BOOK REVIEW: The Mythology Class by Arnold Arre

The Mythology Class: Where Philippine Legends Become Reality (a Graphic Novel)The Mythology Class: Where Philippine Legends Become Reality by Arnold Arre
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: August 9, 2022

Let’s call this “Breakfast Club” meets “Ghostbusters” but instead of busting ghosts this group of student-misfits is tasked with getting Filipino mythical creatures back to their home domains while saving their own city from the most villainous of the beasts. There’s a lot happening in this graphic novel — action and adventure tied to the daunting task of containing these creatures, some magical and some monstrous, but there’s also a couple love stories that play out, as well.

I enjoyed reading this graphic novel, finding it fast-paced and imaginative. The characters, both human and mythological, are distinct and face meaningful problems. It’s a story that is both lighthearted and humorous, but with the requisite tension and conflict for such a story. If you’re into mythological superhero stories, check this one out.

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BOOK REVIEW: Shock Treatment by Cullen Bunn, Peter Milligan, & Aaron Douglas

Shock TreatmentShock Treatment by Cullen Bunn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: June 7, 2022

This graphic novel consists of three unrelated pieces of short fiction. All of the stories are of the horror / dark speculative fiction genres, but – otherwise – they are distinct both with respect to story and art. I enjoyed them all, but definitely felt there was a variation in quality.

“Piecemeal” (Cullen Bunn) is about a clique of teenagers who stumble onto a long-deserted house, and find formaldehyde-preserved body parts. It’s got a “Final Destination” meets “Freddie Krueger” kind of vibe. I would rate it as my least favorite. Despite an intriguing (if simple) premise, it never achieved a high creepiness factor, and it resolved too easily / cleanly for my tastes. It also had the most chaotic art, which I’m sure was on purpose, but it didn’t do much for me.

“God of Tremors” (Peter Milligan) this is a period piece set in the 19th century household of a prominent Anglican vicar. It’s about a boy with epilepsy whose anti-science father wants to beat the demon out of him (because that’s what used to cause medical conditions.) While his mother tries with limited success to protect the boy, he ultimately gets help from an unexpected source. This was my favorite because it generated emotional resonance and offered evocative character development. It also had the cleanest artistic style of the three, though I don’t know how important that was to my liking it.

“10 Years to Death” (Aaron Douglas) shows a boy’s uncle telling him a disturbing tale that took place at a prison where the uncle works as the head jailer. That may seem completely unbelievable, unless you’ve had an uncle who didn’t know how to interact with kids so he just – for good or ill – treated them like adults. This was my favorite as far as story premise is concerned. The way the story unfolds is compelling and well-presented.

If you like short fiction of the dark / horror genre, you may want to look into this one.

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BOOK REVIEW: Karmen by Guillem March

KarmenKarmen by Guillem March
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: May 17, 2022

My tagline for this book would be: Neil Gaiman’s “Death” [i.e. from “The Sandman”] meets Paulo Coelho’s “Veronika Decides to Die.” For those unfamiliar with either of those points of comparison, the former is a character that subverts the traditional scary Grim Reaper, replacing the faceless hood with a personable and endearing lass, and the latter is the story of a young woman whose actions force her to learn the lesson of that old chestnut: suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

While it’s convenient for me to present the book in this “X meets Y” summation, it’s a unique story, diverging from both of those tagline references in many important ways. For example, the model of the afterlife is not Judeo-Christian like Gaiman’s, but is more Buddhism meets bureaucracy. [There I go again with the X meets Y.] I found the story captivating, and thought the character development was skillfully presented, particularly as regards the character of Cata.

I struggled with whether I liked the tone of the ending, but I’ll say no more about that to avoid spoilers — except to say that it grew on me. The art was beautiful and I found it to be an all-around entertaining read. Highly recommended.

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BOOK REVIEW: Shang-Chi, Vol. 1: Brothers & Sisters by Gene Luen Yang

Shang-Chi by Gene Luen Yang, Vol. 1: Brothers & SistersShang-Chi by Gene Luen Yang, Vol. 1: Brothers & Sisters by Gene Luen Yang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This five-issue story arc tells the tale of an intra-family battle for control of the Five Weapons Society, a kung fu dynasty that dates back at least to the Boxer Rebellion. With the patriarch deceased, sides form behind Shang-Chi, on the one hand, and Sister Hammer, on the other. While close as young children, Shang-Chi and Sister Hammer grew up separated, and could not have turned out more differently. Shang-Chi (aka. Brother Hand) has been reluctantly drawn into the conflict by virtue of his being the “chosen one,” and by having the support of Brother Sabre and (to a lesser degree) Sister Dagger. Sister Hammer has raised an army and is bent on taking over the dynasty by whatever means necessary.

So, this is one of those stories that’s not about a purely good hero against a purely evil villain, the latter needing to be completely destroyed, but rather it’s about the need for catharsis and reconciliation. But that doesn’t keep the comic from being loaded with action. We also see a protagonist who experiences a change, which is a story convention that is often jettisoned in the action genre. Shang-Chi must move past his reluctance, and embrace his role in the family.

