Showing posts with label superhero. Show all posts
Showing posts with label superhero. Show all posts

Monday, September 11, 2017

Real Life Super Heroes by Nadia Fezzani

Rating: WARTY!

I have to confess up front my disappointment in this book: an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. It professes to be written by a professional journalist, but professionalism was exactly what it was lacking. This book felt more like reading something written by a fan-girl or a groupie. Issues which ought to have been pursued were ignored and questions which ought to have been answered were never asked.

Not to be confused with Real Life Super Heroes by Ernest Cooper, or Real Life Super Heroes by Pierre-Élie de Pibrac, or even I Married a Real-Life-Super-Hero by Amity Maree, this book advises us (from the blurb) that they "...dress up at night, fight crime, save people, and some of them even have secret identities. Are they ordinary, mild-mannered citizens, or are they larger-than-life characters, determined to fight crime, risking life and limb to defend victims of violence and injustice? And why do some choose to reveal their true identities, while others prefer to remain anonymous?"

I had several reactions to that, including 'were these the only options?', but I think the most pertinent one is, why do they only go out at night? This was something which wasn't explored, and was emblematic of a flaw in this entire book: things unexplored, and aspects of the story uncovered.

An obvious answer presented itself in that many of them work a regular job during the day, but not all of them do. Another answer is that many of the things they claim to engage with, crime being the obvious one, take place at night, but this isn't strictly or always true. This was one of the things which I felt never got addressed properly in a book which to me failed too many times to take seriously.

So there are apparently people who dress in costumes and go out on city streets to fight crime. Some of them simply do things like hand out food, water, and blankets to the homeless (something which could just as readily be done during the day) or help break-up fights or find drunks a ride home and so on. Others go another step beyond that and try to bring criminals to justice. This is where the facts tended to get skimmed. Frankly I was far more impressed by those who quietly handed-out things to the needy than ever I was by the costumed 'crime fighters'.

The problem is that we got only one side to this story: the side the author clearly favored. She was not interested in reporting anything other than what she was told by the people she was following. Even when she pretended to seek out the horrible 'super villains', it turned out these guys were not even remotely villains. They were more like side-kicks to the heroes. The fact that the author is in a romantic relationship with one of the "villains" clearly reveals the huge bias in her reporting here.

She didn't care to ask the difficult questions, nor did she care to seek opinions from outside this small community. Why, if she really wanted to do a job of journalism, did she not interview police and local community leaders? Why did she no peruse crime prevention stats to see if these 'crime fighters' actually did make a significant difference? Why did she not ask these people why they didn't simply join the police force or a neighborhood watch if they truly wanted to help? All of these questions were brushed aside, if they were ever raised, in favor of fan-girling. It's an insult to real working reporters to call this reporting. It was nothing of the sort.

The biggest question of all: why these people get the name super heroes, was left unasked, let alone answered. What makes them super? How are they any more heroic than people who do what they do but don't wear flamboyant costumes? based on the content of this book, the only answer seemed to be that they roam in gangs wearing cosplay costumes and occasionally tackle crime. The biggest "hero" of them all seemed to be "Phoenix Jones", about whom the author had nothing negative to say, but here's what the book said about him reacting one night to a friend being injured:

"My friend's face was flopped open and was just gushing blood."
"...and I walked up on this guy and he just took off. I chased him, I tackled him, I pulled him, and I hit him a few times. I took the stick and I was going to whoop his ass when the police rolled up on me."

Is this what a super hero does? Beats-up people? Personally I think it would have been more heroic to have taken his friend who "was just gushing blood" to a hospital, but this 'hero' abandons his friend and goes after vengeance - not justice but vengeance. This whole thing was reported without any analysis or observation from the author. It was shameful reporting. We never even learn what happened to his friend who was gushing blood.

At one point I read the hypocritical conclusion to another event: "Although they thought the boys' intentions could be seen as good, the RLSHs did not generally accept their actions as positive." Compare and contrast with Phoenix Jones all-but beating-up that guy.

The reporter is so enamored of the heroes that she gushes herself, talking of Purple Reign, an associate of Phoenix Jones: "He was accompanied by a beautiful woman, whom I recognized." Later, I read, "Purple [reign] looked to be in good shape, too, with a shorter frame, a beautiful face" Purple reign was actually one of the few people I read about in this book that I admired for what she does. She was also at one time married to Phoenix Jones. Evidently, they separated in mid-November 2013, but you won't read that in the book.

She's not about show and flash and publicity; she's about helping people in very real ways: people who truly need the help, and she's in a good position to give it, but what does her beauty (or otherwise) have to do with what she does? If she were plain would that make her less super? If she were unattractive altogether, would that make her less heroic? Less effective?

I am so tired of reading this "plain-shaming" from female authors who should know better given the make-up, youth, and 'beauty' culture that drives everything in the west, and who seem to go out of their way to remind their fellow sex that if they aren't beautiful, then fuggeddabout it. It's a disgrace and it needs to stop. There's nothing heroic about behaving in this way. It's bad enough that we routinely see this in comic books about super heroes. We sure as hell do not need it irl.

This gender bias appears elsewhere in the book, as we see when the author is with the super heroes "on patrol" and there's a shooting. Never once did I read of anyone in the group calling the police. Instead, I read this:

Everywhere I looked I could see young women scattering in front of the nearby nightclub, running as fast as they could with their high heels and short skirts. I also noticed that the men, in their sneakers, easily outpaced them. Say what you will about Real Life Super Heroes, but I can't imagine any of them taking off and leaving terrified a women in their wake!

How gallahnt! How St George! So women are helpless victims by definition, and only manly men can save them? We're either equal or we're not. You don't get to have it both ways: fully equal, until that is, you need a man to save you, then you're a maiden in distress? (Or vice versa, until you need a woman to save you).

The wrong-headedness of this writing was appalling, but it gets worse! At one point, the author says, "Oddly enough, during my entire life, only once was I taught what to do in case of a shooting." It's not rocket science! If you are not trained to deal with such a situation, you get your damned head down and if you can, you get away. It's that simple. Oh, and you call the cops, who are trained to deal with it. No wonder she thought all other women were in need of saving.

In another incident that was reported straight from the mouth of the hero without any investigation or analysis, we read of one guy who saw the police chasing after a man and a woman, and he intervened, busting into a police officer, and ending up beaten himself.

This was presented as heroic, but never once did the reporter ask why those people were running. They were presented as victims, but nowhere were any of the cops involved interviewed. She never went back to try to look at footage of the incident (if there was any) to see what actually happened. We got only one biased fan-girl side of the story as thought this was somehow heroic.

I don't know what those people had been doing, but neither did the 'hero'. Maybe they were perfectly innocent, but what if they'd been throwing rocks at the police? We don't know what they had been doing and neither did he, yet he charged in and assaulted a police officer, and this made him a 'hero'? If the pair had been both male would he have done the same thing, or was he charging in merely to help what he saw as a 'maiden in distress'? We don't know because the reporter didn't care to ask.

I am not a huge fan of the police many times, but these people put their lives on the line every day. They are professionally trained and legally empowered to do what they do. And they wear no mask. They hide behind nothing and they are out there doing what they see as the best that can be done in any given situation under often trying and sometimes impossible conditions. They do not randomly and haphazardly wander into situations. Yes, there are bad seeds in there and yes, even the best make mistakes. Yes, there is sometimes corruption, but they have a right to tell their side of the story - unless, that is, it's a super hero book written by this author.

Bad writing was prevalent. At one point I read, "He exuded a genuine demeanour." I think what she meant to say was that he seemed genuine, but why say that when you can make it an order of magnitude harder to grasp on first reading? I also read later, "His team fluctuates in membership, sometimes five, sometimes twelve, but the core is strong: Ghost, Asylum, Foolking, Oni, Professor Midnight, and himself." Unless my math is bad, that core is six, not five, so is it strong or not?!

After chiding an HBO Super Heroes documentary (which I haven't yet seen) for making the heroes out to look like idiots, this author then reports of one of her subjects, "Today he patrols and is writing a book on the manifestation of good, evil, and in between. It's about mental powers and the ability to read minds and control thoughts, all based on metaphysics and subatomic physics." Ri-ight! I am not kidding, this was reported as is without comment!

