Category: Reviews

Elektra by Greg Rucka Ultimate Collection (with various artists)

I’m going to try to be quick with this one: it’s very much not my thing in multiple ways, and I read it to sample both what my old college buddy Rucka has been doing and what mainstream Marvel comics are like. The answer, in both cases, is: still things I’m not all that interested in, and which I do not enjoy, which is totally fine.

Elektra by Greg Rucka Ultimate Collection  collects more than a year of the title comic about the ninja super-assassin, issues 7-22 from just over a decade ago. The art is by a whole lot of different people, most of which was in styles I found actively off-putting. (Worst: Greg Horn, whose glossy photorealism seemingly only comes at the expense of composition and energy and movement and human body proportions. Best: Carlos Meglia, with two great cartoony issues full of zip and vigor. Everyone else was variously muddy and dull and generically gritty, to my eye.)

This is the kind of comic that aggressively insists that it’s nothing like superheroes as it features an unstoppable overpowered killing machine wearing a silly unfeasible costume and fighting against magic ninjas. I have never found any part of that argument compelling. And the fact that the overall plotline here is, more or less, “maybe, Elektra, spending your life murdering people for money in job lots is not the greatest thing you could possibly be doing” adds to that great-power-great-responsibility hoo-ha.

Anyway, Elektra is the world’s greatest assassin, who kills people in that stripper costume she’s wearing on the cover (and often other clothes; she’s an equal-opportunity murderess) in various inventive ways and, at this point, was completely separate from the regular Marvel Universe so she could be grimmer and grittier. Although the trained-by-good-and-then-evil-ninjas thing, and the whole she-was-dead-for-a-while-but-got-better deal, are still baked into her backstory on a molecular level.

These are crime stories about a globetrotting international assassin, and they are never as fun and thrilling as that phrase makes them sound. As usual, Rucka focuses on the mental trauma his characters face, and Elektra has been brainwashed so many times it’s a wonder she can cross the street without a Boy Scout. They are largely “about” the kind of serious “issues” that superhero comics get into when they’re feeling expansive: life’s purpose and meaning

, how glorious and intoxicating it is to murder a whole lot of people, the difficulty of maintaining a steady clientele in the international-assassin business, and so on.

I’m already running on too long, and getting too snarky: the stories here are solid of their kind, but they’re very tough-guy stories, in the old paperback thriller mode. It is nice to see that Marvel can publish stories in which people in funny costumes kill each other, instead of just punch each other through buildings and then take each other to super-jail, I guess.

This sequence of stories seems to have largely been Rucka trying to reset from “Elektra kills people for money and is a total badass about it” to “Elektra feels bad about having killed lots of people and might possibly be looking to do Good Things to redress her karmic balance,” but the moment of reset, if I’m right, is at the very end of this book. So I don’t know if it stuck, and frankly I don’t care enough to investigate.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

REVIEW: Shrek 20th Anniversary Edition

The best thing about Shrek when it debuted 20 (yikes!) years ago was that it brought a fresh take on traditional fairy tales and got a generation of children to understand that there were more ways to tell these classic stories than the Disney way. The humor here was contemporary and original while still respecting the lessons these were designed to convey.

Now, celebrating the 20th anniversary of its release, Universal Home Entertainment has spruced up the original film for its 4k Ultra HD debut. It comes in a combo pack with the Blu-ray disc and Digital HD code.

It’s still funny, with Mike Meyers affecting a fine Scottish accent for the title character, paired with Eddie Murphy’s memorable Donkey along with Cameron Diaz (Princess Fiona), John Lithgow (Lord Farquaad), and Vincent Cassel as Monsieur Hood. To protect the swamp home of the ogre and its other denizens, Shrek takes on the evil Lord, rescues the princess, and a fine time is had by all. The music sells itself and there are funny moments throughout, still making me laugh.

While the CGI animation hasn’t aged as well as some other productions, Shrek is still good to watch and Universal gets credit for cleaning it up as best it could for both the 4K and Blu-ray discs. The color balance is nicely improved along with the depth of field.

The DTS:X Master Audio soundtrack is perhaps stronger, so you can enjoy the music, dialogue, and sound effects.

