Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Yearend Confessions and Plans for 2017

Since the beginning of August of this year, I started roleplaying religiously at twitter. I didn't think it would become a consummate literary endeavor, however which would affect my scheduled reading materials that I review here at my book  blog--but it finally did after all. By October, I was already struggling to read and review all the books and comics I had outlined earlier this year. Sure, I made it through most of them while others did not hold my attention that long enough to sustain my interest so I had to put them in the back-burner. 

This month had been more taxing than expected and since my roleplay writing had become more engrossing, elaborate and interactive where my writing muse truly grew, I couldn't just find time to squeeze in reading into the mix anymore. This was disheartening since I do take so much enjoyment and pride writing reviews not just here in this literature blog but also in my Batman, Hellblazer and X-Men blogs. I started out this book-reviewing project back in 2014 which was also around the same time I also joined GoodReads. 

The intellectual stimulation I got from reading and also typing out insightful reviews demonstrated that I have a passion for consuming and dissecting literature. Suffice to say, this entry would not be some sort of goodbye letter. It's quite the opposite. 

For starters, I just want to disclose that all the scheduled books I had for December have all been dropped and put on-hold for the time being. These include the two webcomics by the talented Minna Sundberg and CLAMP's Legal Drug/Drug and Drop manga. I also had to shelf Grant Morrison's The Invisibles series. I'm not sure when I can pick them up again but I will come back to these goodies eventually once I get over the next clusterfuck headed my way. 

My 2017 Reading Challenge will be my slimmest list yet. I could only commit to reading 50 books mostly because a better part of that year would be dedicated to playing/reading Japanese visual novels. GR doesn't have a criteria for VNs so my reviews will solely be posted here. My Batman and Hellblazer Month will be combined by May 2017. I opted to watch and review Batman-centric animated flicks while I read and review issues #101-120 of Hellblazer: John ConstantineI only have four major works I want to read/consume for 2017 and these are:

  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by W.L. Shirer (June-December)
  • 2 books of the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov (October-November)
  • Gilgamesh the King by Robert Silverberg  (December)
  • The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman (December)

For Visual Novels:
  • JUNE: Clannad
  • JULY: Aselia the Eternal
  • AUGUST: G-Sensou no Maou
  • SEPTEMBER: Fault

It's bound to be a very busy year for me! On top of that, I still have major fanfiction writing projects to continue within the year next to my rigorous roleplaying at twitter. I can only hope to fulfill and endure all these scheduled geeky activities. I will pray to all the geek gods to grant me the clarity of mind for this!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Legends of RED SONJA by Gail Simone Vol. 1

I have no idea who Red Sonja is, to be honest, and that means I had to go online to research about the character's origin and publication history as a comic book series. From what I understand overall, she was a character created by Marvel Comics around 1973 when she first appeared in a Conan the Barbarian issue. There was also a movie about her at some point. She's the quintessential pin-up fantasy heroine from comics. What made me want to read this more recent Dynamite comics title is because Gail Simone (from DC's Batgirl) is the writer of this particular line-up. Also, there is something nostalgic about warrior women for me. I did after all grow up to Xena: the Warrior Princess (but I was nine and I don’t remember specific things about that show except that Lucy Lawless rocked and kicked ass). And so reading Red Sonja definitely gave me that kind of nostalgia.

The first volume of this revamped version from 2010 to 2012 entitled Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues reads more of an anthology with a sideline linear narrative. According to what I researched, this Red Sonja is a distant relative for the original She-Devil with a sword. Knowing this premise actually helped demystify some elements for this volume that seemed shaky and suspicious. Nevertheless, reading this collection had been enjoyable because of its action-packed moments and interesting blend of tall tales, feminist insight and sometimes clever subversion of tropes.

A group of warriors named Grey Riders are the 'protagonists' of this story as they are on a quest to capture or slay Red Sonja whose reputation and deeds make her very larger-than-life if not almost mythical. For every issue, the Grey Riders have to interrogate an array of colorful side characters who have a tale or two to spare about the legendary She-Devil with a Sword. And that's how this volume reads and develops as an anthology because of the interwoven separate an standalone stories that the Grey Riders have to hear and often have to figure out whether or not these tales are authentic. A lot of the stories emphasize the badassery and cunning of Red Sonja. Some are exaggerated to the point of absurd while a few are designed to inspire paranoia or discourage the Grey Riders on their quest to seek out the infamous fire-kissed warrior who seems to keep eluding them throughout the journey.

Simone has worked with many fantastic artists for this volume and the variety and quality of the artworks and illustrations are truly a feast for the eyes and a feat of the imagination. What stands out easily when it comes to the depiction of Red Sonja is her iconic bikini-style armor. It is so utterly gorgeous and in one issue Simone even had a self-aware flashback that acknowledges the deadly allure of a formidable fighter who happens to be a scantily dressed woman--and what that can do to unsuspecting fiends and rivals.

I had a great fucking time reading this volume. It's ridiculous yet witty, infectiously daring and unafraid in its exploits and small doses of dark humor, and visually interesting with the multiple collaborations of artists working together. The first volume included a script for one of the issues as well as gallery for the concept art. This is something that can be consumed by novice and veteran comics readers alike. So if you like your women fierce and written by a female writer, you can’t go wrong with Gail Simone and her work for the Legend of Red Sonja.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Rachel Rising by Terry Moore

The last graphic novel I reviewed just a week ago is about a woman who cannot be killed (Lazarus), and now I'm doing another one about yet another female character who is resurrected from the dead. It's a playful coincidence. The two stories have nothing much in common except that basic premise, however, and if I'm to be honest I think I much enjoyed Lazarus although that doesn't actually mean that Terry Moore's Rachel Rising doesn't hold up well as a series. If the first volume is any indication of how certifiably creepy and atmospheric everything is, then I will surely pick up the second volume someday.

