Book Review: The Odyssey (Hinds)

December 27, 2010

*ARC Alert*

The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds (based on the epic by Homer) was published October 12th, 2010 by Candlewick Press (hard- or softcover, full-color, $14.99 soft, 256 pages).

No surprises that this one is up for a Cybil–actually, there are two Odyssey retellings on the nominations list, but the other one isn’t as pretty.  And oh, this book is pretty.  I’m fairly sure that Hinds does his art digitally, but it looks like watercolor and he handles it well.  His linework is expressive, his colors set a great mood, and his pacing lays the story out quite nicely.  His text adaptation is modern enough to make comprehension easy, but retains the resonance and power of its mythic origins, and besides that he does a great deal to humanize the characters through dialogue–Penelope, especially, is given more emotional screen time than in other translations I’ve read.

Because of Hinds’ page count and some gore, I’d recommend the other Odyssey graphic novel for younger readers.  This one, however, is great for reluctant teens; in my experience the old stories are among the most accessible, and graphic interpretation and contemporary writing make them more appealing still.

 

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Book Review: Girl Genius Volume 9: Agatha Heterodyne and The Heirs of the Storm (Foglio, Foglio)

December 27, 2010

*ARC Alert*

Girl Genius Volume 9: Agatha Heterodyne and The Heirs of the Storm by Phil and Kaja Foglio was released July 13th, 2010 by Airship Entertainment (hard- or softcover, full-color, $22.95 soft, 144 pages).

I squealed when I got this book in the mail.  Girl Genius has been a favorite of mine for years–I usually read it, as you can, thrice weekly at the comic’s website.  This is less expensive than buying the books, but you miss out on all sorts of extra goodies like giant bathtub snails.  And book-versions of webcomics make great gifts for our less-savvy loved ones.

But Ray, you say, what is Girl Genius actually about?  Ho!  I am so glad you asked.  The cover should probably have tipped you off, but this is steampunk at its best.  The slogan of the series is “Adventure!  Romance!  Mad science!” and it lives up to that, but I would also add “Hilarity!  Irreverence!  Tiny robot civil wars!”  Seriously, guys, this stuff is… genius.  They say that there is nothing new under the literary sun, but you have never seen anything like this.  Down to the tiniest details of the art and dialogue, it’s off-the-wall fun of the type that won the series the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story in 2008.  Cheers, Professor and Professoressa Foglio–five years and counting, with hopes of many more to come.

Just as a last note, this is, of course, the ninth book in the series.  All of the comics are archived by the authors on their site, and can be read there free of charge as I mentioned earlier.  You can start with this volume if you like, but despite continuing the GG tradition of excellence, it won’t make much sense on its own.


Book Review: The Night Owls (Timony, Timony)

December 17, 2010

*ARC Alert*

The Night Owls by Peter and Bobby Timony was released March 30, 2010 by Zuda Comics (softcover, black and white, $14.99, 192 pages).

A nerdy supernatural detective, a flapper with a mean right hook, and an ever-hungry gargoyle?  Yes, please! The Night Owls combines the tried-and-true aspects of the detective genre with Prohibition-era America, flirty comedy, and light-but-satisfying violence (great taste, less filling!).  Add simple, elegant grayscale art and an original cast of baddies and you end up with a great read for middle-grades and up.  The book ends on a rather sizable cliffhanger, and I’m praying for a second volume.


Book Review: Amulet, Book Three: The Cloud Searchers (Kibuishi)

December 17, 2010

*ARC Alert*

Amulet: The Cloud Searchers (Book 3) by Kazu Kibuishi was released September 1st, 2010 by Scholastic GRAPHIX’ press (softcover, full-color, $10.99, 208 pages).

If you read graphic novels, you’ve probably heard of Kazu Kibuishi–he’s the guy who created Flight (now in its seventh volume and up for a Cybil this year), and he has two books of his own up in the Cybils running as well–Copper, a collection of webcomics about a boy and his dog, and this third volume of Kibuishi’s popular Amulet series.

To start, I would recommend going back and reading the first two books before picking this one up; I tried to get into it as a stand-alone and had very little idea of what was going on (but it’s well worth it to do the extra reading). This volume deepens the story of the elf king’s sinister rule and takes the focus of the adventure to a larger scale than just Emily and Navin’s family.  Moral complexity is also introduced to the adventure, and this measure of uncertainty in the mission serves to deepen the characters and create suspense for the next volume. Kibuishi’s settings are the most beautifully illustrated part of the book, as usual, but don’t distract from the characters, who are illustrated with greater subtlety than in previous books to suit their new depths. Overall, the series continues to improve with each new book. I look forward to the next one.


Book Review: The Action Bible (Cariello, Mauss)

November 21, 2010

*ARC Alert*

The Action Bible by Doug Mauss and Sergio Cariello was released on September 1st, 2010 by David Cook Press. (Hardcover, full-color, $24.99, 752 pages).

 

Disappointment.  I’ll lay that out right there for you so that you’re aware of my position on this book from the start. I was disappointed, even angry, with this book. That is not a judgment on the Bible in general; that’s an issue I won’t touch in this blog post. But this specific edition hasn’t won my approval.

