Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Graphic Novels #35

Nemo: Heart of Ice (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen special #1)

Written by: Alan Moore; Illustrated by: Kevin O'Neill

Published: 2013

My Thoughts: I usually avoid these types of specials and one-shots because they rarely capture the magic of the original. But The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is the kind of series that I think could have benefited from being more serial in nature, so I decided to give this one a go. The story follows Nemo's daughter, Janni Dakkar, as the new captain of the Nautilus. Feeling jaded and a little constrained by her father's legacy, Cap'n Nemo II decides to take on the one expedition that her father failed, a trek through Antarctica. Nemo and her crew are being followed by these evil inventors, and there's something about an African Queen I didn't quite understand. I don't know if these are threads of a story I haven't read or if it's as disconnected as it felt to me, but I didn't quite grasp the over-arching storyline. That being said, when I concentrated just on Nemo II and her journey with her crew, I really enjoyed it. It's like a comic version of the old Tarzan pulp novels and the art style reflects this very well. As is Moore's want, there's also a Lovecraftian supernatural aspect to the story which I especially enjoyed. It's very short, but very readable.

V for Vendetta

Written by: Alan Moore; Illustrated by: David Lloyd

Published; 1982

My Thoughts: I can't believe it's taken me this long to read V for Vendetta! I was a little lukewarm about the film, but I felt like the comic was a much more complete story. While it's a heftier comic than some of the ones I review on here, it really doesn't take much time to get through at all - it's immensely consumable. Dystopia is where Moore really shines, and the simple art with muted colouring really suits the story being told here. That being said, since it's an early book by Alan Moore some of the writing and ideas aren't as solid as is could be. Some threads are left hanging, others are wrapped up a little too neatly and it does get a little tell-over-show sometimes (I think Moore likes a good monologue). An absolute must-read for Moore, dystopia and political comic fans.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Locke and Key: the audiobook

So this isn't actually a review, that will come soon, but I wanted to get a post out about the audiobook adaptation of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez's graphic novel ASAP. Why? Because until November 4th, you can download the audiobook for free. FOR FREE.

I'm sure some people are a little curious as to how you translate a primarily visual medium to an entirely audio one. This adaptation of Locke and Key is very similar to the audiobook for Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. It's less an audiobook and more an audioplay. Each chapter (which loosely corresponds to an issue of the comic) is introduced by a narrator who sets the scene in a few lines, after that it is made up entirely of dialogue between the cast. The production so far is incredibly well done and the cast is sensational. Tatiana Maslany, Kate Mulgrew, Haley Joel Osment (I think this is the first acting gig of his I've seen/heard since The Sixth Sense!), and Joe Hill himself all star in the audiobook along with a bunch of others. According to audible there are over 50 voice actors all told, so that gives you an idea of the scale of this project.

Anyway, if you've been looking for a new audiobook or have always been interested in checking out Locke and Key but wasn't too keen on comics then I highly recommend you get this while it's free.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Book Review: Queens of Noise by Evelyn McDonnell

Queens of Noise: The Real Story of The Runaways

Written by: Evelyn McDonnell

Published: 2013

Synopsis: In four years the teenage members of the Runaways did what no other group of female rock musicians before them could: they released four albums for a major label and toured the world. The Runaways busted down doors for every girl band that followed. Joan Jett, Sandy West, Cherrie Currie, lead guitarist Lita Ford, and bassists Jackie Fox and Vicky Blue were pre-punk bandits, fostering revolution girl style decades before that became a riot grrrl catchphrase.

The story of the Runaways has never been told in its entirety. Drawing on interviews with most of this seminal rock band’s former members as well as controversial manager Kim Fowley, Queens of Noise will look beyond the lurid voyeuristic appeal of a sex-drugs-rock ’n’ roll saga to give the band its place in musical, feminist, and cultural history. (Via Goodreads)

I have well and truly dropped the blogger ball this month. I have been extremely busy with uni work and life stuff, but it's sad to see so few posts up on my blog! So here is a quick review to add another post to my meager blog offerings.

