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Friday, September 30, 2016

Recently Read 2016.09.30

A few thoughts on some of my recent readings...

by Jeff Smith and Stephen Weiner

This recent book from Jeff Smith has three sections. The first, and only one I've really read, is a new 36-page story of the Bone cousins (and Bartleby) following right after the conclusion BONE #55 back in 2004. The backcover promises it to be a "completely superfluous" adventure, and it delivers on that score. It's just another leg on the journey back to Boneville for our cast, and has their usual bickering interplay. Smith is always good at that, but it lacks the depth that he showed in the more dramatic parts of his 55 issue story. It would definitely be a distraction if it was actually at the end of the last book, in whatever format, but works fine on its own. I suppose the one thing it does establish is that getting back to Boneville from the Valley isn't a straightforward journey, so the prospect of any of our heroes ever going back to the Valley is even more remote.

The next 24-page chunk is an essay by Smith about the creation and publication of Bone, profusely illustrated with both photos and illustrations. Some of the illustrations are pretty cool. I've only skimmed the text, but it looks like it has some stuff I don't know about the history of the era.

The second half of the book is a 64-page presentation of Stephen Weiner's "Bone Companion", with some writing about the series and Smith's storytelling and its historical context, plus a short interview with Smith. This was released independently before, but without illustrations. Now it's fully illustrated with examples of what Weiner's talking about. Again, I've only skimmed it, it's not really for me, but has some interesting stuff.

Not sure if I can really recommend the book overall, but definitely take a look to see if your library has a copy to read the short story.

by Chuck Palahniuk & Cameron Stewart

This is a collection of the 10-issue series FIGHT CLUB 2, a sequel to Palahniuk's 1996 novel, better known for its 1999 film adaptation. I've never read the book, but watched the movie a few times, and mostly enjoyed it. However, Fight Club fans can be troublesome. I had to spend an hour at a party 15 years ago being polite as two guys talked about how great and important the book was, and what line from it they should get a tattoo of. That was literally the worst thing that happened to anyone in 2001...

Anyway, this is kind of an unusual thing, a novelist going to comics to do the sequel to one of his works. Can't think of another example offhand. And it starts off pretty good. Set several years after the end of the novel (which is different from the end of the film. A short story at the end of the book retells the end of the novel, I'm not sure why it wasn't at the front of the book), the first few chapters lay out an interesting premise based on the themes of the original story, and have some innovative storytelling concepts. I'm not sure if those are from Palahniuk or Stewart but they're expertly realized without being too distracting. The middle starts to get a little bit ridiculous, but still within the bounds of the fictional universe, and with the possibility of redemption once all the cards were on the table. And then it all goes to hell. Without getting too much into spoilers, Palahniuk takes the idea of meta-fiction to an absurd extreme, and very much makes the story about the story. And about the storyteller. And about the reader. And while I made it perfectly clear I'm fine with mocking Fight Club fans (here, if not to their faces), this wasn't what I wanted. The last two issues were a chore to get through.

I'd say avoid, overall. Or read the short story at the end, then the first three chapters, and then pretend the rest doesn't exist. And make an appointment to get that tattoo lasered off...

by Mark Beyer

This is a re-issue of the 1987 book by Beyer, originally published by Raw Books and Pantheon, and featuring Beyer's characters Amy & Jordan. The characters were a staple of the anthology RAW in the 1980s, and later appeared in a comic strip by Beyer, which has a few collections. This new edition of the 1987 book is, I think, the first release of the new New York Review Comics imprint of the New York Review of Books.

It's hard to describe Beyer's work. Visually it's got an odd primitive outsider art quality to it, but with a sort of visual consistency and clarity of idea that is almost hidden by the style. The writing is equally bizarre, with an almost stream of consciousness plotting that has all sorts of weird and violent things happening to Amy and Jordan as they try to live their lives. I enjoyed it a lot more than I was expecting to, not having really gotten into the comic strip version before, and might give that another look now.

by Rich Ellis & Chris Roberson

This is a 2012 collection of the 6-issue series drawn by Ellis and written by Roberson, with covers by Mike Kaluta (who, frankly, seemed to be drawing covers featuring different characters). It's pretty much built on one of the standard modern fiction concepts of taking classic literature and mythology and presenting a fantasy framework where some of those well-known characters (or variations thereof for still copyrighted characters) can interact with each other and the original characters of the creators. Basically the SANDMAN/FABLES/UNWRITTEN formula that Vertigo has been used to various levels of success over the last few decades.

