Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “graphic novels”

Baxlala’s #CBR4 Review #33: Fables, Werewolves of the Heartland by Bill Willingham

bigby-480x352Here’s the thing…I actually reread all of Fables this year, but haven’t reviewed any of them and I don’t have a good reason, really, other than I read them all REALLY QUICKLY, so when it came time to review them, I couldn’t remember what exactly happened in each book and so I just decided not to review any of them. (Also, laziness.)

But! I did just read Werewolves of the Heartland, which is Fables but not like FABLES Fables. It’s a special edition or something, so I don’t feel like I have to address any kind of continuity from the rest of the books in order to talk about it. I mean, I probably will, but I don’t feel OBLIGATED. I hate feeling obligated, especially when I’m writing about werewolves who live in Iowa.

Because that’s what Werewolves of the Heartland is about, you know. Werewolves. Who live in Iowa.

For those who don’t know, Fables is a comic about a group of fictional characters who aren’t so fictional in this universe. In this universe, fairy tale characters have escaped from The Adversary and are now living in the human world, though they call humans Mundys because humans are all mortal and non-magical and therefore are always called something like Mundys or Muggles or some other derogatory nickname and WHY CAN’T WE HAVE ANYTHING COOL WHERE IS MY MAGIC WAND.

The Fables founded Fabletown (creative, right?), a neighborhood in NYC, a long, long time ago and are all the time trying to make sure Mundys don’t find out about them, because what would you do if you found out Prince Charming was living a few blocks away? You’d probably try and marry him, right? Well, don’t, because he’s a complete cad, I tell you, A CAD.

Snow White is HBIC and basically runs Fabletown, alongside Bigby Wolf (Big Bad Wolf, get it?) and we love them. No, I won’t tell you why. I won’t tell you anything else about Fabletown or Bigby or ANYONE. Go read all of Fables and then come back and we can talk about it, OK?

Anyway. Werewolves of the Heartland finds Bigby in Iowa, looking into a small town called Story City. Bigby is captured and, seeing that he’s the original wolf of all wolves, is both feared and loved. Some residents want him dead, others want to sleep with him and have his Super!Wolf babies cubs, and still others just want to hang out in his front yard and be blessed by him.

Bigby gets in some trouble, obviously, because he’s Bigby, but you’re never really that worried about him because he’s pretty much the ultimate badass. He’s the only Fable we really know who makes an appearance, other than an old friend of his that’s only appeared one other time in the Fables universe (to my knowledge), but that’s more than OK because we love Bigby. WE LOVE HIM SO MUCH.

Still, this little diversion of Bigby’s was pretty boring. I’d much rather see what’s going on with the rest of the Fables so, though I do always enjoy spending time with the Bigby, this kind of seemed like a waste of time, as you can probably tell from this review, since I spent more time talking about real Fables than this Fables.

(It DID feature some werewolf boobies and weiners, though. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

So, yeah. Five stars for Fables as a whole, only two stars for this installment. SORRY BIGBY.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 24: Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

From Wikipedia: Watchmen depicts an alternate history where masked heroes emerged in the 1940s and 1960s, helping the United States win the Vietnam War. The country is edging toward a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, freelance costumed vigilantes have been outlawed and most former superheroes are in retirement or working for the government. The story focuses on the personal development and struggles of the protagonists as an investigation into the murder of a government sponsored superhero pulls them out of retirement, and eventually leads them to confront a plot that would stave off global nuclear war.

That’s a… pretty condensed description. There is A LOT going on in this graphic novel: several storylines in parallel, politics and premonitions of war, discussion of heroism, etc. I didn’t have the easiest time reading this because this was my first graphic novel, so that plus the non-linearity achieved from the interwoven storylines made it difficult for me to follow along sometimes. I also needed to train myself to actually look at the pictures. At first my tendency was to just kind of read the dialogue in the speech bubbles without really paying much attention to the other illustration in the panels; this is obviously a huge mistake because there is a lot of important information in the illustrations outside of the dialogue. Once I got better at that, I actually went back to the beginning and looked everything over again so that I could try to appreciate better the whole of what was being presented. Needless to say, it took me longer to read this than I expected!

