A touching story of parental neglect and isolation leading to loneliness, friendship and compassion. With monsters. If George R. R. Martin had writtenA touching story of parental neglect and isolation leading to loneliness, friendship and compassion. With monsters. If George R. R. Martin had written it, it would have ended with blood and black magic. Sometimes, though, people arrive at good ends despite bad beginnings.
The artwork reminded me a lot of Maurice Sendak's work on Where the Wild Things Are, though this story is a bit more complex....more
Still strong, Usagi Yojimbo maintains its high quality over a long run. It's interesting to see the influences in Sakai's creation. He clearly was infStill strong, Usagi Yojimbo maintains its high quality over a long run. It's interesting to see the influences in Sakai's creation. He clearly was influenced by Aragones, as he worked with the man for years on Groo, and this influence is most clearly seen in wide shots of crowd scenes, which look almost identical to Aragones' work. But in this volume, in the story following Chizu called "Escape!," I was struck by a similarity to Herge's work on Tintin: in several frames, Sakai uses the bottom of the frame as the floor for the characters, as if we are viewing them in a diorama. It's fun reading, and Sakai continues to impress me with his ability to engage me so well with such a variable art style, which goes from cartoonish to very serious and back again, sometimes on the same page. Of course, this is very much a manga style, so completely appropriate, even if the line work of the cartoons in very Western (again, a lot like Aragones' line work).
We follow a lot of characters here: Gen, Usagi, Hebi (I always want more of this hideous snake villain), Chizu, Kitsune, Kagemaru, Kimi, and even the demon "instrument of the Gods." Like any good comic with a long run (or a favorite hero of oral tradition), Sakai makes all these storylines work together well....more
I found this to be a pleasant surprise: a children's novel with a number of atypical choices, enough so that it felt nothing like a typical "turn theI found this to be a pleasant surprise: a children's novel with a number of atypical choices, enough so that it felt nothing like a typical "turn the crank, produce another book according to formula" juvenile fiction story. I've railed about this in many other reviews, but the thinking in children's fiction for the last eighty years or so has been that the writer has to get the parents out of the way in order for the children to have adventures, as the parents would obviously protect the children from any danger if they were present. This is a device that almost every children's author uses, and usually the reason for the parents' absence (car crash, divorce, alien abduction) is tossed off at the beginning and rarely revisited. It's what "A Series of Unfortunate Events" was parodying. While Mathilda's father is absent in Handbook for Dragon Slayers, this book joins the ranks of the very, very few children's books (I'm looking at you, A Wrinkle in Time!) to actually incorporate the parent's absence into an integral part of the protagonist's character development.
Handbook for Dragon Slayers is set in 12th century Germany. Mathilda's father has left for a Crusade and never returned. As events play out in the novel, Mathilda finally comes to recognize her father's actions (which she is imitating) as selfish, and so learns something about herself and grows a bit, able not only to see herself in a positive light, but to consider the welfare of others. This is a big deal, because the dominant reality in Mathilda's life is that she was born with a hideous deformity of her right leg. Living in a Dark Ages Christian world where many superstitions are actually real (the Fae, magic, curses and the like), she is naturally shunned as her deformity is the manifestation of some inherent wickedness, or perhaps just the outcome of some evil of her parents. Her mother has done a yeoman's job of shielding Mathilda from most of this, but the girl is aware of it nonetheless, especially because the pain of her twisted body is never far from her. One of her favorite respites is to escape into books, particularly reading the lives of the saints as well as classic pagan Greek and Roman authors (which would have been the majority of any library in the 12th century, aside from the Bible itself). As she is close to useless for most active work, Mathilda is trained to do any sort of book work: balancing the ledgers and other accounting, as well as lots of scribe work, as all books are copied by hand (Gutenberg being two hundred years in the future). Haskell provides a lot of detail about books and scribing - in general she provides a wealth of detail about medieval life - in a refreshingly matter-of-fact way that avoids being didactic. As a teen, Mathilda is naturally self-centered, and she has her deformity that turns her even more inward. Between the saints, the pagans, her daily routine and the rest of her thought life, I was very entertained by her first-person perspective monologue, and that's even before the magical stuff.
