Book Reviews: Graphic Pencils

“I make a mean sandwich.”
She cooed, “I make a mean sandwich happy.”

A Roman soldier is manipulated by the chief of the Vestal Virgins to become the first detective in history, unless the ancient Greeks had stories they didn’t bother to tell (long shot). Then Nero sends him to the British Isles to find out what’s going wrong, thinking it was actually his idea.
Starts with a history of the Vestal Virgins; seems like far too many of them were blonde. The story quickly moves to northwest Europe, with plenty of blood and gore, as well as magical Druids and devils, so it’s certainly not a straightforward history.
There’s this one panel of artwork that I find so spectacular—though I can’t explain exactly why—full width with a flying sword. You’ll know it when you see it.
In between the chapters are scholarly articles on the Vestals, centurions, Nero—was he really that bad? Yes and no—and Roman Britain.

Letter 44 V.1 $10 Trade Edition
Pseudo-Obama takes over for pseudo-Bush and finds out there are aliens in the asteroid belt who no doubt will invade Earth at any moment. There’s also a mission sent to check out the aliens, launched three years ago.
There’s some really good scenes among the expected storyline; the briefing from the scientist in charge, the three questions guy, for example, was brilliant. I laughed at the baseball breaking the White House window and scaring the Secret Service. Sending conspiracy bad boy on a tour of every embassy is such an awesome twist. And there’s a very cool artistic effect on the flash-bang.
I’m liking the way this is written, though the plot may be too much. Thought there might be something to the scene when General Johnson comes in for the briefing, since they’re talking before the secretary leaves. . .
The scientist repeating that all of them were volunteers is rather ominous. . .
Sadly it ends at a critical juncture; get another ten bucks ready for volume 2.
Almost 20 pages of dossiers on some of the players, creator bios dressed as White House correspondence, and ads for other books.

Small Favors: The Definitive Collection
A lesbian who can’t stop with the self-loving is told to cut it out—there’s a lifetime allotment of masturbation? Wonder if there’s an actual number (asking for a friend)—and is given a helpful little blonde imp to keep her fingers and dildos in check. Little Nibbel is also helpful in letting me know the next section is a dream sequence, so thank you! Plus she’s really cute, incredibly funny in her naiveté. She’s the best part of this, playing a big part in the stor, as well as defining the title.
For me the other best part was how the author wasn’t afraid to break the fourth wall of get meta. Something as simple as “Bet you had to shower after that one!” makes for a big guffaw. Even when the author doesn’t know where to go with the plot we’ll get a line like “Who was that girl on page 104?” I thought it was the neighbor, but I guess I was overthinking it. And I also wondered who was taking the photos.
Very explicit sex is depicted, which is for the most part fine, though I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that, had it been a man taking her so roughly rather than a blonde pixie with a strap-on, there’d be all kinds of protests. There’s a small interlude of Nibbel doing herself on a lightbulb that made me laugh so much. Spaghetti and wooden spoons just got a lot more sexy, but it helps if you have a Barbie-sized pixie playmate. And the safari story was extra hilarious, along with the dramatic cry of, “Alas, we are exposed!”
There’s about 15 pages of early sketches and outtakes at the end, the best feautring Nibbel playing Rock ‘em Sock ‘em. . . better yet, Nibbel being playfully attacked by the dialogue bubbles. . .
Most of it is done in simple black and white sketches, quite effective. When it at a certain point turns to color, it’s a little jarring.
It’s a fun read, if nothing else because it treats sex, especially lesbian sex, as fun. Another reviewer nailed it by calling this “innocent and lighthearted.”

The Life After V.1: $10 Trade Edition
Groundhog Day turns into a time travel back to what looks like 19th century England. Then things really get crazy. . .
Then Ernest Hemingway shows up. . .
My initial thought was “That lady sure has a lot of handkerchiefs. . .” Every little thing is controlled in this Orwellian world, so when he steps out of the usual routine to return the handkerchief everything goes crazy, and the story behind the story unfolds.
“I was talking to the dog. . .” Saw it coming, still made me laugh. The dog also does the best sideways-head-tilt puzzled I’ve ever seen in a two-dimensional character. Plus he’s a tease. . .
What kind of people are in charge of this crapsack world? “Let’s see if we can find someone taking a shower or something. . .”
You can see it in Hemingway’s face: “Surely you must be the son of god. . .”
This volume one finishes on a pretty big reveal.
Creator bios and ads at end.


