Tag Archive | graphic novel

The World Watches the Watchmen

watchmen_front

* Possible Spoilers*

This review is at the request of a few  friends who have asked for a more in-depth opinion than I can give with a few words or simple sentences. The scope of the movie and the book is too large, and I feel like I’m doing both a dis-service to sum my feelings about them up in a few phrases like “it’s good.”

I felt like the movie did the book justice in almost all of the areas where it should have. It eliminated bits that would NEVER have been able to work on film. The inserts of “Tales of the Black Freighter” would have added at least 30 minutes onto the three hour run-time, and confused the hell out of the audience. I’m not ashamed to admit I still don’t appreciate what purpose it served in the book. I’m sure if I really took the time to examine, it would become apparent to me – but at this juncture…*shrug*. Maybe one of you can better explain it to me than I’ve managed to discern for myself.

But really – the directors and writers and producers obviously took great care in determining what should be kept and what shouldn’t. And that is much appreciated by fans of the original source material. Well, this fan at least.

One bone of contention I had was with the gratuitous sex scene in the middle of the movie. It was alluded to in the graphic novel, but in a wise move, was not shown in needless detail. I’m going to chalk the inclusion of it up to the director Zack Snyder‘s penchant for sex scenes – re Dawn of the Dead 2004 and 300. I watched both Watchmen and 300 in the theatres – and both sex scenes played out to giggles and chortles with the audience. Completely destroying the mood it seems to intend and drawing the audience out of the film.

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Unleashing the Force

So – I have a confession to make. In the last four days, I spent AT LEAST 10 hours playing video games. OK, just one video game in particular. Are you ready?

The Force Unleashed.

This is highly unlike me. It’s rare that a video game out there manages to capture my interest with it’s attractiveness, easy playing style, and storytelling.

And most of those that do hook me end up being some kind of RPG style entity – a few that I’ve fallen for over the last few years:

Stubbs The Zombie

X-Men Legends

Lego Star Wars

Jade Empire

And of course – World of Warcraft. I was pretty much logging like 3-4 hours a night for a three month stretch back in 2005. Yes, bask in the nerdiness of that statement. But I haven’t touched that game since then.

So – by and large I’m not a huge gamer. I enjoy RPG style outings (though I never really got into Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess) and interactive games like Wii Sports, Guitar Hero, Rock Band and DDR. But I don’t read gaming magazines, or track release dates for games. It’s just not my thing.

So, this game is one of those rare exceptions.

Dan purchased The Force Unleashed for the Wii console exactly one week ago. He played a little last Friday night while I paged insanely through Twilight, trying to ignore the John Williams orchestrations and blaster shots.

My level of interest in Star Wars waxes and wanes, and for the most part – I could care less about spaceships and aliens. However, I happened to glance up now and then last Friday evening and thought…shit, this thing has a STORY. And the voice-acting and characterizations aren’t half bad.

Dan caught me eye-balling, and then practically insisted I duel him.

Of course, he soundly kicked my ass several times and I threw the controls down in frustration. But despite the brutal beating – I enjoyed being able to wield a light saber and use incredibly fun force powers (push, choke, repel, electricity). Since adequate dueling requires that the champions be on equal footing, Dan suggested I start up a game and figure out how to use the powers.

And then I was hooked.

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Marvel’s Marvels

What can I say about the Marvels graphic novel that hasn’t already been written somewhere else? It’s gorgeous, and sumptuously illustrated by “the man” of comic artistry Alex Ross – with captivating storytelling by Kurt Busiek.

The series portrays some of Marvel’s best superhero stories, as seen through the eyes of ordinary people – specifically a photo journalist named Phil Sheldon.

Unfortunately – the plot sounded a bit too familiar.

That’s because a lot of the themes presented in Marvels are also covered again in Marvel’s popular and controversial Civil War cross-over (including using journalists to showcase the effects superheroes have on ordinary citizens). Marvels was released about 10 years prior to Civil War…but I’ll leave you to your own conclusions.

It was disconcerting to draw the parallel, but it certainly didn’t stifle my enjoyment of the series. However, much of what I would have had to say about the ideas presented here was already covered in my initial readings and rantings about Civil War.

I highly suggest giving it a read through and deciding which forum you think is best for these ideas. A huge – bazillion issue cross-over that ends in the assassination of one of comics beloved icons (Rest in Peace, Cap) OR a simple four issue plot line that somehow manages to capture many of the same concepts and ideas with less hype and more grace.

Also – big love to Busiek for weaving an interesting tale for The Mutants. The big draw to them when I first started reading the series was that they were pariahs – hated and feared by those they were sworn to protect. There is a lot of human interest in that concept which tends to become over-shadowed in the regular X-series by big boobs, tech speak, and general stupidity.