Overall, the narrative and unpacking of some of the themes were engaging and interesting. Unfortunately, for me, the mechanical difficulty of reading in this new style of medium made it overall less enjoyable for me. Perhaps I can continue to try more graphic novels and then come back to Watchmen again when it’s more natural to me. The consensus is usually that this is the best graphic novel ever written, so one may as well start here. Without having read any others yet, I have to wonder if there are some other acclaimed graphic novels with a more simplistic/linear narrative — it would be a whole lot easier for novices like me to start with something like that. As I said, I did learn to pick up on cues like the coloring being completely different between the stories, or the shapes of the dialogue boxes being unique to one of the narratives, but if you’re not looking for these things immediately you may end up scratching your head through the first few chapters like I did. Or maybe I’m just particularly dense. I don’t know. Anyway, sorry that this ended up being more of a review of the graphic novel format than of Watchmen.

TheFatling’s #CBR4 Review #10 #11 #12 #13: The Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman/John Ney Reiber*

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My Vertigo tarot deck recently reminded me that I’d been meaning to read The Books of Magic for quite some time (due to some BoM artwork on the cards, my tarot isn’t actually psychic or anything).  I’m only four volumes in, and apparently my local library doesn’t have the fifth book.  I’m really on the fence about continuing with the series.  It hasn’t held up anywhere near the standard of Gaiman’s Sandman series, either in story or artwork, and I’m not willing to spend money on the next book in the series.

The Books of Magic follows Tim Hunter, a bespectacled young boy who lives with his negligent father.  His mother died in a car accident years before, and the accident appears to have been caused by his father, who drinks and watches television to avoid dealing with life.  One day, Tim is visited by a mysterious foursome–John Constantine, the Stranger, Dr. Occult, and Mr. E–who tell him that he has a lot of magical potential.  They take him on a journey through time, space, and magical history, ostensibly to allow him to choose an ordinary life or a life of magic, though of course he chose a life of magic by agreeing to the tour.  The first volume’s artwork is beautiful, but the story is labyrinthine and slight when all is said and done.

The second volume, Bindings, sees John Ney Reiber taking over for Gaiman in the story department, and the difference is clear.  This is easily the worst of the series so far, involving a convoluted paternity dispute as an excuse to spend time with Death, Gaiman’s most famous creation.  It doesn’t help that in both the first and second volumes, Tim is as petulant and whiny as Order of the Phoenix-era Harry Potter–and I’m not just saying that because both boys have spectacles and pet owls.  He’s still unpleasant in the other collections, but in these two, he’s pretty unbearable.

Summonings, the third volume, is a marked improvement, with the introduction of Molly, Tim’s once and future love interest, a steampunk villain, and a charming succubus named Leah.  Things take a turn for the confusing in Reckonings, the fourth volume, wherein an adult Tim’s dealings with a cynical demon named Barbatos have consequences that reach back through space and time to affect present-day Tim and Molly.

Tim doesn’t appear to actually be going through any magical training, forced to muddle through and learn by trial and error, which is actually an interesting concept.  Unfortunately, the series’ heavy-handed moralizing and confusing timeline haven’t really paid off for me.  I’m invested just enough to be curious about how everything ultimately hangs together, but it looks like the collected volumes don’t actually include the conclusion of the story.  If I happen to find a cheap copy of the next volume, I’ll probably read on, but otherwise I’m sure I’ll manage not knowing what Tim Hunter’s future holds.

*I didn’t include all the artists in my title because it would be super-long, but here are their names:

John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess, Paul Johnson, John Ridgeway, Peter Gross, Peter Snejbejerg, Gary Amaro, Dick Giordano.

llp’s #CBR IV Review 8: Fables, Deluxe Editions 1-3 by Bill Willingham

I have been reading a lot, but have fallen down on the reviews. I had very specific issues to address with each volume, but that was two months ago. Consequently, I have done up a general review of all three volumes. That will teach me to wait months to do a review! (no, it won’t)

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #31: The Unwritten, Vol. 5 “On to Genesis” by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

So, The Unwritten.

It’s really hard to describe why I love this series so much. In fact, it’s really hard to describe this series, period. It is fantastically complex, but not in a confusing way, and not in that way that “smart” things tend to be, where you just know there’s something you should be getting, but you just . . . aren’t. It’s the kind of story that has layers, and if you want to read it as a straight-up adventure, you can certainly do that, but past the surface thriller stuff, this series has meat, ya’ll.

Here, let me steal from the Amazon.com description:

“Tom Taylor’s life was screwed from go. His father created the Tommy Taylor fantasy series, boy-wizard novels with popularity on par with Harry Potter. The problem is Dad modeled the fictional epic so closely to Tom’s real life that fans are constantly comparing him to his counterpart, turning him into the lamest variety of Z-level celebrity. In the final novel, it’s even implied that the fictional Tommy will crossover into the real world, giving delusional fans more excuses to harass Tom.
When an enormous scandal reveals that Tom might really be a boy-wizard made flesh, Tom comes into contact with a very mysterious, very deadly group that’s secretly kept tabs on him all his life. Now, to protect his own life and discover the truth behind his origins, Tom will travel the world, eventually finding himself at locations all featured on a very special map — one kept by the deadly group that charts places throughout world history where fictions have impacted and tangibly shaped reality, those stories ranging from famous literary works to folktales to pop culture. And in the process of figuring out what it all means, Tom will find himself having to figure out a huge conspiracy mystery that spans the entirety of the history of fiction.”

