"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened
and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you
and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse,
and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."
Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Nimona

Harper Teen
Nimona
Noelle Stevenson
2015

The Summary
"Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy.   Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta.

"As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc.  Their mission:  prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren't the heroes everyone thinks they are.

"Explosions will be involved.  Science and sharks will be, too.

"But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona's powers are as murky and mysterious as her past.  And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

"Nemeses!  Dragons!  Science!  Symbolism!

"All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from Noelle Stevenson, based on her award-winning web comic."

The Good
I actually finished reading Nimona several months ago when it was still available online, completing the series on Noelle Stevenson's website, Gingerhaze; however, I couldn't wait to get a copy of Nimona in print.  Sure, I've already read it (as my previous review shows), but how could I not read it again?

Truth be told, I couldn't.

I absolutely loved Nimona, so I simply couldn't resist buying my own copy.  And I'm so glad I did, because I've enjoyed it so much.

Nimona, like Stevenson's Lumberjanes, is a quirky adventure story that's full of lovable characters and a story that's simply spectacular.  It combines familiar tropes from fantasy and science fiction, mixing together dark magic, knights, mages, jousts and dragons with incredible technology (think touch screens, holographs, and other fantastical forms of science).  It's a strange amalgamation of ancient, modern, and futuristic technologies that works well together.

Although the art style is a little quirky, I loved the gradual progression of Stevenson's art as Nimona came into its own.  I liked how Nimona changed over the course of the story, how her appearance changed to reflect her emotions, her thoughts and feelings.  She's a dynamic character with a lot of attitude and an almost caustic sense of humor; she has a mysterious past, but she has a heart of gold and a sense of loyalty to her friends, like Ballister.

I grew to love her.

And I loved seeing her interact with Ballister.  Ambrosius and Ballister have a complicated relationship to say the least, but Ballister and Nimona's relationship seemed uncomplicated and carefree.  Not quite carefree, considering Nimona's past comes back to haunt her, but close enough that I could enjoy their banter back and forth, their father-daughter relationship as they worried about one another, sticking together through thick and thin.

Overall, I loved it.  I mean, what else can I say?  I loved the characters, I loved the story, I loved the strange combination of past and present, fantasy and science fiction that created such a unique and wonderful graphic novel.  I highly recommend it, especially to readers who have enjoyed Lumberjanes, Squirrel Girl, or Rat Queens.

The Bad
When you're reading Nimona, you can see a discernible shift in the creator's art style.  Starting out, the sketches are a little rough--as with most comics or, heck, books at the very beginning--and gradually grow into their own as the artist settles into a groove and characters blossom into the people we've come to love.

So, yes, it's a little difficult to go back to the very beginning and see how it once looked, to see unfamiliar people from the characters you've come to know, but, really, that's just the way any story will progress.  Once you dive into Nimona, it's easy to fall in love.  If you try to go back, it might seem a little strange at first, but, don't worry, it'll all get better as you go along.

The Ugly
Revenge.  Doom, destruction, and death.

Nimona encounters some very deep subjects and confront some very intense themes as the story progresses.  It has a deceptively simple art style, but, truthfully, Nimona is a complex and incredibly thoughtful book.

It deals with right and wrong, and how politics can sometimes get in the way of morality; it deals with interpersonal relationships, both platonic and romantic; it deals with personal trauma, growth, and what it really means to be good or evil--and what you're willing to do to save the people you love.  Sometimes, it even reflects the current political arguments framed on national news networks.  It doesn't shy away from the hard topics.

And it may just break your heart.  (It did mine.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Lumberjanes: Friendship to the Max (Volume 2)

24886016
Boom! Box
Lumberjanes:  Friendship to the Max (Volume 2)
Noelle Stevenson
Grace Ellis
Shannon Watters
Brooke A. Allen
2015

The Summary
"What a mystery!

"Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are not your average campers and Miss Quinzella Tiskwin Penniquiqui Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types is not your average summer camp.  Between the river monsters, magic, and the art of friendship bracelets, this summer is only just beginning.  Join the Lumberjanes as they take on raptors and a sibling rivalry that only myths are made of."

The Good
Lumberjanes:  Friendship to the Max had all the qualities I liked in the very first volume:  great character and relationship development, strong and sassy female leads, wonderful stories full of random adventures and absurd situations.  (This is the same volume involving dinosaurs, so, yes, it does border on wildly absurd, especially when a few familiar characters form Greek myth get a little more involved.  But I loved it.)

In this volume, the Lumberjanes friendship is put to the test by raptors, a shapeshifting bear, a weird magical crystal, and a pair of errant gods.  Even Jen, the Roanoke camp counselor, is pulled into the fray--and it's a wild ride, to be sure.  It's a weird, wacky adventure that let's you see the different facets of their personalities and different aspects of their friendships.

For instance, you get to see Molly's ingenuity with anagrams; Jen's incredible talent for astronomy and science; Ripley's raptor-riding rodeo skills; and April's unexpected arm-wrestling skills.  More than their individual skills, you actually get to see their relationships grow and you come to understand how they became friends.  You get to see them interact, to argue and fight, but, most of all, you get to see them building lasting friendships.

It's wonderfully heart-warming to see brilliant young women figuring out puzzles and traps and dangers on their own, and it's lovely to see them helping one another.  They want to have adventures, but not at the expense of their friendship.  And it's their confidence in themselves and each other--their willingness to build each other up--that's wonderfully refreshing to see.

Overall, I really enjoyed the second volume of Lumberjanes.  It's exciting, it's fun, and it's surprisingly uplifting.

The Bad
Sure, it does get a little fragmented.  There's so many different adventures going on at once, so many different creatures hiding in the forest that it sometimes leaves you with more questions than answers.  But, for the most part, it's a great graphic novel with a lot of wonderful characters and stories.

