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

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Small Favors by Colleen Coover

Rating: WORTHY!

I haven't reviewed a Net Galley graphic novel in a while, but there hasn't been much come up which has interested me. In their latest flyer this was the only one that I thought might be worth my time, and in the end I wasn't quite sure of that to begin with. I was won over by the playfulness and sheer exuberance of the stories. As I intimated, this is an advance review copy for which I thank the publishers.

I wasn't at all familiar with Colleen Coover's work, but I am now! Note that this isn't all she does, because when I tell you this is a graphic graphic novel for adult-only audiences which features explicit and what many might consider even kinky sex, you might wonder where she's coming from. Well, I can't speak or her, but for her characters, it's obvious where they're coming from!

The comic is a series of stories, with mini-stories interleaved, and separate by title pages which are done in grey-scale. Nearly all of the art is black and white line drawings which for me were charming and well done. I enjoyed them so much that I had some trouble adapting to the color section which is contained towards the middle. It felt really odd after I'd become so comfortable with the original artwork, but it wasn't bad at all - the line work was the same and the coloring was nicely done.

The inventive tack taken here is that main character Annie is called onto the mat by her conscience for excessive masturbating. Apparently at the age of twenty-one, she's already used up her lifetime allotment of "sexual self-abuse" as it used to be termed. I confess I never knew there was one!

A part of her conscience named Nibbil (which is misspelled Nibble at one point in the comic) is assigned to her twenty-four-seven to keep her on the straight and narrow, but this only results in her avidly exploring the bent and wide, since Nibbil is at least as big of a nymphomaniac as Annie. Happily, the two fall in love, but this doesn't prevent them exploring their sexuality with others. One thing I really did like about this was the brief interludes. No, this is not about girls wearing briefs and being lewd, it's a series of mini stories scattered through the main collection. How to spank Girls was hilarious.

The obvious candidate would seem to be Annie's next door, and single, neighbor, a young Asian woman about whom Annie fantasizes daily, but this doesn't happen (not immediately!). Instead they encounter another lesbian who is feeling lonely, an African American woman named sage. Soon the three of them are bosom buddies - in every sense of the phrase. This sparks a whole new set of stories. The sweet thing about this is the love between Annie and Nibbil, which is never lost sight of, no matter what adventures they get into.

The stories were for the most part highly amusing, such as when they play doctors which I thought was funny, as was the jungle adventure fantasy in which Annie and Nibbil take part, but be warned that every one of the stories is focused on sex. Even a trip to a yard sale ends up with them nude and passionate. They really have no life that doesn't involve sex!

Some potential fans might find that a turn off since there really isn't much story here. Others might find it a bit repetitive. I might have classed myself in those groups if the stories had not been so playful, unabashed, amusing, enthusiastic, and yes, even innocent in a weird, juvenile, exploratory way. The characters are all so likable and passionate, particularly Annie and Nibbil, that you can't help but appreciate them.

I have to mention that safe sex was not a concept here, which I found sad. Admittedly when having sex with the embodiment of her conscience, Nibbil, this wasn't an issue, but when they began to involve Sage and others, then at least a nod and a wink towards hygiene and safe sex needs to be in there, no matter how fleeting. There's nothing wrong with adventurous sex, but adventurous sex with multiple partners carries baggage that is neither erotic nor fun and which can be at best debilitating and at worst, deadly. Adventurous sex means trusting your partner(s), and this means informed consent and responsible sex. It's by no means incompatible with being erotic, and I think it's sad that more writers don't get this.

That said, I did like these comic stories. I really appreciated the author's sensibility about how the tales should be told. I think she got the tone right, and I consider them a worthy read for anyone who is interested in erotica in the comics.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Mighty Zodiac Starfall by J Torres, Corin Howell, Maarta Laiho

Rating: WORTHY!

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

In the fantasy world of Gaya, where animals are human (and in a refreshing change, the rabbits are evil!), the great dragon guardian of the sky - which curiously looks just like a constellation! - dies before the replacement is ready, and the rabbits, which had been banished to the moon, are free to come down to Earth. The fall of the dragon was literally a star-fall, hence the subtitle of the graphic novel. Six stars came down, and if the rabbits can destroy them all, then chaos will reign.

The only thing standing in the way is the once Mighty Zodiac. Refreshingly based on the Asian zodiac (Dog, Dragon, Goat, Horse, Monkey, Ox, Pig, Rabbit, Rat, Rooster, Snake, Tiger) instead of the western one, that's about as far as the story delves into Eastern beliefs. The Asian zodiac is tied to the twelve-year orbit of Jupiter, and the animals are associated with "elements" such as water, metal, wood, fire, etc), but none of this impacts this story.

The eleven non-evil warriors are dispatched to recover the stars, to keep them safe from the machinations of the "rabbit army" which sounds scary and looks scarier! The eleven don't necessarily get along, and there's friction and politics, but in the end they pull together. The story continues in other volumes. This was well-illustrated by Corin Howell, beautifully colored by Maarta Laiho, and nicely written by Joseph Torres. I recommend it as a worthy read!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Manga Claus by Nathaniel Marunas, Erik Craddock

Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled The Blade of Kringle, this isn't a manga, it's a regular graphic novel, but it's about ninjas, including ninja teddy-bears and a ninja Santa! Erik Craddock's art is great, and the story by Nathaniel Marunas is hilarious.