Mathilda lives in a world where all the magic of folklore is real, so inevitably she encounters it in her travels. The stakes are raised several times, and frequently the plot developments surprised me with their unpredictability. I can't properly express how delighted I am with a children's book that can surprise me at this point. I highly recommend this one for that and all the other things that I've described....more
This is a comic book series "inspired" by The Little Prince, which is sure to get a lot of people's danders up, seeing as how that book is almost univThis is a comic book series "inspired" by The Little Prince, which is sure to get a lot of people's danders up, seeing as how that book is almost universally loved. If you loved the book (and you've read it recently, as an adult, and still love it), then you probably won't like what's been done here. I can't tell whether the authors of this comic loved the ideas of the book as children and based a comic on their fuzzy memories of the book, or whether they intentionally departed from the book's themes, but what I can say is that, for me, this is so much better than the book!
This comic is only very, VERY loosely based on The Little Prince, and I'm glad. To have an allegorical comic about a depressive space traveler in a codependent relationship with a passive-aggressive flower would have had me rending my clothes and gouging my eyes. What we have instead is a compassionate space traveler who can talk to animals. That's nice. But again, if you revere the source material, you're going to despise this, because the author here plays fast and loose with "The Little Prince:" he's now a cross between Little Nemo, Harold (of the Purple Crayon), and Green Lantern, a pacifistic action hero who can draw objects into being in order to defend the universe against evil. Oh, and the fox, who was such a jerk to him in the original, is his buddy and sidekick. And the snake, whom he loved so much he entrusted him with his lethal injection in the book, is now an evil cosmic force that he is dedicated to oppose on every world.
Can you see why I prefer this comic version?
In this volume, the Prince and the Fox arrive on a planet of perpetual ice, where airborne creatures resembling jellyfish melt the ice with their tentacles and then absorb the water to live. Humans live on the world in symbiosis with these floaters, as the only place they can survive is in the areas where the floaters maintain warmth enough for life. But the snake has infiltrated this society and is working to destroy it through a feud between the autocrat and his son.
The artwork here reminds me quite a bit of Amulet, which may be because of the color palette, or maybe the talking animals, but in any case it's a good thing. I really enjoy this reworking on the Little Prince as a hero out to help people (not just a coquettish flower). There's no allegory at all, and there's at least a dozen volumes in this comic book series, both of which are big positives for me. I will certainly continue to read this....more
Some blend of Jacob's Ladder, Buckaroo Banzai, and Brazil, RASL is a story of a man whose grasp on reality is slipping away...aided by the fact that hSome blend of Jacob's Ladder, Buckaroo Banzai, and Brazil, RASL is a story of a man whose grasp on reality is slipping away...aided by the fact that he has learned to jump between parallel universes. It has a weird art style (our bobble-headed protagonist in the desert looks like he's covered in snot rather than that he's sweating) but I was engaged with the story. But then, I'm a sucker for any kind of reality-bending storyline, and our protagonist RASL's grasp is clearly slipping away. Smith does a great job of portraying this with background details: numbers and faces changing in the background, in addition to the disjointed story that jumps around in time as well as between universes. RASL even has a weird alien thing pursuing him through the "dimensions" (the characters all refer to parallel universes as "dimensions"). I like how RASL has to drink, eat and have sex to help him keep anchored to his current reality - otherwise his mind fractures and he can't keep anything straight (clearly he has trouble with that anyway). It's a fun character trait, and the only part that seems "noir" (as the book is billed). In that, it's a bit like Bigby Wolf's having to smoke all the time in Fables....more
I'm still enjoying this as much as any other comic I've read recently, and certainly a lot more than Kirkman's far more famous title, The Walking DeadI'm still enjoying this as much as any other comic I've read recently, and certainly a lot more than Kirkman's far more famous title, The Walking Dead. There are, however, similarities: Kirkman does seem to like to have characters doing stupid things or just being generally obtuse. In The Walking Dead it got to be irritating as a literary device, exploring the ordinary pettiness of human nature and the idiocy of daily life with the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse, which I found aggravating and frustrating, as I'd rather see how people actually pull together in extraordinary circumstances. The stupidity and pettiness of the characters drives me crazy in that title, but in Invincible it doesn't bother me quite as much. For one thing, it's not quite so pronounced - many of the characters are actually pretty smart most of the time, and the title character is an emotionally troubled teen, so I can make some allowances for lack of life experience. Although it didn't bother me so much, it does seem to be a motif for Kirkman.
