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Reviewer: Emera
Date read: 10.2016
Book from: Library

 

book-ratqueens-violet

Rat Queens is a rambunctious Dungeons ‘n’ Dragons parody featuring a gang of ultraviolent, foul-mouthed lady adventurers: Hannah the moody, uptight elven mage, dwarven warrior Violet (pictured above with her orc boyfriend Dave), escaped-from-a-Lovecraftian-cult cleric Dee, and candy/hallucinogen-obsessed smidgen (i.e., halfling) Betty. In Volume 1, the Queens deal with the consequences of their inability to rein in their penchant for destructive brawling, which has earned them enemies within the walls of their own town. In volume 2, the airing of old grudges escalates to the summoning of Lovecraftian beasties; the ensuing ruin is intercut with flashbacks that begin revealing the younger lives of most of the Queens.

Rat Queens is inextricably linked with Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga in my mind: they’re both recent Image comics that feature racially/sexually diverse casts, obstreperous women, “pretty” art with a light anime influence, sarcastic humor, and graphic violence. In that match-up, though, Rat Queens comes up lacking. Wiebe writes pretty awkwardly at times, and tonally, the comic is in that regime of sarcastic trope-busting where if you’re even slightly not feeling it, it just comes off as try-hard.

In terms of art, Upchurch is likewise okay. He’s good at facial expressions, and occasional panels are quite pretty, but his art often mashes down into strange scribbled shapes that betray a mediocre sense of volume and anatomy. The backgrounds are weak as well; they often feel kind of incoherent and joylessly drab to me. Here’s a representative Upchurch page – theoretically pretty chicks with wandering facial features, backgrounds blurred beyond usefulness:

book-ratqueens-17

Stjepan Sejic picks up art duty partway through Volume 2: Kurtis removed Upchurch from the series after he was confirmed to have committed domestic abuse. Sejic, not Upchurch, is responsible for the cover art featured up top. Sejic’s work is strong – seductively painterly and with great taste in color and light, as evidenced by the cover – and he’s an excellent match for the comic thematically since he’s done a number of hilarious trope-busting joke comics. His only obvious weakness is his inability to draw kids without them looking like creepy adult heads pasted onto miniature bodies. My understanding is that unfortunately Sejic departed the series after Vol. 2 due to work conflicts.

But between Sejic’s work and increasingly substantive storytelling, the comic did grow on me as I dug into Volume 2. That whole volume felt narratively solid to me: the character development is thoughtful, mostly dwelling on issues of authority, belonging, and trust (familial, cultural, religious), and also deepened my appreciation of the Rat Queens’ friendships.

Still, I think I could drop this series without feeling like I’d missed that much. First, the interpersonal conflicts, while humanely portrayed, are pretty standard for fantasy (“I’m an outsiderrrrr”). (I think a significant part of why Saga is so unique and successful is that Vaughan investigates familial relationships in a much more specific and personally informed manner, rather than drawing from the typical sff stockroom of Generic Angst Causation.) Second, there isn’t yet a compelling overarching external conflict. Finally, though I feel fondly towards several of the characters (mainly Dee, Hannah, and Braga), I’m not so invested that I feel the need to keep reading just to see what happens to them.

Altogether, I’d call this fun but not unmissable. Blessings on the proliferation of media focusing on female protagonists, though.

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Saga, vol. 1, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (2012) E
On the road to Saga

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Korgi, by Christian Slade (2007): The woodland escapades and scrapes of a fairy-like young girl and her magical corgi companion – corgis were traditionally said to be fairy steeds. There are three volumes so far; I’ve read the first two.

Korgibook korgi3

This would be a great gift for folks, children or otherwise, who are keen on fairies and/or dogs. Korgi is so cute and so peaceful – nearly as cute as Mouse Guard, and whimsical, dreamy, and celebratory of motion in a way that’s reminiscent of a lot of the first volume of Flight. Slade is not a very good draftsman (wandering facial features + an overall look that is slightly squishy and uncertain), but every panel is well-composed, again and again hitting that evocative sense of marveling at a woodland expanse. Also, his linework is notably enjoyable – scratchy, nervy, woodsy. His treetrunks are so nice.