The Ugly
Raptors.

I'll be honest, I've never been a big fan of dinosaurs.  I think I was scarred as a child by watching Jurassic Park too young, so I don't think I've ever liked the idea of dinosaurs in the modern world.  Granted, I got to see Ripley ride a raptor like a rodeo cowboy, but, otherwise, I was a bit ambivalent toward the raptors as a whole.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Bonus: Louisiana Longshot

Jana DeLeon
Louisiana Longshot
Jana DeLeon
2012

The Summary
"It was a hell of a long shot...

"CIA assassin Fortune Redding is about to undertake her most difficult mission ever--in Sinful, Louisiana.  With a leak at the CIA and a price placed on her head by one of the world's largest arms dealers, Fortune has to go off-grid, but she never expected to be this far out of her element.  Posing as a former beauty queen turned librarian in a small bayou town seems worse than death to Fortune, but she's determined to fly below the radar until her boss finds the leak and puts the arms dealer out of play.  Unfortunately, she hasn't even unpacked a suitcase before her newly inherited dog digs up a human bone in her backyard.

"Thrust into the middle of a bayou murder mystery, Fortune teams up with a couple of seemingly sweet old ladies whose looks completely belie their hold on the little town.  To top things off, the handsome local deputy is asking her too many questions.  If she's not careful, this investigation might blow her cover and get her killed.  Armed with her considerable skills and a group of elderly ladies the locals dub The Geritol Mafia, Fortune has no choice but to solve the murder before it's too late."

The Good
I enjoyed reading Louisiana Longshot.  Simultaneously fun and patently absurd, it's a quick and easy novel to read over a weekend--or, heck, even over a lazy afternoon.  It's full of adventure, action, and humor, and it's incredibly fast-paced so you're dragged into one wacky adventure after another.

Yes, I was often shaking my head at their crazy antics, but I can't say I didn't enjoy the ride.

Moreover, Fortune Redding is a fun, quirky narrator with a sarcastic streak and a enjoyable sense of humor.  She's one tough cookie and, honestly, she's pretty incredible.  She's a CIA assassin on the run from one of the world's most powerful and dangerous arms dealers, and she's a highly skilled operative with years of experience.  I found her rampant hostility and deadly skills incredibly charming, for some reason.

However, Fortune is not entirely acclimated to an average American life.  Things like dating, forging friendships, cooking, cleaning, and acting as a normal person are rather difficult for her.  Ask her to disassemble, clean, and reassemble a handgun while wearing a blindfold, and she could probably do it.  But ask her to name the most popular people on American Idol, and she'd be hard pressed to answer.

I've found I don't really mind.  I can't say I ever liked American Idol very much.

One of the things I liked best about Louisiana Longshot is the relationship between Gertie and Ida Belle.  Known as The Geritol Mafia, they are members of the Sinful Ladies' Society--i.e. a secret group of spinsters and widows who basically run the town--and they're a duo of incredibly capable if a little unusual ladies.  And their interactions are hilarious.

Lousiana Longshot--and the whole Miss Fortune Mystery series--is a fun, fast-paced adventure with quirky, but lovable characters.  It's full of action, intrigue, and explosive mishaps (and a little bit of romance), which is sure to appeal to a variety of readers.  It's just a lot of fun.

The Bad
Jana DeLeon's novel is more of a guilty pleasure than I'd like to admit.  It's lots of fun, but it doesn't have a whole lot of substance.  I'm not saying I didn't like it, but I don't think of it as a book that's going to make a big emotional impact on me.  It's a good book with decent characters, fine writing, and incredible adventures, but I wouldn't put it at the top of my favorites list.

The Ugly
Murder.

Granted, the original murder occurred long before Fortune arrived; however, she did have to deal with the leftover bones--and she was endangered by a pair of unexpected murderers.  It's not horrifically graphic, but it is a bit violent.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Aquaman: The Trench (Volume 1)

DC Comics
Aquaman:  The Trench (Volume 1)
Geoff Johns
Ivan Reis
Joe Prado
2012

The Summary
"The only thing more powerful than the sea...is the man who rules it.

"In the waters that cover the vast majority of the Earth, Aquaman reigns supreme.  Yet on the surface world--a world he and the deadly beauty Mera battle to protect--the king of the sea is out of his element.  Humanity dismisses and disrespects him, just as they do the ocean he rules

"They may not like him.  But they need him.

"For Aquaman is not the only power beneath the waves.  A terrifying new threat has emerged from the abyss miles below the surface.  There, no light reaches, and only hunger and hate can survive.

"The trench has opened, spewing forth horrors.  Now Aquaman must make a choice that will put the survival of one species--our species--against another, or the whole world will be dragged into its gaping maw...

"Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis--the superstar creative team behind Green Lantern:  Secret Origin and Blackest Night--plunge you headfirst into the darkest waters in Aquaman:  The Trench (collecting issues #1-6) as they reunite for a modern take on one of DC Universe's most powerful heroes!"

The Good
Aquaman is frequently disregarded as a foolish superhero or completely discounted in the DC Universe, much like Adam West's 1960s Batman; sometimes, he's even regarded as the punchline of a joke (think Big Bang Theory).  He's not the most popular superhero, and even I will admit that he's not one of my favorites.  However, in Aquaman:  The Trench, Aquaman's reputation is finally redeemed--and I am so excited.

I've always had a specific picture of Aquaman in my mind:  Aquaman of the Justice League series that aired in 2001.  I was introduced to the gruff, brooding king of the deep and, being an impressionable youth, I instantly respected him for his uncanny strength, his ability to manipulate undersea life, and his absolute loyalty to the people of Atlantis.  I could also appreciate the fact he was a total badass.