Given the film’s smash success, it spawned several sequels (none yet in 4K) in addition to television shorts, music videos, and related fun. Much of it can be found on the two Blu-rays discs in the set. There is actually no new content produced for the anniversary edition, just collecting previously released material. You can decide for yourself if the upgrade in the film itself is worth the investment.

On the 4K Ultra HD disc, you can find several of the original Blu-ray features:

  • Shrek’s Interactive Journey: 1
  • Spotlight on Donkey (11:37).
  • Secrets of Shrek (3:50):
  • Deleted Scenes (8:01).
  • Shrek in the Swamp Karaoke Dance Party (2:51).
  • Baha Men “Best Years of Our Lives” (3:08).
  • Smash Mouth “I’m a Believer” (1080p, 3:15).
  • Shrek The Musical: “What’s Up, Duloc?” (3:56).
  • Audio Commentary: Directors Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson and Producer Aron Warner.

On Blu-ray disc 1:

  • The Animators’ Corner
  • Shrek’s Interactive Journey
  • Spotlight on Donkey (11:38)
  • Secrets of Shrek (3:52)
  • Deleted Scenes (8:01).
  • Audio Commentary: Directors Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson and Producer Aron Warner.
  • Shrek, Rattle & Roll:
    • Swamp Karaoke Dance Party (2:53),
    • Baha Men “Best Years of Our Lives” (3:08)
    • Smash Mouth “I’m a Believer” (3:15)
    • Shrek The Musical: “What’s Up, Duloc?” (3:57)
    • DreamWorks Animation Video Jukebox (1080p)

On Blu-ray disc 2:

  • Swamp Karaoke Party (2:51)
  • Far Far Away Idol (9:00)
  • Puss in Boots: The Three Diablos (13:06)
  • Shrek’s Halloween Favorites:
    • The Ghost of Lord Farquaad (12:34)
    • Scared Shrekless (25:30)
    • Thriller Night (6:08)
    • The Pig Who Cried Werewolf (6:49)
  • Shrek’s Holiday Favorites:
    • Shrek the Halls (28:02)
    • Donkey’s Caroling Christmas-tacular (6:39)
    • Shrek’s Yule Log (30:19)
  • The Adventures of Puss In Boots:
    • Hidden (23:04)
    • Sphinx (23:04)
    • Brothers (23:04)
    • Dutchess (23:04)
    • Adventure (23:02):

REVIEW: Justice Society: World War II

Comic fandom has crossed so thoroughly into the mainstream, that mass media is proving elastic enough to encompass what was previously considered the obscure. Case in point, the just-released Justice Society: World War II direct-to-video film. Here is a story focused on the first comic book team that finally gets the spotlight after making cameos and guest appearances on animated and live-action television productions dating back to Smallville.

I personally love the JSA and was thrilled they were getting a film of their own. Unfortunately, the finished product is not the JSA we know, nor is it a particularly good piece of storytelling. Producers Butch Lukic and Jim Krieg apparently started this project as a Wonder Woman in WW II story that morphed and was appended to the parallel worlds concept.

We start on what we presume is the DCAU world as Flash (Matt Bomer) comes to aid Superman (Darren Criss) but clearly, it’s not our familiar world because there is no JLA. As the Scarlet Speedster tries to save Superman from a kryptonite missile fired by Brainiac

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, he winds up piercing the dimension veil to find himself not only on a parallel world but back in time.

He arrives in Europe as Hawkman (Omid Abtahi), Black Canary (Elysia Rotaru), Hourman (Matthew Mercer), and Flash (Armen Taylor), follow Wonder Woman’s (Stana Katic) lead. The initial battle sequence shows exactly why super-heroes didn’t directly engage against the Axis forces. The war would end in days not years.

Along the way, the modern-day Flash is slow to figure things out and the others view him askance until his older counterpart offers up the multiple worlds theory and then he’s one of them. Tagging along is a war correspondent, nicknamed Shakespeare, but it is actually Clark Kent, but a man whose adoptive parents, the Kents, died young and he was raised in an orphanage with a jaundiced view of using his powers for a humanity that has not been kind to him.