Something that Slade does really right is letting loose when drawing the villainous critters – their gleeful bloat and gnarl works well to counterbalance the wide-eyed sweetness of the rest of the comic.

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ApocalyptiGirl, by Andrew MacLean (2015): A beautiful, energetic, but morally questionable post-apocalyptic yarn of a young warrior woman and her cat surviving amid tribal warfare.

ApocalyptiGirl

Read it for the crisp action sequences, expressive characters, and scruffy, nubbly, involving environments (rusting, grass-overgrown mechs; a home built in an abandoned subway train). The story’s mysteriousness is dampened by exposition that manages to be both heavy-handed and slightly garbled, and by the pat ending, which seems to lazily undercut all of heroine Aria’s past moral quandaries over the bloodshed she’s seen and enacted.

ApocalyptiGirl

Still, the ambience and visuals are striking and memorable; I’m very happy to own the comic to keep revisiting the art.

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Reviewer: Emera
Date read: 2.14.2013
Book from: Personal collection

I’ve been doing some thinking this spring about figuring out reviewing practices, or a mindset, that don’t have me regularly consuming 3+ hours for writing and headscratching that I meant to have done in one, doesn’t give me hives, and generally achieves a higher fun/stress ratio. We’ll see how this goes.

Saga Vol. 1Oh Saga! Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga is so much fun that I can only assume that if you like fun, you will like Saga. It seems like Vaughan set out to create an X-rated Star Wars in comics – galloping galactic conflict in an expansive science-fantasy universe, plus some very colorful violence, and equally colorful sexytimes wherever characters seem like they might want or need to have ’em. But its immense irreverence has me reaching for Firefly as the easiest comparison.

However, the humor feels less strained to me than Firefly‘s. (The ticking of Joss Whedon’s brain behind the goings-on, working at being quirky or heartrending or whatever, is often too loud to me.) This is helped along by how boundlessly, weightlessly, beautifully weird the universe of Saga is.

Alanna and Marko are Romeo-and-Juliet runaway soldiers and new parents – much of the emotional weight of the comic rests in the anxieties of parenthood; the star-crossing romance seems forgettable by comparison. Their getaway ship is an enormous tree powered by personal sacrifices. Their babysitter and guide is a bisected ghost-girl (whose choice in headgear and allover pinkness reminded me of Runaways‘ Molly). Their pursuers include a TV-headed robot prince who just wants to get home to his recently pregnant wife, and a taciturn uber-mercenary with relationship hangups and a puma-sized, lie-detecting hairless cat. And given that all of the characters, even those that only appear for a few panels, are believably animated by a cantankerous, stubborn humanity, none of this feels like a burden of whimsy on the reader’s patience; I moved to greet each new surprise with incredulous laughter, and greedy eyes.

Fiona Staples (check out her sketchblog here) paints lushly, lushly, with a palette heavily reminiscent of the cool, dreamy neons of, naturally, 1970’s sci-fi – the soulkillingly garish bordello planet where The Will (aforementioned mercenary) makes a detour put me in mind of Bespin’s Cloud City, on acid.

Much of the imagery is clearly, simply meant to make the reader pause, and feel the uplift of wonder; I did plenty of that. Oh, those panels of the ship-tree drawing itself together to jet through space; oh, the towering beasties and haunted blue-green woods and luminous mountainscapes.

Alana reads her favorite romance novel

I am grateful that this comic exists, and am going quietly insane until the second trade comes out (July 2!).