It's not done badly here, where the framework is a over-realm outside the real world with three sections, Memory, Moment and Maybe, representing past, present and future, and a battle between the rulers who represent those concepts personified. I'm just not really sure if it brings anything new to the table. It does have some potential, Ellis has some interesting artistic turns, and most of Roberson's writing was fine (the exception being the weird omniscient narration, which was sometimes trying way too hard to be cute), These six issues pretty much just set up the concept, which could be used to do something interesting, but to date it looks like the only follow-up was a 3-issue as-yet-uncollected series from 2013.

by Sui Ishida

This has been one of the most successful new Japanese comics in English over the last year, currently up to 8 volumes and a staple of the best-seller lists. It's a horror comic about a Tokyo which is inhabited by an underground society of flesh eating ghouls, and a young student named Ken Kaneki who gets drawn into their world thanks to an emergency transplant which turns him into a human-ghoul hybrid.

I liked bits of the first few chapters of the book, but overall wasn't that interested and was ready to declare it "decent, but not for me" and a one-and-done. Then suddenly things started to really click with the cliffhanger to the penultimate chapter and then into the finale of the book. So I guess I'll have to try at least one more.

I have to say, I found the action sequences in this book really difficult to follow. I'm not sure if that's just a familiarity with modern Japanese comics storytelling or what, but almost every time there was an action scene I had to go over the artwork multiple times, usually looking at the final results of the scene and sometimes just barely being able to piece together how we got there from the art. I hope that's not too common in later books, as I found that really frustrating.

by Eric Stephenson & Simon Gane

These two books collect 12 issues of the series by Stephenson and Gane, which is basically a sort of "mutants in the real world" take on superheroes. The main character is a young girl whose nascent telepathic powers, in a society where such powers are unknown, are seen as signs of insanity. She gets taken in by group of youths with similar powers, who have very specific ideas on how to use those powers for personal gain.

This was a pretty entertaining book, if a bit rough around the edges. I had some trouble remembering the various characters and their powers, and that's with only a few days between issues. I can't imagine it would be better with a month or more between issues. Still, there are a lot of interesting ideas, and sometimes there are some very bold and inventive visuals.

Unfortunately, the 12 issues here pretty much just tell the opening act of a longer story, but the last issue was six months ago and there don't appear to be any more on the immediate horizon.

by Kate Beaton

KING BABY is a recent children's picture book by Kate Beaton, who has had considerable success with cartoons of historical and literary humour for older readers. Like all picture books it was a quick read, but still pretty clever, and with some nice interplay between the text and images which is sometimes missing from these books. Definitely would recommend it for the target audience.

by Sonny Liew & Paul Levitz
(Doctor Fate created by Gardner Fox & Howard Sherman, unacknowledged)

This collects the first 7 issues and a short preview for the currently running (and soon ending) series with the latest revival of the long-running DC character.

If asked I'd probably say that I was a fan of Paul Levitz's work, although you have to go back over a quarter century for me to give a concrete example of why. After 1989 he was more an executive than a writer until a few years ago, and I haven't liked what I've read of his stuff since he got back into writing. And even his main writing assignment in the 1980s on LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES was uneven, with some incredible highs but lots of problems.

This DOCTOR FATE book was the best I'd read from him in a while, but far from perfect. So far it's a new take on the character, without any reference to previous versions, featuring a young medical student named Khalid Nassour who gets magical powers from an ancient Egyptian helmet, thanks to some pharaoh's blood in his lineage. Levitz does a pretty decent job on the lead, although there is some of the almost inevitable awkwardness of someone trying to write a character 40 years younger than him. He doesn't do as good a job on the supporting cast, unfortunately, who are still pretty generic and barely sketched out after 7 issues. And for the most part Fate's powers are still pretty much just hand-wavy magicing.

Sonny Liew's art is more interesting than the writing. It's a very unique look for a mainstream comic. I liked it a lot, with some very expressive faces and body language, and imaginative creatures.

One minor complaint, the first two chapters there was a font used for Fate's dialogue which I had a really hard time reading, to the point where I was pretty sure I'd give up on the book half-way through if they kept it up and it was more frequent. Someone must have agreed, as they quickly changed to a clearer font for the rest of the book. So how hard would it have been to go back and change the font in the earlier issues? There weren't that many balloons which would have to be changed, and it would have added to the visual consistency of the book.

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