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

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Dream of the Butterfly Vol 1 by Richard Marazano


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Richard Marazano is a French writer and illustrator, and in this work he seems to have channeled Chinese mythology very heavily into a very lighthearted story about young girl who strays in a snowstorm from her valley to a nearby one in which is a village occupied by animals who seem very resentful of humans Actually, given how we treat animals I for one am not at all surprised by their attitude.

The girl is a very strong female character and I recommend this story for that to begin with, but it's much more than that. The story is very whimsical, and quirky even, I tend to run in the opposite direction when I read of a story being described as full of whimsy or with quirky characters, but this one nailed it perfectly.

The girl seems resigned to living in this town because no one will help her get back. She's boarded with a foster family of birds, and finds a job working in an energy factory - she has to change out the hamsters in their wheels when they become tired - but her lunches of packed worms, she could do without. She eventually learns she's not the only human child in town.


Because she is a human, Tutu is spied upon by the emperor through his rabbit secret service. The rabbits are adorably inept, but they are also actually helpful to Tutu when she gets lost or doesn't know which bus to catch. Known as yuè tù (moon rabbit) in China, the idea behind these is that while the Moon may look to us westerners like it's the face of a man in the Moon, many other cultures see it as a rabbit in the Moon, which is more intriguing to me.

If you look hard, you can see the long ears (Mare Foecunditatis and Mare Nectaris)stretching to the right, about half way down the Moon's right side, from the head (Mare Tranquilitatis where Apollo Eleven landed) to the left, and the body (Mare Serenitatis and Mare Imbrium below it on the left edge of the Moon's disk. Below that is the Oceanis Procellarum with the big back legs and a tail sticking out to the left. The rabbit appears to be sitting by a box or a bowl, (Mare Nubium), and some cultures see this as a mortar, in which the rabbit is grinding something using a pestle.

The emperor takes a great interest in Tutu and wants her to help him by catching a rare white butterfly, but she's not very impressed with him or the opera he writes. She's especially disrespectful of his surrogate robots which tend to break down when faced with Tutu's sarcasm.

This story was a delight through-and-through, and my only complaint was that this is volume one, so the story didn't end! Although that's really a good thing because if it had ended, there would be no more to look forward to! As it was, I could have kept on reading this for many more pages than there were, and I recommend it as a worthy read.


Superb by David F Walker, Sheena C Howard, Ray Anthony Height, Alitha Martinez, Eric Battle


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I didn't like the first one I read in this series. Normally that would be the end of it, but I read a second one without realizing until the end that it was part of the same series, and I liked it. I also liked this one, probably more than any of the previous ones. The artwork was really good, the characters realistic (as comic book super heroes go!), interesting, motivated, and believable, and the writing was very good. I noted a strong female influence not only in the writing, but also in the art, and this can make a big difference to the overall look and feel of a comic.

I really like the way so called minorities are front and center. Minorities are actually the majority of people on the planet, yet they're so poorly served in comics, TV and movies that it's criminal. It was nice to see that balance being redressed without going overboard. It was also nice to see a character with Down Syndrome (aka trisomy 21) included as a major player. The relationship between him (Jonah, aka "Cosmosis"!) and Kayla (aka Amina). and the awesome Abbie, was choice. It really made the story shine for me.

Each individual graphic novel in this set is a sort of origin story, but its not your usual origin tale; it's more of a development story, which to me is more interesting, especially this one. All of the graphic novels I've read so far run in parallel, but there is no repetition. Each story advances the whole, and the only tiresome bit was the last bit which is the same in each comic. Of course you can skip this once you've read it the first time, and it does mean you can start with any comic in the group without having to worry that you missed something because you didn't start with the 'right one'.

In this story Kayla, already aware of her powers and that she's not the only one with them, is trying to keep a low profile, especially since her parents work for the corporation which is trying to capture, intern, and experiment upon those with such powers. Jonah is less retiring. He breaks into the corporate facility to finds out what they're up to, and he barely escapes with his life. Kayla protects him and this is how the two of them team up with Abbie, who is Jonah's friend. Unfortunately, Kayla's desire to live a normal life is seriously compromised, and that's all I'm going to say!

On the negative side, I have to say that this shtick with the powers-that-be coming down hard on the mutants is really reaching saturation point. Marvel has repeatedly done it with X-Men, Inhumans, and Gifted, and it's been done in other graphic novels unrelated to the DC and Marvel stables, including one I reviewed negatively recently. Frankly, it's starting to be boring. It would be nice to see something different.

In terms of this comic, it's hard at this point, despite having read several of them, to see how the foresight corporation got so much power that it can openly act as a paramilitary force and hunt down these people. That felt a little bit much, but maybe it will be explained. Or maybe I missed it in that first volume I read because I was so disappointed in it!

That quibble aside though, I really liked this graphic novel and I recommend it as a worthy read.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

POS: Piece of Sh*t by Pierre Paquet, Jesús Alonso


Rating: WARTY!

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

I have a tendency to like graphic novels from Europe, but in this case I did not because the main character was completely unlikable. He was such a complete jerk that you desperately wanted to see the light to come on in his brain, and to see him change, but after I'd read 230 of 256 pages and discovered there wasn't even evidence of a glimmer of this, I asked myself, why am I continuing to read about this piece of shit - because that's exactly what he was, and determinedly and perennially so.

I did not care a whit about him and felt whatever he got, assuming it was bad, he thoroughly deserved. I quit reading on page 230 because I realized I had wasted a small part of my life reading this that I would never get back.

The artwork is so-so, very much like an old Tintin comic in some regards. The coloring was pretty good, but whoever did the lettering needs to get a clue. It was really hard to read (full disclosure: I am not a fan of letters at all!). The art would have been fine if the writing had had something to recommend it, but it was tedious. It kept teasing the reader with the potential to go somewhere but it never actually did. Not unless you class going around in repetitive circles as 'going somewhere'. All this story ever did was go around until you found yourself back where you started, with the same things happening over and over again.

