BookBin2016: Batgirl Volume 5: Deadline

batgirldeadline

What? Two reviews in an hour? What is this madness?

It’s called quick reviews of lackluster graphic novels. #spoilerz

I finally got around to reading Volume 5 in the New 52 Batgirl reboot. Apparently, Deadline also is the last in this series before they rebooted the character again, moved her to a different location, changed her look, and changed her appeal to be more “youth-centered.” Translation: Batgirl ain’t for my old ass anymore.

Of course, this final Batgirl from the Gail Simone run wasn’t really for me either. I felt totally disconnected and confused by several of the stories in this collection. I’ve either forgotten key plot points from the previous four volumes or DC did to me what Marvel used to do all the time when I read X-Men comics (and that pissed me off just as much then as it did now with this collection).

I hate when comics become part of a story arc that runs across several titles. I mean, it’s okay every now and then, especially if you have a huge story that you know will require more than just one particular superhero and will deserve the wider audience (as I seemed appeased when they pulled this same thing in the third collection). However, I felt as though several themes in this collection were pieces from several different (and mediocre) puzzles that I simply didn’t care enough about to piece together. Also, it strikes me as frustratingly and offensively greedy of comics companies to demand that readers invest so much money into being able to get the whole story when all they might care about is one faction of the comics universe.

[Loba Translation: I don’t give a damn about Batman. Stop trying to make me give a damn.]

Final Verdict: Just as it was with my last Batwoman experience, I’m drawing the line at 5 with Batgirl. I won’t be following Babs and her roomie Alysia to Burnside.

BookBin2016: Blacksad: Amarillo

amarillo

Back once more with another graphic novel from the Blacksad series by writer Juan Diaz Canales and artist Juanjo Guarnido. We haven’t had a new novel from this duo since their 2012 offering A Silent Hell. I gave that novel a bit of a lackluster review in comparison to my ebullient review of the first Blacksad collection.

I’m afraid that my review of this latest novel, Amarillo, is going to be even less enthusiastic. Guarnido is still producing stunning artwork for this series, but I feel as though perhaps Canales has reached his creative limit with this character’s story. I honestly found this tale trite and dull. Perhaps it’s because of my ongoing struggle to get into detective stories, but I ultimately think that it’s because there wasn’t really a story worth telling here. Perhaps it’s either time to let our private dick retire or take up residence with a different storyteller. However, I would like for Guarnido to continue being his artist. Guarnido’s art continues to be top shelf.

Final Verdict: I’ll hang on to this one for the artwork (another from my own collection!), but I seriously doubt whether I would give another novel from this series a go.

BookBin2015: The Art of War

taow

One final entry for the 2015 Book Bin. I knew, even as I was writing the reviews I posted on the last day of last year, that I was forgetting a book. It frustrated me to no end that I could not recall even that it was a graphic novel. Thankfully, during a trip this weekend to the library, I ended up seeing the book I knew was missing from my 2015 reading list, happily tucked back on the graphic novel shelf where I first found it.

The Art of War is, of course, based on the same-titled ancient military philosophies of Chinese General Sun Tzu. This novel, however, takes Sun Tzu’s teachings and filters them through a two-color rendering of the philosophies as they apply to this futuristic (but still stunningly violent) thriller.

To be honest, the power of this graphic novel doesn’t reside in writer Kelly Roman’s rendering of Sun Tzu’s philosophies. Instead, the strength rests squarely in the hands of artist Michael DeWeese. Stark, stunning, bloody, visceral, and all with a little red thrown in for good measure to a purely monochromatic palette. DeWeese made me continue to turn the page, even when I had long lost interest in Roman’s tepid tale.

Final Verdict: I wish I had remembered this novel before now. I would have much rather ended 2015’s BookBin reviews with the one-two Harper Lee review I posted than this dud of a read. I also wish I had read more than 29 books last year. My track record has continued to drop with each year I do this. Competitive streak aside, reading has always been incredibly important to me. Watching my record for reading plummet with each passing year means that I’m slipping in time put aside to enjoy something that has brought me endless hours of joy my entire life. That’s just not acceptable. I need to fix that this year.