Rachel Rising is about the titular female character who was strangled and left for dead as she was buried in a shallow grave next to what seemed to be implied as a land where witches used to live and do evil stuff? It's all speculative for now. The very first pages opened with Rachel walking out of said grave with fragmented memories as well as possessing literally bloodshot eyes and very discernible rope marks around her throat. Moore's illustrations are minimalist and drawn in black and white. The panels certainly make you feel as if you could be reading this on a Sunday paper, in spite of the macabre and gore that would be happening next as the chapters progress.

The story for the first volume The Shadow of Death unfolds in two ways. We have Rachel's side of the plot on one hand and this little girl character named Zoe on the other. Rachel sought the help of her aunt, Johnny, who is a mortician and her childhood friend Jet, to find out about her attacker and how and why in the fuck did she even get resurrected from death. Her character story as the heroine crosses with that of the secondary character Zoe's version of the events. Her side of the story is the more disturbing, filled with gruesome deaths. A malignant force in shape of a mysterious woman had taken control over Zoe's actions, making her do very bad things while she is still much aware of the deeds as she is committing them. At a crucial point in the narrative Zoe and Rachel finally cross paths but another awful tragedy strikes that would claim more lives than either of them could possibly imagine.

I like this series so far. The story is still half-baked and often shaky at best. Most of the time the evasive dialogue and lack of real action aside from people getting killed could get tiresome real fast, but just when the pacing and momentum feel like it's slowing down, Moore leaves readers with just enough incentive to keep them reading anyway, eager to solve the mystery surrounding Rachel's resurrection and whatever evil is about to spread in her hometown brought about by ritualistic sacrifices that heavily imply that this has all been a set-up for now and there is a storm that is about to come. Things may pick up by then.

I think I would recommend Rachel Rising to anyone who is looking for something gothic and enticingly creepy. It's digestible enough if not momentarily baffling in some places. It's still missing a real hook for me which is why I'm giving it a safe rating.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

LAZARUS by Greg Rucka Volume 1

Comprised of the series first four issues, this debut volume written by Greg Rucka, and illustrated by Michael Lark with the colors done by Santi Arcas, is a dystopian science fiction story that definitely holds promises. 

I actually liked it even if it's only a hundred pages long. My review for this graphic novel collection is positive enough although I can't say yet what is in store for the rest of the series, seeing as the four issues of Lazarus felt like watching a pilot for a TV show. With that comparison, I believe these issues hold enough weight on their own both as separate installments and as a singular story that unfolds efficiently well. Action-packed and well-balanced when it comes to exposition and dialogue, Lazarus: Family is something readers can easily consume in one sitting but it's also a substantial serving which would make them come back for more.

Speaking of TV pilots, this series might actually be adapted for a television show, and based from what I have seen so far, I think it would work well. The plot of the story focuses on a futuristic setting where capitalism is the dominating status quo that had abolished real governments across the world. The wealthy and privileged reign as supreme rulers and each city in the states is governed by a 'Family' while the rest are deemed as Waste (not even kidding, it's that blunt). Essentially, the modern world reverted back to a brutal age when elitist rich families are considered the most valuable while everyone else are cattle and slaves. How demeaning is it that after that much progress humans societies have made throughout history that the shift of power had only moved back from what was once considered ancient and barbaric? But I digress. I can actually see this future happening someday because of frighteningly good reasons when you consider the widening chasm and disparity growing between the rich and the poor even to this day.

Now the heart of this socio-political is our protagonist Forever Carlyle, who serves as the 'Lazarus' of the Carlyle family. As the namesake implies, she can never die and can come back from any method of killing or death. She's reserved and obedient, but also quite inquisitive and kind. Forever (or Eve) had started asking questions about her purpose and calling which is something her 'siblings' and the man she calls 'father' are not so thrilled about. The first four issues delved in the beginnings of Rucka's world-building where the Carlyle family has some strained relationships with other feuding families from across the state lines and within their own parameters of territory. There is enough betrayal and deceit to go around with, and characters who will become main players for the narrative are fleshed-out enough to compel readers to look forward to their roles and participation in the future.

I get this vibe that Lazarus will have the sensibilities of The Sopranos and Game of Thrones since it is about the privileged families who are also engaged in organized crime. I think it's not a bad direction to go for, and I'd be interested to learn how Rucka would pull it off in the next installments. Lark's illustrations are detailed and particularly enjoyable to look at especially with scenes that have a weight of importance. I like the way each panels are positioned not only during action sequences but also during the quieter moments. Colorist Arcas had employed rather dark colors for his palette, but they worked exceptionally well to deliver the atmosphere of prejudice and power struggle which the characters are engaged in.

Overall, this is an impressive debut series with a satisfying first arc and a tantalizing heroine to match it. I definitely look forward to the other volumes in the series!


