Friday, August 31, 2012

The Arctic Marauder

by Jacques Tardi, 63 pages

After surviving a mysterious tragedy in the arctic seas, rescued passenger Jérôme Plumier notes a pattern of such incidents and begins to follow the trail of clues.  Could they have something to do with his late uncle's tinkering?

This wonderfully illustrated graphic novel takes a most unexpected turn in its plot and tone as the story progresses.  The detailed images look vintage Victorian with a steampunk twist, but the story is sneakily deeper and more twisted than the standard adventure yarn it at first appears.  A cynical tale of human nature's darker side spun with gloomy, subtly sarcastic cheer, The Arctic Marauder seems to be saying something equally applicable to contemporary society as to that of its greedy, murderous, science-touting masterminds of an age gone by.


by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá, 66 pages

Unblemished childhood love conquers all in this brief, magical tale of first love never really lost because its participants refuse to let it go.  Just because you have to grow up doesn't mean you have to leave who and what you loved as a child behind.

The art here is cute and eclectic and a nice fit for the magic literally in the air around these youngsters, even after they've grown up.  Whatever their ages, their hearts are forever young and open to the wonders of imagination and writing their own stories.  My only complaint is that the story is so short, it feels a little lost all by itself and like it belongs in a collection of other magical, imagination-fueled tales by this creative pair of brothers--which I would totally read.  :)

Jamilti and Other Stories

by Rutu Modan, 174 pages

This collection of short graphical stories covers such topics as serial killers, theme-hotel management, family, adolescence, plastic surgery, obsession, suicide bombers, fandom, and creative identity.

These are odd, moving, darkly funny little stories that make you go hmmm and then look for more of Modan's work.

A God Somewhere

by John Arcudi (story), Peter Snejbjerg (art), Bjarne Hansen (colors), and Wes Abbott (letters), 196 pages

Brothers Eric and Hugh, Hugh's wife Alma, and Eric's best friend Sam are just busy living, hanging out together, making plans, and going about their business when an explosion in Eric's apartment building changes their lives, and the world, forever.  What at first seems a miracle suddenly devolves into a nightmare as bonds are tested and broken, morality questioned, and the concept of "god" revisited.

This is not a comic book for the squeamish (which you'd figure out pretty quickly from the first blood-soaked page).  I don't know that I want to read it again, but it did make me think about that whole "with great power comes great responsibility" creed and how it really just comes down to the mental state and perspective of the one with the power.  Unless it lands in the hands of a humble, compassionate saint who never loses touch with his or her humanity, things can get very dicey very quickly.  All the little fault lines that are normal and manageable in human relationships get blown out of all proportion and expand into uncross-able chasms when power gets thrown into the mix.  Egos inflate, insecurities deepen, trust evaporates, and isolation and detachment grow.  How do you judge someone in that situation?  Can you condemn the actions but still love the one committing them?  This dark, violent, thought-provoking story poses such questions, shows how a few choose to answer them, and leaves the reader to contemplate the no-win possibilities for herself.

Kingdom Come

by Mark Waid (story) and Alex Ross ( art), 228 pages

Some thirty years after the glory days of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and other big-name superheroes, the next generation of "metahumans" is making its mark on society--and it's not a pretty one.  Without their predecessors' work ethic and moral codes, the new super-powered wave is wreaking havoc as they try to prove themselves more powerful than the next metahuman with no concern for the collateral damage they incur in the process.  Fed up, world government officials are discussing new stringent laws curtailing the rights of metahumans (or even more drastic measures) while Wonder Woman goes looking for Superman to try and convince him to come out of his self-imposed retirement following a catastrophic accident when he last faced off with a reckless metahuman.  Witness to the conflict and deliberation is a human preacher, chosen by the Vision to pass judgment on all those involved in the conflict (humans and heroes, alike) and direct the fate of the world.