I mean, how could I not like the guy?  He cut off his own hand to save his son, and then he shakes it off like it's nothing.  Of course I thought he was awesome.  (That's kind of a given.)  And after reading The Trench, I feel like I've reaffirmed my place in the Aquaman fandom.

Honestly, it's refreshing to see Aquaman in a new light.  I love the humor in his story and, more importantly, I love the amazing character designs.  Artistically speaking, both Arthur (honestly, I don't think I knew his real name before I read this volume) and Mera are beautifully designed.  I liked the detail and the color, the vibrancy of their characters; moreover, I loved the way they interacted as characters with one another and the rest of the world.

Aquaman has an emotional depth and intricacy I didn't expect.  Arthur is tugged at by his urge to protect mankind and his duty as the king of the sea, by his father's humanity and his mother's kingdom.  It's an interesting dynamic that adds a layer of complexity to his character and, more importantly, his story.  He wants to preserve humanity, but he doesn't wish to destroy in the process; he wants to be human, but he knows he isn't.

It's fantastic to see how his story plays out.

Overall, I think Aquaman is one of my favorite superhero comics of the year.  It's right up there with Spider-Gwen, The Long Halloween, Hush, and Daredevil.  I can't wait to hunt down volume two and discover the fate of Atlantis.

The Bad
No complaints.

I mean, I found the pace to be a little quicker than I would like.  It seemed like the story was in a hurry to get somewhere, and I would have liked a little more time to dwell on Mera and Aquaman's background.  However, it isn't a deal breaker and it's only a slight blemish on a story that's fantastic overall.

The Ugly
Blood.  Gore.  Violence.

What do you expect when terrifying creatures creep out of the deepest trenches of the ocean?  They're not looking to host a picnic.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Rat Queens: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'Rygoth (Volume 2)

Image
Rat Queens:  The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'Rygoth (Volume 2)
Kurtis J. Wiebe
Roc Upchurch
Stiepan Sejic
2015

The Summary
"This booze-soaked second volume of Rat Queens reveals a growing menace within the very walls of Palisade.  And while Dee may have run from her past, the bloated, blood-feasting sky god N'rygoth never really lets his children stray too far."

The Good
Like it's first volume, Rat Queens is an irreverent romp through a blood-soaked fantasy world.  It has all the usual good qualities:  strong, female protagonists, adventure, danger and humor.  However, it adds a dose of seriousness which it's predecessor did not have.

In The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'Rygoth, the Rat Queens are given deeper background stories.  Readers have the opportunity to catch glimpses into their past, a chance to see what brought there where they are today.  Like Dee who left her family's religious community to forge her own path, to seek her own faith; or Hannah who has a rather dubious heritage, who has a darker past than anyone would ever guess; or Violet who wants to separate herself from the suffocating traditions of the dwarves, who set out on a journey of self-discovery.

Oddly enough, I don't recall seeing anything about Betty's past.  She's still the same odd-ball, happy-go-lucky Smidgen she was in the previous volume.  I'm sure there's more to her than meets the eye, but I haven't had the chance to see it.

The art is a little different this time around with Stiepan Sejic contributing to Rat Queens, but I found I still enjoyed the way Sejic and Upchurch's art interacts with the overall story.  It manages to give the Rat Queens an added vibrancy, it conveys their attitudes and their characters without compromising any of the quirky qualities.  Moreover, it conveys the more serious tone of the second volume.

And, yes, Rat Queens is much more serious.  Whereas before readers found a hint of intrigue, a small plot that endangered the lives of Hannah, Betty, Dee, and Violet, readers later discover the plot stretches farther--and, more importantly, delves deep into some of the darker corners of Dee's past.  It involves a complicated web of revenge, bloodshed, and dark magic that brings violence and terror to Palisade.

It's really very good.

The Bad
No complaints.

Volume Two builds more on the lore of Palisade, as well as develops the back story of the characters.  It offers more insight into the world--and the Rat Queens--and provides readers with a deeper understanding of what they're reading.

The Ugly
Alcohol and drug abuse, violence, gore, bloodshed, explicit language, graphic content, sexual misconduct.

And, as an added bonus, nudity.

It's still not for younger readers, I'm afraid.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Read Harder Challenge (Part Five)

This week, I completed three more challenges:
  • Read a collection of essays
  • Read a book under 100 pages
  • Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender
Vintage Books
For my first challenge, I had to read a collection of essays.  At first, I picked up Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace, but I quickly changed my mind after attempting to read the first essay.  (Way too dense, and way too much porn for my taste.)  So, in my second attempt to finish this challenge, I read I Feel Bad About My Neck:  And Other Stories on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron--and am I glad that I did.

I absolutely loved reading Nora Ephron's essays on what it means to be a woman and, more importantly, what it feels like to have to deal with time, age, facial products, and oversized purses.  I laughed liberally throughout reading this book.  Her experiences are universal and her humor is outrageous.  Even if I couldn't relate to every experience, her essays had a way of picking out the familiar, like frustrations with wrinkles or hair dye, hatred of purses because they have a way of eating change and spitting up tic-tacs, or fighting over directions with a spouse.

It's a short read, but it's an incredibly fun journey.  I enjoyed every story in Ephron's book, but I especially enjoyed her wit and her candor and her humor as she recounted her many, familiar experiences.  She managed to connect with me as a reader and as a woman, and I appreciated her book for that.

Next, I quickly read Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Although it probably constitutes as a short story rather than a "book," which the challenge calls for, I thought it would be a good place to start.  I don't often read short books or novellas, and I had a dickens of a time trying to find a book under 100 pages.  Even How to Train Your Dragon, which took me part of a day to read, was over 100 pages.