But even that description doesn’t do it justice. And yes, Harry Potter is obviously the connection to make here, but I think it’s worth noting that what Mike Carey actually had in mind was the life of A.A. Milne’s son, who was the inspiration for Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh. In an interview with SciFiPulse.net, Carey noted that:

“Milne grew up feeling that his father had stolen his childhood from him, turned a profit from it and then given it back to him in a form he couldn’t use. Our Tom is very much in that situation when we first meet him, although we take his identity crisis a fair bit further than that.”

What The Unwritten does is explore the lines between fiction and reality, and it does so in really creative ways, with absolutely gorgeous artwork to boot. Volume 5, “On to Genesis,” in particular takes that concept one step further, as we get justhismuch closer to learning how Tom Taylor came to be, through the backstory of an anonymous comic writer Wilson Taylor — Tom’s father and creator of Tommy Taylor — fell in love with back in the 20’s. He met her at the behest of the mysterious collective he was working for at the time — the same collective that would later murder him in an attempt to control his stories, which in turn control the world (it sounds complicated, but trust me, it’s awesome) —  but he fell in love with her instead of co-opting her story for the nefarioius purposes he was supposed to.

If you’re looking for a new graphic novel series to become obsessed with, check out The Unwritten first, but don’t tell me if you don’t like it because then I’ll have to go away and cry in a corner.

[Link to original review here.]

TylerDFC #CBR4 Review#8 Batman: Long Shadows by Judd Winick, Batman: Life After Death by Tony S. Daniels

It took me all of 1.5 hours to read both of these graphic novels. I know other Cannonballers are reviewing standard length graphic novels but it just feels like a cheat to me. I could sit down in a weekend and complete the Cannonball if I used those tactics. However, I did want to talk about these two books and they fit together well so I decided to include them under one review. Long Shadows collects Batman issues 687-691 and Life After Death collects Batman issues 692-699.

Bruce Wayne is dead or, at the very least, gone. At the conclusion of the massive DC crossover event known as Final Crisis, Bruce Wayne gave his life to save the universe. Or all the universes, I’m not entirely sure. I tried reading Crisis on Infinite Earths and was absolutely baffled by the story so I gave up. I don’t follow Justice League all that closely (or at all other than the more popular single event graphic novels) and there was far too much continuity to try and jump in to the middle of it. I got the gist through and basically Bruce saves the multi-verse but vaporizes in the process.

After Bruce’s disappearance it fell to Nightwing, Dick Grayson, to take up the mantle and become Batman. This was also detailed in a rather long storyline known as The Battle for the Cowl. Long Shadows begins 6 weeks later. In Batman’s absence a gang war is erupting on the streets of Gotham between Two Face and The Penguin. Dick must put his fear and trepidation aside and take Bruce’s place as Batman. Bruce’s son, Damian, become Robin and the two begin fighting the scum of Gotham and cleaning up the streets. The much longer book, Life After Death, sees the return of Black Mask and is a sprawling story that has Batman trying to stop Black Mask from seizing control of Gotham using an army of brainwashed Arkham Asylum inmates. Both have absolutely gorgeous artwork that bring the story to color bursting life.

Of the two, Long Shadows is the more powerful story. The book really brings the emotional devastation of just what a big hole Bruce left behind. The effect on Dick, Damian, and most poignantly, Alfred Pennyworth are heartbreaking at times. There is a scene early on where Superman and Wonder Woman visit the Batcave and ask Dick what he plans to do with Bruce gone. Alfred brings tea to the group and Superman notices he is distraught.

Superman: Are you all right?
Alfred: Am I “All right”?
Alfred: (After a pause) No, sir. I am not. My son has died.

Later Dick and Alfred are talking.

Dick: I knew I would never see his as an old man. No, he’d leave us in a box, with jet black hair, and the only lines on his face would be brought by injury. You knew it wouldn’t end well. Despite all the training, all the brilliance, all the strength…under it all there was flesh, blood, and bone. And a man who never feared death.[…]I just wasn’t ready to lose him.