An aggrieved elf uses a bit of illegal magic to amp up a ninja toy, ordering it to go wreck the toy-building area of Santa's Workshop (a map is included!). The elf plans to come in later and conveniently save the day. Unfortunately, the ninja starts doing his job too well and somehow unleashes a hoard of ninja bears, who go on a wild rampage through the workshop. Only ninja Santa can save the day. Or can he?

This story reminded me very much of My New Fighting Technique is Unstoppable by David Rees, but without the bad language and with better art! I'm thinking mainly of the humor here because it had that same kind of off-the-wall snap to it that made you laugh out loud. I recommend this highly.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Penny Arcade Attack of the Bacon Robots by Jerry Holkins, Mike Krahulik

Rating: WORTHY!

This is an amusing retrospective of comic strips done by these guys who obsess over video games. I'm not a video gamer: I get much more fun out of a good novel (writing or reading) than ever I have had from any number of dumb video games, but I understand the culture, and besides, this isn't a video game! It's a commentary of a host of them over several years, and it's really amusing, even if you're not familiar with the games, which I found to be a curious phenomenon. Some of the games I did have a passing familiarity with, others I could guess at, some I'd never heard of. I've played none of the ones mentioned here except Pac-Man, but I still enjoyed the attitude and observations. These guys have a great sense of humor and it shines through their work. Yes, some of the strips fell flat for me, but most of them - and sometimes surprisingly - did not.

I think to get the most out of this you have to be of a certain culture and a certain era, but I do recommend it one for anyone who knows a little about gaming culture, or who has geek blood, and I would particularly recommend it for for those who are immersed in the culture and consider themselves trivia buffs on the topic, but note that these comic strips are from the period 1998 through 2000, so they have nothing to say about modern games. They're exclusively about obsolete games, which might well be beloved by potential readers. I found it a worthy read, anyway. Besides, I loved the title!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga by Koji Aihara, Kentaro Takemura

Rating: WORTHY!

This was educational (somewhat), humorous (particularly in the bathroom humor department, be warned), and entertaining, but it's really much more of a satire on manga than ever it is a how-to manual, although it does offer a surprising number of tips and suggestions.

Under the guise of explaining how easy it is to draw manga, the two authors/artists offer a commentary on the state of Japanese manga, what motivates it, and which trends are hot and cold, taking potshots at everything out there, including themselves. The line-drawing artwork is pretty decent and quite varied, and some of the stories they tell are pretty amusing. There is a distinct tendency towards bathroom humor and there is some quite explicit nudity depicted, so this isn't the book you want to give young children who may be displaying a flare for, or an interest in, comic book illustration.

That said I found it amusing and interesting and I'd recommend it for anyone who has a broad mind and is interested in manga.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Emma by Po Tse, Cystal S Chan, Stacy King

Rating: WARTY!

With line drawings by by Po Tse (aka Lemon Po), story adapted by Cystal S Chan (aka Crystal Silvermoon), and English script by Stacy King (aka Stacy King), this manga version of Jane Austen's Emma failed to please me. The adaptation wasn't bad, but reading it backwards isn't natural for we Westerners, and though I liked a manga version of Pride and Prejudice, I feel that i, like Po Tse, have to draw a line here!

In some supplementary material at the back (aka front) of the book, Po's art is praised for his "uncanny talent," but to me every drawing looked the same. It was hard to distinguish the characters except by their hairstyle, and I have never been a fan of that pointed nose, pointed chin, ridiculously large-eye mangled - er manga - style. It strikes me as lazy, where every face is merely a clone of every other, and the only actual difference between them is in the eyes and hair. After this experience I think this is the last manga of this nature I will read.

I have a few observations on the story, too. This is one of Austen's later novels. It was not her last, but it has been praised for good plotting, yet no one seems interested in saying a word about how snobbish and elitist it is. Yes, I get that this is how society was back then, and Austen is merely reporting it, but this only serves my point. Where is the daring, the invention, the scandalous skirting of the rules? I use the word 'skirting' advisedly because Austen no doubt wore skirts. Her book really isn't much more than a dear diary, is it though, in the final analysis?

The snobbery, even from the "heroic" Mr Knightley, is shameful, and it makes it only more obnoxious knowing that this was the acceptable norm back then. The talk is endlessly of people above their station, and poor matches. Love has no place in this world whatsoever, so where is the romance? It cannot breathe here, starved of oxygen as it is.

Emma is a frivolous, immature, vindictive, interfering and very stupid woman, and not at all pleasant to read about. She fails to grow and learn, yet ends up with everything despite her foolish meddlesome behavior, yet we're expected to condemn characters like frank Churchill, Philip Elton and August Hawkins, who are in reality just like Emma, if somewhat more exaggerated. While I confess I do like the movie featuring Gwyneth Paltrow, and I like even more the one featuring Alicia Silverstone, I really can't recommend the story of Emma or this graphic novel version of it.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Drowned City Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans by Don Brown

Rating: WORTHY!

