Showing posts with label Comic fantasy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Comic fantasy. Show all posts

Monday, January 28, 2019

Carnival in a Fix by Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre

Rating: WARTY!

This is the first Philip Reeve book I've read that I did not consider a worthy read. Note that its not aimed at me, but at a much younger audience, and for them it may well be good, but there were too many cliches and tropes here for my taste and even for a children's book I can't condone that kind of lazy writing.

Whether it would be discernible to its intended audience, I don't know, but it was blatantly obvious from he start what was going on here. Emily lives at an interplanetary unfair situated on a moon somewhere, and visited by aliens of all stripes (and dots and heliotrope!). On the day the story starts, she bids goodbye to her parental units - an odd couple - only to discover that a unfair inspector has arrived and is a nasty piece of work. She sets off to inform her guardians.

What's obvious is that this is no fun-fair inspector. He's an unfair inspector - some dude who is sabotaging the fair by use of little spiky spidery type critters while pretending to fail everything because of poor maintenance and so on. No one sees this, or even suspects it. This tells me that everyone at the fair, and in particular Emily, is really rather stupid. I do not appreciate stories about stupid people (unless the author is planning on taking it somewhere interesting) and especially not about stupid female characters.

My other problem with this was the aliens. Like far too many sci-fi stories, the aliens were caricatures. And yes, it's a kids book, but multiple eyes on stalks? If only sci-fi authors had paid attention during the evolution module in school they would come up with far more engaging aliens. Most of this is on McIntyre since she was the artist, but the author doubtlessly could have nixed these drawings had he wanted.

That wasn't the biggest problem though. That problem was Emily. She was purportedly alien (there's no word about where she came from or how she ended up there) but she looks exactly like a human - except for a tail tacked on to her. It would have been nice had Emily been shown as alien, so kids understand there are interesting stories to be told about people who are not like the reader.

So all told, I DNF'd this and cannot commend it as a worthy read.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Nathan Fairbairn

Rating: WORTHY!

Last volume! A worthy read. Scott finally confronts Gideon, who is much less of a mystery figure in the book than he is in the movie. Ramona has vanished and Scott is so stupid that he thinks she has gone to Gideon despite clear indications to the contrary. Unlike in the movie, she never does go off with Gideon and is entrapped by him only in her mind. Also unlike the movie, and I'm sorry for this, Knives Chau never does become a ninja maiden and fight against Gideon alongside Scott. I think the movie makers made a wise choice in that departure because that scene was awesome.

The character interactions were much warmer and more realistic (and still amusing) in this volume and in volume five, and it made for a deeper and better story. Again, Kim Pine was outstanding. Again Ramona wasn't quite and scintillating as she was in the movie. It felt like some things were not wrapped up here, but that didn't really spoil it. Anyway, after moping over Ramona for the first half of the book, Scott decides to confront Gideon at the opening of his new club and the inevitable battle begins. Scott is killed, but he has gained for himself another life during his previous episodes, and comes back to life, better than ever.

Ramona and Scott don't go off into the sunset at the end, but they do go off into the subspace world which works even better. I commend this as a worthy read.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Nathan Fairbairn

Rating: WORTHY!

This is the penultimate volume of the Scott Pilgrim hexalogy and after having not really liked the middle two so much, I'm happy to report that the trailing bookend pair were pretty good. They were a little bit different and had more soul to them, and they were more entertaining. The artwork as usual was as usual.

In volume five, he faces off against the Japanese twins, who keep sending robots to attack him. This is completely different from the movie, and is actually more entertaining. The movie was a bit repetitive itself in this regard because the battle with the twins was really nothing more than an amplified version of his battle with Todd Ingram, whereas in the book, it's necessarily more extended and more inventive.

Also, the intriguing Kim really starts coming into her own, not least of which is for noticing - and photographing - the fact that Ramona has a glow, which I was sorry to learn never actually was explained. Anyway, that aside, I commend volume five as a worthy read.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Nathan Fairbairn

Rating: WARTY!

On to volume four, which was just as much of a disappointment as volume three, and for the same reasons: one note story, nothing fresh on the table, repetition of the motifs from previous stories.

Thee was a mild improvement which came from this short section where Knives's dad comes after Scott with a sword and ends up killing off one of the exes which is left entirely out of the movie, but that was about it. Everything else was humdrum. Even Ramona! Even that section was a bit stereotyping in that her Asian father is portrayed as a sword-weilding vengeance seeker.

I was thinking about this Ramona issue, too, and I think one of my problems with this was that Ramona was portrayed so perfectly by Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the movie that the graphic novel version of her looks rather threadbare in comparison. She has her moments but she cannot hold any sort of decent candle to the movie Ramona.

Another problem I had with this was that it was more exploitative than previous volumes: a lot of female characters were drawn seemingly for purely carnal purposes than I recall from the earlier outings, including Knives, whom we're told is still seventeen. It's like on the one hand the author wants to represent her as an innocent child in need of protection, but on the other he has no problem depicting her in a bikini on a beach for no purpose other than to show her ass (which appears more than once in this volume).