Another of them had this to say about how humble he was: "You can do anything you want here and get away with it. All you got to do is be that much smarter than anyone else, and it works. I do it great...I think I slept with my entire graduating class, to be honest with you. It was pretty bad and then there was the class before and after. I don't go out on patrol as much to help others really as to help me. It's for me. If people don't like it? Fine. Just try to stop me." That's so humble. Really, truly humble! An again it was reported without any comment.

This book was so poorly written and so gushingly, embarrassingly biased it was a disgrace to reporting, and I do not recommend it. Nothing could be less heroic or less super.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Superhero Comics by Christopher Gavaler

Rating: WARTY!

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

I have to thank the author for his hard work because Ii think you would have to work really hard to make a book about comics as dry, dense and, in parts, as tedious as this one was. There were some bright spots in it, and while I admit I'm a proponent of inline references, when there are so many, and so densely-packed as to make a reader lose track of what he's reading, that, for me, is a problem. The book was the antithesis of a comic book - dry, verbose, and nary an image in it, but perhaps the worst problem with it was that it told us nothing we did not already know, at least in the general if not the particular. And most of the references were to works of others, so this has already been reported. Little if any of it was original research.

I appreciated that the book covered racism which is still rampant in comic books even today, misogyny which is even more rampant, and homophobia, which arguably is more prevalent than is superhero chauvinism, but I felt the work was very patchy. For example, the overview of World War Two comic books, which was quite well done, constantly referred the reader back to real world events, whereas the entire section covering gender issues by contrast made no almost references to real world events other than the comic book code.

There was one particularly interesting incident when we were referred to an excellent article by by Teresa Jusino, titled "Dear Marvel: Stop Sexualizing Female Teenage Characters Like Riri Williams" which appeared online in The Mary Sue. The article was great, and I realize that the writer of an article in a situation like this it has no control over what ads appear on the page where her article appears, but The Mary Sue sure does. Pot, meet kettle! One ad titillatingly invited people who had finished this article to "check out what Tiger Woods's ex looks like now." Another, which advised us to "do denim different" featured a guy facing the camera and a girl with her butt towards it, posing very much in emulation of the way comic book females are sexually depicted, butt sticking out to the voyeur, and deferring to the masculine guy. Who cares about her face, right, much less her mind!

Due to the flowing nature of ads online these days, the rotation means you may not see these ads when you look at that page, but I can pretty much guarantee you will see something equally hypocritical. When I went back just now, there was a different foot-of-page ad which suggested rather salaciously, "Nancy McKeon gave the crew more than expected." A refresh of the page gave an ad which had nothing to do with clothes or women's accessories or 'how good she looks now'. No, it was about a game you can play that allows you to follow your city through history. No problem, right? Wrong! The problem was that it showed a young girl playing the game wearing what was barely more than a long T-shirt, her thighs exposed.

In short, the problem isn't the comic books, it's society. Comic books are a mere reflection of that, Cure society and the comic book problem will go away, I guarantee it, but you will not exorcise the comic book problem while it's run by adolescent white males (regardless of their chronological age), who embody societal sentiments which are pressed on them from an early age, and the problem in the comics (and in the movies, and on TV, and in non-graphic literature, and in sports, and in the military, and in businesses, and in religion) will continue unabated as long as no one in power is seeking to change the way women and people of color are viewed and treated in society at large.

The problem was made quite clear by the response by the artist who drew the offending cover and who saw nothing wrong with hypersexualizing a fifteen year old girl: J Scott Campbell who I shall personally boycott from this day forward because he is proudly part of the problem. Also part of the problem is that this book reported his response, but made no condemnation of it. I honestly feel that a female author might have had more to say on the subject.

This lack of commentary was even more evident when I read, "Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s 2007 The Boys expands the critique to the genre as a whole, presenting all male superheroes, even a version of Superman, as endemic rapists." There was no comment from the author on this nor evidence presented in support or denial of the claim. It was like the author was simply reporting what others have said, yet was indifferent to what he was reporting. he offered no opinion of his own, not even analysis of others' claims. I don't buy the genderist claim that "all men are closet rapists" bullshit, and I resent the implication.

Whether comic book 'heroes' might be in such a category and what it says about the people who write their stories, is a different kettle of fiction, and an issue which could have been explored to some profit. Personally, I think James Bond as depicted by Ian Fleming was a shoo-in for membership of that club (and take 'club' to mean any variety). Even some of the movies, particularly Goldfinger, were traveling the same shameful path, but this author let it go without a word. This convinced me that he was simply and coldly reporting, and had no wish to get his hands dirty, which begs the obvious question: if he cares so little about what he's writing, then why should I care at all?

So there are abundant articles which complain about the hypersexualization of comic-book female characters, but nothing to suggest where this all comes from. An article by Laura Hudson in Comics Alliance online, makes the same mistake. It's a good article, but it once again misses the point. The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their 'Liberated Sexuality'. At least this page contained no suggestive ads (not when I read it!), but nearly all of the ads on that page, whether for comic books or other items, featured women. Yes! Woman sell, and this is part of the problem: a problem the size of which Laura Hudson and Comics Alliance have not yet begun to address I'm sorry to report.

The fact that this book did not raise these issues bothered me, but even this was not the biggest problem with it. I would like it to have been, but this was not the book's focus. The focus was on how the comic books have changed though, and been influenced by history, and how they're tied to society (at least during WW2!), and many comic book characters were mentioned, but for a book focused on comic books, there was curiously not one single instance of any one of these characters who were mentioned actually illustrated in the book! A book about graphic novels which contains no graphics?!

Nor was there any sequence showing how characters had been masculinized or sexualized over the history of the comic. There was one chapter of a comic book I had never heard of, depicted in black and white towards the end, and there was an ungodly long spread detailing how comic book panels are laid out - with illustrations! I failed to see the point of that since anyone who has read more than one comic is quite aware of it. There was nothing about the characters themselves in terms of how they looked or how they had changed. I felt this was a sorry omission. Yes, you can find most of them online, but it's a pain to have to stop reading and go look for characters you have never heard of so you call illustrate for yourself the point the author thinks he's making; and good luck finding the exact picture to which he's referring unless you're prepared to make a detailed and lengthy search in many cases.

I read at one point of a cover where a female character towered over two main male characters and I could not find that one, but I found many comic book covers where one cover character towers over others and so in this case, I failed to see the point the author was trying to make because there apparently was not one!

So overall, a disappointing read and not at all what I had hoped for, much less expected. I think I shall in future avoid pseudo-scholarly commentaries on comics and simply read the comics! As long as they're not illustrated by J Scott Campbell or others like him! I wish the author all the best, but I cannot recommend this one.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer by Laxmi Hariharan

Title: The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer
Author: Laxmi Hariharan
Publisher: Amazon
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

Page 30 "Once upon at time it was amongst set many similar..." should be "Once upon at time it was set amongst many similar..."
Page 36 "'s both Panky and my choice..." should be "'s both Panky's and my choice..."
Page 88 "...Vikram is turns around..." should be "...Vikram turns around..."
Page 133 "reincarnate" should be either "incarnate" or "reincarnated"

Ruby Is an Indian woman living in Mumbai (which the author insists upon naming Bombay in this story). Mumbai is the biggest city in India (and eighth in the world) in terms of population, and its average temperature year round, runs between 70 and 90 (21 and 33) degrees. It's hot in many ways, including being a boomtown and business center, as well as having a great deep-water port.

Ruby Iyer is a young professional who lives in a bungalow which she shares with a guy named Pankaj ("Panky"), her best friend. One day when heading in to work, Ruby is knocked off the platform onto the electric train tracks and has 10,000 volts run through her, which she survives with no more than a Lichtenburg tree (an electrical branching pattern, rather like a tattoo) on her shoulder to show for it - at least externally. Inside, it's a different matter. Inside, Ruby feels the power of electricity and anger which she can barely control at times.

Note in passing that people tend to confuse volts with amps. 10,000 volts all by itself means little without knowing the amperage and the resistance. Humans can survive high voltage, but anything above a few milliamps for very long, and you're doomed! But that's by-the-by. Ruby tries to go to work the next day (this is after three days had gone by when she was unconscious in the hospital), and she fails spectacularly.