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Webcomics Watch: CUCUMBER QUEST by Gigi D.G

There are a lot of wonderful adventure-fantasy webcomics out there, both popular and obscure, and some of them are long-running series that stretched out for years already that keeping track of their multiple arcs can be a hassle especially if you are more of a casual reader (and more so if you barely get internet access). This ongoing fluff yet sublime webcomics story written and drawn by Gigi D.G is still in the earlier stages of its hopefully long run in years to come, so there is definitely more time to catch up and get yourselves invested in the amusingly enjoyable characters and the literal candy-colored worlds of Cucumber Quest

The collected printed volumes for this webcomics has the Prologue and Chapter 0 as the first volume, Chapters 1 as its second, and Chapter 2 as its third. Currently, the fourth chapter online is about to be concluded. I managed to finish until the third chapter last night, and man it has been such an utter delight. The good thing about Cucumber Quest is that it's truly for light reading and very easy on the eyes. Gigi D.G's simplistic art style shines well because of her extravagant choices of colors. Bright and often with rainbow layers in coloring plus adorably draw bunny-eared characters being entertaining and funny, each page for this webcomics is a pleasant feast for the eyes, and it certainly did remind me of children's books in the best way possible. There is never a dull moment for the chapters of this series because Gigi D.G's enthusiasm and passion shows in the way she balances the pacing, humor and heartwarming moments of each arc, and hence she makes readers eager for more installments concerning Cucumber and the gang as they move forward to face their outlandish villains and visit/get stranded in various candy-colored landscapes that readers would squeal over because of how pretty they are. I know I sure did, and I guarantee that you will too!

In retrospect, Cucumber Quest can just be taken as a straightforward adventure story starring the bookish and socially reserved Cucumber who only wants to go to magic school but is plagued with the prophesy that he's supposed to be a legendary hero. He's neither outdoorsy or skilled in combat, but it's his 'destiny' to defeat the Disaster Masters and the infamous Nightmare Knight. It seems basic but the storytelling chops of Gigi D.G is anything but generic because, on the other hand, Cucumber Quest is also subversion of certain quest tropes with a minimalist approach that never dares to take itself seriously as a deconstruction, and that is what makes it fun and compelling to go through. It never had to be dark or radical that would border on pretentious; what you see is what you get, and what it offers are well-balanced elements of recognizable tropes coupled with fantastic chemistry among its chief cast. This series can be comparable and may have been inspired by Adventure Time animation series, but it's also entirely unique as its own brand of quirky self-awareness and shenanigans. 

Joining Cucumber in his reluctant quest to save the kingdoms and put a stop to the evil queen Cordelia's master plan and also defeat the Nightmare Knight whom she summoned, are his sister Almond who is more or less the one who is more eager to become a monster-slaying adventurer; Sir Carrot, the often cowardly yet endearing knight who loves to do chores, and later by the frustratingly eternal optimist Princess Nautilus of the Ripple Kingdom. The villains they face are the ridiculous named trio of Sir Tomato, Bacon and Lettuce, the witch Peridot (who has a nemesis /girl-crush situation with Almond) and the array of Disaster Masters for each kingdom they visit. Fun times and hilarity ensue as Cucumber is still being forced to participate in all of this while making astute  if not meta observations of how suspicious everything about the famed prophesy and the roles they must take to fulfill it. 

Let's take a look of some lovely art so you guys will get a taste of what I mean when I said that it's literal candy. Here are some of the pages that I enjoyed both for art and content:

It's only by the second chapter (third volume) that things get more explored and given a heftier substance and depth. Cucumber's suspicions are slowly being confirmed the more evasive their supposedly appointed guide Dream Oracle becomes if not outright being aggressively dismissive of Cucumber's questions. The Big Bad villain Nightmare Knight also begins to show his true colors which may not be as vile or dark as everyone believes it to be especially the more he interacts with the captive princess Parfait. Even the Disaster Masters themselves don't seem that willing to keep fighting, and Almond is really the only one who is enjoying this quest while Sir Carrot is more concerned about getting back to his sweetheart Parfait. Still, the humor is entertaining particularly when it's centered around Princess Nautilus who really acts as the charming ditz of the narrative, that is until you get on her bad side. Other extra characters like the thief Saturday, the creepy inventor Cosmo , that alien caped crusader and the Limbo/Pizza gang also provide comic relief in small doses.

In a nutshell, Cucumber Quest is a worthy webcomics series that has enough mass appeal for even the most casual reader to get into and enjoy. Gigi D.G is also beginning to develop the characters in interesting ways as well as drop hints and bread crumbs every installment as to what is the real deal with this supposed 'hero quest' that Cucumber must keep enduring, and why the Dream Oracle is being curiously vague regarding what is going on. 

I will keep reading to find out and you should too!


Monday, October 31, 2016

"No one's love is truly unconditional"

I have been a fan of Eliza Victoria since coming across her novel Dwellers which is one of the most exciting psychological supernatural thrillers I have read, and it spanned only for less than two hundred pages! A year later I stumbled upon this, her latest book, and as fates would have it, I only carried enough money with me that also happens to be the exact amount that had enabled me to purchase this treasure. And it is one for the collection!

The reasons why I get excited about reading Eliza Victoria are (1) I don't usually connect with female fiction writers for some reason, save for Virginia Woolf and the CLAMP mangaka; (2) she is a Filipino author and a very talented one at that; and (3) the genre she writes in, which is urban fantasy, is something I believe she brings a lot of freshness of ideas into, particularly on the mythology of supernatural creatures and several folklores. 

Wounded Little Gods touches upon the polytheistic religion of Filipinos from the old times. Before we became a Catholic nation for the most part, Filipino ancestors pre-colonial times used to have many deities they worship and dedicate functions concerning nature such as weather and harvest, and this novel explores the idea that these deities still do live on, particularly in a remote fictional place called Heridos. But that was until a grave incident occurred which abruptly ended the communication and patronage between the gods and the people of Heridos.

Regina, this book's protagonist of sorts, comes home to Heridos after a co-worker of hers left her a piece of paper containing an enigmatic map and a few unfamiliar names before this co-worker disappeared. Rather curious about this baffling turn of events, Regina tracks down the names on the paper as well as other several clues which more or less feel like someone is purposely dropping these bread crumbs for her to find. The way the story unfolded both on Regina's end, and ultimately on the end of the unseen characters who will be later revealed as important players, has been executed fairly well. Victoria has built up the right amount of suspense to deliver a plot whose twists are subtle yet still memorable. 