At a time of Thanksgiving it's important to remember what we have to be thankful for, and to recall things which are, even after a mere decade, in danger of being forgotten. One of these was Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, which was an appalling and embarrassing tragedy and which highlighted a complete failure across several systems including the local authorities under the (at best) neglectful Mayor Nagin, the Federal government under the utterly clueless George Bush, and pretty much everything in between.

Don Brown's (and yes, I'd pick Don over Dan any time!) very well-written and nicely-illustrated graphic novel tells the story as it was, unvarnished and nothing swept under the rug. It covers everything from the start (and I mean literally the start) of the hurricane to the cruel and horrific aftermath. It's a horrible read and I mean that in a sense I hope you'll understand: horrible, but necessary lest we forget what happens when humans are absurdly over-confident and tragically unprepared.

Vampire Academy Graphic Novel by Leigh Dragoon, Emma Viecelli

Rating: WORTHY!

For a graphic novel created by two female writers/illustrators, I found this to be rather more sexualized than it ought, particularly regarding main character Rose. Emma Viecelli's artwork aside though (and the art wasn't bad at all in general terms), the adaptation by the curiously-named Leigh Dragoon was faithful to Richelle Mead's original, and overall, the story was told well. As usual I could have done without the ridiculous and pathetic "romance" between Rose and the academy's pet gorilla, but other than that, I liked this adaptation and I recommend it for anyone who likes the original or who is interested in getting up to speed on the story without reading the original, which I reviewed back in May, 2014.

There was one bit of unintentional amusement, which is when Rose has one of her trips into Lissa's brain. The illustration clearly shows Lissa from a third party perspective, climbing up through the trapdoor into the attic where she meets Ozera, but the text confidently states: "And there I am seeing the world through Lissa's eyes." No, you don't see the world through Lissa's eyes looking directly at Lissa, unless she's in front of a mirror! Sometimes I wish writers were a little more intelligent than this - or artists, whoever is at fault here, but they're no worse than movie or TV depictions of such things which are routinely in third person perspective and which look utterly ridiculous because of it.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Complete Marvel Cosmos with notes by Guardians of the Galaxy by Marc Sumerak

Rating: WORTHY!

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

While this may have limited appeal, specifically to Marvel geeks and younger readers, I found it interesting and amusing. What does that say about me? Let;s not get into that! The book is a lot of text, but is also heavily illustrated, so it showed well only on my Bluefire Reader app on a tablet, and on my Adobe Digital Editions app on my desktop. In Amazon's crappy Kindle app it looked horrible. The images were tiny and disjointed and the text was all over the place.

What you see is what you get here: a tour of the Marvel Universe in all it's exotic improbability. Some of it is nonsensical, some whimsical, some engrossing, and some entertaining. The Guardians of the Galaxy have handwritten comments between paragraphs making wry and sarcastic observations on the text. Some are a bit trite and predictable, but many are amusing. There is a lot of mentions, of course, of Marvel's super hero stable, but the book is more of a tour guide, discussing cultures and interesting sights, with little "what to wear" and "where to eat" features which can be funny.

Covered are the Kree Empire, the Shi'ar Empire, and planets such as Asgard (including the ten realms), Battlerealm, Chitauri Prime, Earth, Ego, Halfworld, Moord, Planet of the Symbiotes, Weirdworld, Planet X, and the moon Titan, as well as non-planets such as Cancerverse, Dark Dimension, Darkforce Dimension, Knowhere, the city of K'un-Lun, Otherworld, The Superflow, the Negative Zone, the neutral Zone, and so on. It's pretty extensive!

I recommend this for anyone who wants to dig deeper into Marvel's extensive universe and have some fun along the way.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Bad Machinery the Case of the Team Spirit by John Allison

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Bad Machinery is exactly what it says! It's totally bad-ass and hugely hilarious. But let's not confuse the case of team spirit with a case of liquor! These kids are only middle grade after all. This book, one of a series, is set in a Grammar school in England, and it's a locale with which I am intimately familiar having attended one myself. The story is set in Yorkshire, where my parents were born and raised, and I grew up next door, in Derbyshire. Non-Brits may need some remedial assistance on the lingo, but most of it isn't hard to understand. The graphic novel is evidently composed of webcomic dailies.

I adored this story. Every one of the characters is one I wish I had known at my own school, but alas and a lack of them was what plagued me there. Charlotte Grote, Jack Finch, Linton Baxter, Mildred Haversham, Shauna Wickle, and Sonny Craven are the weird, whacky, and charming students dealing with assorted life crises in their own peculiar ways. Sometimes their agendas conflict and other times they align.

The big deal is that a Russian owner of the local soccer club is trying to demolish houses to build a new stadium in their place, but this Russky seems to have pissed-off the mother of all bad luck, as becomes apparent when a satellite crashes onto the football pitch in the middle of a game, and assorted other disasters befall him. Plus Mrs Biscuits is also Russian, but not interested in rushing anywhere. She refuses to move from her home which sits, of course, right in the way of the Russian's plans to raze the land and raise a stadium. Two of the girls decide to make her the subject of a school project.

