BOOK REVIEW: Aster of Pan by Merwan

Aster of PanAster of Pan by Merwan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: Individual issues are available now, but this edition comes out on February 16, 2021.

 

This is one of the most compelling graphic novels I’ve read in some time. It’s a bit challenging to describe in simple terms because when I say its about a game of dodgeball played in a post-apocalyptic setting for the fate of a people, “dodgeball” makes it sound more frivolous than it is, and “post-apocalyptic” makes it seem bleaker and more ominous than it is. Yet, strictly speaking, it’s a sound description. The “nation” of Pan has largely reverted to a state of tribal living, surviving on rice and goods scavenged from the abandoned urban areas. While Pan seems quite tribal with respect to religious and social beliefs and behaviors, it mixes elements of communism and a simple barter economy with those superstitions and in-group preferences.

When a militaristic nation called “Fortuna” comes to call, the people of Pan are given an ultimatum: pay a part of their crop yield to Fortuna or face the consequences. It’s essentially a protection racket – i.e. pay us and we’ll offer you protection, BTW we’ll mostly be protecting you from us. But then they are introduced to a third option: challenge Fortuna to a game of “celestial mechanics,” a game that is strikingly similar to dodgeball, but which allows for some pretty wild variations on the basic premise. While the ball game seems preferable to the other two options, there is a problem: nobody in Pan knows how to play the game, or has any experience with it — while Fortuna is passionate about the sport and has elevated the game to its national pastime. Fortunately, the Chief’s son, Juba, has been away in Fortuna playing as a second-stringer, he will become the team captain. [It also sets up tension with the Father / Chief who resents Juba’s having left.]

The setting is in the latter part of this century in what is now France. We learn that this is in the distant wake of a multi-part catastrophe that has killed off most of the population, and reshaped the map. There is a highly radioactive area that is presumably either the result of a major nuclear power plant meltdown or, possibly, a nuclear war. The fact that Pan has flooded ruins tells the reader that it is also post-climate change crisis. The fact that one can grow paddy rice near present-day Paris is also a big clue about the role of climate change. However, we don’t learn precise details of what happened, or how the events were (or were not) interrelated. There may be more tragedies that are or aren’t connected to those mentioned, but the present day seems far enough down the road that Pan doesn’t have much of a sound memory of the collapse. [It strains credulity a bit that a brand-new religion and such an intense reversion to primitive living would occur, selectively in Pan, over less than 50 years – i.e. Ceres and Fortuna both have seen technological advancement, while Pan – except for scavenged materials – has reverted to early agrarian living. But it serves to make them a greater underdog.]

The titular character, Aster, is a rambunctious young woman who is “un-Pan,” which is to say that she is not a member of the “tribe” and neither gets food rations nor is allowed to participate in Panian politics. When the dodgeball game comes up, they make an exception of their laws to allow Aster to participate because: a.) they need to maintain a balance between the sexes (no more than four of a given sex on the seven-person team,) and; b.) because she is one of the most naturally athletic people who live in Pan. Over the course of the story, we eventually learn a great deal about Aster’s backstory, but she starts as a mysterious outsider. While she has at least on close friend and is treated well by the Chief, we also see that she is subjected to repeated discrimination. The artist draws Aster in huge, over-the-top movements that create a perception of rough-and-tumble dynamism. Despite the post-apocalyptic dystopian situation, the book is drawn in a manner more like “Peter Pan” than “Mad Max.” It’s green and kind of magical — despite the detritus of a collapsed civilization (overgrown high-rise buildings and repurposed container ships.) [And, yes, I assume the reference to “Pan” is a callback to the Neverland of the Barrie books.]

The tournament is a best two-out-of-three affair that rotates locations between the three nations we know of. The first game is played in Ceres, a third-party nation that is also agrarian, but much more advanced than Pan with respect to technology and governance. [Ceres secretly becomes a Pan ally because they are already under the thumb of Fortuna’s militaristic dystopia and hope to show the cracks in that hegemonic superpower by helping the underdog win. Ceres’s court is the simplest version of a celestial mechanics court. It’s essentially just a sunken basketball court — sans the hoops and with lines drawn suitably to the futuristic sport’s rules. The other two rounds are played out on Fortuna and Pan, respectively, becoming progressively more militant affairs. [It’s not clear how Fortuna is able to set the version of rules they play by regardless of where they play – except on Ceres. But it’s clearly meant to allow them to make the game ever more challenging.]

