Showing posts with label super-powers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label super-powers. Show all posts

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!

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!).

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.

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.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Teen Boat! by Dave Roman, John Green

Rating: WORTHY!

There seem to be an awful lot of reviewers (even positive ones) who simply didn't get this book. It was a parody, and on top of that, it was gorgeously illustrated and on top of that, it was funny.

The stories were off the wall, but were also played for serious effect even as humor came squeezing through at every tack. Frankly, this is something and I might have launched in all seriousness to get my kids going and make them think their dad is really losing it - as they accuse me of so often (especially after I released Baker Street), but these guys (Dave Roman writer, John Green - not the John Green who makes me barf - artist) actually produced it. It's about this teenage guy who can turn into a boat! It was pretty funny, and consistently so through every story.

This foreign exchange student comes to the school and her name is Nina Pinta Santa Maria. Teen Boat (his actual name) falls for her, but she only has eyes for the school jock, who is a jerk of course. Teen has a best friend, a girl named Joey, whom he takes completely for granted. He is so oblivious of her that it's truly funny rather than annoying, although it does make me wonder why she puts up with him.

But then Joey has a secret of her own which isn't revealed in this volume. One of my sons, who seems to have inherited my wife's power to divine these things long before I ever do, thinks she's secretly an iceberg, and I'm on board with that. She's definitely a cool character.

Teen Boat runs for class president, falls in love with a Gondola, crashes into a gas tanker on his driving test, and has a run in with pirates, and therein a sequel lies! One which I shall track down ASAP and hopefully find it on sail..... If not, I may well end-up on the dock before the judge and be propelled with a stern warning into the brig for failing to bow! If looks could keel!

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel You Know It's True by Ryan North, Erica Henderson

Rating: WARTY!

I picked this up at the library thinking it might be playful and fun, but it turned out to be another waste of perfectly good trees.

Squirrel Girl is someone I never heard of before much less know her origin, so I thought this might teach me something about her. All it taught was how dull of a character she is. In the end it was really just silly and the artwork indifferent. I've seen other Marvel comic books like this which put a minor character out there and draft in major Marvel super heroes to give it some cachet, but I have to say this was the most cynical of those and has pretty much cured me of wanting to read any more comics about minor Marvel characters!

It begins with some people trapped in the head of the Statue of Liberty surrounded by robot dinosaurs, which the Avengers are fighting. Inside the people make up nonsensical stories about Squirrel Girl which were boring. That story just fizzles out with no resolution (at least not one that showed up during the fifty percent of the book that I could stand to read) and we're suddenly into several other stories, none of which are related, with bizarre new characters appearing and disappearing.

I decided this was probably heading for the trope ending where Squirrel Girl wakes up after a dream, having eaten a betel leaf or something, and I honestly had no interest in learning any more about her. Based on the fifty percent or so that I read, I cannot recommend this.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Noble Vol 1 by Brandon Thomas, Roger Robinson

Rating: WARTY!

This was a 'Read Now' graphic novel that I requested from Net Galley, and for which I thank the publisher. I like to look at the 'read Now' because while this designation can sometimes mean a novel is not doing well and for good reason, it can also mean a gem is being overlooked. I've many examples of both. This one I am sorry to report, was not a gem.

While I was, on the one hand, pleased to see a graphic novel featuring people of color and a strong female character (Astrid Allen-Powell), I have to say I was really disappointed in this one because it adhered so closely to trope that it really offered nothing new to the genre. The men were magically muscular even if they had not been so before, and the women were absurdly sexualized. I keep hoping for graphic novel illustrators to get real and join the rest of us in the 21st century, but far too few of them seem to be interested in doing that and remain trapped in a perpetual and unhealthy adolescence.

In many ways this novel was reminiscent of the TV series, Extant starring Halle Berry, wherein people come back from space changed in odd ways. This graphic novel has nothing to do with aliens, however. In the end, it's your regular super hero novel, and in that regard it's very similar to the Fantastic Four (the 2005 movie) wherein four people out in space are affected by a phenomenon and given super powers. Here, five people go out into space to prevent an asteroid colliding with Earth, something happens, and at least one of them returns to Earth with powers.

Without wanting to give away spoilers, one problem for me was that the plot assumed everyone was using the same data regarding the asteroid, and this is never the case. There are too many different nations with a vested interest in their own safety for them to rely on one set of numbers without verifying them, so a 'plot twist' late in this volume did not work for me.

That said, there never was any justification for sending out people to tackle this problem in the first place. Missiles could presumably have done the same job - especially set in the future as this was. We already have drones and robots, yet far too few writers factor this into their scenarios. This novel offered no reason for people to go out there, other than that it was necessary for whatever the asteroid would do to wrangle a super hero transformation. It was a bit lacking.

The main character, David Powell, was affected by something, and has developed mental powers which can repulse and otherwise move objects and people, but he is having trouble controlling the power he has. Despite flashbacks which are annoying to me, especially in this story where they served little purpose other than to confuse the story, there is no explanation offered for how he came to be in this state, running loose, using false identities, and hunted by the Foresight Corporation (which seems to be inexplicably lacking policing by any government). All we're told about him is that the guy has lost his memory.