Where to start? I came across this book when Jackie Fox (first bassist of the Runaways) made headlines the other month accusing their manager of raping her while she was in the band. I had long been a fan of the music of The Runaways, but outside of knowing that they were teenagers and hugely influential on future female bands I really didn't know much about their formation or the scandals that followed them pretty much from the start. Jackie Fox's statement, and the subsequent fallout from her other bandmates, led me on a wikipedia binge which ended with a visit to Goodreads. The main reason I decided on Queens of Noise over one of the autobiographies is that I hoped it'd be a broader look at the band, rather than prescribing to a certain person's memories and perspectives. Given how many fights and court cases this band has fought since the 1970s, I just don't know how much weight those autobiographies can be given.

Unfortunately that wasn't what I got. Generally speaking, I didn't get any insights in this book that I couldn't find on wikipedia or fan websites. It covered the highs and lows of the band, but it didn't really introduce any new perspectives or stories. McDonnell may have been backed against a wall, so to speak, because it seems from the interviews included in the book that she didn't really get access to all of the band and the ones willing to talk were the ones who have always been willing to talk. In terms of this complaint, if you haven't really read anything about this band then I don't think the content will be a problem. It's comprehensive and it covers a lot, from their lives before the band to their careers afterwards. If you have, like me, done some internet searches on the band then don't expect too much from this book.

Another issue I had was the quality of the writing. McDonnell has had a lengthy career as a journalist but when I started reading this I turned to my mum and said "this reads like someone's Masters thesis". Low and behold, that's exactly what this book was. I've read a lot of book which have begun as a Masters or PhD thesis, but the successful transitions are the ones which eliminate the unnecessary academic framework. McDonnell frames the formation of the band around academic discussion on Los Angeles in the 1970s in terms of "four ecologies"*. It's quite interesting stuff but it's introduced early in the book and then never really adds any real context or depth to the girls' stories. Does it really help for a music fan to know that certain girls grew up in "autopia" or "surfurbia"? This broad academic framework has a very specific purpose in academia, but this isn't a book advertised to music academics, it's a book for fans of the Runaways. And considering how often McDonnell refers to the biopic starring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, it's clearly a book created for young new fans of the band who want to know more about the real life women who inspired the film.

But outside of the academic framework at the start of the book, the writing is pretty sub-par.There is a lot of groan-worthy, overly descriptive language typical of a feature article:
"Laying down the chinka-chinka guitar rhythms of the band's dirty rock sound, Joan Jett is already Joan Jett: a cute but dark-eyed tomboy in a custom, red catsuit - gymnast meets race-car driver - and, of course, boots. She has outlined her Cleopatra eyes in dark liner and sings with the sexy bravado of one who was once painfully shy"
This is sandwiched between McDonnell's most overused stylistic choices, 'to' comparisons:
"To this day, he speaks a sort of tourette's jive that's a crucial link in the lineage from the Beats to Jack Bruce to Tom Waits to Wildman Fisher to David lee Roth to Perry Farrell"
What does this mean? What exactly is she comparing? The way they speak? Were they all influenced by Kim Fowley (who this quite is about) and how he spoke? Was he influenced by them? To comparisons are fine in moderation, but they are incredibly overused in this book. It just ends up reading as lady and as though she's wanting to prove her credentials, "look at all these things I know! Seven degrees of musical Kevin Bacon!" The final straw, for me, is that McDowell doesn't view this story objectively. Her person opinions on events that occurred and people that were involved came through so strongly. When discussing a somewhat controversial interview that music manager Danny Sugarman conducted with the Runaways McDonnell writes:
"Sugarman was a shitty writer and drug addict who thought he was a rock star and died married to Fawn Hall of Iran-Contra infamy"
Look, his article was garbage and lewd but there's a way to say that without bringing your own personal opinions on the guy into the story. And what does it matter if he was a drug addict - so was just about everyone in the Runaways!