At one point there was a court case and it went on for several pages There was never any resolution offered to it, and all the time I was reading that section, I had no good idea why this guy was in court! here were flashbacks appearing out of nowhere and sometimes it was easy tot ell they were flashbacks. other times it was not clear if it was a flashback or the next scene in his current life. He was an alcoholic, too, and this did not help, because he sometimes had alcoholic delusions, so in short it was a mess, and I cannot recommend it


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Faith and the Future Force by Jody Houser, Stephen Segovia, Barry Kitson, Ulises Arreola


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Now this is the kind of super-hero story I can really get with. I was thrilled by the first one in this series, so I was equally thrilled to have a chance to review another one and see how Faith is doing. She's doing fine and I'm keeping the Faith!

Once again, it's written by Jody Houser, who continues to sprinkle promos for Doctor Who (how can you not love a writer like that?!) as well as toss in other Sci-fi references. As I write this I am patiently counting down the days to the Doctor Who Christmas special, and the change over from the current Doctor who was not my favorite, to a new one who will, for the first time, be female! Squee!

On an unrelated topic, is it just me, or is anyone else amused by the superficial similarity between areola (the ring of color around a nipple, and the name of the colorist? Of course his name apparently derives from the Spanish for horse tack (or a part of horse tack, anyway!) not from coloration, but still! I love words!

This is a time-travel story featuring a time-traveling robot which is intent upon destroying the fabric of time itself. Consequently, we have with Faith being sought by some strange woman who is costumed like a super hero, but who evidently needs Faith's help (and that of a charming assortment of her super friends) to stop this machine. In that regard, it borrows a bit from Pixar's The Incredibles

What I liked about this is that it conveniently side-steps one objection I often find to time-travel stories, especially Doctor Who, who always seems to arrive in media res, which is: why not go back earlier and fix the problem before it starts? In which case there would be no show, so the Doctor always tosses out some patent nonsense about crossing his own time stream which of course he does time after time, especially in New York City where it's supposed to be all but impossible to visit. Hah! How many times has he been there now?

This story solves that problem because the robot is eating time, so they can't go back earlier - it doesn't exist! Double-hah! Faith aka Zephyr, is recruited by Timewalker (not Time Lord!) Neela Sethi several times, each time unaware that she's already been recruited and failed! Why does this keep-on getting repeated? Read it and find out! I recommend this one as a fun, sweet, entertaining, Segovially and Kitsonorously drawn, and areolistically-colored(!) story which is a very worthy read! Keep 'em coming you guys and I'll keep reading 'em!


Black by Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith 3, Jamal Igle


Rating: WARTY!

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

I did not like this graphic novel. It was basically a rehash of The X-Men, or The Inhumans, or The Gifted, or New Mutants, or whichever simplistic, derivative Marvel Comic series about mutants you wish to name. This novel brought literally nothing new to the genre unless you count that in this case, the only people with the mutation are black! To me, it was racist.

All the "good guys" were black. All the "bad guys" were white. Neither side was anything more than a caricature. It felt like I was watching a so-called 'blaxploitation' movie from the early seventies. Since this was a graphic novel, and given that a potentially interesting premise failed to be effectively exploited, I found it hilarious that the color scheme was gray-scale! It felt ironically appropriate, but not in the way the creators intended, I'm sure.

While on the one hand I can understand this - and work like it - constitutes a backlash against the inexcusable racism inherent in comic books, movies, and TV shows where - unless you're prepared to be the token person of color - please don't show for the audition, the way to fix a problem where the pendulum has swing way-the-hell too far in one direction is not to swing it equally far to the opposite side, it's to stop it dead in the middle and weld that sucker down so it can never move again. Period.

I think the comic would have carried a much more powerful message had it been less comprehensively biased. As it is, it runs a dire risk of being viewed by too many people - and those are the very ones who most need to get an education - as being nothing more than sour grapes. It didn't help the cause that one of the freedom fighter leaders was named Caesar, the same name given to the chimpanzee in the Planet of the Apes saga. That sounded insulting to me.

Even that aside, it was not well-thought out. Rather than go with Marvel's asinine "x-gene" ploy, the creators (and I admire them for this) tried something different. Unfortunately, it wasn't something new! They made the mistake of taking the easy way out by simply making the quantum leap. It didn't work. The idea here is that some people (all black!) have unusual arrangements of quarks in their body. Quarks are the foundations of hadrons, which most people unknowingly know as protons and neutrons, and which form the nucleus of every atom.

There are six known quarks, divided into three up-types, named (with characteristic physicist quirkiness) up, charm, and top, and three down-types, named down, strange, and bottom. We're told that gifted black people (who may not necessarily be young!) have a hexaquark, like this is something rare, but it really isn't. Their expert is very confused and talks bayrons rather than baryons. But that, with its unintended allusion to Bay Watch, works given how some of the women are portrayed in this story. Which is another problem.

There's precisely one female super hero, and one transgendered one. The only other females are background or ancillary personnel. There is one professional assistant, one cop, and one lab technician. Two of these unaccountably wear eyeglasses whereas not one other person in the entire book does, and one of them - the so-called quantum particle expert - wears a lab coat. Barf.

The comic is hypocritical in this regard. On the one hand it's admirably, if ineffectively in my opinion, championing black characters in graphic novels, but on the other hand it's keeping "bitches" down. That's inexcusable, especially given that the women's liberation and black civil rights movements have historically often worked hand-in hand, because both sectors of society have been oppressed and in disturbingly similar way in some regards (such as having no vote, for example).

Why are there so few important black characters in graphic novels? Because most of those novels have traditionally been written by white folks and it never occurs to them to include non-whites. It's not that they hate black folks and what to keep them down or actively exclude them; it's just that (and this is no excuse) they just don't think of it. Why are there so few women of note in graphic novels? Because most of them are written by men - who don't hate women and don't wish to keep them down; it simply never occurs to them to include women. They just don't think of it. That's what happened here.