So...short story it is!
Wildside Press

The plot of Young Goodman Brown is simple:  Goodman Brown takes leave of his wife, Faith, for some unknown errand in the forest, whereupon he meets a stranger in the forest carrying a black serpent-shaped staff.  He stumbles across various townspeople who travel the forest with him, until he reaches an altar in the middle of the wood where new acolytes are being brought into the fold--and one of them is his wife, Faith.  Events transpire which test his faith, causing him to live the rest of his life distrustful of his neighbors--and then he dies.

If you were hoping for a surprise, I'm sorry if I ruined the story for you, but I have to say that I didn't understand the point of this story.  On the one hand, Hawthorne sets up the episode as a potential dream, so I have no way of knowing whether or not his entire ordeal is real--which means a dream completely ruined his life.  On the other hand, if it is real, he has the ability to see the hypocrisy and sins of his neighbors, which also ruined his life.

I didn't like it.  I'm fairly certain that Faith was supposed to represent his actual faith and, when he lost her in the dream, he lost her in real life.  And I'm pretty positive that the traveler with the serpent staff is the devil, since all the evil people know him and Goodman--a good man--has the good sense to fear him.  There's so much metaphor and symbolism in, like, 12 pages that it's almost sickening.

Scholastic Press
Last, I read George by Alex Gino as part of my reading a book by or about a person who identifies as transgender.  I don't know anything about the author, but I do know that the book is about George, a little boy who would rather be a girl and who desperately wants to play Charlotte in the school play of Charlotte's Web.

One of the things I noticed about this book was how George, who did not describe or identify himself as a boy, is consistently referenced with feminine pronouns.  I thought it was a nice touch, because it seemed to make an impact, seemed to impart the importance of a person who is transgender to identify with the gender they choose.  It's an intriguing and eye-opening concept that, I thought, adequately conveyed some of the struggles that George encounters.

I actually enjoyed reading George more than I thought I would.  I'll admit, I was a little hesitant, because I had my own preconceived notions with which to contend, as well as others.  Given the debate in the media over which bathrooms transgender individuals should and shouldn't use, I really didn't want to read a book that was full of ugly prejudices or a novel that would dwell upon hurtful things.  I was afraid of finding a depressing novel.

Luckily, I didn't.  George is surprisingly upbeat, and I found it was rather fun to follow his journey from George to Charlotte, how he managed to fulfill the slogan on the back cover:  "Be Who You Are."  It has a positive message, and it's appealing because it doesn't get bogged down by hateful language; rather, it focuses on George's journey and her success in embracing her own identity.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Thor: Who Holds the Hammer? (Volume 2)

Marvel NOW!
Thor:  Who Holds the Hammer? (Volume 2)
Jason Aaron
Russell Dauterman
Jorge Molina

The Summary
"The Odinson pops the question:  Who is the new Thor?

"The Odinson wants Mjolnir back--and that means uncovering the identity of the new heroine holding the hammer!  As he narrows down the list of suspects, tensions continue to flare between the All-Mother and the All-Father.  As Malekith the Dark Elf forges his most dangerous pact yet, the new Thor prepares to face her greatest challenge:  the unstoppable machine of death and destruction that is...the Destroyer!  While the battle for Mjolnir rages on, an unexpected character makes a shocking return--and the new Thor's identity is revealed at last!  Plus:  Young Thor enters a drinking competition!  The new Thor takes on a surprising foe!  In the future, King Thor's granddaughters quest to find him the perfect birthday gift!  And more!"

The Good
I have officially fallen in love with the new Thor.  I'll admit, I was on the fence about her in the first volume, but, after reading the second (and discovering her true identity, her true motivation for taking up the hammer of Thor), I can't help but fall in love with her character and her story.  She's wonderfully complex and amazingly courageous.

Of course, I love the artwork.  It's detailed and colorful, vibrant and beautifully depicted in a way that's almost difficult to describe, because it reflects so much of the attitudes of the characters, the unique characteristics of each scene--and it just works perfectly with the narrative.  I love the art in Thor:  Who Holds the Hammer?, but there's something more to it, something in the way the story is told and in the way that Thor's identity is revealed that makes it extraordinary.

I liked the mystery lingering behind Thor's mask, the intrigue that her new identity invokes.  And it's nice to know that someone else (namely, a woman) is worthy of wielding the hammer.  It's a nice change of pace, as I pointed out in the my review of the first volume.

Moreover, I love the depth and complexity of the story with the addition of new characters.  I found it fascinating to see how the authors would incorporate the different facets and stories of Norse mythology to create a brand-new tale.  I also like that the narrative manages to incorporate subtle political and social undertones, giving it an added layer of intricacy.

I could go on, but I think I made my point.  I love the new Thor, so let's just leave it at that.

The Bad
I've never been a big fan of Thor.  I'm still not a fan of the language, the attempts to make speech more reminiscent of "archaic" dialects.  I mean, it just doesn't keep me engaged.  I much prefer Thor's internal voice for this reason.

The Ugly
War.

The worlds may not know it yet, but they are in the midst of a great and terrible war that may or may not mean the destruction of several realms--and much, much more.  It's a desperate situation that many seem blind to confronting or resolving.  Equal parts infuriating and depressing, it's really not fun to see the gradual breakdown of all political stability.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Afterlife with Archie

18339901
Archie Comic Publications
Afterlife with Archie:  Escape from Riverdale (Volume 1)
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Francesco Francavilla
2014

The Summary
"This is how the end of the world begins...

"All hell breaks loose when a fateful accident sets in motion a series of terrifying events that will threaten the town of Riverdale like never before!  When the dead begin to rise, craving human flesh, it's up to Archie, Betty, and Veronica, and the Gang to fight for their lives against the zombie hordes led by their former pal, Jughead...

