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Blacksad Series

This isn't Disney. For which we should all be very thankful. First, let me say that the artwork is stunning, in particular how ...

Friday, August 18, 2017

Blacksad Series

This isn't Disney.

For which we should all be very thankful.

First, let me say that the artwork is stunning, in particular how certain real figures were shown as characters in this book.  The series is about a panther who exists in a world similar to our own, but instead of humans, animals.

In the first collection, the thing, the real thing, is the plot. Blacksad is a private detective whose first tale involves solving the murder of his former girlfriend. The best part, however, is the second story in this book, with the last running a close second.  The second story is a look at race as told by the animal figures that inhabit the world. Quite frankly, any novel, graphic or otherwise, that can reference "Strange Fruit" and get it correct deserves an award.

In the best tradition of animal stories, this graphic novel makes you think about the human condition.
The second volume of the series, Silent Hell,  takes place in the South, and despite the use of animals, actually does chronicle a story inspired by true events.  The question here is about music, truth, and testing.  Blacksad is accompanied by his reporter sidekick, and the second volume links nothing into the third volume of the series.
                The third volume is the only volume that does not deal directly with race, at least not in the same way as the first two volumes of the series. There are subtle hints in Blacksad’s sister and his nephews, but that is about it.  The third volume does refer to the lives of the Beat poets so it does have that tie in, but the overarching social look is missing a bit.

                I do wish that Idris Elba would play Blacksad, simply because it is a role that seem so suited for him.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Review: Curse Words Vol. 1

Curse Words Vol. 1 Curse Words Vol. 1 by Charles Soule
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What happens when an evil wizard (not Wizzard) named Wizord (no first name) lands in NYC to meet up with his rat familiar(?) Margaret?

Turn Margaret into a koala (#teammargaret) or if the situation calls for it, something else (#notmymargaret).

And become one of the good guys. Sort of.

Wizord ends up in NYC to do a dark deed for his boss, but he discovers there such a thing as freedom and he likes it. So, he decides to become a good guy. In other words, he is trying to change from the evil bastard he was. Lucky for him, he has Margaret, who may be something more than a familiar (#teammargaret) but who is definitely smarter than he is.

Wizord is also hot. It is important to note this. He is hot.

He also grants wishes, like the Genie in Aladdin he does have the three no go areas. He also finds loopholes.

He’s just not sure how good guys deal with certain problems, such as what to do with witnesses.

But he muddles though.

In many ways, this book reminds me a little of I Hate Fairyland, comedy, but there is also an underlying seriousness to it. How does one define magic, how does magic work, what makes us who we are.

The artwork is excellent. Margaret might be a cute koala bear (#teammargaret), but she is a real koala bear, not a stuffed animal. And the cost and ramifications of the magic spells upon surrounding people are brought home. Cost is dealt with. It’s quite a nice comic. In many ways, it takes the best of Dresden and plays with it in a totally different way.

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Review: Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City

Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

Tamra Jewel Keepness.

Name doesn’t ring a bell to many people here in the United States. In 2004, the five-year member of Whitebear First Nation went missing from her family home in Reinga. She has never been found. I only know about because I was in Montreal shortly after she was reported missing, when the story was showed on Canadian news. I remember thinking at the time that it such coverage seemed to be different than that of the US, were the only people who seem to go missing are attractive white women or old forgetful people, at least according to the national news.

I found myself thinking of Keepness while reading this book, in part because the book showed me how wrong I was.

Prior to reading this book I knew about the reputation of Residential Schools, of the taking of Native/First Nation children by whites in order to “civilize” or “assimilate” them in both the US and Canada, and I have read reports and watched documentaries about the large number of First Nation women missing and killed in Canada, including along Highway 16. Yet, there was a sense that Canada at least owned up to the injustice in a way that the United States has not done.

Nope. Wrong about that.

Talaga’s book looks at the deaths of seven indigenous students from a school in Thunder Bay. The students lied in Thunder Bay, but they came from small Northern communities that lacked adequate schooling. The only way for the students to get a good education, the First Nation schools in their communities either being non-existent or severally underfunded. It is also a condemnation of a society and a government that does little to nothing to correct the issues that are a result of colonialism and racism. Of school that is underfunded but tries, and a town that does little to deal with hate crimes.