Book Reviews: Exercise, Joy, Legalities, and Archaeology

Do you think the French and French Canadians say Monterey Jacques when ordering cheese?

Undulation: Relieve Stiffness and Feel Young
An easier gentler version of yoga for those of us whose bodies are winding down.
As with all self-help books, be it mental or physical, the first part tries to convince you why you need this. Some of them are actually well-pointed, such as the difference between pain caused by regular physical labor and internal injury. There’s also the difference between small and large movements, as well as an explanation as to who really is in charge, the mind or the body. One line really made me laugh: eels have powerful strong cores, because that’s all they have. Eels can’t fall back on arms and legs.
Obviously it takes a while to feel the effects and benefits of any physical regimen, so I can’t tell you how successful this is yet, but I can recommend this book just for the names of the exercises, some of which genuinely made me laugh out loud:
Hip hiker—Octopus—Paint your head with the floor—Follow the music—Tailbone penmanship—Coffee grinder—Caressed by waves—Barber pole—Tree tops—Train cars—Speed bump—Inchworm—Snake charmer—Tornado.
There’s an appendix that lists the exercises alphabetically.

November Fox – Book 1. Following Joy
This novel was both interesting and weird on many levels, though thankfully most were entertaining. The philosophical ramblings tend to be too much once in a while, but basically it’s an enjoyable ride as we follow a young female rock star through many worlds and even time, all the while searching for some kind of enlightenment, semi-guided by a floating Rubik’s Cube that makes the subtitle literal.
November—thankfully we find out about the name early—turns out to be a happy loopy girl, the kind who says good morning to the furniture and singsongs to herself about everything she sees. On her travels she meets an elephant who speaks in a German accent and only wants cake. This guy is a hoot! Inspired characterization. At one point Captain Picard of Star Trek makes a cameo, and the Borg are mentioned, which makes November the nerdiest rock star ever.
I found it weird that there was an omnipresent voyeur narrating what’s going on with the protagonist. This narrator is even stranger than November, and talks—writes—way too cutesy and mannered. There’s a strange fascination with time, which here is called tick-tock, or cake time, depending on the character. By the end I was thinking I liked November’s story and Erica’s notes much more than the Architect’s philosophical ramblings, and could have done without them.
There was also a promise of music and/or video which could be accessed via an app, but even though there was animation at some points it didn’t work as promised.
Most importantly, November—the character—was so enjoyable. Her story could have been told just as well without the frames, but obviously that’s not what the author wanted.

Legal Asylum: A Comedy
The wacky behind-the-scenes travails of a state law school trying to be reaccredited and make the top five nationally at the same time leads to hilarity, though only for the readers, not the characters.
The main character is the dean of the law school, a driven and attractive woman who wants to be on the Supreme Court and have sex with just about everyone—compatible goals, I guess. But even with her leading the way there were so many points of view! To my surprise I rather like the member of the accreditation committee who writes notes to be transcribed like Cooper and Diane from Twin Peaks. I liked the tone of the whole thing; it’s not hilariously funny, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously, like when the chancellor takes Viagra at the wrong time. There’s an interesting tangent on commercialism and Chinese aspirations too.
I wanna root for the Dean of Sexiness, but she’s not exactly sympathetic. And her obsession with being top 5, even if she has an incredibly selfish reason for it, is so ridiculous I can’t stand her. At one point she beats up two librarians and gets away with it, which is the main problem I had with the plot.
Funny how I only moderately liked it as I was reading it, but the ending was uplifting enough to push it slightly higher.

