Book Reviews: Graphic Heathens and Passions

Britannia: We Who Are About To Die
In what seems like a small prelude but isn’t, a young slave girl is about to be raped, but like me notices the knife nearby and kills her attacker. In the meantime there’s a new cult in Rome that the rich kids are joining, only some of them are the ones being sacrificed, so the world’s first official detective has another case, and this time doesn’t have to go all the way to Britannia to solve it. Eventually it gets personal. . .
Good of them to have recaps before every issue; every comic should do that.
This story is not as strong as the first one, but then it’s more about the moments. With the Wonder Woman movie and especially the way women all over the world are responding to it, it’s amusing to see the same thing happening in Ancient Rome with a female gladiator. I don’t remember ever reading about any such archaeological evidence found, but it wouldn’t be surprising to find there were hucksters like the one here outside the Colosseum, selling souvenirs. My favorite line had to be “By Mithras!” Having studied that cult, it made me laugh.
The last part is “silent,” which makes it more intriguing. Too bad it took him long enough to realize who, or what, the bad guy was, which was a letdown.
3/5

Heathen V.1
Aydis is the heroine of this story, clad in a bikini under a fur coat out in the snow. She’s telling stories to her horse—not so farfetched, as it turned out—as exposition about her quest, which is to save Brynhild—as the chief Valkyrie is spelled here—and maybe kiss her. But of course things are never that easy, especially when mythological creatures are involved; in her case, she might be lucky that becoming a plaything of the gods is the worst thing that happens to her.
It doesn’t take long to find some hilarious characters, in this case the two wolves who bicker like an old married couple. “I liked him.” “Me too. I’m glad we didn’t eat him.” The horse they’re talking about, Saga, might be my fave equine of all time, even if he’s described thusly: “Oh that’s right, you’re not the flying kind of horse, just the annoying kind.”
Best line: “Let’s walk off that stutter.”
Norse mythology is a bit different than usual here. This Freya, for example, reminds me of Aphrodite—playful yet plotting—when the two goddesses of love are usually so different. And just because I’ll never have another chance in my entire life to say this, “Don’t hate the Freya, hate the game.”
The cliffhanger did its job; I want more. This was thoroughly enjoyable; I liked just about every character, except for some of the gods. The artwork is not typical, somewhat like sketches that have been watercolored, but it works well with the stark landscapes featured here.
About 10 pages of other covers to finish things off.
4/5

Lady Mechanika: La Dama de la Muerte
Fair warning: I HATE the Day of the Dead. . . or better to say it scares the crap out of me. The scariest night of my life was one of these festivals on the tiny island of Janitzio in Lake Patzcuaro, in the state of Michoacan in Mexico, where this whole thing originated. So I’m gonna try really hard not to let that affect me, but I doubt I’ll succeed.
A curandero—think witch doctor—leads Mechanika to a small Mexican town on the night of the festival. Among the people she meets is a little girl who’s incredibly adorable. . . when she’s not in skullface. As I’ve mentioned in previous stories, it’s amazing how good she is with kids.
This is a weird story in a literary sense as well; by the end of the first issue she would have usually been in a few fights, and the villain introduced. This time it doesn’t happen till much later, with everything before it some sort of exposition, either hints at her reasons for being there or the author delving really deep into the traditions. For example, “Life is only a dream, a temporary holiday. Every minute here is a gift.”
As always there’s a few fun moments, usually at the Lady’s expense. For one, we see her dancing, which is so out of the ordinary for her that it’s pretty shocking. She has been to fancy dances back in England, but that was undercover; this time she had no other reason to do it but to enjoy herself, and it actually looks like she does.
Best line: “She threw a tortilla at him. . . and he ate it.” I can picture him catching it in his mouth. And I find it completely hilarious the local catholic priest is also engaged in this pagan heresy ritual.
But the one thing I’ve always hated about these stories is how many innocent people have to die so Mechanika can learn a lesson or feel the urge of revenge. This one ramps it up to 11; I’m mad at the author for making me care about all those people and then wiping them all out for no other reason than to send the Lady on a rampage. Feels almost like a betrayal.
Toward the end it more than makes up for the lack of action early. There’s quite a bit of her backstory early on, but none of it is in context. No surprise she spares the last guy, seeing herself in him, but as far as her development, that’s about it. This was so completely different than the previous stories it hardly feels like the same character; for one thing, she didn’t get to play dress up more than once.
Despite an abundance of colors that are actually quite typical if you’ve ever traveled through Mexico, most of this story takes place at night, and there’s green phosphorescence everywhere, so artistically it’s not as interesting as the previous editions.
A few pages of covers as usual at the end.
3/5

Grand Passion
A Bonnie and Clyde-type pair of thieves hit the same town over and over, always disguised differently so that they’re never recognized (narrator knows well enough, though). They even have sex on a bed of stolen money every time. One day their luck runs out and during the shootout, as they kill each other’s partner, the newly widowed cop and the female half of the duo fall into instant lust. But because he killed her partner, she has to get revenge no matter how much she wants him, because some code expects her to.
It’s one thing for the characters to speak in accents, but here the narrator does as well, and it’s annoying; perhaps it’s a case of the British writer overdoing it. The sex scene is all kinds of weird, yet it makes sense in the twisted perverted logic they’re using. This cop may be upstanding—unlike the others, it’s made clear long before it becomes a part of the story—but he’s an idiot. Doesn’t matter how “in love” he is, he loses situational awareness way too often in the gunfights. But calling it “The Battle of Buttercup Lane” is all sorts of awesome.
Best lines: “That. Is. Insane.” “Yeah, I know. Welcome ta “Me.’”
Didn’t love this—that last twist was no surprise at all—but it had some humorous moments amongst all the darkness. As a police procedural it’s lacking, but then what can you expect from a “one good cop” story where even he doesn’t turn out to be so good after all?
There’s over 20 pages of bonus material, including sketches and scripts, one of which describes the solo “making love on money” scene, with the author telling the artist, “This’ll be a fun page for you to draw.” Hope it was true.
3/5