So, I was not impressed with this one either, and I cannot commend it.

Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Nathan Fairbirn

Rating: WARTY!

Now it's my sad duty to report on two failures by Bryan Lee O'Malley. Volumes three and four of this series. Starting with volume three. This is one reason why I dislike series as a general rule because they are frequently so derivative and lazy and it's hard to be genuinely creative when all you;re really doing is telling the same old story over and over again which is all too often what series end up doing.

I came to this by way of the movie which I'd been in two minds about watching for some time, but I discussed it with myself and we came to an agreement: I wouldn't spoil the movie if I agreed to give it a fair shot. I watched the movie with my kids and it was hilarious, so then I decided to go to the source and read the graphic novels.

There are six and I didn't realize that the movie encompassed all of them. Given what had happened with the first volume, it quickly became evident that some serious departures from the books must have occurred over the remaining five volumes and sure enough, this was the case. I was hoping this meant more fun, but starting with volume two, the graphic novels and the movie parted ways increasingly while still telling the same overall story.

The problem was that while the movie told a cogent and succinct story, the graphic novels were all over the place and I could see why much of it had been cut out of the movie. I could also see that if you really liked the graphic novels, and then moved on to the movie, you might not like it so well, or vice-versa.

I positively reviewed the first two volumes. Volume one was like watching the movie - which had been taken almost frame for frame and word for word from the comic. Volume two departed somewhat but was still a worthy read. After that it has gone downhill, based on my experience of volumes three and four, I'm sorry to report. It would seem like there's not a lot new that can be added given that the author has locked Scott into fighting every one of Ramona's evil exes.

Volume three is entirely about Scott's run in with Ted Ingram, Envy's band-mate and boyfriend, aka The Vegan. There's also a lot of fluff tossed in which did not entertain me. The story continues with the flags added to characters, like telling us that Knives Chau is seventeen, or tallying up how much Scott won for beating an opponent, or what kind of an outfit he's wearing, or telling Ramona he loves her. These are things we already know and it was simply irritating to read those this time around. It wasn't inventive any more, and it brought nothing fresh to the table.

So the hot potato of volumes one and two was now a wrinkled, drying, sprouting and slightly smelly potato that cannot be improved, no even by frying, and overall I can't commend this as a worthy read. If you're addicted to the series or if you haven't seen the movie and want to find out how it play out, then go ahead by all means, but it left me disappointed.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Little Pierrot Amongst the Stars by Alberto Varanda

Rating: WARTY!

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

I reviewed Little Pierrot Get the Moon favorably back in August of 2017, but I cannot say the same for this volume. It's in the same format, comprised of sepia-toned sketches that are, in this case very disjointed, more-so than in the first volume. Many of them made no sense to me. Some of them seemed like a response to something which had gone before, but which wasn't included in the book! Nearly all of them were not interesting or amusing. The artwork was of the same high standard, but overall, this seemed like a completely different book compared with the first one I reviewed. Of course, it is a different book, but it's so different that it seemed totally unrelated to the first book.

I wish the author all the best, but I cannot recommend this volume.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Promethea by Alan Moore, JH Williams

Rating: WARTY!

This is a graphic novel I picked up from the library because it looked interesting. It's the fifth and final issue in the Apocalyptic series (this compendium collects individual issues 26 - 32), which I knew up front, so I have only myself to blame for this mistake! I have not read any of the other four and I'm actually pleased I missed them because this novel sucked majorly.

The story is about some powerful goddess coming back angrily and determined to destroy Earth, although she does a really poor job of it because she actually improves things, This part was interesting because she changed the flat, solid color 2D images into something a lot more realistic: 3D-looking subtly-shaded views of scenery and people, Some images were simply photographs which had been 'cartoonised'. None of that could make a really confused, boring, and meaningless story come to life though.

As one reviewer amusing put it, it looks like Moore finished up the last section on acid, but to me it seemed more like the artist was the one doing the drugs. The artwork was a mess of pastel psychedelia, and the text was in white and some other colors and impossible to read against the heliotrope background. I honestly didn't even try. I'd been ready to give up on this many pages before this last section, and it was the perfect excuse to simply drop it. Not literally, since it was a library book, but I truly did wish I could have dropped it right into the recycling. Cardboard coffee cup holders would have been a better use of these poor trees than this was. What a bloated, self-indulgent, self-absorbed exercise in masturbation it truly was! Don't miss it! Avoid it like the plague.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Little Pierrot Get the Moon by Alberto Varanda

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a billed as reminiscent of Calvin and Hobbes, and it is in some ways, but it is not as strong or as coherent as that. It's not even a story, but a series of very short sketches, which took some getting used to, yet once I did get used to it, it was a decent read.

Little Pierrot meets a talking snail on the way to school one day, and his life is never the same again. Everything that happens to him after that, every flight of fancy, every incident, the snail is there to wisecrack about it. Sometimes this is amusing, occasionally it's funny, other times it's annoying, but on balance I found it a pleasant read.

