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

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.

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.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Good Morning, Superman! by Michael Dahl

Rating: WARTY!

I would have liked to have rated this positively. I like to do that with children's books, but although I hold them, in some ways, to a less exacting standard than I do more mature work, I cannot dispense with all standards, and I have to rate this one negatively because I feel it sends the wrong messages. I did like the beautiful art by Omar Lozano - bold, bright, and colorful, but the book isn't a coffee table book. It's supposed to offer a message, and that's where the problem lay.

On the one hand it features an African American kid, of which see see far too few in children's books, but having offered that, it makes the kid subservient to an heroic white guy. There are no heroes of color we could have chosen here? The first real problem, however, was that in his haste to be heroic, the kid abandons his breakfast, spilling the bowl and leaving his dirty dishes and a banana skin on the table. This is the kind of responsibility we want our kids to learn? Not mine.

Brushing his teeth is presented as one of the boy's greatest fears which must be overcome instead of, as it could have been shown, a way of adding to his super powers by protecting his teeth. Just as Supergirl is shown as Superman's assistant, the kid's little sister is presented in the subordinate position of bringing him his lunch box. Slavery anyone?

I'm sorry, but while I can see what was being attempted here, this felt wrong-headed in so many ways that I cannot in good faith recommend it as a worthy read.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Civil War Ms Marvel Vol 2 by Brian Reed

Rating: WARTY!

I picked this up thinking it was a part of the younger Ms Marvel series, but it isn't. It's part of a pompous, self-described "Marvel Event" wherein each main character in the Marvel "universe" gets a volume about their actions during the super hero civil war, as depicted in the 2016 Captain America movie. This one, unfortunately, was not about the teen Ms Marvel to whom I've really taken a shine, but about the older Ms Marvel, who is a different character, and I liked neither it nor her. There was a teen in the form of Araña, who evidently goes by other names too. These heroes are obsessed with names! LOL! Plus there was the usual problem of graphic novel creators not having the first clue how to label their product, so I got this without realizing it was volume two!

The story was spotty, being broken up into disconnected episodes rather than forming a coherent whole, and it really was not entertaining. It embodied all that I dislike about graphic novels, and almost nothing that I actually do like. It felt like the authors wanted to press-gang as many Marvel super celebs into it as they could, but it meant no-one got any decent air-time except the most boring one, and Ms Marvel came off looking like a prize jerk in her behavior. It wasn't entertaining, and although the art by de la Torre, Wieringo, and Camuncoli was good (sorry there are no first names. I don't know these artists, and the library edition I got had obliterated their names with a UPC sticker!)

Carol Danvers, aka Ms Marvel (and other names) sides with Iron Man in enforcing the Super Hero Registration Act. She teams with Wonder Man (which seems like a dumb name for a hero, to me, but then none of the names are that great when you get right down to it). Ms Marvel literally tears apart a family when she takes Spider Girl (who has several freaking names, I forget which one she was using here) into custody, literally pulling her out of the arms of her young daughter. I was already starting to dislike this version of Ms Marvel before this point, but this and the ridiculously long, drawn-out fight between the highly vindictive if not psychotic alternate universe Ms Marvel and her vendetta against Rogue was the final straw, I was "Check please, I'm done here!"

There was too much thrown in here and it offered little sense and made for a poor reading experience. I think I even saw a kitchen sink in one frame. I cannot recommend this one at all.

Young Avengers Mic-Drop at the Edge of Time and Space by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie

Rating: WARTY!

Having been thrilled with Marvel's "Ms Marvel" - the teen version, not the absurdly disjointed, brutal "Civil War" version - and having really enjoyed Marvel's Runaways, I made the mistake of thinking this success could continue. I brought home the first three volumes of the Young Avengers. Was that ever a mistake! The series is boring, ridiculous, bland, and nonsensical. Fortunately, I brought them home from the library and not from the bookstore, so I didn't waste any of my money on these. See my review of volume one in this series for some background.

This series features the bizarre "Hulkling" (Theodore Altman), the childish "Kid Loki" (Loki Laufeyson), the ridiculously named "Marvel Boy" (Noh-Varr), the absurdly named "Miss America" (America Chavez), the completely pointless "Patriot" (Elijah Bradley), the only one with a decent name, "Prodigy" (David Alleyne), the unfortunately named "Speed" (Thomas Shepherd), and the inappropriately named "Wiccan" (William Kaplan) who has nothing to do with the religion of Wicca.

Volume three was pretty much a clone of volumes one and two, which featured pointless and unentertaining traipsing through other dimensions by these supposed heroes, fighting, and eating breakfast. There was no story. This was garbage. Period. The baton was dropped. Nothing else.