BookBin2015 Final Tally: 29

BookBin2015: Ghost World

ghostworld

I don’t really know how it happened that I never read Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel Ghost World before now. I’ve also never seen the movie based on the novel. I’ve had it on my radar for years, and I’m pretty sure it’s one of the first movies I ever added to my Netflix queue. I’ve just never taken the plunge and moved it to the top.

[Loba Tangent: I just watched the trailer and read the plot of the movie. First, I love how early this was in Scarlett Johansson’s career. Also, what the hell ever happened to Thora Birch? Second, that plot sounds jilted. I suppose that answers my question of how they made a mainstream movie out of this comic, which doesn’t really have a central point other than the exploration of the post-graduation dystopia and ensuing tumble into adulthood, as set in the culture-defining era of early 90s grunge and disenchantment. They didn’t make that movie. They made another movie. And it sounds…questionable. Maybe that’s why I haven’t rented it yet.]

So, the graphic novel is…uh, I think I just pretty much explained most of it in my tangent. The two main characters are Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca Doppelmeyer, both highly cynical, highly sarcastic, highly amusing. They’re best friends at the time of their high school graduation, both into the same things, the same people, the same warped and weary view of the capitalistic, consumer-driven wasteland of unnamed America in which they live. Enid is slightly more of all these things and slightly less popular with the boys than Rebecca, which I think gives her the sharper edge and ekes her out as the star of the novel. She seems to be the one intent on making things happen, whereas Rebecca is more content with being a follower and the recipient of male affection.

Clowes does a fantastic job of showing the everyday fluctuations of relationships and the stilted stumbling journey that we all take as we move away from the cloistered safety of our adolescence and into the stark reality of adulthood and figuring things out on our own. Also, the natural evolution of Enid and Rebecca’s friendship from beginning to end was believable, relatable, and not the least bit melancholy. And make note that it was no small thing that Clowes chose two female characters as his protagonists, or that the novel was so well received by fans and critics regardless of the fact that it wasn’t a male-driven coming of age story for the comics fandom, which continues to be a holdout of male domination.

Final Verdict: I very much enjoyed this novel and foresee it becoming a part of my graphic novel collection. I kind of have a feeling that I might not have the same reaction to the movie…but I’m willing to give a go.

BookBin2015: The Cape

thecape

So what do you think my reaction is going to be, based on all that you’ve read here at the lair of my love for Joe Hill, when I stumble upon a graphic novel based on one of his short stories? Um. Let me think.

I’m going to grab it from the shelf like I’m a wild dingo and it’s the first food I’ve seen in a week, and I’m going devour it in one sitting, that’s what’s going to happen.

So it was with The Cape. Although, for full disclosure, this graphic novel is based on a short story by Hill as translated for a comic by Jason Ciaramella, with art by Zach Howard and Nelson Daniel. This being said, I don’t know exactly what comes from Hill’s story and what might be uniquely Ciaramella. All I have to say is, whoever thought of dropping a grizzly into a convertible as retribution against the driver? That’s just mighty twisted brilliance right there.

Other than that, this graphic novel is a “what-if” tale about a young man who had a horrible accident when he was a kid, falling from a tree while playing with his brother, and never really recovered. Instead, he kind of just slides through life without drive or ambition or any will to do anything. That is, until his girlfriend breaks up with him and he finds himself living in his mother’s basement. It’s here that he discovers his mother didn’t throw away the cape he wore as a kid (and was wearing the day he fell from the tree). It’s also here that he discovers that the cape from his childhood can make him fly. Forreals.

Does he take this newfound ability as a sign that he should change his life and begin to do good? Come on, now. This is a Joe Hill story, people. Of course he doesn’t! He uses it to exact revenge on everyone he believes has wronged him. Which, by the by, leads to the grizzly bear dropped into a convertible.

Brilliance.

To be sure, the bleakness runs thick through this tale. We begin our journey feeling sympathy for our primary character, Eric, when we learn that his father was killed in battle and Eric wears one of his dad’s Marine Corps patches on his cherished cape…and then he falls from the tree and suffers severe trauma that continues to plague him through his adolescence…but then? Then, when he returns home and discovers his cape and its powers? Not so much with the sympathy anymore. Hill’s characterization of a megalomaniacal turd blossom is overwhelmingly successful. Ciaramella breaks it all down satisfactorily for comic consumption, while Howard and Daniel provide solid, straightforward line work and coloring for the visuals.