The main character is named Kareem Jenkins. He's shot for two reasons. The first of these is that it's a case of mistaken identity because all black folks evidently look alike to New Jack City cops, as a sorry history of shooting deaths in New York has shown and continues to show. The second is that when he's told to freeze, by armed cops, he's too stupid to do exactly that. Instead, he rabbits and is shot and ostensibly killed. A dozen or more black men have been fatally shot by NYPD in the last twenty-five years, and very few cases have even gone to trial, let alone ended in a conviction, but this novel repeatedly refers to NYPD as New York's finest. I don't know if that's meant to be ironic.

Kareem is unique because he rises again, and then is kidnapped by a character who far from being Straight Outta Compton, is straight outta The Matrix movie. He's Morpheus by another name, and he even sits with legs crossed in an armchair when we meet him, and effectively invites the kid to take the black pill. Yawn.

This leads to him discovering a hitherto totally unknown world of back mutants, all of whom have powers of some sort, but there are then so many of these characters so quickly introduced that they become lost and meaningless in the crowd. The irony of course is that here, all black people do look the same, not because they're all drawn the same (the artwork was pretty decent), but for no other reason than that this comic book has failed to differentiate them by giving them distinctive personalities and back-stories.

Having some of them speak in what in some circles, and for better or for worse, has been dubbed 'ebonics' is not giving them a personality. It's not giving them character. It's not making them individual. It's just cynically pigeon-holing them. There should have been fewer of them initially, and they should have been properly introduced instead of being treated like so many nameless, interchangeable slaves. This was a serious fail.

The plot doesn't work because we're expected to believe that a handful of white folks have pulled the wool over people's eyes for literally centuries, working in concert with the black community! I'm sure this isn't what the creators intended to convey, but it's very effectively what they achieved, because as the white community has, we're told, systematically sought to wipe out this 'black threat', the black community has been trying to hide the mutants, and neither side has ever let anything get out to the public! It's simply not credible.

Even if we allow that it worked before, it sure as hell would not work now! Have the creators of this series not seen the black community? Everyone is a showman or woman. There are pop divas and DJs with monumental egos. There are sports personalities with attitude, there are movie stars all about showmanship and conspicuous consumption, and there are so-called 'reality' shows and talk shows which are all about self-promotion.

None of this is confined to the black community, but we're not talking about how white folk might behave here. There is no way in hell, if any of this community had these powers, that they would all consistently keep them secret! It's simply not credible and this unarguable fact brought the whole story down and gave the lie to this farcical 'secrecy' claim. Besides, it made no sense to begin with - not in this day and age. If the white folks are trying to wipe-out the gifted peeps, then the best way to stop it is to go public, not go private. "Morpheus" is a moron!

Neither is it credible that the white folks would be able to continue their pogrom of extermination into modern times when much of the world is now ruled by non-white leaders. Are we supposed to believe that black leaders in African nations were in on it with the white folks? Bullsh! (More on that shortly). This is a classic case of failure to think outside the box, the box being the United Whites of America. Far too many of these kind of dystopian or secret society stories are far too hide-bound by 'American' thinking, or constrained by 'The American Way'.

What far too many authors fail to grasp is that there's an entire planet outside the USA that doesn't think about the USA from one week to the next because they have more important things to think about! They do not conform to US norms or patterns of thinking! They do not live the way US citizens live! They do no view the world like US people view it. Any story like this, which has global implications, yet which tries to pretend the entire globe is just like the USA is doomed to failure, and this one fell right into that trap.

There was almost cussing in this story! It's not credible. Almost all the time, when a cuss was about to be issued here, it was cut off. Instead of "Fuck!" we got "Fu-". Instead of "Shit" we got "Sh-" hence my "Bullsh" comment above. It's not realistic. It maybe be practical for some readerships, but people don't talk that way in real life, and everyone, even kids and churchgoers, knows it. You either have to include it to make it real, or you have to skip it for the sake of the readership. You can't have it both ways without it sounding truly dumb, and suspending suspension of disbelief. In short, either sh or get of the po.... Yeah! That's dumb it sounds.

A brief lesson in genetics: Not all mixed race couples have exclusively black children. Even a black couple can legitimately have a white child. Nature is color-blind! The reason for all this is that there is no difference, at the genetic level, between black people and white people and Asian people and whatever people.

Just like in real life there is no X gene, there is no B-for-black-gene either. There are gene networks wherein many genes acting in concert can achieve remarkable ends, but there is no 'negro network' than can make a person black or pigeon-hole one as such and more than there is a 'honky network' that can make a person white. This begs my last question: why did this affect only black people? There was no rationale given for this. We were expected to take it on trust.

Maybe the authors had some plan to work this out later, but forgive me for having little appetite for swallowing that when I'd already been asked to swallow much that was unpalatable in this graphic novel. I got the impression that they were winging it; tossing in some quantum nonsense and hoping to get by, but as we've seen, there is nothing in our genes to confer powers on one race and not another, so how much less credibility is there in ascribing this same effect to something even more fundamental: sub-atomic particles?

Quarks do have a property referred to as 'color', but it has nothing whatsoever to do with actual color as we perceive color day-to-day at the macro level. It's just a word; not a meaningless word because it has meaning to physicists, but it doesn't convey the same thing to them when they talk about quarks as it does to the rest of us when we talk about LED TVs. There is quite literally no color at the sub-atomic level as any electronic microscope image you can find online will show. Some of them have artificial-color added for clarification purposes, just as those glorious space images do, but in reality the sub-atomic world, just like the outer space world, is a very colorless one indeed.

Oddball congregations of quarks, which are the components of all matter, living or not, cannot grant powers to one race without granting them to all. It's another case of failure to think through. I mean, do Asians have powers? They're not white, but they ain't black either! How about the Latinx community? Deal or no deal?! What bothers me about this is that the authors seem to be saying that black people are somehow fundamentally different from all others, which is patently not true, but by saying it, they're risking undoing what decent, good-faith people of all races have been trying to accomplish for decades: true color-blindness wherein all are equal, all are one family, and all are brothers and sisters. The plot for this novel seemed like a very negative step to me unless it was handled better than it was here.