Young Avengers Alternative Culture by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie

Rating: WARTY!

Having been thrilled with Marvel's "Ms Marvel" - the teen version, not the absurdly disjointed, brutal "Civil War" version - and having really enjoyed Marvel's Runaways, I made the mistake of thinking this success could continue. I brought home the first three volumes of the Young Avengers. Was that ever a mistake! The series is boring, ridiculous, bland, and nonsensical. Fortunately, I brought them home from the library and not from the bookstore, so I didn't waste any of my money on these. See my review of volume one in this series for some background.

This series features the bizarre "Hulkling" (Theodore Altman), the childish "Kid Loki" (Loki Laufeyson), the ridiculously named "Marvel Boy" (Noh-Varr), the absurdly named "Miss America" (America Chavez), the completely pointless "Patriot" (Elijah Bradley), the only one with a decent name, "Prodigy" (David Alleyne), the unfortunately named "Speed" (Thomas Shepherd), and the inappropriately named "Wiccan" (William Kaplan) who has nothing to do with the religion of Wicca.

Volume two was pretty much a clone of volume one, which featured pointless and unentertaining traipsing through other dimensions by these supposed heroes, fighting, and eating breakfast. There was no story. This was garbage. Period. No culture in evidence!

Young Avengers Style (something) Substance by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie

Rating: WARTY!

Having been thrilled with Marvel's "Ms Marvel" - the teen version, not the absurdly disjointed, brutal "Civil War" version - and having really enjoyed Marvel's Runaways, I made the mistake of thinking this success could continue. I brought home the first three volumes of the Young Avengers. Was that ever a mistake! The series is boring, ridiculous, bland, and nonsensical. Fortunately, I brought them home from the library and not from the bookstore, so I didn't waste any of my money on these.

Why graphic novel series creators are so dead-set on confusing their readers, especially ones who come late to a series, and are so insistent upon dedicatedly keeping potential readers and fans in the dark about which volume is which is an enduring mystery. Is it really so hard for the publisher or the cover artist to take the perfectly logical, helpful, and simple step of putting a number one on the front cover of volume one? Or would they much rather waste people's time and money? Is it so hard to put a short text reading "Collects Issues 1 through 5"? I guess it is, because the designers here found it far less demanding to put "Style > Substance" on this cover. What does that even mean? Style is greater than substance? It doesn't mean Style over Substance, because that's not the symbol they used! Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. The title doesn't even apply to the story within, which is more like Silage > Frustration.

The goodreads page for this makes it crystal clear how confused the publishers are. The title there is listed as Young Avengers, Vol. 1: Style > Substance (Young Avengers Vol. II #1). Seriously? Someone is very confused and I think it's the graphic novel creators/publishers! Say what you mean, mean what you say. It's that simple.

So, for the uninitiated, Young Avengers was created by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung to appeal to a younger audience than comic books evidently do, and features teen characters who are essentially unimaginative rip-offs of more mature and established Marvel characters from The Avengers. Some of these teens are offspring of unholy unions between mature "super heroes" although since none of the "super heroes" ever have sex (or swear! LOL!), it's quite a mystery as to how these offspring were actually conceived. It's not even possible genetically.

Our closest relative on Earth is the chimpanzee with which we share nearly all our genes, yet it's not possible to conceive offspring between humans and chimpanzees even if you could find some low-life chimp who would be willing to volunteer to have sex with an ugly and disgustingly bald human! It's sure as hell not possible to conceive with someone from a different planet. Not after millions of years of divergent and unrelated evolution. Maybe super-heroes have super-eggs or super-sperm?

Evidently the original launch of the Young Avengers was so unsuccessful that it had to be relaunched in January of 2013 by Kieron Gillen who wrote the tedious text, and Jamie McKelvie who did the average art. There's nothing of interest here. Nothing thought-provoking. Nothing engaging. The stories are disjointed and bland, even where they make any kind of sense. There is often little connection between one panel and the next let alone between one part of the story and the next. None of it made any sense or provided any entertainment.

This series features the bizarre "Hulkling" (Theodore Altman), the childish "Kid Loki" (Loki Laufeyson), the ridiculously named "Marvel Boy" (Noh-Varr), the absurdly named "Miss America" (America Chavez), the completely pointless "Patriot" (Elijah Bradley), the only one with a decent name, "Prodigy" (David Alleyne), the unfortunately named "Speed" (Thomas Shepherd), and the inappropriately named "Wiccan" (William Kaplan) who has nothing to do with the religion of Wicca.

