Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Mixed feelings: Comixology subscription service

Recently Comixology announced that they would be adding a subscription service, Comixology Unlimited. This isn't anything absurdly abnormal and subscription services for digital comics are actually fairly common. My Facebook feed is usually cluttered with offers for various manga subscription services and I know that Marvel has already launched their own subscription service, Marvel Unlimited. (On a side note DC and Marvel's comics are not part of this service.)

Part of me is always leery, however, of this sort of thing. You don't really "own" digital comics since the publisher can always yank them whenever they want and copies tend to only restored to buyers (or they're given a refund) once the media catches wind of things. A rental service (since that's essentially what this is) gives us even less control over things. There's also the obvious bit about digital copies not living up to paper, but that's sort of a given.

Still, the idea of being able to try various comics is fairly enticing - especially since comics (digital or paper) are pretty expensive. It's always a bit of a crapshoot when it comes to picking out new things. Sometimes you can rest a little easy if you're familiar with the author, but even that's no guarantee of enjoyment.

I do wish that there was a way to know exactly what comics are available under this service. We're given a list of some of the publishers, but not really any way to verify which ones will be offered as not every digital comic will be available under this service.

EDIT:

It looks like you can tell which ones are offered by checking a little box at the top of the search function and when you search through genres there's a little bar across the book that says "unlimited".

So far the selections aren't really making my heart race since they're just the first 1-2 volumes of various series, some of which are already fairly long running. It's not a terrible way to get into a series, but it will prove to be frustrating for people who cannot afford to purchase digital volumes at $8-10 a pop.

RIP Jo Beverly

I just read on Dear Author that Jo Beverly, a popular author of historical fiction. Beverly had been fighting cancer for years and it had been thought to be in remission until only recently, when it was discovered that it'd returned.

When I was working at a local chain bookstore I remember her books being fairly popular and there were many who looked for her works specifically, especially the Malloren books.

Rest in Peace, Jo Beverly. You will be missed.

Chapter review: The Long Drop by Denise Mina


Title: The Long Drop
Author: Denise Mina
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release Date: April 1, 2017
ISBN: 0316380571


I was kind of excited when I saw this on Netgalley. Granted it's only a one chapter preview, but it's a literary novel about a crime that actually happened. I always maintain that the scariest stores are the ones that about real life events where we can't laugh the monsters away as a Jason-esque figment of an overactive imagination. Deep down we know that they aren't real. It's what makes books like The Devil in the White City so chilling, as we cannot deny the existence of serial killers like H. H. Holmes.

The "trial of the century" in 1950's Glasgow is over. Peter Manuel has been found guilty of a string of murders and is waiting to die by hanging. But every good crime story has a beginning. Manuel's starts with the murder of William Watt's family. Looking no further that Watt himself, the police are convinced he's guilty. Desperate to clear his name, Watt turns to Manuel, a career criminal who claims to have information that will finger the real killer. As Watt seeks justice with the cagey Manuel's help, everyone the pair meets has blood on their hands as they sell their version of the truth. THE LONG DROP is an explosive novel about guilt, innocence and the power of a good story to hide the difference.

 A disclaimer is needed here: this review is based solely on the first chapter of the book and I also was unaware that Peter Manuel existed prior to reading this chapter. The latter will likely work in my favor slightly, since it's always more entertaining when you discover true crimes via books or other entertainment media. (Within reason, of course. Some of those Hollywood flicks will occasionally distort the truth to the point where the entire thing might as well be fiction.) 

When I went into this I was expecting this chapter to open more along the lines of The Devil in the White City, where we're given a nice little info dump about the time period and the basic plot of the book. We get this to a certain extent, but for the most part we're left to figure things out on our own. This wouldn't be an issue except for the fact that two of the chapter's central figures (Manuel and Watt) start a conversation by shouting at one another across a table in a manner that was frankly quite disorienting. I'm not sure if this is intentional or not, since I only have the first chapter to go by - if it's intentional then it's well done, but if not then it makes me a little leery about the rest of the book. 

Still, the idea of a handsome, charismatic serial killer is one that intrigues and horrifies, as it's all too easy to picture serial killers as creepy, ugly, or anything other than ordinary or handsome looking. It's those murderers that always sink beneath our skins the quickest since they're not just a boogeyman (or boogeylady), they're an anti-NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) and proof that terrible things can happen anywhere and to anyone. Despite being a little disoriented, Mina does a decent job of setting Manuel as a creepy individual whose physical appearance belies his inner, monstrous personality. 

