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Posts Tagged ‘comics’

Books read, February 2016

The Wicked + the Divine, vol. 1: The Faust Act, Kieron Gillen (writer) and James McKelvie (artist).
The Wicked + the Divine, vol. 2: Fandemonium, Kieron Gillen (writer) and James McKelvie (artist).
The Wicked + the Divine, vol. 3: Commercial Suicide, Kieron Gillen (writer) and James McKelvie (artist).

(I’m listing them all together for the sake of convenience, but they were interspersed with other things.)

This is a comic book series set in a slightly alternate version of our world, where every 90 years there is a “Recurrence”: twelve gods manifest in twelve mortal hosts (not the same gods every time). They become instant rock stars, or period equivalent, with people falling at their feet in ecstasy; within two years all twelve are dead.

The storytelling here is a little bit disjointed — especially in the third volume, which is basically a collection of one-off issues that go into more detail on a selection of this particular Recurrence’s pantheon. But even when the story is moving forward, it often does so in a fashion that’s a little hard for me to follow; what I thought was the through-line turned out very much not to be. Despite that, I’m enjoying the series. I like the variety of gods: at the start of the series, not all twelve have manifested yet, but you’ve got Amaterasu, Baphomet, Minerva, Lucifer, the Morrigan (and Badb and “Gentle Annie” — she switches between aspects), Inanna, Woden, one of the Baals, and a Tara nobody’s quite sure of — there are several different Taras she could be. The gods appear to be no respecters of detail; Lucifer is a woman, Inanna is a man, and there’s discussion of what it means that Amaterasu showed up in the body of a white Englishwoman.

The main thing I will say — and I don’t think this is a spoiler — is that I don’t trust a single word that comes out of Ananke’s mouth. She is (in some theogonies) the Greek personification of Necessity, and she seems to be some kind of mentor figure to the pantheon each time around. She is also a highly dubious character, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s really up with her and the whole Recurrence thing.

Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho. A fun romp, though ultimately it didn’t hang together as much as I wanted it to. You’ve got the decline of magic resource in England, the challenges to Zacharias as the Sorcerer Royal, the troubles on Janda Baik, and Prunella’s mysterious legacy — but because all the Janda Baik stuff was offstage, being reported second-hand by characters who mostly didn’t stick around long enough to make much of an impression, it felt more tacked-on than I would have liked. And Prunella’s backstory wound up being wholly unrelated, except insofar as she happened to be involved with the rest of it. Certainly it’s possible to go too far with linking things, tying every narrative strand up in such a neat little bow that it comes across as entirely contrived. But this didn’t link them enough for my taste (a Big Revelation doesn’t mean much if the facts revealed are entirely without context), and the resolution of some of the problems felt much too convenient — all the stuff at the seaside, basically. But I very much liked the complexity of the relationships between the two protagonists and their surrogate parent figures, and the fact that Prunella keeps one very practical eye on the necessity of securing her future by ordinary means.

Yamada Monogatari: To Break the Demon Gate, Richard Parks. Set in the same continuity as his Lord Yamada stories. I mentioned after reading the collection that the last piece felt much less like a short story and much more like setup for the novel; well, it turns out that it’s literally the beginning of the novel. It works much better in that context. Overall, though, I prefer the short stories — not necessarily because there’s anything wrong with this book, but just because I like what the stories are doing better. Each one of them tends to be a bite-sized look at some aspect of Japanese folklore, with Lord Yamada investigating and solving the mystery, then resolving the spiritual problem; here the same thing is generally true, but the additional wordage is almost entirely filled with politics instead of additional supernatural things, and that’s not really what engages me with this series. Plus, I do think Parks leaned overly hard on the “my protagonist and narrator has figured out what’s going on, but you the reader must remain in the dark” trick — which I know is a trope of a certain kind of mystery fiction, but it works better for me in third-person stories, or at shorter lengths. It made the Lady Snow stuff fall kind of flat in the end. Still, I’ll go on to read The War God’s Son at some point.

