Sunday, 24 February 2013

To The Devil His Due

Daredevil Volume 1 (Marvel Comics, 2012)
Collecting issues #1-6
Writer: Mark Waid
Penciler: Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin
Inker: Joe Rivera
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna

Daredevil’s been in a funk for several years now, with each new creative team that takes over the book putting Matt Murdock through ever bleaker adventures. These stories resulted in a grim and gritty outlook  for Daredevil.  This new series from writer Mark Waid comes as a breath of fresh air.  Daredevil has a light, breezy tone throughout as he bounces back from his lowest point.

Stylistically the book stands out too.  The stories here are bright, colourful and visually appealling.  Regular series artist Paolo Rivera uses a range of new short-hand techniques to show how the blind Murdock navigates his world and in particular his sense of “radar vision”.  Although this might sound superfluous to the spandex heroics, it’s really a central point of the book.  The character of Daredevil rests upon the concept that a blind man can have such mastery of his environment that he can become a superhero – make no mistake, a little of the old suspension of disbelief is needed here.  But the art on this book will make you see the world from Matt Murdock’s perspective.

Overall, this was a great start to a new series and a perfect jumping-on point for new readers.  I’m looking forward to seeing where else Waid’s run takes Daredevil.

(As a postscript, I've linked to the Amazon page above by force of habit but when I checked out AbeBooks, there's a cheaper copy available here.)

Saturday, 5 January 2013


One of the fun things I've been doing this last years is tracking all my reading on a GoodReads profile site.  My profile's here if anyone's interested.  It's a great way to catalogue your reading, follow trends and keep a record (although it won't ever replace my trusty List) and for geeks like me you can make some pretty pictures to show off the books you've read.  This is especially good if you read a lot of books that you don't own, if you have an e-reader or if you get a lot of books from your local library*.

As soon as I've figured it out, I'll get a widget up on this page to show/shame what I read last year.

I just about hit my target of 60 books to read in 2012 (with a little bit of cheating - including speed-reading comic books to get through my quota as the end of December began to loom).  I've set myself a target of a modest 65 to read in 2013, with a personal promise (ha ha) to read more novels and comics.

*Which of course, would be a legal requirement in my future vision of book-centric dystopia. Benefits would then be deducted for people who didn't check out a pre-agreed number of items per annum and it would be a horrible, horrible place to live.  Judge Dredd would be on the scene to inform my ridiculous rules.  You have been warned so at least try to act surprised when they march you down to the self-checkout machines.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year everyone!  This is my “oh-my-god-I can’t believe how long it’s been since I posted” post.  Which is a shame, because I’ve read lots of cool things that I really wanted to write about on here.  I worked out from my Master List (which I may share on here someday), that I read about 60 books last year.

And about 16 of them didn’t even have pictures in or anything, so there.

For the last 2 years I’ve read many many more graphic novels than, well, non-graphic novels.  So perhaps one of my reading resolutions this year should be to read more proper books?

My major news is that, as of Christmas 2012, I am now the proud (read “smug”) owner of a Kindle Fire.  I wasn’t aware of all the great stuff the Fire device could do, so for those not in the know it’s more-or-less an Android tablet computer as well as being an e-reader.  There’s enough distractions on it that I haven’t read a whole book on it yet, but suffice to say that it’s going to liven up my daily commute.  Plus everything is linked up to the Amazon store, so if you’re not on your guard it can be a dangerously short number of clicks to get you from “I wonder if China Mieville has any new books out since I last checked” to “well, now I have ALL his books available on this shiny little black monolith” and “wait, where did all my wages go again?  Oh yes, I spent them on that obscure fantasy writer that Neil Gaiman recommended on his blog”.  You have been warned.  I will try my best not to reach that stage.

Whilst I love those old-fashioned paper things we call books, reading on the Kindle is a completely different experience which will undoubtedly change what I consume as well as how.  I had a discussion this morning about which books would be the most/least inappropriate to enjoy digitally.  Apparently, if you download William Gibson’s cyperpunk standard Neuromancer, your head will explode.  Meanwhile I can’t even contemplate downloading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury; I can only imagine him turning his grave at the very notion.  [Note: Bradbury did eventually embrace e-books and released his work in a digital format, but I can’t help but feel this would have been at least partly down to his publishers’ input].

