Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Wicked + The Divine

I’ve been reading through a list of best comics and while most of them leave me mildly entertained at best, I found something more engrossing:

er-thewickedthedivineThe Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

Category: Comics

Find it on: LibraryThing (link for vol. 1)

What it is:
In the universe of the story, gods reincarnate every 90 years as artsy teenagers / young adults who live for only two years – but before they die, they get to be famous, loved and hated. In 2010s they are pop stars. If it sounds Gaimanian, it’s because it is, broadly speaking.

How I found it:
Through the NPR list of best comics. But also once I started reading the other comics, this kept popping up in various recommendations.

Summary judgment:
Of all those comic experiences so far, this has been not the deepest but the most engrossing.

Best things about it:
Its slowly-developing-but-not-too-confusing mystery keeps you wanting to learn more. The action never overwhelms the story, as it often does in other comics. I didn’t find the characters very relatable but still quite interesting and differentiated.

Worst things about it:
It is actually rather hard to put into words but I feel the story doesn’t quite have the depth and, hm, gravitas? I would expect from something so Sandman– and American Gods-like in concept. It seems more interested in music stardom than mythology, which I find a slightly missed opportunity.

Other pluses:
✤ Clear art and quite lovely colors.
✤ It’s fun to figure out which gods are inspired by which musicians (and in specials by which other artists) but I was only good with some writers and didn’t get many beyond the most basic pop stars. I’m not good with pop music, guys.

Other minuses:
✤ I saw that people find further volumes confusing and directionless but it wasn’t exactly my impression. I feel the level is even enough.

How it enriched my life:
I enjoyed the story a lot and brushed up on some lesser known mythologies (not in any particular detail, though).

Fun fact:
In addition to the regular story, the authors occasionally publish extra volumes that show pantheons of different eras and I love that they’re nothing as boring as musicians in the historical appearances. The 19th century pantheon is composed of writers and the 20th’s of modernists (how cool is that? so cool).

Follow-up:
I’m there for the last planned arc and some time when I forget the story once it’s all out I’m planning on re-reading all of it.

Recommended for:
Fans of Sandman (though with slightly lowered expectations) and of similar stories.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: The Americans

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Bookworming, Randomosity

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Fun Home

I’m catching up on some comics I managed not to read so far, like

er-funhomeFun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Category: Comics

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
Alison Bechdel (yes, of the Bechdel Test) tells an autobiographical story of growing up with her distant, closeted father and of his suicide. She also describes how she discovered her own homosexuality.

How I found it:
Very deliberately: I went through an NPR list of best comics to find something interesting I hadn’t known and came up with a really long list of stuff to read.

Summary judgment:
It’s a worthy addition to any list of good comics.

Best things about it:
This is one of those graphic novels that prove the medium goes beyond silly pictures and is a true literary genre (if anyone still needs a proof in this day, I mean). It tells a complete, sombre, unflashy story, using the medium to its fullest capability, creating a collage of words, drawings, quotes and childhood memorabilia.
The honesty of the narrative (or its pretense, but it amounts to the same thing here) makes the story memorable and moving. I feel that the value of each autobiography will always be measured by how much other people can find of their own stories in the author’s one. I’m sure this one resonated with many people and even I, who had mostly very different experience of growing up, found things that felt so close to my childhood.

Worst things about it:
Honestly, I don’t think there’s something I would consider “worst.” I certainly missed some perspective on how the father’s transgressions affected Bechdel’s brothers but then I understand she respected their privacy, keeping them in the background of the narrative.

Other pluses:
✤ I like Bechdel’s art, even when it doesn’t leave me stunned with awe. Its directness and simplicity serves the story well and remains clear. The watercolory shading adds a nostalgic feel to the narrative.
✤ I also liked the use of literary classics as leitmotifs for each chapter, including the scholarly analysis. I enjoy when books are treated seriously.

Other minuses:
People talk about the humor of the story. Personally I didn’t find it particularly funny – but I didn’t really need the humor either.

How it enriched my life:
Like many things it made me want to draw more.

Fun (?) fact:
So there were two things I felt particularly close to in Bechdel’s story: one was her various obsessive behaviors as a kid, which I did have too, to a much milder extent. Another fact was her last serious talk with her father, not long before he died. It so happened that not too long before my father’s death I also had a serious, personal talk with him about his life choices and life story, unlike any we had before, and I’m forever grateful that we managed to do that.