At the station, waiting on the morning train, standing alongside a guy she shared an autocab with, she sees the same guy who pushed her onto the tracks pushing another young woman in the same way. Ruby saves her life and then not wanting to deal with the publicity (or the police officer heading her way), she runs - stealing someone's motorbike.

She gets an anonymous text message to go to the Sea Link ferry and against her better judgment, finds herself driving down there. She finds a guy high-up off the ground, looking like he's going to jump. Next thing she knows, she's climbing up there trying to talk him down, and then diving into the water after him when he slips and falls. Suddenly she's being pulled from the water by the same guy she shared the cab with. What's going on here?

I admit after some seventy pages of this I was intrigued - drawn in by the oddity of events and by the sheer feistiness of Ruby's character. Now here's a great potential for a strong female protagonist thinks I, but there's also a male interest. Is this going to continue to show her as a strong independent woman, or is it going to go right down hill faster than Ruby plummeted into the ocean? Are we going to see her buried under the protective mantle of a validating guy just as the ocean covered her? I hoped not, but unfortunately soon, there soon came signs of plot failings.

Here's a writing issues to consider; how do you approach pet names when writing a story set in a foreign culture? Can you just employ Americanisms and have it work? Or is that going to rudely throw people out of suspension of disbelief? I ask because this author had Ruby refer to her pal Panky as "Pankster" from time to time. In the US, we understand that, because it's a very American thing to do, but unless she's really saying "Pankster" in her own tongue along with whatever else she's saying, what does Pankster mean? It would sound exactly the same in Bambaiya, Gujarati, Hindi, Marathi, or whatever language she's speaking, but would it mean the same thing it means in the US?

Is there a local language equivalent, and if so, why didn't the author use that - because we wouldn't understand it? I don't buy that. In the first hundred pages or so, the author does a great job of bringing us into the culture without making it sound like a guidebook or a lecture, so why this? I don't know. English is widely spoken amongst professionals in Mumbai, so maybe they speak English to each other and there's no problem here?

Having said that, there were quite a few technical problems with the text, including instances of two words run together, such as at the bottom of page 91 where it says "Handis" rather than "Hand is". A run-through with a decent spell-checker would catch many of those errors. There are other errors a spell-checker won't catch, such as when an AK-47 is identified on page 108 as a machine gun it's not. It's an assault rifle.

What about those plot failings I mentioned? Well, without wanting to give too much away, the most outrageous one was an incident in a train station where Ruby had the opportunity to take down or even take out the bad guy and she failed to act. I have no idea what that was all about except, of course, that it permitted the bad guy to escape and the story to continue for another 150 pages!

Things went significantly downhill after that for me, though, and I couldn't finish this novel. It became far too cartoonish. Some random guy launches an attack on Ruby in her home, and immediately afterwards, she's invited to visit the bad guy at a nearby hotel. Now maybe the guy with the gun was merely going to escort her to the hotel, maybe not, but either way it made no sense. He never said he only wanted to take her there, and she went anyway. The only thing this accomplished was a bout of blood and gore.

Ruby arms herself with a machete, which she pretty much consistently refers to as a sword, from that point onwards. It made no sense, especially since Vikram the cop said he was going to stay with her so he could get the bad guy, and as soon as his back is turned she runs off alone, no back-up, to try and rescue Panky.

It's at this point that we're expected to believe that simultaneously with the city all-but shutting down from multiple bombings, and with the power out, there's a fashion show going on at the Hyatt??? People are packing into one of the stations which was blown up just a day or two before - to go to work?!! There's this chaos going on and the army isn't called in? There's no curfew imposed? It's like all this is going on, and yet life continues in the city unaffected. It made no sense.

The story was told in first person PoV which usually doesn't work. In this case it wasn't too bad to begin with but it did begin to grate on the nerves after a while, especially since Ruby was hardly a nice person. I wasn't rooting for her. I actually liked the bad guy better.

If Ruby had shown some smarts instead of being a dick who routinely steals other people's property (mostly transportation) and who has no idea how to call for or rely on back-up, and shows no evidence that she even understands what cooperation is, let alone how to engage in it, with the cop who saved her life more than once. She's just not a likable protagonist, and that coupled with the absurd events the further I read into this story, was enough to convince me that I cannot rate this as a worthy read.

It's very depressing, actually, because the author shows signs of a real writing ability, yet she has a character like this in a setting that is, for once, in some place other than the USA, and it just gets wasted and squandered. I felt very sad and disappointed in what seemed to me to be a badly wasted opportunity.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Owl: Scarlet Serenade by Bob Woodward

Title: The Owl: Scarlet Serenade
Author: Bob Forward
Publisher: Brash Books
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

I've head a good relationship with Brash Books. I like the idea of it and the people who work there, and I admire what they're trying to do, but personally I've had little success finding books from their roster which appeal to me. Maybe I'm just too picky! This one I thought would be a winner, but it wasn't, I'm sorry to say. It's book two in a dilogy.

This novel is about Alexander L'Hiboux, almost a super-hero figure, but without any super powers. His last name means 'the owl'. He's homeless not because of poor circumstances, but by choice - so his enemies never know where he'll be. He's an unlicensed private detective, and he suffers from insomnia - so he'll never be found sleeping on the job. Or at all. He is known as (and curiously refers to himself as ) The Owl. He operates outside the law with his own brand of justice, and no matter what he does, he never faces any consequences. In short, the story was rather juvenile, but full of adult themes. A curious combination.

There's no valid evidence supporting the author's assertion (via his first person PoV character narration) that the name of the Santa Ana winds ever came from the Mexican word for 'Satan' (which is actually Satanás) nor is there any supporting the more common claim that it's from a Native American phrase meaning 'devil winds'. It's more likely that they're named for the Santa Ana Canyon, although they don't blow solely there. It doesn't preclude a character being misinformed, however, and it does make for a fun legend.

Alexander has Native America in his genes and he apparently has a spirit guide, because when we first meet him, he sees what appears to be a native American who directs his attention to a car with three men inside, idling outside a nearby school. The guide then disappears. Why Alexander hadn't noticed this car without supernatural help goes unexplained. Why his guide hadn't warned him of this attempted kidnapping early enough that he could call the police goes likewise, but this gives Al a chance to perform his spectacular heroics.

He takes down the three guys one after another and then fires a shot from his Colt 45 peacemaker (seriously?!) into the car's gas tank and it explodes. Let's not get into the unlikelihood of this actually causing the tank to explode, and of his gun literally being able to knock someone three feet backwards into the air from its fire power. It's not going to happen. What intrigued me here was that the red-head he saved from the kidnapping, Sarah Scarlotti, chose to chase after him instead of waiting for the cops who were coming fast, judged by the sirens.

This precipitates a relationship between these two characters that presumably lasts the whole novel, haunted by violence and the very real feeling of being hunted. I can't say for sure because I had to quit half-way through. The writing wasn't at all to my taste. If you like simple stories full of improbable action and very little mood-setting or world-building prose, with lots of conversation to fill the pages and some unlikely close shaves, then you'll love this. It's just not my kind of story.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Zodiac Legacy by Stan Lee

Title: Zodiac Legacy
Author: Stan Lee
Publisher: Disney Press
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Andie Tong

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

p51 "He's one of us know..." should be "He's one of us now..."
p51 "We keep tabs of Maxwell..." should be "We keep tabs on Maxwell..."

Today is the last day of my alphabet December reviews, with a double 'Z' brace of books. I'm done! Never again!

This novel (not a graphic novel, but a novel with some graphics) was available for both Adobe Digital Editions and the Kindle and I looked at it in both. The Kindle edition was problematical because the first part of each chapter had text which was grayed out and difficult to read as Kindle grey scale text. In the ADE version, I could see why - that text is on a red background. Also what are full-page illustrations in the ADE are very small images in the Kindle and so lose a lot of their impact. Other than that, both editions looked fine.

The story - which is evidently book one in the inevitable series - begins with Steven Lee, who is on a tour of a museum in China. Steven is Chinese-American and he's thinking that the tour guide is at best distracted, and at worst out of her league, when strange things begin happening. He and the tour guide, Jumanne (not her real name!), are the last to leave the room they're currently in, but as he is leaving, he hears a scream. The tour guide seems to become a different person at this point: focused and purposeful as she disappears through a hidden door. Asking himself, "What would a superhero do?" Steven follows.