I found this book to be immensely intriguing. The story was engaging, and presented a solid standalone story arc. Both the art and the text create an emotional richness that provides story tension that might easily be lost given the fanciful premise. The book subtly teaches the value of teamwork and the need to put one’s petty impulses and ego behind one. The book’s art creates a wonderland, as well as endearing characters. [“Wonderland” may seem a strange descriptor for a post-apocalyptic world, but it’s only demoralizing if one thinks about what must have happened in the past to cause it. Otherwise, it seems like a green and quiet – if somewhat anarchistic — place to live.]

I’d highly recommend this book for readers of graphic novels.

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BOOK REVIEW: Chu, Vol. 1 by John Layman and Dan Boultwood

Chu, Vol, 1Chu, Vol, 1 by John Layman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Out: January 26, 2021

 

The unique element of this book is its food-centric premise, and – in particular – the existence of food-based extrasensory perception. The central character, Saffron Chu, is able to read the mind of anyone nearby, if she eats the exact same thing that person is consuming as he or she consumes it. Saffron is part of a criminal gang that conducts high-value burglaries. Saffron’s brother, Tony, has a different (and much grosser) food ESP in that he can get psychic impressions from sampling the deceased at crime scenes (i.e. a bit like “iZombie” but he doesn’t have to eat brains; it can be blood or viscera that he tastes.) [Actually, his power is broader than that in that he can get impressions off of anything he eats, except – for some reason – beets, but the tasting of blood and gore is most relevant to his role in this story.] Tony is a police detective.

The story begins with the crew that Saffron belongs to bungling the burglary of a powerful crime boss. Keeping with the critical role of food, the burglary fails because a city-wide outbreak of food poisoning attributable to tainted chicken strikes part of the crew, and only Saffron and her charming, if douchey, Dick Dastardly-looking boyfriend – Eddie Molay – escape. The rest of the story revolves around Saffron and Eddie trying to survive and escape revenge attacks from the crime-lord who they attempted to rob. As the couple is doing so, Tony and his partner are assigned to solve the murders of the burglary-gone-awry from which Saffron and Eddie escaped, as well as some of the subsequent cases that ensue.

Family is a major element of the story’ tension. The cat-and-mouse between Tony and Saffron is only part of this, though it is a central element of the story. These characters are also put in situations in which they must determine if family comes before the other things they value, and they must cope with the fact that whatever they do happens within a familial context – i.e. they each have to face the shame of the family knowing who they truly are.

The art is whimsical, colorful, and easy to follow. The classic cartoony nature of the drawings is beneficial in maintaining a tone that is lighthearted, despite the many gruesome deaths that are depicted in graphic, but comically absurd ways.

This volume collects the first five issues (#1-5) of the series. I enjoyed the story, which was straightforward and entertaining. The premise of the book is unique, if odd — but better bizarre than cliché.

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BOOK REVIEW: Freiheit! by Andrea Grosso Ciponte

Freiheit!: The White Rose Graphic NovelFreiheit!: The White Rose Graphic Novel by Andrea Grosso Ciponte
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Out: March 4, 2021

This tragic story tells the tale of a small college-centric anti-Nazi resistance group, doing so in graphic novel form. While it touches upon the story of six White Rose members who were executed, special emphasis is given to the sister-brother duo of Sophie and Hans Scholl. White Rose was largely involved in distributing leaflets to encourage others to engage in resistance activities against the Nazis. (Note: the translated text of the White Rose pamphlets is included as an appendix.) There is so much attention given to the truly fascinating question of how a bunch of fascist lunatics managed to run a country into such diabolical territory that it can easily be missed that there was at least some resistance within Germany. I, for one, was oblivious to the story of White Rose before reading this book.

The arc of the story takes the reader from the upbeat stage during which White Rose was succeeding in distributing articulate and persuasive flyers, through some of their close calls and other frustrations (e.g. the Scholl’s father being arrested), and on to the bitter end. Much of what I’ve seen previously about resisters centered on communists. One sees in White Rose a different demographic. There are a number of religious references without the “workers of the world unite” lead that would be taken by leftist groups.