Marvels is a book I wouldn’t mind handing over to a non-comic enthused friend as a means to understanding why superheroes and comic books have managed to capture the hearts and minds of millions for so many decades. It’s a wonderful love letter to superheroes and their creators.

I’m ashamed I hadn’t read it sooner.

Much Love, Mindy C

Try the Sampler Platter

Reviewed here: American Born Chinese, Faker and Off Road

My latest trip to the library not only yielded me around $20 in overdue fines (damn the man!) but also a stack of about 20 tpb/graphic novels to consume. I’m going to forego lengthy blogs about each for a review snack pack of three books in particular.

#1

american-born-chinese-jacket-cover1American Born Chinese written and illustrated by Gene Luen Yang. It was nominated for a National Book Award in 2006 for young adult literature, the first graphic novel to ever have that honor.

So – sounds pretty tasty right? Sounds like something meaty I could sink my teeth into, what with seeing it on many folks Top 10 Lists popping up all over the net.

This book was engaging, but never resonated with me on a strong emotional level. On a literary level, I appreciated the artistry and craft that went into intertwining the three different stories together. The art, with the muted color palette and clean, thick lines works well with the theme, and is especially pronounced during the Chinese mythology sequences.

Again – this didn’t catch me in any emotional core – and that could simply be my inexperience with how young-adult Asian Americans might experience America. I could get on board with the concept of being an outsider, teased and tortured by classmates, and those lovely awkward first moments trying to woo the opposite sex. There were definite laugh-out-loud moments…but there were also sections that I feel alienated from.

I would suggest this for it’s intended audience – which is young adults, and not just the Asian American ones –  but I can’t say it’s going to make any of my Top 10 lists.

#2

Faker. Written by (yet another British dude) current X-Men scribe Mike Carey and illustrated by (yet another British dude) Jock (aka Mark Simpson). It’s published by the fun and edgy DC Vertigo label.

Here is what I’ve been thinking lately: I love Marvel’s line of popular superheroes. And I love DC/Vertigo’s naughty and subversive “adult” content.

The cover art is actually what initially spurred me to pick this book up – and the name Carey splattered in the white space held a special kind of promise, as he is right in the midst of gutting my beloved mutants, I thought I’d see what kind of extracurricular shenanigans he’s been getting himself into.

For a British dude – he’s writing expertise sure can cater to my assumptions of what Minnesota college students are like. He gets that compliment right off the bat. But seriously – this is a thoroughly engaging story, and I found myself nearly consuming it in one setting. Mostly because I was stood up for an orientation, and had an hour to kill waiting around in Starbucks to see if the person really would show.

They didn’t. But I clipped cleanly through the pages and emerged on the other end.

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Love and The Apocalypse

It’s a Saturday two-fer.

In the Small by writer/artist Michael Hague is gorgeously conceived with delicious color and picturesque panels. The concept and plot are amazing too – a sudden and bizarre “flash” changes the entire world population into pint-sized versions of themselves. This seemingly eradicates a good chunk of humanity – those who are trapped in crashing planes, cars, etc.

It’s an intriguing concept – and one that seems to be popular not only in comic books but society in general. The Apocalypse makes for great entertainment.

The two main characters are a brother and sister – Mouse and Beat. It’s fine that they have nicknames (they are really Hieronymus and Beatrice) but as the plot progresses…everyone starts having weird names. Mountain, Crazy Girl, Plant Man (I made a few of those up). That didn’t really work for me. Just because people shrink – it doesn’t mean they lose their names.

The dialogue was also somewhat stilted, but I’m guessing that has something to do with this being touted as “a children’s graphic novel.” There was no profanity, nudity, etc. Quite the change of pace from the content I’ve been reading lately.

I’m also not a HUGE fan of fantasy (though I’ve been known to dip into the fantasy barrel from time to time), and I suppose I didn’t realize what I was getting into from the onset. It’s important to mention my bias against the genre though – because I became increasingly less interested the more it slipped into the fantasy realm.

Despite the younger/fantasy audience the book was geared towards – I think “Mouse’s” visionary status came on too fast. I wouldn’t have had a problem with a flashback, or even a bit of foreshadowing. But we were pretty much crammed into everything within the first few pages. It all made sense and came off – but not without feeling awkward.

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Of Maus and Men

I’ve been promising this bad boy for awhile now, and then other, more pressing/interesting books crossed my path. But now I’m feeling anxious about having NOT said anything in regards to this book – or rather, books. The version I read collected Books I and II.