Rating: N/A, since it's just a chapter

(Chapter ARC provided by Netgalley)


Monday, May 16, 2016

Review: Wandering Star by Teri S. Wood


Title: Wandering Star
Author: Teri S. Wood
Publisher: Dover Publications
Release Date: June 15, 2016
ISBN: 0486801624


As someone who grew up loving indie comics mainstays like ElfQuest and Sandman, I'm honestly surprised that I didn't discover Wandering Star until now, so many years later. It's entirely the type of thing that I would've been into as a teenager, with its moody but strong main character Cassandra and its plethora of other interesting characters. Odds are I would've shipped some of the characters together, regardless of their expressed interest in one another. (Shipping is odd like that.)

This much-praised space drama follows the far-flung adventures of Casandra, daughter of the President of the United Nations and the first terran accepted into the Galactic Academy. Casandra discovers to her woe that Earth isn't the most popular of planets and joins the outcasts working on the Wandering Star, the Alliance's prototypical spaceship. When the Bono Kiro, the Alliance's longtime enemy, makes a sudden reappearance, Casandra and her misfit crew just might turn out to be the galaxy's last hope. 

This is an incredibly ambitious series and I'd be lying if I said that at times it was a little frustrating, given that the overall universe and its stories are so much larger than what we're shown here. To use a modern equivalent, it'd be like if Saga had only covered Hazel's birth rather than its current sweeping goals. It could very easily be expanded upon and Wood has expressed interest in creating a webcomic, which I think would work fairly well nowadays.

The artwork here is well done and has a fresh style that helps showcase the characters' feelings and drives. Characters are equally well designed and I'd have to say that one of my favorites had to have been Mek, who first appears in the comics as a fervently anti-Earth student of the Galactic Academy. To say that he undergoes a lot of changes and problems throughout the series would be an understatement. What's most interesting about this series, however, is how much it applies to today's societies. Prejudice and war are sadly still very much a part of today's world and I think that many will be able to sympathize with Cassandra's plight.

Ultimately this is a series that has gotten far less attention than what it deserves and hopefully Dover's release will help rectify that at least in part. It's one heck of a story and one that would work well as a feature film.

5/5 stars

(ARC provided by Netgalley)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Review: Court of the Dead by Corrina Bechko, Landry Q. Walker


Title: Court of the Dead: The Chronicle of the Underworld
Authors: Corrina Bechko, Landry Q. Walker
Publisher: Insight Editions
ISBN: 1608874842
Release date: May 17, 2016

When I first began reading this book I was sure that this was a companion piece to an RPG game, where they give more description so players can flesh out their gaming experience. A little reconnaissance shows that while there's no game, there is a line of figures by Sideshow Collectibles and apparently this book is a tie-in. This explains quite a bit, since I kept feeling like the book was a part of something else and not something on its own. 


The book has a few things to offer readers, namely its mythology and artwork. The writing here is interesting enough and for what it is (a guidebook to the Underworld and its occupants) it's pretty well detailed. If you did want to use this as the base for a RPG, you wouldn't be disappointed since all of the basics are covered. Readers are given just enough to know what's going on, although I'll say that the best portions come when the creepy court jester Malavestros inserts his own opinions and reflections that frequently contradict the narrator, an official Underworld historian. 


Where the book shines is in its artwork and I'd wager that this will likely be the most popular aspect of Court of the Dead for most readers. It was certainly my favorite aspect, as the pictures are just lavishly done and beautiful enough that I'd say that if you're looking into getting this, I'd recommend the print version. (Assuming that there will even be an e-book edition.) This was gorgeous in my e-book ARC, but I know that it won't hold a candle to the larger print copy. 

4/5 stars

(ARC provided by Netgalley)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Review: Paper Girls Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan



Title: Paper Girls Volume 1
Release Date: April 5, 2016
Publisher: Image Comics
ISBN: 1632156741

I hadn't heard about Paper Girls until fairly recently and I have to say that it's one of those comics that isn't getting the attention it should, despite it being written by Brian K. Vaughan of Saga fame. It's one of those comics that has a great plot, interesting characters, and a central mystery that kept me reading throughout the entire first volume. 

The series's premise is set in 1980s America and centers around a group of 12-year-old girls, all of whom work as newspaper deliverers. We're introduced to the girls by Erin, who has just started her route and is invited to join the other three girls after they rescue her from being harassed by a group of older boys intent on causing mischief. From there they end up getting involved with some strange looking aliens and end up finding that their entire town has disappeared. 

We're given a little bit of explanation here and there as to what's going on and the nature of the aliens is explained by the end of the first volume, however we're left with far more questions than answers. Just enough information is imparted to keep it from getting too frustrating, which only makes things far more interesting. I have to say that even after zipping through the first volume I'm still not sure what's going on, although I keep wondering if it's a similar situation to Stephen King's Langoliers. 