The first volume puts the team together despite the team supposedly having been put together earlier during the Heinberg and Cheung era. We get to know nothing about the characters except what we're begrudgingly told, which is very little, so not one of them seemed like a real person to me. They have no personality. In the end, these "heroes' were only their powers, and their power seemed entirely restricted to fighting and mischief - oh, and and eating breakfast. Boring.

The only other thing which featured was that there were a couple of gay or bisexual guys, and those felt like they'd been put in there for no other reason than to ride the LGBTQIA bandwagon. They had nothing else to offer. None of these characters did. Loki was pathetic. Miss America had one trait and one trait only: violence. Not one of them had a life outside of their little clique. it was like a pathetic high-school melodrama.

So what was the story? There was no story. The entire volume was the same as the next two volumes in the series, which consist of pointless traipsing through other dimensions, fighting, and eating breakfast. There was no story. This was garbage.

Ms Marvel Last Days by G Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona

Rating: WORTHY!

This volume exemplifies one of the things I complain about with graphic novels. It's a good story, but I got it home from the library only to discover that I'd already read it as part of a different volume. Frustrating? Yes! This is why I refuse to buy these things because you never know when you're going to wind up with one you already read as part of a compendium, or under a different cover. What's with this insane obsession with variant covers? Spend more time on improving the art in the panels, and the hell with the wastefully time-consuming extra covers! The story is also incomplete - in this volume and in the compendium. There is no conclusion. Instead of it diverging into a short story about Spider-Man, I'd rather have had the original story concluded.

The story begins with a planet appearing in the sky above Earth. This has been done in Doctor Who and other stories, and none of it makes sense. A planet that close to Earth, even in another dimension, if it's appearing through some sort of dimensional rupture, will exert a massive gravitational pull on Earth, just as earth will on it, and life on both planets would be destroyed. That this never happens in these stories is testimony only to the poor science education the writers have. It makes the story completely unrealistic.

That gripe aside, I really liked the rest of the story because it pretty much abandoned the lie-destroying planet motif and got down to more personal business, and Ms Marvel entertained, as she typically does in these issues. I've read only one volume in this series which has disappointed me, and although some of Ms Marvel's behavior, particularly towards her would-be boyfriend, is inexcusible, G Willow Wilson tells a good story and Adrian Alphonsa illustrates it perfectly.

Ms Marvel Vol 2 by G Willow Wilson

Rating: WORTHY!

Here is yet another volume in a series where I've been disappointed by only one volume so far. I'm not a fan of series, so that's quite a compliment from me! I thought I'd read the first three, but this volume pops up in between two of the other volumes I read and favorably reviewed. Is it so very hard for the creators of a graphic novel series to actually put a number on the front cover so readers can readily identify in what order they should pursue the series? Seriously? What is the big freaking deal with being so cryptic that it's impossible to know where to start a series without engaging in some real research? Graphic novel series creators are frustrating as hell! It's doubly frustrating to bring home two volumes from the library and discover that they're really the same volume, or that one volume is a compendium which incorporates the other. This is why I refuse to buy these things, because you end up with more than one copy of the same story.

That off my chest, I did enjoy this volume. The art was good, and the story engaging. Also, it filled a few holes in the earlier stories I'd read. Kamala falls for a new guy - one who shares her religion and her interests - only to rather predictably, I have to say, discover that he's working for the dark side which is employing him to recruit her. Naturally, and predictably, she refuses, but rather than return to her buddy who has stood by her side throughout, she rejects him, too, with a weak story about how she can't be involved with a guy while she's wedded to her super powers and her need to fight evil. Tired tropes assemble! That, I felt, was poorly done and made her look callous and irrational. She's already involved with this guy anyway, even if not romantically. This does explain why he's moved on in a later volume and begun dating someone else, but Kamala cannot whine about it, after the way she treated him!

That dislike dealt with, I was pleased with her in other respects, especially as she continues to grow and learn new ways to use her shape-distorting powers. All in all, and despite my distaste for her "romantic" behavior, I did like this volume and I recommend it as part of this excellent series. The story was - apart from the non-romance - as well-written as ever, and the art by Elmo Bondoc, Takeshi Miyazawa, and Adrian Alphona was the usual entertaining, colorful, and amusing standard.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Mystique Ultimate Collection by Brian K Vaughan, Jorge Lucas, Michael Ryan, Manuel Garcia

Rating: WORTHY!