Final Verdict: I liked this novel well enough and thought the artwork was enjoyable, but I don’t really see any reason to add this to my graphic novel collection at this time.

BookBin2015: My Dirty Dumb Eyes

mdde

This might possibly be one of the most randomly fortuitous grabs I’ve ever made at a library. I saw the chaos-in-neon cover of Lisa Hanawalt’s My Dirty Dumb Eyes and decided on a whim that it looked like something that I could at least give a go. It ended up being a funny, surreal visual romp that gives nary a fuck as to whether it’s poignant or pithy or cerebral. It just wants to be. Period.

Hanawalt’s humor is uniquely her own, coming through in the loveliest of visual and linguistic ways. She’s a sublime storyteller, slightly puerile when it comes to bodily functions, slightly precocious when it comes to all else, and overwhelmingly endearing when it comes to simply being herself.

There’s not much else to say about this weird, wonderful collection of one-offs, movie reviews, personal stories, and visual sundries. You kind of have to see it to believe it.

Final Verdict: I have added this to my wish list. It’s not an imperative purchase, but it is one that I envision making a lovely addition to my library.

BookBin2015: 99 Days (Vertigo Crime)

99days

I think the thing that struck me the hardest about Matteo Casali’s graphic novel 99 Days was the mention of how most people in this country heard more and remember more about Kurt Cobain’s suicide than the atrocities that occurred around the same time in Rwanda.

For the record, Kurt Cobain killed himself on April 5, 1994. Beginning two days later, from April 7 to July 15, 1994, the Hutu-led government of Rwanda targeted the Tutsis for extermination, killing between 500,000 to 1 million Tutsi—almost 70 percent of the Tutsi population. And yet, in this country, the suicide of one rock star right before that stretch of time is what many people here remember as one of the “biggest news stories” from 1994.

I’m by no means belittling the seriousness of suicide. I am, however, pointing out a disappointingly xenophobic history of reporting global events in this country. Things have improved now that we can access other news outlets from other countries through the Internet—but this still doesn’t change the fact that our news outlets too often take an isolationist approach to what we deem worthy to report to constituents. It shouldn’t be this way. We should know what is transpiring around the world and how it relates to our global history.

Say it again. Say it until you can’t speak any more. Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it. This is a history that will never remain in the past so long as we ignore it. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, with the attacks last week in Paris. The attack the day before that in Lebanon. The attack going on in Mali right now as I type this. Right. Now. The total destruction of the Russian Airbus A321 leaving Egypt. The unrelenting terrorist violence throughout Africa. In fact, more attacks this year alone than I want to list here, but that should be known.

Why? It’s not new. Genocide, new? Bosnia. Bangladesh. Arbeit macht frei. Religious war, new? Onward, Christian soldiers. Allahu Akbar. And, yes, it’s easy to blame religion. I confess that my first response to these instances is to think that if we could just disband all religion, then we might have a chance. But that’s a lie. It’s not religion. It’s not politics. It’s not culture or morality or skin color or ethnicity.

It’s us.

We are the fuel to this fire. We are genetically hard-wired to behave this way. I’m going to bogart something I wrote elsewhere recently:

We are hard-wired to fear. Fear kept us alive as a species throughout millennia of evolution. Fear drove us to kill or be killed. That hard wiring is still there, only now we have no real reason to kill. So we just make shit up. We need to figure out how to rewire our genetic responses.

At one point, that fear saved us. Now, it’s destroying us. It’s no longer necessary to our survival as a species, so we simply make up reasons to continue to justify it. At the moment, religion is the excuse and absolution for our inborn fear of “the other.” If there were no religion, then we would simply make up another reason. But how do we reprogram something so deeply rooted within us? How do we rewire what became an evolutionary necessity? Kill what we fear. Kill what is not us.