Olmec Obituary
Archaeological mystery? I’m there!
While there is a main character, and a mystery to solve—eventually—the best part is the interplay within her giant family, which has so much genetic mix: Chinese, Welsh, Berber. There’s plenty of supporting cast as well, from fellow librarians to an archaeologist she Skypes with; my favorite was the meek geneticist. But I wrote a note about halfway through where I said I didn’t know what the mystery is supposed to be, or if there was one, which is my main problem with the plot.
Food plays an important part in this family’s life, so there’s recipes—completely incomprehensible to me, of course—and a glossary at the end. But once I look back at it I find I enjoyed it, even though I had some difficulty following the chain of evidence. Didn’t think I would like the Olmec sequences, but it turned out the ballcourt-playing princess was the most interesting character of all.


Book Reviews: Everything’s Graphic

Time Share
If you read the blurb and expected this to be like “Back to the Future”. . . you’re right. The first panel alone made me think it. A little later there’s a part—let’s call it homaged—from “Terminator.” And just to make sure, there’s this line: “Roads? We don’t need roads!”–“We do too need roads! Dumbass!”
I wish I could tell you what this was about, other than time travel, but it would be easier to tell you what it’s NOT about, as the plot jumps around everywhere without rhyme or reason. If it wasn’t for the humor I would have quit just a few pages in. One of the characters says, “I am so lost. . . figuratively speaking, I mean. . . okay, literally too.” Join the club.
So I stuck around for the jokes, having given up on trying to make sense of it. There’s silly stuff, like “Teddy! Move!”–“Okay, but I’ll need some boxes!” Then there’s the ever-popular “Hooray for A.N.A.L.!” and “I’m keeping my eye out. . . also my penis.” We find out about the author’s fixations with the lines, “Perhaps I could interest you in some mouth pleasure?” and “Is he requesting. . . mouth love?” How naïve is the defective robot guy? He says things like, “You said a swear!” And I also “have so much sympathy for Pac-Man right now. . .” My two faves were “I was too follow to drugged” and “Horse’s ass of the apocalypse!” which was the most brilliant thing I’d read that day.
Even the cops get their jokes, like playing “One two three not it!” “We’re coming in! I can’t guarantee Frank won’t shoot anyone.”–“Jesus, Al, let it go.” “Target evaluation: Kinda sad, really.” And what are “medium warning shots?”

Brickleberry V.1—Armoogeddon
According to the recap—one huge star just for including it!—this is about how alien cows took over the planet, with one guy particularly happy about it because of the love that dare not moo its name. The protagonist looks like Peter Griffith if he REALLY let himself go, but hey, he’s the hero, gotta root for him. And since cows are racist too they make really good bad guys here.
“Steve, you’ve returned.” Oh boy, this writing is not instilling confidence early on.
Some of the jokes you can spot from a continent away. For example, I had a feeling the scientist was screwing with him about inserting all the stuff from the time machine. Likewise the “Who’s your daddy?” twist. Thankfully a lot of it is inspired funny lunacy, like the hero’s weapon of choice being a t-shirt cannon; awesome in some circumstances, not so much in others. And spike strips should not be used on humans! Owwie! (There’s a close-up, in case you had any doubts.)
“Way to think on your feet, Wayne Brady.” Wow, that’s a reference I never thought I’d see. Definitely not often Amazon and Obama get slammed back to back, and that’s probably a good thing.
Plotwise there’s nothing new here—except with cows—and a lot of it doesn’t make sense, but it’s so madcap the sense is it was never meant to in the first place. Just be on the lookout for the jokes, which are sometimes too-far or too-soon but always hilarious.

Big Nate: What’s a Little Noogie Between Friends?
This comic strip is consistent in bringing the funny, and that’s all you can ask. Whether it’s soccer, table football, Star Trek: The Next Generation. . . Nate always finds a way to pull a screw-up from the jaws of victory. You’d think it couldn’t get any worse for him than his crush moving away, but when he ends up at the movies next to his nemesis—and they’re mistaken for a couple!—noogies hardly seem to matter at that point.

