Book Review: The Walking Dead Vol. 27: The Whisperer War by Robert Kirkman


Author: Robert Kirkman
Title:The Walking Dead Vol. 27: The Whisperer War
Publication Info: Image Comics (2017)
Summary/Review:

In the repeated plot that occurs about every 4-5 volumes of The Walking Dead, the survivors go to war.  Things go wrong, people die, there is infighting, blah, blah, blah.  Meanwhile, Negan is playing a long game, or is truly reformed?  It’s a possibly interesting plot.

Rating: **

Book Review: Frozen: The Cinestory by Robert Simpson


Author: Robert Simpson
TitleFrozen: The Cinestory
Publication Info: Joe Books Inc. (2014)
Summary/Review:

I read this adaptation of the Disney musical Frozen with my daughter over the course of several bedtimes.  It’s essentially scenes from the film arranged in a comic book format.  Strangely enough, none of the lyrics to the songs that made this musical famous are included in the book.  Instead the same basic ideas are related in the dialogue.  I don’t know if this is a licensing issue or if they just thought it would work better in comic form without the songs.  Nevertheless, if you and your children enjoy Frozen, this is an enjoyable read.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Walking Dead Vol. 26: Call To Arms by Robert Kirkman


AuthorRobert Kirkman
TitleThe Walking Dead Vol. 26: Call To Arms
Publication Info: Image Comics (2016)
Summary/Review:

I’ve never been much too impressed with the character of Negan, so color me surprised that in this story of Negan escaping and joining The Whisperers, I find him funny, interesting, and even a voice of conscience!  It’s the little surprises like this that keep me reading when this series often seems to just retread that same things again and again.  Plus there’s quite a cliffhanger at the end, but Negan isn’t necessarily a reliable narrator so who knows where it will lead to next.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Walking Dead Vol. 25: No Turning Back by Robert Kirkman


AuthorRobert Kirkman
TitleThe Walking Dead Vol. 25: No Turning Back
Publication Info: Image Comics (2016)
Summary/Review:

It seems not that long ago Rick Grimes decided that the way forward was to stop fighting and to work together to create a new society among the dead.  Well, since the creators of The Walking Dead seem only about to work with one or two ideas (while tantalizingly dancing around something more brilliant) we’re back to all out war as the central narrative of the ongoing zombie story.  Rick gets advice from Negan of all people and takes on an authoritarian leadership role to channel the Alexandrians rage at against the Whisperers.  Plus ça change…

Rating: **

Book Review: Hark! : a Vagrant by Kate Beaton


AuthorKate Beaton
TitleHark! : a Vagrant
Publication Info: Drawn and Quarterly (2011), Edition
Previously read by the same authorStep Aside, Pops!
Summary/Review:

This is the first collection of the hilarious webcomics on historical and literary themes from the brilliant Kate Beaton.  I was going to post links to my favorites but I lost the file so you’ll just have to find the book and read.  And laugh.  And then say, “hmm…yes, I’ve learned something.”  Cuz they’re that good.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Bitch Planet. Volume 1 Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, Robert Wilson, and Taki Soma


AuthorKelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro (Artist.), Robert Wilson (Artist.), Taki Soma (Artist.)
TitleBitch Planet. Volume 1 Extraordinary Machine
Publication Info: Berkeley : Image Comics, 2015.
Summary/Review:

Writer Phillip Sandifer stated that this comic series is “most unapologetically social justice oriented book on the stands” so I thought I’d give it a try.  Bitch Planet is set in a future dystopia where noncompliant women are sent to a prison on another planet.  “Noncompliance” in this society is basically anything that doesn’t please men, so women who are angry, opinionated, independent, unattractive or overweight and attempt to control their sexual selves are the ones incarcerated.  In a lot of ways it builds on a tradition of feminist dystopia from The Stepford Wives to The Handmaid’s Tale.  The comic draws on the aesthetic of 1970s prison exploitation films and it is unsettling in its graphic depiction of violence.  It takes me a while to connect with characters in comics, but one who stands out is Penny.  Shortly after I finished reading this volume this comic was published in Unshelved which is a good introduction to the story.
Rating: ***

