Friday, August 17, 2012

Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit

by Darwyn Cooke (adaptation and illustration), Richard Stark (a.k.a. Donald Westlake, original novel), 152 pages

Parker's just trying to enjoy getting back to his old routine of periodic thievery and living off the spoils between jobs, but the Outfit, the syndicate from which earlier he extorted his rightful share of a past heist (originally withheld and used by a backstabbing partner to pay off his own debts to the organization), won't just let bygones be bygones.  Silly Outfit.  They didn't think Parker was serious when he said if they didn't leave him alone, he wouldn't leave them alone, either.

Sneaky, clever devil, that Parker.  This second adaptation of one of Westlake's classic crime novels is just as cool and dark as the first, with perhaps a few more giggles courtesy of some newly introduced associates and a fun segment in the middle of the book depicting the breakdown of a series of Parker-inspired hits against the Outfit.  The art (with more blue than grey, this time) is nicely old-school in a way that doesn't feel dated in the least, as it so perfectly fits the story and its iconic lead.

Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter

by Darwyn Cooke (adaptation and illustration), Richard Stark (a.k.a. Donald Westlake, original novel), 140 pages

Betrayed by a partner and left for dead following a successful heist, career criminal Parker goes on the cold, methodical warpath to exact his revenge.

Ooh, this is fun--if dark, dry, noir-ish stories of morally less-than-upstanding anti-heroes who don't (generally) go out of their way to kill people but aren't too concerned if they do sound like fun to you.  Cooke was granted permission by the now-late Westlake to adapt in graphic novel form a handful of his classic gritty crime novels with the title character's name intact (the only time such permission was ever granted--all other adaptations have had to change "Parker" to something else).  I haven't read the original novels, but I'm enjoying the graphic versions for their atmosphere, tone, stony protagonist, unpredictable plots, and impressively period-appropriate artwork.  The first Parker novel takes place in 1962 New York and the three-tone visuals (all in heavy black ink, yellowish white space, and blue-grey washes) never let that just-out-of-the-50's feeling fade.  Parker's a square-jawed, thick-eyebrowed, broad-shouldered tower of a man and I would not want to mess with him.  Nor would I like to be anywhere in his general vicinity, as just being in the wrong place at the wrong time can get people around him killed--and he doesn't seem bothered by this in the least, except as it puts crimps in his carefully laid plans.  And yet I still root for him....

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Morning Glories: Volume 1: For a Better Future

by Nick Spencer (words), Joe Eisma (art), Rodin Esquejo (covers), Alex Sollazzo (colors), Johnny Lowe (letters), and Tim Daniel (design), 288 pages

Six gifted sixteen-year-olds make the cut to get into the very exclusive Morning Glories Academy, only to find, once inside, that the curriculum could kill them--if the teachers don't get them first.

I don't know what's going on here!  The school is baaaad news, both for the students and their families on the outside.  There's some nununununess harking back at least to the Spanish Inquisition, some weird spinning physics experiment in the attic, a murderous ghost (?) with free rein over truants, and a lot of scary, faithful-to-the-mission (whatever it is) faculty members.  The set-up draws you in and the kids are an interesting mix of well-behaved youngsters and potentially bad seeds, with the most interesting wild card so far being the self-serving rich boy (if this were D&D, he'd be chaotic neutral, I think).  We don't know much about most of them yet, though, so we'll have to wait to see how they do or don't come together as a team (if they survive--unbrainwashed--long enough to get that far).

Artwise, the largely soft, pastel-hued interior art seems an ok fit for the school's cheerful veneer, as are the covers (with the exception of blonde Casey's weird skirt and legs on the front cover--they just don't look right to me at all).  I do wonder at the decision to relay all the swearing (and there's a good deal of it) with the traditional smattering of let-your-imagination-fill-in-the-blanks symbols, yet there's no hesitation to show things like the faces of unfortunate individuals having their eyeballs pushed out of their sockets from behind by intrusive semi-ghostly fingers (this happens at least twice and it isn't pretty either time).  Personally, I'd rather the gory violence be off-panel or merely strongly suggested and the text offer up the colorful metaphors without the squiggles and dollar signs, but that's just me.  I'm squeamish about things grisly and unbothered by foul language as long as it belongs, which it mostly does here.

I can't decide if I want to read more or not.  Some bits really bother me, others intrigue me, and I can't tell which will win out in the end.  Hrmmmmmmm.

Dead as a Doornail

by Charlaine Harris
295 pages

Sookie's brother, Jason,  is learning what it means to be a were-panther.  Soon several known shapeshifters in the community start being shot and/or killed.  This worries Sookie, especially after Sam is attacked.  To make matters worse, Jason is the shapeshifting community's prime suspect.  It also appears that Sookie is in danger, and the many men in her life are making her life complicated to say the least.

This was another enjoyable Sookie Stackhouse novel.  Many men are now competing for Sookie's affection, but I'm not quite sure which direction Sookie will go.  I can't wait to find out.

