Book Reviews: Graphic Novel Edition again

“I thought you were a genius.”
“I am, but that’s not all I am.”

Atomic Robo Volume 10: The Ring of Fire
A military operation is trying to stop the end of the world, threatened by some biological monsters from what I assume was Volume 9. Not having read anything in this series, I was sure I would be confused, and right at the start I am. The main character, considering the title, doesn’t show up for a while, as somehow he went into the past and now his team is hunting for him.
The writing on the whole was well done, particularly the sly bits of humor. There’s one caption that simply reads “26 days and 5000-ish miles later. . .” which made me smile. Another good one was, “As the chief safety guy, it’s my duty to yell at people so we can get through this alive.” This made the story easier to take, as there were some points where there were simply too many plot lines going at once.
Things became more difficult toward the end, as I did not enjoy the deus ex machina Robo comes up with; why’s it always gotta be Nazis? But the worst part, a huge plot hole so bad it makes me drop the rating a point: what happened to Robo running out of power? After that mention it’s never brought up again and doesn’t seem to be a problem.
There’s nothing I can particularly say about the artwork. Not bad, not great, got the job done.

Bloody Mary
In an alternate reality that features World War 3, a female assassin who dresses like a nun and looks like Annie Lennox goes around the European continent dishing out her brand of justice.
Though she’s very much stone-hearted—some flashbacks explain why—there’s still humanity in her; it’s both hilarious and sad that in all the chaos around her she’s lamenting her upcoming 40th birthday. And I will say she’s drawn with great legs, when she’s not wearing the nun stuff.
In the first story she’s given the chance to go after her nemesis, along with a buddy from the British Army who’s simply gone nuts because of a head injury. There’s one point where he’s telling the other soldiers the story of how she got to be the way she is, which was a good use of exposition; then she adds to it by telling him a new story.
However, just when we’re supposed to think these are good guys—or at least better than the other side—they gun down some innocent cops responding to a call in the free city of Amsterdam. I was not happy with that, and if it’s done to prove these guys are no heroes, mission accomplished.
But of course the bad guy is worse, saying he needs to kill in order to not go insane. . . ugh. The only way she can match him is to become just as crazy, and at that point I thought they story went downhill. Plenty of carnage, such as people falling into helicopter blades. At one point she shoots a grenade strapped to one soldier to take the whole squad out.
There’s a second story, in which a religious nut takes over Noo Yawk City, and she’s sent to kill him. Her price: rebuild the Statue of Liberty. These authors and illustrators seem to find great joy in killing characters in the most gruesome ways possible, but they also include a flashback to her as a child, explaining why the Statue of Liberty is so important to her. This small moment of humanizing was important, considering what she’s become.
If there’s one moment I won’t forget it’s when Clara snipers the chopper pilot! Never seen that before. . .

Back to the Future: Untold Tales and Alternate Timelines
A collection of stories that weren’t told through the three movies, with a framing device involving Doc’s family from the third movie.
Some of these plots are intriguing, though you can see why they would never be included in the movies. The first involves how Doc and Marty initially met, which was cute and, though somewhat preposterous, a fitting intro to their partnership. After that we get how Doc made it onto the Manhattan Project, followed by the government wanting his time machine to stop the Cuban Missile Crisis, and so on. Old Biff faces off with a dinosaur. Doc is visited by both George and Lorraine, eager for dating advice from Marty, and misunderstandings ensue, of course.
At the end he’s ready to bring his Old West family into the future, but the book veers off into the wife’s life story. Though it’s a bit jarring to the flow of the entire book, it was a sweet and clever background to a character who really should have had more screen time in the third movie. “I believe that my escapades convinced my parents that one child was more than enough.”
There’s always one shot that stays with me, and in this graphic novel it was Clara in full Victorian regalia posing on a train. There’s another that features panels of everyone saying each other’s names, with Copernicus adding a funny “Woof!” One more: Lorraine with a cute “Eeep. . .”
The illustration is fine, though the characters aren’t drawn true to life. More than anything, it was enjoyable, and that’s all that’s really needed.