Pathfinder: Worldscape V.2
After a couple of unexplained battles where he doesn’t do nearly as well as he’d hoped—“Not gonna lie. Glad no one was around to see that”—a warrior ends up fighting in the arena against all kinds of monsters and hot babes, with his last challenge being the one and only Red Sonja. His snark of “I’m guessing they don’t call you Red because you embarrass easily” comes off just as well as you’d expect. In the meantime his friends have their own adventures in this strange universe, with all the stories eventually converging at the end, but not before other famous mythical characters show up, especially John Carter and Tarzan.
As a lifelong fan, I have to say this is the worst representation I’ve ever seen of Red Sonja, both physically and character-wise. That hair. . . she looks like she went to a stylist in the Deep South.
Best line: “Who names their planet after dirt?” Like this green guy, I’ve had the same thought. Second best: “I do like a girl in leather,” said by another girl.
In the second issue there’s a ton of backstory that hits you like a school bus—yes, there’s a reason I use that simile—all at once. But despite all this exposition, the whole thing was simply too confusing to grasp. So many sides, too many people fluid in their loyalties. . . the only way I could eventually get through it was to stop caring. It’s fair to say this would be a lot smoother if you’re familiar with these characters, either through previous editions or the role-playing game this seems to be based on. As this was my first venture into this universe, I’m sure I failed to grasp a bunch of points throughout.
Oddly enough, in the 50 or so extra pages Sonja looked a lot more like her old self. The last 20 pages are stuff like stats and stories for the role-playing game.
2.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Semi-Sweet Sixteen Kids Books

Little Tails In Prehistory
In this edition of the adventures of the studious squirrel and ditzy puppy—don’t know how many there are in this series, but this is my third—they trade in their cardboard box plane for a cardboard box time machine, going back to check out dinosaurs instead of present animals.
As always, each page has a comic strip combined with a beautifully colored painting, usually devoted to the wildlife they’re talking to (it’s not enough that the animals can speak, but now dinosaurs from so long ago can too, in English). In an unusual twist, the usually scatterbrained puppy knows the names of all the dinosaurs, including the hard to pronounce obscure ones.
“Whew, finally a cute animal!” Forget about the giant dinosaurs, the worst animals are the tiny insects. There’s even a rudimentary attempt at explaining evolution, for the young‘uns. And their time-travel device is a new one, and this from a fan of Somewhere In Time.
As always in these books, as well as the Love series by the same author, the artwork is the whole point of this, simply beautiful renditions of animals that could hang in an art gallery, if zoos had them. The last four pages have further details on each dinosaur they encounter.
When it says that Cro-Magnons invented the comic strip, I thought they were talking about BC, then realized it was cave paintings. Duh.
3.5/5

Lalo Wants a Real Name
When his grandmother calls him to dinner Lalo pretends not to hear, because he’s playing with his white friends and he doesn’t like that name. Really though, he could have chosen much better than Bobby Brown. Still, his grandparents play along, calling him by his new moniker as they wonder if he likes the same things as Lalo did, which finally gets him thinking.
One thing I didn’t like was that even though he’s the one who lied, it was him being rude to the other kids. But at least he learned his lesson. This one hits close to home, though my ending was different; I didn’t have a little blonde girl who wanted to play with me either.
3.5/5

Discover Castles
An intriguingly different take of a tour through a castle. Starts with what needs to be done to get into the building, like crossing the moat and finding the doors, and once inside there are other things to find, like the dungeon and the crown.
Kids this age might not know all those words, but most of the pages are taken up by big photos that perfectly show what they mean.
It’s incredibly simplistic, but that’s the beauty of it, especially for the age group intended.
And in case a reader was wondering where this castle is located, that’s a Croatian flag up top in one of the shots.
4/5

Soccer is Fun
As always, good to have a title that explains it all. According to the blurb, “This book features less than 50 words and uses repetition to build confidence.” I’m not sold on that technique; I think it’s more likely to inspire boredom.
And indeed it’s incredibly simplistic, which should make it good for about three-year-olds. The rhyming was nice.
3.5/5

The Sad, Sad Monster
Small story of a hairy ball of a monster who would be sweet and happy if the other kids gave him a chance, but they’re afraid of him, which makes him. . . you guessed it, title drop. It takes a brave little girl befriending him to take away the sadness.
No beating about the bush here, the story is plainly drawn and easy to grasp. The moral: be Sara, who’s incredibly cute, even in the foreword.
4/5

It’s Snot Fair
Can you guess where this book is going from the title? If not, it’s probably for you.
Around 30 jokes featuring all sorts of bodily functions, with skeletons, snowmen, poor dumb toads, beans, the Queen, and more. Yes, they’re juvenile, but that’s the point, though I will give an extra “Yuck!” to the punchline about what’s worse than finding a worm in an apple.
I like that the author is a woman who knows exactly what she did here, as evidenced by the last page. Some of these would probably get chuckles from some teenagers, but if your husband laughs. . . you have my sympathy.
3.5/5

The Fairy in the Kettle
Told in bright watercolors, this story features a fairy named Leona Rose—living in Fairyland, of all places—who’s happy all the time, partially because she lives in a kettle. She’s decorated it from all the stuff she finds in the forest, painting her walls and making her bed and all kinds of goody stuff. Even the sound of rain on her metal roof made her want to dance, though it irritates her neighbors. That changes when the town is suddenly in need of a storm shelter.
That’s quite an imagination this author has, to come up with this story. Everything is perfect, from the art to the plot to the words. One of the best children’s books I’ve ever seen.
5/5

Cutie’s Big Adventures
Cutie lives in a house in the desert along with her six-year-old human—who is called Mom here—and her family. Because the kid goes to school every day, the curious  kitty . . . I mean, Cutie goes exploring to pass the time. Being also tired of dog food, the Chihuahua turns the expedition into a hunt for, of all things, spaghetti and meatballs. First mission is to find a way out of the house, and thankfully she’s smart enough to climb onto the windowsill rather than simply jump through the window.
Even talking animals seem to be just as bad as humans at communicating. And anyone who’s spent time around a Chihuahua knows that they don’t need to be scared to shake, though in this case climbing down a tree will certainly do it.
So remember to be happy for what you have, because there’s nothing like a bowl of live ants to make you long for the same ol’ puppy chow.
3.5/5