Overall, however, I really like Invincible. It's funny and dramatic and a little bit mysterious (with the Viltrumites ever lurking in the background). In this second collected volume, Kirkman tones down the parody a bit (although he continues to ridicule Alan Moore's Watchmen periodically), or at least his parody switches to a more "meta" level...there's a lot of Stan Lee-narrator parody, including a running coy gag about characters having sex offstage, in which the narrator states that "after all, this is a family comic." That elicits a chuckle, as this most certainly is not something you'd want children to read, what with all the disembowelings, eviscerations, constant mayhem and other graphic violence, even if the sex is more Marx brothers innuendo than Vaughan-like penetrations. When it comes, the violence remains shocking, which suggests to me that it is being used to good effect rather than being gratuitous. Maybe it's also my perceptions, set as they are by decades of other superhero comics that tiptoe around the violence.
But this is all meandering; I continue to enjoy this comic and look forward to reading Volume Three....more
A considerable denouement from volume 3 of the Fables deluxe editions, this volume four is a disjointed collection of back stories of the various primA considerable denouement from volume 3 of the Fables deluxe editions, this volume four is a disjointed collection of back stories of the various primary and tertiary characters. This is made the more jarring by the wildly variable artwork of the various guest illustrators featured in the issues collected here: from the beginning (a story of Bigby Wolf assisting a commando unit in World War 2) the characters are hard to distinguish from one another, and it gets worse from there. The stories remain fun, however, even if ultimately the entire collection is disposable to the larger plot of the series. One could skip this whole volume and not be at a disadvantage when the story continues, but one would miss some genuinely nice bits, such as the story that shows King Cole in a noble light (hearkening back to "Life is Beautiful" or "Red Noses," which goes a long way to explain his long popularity in Fabletown), or the story of Reynard's escape from the Homelands....more
Whoops! I see now, going to write this review, that I skipped book 3 and went straight to this, book 4 of the "Bone" series. Interestingly, "Bone" isWhoops! I see now, going to write this review, that I skipped book 3 and went straight to this, book 4 of the "Bone" series. Interestingly, "Bone" is a bit like a beloved sitcom TV show in that I didn't miss skipping an entire volume at all. It's like nothing happened in book 3...
Book 4 is about Phoney Bone's swindling the townsfolk into believing that dragons are a danger, and so they exalt him and pay his exorbitant fees to "protect" them from the non-existent threat. Meanwhile, Thorn begins to Turn and we find out a bit more about the Locust and their motivations. Lots of humor, a smidge of teenage romance, and gradual reveals of a larger fantasy story continue to ensure my enjoyment of this series....more
I really wish that I hadn't read Rose, because it tells everything that the "Bone" series is showing. Of course, I had no idea that they were in any wI really wish that I hadn't read Rose, because it tells everything that the "Bone" series is showing. Of course, I had no idea that they were in any way related when I picked up the book - I hadn't read any "Bone" at the time, didn't know the author, and nothing on the "Rose" book indicated it was related to "Bone." Still, I'm enjoying the "Bone" series even with that extensive spoiler.
