind, who despite being a no-show here, is an important player in the story, it's a bad love triangle. If John Green had written it (barf!), it would have had a truly pretentious title like, "The Absence of Rosalind" or some such trivial drivel.

Yes, Shakespeare does turn out a nice phrase here and there, but this is sadly canceled out for me by the sick bawdiness and the un-pc attitudes of every male character in the entire story, because they're omnipresent with their puerile attitude, and thoroughly out of place here. Yes, I get that this is what audiences wanted back in Shakespeare's day, but that's no reason to worship him today (or even toady). This is often praised as the love story to outdo all love stories, but it's not a love story at all. There's no love here, only a deranged lust and foolishness, shallowness and cluelessness. It's ultimately a story of the brain-dead and the vacuous, a Dick and Shame story, and if we can blame violence in society on video-games, TV, and movies, then we sure as hell can blame relationships gone wrong on Shakespeare's juvenile view of them.

I ask not "wherefore art thou Romeo?" but why Romeo & Juliet instead of Juliet & Romeo? The answer to that is that this isn't actually a story of a love, true and deep, between two people, it's about a mentally disturbed dickhead and his wasted life. Juliet is thirteen years old, and is nothing more than collateral damage here, not really a character at all, but merely a narcissistic mirror in which Romeo reflects himself in all his vainglory. Not that she has any more clue than Romeo, but he doesn't love her, he wants her only as an emollient for his rough and rudimentary lust and need.

Look how the story begins - with Romeo pining for Rosalind! He's all Rosalind all the time, and there never can be another until the instant - not after several weeks of growing to know her, but the very instant - he sets his reality-challenged eyes on Juliet. From that moment, Rosalind is out, passé, forgotten, so five minutes ago, and nothing but a flimsy fantasy. Now it's all Juliet. I call bullshit on that one!

Is this really how Shakespeare viewed love? Very likely. He married at eighteen a woman eight years his senior for no other evident reason than that he got her pregnant, so he was just as irresponsible as Romeo. Worse, he then turned into a deadbeat dad, and abandoned his family to head south to live a Hollywood life - or what passed for it back then. While he may have visited, he didn't actually return to Stratford until he grew old and retired. What did he know of true love? Nothing.

And what of positive influences in Romeo's life? There are apparently none. It seems that all he has known is violence, never love. He never talks to his parents nor they to him. He takes his advice (not that he really listens) only from kinsmen and "friends" who never once try to set him on an even keel, because they're just as shallow, belligerent, and moronic as he is!

There are no responsible women in his life, and no one at all in Juliet's - not close male family, nor female friends. She's completely isolated and essentially imprisoned, having to beg permission even to go to church and confess! What the hell sins does she have to confess? She never goes anywhere to commit any, and does nothing with her short life. She's thirteen for goodness sake, ripe for taking advantage of!

And what of their affair? They meet one evening and marry almost immediately. Instead of looking to how he can make his wife happy and how they can be together, he lets his temper get the better of him and without a thought for any consequences or for his wife, he kills someone from Juliet's own family - the very man he had sworn love and kinship to not an hour or two before! When Juliet says, "O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon" she should have used Romeo, not the Moon. The Moon is actually extremely constant, but Romeo is far from it.

For murdering Tybalt, Romeo is lucky enough to be banished, not killed, but even then he can't get his act together! At the same time as he's banished, Juliet's father pretty much threatens to banish her, so here's the perfect opportunity for the two of them to hit the road and start a new life somewhere, but neither has the smarts to see it! Instead, they both take the easy route out. In short, this story is a badly written one which could have been much improved. Not only did Romeo murder Tybalt, he also murders Paris. His behavior is one of constantly slithering away from taking responsibility for his actions. He won't own-up publicly to being Juliet's husband! paradoxically, he won't avoid a fight, yet he won't fight for his marriage. He's a train wreck not even waiting to happen and in the end the world is better off without him. The real tragedy here is that he derailed Juliet from her life, too. So much for love; try selfishness instead.

As for the graphic novel version, I can't recommend it any more highly. It does tell the full story - including the parts which the movies, even the definitive Baz Luhrman version, routinely avoid, but the artwork isn't very good, and apart from simplifying the story and making it somewhat more accessible, if that's important to you, it really doesn't bring anything new to the table.


As You Like it by William Shakespeare, Richard Appignanesi, Chie Kutsuwada


Rating: WARTY!

So when we're reviewing a graphic novel adaptation of a Shakespeare play, do we review the original work? This isn't the original work. It's an adaptation by Richard Appignanesi. So do we review the adaptive work? Well it's not original, so we can't ignore that from which it was adapted. So what about the graphic portion of it by Chie Kutsuwada? That's the only part of this work that's truly original, but even so it's still derived from Shakespeare's. Aye, there's the rub!