This for me was one of the major problems with this story: it was a confused and disjointed mess, with apparently random scenes tossed in. There were random flashbacks which made little sense and the whole story was in disarray. The flashbacks really did not contribute to the story whereas other flashback (if they must be included) that could have illuminated things were never offered. Everything seems to be under the control of the global Foresight Corporation. Its CEO is Lorena Payan and she is the villain here, but she makes for a pretty poor villain, being pretty and poorly developed. I could not take her seriously.

Overall I did not get any enjoyment out of this, nor any entertainment. It was not really clear at any point what was going on, and this made it boring. I cannot recommend this story.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

All-New Ultimates Power for Power by Michel Fiffle, Amilcar Pinna

Rating: WARTY!

If you enjoy indifferently-drawn and badly-posed superheroes doing quite literally nothing but fighting on nearly every single page in the entire book, then this is for you. It's not for me. It was laughable in parts and tedious throughout. And once again the text was so small and badly done that it was at times hard to read. Fire Clayton Cowles and simply use print for the text for goodness sake! What is this, the 1930's?

I like a story with my super hero characters. There was none to be had here. The author seems to believe that if he puts Black Widow, Bombshell, Cloak and Dagger, Kitty Pryde, Spider-Man, and Spider-Girl (not woman, girl) together, than a story inevitably must happen, but no. No. No.

This was nothing but a monotonously long, continuous battle embellished with asinine overlaid words like 'KRANCHKT' and 'FWSHK', old TV show Batman-style, and there was no story. What there was, was so bland and boring that I have to ask why it was ever divided into sections in the first place. The obvious answer to that is that it was originally released as single soft-cover editions and this is the combination of several of them, but since every story is almost exactly the same, then why was more than one ever released?

The story was beneath the level of superhero. If the police are so incompetent they can't handle a simple street gang pushing drugs, there is something seriously, and I mean seriously wrong with society. What is the point of being a super-hero if all you are is a cop in spandex? This is one to recycle - and into the recycle bin, not to the used comic book store.

Friday, August 11, 2017

SHIELD Perfect Bullets by Mark Waid and various artists

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a graphic novel I saw in the library and decided, though I wasn't convinced I'd like it, to take a chance, and it paid off because I did like it! It seemed a bit patchy in places, but I think it was a good idea to do a series of stories like this, because we're never going to see most of the 'extras' featured here in the TV show, so this was a way to expand on the idea of SHIELD and the interactions it had with Marvel super-heroes.

There were several stories and they were varied in both good ways and not so good, and the artwork too, was a bit variable, but overall it hung well together and was enjoyable. I think my least favorite story was one featuring The Scarlett Witch. I like the character in the movies, but despite that, I haven't really warmed to her in the way I have to other characters because I don't feel I know her yet.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my favorite story was the one which 'guest-starred' Ms Marvel whom I really did warm to in her own comic book series. There was just something about the way she was written and drawn, and I could see those same sentiments brought into play here and it was really nice, like meeting an old friend. I really hope they can bring her to the screen, big or small, and maintain her character in the transition.

Characters like this - people of color and from a different background to the standard WASP characters we've been too-often delivered. It seems like Marvel is slowly getting the message, but CDC is slacking on this score, although the expendables, aka Suicide Squad, did take a step in that direction. I'm not a Will Smith fan, though, so this was a bitter-sweet win for me!

So the graphic novel! Before I rant on about rather unrelated topics! There were six stories:

  1. Perfect Bullets was drawn by Carlos Pacheco and focused on the head of Shield (as he is in the novel), Phil Coulson, who is one of my favorite characters in the movie universe although I liked him a bit less in the TV Series. The graphic novel depicts him fanboi-ing in his youth and hanging out with his team and also assorted major Marvel characters in both i private and professional life, but this story wasn't really engrossing to me. It felt much more like they simply wanted to flood the pages with every major Marvel character there had ever been (as well as a host of lesser ones) in a huge fight, and this didn't appeal to me very much at all because it meant the characters were were far more like sacrificial pawns than they were people, and so the 'story' such as it was, was flat.
  2. Humberto Ramos drew The Animator which featured Ms Marvel. This was a fun story where Kamala Khan is in class being taught by substitute teacher Jemma Simmons. The problem with this was that the Simmons was drawn in this story looked nothing like the one drawn in the previous one, so I didn't make the connection right away. The class is interrupted by the arrival of some misbehaving super-heroic objects (which are apparently being trafficked by some students). Kamala does what she does, bu keeps running into and being hampered by Coulson and crew. It's funny and fresh, and authentic (within the universe). This was amusing but more realistically it was shameful how much Ms Marvel has done and yet she's still not taken seriously by Shield. Big mistake, and poor writing I think, but overall this was the best story and yes, it does include Kamala's signature run!
  3. Home Invasion, drawn by Alan Davis is a Spider-man story. This was okay but nothgin special.
  4. Fuel, drawn by Chris Sprouse was fascinating to me because it featured Susan "Sue" Storm separate (and secretly so) from her Fantastic Four buddies, and working on an assignment from Coulson. I liked this idea and I liked how she was drawn and portrayed. There seemed like there was a lot more to her here than I've seen of her before, but then I'm not exactly an avid reader of graphics, and even when I am, they tend to be one-offs and oddball stuff outside of the DC and Marvel universes. Most of my exposure to her had been from the movies, and I did not like the one in the rebooted Fantastic Four.
  5. Magic Bullets, drawn by Mike Choi paired Scarlett Witch and Doctor Strange, which seems like a charmed idea, but he was hardly in it and I wasn't impressed by this character in this story at all. She was flat and uninteresting. I do have to commend this writer, though, for bringing out so many female characters even as I condemn him for offering no characters of color their own story in this collection.
  6. Dark Dimensions, drawn by Paul Reno brought yet another female to the fore - one of my favorites, Maria Hill, whom I know only from the amazingly-named Cobie Smulders's portrayal in the movies. Here she was drawn rather oddly (especially in her stance in that first panel which made her left leg look huge, but then this entire story wasn't well done in my opinion. It also featured a truly odd character with an owl's head, and this struck me as peculiar as it would have had Howard The Duck been included, so despite Maria's presence, this story was also a poor one for me.

Overall, though, the graphic novel was a worthy read and I'm glad I found it. Personally, I should like to see Maria Hill, Sharon Carter, and Natasha Romanoff in their own movie. Marvel needs to get on it, or something like it, and soon!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Generation Zero Volume 2: Heroscape by Fred Van Lente, Diego Bernard, Javier Pulido

Rating: WARTY!

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

In my review of the first volume in this series, Generation Zero done by Fred Van Lente, Francis Portela, and Andrew Dalhouse, which I reviewed favorably, I concluded, "There has a to be a story, otherwise it's just pretty pictures" and I'm sorry to say this second volume fell into that trap. There was a story after a fashion, but it was so confused and confusing to me that I could barely follow what was happening.

It didn't help that even on a decently-sized tablet computer, the text was rather small, and impossible to read when it was shown as white on pale green, so I didn't even try reading those portions. The odd thing was that I didn't feel like I'd missed anything for skipping them. I will welcome the day when graphic novel writers recognize that you cannot continue to short-change the ebook format unless you want to irritate your readers at best, and piss them off so much that they refuse to read any more of your material in future, at worst.

Generation Zero is a group for kids who were experimented on by private military contractors in Project Rising Spirit, aimed at producing 'psychic soldiers'. This never made sense to me and it wasn't explained why kids were chosen rather than trained soldiers for this experiment, but I was willing to let that go since most superheroes have highly improbably origin stories. Now the kids are free of that, they're intent upon fighting back.

The problem is that the story was all over the place and entirely unsatisfying because none of it made any sense to me and it never seemed like it was going anywhere. It was never clear what was happening or what the Gen 0 crew were trying to accomplish. There were several characters chewing up the scenery and achieving little else, include Black Sheep, who was a super villain posing as a superhero. She was so far out that she was really irrelevant even as she tried mindlessly to kick everyone's ass. To me, she was far more of a joke than ever she was a threat.

Overall, this story felt like the old cop-out story killer: it was all a dream! I liked volume one, but I could not get with volume two and I can't recommend this graphic novel series anymore.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Marrow by Preston Norton

Rating: WARTY!

This is yet another in a long line of sorry-ass first person voice novels. I loathe that voice. Once in a while I've found an author who can carry it, but for the most part it's far too limited, self-serving and self-obsessed, and it turns me right off. I'm at the point now where I'm not even going to read a book, no matter how interesting the blurb makes it sound, if it's in worst person. There are lots of other books out there that are far less annoying!

The story is about this 14-yer-old boy who has the super power to change his bone density. How that works without his changing his muscles to cope with the weight, is left completely unexplained. So we have yet another example of a writer simply not thinking his story through so we have magical powers here! Worse though, is that this super hero story is far too derivative of every other super hero story, particularly of the DC comics canon, of the 2005 movie Sky High, and of the lesser-known movie Super Capers.

The center of this story is Marrow, also known derisively (and accurately), as Bonehead because he is an obnoxious bonehead. I did not like him at all, so I'm not about to continue read his story. He barely manages to get through his graduation test (who graduates at fourteen?!), because he has anger management issues which are simply not addressed!

Instead of him being paired with a capable mentor who can help him, he's blindly paired with Flex, a rip-off of Hancock, for no other reason than that the author evidently is blindly following a rigid plot here, which pairs opposites and has them become wonderful friends and super effective. Barf. At least I'm guessing that's what happens, and Flex probably dies, too. But I wasn't interested. I ditched this right after Flex appeared. I think if he'd started with more original characters and allowed them room to grow, and move and 'have their being', this could have been a much better story.