I think it would do well as a bathroom book or a waiting-room book, so that when you're detained there you can read a page or two without having to worry abut getting too deeply into the 'story' or about losing your place or losing the thread, since there isn't one!

Illustrated almost in sepia tones, but with some gentle color highlights here and there, the art work was interesting and agreeable. I recommend this.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Emily the Strange: Piece of Mind written by Rob Reger and Jessica Gruner, illustrated by Rob Reger and Buzz Parker

Rating: WORTHY!

After having fallen in love with Emily The Strange from a graphic novel I serendipitously happened upon at the worshipful local library, I discovered that there was a series of four novels on this same charming deviant, and I requested all four. This is the last of those.

Once again Emily is on a road trip. This seems to be her thing. She returns to the same town she visited in the 1790s, this time with all her cats, because she wishes to reclaim her inheritance: the power of Black Rock, which her arch nemesis is also seeking. Legend has it that this battle takes place every thirteenth generation, and Emily is not about to A. Lose and B. Let this power fall into the hands of her evil nemesis where it will stay for the next thirteen generations. With her golem, Raven at her side, and her four cats (Miles, Mystery, Neechee, and Sabbath) along for the trip, she heads out to do battle.

The problem is that Emily has no idea how to reclaim her inheritance, and neither does her arch nemesis. Worse than this, the town has changed rather a lot since she was last there (in 1790) so she has a hard time even figuring out where things are, particularly underground. Even worse, Her nemesis has a girl, Dottie, working for him and she can pull people's thoughts right out of their head just by touching them, leaving them at best, with holes in their memory, or at worst, with a mind almost as blank as Raven's is.

Emily steps up her game though, and of course she wins through as we knew she would. Another great story, the only bad part of which is that it was the last. I'm not a series fan generally speaking, but once in a while I'm lucky enough to happen upon one which breaks the mold in any sense of that word, and stands out above all others, and this is definitely one such series. "Are you there, black rock? It's Me, Emily" was one of many classic lines throughout the series that made this a joy to read.

Emily the Strange: Dark Times written by Rob Reger, illustrated by Rob Reger and Buzz Parker

Rating: WORTHY!

After having fallen in love with Emily The Strange from a graphic novel I serendipitously happened upon at the worshipful local library, I discovered that there was a series of four novels on this same charming deviant, and I requested all four.

In this, the third volume, which was the first I read in order, Emily perfects her Time Out Machine and is able to travel back to 1790 to investigate the demise of a distant relative, Lily, who apparently dies at the tender age of thirteen, at the hands of a 'Dark Girl'. Emily herself is a Dark Girl as was Lily, and so Emily is rather curious as to why one of them would kill one of her own, and wondering if she can somehow change history by preventing the death, and whether such a change would backfire and change Emily's own future so much that she would regret this intervention.

Once again she runs into her nemesis in the form of one of his ancestors, who are just as designing as he is in Emily's own time. She has to figure out why the supply of Black Rock (curiously the name of a location near my home town!) has dried up, and how it can be be set free again. Meanwhile the villain is holding Emily's ancestors prisoner to force them to confess the secret of the Black Rock so they can take it over. Apparently this fight for control of the substance takes place every thirteen generations - which happens to be Emily's favorite number.

And once again Emily is victorious. Those primitive 1790's locks cannot hold her in! Despite a few hair-raising scrapes which actually don't raise Emily's thick, dark locks, and despite at one point thinking she is trapped in the past, she wins through and all is well. A great story!

Emily the Strange: Stranger and Stranger written by Rob Reger and Jessica Gruner, illustrated by Rob Reger and Buzz Parker

Rating: WORTHY!

After having fallen in love with Emily The Strange from a graphic novel I serendipitously happened upon at the worshipful local library, I discovered that there was a series of four novels on this same charming deviant, and I requested all four, which was the maximum I could, given that I had one request pending already for something else. I wasn't sure what order the novels followed at first, so I ended-up reading this, the second book, first, before the first one was seconded.

In this book, Emily is bemoaning the need to move to yet another new town. The reason(s) for this move is or are obscure, but the cause is evidently tied to Emily's strange and often anti-social behavior eventually pissing-off the citizenry to the point where mobs and pitchforks might be called for. The first big clue to this is Emily's dire need to prank the whole town before she leaves. In her new home, Emily wastes no time in exploring everywhere, particular dumpsters and sewers, both of which figure large in her legend, and already considering a prank plan.

At one point early in the novel, Emily accidentally duplicates herself, and then discovers that her other self is actually the evil side of her, so it's really a riff on Jekyll and Hide, but is also hilarious as the two Emilys try to get along, and then slowly set about trying to sabotage each other. In the end, they have become mortal enemies, the only solution to which problem, seems to be Emily having to sew their bodies together, and then try to re-integrate their minds. In the end she succeeds, leaving only an empty husk of her alter ego, like a dried-up snakeskin, but the journey there is the real story.

The slow-burn of this perfectly titled adventure, filled with fear, suspicion, doubt, and paranoia, was magnificent to experience, and I highly recommend it.

