Graphic Novel Wrap Up 1

Sunday 23 August 2020

I decided to try and read more graphic novels and comics in 2020. This was because I had quite a few boxes of comics that have been sitting, unread and unloved, in my parents garage as well as a few boxes of comics I received as a parting gift from a friend that moved away. Some of these jaunts into my backlog have been fruitful in the case of comics like Paper Girls or revisiting Saga. Others haven't like being more than a little disappointed with Fatale. But since then I've dived into quite a few more. So here's my first graphic novel wrap up. Enjoy!

Superman: Red Son By Mark Millar

If you had asked me a year ago if I had ever read Superman: Red Son, I'd have scoffed and tried to change the topic or maybe even lied (gasp!) because I was embarrassed and felt like some sort of filthy casual for never having read it. So I got around to it and boy am I glad I did.

If you've never heard of it, Superman: Red Son is a speculative story that doesn't take place in official Superman cannon. This asks the question, what would happen if, instead of landing in backwater Kansas, his pod landed in the USSR?

I thought this story was really well done and it manages to work in members of the Justice League and how they would have reacted to this version of Superman. Superman isn't an old fashioned bad guy and neither is Lex Luthor a good guy. Even though Luthor is on the “right” side of things, he's still an asshole and Superman still tries to do good despite lacking the Kent up bringing that made him the Man of Steel we know and love. This is a fun and quick read that dives into no only the idea of nurture versus nature, but how history could have played out if a few key things went differently.

Superman: Red Son is very good but I think it falls just a little shy of being great. The last act of the story suffered from some pacing issues that kept this from being perfect.

Superman: Red Son gets an 8 out of 11

Market Day by James Sturm

Mendleman’s life goes through an upheaval when he discovers that he can no longer earn a living for his growing family doing the work that defines him—making well-crafted rugs by hand. A proud artisan, he takes his donkey-drawn cart to the market only to be turned away when the distinctive shop he once sold to now stocks only cheaply manufactured merchandise. As the realities of the marketplace sink in, Mendleman unravels. James Sturm draws a quiet, reflective, and beautiful portrait of eastern Europe in the early 1900s–bringing to life the hustle and bustle of an Old World marketplace on the brink of industrialization. Market Day is an ageless tale of how economic and social forces can affect a single life. (Premise from Goodreads)

I randomly found this at a library book sale. We paid five dollars and you get a back and can fill it with as many books as you want. You should look for some in your area. It's really cool. But we were wanting to head home but we still had room in one of our bags so we just started grabbing stuff that we could sell or donate. This was one I grabbed, and I'm glad I did.

I wasn't overly wowed by this graphic novel. It was just okay. But it's something truly random. A book that I had never heard of before that I truly had no idea what to expect. The art in this nice. There are quite a few panels that are quite beautiful that I found myself gazing at longer than I needed to. But the story was just okay. It was a sad tale and something that probably really happened so some poor craftsman. But unfortunately it wasn't enough to wow me. It was just okay.

Market Day gets a 6 out of 11

Prince Of Cats by Ron Wimberly

Prince of Cats is the B side to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, played at an eighties block party in a NY where underground sword dueling blossomed alongside hip-hop, punk, disco, and no wave. It's a deconstruction of Romeo and Juliet's romantic meta narrative focussing on the minor players with Tybalt at the center.(Premise from Goodreads).

This graphic novel was brought to my attention thanks to my friend Figbar. He was promoting comics and graphic novels by Black authors and I was excited to jump right in. I was very lucky my local library had a copy of this. I was shocked by it's size, if you've ever seen an issue of Variety magazine, then you'll know what to expect.

A lot like Superman: Red Son I liked this a lot but I felt like the ending fizzled out. Since this follows Tybalt we know how it's going to end, unless somehow you've never seen or read Romeo & Juliet, but what happens before then is the fun part. It's especially fun when we see scenes from the play and the familiar biting of thumbs. But when the story starts to cover the happenings of the play, I feel like the greater story, the fun one that Wimberly created, dissipates in favor of The Bard's work. Nothing wrong with Shakespeare's original, but I was having fun with Wimberly's new story so I was a tad disappointed when his story got lost near the end.

All in all this was a really well done story with wonderful art. The punkish 80's New York style is great. The colors are vivid, and I even like Wimberly's vision of Tybalt.