Bizenghast Collectors Edition V.1
After a newspaper cutting to set the scene—thank you for that!—the story is told through pencil sketches and grayscale, in which an orphan girl claims ghosts haunt her. Deemed crazy, she escapes her aunt’s house with a boy and they explore a cemetery, finding an underground cathedral-like place that they really should not have entered. From there each chapter takes them on a different mission to help bring peace to ghosts, picking up some snarky advisors along the way.
She might have been a crazy shut-in, but she’s got an amazingly huge wardrobe, while her guardian moans about not having money. She even spouts life lessons such as: “I can do anything with the right outfit.”
That snarky little mask-faced creature easily steals every scene. Communism is bad for your eyes. . . or is that television? He was the most entertaining, with lines like, “Remember we’re parked in level. . . ocean.”
There’s over 500 digital pages and the story’s still not over! Though to be fair the drawings and panels are bigger than most. Toward the end the format changes to a more serialized story, which rapidly becomes confusing.
While the artwork is minimalist, some of the drawings are beautiful. Dinah at one point is wearing a peacock inspired dress that would have been so beautiful in color.
The author included some notes at the end, basically celebrating weirdness; this is not the first time I’ve heard a creator refer to a second version of their work as a “director’s cut.”
To put it succinctly, this was more interesting than I expected.


Book Reviews: Customer Service, Absurdity, Westerns, and Lizards

Tried to remember “Shadowing of Angels” and “Fascist Lizards,” but of course when it mattered it came out “Shadowing of Lizards” and “Fascist Angels.”
Hmmm, I wonder if that last one is a sequel to Paradise Lost. . .

The Best Customer Service Quotes Ever Said
If you thought these would be quotes from people about customer service they’ve received, you’d be wrong. This is about how to give customer service, so the title is a little misleading. And most quote books don’t have such a narrow focus.
A lot of these quotes are by the author himself, but because I’ve read his previous book, which I considered one of the top of last year, it’s worth it. Every once in a while some gem will pop up, sometimes by the last person you’d expect.

Extraordinary Shorts
Very short stories that feel like the author is a Twilight Zone fan but wanted to write five minute episodes rather than half hours. The first one reminds me of the tale of the coat left on the girl’s grave I first heard as a kid, and most followed in that vein. Toward the end there were some stories that forgot to include a punch line. The author sure loves setting her scenes, almost overdoing the descriptions, but maybe because these are for kids there’s no great effort to make the plots anything but bare bones. I expected more.
The scariest part wasn’t the stories, but the pencil artwork, especially the faces.

The United States of Absurdity
From drunk baseball games to Agent Elvis to lobster madmen, here are moments in history that were probably better off left without this light shined on them. Michael Malloy, for example, is a darkly comic version of Rasputin.
But it’s important to remember this isn’t intended as a history book, rather to make the reader laugh. The snark is in full effect; it’s the best part of this. It’s not like these history lessons are important. . .
At times juvenile, but mostly innocent—and not so innocent—fun.

High Noon
Subtitled: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic. That’s an important distinction, lest you make the mistake of assuming this is just a behind-the-scenes of the making of the popular Western film.
It starts with a fantastic bio of Gary Cooper, but then shifts to a long history of American communism during WW2. The Cooper stuff is the best part of the first half; the Red scare hearings drag things down, slow the pace, though once in a while there’s a gem, like the news that Ayn Rand had a big part in this that no one knew about.
There’s an interesting take by one of the lawyers representing someone “asked” to testify: “He would not represent anyone who took the Fifth Amendment, arguing that if they were former Communists, as all of his clients claimed to be, they had not broken any law and therefore did not need the amendment’s protection.” The best job description ever written has to be “the industry expert in frying producers.”
This is a difficult read, both emotionally and. . . reading wise. Thankfully there’s some optimistic moments, such as the part at the end that tells about the movie’s—or at least the poster’s—role in helping Solidarity overcome the Communist government in Poland. Another fun fact is that this movie has the distinction of being the most requested by American presidents. But the most heartwarming has to be the story of detective work that unearthed the original manuscript of the screenplay for The Bridge on the River Kwai, leading the author of High Noon to receive credit for the Oscar-winning work just in the nick of time.
Acknowledgements, notes, and bibliography take up the last 12%.
As can be perceived by my previous comments, the parts about the movie were so much more interesting than the hearings. 4.5 for the movie stuff, 2.5 for hearings, so according to old math that comes out to:

Fascist Lizards from Outer Space
Most likely the best title of any book this year, and not what you think of at first blush. Instead this is about the making of the incredibly popular science-fiction franchise known simply as V, from the original blockbuster to the lackluster reboot.
The first important note is in the intro, where the author states this project evolved from a master’s thesis to a full-fledged book. For the most part that’s hard to tell, but on the other hand it does explain a few niggling problems. For example, it’s stated right away that the original miniseries, of which I remember fondly and was a huge fan, drew more than 40% of the viewing audience, which even in the days before cable is an astounding number. But as awesome as that factoid is, it doesn’t bear repeating four times in the opening quarter of the book, and more times after that. Made me wonder if this was mashed together from several different writings, and not edited.
Another point that’s repeated time and again is the mention of Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, a book that is incredibly relevant to the story as well as today’s America—more on that in a bit—but annoyed me by the fourth mention.
What I learned most about the making of V was the history of its auteur, Kenneth Johnson. Not being a Hollywood insider, I was unfamiliar with his name on anything other than this, so it was with fascination that I read about his work with three other intriguing series: The Bionic Woman, the Incredible Hulk, and Alien Nation. Much is made of his background in classics and literature, like how he equated the Hulk with Jean Valjean from Les Misérables, a “lonely fugitive relentlessly hounded by an obsessed adversary.”
There’s plenty of fun little notes, such as the fact that the original miniseries’ four-note motif represents the letter V in Morse code. And I’m loving some of the alternative stories that never got done. But at the end there’s no more fun, quite the opposite. Maybe this is why this book was written now; there’s a whole section on it, probably originally written as a stand-alone, but this is the basic sum-up: “The violence and discord occurring at Trump’s rallies harkens back to the brutalities committed by Hitler’s Sturmabteilung (also known as “Brownshirts”) during his ascendency to the German chancellery.” And since this is where Johnson got the original idea for the whole story. . .
The last 7% is appendix, book list, episode credits, merchandise, bibliography, and index.


Book Review: This may Be Graphic

“When you’re done decomposing. . . I mean decompressing. . .”
“I’m not a zombie!”

Hugo Broyler
A futuristic “car” race pits father making a comeback after a huge accident against his champion daughter. But of course things are never that easy.
This turned out to be a much more difficult read than I expected. The best part is the snark. “It ain’t the (computer) chips you should be checking, it’s the salsa.” Even better: “You should have stayed retired.” “You should have stayed in your mother’s womb.” Saying that to his daughter. . .
The bad: his arrogance, for starters. Talk about an unsympathetic antihero! Even worse, he’s hearing a voice in his head that can take over his body, and that’s not the last science-fiction twist here.
The second half starts off as a world history that explains how the technologies and racing came into being, followed by profiles of the teams. . . then becomes a complete role-playing game! What? I ended up skipping that, having absolutely no interest. It dropped the score a point, but I wasn’t enjoying it much anyway, despite being a racing fan.

The Damned V. 1
1930s mafia stuff—all black and blue, film noir—except the Don is a cross between a bull and a demon. Other characters are similar, still others are all too human.
After a confusing first scene, things get a little better. The best part is the humor, with lines such as “She found herself a better class of lowlife” and “Ain’t that always the way? Lucky to be alive, better off dead.”
The supposed dream sequence was eerie, but ultimately jut a time suck. Took till the next one for me to figure out what it meant. And damn, the Worm is as ugly as you’d expect. . .
Really, if it wasn’t for the demons and being reborn, this is just a gangster story. . . except for the McGuffin.