"Bone" is funny, as well as being an interesting fantasy story, with slapstick, sarcasm and irony in enjoyable amounts. In this one, Fone Bone pines for Thorn, who is having nightmares as her "turning" approaches and the Locust's agents draw near. Phoney Bone continues to swindle the villagers (a scam to fix the annual Great Cow Race), and Smiley Bone provides a light comic touch throughout - he's the Harpo of the group.
This comic was first published when I was finishing my stint at university, and I remember dismissing it because I didn't care for the Shmoo-looking art style. It's a good lesson that I should not go with my gut, or at least not judge books by my first impression of their art style. I'm thoroughly enjoying this as a break from my reading of novels. Of course, it helps that at the moment I'm trying to slog through Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," which is getting tiresome for all the pages devoted to explaining the virtues of polygamy......more
Having misplaced my copy of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, I picked up a bunch of comics I'd set aside for just such an occasion. That's OK, because IHaving misplaced my copy of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, I picked up a bunch of comics I'd set aside for just such an occasion. That's OK, because I was getting pretty tired of Heinlein's social philosophy. "Fables" is the perfect break.
This is the third deluxe edition, which combines books 5 and 6 of the "Fables" graphic novels, which are themselves collections of the monthly comic issues. So this is a spread of issues, something like issue 18 - issue 29. It's hard to say for sure, as both the graphic novels and these deluxe editions switch some of the one-shot stories around a bit, as they don't really advance the main story.
This one is primarily the "March of the Wooden Soldiers" plot, in which (view spoiler)['The Adversary' sends an initial invasion of wooden soldiers built by Geppetto to assault Fabletown and The Farm, the two real-world enclaves for fairy-tale characters in New York. (hide spoiler)] I continue to like this series and wish that I'd paid attention to it when it was first published. That was sort of a comics Dark Ages for me, though, so I'm glad that I've at least found this now.
An aside: I've finally been watching the anime Bleach, and I can't help but be struck by the plot similarities between the two. (view spoiler)[In both, there's an awesomely powerful enemy in another dimension. All the protagonists know that the enemy is planning to invade, and live in dread preparation for the day when the invasion happens at last. The difference is that in Bleach, they sort of know that the invasion will use Arrancar, and in "Fables," they don't know what the Adversary will use. So they're surprised when the Pinocchio clones show up to attack. (I liked the artwork, that each 'wooden soldier' actually has Pinocchio's head, implying either that Geppetto is a one-trick pony, or that he misses his son so much that he keeps trying to make him anew out of an obsessive love) (hide spoiler)]
This is not revealing too much to say that, in this story arc, the tale turns a bit darker, with many supporting characters being killed. The invasion has begun!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This deluxe edition book combines books 3 and 4 in the Fables series, and continues the entertaining story of the fairy tale characters taking refugeThis deluxe edition book combines books 3 and 4 in the Fables series, and continues the entertaining story of the fairy tale characters taking refuge from the multi-dimensional tyrant/conqueror "The Adversary" in New York City.
The story is fine on its own - I really enjoyed it - but writing the above summary, I can't help think it would be hilarious to have a "What If?" crossover with the Fantastic Four...
Anyway, this series inspires people so much they've turned it into a video game ("The Wolf Among Us"), much as has been done with "The Walking Dead." Of the two titles, I prefer "Fables" as a comic: the characters are more developed and, while awful stuff does happen, it has light moments as well.