Follow-up:
I might check out Dykes to Look Out for, Bechdel’s most famous comic, though it’s not necessarily my favorite genre. Also, this NPR list is still full of things I’m going to read.

Recommended for:
People who like slice of life stories and coming-out stories.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Love, Simon

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Jane

I checked out another adaptation of a Victorian classic, this time one of my favorites: Jane Eyre, in a comic form.

er-janeJane by Aline Brosh McKenna

Category: Comics

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
A modern-day adaptation of (bits of) Jane Eyre’s story. Jane escapes her unloving family to New York, where she enrolls in an art college and starts working for a mysterious businessman as his daughter’s nanny. But there’s a door upstairs she’s never allowed to touch. What’s behind the door? (You know what. Not a twist.)

How I found it:
I heard the author talking about her comic on a podcast about script writers (she normally writes the show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, something of which I bounced off pretty hard). The idea, obviously, appealed to me immensely.

Summary judgment:
All in all, it’s a wasted opportunity but the great art saves it from being a waste of time.

Best things about it:
Definitely the art by Ramón Pérez. He has a casual lightness of line and an ease of switching between styles that elevates the story and makes it oh-so-pretty. His art remains engaging but never becomes too artsy and so inaccessible.

Worst things about it:
The story doesn’t justify the idea. Why choose to work on Jane Eyre if you have nothing new to tell about the tale and don’t even seem to care about the original story as it is?

Other pluses:
✤ In addition to Pérez’s great art, the competent coloring by Irma Kniivila deserves a special mention.
✤ What I found the most interesting part of the story was actually the cursory foray into artistic education (which doesn’t really have time or space to develop realistically). I feel maybe Pérez employed some of his own experience in this part? I would much rather read a story about a girl from nowhere trying to become a New York artist.

Other minuses:
✤ The story doesn’t even try to do anything worthwhile with the inherently problematic character of Rochester, his morality and his decisions. Sure, the wife thing is slightly mitigated but just enough to make it boring, not justifiable.
✤ New side characters only seem introduced for the sake of diversity but nothing happens with them.
✤ I found the criminal/gothic ending particularly disappointing, as if the author realized she’s almost out of pages and the story needs wrapping up. In fact, I generally felt there was not enough space to do the story justice.

How it enriched my life:
I really enjoyed the art and found it inspiring.

Fun fact:
So where I mostly know Pérez from is his work on Wolverine and the X-Men – a comic I always liked, also for the art, though didn’t make the connection without visiting Pérez’s website.

Follow-up:
There’s not a direct thing to follow up with but I’m sure I would enjoy more of Pérez’s work in this style. I’m also up for any future adaptations of my Victorian favorites. Bring it on.

Recommended for:
People who care about art more than about story. People who will take any Victorian adaptation gratefully.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Hatin’ on Strictly Ballroom (you’ve been warned)

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Thor

In anticipation of Thor: Ragnarok we’ve embarked upon a task of re-watching previous Thor movies. And what a task it is. Let’s start with the first one:

er-thorThor

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
It’s the fourth MCU movie, introducing the Norse god of thunder, Thor, as he’s kicked out of Asgard flat onto New Mexico desert. There he meets a physicist Jane Something (in the stupidest meet-cute ever) and their redundant love story begins. But simultaneously in Asgard Loki, Thor’s (adoptive) brother is playing his games of lies. Thor is played by Chris Hemsworth, who brings a pretty good comedic timing and a whole lot of muscle to this enterprise. Oh, and Kenneth Branagh directs.

How I found it:
I watched it a while after it first premiered. The MCU was already a thing then but by no means did everyone talk about it like we do now.

Summary judgment:
It’s actually a pretty bland movie. It’s enjoyable enough but nothing special.

Best things about it:
We get glimpses of goofy Thor, which is really the best kind of Thor.
And I imagine people stand divided about this aspect, but I kind of like the visuals of Asgard: it’s memorable and mythic enough, much more interesting than the whole Earth part.

Worst things about it:
You figured it out: the Earth part, particularly the romance, which comes from nowhere and fails to explain itself. I know Thor had to forge connections with Earth for the sake of future stories but this was really half-assed.

Other pluses:
Some of the characters were quite good, including Sif, Frigga and Erik Selvig. I have very little opinion about Loki: I didn’t mind the performance but apparently everyone is in love with him and this I just don’t get. Of course, it’s where Agent Coulson’s brilliance starts and he really is charming.