Each character has their own cross to bear. Shauna's, for example, is her slightly dysfunctional younger brother whose favorite non-word is BORB. Linton is plagued by his overly attentive mother and his fear that the beautiful new soccer stadium may never materialize. Sonny's father misses his own brutal grammar school days which appear to have been the inspiration for Michael Palin's Ripping Yarns, specifically the episode titled Tomkinson's Schooldays. Jack suffers an older sister who attends the same school and dispenses remarkable advice like, "It's a good idea to shave off your eyebrows" and "be sure to wear eye-shadow for gym." I fell in love with Charlotte though, disgusting as that is, since I'm old enough to be her father, but her sense of humor completely slayed me. She is the queen of bizarre observations and off-the-wall comments such as when she wants to discuss the procedure for extracting mothballs from moths.

The story meanders delightfully and abstrusely towards a satisfying conclusion. The art isn't spectacular, but it's serviceable and it got the job done for me. I haven't read any others in this series, but I fully intend to correct that oversight, first chance I get!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris, Royal McGraw, Ilias Kyriazis, Tamra Bonvillain

Rating: WORTHY!

I'm not a fan of Charlaine Harris. After enjoying True Blood on TV, I started in on the Sookie Stackhouse novels, but had a poor experience with them, so I gave up. A graphic novel about a different subject altogether OTOH, sounded like it might be a good idea, and this one certainly started well. The best part of it was that it continued well and turned out to be a great read. I really liked Ilias Kiryazis's art work, and the colors done by Tamra Bonvillain were exemplary. But it's not just lines and color, it's the story, too. In this case, that came through for me as well, despite being a bit improbable here and there!

Harper Connelly is an interesting and intriguing character with her pierced lip and lobe rings in her ears. The story is that she was struck by lightning and found afterwards that she can discover how a person died by simply standing close by where they are buried - or their body was dumped. She cannot identify the killer, but she can give quite a detailed description of how they died.

How she gets this information is a mystery since sometimes it supposedly comes from young from children who could hardly so much as know, let alone understand, how they died. I don't believe in gods or the occult, but I do enjoy a good story about the supernatural. The thing is that if you're going to tell a story like this, you really need to work out your mythology beforehand, otherwise anything goes and there are no rules, and your story fails for lack of intelligent structure. But I'm willing to let a small amount of this slide as long as it doesn't start ripping up the story or credibility for me. In this case it wasn't an obstacle.

Tolliver is Harper's step brother. They're very close, and he acts as her manager and companion. During an exercise to demonstrate that Harper's power is real, she makes a disturbing discovery - a grave contains two bodies, one much more recent than the other. The newer body is that of a young girl who was abducted from outside her home, and later killed. Harper had been called in by the girl's parents to see if she could find Tabitha Morgenstern's body and had failed - evidently because the body had been buried far from the girl's home town. Now Harper has discovered it, the spotlight is on her and the awkwardness of dealing with Tabitha's parents, whom she had failed two years before.

I found the use of the Latin word 'alumna' at one point to be interesting. This is the technically correct use when describing one female graduate. The plural is alumnae. In this male-dominated and very pretentious society, most people talk and think only of 'alumnus' which is the singular for a male graduate, and alumni (for a group of male or mixed male/female graduates). While it's commendable that the authors got this right in a technical sense, I personally feel that this deliberate distinction between male and female in such titles (along with actor/actress, author/authoress, and so on, isn't productive and is divisive, so 'alumnus' would have been fine with me, but the less pretentious graduate is better!

But I digress! The story was fun, and interesting, although the villain became obvious to me before it occurred to Harper! I'm usually not very good at these things which is why I enjoy them so much, os the fact that i figured it out suggests that others may well do so long before I did. That aside though, I loved the story and the art, and I really liked the concept. I would enjoy reading more about this interesting couple.

Generation Zero by Fred Van Lente, Francis Portela, Andrew Dalhouse

Rating: WORTHY!

I had no idea what Generation Zero was about having no exposure to it before (it's very much a young-adult version of X-Men, although it has no affiliation with the Marvel property as far as I know). Along came this graphic novel which sounded appealing and I was pleased to have the chance to review an ARC. So thanks to the publisher! Note that this is a work of fiction, and not to be confused with the New Zealand youth organization focused on the much-needed weaning of our society from fossil fuels!

It turns out, as the blurb tells us, that Generation Zero is a group for kids who were experimented on by private military contractors in Project Rising Spirit, aimed at producing 'psychic soldiers'. Well, they apparently succeeded. The blurb tells us the soldiers won their freedom. How that happened I don't know. I find it hard to believe that the government would let them go so easily, but maybe it wasn't easy. Anyway, now they have a new mission: helping teens in need.

No one feels more in need than Keisha Sherman. Her boyfriend just died in a highly suspect car accident in the too-good-to-be-true town of Rook, Michigan, heart of a new and suspiciously rapid tech boom. Keisha never was your regular teen. Sporting a rad look and hanging with the out-crowd, she appeals to Generation Zero through her computer because she knows her boyfriend was onto something suspicious going on in this town, and that;s why he died. She discovers that Generation Zero is not so mythical. She's advised to destroy the computer she used to contact them (why this must be done isn't explained!), and get on with her life. Pretty soon, new students start showing up at her school, and they make the out-crowd look normal.