Caveats: I am not a big superhero comic reader and most of what little knowledge I have is of the Marvel variety.  That said:  This sure is pretty, with its near photo-realistic painted panels.  My only complaint on the visuals is that sometimes they look too photographic, looking more like captured poses than captured action and often as though characters interacting in the same panel were painted from two separate photographs, with their eyes intently looking off into space instead of at each other.  Still, pretty.  And an instance in which the cover accurately represents the content, which I very much appreciate (and which is an annoyingly rare occurrence in mainstream American comics).  Story-wise, I had a harder time with this, largely because I am not a DC girl and am not familiar with many faces or stories outside the three mentioned in the above paragraph's first sentence (and most of that is from movies and TV reruns, not the actual comics).  Since much of the plot relies on readers' prior knowledge of DC characters and backstories, I felt a little lost and ignorant.  I also felt the narration itself was overly dramatic and pretentious, but I imagine I would have more easily accepted its preachy weightiness if I'd had a better understanding of what was going on and who people were.  Even with my confusion, however, the action's climax is actually a little moving (even if I didn't have any idea who Billy Batson / Captain Marvel was and had to figure out from context why he kept saying "shazam!").  (Go ahead, laugh at my ignorance.  My big brother already did when I explained my reactions to him--and he's a Marvel person, too, just a more well-rounded one.)  I did like sarcastic, snarky Batman, though, even with his weird exoskeleton thingy.  (He's always been the most relatable and interesting of the major DC personalities for me.)  And my favorite scenes are of him, Superman, and Wonder Woman hiding in plain sight by hanging out in a horrifically tacky superhero-themed restaurant, talking and laughing and acting more human and down-to-earth than anywhere else in the book.

Not a good gateway into the genre, this, though if you're already a DC fan it's probably on your must-read list.  I think I prefer Ross's equally pretty Marvels (written by Kurt Busiek), not just because it takes place in a universe I know more about, but because rather than portraying a chaotic future involving famous faces from the perspective of an outsider familiar with their stories, it portrays a handful of famous origin stories from the point-of-view of an outsider to whom the faces and events are new, too, meaning that even if you miss a lot of the references you can still appreciate and understand most of what's happening.  Both Kingdom Come and Marvels have won a handful of Eisner Awards, so they are worth taking a gander at if you want proof that superhero comics can be "art."

Wandering Son: Volume 3

by Takako Shimura, 219 pages

Nitori's sister Maho wants to be a model so she can meet her idol, Maiko-chan, but finds her brother draws more attention than she does.  She also has a crush on a boy named Seya who has a crush on her brother, whom Seya mistakenly believes is one of her girlfriends.  Pragmatic once she gets over her initial emotional reactions, Maho settles on a surprising pair of solutions: drag her cute brother along to her audition and set him up on a "friend"-chaperoned date with her crush.

Meanwhile, the bullying at school ratchets up after Nitori and Takatsuki's exchange diary is grabbed by another student and read out loud.  The resulting uproar causes a rift between friends and makes both Nitori and Takatsuki question whether they should just give up trying to be themselves.

Maho's a little crazy, but she means well and I'm starting to like her.  She makes things complicated (as if they weren't complicated enough already), but it's not malicious and she's aware of her own faults and willing to jump up and defend her brother from anybody who doesn't respect him, just as he proves he's willing to do for her (aw, sibling bonding!).

Even as their lives get messier, Nitori and Takatsuki find new and old allies rallying to their side and picking up their spirits.

Kamisama Kiss: Volume 9

by Julietta Suzuki, 192 pages

Nanami and Tomoe stumble upon a young tengu in search of a long-lost kinsman.  The aging leader of his clan has fallen ill and the resulting power vacuum threatens to destroy their mountain home.  The little one is sure that if he can find his missing idol,  conflict and tragedy can be avoided.  Finding the human-world-acclimated heir is the easy part.  His beautiful face is plastered on billboards all over the city, after all.  But convincing him to take up the responsibility-laden life he left behind proves more complicated.

Kurama reluctantly takes center stage for something unrelated to his stardom.  The source of his troubles is a most unpleasant tengu name Jiro, whose cold, cruel nature and history of pragmatic violence has earned him the fear, but not the love, of his fellows.  It's good to see Kurama address his earlier-hinted-at origins here and I look forward to seeing him outshine his rival--with, of course, help from a few friends.  I'm also curious as to how Jiro's scheming hanger-on, Yatori, connects with the confused Kirihito.  There are so many shades of "badness" to the villains of this series.  I have a feeling there's going to a lot of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" philosophizing before these messes get cleared up.

