Book Reviews: Comic Strip Edition

Nothing I enjoy more than making a redhead’s face do a fair impression of the inside of a sun.

Today’s review is all about comic strip collections. Luckily I’ve previewed four of them, otherwise this would be even shorter than usual.

Razzle Dazzle Unicorn (Phoebe and Her Unicorn)
There’s not much I can say here. As stated in my review of the last book, this isn’t just my favorite strip, it’s the only strip I read. What is new here is you get big colorful panels, at least I don’t remember the last book being like that, though I might be wrong.
This volume starts at Christmas—always welcome, because it means the appearance of Todd the Candy Dragon—through summer camp, which of course features Ringo and Sue. There are goblin sightings as well, meaning Dakota has to show up too.
There’s a few pages at the end about how to make a comic strip, and a glossary of big words.
The only thing you really need to know is that this stuff is hilarious.

Big Nate: Revenge of the Cream Puffs
Despite the baseball team mentioned in the title, most of this takes place in school, where Nate—who is definitely not that big—spends all his time in detention, which leads him to write a romance novel. Other plots include a “Yo Momma” showdown and a grudge chess match, where Nate pulls a move out of my playbook; hope none of my usual opponents read this.
He’s a bit of a butt monkey, so there might be some cringing, especially with the big girl who thinks he’s her boyfriend, but luckily it’s usually laughable. Nothing goes over the top, which I think is a good thing, although some people would disagree.

Heart and Brain: Gut Instincts
A brain and a heart—hopefully from the same body—argue about almost everything, but at least make you laugh in the process. Other body parts chime in once in a while too.
Some highlights: Never trust lettuce! Hot dog vendors are heroes! Never hug a cactus! Never send the heart grocery shopping! There’s also explanations about how earworm works and why teeth grind. Boots don’t have wifi, silly, they have Bluetooth. There’s even a drawing of a butterfly with headphones, which for some reason I found both disturbing and hilarious.
I love how Brain gives in at times and actually enjoys it, even if he never admits it. On the other hand, Heart sometimes uncorks a creepy smile, especially when he literally crashes a computer.
My fave line was either “Tetris Rip-off!” or “I am the night. . .”

Man, I Hate Cursive
This is subtitled, “Cartoons for People and Advanced Bears.” As a UCLA grad, I don’t know which category I fall in.
Starts right off on the cover with a wizard trying to summon a demon and gets a lemon instead, which by its little smile seems happy to be there. Remember what they say about making lemonade. . .
But that’s really the only joke about cursive, as everything else is non-connected to everything else. There’s no long continuing stories, simply self-contained jokes like “the Far Side” and such. The closest it comes to that is sections on art, dogs, god, and so on.
“Think of math as a beautiful woman with a secret you must seduce from her.” I would have gotten much better grades had someone told me that. And I can’t wait for the opportunity to call someone a huge sillypants. But most of all, I can totally relate to the guy who has the soap slip out of his hand but catches it with the other; it’s an amazing feeling.
At times corny, but so much fun. . .


Book Reviews: Very Graphic Novels

“You don’t like me, do you? Would you photograph me?”
“I would charge you a million dollars.”
“Per photo.”

The Zodiac Legacy #1
Each animal of the zodiac has superpowers, and when a megalomaniac figures out how to harness those powers, his employees rebel, taking some of them for themselves to fight him. All this backstory info drop is for the benefit of the new computer expert the bad guy is trying to hire, but it comes off a bit ham-fisted, and the pacing doesn’t get any better.
Meanwhile, the good guys are looking for a new HQ on Tiger Island, a place so modern it has holodecks, which is where they are when they’re attacked. The battle takes up most of the rest of the story, though of course there’s a twist at the end.
It was tough to figure out who was on which side; when the Dragon finally showed up I had to go back to the beginning, where each zodiac animal was listed, to make sure I had it right. Might have to give this a little slack as it’s the introduction to a new series, but there were still things I thought could have been done better.
As for the artwork, there’s plenty of bright colors. Other than that, not much I can say about it. There’s a newsletter and artist bios at the end.

