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Review: Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh

Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh by Anna Beer My rating: 4 of 5 stars Disclaimer: I won an ARC ...

Friday, August 25, 2017

IDW Star Trek (2009) Comic Books

Recently, I read my way through the Collected On-going Star Trek, its follow up series, and two special limited runs.  I think it was a reaction to the Orange One’s comments about Charlottesville.

                The comics take place in the Kelvin Timeline.  For those of you who are slightly clueless, this is the timeline of the three most recent Star Trek movies (the ones with Pine, Quinto, Saldana, Pegg, Urban, Cho, and Yelchin).  What I loosely call Star Trek Moviedom vs Star Trek Tvdom.  Yes, I know there were Star Trek movies with the originals, but they were television series first.  I actually like the Kelvin timeline for a few reasons, besides the fact that Pine, Urban, Cho, and Saldana star in it.  (And Quinto, but I hadn’t really seen anything he had been in before this.  I didn’t like Heroes).  The fact that the supporting characters are given expanded roles makes me so happy for in the original series my two favorite characters were Uhura and Sulu (did anyone else ship them?).  I’m perfectly fine with and actually like the Spock/Uhura relationship.  While I understand the whole idea and belief system behind the gay couple of Spock/Kirk or Spock/McCoy or McCoy/Kirk aka the gay threesome and reading stories where it occurs does not bug me, lately I’ve wondered if the homosexual takes on it isn’t simply an outgrowth of the idea that men cannot have close relationships with other men (who are not related by blood) unless there is a homosexual undercurrent.  This reasoning seems to be a bit sexist too me.  Sulu being married to a man and having a daughter didn’t annoy me, though I think I understand why Takei was a bit put off by it.  By having Sulu gay in an alternate universe, it appears to be one is gay because of nurture as opposed to nature, which would dismiss the genetic truth.  Also, why not simply create a fresh homosexual character?  But okay.  The only thing about the new version of Trek I didn’t enjoy was in the first two movies where we had women stripping down to bra and panties because J J wanted to see Uhura and Carol naked.
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  Funny how that stopped when Pegg and Lin took over.  Additionally, I wasn’t too thrilled about the problems of the Spock/Uhura relationship in the second and third movies.   Why both plot arcs make sense considering what happened to Vulcan, the third movie felt it happening somewhat late, and quite frankly, please don’t make that the only reason why she is there.  To be fair, Pegg and Lin didn’t do this as much, and the inverse of McCoy/Spock discussing Spock’s relationship (twice) instead of Uhura doing with her girlfriends was nice.

                But I do like the Kelvin timeline.

                Star Trek Vols 1-13 is the first series, starting roughly around the time of the first movie and leading up to the third.  The first volume occurs right after the first movie.  Countdown to Darkness take place before the second, Manifest Destiny after the second, and Boldly Go occurs after the third.

                Mike Thompson is a good Star Trek writer, and there is much to love about his exploration of both the series and characters.  In Vols 1-13, there are some drawbacks.  At times, as in most comics, the artwork can be a bit uneven.  At some points, one has the feeling that the story arcs would have been better if given one or two additional issues, and sometimes the alternate takes on the original series plots doesn’t match the original in terms of storytelling.

                However, these flaws are outweighed by the good.  One of Johnson’s strengths is his use of minor/background characters from the film.  We see Darwin (the black women at the helm at some points), we get Keenser’s story, we get a story from Cupcake (you know the red shirt with the beard) about redshirts.
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 There is a recurring head of security who is a kick ass woman, perhaps a nod to the tragic mistake of TNG killing of Yar.  The background characters are far more racially mixed than those of the series or even the movies. It’s pretty.  There also isn’t much underwear showing or Kirk having sex with aliens.  Women characters are active and not damsels in distress.  Damsels in distress save themselves in this series. (Uhura saves Spock twice!).

                For me, the test of any Star Trek story is the amount of time that the supporting crew is given, largely because they were my favorite characters.  Johnson does give Sulu, Uhura, Scotty, and Chekov more time in the spotlight (Chekhov gets the least).  We are even given their “origins” or their Academy stories – and McCoy’s as well.  At first glance, it looks like Uhura’s story is simply going to be that of her relationship to Spock, but Johnson uses this to go into Uhura’s past, and even refers to this past Boldly Go #9.  It’s cool.  Both Chekhov’s and Sulu are given pasts that show them at the Academy – Chekhov in the desire to fit in, and Sulu as a principled and ambitious character he is.  They also get larger roles in general story lines, with both Sulu and Uhura getting the command chair, and in Sulu’s case leading an away mission.  Sulu’s husband and daughter are also referred to in the Boldly Go series more than once. 