Art-wise, this is great and throughout it I kept thinking that the character design reminded me very slightly of Frank Miller's art style in The Dark Knight Returns. In particular, the character design for Mac reminds me heavily of the character Carrie Kelly, Miller's Robin. It's not super strong, but it's enough to where I wonder if Miller's Carrie was a bit of an influence on Mac's character or design. 



Character-wise, Vaughan and all did a good job. There are a few moments where the characters are a bit jumpy in how they're established, where their emotions don't really come across as strong as they should. A key example of this would be a scene in Mac's home between herself and a family member, where an emotional moment just doesn't feel as solid as it should, given that they were somewhat antagonistic towards each other only a page or so earlier. It's not so bad that it stands in the way of the story, but we know that Vaughan is capable of so much more. 

Overall this was a fun read and Paper Girls is something I can easily see myself purchasing and re-reading in the future. It's just a little surprising that I hadn't heard of this until I saw it on Netgalley, especially given that it's being written by someone involved with one of the most popular indie series currently running. Hopefully this will be rectified at some point in the future. 

4/5 stars

(ARC provided by Netgalley)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Review: The Fun Family by Benjamin Frisch





Beloved cartoonist Robert Fun has earned a devoted following for his circular daily comic strip, celebrating the wholesome American family by drawing inspiration from his real home life... but the Fun Family bears some dark secrets. As their idyllic world collapses and the kids are forced to pick up the pieces, will their family circle become a broken mirror, or a portal to a nightmare world? In his debut graphic novel, Benjamin Frisch presents a surreal deconstruction of childhood, adulthood, and good old American obsession.

I'll be straight up honest with you from the get go. I really didn't like this work. There's a lot going on here and at times I really felt that Frisch was just trying a little too hard to bring in various different themes and deconstruct not only the long running and beloved daily comic The Family Circus, but various American ideas, ideals, and thought processes. There may be some minor spoilers in this here and there, so fair warning.

That said, I do have to say that Frisch has certainly done a good job of capturing some of the most prevalent habits of modern day humanity and showcasing how ludicrous those habits can become. Psychology and religion are two common opiates of the masses and while it'd be initially easy to assume that Frisch is ridiculing them because they exist, this isn't what he's doing here. What Frisch is doing, or at least what I thought he was doing, was showing how utterly dependent people are on either practice, following them so obediently that they rarely question or challenge whether or not they're acting in ways that is ultimately healthy for either themselves or the people around them. The only person who really challenges these ideals is the eldest son Robby, as he tries to find a way to maintain the status quo even as those around him dismiss him for his actions.

Now before you go and start to think that Robby represents the rational mind in this work, you need to understand that Robby is also representative of an unhealthy line of thought himself. Part of the reason why everyone in the book launched into their own particular, frequently dysfunctional methods of finding self-enlightenment and happiness is because the status quo wasn't working for them. They were unhappy because they were in this unchanging world and ultimately what Robby is asking for is for them to return to that life. The only problem is that once the dam opens up and the flooding starts it's pretty much impossible to return to the way things once were, especially when the one trying to restore the prior pecking order is not the person who created said order. Still, it's hard not to share in Robby's frustration when he tries so hard to achieve success and for a brief moment gets it, only for that success to falter and leave. It's especially easy to empathize when Robby sees everyone around him seemingly become happy despite their methods having aspects that are just as toxic as the lifestyle they all left behind.

I really think that this book would have greatly benefited from being far shorter than it was, but I can't help but wonder if the book's length was a deliberate nod towards the longevity of comics like The Family Circus where its never aging cast goes through the same actions again and again. If it was then that's sort of clever but it still didn't do much for me as a reader and at times I just really wanted things to wrap up. If I'd picked this up in a bookstore I'd have put this back unfinished, but as a reviewer I figured that I'd keep going.

Now something to take in mind here is that opinions on work like this are highly, highly subjective. Surreal comics of this type rarely achieve mainstream popularity, so I can't entirely dismiss this offhand. I didn't like it, but I do admire how darn ambitious Frisch was with this work. The artwork is well done in that it doesn't fit well with the story's feel, which produces a jarring effect that's actually one of the things I liked about the piece. The whole wrongness of it was just interesting.

So do I recommend this? Eh... I'm not sure. I disliked the work but as you can tell it clearly made me think, so I kind of have to recommend this as one of those "make you think" type of deals. The reviews for this work are likely to be predominantly negative, but if this work doesn't develop a cult following I'm going to be very surprised.

Edit:

I'm not going to push this up another star since I didn't get three stars of enjoyment out of it, but I do have to say that I have kept thinking about Fun Family days afterwards. When I describe it to people I do say that I didn't particularly like it, but I have to say that I didn't actually hate it either. I'd actually go so far as to say that I might actually flip through this again at some point in the future if I saw it at my library. I wouldn't own it, but I'd read at least part of it again.


2/5 stars

(ARC provided by Netgalley)