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Key: (R) = Re-Read, (B) = Read To Wife At Bedtime, No Author = Comic
- Saga, Vol. 1 (R)
UNLIKE MOST THINGS THAT I DO, which usually have one reason and that reason is usually ‘for fun’, I started my re-read of Saga for two reasons:
1. The new volume came out in This Here Very Same Month after a four-year hiatus and I wanted and needed a refresher
2. My pal Autumn and I tried a comics-readthrough podcast project (not unlike the Percy Jackson show I do with my tallest pal, William, and my sciencemost pal, Isaac), which sadly never took off, (we can only offer conjecture of course, but the name I proposed for it, Comic Stans, may have been a factor) and this would’ve been the inaugural selection.
Saga is the science-fantasy story of a married couple on the run, because both of their people want them–and their baby–dead. This is where we meet Alana, Marko, Hazel, Prince Robot, and the bounty hunter known only as The Will (and also his sidekick, Lying Cat, who is awesome). Why do their planets want all of them dead? Is there a limit to what a bounty hunter will do in fulfillment of a contract? Is Alana, in fact, shitting? Come find out! Because Saga is more than a decade old now and parts of it for-sure do not hold up, but it is still extremely readable and well worth reading. Comics are like any other medium, in that they have no essential qualities and only take the forms their creators give them, but generally speaking the market does not reward or encourage comics to be terribly subtle, which is one of the reasons Saga is so fucking good: it’s a thoughtful, nuanced take on war and love and parenting and violence where, like in Game Of Thrones (or, if you’re an ACTUAL grimdark low-fantasy cool kid, The First Law) the story and its conflicts are made stronger by the fact that everyone, even the ‘bad guys’, have understandable, relatable positions and motivations. Also? There’s fuckin’ magic and a spaceship that’s a living tree and Esperanto and half the cast are just cool animal-people trying to live their lives in a war they didn’t ask to come to their planets.
Whether you like it or not (spoiler for a pilot that will never air: I liked it, Autumn did not), one thing any honest critic is forced to admit is that Saga is one of the best-made, smartest versions of the kind of thing it is; the art is gorgeous, the pacing is flawless, the writing is extremely realistic and fun (albeit in a Whedoney kind of way), and there’s a cat who calls bullshit on people when they try to lie in front of her, just go check it out, it rules.
- World End Solte, Vol. 1
If I can be forgiven for not knowing entirely of what I speak, WES feels like some CLASSIC-ass Magical Girl manga that just happens to take place in a post-arcano-pocalyptic scenario, and while they’re not two tastes I would’ve thought to combine in my wildest CBD-gummy fever dream, they go surprisingly well together. The premise, she is a simple one! There was a Magic War, which is now over, leaving much of the world scarred by magical pollution, and Solte and her pals want to explore it and see what weird bullshit lies on the other side.
We’re introduced to Solte in some grim circumstances, as she strives to escape a life of slavery in a reasonably-mundane world that has some fantastic elements (think early Dragon Ball and similar), but once she gets out of Starter Town shit starts to get weird as it turns out that ‘magical pollution’ refers to a zone where the sun is a big evil smiley face and pumpkins walking around on their vines try to violently befriend you as you hop from giant mushroom to giant mushroom, wielding a lollipop-mace that a wee sprite just gave you along with a hat that looks like a macaron. Turns out THIS is what ‘magic war’ meant: Walt Disney Presents Violation Of The Geneva Convention. FORTUNATELY, she’s also got an unkillable swordsman companion who really wants to see how much lifting ‘unkillable’ is doing in his character description, and now she’s got a faerie companion too! Yay???
The tone of the world and story is an exercise in the potential energy to be found in contrast and conflict: ordinarily “faerie who turns heroine into a candy-based superhero” would be a hard pass for me, not because I have anything against whimsy but because I can’t engage with a world where one of the core threads in the tapestry of the universe is “super sugar faerie heart magic”, but the over-the-top ridiculousness is intentionally played to the hilt and is deeply disturbing in the context of a world that has no frame of reference for these things and sees them only as the radiation-poisoning of a world-ending war. It’s not grim, twisted faerie-tale bullshit–for how I feel about that you can go read my reviews of Fables–it just asks the completely reasonable question “what would a low-fantasy character think if they walked into a Sailor Moon/My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic/Adventure Time crossover without knowing the rules?”
Fortunately for us we don’t stay in the magic-zone the whole volume–it’s clearly supposed to be deeply alien and disorienting, and so is best used sparingly–but the consequences of their time there stay with them, and I’m PRETTY ANNOYED that no more volumes have been released or seem to be scheduled as of this writing, because I’m very much looking forward to seeing where this nonsense goes.