So, in fact, we have to review all three simultaneously. All of Shakespeare's a stage, and all the writers and artists merely players. They have their successes and their failures, and each play in its time fulfills many roles. There are seven stages. First there is the writing of the original, then comes the acting of it on the stage by the original players, then the adaptation by many other actors. Next the catch-phrases enter the lingo, and works of art take the field depicting renowned scenes form the play. Movies then come along in their various forms necessarily shedding much of the original work in order to conform to a silver screen chronology. After this come the novelizations, and the death of the play wrought by crappy YA adaptations which pay little heed to the original and, let's face it, less heed to intelligent story telling.

I have to say if I were reviewing only the Shakespeare portion of this particular story, I would have to rate it warty. The reason for this is the same reason I've rated so many YA novels negatively, because of instadore. Some reviewers call it insta-love, but the fact is that it's not love. Love is a lot more rational than writers give it credit, even as it might seem completely out of control, but what was depicted here not once, but four times, was insanity.

The truth is that what's irrational is this falling in lust (which I call instadore) and stupidly mistaking it for love. Instadore is shallow and far to fast to be meaningful. You'd have to be a moron to trust that. It doesn't mean it cannot grow into love, but the overwhelming chances are that it won't, yet endless YA authors insist otherwise. Fie on them, say I! And fie on Shakespeare's crappy, meandering, confused, and ultimately meaningless of usurpers and exiles and forest foolishness.

What I did like here was the artwork and the adaptation. Both were well done. The art in particular, which was gray-scale line drawings, was very well done, integrated with the text well, and went beyond mere panels depicting the text. It truly was worth reading. If you want to get a handle on Shakespeare and not get enmeshed in his absurd endless punning, and his clueless idea of love, his thoroughly un-pc attitude, and his boorish male characters pandering to the lowest common denominator in his audience, then starting with something like this isn't at all a bad idea. I recommend this one.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Lucifer Book Four by Mike Carey and assorted artists and colorists


Rating: WARTY!

I requested three graphic novels from the local library because I am not about to spend thirty dollars for a graphic novel i probably will not like! All three are going back one of them unread, the other two read only a quarter the way through in one case and half-way through in the other.

They're all tied (very loosely as it happens) to a TV series Lucifer which is based on the character from the Sandman comics, and which I really enjoy. I tried a couple of the Sandmans a while ago, and did not like them at all, but I thought maybe the dedicated Lucifer comics might be better. They were not. I looked at two of them. I made it only a quarter way through the mainstream one, and I was not impressed at all by either one I looked at, so I did not even open the third. I'll stick with the TV show.

In view of the comments I make below, I should mention here that the TV series has some racism about it in that the entire cast is nearly all white. There are two main characters: Amenadiel, played by D. B. Woodside who is black, and a Cape Colored South African-born actress Lesley-Ann Brandt, who plays Mazikeen. Both of these guys are are excellent, so people of color are not quite as underrepresented here as in the comic books, but are still shamefully absent. The difference though is that there is a far larger pool of people controlling the TV show than there is the comic book. While I readily admit it should not be so, it seems to me that it would be a lot easier to depict whoever you want in a graphic novel, including making a fair representation of people of all colors, and yet still they failed.

This volume (volume four, and I have not read the previous three, so I admit to coming into this in progress) was a fat tome, fully three-quarters of an inch across the spine, but there is no page numbering so I can't quote a page count. While saying again that I came into this in progress (the library did not have any earlier volumes), if I were to pick up any novel at random and start in on it half-way through, it would make some kind of sense. It might be missing key facts and important information, but at least the layout of the story would be coherent. Such was not the case here. I had no good idea what was going on or where it was supposed to be going.

Worse than this, was that what did come through with crystal clarity were some obnoxious themes running through this work, like rotted threads in a fabric, and which are evidently common to this series judged by what I've now seen of it. The worst of these is the racism. All the good-looking stand-up characters are white. All the obviously evil characters are people of color. That's truly sick and warped. Yes, 80% of the artists doing this volume are white (only Ronald Wimberly is black), but is this an excuse? No. Additionally, the male artists are as usual, squeamish about depicting male genitalia, but have no problem at all sexualizing woman.

That's not acceptable to me and I cannot recommend such a gory (again the gore was often of adults abusing children - what is wrong with these writers and artists?) and disjointed work where the sole purpose of it seems to be perpetuating a sick story instead of telling an engaging one.


Lucifer Cold Heaven by Holly Black, Lee Garbett, Stephanie Hans, Antonio Fabela


Rating: WARTY!