And of course, there’s Steve Trevor (Chris Diamantopoulos), the audience’s human connection to the story. Here, he’s accomplished and heroic, but hopelessly devoted to Wonder Woman, proposing to her daily. He’s probably the best thing in the film.

As we shift into the second half of the film, the real threat is presented in the form of The Advisor (Geoffrey Arend), who has taken mental control of that world’s Aquaman (Liam McIntyre). He’s out to conquer all, which is a brutal way to end the global conflict. At least it’s a threat worthy of super-heroes. So, as we build to the climax, there’s death, destruction, and lots of predictable moments.

Along the way, the heroes are never given a chance to be developed as characters. Audiences are left wondering as to the cherry-picked nature of the team, why this Canary has the sonic scream, why does Jay Garrick know about the Speed Force but Barry, who comes across as a dim bulb, does not. Of all the JSA characters present, the one receiving the worst treatment was Doctor Fate (Keith Ferguson).

Director Jeff Wamester and screenwriters Meghan Fitzmartin & Jeremy Adams could have done so much more with the source material, but what is presented here is soulless and unsurprising. The animation looks more limited than usual, which takes away from the enjoyment.

The 1.78:1 high-definition film looks sharp with good colors in what is a generally muted palette, bringing the horrors of war nicely to life. The video is nicely complemented by the audio.

Thankfully, the Combo Pack (4K, Blu-ray, Digital), comes with the far superior DC Showcase: Kamandi (18:03), which faithfully adapts Jack Kirby’s adventure series. Visually, the Kirby designs come to life and the story feels like Earth After the Great Disaster.

The director, producers, and screenwriters sit around congratulating themselves in Adventures in Storytelling (30:04), where they explain their choices and touch on the ideas they brought to the production, but it didn’t translate from idea to execution anywhere near as well as they think.

We also have Sneak Peek: Batman: The Long Halloween Part 1 (10:29) which is being touted as being the most faithful adaptation from a comic story. It certainly looks great with strong visuals and an interesting voice cast including the late Naya Rivera as Catwoman.

Finally, only available on disc is the From the DC Vault: Justice League: “Legends, Part One” and “Legends, Part Two”.

The Adventures of Tintin, Vol 5 by Herge

I am still not your Tintin expert – I’m in the middle of my first reading of this series, seventy years or so after it was published and a good forty years after I was in the target demographic – but I did just read The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 5 , the first major post-war chunk of the adventures of the Belgian boy reporter (ha!), so I can, I hope, tell you a few things.

I’ve previously gotten through the earlier omnibuses: one , and two , and three , and four . I have not yet found the first two, semi-forgotten books Tintin in the Land of the Soviets and Tintin in the Congo, which are generally considered to be racist and/or dull and/or not up to Herge’s later level; I may get to them eventually, though the library copies I originally expected to read seem to have been quietly removed from circulation since I first thought about reading Tintin.

This volume starts off with Land of Black Gold, the story interrupted by WWII – Herge started it in 1939, was interrupted in 1940 by a small Nazi invasion of Belgium, and did six other books before getting back to this in 1948. [1] I didn’t know that until I read it on Wikipedia a few minutes ago, so major props to Herge and/or his estate for smoothing that transition out. Then it dives into what I see is the last two-book story in Tintin’s history: Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon, in which a pre-teen Belgian boy, his sea-captain buddy, and their absent-minded professor accomplice become the world’s first astronauts in a program run by a random Eastern European country, because comics, that’s why.

Black Gold does feel pre-war, with some vaguely escalating tensions in the background – mostly seen commercially, in oil prices – but the focus of the plot, as I think was always the case with Tintin, is on individual evil people rather than The Land of the Evil People or SMERSH or anything like that. Oh, the evil people are organized

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, and come from somewhere, but it’s not the named, re-used Land of the Evil People, it’s just a place where these particular Evil People came from. This one is also deeply colonialist, obviously – how could it be otherwise?