He's rather surprised to find the Jumanne's clothes at the foot of a long flight of stairs, but not as surprised as he is to discover, when he reaches a balcony down there, a guy down below who is apparently being imbued, one-by-one, with the powers associated with the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac: Dog, Dragon, Goat, Horse, Monkey, Ox, Pig, Rabbit, Rat, Rooster, Snake, and Tiger.

The guy's name is Maxwell, and he's the bad guy and so is of course, a dragon. It turns out that Jumanne and Maxwell's assistant, Carlos, are both aligned against Maxwell, and Steven is actually a candidate for taking on zodiacal powers himself! He's a tiger. Carlos has no such affinity, but is an excellent side-kick. Jumanne, whose real name, it turns out, is Jasmine, also happens to be a dragon.

There are two free mini-books on BN & Amazon, each of which offers some details of the characters (six on each side), and offers about six chapters of the Zodiac novel as well. It's the same six chapters in each book, but one book details the good guys: Dragon (Jasmine), Goat, Pig, Rabbit, Rooster (Roxanne), Tiger (Steven), the other the bad guys: dog, horse (Josie), monkey, ox, rat, snake, plus Maxwell on the dragon). Maxwell wanted to absorb all the powers - something which is supposed to be impossible- and then dole them out to minions whom he could control. He claims he wants to make the world a better place, but Jasmine's crew doesn't believe him.

Once the initial confrontation is over and the zodiac device has been split, Jasmine, Carlos, and Steven take off across the world tracking down the young people who have somehow managed to pull down the various spare zodiac powers that Maxwell hadn't yet claimed for himself. Given that they're complaining they don't have large financial backing like Maxwell does, how they manage to commandeer passage on a container ship and then flights to Paris and other places, I have no idea!

'This is very much a middle grade story. It isn't aimed at adults. As such it wasn't that entertaining for me, but it wasn't bad, and I can see how young kids would find it engrossing, so I'm going to rate it positively. The art-work by Andie Tong, which served more as dividers between chapters than anything else, was very good, so all-in-all, not too bad of an effort, but not very demanding or engaging for more mature readers.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Shadow Now by David Liss

Title: The Shadow Now
Author: David Liss
Publisher: Dynamite
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Colton Worley.
Lettered by Rob Steen and Simon Bowland

The Shadow stories - which predate Batman by almost a decade - arose in the 1930s as pulp novels. The Shadow's 'real' name was actually Kent Allard. The name he's known most popularly by (Lamont Cranston) is an alias, but it seems to have become his actual name over time, and is the one used in this graphic novel, which is a reboot of the character, revitalized for modern times. The graphics are truly stunning and appropriately dark, and the story works well.

I became a fan of The Shadow from the eponymous movie released in 1994. It starred Alec Baldwin in the titular role, with the excellent John Lone as Shiwan Khan and the perfectly cast Penelope Ann Miller as Margo Lane (and let's not forget the contributions from Ian McKellen, Tim Curry, and Jonathan Winters). It really didn't do well at the box office, but I loved this movie. It's an excellent way to get a quick introduction to the early days of The Shadow if you're thinking about taking up this series - although the movie and this graphic novel are not connected.

Appropriately published by Dynamite(!), the new and fresh premise here is that because of his Far East training, The Shadow can prolong his life, and he left the US in the thirties for several decades, doing a bit of a Captain America by then returning in contemporary times and in this case, posing as his own grandson. This was fine, except that then we seem to have a veritable plethora of grandkids popping out of the woodwork, all with the original mission statement still intact in their DNA.

This is how we get a Margo (who was originally a Margot) Lane, now named Margo Forsythe, who is the granddaughter of the original Margo, but who nonetheless looks like her grandmother did at that age. Here's a bit of interesting trivia: Margo was initially played on the radio by Agnes Moorehead who played Samantha the witch's mom in the TV show Bewitched.

We also get the granddaughter of Shiwan Khan, The Shadow's original arch-nemesis, who himself is now an old man in jail. His teen granddaughter is brought in from her life of petty crime (taking advantage of her inherited ability to sway people's minds) to join the organization and become Shiwan's official heir, but this struck me as a little odd since it's actually Shiwan's plan to literally rejuvenate himself. This does allow for some serious and amusing conflict between the old guard/old man and the new, rebellious teen, however, which I really appreciated. it paralleled the exchanged between Margo and Lamont.

The Shadow discovers that things have changed dramatically during his sabbatical. 'Margo' is no longer a defenseless and retiring socialite he remembers. Margo 3.0 i a dedicated and deadly agent, and her amusing observations on The Shadow's anachronistic ineptitude are welcome. The Shadow's organization has continued to run in his absence, taken care of by his many trusted associates, but his methods are antiquated, and he initially finds himself out of his depth and frustrated with his team, which is beginning to fall apart at the seams. This lends confidence to his enemies, who believe they can finally vanquish him.

Of course, they're wrong! I recommend this novel.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Batman Strikes: Catwoman Gets Busted by Batman by Bill Matheny

Title: The Batman Strikes: Catwoman Gets Busted
Author: Bill Matheny
Publisher: Capstone
Rating: WORTHY!

Penciller: Christopher Jones
Inker: Terry Beatty
Colorist: Heroic Age
Letterer: Pat Brosseau

This is one in a series over-titled "The Batman Strikes - for higher pay" (I might have made up that last bit). This particular edition focuses on the Catwoman. I have a hard time taking some of these titles seriously - even in the movies. Batman Begins was a bit questionable - it begs the question "What?" - but I let that go by; then we got the ambiguous The Dark Knight on which I did a double-take, but again let it go. I could not do this with the third in the Christopher Nolan trilogy: The Dark Knight Rises to which I had to add "showers, shaves, and breakfasts; then heads off to the office....

This particular graphic novel has to be the most tongue-in-cheek comic ever written despite its being an evidently middle-grade effort. That cover image with that title? Seriously? It won my Inappropriate and Politically Incorrect Book Covers Department Award for September 2014 r4t (that last triplet was typed by my wife's pet rats who were running over my keyboard at the time! Funny how it actually spells rat, isn't it? I for one welcome the advent of our rat overlords. They are very distant cousins after all).

OK, about the first frame above: is Catwoman taking out the guy with a seriously epic looking yokogeri, or is she acrobatically mating with him? Either is possible. You will note the clean lines of the illustrations, which are admirably well done. They lean far more towards caricature than usual, but this is aimed at (I assume) a lower age range than the usual readership - in an attempt get the kids drawn in and addicted for when they reach the point where they want more mature writing.

Again, first frame - Catwoman sparkles better than any vampire - and in a really feminine place, too! But we knew that. The story here is that in Gotham (and yes, I am going to check out the new TV series of that name), there's a series of jewel thefts (when isn't there?). Both Batman and Catwoman are interested in them - but for different reasons. The Blue Novick diamond is curiously and variously shown as yellow, and clear, as well as blue. Diamonds can come in any color. Pink is the most rare.

Interesting juxtaposition in that third frame. Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enema action. Catwoman plans on interrupting the thieves and making off herself with the Novick (why "Blue"? There is, presumably, only one Novick!), but Batman, er, busts her.

I found this comic hilarious. My son and I found ourselves making up our own speech balloons which made it yet more hilarious. I'll be riffing off that on my Satire, Parody & Humo(u)r page, hopefully later today - after I fix the gosh-darned waste disposal. Of course, I may have no hands left after that so typing might be an issue.

In addition to the unintentional (or maybe not!) humor, it wasn't a bad story as far as it goes for the grade at which it's aimed, so I'm going to recommend this one. Hopefully the rest of the series is up to the same, er, standard!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

His Secret Superheroine by Patricia Eimer

Title: His Secret Superheroine
Author: Patricia Eimer
Publisher: Entangled
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Entangled Publishing. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.
I really appreciate the opportunity to review this novel, so thank you, Entangled!

p71 "You're kind are what-" should be "Your kind are what-"
p83 "...effect Liza." should be "...affect Liza"

p125 "Flittering..." should be "Flitting..."
p196 "...his bicep..." should be "his biceps..." It's not singular.
p200 "...letting Liza slid out of her seat..." should be "...letting Liza slide out of her seat..."