I've noticed a common theme in her novels which are sibling relationships. Both in her previous works Dwellers as well as Project 17, a science fiction concerning memories and artificial intelligence, all have lead characters who are cousins or brothers. In Wounded Little Gods, the same theme occurs but this time between a brother and sister. I just think it's noteworthy to point out. I can't really say much about this book because it's rather short much like Dwellers, but the substance is worth the serving because Victoria's prose is a case of simplicity that denotes elegance. The way she weaves certain scenes and sentiments together makes her conflicts and the resolutions of them bittersweet and poignant, often relying on the impact of her characters' defeats and their small compensations at the end.

It might be easy to compare this to Neil Gaiman's American Gods because the concept of deities still living among humans while in disguise as one of them has been explored by Gaiman not just in said book but in his graphic novel series The Sandman too, but  that would be a tad unfair because Victoria's own version is unique in itself. Besides, it's also thrilling to see Filipino deities portrayed in fiction in a very compelling manner. Aside from the pagan religion and mythology aspects of this book, there is also a subplot concerning scientific research with questionable ethics that has been performed in Heridos and which ties with the more paranormal elements of the plot. I think they are inseparable more or less, and Victoria balanced them skilfully enough that the pay-off is something both satisfying and not.

Wounded Little Gods is essentially a story about what need and longing do to sentient beings who will never stop searching answers to their questions and gratification for their desires. It's a story about accepting that humanity always comes with its flaws and deceptions, but even divinity itself may not be as perfect as it may seem. The book also touches upon the value of not abusing knowledge and science, and to use one's enlightenment for the the benefit of others and not for their oppression. Written in brevity yet endurably engrossing down to the last page, Wounded Little Gods is yet another triumphant work for Eliza Victoria.


Saturday, October 29, 2016

X/1999 by CLAMP Volumes 1-9 review Part 1

If you have ever read a CLAMP manga, chances are you're a cynical romantic masochist. And yes, that's a thing and if you have ever fallen in love with any CLAMP work, you know deep inside that you fucking are a cynical romantic masochist. It'd be easier to just blow past it now and accept facts. This particular manga series known as X, and then changed to X/1999 because there was also a Western series with the same name, is the famed 'unfinished' work by CLAMP that is more or less a magnus opei. It went on a very, very long-term hiatus since 2003 and in doing so, left the story lacking any real conclusion TO THIS DAY. Concerns about its increasingly violent scenes have been the issue why the series has been discontinued by the magazine it was published in because they're a bunch of sissies. 

In any case, X/1999 definitely deserved better because it was simply brilliant with layers that would make this possible for several readings. Also, this has to be the most confounding, sophisticated and emotionally stressful series CLAMP had ever produced, and they have a long line of other emotionally stressful stories after this because they are dicks--and I say that with loving affection as a fan. Due to time constrictions, I was only able to finish the nine volumes collected. Now, I would have pushed through it and found a way to binge everything in one sitting, but that is not an advisable route when it comes to any CLAMP series. 

I repeat: DO NOT BINGE A CLAMP SERIES because reading any CLAMP work in one sitting is not good for your mental and emotional health especially with this one. I'll try to give you a semi-spoiler-ish look at why you might want to read this--and why you must brace yourselves.

Essentially my reaction as I progressed through each volume is WHAT---WHY---WHAT THE FUCK?

Essentially me since volume 4


Genre-wise, X/1999 is an apocalyptic fiction combining several elements of the story's own mythology with that of other secular elements, particularly Christian themes. At the heart of its plot is an ontological argument regarding Fate vs. Free Will. The very tagline of this series testifies to it, and serves as the main conflict for the protagonist Kamui who must choose between two fates; one that leads him to a path of goodness and redemption--and the other towards destruction and mayhem. The choice should be simple enough, of course, but X/1999 certainly draws it out to stress the weight and importance of making such a choice because it's not only a matter of doing the right thing but also coming to terms of one's capacity for both good and evil, depending on which part you nurture. 

Kamui, this story's protagonist, is a surly teenage boy supposedly destined to either be the world's salvation or damnation when Armageddon hits in the year 1999. He is brash, immensely powerful and haunted; having witnessed the very detailed and brutal murder of someone at a young age. He has two childhood friends whom he considers the ones he loves the most, but had to cut off ties with them because he doesn't want them to get involved in the supernatural drama that is a prophecy about his life as the chosen 'Kamui'.

The conflict sounds predictable and comparable to other works focusing on the power of choice, and the possibility of how the end of the world hangs in a balance with said choice. There would be nothing particularly special about X/1999 in this regard, except that CLAMP also created an interesting mythos to make its own version of an apocalypse that not only concerns the utter devastation of the world as we know it, but also an intimate portrait of how the burden of making choices can truly be a matter of life and death. Kamui is not the only one who has to decide; the ensemble of intriguing characters that would also play vital roles in the 1999 End of the World. These are the collective seven seals and seven minions who more or less brought up to what their destines would be like once Kamui decides his fate, and theirs for that matter. They all have their own personal motives, tragic backstories and wish fulfillments that certainly allows readers to feel that this isn't just a one-man Kamui show but one that touches upon other players' own choices that could influence a smaller narrative against the backdrop of a much bigger and overwhelming one. 

