Book Reviews: Graphic Novels Falling From the Sky

“Did you call me Cootie Breath or Cootie Brains? Cuz one is a lot worse than the other.”

The Complete Alice in Wonderland
If I need to say more than the title to explain what this is about. . . can’t help ya. This follows the story—both, the sequel is included—very closely; Father William actually stands on his head. (I love that poem.)
So, since most people already know the story, the point of this is the artwork. It’s done in not quite sepia but a lot of brownish shades. Some of the painted highlights include the dormouse, who really should have been a koala, considering how stoned he looks; Alice’s priceless look of surprise when the needles turn to oars; her chase of the little red queen looks marvelous, even if she was dressed like a fire hydrant. . . not Alice, the queen. But my favorite image is a beautifully drawn shot of Alice filling the frame—and the house—holding the tiniest cake on in one upturned finger, looking amazed. She’s drawn sorta anime, though at times I feel like there’s a Russian cast to her.
I’ve always enjoyed that, even though she questions a lot, Alice takes everything at face value. And for those of you who hate the trope, remember that this was the original “It was all a dream” ending.
Page 168 starts the bonus materials, the most important being a piece on why they included the “lost” chapter of “The Wasp and the Wig,” likening it to a director’s cut. There’s a few explanations of panels, and in keeping with the theme of this paragraph I will call them director’s commentary.

Judge Dredd: Mega-City Zero, Volume 1
The seeming precursor to Robocop—both in looks and sense of righteousness; with his black and white approach to justice, he should be thinking more about survival—wakes up to find his city has been transported into either the past or an apocalyptic future or alternative universe or something; never got it.
Having his AI remind him of his last assignment is an excellent way of data dumping, but even with that the story is never above confusing. There are some great moments, like a hilarious and totally sad sendup of internet fads. But after that it disintegrated into unfocused speeches about the nature of freedom. Dredd growls about everyone being on a soapbox; I hope he included the writers. Said writers deserve to be smacked for having puppy-kicking as a thing. And the kid who likes eyes. . .
Brighter colors than I would have expected, but it’s not necessarily sharp, almost watercolor-like.

In the year 2031 a kid in school chased by bullies thinks he turns into a mostly tiger/some human beast. . . but he’s not sure; it’s explained later. Having found out his father’s a mafia boss, he runs away with his equally-semi-tiger bodyguard so he can be trained and then come back to defeat his evil dad.
There’s stuff here that reminds me of Star Wars, particularly where the older generation is teaching the young, but the young is too stubborn to wait until fully trained before jumping into the fray. He gets injured in a fight with a rooster; make your own joke here. The guy from Interpol might be necessary for the plot, but I felt he was way too over-the-top. In a story that makes you wonder who exactly is the bad guy here, this character’s drawn—no pun—a little too obvious, and that’s before the story skips ahead seven years. The protagonist turned out to be a lot more interesting—or at least the story was—as a kid.
Not happy with the final twist.
Nothing to say about the artwork; definitely nothing bad about it, but nothing to make it stand out either.

Paper Girls, Volume 1
After a weird dream, a young girl in late 80s Ohio finds an even weirder reality when she gets saved from a gang of jerks during her early morning paper route by three other female deliverers. Joining up with them immediately, they have run-ins with more gangs until they find some weird object in a basement. . . all before dawn. Then things really get strange, like her being shot by friendly fire and seeing a vision of Reagan; nuff said. There’s an old man wearing a Public Enemy shirt who seems to be responsible for all the shenanigans, commanding some futuristically-draped dragon-riding guys who point staffs and make regular humans go elsewhere. Against them is a group of ninja-dressed badly scarred teens who time travel; instead of a warehouse, they have a whenhouse (best line of the whole book).
Though there’s some good story, and the interactions between the girls are fun, as a whole it feels disjointed, almost as if the authors are making it up as they go along. (There’s only one guy listed as “writer,” so it’s probably not a case of different minds each issue.)
The artwork is kinda rudimentary; I thought the color scheme had to do with the fact it was night, but it continued even when inside.