Chatur the Laundry Man
The title describes the job of the lead character perfectly: he rides around on his donkey, looking for people who need their clothes cleaned. Too bad he doesn’t work in my neighborhood. (Which reminds me I have to do laundry today; thanks!)
The donkey says, “Ya gotta take it easy, man.” More than once. His lazy attitude gets him replaced with a subservient elephant, who’s the answer to the laundry man’s entrepreneurial dreams. . . until he screws up on the day of the royal wedding.
On the one hand, karma did bite him in the ass—his ass, not the donkey—at the end, but at least the royals didn’t kill him.
The cartoonish artwork makes it just right for little kids, though I doubt many of them need to know just yet not to place their friends over profit.
3.5/5

Finding a Friend
A dog at the pound hides under a blanket while all the happy pups get adopted. When he’s curious enough to peek his snout out, a kid sees him and instantly wants him. He ends up going home with his family, though no one told him a cat would be part of the bargain. The kid and the boy grow up together. . . and that’s the whole story. At the end they ask for the reader’s help in choosing a name.
Pretty simple and easy for a little one to understand, with good rhyming.
3.5/5

The Big Plug (And How Plants and Spiders Saved the World)
The vegetation talks! And feels pain, especially when you boil them. They also like poetry and TV, and hate rats. Narrated by a cherry tree, not even the top ranked one, the story’s about global warming and how only a giant spider can do something about it.
This is a short easy read for an adult, not so much for a kid (no pictures!). Probably meant to be read out loud.
3.5/5

A Book for Benny
What do you do when you want to read but your dog doesn’t, and is hounding you to play in the rain? Take the woof to the library, of course. Not that dogs are allowed inside, but she selects several books and plasters them against the window so doggie can choose.
The most surprising thing here is that Benny the dog has a mustache. The ending, the book the dog chose, isn’t as startling, but at least it’s cute. The artwork is bold watercolors, drawn so kids can enjoy it.
3.5/5

Benji and the 24 Pound Banana Squash
A little kid is anxious to get his squash seeds planted, but when he finally does he just stares at the dirt, expecting it to grow right away, not having been told before this that such things don’t work instantaneously. Finally, after many weeks, things happen.
All the cute little animals watch, none of them taking a bite of the squash, though the ladybug does like riding it. He wants to keep what he’s grown, but that’s obviously not a good idea, so dad takes a photo and then they eat it with butter and brown sugar, which as we all know will make anything taste good. Even the dog has some. . . and speaking of the dog, the funniest part of this story is the drawing of the woof lying in a hammock.
Cute story, designed to inform little ones as to how vegetables grow, with a subtle environmental message.
4/5

Let’s Go, Bobby!
Bobby is apparently a dog who will ride any vehicle placed in front of him, and he’s always appropriately dressed for them.
The crux of this book is that the reader—little kids, that is—has to use their finger to trace the route of the vehicles. Surprisingly enough, if you don’t mind your screen getting a bit dirty, it works almost as well on an e-book, though the tactility the author wants the kid to have is not the same. Still, it’s an entertaining little jaunt amongst vehicles, from bicycles to rockets. The race track, though. . . only in a demolition derby would you have a figure eight.
3.5/5

Squirrel in Autumn
Brightly colored pages full of outdoor splendor are the backdrop for a search game as a squirrel wanders around looking for stuff to eat. In this reality, foxes and squirrels get along; of course animals talk, so I guess it’s not so strange.
Kids of this target age might not know what a toadstool is, but once they see this one they’re unlikely to forget it. . . which is good, because it needs finding on every page. Luckily there’s other stuff to search for too, mostly based on color.
Fun stuff, and subversively educational.
3.5/5

This Way to Christmas
An unknown narrator asks each animal—one per page—what they’re carrying in their hands or backpacks. Since the title pretty much gives it away, you can guess where this is going.
Each animal gets an adjective before its species name, with Rabbit getting the worst of it with “silly.” Owl gets to be “wise,” of course, and has the easiest job.
The artwork is as rudimentary as any I’ve seen, but that works here with the usually bleak winterscapes. The prose is also simple, fitting the age group this is going for.
4/5

;o)

Movie Review: Wonder Woman

Overview
This movie is what I wished Supergirl had been.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the series, but I don’t love it, feel so many things could have been done better from the outset. This movie gets them right.
One more thing: I’m not a fan of superhero movies. I watched the first two Avenger movies because of Joss Whedon, caught the first Thor on TV due to Natalie Portman, and one rainy afternoon when my plans were cancelled I saw the first Guardians of the Galaxy. Caught glimpses of an Iron Man on TV, but that’s basically it: never seen a Spiderman or Hulk, and the only Batman I ever saw was because Uma Thurman was in (boy, did that suck). So yeah, this was unusual, especially seeing it in the theater.
The day before this I mentally shrugged as I flicked on Doctor Strange on Netflix. Perhaps the fact that I couldn’t stand most of it inspires me to give Wonder Woman such a high grade, but that’s doubtful; even without that waste of time, The Wonderful Woman was superior in every way.

Writing
As always, this is where it starts. The plot goes back to World War One, and for the most part is a slice of life in the giant conflict until the two supernatural beings butt heads. Nothing wrong with it, but nothing groundbreaking either. And since the character had already been introduced in a previous movie, it was necessary to find a frame to set what is really a prequel, and the photo did the job perfectly.
Thankfully both the writing and directing are just as interested, if not more so, in the characters as the story and effects, especially but not limited to Diana. While most movies, even superhero ones, have humorous moments, they abound here, most of it coming from Diana not having the slightest idea how to behave with people who didn’t have the same idyllic upbringing as her on the Amazon island—when Steve first shows up, then amongst the crowds in London—particularly with men. My favorite was her trying to get through the revolving door at full charge. There isn’t that much humor after that, other than a few moments with the motley crew assisting them. But even more so, there’s some beautifully poignant instances within the ugliness of war, of which the most endearing is Diana telling an obviously shell-shocked Charlie to stay, because otherwise no one would sing for them. The acting is fantastic here, both their faces perfect, but it’s the words that make the moment memorable.
While most superheroes seem to have a personal motivation for doing what they do, be it vengeance or wanting to prove themselves, I very much like that the writers made Diana’s inspiration, as naïve as it is, simply wanting to do what’s right. And while it’s one thing to write a strong character who can also be romantic and funny, they gave her a special quality not often seen: kindness. There aren’t many superheroes who show compassion, but she has it in abundance.
It’s always hard to tell how much of the battle scenes is scripted, as writers usually throw in the kitchen sink and then see it whittled down due to safety or budgetary restraints. But if there’s one moment from the final battle that had to be in the original script, it’s her levitating over Ares, showing him she wasn’t the least bit bothered after all his attacks. He’s obviously disturbed by that, goaded into overplaying his hand, launching basically everything he had at her, never figuring it would rubber right back at him.