Kamisama Kiss: Volume 8

by Julietta Suzuki, 191 pages

Nanami is trapped in the land of the dead with the mysterious "human" Kirihito.  Tomoe's not with her, so she'll have to rely on her own skills to protect the weakening Kirihito and escape.  By the time Tomoe does figure out what's going on and tries to help, he may no longer be a match for the entryway's new least not in his present form as a shinshi....

Lots of introspection for Tomoe, Kirihito, and Nanami this volume as they each have to analyze their pasts and presents and interpret what it all might mean.  Kirihito in particular earns some sympathy points.  Considering how unpleasant he was in the past, his punishment and recent connections with humans have forced him to experience the world through a different set of (more empathetic) senses.  It will be interesting to see what he, Tomoe, and Nanami do with their newly altered circumstances (though they do not all realize just how much things have changed).

Kamisama Kiss: Volume 7

by Julietta Suzuki, 189 pages

Nanami gets to the Kamuhakari conference but feels less than welcomed by many of those attending.  When Ôkuninushi-sama, the hosting kami, asks her to do him a favor and deal with a problem at one of the nearby gates of the land of the dead--a seal traditionally weakened for the week-long conference, as its usual guards are attendees--she can't say no.  But what exactly has she gotten herself into?

Goodness, Tomoe used to associate with a very bad element.  The little flashback to his days of hanging out with Akura-Oh (an even wilder fox yokai than Tomoe) is the darkest scene of the series to-date.  The prospect of him getting his original body back and once more wreaking havoc in the world is a scary one.  How did he wind up temporarily occupying his present vessel?  And how's Tomoe going to react when he finds out what he's up to?  And how much of his own past does Tomoe really remember?  I like how the series has been patiently adding snippets of depth and character development as it goes along.  It makes me want to read more every time.

Durarara!!: Volume 2

by Ryohgo Narita (story), Suzuhito Yasuda (character design), and Akiyo Satorigi (art), 174 pages

We meet even more people Mikado is told he should know about / avoid / not tick off in any way.  And of course he bumps into them right away and gets sucked into their business.

For more information on Mikado's adventures in his crazy new neighborhood, please check out my full review of the first two volumes on!

Durarara!!: Volume 1

by Ryohgo Narita (story), Suzuhito Yasuda (character design), and Akiyo Satorigi (art), 172 pages

Tired of his quiet life in his hometown, excitement-starved Mikado Ryuugamine doesn't hesitate to follow a childhood friend's suggestion that he transfer to the latter's high school in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo.  But once happily reconnected with his friend and joining the neighborhood's perpetual hubbub, he worries the longed-for adventure may be a little more dangerous than he expected.

You'll want to be awake before you crack this series open, as information and names and faces come at you fast and not always in order.  Adapted from an illustrated light novel series, Durarara!! has a little of everything: action, adventure, mystery, romance, horror, comedy, fantasy.  (There's also an excellent anime adaptation of the original books.)  The art is a nice fit and the story is intriguing.  I doubt the real Ikebukuro is quite this exciting, but that's the fun of fiction, no?

La Quinta Camera - The Fifth Room

by Natsume Ono, 188 pages

The title of this collection of vignettes refers to the succession of tenants in the fifth room of an apartment otherwise shared by four colorful, unmarried guys from different walks of life (the mature apartment owner, who runs the coffee bar downstairs; the gaudily-dressed comics artist; the ragamuffin busker; and the rarely-awake truck driver).  Mostly international students learning Italian at the local language school, each new tenant of the extra room shares his or her culture and creativity with the fellas, who in turn help him or her to feel at home and adjust to life in a new country.  Everybody learns to be flexible as they experience the many changes life throws at them.  And though the apartment's occupants may only be passing through, some for longer than others, the connections they build and the bonds they form in their time together will stay with them always.

There's almost a touch of magical realism to this quiet, amusing, slice-of-life story, as Ono seems to have a thing for (mostly) happy coincidence.  For instance, the first story's new resident manages to bump into all four of her new roommates before she even knocks on the apartment door.  But in this quirky, sentimental vision of Bohemian Rome, that works just fine.  :)

This collection marks the author's professional debut, so it's interesting to see how her style and writing have changed over the years.