To see their lives unfold and unravel alongside Kamui's is where the emotional chord is being wrapped around the readers' hearts. The way these fourteen characters would act whether through their own accord or for some higher, preordained plan is a compelling and gratingly frustrating thing to read about because it would definitely make readers question about how much of their life they do control, or if they were ever in control about it in the first place. I would not be spoiling and discussing these characters individually because no introduction about them here would suffice, and discovering who they are for yourselves would be a more satisfying experience because one of CLAMP's strengths is creating memorable characters with nuanced personal histories and conflicts that move you to root for them no matter how hopeless the situations they find themselves in.

You think loving characters in Game of Thrones only to watch them fail and die is painful? Well, CLAMP characters will make you experience a different kind of pain that could be called 'cruel' if it wasn't also persistently bittersweet and ultimately an inevitable end.

On a lighter topic, since this is CLAMP, some unintended/ambiguous scenes of boy-love are ever present. This is mostly prominently featured in the relationship between Kamui and his childhood friend Fuuma who has a sister named Kotori whom Kamui also loves. It's probably the most painful relationship rendered on paper which may only be rivaled by other CLAMP pairings like Sakura and Syaoran of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle and motherfucking Subaru and Seishirou from Tokyo Babylon WHO ALSO MAKE AN APPEARANCE IN THIS SERIES AS THE ULTIMATE QUEER VERSIONS OF ROMEO AND JULIET, ONLY MUCH MORE TRAGIC! Anyway, here's some ambiguously gay moments:

Amidst the vividly drawn dream sequences, perplexing symbolism weaved into these sequences, and the brutal depictions of killings that would definitely jump out the page, there are also separate chapters focusing on a particular character's story at the end of each volume. The most enjoyable aspect of this series are definitely the gorgeous illustrations of even the most mundane scenes. Aside from Tsubasa, X/1999 has to have the most detailed visual work and exceptionally so, considering the bulk of the plot alone and how two or three volumes usually delved on many pages of dream sequence and symbolism that would make readers head spin as they try to interpret them. I would show them here but that would be spoiling a lot of important elements in the prophecy itself so I won't. Instead, let me just show a touching spread when Kamui decides to save the world so he can preserve the home of his childhood friends/sweethearts Fuuma and Kotori, and the love these three have for one another WILL TOTALLY NOT BECOME A WASTELAND OF ANGST LATER ON. Nope. Not at all.

It's only been nine volumes so I can't have that much strong opinion about Kamui as a lead protagonist of this story. He started out rather unrelatable and even annoying, being quite stubborn and hotheaded, but as readers follow him in his quest for self-knowledge, it becomes pretty difficult to keep thinking he's just some whiny teenager, given the extent of his trauma and his losses along the way that just kept getting worse and worse. His arc in this story as the main one to follow can be very depressing and hopeless, but I would like to see how he fares once his character development progresses along. He's in a very vulnerable place where pain and despair mostly define it. However, the ninth volume changes that with his interaction with one Subaru Sumeragi, the protagonist for Tokyo Babylon which I reviewed earlier this year and subsequently unraveled from. READ THE UNRAVELING HERE.

There are so many things I want to reveal in this review to get you to read it, but I will abstain because it would just spoil too much of what CLAMP has accomplished in this series, as far as I've read in the volumes I got to finish. So, I will just leave you guys with Sumeragi rehashing the painful experiences he had from Tokyo Babylon to give Kamui some context and perspective that there might be a way to survive the worst of heartbreaks no matter how impossible it may seem. And it's not like they have a choice--they're in a CLAMP story!

Once I finish all the required readings for this year, I'm going to read more of X/1999 again. I'll be taking it slow though, considering there is no resolution of this series and I don't want to rush to its non-ending just yet, being discontinued and all, but from what I have seen so far, I really do believe it's worth the trouble. 


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

LOW by Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini

The last Rick Remender graphic novel I read had been actually scheduled as the last X-Men series I read earlier this year for my X-Men comics diet. Suffice to say, I wasn't charmed by it so I only got to finish the first volume because I lost interest easily in the way the story was told. It just didn't click for me, is all.  

Now that was back in April or so, and now here I am just a few months later reading another work of his. As soon as I finished this, I have to say that this is comparably an improvement from Uncanny Avengers. That comparison would be unfair though, since they are of different genres, and I could tell (given the Afterword for every issue of this series) that Remender is quite passionate and proud about this work. I do think he should be.

LOW is a sci-fi comic book story set in an underwater world. It's also billions of years into the future, where our sun in the solar system has expanded to a toxic level of radiation, so it is more or less about to wipe out the world. The human race and other creatures migrated to the deep levels of the ocean and have made their homes there. One such place is Salus, and this is where the protagonist family of the story lives. Low is more or less about the mother Stel and her unabashedly stubborn positive way of thinking no matter the dreariness of her circumstances. Bundled into six issues, the series' first volume The Delirium of Hope is a thematic examination of what it's like to be an optimist in an often nightmarish landscape filled with despair. Over the course of said issues, Stel lost her husband, had her two daughters abducted, and her only son estranged to her because he resents her for being so inconceivably 'hopeful'. The conflict is more or less about Stel overcoming difficulties with the power of positive thinking. In a sense, I have to admire the tenacity of her self-belief.

Stel is a mother who never loses hope which in a hopeless world should be a commendable thing. Or is it? I think that's the challenge being presented for Low's narrative. Should a person always choose to believe in the adage that one is responsible for his or her own attitude when it comes to dealing with the universe, and that attitude will certainly shape the course of their destiny? Or is the universe truly a place without order and more leaning towards chaos, so however the person feels he or she has any control over how they would react, the universe finds a way to take them by surprise or overwhelm them anyway?