Directing
Like a referee in a sporting event, I’m of the belief that if I don’t remember much about what the director did, then it was a good job. I can’t think of any particular scene in this movie that stands out from that perspective. Of course I’ve seen Patty Jenkins’ other film—being a Charlize Theron completest—and while it was thoroughly deserving of the acting Oscar, some of that is always attributable to the directing.
In this case she shows a more than knowledgeable grasp of special effects and battle scenes, as well as comedy and sweet moments, some of them romantic but others not. Perhaps it’s the pacing that deserves the most merit, with enough respite given between the grittier moments for the audience to rest and reset. More to the point, this did not feel at all like 2 hours and 20 minutes.
If there’s one particular moment that deserves some mention, it would have to be when Diana finally realizes what Steve had said to her—she hadn’t understood him due to momentary loss of hearing—just before the plane blows up above her. The view of the explosion over her shoulder—even though she’s lying on the floor—followed by the quick cut to her face is perfect, as is leaving the camera on her for longer than usual so Gal could run through all the emotions of the moment, which are discussed in the next section.

Acting
There’s an easygoing rapport between Gal and Chris, but my favorite relationship, brief as it is, is between her and Lucy Jones. It’s easy to tell when Diana is appreciating Etta’s humor; it feels like they instantly became sisters. This is the first relationship she’s formed with a woman not from her island, and she seems happy to realize things won’t be that much different from that particular standpoint. The men, of course, are a different matter.
As I mentioned above, the moment when Diana tells Charlie he needs to stay because otherwise there’d be no one to sing for them is superb. It’s easy to see how much he needed that validation, especially after freezing during sniper duty. Gal’s face is so perfectly sweet, and you can see in his eyes that he’ll follow her anywhere from that moment on. There’s an earlier scene when Steve tells the boys that the money’s run out and they should go home, and they all refuse, partly because they’re enjoying themselves but mostly because Steve’s their guy and they’re loyal. But in this instant it becomes Diana’s gang, though it helps that Steve becomes her follower as well.
As for possibly Gal’s best acting moment, if it’s not the one I just mentioned, it would have to be the same as I wrote about in the directing section above. Right before her heroic second wind, when she’s seemingly trapped and out of the fight, she takes a sideways glance and sees Sameer, Charlie, and Chief huddled together, preparing to die, and feels like she let them down. Then the plane explodes above her, and there’s so much to see in her face—disbelief, sorrow, rage—all culminating in the moment when she realizes her destiny, even more so than her No Man’s Land trek.

Cinematography
Other than island of the Amazons, there’s surprisingly little in the way of landscapes, unless you count the trenches. Even the establishing shots are dark and moody. On the other hand, walking through the London of 100 years ago is always a pleasure; particularly enjoyable were the train station shots, reminding me of the similar scene from The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
Though the colors aren’t as dark as the broodiness of other such films, there’s definitely a lot that’s muted. Every yellow, for instance, seems to comes out as an earth tone. That’s fair in the trenches and No Man’s Land, but there were other places where I would have wished something different. In fact, the only place I can remember being at all bright is the German reception, where she dances with the secondary big baddie while the sword is tucked down the back of the beautiful blue dress she stole from the rich matron outside. And though it’s a bit of a cliché, the fire they’re looking at as Steve tries to pseudo-romance Doctor Poison is gorgeous to watch.
The stuntwork, especially the battle on the island, is spectacular, with some tricks I don’t think I’ve ever seen. The firing-arrows-while-swinging moment, as well as the jump/flip with multiple arrows, are wonderfully realized, the latter all the better for the slow motion. Wonder Woman’s battles—the trenches, the town, inside the baddies’ base—are more imaginatively staged than expected, but of course it’s the final battle between the gods that takes the cake. Throwing cars around is always gonna look good, especially when you’re not Hulk-sized.
I don’t have individual sections for wardrobe, makeup, hair and the like, but as a photographer I have to take a moment to mention how incredible—even more so than usual—Gal looks in London once they’ve finally figured out her style. In the trenchcoat, with her hair back, her amazing facial bone structure is in perfect display. I’ve been photographing models for almost a quarter of a century, and I’m often baffled at how popular certain supermodels are, when I would never want to shoot them. This look shows exactly why she was so successful in her previous career.

Music
Unless it’s John Williams, it’s hard to differentiate—or perhaps it’s easy to write the style—between the music, especially the main themes, in superhero movies. Which is why the moment that stands out the most is Wonder Woman’s first battle, when she throws off her overclothes—finally revealing her costume—practically runs up the trench ladder into No Man’s Land, and singlehandedly attacks the German lines. Whereas most of the time you’d get the battle cry—think Indiana Jones—in this case it’s anything but; it’s so soft and heartfelt that at times it’s almost a dirge, which perhaps stands for a loss of innocence, but somehow adds to the enormity of the moment much more than bombastic horns and the like. Most times music supports a scene; this is one of the rare ones that adds to it. Something similar happens after the climactic scene, when it’s time to decompress before the celebration. And bringing in her theme from the Batman/Superman movie, with Tina Guo’s crazy cello, the moment she bursts into the enemy HQ was perfectly timed.
And Ares of course gets an appropriately evil-sounding theme.
In the end I would qualify this soundtrack as for the most part happily restrained.
As always I stay through the credits, not always looking for easter eggs, mostly enjoying the music. The full theme is appropriately heroic and triumphant, but then it changes to a song that in and of itself isn’t bad, except it completely confirms why I can’t stand Sia’s vocals. You do get that we’re supposed to understand what you’re saying, right?

