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review 2019-01-20 07:37
What's Normal, Anyway?
Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal - G. Willow Wilson,Adrian Alphona

A required read for my Readings in the Graphic Novel class, but it was a fun one. I've never read any of the Captain Marvel books, so I came into this fresh. It's fun to discover this series without any preconceived notions. In the discussion, classmates brought up some issues that I didn't necessary see initially. 

I think that this one is geared towards a younger audience than the typical Marvel books, and the writing bears that in mind. The storytelling is a shade simplistic, and the illustrations jump rapidly between panels. The drawings are more sketchlike, lacking a clean rendering and finish. Some classmates thought the creators must have been under a tight deadline, and that's why the final version lacks polish. The conflict seems unfinished, and it was hard to follow exactly who the villain is and what their motives were. 

Overall, I liked this a lot. They're some hidden layers to this book that came out on a second read. While the portrayal of Kamala might have been in some way problematic, I still think it's powerful for young Muslim kids to read this book and see someone like them in their superhero books. In these charged times, it's also good for non-Muslim readers who don't know much about what it's like, so they can see that demonization of people who are different or share different beliefs and cultures is wrong. It was also good to Kamala's evolution from being ashamed of being herself, to the degree she wanted to escape her culture and heritage to fit in so badly. Instead, she learns that it's a part of her and it makes her stronger.

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review 2019-01-20 01:37
Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes
Watchmen - Alan Moore,Dave Gibbons

I gave this four stars, but my feelings about this book are difficult to coalesce down to a simple numeric rating. I read this with my Readings in the Graphic Novel course, and I agree that it is seminal graphic novel/comic reading. However, there are some things about this book that I didn't care for. Ultimately, I would say that like and dislike are not the best terms to apply to it.

"Watchmen" started a whole ripple through comic book/superhero fiction that is still profoundly influential in the many years since it was published. The dark and aheroic/antiheroic superhero/crimefighter motif that subsumed what we know about comic books in the 21st Century can largely be attributed to this book, although Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is also essential. I like darker superhero stories, but some aspects of this one made it hard to sympathize or care for many of the characters. I had to write essays for my class on our readings, and I have some longer opinions on this book that I intend to post on my Goodreads profile under my writings. 

This book is very thought-provoking and my class had some very interesting discussions on it. I have to also say that I thought about it for a long time after I finished it. My viewpoint evolved on a few of the characters as well. However, some, I hated to the very end. I could actually write about 20 pages about this book, but I won't. I'll try to coalesce it into a reasonably short review.

"Watchmen" is essentially a murder mystery with masked crimefighters/superheroes. The narrator is extremely atypical, the very questionable person of Rorschach, who is a violent vigilante that wears a hood that changes its expression, much like the Rorschach Test his mask resembles. He is determined to find out who killed Eddie Blake aka The Comedian, an original member of the Minutemen, who later became part of the Crimebusters. He goes to visit other former members: Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl II), Jonathan Osterman (Dr. Manhattan) and Laurie Juspescyk (Silk Spectre II), and Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias) to warn them that they might be next. Along the way, the reader gets to experience how conflicted the life of a masked crimefighter and/or superhero/villain is. The story is set in an alternate history where Nixon was never caught in the Watergate scandal, the US won the Vietnam War, and in the 1980s, America and the Soviet Union are on the brink of war (the Doomsday Clock frighteningly close to midnight).

Each character has a slightly different perspective of how the passage of the Keene Act made their crimefighting work illegal. Dan and Laurie bond over missing the excitement of it all. Veidt has gone on to build an huge business empire and is a celebrity for his incredible level of fitness. Dr. Manhattan is mostly interested in his research and has become disconnected from human concerns, an issue in his relationship with Laurie, who has been his girlfriend for about twenty years (since she was sixteen).