Originally created by artist David Cockrum, Mystique's "real" name is Raven Darkhölme, although she has many aliases, and no one really knows squat about her actual name, or her origins or how old she is - it would seem she's at least a century which begs the question as to why she would be interested in anyone of her own apparent age unless she simply wanted to get laid by a young stud. Like Logan, otherwise known as Wolverine, her youth is preserved by her mutation. In Logan's case it's his healing ability. In Mystique's case it's through her shape-shifting, so she sure doesn't look like she's a centenarian.

Being contrary, she rejects the use of the name 'Raven' in this volume, and is going about her routine business of assassinating people who harm mutants, when she finds herself about to be terminated. At the last minute (because rescuers never can be punctual), she's rescued by Magneto, which is a surprise to her because she thought he was dead; however, it's not Magneto, it's Charles Xavier. He's merely projecting Magneto into her brain in order to win her trust and effect the rescue. Well, he fails!

The deal is that he wants jobs done which he doesn't want tied back to him or his mutants, and Mystique represents the perfect undercover agent to carry out his wishes. If she were not wanted by every nation on the planet (except one!), she would have rejected his deal out of hand, but having a lifelong interest in self-preservation, she decides to throw her lot in with him at least for the time being especially since his wishes happen to coincide with her aims for once.

She begins carrying out ops for him which are rooted in the assassination of Prudence, an X-men undercover operative. Prudence was on the trail of a viral agent which has the power to kill everyone who has been inoculated against smallpox, which includes the entire US military, along with medical professionals and a host of other people. Smallpox is a horrible disease, and this mutant version is a huge threat. Mystique takes up the baton and flies with it. She's cool, exciting, inventive, resourceful and every bit the embodiment of a strong female character that I like. Plus she can literally kick ass. Her foes are a match for her (almost!) and the plots are pretty decent. I really enjoyed these stories.

This graphic novel had some truly breath-taking art between chapters done by Mike Mayhew, and though it was superlative, it wasn't so different from the regular panel art that it made me feel cheated as some comics do. Overall this novel was very well illustrated by Jorge Lucas, Michael Ryan, and Manuel Garcia. That George Lucas sure gets around doesn't he? LOL! I've been watching a show on Netflix titled Life which is about this cop who returns to the job after twelve years of false imprisonment for a triple-murder he didn't commit, and the name of the producer is Loucas George! You can't get away from the guy!

One thing I liked about the art is that it seemed a little less "sexploitive" than comic book art all-too-often is where a female character - super or otherwise - is concerned, so I appreciated that. That and the overall quality of the art and of course the excellent stories were what made this a worthy read.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Ms Marvel Vol 1: No Normal by G Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona

Rating: WORTHY!

Admirably written by the talented G Willow Wilson, and nicely and amusingly illustrated by Adrian Alphona, the Ms. Marvel book is actually the first in the series - finally! I can't believe graphic novel writers make it so hard to figure out which collected volume is the first you should read. Is it such a problem to put a big "#1" of the front cover? LOL! It's a good story though, so I want to read more in this series. I think I've now read the first three (but who can say?!), and really liked one and three; two, not so much. Finally I got to learn how Kamala Khan got her super power - and it was by the oddball method of becoming enveloped in an unexplained fog which wafted through the city!

Working on an idea for a super hero novel (not graphic, just text!) myself, I've started thinking about the existing ones a little bit more closely. Becoming empowered by a fog struck me as decidedly odd, because everyone in the city (this is set in Jersey City; Marvel seems obsessed with the east coast for some reason) was likewise exposed, yet only Kamala seems to have developed any super powers from it. Why? This goes not only unexplained, but unexplored. I found it sad that she wasn't curious about why she alone was blessed or cursed. Thinking about other heroes, only one immediately comes to mind - although I'm sure there are more - who developed his power in a way parallel to Kamala, and The Hulk really goes unexplained too, so this is nothing new.

I mean, how did Bruce Banner change, and no one else exposed to gamma rays did? Maybe it's because no one had the exposure he did, yet we're all exposed to gamma rays from space - fortunately not to a high degree. The fact remained that it was he who survived and developed his...condition. Spider-man is a similar case, but though many are bitten by spiders, none that I know of have been bitten by a radioactive spider! Superman doesn't count because he isn't special - anyone from Krypton would have his powers if they came to Earth, as his story shows. Batman and Iron Man are self-made, so they're responsible for their "power". Thor is just like Superman in many regards, so nothing to be learned there. Wonder Woman is also in that category. Green Lantern got his power because he was chosen and imbued with it, just as was Captain America, although in a different manner. Again, anyone in theory could have had their power. So we're back to Kamala being special in an undefined way which few other heroes are. Unless of course she was chosen somehow, but we're left with these unanswered questions, which make her very intriguing to me.