Go to:
Brian K. Vaughan: bio and works reviewed

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Reviewer: Emera
Dates read: Various dates between November 2010 and spring 2011
Books from: Personal collection, or borrowed from Kakaner

Reviewed here be:

Chew, Volume 1: Taster’s Choice (2009)
Chew, Volume 2: International Flavor (2010)
Chew, Volume 3: Just Desserts (2010)

Chew is the story of Tony Chu, a humorless detective who has the unfortunate ability to gain psychic impressions from anything he eats (except beets). Recruited by the FDA – now the world’s most powerful law enforcement agency in the wake of an avian flu pandemic that took hundreds of millions of lives – for his singular talent, Tony finds himself taking bites of stranger and stranger substances as his casework, increasingly muddied by connections to shadowy criminal organizations and possibly extraterrestrial conspiracies, takes him from New York chicken speakeasies to Siberian research stations staffed by vampire ladies in ushankas to tropical dictator states. Add in a generously embarrassing family, an exhaustingly cheerful cyborg partner, and a hate-filled boss, and life just won’t let up on this by-the-rules cop.

Man, this series. I had no idea what I was in for when Kakaner eagerly gifted me the first two volumes, but it proved to be a delicious combination of hyperkinetic art and zany-bordering-on-surreal world-building. Layman and Guillory are an inimitably weird team: to match Layman’s tireless inventiveness (one of the best parts of reading is trying to predict what absurd food-related superpower will next come into play), Guillory’s art is full of odd angles and wildly energetic gestures and the most! excellent! facial expressions, thanks to his characters’ crinkly, mobile features. His backgrounds, too, are stuffed to bursting with silly details (inexplicable graffiti, stray notes and photographs, etc. etc.), and as is only appropriate for an obsessively food-themed series, the distinctive color palette always reminds me of citrus popsicles:

(Even when Tony is getting a barf facial, apparently.)

The plot is obviously going somewhere, but frankly I’ve been so distracted and entertained and perplexed by the moment-to-moment madness of each volume that I haven’t been working all that hard to piece the bits together – though the gathering momentum was obvious by the end of volume 3, and left me hoping for some interesting developments IN SPACE.

I also have to single out Chew‘s creators for the fact that even though they make merry with pulp/genre stereotypes (well hello, melon-breasted Asian lady assassin, nice to roll my eyes at you again) and just-plain stereotypes (the female assassin is exaggerated to clearly satirical proportions; I’m far less comfortable with the fact that the only recurring black character in the series is, straighforwardly, a cowardly criminal), having gone for the Chew/Chu pun, Layman and Guillory obviously committed thereafter to representation of a varied cast of Asian characters. In other words, they didn’t let Tony’s ethnicity stay a one-off joke and then pat themselves on the back for being inclusive by way of one nonwhite protagonist. Which, frankly, I think plenty of other writers, especially in comics, would have done.

I give them heaping points, of course, for having a cool, competent male Asian protagonist in the first place; discounting of Asian men in pop culture as comical, emasculated etc. (if they’re not ninja/samurai) is a major pet peeve of mine. (I did a count once of the number of female Asian superheroes [ooo, so exotic!!] vs. male once, and the ratio was pretty dismal.) But from there, numerous members of Tony’s family, immediate and extended, have also gotten plenty of pagetime, including his cheerfully self-aggrandizing chef brother and adorable, NASA-employee twin sister.

Though character development takes second seat to conceptual and narrative whimsy in Chew, most of the characters are amply buoyed by the series’ manic energy and humor. It’s refreshing and gratifying to see a broad cast of Asian characters getting the same treatment, and adds immeasurably to my enjoyment of a series that already leaves me grinning at every turn.

Go to:

John Layman: bio and works reviewed 

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Date read: 12.23.07
Read from: Digital collection
Reviewer: Emera

book hellionsA four-issue side-series off of the most recent New X-Men storyline, featuring, obviously, the current crop of Hellions, Emma Frost’s protégés and the New X-Men’s bestest rivals within the Xavier Institute. Written by Nunzio deFilippis and Christina Weir, pencils by Clayton Henry.