“Feel”
This is what makes it more than just a great movie. Go online and look at all the photos of little girls dressing up as a superhero they can actually look up to. All that would have meant nothing if the film sucked, but in addition to not sucking, it had an undeniable spirit, not just good triumphing over evil, but the feeling that it’ll all work out if we pitch in together and do what’s right.
Whereas nowadays superheroes are written as jerks—I’m looking at you, Ironman, but Thor and Batman and others too—it’s a breath of fresh air to see an origin story that not only starts with innocent happiness but also ends with the hero not completely giving in to the cynicism caused by the trials she’s been through. Yes, she stops superheroing for a century, but in that time there’s no indication that her love for humanity has gone away. There’s something in the framing moments, when she receives the photo Bruce Wayne sent her, that shows she does still believe in the ideals she was brought up with, as confirmed by the one man who taught her most about humanity and she’s now staring at for the first time in a hundred years: Steve Trevor.
One last note, though not about the movie: this was the first time I’ve sat in the recliner seats at a movie theater, and though I’ve been to other movies where the whole place shakes when there’s a big explosion, I felt it a lot more here, and I am not a fan of it! So there. . .

Overall
8.5/10

;o)

Book Reviews: Big Steaming Plate of Graphics

Generation Zero V.2: Heroscape
Having read the first one, and remembering thinking “To hell with the plot, where’s the next hilarious joke?” I gobbled this one up eagerly. And in case I’d forgotten, there’s the always-great “The story so far” on the first page.
The first volume had a superhero vibe, but this one turns fully sci-fi as the team has to go into other realms/worlds/reality spaces to take down the evil corporation that has taken over the town of Rook, Michigan. Unfortunately there’s a lot of talking and little action at first; it takes them being turned into anime to get things rolling. There’s also less funny, though there were still some hilarious moments, like the scary pregnant Stepford smiler, “I second your ‘hrm,’” and “You are all so totally under arrest. . . obvs.”
If anything, the whole story was even more confusing than the first one. More importantly, it just wasn’t as much fun as the first.
3/5

Lady Mechanika Steampunk Coloring Book V1 & 2
“For ladies and gentlemen of all ages.” Nice.
Mechanika is one of the loveliest graphic novels ever drawn, so it’s no surprise the first attempt to franchise it is coloring books of the “Beautiful Victorian heroine.” Sounds like a perfect description.
These appear to be originals rather than taken from the graphic novels, as the first drawing is of an underwater scene not previously shown. (Even in the iron swimsuit she’s curvy and hot.) In most shots she’s holding a revolver in a Charlie’s Angels pose. On the other hand, the gorgeous redhead baddie from the first story makes an appearance, as well as others, so there’s that.
In the second volume the famous jeweled bird makes an appearance, as well as the infamous jetpack, and her costumes become even more outlandish, befitting every kind of climate on Earth. But the best drawings are the ones where she’s being Action Girl rather than just standing there posing. One of the drawings has her in a small skirt, stockings, and a cape; can’t help but wonder if her lower legs were included she’d be in knee-high boots, because it had a distinct 60s vibe.
It’s intriguing looking at these pencil drawings and imagining how they’re gonna turn out.
“Liked the artwork? You’ll love the stories!” Which is no doubt what this is about, right? Getting more people to read the graphics.
3.5/5

Dollface V.1
She’s known as “The Ball Jointed Witch Hunter,” which definitely sounds unique.
A spirit called Lila has come from the time of the Salem Witch Trials to the present, now housed in the body of a 3-D printed hottie. The title of the book is well named, as along with her pink hair and sexy maid’s outfit her face does indeed look doll-like, thankfully not in a creepy way. She’s got a human sidekick and a formerly human sidekick, who now looks like a reject from a ghost cosplay convention. The Necromicon is in there too, and Weird Science and Bride of Frankenstein are mentioned on the same page.
When she wanders into a bar, fielding compliments for the first time, she comes across an enemy when the witch icon pops into her head. Another time she throws herself off the roof and makes a perfect landing, celebrating with a woo-hoo that shows she learned about living in this century quickly. And her exclamation of “Oh fuck beans!” was particularly fun.
Unfortunately the action slows down in the middle as the story goes into a huge flashback to explain how she was built and her spirit came to inhabit the sex doll body. It also shows how Ivan became a ghost blob.
The authors must have thought that, in a story full of witches, animated dolls, and ghosts, nothing needed to make sense. Not true. And sadly it’s not nearly as funny as it hopes to be.
10 pages of covers and bonus.
2.5/5

Flash Gordon: Kings Cross
After a clever recap of past events via radio and movie trailers, the setting remains the movie theater as—is that The Phantom? Yes, twice; he’s got a redheaded sidekick now—they capture a poacher before heading off to Mandrake’s place to see what the next big crisis is. In the meantime Flash has to rescue Zarkov from some Russian goons. Then all they need is for Dale to show up so the plot can get moving, concerning tidal waves striking every coastline in the world.
Now that Dale’s become so serious, I like redhead Junior Phantom, so full of snark. Some of the best moments include:
“Close your eyes and think queenly thoughts.” “Really?” “Well, close your eyes, anyway.”
“Don’t apologize for loving me, darling.” Can’t believe Flash said that with a straight face.
Never expected to see Flash—or anyone—riding a giant bat.
This was not an easy slog; if it wasn’t for the humor I’m not sure I could have made it through. Got too silly in places.
15 pages of extras.
3/5

Great Divide
An apocalypse leaves the human race unable to touch each other and hearing the voices of those they killed, however accidentally. One survivor goes into a bar—it’s both a joke and it isn’t—and gets taken for a literal and figurative ride. From there it’s one survival test after another.
When I was halfway through I noted that I hadn’t found any point to this yet, as though the journey is the actual plot. I think the dog is the hero of this story, because the otherwise main character is best described here: “It’s hard to go more than a few hours without punching him in the face.”
The best line is “A big box of post-apocalypse puppies.” There’s a Star Wars reference that took me a moment to get. And I love that the biggest piece of currency is a Vampirella comic.
There’s also a dozen pages of exclusive digital content, starting with weblinks to music, coloring pages, an excerpt from a book written by one of the bad guys, and a collection of short stories. Then there’s variant covers and ads, especially for Army of Darkness, which was worth a good chuckle.
3/5