Bad Machinery V.1
It’s the first day of high school—I think—at a preppy private school, apparently in England. A group of kids from all levels of wealth—or non-wealth—get along as they try to thwart a Russian billionaire from evicting an old lady to build a new soccer stadium.
Though all of them look dour, except for the overly excited Linton, at the beginning, the main thing here is the sense of humor by most of them. The whole book is actually made up of pretty hilarious moments, even by the teachers, especially the one talking about losing his hair in warlike terms. I particularly like Lottie’s scientific snark, and the blonde gets some good ones about her dad’s music selections. But my fave line had to be “Today might be the start of a troubled adolescence,” as said by the adolescent herself.
The ending, however, was kinda anticlimactic; might have scored higher had it been better.
Ends with 15 pages of extras, including a glossary of British terms—mostly Cockney—and a history of the soccer team in question.

Pink Panther V.1
Subtitled “The cool cat is back!”
In the first of a number of vignettes, the panther in question—at one point called the “blush-colored buffoon”—is coming home from a grocery run and picks up Thor’s Hammer. . . seriously. But his dream of being a superhero is derailed by not knowing how to operate the damned thing, as well as its angry owner coming back to reclaim it.
There are even shorter funny stories in between, like an ant getting an anteater to do his vacuuming. One chapter even takes a turn toward the Gumby in a library. Never be the clown at a spoiled three-year-old’s party. Learn how to impress Hot Redhead Cavegirl. Flyswatters totally work on vampires.
The last 20 pages or so were one-off jokes and sketchbooks.
If these writers wanted to follow the slightly askew and vaguely juvenile humor of the original, mission accomplished.

Generation Zero Volume 1: We Are the Future
As a lot more comics should do, this starts with a character page, though barely a quote on each. The “big bad” only gets a shadow. Once in the story the characters are introduced at a concert and while playing VR games, which also has some plot drops, including the fact that Mexico City is nothing but a crater due to the military playing with supersoldiers.
The action moves to the planned community of Rook, Michigan, derisively called the Redneck Dubai, which made me laugh more than I should probably admit. Couldn’t help but think that the drawing of the town showed what a dangerous place it was to put an airport, especially with that giant bridge nearby. Anyhoo, the daughter of the local sheriff calls the now-free and freelancing supersoldiers for help when she thinks her boyfriend is killed in this supposedly perfect town.
As with many graphic novels nowadays, the story takes second fiddle to the humor. Some of my fave lines:
“They’re deader than disco.”
“Weaponized geometry!”
“On the one hand, my personal integrity. On the other. . . free beer.”
“Fungible.” “Oooh, good SAT word.”
“I’m Jane Austen’s wet dream.”
About a superhero that can read minds: “The inside of her head is one infinite YouTube comments page.”
At one point they’re suddenly inside an Archie’s comic, though in the end I was fine with that. Felt the same way about the artwork: fine, no big deal. Basically there’s so much funny in here you almost don’t care about the plot; I was simply looking for the next awesome joke.


Book Reviews: It’s All Graphic

The times when I have been most happy are when I’m in a new place, find a spot to stand, and simply look around, no doubt smiling goofily.

Ghoul Scouts: Night of the Unliving Undead
As the title implies, scouts are attacked by zombies. Five survive, armed with baseball bats, frying pans, slingshots, and a potato gun. A little hilarity and a lot of fright ensues.
When it comes down to it, it’s a funny bit of fluff without anything meaningful to it, so as far as entertaining pre-teens or so, it works, even though the ending was too a bit of a cop-out. I just want to know how these zombies found the intelligence and patience to climb into a suit of armor and then wait to spring the ambush!
After the first few chapters there’s some sketches, and there’s a “making of” little documentary toward the end.