Intertwined with the overarching story is a subplot about a kid reading a pirate comic. The adventures of the comic protagonist mirror the overall story themes. A huge part of this story is how heroism is not what its cracked up to be. Also, becoming strong enough to achieve a goal can be a path paved with destruction, and in some instances leading to the 'hero' becoming a 'villain'. And really, what is heroism? That's a question posed for every lead character. Since this is a dark, and in some ways, nihilistic-toned work, the answers aren't encouraging. The Comedian is one of the most wretched examples of someone having abilities and using them for bad purposes. The Comedian is an incredibly adept fighter and soldier, but is also very corrupt, acting as a bully, knowing right and wrong but not doing it. He makes excuses for the evil things he does because the world is bad and it's going to burn anyway, essentially. Dr. Manhattan, Jon Osterman is a physicist whose body was obliterated in an accident at the science testing facility where he worked in 1959. When he comes back, it is as a being with seemingly godlike powers that separates him from the rest of the humans he once interacted with, eventually leading to his breakup with his girlfriend. The US government exploits his powers to exercise dominance over other nations (in fact, he's part of the reason that Vietnam surrendered). He's seen and done some of the worst things to other humans, which doesn't help his cynicism about the better parts of humanity. At the point that this story begins, his only tendril of contact is through Laurie. Eventually, that's gone as well when Laurie breaks up with him. 
But when it's clear that the world is on the brink of obliteration, Laurie has to convince him to care again. 

The more I ruminated about this story, Osterman/Manhattan became more of a sympathetic character to me. He seems the less empathetic, but in some way, he strikes me as feeling more deeply than anyone else. I can completely understand his decision to retreat to a self-built crystal castle on Mars. Sometimes I wouldn't mind having me own, but probably in the mountains in some undiscovered cold part of the world with plenty of snow and ice. People are exhausting. It hurts to care, especially when others aren't all in with you. The circumstances of the accident that gave him his powers were heartbreaking, and he was abandoned to his fate. That's soul-destroying right there. Having said that, he's not off the hook for the questionable things he did and how he treats Laurie. 

Ugh, Rorschach. Where do I start? That dude is a bucket of crazy. I feel for what he went through as a child, but it twisted him until he was so broken. All of us are f*&%$! up, but there's no fixing him. He represents the worst of self-righteousness. He's so rigid in his sense of right and wrong that he won't compromise, but then he is bigoted, racist, has poor hygiene and litters in Antarctica. His contempt and mean treatment of his landlady because she has six kids by different men. And he's extremely violent. It's a huge Glass Houses kind of scenario. To me, he is not a hero. He is an antihero, and he's the narrator, but other than the horrors of his childhood, it's really hard to feel sympathetic. While there are parallels between him and other vigilante crimefighters I admire like Batman and Daredevil, his core feels rotten to me. I can't get past that.

Laurie is just plain underwritten. She is interpreted through her relations with the male characters. I am grateful that graphic novels have matured and evolved past this kind of writing, frankly. Laurie could have been a lot more interesting a character if deeper layers to her persona were made available. Just delving into how her stint as Silk Spectre differs from her mother's tenure. How interacting with and in a world of violence has changed from the 30s to the 60s and 70s. Maybe just not stopping at her relationships with men and why her mother and her don't get along.

Dan is honestly a bit on the underwritten side as well. He's written a good-natured guy with a facility with gadgets and a desire for action. His mid-life crisis has to do with missing that sense of purpose and it translates to feelings of inadequacy about not being Nite Owl anymore. Maybe because Moore didn't really know what to do with a guy who is more or less 'normal'.

Veidt is such a sneeringly superior person in his own mind. I can't say too much because I'd reveal some things better left to be read. Suffice it to say that he reminds me of the so-called polite white supremacy that is increasingly in vogue (especially since the 2016 presidential election).

Another issue is the treatment of the GLBTQ characters. Many meet unfortunate ends and their peccadillos are looked at as being unforgivable in a way that being a violent sociopath, bully or rapist are not. 

I think a psychology doctoral student could write a hell of a thesis on this book. 