In books 3 and 4, Bigby Wolf continues to be an important character (book 2 had him taking a back seat to developing many of the other characters), and we find a bit more about his history, (view spoiler)[including the revelation that Snow White has been a big motivation for him to ally with the human Fables since the beginning - her smell is irresistible to him - and that he smokes incessantly to deaden his sense of smell so that he can live so close to others and not tear them apart. (hide spoiler)]
A comic for adults, "Fables" never particularly feels gratuitous to me in foul language, graphic violence, or sex, though all are present in small amounts. This is in stark contrast to many of the other comics for adults I've been reading, such as all the Brian K Vaughan comics I've read in the past few years: "Y: The Last Man," "Saga," and "Ex-Machina" all throw those in apparently using some formula of frequency. Said another way, I find the writing particularly appealing. Willingham's style reminds me of Grant Morrison more than a little.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
It's interesting reading Heinlein again, after a break of a couple of decades. He's definitely an "American"My first draft of this review. INCOMPLETE
It's interesting reading Heinlein again, after a break of a couple of decades. He's definitely an "American" author, in the way that British SF authors use the term so dismissively: Heinlein writes stories that are unabashedly positive about Science and Engineering (and how both, as representatives of Human Knowledge in general, are our future). This one is also about Space, written as it was right after the Soviets launched Sputnik into orbit - the start of the twelve-years of the Space Race. So it is filled with enthusiasm about space travel, but to me it doesn't come across as propaganda exactly; it's more like a reflection of the times in which Heinlein was writing this. I get the feeling that society as a whole had the space bug, and that everyone was gung-ho and eager to explore the furthest reaches of the solar system.
But Heinlein has always written interesting stories, too. This one takes a George Bailey-type character, Clifford "Kip" Russell, who has no particular talent for anything - he's a middling student in a middle-class family in a podunk town - but who has a passion for travel...specifically, travel to the Moon. When it comes to the Moon, he can apply himself to whatever needs to be done. So he teaches himself engineering and math, as well as calculating what are the best careers to give him a chance of a trip to the Moon. He works hard at raising enough money for college tuition, but realizes that he's going to have to work for years to get there.
An aside here: in looking for a copy of this book, I discovered that American libraries have mysteriously cataloged this as juvenile fiction - yet another instance of bad cataloging. The book starts off with a reminiscence of Kip as a child, when he first discovered his passion for the Moon. There's also a girl who features prominently in the second half of the book as a supporting character...but neither of these make this a book for children, or even about children. It's a book about self-discovery of a young, college-age adult. You might be able to argue it as appropriate for YA readers, but it's not a children's book at all. Grrr.
I've always enjoyed this series, but I'd only ever read volume 1, which I bought probably twenty years ago. So I was delighted to see this in the librI've always enjoyed this series, but I'd only ever read volume 1, which I bought probably twenty years ago. So I was delighted to see this in the library and checked it out on impulse.
My reaction with this volume - as we get into more of the history of nations than the first volume - is that it would have greatly benefited from a different format. It is limited by the fact that it was published first as separate issues in a series; possibly more than any other conversion of a comic series to a "graphic novel" format. This is because each issue presents one culture's development over a certain period. It's very well done and funny, as usual, but I found myself really wanting to be able to more easily compare what was happening at the same time in other parts of the world. While I was reading this, I was bothered by this again and again - there's no easy way to cross-reference what was happening simultaneously in the other realms the book follows. In particular, I wanted to compare what was happening in Greece with what was happening in China with what was happening in India.
Now that I write that, however, I realize that the narratives that Gonick created would have been completely destroyed by a simultaneous or side-by-side telling of each society. If anything, the collected volume makes it easier to jump back and forth between cultures (not easy, just easier) to figure out what was happening in parallel.
Given my reading of Cartoon History of the United States, I know to take Gonick's interpretation of facts with a grain of salt, but in most cases, the facts can speak for themselves, and I really enjoyed this volume. Any reading of history should be done through a filter of skepticism, but as an overview of both Western and Eastern history, this is pretty delightful....more
Simply put, this is a NASA version of Robinson Crusoe. An astronaut is stranded on Mars and has to survive until he can be rescued.
Of all the retellinSimply put, this is a NASA version of Robinson Crusoe. An astronaut is stranded on Mars and has to survive until he can be rescued.