Emily the Strange: The Lost Days written by Rob Reger and Jessica Gruner, illustrated by Rob Reger and Buzz Parker

Rating: WORTHY!

After having fallen in love with Emily The Strange from a graphic novel which I serendipitously happened upon at the worshipful local library, I discovered that there was a series of four novels on this same charming deviant, and I requested all four, which was the maximum I could, given that I had one request pending already for something else. I wasn't sure what order the novels followed at first, so I ended-up reading this, the first book out of those I requested, second, and the second one first.

This first one is about Emily giving herself amnesia because she has to go back to her ancestral town of Blackrock and fix a problem with her family arch-enemy, so it starts with her waking up on a park bench on this tiny town, and she has no idea who she is or how she got there. Always a great way to start a story if you can follow through, and this one certainly did. In some ways it was spoiled for me because I'd read the graphic novel first, which gave away secrets I would not have known had I read this without any introduction, but it was still a mystery and a great read, filled with fascinating characters and characteristically bizarre behaviors.

Emily is only thirteen, so her story is highly improbable, but it is funny. The scrapes she gets into and the thoughts and ideas she has running through her transom are deliciously warped. At some point prior to this story she had constructed what she refers to as a golem, but which is more like a Frankensteinian creature-cum-cyborg. Golems are Judaic mythical creatures, which are animated from clay figures. This character is flesh (with some electronics), and Emily put the finishing touch to her with the heart of a dying raven, so the golem is called Raven and can talk to birds. She's very strong and very pretty, but isn't very smart or communicative. She often answers with "Iono" which I found peculiarly endearing. She tends to take instructions very literally, so Emily has to be careful what she asks of Raven.

Not that she knows this, in this particular story, or that Raven is the one who drove her to the town in the first place prior to getting a job working as a barista at the podunk town's only café. For herself, Emily has to work out who she is and why she's there. In process of this, she encounters a host of locals, most of whom seem to spend inordinate amounts of time in the café when they're not working for the town's only real business - the junk mail factory. The totally corrupt police are a trip (Emily racks up $243 in fines without even trying, due to the local wacky bye-laws), as is the visiting circus of the weird, which seems to be spending an inordinate amount of time camped outside a town this small.

The map of the town which Emily conveniently draws for us in her diary (which is suspiciously missing pages) shows the junk mail factory issuing flames, but this never happens in the story (unless I missed it, I did read parts of it late at night!), so what that was all about, Iono. The story was awesome, fascinating, and lovable, as was Emily. There was an intriguing character named Molly who could almost be a clone of Emily's, but was not, and there were four cats which seemed much more intelligent than you'd normally expect. All in all, a great story which made me want only to read more about Emily.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Gotham Academy Vol 2 by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl, Mingjue Helen Chen, Msassyk

Rating: WARTY!

I had an advance review copy of volume one in this series and wasn't overly impressed with that, so why I went back a second time I don't know! Call it rum spring air, Hamish! LOL! This story was just boring. Maybe younger readers who liked volume one will find this entertaining, but to me it was just a mess - a mishmash of sub-stories (and sub-standard stories) pulling every which way and it was hard to follow. Random characters (Batman put in a very brief appearance, as does someone who might or might not be Robin, as well as some villains such as Manbat and Clayface), but the story was a mess and uninteresting to me. The artwork wasn't bad, but the writing was tedious and the whole thing unappealing overall. I'm definitely done with this series now!

Lumberjanes Vol 2 by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke Allen, Maarta Laiho

Rating: WARTY!

This is one of two graphic novels I picked up from the library, and neither was very engaging. I've wanted to read The Lumberjanes for a while, so I was pleased with the chance I got courtesy of the local library, but the novel turned out to be a real disappointment. It's volume two, and I missed volume one, so I may be lacking something from not having that read under my belt, but even if I had, I think I would have still found this a disappointment. Stevenson's and Ellis's writing wasn't awful, and the artwork by Allen and Laiho (colors) wasn't bad either, but the story itself was boring to me. It's just a bunch of weird girls at a summer camp in the woods. They're not lumberjacks. They routinely are invaded by fantastical or anachronistic creatures (in this one, for example, dinosaurs and giant fireflies). They beat them off, rinse, and repeat. it was tedious and I can't recommend this. Maybe younger kids might like it, but parents might not approve of the PG-13-rated version of swearing employed by the kids. I DNF'd it about one-half to two-thirds the way through.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Misadventures of Grumpy Cat and Pokey Vol 1 by various writers and artists

Rating: WORTHY!

This was one of those advance review copies Net Galley offers as a 'read now', evidently because it isn't getting much attention. Unfortunately most of those are not very good, which is why they get little attention, but once in a while you can find one that is a worthy read, and I struck lucky on this occasion, because out of four such graphic novels I requested, three turned out to be pretty darned good, and this was one of them.