But perhaps the biggest straw for me is the sympathy McDowell has for Fowley, the man who Jackie Fox accused of raping her. Throughout the book there are interviews with crew, journalists and musicians who say that Fowley was a creep and aggressive and abusive towards the girls. While I don't think it was McDowell's responsibility to address all of the rumours, especially when there was conflicting stories or a lack of evidence, but she follows so many of these moments of criticism with some really gross explanations for why Fowley isn't so bad. I.e. it was the 1970s and tonnes of men had sex with underage girls. Heck, Roman Polanksi "got busted" for having sex with an underage girl**. Or modern society has a different definition for what constitutes predatory behaviour. Or he was a freak, and was an easy target because of this. It just comes across as so apologetic, especially since she failed to be objective throughout the book, like she'd met him and liked him and didn't want to face the idea that he wasn't the charming and weird guy in a salmon coloured suit she envisioned.

So at the end of the day this book just didn't deliver what I was hoping for. It'd be fine for a complete Runaways novice or younger reader as it reads pretty well in spite of my issues with style and it does cover the details about the formation of the band, career highlights and band fights. It does paint some interesting pictures of the 1970s L.A music scene, but these are too few and far between for my liking. A resounding meh, from start to finish.

*It's based in architectual and cultural studies stuff. 

**This upset me the most. She didn't address that he was arrested and found guilty of raping a child before fleeing the country. She simply mentioned he was "busted". ugggggghhhh

Friday, July 24, 2015

Book review: Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

Red Dragon

Written by: Thomas Harris

Published: 1981

Synopsis: Will Graham stands in a silent, empty house communing with a killer. An FBI instructor with a gift for hunting madmen, Graham knows what his murderer looks like, how he thinks, and what he did to his victims after they died. Now Graham must try to catch him. But to do it, he must feel the heat of a killer's brain, draw on the macabre advice of a dangerous mental patient, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and follow a trail of microscopic clues to the place where another family has already been chosen to die--and where an innocent woman has found the Dragon first. (Via Goodreads)


“It's hard to have anything isn't it? Rare to get it, hard to keep it. This is a damn slippery planet.”

Tom and I started Bryan Fuller's series Hannibal when we heard it had been cancelled. We'd both been wanting to watch it for awhile, but we have so many ongoing shows we watch that it was kind of exhausting to add yet another one to the list. So the cancellation, though very sad (more so now that we know how great the show is), let us feel like we could finally make the commitment to the show. After we finished each episode, I'd look up the AV club review and see what people had said. One thing I hadn't really expected was a continued discussion on how faithful to the book(s) the show is, especially since it takes place prior to the events of the Harris novels. 

Interest piqued, I decided to find out for myself. What I discovered that the TV show is very clever at weaving lines and references from the book into the show, but also, this book is hella cool.

For those of you who have watched the TV show,* Red Dragon takes place four-five years after any events in the show (maybe longer? It's 4 years since Hannibal's capture in the book but I don't know when/if Hannibal will be caught in the show). After catching and then nearly dying at Hannibal Lecter's hand, Will Graham has removed himself from the FBI and settled down and married. He's still troubled by his days in the FBI, but he finds a quiet satisfaction working with his hands and not empathising with serial killers for a living (whodathunkit?). Oh wait, did I say he was content? Enter Jack Crawford, desperate for Will's insight into a new serial killer known as the Tooth Fairy. 

At the new moon, the Tooth Fairy kills an entire family. The deaths are quick and mostly painfree, except for the mothers who seem to receive the lion's share of the aggression and attention. Graham is called in to try and make the connection between the two families that no one else has been able to find, but in involving himself in the case he throws his fragile life into a tailspin. His new family is tense and close to falling apart, as is his sanity. Working in pursuit of a serial killer can't be easy on anyone but for Will it seems extra destructive. At one point Will visits the imprisoned Hannibal Lecter to try and get his perspective and this terrible toll on Will is explained, the line between killers and Will is especially thin. Will is gifted (cursed?) with the ability to empathise completely which obviously causes pain, but it also blurs the line about Will's self. Is he able to empathise on a purely scholarly level, or is it because he's the same as them, evil and destructive like them? 