In a future where Italy has become a world powerhouse with a giant economy, thanks to a young new leader, the dumb populace is happy with the benevolent dictatorship and rampant consumerism. Bread and circuses; nothing much has changed. But as always happens in such cases, there’s a resistance made up of individuals who want to be free.
That premise is simple to understand, but getting through the story is a lot harder. For instance, there’s a long fight sequence in a traffic jam which I found very confusing, especially when added to the dreams of the main character, a seemingly normal kid who turns out to be the key to everything. At times it was hard to tell which side was which; couldn’t figure out who deployed the pain ray until well after. So much is done on the freedom underground taking the kid away, because his dad was a big deal, but then he escapes far too easily, wanting to rescue his mom and the girl he likes. And of course he gets captured by the government’s security people, which is far worse. It’s not till near the end that why find out what the whole thing is about, and it’s told in flashbacks: the kid’s dad invented something that will put all the corporations out of business, and now the resistance wants to give it away freely to everyone to break the hold of the huge businesses and their puppet government.
The art is, considering this is an Italian work, more like anime, with bright colors and everything bubble, thicker than usual. There’s long stretches without dialog, almost impressionistic, but just there for their own sake. The final battle was a bunch of panels where I had no idea what was going on, as though drawn for its own sake. The deus ex machina is just a huge “Huh?”
Image I’ll never forget: Two young women in a bank, dressed like flight attendants, staring down at an old man who’s collapsed. “You can’t die here, sir.”
Extras include some early drawings and attempts at explanations, like how the secondary characters follow zodiac signs. Didn’t clear anything up.


Book Reviews: Modern Women, Actors, and Movies

“Good job.”
“Bad job.”
The fact she understood a James Bond reference means she’s a keeper.

The Teller
In this present tense story—I can still hear Harlan Ellison in my mind grousing, “I LOATHE present tense stories!”—a naïve redheaded bank teller in Brooklyn steals the check of a man who was just run over on the street, over a million bucks. For around half the story it’s about her guilt, but then things turn much more sinister as she’s threatened by gangsters and then kidnapped into white slavery.
The best thing here is the characters, especially the teller and the white knight detective she improbably pairs with to settle things. It isn’t till near the end that we learn who the true antagonist is, and then there’s a psychological tug-of-war to see who comes out on top, with the lead changing hands often. Perhaps a little too much plot there, but overall a satisfying conclusion.

Woman Without Fear
A neurotic self-conscious woman is drinking in a bar the night before her big software presentation when a very confident chemist wants to try his experimental happy pills on her. Also a present tense story, though not first person, because you need to get the snail’s point of view. . . yep, you read that right; I learned a lot more about snails than I ever expected to, or wanted.
At around the halfway mark I couldn’t help but wonder what was going to happen: would she become addicted, or were they placebos? The fact that I was invested enough to speculate tells me how much I was enjoying this.
Despite her crippling anxiety and her love for snails the protagonist comes off as very likable, especially when she strikes up a friendship with the hotel maid, though I think the only reason this is part of the story is so the maid can take a pill and show it works for her too. But the writing style and setting—you never really leave the hotel—were a little below what I desire, though I would have still happily given this a 4. . .
Except for the ending: it’s incredibly ambiguous, and in conjunction with the relative shortness of pages makes me think the story was cut in half, thus setting up a sequel. There were many possibilities as to what really happened, which is fine for a next-to-last chapter, but readers expect the story to be neatly tied up at the end. I felt cheated, and will probably not be reading the sequel; this drops my grade to

Character Kings 2: Hollywood’s Familiar Faces Discuss the Art & Business of Acting
This is basically a series of interviews with a few of what are called “character” actors, those whose name you don’t know but as soon as you see their photo you think, “Hey, it’s that guy from that thing!” (BTW, I saw a documentary on Netflix with that title on the same subject, but there was no overlap in the actors chosen; perhaps they were in Character Kings 1, which I have not read.)
Though there’s plenty of great acting and Hollywood notes, I did get tired of the author asking the same questions over and over. It mostly consisted of “How did you get started in acting?” and “How did you get that movie?” which showed a lot of times it’s more about who you know than how good you are. I was surprised by how many different answers there were to “How do you audition?” with some being contradictory to the previous, but then I suppose you have to go with what works for you. There are tons of photos—how much does each photo weigh?—as well as a selected filmography, though it mostly consists of the films discussed, leaving off some I would have liked to have seen included.

We Don’t Need Roads
While I’m not a fan of Back to the Future the way I am, say, of Star Wars or Twin Peaks—since I’ve reviewed similar books here—I liked it well enough to give this a try. On the other hand, because I haven’t seen them over and over, there’s too many things I don’t remember, but that’s not the book’s fault. I don’t know if it’s common knowledge amongst the fandom, for example, that another actor shot about half of the movie before it was decided he wasn’t working out and was replaced by Mr. Fox. Probably even less known is the accident while filming a hoverboard sequence, which nearly cost a stuntwoman her life, but then it’s said that the studio tried to cover it up.
There’s plenty of photos here, but the best part is the interviews, especially Lea Thompson and Christopher Lloyd, who according to this doesn’t do much publicity. Of particular note is the times Spielberg would go to the studio hierarchy to fight for something he believed in, not knowing the movie had an almost-blank check. Definitely a lot of fun even if you’re not a fan of the series.