Other minuses:
While I like the general impression of Asgard, some things I like less. These include the Bifrost and the Frost Giants’ world.

How it enriched my life:
It didn’t particularly, except for the usual pleasure of a spectacle.

Fun fact:
This is not related at all, but when we were first planning on watching Thor, I wanted to buy (barely alcoholic) beer for it and the lady asked to see my ID. I seriously thought she was joking and she thought I was being obstinate. Good story, huh.

Follow-up:
Unfortunately, Thor: The Dark World and Avengers, probably, all leading up to the new Thor movie.

Recommended for:
Fans of Norse mythology and (or: in) Marvel comics. People who like looking at ridiculously huge muscles or at silly horned helmets or at a desert. And I guess all those Tom Hiddleston fans.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Avengers

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Marvels

er-marvelsMarvels by Kurt Busiek

Category: Comics

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 1994 comic by Kurt Busiek, illustrated (or, precisely, painted) by Alex Ross. It describes the emergence of superheroes in the Marvel Universe from the point of view of a very much not superpowered newspaper photographer who tries to deal with the fact that regular human beings are no longer the top of the food chain. It shows classic events from the history of superheroes like Namor, X-Men, Spider-Man et al. as seen by someone who doesn’t really know what and why is going on.

How I found it:
I don’t even know. It’s been on my reading list for a while and I even started it twice before but I never got past the first issue then.

Summary judgment:
The art is wonderful, the story is okay.

Best things about it:
Definitely the art, it’s freaking amazing. I love watercolors in most appearances but this shows such mastery of the medium and Ross uses the style to create a fresh re-telling of old stories that has its unique flavor.
And I like the concept itself, it’s always interesting to think what superhero-infested world feels like for people who have to live in it and someone actually wrote a book about it.

Worst things about it:
After a while I got tired with how gloomy-doomy everything felt. I know it fit with the story but I wish there were more small superhero moments like X-Men anonymously viewing Alicia Masters’ exhibition while people talk trash about them.

Other pluses:
The moments like that one, most of all. Also, and expectedly, I like the X-Men storyline and how Busiek tries to explain why people in the MU accept other superheroes and hate mutants – I actually buy his explanation. The story of Spider-Man accused of murder also worked for me: basically, anything that wasn’t too grand-scale.
Personally, I love stories that redefine recognizable characters (that’s why X-Men: Evolution and 1602 are some of my favorite things ever) and this new look on old comic stories definitely speaks to me. I only wished I knew more about the original Marvel characters to recognize most allusions, especially the ones happening in the background.

Other minuses:
I didn’t very much like Phil Sheldon as a character.
Also, that zero issue is definitely skippable.

How it enriched my life:
I enjoyed the comic and it kept me company during a very unpleasant day I had to spend in bed.

Fun fact:
This is just a fact I feel the responsibility to mention: what I’ve been calling watercolors might rather be gouache, so a different kind of water paints but I imagine it doesn’t really matter to most of you.

Follow-up:
For a while I’ve been meaning to return to 1602 and I will.

Recommended for:
Fans of Marvel and/or watercolors.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Mousquetaires du Roy

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Spider-Man Homecoming

Welcome to an unusually timely review because again I managed to catch a movie in the theater. I know I promised a different review this time but I want to talk about Spider-Man while the impression is still fresh and you might still care. So,

er-spidermanhomecomingSpider-Man: Homecoming

Category: Movies

Find it in: theaters, for now

What it is:
The newest version of the Spider-Man franchise when Marvel has finally managed to regain its flag hero (or partly regain him because it was still branded with Sony; I don’t know, you don’t come here for insider gossip, do you). For the first time ever we don’t get an origin story – instead Peter Parker is getting his sea legs (spider legs, maybe?) as the masked hero and trying to be both a high school student and a wannabe Avenger.

How I found it:
How could I not. I obviously saw the proto-trailer in the third Captain America. Then I saw the really bad actual trailer, which made me think “No way, this is going to be stupid.” But then I listened to a podcast where they said this was more of a high school movie than a superhero movie and I suddenly got way more excited.

Summary judgment:
It’s really pretty good. Not my favorite superhero movie by far but it has many things I normally miss in those. Like actual character moments.

Best things about it:
The tone. It was just light enough, without the unbearable grandiosity of most superhero movies, which made Peter believable. And it did manage to incorporate pretty well the high school aspect of the story, which also gave the creators a chance to dig deeper into character development rather than just to escalate battle scenes (looking at you, Ultron).
And super extra points for the animation in the first part of the credits, it was pretty great: creative, edgy and imaginative. It looked almost like a student project, only a really good one. I salute Marvel for keeping the art of credits alive.

