Saga: Volume Eight

March 30, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

saga8Saga: Volume Eight by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

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Volume Eight covers issues 43-48 of Saga, which is usually the time when a series shifts into a higher gear, or runs out of steam. Given that this is Saga, though, you should have a good idea which route the comic takes.

Saga has always been about politics, but it’s never been preachy about it. It’s presented Alana and Marko as a young couple in love more than it’s presented them as two different races on opposing sides of a war. The message the authors want to present is clear, but it’s never been drilled into the reader’s head.

Volume Eight opens with Alana going to a backwater planet to have an abortion of the child who died at the end of the last volume. The authors show us both sides of the issue, through the practitioners who provide the service, the unauthorized practitioners who don’t ask questions, and the residents of the planet who oppose the practice altogether. It’s clear the authors are presenting a certain viewpoint, but they do it by presenting a scenario and taking it through to its conclusion instead of beating you about the head with it.

The story continues to be fantastic, with well-realized characters, challenging dilemmas, and thoughtful themes. It’s exactly what the title tells you it will be — a saga — told through the lens of a single family. I like how it’s narrated from the perspective of Hazel, from some point in the future, as it gives it a touch of innocence and wisdom at the same time. I’m interested in seeing how Vaughan and Staples will keep this arc going, and how they plan to conclude it. If they can come to nearly fifty issues and still keep the story this fresh, then I doubt I’ll be disappointed.

Started: January 6, 2018
Finished: January 6, 2018

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Monstress: The Blood

March 28, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

bloodMonstress: The Blood by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda

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I read the first Monstress collection last year, and was blown away with its depth of story, world-building, and characterization. That the story was paired with the perfect artwork — glorious and horrifying at the same time — made it that much more impressive, so of course I was going to keep reading this series. I just hate that it took me this long to get around to it.

The story continues to be dense with detail and history, as well as building out the world of Maika on her journey, but none of it gets in the way of the story itself. This time, Maika and Ren are on a quest to learn more about her past and her mother’s machinations, which takes her to sea to find an island of legend. The journey there and her discovery are the heart of this book.

The Blood is effective due to its imagery, both in story and art. Liu balances compassion and cruelty in her story, which Takeda balances delicacy and violence in her art. Overall, this book is creepy and disquieting, and is the kind of story — visually and narratively — that gets under the skin and keeps you thinking. That the two can continue with the strengths that made the first volume so good ensures that I will be reading this through to its conclusion.

Started: December 31, 2017
Finished: December 31, 2017

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Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too

March 27, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) ()

aliebnEveryone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun

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What a cute book! It straddles the line between schmaltzy and wise, using innocence to talk about some hefty topics. It discusses individuality, loneliness, love, isolation, and friendship, among other things. It’s also immensely quotable; I’ll bet that readers have written down a good many of the lines in this book to remember them in times of need.

The book is about Jomny, an alien who lands on Earth and is tasked with learning about humans. He first encounters trees and animals, and begins using them to collect his data. He’s an innocent soul, with no knowledge of anything save himself and how he respects everyone else, and it’s that approach he takes to his research. It’s drawn in a style that could be called frivolous, but it’s a perfect match for Jomny’s innocence, which never quite crosses over to naivete.

This is a perfect book, with a wide audience. I can see it being useful for readers who are experiencing depression or grief, as it’s a very light story with an affirming message. I understand the author has a Twitter feed that’s reminiscent of this book, so I’ll be making sure I follow him. If this is an example of what he can write, then I’ll be along for the whole ride.

Started: December 31, 2017
Finished: December 31, 2017

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Harrow County: Hedge Magic

January 26, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

hedgeHarrow County: Hedge Magic by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook

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I’ve been digging Harrow County quite a bit. The characters, the atmosphere, and the creepiness of the series has hit all of my interest levels, and I’ve enjoyed seeing how Bunn and Crook develop the series over each arc. Some of the arcs have been less interesting than the others, but the growth of the series overall has been fun to watch.

Hedge Magic returns to a thread the creators started a couple of arcs back, where Beatrice begins to learn her own magic, and feels a divide growing between her and Emmy. Here, they finally face each other with their magic, despite the fact that they’ve been friends for most of their lives. It creates a good character dynamic, and the conflict keeps the reader engaged.