I’m not going to say love is the answer. That’s trite and schmaltzy. It’s also not true. I don’t have to love you to know that I shouldn’t kill you. And I know I shouldn’t kill you for one simple reason. It’s at the heart of what France once said to us as a country, and what we have in turn said to them in recent days.

Aujourd’hui, nous sommes Américains Parisiens humains.

Now if we can just figure out how to embrace that truth, we might actually get somewhere.

Final Verdict: You probably forgot that this was a book review, didn’t you? I apparently did. It’s just, the book itself wasn’t all that great, but the thematic elements were incredibly provocative, especially right now. The artwork was solid but the story itself was a bit spotty, although I did like the focus on the traumatic effects that the events in Rwanda continued to have upon the main character. War does not end when the white flag goes up or the enemies are all vanquished. War comes home inside every soldier who fought. We’d do our soldiers far more honor remembering that truth than in having a holiday to “remember” them with discount sales on TVs and refrigerators. But I digress. Anyway, the overarching power of the novel’s topic for me is clear. Still, I don’t foresee adding this to my collection.

BookBin2015: Batwoman Volume 5: Webs

batwoman_webs

This, sadly, is going to be both my shortest Batwoman review and my last Batwoman review. At least for now. They’ve ended her solo run and, while there is one final graphic novel out there, I have no intention of buying it. I couldn’t care less how Marc Andreyko ended this series. By the time I finished this graphic novel, I was left so apathetic that I couldn’t even muster the energy to be furious that the last two pages pretty much seemed to imply that Batwoman was about to be raped by her new nemesis, Nocturna.

Okay, not completely bereft of fury. Seriously, DC? It’s not okay for Batwoman to marry her girlfriend but it’s okay for her new enemy to mentally Roofie her as she’s trying to fall asleep and trick her into believing she’s someone else so that Batwoman won’t fight her off? Oh, and really subtle artwork in that last panel, of Nocturna, who is apparently a vampire or vampire-like character, penetrating Batwoman with her fangs while Batwoman arches back against her while wearing just a camisole and undies. And with a look on her face as if she were enjoying what was happening to her. Great message there. Absolutely.

What utter bullshit. Sorry, but there’s no tactful way to put it. The whole novel was just example after example of piss-poor writing and some of the most mediocre artwork to ever grace a Batwoman comic. There was nothing satisfying about any of this collection, starting with Andreyko’s terribly anticlimactic ending to the story arc that Williams and Blackman started (and should have been allowed to end, dammit). And then to end the novel on that so-not-kosher, rapey WTAF were you thinking note? Allow me to be thoroughly clear with this sentiment, DC Comics. Fuck. You.

So utterly disappointing. Thanks, DC, for ruining my current favorite character from your comics line. Oh, and it looks like you’ve turned Batgirl into a character I don’t really want to follow anymore either. Thanks. For nothing.

Final Verdict: The only redeemable thing about this collection is the clean copy of that great WWII-era artwork of Batwoman as one of the ball players from the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. I think I’m probably just going to slice that out and then get rid of the rest of the book. Not even going to donate it. Just going to toss it in the recycle bin. That’s how much I hated this collection.

BookBin2015: Locke & Key: Alpha & Omega

alphaomega

Okay, this one is going to be very brief, as Alpha & Omega is the last in a series of graphic novels that I already have professed multiple times to love. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez created a tantalizing, terrifying world in this series of novels that I definitely cannot wait to revisit in its entirety, thanks to the box set I bought earlier this month.

I have to say that this final novel did let me down a bit, but I believe that this was due more to the setting in of the depressing truth that this was the last Locke & Key visit I would get to make to Lovecraft, Massachusetts (yes, that still cracks me up every time I think about it). I think a sliver of responsibility for this disappointment also rests with the fact that so much time passed in between all my forays into this realm. Again, looking forward to re-reading them all at once, rediscovering what made me love this series in the first place, and hopefully discovering some more of the many enthralling ways that Hill and Rodriguez blew me away with their artwork and storytelling.

Huzzah and hooray.