And then Professor Calculus has been recruited by Syldavia to run their space program, because a small Balkan monarchy of course has a space program in 1948. (Admittedly, everyone wanted a space program in 1948, at least on the V2 level, and fictioneers are not obliged to let reality impinge too heavily on their worlds.) A rival country – unnamed but probably Borduria, unless I missed something – attempts skullduggery both before the launch (in Destination) and during the trip to the moon (in Explorers), but, as always in Tintin, is foiled by the forces of good and right and spiky-haired Belgianness.

This series is still the same kind of thing: everything I said about the earlier books still applies. They are very wordy for adventure stories, which makes this small-format omnibus a less than ideal presentation. These pages should be large, to be savored and to let the word balloons be somewhat less overwhelming. The comic relief is deeply slapstick, entirely silly, and mostly successful. The plots aren’t complex, per se, but they are complicated, full of additional wrinkles and problems as Herge rumbles through his stories and makes sure he has sixty-some pages of stuff for Tintin to overcome each time.

I expect I’ll finish up the series, and maybe even find the old suppressed books if I can, because I am a completest. But if you didn’t grow up with these, they’re just OK. Solid adventure fiction for boys, yes. Deathless classics of any kind, no.

[1] It’s all much more complicated than that, and I say “books” when I mean “serialized stories in a series of different magazines, which were then collected into books not always in the same sequence and then re-edited and revised multiple times over the next few decades, including but not limited to during different rounds of translation into English.” But they’re books now.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Starport by George R.R. Martin and Raya Golden

Stories are inherently molded by their format. A novelization is different from a movie: it typically will include scenes and lots of interior monologues absent in its model. The same happens in any adaption – the original format has certain strength and structures, the new one does things differently.

Starport  is a TV pilot: it declares that in every second the reader experiences it. I also found it to be a somewhat quaint TV pilot, in the ’80s/90s vein, because George R.R. Martin wrote it as a script in 1993 and it’s been mostly sitting in a drawer ever since. (It was published, as a script, in the GRRM collection Quartet nearly two decades ago.) But it was available, and, for whatever reason, it was dusted off and artist Raya Golden took that TV script (of what seems to be long enough for a three-hour TV movie, planned to launch a series, and that length may be a clue why it never happened), adapted it into a comics script (of about 260 pages, if I counted correctly). Golden keeps the TV beats and structure: Starport in its graphic novel form is divided into twelve chapters, each one just the right length to fit between commercial breaks.

In this universe, the inevitable Harmony of Worlds contacted Earth the day after tomorrow (Super Bowl Day, to be exact), and invited us to join the previous 314 species in intergalactic peace and prosperity. Starports were built in Singapore, Amsterdam, and (last and most troubled) Chicago. [1] That last one is the focus of the story, and smart people will realize all of that allows the production to use normal US exteriors and sets, with just a few skiffy specifics and a lot of rubber facial prosthetics and a few carefully-husbanded FX shots to sell the aliens.

It’s a post-ST: TNG SF pilot, with no hint of X-Files, to place it in time — DS9 and B5 were in development when Martin wrote the script, and he may have been able to see finished episodes before he turned the Starport script into Fox. Possibly more importantly, it’s post-Hill Street Blues, and I would not be surprised if one of the pitches was “What if ST: TNG aliens were in HSB Chicago?”

This is a cop show, with a large cast. We have the new detective getting promoted and joining the precinct responsible for the Starport; we have his new partner, the Buntz character; we have two duos of uniformed cops; we have the tough-as-nails female sergeant and her tired-and-ready-for-retirement captain; we have the honor-obsessed alien cop whose anatomy is compatible enough to be fucking a human main character secretly; we have the womanizing, super-successful undercover cop; we have a harried and potentially corrupt alien starport overseer; we have a bar where all the human cops go to drink together and make sure the reader can keep them and the plot straight. I may be presenting them all as stereotypes; in my defense, they are stereotypes. The point of this script was to establish exactly which stereotypes each of them were, to slot them into a dependable American TV framework and allow the actual actors to start expanding those roles if and when it went to series.

It did not go to series; it was never produced at all. And twenty-five-plus years later, it’s so much an artifact of its time that I doubt it ever could be. So this is the only version I expect we will ever get, with Golden’s slightly cartoony art well-suiting the era and aliens but falling a little short on the moments of high drama.

