Harrow County: Abandoned

September 26, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

harrow5Harrow County: Abandoned by Cullen Bunn, et al.

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I’m no expert on horror comics, but Harrow County is at the top of my list for that genre. It combines the weird with the graphic, the unsettling with the mood, and it creates an atmosphere that’s unique to the title. Afterlife with Archie comes close to hitting that magic combination, but that series relies a bit too much on what the reader already knows about the characters, while Harrow County fords new territory.

The story this time centers on Abandoned, the four-eyed creature that roams the woods near Harrow County. We learn more about his history and how he ties in with Emmy and her history. We also see firsthand what happens when outsiders come to town in search of the monster they’ve heard so much about, and how it rarely ends well for them.

The first half of the story is okay, but I feel like the revelation should have been more impactful. As it was, I just read it and thought, “Huh.” It makes sense, it fits the story, and it doesn’t stir anything up. Maybe it will have more relevance over the next few arcs, but I found myself much more interested in the hunters who have come to try to kill Abandoned. It encompassed the myth surrounding Harrow County, and gave us new details about it. Plus, it shows us how powerful Emmy has become, and what her choices will mean for the future of the town.

Bunn pulls in another artist for the first two issues in the book, which I wasn’t thrilled to see (Tyler Crook, as far as I’m concerned, has defined the look of the series and should be the only artist working on it), but McNeil does a good job of mimicking his style without it being a straight copy. It helps that she isn’t required to create any new characters for that half of the story.

Abandoned is half-good, half-okay, which still works out to being a decent arc. I hope Crook will remain the sole and constant artist, and I hope Bunn keeps this story going in unusual, thought-provoking directions. The series works best when it does so, and I feel like he’s set it up so we’ll see some consequences in future issues.

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Darth Vader: End of Games

September 22, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

endDarth Vader: End of Games by Kieron Gillen, et al.

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End of Games brings the saga of Darth Vader between the events of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back to a close. Throughout the series, Vader has been pursuing his own agenda while following the Emperor’s orders, and in this final volume, it all comes together with his final showdown with Cylo, his rival against the Emperor. Everything — Vader’s apprenticeship to the Emperor, Doctor Aphra’s role in Vader’s plans, even the fate of the two murderous droids — comes to a conclusion here, so I’m sure anticipation is high.

The thing is, I could barely get interested in any of it. I’m in the minority in that I didn’t find this series to be interesting at all, but so much of what happens here is forgettable. What makes it even more regrettable is that there’s a decent attempt at bridging the gap between the first two movies in the saga, but the characters feel too wooden, too unrealized to draw the reader in. Plus, I feel like I’m the only one who finds Triple Zero and BeeTee to be more annoying than anything else, so that’s not helping, either.

I know a lot of people like the Darth Vader comic, but I’m not in that group. I haven’t given up on the new Marvel titles all together (for one, I bought a bunch of the ebooks when they were on sale; for another, one of the titles is written by Marjorie Liu, and Cullen Bunn helms another one), but as a starting point, Darth Vader isn’t recommended. Even when my expectations has been lowered, I was still disappointed in them.

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Darth Vader: The Shu-Torun War

September 21, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

shuDarth Vader: The Shu-Torun War by Kieron Gillen, et al.

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The Darth Vader comic series hasn’t impressed me much so far. The stories don’t feel memorable, the art feels too static, and the backstory it’s supposed to fill doesn’t feel significant. It’s supposed to bridge the time between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, showing us how Vader comes to find Luke is his son, but it focuses a lot on other things, including two murderous versions of C-3PO and R2-D2. People seem to love those two droids, but they get on my nerves. They’re trying too hard to be the complete opposite of those two characters, and still maintain that same sort of charm. It’s terrible.

The Shu-Torun War, though, is a different sort of story. It avoids the whole Luke subplot all together, instead telling us of a civil war on Shu-Torun, a mining planet that’s crucial for the Empire to control to build its ships and Death Stars. Vader steps in to control that civil war, only to find himself immersed in the culture and politics of the planet. Once he’s in control of the planet, he still has to control the situation, and that’s where the heart of the story lies.

Aside from the story showing how the civil war develops (and ends), this collection also shows how dangerous Vader is. Gillen captures the character well, showing him as ruthless, unsentimental, cool, and in control, without showing him as emotionless. The Shu-Torun War gives the character a focus outside of trying to find Luke or rule the galaxy; it’s a microcosmic story that has its own arc within the world of Star Wars without the baggage of being a part of the larger story.