Lords of the Jungle
Sheena and Tarzan, despite the different time periods, team up to fight environmental abuse. Sheena magically travels from the Amazon to Africa, where there’s a similar problem with exploitation, but must take a ship to London like a mortal when she’d trying to get Tarzan involved. She even joins the circus.
There’s a few major problems with this treatment of the legends. For one thing, it looks completely ridiculous to have Sheena talking out loud while she’s fighting. But the biggest complaint I have with this. . . I get that a woman wrote this and doesn’t want this to be a focus, but the fact no man, particularly the bad guys, even mentions the fact she’s a gorgeous blonde scantily clad in a few scraps of leopard skin is unbelievable, and so unrealistic it’s a huge distraction. And by the way, she’s actually more attractive in shorts and shirt. More than anything, though, there’s far too much talk. Not that there isn’t action, but the exposition is shoved down the reader’s throat.
I did like the twist that had them traveling to yet another time frame. “The future is. . . not very clean.” But the sad fact is this could have and should have been better.

Miraculous: Origins
Apparently based on an animated TV show I’ve never heard of, the story follows some ancient powerful jewelry—which look like they could be bought at a thrift store—that hold the key to world domination, or something like that. One of them is captured by an evil villain, and he forces it to help him find the others.
Rather than conventional artwork this is more the 3D digital type, with the characters placed on realistic-looking backgrounds. Sometimes it works; the girl, for example, looks cute despite the purple hair. When she does a faceplant it looks realistic and completely hilarious. She’s gotta be the superhero that giggles the most. Oddly enough, she reminds me of Lindsey Sterling’s avatar in the “We Are Giants” video, and the guy has the same pose as the blonde kid at one point. You’d need to watch it to know what I’m talking about, but it’s either an eerie coincidence or a homage.
Some parts of the story are not very original, like having a blonde alpha bitch at school, and a redheaded teacher named Miss Bustier. In the outdoor scenes there’s so many background items and events that tell you this is Europe, more specifically France, especially the car designs.
Most of the jokes are silly, but once in a while a real gem comes out. But c’mon, guns that go “Pew!” are not going to work on a stone monster. (And that reminds me of another moment from the aforementioned video, with the flying tomato. . .)

Zoe Dare vs The Disasteroid
This semi sci-fi story features a stuntwoman rounded up by the government to halt an asteroid from crashing and destroying the planet, though of course they’re wrong about what it really is.
After a brief teaser on how she’s trying to save the world, it’s back in time to her on her motorcycle, doing a big-time aerial trick in Vegas. This is done so the reader will know her sister is her ground control, and Dad did stunts too. Eventually the story goes back to where it was at the beginning, with her flying off world with her most hated enemy to stop the “Disasteroid,” the naming of which is the funniest part of the story.
There’s one robot who only speaks in social media, saying things like, “LOL, hashtag irony,” “Hashtag WordsHurt,” and “Hashtag ImOverIt.” The bad guy is basically an alien version of The Joker.
But my problem with this is Zoe, the protagonist, who simply did too many stupid things for her to be likeable. Can’t help but think if the genius sister had been in charge this would have been more fun, and over a lot quicker. Another problem is that no matter the most gruesome of injuries, everyone survives again and again!
At the end of first issue there’s character sketches, both literal and literary, which were pretty helpful.


Book Reviews: Mrs. Einstein, Big Nate, and Camels

“Dude, I’m over you!” she sneered.
“Yeah, last night you were all over me!”
I’m so witty. . .

The Other Einstein
A fictionalized autobiography of Einstein’s first wife.
The intro states, “Readers may be curious as to precisely how much of the book is truth and how much is speculation.” Uh, yeah! Having to keep reminding myself this was fiction was the main stumbling block to reading this, especially since from the beginning Albert seemed charming but self-centered. He obviously admired Mitza for her brain, and mistook it for love. And while he was a product of his times—he might have been on her side as far as attending university, but only to help himself—he seemed even more so than most. Maybe it’s fiction, but Albert comes off as a complete ass. And yes, despite this being a story about her, everything happens either in his presence or his shadow, so that it sounds like it’s all about him.
There were some funny moments, the best being when his mother accused her of getting pregnant to trap him. As her father said, “Who would want to trap an unemployed physicist?” But then there’s all the times he’s horrible to her and she rationalizes it; even with her brilliant scientific mind, she went against her instincts and fell for his charms. The fact that she kept forgiving him and buying his words is painful. I doubt the term “enabling” was in use back then, but come on, she really should have seen it all coming.
As stated above, the worst part is knowing what’s real, or more likely what isn’t. For instance, no one knows what happened to their first child. Here it says she died of scarlet fever. Even bigger, it’s stated she’s the one who comes up with the theory of relativity, when thinking about that dead child.
What was no doubt intended to be a joyful revelation of an extraordinary woman forgotten by history turned into something a lot more depressing.
Wonder if she actually ever met Curie. . .