Talaga tells the story from the indigenous point of view. This means that the focus is on racism and government responsibility as well as, at times, culture shock of moving to a city from a town of 300 people or less. So, this isn’t drink done them wrong, at least no more than drink does any teen wrong. Additionally, while details are given about the lives of the people whom Talaga is writing about, she doesn’t Romanize them. It is reporting, all the more damning because of it. In part, this is all due to Talaga herself who is honest enough to admit that when the germ of the story started, she was reporting on something completely different.

It’s important to remember that the focus is on seven young lives that were lost, all in a similar way. It chronicles not only the crime but also the reaction of society and the struggle to get justice. It also is a look at the families. What would you do if there was no school for your child at home, and the closest school was 100s of miles away? You also have more than one child.

The book is both eye-opening and anger inducing.

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Review: Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were

Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were by Philip Lymbery
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

July 2017 My Book Box Non-fiction selection

I am at once very conflicted and very disappointed in this book. It is not a bad book. In fact, Lymbery's view on farming are ones that I agree with and of those farms I try to support. In fact, I stopped buy Purdue chicken several years ago after watching a Fronline program about chicken farms and pollution.

So I agree with his thesis.

At times, I found this book interesting. The chapters on palm oil and corn in particular stood out. It's just that sometimes Lymbery goes way off topic. For instance, he desribes the aviary that his mother and he use to keep while making sure the reader is aware that Lymbery no longer is comfortable with birds in cage. This story is interesting, and I wouldn't mind reading about it a different type of book. But why is it in this one? Seriously.

Additionally, when a reader does want more information about something, and that might be consdiered slightly off topic, Lymbery does not provide it. For instance, when he is dealing with elephants enroaching on villages. He mentions that elephant training (breaking) is horribly and wonders if the park rangers do this on the elephants they use. He never finds out, and considering the use of elephants in this case to allow humans and animals to co-exist, shouldn't he have asked? Also when talking about fishing, shouldn't you, well, talk to fishermen as well as scientists? There is a selection about bison, and he provides two quotes - a quote from each side of a debate. But each quote is only one sentence. If he had gotten rid of some the digressions, he could have added more in that section.

To be fair, there was one part of this book that really cheesed me off and undoubtedly strongly effects how I feel about this book. In part it is my American bias pride or what have you. Here it is. On a trip to Nebraska, Lymbery stops at a gas station to get water and an ice lolly (his words, btw). He wants to make sure he has picked up plain water - not sparkling or cabornated. He, being British, asks the owner if the water has gas in it. The owner is very confused. Now, I know that water with gas means carbonated water. But that is NOT how we refer to it in the US. And quite frankly, not many people in the US would known what that means. You have a greater chance of meeting someone who doesn't know that. It's a regional language thing. But the why Lymbery describes it comes across as "this stupid American hick". And you know what, no. That is not the case.

Still, parts of the book were interesting.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Review: Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Vol. 1

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Vol. 1 Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Vol. 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Note: I got this for free via an Amazon Marvel Comics' Offer. I "purchased" a FCBD comic about Rocket for nothing, and then recieved an email coupon saying I could get a free comic collection. I chose this one because I was lucky enough to see Coates speak shortly after it was announced he was writing this.

Years ago, I was a huge Marvel fan, until they screwed one too many of thier female characters over, so I stopped reading. I kept up a bit because you know how it is. You get attached to characters and want to know. I was never a Black Panther fan. Sorry, just wasn't, mostly because I didn't read the Avengers. Storm and Firestar are my two favorite Marvel characters. When Storm and Panther married I was like cool even though I shipped Storm/Forge, but why did Marvel retconned it the way Marvel did? Why couldn't the story of Storm saving Panther be kept? Why did it have to be reversed? But I understand the importance of the, this, power couple, but this begs the question why break them up?  Yes, I know I went with I don't mind, but route.  In this case it is true.

So that's my mind set when I picked this up. As someone who has not read Marvel in recent years, I was slightly confused on the outset, though the summery at the start helped with this. And honestly, if Marvel had been producing this when I stopped reading, I would not have stopped reading.