These students are evidently Generation Zero: Animalia (shape-shifter), Cloud (a mind scrambler), Cronus (the gorup leader), Gamete, Telic, and the Zygos twins. These guys, plus one other shadowy sort, and Keisha and are going to make a difference. As long as the suspiciously compliant adults in the town, including Keisha's own father, who is a cop, don't trip up their plans. Note that there are other members of Generation Zero which aren't featured in this graphic novel.

I liked this for the characters, the artwork, which came in two styles, one for regular life, and one for this oddball sequence which depicted the world as people saw it, not as how it was. That was pretty cool. The drawing depicted people realistically, without the improbable and genderist proportions of super hero comics. Some were overweight, one of Keisha's friends was in a wheelchair There is no bad language and no overt sexuality although one scene shows a young couple in bed together, but they're just talking. I liked that the story wasn't afraid to be real all the way through. I liked that the main character, Keisha, was African American and female - not a common occurrence in far too many graphic novels - and that she had a younger brother who was a bit of a special needs kid.

But it's more than just getting the a realistic set of characters. There has a to be a story, otherwise it's just pretty pictures of interesting people, and this one felt good and plausible (in the framework of the story, of course!). So I recommend this. It hit the spot and I'd definitely be interested in pursuing the story.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Zoe Dare vs The Disasteroid by Brockton McKinney

Rating: WARTY!

This was another oddity from Net Galley in that it didn't specify that it was a graphic novel when it actually was. It's like this is the inverse of the other two which I'd initially thought were going to be graphic novels, but which turned out to be books of short stories. In this case I felt I was on safe ground since I know the publisher and the cover looked very graphic novel-ish! I really liked the cover and the graphics inside (the other covers inside were not so hot, but the panel work was to my taste and looked really good, I thought).

For me, the problem with this was the story, and it's story I come for, otherwise all you really have isn't so much a graphic novel per se as a coffee-table book. What attracted me to the story was the idea of a kick-ass female Evel Knievel and especially that such a person was the only one who could save Earth from an asteroid which seemed intent upon plummeting into the planet's crust. If it had actually been that, then this might have made for a great graphic novel, but it really wasn't in the end. The blurb was a bit more misleading than blurbs usually are because it turned out that Zoe wasn't the only one who could save Earth.

The two AI robots that were also advertised in the blurb turned out to be a bigger disaster than I'd feared they would be. I wasn't keen on them in the first place, but I was willing to risk those for a good story about two strong female characters. The problem with these robots though, is that they were far more 'A' than ever they were 'I'. I saw absolutely no point whatsoever to them, and their endless spewing of "Hashtag <smart mouth comment regarding current situation>" throughout the comic was fingernails-on-chalkboard irritating. In fact, in terms of being truly annoying, they were the equivalent of the two transformers, Mudflap and Skids in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, minus the racism, but every bit as bad otherwise.

I liked Zoe's "punk rock" sister, but why she was specified as punk when she really wasn't very punk at all, is a mystery. A rad haircut doth not a punk make! Despite this, she was my favorite, with Zoe second, the alien girl third. No one else rated at all because they were nowhere near as interesting as the three girls, which is actually quite a compliment from me! I think the two biggest problems though, were left-field nonsense and what felt like a thrown-together story. The problem was one of weight: there was too much silliness baggage for this story to be able to take off. One problem was how these guys got into space to go after the disasteroid (great name for the story, by the way).

Given that the space shuttle has long been retired, I saw no sense in 'resurrecting' it to get these guys into space, especially since the space shuttle was completely useless for anything other than low Earth-orbit missions. The new Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft being built by Lockheed Martin and the ESA is what's going to be used for these things in future, and that's not likely to be ready before 2024, but it would have been nice to see it enter service in the comic world. The shuttle is way over-used in stories and film, and it's antiquated and tired-looking. Could the writer not stretch a little bit and treat us to something intelligent like that instead?

This wasn't the biggest technological problem. The idea that you can get onto a motorbike (which is powered by internal combustion), and ride it off an asteroid and down to Earth in emulation of the iconic if cartoonish sports-car drop in the Heavy Metal movie, was just ludicrous beyond belief. You can get away with this in cartoons, but if you're trying to make your story seem even remotely realistic, you need to understand some basic physics, the primary problem of which, here, is that an internal combustion requires air. There's no air in space! This is why we use rockets the fuel of which carries its own oxygen supply! Motorbike leathers will not protect you in space! These are childish mistakes which remove all hope of anything even approaching realism. Yeah, it's fine for Saturday morning kid's cartoons, but grown-ups need to be treated with more respect than this. Conversely there is air around the Earth and it will burn you up if you fly back in from space without adequate protection, which a motorbike and leathers will not offer!