The problem is how they choose to resolve that conflict. It’s a deus ex machina moment, which was disappointing. The arc had developed to the point where neither character could trust the other, and instead of having the characters work out their issues by themselves, the creators bring in a haint to talk them down. Much of the writing in Harrow County has been strong, but it falters here in Hedge Magic. Much of that, I think, is due to how short these arcs are. Four issues doesn’t seem like enough space to develop the conflict well enough to wrap them up convincingly.

The good news is that the creators still know how to create the creepy (Bunn knows how to write it, and Crook knows how to draw it), and that comes to the forefront with the keyhole ghost. Plus, that’s the encounter that begins the conflict between Emmy and Beatrice, so it’s not just a throwaway moment in the series.

Harrow County continues to impress, and like the blurb on the cover declares, this is a series that is “Highly recommended for people who like their horror more cerebral and creepy.” I couldn’t agree more.

Started: November 7, 2017
Finished: November 7, 2017

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The Walking Dead: Here’s Negan!

January 25, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

neganThe Walking Dead: Here’s Negan! by Robert Kirkman, et al.

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Going into this volume, I expected to be a little disappointed. Villains rarely get better with a backstory, and a villain with the kind of charisma as Negan needed it even less. With A Certain Doom, Kirkman and crew hinted at there being more to Negan, enough to elicit some sympathy, even though we still don’t like him. It was a nice touch to flesh out his character, and that was about all he needed.

Here’s Negan! takes that conceit and fleshes it out to the point that Negan is just a cliche. The story moves so quickly that it’s difficult to feel anything for Negan or the other characters in the story, even as terrible things happen to them. Plus, the events that Kirkman supplies to develop Negan’s backstory aren’t new or groundbreaking; in fact, we’ve seen them several times before.

Negan hasn’t changed too much since before the apocalypse, either. The crude, fast-talking, boastful person Negan is is the same person Negan has always been. Now, he just has the psychopathy to back it all up. For me, Negan has become tiresome, not because of his character, but because of his constant chattering, and it’s disappointing to learn that he’s always been like that.

If you want to know why Negan has the jacket and the bat, then this might be the story for you. If you want to keep what little mystery there is behind Negan’s character a mystery, then you might want to skip it. Even expecting to be a little disappointed, I felt let down by the story. Had it taken more time to develop the story and the characters, I might have felt differently.

Started: November 6, 2017
Finished: November 6, 2017

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Phoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm

January 9, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

unicornPhoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm by Dana Simpson

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I discovered the comic strip Phoebe and Her Unicorn over two years ago. It’s fantastic. It’s about a precocious young girl who befriends a unicorn, and how they become best friends. It’s about a lot more than that (friendship, diversity, acceptance, and family), but the relationship between Phoebe and Marigold Heavenly Nostrils (no kidding) is the real draw. There’s a sincerity and maturity about the strip that reminds me of Calvin & Hobbes, but with much less snark.

The Magic Storm is the sixth book featuring the characters, but the first five were collections of the strips. I don’t usually record or review those, since there’s not as much narrative structure to a strip (save for the few extended storylines), but this book is the first self-contained, extended story featuring Phoebe and Marigold. It also features the other main characters (Phoebe’s parents, her friend Max, and her frenemy Dakota), as well as introducing a couple of new characters. It’s probably not the best place to start with the strip, since the background between Phoebe and Dakota is better developed through the strip, but all that means is you get to read the first five books. (Trust me: This is a Good Thing™.)

The story opens with Marigold sensing something strange about her magic, while at the same time Phoebe is receiving severe weather alerts on her phone. The two, of course, are related, and it takes the two of them working together with their friends and the goblins to determine the source of the problem. It’s peppered with the lighthearted humor of the strips, and shows the positivity of the relationships of the characters. There’s a particular feel to the strip, and Simpson has captured that same feel here.

The Magic Storm isn’t the most tightly plotted story, but it’s intended for younger kids, and the lessons of the story are important ones. Given the choice between strip collections or self-contained stories, I would likely choose the strip collections, but if Simpson wants to keep telling these tales, I will keep reading them. Any chance to revisit the charm of her characters is one to take.