Patricia Eimer, you had me at "TARDIS". That's an automatic five stars as far as I'm concerned. Just kidding. I'd really love to do that, but I have to rate the book, not her Doctor Who references! Sorry! But I knew then that I'd feel wretched if I didn't like this novel. Fortunately for all concerned, I loved it.

I have to confess right up front that I'm not a fan of sappy romance novels, so it was with some trepidation that I asked to read this one. The problem is that I couldn't not request it once I saw this scenario. How cool a premise is it?! If handled right, a story like this has the potential to be really entertaining and amusing. And in the end I can't begin to tell you how pleasantly surprised and really thrilled I was with this story. Okay, I lied; I can tell you, so here goes!

This is St. Louis Superheroes #1, and the story is about Peyton Pearson née Hughes, a woman who develops super powers after her (now ex-)husband (also a superhero) tampered with her birth-control pills. So she fights crime in St. Louis. When she's evicted from her house (denounced as a super hero sympathizer) through the the machinations of the very powerful 'Safer America Party', Dylan Wilson, a neighbor who lives directly across the street, offers her his spare room to live in while she gets back on her feet.

This offer will help her, and it will also help him because she has a really good relationship with his young daughter Liza, and it will give him some ammunition in his fight against Liza's drunk mother Aria, who is a total jerk and who wants full custody (although I have to confess that I strongly suspected it might not look quite as good as that when presented in some lights as it does in others!).

The problem is that Peyton has the hots for Dylan, but he's a police officer who's dead-set against super heroes getting involved where he doesn't think they belong. Worse, St. Louis is a breeding ground for an anti-superhero movement of which Dylan is a member. She doesn't know that Dylan also has the hots for her, being cursed, as usual, with a poor self-image dumped on her (as it is on every woman) by the abusive fashion and cosmetics industries. No wonder she doesn't trust men!

The author writes remarkably well, with a good eye for dialog and some really amusing asides, so despite my reservations, I was quickly drawn into this story - which also has a really good plot. Finally - a romance story that makes sense! It's told in third person, too, so I was seriously on-board with that.

The chapters alternate somewhat in perspective, some being told from Dylan's viewpoint, others from Peyton's. And the author doesn't shy away from plain English description either. If you're offended by bare-bones references to human anatomy, this might not be for you! In short, this isn't your usual romance novel. Either that or I've read some disturbingly perverse ones in my time....

The characters are intelligent, varied, and interesting, and the story keeps moving. Even relatively minor characters such as Dylan's daughter Liza, his younger sister Laura, and Peyton's friend (and side-kick) Shea stood out as having real personality and presence. I adored the interactions between Peyton and Shea. I also loved the name of Peyton's cat, but despite intense pressure from the Safer America Party I am not going to out this poor cat in public....

If I have a complaint it's that there's too much emphasis on lustful glances and lascivious thoughts on the part of the two main protagonists, and not enough on other qualities which might attract them to each other - such as personality, sense of humor, decency, integrity, empathy, and so on. I would have liked to have seen far more of that, but I guess that's par for the course for a novel in this genre. Fortunately, even this aspect is significantly toned-down as the novel progresses and the tension heightens. So I began enjoying it as I would any decent novel (and to hell with the genre!).

Peyton is no wilting violet. She has a presence and a personality (and a temper!). She has real problems and real feelings about them, and she has no problem in standing-up for her principles, especially against her super hero ex, who is actually stalking her. And there's no sad little love triangle here either, thank goodness.

If I have another complaint it's about the use of the word 'superheroine'. I know reasonable people can disagree, and I am not female, believe it or not, so perhaps my opinion carries less weight in this matter, but it bothers me, in the arena of female equality, that we're still saddling women with the '-ine' and the '-ienne', and the '-ess' (and even the '-ix') suffixes.

Why superheroine, and not simply superhero? I would ask this same question in other areas, too. For example, why actress and not actor? Why comedienne? Does a woman deserve less than a man? Or is there a problem that 'actor' and 'comedian' have been traditionally male, and women don't want to be saddled with that?

If that's the case, then why do we not still have murderesses? We have female murderers, but no murderesses any more! That gender-specific term (along with some others) has already fallen into disuse, and I don't see any movement afoot to resurrect it. Can we not allow - and even encourage - other specifically-female descriptive forms to lapse likewise? It just bothers me that there has to be a separate name if you're female. Okay, maybe 'mistress' and 'dominatrix' might be hard to get rid of, I admit! But waiter seems to me to be significantly better than wait-person...!

On a small point of order - especially since this is a super hero novel, I have to take issue with one of Peyton's epithets: "For Spiderman's sake...." It's actually Spider-Man. For some reason, while DC tends to run the "man" right into the superhero name, Marvel tends to hyphenate; Ant-man, Giant-man, Psycho-Man, Spider-Man, Stilt-Man, X-Men. The exception to this 'rule' seems to be Iron Man for some reason. DC comics goes the opposite way, as in Superman and Batman, although Bat-Man is also used. I'm just saying!

I have to ask about "Klangon" on page 53, the start of chapter six. Is it supposed to be klaxon? Or is it a humorous play on clanging and klaxon? Either way it's funny. The humor is one thing which impressed me repeatedly. I don't know what it is, but the author is on my wavelength (or I on hers), and she just keeps coming out with turns of phrase that tickle my funny bone, such as when she says, on page 57, regarding Peyton's chest showing through her accidentally soaked T-shirt "...both the girls were completely visible." That just got me right in the mammary glands. Yes, I know that situations such as these, apparently requisite in romance novels, are sadly contrived, but there's a readable way to do it and a sickly saccharine way to do it, and Patricia Eimer evidently doesn't do sickly saccharine.

Inevitably in this kind of romance there's a fight, a misunderstanding, a cross-purposes situation. I felt that the one in this novel was weak. Dylan didn't have a leg to stand on so his arguments were forced and empty, but what are you going to do? It was a small price to pay for the quality of the rest of the novel. Overall, this was so well done that it really felt a lot less like a romance-genre novel than it did just a regular novel of some other genre.

So in the end, only one question remains: Patricia Eimer, when is the next novel in this series coming out, and can I be a beta reader?! I guess that's two questions. Okay, I'm going to go off quietly by myself and look for other novels by this same author....

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Watchmen by Alan Moore

Title: Watchmen
Author: Alan Moore
Publisher: DC Comics
Rating: WORTHY!
Illustrated by Dave Gibbons

The "Minutemen":
Captain Metropolis / Nelson Gardner
Dollar Bill / William Benjamin Brady
Hooded Justice / Rolf Müller(?)
Mothman / Byron Lewis
Nite Owl / Hollis Mason
Silk Spectre/ Sally Juspeczyk
The Silhouette / Ursula Zandt

The "Crimebusters":
Captain Metropolis / Nelson Gardner
The Comedian / Eddie Blake
Dr. Manhattan / Jon Osterman
Nite Owl II / Dan Dreiberg
Ozymandias / Adrian Veidt
Rorschach / Walter Kovacs
Silk Spectre 2 / Laurie Jupiter

Here's the closing item to the recent reviews of the Before Watchmen series which I've been reviewing lately. I decided I needed to close it out with the original, even though it's old news now and everyone who cares already knows all about it! I liked the graphic novel and I recommend it.

Watchmen is set in a parallel universe and in the eighties. It's pretty much like ours except that there are superheroes (only one of whom actually has real super powers - Doctor Manhattan), who have been rendered illegal by an act passed in 1977. The only two who are legally sanctioned are Manhattan and The Comedian, a sociopath who is nothing more than a government sanctioned hit man. A third, Rorschach, still operates, but illegally.

Rorschach, curiously, is also a sociopath who actually investigates crimes, and is good at what he does, but he's also very prudish and judgmental. He used to drop off his captures outside the police HQ for them to dispense justice, but at a certain point, he quit doing that and simply dispatches them himself.