This whole thing made me feel like this was fan-fiction, thrown together rather than thought-out, and it was a very unsatisfactory story, with someone who had a death-dealing chest wound coming back to life because "Hey, I'm a stuntman, I do it all the time?" No! Just no! It was simply too nonsensical and too fly-by-night. If the whole story had been goofy form the off, then these things would have fit better, but it wasn't. It was for these reasons that this failed for me, and I was truly disappointed because I had high expectations; but what seemed to offer an original, fun, and engaging story fell apart in the execution. I wish the author all the best. I think he has some good stories to tell, but this wasn't one of them.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, Benjamin Harper, and Dennis Calero

Rating: WARTY!

This is the third of three graphic novels I got from the library recently, all three of which I was disappointed with. This one is not about super heroes, but is based on the Edgar Allan Poe short story published over a hundred seventy years ago wherein a man who, shall I say, doesn't have all his ravens in a row, takes exception to the disfigured eye of his friend, and ends up killing the guy and secreting the body under the floor of his dwelling. The novel is part of a graphic series, but I don't think i will read any more of these.

When a neighbor reports hearing a scream from the house and the police arrive to investigate, the psycho guy (who goes unnamed), invites them in, confident they will find nothing incriminating, only to incriminate himself when he believes he can hear the still-beating heart of his victim and ends up tearing up the floor with the police present to witness it.

I haven't read Poe's original, so I can't make a comparison. All I can say is that this was dissatisfying and the story was changed slightly - the body in the original was dismembered, but it is not, here. What bothered me though, was the lack of inventiveness of the illustration. It seemed to consist almost solely of close-ups of the faces of the characters, with very few more removed images, and while this artwork was not bad, it wasn't that great, either.

Admittedly some guy rambling on about how his friend's eye drives him nuts isn't really something you can make a lot of, so perhaps choosing to turn this particular short-story into a graphic novel was a bad decision. As I can testify, while it's a lot easier to tinker with someone else's story and (in my case) make a parody of it, than it is to come up with an original story, it's not impossible either. All-in-all, I was unhappy with this one, and I cannot recommend it as a worthy read.

Birds of Prey Vol 2 Your Kiss Might Kill by Duane Swierczynski, Travel Foreman

Rating: WARTY!

This is the second of two disappointing Birds of Prey graphic novels I got from the library. This volume comes much alter than the previous one, and I have to say that the artwork was all-around better, but the story just as dissatisfying and even confusing. The cover art was just as bad as in the previous volume, with black canary shown emitting her "sonic scream" (what kind of a scream wouldn't be sonic?! LOL! That there's sound is implied in the noun itself. Only paintings by Edvard Munch are silent!) and in effect looking like she's put on many pounds in doing it! Again, this is one reason why covers don't mean a heck of a lot to me, not even in graphic novels.

This story features Batgirl, Katana, Poison Ivy, and Starling (not Clarice, unfortunately). Despite Poison Ivy getting the bigger picture on the cover, this story is about Black Canary aka Dinah lance, whose life is threatened. During the course of the story the team has to transport Poison ivy to the Amazon to save her life, and that's where the creepy people attack them. No really, people made from creepers. Really.

For me the story was poor and further undermined by various characters disporting themselves in fishnet, and bustiers and bikini-underwear, so it really wasn't entertaining at all. It made me sorry I'd even considered reading about the Birds of Prey in comic books at all, and it also made me want to get back to watch the TV series again to get clean! I cannot recommend this one, either.

Birds of Prey Vol 4 Sensei & Student by Gail Simone and various artists

Rating: WARTY!

Since 1996, DC comics has published several series in the Birds of Prey category which is why it's so hard to keep track of which was published when and in what order - a failing of which comic books seem inexplicably proud. The two I read, I came across by accident at the local library. One of them actually did the courtesy of announcing that it was volume two on the cover, but volume two of which series was left to guesswork. That it also called "The New 52" offer a clue, but not much of one. The other volume, typically for comics, offered no clues at all which series the story was in, if any.

I first came to Birds of Prey via the short-lived, and slightly limp, but nonetheless enjoyable TV series which came out in 2002, but which I didn't watch until quite recently. This is why I was interested in picking up these comic books when I saw them at the library. I was drawn to the TV series by two of the cast, Dina Meyer, who I've adored ever since I saw her in the movie Johnny Mnemonic based on a William Gibson novel, and Rachel Skarsten who, as later, as Tamsin in the TV show Lost Girl provided endless entertainment for me.

The TV show featured only Oracle, Black Canary (the two founders of Birds of Prey), along with Huntress and Harley Quinn and in main roles. Black Canary wasn't part of the inception of Birds of Prey in the TV series. She came along in the first episode after the organization was up and running, evidently founded by Oracle and Huntress and already with some back story. The graphic novels did not feature Harley Quinn in any kind of leading role, but did feature the other three in main roles, along with Lady Hawk.

The first of the two graphic novels I read featured specifically Oracle, Black Canary, Huntress, Lady Shiva Cheshire, and Savant, although Oracle was largely sidelined from being imprisoned inexplicably and to little purpose either on her part or on the part of her captors who were purportedly Homeland Security or some such government agency. Homeland security never made any sense to me because, fool that I am, I'd always thought that's what the FBI was supposed to be, but I seriously underestimated the power of a bureaucracy to proliferate and perpetuate itself.