I found this comic to be compelling and worth reading.


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BOOK REVIEW: The Storyteller’s Handbook by Elise Hurst

The Storyteller's HandbookThe Storyteller’s Handbook by Elise Hurst
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: June 14, 2022

This is a book, but not one that one reads but rather one that one writes. It contains more than 50 imaginative and fantastical artworks intended to help creative parents build their own stories, while helping their children learn to become storytellers. There is a forward by Neil Gaiman (who has worked with the artist on previous occasions) and an introduction by Hurst, but otherwise there’s almost no text.

The animate subjects of the book are children and animals, but not just any animals. They are mis-sized, misplaced, mythical, imaginary, anthropomorphized, and extinct creatures in search of a clever explanation for their existence and behaviors. The usual suspects of our beloved stories are most well-represented: bears, lions, foxes, rabbits, birds, and fish – for example. But there are also less well-known creatures: mollusks, a mantis, kangaroo, koala, and armadillo. The settings are also designed to fuel the imagination: oceans, hot air balloons, impossibly floating places of all sorts, cities of gothic and fantastical architecture.

If you’re looking for a storybook where you have a graphic prompt to trigger your own story, this is a beautifully illustrated example of such a work.


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BOOK REVIEW: St. Mercy by John Zuur Platten

St. MercySt. Mercy by John Zuur Platten
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Out: March 1, 2022

This graphic novel combines a Cowboy Western with backstory featuring Incan mythology from pre-Colonial Peru, the latter adding a supernatural element to make a kind of “Unforgiven” meets “Dawn of the Dead” mashup.

It thought the Western narrative was quite well done. The villains were villainous. It’s nothing particularly novel, but the story and characters are skillfully crafted. The Incan story portion forms the origin story for the main character and offers a supernatural element thrown into the gritty realism of the Western. This part of the story is intriguing as well, but there are a couple things I should point out. First of all, I know nothing about Incan gods and monsters lore. Therefore, I can’t say whether the author and artist did their homework, or whether they just made up a generic demon and zombified beings out of nowhere. Secondly, I don’t think the link up of the two storylines was as seamless as it could have been. I found myself unsure of who was whom among carry over characters, and didn’t feel its relevance was sufficient to go back in the middle of what was otherwise an intense story in order to figure it out.

I think the story suffers from two common problems among comic books. First, the mindset of “you can smash any two good things together and make a great thing.” People love Westerns. People love zombies and monster. How could thrusting them together miss? Well, it misses because the visceral emotional quality of the gritty Western tanks in the face of magic and monsters. It misses because the smartly developed Sheriff character is squandered to get him out of the way. Second, this comic suffered from the “cool idea” problem. That’s when someone says “wouldn’t it be cool if…” And then there’s this idea that’s floating out there that you can either do a lot of work to fit into the story so that it makes sense organically, or you can cram it in there willy-nilly and hope the reader says, “cool,” instead of being befuddled by needless complication. I found myself more with the latter.

With a little thought and focus I believe this could have been an excellent story, but – as it is – it’s a bit muddled because it tries to mash together disparate story elements and genres in a way that robs its own thunder.


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BOOK REVIEW: Lucifer: Book One by Mike Carey

Lucifer, Book One (Lucifer, #1)Lucifer, Book One by Mike Carey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This sixteen-issue collection consists of three issues of “The Sandman Presents: Lucifer” in addition to the first thirteen issues of “Lucifer.” As the former title suggests, this is based on a character from the vast cast of “The Sandman” comics, and this volume does occasionally touch upon the broader Sandman universe, though it largely sticks to the Abrahamic mythology bits.

Each of the five story arcs in the volume standalone, but the last three (i.e. “Born with the Dead,” [1 issue,] “The House of Windowless Rooms,” [4 issues,] and “Children and Monsters,” [5 issues]) form an epic arc with a young girl Elaine and a portal to an alternate dimension at its heart. This larger arc impressively works to biblical proportions, involving grandiose stakes. I will say the first arc [from “The Sandman Presents…] was harder to follow the motives driving the story, but I can imagine it would be much easier for those who’d followed The Sandman comics from the outset. [Also, it’s only fair to have some challenges in finding a direction when dealing with such a massive cast and sprawling over-universe.]


If you’re wondering how this Lucifer compares to the television version, this one is less neurotic (though flawed in many of the same ways) and is more serious and a tad more wrathful. The TV version is lighthearted and comedic to a larger extent, while the comic book version bumps up against horror a bit more, but that’s not to say the comics have no comedy or the television version lacks all intensity. From a broader perspective, the Lucifer comic also not only more frequently touches on the Sandman universe, but also on mythologies outside that of Abrahamic religion – e.g. Lucifer ventures into the realm of Japan’s Izanami / Izanagi in “The House of Windowless Rooms.” It’s always nice to see a show can diverge from the source material and still be good, and I think that’s very much the case here.