I Hate Fairyland, Volume 1
To bookend these reviews, here’s an Alice in Wonderland-type story that quickly turns into anything but. A little girl with a vivid fantasy life wants to live in a wonderland, and ends up sent exactly there through a hole in her room that deposits her none-too-gently on concrete. (As the Rush song goes, “Sometimes the angels punish us by answering our prayers.”) Bleeding from her injuries, she wails that she wants to go home, and is given a guide and a map to find how to do that. Then the moon tells us it’s 27 years later, just before she cannons it; while her body hasn’t aged, she’s still lived through everything and has become a psychopathic meanie, for lack of a better term. Eventually she meets a peppy human girl on the same quest as her; it’s a race to the key now, and everyone loves the adorable newcomer who doesn’t kill everyone on sight.
Despite the flimsiness of the quest plot—all of them are just excuses for adventures—there’s quite a few excellent moments. For example, she escapes the king slug—in rapper paraphernalia—the same way Leia escaped from Jabba. (She even mentions where she got the idea, although why a six-year-old would have seen Return of the Jedi. . .) There’s Ice Cream Island, which I had high hopes for, but not much took place there. She drinks some wisher’s beer and turns into a sugar monster. There’s a witch with a turbo-charged broom. And so on.
Like I said, a quest story; the whole reason for its existence is the snark:
“Oops, my bad, innocent old man.”
(Sarcastic at the sky) “Thanks, weather king.” “You’re welcome.”
Her little bug Sancho Panza character has time to build a house—and have a family—before she recovers from a long fall; I thought she might be dead—she grew a green curly beard!—but the book was only halfway through. She looks even deader after her fight with Happy, but just like a cockroach, she can’t seem to be killed.
In the end she can’t get out of her own psychotic way and gets what she deserves. . .
It’s important to take this in the spirit it’s presented, or else it’s simply not gonna work. This is snark taken up to 11; her middle finger gets a lot of play. You have to be in the right frame of mind, and not have any kids around—you’re gonna laugh, and they’re gonna ask you what you’re laughing at, and you can’t tell them—but if this stuff is your thing you’re gonna love this. Just don’t treat this is a how-to. . .
The colors are so bright, so much cotton candy pink, I’m surprised Gert only threw up a few times. . .


Poetry Tuesday: Rondeau

Eustache Deschamps, 1346-1410.
Shows just how long the French have had that silly superiority complex toward anyone to the east of them.

Fleas, stink, pigs, mold.
The gist of the Bohemian soul.
Bread and salted fish and cold.

Leeks and cabbage three days old,
Smoked meat as hard and black as coal;
Fleas, stink, pigs, mold.

Twenty eating from one bowl,
A bitter drink–it’s beer, I’m told–
Bad sleep on straw in some filthy hole,
Fleas, stink, pigs, mold.
The gist of the Bohemian soul.
Bread and salted fish and cold.


Poetry Tuesday: Pomona

Not the city, and not written by the Hollywood agent William Morris, but rather a guy from the 19th century.

I am the ancient Apple-Queen,
As once I was so am I now,
For evermore a hope unseen,
Betwixt the blossom and the bough.

Ah, where’s the river’s hidden Gold?
And where the windy grave of Troy?
Yet come I as I come of old,
From out the heart of Summer’s joy.


Book Reviews: Future Drugs, Murder, and Coffee Shops

Ask a stupid person, get a stupid answer.
Hugh Laurie

Everywhere It’s You
It’s the year 2045, and a female investigator for a law firm—I think—is forcibly sent out to find a missing billionaire. But there’s a twist that makes this a damned interesting premise: she’s given a drug so that every guy she sees looks like the guy she’s searching for.
Part noir, part romance; the story doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s the humor that saves it. Aerosol drugs are everywhere, and there’s plenty of small touches as to what that means. For instance: “A wave of some enticing aerosol wafted her way from a bakery door, promising her fulfillment if she would just come in and have a croissant. Maybe she just smelled the croissant and attacked the feeling to the aero. It was hard to separate sometimes.”
I thought this look into big pharma would delve deeper, and it probably will later, because. . .
Dammit, cliffhanger. That drops the score a half-point.