First, the art. Comic books are known for women with skinny waists, big boobs, and really strange outfits. Well, the strange outfits are here and some navels get flashed, but the women are actually drawn as women with real waists and bust sizes. So wow. Awesome. Women in power too.

Second, the plot. Coates' storyline seems to be on the nature of rule, which is a rather interesting take. Coates explored not only the idea and cost of ruling, but what happens when that pact is broken. It is a really adult look at power and government that mirrors some the politcal situations in some African countries. Really well done writing.

One the representaton issue, this book is great. Two of the leading female characters are in a romantic realtionship where they truly care for each other. They are not demonized. Additionally, there are hints of a relationship between two older adults. There is only one white person who has a small role, and therefore balances the predominately white casts of the other comics. Honestly, there was a time when the Avengers seemed to be nothing but blonde men. Representation does matter, everyone should realize this.

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Reading List for Anti-Confederates

Considering HBO’s recent and ill-conceived move in terms of future television, I thought I would present a brief list of books to read that will either educate you about slavery that are not objectification.  Please keep in mind that I am undoubtedly missing or forgetting some books simply because my area of interest is not Civil war.  I am trying to highlight books that are slightly less popular than Roots, the works of Frederick Douglas, or Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

1.       The Hanging of Angelique by Afua Cooper.    This book is not about American slavery but about slavery in Montreal.  Angelique was a slave woman who was accused and found guilty of setting a fire that destroyed part of the city.  The book details slavery in Canada and illustrates something that people in the United States really don’t know about.  Cooper spent at least 15 years researching this book, and she expands the topic slightly to deal with slaves in the colony in general. 

2.       Kindred by Octavia Butler.  So, you can’t read Sci-fi and not include Butler’s book on a list like this.  Butler’s heroine finds herself in a time jump, where she is forced backwards to exist at the same time of her ancestors, including both slaves and the “owner” who raped them.  It is a stunning and wonderful novel.

Segu by Maryse Conde.  This novel concerns a family in Africa at a time when both slavery and Islam take hold.  Members of the family responded to the conflicts differently.  While most of the book takes place in Africa, there is a sequence set in the New World that deals with slavery and one members of the family’s reaction to it.  Conde’s writing is impassioned and her characters live.  There is also a sequel, Children of Segu.  Her book I, Tituba is about the slave in the Salem witch trials and is highly recommend as well.

4.       The Benjamin January novels by Barbara Hambly.  Hambly’s series is about Ben January a listened doctor who returns to New Orleans from Paris after the death of his wife.   Ben is a black man, his mother and father were slaves, and he cannot practice medicine in New Orleans, which is part of the recent purchase.  The series concerns January solving various crimes while dealing with tensions between Americans and member of New Orleans, as well as the racism that he is subjected to every day.  His mother (a freed slave) and his sisters (both free, one a mistress) also play central roles.  The book takes a harsh look at slavery as well as what free blacks dealt with; Hambly even uses real life cases in the books.  Much of the series’ strength comes from the development of Ben who eventually remarries and resists the slave owning structure.

5.       The Land Shall be Deluged in Blood by Patrick Breen.  Breen’s book is a history of the Nat Turner Rebellion.  He presents as much biographical detail about those involved in the Uprising as he can, examines why there wasn’t more support, and compares it with the events of Haiti.

6.       The Underground Railroad by Coulson Whithead.  In a slim volume that imagines the Underground Railroad as a truly a railroad, Whithead uses real life examples of reactions and escapes from slavery to chronicle one woman’s fight for freedom.  The book is quick read and worthy of all the praise it gets.  Every section has a real-life story that it is based on.

7.       Gateway to Freedom by Eric Foner.  Foner’s book is about the Northern areas on the Underground Railroad.  He looks at the various groups in places lIke Philadelphia who tried to help slaves to freedom.  He also highlights the various laws that made such actions illegal as well as how slave catchers took everyone who was black regardless. 

8.       Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horowitz.  This book is less about the Civil War or civility, but about how certain people cannot get over the Confederacy losing.  In other words, Horowitz’s book showcases why a show such as Confederate is wrong.  Scary reading.