Written and illustrated by an assortment of creative people, the stories were somewhat spotty, but in general they were well illustrated and some of the tales were well-written. Others were unexceptional but readable. A couple were too trite to live. Overall though, I came away with a good feeling about this, so I was happy. It was not such a good feeling that I felt a huge compulsion to hunt down other volumes in this series, but this one was worth a look - unless you hate cats!

I'm not really a cat person, although I've owned cats. I'm much more in favor of dogs, and there was a dog in this series, which amused the hell out of me. The two cats were the main characters however. These were brother and sister, evidently. I had got the impression somehow, during my reading, that they were both females, but it was a refreshing change to have a female as a main character in a graphic novel, and that was another point in the graphic novel's favor as far as I was concerned. These siblings were the dour, cantankerous Grumpy, and her youthful and effervescent side-kick Pokey, who really needs a medicinal dose of Thorazine added to her feed STAT!

Pokey is typically the one who comes up with some crazy idea, such as: the cats should be detectives, or they should be super heroes. Grumpy is never on-board with the idea unless she can see some clear and present benefit to herself, which she often does, which is how she ends up falling in line with Pokeys ridiculous schemes - or at least falling only as far as she has to to make out like gangbusters from it. Grumpy tens to be lazy, but she actually cooks up one scheme to garner treats for herself at Pokey's expense.

Although, as I indicated, some stories (particularly the one page "stories") didn't impress me, there was enough to like and that's all I require from a novel graphic or otherwise. I liked this one, and recommend it as a worthy read.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Rating: WARTY!

This novel was beyond awful; I'd even go so far as to say that it was something John Green would be proud of. Oh, wait, he was! I actually read this some time ago, but must have blanked it out until I got reminded recently that I never posted a review for this.

Cather and Rine are twins who don't even get their own name. If 'it' was a girl she would have been named Catherine, but 'it' was twin girls, so Mom, who is no longer on the scene, split the name. Listening to this on the audio book, I thought the sister's name was 'Ren' because of the way the reader pronounced it. It took a while to make sense of it. I see some reviewers have rendered her name as Wren, so maybe that's how it was in the print book. In the audio version, you can't tell. Cather, who likes to be called Cath, is the eponymous fangirl. She writes popular fan fiction about Simon Snow - who is a direct rip-off of Harry Potter, if Potter had been gay or bi, and had a relationship going with Malfoy (a topic which actually is the subject of fanfiction, believe it or not).

The problem is that Cath has the mentality and outlook of a middle-grader, and she is lost without A). her sister, and B). her fan fiction. Now they're going to college, without any warning whatsoever, Ren has chosen to put away childish things and embrace adulthood. For her this means staying not only in a different room at college, but also in a different dorm. Essentially, she ditches her own sister, leaving Cath lost and adrift. I'm tempted to call her a bitch, but in that, she's really no different from Cath. They're both the same underneath their respective veneer of civilization. They're like positive and negative terminals and both are equally lost in college. So Cath has only Simon Snow to cling to, and she's racing to finish her novel length fanfiction before the next installment of the actual Simon Snow series gets published. She has a lot of fans. Why, I don't know, because her writing is as stereotypically crappy as fan fiction is supposed to be and all-too-often-but-not-always, is.

After getting through about twenty percent of this, I had no interest in reading about either of these two loser twins. They were clichéd and boring as all-get-out. The person I wanted to read about was Cath's roommate, Reagan (who ought to have been president instead of the actual Reagan! LOL!), but I was denied that except in too-brief glimpses. Instead, what I got was Cath and her roommate's obnoxious boyfriend Zither (or whatever the hell this jerk-off's name was), who had no respect whatsoever for Cath, whom he played like a Zither.

As one prescient reviewer observed, Cath was thirteen for all practical purposes, and he was in his twenties, so this relationship was creepy at best. He constantly took advantage of her and invaded her space. He stole things from her. He occupied her bed like it was Wall Street. He was always there. He flatly refused to call her by the name she wanted to be known by: Cath. He forced his way into her room when she had told him "No!" more than once. She didn't want him around, but because he was raping her incrementally, he was allowed, by this author (who apparently thinks that no means you have to be more forceful) to have his way with her. Instead of being dependent upon her sister, Cath became dependent upon him. How that was supposed to represent an improvement in her condition, I don't know. But at least someone now owned her, so I guess this author thought that was fine.

There were huge screeds of Simon Snow fanfic in this volume, all of which I skipped when I realized how godawful it truly was. The novel would be about fifty percent smaller without it. I'm guessing the author was hoping for a comic book series based on Simon Snow. It's not going to happen. At least not through any writer who has any self-respect. The main character was thoroughly unlikeable, as was her twin. Cath was a spineless uninteresting juvenile who had no redeeming qualities. Her self-appointed overlord was even worse. The novel was out-and-out awful, and I refuse to even consider recommending it.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Zatanna the Mistress of Magic by Paul Dini

Rating: WORTHY!

Colors by John Kalisz and Lovern Kindzierski

July Smack-Down Day Four brings us Heart Seed Snow Circuit going up against Zatanna The Mistress of Magic and I can tell you now that these are both winners, so I think I'll end this smack-down routine on that note!!