Technically, Starport is a complete story: it sets up a conflict and resolves it. Several major characters have arcs as well. Realistically, it was designed to set up larger conflicts and concerns that Martin hoped would run for several years in a prominent hour-long prime-time spot nationwide, and give him a lucrative showrunning job for the mid-90s. That did not happen; after Starport, Martin felt burned out on Hollywood and focused his attention on what he planned as a fantasy trilogy, starting with the novel A Game of Thrones three years later. (You may have heard of it.)

So this is a road not taken, and, frankly, I think any Martin fan reading it will be happy about that. This could have been a decent TV series, maybe better than that. It could even have broken out and been a massive sensation, as X-Files was about to do at the same network Martin pitched Starport. But Martin’s prose fiction is better than this, and we’ve gotten two-plus decades of that fiction since then in large part because Starport failed.

And now we also got something like the pilot of Starport that never happened

, so I think we’ve gotten the maximum we could reasonably expect.

[1] That the backstory of Starport includes a Super Bowl in Chicago is the least likely thing about it.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

The Book Tour by Andi Watson

Any author would agree that a book tour has the potential for horror. It could be wonderful, of course — but what in human life is ever purely wonderful? There’s going to be something that goes bad. And there’s always the chance it could all go bad.

Which brings us to Andi Watson’s graphic novel The Book Tour , in which things go wrong, first very quietly and subtly then more and more obviously, for journeyman author G.H. Fretwell as he sets off on a tour for his new novel Without K [1] of what seem to be minor cities in some unnamed European country. It could be today, it could be the late 19th century. Fretwell takes steam trains, he stays in hotels – shabbier and shabbier, dodgier and dodgier as the tour goes on. And the tour does go on – that’s  one of the things that goes wrong, from Fretwell’s point of view.

He sets off with high hopes, a nice suit, and a suitcase full of books. He comes to the first stop on his tour, a cozy and quaint bookshop, sets up at a table in a corner with a stack of books and a good pen, and waits for readers.

It’s only the first of many bad experiences when he doesn’t sell a single book that day, or interact with a single person who cares about his work. The hotel that night is good, but things don’t go as well as he hopes. This is as good as its going to get for Fretwell.

There are shocking stories in the newspaper, which Fretwell does not read: he focuses only on the literary pages. There are dangers and surprises and troubles which he barely notices, even as they get closer and closer to him.

He meets with an editor: not his editor, who is unavoidably detained somewhere else. He is invited to a literary event verbally, but is unable to enter without a printed invitation. He finds the shops and hotels getting less appealing, and his itinerary getting longer and more onerous.

And then it gets much worse.

This is a different kind of book for Andi Watson: he’s spent most of the past decade and a half making fun, light adventure stories for younger readers, and close to a decade before that making resonant stories for adults that were not necessarily romances but centered on personal and family relationships. This is a more literary book, a book of quiet depths, where he implies much more than he shows, and shows vastly more than he tells.

The art is quicker-looking as well, with rough panel borders and lines that have a feeling of speed. Watson’s mid-century character designs – I always see a lot of UPA in his people’s faces – are precise and expressive while still being deeply caricatured, always in a style that fits the look of the book. The panels are tight, mostly in a grid – he does open up, here and there, but the overall feeling is tightness, closeness, with a lot of vertical lines for looming buildings and rain and grim functionaries and towering stacks of books and other ominous things.

The Book Tour can read quickly, but there’s a lot that happens in the gutters between panels and a lot that is implied by what people mention to Fretwell. So don’t read it quickly: this is a book to linger over, to think about, to enjoy the drawings and think about what may really be happening while poor Fretwell is distracted with his ever-worsening book tour.

[1] In-universe

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, this is a reference to Fretwell’s wife’s name, Rebecca (without a ‘k’). Doylistically, it could also be a subtle Kafka reference.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson

No one’s story is as smooth and clear as it looks from outside. It might seem like someone has had only success after success, rising quickly, winning awards and conquering worlds at a young age. But you’d have to ask that person what it was really like.