See You in the Funnies

Okay, denizens, you can relax. I’ve made my decision. I’m not going to write individual reviews of all the books that I finished last year while I struggled to rebuild my lair (I know, many of you were probably up for many nights,  pondering what my decision would be). I have 15 books from that time frame (not counting the books that I have finished already in 2015). With what I wrote last time about not wanting this to just be a book review blog, I think it makes more sense to condense my reviews rather than posting 25 book reviews (yes, I’ve already finished 10 books so far this year; those I might actually review individually).

This post, therefore, will be for the graphic novels that I finished at the end of 2014. What’s going to make this an even quicker post is the embarrassing truth that I don’t really remember a whole lot about what I wanted to say about some of these novels. Old age, my friends. It’s coming.

Let us begin…

parker1

I admit right away that I knew nothing of Richard Stark or his character Parker when I saw these three graphic novels at the library. All I knew was that they were new to the graphic novel section and there were three of them. For some reason, I’m always more inclined to pick up new graphic novels if they’re a series and more than one is available right away. Weird, right?

After reading all three of these novels, I did a little investigating and stumbled across the Web site The Violent World of Parker, which actually provides quite the appropriate blurb on Parker:

You’ve heard of the hero and the anti-hero…how about the non-hero? That’s how Parker, the main character in a series of novels by Richard Stark (AKA Donald E. Westlake) has been described. Parker is a thief, but he’s no charming cat burglar who playfully eludes the silly authorities. He’s a ruthless thug who does whatever it takes to get what he wants (usually money), and he doesn’t care about a living soul other than himself. Some of the things he does will be repellent (I hope) to readers.

Thug? Yes. Non-hero? Yes. Repellent? Yes. I don’t envision myself reading any more of these graphic novels or ever reading the original books on which they were based. However, I have to say that Darwyn Cooke did a fantastic job of translating Parker and his world into a neo-noir, almost Sin City-esque monochromatic nightmare world in which there aren’t really good guys. Just degradations of bad. Where does Parker fall on this spectrum of gray? Well, I’ve confirmed that he’s a non-heroic thug who does repellent things. You’re smart. You can suss this out.

Final Verdict: Beautiful, succinct artwork does very little to diminish the inherent ugliness of Parker’s world. As crime novels go, I suspect that true fans might adore Parker. I did not, but I give credit where it is due. Cooke has taken existing stories and given them a compelling visual spin.


batman1

This will be an even quicker review. Again, I picked up the first two graphic novels for the New 52 reboot of Batman because they appeared as a pair. A mediocre, rather banal pair. I actually found the storylines tedious. Then again, I haven’t really found Batman to be anything less than that description for quite some time. Over-saturation is never a good thing for me.

I willingly admit that I should not have picked up these novels, even if they did arrive as a pair at the library. I’m not interested in Batman’s world right now. Also, the pressing present need to make everything dark and grave and bleak is no longer appealing to me, even with the Caped Crusader and his filthy Gotham. Plus, Batman keeps spiraling ever-downward into a fugue state of vigilante insanity that I fail to find appealing. I grew up watching Adam West as Batman. This new guy? He really needs to lighten up.

And is it just me, or is Bruce Wayne an overindulged narcissist? This was the image that really hit this truth home to me (not the text; just the image itself):

vaingloriousbruce

“Why, of course I’ll help you, orphan…but only if you’re a young White male who looks exactly like I did when I was orphaned. I can’t be helping riff-raff who won’t look as good in a tux as I do.”

Bruce Wayne is a jerk. Discuss.

Final Verdict: I promise, I won’t check out any further adventures of Narcissisto Whackadoodle and his band of merry clones as long as I’m in my current state of mind regarding superheroes.


ldoai

I actually deeply enjoyed Fabien Vehlmann’s Last Days of an Immortal. Simple, desaturated, slightly impressionistic art masking the futuristic complexities of a sci-fi mystery. What’s not to love about that? The text deals with numerous concepts that many a sci-fi nerd has wrestled with, I’m sure, including the allure of immortality—as well as the inevitable tarnishing of said allure when what is wished for is finally obtained.

Lisle:
Siempre Viva! Live Forever!

Ernest:
Then what?

Lisle:
What?

Ernest:
Then what happens?

Lisle:
What?