I’m currently finishing off a library book before diving into my Kindle downloads: DC: Legacies by Len Wein.  As the title suggests, it’s a history of the DC universe spanning 10 issues and told from the perspective of Paul Lincoln, a long-term collector of superhero memorabilia.  So far, so good –there’s not so much a strong story as a general thread tracing the development of the fictional DC world.  It shows where the first masked avengers came from, leading through to their persecution and eventual disappearance in McCarthy-era America, then the apperance of a new group of brightly coloured superheroes and the cosmic crises, corruptions, deaths and (yes, of course) resurrections that the comics industry has entailled.  I’ve enjoyed it but I know very little about the history of comics before the 1980s.  If you’re a fully paid up member of the continuity police, I imagine this book will make your head spin; DC seems to revise its “official” history every year to the point that the company itself can’t hope to keep up with what the current accepted line is.  But to pick that apart too much would be to miss the point of a fun romp through 60 odd years of publishing history.

Enough about me though… what are YOU reading?

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Revisiting the Classics

I've done it again.  I've fallen behind with this blog.

It always happens the same way.  I'll read a book that I like so much that I avoid reviewing it, for fear of not getting down in words how I felt about it.  And then I read more books, and I tell myself that I can't write any more reviews until I've reviewed The Book I Really Liked, and so on.

And now it's nearly May.

I've read 16 books since my last post - and some of them didn't have any pretty pictures in either!  And for the past month, I've been revisiting some of my favourite graphic novels.  It wasn't by choice, but it just turned out that way that I'd checked 2 or 3 stone-cold classics out of the library at the same time.

Firstly I've been rereading League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century, 1969, the 2nd part of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's tour de force of fictional worlds and characters.  I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on the first volume, and from then on the books have got more and more convoluted with a range of increasingly obscure references.  It's a bit over my head to be honest; I'm not well-versed in 60s culture and literature - but that doesn't affect the plot too much and it's still a great read.  The final part of the trilogy is set in 2009 and will be published this Summer.

After that I read Maus, one of the first graphic novels I ever read.  I've always been grimly fascinated by Holocaust narratives, although they tend to leave you upset and guilty and a little bit ashamed to be part of the human race.  Maus is the record of Vladek Spiegelman's experience of the War and time spent in Auschwitz, as well as the story of his strained relationship with his son and wife in present-day New York.  It's based on one simple idea: each nationality is depicted as a different animal.  The Jews are mice, Germans are cats, Americans dogs - the French are frogs.  It all sounds very cutesey and even a little disrespectful, but Spiegelman's work doesn't make light of the horrific things his father lived through.  Disney it ain't.  An accessible, moving read, Maus is one of those books that give the lie to the idea that comics are for kids and 40-something Batman nostalgics.

I just finished reading Blankets (Craig Thompson) a few days ago.  It's been nearly a decade since I last read this novel (and Maus), so I was interested to see if my reaction to it had changed at all.  Clocking in at just under 600 pages, Blankets is an absolute brick of a book - "it was Professor Plum, in the library, with the paperback edition of Blankets!"  More than anything else it's a coming-of-age story, as much about brotherly love and the joys of growing up in a small town as it is concerned with the central story of young love, and its inevitable death.  It's a very teenage book and I wasn't quite as bowled over by it as I remember reading it when I was 17 or thereabouts.  The story is still incredibly touching, tender and funny.  Among other things, Thompson writes convincingly about the loss of faith in organised religion without ever coming across as preaching or dogmatic.

So that's what I've read in the last week or so.  I'll try and fill in the gaps in my reading record sometime soon...