Flower of Life: Volume 1

by Fumi Yoshinaga, 174 pages

Sixteen-year-old Harutaro Hanazono is a year older than, and a year behind, his classmates when he joins them a month after school starts.  He's a little nervous, but a smile from another boy in the front row encourages him to introduce himself and get the inevitable explanations for his late start out of the way by cheerfully announcing that he was in the hospital being treated for leukemia, but that he "got better!" following a bone marrow transplant and is looking forward to becoming friends with everyone.  As the other students--some of whom had moments before been snickering and cracking harmless jokes--sit in stunned silence, their homeroom teacher lazily intones that they'd all better be really nice to the new boy or they're going to look really evil.  As a group, they swear they will be nice!  Hanazono quickly makes friends with kind Shota Mikuni, who smiled so nicely earlier, and, by proxy, makes the acquaintance of Mikuni's friend, the uber-serious, adult-looking, talk-your-head-off otaku, Kai Majima.  Despite a rocky start with awkward, prickly Majima, Hanazono soon feels at home and does his best to learn from and enjoy the high school experience.

This is so good!  It's hilarious and warm-fuzzy-generating and thoughtful.  Hanazono's exuberance and honesty are part of his nature, but they're also clearly influenced by his illness, which has left him unable to have children.  His goofy family (consisting of his older, bone-marrow-donating sister and his professional chicken-sexer [seriously! it's a real job!] parents) holds him a little closer, too, having nearly lost him.  Watching their dynamic, and sitting in on their talks with Mikuni when he comes over, you can see the love and feel your eyes start to tear up even as you're encouraged to giggle at them.  It's lovely.  Adorable Mikuni, with his insecurities regarding his weight and his past failings as a friend, is treated with as much care and affection.  Even Majima, annoying as he can be, isn't entirely unsympathetic, thanks to his amusing idiosyncrasies and Mikuni's support.  This is as much a picture of the class and their teachers as it is of Hanazono, so we get insight into the hearts and minds and lives of many others.  Much of it is excellently played for laughs, but there's enough true-to-life complexity mixed in with the silly extremes to make you think some deep thoughts as you read and grow to care about the lot of them, imperfect and human as they are.  This is one of those series that makes you look around and appreciate the little things and the caring people in your life.

Gente: The People of Ristorante Paradiso: Volume 1

by Natsume Ono, 172 pages

This handful of Ristorante Paradiso backstories covers the Casetta dell'Orso's opening and first year anniversary, with glimpses in between of surly widower Luciano's grandfatherhood and lady-loving Vito's retirement from the player's field as he sets his sights on "the one."

I love Ono.  Whether they're "distinguished gentleman," middle-aged ladies, or tiny tots, her characters show a mix of strength and vulnerability and are endearing individuals capable of saying volumes without uttering a word.  She makes you want to laugh with, protect, and hug everybody as the restaurant's little family changes and grows over time.

Kamisama Kiss: Volume 6

by Julietta Suzuki, 192 pages

Nanami finds her kami skills put to the test again by Otohiko-sama, the wind kami who put her through her paces before the festival.  This time, there's an annual conference of regional kami coming up, but there's only one free seat.  If Nanami wants to go and prove herself before her (non-human) peers, she'll first have to beat another human kami named Kayako who's already considered a "living kami" with worshippers galore.  Does Nanami stand a chance?

Ah, Kayako's got a familiar stranger in her camp...for the moment.  Nanami decides to compete for the seat a.) because Kayako's an arrogant, smack-talking young lady and Nanami's pride won't let her back down and b.) she hopes to find news of Mikage, the shrine's former tochigami, for Tomoe's sake.  She can tell that, despite his grouchy protestations, he misses his former master and wants to see him and ask him why he left.  And c.) now she wants to go for wronged Kayako's sake, too.  This is one of those series where the heroine unintentionally expands her fan club everywhere she goes--even if some of her new "friends" still act antagonistically toward her.  Normally, I find that a cheezy plot gimmick, but Nanami's not some saccharine, boringly perfect princess do-gooder charming her way through life.  She's temperamental, barely getting by in school, and plenty stubborn and sarcastic.  But she tries her best, means well (most of the time), and genuinely wants other people to be happy (unless they tick her off, in which case she wants them to learn their lesson first).  I like her.