Forward: “The more you care (about the characters), the scarier it is when terrible things happen to them.” Seems obvious, but easy to overlook.
A graphic novel where a guy with schizophrenia, which he keeps under control when he remembers to take his pills, goes to carry out his father’s dying wish—to find a box in an old house’s crawlspace—and discovers his dad was a serial killer. That is not a good combination, as the predominant voice in his head is now his father urging him to follow in his footsteps and knife swings.
As I should have expected, this gave me some of the same creeped-out feelings as when I saw the play Proof. It’s not the obvious kind of horror, filled with blood and guts, but the more terrifying mental imagery of a sane man wondering if he’s losing it.
There’s some weird twists, and I sure as hell hope that the ending to this graphic novel is not the end of the story; I know life isn’t fair, but this isn’t life and it shouldn’t end like that.
Artwork is sparse, little more than sketches, in black and white.
35 pages of extras, including original story proposal, cover gallery. More importantly, commentary on some panels.

Dark Houses
“Murder. It was a skill. It was addictive. It was his life.”
A serial killer who specializes in framing others to take the fall for his crimes is now operating in Greco’s neck of the woods, somewhere in the north of England.
It gets personal for the lead detective, allowing some of his underlings to shine. I do love that it was Grace who solved it, because Greco is too far into his emotions—for once—to deal with work. I also love that Speedy has regained his desire to be a good cop and becomes a capable leader in Greco’s absence. This is better than the first one of the series, on par with the Calledine entries.
As with every book that comes from this publishing house, there’s a character list and slang translation at the end, as well as plenty of advertising for their other books, which will prove that all of them have incredibly similar titles and covers. It’s ridiculously difficult to tell them apart.

Second Helpings at the Serve You Right Café
A café owner with secrets of her own hires a guy just out of jail, who’s in love with a physical therapist whom he sees as too good for him.
Right near the beginning there a scene that’s incredibly endearing, and tells you all you need to know about the café owner: Eden Rose uses a homeless couple, whom are too proud to accept charity, as her testers for new recipes. The café is one of those anti-Starbucks that are becoming more popular nowadays, so most readers should be familiar with the setting.
I was liking Mercey, the physical therapist, until she went all neurotic about her past; suddenly she thinks she’s the one not good enough. If this couple ever gets it together, they’re gonna be wonderful, but that’s a big if. Mercey’s brother, on the other hand, is every kind of asshole in one; when he’s introduced this goes from a cute story about people at a coffee shop to a fucked-up druggie wanting revenge on his sister, not because she deserved it, but because he has a persecution complex and she never stood up for herself until now.
Best line of many: “What he lacks in charisma he makes up for in drama.” There’s also a chalkboard in the café for everyone to add to the category of the day: puns, six-letter stories, and so on. Some take a while to get, like “Three scientists walk into a bar; they forgot to duck.”
The last 10% is an excerpt from another book.
Mostly light and fluffy—with a few darker moments—and thoroughly enjoyable.


Poetry Tuesday: All I Was Doing Was Breathing

Mirabai, 16th century India

Something has reached out and taken in the beams of my eyes.
There is a longing, it is for his body, for every hair of that dark body.
All I was doing was being, and the Dancing Energy came by my house.
His face looks curiously like the moon, I saw it from the side, smiling.
My family says, “Don’t ever see him again!” And implies things in a low voice.
But my eyes have their own life; they laugh at rules, and know whose they are.
I believe I can bear on my shoulders whatever you want to say of me.
Mira says: Without the energy that lifts mountains, how am I to live?


Book Reviews: Sherlock, Unabomber, and Nazis

Did that ad say “shed pounds while you walk” or “she pounds while you walk?” Cuz I wanna know what she’s pounding. . .