At the end of the school year (and prior to the events of M-Day), Julian/Hellion brings his team members back to California with him to hang out at his family’s mansion. Unfortunately, after a typical Hellion-style scuffle at the airport, his parents cut him out of the family fortune. Spiteful and disgruntled, Julian digs deeper into his parents’ background, and ends up making a deal with the same figure who got his parents rich – the Kingmaker, who proceeds to grant the dearest wish of each of the Hellions. Sooraya/Dust is reunited with her mother at an Afghan refugee camp, Cessily/Mercury finds herself welcomed home again by suddenly loving parents, Santo/Rockslide becomes a wrestling star (dream big, boy), and so on. But after the trial period is up, The Kingmaker returns to extract payment…

This was a REALLY fun read, and  made me realize how boring by comparison pretty much the entirety of the New Mutants series was, revolving as it did around petty disputes and page after page of overwritten adolescent moping. Not that Hellions was that much deeper or more novel, but let’s face it, rebellious teams are pretty much always more fun (even if their leader is a twit), and being limited in length, the series packed a lot more interest into a lot fewer pages. The writing was tight and featured equal helpings of action and character exposition; I’ve always been fond of Cessily and Sooraya in particular, so it was fun and occasionally genuinely affecting to see a bit into their pasts and family lives.  Coloring was too shiny for my tastes, but the pencils and inks were strong and consistent. All in all, something that might actually have re-read value for me, unlike the rest of the pre-M-Day New Mutants/New X-Men: Academy X storyline. (No, I don’t know why I kept reading it, either. Of course as soon as most of the irritating characters had been dispensed with and Skottie Young started doing the art and I was getting genuinely interested in the series, it was cancelled.)

Go to:
Nunzio deFilippis: bio and works reviewed
Christina Weir: bio and works reviewed

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Date read: 8.24.10
Book from: Borrowed from my cousin
Reviewer: Emera

In brief:  ZOMBIE OUTBREAK etc. Global pandemonium ensues.

So I assumed at first that this was in novel form, and was mildly intrigued since I’d never read a novel-length zombie survival story. (ETA: Oh wait, I have: Warm Bodies.) Turns out it’s actually in the format of interviews with various survivors of “World War Z:” soldiers, community leaders, doctors, lone survivalists, a feral child, etc., brought to you by the author of The Zombie Survival Guide. Most of it is schlock, especially any part of it that aspires to any emotional or philosophical depth and the so-called “satire,” which amounts to making very obvious fun of Corrupt Politicians, Shallow American Suburban Housewives, and so on. (Also, I must salute Brooks for his incredibly creative choices in making two of the three or four total Asian characters, respectively, a blind samurai zombie-whacker and a former otaku turned “warrior monk” (barf).)

But what fun schlock it is! The interview format gives Brooks an excuse to play out as many obsessively detailed scenarios as his zombie-nerd brain can churn out, from panics fueled by the failure of a fraudulent zombie-virus vaccine, to reappropriated medieval castles under siege, to all the intricacies of anti-zombie warfare and weapon design. (Possibly my favorite section: a long interview regarding the training of military dogs to track, and sometimes lure, zombies. It tickles the part of me that insisted on using attack dogs when playing Red Alert against my brother.) There are also numerous satisfyingly suspenseful episodes and creepy moments: the narrative of an American soldier who is ejected from a damaged plane and lost, alone, in a zombie-infested forest; the realization of a submarine crew that that odd sound is the clawing of dozens of submerged zombies that have surrounded their vessel. (Brooks’ zombies survive drowning, and can re-reanimate if thawed after being frozen, which leads to the fabulously grisly image of a world with its polar regions abandoned to hordes of half-frozen zombies.)

All in all, World War Z made for some great summer reading. I suppose it’s a little late to be reporting that, but there’s always room for a little brainless (pun?) entertainment. If you’ve ever discussed zombie outbreak contingency plans with friends, you’ll likely enjoy this.