Of all the retellings of the basic Robinson Crusoe story, in some regards this one is the most like the original. It tells the character's story chronologically, moving from despair at certain death through resolve to survive to reaching the actual equilibrium of survival, isolated in a hostile environment. There's a reason this story gets told over and over again: as tool users, we human just love scenarios in which someone uses their wits to create their own tools to control their own destinies. I mean, we love that. For many, it's pure wish-fulfillment: that we are capable of Doing It - whatever it is - Completely On Our Own. So this is a book for problem-solvers, engineers, survival nuts, and/or aficionados of real-life space exploration.
In another regard, it's very different from Robinson Crusoe, though. It completely lacks any philosophical consideration, and that was absolutely central to Defoe's work. The character's journey makes no sense if you subtract his wrestling with the meaning of existence and God, which ultimately suggests that Robinson was not Doing It On His Own. On that level, The Martian fails to show protagonist Mark Watney's existential angst at all. He's presented as a quintessential loner - in fact he has been psych-profiled and tested to ensure that he thrives as a loner before he was selected for the mission - and as an easygoing joker, always ready with a smile and a laugh. The conceit of the book is that it is transcripts of Watney's journal/mission log entries, which he continues to enter on the off-chance that future missions to Mars would retrieve the record long after he's died. That conceit distances us from Watney's emotional state, as he never enters anything despairing or hopeless. Sometimes he suggests that he was feeling that way earlier, but he manages to get a grip on it before coming back to write another log entry. So we never really see any insight into his internal processing of what's happened and is happening to him. Instead, we get a series of decisions and task descriptions. The closest we thing to any emotional state is frequent expletives Watney uses to convey his reaction to some setback or another.
And there are a LOT of setbacks. Weir seems to be following the screenwriter's mantra of "Raise The Stakes," because he never misses an opportunity to push things closer to the brink of disaster. You have to take it all as science fantasy for engineers, however, because Watney never describes how he maintains physical health through the whole ordeal. (view spoiler)[The initial set-up has him impaled by a piece of flying debris, but there is never any mention at all of how he treated himself for the gaping wound, much less how he recovered without infection or fever or really any downtime at all. I read the whole book expecting that it was actually the obvious "Brazil" ending: that he was, in fact, dreaming all of it as he slowly died from blood poisoning. But no, it wasn't the obvious: it was just a big Plot Hole. Watney is apparently a cyborg, because nothing physical affects him. He liberally uses his own shit to fertilize his food, but never experiences any deleterious health effects of all those bacteria flying around in his closed environment. The closest thing to any malady that the astronaut has is some muscle soreness, which he magics away with painkiller drugs. I suspect that health problems - being as they are outside of our control - did not interest Weir and would have detracted from the whole "if you're clever enough, you can do anything" vibe that the book presents. (hide spoiler)]
Rather than finding support through faith or philosophy, astronaut Mark Watney has the support of NASA (and, eventually, most of Earth) to assist him, once they discover that he's not yet dead. This is, of course, the other huge difference between The Martian and Robinson Crusoe: others know exactly where he is and care about where he is. They actively work to get him back to safety. This actually enlivens the book a great deal, as it allows for the introduction of many other characters, from the wry Mission Control lead Venkat Kapoor to the coprolalic NASA PR honcho Annie, as well as five other astronauts. Some of these work better than others - Venkat and Annie are particularly fun - while others, such as the German astronaut, are cartoonish caricatures. But they serve two important purposes: further opportunities for exposition, and more opportunities for jokes.
The book is funny. It's kind of a popcorn read, but the jokes had me chuckling and occasionally guffawing with delight. Mostly it's Mark Watney. Remember how I said he was an easygoing joker? Well, he's constantly being irreverent, both in his log and in his interactions with the people on Earth. At times he's flippant, sometimes he engages in hyperbole, and at other times he's sarcastic. I'd probably recommend the book just for the jokes alone.
In the end, I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes to DIY, is an introvert, has an appreciation for sarcasm, or is a survivalist. I would not recommend it to anyone who is an extrovert or a people person; I described the book to such a friend recently, and she shuddered with loathing at the very idea, as the book would just be setting her up for several weeks' worth of nightmares.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more