Price of Cats gets a 8.5 out of 11

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (Vol 1 + 2) by Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder

Lunella Lafayette is a preteen super genius who wants to change the world- but learned the hard way that it takes more than just big brains. Fearful of the monstrous Inhuman genes inside her, life is turned upside down when a savage, red-scaled tyrant is teleported from prehistoric past to a far-flung future we call today. The pair is many things, and together the most amazing Marvel Team-Up. Marvel presents...Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur! (Premise from Amazon)

I've had this series on my TBR list for a while and on a whim I checked my local library for it and guess what? They had the first two! So I got them and dove right in. As I read both volumes I had to actively keep in mind that this is a series aimed at kids. There are plenty of references and small jokes for older readers but this is for a younger audience. The good thing is, this comic doesn't talk down to kids. What makes it kid friendly is that it's a little less violent and has a bit of a goofier tone.

Luna Lafayette is a genius but that doesn't mean she gets everything and that's what makes her so endearing. Her parents, while loving, are at times oblivious to what makes Luna tick. Bullies still get to her. And she's not above a kid sized tantrum. As extraordinarily fictional as this is, she's also a very real character.

Devil Dinosaur is cute and is basically just a big dog. He's may more intelligent than a dinosaur should be, which helps him, you know, not just eat people willy-nilly. His presence helps Luna get out of some tight scrapes but also delivers some nice comic relief.

This is a fun and family friendly comic. It's not great or outstanding in any sort of way. It's just fun.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur gets a 7.5 out of 11

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang | Book Review

Sunday 9 August 2020

Any fans of the fantasy genre know there are certain books that are must reads for any fan. You don’t have to like them, but they’re still considered quintessential. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Wheel of Time, Mistborn, Pern, The Inheritance Trilogy, and more are easy suggestions for anyone wanting to get into the genre. When a new quintessential fantasy book comes out it makes big enough waves that it’s hard to ignore. The Poppy War by R F Kuang was one of those books. It was published in 2018 and I finally got around to reading it, what did I think? Here’s my review.

As always, let’s start with the premise in my own words. Rin is a war orphan raised in a podunk little village in the Nikara Empire. She wants nothing more than to escape the opium dealers that raised her and the only way is to ace the Keju, a nationwide test that, if aced, would allow her into the prestigious Sinegard military academy. She does so but finds that being a dark skinned girl from a poor village marks her as easy prey for bullies. Rin catches the eye of the reclusive Lore teacher and learns that she has the potential to wield the powers of a shaman. But with war threatening to break out with the neighboring country of Mugen, everything she has and hasn’t learned, may be put to the test.

Before you pick up this book you should know a couple things. The first is that this is labeled as a “grimdark” fantasy. That means that… well… things are grim and dark. And boy do things get dark. I don’t generally believe in trigger warnings but I’m going to make an exception for this book because at one point, things got so dark that I just felt wrong. I felt like I had to take a shower. So consider this your trigger warning for rape, torture, murder, and violence in general. Just think of stuff that would make Jigsaw shudder and you'll have an idea of the kind of shit that happens at a few points in this book. See? Grimdark.

Kuang borrows heavily from history and it shows. But what also shows is her imagination and talent as a writer. While Kuang does borrow her world’s back story from the Sino-Japanese war (during WWII) with added touches from the Opium Wars and China’s Song Dynasty, she does make them her own. With books like this, an author can borrow all they want but it won’t make the story interesting. Lucky for the reader, Kuang does make it interesting. The world is rich and though it’s based on ancient China, it becomes its own creature. In the beginning some of the characters easily fell into tropes but later blossomed into something more.

A lot of people raved about this book and while there is plenty to rave over, there’s also plenty to be critical about. The most pressing issues is the pacing of the book. The first half of the story was slowly paced and after the war broke out it ramped up and while one could argue that it was honest in terms of the tides of war, as a reader it comes across as a little jarring. Also, the first half of the book felt a little like a Harry Potter fanfiction with Rin as Harry, Nezha as Malfoy, Kitay as Ron, Jun as Snape, and Jiang as Dumbledore.