Ernest:
I don’t want to live forever. I mean, it sounds good, but what am I gonna do? What if I get bored?

Lisle:
What?

Ernest:
And what if I get lonely? Who am I gonna hang around with, Madeleine and Helen?

Yes, I just quoted Death Becomes Her.  You’re welcome.

Final Verdict: I definitely want to revisit this novel.


edtwof

I thought I would never finish this book. I used to read Alison Bechdel’s strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” when I was in college. I didn’t read it with regularity, but I read enough of it to keep up with the general flow. However, when I discovered this massive beast of a collection at the library, I couldn’t resist revisiting those Essential Dykes.

I think that Bechdel’s efforts with this strip were, pardon the pun, essential at the time she actively drew them. She challenged misconceptions and represented the lesbian community at a time when representation was critical. It wasn’t all positive representation, mind you, but that’s life. The expectation that gays must be flawless beyond reproach—eunuchs of purest, guileless intent—to be tolerated (not accepted…tolerated), is, as my father would be most likely to say, “rubbish” (thank you, BBC America, for confirming his continued standing as an Anglophile).

However, that was where the mindset was evolving at the time when Bechdel’s Sapphic squad was in its prime. People are people, flaws and all. We’re messy, we humans. All of us. The beauty of Bechdel’s strip was that it wasn’t all beautiful. But it was fairly real. Bechdel wasn’t into the Will & Grace approach. She didn’t want her characters to be one-dimensional, static, bland. She made them damaged, well-intentioned, raw, emotional, ravenous, intellectual, sumptuous, eclectic.

She made them people. Imagine that.

Final Verdict: As essential as I agree Bechdel’s strip was, I’m not kidding. I seriously felt as though I would never finish this collection. It was like the friggin’ Energizer Bunny. I suspect that it’s best consumed in bits and bobs, which one might be able to do if one owned this. However, I was under a time limit, thank you, library. OVERLOAD. I suspect I might change my mind later and perhaps want to revisit this book, but not yet. Still, I heartily acknowledge the value and importance of Bechdel’s contribution to gay literature.


revolverI’m not really sure why I picked up Matt Kindt’s Revolver, but I did find elements of it to be quite enticing. The crux is that we are witnessing the main character, Sam, as he revolves between two parallel existences—one in which he is a run-of-the-mill office worker, slinking through a life that leaves him almost completely disengaged and disinterested in everything; and the other in which he finds himself struggling to survive a post-disaster nightmare that finally reaches him and forces him to take control and take and active role in creating his own path. In one, he just survives and in the other he is just barely surviving. One leaves him a husk and the other finally lights a fire within him and makes him want to do whatever it takes to keep going and keep doing what he thinks needs to be done. In one universe, he finds a purpose that he had completely abandoned even considering in the other. Though violent and destroyed and uncertain at best, the post-apocalyptic universe seems to be where it’s at for young Sam. Who knew?

I don’t remember being terribly blown away by the artwork, but I did enjoy the story and I found a couple of things to be quite creative. For instance, the bottom of every page, where the page numbers appear, had a news ticker into which the page numbers were somehow embedded as part of whatever news item was being reported, whether in the bland universe or the catastrophic one. Well-played there, Mr. Kindt.

Final Verdict: Good read but not one I marked as wanting for my own collection.


I grabbed Matt Howarth’s quick graphic novella The Downsized downsizedfrom the shelf as sort of an afterthought. I recognized it as being new and figured that it would take me no more than the better part of an hour to read it. What’s the harm in that?

It was definitely a very quick read. The Amazon review describes it at one point as “Think Big Chill for the new millennium.” I can kind of see that. Just without the music. Or the depth.

Not to say that this isn’t a well-considered story. It’s a slice-of-life contemplation on the status of the lives of several friends (and former lovers) who have gone through a series of tumultuous professional and personal experiences.

It’s called life.

Of course, there are a couple of unexpected twists to the story, which I suppose also fall soundly and correctly within the descriptive boundaries of “life” as well. I don’t really have much else to say about this one. Also, I’d hate for this review to go any further. It might end up being longer than the actual story.

Final Verdict: Nah, I’ll pass.