- Dai Dark, Vol. 3
Look who among us hasn’t ended up in the clutches of a space cult? We’ve all been there, we all know this classic way. Better explode a bunch of dudes and use their bones to buy sandwiches and DVD boxed sets about it!
- The Big Year – Mark Obmascik
The hit (in its demographic) true story that became the hit (with me) movie starring Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson!
A Big Year–so named by people who, in fairness, have better things to do than think of intriguing names for things–is when a birder determines to count as many different species of bird as possible in one calendar year. (Usually within the continental United States, but many variations exist.)
I am not one among the birding community, but I am a longtime friend to them as a direct result of my late, lamented Sherlock Holmes read-through podcast, The Final Podblem, and this is one of their core texts, covering the genesis of birding as a concept and chronicling the Big Years of three real-world birders in the late 90’s. I enjoyed it as much as one would enjoy, say, a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable account of a significant event in a sport that is not important to you but is important to your friends: I can see why people like this thing, and I’m glad they do, but it’s their thing.
Rarely enough, I actually much, much preferred the 2011 movie, which got absolutely screwgoozlefucked by Fox, who had no idea how to market a movie with three prominent comedians that has some funny bits but isn’t a comedy, is in fact often sad or bittersweet, and is kind of ultimately not about much, in a good way. (Trust me: do not watch the trailer, which was the only one it got, and which dropped the same month the movie opened.) It’s in that nebulous category of Just A Nice Movie, has a great soundtrack that hits like a nostalgia-bullet of its time, is stuffed to the GILLS with era-appropriate That Guys, and generally deserved much, much better than it got; fire it up on Disney or Hulu sometime when you’re in the mood to have a really nice, even time with unusual but great performances, plenty of gorgeous birds and some really beautiful scenery.
If ever I should meet Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, or Jack Black (or for that matter Rashida Jones, Joel McHale, or Tim Blake Nelson), this is the movie I’d talk to them about, even though Steve Martin was the one who told me my dad isn’t my biological father.
- Dai Dark, Vol. 4
AND YOU MAY FIND YOURSELF ON THE RUN FROM A MURDEROUS SPACE CULT
AND YOU MAY FIND YOURSELF IN ANOTHER PART OF THE UNIVERSE
AND YOU MAY FIND YOURSELF PURSUED BY A LUMINOUS NIGHTMARE MESSIAH CALLED ‘THE PHOTONUCLEAR MAN’
AND YOU MAY ASK YOURSELF “HEY, WHERE DID MY MEATBALL SPAGHETTI SANDWICH GO”
- Devil’s Reign
Seven volumes ago, my old pal Chipper did the impossible: he made me give a shit about Daredevil, a character so ridiculous that it’s easy to forget the Ninja Turtles were explicitly created as a parody of him.
To my relief, this isn’t the end of Chip’s run on the character, just on this title and this storyline, which is the cataclysmic conclusion of Wilson Fisk’s bid for power in New York City and war on any hero or powered human who refuses to wear his leash. There’s some reaaaaal Comic Book Shit here in a way I didn’t feel exactly fit (Matt Murdock suddenly has a brother, no wait, suddenly always had a brother due to magic bullshit, and also ~sOmEoNe hAs a sEcReT sOn~) but all of it falls by the wayside in the wake of the only giant hero/villain civil war I’ve ever found interesting. Definitely read the other volumes first, but definitely read this.
- Factory Summers (⭐️TOP MONTHLY RECOMMENDATION – NONFICTION⭐️)
Autobio comics are one of my favorite angles of the medium, because let’s be honest: No, I am probably not going to read a 250-page memoir without a good reason to do so, but a graphic memoir for probably half the price, with the personality of the art and writing style working together, and I can probably get it read in a couple of days? Sign my ass up, citizen, especially if it’s about a life markedly different from my own and/or a profession or pursuit I know nothing about, and Guy Delisle is a bullseye in both categories.
Factory Summers is exactly what it says on the tin: Guy’s recollections of working at a paper factory for several summers in Quebec, what it was like, who he worked with, and how he felt about it. It’s not the most thrilling memoir you’ll read, but it’s not supposed to be; its slice-of-life nature and comfortably repetitive pace make it very relaxing and enjoyable in a low-stakes way, perfect bedtime-reading.
After enjoying this I went on to explore the rest of Guy’s oeuvre, which mostly consist of travelogues in comic form of his trips to North Korea, Burma, Jerusalem, and more; those share the same pace and the slightly aloof flavor you sometimes get from translated comics, but naturally have decidedly different content.