"Harvey Award-winning writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Archie Meets GLEE, Stephen King's The Stand) and Eisner-winning artist Francesco Francavilla (The Black Beetle, Guardians of the Galaxy) bring the apocalypse to the world of Archie in a tale that is both gruesome and heartbreaking."

The Good
A friend recommended reading Afterlife with Archie after we stumbled across Scooby Apocalypse #1 (which I haven't read, but it intrigued me enough that I might) and started on the topic of strange and unusual remakes of our favorite comic books.  She's been a fan of Archie for years and told me it was awesome, even if you aren't a fan of Archie.  So, I decided to go to my local library and check it out.

And I was pleasantly surprised.

Unlike my friend, I'm not really a fan of Archie, or Jughead, or Veronica and Betty.  (I liked Sabrina, but that's a bit of a different story.)  I just couldn't seem to enjoy their interweaving narratives, and I didn't care for the familiar, everyday antics of high school adolescents, especially when I was in high school and saw such things every single day.  I simply wasn't interested.

My attitude toward Archie has changed, of course, since I picked up Afterlife with Archie.  Not only does it offer an intriguing blend of horror and reality, it gives you a new perspective on the characters you once knew.   (Seriously, you'll never look at Jughead the same way again.) It's gut-wrenching to see the gradual collapse of Riverdale, and it tore at my heart to see the safe, calm serenity of Archie's world turned upside-down.

But it was so good.

The story is solid and stands on its own, even if you don't have any experience with Archie or his friends, and it has an unexpected depth; the characters are familiar, but they've been tweaked enough to make them new and intriguing; and the art is stunning, helping to set the grim tone of the entire story and portray the violence the survivors of Riverdale are forced to face.  And it's perfectly scary, enough to give you chills when you're reading it.

Although it incorporates all the old rivalries and romances, it's a story about desperation, loss, and survival--and it's perfectly brutal.  It's a new twist on a favorite classic, and it's well worth reading.  I'd highly recommend it to fans of Archie or the zombie apocalypse genre.

The Bad
Although I didn't have a background with Archie, I understood most of the story and I found it was easy to discern the ties--all the old jealousies, the heated rivalries, and the convoluted friendships--that connected them.  However, I think if I had been familiar with Archie and his friends, I think it would have had more of an impact.

Yes, Afterlife with Archie can stand on its own two feet, but I imagine I would have better understood some of the references to locations, friendships, rivalries, etc. if I'd been familiar with other Archie comics.

The Ugly
Zombies.

Afterlife with Archie is almost on par with The Walking Dead for gore.  No joke, it's hyperviolent and bloody and slightly terrifying.  If you're not a fan of zombies or can't stomach the sight of familiar characters having their throats torn out, I definitely wouldn't recommend it.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Starlight: The Return of Duke McQueen (Volume 1)

StarlightTPBcover
Image
Starlight:  The Return of Duke McQueen (Volume 1)
Mark Millar
Goran Parlov
2015

The Summary
"Forty years ago, Duke McQueen was a space hero who rescued a world from tyranny.  But then he came home, got married, had kids and grew into an old man with nothing but his memories...until one night when an old, sparkly rocket ship descended from the heavens and called him back for one final adventure."

The Good
I really liked reading Starlight:  The Return of Duke McQueen.  I loved the entire book:  art, plot, characters--everything.  I especially liked Duke McQueen.  As the main character, he's looking to reconnect with his kids after the death of his wife and he's desperate to live down his reputation as a "space hero."  He's an older protagonist who has lived a full, happy life, which is refreshing to see, but he's still able to have one more fantastical adventure.

It's a fun, action-packed space epic that draws heavily from previous science-fiction adventures, like Star Wars, Buck Rogers, Adam Strange, and John Carter of Mars, among others.  As another reviewer from Kirkus put it, "I feel like this is a love letter of sorts from Millar to all those classic pulp stories."  And, yes, it does reminisce of those intergalactic adventures that defined a generation of entertainment, but I think it also manages to forge its own unique identity.

Starlight is a simple, but enjoyable graphic novel.  It has a dose of humor, heaps of action and adventure, a pinch of political intrigue, and a little bit of self-reflection on behalf of a retired military hero.  Since the story starts in the second half of Duke's life, after defeating a vicious dictator and saving a distant world from utter annihilation, it's interesting to see how Mark Millar depicts a character who has surpassed his golden years and has already solidified his identity.

Additionally, I liked the artistic style of Starlight.  Goran Parlov does a beautiful job of rendering Millar's story.  It has color and depth, a vibrancy that breathes life into the characters and gives them a physical form.  Moreover, I loved the illustrations of the strange world of Tantalus, of it's people (heroes and villains alike) and its strange technology.  It's the perfect marriage of narrative and art.

The Bad
Starlight, unfortunately, does succumb to a few all-too-familiar sci-fi tropes and clich├ęs.  More importantly, it doesn't handle pacing very well.  First and foremost, readers don't really have the opportunity to explore much of Duke McQueen's past.  As I said, Starlight begins in the latter years of McQueen's life when he's no longer a spry young hero, but a wizened old man.  It stands to reason that readers are only given a brief and abbreviated history of his life.

However, not much is added in the way of explanation with the Brotean invasion or Kingfisher's rise to power or, more importantly, how the "rebel alliance" came to being.  The conclusion feels rushed and, honestly, doesn't really give any resolution.  Sure, it's a happy ending, but I feel like something is missing, like I haven't quite gotten the whole story--or, moreover, like I haven't quite had the chance to fully understand the consequences.

The impending sense of doom doesn't really dissipate.

The Ugly
Violence.