I believe the author overplayed the stoicism with which the executed individuals accepted their fate. This is based upon a true story, and so this may seem an unfair criticism because perhaps that’s how it appeared in reality. However, from a storytelling perspective, it felt surprisingly devoid of emotional content [given the events provide loads of potential for it.] There is a great tragedy in young people being executed by the State for asking others to resist fascism, but as a reader I didn’t really feel an intense visceral connection to events. As I said, I suspect this had to do with the author wishing to show that the Scholls took it in all in stride, but I think some display of angst or anger might have made for a more intense reading experience. I don’t know whether it was more a textual or graphic issue that left me unmoved.

All in all, the book was an interesting insight into resistance to the Nazis in an academic environment. I did find reading the pamphlet translations themselves to be insightful. The flyers give one insight into where the student-resisters were coming from, and what buttons wished to push in others. It might have been a bit more gripping, but it was an interesting telling of events.

If you’re interested in learning more about Germans who resisted the fascists, this book provides a quick example of how (and by whom) it was done, and I’d recommend you give it a read.

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BOOK REVIEW: iZOMBIE, VOL. 1: DEAD TO THE WORLD by Chris Roberson

iZombie, Vol. 1: Dead to the WorldiZombie, Vol. 1: Dead to the World by Chris Roberson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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“iZombie” is the story of Gwen, a zombie who works as a grave-digger to allow her access to ethically-sourced brains (at least compared to the alternative.) Gwen lives in the cemetery, has a colorful cast of friends and confreres, including: a ghost, a were-dog, and the odd human being. The niche idea that separates this from the vast zombie lore is that Gwen takes on memories and personality traits of the ex-owner of the most recent brain she consumes. She then uses this knowledge to do a favor for the deceased, be it solving their murder, or otherwise. In this volume, following visions of the deceased family man leads Gwen back to a spooky house that she and her ghost-girl pal had trick-or-treated at on Halloween.

I read this because I was intrigued after seeing the CW television series which is based upon this comic book. For those who’ve seen the show and are wondering, the book and show have very little in common beyond the premise of a female zombie who takes on memories and personality traits of the former owner of the brain she consumes. In the tv series, the main character is Liv Moore, a doctor in the medical examiner’s office, and the series is much more of a police procedural set in a city experiencing a covert pandemic of Zombification. Both the comic and the tv series are light-hearted takes on zombie tropes, but the tv series reminds me more of “Psych” than it does, say, “The Walking Dead.” [An individual who people believe is a psychic, but who solves crimes in another way altogether – i.e. “Psych” with Zombies.] Comparing the comic book is more difficult, but I would say it has a definite “Scooby-Doo” vibe, except the monsters (e.g. vampires) are real and not the scary ploy of a crotchety old man (and there’s a nefarious guild of monster hunters in the mix.)

I enjoyed reading this volume. It wasn’t as satisfying as it could be because it seemed like it was more about setting up a larger story than it was about telling a story within the volume itself. That is, I was left in a somewhat unsatisfied state of having more questions outstanding than I felt were answered. To be fair, there is a story – i.e. an answer as to why Gwen’s “brain of the month” died, but we don’t really know whether that answer can be trusted because we know the responsible party has some (presently ill-defined) ulterior motive. Perhaps, it is just that, as readers, we enter the protagonist’s world “in medias res” and then are given a huge helping to chew on that will not be paid off until later. The combination of these two factors causes the volume’s story arc to get lost.

I enjoyed this comic book, overall. I will make the unpopular and anti-urbane comment that the tv series seemed a bit cleverer and more intriguing to me. That said, it’s an interesting concept and a nice light-hearted read.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Boys, Vol. 2: Get Some by Garth Ennis

The Boys, Volume 2: Get SomeThe Boys, Volume 2: Get Some by Garth Ennis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This volume continues the Garth Ennis series that takes as its premise that the superheroes are villains and the real heroes are anti-heroes. It consists of two different four-issue stories. The first half (issues 7 – 10 [of the comic series overall]) is the subtitular story “Get Some,” and the back half (issues 11 – 14) is entitled “Glorious Five Year Plan.”

“Get Some” pits the Boys against Tek Knight and SwingWing as the anti-supe team investigates the killing of a young gay man. Tek Knight is a sex-addicted cross between Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne (i.e. wealthy, intellectually-gifted, and without superpowers.) SwingWing was originally Tek Knight’s sidekick, Laddio, but became a marquee character in his own right (á la Dick Grayson’s Robin to Nightwing transformation.) Of course, Butcher and his team, “the Boys,” aren’t social justice warriors out to solve all societal ills, but – instead — are interested in the case mostly for the leverage it will give them over a couple of key members of the superhero group called Payback.