Started: October 18, 2017
Finished: October 18, 2017

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The Walking Dead, Volume 28: A Certain Doom

January 3, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

doomThe Walking Dead, Volume 28: A Certain Doom by Robert Kirkman, et al.

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Something big happens in A Certain Doom. I won’t spoil it for you, since that “something big” seems to be the point of the entire arc. Other things happen outside of that “something big”, but they seem inconsequential compared to it, not just in importance but also in a narrative sense. There’s a sub-plot regarding infighting, but it’s handled quickly, as if Kirkman were ready to get to the “something big”. There was a lot I liked about this volume (including, believe it or not, Negan), but I wish the events had received as much attention as their “something big”.

While reading this volume, I realized how well this comic works in black-and-white. Aside from giving the mood of the story a darker edge, it also helps make the blood and gore more effective. Were this presented in full color, with bright red blood and mottled grey corpses, it would come across as garish and exploitative; in black-and-white, it’s muted, making us focus more on how it affects the characters than the gore itself.

It’s hard to talk about this arc without giving away the “something big”, but it satisfies. The most significant thing to happen in this book, narratively speaking, is the character growth, though it occurs more in the secondary characters than where you would expect it to happen. As always, Kirkman ends the story in such a way that I want to keep reading, and since the series is already up to 172 issues, I figure it will keep me reading for a long time.

Started: October 10, 2017
Finished: October 10, 2017

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Wolverine

December 29, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

wolverineWolverine by Chris Claremont & Frank Miller

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I came into comics too late to read Wolverine right off the shelf, but man, did I know about it. It was a grail title of mine, since I loved Wolverine’s character, but it was always too expensive for me to buy to read. At some point, I wound up with the first issue, but I never got any further than that with the story. That first issue starts out strong, though, with an opening line as iconic as “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed”: “I’m the best there is at what I do, but what I do best isn’t very nice.”

From there, we follow Logan hunting a bear that’s been left for dead, but has instead gone on its own killing rampage. He finds the bear, kills it, and expresses remorse over the act since it had been driven to it; then, he tracks down the man who poisoned it but didn’t kill it, fights him, and sends him to jail without any regrets. It sets the tone of his character, and shows him being more animal than man. In short, it defines all that is Wolverine.

Then, it moves to Japan. Mariko is Logan’s love, back in Japan and not accepting or sending letters. He goes to Japan to track her down, and becomes enmeshed in some crime drama related to Mariko’s new husband. That’s the point where the story goes off the rails and stops making sense. The Hand is involved, but it’s hard to tell what’s driving the crime gangs, and what their business actually is. For the story, Claremont only makes it clear that they’re criminals, and organized. I guess he feels like this is all we need to know.

What we do need to know, apparently, is Logan’s backstory. We get it at the start of each issue. In four or five panels on one page, we get his name, hear about his mutant healing abilities, his adamantium-laced skeleton, and his claws. Even at the time of the title’s publication, people knew who Wolverine was, and he was already a fan-favorite. Readers didn’t need it reiterated with every issue, but that’s what we get.

Released back in 1982, Wolverine is a comic that shows its age. At its time, it might have been a little progressive; it seems like Claremont did some research into Japanese culture instead of just populating the story with offensive stererotypes, and having a female assassin might have bucked some trends at the time. Thirty-five years later, the culturalism comes across as stereotypical, and the female characters are little more than story-dressing. Mariko doesn’t have any depth outside of her being a daughter, or Logan’s love, and the assassin, Yuriko, is inconsistent. During a fight, she’s cut by a sword, and Logan notes that she doesn’t make a sound, because she’s tough like that; later, she’s threatened by a crime boss, who grabs and twists her wrist, and she cries out, saying, “You’re hurting me!” That she falls in and out of a relationship with Logan only reinforces that inconsistency.

I hadn’t known Frank Miller had done the art in this book until I started reading it, and it’s sufficient. It feels kinetic, and isn’t done in such a way that things aren’t clear (in fact, there’s a scene where, mid-fight, Logan pulls an arrow from his arm to use against another assassin, and it’s done subtly enough that it’s not obvious, nor does it fade into the background), but parts of it made me laugh. Every time Logan snikts his claws, each one has to gleam in the light, and there were times when his mouth would be wide open in a yell (the better to show off those animalistic canines, my dear), only to be saying one word, quietly. The artwork didn’t always match the mood of the story.