Zatanna is the daughter of a magician who continues in her father's footsteps, but her magic is real. As such, she hides in plain sight pretending to be a magician and illusionist for a paying public while she fights super villains in her spare time. There are two distinct stories here, each about fifty percent of the entire novel. As the first one opens, a detective picks her up to get her take on a slaughter which was perpetrated in a nearby restaurant, where half-a-dozen criminal kingpins were ceremoniously dispatched.

Zatanna realizes that this was the work of a super villain who appears to be muscling in on the human world of crime. She pays him a visit. He decides he's going to need some help and recruits an impish villain from another realm. Thus the battle lines are drawn up. Eldon Peck, mass murderer, aka Brother Night, seeks to own all crime in San Francisco. Why I don't know. What it will get him that he doesn't already have, I don't know! But he has to take down Zatanna to achieve his goal and in this, he fails of course. Even employing this little imp named Fuseli in service of this aim backfires on him.

I liked Zatanna. She's cool and confident, competent and self-possessed. She's no one's fool and no one's lackey. She doesn't play the lady in distress or pine for male company. She is objectified up the Wahoo (and elsewhere), but that's par for the course for this kind of graphic novel, unfortunately.

The hilarious thing about this (if anything about objectifying women can ever be found hilarious), is that the detective, who sports the absurd name of Dale Colton, actually speaks this line to a colleague: "You need to form more realistic images of women! Honestly? In a graphic novel where women are routinely pneumatically inflated, a character says that? Where's Ironyman when you need him? Never mind, this is a DC comic. He's not available.

I thought the idea of criminals showing up to a venue wherein might lie a trap or an ambush for them, based on nothing more than an invitation from someone they don't even know, was stretching credibility too far, but then the super hero does magic, so everything is a stretch here! And about that magic? Zatanna's spells are all spoken in plain English, but the words (not the sentences) are spoken backwards! Cute.

The second story is set in Las Vegas (pronounced Loss Vegas) and we meet Zatanna fighting a Frank Sinatra look-alike while flying around on cards which behave as magic carpets. She beats her foe and discovers her wayward cousin Zach is not only in town, he's holding a party in her room. Having got rid of those noise-makers, she's about to retire for the night only to discover that three fire demons are interested in taking her on. It never flames but it roars....

Heart Seed Snow Circuit by Lucy Knisley

Rating: WORTHY!

July Smack-Down Day Four brings us Heart Seed Snow Circuit by independent Lucy Knisley (Nize-lee) going up against DC Comics' Zatanna The Mistress of Magic and I can tell you now that these are both winners, so I think I'll end this smack-down routine on that note and try something different tomorrow.

Heart Seed Snow Circuit is an oddity of a comic, which looks like it was self-produced, but which is nonetheless a good professional effort. It just goes to show that you don’t need Big Publishing&Trade; to get where you want to go. This was done when the author/illustrator was between colleges, and offers a look at a day in the life of a young female protagonist who looks, frankly, a lot like the author, who BTW has several other comics out.

On a trip to the local farmer’s market, she is accosted by an apple who appears to be heavily inspired by the Internet’s annoying orange. After threatening her that it has cyanide in its pips, the apple starts haranguing her about her life, and then demands that she eat it. That bites! Shades of Eve anyone?

As she continues on her way home, she espies a sorry-looking snowman which she decides needs a facial, but as soon as she gives it some eyes, it begins hitting on her in a PG-13, but nonetheless objectifying manner, and starts to follow her home. More than anything it says, she appears more concerned about the location of its carrot nose which, although it’s never illustrated, appears to be way out of place. Fortunately the snowman loses what little integrity it had before she gets to her house. Her weird day isn’t over though.

At home, after a thoroughly non-productive few hours spent trying to get something creative down on paper, her fridge takes up the cudgel, but at least it offers her a pudding, which is all she really wanted anyway. I liked this comic. It was completely off the wall and you have to wonder how a person would even begin to get an idea like this, much less bring it to such a sweet fruition.

I can’t speak to the symbolism here because it’s the author’s, not mine, but it did occur to me that the apple is very symbolic of course, of a mythological fall from grace, even though in the myth, the fruit isn’t actually specified and more likely would have been a fig than an apple anyway. The refrigerator is highly suggestive of the insane pressure put on women to diet, diet, diet, and one more time, diet.

I have no idea what the heck snowman was supposed to represent unless it was the absurd myth that if a woman doesn’t immediately want to jump into bed with any given guy, she’s obviously frigid. Nonetheless, I liked this. It was perky, fun, weird, and short so that none of the weirdness out-stayed its welcome. I recommend this and look forward to reading more by this author/artist.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

Title: Shades of Grey
Author: Jasper Fforde
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: WORTHY!

I've also reviewed Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair and One of Our Thursdays is Missing

This is about a place called Chromatacia, a society which is left after the collapse of our own, evidently. There is a class system in place defined and controlled a person's ability to perceive colour! Most people can see only one hue, some, two. Those who cannot see colour are referred to as 'Greys', and they occupy the lowest perch in the tree. Color plays a larger part than this, however. People's names and the names of locations also derive from names of various colors, and some colors have beneficial or deleterious health effects; Lincoln Green is a powerful illegal drug, for example. People in the lower ranks are treated in some regards as servants of those who are higher.