The Misadventure of Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock and Watson battle Moriarty, with Sherlock marrying Irene Adler though not knowing whose side she’s on. And John has a girlfriend not named Mary.
First, the characterizations. This sounds like Watson, though he’s a bit more snarky than usual. The problem is this rarely sounds like Sherlock, and definitely doesn’t act like him. Even if he was playing Irene, and there’s no evidence of that at the end, it’s too weird. The wedding reception feels like it’s right out of the series, but other than that I didn’t like this story or the writing very much; I caught myself reading without really reading, just because at some points it got quite boring. The best part was the fun use of the audio wax cylinder, what had to be modern tech for the time.
Ugh, ends in a cliffhanger. . .

Every Last Tie
Supposedly the story of how the Unabomber’s brother turned him in, but despite it being a thin book there wasn’t that much of that. Most is family background, how Ted became alienated from the family as his (probable) mental illness took hold, and so on.
Some moments were of particular interest to me. Ted Kaczynski went to Harvard on a scholarship at sixteen; that’s as obvious a warning sign as you’re gonna get. I also found it funny that the play Antigone is mentioned, since I’d never heard of it until a few months ago, when I saw it.
But the most telling note is: “So strong was his opposition (to pleading insanity) that he preferred the death penalty over allowing his defense attorneys to present mental health evidence.”
The last quarter or so of this already small book is afterward, which I looked forward to but found just as disappointing, if not more. It goes through mental illness and jails, as well as mass shootings. While necessary in general, it has nothing to do with the topic. It’s so rambling most people would likely give up before it gets to the reason for it.

Toxic Love
A choose-your-own-adventure erotica with an intriguing premise: in a world devastated by war, the lead character—who wants to be an famous actress, of course—is found to be immune to the gas that killed off so many people. This will make her very rich, if she’s okay with becoming a baby factory to make more immune humans. She falls in love with one of the immune guys just at the time he’s tired of having to sleep around.
There’s some great ideas here, especially the main one, but the writing, despite the humor, did not resonate with me. The execution should have been better; some of the interactions were just silly. The dinner with Joaquin was the most fun chapter; if only the whole thing could have been that good. It was simply all over the place; tighter would have been better. I’ve read a few of these choose-your-own-path books and the shorter ones, usually less than 100 pages, have been better than longer entries like this one, which clocks in at 187 pages.

The Bleiberg Project
Jay’s long-lost father dies, then his mother’s killed. Now they want to kill him, and his long-time boss—who isn’t what he seems—helps him escape by giving him a cute bodyguard and sending him to Switzerland to dig up stuff on why everyone’s getting killed.
“When I sprinkle two pills into my palm, I feel better already. I toss them back and swallow them dry—water’s for pussies.” This tells me all I need to know about the main character. It’s not that he’s a badass, which he thinks he is but is far from; it’s the arrogance. His snarky humor at times goes jackass, but since he receives just as much as he dishes out I’m okay with it.
Like most plots dealing with Nazis, eugenics is involved. There’s a good Superman and a bad Supergirl, though I found his identity easy to figure out. There’s also a side plot that is timely nowadays: a drug company causing a pandemic because they have the antidote, and who cares if a lot of people die.
About halfway through it occurred to me how strange the opener was. The book starts in the past and occasionally goes back, but in the prologue there’s a character that’s completely fleshed out, enough so that it’s easy to assume he’ll be the protagonist. . . and then he gets killed. And the story’s not in solving his murder or anything of that sort; he’s simply done and we move on. Very strange.
This was originally written in French. Parts are in first person, then switch to other points of view; it got confusing a couple of times, especially when it switches within chapters, but oddly enough not that bad on the whole.
This book was far from perfect, but I enjoyed parts of it. There’s something about stories that involve a reluctant hero who has to grow up and find what he’s capable of.