Maus, I figured, could wait…because it’s a freaking Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel that is on the course syllabus for every “Graphic Novel Literature” course in America (and probably the UK, or elsewhere).

I have a feeling there is very little I could say about this book that hasn’t already been better articulated somewhere else, so there is not much point in my trying.

But, here goes anyway:

COMPLAINTS – while few and far between, I did have some. I still can’t get on board with the biographical graphic novel material wherein children (yet again) complain about their parents. Maybe I would be more lenient if it weren’t so present in the bio-novels that I read. But, it was there. Again.

Granted, the author/illustrator Art Spiegelman did a great job of being as fair as possible with these interactions (and clearly let us see his flaws in dealing with his father), I found myself getting unbearably annoyed with Art Spiegelman’s Maus/Mouse character. Having read books, seen movies, listened to survivor’s speak – I mean, going through all of that shit would permanently alter how you function in the world.

I had respect and a lot of patience for Vladek. When I commented upon this to someone, they retorted -“well, come on, after years of that behavior, you would get annoyed.”

Of course. It makes sense. But in the span of a rather thick graphic novel, I was hard pressed to feel remorse that Art had to suffer with his father’s hard-earned eccentricities. I felt angry at Art Spiegelman. I wanted to pinch his little mouse ear and shout “be nice to your father, you dick!”

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Elk’s Run

The latest comic book/graphic novel I perused from the shelves of my local library branch – “Elk’s Run” is penned by Joshua Hale Fialkov, with art by Noel Tuazon and colors by Scott A. Keating.

The tale follows a group of Vietnam Vets who build their own safe haven from the rest of the world and deal with their war-fractured psyches in the lovely and sparse town of Elk’s Ridge, West Virginia. Lucky for us, this isn’t a true story.

After a few decades duking it out with the wilderness and maintaining their own society with it’s own set of rules…things get decidedly ugly.

The next generation (the Vet’s kids) are not so interested in the separatist lifestyle, especially since there is not an equal number of girls and boys, not even enough to start up a baseball league (cause we all know what America is REALLY about – chicks and balls).

But seriously – the town residents get a little oogy after one of them accidentally kills a child, and become judge, jury and executioner with a rather gruesome public death of the said culprit.

Now the scraggily group of teenagers want to leave more than ever, but the parents are DEAD serious on keeping them right where they are. Looks like the refuge turned prison might end up becoming a tomb.

Despite the humor injected synopsis – this is quite a serious tale with some heavy themes centering on one of those beloved icons of the hero-world, vigilantes. It’s a different take on the masked superhero darting through the City taking down criminals…but it’s definitely dealing with a society that follows it’s own laws.

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Incognegro

I picked this book up at one of my scouting sessions at the local library – intrigued by the title and the concept of the storyline – taking something historically true and making a comic book out of it is a pretty common theme lately.

Incognegro takes place in the 1930’s, back in the Southern heyday of lynching black people in their towns for fun and sport. The idea is that Northern light-skinned black people would infiltrate Klan rallies and report on them – making sure that these “secret” lynchings would be publicized and brought to the public attention.

The graphic novel is written by Mat Johnson, who is not primarily a comic book writer and illustrated by British artist Warren Pleece who works mostly for DC comics, and inks a few of their Vertigo titles.

The story of Zane Pinback is one of a truly brave and truly heroic person in a time where merely attempting to pass as a white person could get a man killed. Passing is a central theme in this graphic novel – and Johnson does well to illustrate the benefits and pitfalls of being able to pass as white in a white dominated society. It’s almost a philosophical look at race…

The book is an excellent blend of history, suspense, and revelation – as well as gut-wrenching frankness about the relationship between black and white people during this time period. There is a noir-ish mystery element added to it – and a focus on women’s own struggles with identity that I particularly appreciated, which almost mirrors the main characters “false identity.”

incognegro-imageThe novel is also incredibly sad and sobering – with imagery that is nearly impossible to burn from your mind (specifically the lynchings). The black and white format works perfectly for the theme of the story, as well as the noir-ish style with lots of shadows and dark blended in for added weight and depth. There wasn’t a lot of panel trickery either – it was all pretty standard and straight forward – and did not detract from the story itself.

A definite recommended read – it can easily be consumed in an evening and lends itself to a questioning and exploring of our history that is very important right now…when fear of other races and cultures is STILL so prevalent.

Final thought: This book should be supplemental or required reading in schools. It illustrates a perspective not often seen – the “other” perspective.

Much Love, Mindy C

Quitters and Lions.