Quite a lot of violence, actually.  The Kingfisher is a vicious, ruthless ruler who will stop at nothing to obliterate--and I do me obliterate--his enemies, so Starlight can border on being a bit gory.  Otherwise, it's pretty mild.  I mean, I wouldn't recommend it for very young readers, but I think it's suitable enough for teenagers to read.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Rat Queens: Sass and Sorcery (Volume 1)

Image
Rat Queens:  Sass and Sorcery (Volume 1)
Kurtis J. Wiebe
Roc Upchurch
2014

The Summary
"Who are the Rat Queens?

"They're a pack of booze guzzling, death dealing, battle maidens-for-hire and they're in the business of kill all the gods' creatures for profit.  Meet Hannah the Rockabilly Elven Mage, Violet the Hipster Dwarven Fighter, Dee the Atheist Human Cleric and Betty the Hippy Smidgen Thief."

The Good
On the back of the first volume, it reads:  "This modern spin on an old school genre is a violent, monster killing epic that is like Buffy meets Tank Girl in a Lord of the Rings world on crack!"  It might leave you wondering, "Is that really a thing?"

Yes.  Yes, it is.

It's a genre bending epic that hearkens to its roots in traditional fantasy, but it doesn't take itself too seriously.  It pokes fun at Lord of the Rings, Dungeons & Dragons, World of Warcraft, and the fantasy genre as a whole.  Rat Queens:  Sass and Sorcery combines fantastic characters, humor, and irreverent, bloody adventures.

Oh, it's possibly one of the weirdest graphic novels I've read, but it's also one of the more interesting volumes I've had the chance to read.  An amalgamation of traditional fantasy epics, role-playing games and quest-based video games, it's possibly one of the quirkiest, oddball adventure stories I've had the pleasure to read.  Throw in a few modern amenities, like enchanted stones serving as cell phones and designer drugs, it's sometimes just plain weird.

And, oddly enough, I really liked the characters.  Betty is strange and flighty (or, more likely, simply fried from the drugs in her system), but she's a mighty fun character who simply goes with the flow; whereas Dee is quieter, more introspective, more prone to commonsense and good decisions among her friends.  Hannah is the wild child, a bawdy battle-maiden with a sharp wit and a foul mouth and a wicked grasp on magic.  And then there's Violet.

I'll be honest, I thought Hannah and Betty were fun, and Dee is the best friend I'd love to have in my life, but, for some reason, I just adored Violet.  All these ladies are setting off on their own, trying to forge their own paths and defy the expectations set out for them; however, Violet struck a cord with me that instantly made her my favorite character.

She's tough, she's strong, she's battle savvy, and she's desperate to prove a point.  Like Hannah, Betty, and Dee who are set on starting new lives, she wants to separate herself from her parents' world, differentiate herself from the dwarven culture she feels has consumed her.  She doesn't want to model armor, she wants to wear it and use it--and she wants to fight.  She wants to be a warrior, regardless of the expectations of her family and culture.

And that's what I like about her:  she's true to herself.  She wants what she wants, and she'll be damned before she fails.

Overall, I enjoyed Rat Queens.  It's fun, it's weird, it's a raucous delight, but it has charming characters and an interesting plot--and I loved the art.  Roc Upchurch does an excellent job of bring Kurtis Wiebe's characters and story to life.  He gives it a gritty, edgy vibe that meshes well with the attitudes of the Rat Queens.

I liked it.  I liked it a lot.

The Bad
Not much to say, honestly.  Strong story, great characters, wonderful art--what's to complain about?

I suppose, if I really want to complain, I will note that I didn't always understand the world in which the Rat Queens lived.  I mean, it pulls heavily from fantasy and RPGs, so it's easy to make connections if you have a basis in the genre or have experience with Dungeons & Dragons.  But it doesn't delve too deeply into the culture or mythology of the world.

It relies on some familiar tropes, but it doesn't give too much depth.  Rather, it gives you just enough information to let you figure it out for yourself.

The Ugly
Violent.  Crude.  Graphic.  And explicit.

It's not for the faint of heart or younger readers.  I wouldn't recommend it if you're easily offended by or vehemently against drugs, crude language, explicit content, sexual innuendo and general misconduct, graphic depictions of violence, blood, gore, murder, and/or all of the above.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Thor: Goddess of Thunder (Volume 1)

Marvel NOW!
Thor:  Goddess of Thunder (Volume 1)
Jason Aaron
Russell Dauterman
Jorge Molina
2014

The Summary
"Who is the Goddess of Thunder?

"The secrets of Original Sin have laid low one of Marvel's greatest heroes.  The God of Thunder is unworthy, and Mjolnir lies on the moon, unable to be lifted!  But when Frost Giants invade Earth, a new hand will grasp the hammer--and a mysterious woman will take up the mantle of the mighty Thor!  Her identity is secret to even Odin, but she may be Earth's only hope against the Frost Giants.  Get ready for a Thor like you've never seen before as this all-new heroine takes Midgard by storm!  Plus:  The Odinson clearly doesn't like that someone else is holding his hammer--it's Thor vs. Thor!  And Odin desperate to see Mjolnir returned, will call on some very dangerous, very unexpected allies.  It's a bold new chapter in the storied history of Thor!"

The Good
As my introduction to Thor and his Marvel mythology, Thor:  Goddess of Thunder makes a nice stepping stone into the world of Asgard.  It picks up where Original Sin left off and, while it doesn't go into a lot of detail about previous events, it manages to give readers enough detail that they can continue with the story unimpeded.  Yes, some of the Norse mythology woven into the story can get a bit complex, but, otherwise, I think it's a decent place to start in the series.

I initially picked it up because I was curious to see how a female would be portrayed under a primarily male title, and I can't say I'm disappointed.  It was nice to see how this new goddess stacks up against the other heroes of Asgard and Midgard; more importantly, it was nice to see a positive portrayal of a woman in comic books.