This is a simple story, and perhaps the most thought-provoking part of it is how the characters respond to homosexual individuals. On the one hand, there is Billy Butcher who talks in such un-PC terms that he would certainly be labeled homophobic by anyone hearing him talk, but yet he is both comfortable being around gay people and shows no disrespect in his behavior toward them. On the other hand, one has Hughie, who is very uncomfortable with Butcher’s politically incorrect speech, but is also subtly uncomfortable interacting with gays. As the movie “Get Out” considered whether “soft racism” can be at least as disconcerting as hardcore bigotry, this story considers whether “soft homophobia” isn’t something that presents a more serious long-run threat to better relations.

The second half of the book presents a more intriguing story. In “Glorious Five Year Plan,” the Boys go to Russia to get to the bottom of a case involving an exploding head. [FYI – this has nothing to do with the exploding heads from the second season of the Amazon Prime tv series.] The Boys team up with an old retired superhero from the Soviet days, “Love Sausage,” whose costume is way too tight. The story revolves around a nefarious plot and international intrigue that turns out to be much bigger than was first thought. When Butcher stumbles onto warehouse where about 150 superheroes are hanging out, he knows someone has big plans. The story features an intriguing villain, Little Nina, who is physically tiny but manages to have an outsized menace.

I enjoyed both these stories. It’s nice that each is self-contained. If you like the idea of superhero team-up parodies, this series is worth looking into. If you’ve been watching the tv series, don’t worry that the books will be spoiled, they are very different in many ways.

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BOOK REVIEW: Psi-Lords by Fred Van Lente

Psi-LordsPsi-Lords by Fred Van Lente
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Out: December 2, 2020

Four individuals find themselves with autobiographical amnesia and superpowers in an unfamiliar deep-space world. Over the course of the story, they discover that they are a multinational team of Earth astronauts deployed to this location because it’s on a collision course with planet Earth. However, they are instantly caught up in the political and interspecies squabbles of the roving star system on which they’ve found themselves. Even once they figure out their mission, they have to contend with forces that have opposing objectives.

This volume (consisting of eight issues) seemingly suffered from a problem of not being constructed from story foundations upward. Rather, it felt like the author said, “We need these cool happenings to occur. Let’s write /draw them and then at some point we can figure out why they might happen.” If that sounds like devoting all energies to figuring out how to pimp out a penthouse without knowing anything about how the basement and ground floor will be arranged, that’s about the size of it. The central premise doesn’t make much sense, so the things that this book does right don’t matter so much – though they do exist.

To be fair, the most glaring point of incredulity in the book is later explained more adequately as part of the resolution, but by that time one is so soured to the book that it doesn’t matter [plus, it’s only one of several points of incredulity.] The issue in questions revolves around the fact that we are led to believe that these four have superpowers because they were given them in order to guard some dangerous (but ill-defined) prison population. Imagine you are a tourist traveling in a foreign country and people from the government hand you a machine-gun and rocket launcher, and say, “Please guard our most dangerous prisoners.” The reader is presented with a premise like this as the rationale for these four lead characters having superpowers. It seems like the author wanted to make a superhero story, but he didn’t want to waste a lot of energy thinking of why or how this team of people would have superpowers. [Yes, I know that, from radioactivity to murdered mothers, superhero origins are notoriously tenuous, but this one is so bad that it actively captures one’s attention, hindering one’s capacity to stick with what is going on in the story.] As I said, explanation is revised at the end, and the revision is a bit better, but by that time the sins of story have piled up so high that it doesn’t free the book of the stench of story failure. (I think the author wanted to keep origin information secret till the end, and that killed the story. He either could have made an earlier strategic reveal or thought up a more logical explanation.)

Because the lead characters are from Earth (i.e. in a universe where we know how physics work) there are some huge issues on the science front as well. I’m neither a science major nor one to nit-pick all the little physics violations that sci-fi stories are rife with, but I think if one so much as passed eighth grade science, one will find all the glaring impossibilities of this book annoying. [And if you really know anything about science, you’ll be mortified by how ridiculous it is at every turn.] You may have caught the biggest of these in that it’s supposed to be a star flying through space. There seems to be a lack of understanding that a star that gets relatively small becomes even more immensely dense, such that gravitational effects are still in effect. Setting the story in another world would eliminate this, but then one wouldn’t have the emotional appeal of characters from Earth. [Quite frankly, I also don’t think anyone (but the biggest science sticklers) would notice or care if they were engaged in the story, but because motivation is unclear and undercut from the start, it’s impossible to become lost in the story (and easy to find faults.)]