The story begins in 1985, with (and centering around) his investigation into the death of Eddie Blake, who Rorschach discovers is really The Comedian, now retired, but still in good physical condition. Except that someone more powerful beat him up and tossed him to his death out of the window of his apartment block. Thinking that there's a plot to assassinate the super heroes, Rorschach begins visiting each in turn to warn them.

He first visits Nite Owl 2, who is himself in the habit of visiting the original Nite Owl, who has written an autobiography about his super hero exploits. He and Adrian Veidt are the only two super heroes to have 'come out' (unless you count Manhattan whose identity has always been known). After warning Dreiberg (who doesn't believe him), with whom Rorschach was once partnered back in the day, he visits Manhattan and Silk Spectre 2, who are living together in a government compound as Manhattan works on an energy project, working with Ozymandias, supposedly the world's smartest man.

It's Dreiberg who visits Ozymandias to pass on Rorschach's warning, but he doesn't take it seriously either. Several of these heroes attend Blake's funeral, where Rorschach looks on in his 'disguise' - that is, without his mask and toting a "the end is nigh" type of poster. Shortly after this, Manhattan is confronted by his old girlfriend on TV. She's peeved that he ditched her for Silk Spectre because she was growing older, and he wanted someone young. She accuses him of causing her cancer via his glowing body, which causes him to abandon earth for Mars.

His absence triggers some aggressive moves on the part of the Soviets. Meanwhile, an attempt is made on Ozymandias's life, seemingly confirming Rorschach's suspicions, and Rorschach himself is arrested for the murder of super-villain Moloch, who had previously revealed to Rorschach that he was visited by The Comedian, who had evidently made some shocking discovery which caused him to have a minor breakdown. He sat crying at the foot of Moloch's bed.

Silk Spectre, disillusioned and angry with Manhattan for his lack of human feeling for her, hooks up with Dreiberg, and they go out one night and beat up on some thugs who thought that the couple were an easy mark. This triggers nostalgia for their former costumed glory days, and they later don those costumes and go rescue some people from a burning house. After an encounter with Manhattan, the two of them bust Rorschach out from prison. meanwhile Silk Spectre is transported to Mars where she learns from Manhattan that The Comedian is her father. She despises the man because he once tried to rape her mother, the original Silk Spectre.

Dreiberg comes on board with Rorschach as they discover that Adrian Veidt is behind the murder of Blake. His motivation is to cause a war with fake aliens to get people to realize how fruitless their petty differences are, and thereby bring them together. Confronting him in his polar lair, they try to take him on, but he is stronger than the pair of them together. As he demonstrates the success of his plan, Manhattan realizes that they have no choice but to follow it now. He murders Rorschach in order to keep him from exposing what Veidt has done.

Dreiberg and Jupiter go into hiding together, but Rorschach has sent his journal, containing the details of his investigation, to a local right wing publication which will reveal all.

I liked the graphic novel, but I preferred the movie version of it. The two are much the same, but the movie tells a cleaner story, more compact, and more engrossing for me.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Project Superhero by E Paul Zehr

Title: Project Superhero
Author: E Paul Zehr
Publisher: Entertainment Culture Writing
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Kris Pearn

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

How can you not love a novel which has the good taste to mention Emma Peel, the fictional but powerful female character in the now rather antique British TV series The Avengers (which has nothing to do with the Marvel comic book characters). The movie taken from the TV show really did a disservice to Diana Rigg's outstanding character. I love Uma Thurman, especially in Kill Bill, but she failed to capture the quintessential Emma Peel, I'm sorry to say.

Reading this was an odd experience. I don't know what it was about the design but it took literally thirty seconds to move to the next page in Adobe Reader. At first I thought that this was because the pages were actually images rather than print (graphic novel ebooks tend to take a few seconds to turn the page, but not thirty!). It turned out that they're evidently not, since it's possible to do a text search. After I read this novel, I read a non-fiction ebook which was extensively populated with color images, and this book turned pages instantly, so clearly there's something seriously adrift with the design of this particular novel.

I solved the page-turning issue by getting into the habit of clicking for the next page as soon as the new page appeared. In that way, by the time (give or take a bit!) I'd finished reading the current page, it flipped to the next one with little or no delay, but it was really annoying. Chalk this one up to the 'print books are better' side of the comparison chart!

What was very irritating was that if the page flipped too early and I'd caught something in the last paragraph which attracted my attention, I couldn't simply flip the page back and check it out, then move on. It was an exercise in frustration, involving several minutes just to turn the page back and forth. So I skipped a lot of things I would have had no problem taking care of in a more user-friendly environment. Yes, it was really annoying, but fortunately the novel itself overcame this and really won me over.

The text is sparsely-printed on each page, so despite the 250-some pages, this novel is a very fast read. Apart from the wait for the page to turn, that is. Turning 250 pages at thirty seconds per turn is actually a straight two hours doing nothing but turn pages! Eek!

The novel also seemed fast in the way in which it was written - like the story was being told by a breathless and excited teen, which didn't thrill me, but which may appeal to the right age group. It's written in diary form, which also didn't charm me because it's such an artificial medium. No one actually writes a diary in the way a diary is written when it's written as a novel; however it wasn't bad overall, except that I did find myself wondering why, given that she was so up for being a journalist, the girl hadn't started keeping a journal long before this.

The diary's author is fourteen-year-old Jesse (which can also be a guy's name, so this seemed strange to me in a female-empowerment novel!), who is excited at school one day when her teacher announces that there will be a super hero project. Each student is to choose a super hero and discuss and debate their chosen subject in a series of presentations in the form of a knock-out competition, but with no literal knock-outs! This is why she starts the diary, in an effort to marshal her thoughts on her chosen subject, which is Batgirl.

Personally I think Spider-Woman could take Batgirl, but just in conjuring up those names, it occurs to me that one thing Jesse didn't explore in all her research was why it's Superman but Supergirl, why it's Batman, but Batgirl. What's with this diminution of women here? Male super heroes can be men, but female super heroes have to be girls?! I wish that Jesse had wondered why we've had so very many movies from comics which feature superhero men, but virtually none which feature superhero women.

Off topic here, but it occurs to me that DC's way out of their largely disastrous efforts to take their comics into the movies is to focus on their female heroes (which even Marvel, for all its success, has sadly failed to do) and start bringing those to the big screen; then I could get with Batgirl (begrudgingly)!

Since Jesse is a comic-book fan, she's thrilled about this school project, as is her best friend Audrey, also a comic book fan, and her other friend, Cade. The teacher wants to broaden their idea of a hero, too, so she invites a retired NYPD officer to talk about his experiences on 9/11. This part, I have to say, dragged a bit, and I don't really know why. Perhaps it was because a 14-year-old's excited voice is hardly the best one to deliver the gravity, tragedy, and import which that day represents.

From there, the novel enters refreshing and interesting territory. The young superhero researcher starts writing to various lesser-known, but no-less-accomplished celebrities (see list below) asking them about their superhero favorites and their experiences in their chosen activities. These are real people who really responded as though they had been asked these questions by a young girl. Kudos to all of them. There's also some life, health, and exercise advice imparted, too, which is a really sneaky way to do it, but one which hopefully will leave a lasting impression on young readers.

So here are the celebrities:
Mike Bruen NYPD (retired)
Kelly Sue DeConnick (writer Captain Marvel and Avengers Assemble)
Clara Hughes (Canadian Winter and Summer Olympic medalist)
Brian Miller (writer Batgirl and Smallville)
Christie Nicholson (contributing editor, Scientific American)

Yuriko Romer (film-maker Be strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful))
Nicole Stott (Engineer and US Astronaut)
Jessica Watson (sailed solo around the world at the age of 16)
Hayley Wickenheiser (ice-hockey player and Olympic gold medalist)

That's an impressive selection, although it does seem to be rather biased towards the physical and hardly at all towards the cerebral (per se), or to the engineering or scientific fields. I would have liked the idea of being a hero to include a broader base, but I do think this novel did a great job of bringing a lot of lesser known but worth-knowing people to the fore.