I’m still not wild about the art in the series, though it’s detailed and fine. I just wish it managed to convey a sense of action better. There’s a scene near the start of the book where a shuttle crashes into a building, right above Vader’s head, and it looks like a movie still instead of showing any real sense of danger or action. It just is, and it’s disappointing. I don’t know enough about the art of writing comics to know how other writers and artists do it, but this series is the first time I’ve noticed it.

If I were to recommend any single story arc out of the Darth Vader series, this would be it. I think readers could get by with reading just this collection and not lose too much (Doctor Aphra goes missing during the events of Vader Down, so she doesn’t need to be explained, and the two murderous droids aren’t as present in the story), though they may be tempted to read the rest just to get the rest of the story. I don’t recommend it, but I can see readers wanting to do it.

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Vader Down

September 20, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

downVader Down by Jason Aaron, et al.

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Vader Down is one of those most dreaded comic book events: The Crossover. It’s a story that begins with a one-shot comic and then takes us over multiple titles (in this case the Star Wars and Darth Vader Marvel comics) to tell a complete story. Normally, these kinds of events drive me crazy, but Marvel at least had the sense to collect all the different parts together into a single graphic novel.

I hadn’t planned on reading any more of the Vader comics after reading the first two collections, but Amazon had a sale on a lot of Star Wars comic ebooks on May 4th, and my weakness got the better of me. Luckily, Vader Down takes place between the second and third volumes in that series, so I at least read it in the right place.

Vader Down is about Vader finally encountering Luke after the Battle at Yavin at the end of the first movie. They engage in battle over a planet, and then both crash-land onto said planet, though far enough away from each other that they don’t meet face-to-face. The story becomes about their rescue, Luke by Leia and Han, Vader by Doctor Aphra and the two killer droids. It’s not the greatest story, but it gives us more insight into their encounter in The Empire Strikes Back.

This collection is largely forgettable, but it’s intended for people who are current in both the Darth Vader and Star Wars titles. I wasn’t lost, as far as the plot was concerned, but I did feel like I was missing something in the sections of the story that featured in Star Wars. This is another reason I’m not wild about crossover events.

Like the first two Darth Vader collections, the artwork in Vader Down struck me as static, especially in the action sequences. I didn’t get a sense of activity from one panel to the next; instead, it was like I was viewing stills from a movie than an actual movie, which isn’t something I usually get from graphic novels. The artwork is great, and detailed, but it didn’t suggest movement as much as I would have expected. In that sense, it didn’t help the story much at all.

So far, I’ve not been impressed with the new Star Wars comics, but I’ve only read one of them. I look forward to reading the Han Solo title by Marjorie Liu and the Darth Maul title by Cullen Bunn, namely because I like what the writers have done outside of Star Wars. I still have two more volumes to go with the Darth Vader series, but I’ll be reading them more out of obligation than I will anticipation.

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Archie: Volume Three

August 25, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

archie3Archie: Volume Three by Mark Waid & Joe Eisma

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I’ve been reading the Archie books for as long as I can remember. I have memories of begging my parents to buy me the newest digest on display at the grocery store, and I remember reading them over and over again. I had my favorite characters, and I took sides on the whole Betty/Veronica running plot (Team Betty!), so it’s safe to say I was invested in the series as a kid.

The thing is, I don’t remember Cheryl Blossom. At all. I might have been too old to be reading Archie when she was introduced (Wikipedia says that was 1982), but even if I was, she didn’t make an impression. The way Waid introduced her in this volume made it clear she was an established character he was re-introducing, but for me it was all new. It didn’t feel like Waid was expecting the reader to know the character in order to not have to create her backstory, but it did feel like he was playing to the audience more with her character.

She’s not a likable character (she’s not intended to be), but she’s being presented as a third interest for Archie’s affections. While Archie is still the klutzy, clueless teenager he’s always been, Waid hasn’t presented Archie as being so clueless that he won’t see through her act. Maybe that’s forthcoming; this volume is more interested in establishing her character and putting events into place to bring her to Riverdale. Regardless, I’ll be interested in seeing how Waid puts the two character together.

As I said above, this book is all about Cheryl and getting her to Riverdale, but all of the events leading us that way feel forced. It made some sense for Hiram Lodge to send Veronica to a European boarding school at the end of Volume Two, but it still felt strained. Waid even succeeds in making her return feasible, but Cheryl’s move was a little too pat to be believable. The pieces fit well enough, and thinking back on it, I can’t see where Waid cheated to pull it together, but I’m not sure why he felt the need to move Veronica to Europe to do it.

Waid has done a good job so far with reinventing Archie for the modern world while staying true to the characters, but it feels like he stumbled with this arc. Now that the characters are all back on one place, the story should pick up and get back to what it’s done well so far, but getting there was a bit of a disappointment.