Cat vs Human Fairy Tails
The cover shows a blonde princess with a Rapunzel braid surrounded by kittens and actually saying “Squeee!” She also says it when a prince shows up. I’ve never known anyone to actually SAY it rather than just written, so that’s unusual right away.
The title is misleading. Goldilocks, the Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, and many others don’t have any kind of fights with the kitties, quite the opposite. It’s all meant to be cute for kids, and it is, unless you have one of those tots that questions everything. Most stories end on a positive, if forced, note. Jack and the Beanstalk had a good twist, as did Sleeping Beauty. The Little Mermaid looks happy, but c’mon.

Oh Joy Sex Toy V. 3
When the intro starts with the salutation of “Dearest perverts,” you know this isn’t going to take itself too seriously.
This is mostly reviews of sex toys, graphic in the original sense of the word: as drawings. I had been wondering how well the male sleeve cleaned up when the other shoe dropped; definitely agree with his thumbs (or other body parts) down on that one.
A character from Star Trek shows up. Wall-E makes a cute cameo too, so these people aren’t just sex geeks. Good. There’s even a public service announcement on an STD between reviews. And when one review is short they talk about TV shows.
There’s a report from a sex party; I would go just for the soda, snacks, and massages. The chapter on the woman freaking out at her first uncircumcised penis was a bit of an eye opener; had no idea that was such an issue. Probably the most interesting chapter was the conversation on how they were invited to be in an actual porn movie, going through the pros and cons.
English class tidbit of the day: “labia” is plural; “labium” is singular. And as always I laugh when people get “psychosomatic” and “psychic” mixed up; at least this time it was on purpose.
They say goodbye while riding on a giant snail; don’t wanna know what that’s about.
The book proper ends around the two-thirds mark, at which time there are guest strips. For example, a woman has sex with a creature made out of ice cream. Nice fantasy; that must be the female equivalent of the guy who wishes his one-night stand would turn into pizza. Another seemed like just a long ad for Grindr. The couple who get hurt doing fantasies on their anniversary was funny. There’s an old-fashioned public info piece where an old researcher is trying to lecture and write while getting a blowjob. “Rectum’s a funny word.” “It sure is!”
So this got silly a few times, but that’s perfectly okay. If there’s one downside to it it’s the large size; there are so many vibrator reviews in one edition that it was easy to get overwhelmed. The artwork is done to be funny, and it is.

Godzilla: Oblivion
A scientist in our world creates a portal to another dimension—one where monsters rule supreme! An expedition goes into this universe, where hope has died and Godzilla is the unrivaled King of the Monsters. But what happens when a baby kaiju hitches a ride back to our original, monster-less dimension?
The exposition is quick and clunky. That’s why Godzilla is top dog; moving on. As you’ve guessed from the title, there’s only one way to get rid of the monster that came through the portal and is eating up East Coast cities. Nukes don’t work, so send out the quickly improvised tech! Plan after plan goes wrong, otherwise it would be a short story.
“I got a bad feeling about this.” That’s the one Han Solo quote you never want to hear.
At least I can say I wasn’t expecting that ending, which I felt was a cop-out. The artwork was fine, the story not so much.


Book Reviews: Spanking, Shakespeare, and History

Back from three weeks of shooting sports and dodging mosquitos and party animal athletes. What’d I miss?

“Is she your new crush?”
“I object to the use of the term ‘new.’”

The Hand of Vengeance
In 2560 A.D., on a planet far away, a human doctor in a Without Borders situation gets kidnapped to save the rebel leader. Her plane is shot down and she has to survive by following the orders of the alpha who took her. Sparks of many kinds ensue, especially on her posterior.
First of all, an interesting setting for an erotica novel. On the other hand, having a stubborn educated woman forced to do what the hulking soldier tells her to is a situation rife for spanking punishment, which had become a big niche lately. Unlike some stories, there’s actual sex involved too.
Perhaps I’ve read too many of these lately, for I found the spanking parts boring. What makes this book a bit more interesting is the world building, unexpected yet welcome as a diversion, even if the plot has been done before. There’s plenty here besides the sex, is what I’m trying to say.