Based from this volume so far, the universe is not only winning, but s also being a dick about it. Although Stel has faith that her endeavors to rescue her daughter would not be for naught, and that her efforts will not be wasted so long as she keeps up her positive attitude, certain situations tend to disprove it otherwise. I actually do like this kind of story Remender has weaved because it feels very personal and heartfelt in a lot of ways. I enjoyed this for what it is in spite of not sharing the writer or his lead character's way of living their lives. I'm more of a pragmatist myself, right in that sweet spot between optimism and pessimism. There are advantages to forcefully clinging onto positivity because hope does spring eternal, but being too fixed about this perspective is just as damaging as being nihilistic and negative. Too much of anything is always a bad thing after all.

In addition, Stel reminds me a lot of Catelyn Stark from the first three books of A Song of Ice and Fire series. Much like Catelyn, Stel is a mother struggling to unite her family, only to find that her will and efforts are constantly tested. I suppose I would read the next volume after this just to see how Remender handles the next arc of the series because once again another blockage is impeding Stel's way and I know there are possibly more to come, and I want to see how she would move past them with her power of positive thinking which Remender apparently is determined to campaign and drive home to the readers. I don't find it annoying because touchy-feely things okay for me since they have little impact on my own perspective anyway as a pragmatic. Besides there are quotable moments I did agree with. Like this: 

I think Greg Tocchini is worth crediting alongside Remender (if not more so) because as the artist of this series, he has made the reading experience an exceedingly amazing one because of his lush sceneries of the aquatic disquiet present in the panels and specific scenes. I truly loved looking at the breadth of his illustrations and I believe that if another artist had drawn for Low, it would have changed the way I looked at this series altogether, and I may not be more forgiving of its story's flaws and its writer's ultimate bias about his heroine's personality and personal beliefs. His art style is just gorgeous:

In a nutshell, Rick Remender's Low is a commendable work I wouldn't mind speaking good things about, but Greg Tocchini visual contribution is the one thing I would probably give more praise. Whatever opinions I may have that contrast Stel's, I still think she was a character I can find myself caring about, and I'm interested to see how well she would fare, or how much she might change as the story progresses. I'll pick this series again soon enough.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Flex Mentallo by Grant Morrison

I don't know how to begin reviewing this graphic novel mostly because there is too much context that one needs to know if they ever decide to read this blindly, which I did, and it affected how I enjoyed the story a lot. The point is I could not recommend this to someone who is just getting into comics, because this is essentially a compilation inspired from another comics line which was Doom Patrol and which Grant Morrison himself has written for.

From what I can discern when I researched this story, Flex Mentallo as a character came from that series, created by Morrison himself in an issue, and who was then expanded as more than just a side character he originally appeared to be as. Now two years ago I had the distinct pleasure of reading through Morrison's semi-autobiographical book called Supergods, tracing the superhero myth and contextualizing it with his own experiences as a professional writer in the industry. I mentioned this book since it is critical in further explaining the roots for Mentallo. 

You see, he is just a part of an long string of 'fictional character who came to life' that Morrison has been doing for the past two decades or so, and also ties in with his other works like The Invisibles which I intend to read soon enough. Mentallo is a part of a roster of other characters written and drawn by a psychic child. According to the wiki, "The characters created in this child's youthful scrawlings, titled "My Greenest Adventure", apparently came to life. Amongst Flex's "Greenest Adventure" siblings were the villainous Waxworker and the heroic Fact.

What you need to know in summary is that Flex Mentallo is also called the 'Man of Muscle Mystery' and he has the ability to affect reality by flexing his muscles. It sounds absurd, but purposefully so. He even has what is called a 'hero halo' above his head when he uses his powers, and it says "Hero of the Beach" which had something to do with his origin story about a swimsuit competition. It was never explained in this graphic novel, and I literally had to read his fictional biography online to understand this. So now that I have established that this GN is not newbie-friendly, let's talk about the content.

Artist Frank Quitely's style has been a personal favorite since Batman and Robin and Batman Incorporated, titles which he also collaborated with Grant Morrison. Visually speaking, Flex Mentallo is gorgeous. The illustrations are well-defined and rendered with great detail. The art is also as eccentric as the narrative, matching its absurdity and rather surreal scope. There is really no way for me to explain sufficiently what this GN is unless you are already familiar with the mythos about Doom Patrol, and Morrison comics in general. I'm going to try my best to comment on the content, however, because it had been an interesting read, albeit also a baffling one. My review isn't going to be helpful to a Morrison fan, I'm afraid, who may be reading this to compare notes with my personal opinion. But I sure want this review to prepare first-time readers who may be inclined to pick this up one day.

Flex Mentallo goes to investigate the whereabouts of his other friends, fictional characters who also came to life and are lost somehow. There's a whodunit element and some comedic action in between, spliced with genuine moments of suspense that lend its story enough levity. What is confusing are the scenes featuring the psychic child who created Mentallo and co. who apparently has become a mentally unstable junkie and a former rock star musician. His sense of self and his telepathic imagination are slowly unraveling as the pages continue, and his part of the narrative is important but also alienating for someone like me who isn't as acquainted with Morrison outside of his Batman works. That being said, the transitions do make sense and are often seamless enough to get the message across that this is a rather psychedelic meta experience that comments on the genre conventions of superhero storytelling. It would take readers like me a while to realize this until halfway through the climactic scenes, but the message becomes clear and substantial enough once finished. Unfortunately, it's also rather jumbled up, filled with references and allegories I am not familiar with.

In a nutshell, Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery is something you read as a true-blue comics aficionado who also knows a lot about Morrison's universe and body of work to fully appreciate what it offers and satirizes. For a new reader with specific taste in comics or only goes for one or two genres, this may not be the comic book you are looking for, at least at this point in time. I might re-read this again too once I'm more acquainted with a few more of Grant Morrison's works. Still, I could tell this a momentous celebration about superheroes. I can't really spoil the ending because it is the message of this story to begin with, but I will say that it has something to do with Morrison's thesis in Supergods.