There are other rip-off heroes here too: Zero is merely Frozone from The Incredibles. Sapphire is Jean Grey from the X-men. Fantom is Superman. For some reason, I immediately felt suspicious from the start that Fantom might be some sort of villain in disguise. The super-powers these guys have - all derived form a comet impact - don't make any sense - but then super powers never do. The X-men super powers made no sense either, but at leas there was a deeper story there, one engaging, and attractive. This one was not.

The super villain Arachnis is essentially the Empress of the Racnoss from the Doctor Who Christmas episode The Runaway Bride. She's tediously quoting lines spoken by The Goblin from the original Spider-Man movie: 'itsy-bitsy spider. Yawn. I won't insult you by recommending this book. I'll do you the favor of warning you away from it.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Battling Boy by Paul Pope

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 23, 2017

Dreadnought by April Daniels

Rating: WORTHY!

"With Dreadnought's dead" Makes no sense. 'With Dreadnought's death', or 'With Dreadnought being dead' makes more sense.
Camouflage misspelled at start of chapter 14
Bicep on p115 needs to be biceps!
I wouldn't keep let mom bribe me p115 makes no sense. 'I wouldn't keep letting mom bribe me', maybe?

I'm not a fan of series in general because they tend to be bloated, repetitive, and derivative. I like my novels fresh, not warmed over from the previous volume in the series! Once in a while though, a series comes along that's worth reading, and though it's premature to say so after only one volume, this series, Nemesis, of which Dreadnought is volume one, might be one I can finally stomach! Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the author and the publisher.

Let me address some issues I had with it first. The story was in first person. I have no idea why authors are so addicted to this, but usually it sounds awful, self-obsessed, and totally unrealistic. Once in a while an author can carry it off, and in this case it wasn't bad until it got to about 80% of the way through when the big action finale began, and then it really showed what a poor choice this voice was. No one narrates like that when experiencing horrors or trying to figure out how to set wrongs right in emergency situations.

Yes, I would agree that the actions and thoughts of Dreadnought in some ways showed how new she was to this job, but in other ways it was steadfastly undermined that by how analytical and detailed she was in relating what was happening. Even accounting for the inexperience, for me it was almost completely lacking in credibility. It wasn't god-awfully bad, but the scenes needed to be tightened considerably. There was way too much fluff and filler, and with the first person voice it simply didn't feel realistic. Overall, the finale was not bad in terms of being a finale. It was just poorly executed, I thought.

It may seem strange to make this point with someone like Trump in office, but the extremes depicted in the novel, in terms of how people despised Danny, the mtf transgender girl who became the super hero Dreadnought, were too polarized. It’s like there was no one on the fence - they were either totally supportive or psychotically antagonistic and to me, this lacked credibility. I know there are many people hostile to the LGBTQIA community, and for the next four years, we're going to see them crawling out of the woodwork, emerging from the shadows, and slithering out from under rocks, I'm sorry to say, because they've been invited to do so by one of the most bigoted and insensitive public figures I've ever seen, and unfortunately, because of the complacency of registered voters, he's now in a position of way too much power for four years.

As far as this story is concerned, more nuance would have served it better. Danny's high-school friend, her dad, and the Graywych character at the super hero building came off more like caricatures than actual people, and this robbed them of their power, although Graywych's perspective was an interesting one, I grant. Instead of being threatening though, they were more like "representative' cardboard cut-outs, or placeholder set up to mark a particular perspective without making the perspective feel real.

That said, I really liked this story overall, and I loved how it brought the character into being with a history and a legacy already in place because of the way the mantle is passed on from one Dreadnought to another. Like Danny needed any more pressure! Danny is a girl, Danielle, as she'd like to be, born in a boy's body, Daniel as he was known.

She has felt trapped for seven or eight years, and is desperately counting the days until she's eighteen, and can get a job to save up for the surgery which will make her outward appearance match her inner self, or at least as close as modern medical science can render it. She did not ask for super powers, but once she gets them, and realizes that part of this transference grants some wishes to the recipient we quickly discover (like it was any surprise!) what her dearest wish was, and this is what she got.

Some reviewers, I've noticed have had issues with how 'beautiful' and 'curvaceous' she became, and I’d have an issue with it if that was all she became, but there was more to it and it’s wrong to focus on one aspect to the exclusion of others which turn out to be more important.

That said I would have preferred it if it had been toned-down, or if it was only Danny who considered she was 'beautiful'. This is for two reasons: one, because I'm tired of female super hero tropes where they're essentially nothing more than pneumatic Barbie doll clichés instead of real people, on the outside, and guys on the inside. Two: I think it would have made for a more powerful story and a more compelling character had Danny been just 'ordinary' looking, but was so thrilled to finally 'be a real girl' that she felt beautiful. But that's just me!