Epic Big Nate
A massive best of, chronologically. Had no idea this strip had been around so long.
It starts with a long intro, deep into how comics get sold. This continues throughout the book, as every once in a while you get a small note from the author, like how he finds Sundays more difficult. Considering how hard it must have been to condense twenty-five years of daily jokes, it’s not surprising most of these entries are one-off, though every now and then a larger plot sneaks in, like how mold forces them to go to their rival school, then have to play a soccer match against them. As a former goalie, it was easier to understand the jokes, especially in the penalty phase.
Some of the highlights:
A little girl dresses as a witch, only to have daddy tell her to choose a more positive character. . . so she goes with devil. Perfect.
“Who did invent the high-five?” Exactly. . .
“You totally ‘Nated’ it!”
Never expected Nate, of all imaginary people, to say “Scoreboard!” but on this occasion you can’t blame him.
The gerbil was the smartest character.
There’s a pretty long Q&A; the first part is almost embarrassingly fawning.

Shadows of the Stone Benders
The plot starts with the death of an old professor killed while hiking, but the reader isn’t told how. The professor knows, though, and as a hook it’s actually pretty good. From there his rich inquisitive nephew and his semi-girlfriend try to find out what happened, and fall into a story too big and fantastical to believe.
There’s some good stuff here. I enjoyed the mythology without feeling any need to believe it. Both Jen and Pebbles were well-written; together they’d make the most amazing woman ever. I just wish the leads, who’d been so smart up to then, hadn’t turned stupid to service the climax.
Early on I was liking the descriptions, but as the book wore on they became tiring, overdoing how the women are dressed in particular; I really didn’t need to know what Pebbles was wearing every time she changed. Worse, there’s lots of signs that this is an early work, possibly even a first, without much outside input. The use of unnecessary verbs is the largest indicator, along with the descriptions. At one point the author used parentheses to hammer his point, in case we simpletons didn’t get it. Please don’t insult your reader’s intelligence, especially if you’re expecting them to keep up with the premise of your otherwise intelligent story.
This one really bugged me: “Ruefully, Pebbles cast a last forlorn look at the lonely uneaten doughnut still staring up at her from the plate and followed Anlon to the cash register and then out the diner door.” So take it with you!
But for what’s obviously a first time writer there’s a lot to like here. Great imagination, plotting, sense of humor. He should get better the more he writes.
3.5/5 (Would have been a straight 4 if not for the dumb ending.)

A Jerk, A Jihad, and A Virus
A terrorist plot to manufacture a biological weapon is opposed by stalwart Americans of various professions and the bad guy’s own ineptitude.
Before halfway I was already saying the plot was convoluted, which in the end wasn’t needed. It was a long way to go for such a tiny climax. . . so to speak.
This author’s best feature is his humor, from university office politics to a camel spitting in the bad guy’s face, as we would have all liked to do. The characters are all well drawn, each with their individual foibles that often inspire outright laughter. In the first half my favorite character was Ann, until she went all silly on Jason for something she knew wasn’t his fault. “Sue and Ann decided you should apologize for not telling Ann you didn’t know what she was talking about.” Just like that I couldn’t stand her anymore, regardless of the “all women do it” premise. Worst of all, it had nothing to do with the story. In the same vein, all the science explanations were confusing and completely unnecessary, the writer giving in to the urge of showing off.
I tried really hard not to compare this to the author’s previous novel, which I enjoyed a lot, but found I couldn’t help it. I have to say this was not as good as the first one.
And definitely not enough camel.