The narrative is primarily framed around Will, however there are chapters that travel back to the Tooth Fairy's (aka Red Dragon, aka Francis Dolarhyde) childhood and adolescence, or spends time with him as he goes through his daily routine and gets ready to attack another family. There is also a section or two framed around Hannibal Lecter and Jack Crawford or other smaller characters, to help fill out the story without having Will inserted into every single scene. As the book gets closer to its final act, the Dolarhyde chapters increase and we see his fractured sense of self and mental instability which is often mirrored against Will. It becomes a story that's both about the hunt for a serial killer and an introspection into the psyche of people who live on the fringe of society.

Lest those of you who watch the TV show think that this aligns with TV-Will...hold your horses. While his ability to empathise with killers is a part of his character and a leading role in his fragility, Book-Will does a lot more detective work than TV-Will ever does. While he certainly gets a "feeling" that he can't define through actual evidence, he also has an eidetic memory which helps greatly as he spends hours upon hours sifting through evidence. There's a stronger foundation of reality in Red Dragon than in the show, which tends to favour aesthetic and theme over narrative stability.

I found the ending a little unsatisfying. I didn't have an issue with the events themselves, but they were written in such a vague way that I actually wasn't entirely sure what I was reading at first. My other major problem was the absolute lack of female characters in the book. There were two, I think, maybe three. I could have forgiven the small number if they were at least characters with some depth, but I found them decidedly lacking.Ultimately though, these two issues weren't strong enough to effect my general enjoyment of the book and I'll definitely be seeking out Silence of the Lambs when I'm next at the library. Goodbye Will.

*Yes, I know that there is a film adaptation of Red Dragon. No I will not comment on it or refer to it in the review because it is NOT GOOD.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Book Review: The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

The Lady of the Rivers (The Cousin's War #3)

Written by: Philippa Gregory

Published: 2011

Synopsis: Jacquetta, daughter of the Count of Luxembourg and kinswoman to half the royalty of Europe, was married to the great Englishman John, Duke of Bedford, uncle to Henry VI. Widowed at the age of 19, she took the extraordinary risk of marrying a gentleman of her household for love, and then carved out a new life for herself. (via Goodreads)

*mild spoilers below, but really, it's based on a historical event so this shouldn't be news to you*


“Any woman who dares to make her own destiny will always put herself in danger.”

I don't tend to read it too often, but I really do love historical fiction. There's something about reading a fictionalised account of a family or event from long ago which just ticks a lot of boxes for me. The Lady of the Rivers is actually the third in Philippa Gregory's Cousin's War series, but it's a prequel that takes place during the years prior to and during Henry VI rule. It focuses on Jacquetta, a real life fascinating woman, who began her life in English-occupied France, the daughter and niece of Luxembourg royalty (and a Goddess), before marrying one of the most powerful men in England, John of Lancaster.

Jacquetta is a perfect character for this type of book because while she's involved in a lot of the critical events that led up to the Cousin's war, she's removed enough that the book isn't just another rehash of a very famous family feud. Instead we see life on the outskirts, how her first husband ruled France and how he tried to guide his young nephew, the king. We see the early days of Henry's rule and the follies of youth as he and his young wife play favourites in court and have zero understanding of how to run a castle, let alone a country. And we get a little insight into raising a child (or 14 as is the case with Jacquetta) during these tough and troubled times, especially as a lady of the court who is forced to spend months away from their children. This peripheral view, I imagine since I haven't read the following two books, also helps to set the scene quite well for the really character-driven narrative that is to come*.