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Come Armageddon, Come

The title of today's blog comes from a song I've been listening to on repeat recently: Everyday Is Like Sunday by Morrissey.  There's a great video on YouTube here - a strange juxtaposition of the song with footage of ultra-violent video game, Grand Theft Auto 4.  (Which reminds me again of my favourite quote about video games:  Charlie Brooker once described Call of Duty as "the Citizen Kane of shooting people in the face", but that's another story...)

That song always reminds me of Cleveleys, a town not far from me which many local people like to think of as a picturesque and traditional seaside resort.   I like to think of it as the arsehole of the north-west, although to be fair there's probably a lot of worse places I have yet to discover.

This is a very roundabout way of saying that I've just finished reading BPRD: Plague of Frogs, a graphic novel with strong overtones of The End of The World, Doomsday and all of that nasty stuff on the horizon.  Those of you with normal social lives who do not read comics will probably recognize the character Hellboy from Guillermo del Toro's film adaptations.  Well, the BPRD is sort of a spin-off comic from Hellboy.  In the books, Hellboy starts off as a member of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence until he gets tired of the administration's interfering and strikes out on his own leaving the team to soldier on without him.  Think X-files, if Mulder and Scully each had a supernatural ability of their own.  The BPRD are a rag-tag bunch of misfits who investigate paranormal activities and crimes.

Plague of Frogs is an omnibus edition of the first 3 BPRD graphic novels (The Hollow Earth, The Soul of Venice & other stories and Plague of Frogs.  In other words, it's a real brick of a book.  Now the Hellboy series is notable for two big reasons: the intricate mixture of folklore, myths and legends to create a truly twisted world - and secondly Mike Mignola's crisp art and uncanny ability for drawing nasty monsters.  BPRD plays to the strengths of its parent title and the first storyline, The Hollow Earth, is fantastic.  By the time of the second volume, Mignola was hard at work on both the monthly Hellboy title and the Hollywood film adaptation.  He took a risk and let other teams of writers and artists take on the BPRD for a series of short stories.  As a result these tales are choppy - some brilliant, some no more than brief diversions that just serve to emphasize how strong the first story arc was.

By the last third of the book however, the BPRD have found their groove.  At this point, Mignola is back writing and Guy Davis does the artwork (Dave Stewart colours the pages).  The final story in the omnibus is the titular Plague of Frogs, a story that sets up plot-lines for years to come by introducing the frog-monsters.  And if you feel your eyes rolling around in your head at the mention of the word "frog-monsters", you're not alone.  Believe me, I was very cynical about the notion of a race of mutated frog creatures as the main baddies.  I don't really associate frogs with anything scary or supernatural, but Mignola manages to make even a innocent frog in the background of a panel really unnerving.  And by the time the frog-monsters appear, there's nothing funny about them at all.

Just to recap:

Good Frog
Bad Frog

If there's one writer that's influenced Mignola with these stories, it's H.P. Lovecraft.  Plague of Frogs is rife with cults, conspiracies and acolytes.  The crazed servants of the Ancient Gods walk among us and work tirelessly to prepare the way for their arcane masters, who will awaken before we know it.

And then we're all for it.

Mignola walks the same path as Lovecraft, albeit with less casual racism.  And that's a match made in Heaven Hell.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Girl With The Midas Touch

I recently finished reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Swedish author Stieg Larsson, (2005, first translated into English in 2008).  It's the first book of the best-selling Millenium Trilogy, but the series was originally planned as a series of 10 books featuring the financial journalist Mikhael Blomkvist and his unlikely aide Lisbeth Salander, the be-inked character that gives the book its title.  The novel has been everywhere recently and the Hollywood adaptation has just been released.  So it's fair to say this novel has been on my radar for a while.

I'm pleased to say that The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo completely lives up to the hype.  On paper, it  shouldn't work: a thriller about a disgraced journalist on a sabbatical who attempts to solve a 30-year old family mystery sounds dull and dreary.  But Larsson is a master of drawing the reader into the story and it doesn't take long to get hooked.  In Lisbeth Salander, Larsson has created an instantly classic character.  Surprisingly, Salander doesn't play a huge part in this first book (although I think it's safe to guess that she steps into centre-stage later on, as the next two books are also named after her).