The Dragon Round, Stephen S. Power. Read for blurbing purposes. This was pitched to me as “the Count of Monte Cristo, with dragons” — which, yes, thank you, I’ll take that. As it turns out, it was less Monte Cristo-ish than I anticipated; it lacks the element of “mysterious and fabulously wealthy nobleman” which I think of as being the defining characteristic of that story type. But it’s a revenge tale, and one with certain kinds of complexity I very much like: for starters, when Jeryon is dumped into a boat by his mutinous crew and set adrift, he’s not alone. There’s an apothecary with him, a woman who refused to go along with the mutiny. And it turns out that the whole survival at sea/on a deserted island narrative feels 300% fresher when it isn’t just a tale of Rugged, Manly Individualism; Jeryon and the poth (as she mostly gets called, though she does have a name) have complementary skills that are both necessary, and along with struggling to survive, they have to figure out how not to kill each other during the lengthy period of time when they’re the only two human beings around.

As for the rest of the story — it doesn’t go the way you expect it to, and knowing not to expect the usual is probably helpful. I didn’t actually realize while I was reading this that it’s the start of a series, and the series is not about Jeryon getting his revenge. According to Power’s website, it’s about changes in the way humans and dragons interrelate — and Jeryon’s quest for revenge is more of an inciting incident than the spine of the tale. So if “revenge story” is not your cuppa, this may still be interesting to you.

Books read, March 2015

Avatar: The Promise, vol. 1
Avatar: The Promise, vol. 2
Avatar: The Promise, vol. 3, Gene Luen Yang.

I read the first of these a while ago, but forgot until I went to shelve my new acquisitions that I hadn’t read the rest of the set. So I backed up to the start again.

In this trilogy of comic books, Yang takes on issues of postcolonialism and interracial marriage — no, really. It got me reflecting on the differences between what I’ll term a “simple” treatment of something and a “simplistic” one: here, those issues get resolved more easily than they would be in the real world, but they are present. I think of that as a simple treatment, but not a simplistic one. The city of Yu Dao is a Fire Nation colony, but it’s a century old; it has been built up from a tiny village by a mixed group of Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom citizens, some of whom have intermarried, others of whom are close friends. Making amends for Fire Nation imperialism by yanking all people of that ethnicity out of Yu Dao would not actually be justice . . . but just leaving them there isn’t quite a solution, either. And this all gets tangled up in a promise between Zuko and Aang, which provides your regularly scheduled dose of Zuko Angst. 🙂 I quite enjoyed it.

Avatar: The Rift, vol. 1
Avatar: The Rift, vol. 2
, Gene Luen Yang.

Haven’t acquired and read the third volume yet. Aang takes the Gaang to see an old sacred Air Nomad site, and finds a factory has been built on top of it. Things get complicated from there. I’m really enjoying these comic-book continuations; they provide nice explorations of the world and how it changed from Aang’s day to Korra’s. And I really like how the Air Nomad fankids are being handled.

Chains and Memory, Marie Brennan. My own books don’t count.

a friend’s novel in manuscript I won’t give the title or author here, because this book hasn’t even been submitted to editors yet, and it would be cruel of me to taunt you all with gushing about its awesomeness when you won’t be able to read it for who knows how long. 🙂 But never fear! I will be back to talk about it more when the time comes.

Chains and Memory, Marie Brennan. Can you tell what I’ve been revising this month?

Taltos, Steven Brust. The structure of this one was interesting. Based on the cover copy, I was quickly able to make a general guess at what was going on in the brief/later bits opening the chapters, and it added a nice (if slightly vague) element of tension. The flashback stuff . . . I liked it, but I think I would have liked a smaller/less frequent dose of it, just because it kept pulling me out of the main story with Aliera/Morrolan/the Paths of the Dead/etc. The latter had some very cool moments in it, and I would have liked to stay in that mood, instead of jumping back and forth. But hey: I don’t fault Brust for experimenting. With a long series like this, it’s nice not to have every installment be like every other installment.

The Guns of Avalon, Roger Zelazny. I was a little unfair to this one: I started reading it some number of months ago, got interrupted, and when I came back I didn’t feel like re-reading the beginning. So it took me a while to get my footing and remember what Corwin was doing, apart from “trying to take over Amber.” I got into it pretty well by the end: there was a point where it seemed entirely possible that the message of the story was going to be “by the way, the protagonist is the villain,” and even though it didn’t go down that path, it went far enough to be interesting. And I want to see what’s up with Dara, though given the time period these were written, I recognize that the answer to that question may frustrate me more than it pleases.

Books read, February 2015

Was still mostly busy with revisions, but I did get some reading in.

Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson. I’ve bounced off several of his works before — something about them just hasn’t clicked with me — but this one was in my World Fantasy bag, and its opening pages drew me in enough that I kept going.

More than anything, Steelheart reminds me of Mike Underwood’s Shield and Crocus. They have a similar “superpowers in a weird dystopian city” vibe going on, though Underwood’s book partakes of the New Weird aesthetic, and Sanderson’s does not. In this case, Epics are the source of the dystopia: they all seem to be sociopaths, and since they started appearing, the world has gone to hell in a handbasket. Steelheart follows the efforts of the Reckoners (a resistance organization) to overthrow the title character, who rules the city of New Cago with <fails her Pun Resistance roll> a steel fist.

Sanderson is either not quite as mean as I am, or else he thought of the same thing and couldn’t find a way out of that particular corner, either. You see, in order to kill Steelheart, the Reckoners have to figure out his weakness. I had a theory for what that weakness might be, and the evidence wholly supported my idea . . . but Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick, it would have made Steelheart almost 100% impossible to kill. The actual answer was still pretty tough, but not quite as bad. Anyway, the book moved at a good clip, and I may pick up the sequel, Firefight.

The Winner’s Crime, Marie Rutkoski. Reviewed here.

Avatar: The Search, vol. 1, Gene Luen Yang.
Avatar: The Search, vol. 2
Avatar: The Search, vol. 3

My husband and I wandered into the local comic book store on the way back from dinner one night, and I noticed there were more Avatar volumes out. Thinking I had finished the first series (I hadn’t, and you’ll be seeing reviews of those in next month’s post), I went ahead and bought the second one.

This series deals with Zuko, Azula, and their long-vanished mother. It’s been a while since I watched the TV series — ye gods, I had forgotten how unstable Azula became at the end. She’s, um. Not much more stable here. It also turns out that the story of their mother is a bit on the convoluted side . . . but I forgive that because the Mother of Faces is an excellent spirit character. Creepy and cool and very, very much not human. (And not secretly Zuko’s mother, which I just realized the juxtaposition there might imply.)

On the whole, I have to say the Avatar comics are a pretty solid example of continuing a story in comics form and doing it well. The plots here have substance, but aren’t the kind of thing that needs a whole TV series to work out. On the screen, they would feel like a letdown after the series finale. On the page, they’re reasonably substantial snacks, and do a nice job of addressing some of the dangling threads without feeling like unnecessary fanfic.

ItLoD, Marie Brennan. My own work doesn’t count. No matter how many hours I spent on it.

tonight’s random train of thought

Faffing around, putting off actually getting started again on work like I should, browsing the web, come across a mention of Wendy and Richard Pini, spend a moment imagining what I would say to them if I met them.

Remember that way back in the day, I bought the Elfquest RPG and made a bunch of characters, but never actually played the game; just sat around making up stories that more or less amounted to OC fanfic.

Probably a good thing we never actually played it. I think the game was Chaosium, and I don’t recall the system being really all that well-suited to the setting — not that I would have known the difference at the time.

Hmmm. What would be a good system for running an Elfquest game?

. . . no, I’m not actually planning on running such a thing. File this under “fun things to fiddle with,” like my hack of Cinematic Unisystem for Harry Potter or Mage: The Awakening for the Wheel of Time. (Or, um, Pathfinder for Dragon Age. Except I actually ran that one for a while.) But I open the floor to suggestions: what would you use for Elfquest? I personally have no idea, but I’m curious what other people might suggest.

comic books for young children?

Question on behalf of friends:

They are looking for comic books suitable for their five-year-old daughter to read. She reads at the level of an eight- or nine-year-old, in terms of vocabulary and comprehension; however, she does not have the emotional or psychological development of a kid that age. In particular, she has recently started to grok what death means, and is deeply upset by it; ergo stories that involve death are (at present) Right Out. (Even in a therapeutic, coming-to-terms-with-it way. The parents are handling the issue, but for now they don’t want to give her stories that will trigger a meltdown.) Ergo, they’re looking for lighthearted things with content suitable for a five-year-old, even if the language is more sophisticated than that.

Suggestions? My own knowledge of comic books is pretty narrow, and in terms of age suitability doesn’t go any younger than, oh, Elfquest. They want comic books because although their daughter’s reading comprehension is great, she’s much more interested in stories that have pictures than those without. And, y’know. The parents are geeks, too, and it’s never too early to indoctrinate your child!