Webcomics


If you’re my age or older, you’ll remember the anticipation of getting the Sunday newspaper, fighting with your sibling for first dibs, and the joy of laying out the full-color comics section (a.k.a – the Funny Pages) and reading your favorite comics.  I feel that I grew up in the last golden age of newspaper comics with The Far Side, Bloom County, and Calvin and Hobbes all making  their debuts in the 1980s.  Older comics like Peanuts, For Better or Worse, and Doonesbury were also still fun to read.

Newspapers have gone into a steady decline and newspaper comics have gone down with them.  Of course, there are still newspaper comics and I read the Comics Curmudgeon daily to see them lovingly lampooned by Josh Fruhlinger.  I think even today newspaper comics could be brilliant but publishers these days have focused on keeping the limited space for comics occupied by legacy comics of deceased cartoonists that have long past their freshness date. Large format comics with artistry and provocative topics might even draw some readers back to newspaper, but we won’t ever know in this extremely risk averse climate.

And so today I turn to the internet for my comic joy.  A number of comic artists have been brilliantly innovative in the web format and I’ve listed below the comics I read regularly.  They can also get to be very specific to certain topics, as you’ll note I have multiple comics about biking and libraries.  My list is arranged in reverse alphabetical order.

Yehuda Moon and Kickstand Cyclery – Set in a fictional Cleveland-area bike shop, this comic focus on the joys and challenges of the American bicyclist

Wondermark – This comic repurposes 19th-century illustrations to create quirky commentaries on popular culture and bad puns. I’ve been accused of writing for Watermark, so close is creator David Malki’s sense of humor to my own.

XKCD – The stick figure comic features clever jokes about science, math and computing as well as some creative large format works that use web technologies to their full advantage. The strip can be arcane so it’s handy to check out Explain XKCD when you just don’t get it.

Unshelved – Set in a public library, this comic has jokes that library and information professionals appreciate, but it’s broad enough to be appreciated by a general audience.

Shelf Check – Another library comic, which may be a bit more inside jokey, but also addresses issues of representation and equality in libraries.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal – Another comic that usually has some science or philosophy underlying the joke although it has no set theme and focuses on lots of different issues.

Medium Large – A joke-a-day comic with a few recurring characters that focuses on pop culture arcana. Creator Francesco Marciuliano also writes for the newspaper comic Sally Forth (and mocks in Medium Large).

Lunarbaboon – The comic depicts a fathers view on parenting and children. Another comic that seems to have been drawn from the thoughts within my mind.

Leftycartoons – Infrequently published satirical comics about politics from a left-wing perspective.

Jen Sorensen – Another editorial comic with a slightly less left-wing perspective than Leftycartoons.

Hark! A Vagrant – Oddball humor inspired by historical events and literature. I previously wrote a review of a volume collecting these comics.

Dustinland – An autobiographical weekly comic that’s basically whatever is on the mind of artist Dustin Glick each week. When I first started reading this years ago, it was about dating, dead-end jobs, and social lives of young adults. These days it alternates between comics about raising a young child and political commentary.

Dinosaur Comics – This is the opposite of artistically adventurous as every single comic is the same six panels repeated, but with different text every time. And yet it somehow stays fresh seeing a new joke in the same formula over and over.

Derangement and Description – Can’t have library comics without an archives comic too. The jokes here are brilliant but probably aren’t going to be understood outside of the field.

Bikeyface – A Boston bike commuter’s commentary on why she bikes and all the problems of a city hostile to biking.

What webcomics do you read?

 

Comic Book Review: Black Panther #1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, and Laura Martin


Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, and Laura Martin
TitleBlack Panther #1
Publication Info: Marvel (2016)
Summary/Review:

I’m one of many people who don’t usually buy comics who picked up this issue of Black Panther because Coates is writing comics for the first time.  It picks up the ongoing story of T’Challa – ceremoniously known as Black Panther – the ruler of the African nation of Wakanda, which is the most technologically-advanced country in the world due to the minerals extracted from a meteorite.  In this issue T’Challa returns home to find dissidents attempting to foment chaos in Wakanda.