This story, from the first Gail Simone era, was very disappointing, especially from a series with a female writer. Catwoman (or someone I assumed was Catwoman) is featured prominently in the lower right quadrant of the cover yet makes no appearance (not that I noticed) in the story. A half-dressed Batgirl also occupies a quadrant of the cover, hilariously catty-cornered to Catwoman, but her appearance is also limited and un-entertaining, like she's on a leash. Huntress disports herself at one point in fishnet hose as part of her costume. Seriously? I don't believe I've ever read a graphic novel wherein the artists have less respect for women than I saw in this one, and the art wasn't even that great to make a pretense of "justifying" it.

I got the impression that the cover illustrations were nothing more than a salacious come-on, and had nothing whatsoever to do with what happens inside, which is a very good reason not to pay any attention to the cover, not even on a graphic novel. Unfortunately, a glance through the interior had made it look like it was going to be more interesting than it turned out to be. In the end all it managed to be was an exploitative montage of "hot" female super hero body parts - an open crotch here, a pair of legs or breasts there. The art was less than satisfactory and very bland, so I guess it needed the titivation aspect in order to survive. If comics want to grow beyond the shadow of superannuated adolescence with which they're oft tarred, they need to grow beyond, way beyond, this schoolboy pointing and tittering mentality when it comes to artwork.

The main story, which is what had caught my eye, was about an uneasy alliance between Huntress, Lady Shiva, and Cheshire. This part wasn't awfully bad, but these women were far too well-behaved and polite to be the real characters they were supposed to be, and in the end, this blandness killed all joy of that part of the story for me. I don't want to read about a tame Huntress, a restrained Cheshire, and a Lady Shiva who is on her best behavior. Thus for me killed the story and I cannot recommend this one unless you like looking at highly sexualized cartoon characters who seem to have little to offer beyond unnecessarily exposed body parts.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Miraculous Origins by Thomas Astruc, Quentin, Sebastien Thibaudeau

Rating: WORTHY!

Not to be confused with Miraculous Origins by Cheryl Black!

Taken from a French TV show and transformed into an entertaining comic book, this is the origin story of Ladybug (aka Marinette Dupain-Cheng) and Cat Noir (aka Adrien Agreste), two young French teenagers who are given their powers through jewels called 'Miraculous'. The jewels are curated by little creatures called Kwami. Marinette's, called Tikki, permits her to transform into Ladybug, complete with flesh-hugging Harlequin mask à la Green Lantern.

Adrien (I'm sorry but I can't see or hear that name without hearing Rocky calling to his girlfriend) has a similar kwami, Plagg, which I find to be the cooler of the two. Plagg is reminiscent of Hiccup's dragon, Night Fury, in the How to Train Your Dragon movie. Hawk Moth is the arch villain who wishes only to steal their miraculous and in their everyday life, the villain is Chloé Bourgeois, a stereotypical spoiled-brat who is the Mayor's daughter and a rival for Adrienne's affection. The action takes place, refreshingly outside of the USA, in Paris.

Neither of the two kids, despite working together as heroes and despite the total inadequacy of their 'masks' as a disguise - the equivalent of Clark Kent's eyeglasses - knows the other is also their classmate in school, but they work beautifully together, Ladybug coolly deflecting all of Cat Noir's advances (ironically, Ladybug has eyes only for Adrien!), and the pair inevitably, after some pratfalls, defeating the villain. The two are like an inverse of Marvel's Spider-Man (here represented by Ladybug and every bit as nimble and athletic) and DC's Catwoman. The villains are puppets of Hawk Moth, transformed into evil-doers by the butterflies he employs to deliver evil super powers to them while staying in the shadows himself. He "evilizes" them and makes'em do his dirty work for him!

Out of curiosity, I watched two of the episodes on TV. They are episodic (you can watch them in any order and it makes no difference), but they're also extremely formulaic. Someone of Marinette's acquaintance (close or not so close) has bad feelings over a defeat, Hawk Moth senses this somehow, and dispatches a butterfly to convert those feelings into super-powered evil, and Ladybug and Cat Noir have to defeat them inventively. It's pretty much the same in every episode from what I've seen, and I hope the comic book version, which seems a bit more mature, stretches and takes more risks than the TV version does.

The Amazone conglomerate wants two bucks a pop for these TV episodes, but they're free on You Tube. Sometimes I think Google is hardly better than Amazon, but bless 'em for this, so I was at least able to take a brief look. The stories I watched were amusing and very cute. I always like a good time travel story, which one episode featured, but the shows are certainly not something to which I'd become addicted; then it's not aimed at me, and it is a very successful show. This comic is the origin story. It's less "cute" than the TV show and a bit more gritty, and it's just as entertaining. The art is good - very much in the 3D computer mode rather than the traditional drawing and coloring mode. The story lines are not bad and the execution works.

When I first saw the comic I thought it was about two girls, but the blond is Adrien. I also thought the characters were much younger - middle-grade rather than older teenagers - so I was rather concerned about the sexualization of Ladybug with her skin-tight suit. It's still a problem - as it is with all female super heroes - but since she's older and Cat Noir is decked-out pretty much the same, I was less concerned about it than I was when I thought she was twelve or thirteen. At least the genders are treated equally, for what that's worth! Ladybug's costume is somewhat ameliorated by the playfully black-spotted ladybug motif, so maybe it's not so bad by comic book standards. I thought the ears and tail on Cat Noir were an interesting touch, and at least Ladybug is shown to be very much her own person and the more dominant of the two.