Strange History
This book is published by the Bathroom Readers’ Institute, which is basically all you need to know. Yup, this is one of those books you put next to the toilet to entertain yourself or your guests while busy doing other, more biologically necessary things.
This follows no pattern; might as well simply open the book to a random page. It does live up to its name, and is often funny. Some of these anecdotes are eye-opening, others made me wonder which tidbits were left out. But more than anything it supplied some moments of fun, which is all one can ask from such a tome.

Who REALLY Wrote Shakespeare?
I’ve written on this very question on this blog before, so no surprise I checked this one out. However, all those previous books were much better than this one, and I really should have taken notice of the way REALLY is capitalized in the title, as it was a foreshadowing of amateurish things to come.
With it being done first person, it’s hard to remember this is fiction. And with the writing so clumsy, it might have worked better in non-fiction form. Often the dialogue was too cutesy, bordering on cheesy. A good pun makes you groan; a bad one leaves you exasperated, and there was far too much exasperation here.
I remember writing a paper in high school where I was so glad to have it done I simply turned it in without rereading and revising, and this has the same feeling. There are so many times Jenny says, “That’s right,” that I almost felt like it was a running joke gone bad (I’m guessing the author never watched A Bit of Fry and Laurie). Their discussions, which take up most of the book, are always interrupted for food, usually with the same speech.
Despite the fact that the info dumps are for the most part done okay—though an overabundance of them that made the names too hard to keep straight—the writing itself fails stylistically. It’s quite irritating to have the dialogue mention the characters’ names every paragraph, as though it wasn’t obvious whom they were addressing from the previous passage. In addition to that, there’s so many useless moments of “said,” “answered,” “replied,” without adverbs. I would advise that an author read their words aloud to make sure they sound like a real conversation, because it sure didn’t here.
As far as the reasoning behind the theories, the arguments were presented so painstakingly—more my pain than his—that I wanted to skip ahead rather than worry if I got his point, which is new for me. As I said, I’ve read other books on this subject, so I know that some theories and facts were ignored here. All very frustrating, not the least when near the end it switches to a different narrator.
And then it ends on a strange sequel hook. . .

His Little Lapis
Oh wow, another spanking story! Yet like the one above, it works because of its setting, this time the wild west town of Culpepper Cove, just as uncivilized as all mining towns in history.
A former governess who is now a submissive whore falls for the mayor of the small town. He falls for her too, but he can’t be seen with a prostitute, right? He tries to repress his desire and of course fails miserably.
What makes this story different is the addition of the mayor’s niece, a precocious child who tugs at the fallen woman’s heartstrings. On the sly she teaches her to read, mostly with a children’s book she wrote herself. This leads into situations that force the mayor to take a deeper look at this woman, after spanking and having sex with her, of course.
All in all, a sweet little story in the setting of spanking, but ultimately not about it.


Poetry Tuesday: Spring View

Finally back, with no mosquito bites. It’s a miracle.

This one was written in Vietnam almost 1000 years ago by Tran Nhan-tong.

The willows trail such glory
That the birds are struck dumb.
Evening clouds balance above
The cave-shaded hall.
A friend comes, not for conversation
But to lean on the balustrade and watch the turquoise sky.


Book Reviews: Twilight Zone and Green Bagel Graphics

“It’s a tough job being me. Maintaining such a level of integrity in a world that increasingly devalues it. . . it’s exhausting.”

