Saturday, June 29, 2013

Brian K Vaughan & Fiona Staples "Saga Volume 2" (Image, 2013)

The second collected edition of everyone’s favorite galactic Romeo & Juliet story collects issues #7-12.  It begins immediately following the events of Volume 1.  Marko & Alana (along with Hazel & Izabel) have escaped Cleave and are fleeing the war on their interstellar treeship.  Marko’s parents make a surprise visit, only to discover the situation that their son is now in.  Needless to say, they are not pleased.  While all of this is going on, our happy couple is still being pursuing by various nepharious agents who want to collect the bounties on their heads.

If volume one was an audacious statement of intent, then volume two only deepens the vision and mythos.  Flashbacks are used to give more information and background to the various characters.  The writing and art continue to be of the highest quality.

Saga may just be the best SFnal comic that I’ve ever read.  I really cannot recommend it highly enough.  Start with volume one.  When you finish that, read volume two.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Kevin Hearne "Hunted" (Del Rey, 2013)

One of the great things about the Iron Druid series is how every book matters.  Not only do characters from earlier books return, but Atticus’ actions in one book influence how these characters feel about him later.  Actions have repercussions, sometimes expected and other times surprising.

The vast majority of Hunted is an elaborate chase sequence as Atticus, Granuaile and Oberon try to cross Europe while evading the pursuit of Artemis and Diana.  They’re upset about how Atticus has trapped Bacchus.  All of the easy avenues of escape are closed to the Druids, so it’s a foot race.  And the goddesses are being helped by vampires and dark elves.  And don’t forget Loki, who wants to kill Atticus himself.  The gods are using this as a betting opportunity, so our favorite Druids are on their own with just their wits and skills to protect them.

Everything you like about the series is here:  fast paced plotting, laugh out loud humor, sausages!  The plotting is too dependent on knowing characters from earlier books to make this a good starting point, but if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll love this one.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Marta Acosta "The She-Hulk Diaries" (Hyperion, 2013)

I’ve only a passing familiarity with the She-Hulk, but the concept of a tie-in novel was simply too good to pass up.  I’ve always found the idea of a Hulk/attorney to be fairly hilarious, so why wouldn’t I want to read about her?

Just like what it says on the tin, The She-Hulk Diaries take the form of Jennifer Walters’ (Shulkie’s alter-ego) diary.  As the novel opens, she has been kicked out of Avengers Mansion, lost her job, and is basically broke.  She creates a series of resolutions, and her efforts to complete these become the driving forces of the story.  This is really Jennifer’s story.  She-Hulk is a peripheral character, not the focus of the story.

That being said, Jennifer is a wonderful protagonist.  She’s smart, funny, capable – yet just enough down on her luck to avoid being a Mary Sue.  Acosta has set her up with personal issues that make her relatable, but she never falls into the trap of being whiny or self-absorbed.

I was a bit surprised at how much Jennifer’s love life, or lack of one, dominates portions of the book.  There’s a resurfaced old flame, as well as a mysterious new man who pursues Jennifer.  While this plotline was well handled, I found that I really didn’t care.  (And here I realize that I’m not the target audience for this novel.  So YMMV may vary.)  

All in all, The She-Hulk Diaries was a light, fun, hilarious read.  Absolutely great summer reading.  My enjoyment was diminished by the romantic subplots, but they didn’t detract from Shulkie as a feminist superhero.  And for many readers, these same plots may be a strong selling point.

Album of the Week: Hiss Golden Messenger "Haw" (2013)

At first listen, Haw seemed like a typical indie pop record.  Upbeat tempos, catchy choruses, etc.. I thought it out of place on a label like Tompkins Square. Then I noticed the tasteful acoustic guitar fills.  Then the fiddle.  Shortly after that, I realized the lyrics made continual allusions to Biblical phrases and themes.  Aha!  So this does fit!

There’s a pervading sense of satisfaction and joy running throughout Haw.  Rather than focusing on the ever popular Biblical themes of suffering or apocalypse, the choice is made to tell the other side of the story.  It’s all about redemption and joy.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sean Howe "Marvel Comics: The Untold Story" (Harper, 2012)

When I was a kid I read both comics from both Marvel and DC, but my heart was always with Marvel.  DC seemed like Mr. Rogers—grandfatherly and in a cardigan.  Marvel was more like Sesame Street—weird looking young people on a street that I knew was supposed to be New York, even if it looked totally alien to my eyes.  Marvel was dynamic in a way that DC couldn’t hope to be.  At their best, DC came off like someone’s dad trying to be cool.

So of course I was excited to hear about Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. Here was my opportunity to find out what really went on in the Bullpen, and learn the truth behind all those crazy nicknames.

Sean Howe does a fantastic job of telling the story behind the stories.  After a brief overview of Marvel’s WWII era legacy heroes, he begins the story with the dawn of the modern Marvel – in the 1960s with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.  From there he goes through the story of the company, ending only around the millennium.  All the big name writers and artists seem to be here, as well as many that would otherwise be forgotten.

Readers looking for storyline rehashes will be disappointed.  While some major characters and storylines are discussed, it is always from the perspective of business or creative decisions, not from any sort of in-universe perspective.   But the real story is intriguing all on its own.

It’s fascinating how many problematic issues surrounding comics were already issues 40 years ago.  Intellectual property, creator compensation, gender and race issues, boom and bust sales cycles, exploitative sales and marketing strategies were all being argued many years ago.  Howe spotlights many of these issues without bringing his own perspective to the fight.  He uses interviews to allow various voices to be heard.