The Fire Never Goes Ou t is a “what it was really like” book, covering roughly the past decade in Noelle Stevenson’s life. That was a decade where she went through art school in Baltimore, was discovered by an Internet audience, got a literary agent and a book deal, published a graphic novel that was a bestseller and an Eisner winner and a finalist for real-world literary awards too, graduated and got jobs writing and producing in Hollywood, was showrunner for an acclaimed popular TV show, fell in love and got married.

The comics collected here are about what that all felt like to Stevenson, how she was driven and tormented and felt like she was both on fire and had a hole straight through her body. (Comics are an ideal medium for this kind of personal reflection: Stevenson can just draw herself the way she feels

, burning or covered with spikes or with a gaping hole in her chest, talking with her younger self or changing looks and style from drawing to drawing. And she does: she makes great use of the freedom comics gives her.) From the outside, it looks great: that rising arc of a career and life that we all think our twenties will be or should have been. From the inside…my guess is that Stevenson was both driven by her passions and demons to achieve what she did, and that those passions and demons made it all much harder and the crashes worse than it would otherwise have been.

But she did get through it: this is the story of getting through it. Assembled from the comics she made at the time, starting in 2011 in that first year of art school and running through her marriage in 2019. Much of the book is made up of long year-end posts she did – I’m not sure what social platform, or if they’re still available there, but they were stories made to be told in public and shared with her regular audience immediately – on her New Year’s Eve birthday every year from ’11 through ’18.

This book is triumphant, through adversity. It is true. It is aimed at the generation coming up after Stevenson, living their own complicated lives and feeling their own fires and holes in their chests, and I think it will help a lot of them, either directly or by telling them it’s OK to ask for help.

She has the fire. I believe her when she says it will not go out.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Giant Days, Vols. 11-14 by John Allison, Max Sarin, & Whitney Cogar

I go on a lot here about endings: how important they are, that it’s not a story without an ending, and especially that comics have been allergic to endings for several decades now, much to their detriment.

But that still doesn’t mean I’m happy to see a long-running story that I like come to its ending. I get that “what do you mean, there isn’t any more?” feeling. It’s just that I know it has to happen.

Giant Days is now over. It was the story of three young women at a particular point in their lives, while they were undergraduates at the fictional Sheffield University, and undergraduate life in the UK only lasts three years. Writer John Allison and his artistic collaborators – originally Lissa Treiman as the primary artist, then Max Sarin for most of the run, and Whitney Cogar on colors the whole time – spun out fifty-four issues of the main series and a handful of one-offs over the course of four years of comics, so the comic took more time than the actual life would have.

Now, some artistic teams would have kept Esther, Susan, and Daisy in college for decades or longer – if it was an American comic book or syndicated newspaper strip, they could still be in their first year until at least 2050, or the heat death of the universe, whichever came first. But – and, again, this is important – stories don’t work like that. You can put out product in which nothing important ever changes, in which no one ever grows or learns, but you’re a hack and you know know it. Allison and Treiman and Sarin and Cogar are not hacks, and they want to tell stories that matter about real people that change.

So this was inevitable: they would graduate, their days at Sheffield would end. It doesn’t mean we won’t get more stories about some of them, in some permutation, in the future: remember that Esther was a major character in Allison’s webcomic Scarygoround for nearly a decade even before Giant Days. But this time is over.

For most people, it ended a couple of years ago. I’m just catching up on the back quarter of the series now, since I finally gave up waiting for more of the Not on the Test hardcovers to emerge. So I read Volumes Eleven  and Twelve  and Thirteen  and Fourteen  all together, a year’s worth of comics in a day or two. It’s not a bad way to read an episodic humor comic, I have to say: stories based on characters get better with familiarity with the characters, so reading a big chunk all at once can be really resonant.

I’m not talking about the specific issues here, because there’s more than a dozen of them, and that’s really not important. Each one is a small story, one moment in this larger story, and they add up together to Giant Days, all fifty-some of them. They’re all good, they’re all stories, they center on various parts of the cast – mostly Esther and Susan and Daisy, but some McGraw and even enough Ed and Nina to make me wish I got a lot more of that. (Hey, John Allison! If you randomly read this, Ed & Nina in the Big Smoke together could be fun, at least for a short-run thing. Maybe other people than me would even like it!)