One problem here is that she wasn't really a girl, though, not biologically speaking. This part made little sense to me. She got the proportions and outward appearance of a girl, including a 'healthy cleavage,' but inside she was still XY, with no womb. There was no overt discussion of what her genitalia looked like exactly, just the hint that it was entirely female, so what I didn't get was why? Why did she have this limitation? If the mantle could confer femininity on her, why could it not go all the way?

I didn't buy the flim-flam we were given that it was too much for the mantle to confer. Men are really just mutant versions of women when you get right down to it, and there are direct parallels between a male and a female body. What's referred to as a penis in a male is nothing more than a distended clitoris. Men have an X chromosome, so if the changes somehow called for a man to be raised to the power of X to put him on par with a woman, then why couldn't the mantle achieve this? What couldn't the Prostatic utricle become a uterus? Was it because the man-tle was designed by a man?! You could argue that you would lose your transgender character if this had happened but I would disagree with you!

I like the way Danny came into her powers, and I speak not of the initial transference here, but her growth into them over the story, her reluctance to blindly throw in her lot with the Legion, and her willingness to learn everything the mantle could show her, and put it to good use. The other side of this coin is that it made little sense that she didn't stand up to her father earlier, but when you're beaten down so hard for so long, it's very hard to get back to your feet with any strength of conviction, so I was willing to let that go. I felt bad though when Danny's first thought on waking after Calamity's injury was not that of going to see how she was, but a lot of selfish thoughts about how much she was having to put up with herself. That felt like a real betrayal

I adored Calamity. This seems to be my lot on life whether I like the main character (as I did here) or not: I like the 'side-kick' more, although Calamity never was a sidekick, and even had the balls to call Dreadnought her sidekick at one point, which was both beautiful and funny. So enough rambling. Overall I really did like the story despite some issues. It's the first I've read of a series in a long, long time that has really stirred my interest and made me seriously want to come back for more. That's about the biggest compliment I can give it, and from me, it's a heck of a lot!

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.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Memory Maze by Gordon Korman

Rating: WARTY!

Audiobooks are hit and miss with me since I experiment with them more. This was a miss. I got to 20% in and gave up on it. The story was ludicrous, which might have made it an unintentionally funny read, but it was far too boring for that, and the boredom was in no way helped by Ramón de Ocampo's reading, which turned me right off. I would have had a hard time listening to it even if the novel had been thoroughly engrossing. It was far too John Green for my taste and the voices were not rendered well.

The story, which is number two (and felt like it) in a series, is about Jackson Opus, who is a master hypnotist. This was a refreshingly original super power to have, but then the author had to ascribe every single historical event to the use of hypnotism and it became laughable - and not in a fun way. Even Abe Lincoln was dragged into it at one point, and I remember thinking, it didn't help save his life, did it? I don't mind stories like this being woven into history, but when the author starts to tie literally every important event into it, it smacks of sheer amateurism and becomes far too stupid to take seriously, or even jokingly for that matter.

I flatly refuse to read any novel which has a main character named Jack, which is the most tedious go-to action adventure name ever to be over-used in literature. Even if the blurb makes the novel sound interesting, it goes right back on the shelf if one of the main characters is named Jack. I think I'm gong to have to add Jax and Jackson to that banned list now. Rather than take action, these people would much prefer to let others bear the brunt and pay the price while they hide out. They're far happier scratching their heads and whining about how Jax needs to become more powerful, but never have him practice anything. They would rather let the bad guy do whatever he wants without taking any steps to out him, and expose him. They're idiots.

This story had "Jax" and his family hiding out a hundred miles from home, living like paupers just to stay safe from the evil villain. Some hero huh?! He's using the cheesiest name imaginable as a non-disguise. His old name was Opus, so his new name is Magnus? Really? No one is ever going to think it's him. He's supposed to be keeping a low profile, but he enters a chess tournament and wins. This kid is a moron. I don't want to read about morons, not even if it's supposed to be funny. Because it's not! That's for parodies, not for original fiction!

The leader of the good guys has abandoned all his followers to support Jax, and his followers are being bumped-off. All they had to do here was to get on a rooftop with an AK 47 and take out this guy, but of course they can't do the realistic and intelligent thing (in the context of this fictional story in order to save the world from this ruthlessly evil guy). No instead, they have to play fair and it makes the story stilted and artificial and just plain ridiculous.

The big problem here is hypnotism of course, because it can make victims do anything, and then forget they've done it, yet nowhere did I hear of either Jax or his powerful hypnotist guru (who is also hiding) talking or even thinking about how to nullify the hypnotic effect. Jax never gives an ounce of thought to how to beat the guy. Of course as soon as the guy is beaten, that's the end of a cash cow for this author and this publisher, so where's the incentive to tell a realistic story and bring it to a satisfying conclusion? It's far easier to drag this same story out than to come up with something new, original, and inventive. This is another reason why I typically, and with few exceptions, detest series. They're far too derivative, repetitive, vacuous and vapid.