There is so much cynicism in this book. It's hard to take in. Some ugliness not easily forgotten. I feel like the psychiatrist who interviews Rorschach in that sense. While I'm not necessarily into the sugary sweet kind of fiction writing, I think it can definitely go the wrong way with the dark and dreary. I'd be a hypocrite to disavow this book. I think it had some insights to give me, and something to offer as far as story and artwork. I gave it four stars because to give less didn't seem fair to me. I couldn't say it was life-changing or a graphic novel that would make the top of my list. I can understand why it would for some though.

So much for a concise review.

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review 2018-09-16 18:21
Ultimate Comic Spider-Man, Vol. 3
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Vol.3 - Brian Michael Bendis,David Marquez

After being blackmailed into teaming up with his uncle, Spider-Man had to figure out how to stop his uncle while keeping his parents safe. And Spider-Man's actions had drawn the attention of Captain America who was not happy that someone so young was fighting crime.

 

Spider-Man's story with his uncle continued to be great in this book. There's a lot of emotional turmoil as Miles dealt with his conflicting feelings over wanting to go to his parents, but not trusting that they'd accept him as Spider-Man after comments his father had made about Spider-Man and others with powers. Plus this was his uncle blackmailing him who he looked up to for so long, so there's that extra betrayal as well. And the resolution to this story line just opened up even more conflict for Miles in the future.

 

Then I flipped a page and was suddenly informed that the US was falling apart, Texas had seceded, Washington DC was in ruins, and anti-government militia were wreaking havoc all over. I knew I'd stepped into a crossover event that I had no information about. For the rest of the book, the major events of the book were disjointed as big things kept happening off-screen that had a huge effect on this book, but I had no context for. Miles' story was at least fairly straightforward and not missing chunks of plot that left it impossible to follow, as sometimes happens in comics taken over by crossover events. However, the events outside of Miles were harder to follow since they were missing a lot of information.

 

The third volume of the series continued a great run before being taken over by a crossover event that demonstrated why those can be so frustrating for people who aren't reading every issue in the crossover.

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review 2018-09-09 05:32
Mini-Review of "Wearing the Cape: A Superhero Novel" by Marion G. Harmon
Wearing the Cape: A Superhero Novel - Marion G. Harmon

I just had to buy thus one after the downloaded free sample hooked me.

 

Fooled me.  I kept wavering on whether or not to DNF.  There kept being pieces where it would start to get good, the world start to be interesting ... so uneven.  Nothing really wrong with the editing like the books I can really rant about.  It just seemed like couldn't make up its mind what story it wanted to tell.

 

I should have DNF'ed and won't be continuing the series.  It wouldn't surprise me to find out the book was a collaboration with authors far apart in age.  Equally the inconsistency could be just a newbie author not quite pulling it together.  "Done with the series" doesn't mean I'd never give this author another chance. 

 

One thing I really disliked in main character was how there was an implied judgment tIhat only she was a good, moral person -- sometimes her attitudes and decisions read like author was a mom creating perfect Stepford daughter.  Then again, I'm getting to where I loathe stories where the moral choice is whatever main character does but same choice made by other character is immoral.

 

I sampled a lot of superhero books after really liking Velveteen vs. The Multiverse - Seanan McGuire  and Heroine Complex - Sarah Kuhn.  This was hardly  the worst one out there based on my sampling.

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text 2018-07-24 20:47
Reading progress: 18%. And on the fence.
Wearing the Cape: A Superhero Novel - Marion G. Harmon

This was an impulse buy after the sample totally hooked me -- writing, characters and worldbuilding.

 

But I'm now on the fence about continuing.  Because main character is actually listening to the stranger that invaded her apartment, knocked her out, tied her up and is giving their possibly supervillain speech about their viewpoint of things.

 

Is she TSTL?  Is there more victim-abuse-me-but-I'll-take-your-side stuff down the pipe?

 

Putting aside for now.

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