Black folks do have something rare and it is a real superpower: they have greater genetic diversity, especially those resident in Africa, than do any other humans. The reason for this is that all humans started life in Africa, not in Eden. We're all black. Unfortunately, the pale skin minority has forgotten this, and instead of seeing it as something unifying and something to be proud of, too many people see one color or another as a fault or a defect, something to be despised and rejected. Americans are often proud of their Irish, or German, or English, or native American, or whatever ancestry. What a pity they arbitrarily stop it at some point before it ever gets all the way back to eastern Africa where it all began.

So in conclusion, I cannot recommend this story as a worthy read. There were too many problems with it including endless excessive violence, but at least it was gray-scale so there was very little red ink to deal with. The one positive sign I saw was that in the end, Kareem took off on his own, rejecting all the bullsh- he;d witnessed. I commend him for that, but for me, it was too little, too late.


Friday, December 15, 2017

Accell by Joe Casey, Damion Scott, Robert Campanella, Sigmund Torre


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I had no idea this comic was connected with Noble Vol 1 by Brandon Thomas, Roger Robinson et al. It's just as well, because if I had, I would not have requested it! As it happens I did request it, and ended up enjoying this one whereas I did not like the first one at all. While I still assert that the plot twist at the end is too far-fetched to be realistic, the story leading up to that was actually really good.

In this case, this was not one of the astronauts who was affected, but a guy down on Earth who saw the meteor shower and found a meteorite near his home - just a tiny piece. He slept with it under his bed and suddenly, he can move like the Flash. Unlike the Flash, he actually pays a price for his super-speed, which means hunger. He has to eat a lot.

Sometimes he pays more than that. If he gets injured while running - or fighting crime - he really gets injured, but it doesn't stop him until he stops himself, and at that point he'd better have stopped in an ER. But he heals really fast. He's a 'person of color' as they say, so this was also appreciated - there are too few and far between of those in comics, TV, movies, you name it. His Name is Danny Santos; I'll leave you to figure his ethnicity!

So he fights crime and he has a girlfriend who at first does not know of his power, but during the story he reveals it to her. I felt bad for her because of two things: first, her father hates that she's seeing this guy, and he's willing to do quite literally anything to break them up; second: Danny is a jerk towards her to begin with, but even that changed as he grew to appreciate her and realize he actually had a responsibility to her.

Overall this ws an entertaining and well-written comic, with great artwork (although the main character was a little bit too stick figure-y for my taste!). That aside and with the caveat about the improbable ending, I recommend this as a worthy read.


Thursday, December 14, 2017

Cloudia & Rex by Ulises Farinas, Erick Freitas, Daniel Irizarri


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a great story which I really enjoyed, although I have to say it was a bit confusing at times. The art was lovely and the story was different from the usual fare. I always appreciate that! For one thing, it presented African American females as protagonists. It was nice to see strong female characters of color, who are far too few in comic books, and strong, independent females who are equally rare. I would not recommend a graphic novel if that was all it had to offer, but I would sure be tempted! Fortunately this offered much more.

In the story, two young girls, the eponymous Cloudia and Rex, and their mother run into ancient gods who are seeking safety which can only be found in the mortal world. An antagonist named Tohil wishes to destroy those same gods and is hot on their heels.

Somehow the gods end-up being downloaded into Cloudia's phone, and some of their power transfers over to the girls. Rex is somewhat bratty, but she finds she can change into an assortment of animals. It's amusing and interesting to see what she does with that. Cloudia is a bit strident, but maybe she has reason when her life is screwed-up so badly and unexpectedly.

Daniel Irizarri's coloring is bold and pervasive, and it really stands out from the comic. It's almost overwhelming, actually, but overall the story was entertaining and the characters were fun, I recommend this one.


4 Kids Walk Into A Bank by Matthew Rosenberg, Tyler Boss


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a compendium of issues 1 though five of the originally published comics and runs to about 180 pages in the print version. I read this in Bluefire Reader on an iPad where it looked good but the text was a bit hard to read, especially the one character Walter, who is painfully shy and reserved. His speech was deliberately written under-sized in a regularly-sized balloon, and it was hard to read, so I didn't appreciate that. I think Tyler Boss's art told Walter's story well enough; it would have been nice if writer Matthew Rosenberg had had more faith in it (or the designer - or whoever decided that this was a good approach!).

That said, the characters: Paige, the tough feisty female, Stretch, an abnormally tall expert in irony, the irreverent Berger, who in some depictions seems slightly pudgy, but in others seems a lot more trim, and retiring almost to the point of self-effacement Walter, are all interesting to read about and even more interesting to see interact with each other. They all bring their own strengths as characters, but Paige is a dynamo.

The story is that four thugs from Paige's dad's past show up wanting her father to resume his role in their history of thieving. Dad isn't interested, but the four idiot wannabe robbers won't take no for an answer. The kids decide the only way to save Paige's dad is to rob the bank first so the thugs can't. Great idea, huh? The entire story leading-up to 'will they or won't they?' was entertaining and at times completely hilarious. I really enjoyed it. That's not to say I didn't have a few problems with this.

Paige was an oddity to me because in many panels she looked distinctly male. There's nothing wrong in a female having male characteristics or vice-versa; nothing at all in real life, but in the case of a minimally-drawn comic book character, this can be confusing. At least it was to me.

I found myself at one point honestly thinking there were two characters, and wondering who this new guy was and where he came from, because it wasn't Paige! Except that it was. It just didn't look like Paige. When I realized that, for a short while, I found myself thinking I had misunderstood and Paige was actually a guy, not a girl, but no, Paige was very much a girl. It was just the graphical depiction of her that confused me. It made for an unpleasant reading experience on occasion because I was happy that she was a girl!

This surreal experience wasn't helped by two other events both towards the end of the novel. The first of these was the random addition of a fifth person to their four-person team towards the end of the novel. I had no idea who this fifth person was. Maybe I missed something, but I had no idea where this person came from!