I found the art a bit odd and frenetic at first, but it grew on me. I can’t say that if there was nothing wrong with the story, I would have been troubled by the graphics at all. There were a number of little things that were not great, e.g. quips that didn’t land, etc. that wouldn’t have detracted from my enjoyment if there weren’t so many major story elements that didn’t make any sense. As I said, even huge science problems probably would have gone unnoticed if the story wasn’t a flaming train wreck by the time that I had the free cognitive capacity to notice those errors (i.e. because I wasn’t intrigued or emotionally engaged in the story.)

I think there are some interesting ideas in the book — such as the Scion character backstory. With different execution, e.g. revealing information differently and building more sound and logical motivations, this book could have worked. Despite being intrigued by the blurb, I wasn’t thrilled with this book, but your results may vary.

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BOOK REVIEW: Manga Classics Frankenstein Adapted by M Chandler

Manga Classics FrankensteinManga Classics Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: November 10, 2020

 

This is Mary Shelly’s story adapted into a manga-style graphic novel. It’s the story of an ambitious young scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who races to create a human-like living being, but faced with the horror of seeing the creature alive and in the flesh, Victor flees, abandoning his “monster” to its own resources. Shelly’s story is considered one of the first (if not The first) science fiction novel and is also one of the great works of horror. But it’s not just a piece of cross-genre pop fiction. Because it artfully deals with a number of issues central to the human experience, such as the potential for monstrosity in ambition and question of whether evil is made or birthed, the book is frequently studied as literary fiction and is one of the preeminent works of the Romantic movement.

The manga adaptation follows the beats of Shelly’s story. The story opens in media res with a Captain Walton seeing Victor out on the ice. Victor is giving chase to his creature. Walton brings the haggard scientist aboard. Thus, the tale is told through this device of a story within a story. The manga adaptation even begins with an epistolary (told through letters) entry and revisits that form briefly at the end. However, the story is largely conveyed as a shipboard Victor introduces flashbacks by directly speaking to the Captain. Shelly wrote the novel in epistolary form, which was popular in those days, but it isn’t the most conducive to a graphic vehicle. The epistolary dialogue bubbles are given their own distinct font, and so it’s not hard to distinguish them.

The major points of the story will be familiar to many, even if one hasn’t read the book. [While the most famous of the movies are quite different and less philosophical, elements of the story appear throughout various pop culture media.] In a nutshell, Victor Frankenstein goes off to university, learns to animate a pile of stitched up animal and human parts, and goes deadbeat dad when his creature comes to life. A while later, Victor returns to his home to find that his young brother William has been murdered, and that a beloved family servant, Justine, is to be tried for the killing. Nobody in the family believes Justine is responsible, and Victor (in particular) has reason to believe his sins have come back to haunt him. (However, Victor’s ongoing lack of capacity to truly see what his sins are and to address them is the source of virtually all the suffering in the book – not only his own. While the creature does the killing, Victor often comes off more monstrously. Conversely, the creature explains himself in a way that invites empathy in the reader.)

The monster appears to Victor and tells him the whole story of what happened after Victor fled. The creature wandered off and prodigiously learned how to be human [including how to speak and read classic literature,] largely by watching the De Lacey family from a distance. In his loneliness, the creature introduces himself to the blind old man De Lacey, and the meeting is going swimmingly until De Lacey’s [sighted] children come home and freak out upon seeing the monstrous (if articulate) being before them. This is when, twice spurned, the monster goes to Victor’s home, kills William, and frames Justine.

The monster offers Victor a deal, if Victor will build the creature a companion, it will stop its deadly rampage. Victor travels to England and Scotland, mostly with a friend Clerval, but leaves solo to a remote island to construct and animate the creature’s companion. The creature follows him. With Frankenstein’s bride stitched together, Victor has a change of heart and destroys it as the creature watches. Instead of killing Victor as the self-obsessed scientist expects it to, the creature retreats after delivering an ominous threat. A pair of dire tragedies follow. It is the second of these that results in Victor’s chase of the monster toward the Arctic pole.