In post-apocalyptic Las Vegas, what appears to be the only human woman left is fighting to stay alive as cavemen and every other kind of animal try to kill her. Then we go back to how it all happened: trying to get rid of religion in the brain wiped out all modern DNA. . . oops.
This story is done incredibly dark, even with the protagonist’s still-cynical optimism. She wants to find the cure, but gets trapped by a group of unchanged humans, who of course are worse than everyone else. The story even goes into space, which is no refuge from the disease; it is particularly not recommended to devolve in a space suit.
There’s two particular panels I remember: a really scary shot of a couple having sex while over her shoulder you see a horde of attackers, and the battle with the monster after crashlanding, which reminded me of Starship Troopers.
As for the plot, there’s a lot of ranting on how the world will be if we don’t change. Most of all, there’s a lot of—and more, to use today’s buzzword, graphic—violence depicted, more than usual even for something in this genre. The artwork is obviously expert, but it really comes off rough.
Almost 40 pages of extras, mostly early sketches and script.

Twilight Zone: Shadow & Substance
A very thick graphic novel containing eleven stories of varying interest and technique.
#1: Like a few Twilight Zone episodes, a man goes back to his hometown to find nothing has changed. Unlike those, this one was not well-thought-out and suffers even without those comparisons. 1.5/5
#2: A man in an alien prison wants nothing more than to escape, especially when he sees several people being taken up into the sky and returned emotionally damaged. This story is much better. Great plot twist, although the ending was foreshadowed. 4/5
#3: A young “Republican” senator who filibusters a help the poor bill ends up in the 1930s, alone and poor and needing to see what it’s like. . . except he’s too arrogant and thinks his mission is to stop the New Deal. A particularly dark twist means he won’t learn his lesson. 3/5
#4: A Renaissance Faire-loving professor ends up back in time and realizes it’s not exactly how he dreamed it. “I may have slightly romanticized all this.” 3.5/5
#5: “The Secret Over-sharer.” Amazing title, but this story is about what happens when you overdo the cure to social media overload. Best line: “Want to see if I ever go out with you again?” 4/5
#6: “Hangnail on a Monkey’s Paw.” Another great title, but the story is confusing; I don’t think the author communicated the story from his head to the page well enough.
#7: Another one that’s very similar to an original episode, down to the punchline, and incredibly heavy-handed on the way. Would have been poignant if I didn’t have to dodge all the falling anvils. 2/5
#8: Some special google glass lets a Trump see what people are really like, even souls as they depart their meat houses. A pack of slightly used chewing gum if you can guess what happens when he looks in the mirror. 3.5/5
#9: Clownface takes on a whole new meaning for a soulless banker. 3.5/5
#10: An eager boy in the 50s who moved into a new neighborhood wants to join the local kids’ club. They’re even crueler than you’d expect to him. But the ending left me befuddled, if that actually was an ending. 2/5
#11: Yup, comics are dangerous. This one was just too silly to take seriously at all. 2.5/5
10 pages of alternate covers.
Overall: 3/5

Monstress Volume 1: Awakening
This graphic novel review is a little different in that I’m doing each episode separately.
A one-armed young woman is about to be sold into slavery when she’s claimed by someone who apparently knows the future. Then it turns out she wanted to infiltrate that place. She has powers, but they only work when she’s in extreme danger or pain. And she has no compunctions about killing or torture, part of her journey of revenge.
“I like you better on fire.” An even better line is, “To quote the poets, we’re fucked.” What do you expect from a cat with two tails? And when you see what it’s talking about, you’ll agree.
The artwork is amazingly beautiful, especially the female humans. (Yes, I’m biased toward this species.) All the more impressive in that the colors have a sepia tone.

According to the publicity blurb, this is “set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk.” I didn’t particularly see that, but now that I think about it I can agree with it.
After the introduction-filled first episode, this one seems like filler. The best moment was the cat trying to fake how powerful it was. And though not as much as the first, the beautiful artwork is still the main event here.
At the end a different cat gives a history lecture, which might have been better off included at the beginning of the first. After that there’s letters from fans, comments, a bit of a newsletter, some script pages, and a sneak peek to the next episode.