I read these because I wanted to know if Giant Days ended well

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, and it does. (Well, also because I was enjoying it a lot, and why give up in the middle on something you like?) If you’ve managed to avoid Giant Days for the last six years, I don’t know what I can say here to convince you: it might just be not to your taste. But it’s a smart, fun, well-written, colorful, amusing, true, real, occasionally laugh-out-loud series of stories about people I think you will recognize and like, and if that’s not what you’re looking for I frankly have to worry about you.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 8: My Best Friend’s Squirrel by North, Henderson, & Renzi

I’m trying to figure out how far behind I am on Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and it is surprisingly difficult, since this is a Marvel comic. The series ended in late 2019 with issue 58, but the trade paperbacks are still dribbling out, since they’re all slim. I believe Marvel has only managed to emit Vol. 12, which probably collects issues 47-51, meaning there’s one or two more books yet to come.

But none of this is simple, and places like Wikipedia and the Grand Comics Database and the Marvel Database fail to list those trades at all. But, I am behind, though the series has now ended, so I won’t get any further behind from this point.

Anyway, I’m here to talk about The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 8: My Best Friend’s Squirrel , written by Ryan North, drawn by Erica Henderson, colored by Rico Renzi. It collects issues 27-31 of the second series (let’s not get into that) and Not Brand Ecch #14, which appears to be a 2018 one-shot continuing the numbering of the 1967-69 series, which is exactly what you want to do for a story about a girl who likes squirrels and computer science and whose core audience are six-year-old girls. (Marvel, once again: there’s nothing they can’t make more complicated and difficult for no good reason.)

It follows the previous collections one and two and three and four and the OGN and five and six and seven ; see my posts on those if you’re feeling particularly bored today.

Squirrel Girl is still Doreen Green, second-year computer-science student at Empire State University, and her super-powers are (most obviously) being super-strong and talking to squirrels and (most usefully) actually being a thoughtful, friendly person who can talk out problems, unlike every other human being ever extant in the Marvel Universe. And this volume, as usual, collects a big four-issue plotline in which she defeats a Major Threat (less Major this time, since she’s already run through all of the big Marvel supervillain names) and then a single issue in which odder things happen.

The four-issue story sees Doreen’s best friend, Nancy, and her sidekick, Tippy-Toe, whisked away to a world on the other side of the galaxy where a race of intelligent squirrels (well, squirrels on Earth seem intelligent enough when Doreen talks to them, so maybe I mean civilized?) are under threat from a shakedown from Galactus’s herald the Silver Surfer. The SS says he and his similarly-shiny buddies – all of whom are stereotypically “surfer” types – will leave this planet along if they give all their valuables to the SS and compatriots.

Long-time readers of Marvel comics may well be confused, since the actual SS is more prone to zooming around on a surfboard, emoting at great length in bad pseudo-poetic prose about how sad his life is and how anguished he is and how he desperately needs to find a nice snackable but uninhabited planet or else his master will slaughter billions yet again, oh the misery. They may suspect this is an impostor, and they would be correct.

Eventually, Doreen makes her way to the squirrel planet, along with some allies, and there is a series of confrontations, which all end peacefully, because this is Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. (Doreen does fight the actual SS on sight, which I think is the first time that very hoary superhero trope actually happened in this comic.)

The one-off story is a kind of timeslip tale: an accident with a villain’s weapon strands Doreen and Nancy in hypertime, living much faster than everyone else in New York City. So, over the course of one weekend, they live the entire rest of their lives, leaving written messages for their friends

, saving everyone in the city from everything for three whole days, and working on a time machine to save themselves before they die of old age. And maybe doing something else, which is hinted at but not spelled out in this book larger for pre-teens.

Squirrel Girl by North and Henderson was dependably fun and positive and kid-friendly and just about every appreciative adjective I could think of: it was nice down to its core, creating a world that was equally nice, which has never been common in Marveldom. I think these were the last Henderson-drawn issues, so, if I continue, I’ll get to see if whoever came next was able to maintain that sweetness.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

What’s the opposite of a romance? Is there a word to describe a story about realizing you’re not in love, and that you need to get out of a relationship?