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The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe

August 7, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

universeThe Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe by Ryan North, et al.

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I’m not a fan of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, the series. The character I admire for all of her positive traits, and I endorse giving this book to young girls interested in comics so they can see what a female superhero can be, but for me, a forty-five year old male with no children, female or otherwise, it doesn’t quite ring my bell. It’s a shame, really, because for all the other childish things that appeal to me (The LEGO Movie, the Animaniacs, and almost everything Pixar has ever created), I expected this series to hit all the high notes.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe, though, surprised me. Maybe it’s because I had written off the series for not being my thing, and went into the graphic novel with lowered expectations, or maybe it’s because it’s a standalone work without the inherent baggage of ongoing titles, or maybe it’s just a better written work. Whatever the case, I found myself laughing more at the story than I did with the two collections I’ve read.

The characters are the same, their dynamics are the same, and the storyline is similar to what one would find in the series (only with a clone added into the mix). The running gags carry over from the main series (the Spider-Man theme song continues to make an appearance in one form or another), and the commentary along the bottoms of the pages is still there, but something about it clicked for a change. It’s not enough to convince me to keep reading it, but it was an improvement over the main series.

I’d still recommend this to younger readers, especially girls, but boys, too, so they can see there’s more to being a female superhero than skimpy outfits and assisting male superheroes. Adult readers, though, may have a harder time getting into it.

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The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel You Know It’s True

August 4, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

squirrel2The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel You Know It’s True by Ryan North, et al.

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I have a rule with ongoing graphic novel series: Read at least two collections before drawing a conclusion on how much I like them. The Unwritten had a bit of a boring start, but once it caught its groove, it surprised me with how much it could do. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl was a title I’d heard a lot about, all of it good, but Squirrel Power just didn’t quite do it for me. Squirrel You Know It’s True is more of the same style presented in the first collection, which is good or bad, depending on how much you liked the first one.

Look I get it: she’s a positive role model for young girls; she attempts diplomacy before violence (and usually succeeds at it); and her adventures are light enough for young readers, but not without serious consequences. If I had a young daughter, I would love for her to read these books. The thing is, I don’t, and there’s just not enough to the stories by itself to encourage me to keep reading it. I loved (and still love) Ambush Bug, the Animaniacs, and the Looney Tunes cartoons, so the loopy sense of humor the series has should have appealed to me, but somehow it was more ingratiating than funny. The Twitter exchanges were still the highlights for me, but overall, it didn’t quite hit my funny bone.

I’d recommend this series to readers with kids, but for adult readers, I’d suggest they pass on it. They don’t take long to read, so the investment of time is slim, but there are so many other good series written for adults that it doesn’t seem worth it to devote what short time it would take to read these books. I have another of her books to read (what can I say? They were on sale, and my expectations were high), but I don’t see myself adding it to my titles to follow.

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Stitches: A Memoir

August 3, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

stitchesStitches: A Memoir by David Small

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I stumbled across this book while browsing Goodreads one day. That’s nothing of note (a lot of the books that wind up on my to-read list come from there), but that particular day, I happened to be browsing the site after installing a browser extension that linked to my library. The summary and artwork both looked promising, and my local branch had a copy, so I gave it a test run, and what do you know? It works!

Stitches is a memoir of David Small’s early life. It’s a heavy story. Small’s parents were cold and distant, more interested in their own well-being than his own, and they often saw him as a burden more than anything else. His father, a radiographer, tries to cure Small’s pulmonary problems by dosing him with X-rays, so when he’s in his early teens and develops cancer, it’s not much of a surprise. Well, it’s not much of a surprise to his parents. It is to Small, because he goes into surgery expecting the doctors to remove what he’s been told is a sebaceous cyst, but when he wakes, he’s missing his thyroid and one of his vocal cords, and is effectively mute. It’s only then that he discovers he had cancer.

Dysfunctional families are the subject of many a memoir, so the memoir itself isn’t anything new, nor does it provide any particular insights into why families can be dysfunctional. What drew me to the story was the anecdote about his surgery and his ignorance of his own health, and once that point is passed in the story, it ceases to be as interesting. Small carries the story through to its conclusion, offering some small explanations for why his parents were like they were, and offering some small bit of closure to the relationship with his mother, but it doesn’t feel engaging. The story is compelling enough, and Small’s illustrations are evocative (there’s a break in the middle of the story where the style changes, and that change is used to great effect), but in the end, I couldn’t feel much more than pity for the author and his family, and I don’t feel that’s the appropriate emotional response for what happened to him.