Another low point of the book was Rin's outstanding stupidity. Before anyone says anything. I get it. She's a kid, she basically had to raise herself, and none of her masters can answer a question with a straight answer to save their lives, but all the dumb decisions she made got old. Even though I did really like this book, her final bad decision just made me shake my head and realize that I sorely missed my favorite character who died half a book ago.

I want to finish up on a high note but one more thing that bothered me was the overly violent things that happened. They only happened a couple times and I do get it, war is horrible, but come on. I didn't need some of the graphic and bloody descriptions. I'm already on Nikara's side. I don't need to hear about all the crimes against humanity Mugen committed too.

So like I said, let's try to end this on a happy note. I did like this book. It's not a modern masterpiece as some fans of the book would have you believe. But it's a solid and enjoyable novel that brings an interesting new world and magic system into our lives. While the ending didn't put me off reading the sequel, it did push the sequel farther down my TBR than it originally was. I have no need to pick it up right away, but some time this year I'll read it.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang gets a 7 out of 11

Fatale | Comic Review

Sunday 2 August 2020

This year my reading goal is bigger than ever. I aim to read 125 book, but seeing as last year I barely made it over my goal of 60, you may be wondering, “is that a good idea?” To which I say, it is if I’m counting manga and graphic novels. My wife and I have a rule in our house. If it counts on Goodreads, it counts as a book, so I jumped at my higher than normal goal with gusto.

The first comic series I read was Paper Girls by Brian K Vaughan and after that I wanted to finally finish the Fables series by Bill Willingham but before I did that I picked up Fatale by written by Ed Brubacker with artist Sean Philips. It was a short comic series from way back in 2012 that I collected as it came out, but stopped reading it even though I was still buying the issues. What did I think, eight years later? Here’s my review.

I was 29 back in 2012 and while that’s technically well into adulthood, I know now that I wasn’t quite as mature as I should have been. One sign of that was how impressed with myself I was that I was buying a mature rated comic that wasn’t pornographic. See? Mature! Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a comic for kids. There’s murder, nudity, sex, ritualistic sacrifice, and plenty of blood. So consider that your content warning.

Fatale revolves around Josephine, a mysterious woman who seems to draw the attention of men like moths to a raging bonfire. She has power over men. They not only notice her, but she can get them to do whatever she wants. She lives on the run from a mysterious adversary who wants nothing more than to sacrifice her to long forgotten gods for an unclear purpose. Josephine meats Nick who falls under her spell and is now caught up in everything.
We might as well call Nick “Whitey McGee” because he’s just one of many white male characters with no personality that serve no real purpose other than to lust over Jo and to be used as her tools, even when they think they’re being chivalrous and protecting her. There’s only two male characters who don’t feel like useless plebeians. One of them is only in one short part of the story, a Native American man who was connected to a “Fatale” before Jo, and the man who saved Jo for the very first time.

So basically, even though Jo is the main character and has power over men, her story is still told via the men she encounters. In fact, it feels like her story is some sort of reverse “woman in a refrigerator,” and instead of this reverse trope feeling like it’s a step forward for women in fiction, it serves as more of a lethargic step back.

Look, not every piece of fiction has to be some super woke work of art or some diverse rainbow. But especially in today’s cultural climate, the lack of characters of color (except for the lone Native American) and Bechdel test passing women stands out.
What’s worse than the lack of inclusivity is the fact that the story is so bland. Each particular volume is entertaining enough to be a tad enjoyable, but the story as a whole is more convoluted and fragmented more than humpty dumpty after an earthquake. Brubaker spends too much time diving into Jo’s backstory and the story of the Fatales as a whole. So much so that the main story gets lost in the process. The entire third volume takes place in the past and focuses on the advent of Josephine and a few Fatales who came before her. But even though we get this volume that focuses on her beginnings, it’s still never made clear how or why she got her powers. I realize that leaving a mystery unsolved or not answering every single question can be an important and effective narrative device, but in this case it left me cold and wanting more.

If I took each volume and critiqued it by itself, they’d get a higher average score than the story as a whole. But I have to rate this as one story. In the end, Fatale is a good idea that shows a lot of promise but it misses the mark so bad that I wonder what Brubaker and Phillips were aiming for in the first place. This could have been a great series but the sloppy narrative and poor characters keep it from being all it could have been.

Fatale by Ed Brubacker gets a 4 out of 11

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