Travel Thursday: Kiss My Blarney

In honor of my friend Christiane’s birthday, and the fact that she was just in Ireland, and that she’s the one who recorded the song that shares its title with this blog entry, here’s the story of what happened on my first trip to Ireland, and why I was okay with not kissing the Blarney Stone.
It being my first time in Ireland, I was on a bus tour with about a dozen other Americans, most quite a bit older, though there was one obnoxious college guy as well. In addition to the bus driver, we had a gorgeous local blonde named Yvonne as tour guide.
About a week into the tour we were heading for Blarney in the pouring rain. During the entire trip the obnoxious college guy had been hitting on Yvonne and not getting her hints to leave her alone, or simply ignoring them. Some of the older people were clearly embarrassed for him, but no one said anything as he struck out again and again, to the point where you could see Yvonne clearly hated him but wasn’t about to risk losing her job.
So once at Blarney we’re told the rain is falling too hard for us to get off the bus, let alone walk the stone steps into the castle, then up to the top where the stone was located. As everyone tried not to look too disappointed, College Boy goes over to Yvonne and tells her, “Since it looks like I’ll never kiss the stone, and I’m sure you have, you can kiss me so that it’ll be like I did kiss the Blarney Stone.”
With the sweetest innocent smile as well as a thick brogue—thicker than usual—she cooed, “I’ve never actually kissed the Blarney Stone, but I have sat on it. . .”
There was a pause, and then the driver guffawed so loudly everyone else got into it too. Looking like she’d won the lottery, Yvonne took her seat at the front while College Boy stood there stunned, almost falling when the bus lurched into action. Grumpily he made his way to the back of the bus; I heard him mutter “Lesbo bitch!” as he stalked by, to which I said, “The fact she doesn’t want you doesn’t mean she’s gay, it just means she has great taste.”
The story would have been good enough had it ended there, but that night at our hotel I ran into Yvonne in the corridor, after we’d all changed into dry clothes and were going down to dinner. After I told her what a great comeback she’d delivered, she smiled and invited me to eat with her. When dinner was over she led me to her room, and. . .
We pick up as I’m leaving her room the next morning, still putting my shirt on, when I run into College Boy, who knows damn well which room this was. Again he’s stunned as I walk by him to my room, murmuring, “Told ya she has great taste. . .”


Book Reviews: Graphics Again

Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.
Robert A. Heinlein

As longtime readers of this blog—wow, couldn’t get through that without laughing—can tell, I’ve been on a graphic novels kick lately, after years of ignoring them. They do take less time to read, and some of them are drawn real purty.

The Rattler
In the middle of nowhere a couple’s car breaks down, and when someone stops the female half gets kidnapped, leaving the guy alone and no doubt thinking you shouldn’t call someone an asshole when they have a working vehicle and you don’t. Ten years later he thinks he’s getting psychic messages from her and goes off to search for her; this is not as easy as it sounds.
Though this graphic novel is done in black and white, the blood is definitely red, and there’s lots of it. In his first fight he gets lucky, but after that it’s his sudden craziness that keeps him alive, as well as some helpful insects that keep him from being the star in a snuff film.
There’s a car chase/crash scene that was simply too confusing to follow, as all the cars look alike.
Definitely did not see the big twist coming, though the scarecrow part was easy to anticipate. The reveal of his long lost love wasn’t much of a surprise either, but there was really no other way of ending it.
“Did you hear Ben Affleck is going to play you in the movie? Tough break.” Guy who made that joke really paid for it.
The artwork is, for lack of a better term, angular, and as stated all black and white with red highlights. Sometimes that can work, but I don’t think this was one of those times.
Extras include the true-to-life background of the story and—first time I’ve seen it in a graphic novel—deleted scenes.