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BOOK REVIEW: After Lambana by Eliza Victoria & Mervin Malonzo

After Lambana: A Graphic Novel: Myth and Magic in ManilaAfter Lambana: A Graphic Novel: Myth and Magic in Manila by Eliza Victoria
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: May 10, 2022

This urban fantasy takes place in a Manila where magic exists and mythological creatures live. The story follows two young men as they travel around the city. The two seem to be new and casual friends. One is an ordinary human (Conrad) though with a terminal illness that seems not of this world, and the other is an expat from the magic realm (Ignacio) who’s going to great efforts to help Conrad. The hook is the question of why this casual acquaintance seems so important to the too-cool-for-school Ignacio. Conrad seems to be along for the ride as a distraction in his last hours, but Ignacio has an objective – benighted as it may be. The story unfolds to reveal what’s really happening and to offer backstory.

I love works that incorporate mythology and folklore, and think it’s a wise move for writers of speculative fiction because there’s such a rich and engaging field of stories and characters / creatures – all ripe for the picking. This is particularly true of a mythology, such as that of the Philippines, that isn’t widely known and, thus, offers a whole slate of creatures and alternate worlds with which most readers aren’t familiar. In this book, Filipino mythology is most prominently seen via the “Sirena,” which bear some resemblance to Greek Sirens – except being in the form of mermaids (though able to walk on legs under certain conditions.) I think more could have been done with Filipino Mythology, though there are a few other magic elements in the book that may or may not have mythological origins.

In found this to be a compelling story, and the art was colorful, while still capturing a little noir feel for late night Manila. If you’re interested in speculative fiction graphic novels, this one is worth investigating.


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BOOK REVIEW: Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll's House - 30th Anniversary EditionThe Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House – 30th Anniversary Edition by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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“The Doll’s House” story arc is the second volume in the original run of “Sandman,” and consists of issues #9 – 16. After a prologue that tells an African tribal myth about a love between a mortal woman and a god, the other seven issues tell the story of Rose Walker, a young woman whose mere existence will become a threat to the Dreaming (the world of dreams and the dominion of Morpheus, god of dreams.) The prologue story introduces concepts helpful for the main story, but does not otherwise share characters or plot details with the larger arc.

The volume presents a clean and satisfying story. Gaiman is among the most superb developers of stories within stories such that his serial work always leaves the reader satisfied. The troubles that play out in this volume result from Morpheus’s (a.k.a. Dream’s) earlier incarceration [volume 1,] but one learns what one needs to follow it during the telling of this story. Besides the issue of Rose Walker, there were escapes and shenanigans in the Dreaming owing to the lack of proper supervision. Morpheus has to fix these problems without a clear picture of what has happened.

Gaiman creates a story that is at once engrossing and humorous. The story reaches its heights in both regards in the issue called “Collectors,” [a.k.a. “The Doll’s House, Part Five”] which involves Rose Walker’s stay in a hotel that is holding a convention that is nominally for the breakfast cereal industry, but is – in fact – for serial killers and collectors of human beings (or artifacts, thereof.) The world of Sandman is gripping and brilliantly creative, and I highly recommend this book.


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BOOK REVIEW: Hellblazer, Vol. 1: Original Sins by Jamie Delano

Hellblazer, Vol. 1: Original SinsHellblazer, Vol. 1: Original Sins by Jamie Delano
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This volume gathers eleven issues, comprising six stories. The first nine issues are from the “Hellblazer” title in which John Constantine is protagonist, and the final two are from “Swamp Thing” (the title in which Constantine was originally introduced.) There is a huge variation in the quality of stories in this collection, with most being compelling reads with an intriguing lead character.

The best stories include: 1.) the two-issue “Hunger” / “A Feast of Friends” in which a heroin addicted (amateur magician) acquaintance of John’s unleashes a demonic swarm upon the world; 2.) the creepy “Waiting for the Man” which draws upon the child abduction terror of the 80’s; and 3.) the four-issue arc “Extreme Prejudice” through “Shot to Hell,” which imagines a cult forcing a young woman to bear a celestial child.

The only really bad story is the single-issue “Going for It.” This issue is a stinker because instead of subtly embedding a political message in a story, it presents a political rant and tries to make it look vaguely story-like. [And if there is anything worse than getting a political rant when you’re expecting a story, it’s getting an archaic anti-Thatcherite political rant from the mid-80’s.] The author’s politics show through in a number of other stories, but not in place of the story. “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” has a great premise, but the “protagonist” (Constantine) is reduced to the role of passive spectator. The two “Swamp Thing” titles (“L’adoration de la Terre” and “Infernal Triangles”) also make for a fine story, but they’re out of place, and presumably are meant to serve as reminder of Constantine’s roots, though he’s a supporting character.

Overall, I enjoyed this volume, despite its few flat notes.


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