I really enjoy the TV series Lucifer based on the character from the Sandman comics. I tried a couple of those and did not like them at all, but I thought maybe the dedicated Lucifer comics might be better. They were not. I looked at two of them, and I made it only half way through this one and a quarter way through the mainstream one, and I was not impressed at all by either one. I'll stick with the TV show.

This particular edition collates six individual comics into one. The story here is that god has been killed and a disgraced Gabriel and Lucifer have to work together to solve the case. They evidently didn't get the news that god has long been dead for all thinking people who are not blind sheep! LOL!

Yes, the premise is utterly absurd, and I really have no time for the traditional trope angels and demons shtick, but I thought perhaps this might have some of the charm and humor of the TV show. It did not. The tow are completely unrelated. This whole graphic novel series of Lucifer is exactly that: graphic with gore, and rot and evil, and with nothing to leaven it or save it. The story made no sense. I mean, if god is in his Heaven and is surrounded by adoring dead Christians (or Jews or Muslims, or whatever), then how did anyone ever sneak by to murder him? What does it mean that a god is mortal? None of this is considered in the hell-bent rush to the gross-out.

The comics are obnoxious in ways other than the pointless gore, though. They're racist. There are no people of color here - everyone is white because, presumably, the main artist is white. Either that's racist because the artist doesn't consider non-whites - the overwhelmingly massive majority of people on Earth - to be worth representing, or it's racist because we're being shown that white people are overwhelmingly evil. While it's tempting, sometimes, to consider that, it is in fact not true, excepting our current government of course!

More than this, in this comic there was a fat-shaming episode in that the only person who was overweight who was depicted in the entire comic here was evil. Everyone else, even the evil people, were slim and good looking. Fat people are evil? Way to go, Lee Garbett! Being a male artist, Garbett is very squeamish about depicting male genitalia. In his favor, I perhaps should say that he doesn't pneumatically over-sex his female characters, but it's harder to judge that because there are almost none in the story, which is curious given the gender of the writer.

So, in short, I cannot recommend this story. It was trite, and predictable and amateur, and the artwork was the same. Worse, there was nothing new here at all.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Neil Babra


Rating: WORTHY!

No Fear Shakespeare is a collection of "translated" Shakespeare texts - in other words, delivered in modern English instead of in the antique lingo with which Shakespeare was familiar. A web version of Hamlet done in this way can be found here.

I'm familiar Hamlet from its general reputation, and from the Kenneth Branagh and Mel Gibson movie versions, but I've never read the original play. I will be setting that right at some point since reading this gave me an idea for a novel! Those who have no familiarity with this story (the full title of which is The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, but shorted merely to Hamlet for this book) might be surprised to discover how many quite well-known English catch-phrases were derived from this play. It seems like it's full of them. This was Shakespeare's longest work and was derived from the medieval Scandinavian legend of Amleth which in the beginning is very much like the Hamlet we know, although the ending is rather more convoluted (Amleth ends up with two wives!).

This graphic novel follows the 'No Fear' text, and the black and white line drawings are rudimentary (and predictably shaded dark in many places!), so the artwork was no great shakes (peer!), but overall I liked the way this was done. I found it eminently readable and easy follow (although frankly the text could have been more legibly printed, especially in the reversed panels where it was white text on a black background).

The story is of course that Hamlet's uncle, with the rather un-Danish name of Claudius, murdered Hamlet's father and took over the throne, but disguised the murder and got away with it. This never made any sense to me. Hamlet was old enough to be king, so if his father was king but died (whether murdered or through natural causes), why was Hamlet not king? I think Shakespeare screwed up!

Whether Hamlet was insane or merely faking it to achieve the end result of exposing his uncle is a much debated question. I think at first there is no doubt of his sanity, but certain later actions of his, such as his lack of remorse at slaying the father of the woman he purportedly loved, and his callous rejection of this same woman and lack of concern over her becoming unhinged suggest to me that while he wasn't exactly what I'd term missing a few planks from his stage, he was certainly a folio short of a play!

So in the end, as is the wont in Shakespeare's tragedies, there's a slaughter and, as Prince Escalus might have it, "all are punish'd." Denmark falls to Norway, the very nation which was lost a war with it before the play begins. This part made no sense to me either. Did Shakespeare not know his Europe? It made zero sense that Norwegian armies would need to March across Denmark to get to Poland! Why did they not go directly through Sweden (a country with which they had not been at war recently), or simply sail though the Baltic? That Shakespeare, I tell you! But let's take a page out of Shakespeare's book on this: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so"! So it's all good and I recommend this one.