Color of Earth

Dong Hwa Kim
319 pages

This tells the story of Ehwa, a Korean girl, as she blossoms into maturity.  The story begins when Ehwa is a young girl and is first learning the differences between boys and girls.  Throughout the story, you see Ehwa develop crushes on boys and begin to see her body in new ways.  Ehwa is so sweet and innocent in some ways, but knowing in others.  While Ehwa is blossoming, new love is also blossoming for Ehwa's mother, a single tavern owner.  Overall, this is a touching story.


Catherine Marshall
Narrated by Kelly Martin
501 pages

The year is 1912.  Christy is a young, ambitious woman from Asheville, NC who has decided to teach in a mission school in the impoverished Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.  This experience tests her faith and character.  At first she is overwhelmed by the ignorance and dirt of the mountain people.  However, Alice Henderson and David Grantland are there to help her find her place.  With their help, she grows to love the mountain people and make an impact on her students.

I loved the TV show when I was younger, and I loved this book.  I was a little surprised by the end, but I loved it.  This audiobook is also narrated by the same actress who played her in the TV series, so the voice was already familiar to me as that of Christy.  I felt some of her accents were overdone, and sometimes it was difficult to tell her voices apart, but I enjoyed it overall.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Dead to the World

Charlaine Harris
291 pages

This is the 4th book in the Sookie Stackhouse series.  This one picks up a couple of weeks after the last novel ends.  Sookie and Bill have officially broken up, and Bill is visiting Peru.  On her way home from work one night, Sookie finds Eric running around half-naked by the side of the road.  But Eric isn't quite himself...his memory has been erased.  Apparently, some witches are trying to take over Eric's businesses.  The vampires ask Sookie to hide Eric until they can finish dealing with the problem.  In the meantime, Sookie's brother turns up missing, so now Sookie has to look for her brother AND babysit a vampire.  However, this isn't all bad...

We are introduced to a few more supernatural beings in this novel, which is interesting.  I'm curious as to what will happen between Sookie and Eric along the way.

Decision Points

George W. Bush
491 pages

This is Bush's autobiography, and it mainly deals with the major decisions he faced before and during the presidency.  The decisions he made about Afghanistan, Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, and the financial meltdown. He also highlights his administrations work on Medicare reform and HIV/AIDs prevention in Africa.  Overall, this was insightful.  Bush made the politics and issues he was discussing easy to understand, which I appreciated.

I did not read this book because I am a huge Bush supporter.  I read it to gain insight on this period of time.  I think it's important to hear both sides before you make judgments about what really happened, and this book allowed me to hear the other side of the story.  A president's shoes are hard to fill, and I don't envy anyone who attempts the job.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Walking Dead: A Continuing Story of Survival Horror: Book One

by Robert Kirkman (original story concept, writing, letters), Tony Moore (pencils, inks, gray tones for Chapter 1), Charlie Adlard (pencils, inks for Chapter 2), and Cliff Rathburn (gray tones for Chapter 2, gray tone assists for Chapter 1), 297 pages

Small town cop Rick gets shot on the job, falls into a coma, and wakes up in an eerily quiet hospital.  It doesn't take him too long to figure out why, as one rotting corpse after another slowly lurches after him, hungry for his flesh.  Desperate to find his wife and son, Rick heads toward Atlanta, hoping they've gone there ahead of him and are safe under the protection of the authorities in the big city.  But the zombie plague is neither isolated nor contained, the authorities are nowhere to be found, and Rick soon realizes that if anyone's going to survive, they'll have to make it happen themselves.

I am not a horror fan and normally have no interest in stories involving icky things like zombies (Heather, you are braver than I!  hee!).  But I've heard so much about this series that I figured I'd be a pretty poor comics lover if I didn't give it a shot.  And now I can see why it's so popular.  Yes, there are gross, ravenous zombies around most corners and, yes, things look pretty dire for the lucky (?) humans momentarily still alive, but what keeps me interested (and has me putting Book Two on hold) is the book's focus on character over shock value.  The individuals who make up the evolving ensemble cast have their own personalities and complicated relationships.  Even the most likable and capable characters have weaknesses and the potential for instability.  I like that level of realism and find watching them deal with the stress of their precarious situation surprisingly engaging.  The story offers an intriguing psychological / sociological study and makes me wonder what I and my friends and family would do if we suddenly found ourselves in the same boat (I don't imagine I'd fair too well in a zombie apocalypse, sadly....).

The gore-minimizing black-and-white art's a nice fit (though I prefer Moore's style over Adlard's) and I give the writing in this series credit for making me voluntarily consume a zombie story that's not parody (Shaun of the Dead = *squee*).   It surprises me that I actually (sorta) look forward to seeing what happens to these poor folks next.

I think the popular television adaptation will remain untested by me for now, though, as I don't need to see all that blood and guts in full color or "live" action....  :-P