The second incident was the very ending of the novel, where Paige and her dad meet up at a prison. I had no clue whatsoever whether she was going into jail or getting out. I honestly and truly did not. I even looking back through many the pages trying to figure it out, but I couldn't, so I was unhappy with the ending. But the rest of it was great. Mostly! I recommend this, anyway. Maybe you'll have a better handle reading it than I did!


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Batwoman vol 1 the many Arms of Death by Marguerite Bennett, James Tynion IV, Steve Epting, Stephanie Hans, Renato Arlem


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. This review was embargoed by the publisher until today's date of publication

While I enjoy the Marvel and DC comics super hero movies, I have a harder time with the comic books which originated these same heroes. Part of that problem is in the way the female characters are hyper-sexualized. I don't believe this is productive and it certainly isn't appreciated. The movies do great without it, so why do the comic books cling to it so desperately? It's not remotely necessary.

Batgirl (as Bat-girl) has been around since 1961, and Batwoman appeared even earlier, in 1956. It's a shame then that neither of these has made it to the big screen, a brief appearance in the old Batman TV show notwithstanding. I was thrilled to learn that Joss Whedon will write, direct and produce a Batgirl film and even more thrilled that it will be based on Gail Simone's comic book work. Unfortunately there's nothing on the roster for a Batgirl movie the DC Extended Universe before 2021 at least so, although schedules can change, it looks like we have to wait a while for that!

This is one reason why I was pleased to read this graphic novel with writing by Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV, and art by Steve Epting, Stephanie Hans, and Renato Arlem, so we have at least one female writer and a female artist involved, and it shows. I was hoping for something a bit better than your usual fare and thankfully, I got it with this.

With the roaring success of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, which had some strong female characters, I was hoping for female super heroes from that world to arrive in its wake. Batwoman would have seemed like an obvious follow-up, but instead DC seems to have opted for more Batman movies instead. Until we get Batman's female counterpart on the screen, we have the graphic novels, and that's why I think it's critical that we get more like this one.

In a very small way, this is an origin story, but the origin is conveyed in a series of touching single frame images with a palette as red as Kate Kane's hair: Kate at age nine, shooting a bow, at twenty in the military, and at twenty-seven crashing into the frame as Batwoman. But something is missing, and this crashes into the story on the next pages. A car is rammed by a truck, parents and a child are kidnapped, a mom dead. Next, Kate is depicted in unarmed combat at West Point. It's all disjointed, as is Kate.

Because of this disjunction, I had, I confess, a bit of a hard time getting into the story, but it found its footing quickly - or I did, one or the other! There is a new drug on the street: Monster Venom - and it can literally do what its name says: turn people into monsters. In order to fight it, Batwoman finds that she has to revisit one of her own points of origin: the island of Coryana in the Mediterranean. Here she confronts more than just her past.

This novel contains not only the expected - and hoped for - action scenes, it also carries with it a journey into memory and pain, disillusionment and determination. And Batwoman proves equal to what's asked of her, even to the female villain who is like a breath of fresh air as villains go. I'd like to see more of her.

It's reassuring to know there's someone we can count on, especially since Batwoman seems to have her head together more than Batman does despite her traumatic history and self-doubt. I liked this story and I recommend it. The story not only works, it's intelligent and has depth, and the art and coloring, by Jeromy Cox and Adriano Lucas not only complement the story all the way, they bring it to visual life. I look forward to more stories like this one. Hopefully we won't have to wait on Joss Whedon to get them!


Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Facts of Life by Paula Knight


Rating: WORTHY!

This was another library book. The author, Paula Knight, changed her name to Polly in the book as she changed everyone else's name too, so it wasn't too personal, but it is in fact a very personal story told by a graduate (BA in Graphic Design form Bristol Polytechnic in England about her pursuit of a pregnancy and her grappling with a fatigue syndrome.

Paula/Polly grew up an only child and tells an interesting and moving, and humorous story about her life beginning with hanging out with her best friend, learning about sex, and spending more and more time as she matured, wondering if she ever wanted to have children. In the end she discovered she had ME/CFS, which is myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, a very disabling illness which an come back and bite you often. It resulted in her losing all her energy at times, and feeling like everything was real struggle.

When she finally found the partner she wanted to be with, she was in her mid thirties and starting to feel a 'now or never' imperative to having a child of her own. When they began to seriously try, however, she and her partner repeatedly got the reward of very brief pregnancies ending in miscarriage, After trying IVF, she and her partner gave up. It was only then that she began to notice how pervasive 'pronatalism' - the idea that a family consists of mom, dad, and one or more children - truly is in society.

Illustrated by the author in simple gray-scale line drawings, this novel is well imagined and well executed, and (be warned!) takes a no holds barred approach to telling her story of sexuality, of growing up in Britain in the seventies and eighties, of learning, of struggling, of disappointment, and finally of coming through it all with a new perspective on life. I really liked the story and I recommend it.


The Astonishing Ant-Man Everybody Loves Team-Ups by Nick Spencer, Brent Schoonover, Ramon Rosanas, Jordan Boyd


Rating: WARTY!

This was the polar opposite of the previous volume I read. I know I'm more than likely reading these out of sequence, but I don't think that matters in this case since it was so disjointed!

Whilst the previous one at least held my interest, even if it did not inspire me to read more, when I moved on to this second volume (which I'd already checked out of the library), I found it was not at all to my taste. The artwork was of the same standard as the previous book I read, but the story here was nonsensical and choppy, and simply did not draw-in my interest let alone hold it.

Worse than this, I ran into the same comic book issues that I've seen in all-too-many comic books. These were muted somewhat in the previous volume but put out on full exhibition here. One major reason I do not favor reading very many comic books is the genderist portrayals of male heroes versus female heroes. The men are all wearing these simple or functional costumes. The women are not.

The Giant, for example wears an old-style Flash costume: one piece, skin-hugging, bright red and black, with a cowl incorporated into the costume. He how would even get into such a costume, let alone feel comfortable wearing, is a question I long ago gave up asking, but note one important thing: his junk is not on view! Indeed, he looks like a castrated angel because he has no bulge whatsoever in his crotch! Maybe Pym particles shrink the penis and testicles? So why don't those particles also shrink the secondary sex organs (so-called) of the female heroes instead of projecting them fantastically outwards?