Memoirs aren’t really my thing, but every so often a graphic memoir catches my attention enough to make me want to read it. Fun Home was another one I read and only just barely enjoyed, and Stitches is about the same for me. Part of it is they’re so one-sided; family dynamics, even in the healthiest families, are complicated, and it’s impossible to get the entire story of a family just by listening to one member. In his afterword, Small suggests that he did a lot of research into his family when writing the book, but it’s still a story told entirely from his viewpoint. I can’t help but feel we’re not getting the entire story, but maybe that’s the point of any memoir. Again, they’re not a genre I typically read.

I wasn’t impressed with Stitches, but I admit I’m not the target audience. I liked Maus, but most other memoirs I’ve read have felt pointless and self-indulgent. Fans of memoirs, or fans of stories about terrible families, might enjoy it (is “enjoy” even the right word here?), but for the most part I didn’t get it.

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The Marvels

July 28, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

maRVELSThe Marvels by Brian Selznick

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Brian Selznick is a fantastic writer. The Invention of Hugo Cabret was so good, and Wonderstruck even better, that I bought a copy of The Marvels around when it was released. It took me a few years to get around to reading it, but I finally bumped it up my to-read list, and I’m pleased to say that it’s as moving a book as either of his first two books.

Selznick’s books are told equally in words and pictures, and The Marvels is no exception. What makes The Marvels different, though, is that the first half of the book is told 100% in pictures. Some of the illustrations have text, but for the most part, they’re wordless, and tell the story of a family who lives in the theater. The story goes back to a shipwreck in 1766 and takes us all the way through the early 1900s, showing the lives of a family who worked and were raised in the theater. Then, the story shifts to 1990, and is told 100% through narrative. Like any Selznick book, though, there’s a puzzle beneath the story, telling us more than we realized, and when the pieces all fall into place, the real story shines through.

Selznick creates his characters to be lively and engaging, even when they’re as unlikeable as Uncle Albert, and they’re what carry the story. Had the entire book been told with narrative and pictures interspersed, like he did with his previous two books, it could have become overly complicated — Selznick does tell the story of several generations of one family, after all — but the way he balances the two stories is perfect. In the end, the characters we’re meant to know the most about — Joseph, Albert, and Frankie — are the ones we grow to care about, and that they’re the ones whose lives are covered through the narrative isn’t a coincidence.

I don’t feel like The Marvels is quite as strong as Selznick’s other books (there seems to be a bit too much back-and-forth between Joseph and Albert that doesn’t go anywhere), but that’s not to say that I didn’t like it. It moved me as much as his other books did, enough so that I had to blink several times to be able to make out the words as I neared the end of the book. Anyone who read and enjoyed Selznick’s previous work should read The Marvels; it’s as brilliant as anything else he’s written.

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The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power

July 27, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

squirrel1The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power by Ryan North, et al.

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I’ve heard a lot about Squirrel Girl, all of it positive. I hear she’s a good role model for kids, especially young girls, and that she’s more inclined to solve problems with diplomacy than with punches. Plus, I hear there’s a loopy sense of humor to the books, so when I saw that these were on sale, I figured it was time for me to see what all the fuss was about.

The good news is I see all of the good I read about in other reviews; the bad news is I still couldn’t get that invested in it. I do think she serves as a strong role model, and it’s refreshing to see a female superhero who isn’t all about skimpy costumes and helping the male superheroes, but the tone of the book put me off. I grew up on Ambush Bug, so I was prepared for loopy and irreverent, but there was something about the characters that didn’t do it for me. Part of it, I think, is the feeling that these books are supposed to be part of official continuity. Continuity, to me, suggests a level of seriousness that doesn’t exist with this title. The fact that she couldn’t keep her secret identity secret (not that it’s broken in this book, but come on; it’s not going to last) opens up a vulnerability to all the characters who know her, and it all fell apart in my head.

There were parts of the story that made me laugh (the Twitter exchanges that started a couple of the issues cracked me up), but for the most part the humor grew tiresome. I gave up on trying to read all of the editorial comments that were at the bottom of each page, as they became distracting, slowed me down, took me away from the story, and in the end weren’t really worth the time. Plus, I was reading a digital copy of the book, and in order to read them all, I had to enlarge the page. It was too much effort for not a lot of gain.

My disappointment might lie with my expectations being too high, but I’m not feeling it so far. I still have a couple other collections to read (they were on sale, and I do still abide by my rule that I have to read at least two collections before drawing any conclusions on a title), but I’m not champing at the bit to get to them. I’ll get there when I get there. I can appreciate the title, and I would recommend it to readers looking for positive comics with a female lead, but so far it’s not going to be a go-to title for me.

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