First and most immediately annoying to me is the fact that this revolutionary new edition is hardly so.  The idea of the Bible as a graphic novel was, I thought, a brilliant one– until I discovered that there’s nothing particularly new about it.  Doug Mauss, the editor, is evidently no scholar of the holy text.  The stories herein might as well be presented word-for-word as I heard them in Sunday school.  They stick to the familiar plot points and concepts.  They do not present an understanding of moral grey areas. I left the faith when I was ten, and did not learn any new stories in reading this book.  The Apocrypha, which would have been interesting, are inevitably left out.  And the “Bible figures as action heroes” premise falls flat because no one has powers, or any sort of singular trait at all.  All of the good guys do their good by the grace and for the glory of God. The male bad guys are presented as weak-willed, greedy and stupid; the female ones are conniving temptresses.  And most of the Old Testament seems to be that every thirty years or so, the Israelites (they’re not called Jews here, because Jews aren’t Christians) forget the true God and are warned by prophets, then duly punished. Lather, rinse, repeat.

But let’s talk about something I can give good news about. The art!  It’s quite impressive– 744 pages of full-color illustration. Beautifully expressive figures and facial expressions, good pacing that matches the dialogue.  But oh, oh no, what’s this? Something seems off.

It bugged me for about a fifty pages before I realized what it was. Mr. Cariello, I don’t mean to call into question your interpretation of your own holy text, but there are a few things. Actually a lot of things, actually a lot of people. Adam, Eve, Abel (not Cain), Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Samson, David (not Goliath)… Mr. Cariello, all of these people, these heroes, are white.  Living in Egypt, Persia, Babylon, they are white. And their enemies are not.

I admit that most of the people listed above are given facial features that imply Jewish heritage.  But they’re also paler, and tend to have lighter hair, than any one of the unbelievers (or, as luck would have it, any of the women).  All of the angels are not only white, but tall, blonde and blue-eyed. Jesus, conceived in Nazareth, then a part of Egypt, is white as well.

Now, Bible figures are traditionally depicted, at least in our culture, as white. But one would think that with 744 pages to think about it, 744 pages otherwise filled with Middle Eastern-ish people, that it would occur to Sergio Cariello that the Bible’s heroes were ordinary men elevated by God, and as such would have been born ordinary. From the same gene pool as all of those around them. In the one case where that doesn’t hold true… well, Jesus was the son of God. I guess God is so absolutely white that it cancels out Mary’s half of the equation.

I’ll say it again–disappointment.  The Action Bible carries many faults, even considering that I tended to forgive the ones transmitted directly from its source material.  It’s useful as an introduction to the major stories of the Bible, but impressionable minds– like say the children this book is aimed at– will pick up a number of unsavory ideas in the reading of it.


The Massive Comics Feature

May 31, 2010

It has come to my attention that I have a bunch of drafts for posts about comics series sitting around cluttering up my to-do box. Thusly, I have decided to combine them into one massive post which will feature all of my favorites briefly and will probably end up being longer than my ridiculously long post about The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.

Mmm, cheesecake.

My secret shame first– Witchblade. Top Cow’s flagship series has been running since 1995 and is one of those series which features a main character who is an impossibly thin, hot woman who, in addition to being liberated and independent, spends an improbable amount of time near-naked. The plot is nothing special, a great concept confusingly carried out with the occasional added complaint of redundancy. It’s something you read and like despite knowing that you shouldn’t, like Twilight (okay, well, let’s not get crazy; it isn’t that bad). There’s a little bit of police procedural, a little bit of history of the Witchblade, a lot of conspiracy, a ton of irrational mood swings on the part of Sara Pezzini, the lead… and a lot of Sara being naked and having the Witchblade (barely) cover her moneymaking parts for her. Way to stay classy, Top Cow.

After shelling out sixty bucks for the compendium of the first fifty issues, I can tell you that nowhere in there does Sara get any real answers about what the Witchblade is or what it wants. Every time she seems to gain a modicum of control over her sentient weapon, that disappears a few pages later with no explanation. And whenever she kills a bad guy they seem to come back to life with no explanation somewhere down the line. Oh yes, and every couple of issues there will

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Book Review: Crécy (Ellis, Caceres)

February 19, 2010

No, that most definitely isn't a peace sign.

“…hundreds of years from now, no-one’s going to understand. No-one will understand how much of their modern warfare comes from this night and this field.”

Warren Ellis, my good sir, you are right. Because before picking up this gem of a historical graphic nonfiction, I had never heard of Crécy. But I have now. Oh, have I now.

This book is unforgettable. It is the most enthralling account of any piece of history that I have ever read. It is crude, disillusioning, and not peppered but liberally salted with all manner of offensive language. You will not believe in chivalry after reading this book. It is pretty funny, though.

Charming.

We are taken through our journey in learning about this most definitive battle by a longbowman peasant by the name of William of Stonham. He is “a complete bloody xenophobe” with a mouth so foul it would put “I’m On A Boat” to shame. He isn’t a nice man, and you won’t fall in love with him like you sometimes do with characters. In his

own filthy, perverse way, though, he’s… charming.

Primarily, Crécy examines exactly how the British underdogs were able to invade France, carve up the countryside for a while, and then take a stand at Crécy and absolutely massacre the French army in August of 1346. And I am not exaggerating when I use the word massacre. The figures our good William presents us with in the last few pages are jaw-dropping. It’s a rather incredible picture that is painted for us.

So if you can handle the distinct “M” rating, I would definitely recommend this, whether or not you like history. Four stars.