Soon, we are back to the point that Victor is on the ship. The crew are petitioning Captain Walton to return toward home even though Victor has already begged the Captain to assume the scientist’s obligation to kill the creature [if the beaten-down scientist is unable to.] Ultimately, Walton agrees to turn back because he is at risk of getting his crew killed. Victor is in poor shape. We see the creature once more, when he comes to ask forgiveness of his creator. The creature explains to Walton that it isn’t the only monster, nor is it the one whose actions really created the tragedy.

I thought the art, which was drawn and shaded in monochrome, was well-done. The artist took efforts to capture the descriptions conveyed in the book. They chose to stick with the convention of reading as one would a Japanese manga (right to left, not left to right,) but there is a handy explainer page up front to make this clear from the start. Also, there are visual cues to help remind one as one reads, e.g. how the bubbles are positioned and angled, etc., and so I can’t say I had any problem reading it that way. It just seemed a bit odd, but I don’t know whether there is a Japanese edition. If there isn’t, it seems like it would have been just as easy to put it together in the manner of an English language comic book, but – like I say – it was no great reading challenge.

I thought this adaptation was well done. I think one gets a very good sense of the story through the combination of selected text and graphics, as well as the varied styles of text and thought bubbles used to suggest who is speaking or thinking.

I’d highly recommend this book for those wishing to revisit the story in a compact and / or visual form, or even for those who have trouble following the writing style of early 19th century epistolary novels, which can be a bit formal.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Boys, Vol. 1: The Name of the Game by Garth Ennis

The Boys, Volume 1: The Name of the GameThe Boys, Volume 1: The Name of the Game by Garth Ennis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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If you weren’t familiar with this comic book, you’ve probably at least seen promos for the streaming series adaptation available on Amazon Prime Video. After watched season one, and as season two is currently in release, I decided to give the source material a read. As with “Preacher,” this presents its own challenges in keeping the comic book and series straight. This is because (as with “Preacher”) there is a common cast of major characters, but significant differences in the story and details. That said, the book and series both open in a similar way with Hughie being drawn into the action by a tragic event involving a superhero (A-Train, this team’s version of the DC character, Flash) and Hughie’s girlfriend.

If the description of A-Train as – essentially – the same as the Flash makes the book sound derivative, it is intentionally so. In a nutshell, “The Boys” takes the Justice League and gives the characters nasty personality traits, ranging from pettiness to madness, and then centers the story not on the superheroes but on a group that works to check those “heroes’” power from the shadows (i.e. the titular “Boys.”) So, A-Train is fast like the Flash, but he lacks Barry Allen’s intellect and soft-spoken mannerism, and so – conversely – A-Train is a high school jock dialed up to his most vain and brash form. The other members similarly have unappealing personality traits, and even full-blown dark sides. This divergence between is most intensely seen in Homelander (the Superman of this series, but without the Man of Steel’s perfect moral compass and stoic Midwestern calm,) but even Noir (the Batman of the group) is intended to make Bruce Wayne seem like a well-adapted beacon of light by comparison.

The six issues contained in volume one both tell the tale of Hughie’s reluctant entrance into “The Boys,” and follows him through his first mission as the newly reassembled Boys take on “Teenage Kix.” (A youth superhero group which is to “The Seven” as the Teen Titans are to the Justice League.) Having Hughie in the role of the group’s “everyman” would be an odd choice in real life because it puts a rank amateur on a team of professionals who are already outgunned. From a narrative point of view, however, the appeal is clear. It creates emotional stakes within a group that is otherwise stone-cold killers (if with some positive personality traits to subvert expectations.) Hughie’s naivete and raw fear is particularly necessary in the book because the stakes are somewhat lessened by the fact that the Boys are not as severely outmatched as they are in the series (in the series “The Female” is the only superpowered member of the “Boys.”) The decision to recruit Hughie is explained both by the desperation of the team’s leader, Butcher, and his desire to include someone who is personally driven. There are not a lot of people willing to sign on to take on a two-faced lunatic with the powers of Superman (i.e. Homelander,) and Hughie is uniquely motivated by the tragedy of his girlfriend’s death to go after superheroes who’ve been corporately levered above the law.

The comic is a bit more sexually graphic than the series, though in some ways the series is more viscerally horrifying. (As I mentioned, in the series the Boys – excepting one – are in no way capable of going toe-to-toe with the enemy.)

The art is well drawn and colored and I didn’t have any problems following the happenings conveyed graphically.