I have better things to read!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

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.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Glimmer by Tricia Cerrone

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Not to be confused with Glimmer by Phoebe Kitanidis, or Glimmer by Beth Kery, or Glimmer by Stacey Wallace Benefiel, or Glimmer by Evalyn Fulmer, or Glimmer by Annie Waters, or Glimmer by Melodie Ramone, or any of a dozen other glimmer books, this novel could have used a more distinctive, à propos, and individual title! Why not Black Swan? Well, Black Swan is also overdone, so why not Blue Swan? Titles are important. Memorable, distinctive titles are vitally important.

It's the start of a series and I am not a series fan, and it also is bogged down by an awful lot of YA trope yah? But it's also not written in first person voice for which I sincerely thank the author and vow to build a shrine in her name. See, you YA authors? You actually can write a viable YA story with a main female charcter in third person! Look and learn from this author! That said, this novel skated so closely to the thin ice of YA trope and cliché, that I would have rated it negatively if it had been in first person! That's how close it came!

As it is, there was enough going for it that I was willing to let the nauseating YA parts slide, and overall I consider it to be a worthy read. But because of the flirtation with the more nauseating parts of YA trope, I honestly cannot see myself pursuing the rest of this series, although I do wish the author every success with it. I just hope she doesn't ruin and cheapen her main character by turning her into a limp rag trope YA female when she started out so strongly. I saw signs that she was doing this toward the end of the novel, around the ninety percent mark, and so I truly fear for the main character, but not for the reasons the author wants me to!

So I wasn't sure I'd like this when I first began reading it, because I feared it might be another YA special snowflake story where the trope innocent young girl falls for the trope bad-boy from the street. I still fear that for the series, but as I read on in this particular volume, I grew more engaged. This is book one in the trope 'YA trilogy' (or series), and I can see an embryonic YA love triangle here, which is as sad as it's annoying. Actually, it's not even an embryo yet, more of a zygote, but it's there and it bothers me that we have yet another story where trope ostensibly strong, independent YA girl appears to be in need of rescue and support from trope bad boy or trope good boy, or worse: both.

The basic story is that of Sunday Cashus, a weird name which isn't even the real name of this sixteen-year-old girl who has lived in seclusion on a secretive military base virtually all her life. Her real name is Jocelyn, but this struck a false note since the name Jocelyn isn't even in the top forty for girls born in 1999. Could not a better name have been chosen? Yes, there are girls who don't get named popular names thank goodness, but they do tend to get names that are quite common. 'Jocelyn' just isn't on the board at all.

It seemed odd to me and out of place, but it's a minor issue and maybe the author has a good reason for it. I tend to put a lot of thought into my character names, and I try to make them appropriate to the story. Some of them are a tour de force and give clues to what's going to happen, so maybe this author is doing the same thing. Jocelyn used to be a boys name. It has German origins, so it goes with her last name, and it means 'one of the Goths' so who knows where that might lead?!

I preferred Sunnie though! She believes her family is dead, and that her uncle loves her and is taking care of her, but there's something off about everything, and it's a bit sad that it lakes Sunnie so long to realize it. I would have been happier if she had not put up with so much crap, but in her defense, she was isolated and had few touchstones to clue her in to how real life ought to be. That said, she was learning in school and studying foreign languages, so some of her innocence came across as a bit false and overdone. It's even more sad that her reality check comes not from her own examination of her life, but from her exposure to a boy of her own age who is brought into the "program' in which she is involved. On the other hand, she's led a very sheltered life, so her naiveté is understandable in some ways.

She believes she's getting medical treatment from the military in return for training and improving her "skills." These skills are rather of the Bionic Woman variety although Sunnie's skills come not from bionic implants, but from (she believes) experimental chemotherapy employed to treat her cancer. As time passes though, she learns that she doesn't have cancer after all, and that's not all that's been kept from her. Angry and frustrated, she begins pushing boundaries that she has never questioned before, and this is where the story became interesting to me. It made me believe (and hope!) that maybe there was more to Sunnie than a trope YA female protagonist.

I think one of the things which turned me off this story to begin with was the constant jumping from one new set of characters to another. It made it really hard to keep track of who was who and what the heck they had to do with what I'd read immediately before. I felt that could have been approached in a less choppy and annoying fashion, but once I got past those early pages, the reading became much more of a pleasure than it had been an irritation. The chapters are short and move pretty quickly, so it's overall an easy read and the reading went by quickly.

For the most part it was technically well-written, but I found a few textual problems, such as when Sunnie is taking a swab sample from herself. I read: "Sunnie obeyed, putting on gloves, taking the swab from the box..." Why does she put on gloves to swab herself? They don't want her to contaminate herself?! It made little sense. It felt like the author was writing this without really thinking about it because donning gloves is what she's seen people do on TV and maybe in real life. But specifying gloves wasn't required. It could have been simply related that Sunnie took a swab without saying if she wore gloves or not! It's worth keeping in mind when you're a writer!

