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: 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: The Walking Dead Vol. 23: Life and Death by Robert Kirkman


AuthorRobert Kirkman
Title: The Walking Dead Vol. 24: Life and Death
Publication Info: Image Comics (2015)
Summary/Review:

This volume continues the ongoing story of survivors at various communities working to make something close to a normal life while working through the emotional devastation of the zombie apocalypse. They also have to deal with threats such as the Whisperers, an insurgency at Hilltop, and an imprisoned Negan’s mind games.  Then there’s a shocking conclusion!  It’s a good, nuanced story, and one of the better installments in the series.
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: The Walking Dead Vol. 23: Whispers Into Screams by Robert Kirkman


AuthorRobert Kirkman
Title: The Walking Dead Vol. 23: Whispers Into Screams
Publication Info: Image Comics (2015)
Summary/Review:

The last volume of The Walking Dead introduced the Whisperers, a group of people who wear skins of the dead so they can walk and live among the undead.  In this volume, a girl from the Whisperers is captured and during her captivity, Carl befriends her.  Meanwhile, Maggie is facing opposition as leader of the Hilltop community.  It’s a nice change of pace to take the focus off of Rick for once. I feel that these issues are kind of dragging their heels for now, but there’s a lot of potential that could be building for the Whisperers’ story.  They could become the next group our heroes have to fight a war against (god, I hope not), or there could be a more nuanced story of how these different types of survivors interact.
Rating: **1/2

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: Marbles : mania, depression, Michelangelo, and me by Ellen Forney


AuthorEllen Forney
TitleMarbles : mania, depression, Michelangelo, and me
Publication Info: New York : Gotham Books, c2012.
ISBN: 9781592407323
Summary/Review:

This graphic memoir depicts artist Ellen Forney’s experience when diagnosed with a bipolar personality, and her efforts to come terms with the manic and depressive periods of her life, as well as the cocktails of pharmaceuticals to help address this.  Forney explores the idea of the “troubled artist” stereotype, wondering if medication would kill her creativity, but also learning of the terrible struggles of famed bipolar artists.  This book ends on an upbeat note as Forney reflects on how she’s changed since her diagnosis, and grows to accept some of the tradeoffs in life.

Favorite Passages:

“Sometimes it seems like ‘pain’ is too obvious a place to turn for inspiration.  Pain isn’t always deep anyway.  Sometimes it’s awful and that’s it.  Or boring.

Surely other things can be as profound as pain …  ?”

Recommended books: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh.
Rating: ***1/2

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: **

Book Review: The Walking Dead: What Comes After (vol 18) by Robert Kirkman


Author: Robert Kirkman
TitleThe Walking Dead: What Comes After (v0l 18)
Publication Info: Image Comics (2013)
ISBN: 9781607066873
Summary/Review:

I’m not sure why I keep reading this series.  There’s the curiosity of what will happen next, of course, but I feel like I’m rereading what’s already happened. Negan and the Saviors have some nuances, but in the end it’s the story of The Governor and Woodbury all over again.  In the post-apocalyptic world ultra-violent bullies will take control and there will be more to fear from the living than the dead, and blah, blah, blah.  Perhaps it’s the influence of reading Rebecaa Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell, but I’d like to see more of how communities come together after a disaster.  The Walking Dead  – both the comics and the tv show – is at it’s best when it’s showing how people adapt to life in the post-apocalyptic world, the little things they do to adapt.  But all too often I find that the writers force the drama by constantly having all the survivors want to kill one another.  At least Ezekiel and his tiger are making things interesting.

Rating: **

Book Review: Fables 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers by Bill Willingham


AuthorBill Willingham
TitleFables 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers
Publication Info: New York : DC Comics, c2012.
ISBN: 9781401202224
Summary/Review:

The Fables series returns to a full story arc in this collection as the Fables’ sanctuary in New York is invaded by forces of the Adversary.  I liked this one better than the other compilations thus far as the characters are developing and growing on me, and this story was well-constructed.  Even the villains, while derivative of Agent Smith in The Matrix, were a clever and interesting conceit.

Recommended books:
Rating: ***

Book Review: Fables 3: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham


AuthorBill Willingham
TitleFables 3: Storybook Love
Publication Info: New York : DC Comics, c2012.
ISBN: 9781401202569
Summary/Review:
The third volume of the Fables series collects unrelated short stories – some better than others – loosely themed around love.  The last story about the Lilliputian men escaping to our world and the adventure to bring back women to their community is my favorite.

Rating: **

Book Review: Fables: Animal Farm by Bill Willingham


AuthorBill Willingham
TitleFables: Animal Farm 
Publication Info: Vertigo (2003), Paperback, 128 pages
ISBN: 140120077X

Previously by same author: Fables: Legends in Exile

Summary/Review: The second volume of the Fables series has Snow White traveling with her rebellious sister to The Farm in upstate New York where the mythical beings who cannot disguise themselves as humans live.  The animals and other creatures are not happy with being imprisoned on the Farm which leads to a rebellion and a plot very much derivative of the George Orwell novel that makes up the subtitle.  I found the story of this installment more engaging and the plotting improved over its predecessor, but I still feel it’s not living up to its great premise.  The artwork can be reminiscent of Apartment 3G, and distinguishing many of the male characters is difficult.  Still it’s entertaining brain candy and I may check out another volume.
Recommended books: The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde and Click, Clack, Moo by Doreen Cronin.
Rating **1/2

Book Review: Fables: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham


Author: Bill Willingham
TitleFables: Legends in Exile
Publication Info: New York : DC Comics, c2002
ISBN978-1401237554
Summary/Review:

Characters from fables and folklore have been forced out of their magical lands and forced to reside in New York, many disguising themselves to look like “mundane” humans.  In this first story, Bigby Wolf (the anthropomorphized Big Bad Wolf) is the sheriff of Fabletown investigating the brutal murder of Rose Red, with the assistance/interference of her sister Snow White (who is deputy mayor).  The story follows a basic police procedural routine leading up to a parlor room summation that is commented on within the story.  The premise of Fables intrigued me, but as it is basically a detective story with requisite comic book gore thrown around, it didn’t quite deliver.  Still there are enough elements of a hidden past and hints of a greater story to make me want to try to read more.
Recommended books: The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde

Rating: ** 1/2

Book Review: Hit By Pitch by Molly Lawless


Author: Molly Lawless
Title: Hit By Pitch
Publication Info:  Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., 2012.
ISBN: 9780786446094

Summary/Review: 

I was fortunate enough to receive a free copy of this work through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

This graphic novel tells the true life story of the only baseball player to die from an injury on the field, Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians, who was beaned in the head by a pitch from the New York Yankees’ Carl Mays in a 1920 ballgame in New York’s Polo Ground.  Lawless finds some common history among the two men both born in Kentucky in the same year building up their parallel stories leading to the fateful fastball in a similar fashion to Hardy’s “Convergence of the Twain.”  Chapman is charismatic and popular with his teammates and fans while Mays is an outsider who is not well-liked setting up the perfect hero and villain scenario.  Yet, Lawless makes sure to give Mays his fair due.  Lawless details the incident and its aftermath with grim and fascinating details.  For example, did you know that Mays and Yankees’ first baseman Wally Pipp fielded the ball that bounced off Chapman’s head thinking that it was a bunt?  This is a great work of baseball history as well as the graphic arts.

Rating: ****

Recommended BooksThe Glory of Their Times : The Story of Baseball Told By the Men Who Played It by Lawrence S. Ritter, The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. by Robert Coover, and Sailor Twain: Or: The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel.

Book Review: Laika by Nick Abadzis


AuthorNick Abadzis & Hilary Sycamore (illustrator)
TitleLaika
Publication Info: New York : First Second, 2007.
ISBN: 1596431016
Summary/Review:

This graphic ‘novel’ tells the story of the first dog in space, launched by the Soviet Union space program in 1957, with no provisions for returning her to earth.  Laika’s story from a Moscow street dog to her final journey is heart-renderingly told through the pages of beautiful illustrations.  Central human characters include legendary Soviet rocket engineer and Sergei Korolev and the fictionalized dog caretaker for the space program, Yelena Alexandrovna Dubrovsky.  Both are complex, fully-realized characters that add to the weight of what as being done to Laika in the name of science and advancement of humankind.

Favorite Passages:

“For once, it seems there’s nothing to worry about for the time being.  Of course, nothing lasts.  And why worry about that? One must learn not to.  Every day, every moment is a frontier to a country, that once crossed, can never be returned to.  Most of the time we don’t notice.  Which is just how it should be.  The secret is not to worry. You can’t back.  Although, those you leave behind will still think of you.  Most of the time, we don’t notice the small, gradual changes only the sudden unexpected ones.  But, once you understand nothing lasts everything’s all right.  After all, something always comes along that changes everything.  And once you realize this, you find that you’re no longer imprisoned by this truth but freed by it.”  – p. 111-116

Recommended booksThe Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years by Chingiz Aitmatov
Rating: ****

Book Review: Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel


Author: Alison Bechdel
Title: Are You My Mother? 
Publication Info: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2012)
ISBN: 9780618982509

Previously Read By the Same Author: Fun Home

Summary/Review:  The follow-up to Fun Home, Bechdel’s graphic biography of her father, this book deals with Bechdel’s complicated relationship with her mother. It’s actually about a lot more than that as center to the story is the process of Bechdel writing the story about her father and how that was troubling to her mother. Psychology is also central to the narrative as Bechdel details decades of sessions with her therapists and the book is heavily illustrated with quotes from the writing of the psychologist Donald Winnicot. My favorite aspect of Fun Home was how Bechdel worked in literary allusions into her story and that is at play here, most fantastically in she compares Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own with the plexiglass dome in Dr. Seuss’ Sleep Book. The psychology stuff is rather heavy and kind of weighs down the story that it makes it less perfect than Fun Home for me, but nevertheless an excellent examination of the human condition.

Recommended BooksTo the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Rating: ***

Book Review: Doctor Who. Series 2, Volume 1, The Ripper by Tony Lee


Author: Tony Lee
Title: Doctor Who. Series 2, Volume 1, The Ripper
Publication Info: IDW Publishing (2011)
ISBN: 9781600109744
Summary/Review: The Eleventh Doctor accompanied by Amy and Rory visit Victorian Whitechapel and find themselves in the midst of the Jack the Ripper killings where the Ripper is <SPOILERS> an alien! </SPOILERS>  Another enjoyable comic adventure for Doctor Who.

Rating: **1/2

 

Book Review: Doctor Who. Volume 3, Final sacrifice by Tony Lee


Author: Tony Lee
Title: Doctor Who. Volume 3, Final sacrifice
Publication Info: IDW Publishing (2011)
ISBN: 9781600108464
Summary/Review:  The conclusion of the story begun in Fugitive and Tesseract finds the Tenth Doctor, his allies and enemies on a planet caught in endless civil war.  The actions of the Doctor will determine whether the cycle will be broken but requires confounding choices and sacrifice.  The comic format allows for a visual imagination that would not likely be convincing in a televised format but on the other hand the dialogue seems spare and simplistic.  Still, this is a great adventure and addition to the Doctor Who oeuvre.

Rating: **1/2