So, all in all I recommend this as a worthy read.

Battlestar Galactica Six by JT Krul, Igor Lima, Rod Rodolfo

Rating: WORTHY!

This combines issues 1 through 5 of the individual comics and tells the story of a character from Battlestar Galactica, the rebooted TV series from 2004. I wasn't impressed by the overuse of "cover" (or cover backing or facing) illustrations - there are six of them before the story even begins. I know this is the way it's done in comic books, so they must really hate trees! This was clearly designed for a print edition with zero concessions made to the ebook format.

I really don't care about covers, not even for comic books. It's the story which is important to me and in a graphic novel, artwork that looks like it mattered to the book's creators. Other than that it can come without a cover for all I care. It sure doesn't need three such that I have to swipe through six screens before I can start reading the story! If you want to include those, fine! Put 'em in the back where I don't have to swipe through 'em to get at the story! For a futuristic story, the e-design was antiquated.

Aside form that, the book was fun and interesting. I think it could have been better told, but following the stories of several different versions of Six was entertaining and worthwhile reading from my PoV. She was one of the most intriguing characters from the TV show, and the actor who portrayed her is currently in the TV show Lucifer which happens to be a favorite of mine. Tricia Helfer is playing another great role as Lucifer's mom!

The interior artwork was very good. Some pictures felt merely functional, like they had been rather dashed-off, but others felt like they were really cared over. I particularly liked one of the full page spreads, especially an early one featuring six in a space suit heading down to the mine she worked in, with the nighttime backdrop of the planet Troy visible through a window. I also liked the action scene where the jerk of a guy tries to rape Six when she's showering, and he learns that you really don't want to mess with a Cylon, not even one who looks like she might be easy-pickings.

We get to see several stories, all of them for one reason or another ending up in the rebirth tank on some Cyclon installation. The feeling of coming home and being among friends or family is well done, and even a bit startling given the negative impression people had of the Cylons in the TV show in those early days. Overall, I recommend this as a worthy read if you're interested in the Battlestar Galactica world, and perhaps even if you're not and might want to read a bit about it.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Wandering Koala Rides the Phantom Coach by Jeff Thomason

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a weird and wonderful comic book done in reds, blacks, grays, and white, with fairly minimal text. The artwork is engaging, and the coloring really attracts. It begins with a way overly dominant guy leading his girl out of the movie theater before the ending because he knows how it ends and he doesn't care that his girl wanted to watch it to the end.

He tries to play up the delight of finding an early bus which is largely empty as opposed to the crowded one they would have had to ride had they stayed in the theater, but the girl isn't convinced at all. The thing is that this bus is rather unusual, as they discover when the driver, who now looks like cross between Jack Skellington from Nightmare Before Christmas, and The Scarecrow from the Batman comics and movies, will not let them off the bus. Before long, ghosts start to materialize on the bus, and this normal couple now looks to be trapped in a nightmare that seems like it will hold them prisoner until Christmas, if not longer.

I enjoyed this because of the art and the weird plot. The only complaint I had was that the images did not occupy the full screen of the tablet in my Nook app. The page occupied only about three-quarters of the screen, and if you tried to enlarge it, it became a static image which you then had to close before you could swipe to the next page. Not ideal at all, and Nook app is usually a lot better than this. It's certainly a generation ahead of the crappy Amazon Kindle app, but this makes two comics now that I've had this annoying issue with. I recommend the comic, though.

True Grit Mean Business Graphic Novel

Rating: WORTHY!

Based on the Charles Portis novel which I reviewed favorably very recently, this is a promotional graphic novel put out by Paramount Studios, and is a free download from Barnes & Noble and perhaps other online sources too. Paramount released an updated version of True Grit in 2010, this time starring Jeff Bridges in place of John Wayne, Matt Damon in place f Glenn Campbell, Hailee Steinfeld in place of Kim Darby, and Barry Pepper in place of Robert Duvall. I watched both movie yesterday and while the earlier movie was slightly more humorous, the updated version (which cost as much to make as the original made in receipts!) was definitely the better movie, and adhered more closely to the novel despite being a Coen brothers vehicle.

I guess the copyright was coming to a close, and if they didn't put out a new version of it, paramount would lose the rights to it. The art by Christian Wildgoose is very well done, although being in comic book format, it ill fits the screen on my tablet and enlarging it doesn't help because then it becomes a separate image which you cannot swipe to get to the next page - you have to close the image and then swipe! Naturally the text is too small which is frequently a problem with =e-comics. Normally I like my Nook app - it's far better than the crappy Amazon Kindle app, but it too has issues. The art is black and white line drawings.

The comic is very short and tells the story recounted by Marshall Cogburn in the courtroom at the beginning of the novel, of the slaughter and robbery at the spotted-gourd ranch. It's worth a read, especially since it's free, but I would have enjoyed a longer one more - especially if it had been the whole novel.