                What I really love is how wonderful Uhura is shown here.  While in some of the stories, she plays a supporting role for Spock, in more she comes into her own.  Johnson also shows repeatedly why linguistics and language are important.  The one flaw is that she is still the only primary female character.  It’s true that in a few issues Carol Marcus appears, but she and Uhura have no interaction, and after a few issues, Marcus disappears.  Galia, Uhura’s roommate from the first movie, pops up again, and the panels that show the friendship she has with Uhura are immensely well done.  Additionally, there is a reference to slut shaming/victim blaming that Galia handles extremely well.  Galia, and her brother Kai, who was working on the Enterprise, get their own storyline.  I wish that they had kept Galia because too often it feels that Uhura is the only woman in a man’s world.

                And this idea does seem to find its way into the Manifest Destiny miniseries where the crew does battle with Klingons – including one of the greatest speeches about Klingons I have ever read.
                Thompson’s favorite playground seems to be alternate realities.  There is a Mirror, Mirror arc that shows the reader the Mirror verse of Kelvin, but also a couple alternate timelines – one where Old Spock arrives in an almost Mirror, Mirror world, one with a sex shift crew (i.e. Captain Jane Kirk), and finally, one involving Q.  The Q storyline is actually damn good, and while Picard makes an appearance, a cameo of sorts, the major guests stars are the characters from the best Trek to ever appear on the tube – DS9.  Honestly, the volume of this arc – the Q Gambit – is a stand out.  It’s worth reading if nothing else.  There is also a special story to celebrate the anniversary.  This story features all the doctors from TV Star Treks in one story.  There is even the best doc ever – Dr. Pulaski.

                The last collection 13 contains an Old Spock story as well as cross over with the original Trek.  In the crossover Thompson plays with not only the different situations that the characters are in, but also why they look different.  It was a nice nod to the differences, not only in a fitter McCoy say, but also differences in design.
             Boldly Go is the follow up to the On-Going.  I found it to be a bit weaker, though this seems to be a result of the temporary diversion of the Enterprise crew while they await the completion of the new Enterprise.  Kirk’s temporary command includes a first officer who is a woman, a strong and capable woman whose decision eventually leads to Sulu taking over the first officer slot.  The characters are good, and Jaylah returns with a bunch of cadets, including a few women who talk to each other.  The stand out issues for me are 9 and 10.  9 features Spock and Uhura on New Vulcan.  It looks at their relationship but the primary story is a mystery only Uhura can solve because of her humanity and her language skills.  Issue 10 concerns Scotty, the cadets, Keenser, and Kevin.  It is really funny.

                What the writers, artists, and the rest of the crew have managed to do is to capture the power of Star Trek that Gene Rodenberry had – the togetherness, the crew coming together, the better world idea that feels so reassuring after recent events.  Rodenberry’s vision of what we could be was so powerful that it stands the test of time.

Review: The Iliad of Homer

The Iliad of Homer The Iliad of Homer by Homer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think it is a safe bet to say the only book I have read more than this is The Lord of the Rings. I have read this story in some form or another for a long time. First a child’s version, then Rowes’s prose translation and so on. I wanted to re-read the poem while I listen to the Great Courses lectures on it.

The Iliad is a poem about warrior but it is also a poem about love. Not Helen and Paris, for as the poem tells you, Helen seems to have regretted her choice of men, for she has fallen out of love/lust with Paris. So, the Hollywood version of two young lovers being pursued by a vengeful husband is a bit wrong. Paris, after all, was not a good guest.

No, it’s more about love for one’s country and people/friends/family. Though, not daughters, quite frankly there only seems to be one good father to a daughter in the whole of the poem. That’s why people always seem to root for the Trojans, because we are shown them as family oriented. Even Priam, who one could argue, is behaving rather stupidly by keeping Helen, loves his sons and, one presumes, his daughters.

It’s tougher with the Greeks because they are the invaders. They are attacking to get a woman back, but they are attacking a people who really didn’t do anything. The Trojans do seem to be aware of the silliness of the whole exercise, but they still do it.

Helen who should be a lover, isn’t. She is embarrassed by Paris, upset by him, and one wonders if she is a victim of both time and the gods. She doesn’t seem to be happy. Perhaps rape in both meanings of the word is an accurate description.

Yet, even as the Trojans symbolize or stand for family, in particular Hector, there is a family sense in the Greeks as well. In part this comes from Hera, whose accusations against Artemis who fights in the support of the Trojans. Hera is furious at Artemis and it seems to have more to do than simply Artemis being a product of Zeus’ unfaithfulness. Hera, the goddess of marriage is angry about the mothers who die in childbirth. She is with the Greeks in story because of the apple, but also because she is about preserving marriage.

Some critics argue that it is also about the humanity versus inhumanity as represented by Hector and Achilles, or about the old giving way to the young (the Greeks in particular). But it is about humanity and pathos, even in the smallest characters.

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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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