I saw this novel on the library shelf, and smirked because of the title. I will never read 50 Shades of Gray or any of its derivatives, but this title made me want to at least read the blurb, wondering how this poor guy Jasper Fforde is coping with a novel which came out the year after his did, and has a title so similar to his. Is his novel garnering greater interest because of that or has it been lost in the shuffle? Once I'd read the blurb, however, I just could not put it back on the shelf, so here we are! If you like Douglas Adams, you will more than likely enjoy this.

Wikipedia has an article on the EM spectrum. The visible light spectrum is a tiny, tiny fraction of this. How we see light is a fascinating story in itself, and the development of receptors in the eyes of various organisms is an entrancing example of the modern synthesis of Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

The story is narrated by Eddie Russett from his unfortunate position head down inside a carnivorous tree, the Yateveo, but at least it's not a carnivorous swan..... From his unenviable position, he relates events of the last four days when he travels with his father, a swatchman (a color doctor) on their way to a distant town called East Carmine - a journey upon which Eddie befriends an aging Yellow fellow. Eddie has better than average red perception, and has a good chance of an upwardly mobile marriage to Constance Oxblood, but on a visit to a town nearby while waiting for the train for East Carmine, and visiting the sights (the Badly Drawn Map, the Last Rabbit, etc - you know, the usual!), Eddie and his father come across an injured Purple (who is really a Grey masquerading as a Purple), and save his life. Indirectly because of this, Eddie meets a Grey girl named Jane who apparently has no problem treating Eddie (who with his slight color perception merits a much higher class rating than she) with no respect whatsoever. He's quite captivated by her, but has to catch his train and so is prevented from pursuing her.

But would you believe it, when he arrives at East Carmine - a lowlife of a town - the Grey maid who's assigned to work one hour per day at his house is: Jane! (Jane Grey, get it?!) Her attitude towards him hasn't improved. She pretty much threatens to break his jaw no matter what he says to her, but when he fails to turn her in, she does at least warn him not to eat the scones she just prepared - not that we find out what the heck happened to those who ate the scones. This town is even more quirky than the story has been so far. On a guided tour of the town by a lowlife Red called Tommo, who is highly entertaining, Eddie meets the town's top banana - a Yellow who isn't quite at the pinnacle, but will be once his mother is out of the picture. He tries to lure Eddie into 'bending a few rules' for him.

Eddie's father takes over as the town's swatch-meister, treating the sick. The two of them venture into the ghost city of Rusty Hill, where the mildew struck down everyone. Eddie has a list of items to recover, including a Caravaggio painting which makes him somewhat of a hero, although his heroism is somewhat undermined by the fact that Jane lured him into a Yateveo tree trap. How did this happen? He saw her in Rusty Hill - who knows how she got there? and then simpleton that he is, she lured him into the trap with the dishonest promise to tell him the truth. Oh, and he also saw a Pooka - a ghost, which seemed to be able to see him and tried to tell him something but disappeared right when she opened her mouth.

So are Eddie and all the people he knows actually ghosts - and that's why they can't see colors so well? Are they not the survivors of the Something That Happened but the victims? Is the mildew merely their passing on to the after life? Who knows! Eddie gets an offer of 100 merits to visit the newly opened derelict town of High Saffron - where 85 people have disappeared never to be seen again. They desperately need to mine the color from there. Will he go? Let's read on! Oh, in passing, let it be noted that on p111 Fforde doesn’t seem to grasp the difference between ancestor and descendant. Just saying!

Eddie continues to try to befriend Jane and she continues to sarcastically and aggressively rebuff him, although she's becoming progressively less aggressive. She challenges his ingrained dogma at every turn. His friend Tommo (his village guide) is trying to get him to marry his sister while the girl who Tommo himself likes, Lucy Ochre, appears to be a green addict. She, in turn, is convinced that there's a harmony in the Earth in E flat. Since Earth isn't flat, she's likely to be wrong! Lol! But seriously, she's smarter than she lets on. She friends Eddie, and she wants to pay him for her to practice her kissing skills on him, but she doesn’t explain why. He seems to be friending quite a few people, including the adorable Daisy Crimson, and also the Green who lost an eyebrow when he made the deadly mistake of coming-on to Jane.

Eddie makes a bit of a fool of himself trying to chase after Travis Canary - the yellow he befriended on the train - who walks off into the darkness one night to be taken by the night terrors! Although there is a certain amount of heroism involved in his action, too, so this brings him kudos. There seems to be an irrational fear of the dark amongst the citizens, not just in this village, but everywhere. Indeed, the only one who seems to have gone out into the dark and returned whole is Jane Grey.