And that sums up why Batman is, and always has been, my favorite comic book character. This isn’t a new revelation, it’s been said many times before. Bruce Wayne is not superhuman in any way yet he stands up when others won’t. That’s what makes him a hero and that is why Dick and Alfred decide that even though Bruce is dead the Batman must live on.

Long Shadows is a hell of a good story and a great reboot. Dick is not Bruce, their fighting styles are completely different. As Two Face points out later when he starts getting suspicious of the change he sees in his old foe, “You don’t move like him. You’re lighter, you like to get off your feet more, and you SMILE.” It is an incisive character study that expertly shows the evolution of Dick Grayson as he drops some of his Robin and Nightwing personality to try and become more like Bruce’s portrayal of the Batman. It is a powerful and well done book.

Life After Death is much more sprawling and loses some of that intimacy. It has an expanded cast and becomes a bit more standard with a huge plot against Gotham, a mystery to solve, and a rogue’s gallery of heroes and villains. It’s a good story, but I like the smaller tales to be honest.

I have a few Batman books on my bookshelf that I consider the best out there like The Killing Joke, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, The Dark Knight Returns, and The Long Halloween. I would put Long Shadows on the shelf next to those. While we know now that Bruce Wayne isn’t dead (See the massive The Return of Bruce Wayne) Dick Grayson is now Batman and that is one of the most exciting developments in the franchise in quite a while.

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #20: Chimichanga by Eric Powell

“When Wrinkle’s Travelling Circus’s adorable little bearded girl trades a lock of her magic hair for a witch’s strange egg, she stumbles upon what could be the saving grace for her ailing freak show – the savoury-named beast Chimichanga!”

A  charming graphic novel that children will love. Lula, the bearded girl, is a superb heroine who is determined and funny. The artwork is brillant and I completely fell for this quirky and cute graphic novel and it is my favourite on the Stan Lee Excelsior Award shortlist. This is a charming, whimsical and generally lovely graphic novel that children and adults will love. Children between 10 and 14 will particularly enjoy it. It is moving and funny and just wonderful.

You can read the full review on my blog.

First Line: ‘Expect clear skies for the rest of the week, not a glimpse of rain in sight.’

sevenstories’ #CBR4: Transmetropolitan Vol. 1 – Back on the Street by Warren Ellis

“After years of self imposed exile from a civilisation rife with degradation and indecency, cynical journalist Spider Jerusalem is forced to return to a job he hates and a city he loathes. Working as an investigative reporter for the newspaper The Word, Spider attacks the injustices of his surreal 23rd century surroundings. In this first volume, Spider ventures into the dangerous Angels 8 district, home of the Transients – humans who have decided to become aliens through cosmetic surgery. But Spider’s interview with the Transients’ leader gets him a scoop he didn’t bargain for.”

The very first few pages made me laugh a couple of time and therefore I had high hopes for the rest of the volume but unfortunately I felt it lost any subtlety and slipped into coarseness for the sake of coarseness with horrendously unlikeable characters, a plot I didn’t really care about and finale I felt like I was supposed to find triumphant but instead found somewhat dull. I appreciated the art in an abstract way and can also see why other readers enjoy it, but it’s  just so far away from what I find pleasurable to read. I read the whole thing as it was recommended to me by a colleague who normally gives me things I do enjoy and also because it’s short, even for a graphic novel so it only took me twenty minutes to read. For me, it is too coarse and crude and I found the depiction of the city (and Spider) verging on repulsive at times.

You can read the full review on my blog.

First Line: ‘So that ignorant, thick-lipped, evil whorehopping editor phones me up and says, ‘Does the word contract mean anything to you, Jerusalem?’

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #16: Wuthering Heights – The Graphic Novel by Emily Bronte

“When Mr. Lockwood rents a country house from Mr. Heathcliff, he soon learns all about his landlord’s turbulent history, including his undying love for Catherine Earnshaw, who haunts Heathcliff from beyond the grave, and his vengeful tyrannies against anyone who dares stand in his way. Can Lockwood stop himself from being dragged into Heathcliff’s violent world?”

This ‘QuickText’ series of graphic novels is designed to make classic novels more accessible to younger readers and Wuthering Heights is on the shortlist for the Stan Lee Excelsior Award (www.excelsioraward.co.uk) which I am reading and voting for with some of my students. I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of the original novel, I just find it so depressing and I find Cathy and Heathcliff just too cruel. For teenagers though, this offers a great way to get a hold of the plot and keep track of the complicated family relationships with moody watercolour artwork that suits the tone of the story.

You can read the full review on my blog.

First Line: ‘1801 – Mr. Lockwood arrives…’

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