'Whom' put in an inappropriate appearance here. For me, 'whom' can go in the trash can. I know authors feel like they have to use it so they sound educated, but it's antiquated. I can see it in the text, where as a reader, I just lightly skate over it, but it also appears in people's speech, and no one says 'whom' anymore, unless they're particularly pretentious. So I read, "Harvest from whom?" and "But I’m not sure by whom exactly," and it read false and made me realize I was reading a novel. It took me out of that world and back into reality. Skip the 'whom'!

At one point I read, "Said out loud, it actually sounded funnier that it was." when it should have read 'than it was" I know how these things happen! No spell-checker will catch them. The only way to get 'em is to re-read the text and that's when your eyes begin glazing over! We've all been there. Another instance was this: "...she repelled down the vertical bank to the river first." Unless the river bank is forcing her away from it, she's not being repelled, she's rappelling! One final example is "...she lied down." I rather suspect she laid down or she lay down. it;s very confusing, but 'lie' is a present tense verb so you don't use lied unless you've been lying! LOL! One last one: "...then sprang off a large jutting rock jettisoning herself through the air." Jettisoning is wrong. Projecting? Launching? Definitely not jettisoning. But there were very few of this kind of error, and I'm sure they'll be fixed in the final copy.

What of trope and cliché? Well, it's sentences like this that turn me off YA stories: "She closed her eyes and told herself not to think about the dark hair that fell over his forehead, or the gentle strength he’d used as he caught her." This is merely one example of Sunnie being out of character. Yes, she's a young woman and yes, she'd be curious about boys, especially since she's met none, but for her to turn from a tough cookie, independent and self-sufficient, into a limp rag in a boys arms is frankly pathetic.

Plus these are hardly things people think about in stressful or emergency situations, and far too many YA authors simply don't get this, in their blind, desperate hell-bent rush to include a romance. Forget the romance. Focus on the story. If the romance is going to happen it will, and it doesn't need any help from you! If it's not going to happen, you're going to ruin your story by forcing it on the characters. And forget the triangle. Two guys and one girl make the girl look like a duplicitous flibbertigibbet. Triangles never make a girl look heroic. Give the characters some self-respect for goodness sake!

The problem here, from a writing perspective is that Sunnie has no reason to trust any guy, much less get the wilts and the vapors whenever one looks at her. This felt to me like a betrayal of the woman she had become. She actually should have behaved more like a guy here, given her upbringing, her lack of socialization with young women, and her military training. Instead she suddenly became more like a thirteen year-old girl watching a rock star on TV. It was sad, and it was a betrayal of everything the author had done for her character to this point. I felt bad for Sunnie. At this point, she looked like she was being manipulated by the author in far more insidious ways than ever the military was manipulating her in the story! Here's an example: "No guy could resist a girl with big, blue eyes fighting for her life and begging for protection." This is the militarily trained girl begging for protection? And what if she had brown eyes, is she SoL?!

I'm so tired of reading of YA female characters who desperately need validation from a guy. Are there no YA authors out there who are willing to step away from the herd and write something new and different, and independent and original? It was my frustration with this which made me write Femarine. Fortunately, this tacky tack was very limited in this particular novel which is why I was willing to let it slide and not influence my overall rating, but it's also the reason I don't want to read more of this series, because I can see this just getting worse, and I liked Sunnie. I really did. I don't want to end up hating her, which I feel I will do if I pursue this series.

This business of telling instead of showing was a bit overdone. When Sunnie gets a new handler, we're told how awful she is when we should have been shown. It would have been better-written had this been made into an issue with the new woman, given that were being told, not shown, that she us cold and officious.. The character Graeme could have been omitted from the story altogether and it would not have suffered for it. He seemed like he was only there to complete the third leg of the triangle. His Porsche was far too 'Inspector Gadget' and made the story seem ridiculous at that point. I was really glad when it wrecked! Sunnie's escape was too long in coming, so was nice to see her explode into action, but it felt like this volume was one long prologue, which was funny, because this volume also had a prologue. I have no idea what that said since I routinely skip all prologues. It will be really funny if volume two has a prologue. LOL!

There were some cases of 'it's been done', such as when I read, “They really should invent a rubber that doesn’t wear out so easily.” Well, they did! It was used in the boots astronauts wore when walking on the moon. I find it hard to believe that such a well-funded military operation as this one did not have access to that!

But as I said, these are relatively minor considerations in this particular story. They will be amplified for better or for worse in a series, but I don't have to worry about that! So my rating is that this is a worthy read if you can overlook the YA tropes. I liked it. I liked the main character for her openness and thoughtfulness. I sincerely hope she doesn't go downhill in volume two and beyond! But for this volume, I recommend it. I'd ditch the two guys, though. Neither of them were worthy of Sunnie. Seth was a bit of a manipulative jerk who has no respect for personal space or for a young woman who is compromised and not street smart. Graeme was just a joke and not a funny one. The ending dragged on a bit too much and was entirely predictable, but as i said, not bad and worth reading.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

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.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Change of Life by Samantha Bryant

Rating: WARTY!

"the flange of a Ouija board"? The planchette, not the flange!
"experimenting on the populous" Populace, not populous!