The art work is striking although it does have that comic book problem of women’s clothing and bodies defying gravity and reality. It’s all good, but essentially nothing happens in this issue. It’s all exposition and a very thin issue at that. I look forward to getting the whole story bundled together in a single volume. There is a nice feature at the end where Stelfreeze and Martin discuss their artwork which is very interesting.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Attack of the Cheetah by Jane B. Mason


Author: Jane B. Mason
Title: Attack of the Cheetah
Publication Info: Mankato, Minn. : Stone Arch Books, 2010.
Summary/Review:

This Wonder Woman story for kids is about cheetahs.  And a villain named the Cheetah.  And a zoo with cheetahs who are kidnapped by Cheetah and replaced with Cheetah’s cheetahs.  What a cheetah, er cheater!  I think I liked this more than my daughter.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Lumberjanes Volume 2 by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke A. Allen


AuthorNoelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke A. Allen
TitleLumberjanes Volume 2
Publication Info: Los Angeles : Boom!, 2015.
Previously Read by Same AuthorsLumberjanes
Summary/Review:

A great followup on the adventures of the Roanoke cabin scouts at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types.  This time they discover the strange goings-on are due to a sibling battle between Artemis and Apollo. Scout-leader Jen is brought into confidence and has the challenge of adapting to the less by-the-rules activities of her troop.  Great fun!

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Rat Queens Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe & Roc Upchurch


AuthorKurtis J. Wiebe
Illustrator: Roc Upchurch
TitleRat Queens Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery
Publication Info: Berkeley, CA : Shadowline/Image, 2014
Summary/Review:
The Rat Queens are a group of four adventurers in a medieval fantasy setting whose drinking, carousing, and brawling leads them to be sent out on quests as punishment.  In this first collection, the Rat Queens discover that someone is trying to kill them and their rival adventure crews and have to solve the mystery.  It’s a riotous mix of humor, profanity, drug references, and lots and lots of bloody gore.  It’s a good send up of the strong female characters trope and the sword and sorcery genre, although I think many allusions were lost on me as I’m not familiar with that genre.  This is a comic series worth reading but much too violent for my tastes.

Rating: **

Book Review: Step Aside, Pops : A Hark! A Vagrant Collection by Kate Beaton


Author: Kate Beaton
TitleStep Aside, Pops : A Hark! A Vagrant Collection
Publication Info: [Montreal, Quebec] : Drawn & Quarterly, 2015.
Summary/Review:

The brilliant webcomic Hark! A Vagrant is collected in glorious print.  Beaton’s comics tend to focus on historical and literary references with various levels of absurdity, so as a History/English major with fondness for absurd comics, they appeal to me.  This collection includes biographical comics of people you should know such as Sara Josephine Baker  and Ida B. Wells.  Then there’s the history of the invasion of Canada by Irish-American Fenians and the role of the bicycle in liberating women.  Have you ever wondered about the basic nuttiness of Wuthering Heights or wondered what became of the guy in the beginning of Janet Jackson’s “Nasty Boys” video?  These things are analyzed here.  And the popular misconceptions of feminism are pilloried in the series “Strong Female Characters” and “Straw Feminists.”  But I probably bust a gut the most reading “Founding Fathers (in a Mall)” and its sequel “Founding Fathers (Stuck in an Amusement Park).”