One of the best things about this book was how focused it was on women in this era. Through Jacquetta and the women in her life, we see how few options they had. And not only did they have far fewer options in life compared to men, but their futures were largely out of their control. If they were from wealthy families like Jacquetta, their marriages were often to form alliances or to solve land feuds. Jaquetta's first marriage to John of Lancaster is never consumated, instead she is an object for him to use. Jacquetta, as their family myth says, is gifted with the "sight" because their oldest ancestor was the water goddess Melusina. John, obsessed with alchemy, wants Jacquetta to see the future in a mirror and help him guide his nephew to success and prosperity. And while her talents puts her in his favour, as the reader sees with Jacquetta's brief interaction with Joan of Arc and another woman of the English court, this favour can quickly turn sour when it no longer works in someone's favour. A talent at forecasting the future or making herbal remedies quickly becomes signs of witchcraft and can lead to an unfortunate end tied to a stake. In a less supernatural sense, a woman failing to give her husband a child and heir just as quickly turns from favour. It was a time where women were balancing on a tightwire, hoping to keep their husband, their father, their brother, and their King happy.

In spite of this, Jacquetta, and several other women in the book, are shown to be independent and strong characters. They make themselves heard and they make their own choices, even though they face dire consequences. After John's death, Jacquetta marries his squire and almost loses everything in the process. But her marriage is one of love, and not only do they survive, they rise high in the court. Henry's wife and Queen, Margaret, is ruled by her emotions and is a passionate and fiery woman. Many of her decisions could have risked her her crown and her head, but she lives as she pleases regardless. Joan of Arc, although only in the book for a short while, is an absolutely beautiful and principled girl. Her trial and death is utterly heartbreaking, and the weight of it effects Jacquetta long after it happens. The women are the focus of this book, so we see a lot less of the wars and fighting than many books that deal with this era typically show. This I am eternally grateful for because, ugh, I don't need more battle scenes in my life. I get enough of them in Game of Thrones thank you very much.

Now this isn't to say this book is perfect. It falls into many of the holes historical fiction struggle to deal with. There is an insane overuse of titles in the book. Every time John is mentioned, it is "John of Lancaster, first Duke of Bedford". While I know it's hard to keep on top of all the characters, especially since they all seem to be called John, Richard, Edward and Henry, but when you have a 10 page chapter that only involves a discussion between Jacquetta and her husband, I think the reader can be trusted to understand which John this is. It also struggles at times with covering so much. I loved that it gave glimpses into life in court, away from court, during pregnancy, during birth, during war etc etc, but this did mean that sometimes things were fairly shallow in their depiction. A few times Jacquetta brings up her pregnancy and then gives birth 200 words later and then you don't hear of the child for another 40 pages. A tightening of the focus, just a bit, may have helped here. Building on this...I hated Margaret. She was an insipid and obnoxious brat who plunged two countries into ruin because she wanted to play favourites at court and didn't have a proper grasp of money or time. Because the book is so focused towards the women in the narrative, all of the blame ends up heaped on her shoulders, probably unfairly, while Henry is barely discussed or depicted as a pious and naive young man. Because Jacquetta is one of her ladies in waiting, we spend so much time with her, especially as the country falls into war between the two factions of the family. I didn't like spending so much time with her scheming, although I guess there wasn't a lot else that could be depicted since we were following Jacquetta. But to further infuriate me, the book depicts Margaret as this horrendous woman but then Jacquetta will dote on her or excuses her terrible actions. I couldn't get a read on how Jacquetta truly felt. When she talks about a shallow or dangerous decision made by Henry and Margaret, is she simply being nice because it's her job to be loyal, or does she truly not understand/care how terrible that decision was? Jacquetta was shown to be so intelligent before this part of her life, and suddenly I couldn't tell if she was playing it safe or naive or foolish or simply blind. At the end of the book I was firmly on the York side, which I don't think was Gregory's intention.