I’ll freely admit my expectations were too high for Wolverine, but man, did it let me down. It’s too much a product of its time to hold up well so many years later.

Started: September 28, 2017
Finished: September 28, 2017

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Archie: Volume Four

December 11, 2017 at 7:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

archie4Archie: Volume Four by Mark Waid and Pete Woods

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In the afterword of the first volume of the Archie reboot, Waid noted that when he started writing the series, he hung a sign on his bulletin board that read, “First, do no harm.” It served as a reminder to tackle the characters honestly, as members of the Archie universe, and to maintain the themes and feelings of the original series. He’s accomplished this in the allegorical sense, but with Volume Four, he shows that he’s not necessarily abiding by that rule in the literal sense.

(Spoilers ahead.)

This volume packs an emotional punch, as the Betty/Veronica question continues to be a central part of the title, and also because Betty winds up in a serious accident by the end, serious enough that she flatlines before coming out to learn she can’t feel her legs. I’m a little torn by the reveal, because I can’t deny that it’s effective, but I also wonder if this is just a narrative ploy to drive Archie back to Betty. If that’s the case, then it makes Betty’s character pretty worthless, doesn’t it?

The accident is the result of a drag race between Archie and Reggie, and comes in mostly out of nowhere. Betty catches wind of it, and attempts to prevent it, but it forces her off the road, where she is seriously injured. Somehow, the two male characters come out of it with hardly a scratch, and it’s hard to tell how they react to the news, since the volume ends on a cliffhanger. Waid suggests this will be a big thing for Archie (and for Reggie, though for different reasons), and it all sits uncomfortably with me. Betty has been strong and independent, and unless this turn of events is there to make Betty stronger, it all feels like a girl-in-the-refrigerator moment. I’m withholding final judgment until I see where this part of the story goes, because it can go either way from here.

As for the other stories, we see less of Cheryl Blossom (though her story takes an unexpected turn), and there’s a cute interplay between Jughead and Veronica that’s endearing, but the story is overwhelmed by the Betty arc. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it was nice to see some other characters get some time in the spotlight. Moose even gets some panel time!

Unfortunately, so does Reggie. Reggie was never a likable character, so it’s no surprise that he’s nobody’s friend in the reboot, but Waid seems to be trying for Riverdale’s own version of Henry Bowers, instead of an obnoxious prankster. There’s an air of finality around his pranks that didn’t exist in the old series, and it feels like it goes too far in the revamp.

Despite my concerns, I still think this is a solid volume, with some effective storytelling. It relies a bit too much on coincidence and might be pushing characters into making decisions that don’t support their characters, but it’s definitely memorable. I’m eager to see how Waid will wrap up this storyline in Volume Five.

Started: September 5, 2017
Finished: September 5, 2017

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Paper Girls: Volume 3

November 23, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

paper3Paper Girls: Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang

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I’ve come to realize that I like the potential behind Paper Girls more than I do the actual story. This isn’t a bad thing; like Saga, it’s full of ideas that, taken to their conclusions, could be epic, but right now it still feels like Vaughan is scrambling to figure out what to do with his ideas. In this volume, the four paper girls find themselves in prehistoric times helping someone who could be a paper girl herself, if only she weren’t a few hundred thousand years before their time.

Oddly, the most compelling of all the volumes so far is the first one, when the four girls find each other, before all the weirdness kicks in. By now, I would have expected the exposition to settle, and for the story proper to begin. Instead, it feels like Vaughan is still playing out the exposition. I suppose it’s possible that we are in the story proper here, but it’s hard to determine, since we’re still getting new characters and new plot points orbiting the main characters. Plus, I’m still not sure what it is the four girls are trying to accomplish.

This isn’t to say I don’t like the title, though. The four main characters are likable (mostly), and the weirdness suggests a lot of what’s to come, but I’m beginning to lose patience with the story. I get the feeling the plot might become apparent with the next volume, but I thought that about Volume 2, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m not ready to give up on it just yet.

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