Friday, October 7, 2016

OCTOBER List of Readables

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

This is honestly a very daunting novel to review, more so to finish reading in the first place, and not just because of its 600+ pages but the quality of its prose which is painstakingly detailed in ways that are often not necessary at all. I can only think of two reasons why I could recommend reading this, and even then I could only recommend it to a specific type of people, and not to your average casual reader. Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a 2000 book that is in many ways a historical fiction about the Golden and Silver Age of American comic books. This subject matter is what got me so interested in it when a good friend of mine recommended it (and purchased me a copy as a Christmas gift last year).


The paperback is actually close to seven hundred pages and is divided into six parts which chronicled the lives and struggles of cousins Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay, the titular heroes of this novel. They are aspiring comic book writers and artists with a Jewish heritage, living in an era when fascism is thriving and victimizing Europe. With this promising premise filled with daring possibilities for character exposition with lots of historical allusion, Chabon takes readers into a very vivid and verbose journey about the intricacies that surrounded these cousins and their choices. From making it big in the comic book industry and facing certain issues in the business, to the important discoveries they have made within their personal, private lives that also influenced and changed them either for better or worse.

"Comic books thrived to articulate a purpose for itself in the marketplace of ten-cent dreams, to express the lust for power and the gaudy taste of a race of powerless people with no leave to dress themselves. They were pure and true, and they arrived at precisely the moment when the kids of America began, after ten years of terrible hardship, to find their pockets burdened with the occasional superfluous dime."

What I can say foremost is that The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a damn mighty fine novel comparable in length and breadth to perhaps something like War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy but the comparison, of course, ends there. I just want to give everyone proper context on how completely immersed, absorbing and detailed this novel was to read and enjoy, and how much it spans from one decade/era to the next since it does follow Joe and Sam from their early twenties to middle age and so on. Since it's also a historical fiction, many chapters are dedicated to lavishing the readers with expositions regarding the comic book characters created by Joe and Sam, and how they serve as allegories for the themes Chabon tackled profusely and passionately for. There is clearly a great amount of research and planning done to infuse together what is based from factual accounts with that of the fictionalized moments in Chabon's narrative he wrote in, but ultimately the result was a seamless and compelling semi-biographical examination and commentary at why Americans created and celebrated superheroes in those times. Chabon's grasp of his subject matter is impressive; he doesn't shy away from dedicated chapters to completely build a world that resembles the one we can recognize about the Golden Age of comics, while also maintaining layers of fictional liberties in doing so.

Of course, this rigorous storytelling style will not appeal to everyone's taste and sensibilities, and that is why I can't recommend The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay with the casual reader. One should at least have an enthusiasm or passion in comic books in general which I have copious amounts of. If not, then a great bulk of this novel will be alienating and baffling for you. However, if you do have an open mind and do want to explore the mythos and the kind of creative industry which comics books operate on, then The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay could be a worthwhile endeavor. The selling point of the story for me is the way Chabon got me invested and involved in Joe and Sam as characters and respective representations of a Jewish boy who immigrated to the States and wanted to help his kin escape from the Nazis in whatever way he can, and a closeted gay man who is coming to terms with his sexuality. The moments devoted to their respective character arcs are my favorite.

"He wanted them to understand the importance of the fight, to succumb to the propaganda that he and Sammy were unabashedly churning out. If they could not move Americans to anger against Hitler, then Joe's existence, the mysterious freedom that had been granted to him and denied to so many others, had no meaning." 

Joe Kavalier's character arc in the beginning focuses on his superhero myth-making as an artist with a character named The Escapist, his creation with Sam. Though Sam is the one who is more of the writer of their duo, Kavalier is the one whose attachment with the Escapist runs deep since it stems from a place of both hope and despair. Successfully immigrating to the States before Nazis took over his land, Joe feels obligated to do something to make Americans and everyone else see the evils of Hitler's regime, and this translates in the stories and illustrations he collaborates with Sam who is open to it because he is very supportive of his cousin's plight. Joe wants to showcase that the Escapist is a superhero who can free himself from any bondage and hence also do the same for others. The origin story for the Escapist is nuanced, and the more Joe devotes all his creativity and efforts in turning him into a symbol akin that to a freedom fighter, the more he also gets depressed over the fact that he's living a pretty good life, earning sustainable income for his comics while his family is out there dealing with the Nazis daily. This survivor's guilt drives Joe's character throughout the novel, making him do really noble and admirable acts but reckless and temperamental things as well. Joe is a well-rounded character whose personal demons are fascinating to read about.

Meanwhile, Sam Clay struggling with his sexuality and abandonment issues offered readers a bittersweet taste of wide-eyed innocence and idealism. Sam has admired men his entire life, and it was only through meeting an actor named Tracy Bacon, who plays the Escapist for a radio show based on their comics, did Sam came to understand that he falls for men romantically. But the era in which he lives in is very homophobic and prejudiced, and Sam has to retreat emotionally from what he wants and the man he loves because to be a gay man then means opening yourself up to being terrorized, policed and even raped. The later parts of the novel reach a frightening climax when Sam was abused by a couple of FBI agents just because he was gay, and Joe finding out that his younger brother whom he was attempting to spirit away from a Nazi-populated region had perished on a ship ride to America among with other Jewish children. It got very harrowing that I was shocked about it because the tone of the novel becomes more intimate in a gruesome and disheartening way. Nevertheless, I was already devoted to these boys so I finished anyway.