9.       And finally – slave narratives.  Today, with the advent of ereaders and Project Guttenberg, it is quite easy to read slave narratives in addition to 12 Years A Slave or Narrative of a Life by Frederick Douglass.  This is not only due to the copyright free nature of the works (copyright expired to be more exact) but also Federal Programs that sent people out to record the narratives.  Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Escape in a Chest, William Brown’s narrative (as well as his fiction story about Jefferson’s daughter), Noah Davis’ narrative.  You can also read the works of Ida B. Wells, who wrote about lynching as well as various anti-slavery tracts.  All for free.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Comic Round Up #2

Source comiXology
In my last comic round up, I started with a series of comics based on a video game, so I figure I will do the same here.  The four issue World of Warcraft Legion series is apparently a set up for the video game (or part of the video game).  The series isn’t as good as Overwatch, in part because it relies a bit more on reader familiarity, but it isn’t bad.  Part of the series focuses on the relationship between fathers and daughters, in one case, a father upset that his daughter isn’t a son.  Each issue is more of a character study with some action.  The first and last issues being the best.

                To be fair to World of Warcraft, the female characters are actually drawn in ways that make sense and not as objectified as many other comic books would have done them.  Take for instance, Tellos, which has had all good markings of a good fantasy story – exciting chases, a tiger man, magic, a female pirate with intelligence – until you realize that said female pirate with the triple DDD bust size constantly spans her own waist with one of her hands.  Every Time She Puts Said Hand On Her Hip.
Source comiXology

                I’m done.

Where are her eyes?  Source comiXology
                There are exceptions to this trend.  Marvel’s Ms. Marvel being an example.  She is nicely geeky, she tries to be a good daughter, she is nice and insecure.  She’s a Muslim.  In other words, she is everything Donald Trump would hate.  The fact that she is a normal teen and minority is a huge step forward.  She isn’t perfect.  It’s good that Marvel is finally doing something like this.  I wish they would go back and rescue some of their less known woman heroes as well.  I really want Firestar done well. 
Source pinterest

                Ms. Marvel, however, does give me hope.  Not only in terms of the future of comics, but also that hype can be correct.

                And she is drawn realistically, and the issue passes the Bechdel test.

Source comiXology
                Tiny Titans doesn’t, at least not entirely.  There is jokes about who has a crush on Robin, and while this might be a reference to Nightwing’s butt, it is rather annoying.   Still, the comic is a little cute, though the DC Super Hero Girls was better.

Source comiXology
        Tales of Honor (#1 and FCBD issue) is a series based on the Honor Harrington novels by David Weber.  #1 is basically a start of Honor’s story, starting around book 6 or 7.  The FCBD issue is a standalone story.  Both have the info dumps that do tend to populate Weber’s books.  Interesting, Nimitz, Honor’s treecat is drawn differently in each, at one point so large that he would not be a shoulder perching cat, which is what he is supposed to be.  Issue #1 sexualizes Honor a bit, though not as much as some comics would have.  I have to give the edge to FCBD issue, though, the story was complete and straight forward.  It showed Honor at her best.  However, if you like Honor, you might want to check out this series.


 Murena is a graphic novel series that in some ways is the sequel to Claudius the God.  The story focuses on Nero and the bastard son of Claudius, Murena, who are friend despite being, whether they know it or no, on opposite sides.  The art work is fine, the history good, and the storytelling well done.  If you want a I Claudius again, this is the one for you.  What is interesting is the use of Nero, in particular making him an almost sympathetic character.  The first volume seems to be an indication that part of what the series is going to look is the corruptive nature of power. 

Source comiXology

Fantasia via Youtube
              A few years ago, I was in DC and saw the Diaghilev and Ballet Russe exhibit at the National Gallery.  It included footage from a performance of Rite of Spring.  Now, I am of the generation who knows that music thanks to Disney’s Fantasia, which means I hear it and think dinosaurs. 

                There were no dinosaurs.
From the Rite of Spring Ballet, pinterst

                Thankfully, there is Age of Reptiles, which is about dinosaurs.  In fact, it is nothing but dinosaurs.  There is no dialogue, just dinosaurs being dinosaurs.  It is absolutely cool and enthralling.  Be warned, there is blood so if you are a parent, you might want to check it out before kiddo reads it.

                Closing note- American McGee’s Grimm #1 is a hilarious take down of the super hero comic book.