Kamisama Kiss: Volume 5

by Julietta Suzuki, 191 pages

As she struggles to get her shinshi, Tomoe and Mizuki, to stop fighting with each other and get along, Nanami decides the shrine itself could use some love and attention, too.  A shrine's not much of a shrine if it has no worshipers, and Mikage's have been absent for years, so she comes up with a plan to hold a shrine festival to encourage the locals to visit.  But the townspeople think the shrine is a haunted ruin, and Nanami doesn't know the first thing about organizing a festival or performing her role as the current (human) kami, so she and the gang have their work cut out for them.

Aw, Tomoe and Mizuki don't exactly like each other, but they make up enough to understand one another a little better.  This volume nicely follows the festival plot while slipping in little moments that hint at backstory and future story arcs concerning Mikage, Kurama, Nanami's mysterious and colorful kami-tester, and a strange young festival attendee clad in black.

Kamisama Kiss: Volume 4

by Julietta Suzuki, 191 pages

Tomoe's been coming to school with Nanami to watch over her since her run-in with Mizuki, but he's not very good at "laying low" and draws a lot of admiring attention from the other girls in class.  Worldly-wise Kurama takes him aside and tells him to watch out or Nanami will fall for him, too.  Incredulous, Tomoe laughs such silliness off, but the tengu's warning proves well-founded.  Later, a trip to the beach leads to Nanami once more travelling back to the past, this time to save the object of her unrequited love.  But what she sees there only confuses her even more.

Poor Nanami, in love with a guy who says he refuses to get romantically involved with a human.  The reasons for his intransigence on the matter are a mystery, but she's a proud young woman and does her best to move forward and deal.  I love how Mizuki, who formerly tried to force her to marry him, gives himself renewed purpose in life by sneakily making himself her second shinshi and so becoming a part of the Mikage shrine family.  He was lonely and masterless before, so it makes me happy that he's neither anymore.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dark Prince

Christine Feehan
447 pages

This is the first book in Feehan's "Dark Series."  The Carpathians are a species/race of people that possess supernatural powers.  They are nocturnal and feed on human blood, but they are not evil.  However, all Carpathian males have the potential to turn into ruthless vampires if they do not find their true life mate.  This is becoming increasingly difficult because no female Carpathians have been born in hundreds of years.  The Carpathians are dying out, and the single males are struggling to maintain control of themselves.

Mikhail is the prince of his people, and he is on the verge of making the decision to "meet the sun" in order to prevent becoming a vampire.  His agony and loneliness are so great that a human telepath, Raven, is able to sense his distress from several miles away.  Raven and Mikhail begin a relationship from this encounter.  From this relationship, a new hope for the Carpathian survival emerges.  However, a threat arises that might doom them all.

Overall, I liked this book.  I found Raven and Mikhail's relationship intriguing and I liked the idea of finding a true "life mate."  However, there are several steamy romance scenes in this novel, so this is not for every reader.

The Cat Who Played Post Office

by Lilian Jackson Braun  262 p.

  This is the sixth Cat Who book in the series. It takes place right after the main character, journalist and amateur detective, Jim Qwilleran, has inherited ridiculous amounts of money. There were more deaths than I expected. Also when I read a couple of these as a kid I did not remember them being so silly with names of things. It was alright.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dead in the Family

Charlaine Harris
311 pages

Sookie and Bill are recovering from the fairy war, but the process is slow.  Eric is dealing with the political issues that come with learning the ropes in a new regime.  Trouble is brewing for the shapeshifters as the government decides how to handle them.  Rogue fairies are still on the loose, and Eric's maker appears.  Sookie and Eric are both in danger, but for different reasons.

This novel was better than the last few, but I'm wondering if Sookie and Eric will stick together or if that is just another temporary relationship.  I guess only time will tell.

Dead and Gone

Charlaine Harris
312 pages

The shape-shifters have finally decided to come out of the closet and announce their presence to the world.  Some people take this news better than others.  If that weren't enough, trouble is brewing amongst the fairies, and Sookie is an unwilling participant.  The fairies are beginning to wage a war over whether or not fairies and humans should interact.  Since Sookie is part-fairy, this puts her in danger of being attacked by the anti-human fairies because they think she is an abomination.  In the middle of all this, a were-panther ends up dead, and Sookie must use her skills to investigate.

I'm not a big fan of the fairies.  I wish Harris had left this part out.  I think Sookie had enough going on in her life without them.  However, I still love Sookie and will continue to read these novels.