"The magician seemed to promise that something torn to bits might be mended without a seam; a scattered handful of doves or dust might be reunited by a word, a paper consumed by fire can bloom from a pile of ash. But it's all an illusion. The true magic of this broken world, however lay in the ability of the things it contained to vanish, to become thoroughly lost that they might never have existed in the first place."

At the last hundred pages or so of the book, Chabon included production notes that expand on the world he created for Kavalier and Clay. I have yet to read them all but from what I can garner so far, they are able to offer more insights on his narrative and choices of plot directions. In a nutshell, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a work of fuction I could only recommend to a chosen few, but those people are guaranteed to enjoy it nevertheless!


Saturday, September 24, 2016

SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING by Alan Moore Volume 1

"It seems where demons fail and monsters falter, angels may prevail."

I'm coming to this version of Alan Moore's the Swamp Thing without any knowledge of his original creation by Len Wein, except of course with the brief appearances he had made during the Jamie Delano for Hellblazer: John Constantine. That being said, it had been a neat introduction to a comics icon. It was a rather baffling start at first, but one that is also beguiling enough to see through its finish. 

This first volume had tons of spectacular potentials to be the masterpiece that I sure hope it would become by the next volumes. There are four volumes of Alan Moore's Saga of the Swamp Thing to look forward to reading, but for now I will content myself with the fact that I was able to read this installment which wasn't anything that I expected it to be. Monster stories, especially those steeped in classical roots, have been a lost art especially with the kind of horrors my generation respond more to. 

The Swamp Thing, however, at least in this Alan Moore version, can still live up to its reputation and capture the imagination. As the titular character, he demonstrates enough grit and depth to qualify as a thing of horror that could haunt you as a reader. But he is also a misunderstood creature trying to restore his humanity, clinging to a semblance of a series of fragile connections with others who may be just as lost and desperate as he had been ever since transforming into this wretched beast he never asked for. 

It's a familiar trope and symbolism that Alan Moore, as one of the most celebrated comics writers ever, refurbishes into something uniquely intimate for readers. I for one appreciated it for its plentiful charm. Before there was a Swamp Thing, there was only a man named Alec Holland who got into an unfortunate accident as well as one who is bereaved by a wife whose loss left a decisively permanent mark on his psyche and eventual ghoulish persona. I really do not know enough of Len Wein's original version to contrast it from Alan Moore, but from what I can discern, his version of the Swamp Thing opens the possibility that perhaps Alec Holland is truly no more, and he is just a hollow shell built around the ghost of this man he is trying so hard to become. That is the core of Swamp Thing's journey as a character in this first volume; he is trying to adjust and recalibrate his sense of identity and the ultimate invalidation of it. 

Some things about his conception as the Swamp Thing were also tackled.

I don't want to give any more specific spoilers but I did enjoy the arc about Wood-Rue, and his manipulation of Swamp Thing so he can unleash his radical environmentalism villainy on every human on earth, with the false belief he is the representative of the oppressed Mother Nature. I thought this particular arc was engrossing more so because it was a good character portrait and contrast between Swamp Thing and Wood-Rue. The latter truly believes he was doing the right thing while the former rediscovers why he must evolve from a simple, negatively perceived monster, and how to do things right not because he wants to reclaim his humanity, but because one's actions already testify to his or her humanity. Swamp Thing learns this through his encounters with Wood-Rue, and by reconnecting with an old friend, Abigail.

Another thing I enjoyed the most about this volume are the illustrations done by Stephen Bissette and John Totleben. Some of their panels have been really creative and cool to look at, especially the full-paged panels. I thought their choices of layout and the details they put in drawing characters were a worthwhile visual adventure that complemented Moore's literary voice throughout this first volume. The colors have mostly bright hues which are a feast to the eyes. They definitely enhanced my enjoyment for the stories. 

My personal favorite is the one below:

I think it's also worth mentioning that I found an interesting allusion between this version of Swamp Thing to Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor. Perhaps it's because both suffered a sense of disconnect and detachment from their previously held identities, and much like watching Capaldi Doctor find himself again as a new kind of hero in Series 8, I was also reading Swamp Thing embrace that whoever he was--that creature clinging to his lost humanity--should be left by the door for good so he can move on to better things. He and Capaldi Doctor little by little start to grow and accept that they don't have to be anyone's version of what a hero or monster people perceive to be; they only have to be what they are willing to achieve, and willing to evolve into. Abigail for me plays the companion Clara to Swamp Things's Twelfth Doctor, given that she seems to anchor him to the person he used to be (Alec Holland), while also accepting that he could never become that person again--but at least she is comforted by the knowledge her friend will be happy again, like Clara was for Twelve by Last Christmas.

That panel reminded me of the scene where Twelve asked Clara if he is a good man, and by the end of Series 8 he finally decides that he wants to be. Abigail inquiring for Swamp Thing's identity and then asking next if he is happy was a nice touch of poignancy because Swamp Thing shows her that he is content now of the creature he has decided to become from now on. Abigail is joyous as well and they celebrate it with a hug. Maybe it's really just the nerdy biases of the Doctor Who fan in me, particularly as one who adores the Twelve-Clara dynamic, but I can't help but see these similarities when I was reading this comic book.

I also think that the last arc for this volume focusing on children and fear is much like the Steven Moffat fable in Series 8 called Listen where it's a fable about fear and loneliness. In this case, the story featured here in this volume deals with a supernatural aspect and an issue concerning childhood trauma but the resolution is much the same as Listen with a few choice differences, of course. The message has a common thematic resonance between the two stories, highlighted by the fact that Swamp Thing--a supposedly thing of horrors--rises up to become the very guardian one will never expect children could have. He's just a sweetie pie, and I find him instantly endearing and I definitely hope to read more of him soon.