Time for another round of Comic Book/Graphic Novel dorkiness. Today’s installment is featuring yet another Harvey Pekar offering: “The Quitter.” At this point – I’m not sure if I’m on some Harvey Pekar kick – or if the Multnomah County Library is. I snagged this from my local branch while tooling through the graphic novel section…I swear. This wasn’t something I actively sought out.

quitterThe first thing that struck me about this book was the artwork, by Dean Haspiel. It was much more stylized than the two most recent Pekar books I reviewed. Of course it’s black and white. But the lines are thicker, darker and moodier – which is perfect for this “coming of age” story about the man himself, Mr. Harvey Pekar.

Thematically – the title captures the subject matter perfectly. It’s about a scruffy kid who’s entire fate is sculpted around his decision to quit important things in his life when they proved to be too difficult for him to achieve. It’s not a heroic story – it’s very anti-heroic, and perfectly suited to Pekar – who is (probably begrudginly) an anti-hero. His whole comic schtick is painting real life portraits of real life people – without all that “superhero crap.”

I’m pretty intrigued by his most recent batch of comic books, which have either offered biographical fare, or historical content. The idea of a comic book is so simple, and IMHO, perfectly suited to telling stories to a modern day audience. I would much rather ingest information with pictures and words. I think there are a lot of folks in my generation who feel that way. Modern day media is all about mixing images and words (and sounds as well) to engage all aspects of learning.

Me – I’m totally a visual person. I think a lot of people respond to PICTURES as opposed to giant chunks of text. I wish there were more of a push for “educational” graphic novels in schools.

End Rant.

But seriously – this book actually gave me more (if that’s even possible) insight into Harvey Pekar – the forces that shaped him into the man he is today. OK – there was a bit of whiney parent bashing, but it wasn’t enough to detract from the main thrust of the story.

And I loved the juxtaposition of the old, balding, sour faced Pekar next to his younger, some-times smiling visage.

BONUS REVIEW!

During my work trip to Orcas Island, WA – I also read through a graphic novel written by Brian K. Vaughn called “Pride of Baghdad.” It’s the true story accounting of four lions who escaped from a city zoo during the 2003 bombing of Baghdad.

It’s a gorgeous book. The coloring is luscious (I’m a sucker for pretty art), and the artist, Niko Henrichon did a great job of capturing human expressions in a feline face.

The writing was excellent as well – the lions spoke and interacted with one another – but Vaughn did not forget to give them what I consider “lion-esque” reasoning.

The ending was abrupt and shocking, but I’m certain for allegorical reasons. In fact the entire book itself is an allegorical look at the idea of “freedom” and “liberation” – who has the power to grant freedom and for what purpose. The fact that it’s a true story adds another layer as well.

I think it’s worth mentioning that the last three comic books I’ve reviewed are a part of the DC Vertigo label, which are known for catering to teenagers and adults. Does that mean that I’ve crossed over to the edgier comics now? I don’t know. It could also be worth noting that Vertigo books are most of the only DC comics I enjoy reading. 🙂

Up Next: Fallen Angel (I promise).

Much Love, Mindy C

Graphic History

Originally I wanted to review three graphic novels/TPB’s a week – but clearly that is not going to happen. So – how about one? And if we’re all lucky – then maybe two or three?

This week’s entry is:

sds-graphic-historyIt’s another Harvey Pekar deal – but instead of being biographical or autobiographical – this is a little of both – with a dallop of historical content to spice things up.

It includes interviews and stories of “Students for a Democratic Society” members – also an introduction into how the organization was founded, it’s ties to labor parties, communists, and all sorts of fun information.

What was most intriguing to me – on a basic level – was the whole new perspective it opened up on student protest in the 60’s, and how/why it sort of peetered out and died away. It also gave me a chance to examine war protesting, and explore my opinions about the subject.

This is something Dan and I have talked about before…but, in good faith – I don’t agree that protesting war does SHIT about war. Protests don’t end War, don’t start war, and sure as hell don’t alleviate the burdens it causes. Protests used to hold power because the media actually reported on them. Nowadays – you can find people on the streets, but their message isn’t making it into homes. Protesters have tough competition – better funded, more attractive, and more entertaining.

Alrighty – trying to segue back into the review.

I did find about the first 3/4’s of this book entertaining. And then, the more personal accounts I read, the more I found myself struggling hard just to get to the ending of the book. Mainly because so many of these people were white, middle class, rich kids – whose perspectives and experiences didn’t seem to differ much from one another. Also – because they used so many acronyms and slang phrases off-handedly, as if someone from my generation is supposed to know what they all mean – that I found myself checking out mentally.

In this case – I think I was OVER-INFORMED of every minor detail, to the point of tedium. I would have cut out half the references to long-defunct organizations that so many readers don’t know/don’t care about.

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