Ant-man wears a similar red and black outfit with a utility belt and a helmet the purpose of which I have still to grasp. Its sole purpose seems to be to give his head a vague ant-like appearance. Whatever it is, he's evidently so enamored of it that he even wears it when he takes a woman to bed with him.... Captain America, who is the token black guy in this comic, has this bizarre high collar on his outfit, which comes up over his ears, and he wears goggles. Since the original Cap had none of that, I can only assume that its only purpose is to hide as much black skin as possible so's not to offend readers that an Africa American has been uppity enough to trespass upon their pristine WASP comic book.

Compare and contrast this with the female heroes, none of whom are black. They all wear high heels, even in costume, and they all have low-cut tops so that even if no flesh is actually exposed, it's suggestive of it. In a flashback, one of them commendably wears a costume which is an exact duplicate of her male counterpart (no high heels!), but then that's completely subsumed under a Thing costume, so she never gets to be herself.

The outfit that takes the cake though, is when a super villain named Beetle appears. Her costume, while exposing no flesh (she wears a black onesie) is topped with thigh-high boots (with the inevitable heels), and she also wears a bustier with thin straps over her shoulders and a sharp V-cut at her crotch to make it clear that's where her V-shaped pubic mound is for anyone who might have got lost as their eyes climbed those boots leading up to 'Heaven'. Seriously? Why?

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This book is garbage and I dis-recommend it for anyone who has any integrity, decency, and self-respect.


Friday, November 17, 2017

The Astonishing Ant-Man Small Time Criminal by Nick Spencer, Ramon Rosanas, Annapoala Martello, Brent Schoonover


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a graphic novel I got from my wonderful local library on spec. I loved the Marvel movie, but my love doesn't necessarily translate to a love of the associated comic books. In this case it almost didn't, but in the end I liked this enough to consider it a worthy read, even though it was hardly brilliant. It certainly wasn't as funny as the Ant-man movie.

In a small way, this was an origin story although it really didn't give the entire story. That was more of a reminiscence. In it, Scott Lang is separated from his family (as in the movie) and is bothered and bewildered by what's going on around him. In the comic book, the Pym Particles are things which can be carried and handed around almost like drugs. Some of them found their way to Lang's daughter, Cassie, who is more grown-up than in the movie.

She has been a Young Avenger, but somehow lost her powers and now feels their absence painfully. This is why she throws her lot in with a villain who works at an organization called 'Hench'. Why the police would not be interested in a man who claims to be able to turn people into super-villains goes completely unexplored here, and this is one problem I have with both movies and comic books: the stories completely neglect existing law-enforcement and the larger world, such as with fire-fighters and national guard, the FBI, the CIA, and so on. It's like those people don't exist in Super World™!

Cassie thinks she can get her powers back (or get some powers anyway) by infiltrating Hench under the premise that she wants to become a super villain. When she gets her powers she will turn on them, The villain figures out her motives, but he agrees on a deal with her: if she will retrieve something that was taken from him, he will grant her powers and they can go their separate ways, no hard feelings. Scott doesn't realize this of course - he just learns his daughter is working with super villains and has to deal with that shocker.

A friend of Scott's becomes Giant Man by employing his share of Pym Particles, but he does so much damage due to his size that the people of San Francisco detest him, so Scott takes him to a Lego village and has him practice being a gentle giant. This is mildly amusing, but more amusing, and why I rated this worthy, are the super-villains. They're more clownish than villainous and I grew to like them and sympathize with them as Cassie works with them to complete her task and earn her powers.

So overall a worthy read but not something that made me want to rush out and grab the next issue (although I do have one more issue to review!).


Theatrics by Neil Gibson, Leonardo Gonzalez, Jan Wijngaard


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Set in the 1920's in New York City, this graphic novel by Neil Gibson tells the story of Rudy Burns who is a playboy of an actor who one night is mugged behind a bar and ends up not looking pretty any more. Out of hospital at last, he arrogantly turns own a paltry role that's offered to him, and quickly finds himself out of work and unsought-after for his looks any more. Even his well-to-do girlfriend has found someone else, although her rejection has nothing to do with his appearance. Shades of Mickey Rourke, for want of employment elsewhere, Rudy takes up boxing.

I am not a series fan and I'm frankly not sure where a series based on this premise could successfully take itself, but for this first installment, I found that I liked the novel for the story. It turned an unlikable protagonist into a pitiable one and brought my interest in. I also liked it for the free-flowing graphic content by Leonardo Gonzalez and for the vibrant colors by Jan Wijngaard.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys The Big Lie by Anthony Del Col, Werther Dell'Edera


Rating: WARTY!

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

Well, this was certainly not what I expected! I thought this was a modern take on a couple of series which date back to 1927 (The Hardy Boys) and 1930 (Nancy Drew). In the late seventies, there was a brief and disastrous run on TV featuring both story lines intertwined, but I thought this would be truer to the roots. It was far from that.

I recently reviewed a book about Edward Stratemeyer and his daughters Harriet and Edna, how these series came to be, and who wrote them. It made for an entertaining read, but apart from seeing a TV movie about Nancy drew, I have very little exposure to the actual stories themselves. That's why I thought this might be interesting. I'm sorry to say it wasn't.

the first hint that something was off here was when the Hardy Boys get arrested (apparently out of the blue) for questioning over the death of their father - and the police officer was slapping one of them around. This just felt completely off kilter. It's not to say you can't have a story where a kid is slapped around by a rogue police officer, and it's not to say you can't update an antique story that's badly in need of a make-over and get a better one, but in this case, it felt so out of place and so lacking in rationale and motivation that it kicked the story right out of suspension of disbelief.

It didn't work either, to have this on the one hand and a really old-fashioned style of illustrating the comic book on the other. The two simply didn't work together, especially since the art was lackluster and poorly rendered. I don't know if this was merely in the ebook, which is all we amateur reviewers usually get to see, or if it would have been just as bad in the print version, but the art was poorly delineated, scrappy, sketchy, muddy, and drab. Overall, the the experience was a poor one, and I could not stand to read past the half-way point in this story. Based on what I read, I cannot recommend it.