Recommended booksHyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Rating: ****

Book Review: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore


Author: Jill Lepore
TitleThe Secret History of Wonder Woman
NarratorJill Lepore
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2014)
Previously Read by Same Author:

Summary/Review:

The story of Wonder Women begins as a creation of William Moulton Marston, a something of a quack psychologist previously known for inventing the lie detector test.  Marston worked closely with his wife  Elizabeth Hollaway and Olive Byrne who lived with them in a long-term relationship (and continued living with Holloway after Martson’s death).  Through Byrne they were also connected to her aunt Margaret Sanger who looms large in this book and the history of Wonder Woman.  Lepore shows how the triad’s interests in feminism and unconventional sexuality are expressed through Wonder Woman comics which contains themes of ruling with feminine love and bondage and submission.  Lepore relates an interesting history of Marston, Hollaway, Byrne, Sanger, and others in the women’s rights movements of the 20th century, and Wonder Woman’s unexpected role in the center of it all.

Recommended booksThe Mad World of William M. Gaines by Frank Jacobs, Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex and Other True Stories by Pagan Kennedy
Rating: ***

Book Review: Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke A. Allen


AuthorNoelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke A. Allen
TitleLumberjanes
Publication Info: Los Angeles : Boom!, 2015.
Summary/Review: This clever comic is about five misfits at a scout camp who keep stumbling upon mythical and supernatural beings when they venture into the woods. They are funny and resourceful and I look forward to more adventures. 

Rating: ***

Book Review: What If? by Randall Munroe


Author: Randall Munroe
Title:What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
Publication Info: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
Summary/Review:

This book contains the sentence: “Aroldis Chapman could probably throw a golf ball about sixteen giraffes high.” That alone makes it worth reading. The creator of the webcomic xkcd, Randall Munroe uses math and science to investigate cornball questions from his readers.  If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if a baseball were pitched at the speed of light, what would happen if every person in the world jumped at the same place at the same time (say, Rhode Island), or what place on earth would allow for the longest free fall, this book is for you.  In addition to Munroe’s humorous, but mathematically explicit, explanations there are plenty of whimsical illustrations.  There are also a series of questions too weird and worrying for even Munroe to answer.
Favorite Passages:

Our plastic will become shredded and buried, and perhaps some microbes will learn to digest it, but in all likelihood, a million years from now, an out-of-place layer of processed hydrocarbons—transformed fragments of our shampoo bottles and shopping bags—will serve as a chemical monument to civilization.

 

If humans escape the solar system and outlive the Sun, our descendants may someday live on one of these planets. Atoms from Times Square, cycled through the heart of the Sun, will form our new bodies. One day, either we will all be dead, or we will all be New Yorkers.

 

So we shouldn’t worry too much about when computers will catch up with us in complexity. After all, we’ve caught up to ants, and they don’t seem too concerned. Sure, we seem like we’ve taken over the planet, but if I had to bet on which one of us would still be around in a million years—primates, computers, or ants—I know who I’d pick.

 

if an astronaut on the ISS listens to “I’m Gonna Be,” in the time between the first beat of the song and the final lines . . .  . . . they will have traveled just about exactly 1000 miles.

 

Rule of thumb: One person per square meter is a light crowd, four people per square meter is a mosh pit.

 

Al Worden, the Apollo 15 command module pilot, even enjoyed the experience. There’s a thing about being alone and there’s a thing about being lonely, and they’re two different things. I was alone but I was not lonely. My background was as a fighter pilot in the air force, then as a test pilot—and that was mostly in fighter airplanes—so I was very used to being by myself. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t have to talk to Dave and Jim any more . . . On the backside of the Moon, I didn’t even have to talk to Houston and that was the best part of the flight. Introverts understand; the loneliest human in history was just happy to have a few minutes of peace and quiet.

Recommended books: 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense by Michael Brooks, What’s next? : dispatches on the future of science : original essays from a new generation of scientists by Max Brockman, and Feynman by Jim Ottiavani
Rating: ****

Book Reviews: The Walking Dead (Volume 22): A New Beginning by Robert Kirkman


AuthorRobert Kirkman
TitleThe Walking Dead (Volume 22): A New Beginning
Illustrator: Charlie Adlard
Publication Info: Image Comics (2014)
Summary/Review:

Can the creators of The Walking Dead tell a story that does not revolve around survivors merely fighting zombies or fighting wars with other survivors?  The answer is yes!  This volume moves ahead a bit into a future where Rick and the leaders of surrounding communities are succeeding in developing sustainable communities amid the zombie horror.  Problems encountered now are the challenges of doing things that were normal in the old world.  For example, Carl is growing old enough to want to move out on his own to the Hilltop community.  Meanwhile, newly admitted survivors find the community too good to be true, an ironic turnabout.  Finally, the creepiest new antagonists are introduced.  This is a much set of stories and gives me hope for the continuing story of The Walking Dead.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Reviews: The Walking Dead (Volume 21): All Out War Part Two by Robert Kirkman


AuthorRobert Kirkman
TitleThe Walking Dead (Volume 21): All Out War Part Two
Illustrator: Charlie Adlard
Publication Info: Image Comics (2014)
Summary/Review:
I’ve put off continuing to read The Walking Dead series because it seems to have run out of ideas.  There’s only so many times you can read about the survivors of the zombie apocalypse fighting one another to the death.  And the current villain Negan has really run his course.

So thankfully this volume has some good things to offer as Negan is finally defeated.  This volume is also very slender, so at least the “all out war” isn’t drawn out.  Actually, Rick’s big speech about how they’ve learned to live with the constant threat of the dead around them and now it’s time to stop fighting and work toward rebuilding society seems to be a commentary on the comics series itself.  It seems to me that a story about the survivors facing the challenge of rebuilding without relying on the easy plot of the violent antagonist (whether it be from outside or within the group) is an interesting story to tell.  Now let’s see if Kirkman and co. can do it.

Rating: *1/2

Book Review: Cerebus by Dave Sim


Author: Dave Sim
TitleCerebus
Publication Info: [Kitchener, Ont.] : Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1987.
Summary/Review:

This is the first volume collecting the long-running comic book Cerebus by Canadian cartoonist Dave Sim.  I learned about this from friends online, and thought a comic about an anthropomorphic aardvark mercenary in a medieval fantasy setting sounded delightfully absurd.  After reading it, I found it kind of a slog.  This first volume of Cerebus is several unconnected stories satirizing both medieval fantasy tropes and politics with many of the stories concluding anti-climatically.  Cerebus is serious, amoral, and competent and often plays the straight man to ridiculous characters around him (including an albino who speaks like Foghorn Leghorn).  I’ve heard that later volumes in the series are much better, but I’m on the bubble about reading further, (especially since I’ve read that Sim is a creepy misogynist and his views are expressed in the comics).

Rating: **

Book Review: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh


Author: Allie Brosh
TitleHyperbole and a Half 
Publication Info: New York : Simon & Schuster, 2013.
ISBN: 9781451666175
Summary/Review:

The deliberately crudely-illustrated comics from Allie Brosh’s classic Hyperbole and a Half blog are collected here in book form.  Brosh’s writing and drawing based on her life is both hilarious and poignant.   Her works on depression and motivation (or lack thereof) are particularly brilliant, and make me feel that she gets me.  She also writes a lot about her dogs and their lack of intelligence and a particularly belly-guffawing story of her house invaded by a goose.  The colorful pictures also attracted my two-year-old  daughter who kept picking up that book whenever I wasn’t reading it.  This book should be read by one and all.

Recommended books: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Rating: ****

Book Review: The Walking Dead: March To War (vol. 19) by Robert Kirkman


Author: Robert Kirkman
TitleThe Walking Dead: March To War (vol. 19)
Publication Info:Image Comics (2013)
ISBN: 9781607068181
Summary/Review:

As noted in my review for volume 18, The Walking Dead series too often forces the drama by having the survivors in violent conflict with one another and all too often with a sadistic bully who is using the zombie apocalypse as an excuse to make a personal fiefdom.  I think there are more possible stories to be told of survival and adapting to the new world, but here we have a whole volume with preparation for war, with the upcoming two volumes dedicated to the war itself.  Sigh.  I guess in a way, The Walking Dead shows the post-apocalyptic world is a lot like our own after all.
Rating: **