Go to:
Max Brooks: bio and works reviewed

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Date read: 5.5.10
Book from: Borrowed from Kakaner
Reviewer: Emera

On an Earth whose surface has been scorched into uninhabitability by the expanding sun, a lone, gun-toting traveler arrives at what may be humanity’s last outpost. At the bottom of the former Marianas Trench, a group of scientists have established a settlement complete with gardens and a space shuttle equipped for escape from the burned-out planet. The new arrival, who simply calls himself the Pilgrim, is at first welcomed as a much-needed defender against the various mutated beings that prowl the trench, but his fanaticism-fueled taste for destruction may bring unwanted consequences.

This mini-series (a sequel to the 2001 Just a Pilgrim, which I realized only belatedly) got a big meh from me. While the concepts and imagery are gratifyingly ambitious, the overall direction of the plot is way too obvious if you know anything at all about Garth Ennis and his pet topics, i.e. have read Preacher. As much as I love Preacher, Ennis’ expression of his anti-Christianity is so extreme and lacking in nuance that I had no interest in swallowing it twice. Just a Pilgrim was pretty hilarious to read shortly after seeing the recent film The Book of Eli, though, which is diametrically opposed in its message and about as lacking in depth – I think if you put a copy of Pilgrim and a recording of Eliin the same room, they’d explode each other.

Artwise, I did like Ezquerra’s monumental vistas and Paul Mounts’ mucky textures and bruised, sweltering color palette of intense purples and oranges, although occasionally the color choices did end up being hard on the eyes.

For the record, I also tried to read the original series but couldn’t maintain interest, for about the same set of reasons that I had a hard time getting through Garden of Eden, but also because the art had a much cruder look to it, despite the artistic team being the same.

Conclusion: if you’re looking for Western grit, post-apocalyptic atmosphere, and fairly mindless violence involving mutant jellyfish and hammerhead sharks, you may like this. Just don’t expect depth or anything approaching meaningful commentary on… anything, really.

Go to:
Garth Ennis
The Boys, by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson (2006-200*) E

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Date Read:4.27.10
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

A newspaper runs a peculiar advertisement calling all “gifted children looking for special opportunities ” to audition for a most prestigious and mysterious institution. Many respond to the ad, most of whom are goaded by their parents, but in particular, it is four family-less children who pass. Soon, they find themselves on a mission to save the world as undercover spies on an isolated island trying to bring down an evil institution from the inside. The children must use their extraordinary talents to circumvent barriers and gain the trust of the enemy, while discovering more about their own pasts and each other.

Review

Just as the reviews claim, The Mysterious Benedict Society reads like a fusion of childhood favorites– Roald Dahl, J.K. Rowling, Lemony Snicket– with strong “Codename: Kids Next Store” vibes, yet manages to retain a voice and characterization that is wholly unique. It features an ensemble cast of orphans– protagonists whose appeal have been proven time and time again by successful series such as Harry Potter, The Boxcar Children, and A Series of Unfortunate Events—  whose resourceful and quirky members are sure to engage any reader. The tale is a rather straightforward intrigue-filled adventure with a clear inception  and purpose. I found that although it was deftly and winningly told, it lacked some of the magical twists, turns and subplots that really set apart other children’s series. On the other hand, the writing was very intelligent, such that I felt like the reading level could cater to adults and children alike. Stewart is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and it is obvious that the substance of his literary education supports each word. Throw in terrific twists, mindbending (literally) obstacles, Cartoon-Network-esque acronyms, a world domination conspiracy, and you have a hefty contender for a childhood favorite. The Mysterious Benedict Society is absolutely captivating and casts a wide net, ensnaring the bold and shy, nerdy and adventurous.

I am not-so-tentatively labelling this as my new successful children’s series find- it is fresh, intelligent, exciting, and from what I hear, the second installment is even better than the first!

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Trenton Lee Stewart

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Date read: 5/31/08
Read from: Public library
Reviewer: Emera

B.P.R.D.: Hollow Earth and Other Stories collects side stories of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, from the Hellboy universe, though all (deliberately) absent the eponymous hero.