Battlestar Galactica (Classic): Starbuck
Once you ignore the clunky exposition, the story takes off with Adama and Tigh back when they were the Apollo and Starbuck of the fleet, fighting off a Cylon attack on a home planet. Adama gets shot down and is helped by a little blonde kid. . . gee, I wonder who that could be? Next we see how Starbuck first meets Apollo and Athena—of course—and gets “mentored” by a cigar-smoking pyramid-playing pilot. I’m having some vague recollections from the novels about how Starbuck grew up, so it might be sticking to that.
The plot that threads everything together concerns a conspiracy in the attack that left Starbuck an orphan.
All the familiar characters are here, like Jolly and Greenbean. Good to see Zac, considering he died minutes into the series premiere. He makes a lot of funny faces. And I had no doubt Athena was definitely as kickass as shown here. There’s a surprising amount of humor; not that there wasn’t in the TV show, but it’s better here. When Zac can’t get away from an attacker, he’s simply told, “Stop whining, Zac.” He used to be the same about spiders. Later he gets another putdown: “One sniff of a toaster and they wet themselves.” I laughed way more than I expected, especially since not all of it came from Starbuck’s mouth.
Despite it being labeled as Starbuck-centric, it also served as an excellent prequel to the series.
Most of the artwork is true to life, especially Starbuck; Athena could have been done better, though.

Blood Stain Volume 1
Starts with: “Somewhere in the asscrack of the Mediterranean.”
This story features a recent college graduate with a degree in science-y stuff who can’t hold a job, in science or otherwise. Her sister berates her—for quite a while—about all the occupations she’s already screwed up in her young life; it’s a longer list than expected, at least in the context of how long it takes to get to the plot. It also serves to show that her sister’s a bit of a jerk.
The first thing you need to know about the heroine is that she looks just like Anna Kendrick. That works for me. She’s pretty insecure, but I love how snarky she can be, definitely more fun than I expected. Finally she has no choice but to accept a job opportunity with a scientist that everyone calls creepy or worse; she’s given three hours to get her stuff together and herself to the airport, so of course it’s raining, because everything turns out wrong for her.
There’s one place called “Spatula Shore.” The humor is the best part. Unfortunately this volume ends just as she meets the doctor, appropriately during a blackout.
It’s too bad I don’t know enough about graphic arts to tell you why I liked this artwork more than most. There’s one part that completely blew my artistic mind: a profile of the main character as a waitress in full run; it just looks so beautiful I’d love to have it hanging in my home.
The blurb made me think this would be horror, but it’s surprisingly funny. Other than the doctor’s bloodstained lab coat, there’s nothing here that’s chilling in any way, but I suppose that can change in future editions.
Page 90 starts 40 pages of extras, including a “documentary” on how this was created; it’s more fascinating than the story. And as promised, there’s plenty of sketches. Pretty funny how she tried to force some fanservice with her character dressed as a maid, but thought better of it.
So just how funny is this character? There’s one point where she looks directly at the *camera* and pronounces, “I farted!”

Bob’s Burgers: Well Done
The characters from the animated TV show drop down to static figures in stories that have little to do with burgers. (What, I love burgers! I could go for one now. . .)
There’s Tina’s Erotic Fan Fiction Presents, in which she plays Bogart in Casablanca, appropriately done in black and white. Another story deals with why the town has far too many pest control trucks. “Quick show of hands: who thinks there’s some weird conspiracy?” Simply could not have put it better myself. There’s a twist near the end right out of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Those two were okay, but then came a rhyming story about Atlantis which never got off the ground; somehow they end up at Machu Picchu. After that was a strange retelling of Romeo and Juliet which I just didn’t get, following by Peter Pants (Yes, it does sound like “Peed your pants.”) At least the line “Ops, I’m rhyming again” made me laugh. The last one was an X Files parody about missing sandwiches.
At first it felt a little strange to have a story continued later, until I remembered—duh—these were collections, so each chapter was in a separate edition. There were running gags like how the attempts at family photos in front of the store always get screwed up. There’s a page featuring a burger race car which looks incredibly cool. Alternative covers are strewn throughout, plus a lot of them at the end. There’s a cute Western version with just about everyone on a poor horse, and another that’s right out of Indiana Jones. Some are exclusive to certain events, like Free Comic Book Day.
It’s good, but too uneven to be called great.