So, overall, this novel is a very worthy read despite some minor quibbles I had. I recommend it for girls and boys, women and men!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Super-Ego by Caio Oliveira

Title: Super-Ego
Author: Caio Oliveira
Publisher: Magnetic Press
Rating: Worthy!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

Created, written, and illustrated by Caio Oliveira
Coloring by Lucas Marangon
Cover by Glen Fabry
Design by Deron Bennett
Editing & Lettering by Langston Treehorn

Possible erratum:
On page 16, panel one, was a comment about Hernandez, who had been on trial and we're told: "…the court was complacent with him." which I think is wrong. I think the word they needed here was "lenient", but maybe I'm missing something.

This graphic novel is one I could hardly avoid given that its subject matter is a psychotherapist who treats super heroes. I mean, what’s not to like? It’s a pity we couldn't have use more well-known angst-ridden super heroes here, like Spider-Man and Batman, but (curse those copyright laws!), the writer had to create his own of course, which is fine.

So we have Lester, a young teen who is supposedly the most powerful being in the universe, which is a bit scary to say the least. I guess his better-known equivalent would be Super Boy, although Lester isn't really a boy. Then we have Javier Hernandez, the world's smartest and richest man who wants to be a super hero, too (he's the Tony Stark stand-in). There's also Le Chat Noir, an angry man if there ever was one ( I guess his equivalent would be Batman), who's advised that he really should get himself an appointment with Dr Eugene Goodman. The good doctor treats super heroes, and meets his patients wearing a complete head-mask that reflects the patient's image back at them. Shades of Rorschach! Wolf-Spider (the Spider-man equivalent?) hands Le Chat Noir a card directing him to seek out Dr Goodman if he feels he needs help.

Goodman spends his whole day patiently sitting and listening to the woes of heroes, and the heroes and the woes are hilarious. But this isn’t just a parody. Indeed, it’s not a parody at all, although sometimes it does taste like one. There's a hidden agenda here which isn't revealed until the last few pages, and it’s a good one.

Moving along, we find that in-between fighting invading aliens, Lester is in love, but he's also inexperienced, and he has some serious issues. He's almost thirty but looks and acts like someone half that age because of his slow maturation process. His motto is "with great power come great expectations" (sic), which I thought was hilarious. His dad is Richard Reeves, aka The Savior, and his mom is Daphne Williams, aka Venus. Venus was a Xena or a Red Sonia, or a Lady Sif kind of a character, whereas the savior was another Superman-style hero, and Lester, who looks like a skinny teen, and not at all like your typical super hero, is lonely and troubled. But Dr Goodman has a solution. There's a neat twist at the end which I had to think about for a second, but then I got it. Yeah, I'm slow like that, but it was worth the wait.

This graphic novel is highly recommended. It was beautifully illustrated and (for the most part) very well written. I loved the inventiveness and the tongue-in-cheek humor, and I recommend this graphic novel.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Silver Ninja by Wilmar Luna

Title: The Silver Ninja
Author: Wilmar Luna
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of my reviews so far, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley, and is available now.

I am not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration of any kind for this review. Since this is a new novel, I don't feel comfortable going into anywhere near as much detail over it as I have with the older books I've been reviewing! I cannot rob the author of his story, so this is shorter, but most probably still be more detailed than you'll typically find elsewhere!

I honestly wanted to give this one a great write-up, and help another writer along the way, but I can't. It started out well enough, and the writing is very competent in terms of spelling and grammar, but every time I would relax and start to feel that I was getting into the stride of the story, I was tripped up yet again by a poor story-telling, which uncomfortably reminded me, each time, that I was reading a story, so I was unable to get lost in it or go with the flow. One of the big "selling points" for me was the claim that this novel, rather than setting forth upon a sea of tropes and clichés, would instead make glorious summer by this son of Luna, but that didn't happen. All I have to say to that is: look at the cover! More on this anon.

This book starts out rather predictably, but it moves fast (and there's no prologue/introduction! Yeay!). The superhero is Cindy Ames, not yet a superhero but we know where this is going. Refreshingly, she's married. Disturbingly, she's patronized. She has a sister called Jadie (Jadie?) with whom she has a love-hate/sibling rivalry relationship. She's an Olympic gold medal winner (although quite rusty) and a martial artist (although quite rusty!), and she teaches gymnastics to teens. Her husband conveniently works in development of military weapons. He's called out of a high-powered meeting on that very topic to go to the hospital where Cindy, a stabbing victim, is laid up.

What happened? She was walking the last block to her home when she encountered a couple where the male half was abusing the female half. Cindy stepped in, and being martial arts trained, laid him on the ground rather easily. What she didn’t know was that this was a set-up: two other guys were in hiding, and one of them stabbed her before they all made off with her purse.

This didn’t ring even remotely true. Four people and this deceptive set-up when they could simply have threatened her with the knife or over-powered her with their superior numbers? They didn’t know she was trained in martial arts; she was just a victim to them. And what, exactly, are they going to do with their ill-gotten gains? A purse is hardly a rewarding robbery for four people who are well out of their teens! So, a really poor set-up, but it gives her a motive to become what we know she will become especially since, as she lies there too weak to move, not knowing if she's going to die, no phone to call for help, some teens come by smoking pot and hurry past her, not wanting to call the police for fear of being busted. So we get the message: victim, no help to be had. Fortunately, her sister Jadie shows up, since they’re having a gathering that night, and she takes care of her.

Now comes the patronizing. When her husband Jonas arrives at the hospital, Cindy's parents are already there. Given that Jonas left straight from his meeting and hurried there, how both sets of parents arrived before him is a complete mystery, but her father wails, "Why would they hurt my little girl?". That's truly pathetic, but it isn't as bad as what her own husband thinks when he goes into her room: "Why hadn't he been there to protect her?" Honestly? She could kick his ass, and this is the best he can offer her? For a novel that starts out with the stated purpose of studiously avoiding clichés and tropes, it sure descends into them quickly! Hopefully it will dig itself out of this slur, given its promising start.

It really bothers me that we treat people, especially women, this way. Every chance they’ve been given to get onto a level playing field (even on level playing fields!), women have stepped up, including during wartime, yet whenever we hear people - not just politicians - talking about war, they're all-too-often two-faced about it. When the US military is talked about, they're inevitably the toughest, the meanest, the hardest trained, the best equipped, the most successful, the dominant, but on the other hand these are our "children". Seriously? They're either tough enough or they're weak babies. Which is it? If you want to portray them as tough "hombres" don’t mess with us, then they can't be our poor, weak children in need of nurture and protection. We either trust them or we don't.

The same applies to this novel. Either Cindy is a kick-ass athlete and martial artist, or she's a poor weak woman who needs to be taken care of in a loving, non-threatening, nurturing setting. She can’t be both. When are we going to learn this lesson? When Jonas talks to her, he's going on about how she could have taken them if she hadn’t been bushwhacked, telling her "You’re still dangerous in my eyes", so where the hell did his previous "protect her" thought come from? He doesn’t even emote any anger towards her assailants! This "novel" seems more and more like a comic book the further I read, and not in a good way.

Hopefully Luna will take care of these issues as I read on, but the cover "art" certainly doesn't give me hope! Normally this is out of the author's hands, which is why I do my own, and publish my own, but Wilmar Luna is a fellow Create Space self-publisher which means that he had complete control over the whole process. So why, if he's supposedly shunning the road most traveled, is he countenancing cover art like this? Note that the print version of this is evidently illustrated, but I don't have that (perhaps it's just as well, given the cover!), so let's put that aside and focus on the writing.

So while Cindy is taken off for some testing (why this wasn't done immediately is a mystery; her wound apparently isn't even stitched, and she hasn’t talked to the police!), the military general from Jonas's earlier meeting calls him to reveal that his R&D budget is slashed because of the economy, and if Jonas can’t get his experimental stuff up and running in two weeks, he's going to be cut, too. So, pressure!

Later, Cindy's released and already has a new cell phone! What? That time of night, with her injury they stopped on the way home for no other reason than to buy her a cell phone? Unlikely! Or did she just imagine it? It's probably one of those phones with "small, little icons"...! And why is she going to work the very next day after being assaulted and stabbed? That night she has a nightmare about people breaking into the house. This is where we see this new cell phone - so does she have one or did she dream it? And if she dreamed it, why didn't she use it to call the cops when she thought people were breaking onto the house?! If she's well enough mentally to go to work and not at all scared to go outdoors, then why is she having traumatic nightmares? This is rather confusing stuff here, but I guess we can allow her a bit of confusion given what she's been through.