Monday, October 23, 2017

Secret Weapons by Eric Heisserer, Raul Allen


Rating: WORTHY!

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

From the guy who wrote the screenplay to the Amy Adams/Jeremy Renner movie Arrival, this was a story along the lines of Marvel's Inhumans or X-Men. People have intriguing super-abilities, but there are really amazing powers and rather oddball powers. The ones we get to meet are the ones with the oddball powers, who have been neglected, if not rejected, by those who might be interested in this kind of thing, because they're considered unimportant. One of them, for example, can talk with and understand birds; another can magically pull an object out of thin air, but he can't really control what it is he pulls; a third can turn to stone at will.

It's only as the story progresses that we can see that these powers might be of more utility than they initially appear to hold, and that they can be especially good when several such empowered people, known in this story as psiots, work together. The guy who can magically make things appear only learns later where they're coming from, and it's actually quite interesting, but not everyone is neglectful of these people. A government employee, Amanda McKee, is a technopath who can communicate with electronic systems even when she has no device in her hands.

Known by the inevitable code name of Livewire, she is investigating what's left of a facility run by Toyo Harada, who is the most powerful telepath there is. He's Amanda's former mentor and he's responsible for discovering and 'activating' these psiots. Many did not survive activation, but those who did were secreted in Harada's facility, and now they've been cast loose, abandoned to fend for themselves, which would have been fine except for the fact that a machine named Rex-O, which can absorb the powers of psiots, is hunting them down apparently intent upon wiping them out. If it absorbs Amanda's power, it can find all of them. And it's just captured her.

Although this is far from 'off-the-beaten-track' - in fact, it's on a track which has been pretty much beaten to death by now - the story was nevertheless engaging and intriguing. The characters were interesting and relatable, and they certainly made me want to follow them and see what they get up to. It helped that the artwork was good: well-drawn and nicely-colored. I liked this graphic novel, and I recommend it as a worthy read.


Northstars Volume 1: Welcome to Snowville! by Jim Shelley, Haigen Shelley


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a great comic with a great title. In Snowville, Santa's daughter Holly (not much of a stretch there!) thinks she's getting a babysitting job when she's put in charge of the daughter of the visiting Yeti King. She doesn't know she's about to set out on an adventure which will uncover a conspiracy at the North Pole!

She quickly learns that Frostina is a girl very much her own age if a little taller (she's a yeti after all, although she doesn't look much like the traditional yeti is supposed to), and very soon the two are involved in an adventure. This was, to me, described a little confusingly in the blurb as being a trip to "the subterranean city of Undertown to investigate trouble in Troggie Town." I didn't quite get what that meant. Is Troggie Town part of the City of Undertown, maybe a suburb or an Ethnic neighborhood? Or is Undertown misrepresented and is a region rather than a city or a town - a region in which lies Troggie Town? It's no big deal, but it felt a bit confusing, especially since it doesn't look subterranean at all, being awash in snow, trees, and lots of bright light!

Anyway, while down there they encounter some weird and wonderful creatures and strange opponents, but the two feisty girls win through and save Christmas, and isn't that what's needed more than anything - saving Christmas from any selfish interests which would ruin it? We can all fight that battle!

I really enjoyed this story and thought it was well-written, beautifully drawn and colored, and told a worthy tale of Christmas fun and adventure.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks, Cris Peter


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the second graphic novel by Faith Erin Hicks I've read, and this was better than the first I read, which I also really liked. I loved the irreverence of the story, the artwork, the coloring, and the overall presentation. it was told in a series of vignettes, presumably a compendium derived from a web comic, colored for the graphic novel by Cris Peter who did a great job.

Superhero girl has all of Superman's original powers. Most people forget that he did not used to be able to fly - he used only to be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. He had other powers too, but a lot of what we understand about him today is actually an accretion of things which grew as he developed from his original form. Superhero girl has not developed. She can only leap a building if it's eleven stories or less. But she does have heat vision! Bullet proof? Unknown!

She's a very amateur super hero, never quite having enough confidence, desperate to find real villains to fight, and in search of an arch nemesis, which she can't even find. The best she can do is some skeptical dude who constantly belittles what she can do in relation to 'real' super heroes. I adored her relationship with the 'evil' ninjas ans her behavior towards he average criminals whom she seemed to eventually control almost by mind power so fearful of her were they. Take >that< Superman! >Pow!<

Unfortunately, she already feels this way because her brother is a 'real' super hero, with corporate sponsorship, and a sterling reputation - and your standard spandex costume. Superhero girl has a cape (which shrinks in the wash, and a stick on mask which she typically forgets to stake off and which hurts when she does. When he comes to visit it makes her feel so belittled, but she is the eternal optimist who will not sell out, and she presses on and wins through regardless. I fell in love with her pretty easily. She is one of the most engaging and strong female characters I've ever read about, and I completely and unreservedly recommend this book.


Percy Jerkson and the Ovolactovegetarians by Margo Kinney-Petrucha, Stefan Petrucha, Rick Parker


Rating: WARTY!

I'm not sure why I picked this up. The title should have warned me it would be awful, but I did not go with my gut instinct ('get out of here while the going's gut'). It was awful. This is one of a series of parodies by this same team. The titles of other entries are equally bad: Harry Potty, The Hunger Pains, Breaking Down (although I admit that last one - for Breaking Dawn, is amusing to me.

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Rick Parker's artwork was average, but the story-telling was pathetic. It was neither entertaining nor engaging and didn't really tell a story. It felt like a series of set pieces riffing off parts of the original story. The jokes were bad, and worse, they were made about a story which is poor to average to begin with, so I didn't see the point.

I mean what could be more dumb than a story about Greek gods entirely set in the USA? The very premise is asinine and one more example of the Americanization of the entire world, like this is the only country, and we have the only stories, and if other nations have stories to tell, we'll simply move them to the USA instead of having the courage, decency, and smarts to relate them in their original setting. I spit on such cowardly and unimaginative writing. Such stories have no need of a parody.