- A Galaxy Next Door, Vol. 2
Okay, OKAY, they THINK they’ve got a handle on this: JUST BECAUSE THEY’RE ACCIDENTALLY ENGAGED doesn’t mean there’s no room for romance, so they’re gonna try this ‘DATING’ they’ve heard so much about. Fortunately, where most people’s brains are marked ‘how to breathe’ Shiori’s is marked ‘Shojo manga romance-tropes’, so surely THAT can’t possibly go wrong, surely comparing your very new and ethically tricky relationship to fictional ones can ONLY be the best idea.
Guys I love this series so much, it’s so fucking cute and sweet and like, yeah there’s drama but it’s ~drama~, go read my review of Vol. 1 and if any part of you says “Aw that sounds nice” GO READ IT BECAUSE YOU ARE CORRECT: IT IS VERY NICE AND GOOD AND YOU NEED THAT IN A WORLD THAT WANTS TO EAT YOUR SOUL.
- Reign Of The Seven Spellblades, Vol. 4
MAGIC STUDENTS FIGHT EACH OTHER WITH SWORDS AND SPELLS IN ARENA COMBAT: YES, VERY GOOD.
- The Nice House On The Lake, Vol. 1 (⭐️TOP MONTHLY RECOMMENDATION⭐️)
I awaited this trade’s release with all the patience and calm of a chihuahua eyeing a ham twice its size, and was richly rewarded with the equivalent of an umami-coma, flecks of pork clinging to my snout and a grisly hambone clutched between my paws, my horrified owner yelling to unhearing ears that Aunt Glebra brought that all the way from Cleveland.
Now, if I were to receive an email out of the blue from an old friend, inviting me to come make use of his lakehouse along with a handful of our other long-lost pals, I would simply close it, mean to address it later, forget to do so, then go play video games, miss the entire event, and die when the world burst into flame around me. Wait, what? Yes. That’s the upshot, except the main characters are people who actually go, and not only is something horrible happening in the world outside, but they couldn’t leave if they wanted to, and it is quickly becoming evident that their host is not who or what they spent their whole lives thinking he was. The book makes the smart choice and has the bulk of its pages center on mundanities, like how the hell they’re meant to live and withstand each other in such a place, interspersed with efforts to figure out why this is happening to them, why what’s happening outside isn’t happening to them, and how they can escape, because some of them would rather die than survive as a prisoner or a pet.
The lack of jokes in this review should be some indication of my esteem for it (not that jokes would indicate a lack of esteem, but, vague gesture, you get it), and I think i’ts one of the relatively rare titles with wide crossover-appeal: anyone who appreciates a good horror story (especially the claustrophobic, slow-burn kind) will enjoy this, regardless of how they feel about comics; similarly, I think this would appeal just as much to comic people who don’t ordinarily find themselves enjoying horror, because in addition to the strength of its story, TNHOTL features brilliant writing, pacing, and worldbuilding, extremely strong characterization, and it’s gorgeous. I’m gonna stop talking about it now, because if I don’t I won’t, but there’s a GOOD reason this. ismy top monthly rec.
- Yakuza Reincarnation, Vol. 3
CORRUPT COPS, YOU SAY. Well, I mean, yeah. But corrupted by WHOM? And exactly HOW PUNCHABLE are they? Let’s find out, shall we.
Let’s get one thing straight: the Yakuza are a real-life thing and, like the Mafia or any other flavor of organized crime, are murderers who trade in human flesh, suffering, and death; they are bad people, and romanticizing them is a bad idea. That said, one of the fundamental presumptions of fiction is that an audience is capable of understanding the difference between fiction and reality, and I’d hope to be able to offer my readers the same credit.
That said, watching an honorable criminal beat the shit out of a bunch of evil, slaving town guards who think they’re above the law with sword and magic and elf companion is extremely cool and good and satisfying; there’s a quote from Saga that I can never remember right, but that goes something like “violence is abhorrent and only perpetuates itself upon the innocent, but simulated violence fucking rules”, and this is a perfect encapsulation of that.
- Something Is Killing The Children, Vol. 4
If I’m honest, I didn’t want or need an Erica Slaughter origin story; she’s such a renegade badass that the Order Of Saint George and House of Slaughter have judged her to be too extreme in her monster-obliteration practices, and she was perfect the way she was. That said! This volume accomplishes a significant fleshing-out of the House of Slaughter, including how they do what they do, what all the mask-colors mean (yes please), and why Erica’s relationship with them is so strained.