Infinite Seven V.1
Whenever someone gets kicked out of a plane, you always know a flashback is coming.
The basic plot of this story is: What happens when you kill an assassin? You get his job in the assassin squad, though you still have to go through virtual reality testing and the hazing of your fellow assassins, like the woman who shows plenty of bare midriff, even more cleavage, but has a mask over her face. She’s actually pretty intriguing, compared to the German who thinks he’s Ah-nold and names his gun Long Tall Sally.
The author didn’t do his research, or is stuck in the James Bond mode. These are not assassins, they’re mercenary soldiers. Assassins don’t get into firefights, trading quips along the way; they go in silently and take out their target without anyone finding out they were there until they’re gone.
Those making quick appearances include Sherlock Holmes (Cumberbatch edition), Bruce Lee, George Washington, Chuck Norris, Alien, Clint Eastwood, Chucky, and the bridge of the Enterprise.
There’s a cliffhanger, but it’s pretty ridiculous.
The plot is purposefully too outlandish to be believable, but that’s okay; the problem is in the details. As they say, fiction has to make sense, and there’s too much lazy writing here.
2/5

A Is for Asteroids, Z Is for Zombies
Instead of a good night story, a kid asks his dad about asteroids destroying the planet. Dad remembers a book a crazy relative gave them and checks it out before reading it aloud, a thoroughly smart move.
Though it masquerades as a children’s book, don’t you fall for it either. The looks the dad gives as he reads are priceless. Then, thoroughly scared, he hides in the most ironic place.
This author could teach a class on rhyming, especially with how badly it’s done in today’s music. Every letter gets a stanza, except Z, because zombies are so bad they need seven.
You need a particular brand of humor to enjoy this; I sure did.
4/5

Artful
The book that would nowadays be described as a spinoff of Oliver Twist gives pre-Victorian London a supernatural twist, as the one and only Dodger helps a woman he finds wandering the streets, which leads to much more than saving her from a territorial hooker.
For a non-streetwise lady who picked the wrong place to have a Roman Holiday, Trina sure figured out how to play him easily. Eventually she’s captured by vampires, led by Mr. Fang—really?—so the Artful one has to go save her again, for once sacrificing himself and his future prospects for the good of someone else.
So, turns out Fagin is a vampire. Okay. I suppose that explains a lot, as does what he eventually becomes. Van Helsing looks like he belongs on a ranch in Wyoming, not London. Besides, his son with the relevant name has a bigger part. Dracula wasn’t much of a villain here, used and then sunburned without much of a fight. But apparently vampires can use The Force.
“You’re the hero of this adventure.” Not much meta there.
As a sequel to Dickens, this falls far short. It’s an okay historical vampire story using characters mostly already created, but wouldn’t have been much different without them. It’s simply a literary shortcut. It’s too bad, for I’ve enjoyed this author’s Star Trek novels in the past.
2.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Empathy and Emojis

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face?
Many years ago I saw Alan Alda on a TV show, something about scientific frontiers. While that’s mentioned in this book, he focuses on one particular subject, that of empathy.
It all started with an encounter at the dentist’s, where the man couldn’t get his point across to his patient because he couldn’t stop thinking like a dentist. From there Mr. Alda moved to doctors, stating, “People are dying because we can’t communicate in ways that allow us to understand one another.” Another great quote is, “Not being truly engaged with the people we’re trying to communicate with, and then suffering the snags of misunderstanding, is the grit in the gears of daily life.” There’s some fascinating points where he talks about using acting practices to get doctors and others to communicate better. It didn’t take long for the realization to hit: “Developing empathy and learning to recognize what the other person is thinking are both essential to good communication.”
Here’s a little hint to make this book more interesting: read it in his voice, feel it reverberating inside your skull.
Most of the chapters are small, some only describing an encounter, story, or lesson that led to his conclusions, but it seems to work fine. In explaining how to better explain things, he explained everything really well. Even a book about making communication accessible can be full of jargon, but thankfully this one wasn’t.
4/5

Emoji Adventures Book 5: The Pet Unicorn
Told in first person by a kid/emoji named Annie, this story revolves around her and three others—Dot, her sister with heart-shaped eyes; Kevin, her evil twin; and Billy, a soccer-playing poop—who try to find a unicorn to claim the missing poster reward, only to find it cooler to have an actual unicorn to play with.
It takes a while to get to the first photo, with the quartet inside the fro-yo shop, showing them to be actual emoji heads on stick bodies, with hands to hold ice cream cones (but no stomachs). And yes, Billy is a poop emoji. Annie is a cute brunette with a big smile. Once I see it I can accept this ridiculous reality and treat the story as it was intended. On the other hand, the unicorn is full-bodied, not an emoji (how many times do I have to write that word?). Not forgetting other parts of social media, the chapter titles are hashtags. (Dumpster pasta should have been a hashtag too.) And of course they literally live in Emojiville.
There’s plenty of humor here, which is really the only thing it needs. Examples:
“The Ancient Egyptians were a lot more sparkly than people think.” I know exactly who to spring that line on.
“All I want to do is take this unicorn to a field of flowers and braid its mane.”
“Shakes her mane around like she’s at a heavy metal concert.” But later it’s said that unicorns like Taylor Swift, which pretty much explains everything.
And I’d gotten so into thinking of them as kids that I didn’t get their disgust when the unicorn licked Billy.
Quite an enjoyable little story, though I can’t help but think it would have been just the same without the emoji conceit. If there’s a moral here, it’s on the last page: always take the reward money. The author lists his Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at the end; bet he gets inundated with emoji suggestions for the next book. And I can’t help but wonder if the upcoming Emoji movie is based on one of these books (is Sir Patrick Stewart really playing the poop?).
4/5

101 Things to Do Instead of Playing on Your Phone
I love it when the title tells you everything you need to know. However, I’m reading this on a tablet, so it was a little hard remembering it’s meant to be a physical book, which makes things like Draw a Selfie and Coloring very difficult, though not as impossible as Cutting out the Paper Airplane.
Kids’ games abound, my faves being I Spy and Cloud Zoo. Smile at someone, see if they smile back. Play Fashion Adviser has too much opportunity to turn to the dark side. I particularly like the Giving Awards one, though the fun in it is coming up with the right awards.
But there’s also quite a bit of stuff like Write Your Grocery List for Tonight’s Meal or Bucket List where it’s the same as doing it on the phone, and would be simpler. Still, most of it is fun stuff, as well as things to think about.
4/5