Well, my hope that things would work out was rapidly dashed! It all started with the phrase: "As she lie reclined"! At least Luna knows that biceps is the singular - but then he forgets it again on page 110! He doesn’t know how to use an apostrophe either, employing Jonas' instead of Jonas's. Page 74 is a completely blank page. I assume this is because the chapters start on a facing page in the print version, but his doesn't work in the ebook version, where every page is a facing page!

These are things which ought to be taken care of, but let's press on with the story. Cindy's husband is completely non-understanding of her condition. What a jerk! Then he asks her "Are you O.K.?" What a moron! Of course she's not okay! Why is she even married to this guy? He tells her he will always be there for her - after she's spent hours worried, trying to reach him on the phone and him not answering! I detest this guy.

Cindy performs an heroic almost ESP-induced rescue of two girls from a broken water pipe that crashes through the ceiling, and since classes are now canceled for the day, she visits her husband at Lucent labs. I wonder if Luna knows there is a real Lucent lab: Alcatel-Lucent, a giant telecommunications equipment corporation headquartered in Paris?

I wonder even more if this is where we’re finally going to have this tale take off...!

Jonas gives a demo of his new weapons technology. A silver liquid from a "beaker" somehow manages to move itself onto the floor and assume a fully-grown human shape. That would have to be some sized "beaker"! The humanoid-shaped armor is then pounded on by miniaturized(!) rail guns and suffers nary a scratch. Luna seems to have forgotten that bullets not only carry penetrative power which can pierce skin and slice up internal organs, but they also carry a huge amount of kinetic energy (especially if they are coming from a rail gun). I can see the armor preventing even powerful ammunition from penetrating - we already have armor which does that, but no armor can prevent damage from high-impact projectiles if it cannot deflect this kinetic energy, too. What this means is that internal organs can still be damaged by the blow which would be more powerful than a punch from a heavyweight boxing champion - and focused on a much smaller area. There appears to be no effort made to address this issue.

The armor walks to the wall and climbs it; then it disappears - using some sort of camouflage. Here's the deal: if remote controlled armor can do this, then why do we need to put humans inside it? This has apparently escaped everyone's attention! Putting humans inside such a powerful weapon would be like insisting we have a pilot ride atop the reaper remote-controlled drones! Absurd!

This magic silver armor even has super-human strength, being able to bend a steel girder! How it can do this is conveniently left unexplained. So now we’re out of the realm of sci-fi and into sci-fantasy. It’s even more fantastical when there is a glitch and the animated armor returns unexpectedly to a puddle of silver liquid on the floor, and after seeing this, everyone is so disgusted that they completely forget what’s so far been amazingly demonstrated, and all they all dismiss this as fantasy (well...!) and walk out in a huff! Excuse me?

If this were any other novel, I would at this point say "Check please! I'm outta here!" and quit reading because this has dropped my disbelief to the floor just as effectively as the silver ninja dropped from the ceiling, but since this is an independent Create Space effort, I feel a bit of a compulsion to give it my best shot (yeah, I'm biased, I admit it!) so in the hope of it turning a corner some time soon, I'll continue at least for a while, but I'm only about 25% in so far, so this might be a tough one to ride out! And unfortunately, it gets worse!

When Cindy arrives to meet her husband at his work place, the entire lab is abandoned, including security. Nothing is locked. Seriously? All that equipment and top secret research, and anyone can now just walk in off the street? The computers aren't even shut down. This is completely stupid. She eventually finds her way to the demo room and of course gets the silver ninja liquid on her, which attaches itself to her and starts trying to take over her body, stripping off her clothes in the process (of course - what was that about tropes?) and encasing her " a chocolate banana dipped in metal"?! Her boobs clang together like a pair of tin cans. So much for stealth mode. Maybe she can join them together with a piece of taut string and make phone calls?

Eventually she's completely covered, and this is how she becomes The Silver Ninja, but she's not even remotely freaked out by all that's happened! She carries on a perfectly ordinary and humorous conversation with a lab assistant called Michael who just stopped by to retrieve his cell phone. Not once do either of them even consider for a split second calling Cindy's husband. Worse than this, Michael insists that Cindy not even tell her husband that she's wearing an admirably-working model of the project for which he's ultimately responsible, and over which he just lost his job - and she agrees!

Luna is making this harder, with every paragraph, to keep reading, much less start really liking this novel. So. moving right along, Cindy eventually gets to go home. She accidentally breaks the door on her way into the house startling her husband who is, of course, home, having lost his job. That part (breaking the door) is funny, but what's not remotely funny is this relationship with her husband. They don't seem like a happily married loving couple at all; their interaction is off. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but it seems forced and artificial to me. Worse than this, on this particular occasion, is that despite being home pretty much all day, Jonas never called her once to offer her a ride home, even though he knew she wanted one, and even though he knew she would be coming home alone and was having a hard time with that. Michael never offered her a ride either for that matter. These guys are jerks.

That's understandable, but what’s inexplicable is where this day went! The water-pipe break happened first thing in the morning right after Cindy arrived at the gym. Immediately afterwards, she went to Jonas's (or maybe I should say Jonas'?!) workplace, but his meeting was miraculously over by then, and quite literally everyone had left before she got there! That's quite simply unbelievable. It’s not even logistically feasible. Worse, she was only there a couple of hours - definitely not literally all day, and afterwards she immediately went home, yet it’s twilight when she gets there? That's not feasible, either! Yeah, there's a sentence slipped in later about her train journey, but unless it was a humongously long train journey, it still makes zero sense.

Cindy next unprecedentedly intercepts a phone message out of the blue, in her brain(!), talking about some kidnappers having "your sister". Despite the fact that this comes randomly over the airwaves and not via any direct communication with her through the usual channels, she immediately leaps to the assumption that this refers to her own sister rather than someone else's and she instantly plans to take Jonas's half-million dollar Saleen S7 penis-substitute to make the journey to Jersey City. But she apparently takes the wrong vehicle because the one she takes has gull-wing doors, but the Saleen S7 actually has butterfly doors - which are not at all mistakable for a gull-wing design. And she does all of this without even once trying to call her sister to see if Jadie answers to, I don't know, maybe try to determine if she really has been kidnapped?!

She arrives at the metal-smelting plant in Jersey City where this sister is supposedly being held, and she immediately enters the fray, but falls into an open vat of molten zinc! Zinc has a melting point of over 400 degrees Celsius, which means it’s not survivable, not even if you're wearing a shiny metal suit. Even if your suit's melting point is higher than that of Zinc, that heat is still going to come on right through to you, and you will cook inside the suit, like a potato baking inside aluminum foil. And no, molten zinc isn't lava, which refers solely to molten rock and its cooled remains.

Okay, it seems like it was inevitable anyway, but page 139 was where I was brutally forced to inevitable conclusion that this is not a novel, it’s a drivel, and I can’t read any more of it without vomiting. Why? Well, we have super-woman on this mission to rescue a kidnapped sister - not hers, evidently, but someone’s. She busts into the plant and starts kicking ass, and then an anonymous voice asks her, over the PA, to work for him assassinating politicians who harm the environment. Cindy immediately agrees and goes home!

The anonymous voice has told her that he will contact her, but he has absolutely no idea whatsoever who she is and he has absolutely no means whatsoever by which to contact her. And let's not forget that The Silver Ninja has an epic fail on her hands here since she left without rescuing the kidnapped sister which was the whole purpose of her Mission! Instead, she's agreed to kill people for money without so much as a scintilla of compunction. Remember how this got started - she was a victim and no help was to be had? What happened to those high ideals? Why has she abandoned that for filthy lucre?! Maybe she changes her mind later - or maybe this is actually where the trope is dispensed with and she becomes a super villain, but after plowing through this stuff this far, I have no interest in finding out.

Maybe if you’re in your later preteens, or your early teens, this is the novel for you, even though it’s supposed, as far as I can tell, to be aimed at grown-ups. Maybe you'll enjoy the laugh, but I didn't. This is most definitely not the novel for me, not even close. I wish the author all the best, but I'm not interested in reading any more of this nor any sequels to it.