The new Thor is getting used to her new role.  She's much the same as her predecessor:  serious, snappish, and slightly egotistical.  (It's the language, I think.  There's something about the way the gods speak that makes them sound almost...snobbish, like they're somehow greater than all the other realms.  It's weird.)  However, she certainly has more of a sense of humor than the original Thor, which, I found, I could appreciate.

Moreover, I liked that the new Thor had two different voices:  one, her internal voice; two, her speaking voice.  I know that seems a weird thing to mention, but I really liked that Thor had her own unique internal voice that was completely under her control versus her speaking voice which was modified by the magic of Mjolnir.  Her internal narration is more relatable and, more importantly, easier to access.

She speaks as we would speak.  She has that unique quality that marks her apart as a hero and a god, but also a mortal.  (She obviously comes from Earth, since her thoughts don't reflect the inflection or language quirks of the Norse gods.)  She's something special, something vastly different from the other gods and goddesses of Asgard.

And I'm intrigued to see where it will go.

Oh, and did I mention that I love the art?  Yes, I love the art.  It's incredibly detailed and filled with a wide, beautiful array of colors.  I love the tones and hues, the subtle differences that denotes the changes in scenery and changes in characters and, sometimes, changes in mood.  I love all the different panels and I love how beautifully depicted the scenery and characters are.

And although I dislike Malekith on a personal level, I love how he's drawn and I love the striking colors of the magic he invokes.  There's such a supernatural brightness to him that I think appropriately reflects his strange and twisted nature.

The Bad
Although I really enjoyed reading Thor, I'm still not a fan of Thor.  I'm just not quite "sold" on the series yet.  I like the way it plays with Norse mythology and I love the art, but I'm not sure if it will keep me committed.  I'll see it through the second volume, but I can't really make anymore promises after that.

The Ugly
Frost giant violence and gore.

I mean, they're not good guys, so I don't exactly feel sorry for them.  But it's a little gruesome and a bit graphic, so I don't think I'd recommend it to younger readers.  Otherwise, it's not so bad.

Well, there is the macabre incident with Odinson and an axe...but, like I said, not so very bad.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Ms. Marvel: No Normal (Volume 1)

Marvel NOW!
Ms. Marvel:  No Normal (Volume 1)
G. Willow Wilson
Adrian Alphona
2014

The Summary
"Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City--until she's suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts.  But who truly is the new Ms. Marvel?  Teenager?  Muslim?  Inhuman?  Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm!  When Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she also unlocks a secret behind them.  Is Kamala ready to wield this immense gifts?  Or will the weight of the legacy before her prove too much to bear?  Kamala has no idea, either.  But she's comin' for you, Jersey!  It's history in the making from acclaimed writer G. Willow Wilson (Air, Cairo) and beloved artist Adrian Alphona (Runaways)!

The Good
I enjoyed reading Ms. Marvel.  I liked the new spin on a favorite character, and I like that Marvel is adding new faces to the lineup.  Yes, it's that element of diversity that's intriguing, but it's also the fact that Kamala offers a glimpse into a different culture that's not often highlighted in modern media or literature.  She's a great character, and she's appealing for all her faults and struggles as a teenager.

Moreover, it's a fun story.  Kamala is just learning how to control her powers.  She faces certain dangers, of course, but she's still learning in the driver's seat as she learns to recognize her own strengths and weaknesses--and, more importantly, recognize herself.  She doesn't just develop as a superhero, she develops as a human being.  She's trying to find herself and balance her teenage secret identity, as well as her parents' culture and religion.

It's a complex dynamic that Wilson and Alphona manage to pull off with surprising grace and dexterity.  They manage to keep the development quick, offering new adventures and dangers, while meshing together the art style and characters.  They do an excellent job of propelling the story forward, keeping it interesting for readers.

Overall, it's an excellent start to a brand-new series--and it's a great place to start if you're a fan of comics or if you'd like to dip your toes into the modern Marvel world.

The Bad
I'm still not a fan of Inhumans.  It seems like an awfully convenient replacement for the X-Men, and it just doesn't feel quite right.  I think it's strange that no one knew about the latent, Inhuman DNA, and I don't care much for the Inhuman story arc in Ms. Marvel.

It just doesn't hold my attention for some reason.

The Ugly
Adolescence.

Puberty is hard enough without having to contend with the dangers of a Terrigen bomb or fledgling superpowers.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Bonus: Lord and Lady Spy

Sourcebook Casablanca
Lord and Lady Spy
Shana Galen
2011

The Summary
"No man can outsmart him...

"Lord Adrian Smythe may appear a perfectly boring gentleman, but he leads a thrilling life as one of England's most preeminent spies, an identity so clandestine even his wife is unaware of it.  But he isn't the only one with secrets...

"She's been outsmarting him for years...

"Now that the Napoleonic wars have come to an end, daring secret agent Lady Sophia Smythe can hardly bear the thought of returning home to her tedious husband.  Until she discovers in the dark of night that he's not who she thinks he is after all..."

The Good
It's a fun, silly romance.  Think of it as Mr. and Mrs. Smith, starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, but set in the Regency period--and they're not actually trying to kill each other.  Their names are even similar, now that I stop and think about it.  Although it hits some similar notes, it's an original story that I found pretty entertaining.

I liked that Sophia is a capable, efficient agent.  While she frequently does have to prove herself, she's admired for her tenacity and her unexpected skills with sharp objects.  I found it thoroughly amusing to see men flounder when they realize the small, diminutive woman is more than capable of disarming and charming any enemy.  And Adrian makes a fine contrast to her impetuous ways, offering a thoughtful, calculating balance to her quick, intuitive thinking.

Overall, I found I enjoyed Lord and Lady Spy.  It's another one of those guilty pleasures for me.  It's full of romance, action and intrigue, drama and passion, and it's easy to read in a day or so.  I wasn't committing to a hefty novel, so I was able to enjoy a quick, entertaining story.