Wolf
A philosophy grad student at Northwestern, who despite seemingly being a good girl keeps getting into perilous dumb situations and poker games, comes across the dead body of her advisor just as he was planning to ruin her career. In addition to that there’s a Russian mafia plot that makes things convoluted, with too many characters to keep straight and flashbacks that spoil the flow.
But the author’s main purpose in writing this story is the rape culture and drugging found in colleges today, especially at frats. There’s an avenger that kicks ass—literally—but unfortunately she’s not the main character. Instead we get Jessica, the Montana cowgirl philosopher with a love of Nietzsche, who at least three times in this story passes out, either stone drunk or drugged. Yet at the end there she is getting drunk again. Did the author really intend to make her protagonist seem so stupid? Or is it trying to impart the belief that even the smartest can fall prey to drugs and evil guys. . . over and over and over? Still, you’d think that, short of admitting she was an alcoholic, she’d learn not to drink so much. It’s hard to respect people, especially those who think of themselves as so intelligent, who can’t figure things out.
Despite that the writing is pretty good, with plenty of droplets of humor. There’s a cute mention of Star Trek: The Next Generation near the end that fans will love.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Graphic Puns

She sang, “What do you do when you run out of sunblock?”
“Like you with wine, you open another bottle.”

Divinity III: Stalinverse
This takes place in an alternate reality where the Soviet Union invaded and took over all of Europe in WW2. Funnily enough, they placed McCarthy as their puppet US president. Now there’s plenty of protests, so the Soviets send one mean-looking dude to put them down, while around the world other agents show how they fight against rebellions.
There’s double agents, fantasy elements, humans on Mars. One of the bad squad is named Baba Yaga, so there’s some humor here. But the cliffhanger at the end of issue #3. . .
For what started out as a promising plot to have such a. . . pedestrian ending dropped my enjoyment a notch.
3/5

Lady Mechanika V.3: The Lost Boys of West Abbey
This story is all about Jewish mysticism and immortality, so it helps to have an Anglo-Indian detective helping out, I guess.
Mechanika has grown quite a bit; in earlier issues she would have bitten off the head of the cabbie who intimated she needed a man to take care of her, but here she just laughs it off. Lewis’s grin at that is golden as well. And at the end I fully expected Singh to try to kiss her, with a possibility that she might let him rather than break his face. That’s how different she’s become, and I like the change.
The cover gallery is always fun, imagining Mechanika actually deigning to pose for the artist. Her saloon girl costume is my fave.
This one seemed a little darker, both in tone and actual colors. Innocents always die in these stories, but when kids are being sacrificed. . .
3.5/5

Ocean of Secrets, V.1 Manga
Orphan finds new family, though it’s ominous that she’s a replacement daughter for one who died. Don’t know if her new sister tried to kill her, but she goes overboard and sorta drowns, waking up in another reality, on a flying ship with a brother/sister pair.
If it wasn’t for the hair, I wouldn’t be able to tell the two girls apart.
There really isn’t anything new here. I’m not one to call it a Mary Sue, but this had that definite vibe, especially how Lia instantly offers to go rescue Albert when he’s arrested. It all circles back in the end, though it feels too coincidental and convenient. For how long it was, it could have been a tighter story. And what happened with the pirates?
All in black and white, which didn’t do the story any favors.
Last 20 or so pages are extras, with author interview, character designs, and a sneak peek at another story.
3/5

Army Of Darkness/Xena Warrior Princess: Forever and a Day
Xena has lost a major battle and Gabrielle is dying, so she calls Ash for help by ripping up a piece of paper (yes, I know what the paper is, but it sounds more ridiculous this way). He’s in the middle of wooing—sexually harassing—an intern at the S-mart when he whooshes back in time, only to have Xena not recognize him. Turns out he whooshed to the wrong time and has to go back, waiting for the second issue to get it right. . . nope, not then either. It’s suddenly Ancient Greece’s version of Groundhog Day. Totally with Xena when the fourth issue comes along and she yells, “Again?” It takes till issue 6—the last one—to find out what’s going on.
As soon as I saw this pairing my initial thought was, “I hope there’s a line where she says, ‘You look familiar.’” But apparently they’ve met before.
Best lines of Ash being Ash:
“Keep it up and you’re gonna see just how hard I blow. . . I mean. . .”
“Must. . . bite. . . tongue. . . must. . . bite.”
“Steve. . . really?”
Ash has always been smarmy and a jerk, but he managed to still be likeable. This version of him. . . not so much. And being a fan of redheads, I would have stayed with Amber.
I recognize this is supposed to be completely silly, but somehow it’s even past that. Yep, too silly; never thought I would say that. I feel like I should have enjoyed this a lot more. I love the title, though, as well as Ash getting a little Bubba Ho-Tep in there at the end. . .
10 pages of covers and ads.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: For the Kid In You

“Did you say hell pit or help it?”

Sarah at the Wedding
A little girl and boy are thrilled to participate in a wedding. The book takes you through all the stages from the kids’ point of view.
First of all, the little girl on the cover is so adorable, thrilled to be kissed. And before the story starts there’s a page of various items that might be found at a wedding, with questions like “What did they eat?” and my fave, “What did Dad lose?”
As expected it’s a simple telling, for kids who have never been to a wedding. The best part would obviously be getting to eat cake at the reception, as well as blowing bubbles and staying up late. There’s even an arts and crafts table at the reception, which is a new one to me. Everything’s done in a very cute style, with bright colors.
At the end there’s a page that shows how to make a veil and top hat, for all those play weddings kids love to do.
4/5