Worst things about it:
Just skip this part because I’m sure I’m irritating you by now with my predictability but, you guessed it, the part I liked the least was the fight on the plane. It took too long – but at least there were just two people fighting, not a whole army of copy-paste aliens/robots.

Other pluses:
Tom Holland is great as Peter Parker. Again, a fantastic casting choice for MCU, up there with Robert Downey Jr even.
Vulture was a decent villain for Marvel, with believable (if boring) motivation. At least he didn’t want to destroy the world, he was just selfish and careless.
MJ! If she is to be a new Mary Jane, I’m all for it because it’s such a good take on this traditionally irritating character. If not – why not?!
I liked that most women looked like real women (more or less), even aunt May, whose beauty everyone was praising. And that her glasses weren’t props (pet peeve).
The school was realistic and neither glorified nor too depressing, with very naturally introduced diversity.
Oh, it had possibly the most successful product placement (the Lego Star Wars set) I have ever seen in that it didn’t bother me at all. I only noticed that it was a product placement when I read it in the credits.
And, most of all, it was a pretty funny movie.

Other minuses:
I didn’t care for Liz. She was one of those too-perfect, boring love interests and I hope MJ will be so much better. I don’t see how she wouldn’t be.
And that’s all! Can’t come up with anything else.

How it enriched my life:
I enjoyed myself. And I really like seeing how superhero movies try new modes and, pretty much, genres.

Fun fact:
So I know everyone has their canonical Spider-Man but mine is probably unsual: it’s the 90s cartoon that I was watching as a kid and it was one of the most exciting cartoons on TV at that time (but only because they didn’t show X-Men here). That, and Captain Planet. They should totally reboot Captain Planet.

Follow-up:
Next up Thor, of course.

Recommended for:
Fans of Spider-Man. Fans of MCU. People who want to see slightly differ superhero genres with actual characters.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: It will be Lizzie Bennet Diaries this time

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Mockingbird

I’ve been away for a few days but now that I’m back to my schedule:

er-mockingbirdMockingbird by Chelsea Cain

Category: Comics

Find it on: Amazon – Vol 1 | Vol 2

What it is:
A Marvel comic, all 8 issues long, about Bobbie Morse, Mockingbird, who takes on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s corrupt medical system and zombies and ghost pirates… Nope, I’m not up to summarizing this one, just read it for yourselves.

How I found it:
Through a comic podcast I listen to. I sometimes read things they plan to talk about.

Summary judgment:
It’s an original work of art, quite fast and enjoyable to consume. It’s also funny.

Best things about it:
Humor and the visual clues that you may look for or not in the background of the main story. It’s quite entertaining and ever since I liked the first three seasons of Family Guy I’m a sucker for a cutaway joke – and this comic has so many! The rescue tally might be one of my favorites.

Worst things about it:
I guess the overall arc once we got to explanations was a bit too unreal and, if you will, Marvel-like for my taste. I wouldn’t mind something a little bit down-to-earth (and coherent) – but maybe I just didn’t pay enough attention, distracted by all the details and shirtless Hunter.

Other pluses:
Mockingbird is a cool enough character: I like her competence and her devil-may-care attitude. I’m also a fan of Hunter since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (back when I watched it, that is). It reads really fast and you have to admire the puzzle box structure (even though I don’t think it’s as complex as the comic makes it out to be).

Other minuses:
I know it’s standard but I don’t like when art changes during a comic’s run so guest art was not my thing.

How it enriched my life:
I spent a pleasant evening and morning reading the whole run and was reminded that Marvel comics don’t have to be so standard and predictable as they sometimes appear to be.

“Fun” fact:
It’s not fun at all but apparently the author was harassed and threatened online by crappy readers who didn’t like the feminist overtones of the comic. Ugh, shouldn’t nerds be more open-minded, having been probably bullied or at least misunderstood themselves? (Not how it works, I know.)

Follow-up:
The comic was cancelled after 8 issues so I don’t expect to really follow up on it but I might be interested in other work by Ms. Cain.

Recommended for:
Open-minded fans of Marvel (or superheroes) who like twists in their superhero fare. People who like visual riddles. Feminists, maybe, or just people who like to see extremely competent female heroes.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Typo Berlin 2017

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