Another reason I've finally gotten around to reading this one is that Vertigo comics have just announced their adaptation of the book coming out in November.  If you can't wait that long, then a special preview is going to be published in time for Free Comic Book Day 2012 (May 5th this year, put in your diary now, fellow nerds!).  Vertigo have had mixed success recently with their line of stand-alone crime graphic novels, so it should be interesting to see how this one works out.  It's a major coup for them to get the rights to the novel.  Denise Mina is an interesting choice for a writer (a successful crime novellist, but a less-than-successful comics writer) but I'm more excited about Leonardo Manco's artwork.  Manco's pairing with Mike Carey on Hellblazer is probably one of my favourite comicbooks of all time.

Leonardo Manco's John Constantine, Hellblazer

Here's the cover to Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, coming this Winter:

And - quelle surprise! - they've gone for the sex angle.  In fact if you view the covers of the novels, you can almost see the progression from the original Swedish covers to the slightly sex-ed up but still demure British ones - culminating in the above monstrosity.  Lee Bermejo is one of my favourite cover artists and the above image is great: I just don't feel like it's right for this book.  The original title of the book roughly translates as "Men who hate women" and the book deals unflinchingly with sexual violence.  So, to me at least, it's wrong to play on the sex-angle too much to attract attention to the books.  Interestingly enough, the movie promo images are quite subdued - I expected the American screens to turn Salander into a blonde bomb-shell.  Salander is portrayed by Larsson as a severely damaged individual: not conventionally attractive and it appears the film has stayed true to the character.

The more eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that I've been making an effort to update this here blog more regularly.  I'm doing my best at the moment and I'm never short of stuff to ramble on about so, if you're still reading, thank you.  I'm doing my best to redesign this site too (with precious little proper techie knowledge) and make it a bit more attractive and accessible.  To this end, I've also listed this page with Technorati, the techno blog. As part of this, I'm obliged to published the following token code to register this blog: Y27T625J3PQ8.  There we go, all done.

I've also realised that this is a bit of a one-way conversation at the moment, so I thought I'd ask what are you reading right now?  I've altered my blog settings so that anyone can add comments and you no longer have to sign up for a Google or a Blogger profile, so feel free to leave a message.  I might have to revise that when the Viagra adverts start rolling in...

Oh and I nearly forgot to mention:  happy birthday Charles!  You'd have to have been living under a rock for the past year not to have noticed that this year is a special one for Charles Dickens: he was born 200 years ago today.  The BBC have been making sure no-one forgets, with their Dickens series of programmes and today Google have jumped on board.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Walking With Zombies

And now back to our scheduled viewing.  I may have mentioned once or twice how much I love The Walking Dead (Image Comics).  Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard have created a modern classic with their ongoing story of survival in the wake of a zombie apocalypse.  On the surface, the story seems trite and cliched: "something bad" has happened - nobody knows what! - which has left the world overrun with perambulatory carnivorous cadavers and the few humans who remain must fight for their existence.

All horror fans know how that story goes: usually badly, ending with a fade-out to the credits as the zombies finally break through the shopping mall.  After 90 minutes or so of struggle and strife, the characters we've come to know and love inevitably meet their sticky ends in an all-you-can-eat zombie buffet.  Right?

Not so in The Walking Dead.  Don't get me wrong, a lot of the tried-and-tested plotpoints are present here, but this series has been running for 90+ issues.  At a rate of 1 issue a month, that means this story has been unraveling for nearly 8 years.  And it's still being published today.

Playing cowboys and Indians for real: Carl in The Walking Dead

Kirkman's elevator pitch for The Walking Dead was a "zombie movie that doesn't end" and that's what he and his co-creators have produced.  This is a story about the constant pressure of survival and how living through a zombie apocalypse affects the characters in the long-term.  It's about the cumulative psychological traumas and tragedies the main players have endured, the tough choices they've been forced to make and how it all affects them, every day.

Oh, and it's also about how the real threat to survival is other human beings, not the flesh-munching zombies of horror movie fame.

But you already knew that, right?