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a saga of ye gods and little stick figures

I know some of you read The Order of the Stick, one of the oldest and best D&D parodies on the web. But whether you do or not, I have to direct you, with suitable awe, at the saga of its Kickstarter project.

Creator Rich Burlew set out to raise $57,750 to get one of the collections, War and XPs, back into print. He blew through that goal in less than twenty-four hours. As I write this post, he has raised $868,072 — and that number will certainly have gone up by the time I hit “post.”

You can follow the tale via the project updates. Scroll down to the bottom to find the first one, and then do the same for the more recent ones. It is, I think, an amazing testament both to what Kickstarter can do, and how to do a Kickstarter project well. Burlew has done an excellent job of adapting to the overwhelming success of his fundraiser; not only did he rapidly set new goals (reprinting other out-of-print books, increasing print runs, covering the increased expenses for all the rewards packages), he found a lot of clever ways to reward people for their support. And throughout, he’s been highly transparent about the entire process, so that nobody is going to walk away thinking he’s put their money to a use they didn’t expect. (If anybody is displeased with what he’s done so far, they’re still free to cancel their support: nothing is final until the fundraiser ends.)

It’s a marvel in a number of respects. And if you have any interest in this kind of crowdsourcing model, his experience is worth studying.

What I Got for Yuletide (a bit belated)

I’ve been extremely uncommunicative lately — and my apologies if I owe you an e-mail, which is quite a lot of you — but I’m breaking radio silence just before I go home to link you all to the story I got for Yuletide, which is absolutely beautiful.

“The Cautery Wind” combines two of my Elfquest-related suggestions: for my assigned writer to make up their own tribe in the World of Two Moons, and to give backstory for one of the original four tribes from canon (in this case, the Sun Folk). It’s darker than more Elfquest, but in an appropriate way; it picks up on the threads of darkness that are already in the series, and looks at them head-on. The frame is Savah telling a story that Skywise and Timmain need to hear, and it contains more lovely notes than I can list about what it means for the Mother of Memory to want to forget something, what it means for Skywise to have changed the way he did in Kings of the Broken Wheel, what the relationship between Skywise and Timmain is about, and what the differences (and similarities) are between elves and humans. To name just a few of the things I loved about it.

The story probably won’t mean a lot to people who haven’t read the series, but if you know Elfquest, go read this story. It’s a wonderful fan-made addendum to the canon.

I’ll believe it when I see it, but . . . .

Courtesy of moonandserpent: Elfquest movie inches closer to actual existence.

I’ve always assumed the thing would never happen, but if it did . . . folks, this is one of the deep foundational stories in my head, one of the things that’s been with me for years and years and years. A movie would either be awesome or a travesty. I’m willing to risk the latter for the chance of the former.

And now I need to persuade myself that the things I have to get done today take priority over curling up with Elfquest.

Project Rooftop

This is old, but I just came across it last night, and since apparently Project Runway just had its finale, the timing is appropriate. Seems that a group of people (backed by Zeus Comics in Dallas) organized a contest to redesign Wonder Woman’s costume, inviting artists to submit images showcasing their ideas.

Each one has commentary from the judges, including Gail Simone, who has gotten a fair bit of respect for the work she’s done on the title. What I like about reading the comments is seeing the kinds of considerations the judges keep in mind, which range all over the board. Quality of the art, reproducibility for comic-book use, classical style, use of Wonder Woman icons and motifs, but also things like whether any real woman could move in the outfit without being chafed or eviscerated by her own clothing. And they’re broad-minded; they give props to a number of designs that aren’t remotely appropriate for standard-issue Wonder Woman, but would be great for an Elseworlds or historical or manga-style character, or one of the side characters from the series.

The closest I’ve come to reading a Wonder Woman comic is seeing her in Kingdom Come, since I’m not so much with the superhero titles. But I found this fun to look over nonetheless.

thoughts on superhero prose

What with the book being done and all, one of two things will happen.

1) All the thoughts that have been piling up in the back corners of my head will finally come spilling out in a bunch of posts on topics I didn’t have the energy for while noveling.

2) I will sit here like a zombie, clicking “refresh” on various webpages, being terribly disappointed by the lack of updating to entertain me, while all those thoughts die on the vine.

I’m aiming for #1, so here’s a step in that direction.

First up: superhero fiction.