I enjoyed this comic as I have with other Garth Ennis works. At least this volume was a bit more lighthearted and not as visceral as the series, but I don’t count that as a good or bad thing. Just different and just appealing to different states of mind. The comic is funny in places and action-packed in others. If you are interested in the concept of neurotic to psychotic superheroes and what it would take to keep them under control, it’s worth giving this book a read.

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BOOK REVIEW: Dracula, Motherf**ker by Alex de Campi

Dracula, Motherf**ker!Dracula, Motherf**ker! by Alex de Campi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This short story in graphic novelized form imagines a Dracula who has been trapped in his coffin since the post-Bram Stoker story time period coming back into action in 1970’s Los Angeles. (While there is a nod to the Bram Stoker novel in starting the story in late-1890’s Central / Eastern Europe, the book doesn’t present itself as a sequel — and purposefully tries to avoid some of the old [and new] vampire clichés.) The book taps into the feel of 1970’s noir crime drama. The main character, Quincy Harker, is a photographer whose work appeals to a macabre impulse of those who like to see snuff shots of beautiful people. As such, he goes around to scenes reminiscent of the Manson family slaughter of Sharon Tate and friends to snap his pictures. [Note: While in Bram Stoker’s book Quincy Harker was the child of Mina Harker, in this book that’s just an Easter Egg-style reference without any intended continuity to the book’s characters.] Because Harker is always going out at night to capture images of the recently deceased, he his easily drawn into the family feud between Dracula and his brides.

The artwork is interesting. There is not a single color palette used throughout, but rather different scenes are in different palettes. In the back-matter written by the artist, there is a statement about this being meant to influence the reader’s emotional inflection. It’s also pointed out in the back-matter that all scenes are set at night, which might not be otherwise apparent. Some panels are colored brightly and colorfully while others are in black and dark blues.

The story is simple and quick. Between drawing on the vampire mythology and on the noir crime cinema imagery, there’s not much that’s particularly novel about this book. That said, the fact that it puts Dracula’s brides at the fore does give it a bit of niche.

As mentioned, there is a writeup at the back by both the author (de Campi) and the artist (Henderson,) along with some draft drawings and scripts for those intrigued by how the sausage is made.

I enjoyed this enough to get caught up in reading it in a single sitting. (That said, it’s very short — even for the 80-ish pages — given sprawling panels and sparse / terse dialogue.) If you enjoy vampire fiction, it’s worth checking out.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Neil Gaiman Library, Vol. 2 by Neil Gaiman

The Neil Gaiman Library Volume 2The Neil Gaiman Library Volume 2 by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in page

Out: November 24, 2020

 

This is a graphic novelization of several pieces of Neil Gaiman’s short fiction. The component works are all speculative fiction (i.e. taking place where the fantastical is possible,) and – more specifically – most would be classed urban fantasy — though there is a touch of horror.

The book contains four parts, and could be thought of as four stories. However, the first chapter, “Likely Stories,” is actually a collection of tales connected by being told in the same private after-hours club. So, the connective tissue is bar patrons trying to one-up each other with more intriguing stories. The pieces included are: “Feeders and Eaters” (the entry most likely to be classified as horror,) “Looking for a Girl,” and “Closing Time.”

The second story is “Troll Bridge,” and it shows a man’s repeated encounters with a troll who exists in the pedestrian tunnel under an abandoned rail line. These meetings begin when the protagonist is a young boy and continue until he’s middle-aged.

The penultimate story is entitled “Harlequin Valentine,” and it’s about an amorous Harlequin who develops an infatuation with a young woman and begins to stalk her. When he gives her his heart, it doesn’t go as expected.

The final story is “The Facts in the Case of the Disappearance of Miss Finch.” When a writer is roped into a double date in which his date is a dowdy and humorless scholar, the night that had been a train of misery ends in a mind-blowing (if disconcerting) fashion.

This was an excellent read. While it’s a second volume, because it’s short fiction, the book is completely self-contained. One doesn’t need to read the first volume beforehand to follow these tales. Each of the stories is satisfying in itself. I’d read at least one of these stories previously (possibly more) but it didn’t feel redundant because the conversion of the textual stories to graphic ones gives each an entirely different feel. The art is clear and the various styles match the tone of the respective stories nicely. If you like Neil Gaiman’s work, you should definitely check this one out. [And if you’re unfamiliar with Gaiman, I’d recommend you get familiar.]

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