A Puppy’s Dream Comes True
A tiny dog narrates how he’s afraid of humans because they’re so big. He falls for a cute redhead and happily goes home with her, especially when he finds the shoe closet. What he can’t find, however, is a bathroom. And he gets named BabyDoll, which is fitting, because “I love looking cute!” The artwork feels like it’s out of the 60s, which makes the dog’s thoughts all the more interesting.
Then things turn weird. For one thing, this is a rich famous couple that walks red carpets. When they talked about adopting a baby girl—human, though it doesn’t make it clear—I thought Jolie or Madonna. And at the end there’s a message to help adopt children, which starts with “Thank you for your interest in our foundation.”
Um. . . what foundation? I thought I was reading about a dog. What does that have to do with a foundation? Great idea, so why not write about the joy of adopting a human? But I suppose the story is for kids and only the last page is for adults. Still, jarring enough to take me out of the enjoyment and drop it a point.
3/5

Georgie Makes a New Friend
A boy made out of gingerbread lives in a house made of sugar cookies—not gingerbread, because he’s weird, it’s pointed out—in the forest. Georgie didn’t like doing anything that was expected. He meets a nutcracker wisely named Bartholomew, who is just as unconventional as Georgie. They’re not all that smart, being easily distracted and trapped by a toymaker who wants to make them conventional.
Cute enough, though it feels really weird to have a gingerbread creature eating muffins. The theme of being yourself could have been tighter.
3/5

Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs
Short but sweet picture book showing how to deal with separation anxiety. Moonbeams, sunrays, rainbows are all used to carry love.
This may be the best children’s book I’ve ever read. Beautifully drawn, beautiful colors, great writing, especially the rhyming.
5/5

Beautifully Different
A paean to the joys of daydreaming and inclusion as a little boy wonders why some people make fun of others just because they look or act different. His father directs a daydream in which he flies to a world full of flowers and helps them survive a weed attack.
Bright colors, exaggerated human features. But what was the point of the gate?
4/5

Dreamland with Mommy
Imagination Time Travel: Mom directs her little son’s dreaming, but lets him choose the details, such as diving into a giant cherry pie and getting showered by elephants. The main point is solving a riddle, which from the end notes appears to be from the Koran. Not sure how many kids would have been able to solve it, or adults, for that matter.
Sometimes it rhymes, but not always.
3.5/5

A Cup of Tea?
Kid wants to play with his parents, who are too tired when they get home from work. At other times it seems like it’s going to happen when another interruption takes place, with tea always a part of it.
The artwork is watercolor-y and a bit strange, even though it’s mostly in a style I’ve seen from other children’s books. The writing is small and hard to read, at least on the electronic version. There is excellent rhyming, which is becoming a lost art. “Once again my adventures were undone by a kettle/it gets so much use now I know why it’s metal.” Wonder if a kid that young would know what a kettle is, or at least the name for it, but okay.
Can’t help but think that if this was written in the US, it would be a beer instead of tea.
Hadn’t realized I’d read another book by this same author; just like this one is about tea, that one was chocolate. This is a cute story, but I think the chocolate one was better.
3.5/5

Ya know what?
When a story starts in the bathroom it can only go up from there. Little Oliver would rather talk than go to sleep, and luckily for him he has a patient mom! Especially for a redhead. He’s also got all kinds of cute stuffed animals, which made it easy to understand why he wasn’t afraid of what was under the bed; good reveal of what was really going on under there.
“For little chatterboxes age 4 and up.” Perfect description.
Incredibly cute in all ways.
4/5

Welcome Home, Beaver
Already on the cover there’s a lot of stuff going on, but. . . why do beavers need scuba gear?
An adventurous young beaver—dressed like a lumberjack, of course—is on a log, rowing along a giant city with skyscrapers. Quickly he becomes homesick, so Akita the Adventure Dog! (must have exclamation point) takes him around the world in his balloon searching for it. I hope Akita is doing it on purpose, because if he can’t tell there’s no way Beaver could possibly live in a honeycomb then he’s the dumbest superhero ever.
Again, there’s a lot going on in each artwork. My fave is when they’re in the Arctic and the seals are playing ring toss with a narwhal. On another page there’s a prairie dog playing the accordion—that’s just evil.
On the other hand, some of this background material, added to make things funny, isn’t very realistic. (Yes, this is about a beaver and a dog in a balloon going around the world, but still.) For example, Fox has three kids in his cave. . . and a liquor cabinet with the bottles on top, where anyone can get at them. And a pantry but no real kitchen. Maybe it’s more my attention to detail that’s at fault here. I supposed the author/artist doesn’t expect kids to catch all this. For them it will be fine and fun—don’t want anyone to think this sucks in any way—just felt like a little more thought could have been put into the details.
The couplets certainly rhyme, though forget about the meter. Don’t know how big this real-tree book will be, but the print is tiny. (This rhyming stuff is catching!)
At the end there’s a map of all the places they visited.
3/5

This Is a Book Full of Monsters (or This Book Is Full of Monsters)
With this title, there’s nothing else I need to tell you. With books like these I have to keep reminding myself they’re for children, as sometimes the most painfully obvious thing is spelled out. For example, the very first page says if you get scared you can stop reading at any time.
Monsters are cute when they’re babies, but even then have sharp teeth. Some monsters get you with their smell, others with their banshee wail. But yeah, that slime guy might be the worst of all.
At the end there’s a certificate for making it through.
Wasn’t sold on this. Not all the monsters were given a “superpower” of evil, so to speak. Some were simply mentioned as looking scary, though they really didn’t look it. I read another of this author’s books, where a dog has to find a place to go potty, and frankly that felt scarier.
2.5/5

But I Wanted a Little Sister
Title says it all, doesn’t it?
“My brother always smiles. He never cries.” True. That is the calmest baby ever. It takes going around to see what little sisters are like for her to appreciate her brother.
I am going to be accused of thinking of things too logically, but it’s what I do. And this was never set as a fantasy, completely made to look like real life, where you don’t get adults saying, “We don’t sell babies. Perhaps you should try next door.” Wow. This little girl is pushing her brother in a tram all around town and no one wonders where Mom or Dad might be? By now I’m familiar with this author, who has done much better than this elsewhere.
3/5

My Name Is Caillou
In what could be called a prequel, the latest in this long series goes back to the beginning, with the little imp introducing himself to say he’s just like you.
The best part is how it shows his parents thinking of his name before he was born. Another is the pride he takes in now being big and able to dress himself.
Simple “Day in the life of a little kid” story.
3.5/5

;o)