This wasn't even funny and I won't recommend it. Diagnosis: too dumb to live.


Ghost Pяojekt by Joe Harris, Steve Rolston


Rating: WARTY!

I began thinking I was not going to like this graphic novel which I picked up at my local library, but it turned out OK. Not great, but at least a worthy read. The cover was very cool: I found out by accident that it glowed in the dark! Yes, it was gimmicky, but still fun. Joe Harris's writing was okay, btu nothing to write (home) about. Steve Rolston's art was average. Dean Trippe's coloring was entertaining, but again nothing spectacular. And who cares who lettered it? Seriously? Print the damn thing. Letterers need to retire.

This made me more disappointed when I began reading the story because it offered too much disjointed mystery to start with and was confusing. It was set in Russia though, which I approve of because it's tiresome to read story after story set in the USA as though this is the only country in the world - or at least the only country which has stories worth telling or people worth learning about.

The problem with setting the story in a non-English speaking country is how to convey that it's non-English being spoken. I've seen several tricks employed to achieve this, none of which is 100% successful, but some work better than others depending on how you employ the technique. I personally think you need to establish the setting and then trust the reader to fill in the blanks - but don't lard it with too many blanks!

Some writers do it by using foreign words followed immediately by their English translation. No-one talks like this and it's really annoying to me. I prefer an occasional foreign word where the context makes the word intelligible even when you don't know what it means. A better alternative is to simply make your setting convincing enough that you can use plain English with no foreign words.

Here they made a bad choice because they did the annoying repetitive thing, but hen when it came to measurements and weights, they used American values: pounds, instead of kilos for example, which was a glaring faux pas. Sometimes writers simply do not think their story through. They also used stupid Russian interpolations, such as calling one of the characters 'Operativnyk so-and-so' instead of simple calling them 'Operative'. Every time I read this I thought 'amateur'.

Once the story got into its swing though, it took off and became quite entertaining as long as I let slide the aforementioned annoyances. The story seemed to be about biological warfare agents, and there was an American on Russian soil trying to track these down and dispose of them. He had some internal problem sustained form a previous unsafe encounter with a bio-weapon, but as soon as the supernatural element started to come into play, it became obvious he'd find a cure for his condition, and he did.

That was trite, but the story was unusual and I appreciated that. I like the girl ghost even though her behavior sometimes made no sense, and the story moving quickly and changing scenes lots of times. The characters were occasionally dumb and overall, not exactly overwhelming, but were okay for a graphic novel. The female Russian agent was average in her characteristics, so nothing special there, but not awful, and in general, it was an engaging story once it hit its pace, and I consider it a worthy read.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks


Rating: WORTHY!

This comic was available online for a short time while it was being created, but now you can only get it from a store or as I did, from my excellent local library. I saw it on the shelf recently, and was immediately attracted to it.

The title was what drew me in. I think it was great and when I looked inside, the story looked pretty entertaining, and it turned out to be exactly that: pretty to look at, and entertaining. It was a fast and fun read, and although there were some issues with the execution, I consider this a worthy read.

Main character Maggie is about to start high school after being home-schooled all her life to this point. Her mom, who schooled her, has up and left the family. This was one issue with the story - there didn't seem to be any real explanation as to why mom left - she just left, everyone accepted it, and no one seems to have any ongoing problem with it. That was weird and underdeveloped, and it made for a noticeable hole in this story. It was one of several. Maggie's dad is the local police chief in this small town (which begs the question as to how it manages to support a large high school!), and his only real involvement in the story is that he has to get his hair cut for his new job.

Taking of weird though, I read one negative review which seemed to be based solely on the odd questions asked of Maggie when she started high school by someone who had no idea what home schooling was all about and so was asking really dumb and ignorant questions. Having been home-schooled herself, this reviewer then made the same mistake the fictional character made, but approaching the issue ignorantly. She took this personally and ranted on and on about it! She simply did not get is that this was fictional - that it was not a prescription for behavior, or a how-to manual! It's simply a fictional tale which feature, briefly, some dumb kid asking dumb questions.

What the reviewer didn't get was that there are, in real life, dumb people who ask dumb questions, or ignorant people who ask inappropriate questions in their ignorance - people whose mind isn't broad enough to encompass something outside of the cozy rut they are in. In downgrading a novel for depicting real life, this reviewer showed that she, too, is in the same kind of blinkered rut that the fictional character had occupied. I found this amusing and those criticisms invalid.

Maggie has several brothers, two of which are twins who seem to be fighting with each other more than ever before, since one of them seems to be seeking some sort of independence or differentiation from his twin, whereas the other seems fine with the way things are. She has an older brother who keeps a watchful eye on her, but in general, her brothers leave her to find her own way through high school, just as they had to when they started school.

Maggie's biggest problem though, is that she's led a very sheltered life and knows no one at this school except for her brothers, whom she now sees have all kinds of friends, including many female ones. She soon partners up with a female friend of her own named Lucy who has a partially-shaven head (for fashion, not from some medical condition). Lucy has a brother, Alastair, and the two are very close (and very close shaven), but Alastair seems not to be liked by Maggie's own brothers. This is made out to be rooted in some big bad secret: that Alastair is a bad person, but this was another plot problem: when the reveal comes, it's really nothing at all, so this set-up fell flat.

The third issue was the ghost. Maggie sees this ghost of a woman in the cemetery, and the ghost comes and looks at her face to face, but it never says a thing to her no matter what she says to it. Maggie cannot figure out what it wants, and that's how the story ends: the ghost drifts off down a cemetery pathway and disappears, and we never do find out what it wanted or why it was haunting Maggie. This was a disaster.

That aside though, the story itself was fun overall, and interesting, and it featured a lot of idiosyncratic activity and events which amused me greatly. So overall, and despite three big issues, this writer/illustrator of this black and white line-drawing comic still managed to make me rate this as a worthy read! See? It can be done!