Moving on from the receipt of the power, we immediately get to the story of how she recognized it and learned to live and work with it, which I thought was really well done in this book. It felt real, and natural and organic, and it made for a fun and engaging story, especially since it's tied, in many ways, to her Muslim upbringing, her distance from her traditional parents - and from her school-friends, and her desire to be "normal" yet be able to use her gift to help others. I loved this story and recommend it as a great start to the series. I was unimpressed by volume two, especially the artwork. Volume three was a much more impressive and very amusing volume. I review both of those separately elsewhere on my blog.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Ms Marvel Vol 5 Super Famous by G Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa

Rating: WORTHY!

I reviewed the previous volume to this (I think - Graphic novel creators make it far harder than it ought to be to follow a series!) back in July of 2015 to mark the end of my year of two reviews per day every single day without a miss, which was stressful, but a great discipline. I wasn't impressed with the comic because the artwork was atrocious, but I was impressed - as much as not, by the young Ms Marvel character, Kamala Khan.

I started in on this graphic novel and found it refreshing. The young Ms Marvel is more like Spiderman in that she's young, has real relationship issues, and has to cope with demands on her time which interfere with her super-heroics. It's also set in a Marvel world where the usual Avengers super heroes have been switched around a bit. Thor is now a female (and still evidently named Thor, not Thora!). Spider-Man wears black instead of his usual red and blue. Captain America is black, but having said that, there's a disturbing lack of African American and Asian American presence in this story.

Ms Marvel is a young teen who is a Muslim (yet she never actually practices her religion), but there's also a Captain Marvel - who I assume we'll see in the movie theaters at some point, although the date keeps on being pushed back, from July 2018 to November, and then to March 2019. Seriously? At least we get Wonder Woman next year, although how good that will be depends on how willing DC is to totally screw-up yet another of their properties. They seem to be batting a thousand so far in that department ever since Chris Nolan finished his excellent Batman trilogy.

I read an earlier comic in this series where I really didn't like the artwork and found some of the story condescending, but this one seems much better and the artwork is far better. The comic was also really funny. Kamala's ex-boyfriend creates two clones of Kamala using technology left behind by Loki, and these clones start to multiply and take over the city. One of them is supposed to represent the scholarly Kamala while she's off super hero-ing. This one can say only "Easy-peasey" and marches around hilariously. The other is supposed to represent the good sister Kamala attending on her brother's wedding preparations, and has only one line related to the wedding. No one seems to think there's anything wrong here! Until the clones start flooding the city.

This one was funny, and very entertaining, and unlike the previous one, made me want to read more in this series.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Turncoat by Ryan O'Sullivan, Plaid Klaus

Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. More info about this graphic novel can be had at

This tongue-in-cheek and highly amusing super hero graphic novel features Duke and Sharon, who don't get along, which more than likely explains why they're not married any more. When they were together, she shot him fifteen times, putting him in hospital for eighteen months, and filed for divorce. That ought to tell you how infuriating he is. Now he has a restraining order against him, but the real problem here is that she and Duke work for different teams in super hero control programs - clandestine operations designed to cull super heroes before they proliferate everywhere, and thereby keep them down to a manageable number. Let's face it, someone has to do this.

Now though, it looks like Sharon has taken to swooping in on Duke's sanctions, completing them before he does, and getting all the credit. She even took out The Savior, who'd been widely considered not only untouchable, but also invulnerable. Maybe there's more going on here than first meets the eye mask. Like, are these heroes based loosely on well-known super heroes from Marvel and DC, or does it just look that way?

Duke really isn't very good at his job despite his profound detestation of everything about super heroes, so he's not likely to figure it out. He's about as on the edge and you can get without flying off from centrifugal force (and to those pseudo scientists who don't think centrifugal force isn't real, I invite them to hang on to edge of something that can spin, get it spinning really fast, and then let go. If they survive, they can tell me how it doesn't really exist). Duke's also really annoying in an amusing (for the reader) and infuriating (for his fellow characters) way.

Sharon, on the other hand, looks like a kick-ass heroic figure. She'd merit a story all of her own. But she's retired - isn't she? Told with a quirky sense of humor and with a sharp eye for comic book super hero conventions (not those conventions, the other ones), this book had me enthralled and I read it faster than the flash. With a name like Plaid, how could he not be an artist? The artwork was perfect for the tone and genre and the story was brilliant. The only complaint I have is that the lettering was often a bit on the small side and too 'plump' to make out characters distinctly from time to time. It was nothing bad enough to spoil the story, though, so i recommend this unreservedly.