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

This is the sequel to Going Through the Change by Samantha Bryant, which I reviewed very favorably back in August of 2015.. I have to say up front that I was much less pleased with this one for a variety of reasons which I shall discuss shortly. The story is that of some mature women who undergo changes which equip them with superpowers when all they expected was menopause or a quiet retirement. I enjoyed reading a story about more mature women for once. Such stories are rare, and well-told and engaging ones rarer still. In the first book, Patricia O'Neill grows scales on her skin. Jessica Roark discovers that she can fly - or at least float. Helen Braeburn learns that she can create fire - and survive it - and she becomes the villain of the piece. Linda Alvarez changes, rather abruptly, into a man with very unusual strength.

This novel picks up not long after the first one finishes, with the girls moving on with their lives as best they can now their secret is out. Sort of. The story begins with Linda Alvarez, now officially renamed Leonel - although why that name rather than say, 'Lyndon', is not explained. Neither is it explained why she adopts a man's name given that her thought processes are very much a woman's at this point, since she's literally a woman occupying a male body. She apparently never heard of a boy named Sue! 'Lyndon' is a boy's name with a similar sound, although it doesn't mean the same as 'Linda' does (Spanish for beautiful).

Most names which mean 'beautiful' are female names, so Linda would need to be named something like Hermoso or Bonito, neither of which have quite the same feel. How about Bo, short for Beauregard? It's just a suggestion. Fortunately, Leonel still has the love of her husband who is conveniently bisexual (at least she hopes she still has his love), and meanwhile she's training to be an agent with the government, along with Jessica, and trying to track down the villain of the previous volume.

This volume introduces a new villain, but for me, the problems with the tale too many to really enjoy it. This volume did not have the original and inventive feel of the first; there was very little action in it; it was overly long for the story it told, and it consequently moved very slowly. On top of that, we learned nothing about how or why the women changed the way they did, so there was no more depth added there. Worse, the ending was very dissatisfying, with the villain escaping, so now it's become like an annoying episodic TV series with a seasonal arc. In short, the novel embodied what I like least about series and why I do not favor them, except for a very few rare and treasured instances.

Some parts were very entertaining. I particularly liked Jessica in this one whereas I think I preferred Linda in the first. Jessica was bouncy and energetic and I enjoyed her scenes, but these were the only ones I really enjoyed. The problem as that Jessica never got to show her stuff. She was always on a leash and neither did Linda nor Patricia get let-off the leash for that matter. It was like they were being held back, and this is fine in order to build expectations in the beginning of the story, but at some point you have to let your super heroes loose, and when they're held back for the entire story, all you do is engender disappointment and irritation. At least that's how it is with me.

Overall, the pace in this volume was lethargic, and the contrast between this volume and the last, and between Jessica's scenes here and the chapters featuring other characters was very noticeable. Talking of bouncing, there was a lot of bouncing around between characters too. I felt a bit like a pinball! While the novel is commendably not told in first person, for which I thank the author, the short chapters got me invested in one character's story only to find I was quickly ripped away from that into another character's world, where I would start to get settled only to be ripped away again. It made for a choppy and unpleasant read for me.

There was a lot of telling here rather than showing as well, and some of the characters I couldn't get invested in because reading about them felt more like this was a daytime TV show than ever it was a super-hero story. I'm very much in favor of writers who offer a different take on a given genre, in this case super powers and the people imbued with them. This is why I liked the first book in this series so much, but I don't like soap operas, and this had that feel to it, and it cropped up far too often for my taste.

The story was also rather deceitful in some regards, because all these internal monologues gave the superficial appearance of delving into a character's feelings and relationships, yet in the final analysis, we never really got to see those relationships in action. Linda, for example, was fretting about her husband, who had been the dominant stereotypical male (which makes me wonder what Linda saw in him in the first place).

In this story, we learn that he's not dealing with this role-reversal, as Linda takes up a career and he feels like he's being nudged into a back seat. The problem is that all we ever get is Linda's take on it. We never get her husband's views except through Linda's mind. It's like men have no role to play in this story unless they're a problem, or a character who seems to be there solely as a love or flirtation interest. Frankly, it felt genderist to me.

The ending was the biggest disappointment because the whole story had these two women, Jessica and Leonel, training like they were building towards some big showdown with evil, yet in the end, the story fizzled and the villain escaped not though any great villainous power or devious plan, but through sheer incompetence on the part of the very operatives who had been training supposedly so diligently and capably!

Leonel was sidelined completely at the end, and Jessica and Patricia were effectively hobbled, so there really was no showdown and no real super hero moment, let alone a real team effort. I was truly disappointed having gone through a very long build-up for an ending that was significantly less than thrilling. I wish the author all the best with this series but it's not one I want to continue following, and I can't in good faith recommend this as a worthy read. I think I would have enjoyed it more had the first story been complete in itself, and this second novel been set in a new location with a totally different group of characters who underwent, perhaps, something similar to the first set. Instead we have a second volume that felt less than the sum of the first.