This episode starts with a flashback—getting a bit tired of them, would prefer more linear—where we finally see how—and why—she lost her arm. Not fun to watch. More fun is finding that this world contains unicorns as well as talking cats and monsters.
Wow, the bad guys in this story are incredibly bad, even the minions. They get what they deserve, but not until after they deserve it. And most of them are humans; go figure.
Like the previous, there’s a history lecture and fan letters.

In this episode we’re introduced to talking wolves as well as monkeys; their queen gives a speech that makes me wonder if this war is as much about commerce and greed as it is about racism.
In the review of the previous episode I mentioned how the humans are incredibly bad in this story, but here we see the Archaics aren’t any better. But the worst is the monster inside her; we learn more about it this time around, as the whole book takes place in just two scenes, which made it feel shorter than the others.
As before, the highlight is the artwork, this time an old but beautiful city. There’s a series of panels under and on what appears to be an aqueduct that is some of the loveliest work I’ve ever seen.
This time the lecturing cat is making chocolate mice for the kittens; it’s almost cute. More importantly, she tells possibly the most necessary piece of info in this series yet: how the Archaics came to be.
This time in addition to fan mail we get some fan art, some of them pretty good, and original sketches from the artist whose finished work is so amazing.

As always a flashback starts things off, this time to a prison camp for kids.
The little fox is so cute at times, especially when it’s scared, which is always. With closed eyes and turned head Kippa grabs the photo the new character is holding out, then scurries back behind Maika even though she’s the scariest of them all.
“Am I safe?” (As in safe to be around.) “I think you try to be. You’re just not very good at it.”
In one of the earlier books there was a panel that showed what had to be a huge male slave comforting Maika after she got shoved around; it was a blink and you’ll miss it moment. Now in this edition that small moment is explained and expanded into the plot, making the story more exciting.
“You look like you want to kill someone.” “No, that’s her happy face.”
Despite all the gore from all the battles, the truly chilling moments are when the powerful twist events to help their own propaganda. So far this is the best episode written.
Whoa, a samurai cat! And lots more heavily armed animals. Oh oh. . .
This time the lecture is about the five different races, which proved very interesting. As always, fan mail and fan art.

On the cover the heroine—or anti-heroine—is seen on a unicorn. Nice, but it never happens in the story.
This starts—in the present, for once—with Maika buried in a sarcophagus, while the samurai cat from last time wonders what she’s thinking. . . and of course we find out.
“Monsters are people too.” Kippa is officially my favorite character.
“I beg your pardon, but that is a very rude spot to hold a cat!” All the more poignant when it’s the cat doing the whining.
Though the soldiers in earlier chapters had rifles, it wasn’t till I saw the guns here—against swords—that I really saw what a mix-up this world was.
That last battle was very confusing; couldn’t tell who was who sometimes.
The final cliffhanger. . . damn!
Another intriguing cat lecture, this time on the human who discovered the secret elixir of the gods.

Anne of Green Bagels
It’s Anne’s first day at a new school, where her seaweed bagels earn her the nickname, but she does make one friend. He keeps her sane while she worries about where her father has gone with his new pedestrian mobile home; he’s an inventor who has little grasp on reality.
The first chapter is all drawings and no words, with everything black and white and of course green. There’s a formation of flying bagels in the air. . . and then the dream ends. The second chapter has text with a few drawings, and from there the story alternates between “real life” and dreams with no words.
Anne’s dreams are sufficiently weird to be interesting. When she climbs onto a water tower there’s a ghostly figure playing violin, which introduces us to the fact that she plays the instrument. The dream ends with her playing for wolves in the desert, and like all dreams in fiction it has a bearing on real life. Another dream has her riding into a western town to have a duel with her violin against a cowboy guitarist, right out of Lindsey Stirling’s Roundtable Rival. That dream has to do with the school talent show, which takes up most of the last part of the story.
The artwork has an old-fashioned comic strip feel to it, though I have to admit a lot more was done with green than I would have thought possible.
The last few pages are a preview of another comic done in the same alternating format.