One morning Eddie goes off with his dad to visit a nearby village of Rusty Hill. They travel along the perpetulite road - a self-repairing, self-cleaning material - in an old Ford Model T. Perpetulite seems not to recognize bronze. This might be important! The village they're visiting was wiped out by the Mildew. Eddie has a shopping list of things people have asked him to bring back for them, including spoons and sugar tongues. Yes, spoons! Even though spoons are banned as eating tools, everyone tries to own at least one during their lifetime, and if it has a post-code engraved on the handle, it’s almost invaluable.

Eddie gets a bit depressed walking among the bones of those who died. He's also startled by encountering a Pooka - a spirit like representation of a human which still appears before him when he closes his eyes. Just as the woman opens her mouth to speak, she disappears. He's even more startled by running into Jane there! This is not only because she's there, but because he has no explanation whatsoever for how she traveled there so quickly in the first place without the use of a motor vehicle. Later, Jane enigmatically explains that she knows how to use the perpetulite road.

She lures Eddie into an embarrassing trap under the carnivorous Yateveo tree, from which he is extricated by his father. Later, he learns that East Carmine has opened up the defunct seaside town of High Saffron for exploration and excavation. There is a 100 merit bonus for those who go, but no one wants to. The 85 people who have previously gone there have never returned; however, the color shortage is becoming so severe that they're willing to go to even to these extremes to mine color.

Eddie eventually speaks to the Apocryphal Man, who evidently thought no one could see him. He didn’t realize that everyone was simply ignoring him. He's a historian and he agrees to answer questions for Eddie in return for loganberry jam.

Eddie has been striking up a relationship with the Colourman whom they met at Rusty hill. He's rather a legendary figure for no other reason than that he works for National Colour. He's ostensibly in the area to conduct the Ishihara test which will determine Eddie's (and others) futures, and checking on the colour supply pipes, but as he grows closer to Eddie, he reveals on the down-low that he's actually trying to track down saboteurs, one of whom is Jane. Eddie knows this, but Matthew, the Colourman, does not. Eddie keeps his secret while trying to figure out if he should tell one or the other about the other, but in the end seems to decide to do nothing. He enters into a somewhat under-the-table relationship with Matthew, and in return gets a shot at joining National Colour, which is the ultimate dream job.

During a weekly meeting of the Colourgentsia, some interesting speculations and revelations come out of the Apocryphal Man (who has now, since he knows he can be seen, has taken to applying personal hygiene and clothes to his body) via an old granny who doesn’t seem to care that she's relating what he says. I was laughing out loud at this part of the novel. The Apocryphal Man lives on the upper floor of the house which Eddie and his dad are occupying, but he seems unaware that there is also someone else living up there with him! Eddie encounters this other person using the bathroom, but the other person secretes themselves behind the shower curtains so Eddie can’t actually see who it is. Neither does this person speak - communicating only through rapping one tap for 'yes', two for 'no'!

On border patrol (the village has signed up Eddie for everything they can get out of him: he's almost become an institution there after only a few days, and he's now teaching in the local school!) Eddie is shown the original Fallen Man (as opposed to the bar of the same name). The Fallen Man quite literally fell out of the sky. There's very little left, but it looks like he was some sort of jet pilot who ejected and landed exactly where he still lies. The village people have surrounded his chair with a cement wall and put guinea pigs inside it to keep the grass trimmed short. Eddie also finds Travis, the guy who walked out into the night. It looks like he was struck by ball lightning, his patrol partner assures Eddie, but when Eddie examines the remains of his head more closely, he finds a metal object the size of a chess piece - some sort of exploding bullet? Who knows! It's a mystery how many mysteries there are in this novel!

Unfortunately, Eddie can't keep the murder information to himself. Courtland, the second top banana or his mom are the guilty party and Courtland reacts immediately by trying to shoot Eddie with the copper spike used to defuse ball lightning. Having failed with that, he and his mum try to bustle Eddie out of the city, but he changes his mind and ends up going to High Saffron after spending the night with Violet deMauve, his new Fiancé who claims she;s pregnant by him because Eddie's own father showed her an ovulating patch guaranteed to make her ovulate and get pregnant. In the end, though, he doesn't go alone.

Violet, Tommo, and Courtland set off with him. When Violet is injured and returns to the waiting car, Tommo and Courtland lock Eddie in a room, but fortunately for him, Jane was sneakily following them, and she rescues him. Tommo is so badly injured in the fight which ensues that he returns to the vehicle where Violet awaits. The remaining three, Eddie, Courtland and Jane continue. They reach High Saffron, but Jane saves Eddie from the mildew which waits every visitor by revealing one of her many secrets. Mildew isn't caused by a fungus but by exposure to a certain color. And Jane can see in the dark. This is why no one returned from High Saffron because the plaza at the entrance to the city is that color. Courtland dies from the rot, and Eddie and Jane return - after Jane has first stuffed him under the Yateveo tree and then rescued him from it to give their cover story for Courtland's death some verisimilitude.

They pledge their selves to each other, but they never do get to marry - why? You'll have to read the ending for yourself. And it's a doozy.

I thoroughly, highly, and heartily recommend this novel.