Anytime you elaborate on or explore previously mysterious elements of a work or setting, you run the risk of ruining their allure and rendering them most bogus (looking at you, Midichlorians), but Tynion walks that line VERY well; there is some of the “Oh. Well, okay” of it when you know exactly how many masks there are and what they do, like when all the job-classes get filled in on their screen and you realize you won’t be discovering anymore, but now that they’re known quantities they can be engaged with more meaningfully by both the story and the audience, in deference to Sanderson’s First Law Of Magic, if we consider “stabbing” a type of magic, which my worldview allows.
All in all this is a great supplementary volume and also sets up a LOT of stuff that happens in the next that without this volume still would’ve worked, but wouldn’t have been nearly as effective.
- Kaguya-Sama: Love Is War, Vol. 1
KS:LIW is for everyone who’s ever read a love story and thought to themselves “You know what this is missing? Psychological warfare as courtship.” It’s the tale of two Type-A high schoolers who, according to the programming a hilarious god gave their souls, must win at all things always, and have set their sights on winning each other. THERE IS, HOWEVER, AN CATCH: to admit one’s feelings for another is a kind of surrender, is it not? UNACCEPTABLE. And so begins a game of adorable romantical cat-and-mouse/chess/poker, consisting of increasingly elaborate ruses like a pair of free movie tickets from an acquaintance being slipped into a textbook and then lost in a very careful game of Old Maid all so one of them could JUST SO HAPPEN to show up at the movies at the same time on the assumption that they would then be honor-bound to invite the other to sit next to them. It’s great, and absolutely everything is treated as the most deadly serious business of their entire lives because they’re dumb high schoolers, so–as I should hope we all remember–the whole thing really feels like life-and-death while actually having truly zero consequence. Hard recommend if roms and/or coms are your thing.
- The Last Book You’ll Ever Read: The Complete Series
Fan that I am of Cullen Bunn’s work, I was hypemost to read what seemed for all the world like it would be his take on John Carpenter’s In The Mouth Of Madness. Sadly, ’twas not to be so; TLBYER is simply about a lady who writes Humans Are Bastards: The Book, and does such a good job that everybody goes bonkers, casts off the illusory chains of civilization and, basically, film what happened to the crew of the Event Horizon when they engaged the gravity drive. All the monstros and such are hallucinations representing the breakdown of people’s minds, etc., which is a trope whose taste usually ruins a work for me: I don’t like it when it turns out magic is just advanced technology, I don’t like it when people look dumb for worshipping what they had no way of knowing was an old cartoon mascot or some asshole who set himself up as their deity or whatever, and I don’t like it when monstros and spookums and similar are just metaphors. (There are exceptions to all of those of course, I just see them done poorly or meanly often enough that I take them as guideposts for works to avoid.)
I’m not saying TLBYER a bad book, and it certainly tells its story with skill and unwholesome vigor, it’s just not the book I was hoping for; but for all I know, that was its goal in the first place.
- Blade Runner Origins, Vol. 2: Scrap
Gang I’ll be honest, I couldn’t remember hardly a damn thing about this except that at some point Cal reveals that he’s put weighted plates in the lining of his coat and it therefore functions both as armor and as a bludgeoning weapon, it is COMBAT COUTURE, which is pretty cool. So I looked it up and everyone agreed this volume is confusing and bad, which sucks, because the first one was so, SO strong. Maybe it’s just that from a thousand feet, nine hundred feels like a huge step-down? I dunno; it’s safe to say stakes escalate, and apparently three of the characters look almost identical and have a big confusing fight at the end. Hopefully the next one will be better?
- Kemono Jihen, Vol. 1
Listen: sometimes you’re a simple, mysteriously tireless and apparently unkillable peasant-boy being put to work by the villagers–which you don’t mind, because you don’t seem to have, how you say, ’emotions’–and a guy turns up in a metaphorical convertible and says “GET IN LOSER WE’RE GOING TO SOLVE MONSTER-CRIMES IN THE BIG CITY, ALSO MEET YOUR NEW BROTHER AND YOUR OTHER NEW BROTHER WHO LOOKS AND ACTS LIKE HE’S YOUR SISTER BUT IT’S HANDLED IN A SURPRISINGLY MATURE AND GROOVY MANNER, HE’S JUST A SUPER PRETTY DUDE, IT’S FINE”. It was a lot to shout from a car, admittedly; they were back in Tokyo by the time he finished. And then the monster-crimes begin.
KJ is one of my new go-to, automatic-preorder series, it’s fun and goofy and weird and gross and kinda sad and mysterious, it rules.