The Bad
It feels like a bit of a rip off of Mr. and Mrs. Smith.  I mean, it's Smith and Smythe, it's an accent away from being exactly the same thing.  They're both spies; they're both married to spies and/or assassins; they're both completely unaware of the secret lives of the other.  Except for the fact that Galen's novel is set in the Regency, where technology isn't quite as sophisticated--and Sophia and Adrian aren't actually trying to kill each other--it's pretty similar.

Which is a little weird.

It's not a bad book.  (I mean, I've certainly read worse.  Let me tell you.)  I think it has enough originality and action that I was able to enjoy it, but I was a little tired of the familiar, trite arguments that sometimes stand between couples and it followed in some of the same paths as trod by other books.

It's like most romance novels where couples can never seem to get along with one another.  Granted, Adrian and Sophia are sometimes arguing over the best ways to infiltrate a building, or how to interrogate a suspect, or which ways they've killed a man, but it falls into much the same rut for some reason.  They have the same arguments again and again and again.

Oh, and here's something that bothers me:  their secret identities aren't really all that secret.  Adrian and Sophia are constantly revealing facets of their occupation to others, like interrogating individuals together, throwing around the prime minister's name, chasing people down in a carriage.  It's all rather dramatic and, I think, it's probably pretty obvious what they do for a living since most people don't go haring off through London streets where neighbors can recognize them in pursuit of would-be murderer.

Sure, their code names might not be compromised, but it wouldn't take a genius to connect the dots, especially when female spies are few and far between.  Sophia, who sometimes blatantly flaunts her incredible, obviously-I'm-a-spy skills and rebels against traditional authority, would be an obvious choice for any villain who knows the British empire has a female spy.  And, since she's survived an attempted assassination in the past, her identity is probably circulating out there anyway.

Sometimes, I found it frustrating.  I mean, seriously, could they make it any more obvious?

The Ugly
Some death and mayhem.  Pretty mild, but best to be prepared.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy (Volume 1)

Boom! Box
Lumberjanes:  Beware the Kitten Holy (Volume 1)
Noelle Stevenson
Grace Ellis
Shannon Watters
Brooke A. Allen
2015

The Summary
"Friendship to the max!

"At Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types, things are no what they seem.  Three-eyed foxes, secret caves, anagrams.  Luckily, Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are five rad, butt-kicking best pals determined to have an awesome summer together...and they're not gonna let a magical quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way!  The mystery keeps getting bigger, and it all begins here."

The Good
As an ardent fan of Nimona, I couldn't not read Noelle Stevenson's latest foray into the comic book world.

Let me say, first off, Lumberjanes is great.  It's fun, if slightly absurd, and full of strong female characters who learn and grow and form relationships as they go along.  Jo, April, Molly, Mal, and Ripley all have unique characteristics, quirks, and qualities that make them both enjoyable and endearing.  Morever, each girl has special skills that make her invaluable to the group--and, you know, helps them save their camp from certain destruction.

Jo is highly intelligent, specializing in mathematics and puzzles; April is dramatic and witty, and she has more than a few surprises up her sleeves; Molly is an incredible archer (which does come in handy in their misadventures), and she has a special companion you'll be more than happy to know in later issues; Mal is cautious, but she's incredibly detail-oriented and highly skilled at crafting plans, even on the fly; and Ripley, while naive and childish, is a ball of energy willing to take on any task--even if it means riding like a rodeo cowboy on the back of a raptor.

And, yes, there really is an incident involving dinosaurs.  (I told you it was sometimes absurd, but I think that might be volume 2.)

Although the Lumberjanes is good wholesome fun with an uplifting message for girls everywhere (i.e. it's okay to be tough, take adventures, and, in general, kick butt), it has an underlying layer of complexity that can make it appealing to readers of all ages and genders.  Not only does the story incorporate hints of mythology, deal with everyday difficulties most girls face, it also supports a level of diversity that feels natural.

For instance, I recently learned that Jo is transgender, while Mal and Molly are lesbians.  But their identities aren't defined by their sexuality.  If anything, their friendships and their adventures define who they are, who they will become.  Honestly, I loved seeing the different facets of their personalities, which helped flesh them out as characters, and how they developed with each subsequent challenge they faced.  They're good, solid characters and, truthfully, they're probably the nicest girls you're ever likely to meet.

Yes, it's a weird adventure.  Yes, it's sometimes so crazy random that you don't really know what's going on.  But that's totally okay.  It's a story about adventure, self-discovery, and forging lasting friendships--and it's fun to follow along for the ride.

The Bad
Lumberjanes sometimes feels a little fragmented.  Although it has a overarching narrative that contains the full story, it's primarily a collection of separate adventures that just so happen to come together.  I liked it, but I found it came as a bit of an acquired taste.

The Ugly
Lumberjanes is a pretty mild graphic novel.  I mean, it's safe for kids while remaining appealing for older readers, so it strikes a good balance.  It's not explicit, or graphic, or full of foul language.  Seriously, the harshest phrase you're likely to hear is "What the junk?" or "Holy Mae Jemison!"

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Comic Book Extravaganza!

This month, I decided to do something special.  Since it's almost summer and it's the perfect time for sitting outside, enjoying the warm weather, and reading--and since I've been on a crazy comic kick--I thought it would be nice to review some of my latest comic book conquests.  I have new Marvel volumes with Thor and the latest Ms. Marvel, a handful of indie publications featuring the Lumberjanes and the sassy, oh-so-classy Rat Queens, and some old favorites given a new lease on life (or afterlife, as the case may be) with Archie and the gang.

To me, it seemed like the best time to bask in the stories and wonderful illustrations of the comic book world.

I hope you enjoy, and happy reading.

- The Scrivener