Problems aside, I did really enjoy reading this book. I spent most of my first day up the Coast with Tom with this book in one hand, and my phone in the other googling names so I could work out everyone's relationship. English family trees give me such a headache! I loved that this book introduced me to a new badass woman in history. Because Jacquetta most definitely was a badass. This book sadly doesn't cover the later years of her life, but she ends up accused of witchcraft (hence the supernatural elements threaded through this book) and manages to escape with her life. And as a mother of 14** it's really beautiful to see how much she fought for her kids and for them to have the best in life. Other accounts of Jacquetta that I've read since tend to depict her as this grabby power-hungry woman who used her children to rise up in station, and maybe she truly was the 15th century version of Kris Kardashian but I much prefer this version. She fought for and risked everything for all of the people in her life, even those like Margaret who perhaps didn't deserve her love and loyalty. Melusina would have been proud.

*Like I said in the intro, this is actually the third in the series and a prequel, but from what I've read about the other two books it does sound like they are more tightly written in terms of focus. 

**I really should fact check this, it's either 12 or 14, but I've already sent the book back to the library and I'm LAZY.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Graphic Novel review #34

Cinema Panopticum

Written and illustrated by: Thomas Ott

Published: 2005

My Thoughts: I first came across Thomas Ott through his illustrated cover for Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I love his scratchboard art style, it adds an enormous amount of visual complexity to his stories, which is necessary since they are entirely wordless. Cinema Panopticum follows a girl at a fair who can't take part in any of the activities on offer because she doesn't have enough money. She finally finds the Cinema Panopticum tent, which has 5 movie boxes that are cheap enough for her to afford. Each movie is another short chapter, and the stories are all fairly dark and foreboding, although some are laced with a wicked wit while others are just downright heartbreaking. It's only a short little book but it packs one hell of a wallop.

Birds of Prey: The Death of Oracle (volume 2)

Written by: Gail Simone; Illustrated by: Adrian Syaf

Published: 2011

My Thoughts: I picked this up thinking it was the first volume (I hate when they don't number the spine!) but even so, it clearly sets out all of the major players and recent events at the start of each issue, so that presented no real issue. The story is interesting enough, Oracle (Barbara Gordon, now in a wheelchair) has garnered a little too much attention as a tech-genius and her enemies are now doubling-down on trying to eliminate her. Not only is Oracle a credible threat in her own right, but as Oracle she monitors and supports countless of other heroes so any threat on her life has a knock on effect. The rest of the Birds of Prey are tasked with trying to save Oracle while also having to come to grips with their own dark pasts. This is my, to my knowledge, first Gail Simone and ... I didn't love it? It's a solid story and the characters are well-developed but it didn't wow me. But an (almost) all female team of heroes, some of whom began as anti-heroes or dabbled with villainy, is too good a concept for me to give up on after one middling edition. I'll give it at least one more edition and make my mind up then.

Lady Justice (volume 1)

Written and illustrated by: C.J Henderson; Fred Harper; Daniel Brereton

Published: 2008 (though the collected comics are from the 90s)

My Thoughts: Ugh, this is a good example of making sure you read the fine print. In case you can't see in the cover image, Neil Gaiman's name is written above the title. Awesome!, I thought. Turns out it's not written by Gaiman but merely based on a character of his, and loosely, so very loosely. The concept itself is kinda awesome (kudos to Gaiman). Lady Justice appears to women who have been wronged and implants them with her powers, making them her physical avatar. They then have the power to gain justice for the wrongs they've experienced. The first issue is very violent and very bloody, but when Lady Justice leaves her avatar and the woman cries for her to stay saying she "did everything L.J asked of her," Lady Justice replies that she didn't say how the justice should be meted out and that "the blood and violence was entirely her choice, and she should beware that she isn't revisted in the future by another Lady Justice avatar"*. This I actually really dug, but this story was completely destroyed by the following two or three stories which were equally as bloody and equally as violent. What happened to choosing how to deliver justice? Or that the justice should be proportionate to the crime? I think there was one which actually had the bad guys going to jail instead of dying, but plenty of other people had died by this point. It's just all so pointless. The art is also very '90s pornographic superhero style. Huge gravity defying boobs, tiny waists and the women are always walking on tip-toes. Pass if you ever see this guys, HARD pass.

*my paraphrasing


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