  • “Hollow Earth” (written by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, and Tom Sniegoski; art by Ryan Sook and Curtis Arnold): The fish-man Abe Sapien, Roger the homunculus, and a disembodied medium named Johann Krauss venture into the center of the earth, searching for their missing teammate.
  • “The Killer in my Skull” (written by Mike Mignola, art by Matt Smith and Ryan Sook): The B.P.R.D.’s Depression-era counterpart, Lobster Johnson, encounters a mad scientist.
  • “Abe Sapien versus Science” (written and inked by Mike Mignola, drawn by Matt Smith): A disquieting glimpse into the origins of both Abe and Roger.
  • “Drums of the Dead” (written by Brian McDonald, art by Derek Thompson): Abe and a young psychic investigate paranormal incidents – possession, inexplicable shark swarms, ghostly drumming – manifesting on an Atlantic shipping route.

I read the first Hellboy collection quite a while ago, and wasn’t impressed, but reading this actually motivated me to go back to the series. Though the stories aren’t terribly original, I’m a sucker for the art (most of the art in these stories closely emulates Mignola’s own, though whether that’s good or bad is debatable) and characters – particularly the erudite, gently tragic Abe. I love the art’s distinctively shadowy, bold look, and Dave Stewart’s dim colors give the series an appropriately eerie, pulp feel – the panels look as though they’ve had all the light sucked out of them, except for cigarette sparks and lantern glows and the occasional dose of phosphorescence or hellfire. This was especially effective for the haunted-ship story – I always love a good sea-ghost tale.

Bottom line: predictable stories, but the art and affecting characters win out for me.

Go to:
Mike Mignola

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Date read: 11/16/09
Book from: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

(Nightcrawler: The Winding Way collects Astonishing X-Men: Nightcrawler #7-12.)

After being seriously wounded in an inexplicable attack, Nightcrawler struggles to escape the nightmarish memories of his past: his youth in Germany behind the scenes of a circus, his unwilling murder of his brother, and his eventual enslavement in an American circus. Once recovered from his injuries, Nightcrawler retraces his history both in Germany and in America, seeking to understand the forces that seem determined to dredge up his past and threaten the boundaries of the mystical worlds.

Nightcrawler: The Winding WayHmm… well, for starters, I don’t like Darick Robertson’s art (I’ve also seen his work in The Boys). Though a few of his cover spreads for this mini-series are nicely textured and moodily desaturated (e.g. the cover above, which I quite like), his art within the run is hilariously inconsistent, and flat-out terrible on several pages where it’s obvious that he had to rush it. He’s also one of those people who can’t draw women without certain parts of their anatomy straining at their improbably tissue-thin, vacuum-suctioned-to-the-skin clothing. Also, not so much a fan of Matt Milla’s coloring, either, as it’s in the digital style of which I am an anti-fan – hard, oversaturated, metallic colors.

Storywise, this is also not amazing. Schmaltzy dialogue and narration, predictable plotting. The only bits I enjoyed were the angsty Nightcrawler flashbacks, and that’s partly just me being a Nightcrawler fangirl – there isn’t that much genuine emotional depth to them. I’d probably only reread it for those bits, though, so at least it has some reread value.

Also… I’d love to use stronger language here, but I’m going to control myself and just say, enough with the Wolverine cameos. Really. Are there really that many people on the face of the earth who would pick up a comic title purely because it includes a certain Canadian flaunting his body hair and tossing off predictable lines involving the word “bub”? (Don’t answer that question, and yes, I’m sure I’m late on the bandwagon of people who complain about that.) In general I’m losing interest in the Marvel superhero universe, or at least the mainstream superhero titles. It’s so frustrating that their overall storylines are really compelling, but they generally end up being killed by the writing, or the art, or both. Case in point: I love that the Nightcrawler series concept is to have him investigate the mystical and paranormal events that the X-Men generally don’t handle, but the end product is hardly worth reading.

…That was a lot of spleen.

Go to:
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

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