We could call it “anti-romance,” but that misses the point. It would be a useful word. Maybe someone will comment to let me know it already exists.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me  is that kind of book: it’s a graphic novel, in that nameless opposite-of-romance genre. Francesca “Freddy” Riley is in high school in Berkeley, and is in a relationship with her school’s most magnetic and compelling figure, the titular Laura Dean.

Laura is a jerk, in the way that massively popular and attractive teenagers often are: no matter what she does or how she acts, everyone accepts it, even loves it. So, as we see her, she’s practically amoral, a monster of need who does whatever she wants at any moment and everyone else swoons at how awesome she is.

Freddy is not happy with this. But she is Laura’s girlfriend. That’s good, because being Laura’s girlfriend is exciting down to the ends of her nerves all the time, often even in good ways. They have some level of a physical relationship — Laura is very physical, with Freddy and other girls, as you would expect — but Breaking Up keeps it school-library friendly by showing the girls in bed or kissing without getting into details of how physical these seventeen-year-olds are getting. [1]

Being Laura’s girlfriend is also good socially, to some degree: everyone in school knows who Freddy is, and she gets reflected glory. Of course, Laura is mercurial and capricious, so everyone in school also knows when Freddy is no longer Laura’s girlfriend, which has happened at pretty much every holiday over the past year.

So being Laura’s girlfriend is also bad. For that reason, and because Laura’s massive neediness keeps Freddy focused on her all the time, rather than on her friends and own life and plans and goals. (Especially friends, in this graphic novel’s case. Most seventeen-year-olds would be worrying about their futures and planning for college, but that’s not happening here.) Those of us who are further along in adulthood will see it as all bad: even the supposedly good stuff is tending to erode Freddy’s sense of self and empowerment. 

Breaking Up is more of a character study than a book of plot: things happen, and time passes, but they’re mostly accumulating moments, each giving Freddy a little more perspective and distance, until she can finally stop being the person Laura Dean keeps breaking up with. She’s got a circle of friends at the beginning, and a new friend she meets along the way – and a girl she kisses impulsively at a party – but this does not turn into a romance. This is not the story of how Freddy dumps Laura and finds Tru Wuv.

It’s the story of how Freddy dumps Laura because it’s what she needs, which is a more honest and true story. And it does take her a long time to do that, which may make some readers of my age start yelling at her through the pages of the book, but the book would be much shorter if Freddy were quicker to realize what she needed to realize.

I’ve gotten this far without stating the obvious: Freddy and Laura are both women. (Girls? Seventeen is so in-between. But let me give them the benefit of the doubt.) [2] That will be important to a lot of young readers looking for stories that represent their own lives — Freddy’s friend group also is a good diverse collection of people you can see someone like Freddy gravitating to in a place like Berkeley. But that they’re both women is not important to the story being told, or the genre it’s told in. And that’s a good thing.

Romances, and whatever anti-romances should really be called, are about people. Two people, typically, though I don’t know if I need to be dogmatic there. They need to have an attraction to each other. Their gender and sex and presentation, though: that can help shape a specific story, but it’s not genre-defining. It’s still romance. These two people are women. That’s what this story is. But a thousand other variations are possible, and exist out there.

So this is a good anti-romance, that happens to be about two seventeen-year-old high school women in Berkeley. I’d expect that from Mariko Tamaki, writer of Skim  and This One Summer . I probably should have expected it from Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, best known for Don’t Do Without Me , but I’d never read her work before this.

If you’re in the mood for anti-romance, or just a story about complicated teenage relationships, check it out. If you’re in a complicated teenage relationship, I feel for you, and hope you know that life does go on and will settle down in time. Maybe Freddy can help show the way for you.

[1] Having been a seventeen-year-old, my bet is as physical as possible, as often as possible, all the time. Laura seems that type, for one thing.

[2] As I type this, I realize that I don’t have a tag for LGBTQ+ books, and suddenly wonder if I should create one. But my tag style is so arch and sarcastic that anything that “fits” here would be a bad idea for multiple reasons. So, unless I just use “LGBTQ+,” it will be without a tag. And, frankly, who cares what this old white guy thinks of LBGBTQ+ books, anyway?

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.