Monday, July 22, 2013

#CBR5 Review #35: American Vampire, vol. 2 by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque

The second volume of comic series American Vampire picks up in a new era of American history, allowing us to see how the vampires and their many different forms and feuds have influenced that history over time. But while this book was good, I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as the first volume. Maybe because I read that one a while ago and forgot some of the little things that had already happened, as well as some of the characters we had met? Or maybe the story itself just wasn’t as thrilling and compelling this time. I think it may have had a little to do with each. In any case, this second book in the series is comprised of two main stories, with certain characters and relations overlapping between the two, as well as connecting from the previous, first volume (which is to be expected).

In the first story, the tale of Skinner Sweet continues, this time focusing on his influence (as well as the influence of other wealthy and connected vampires) during the expansion of Las Vegas in the 1930s. Felicia Book, daughter of Abelina and James Book from the previous volume, becomes involved in the hunt for Sweet, as we learn of an organization known as The Vassals of the Morning Star (Lucifer? Is that you?); this organization works as a vampire-hunting group, studying the different evolutions of the vampire and how to kill each different type. Felicia and her partner, Jack, work with the young chief of police in Las Vegas (Cashel McCogan) after a string of murders appear to leave their victims bled dry. We soon learn how Skinner Sweet, along with other important people in society, have been working together and with vampires in order to fund the building of the Hoover Dam, and how these vampires have essentially allowed for the development of history of the “sinful” desert area.

The second tale of this volume once again connects us to Pearl Jones and her partner, Henry Preston. Pearl and Henry have found a quiet life with one another in a small town, but as Henry ages and Pearl does not, Pearl begins to wonder what their relationship should really be like, and if they should be together at all. Pearl has apparently been keeping her vampiric tendencies under wraps for a number of years, but when Henry’s life is threatened by a group of vampires trying to make a new flock of vampire recruits, she is forced to engage in the bloodlust again. Meanwhile, Pearl’s old friend, Hattie, who Pearl thought to be dead, is shown as a vampire as well, being tested on by another old vampire. Hattie appears to be the same type of vampire as Pearl, and so this older vampire wishes to use her to determine how to kill this particular breed. Hattie, however, has more vengeful ideas in mind.

While the stories are a little slower and maybe not told in a nearly as compelling story-form as the first installment to the series, the artwork of American Vampire is still on top form. The vampire fight scenes are particularly visceral, and a definitely favourite of mine. All in all, I did still enjoy this book of American Vampire, and am curious to see where it goes from here. Especially the storyline focusing on Pearl and Henry, as he gets older and older, and she stays the same, trying to be a human but knowing deep down that she is not. I don’t know why, but their relationship is just very interesting to me…

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]

Thursday, July 18, 2013

#CBR5 Review #34: The Host by Stephenie Meyer

While reading The Host, I had so many people ask me, “Why?” with a clear mark of distain in their voices. But why do I need to explain myself? Just because I’m reading this book doesn’t mean I like it. But if I do like it, am I an idiot, like some might say? If I say I don’t like it am I just going along with what the popular notion is? Should I automatically be closed-minded about it because of the name on the cover? What is it about Stephenie Meyer that makes people so up in arms?

I tried to read The Host a few years back when I was in high school, but I only got about a quarter of the way through and had to stop because I was just so bored with it (and also had some more important school reading to finish). But here I am, giving it another go. And did I like it? Well… I’d say that it has a really intriguing premise to it that could be developed into something incredibly interesting. Unfortunately, it was not handled very well, and inevitably became very frustrating for a number of reasons.

The idea behind The Host (if you weren’t already aware) is this:
A race of aliens known as “Souls” have basically invaded the planet earth over time, taking over human bodies as “hosts” to house their species. The aliens believe that humans are too violent, and therefore do not deserve the planet: they live by a certain set of rules, and all abide by them. They are calm, and courteous, and have a society in place that runs smoothly. But the threat of humans is always present, as the Souls believe there are still pockets of human survivors that have not become overtaken and inhabited by Souls yet. When the body of the young human, Melanie, is found, it is believed that she can lead the “Seeker” Souls—who hunt out humans—to more humans and eliminate them so that they do not try to fight the Souls. Yet once Melanie is implanted with the Soul (who is eventually known as Wanda), it becomes clear that Melanie’s mind is still active within the host body.

Melanie speaks to Wanda, feeds Wanda memories, and essentially makes Wanda fall in love with her brother, Jamie, and boyfriend, Jared, who Melanie left behind when she was captured. Wanda is overcome by Melanie’s memories and wants to protect these humans just like Melanie does, and so goes on a mission to find her lost humans in the desert. She does of course manage to find them, in a small colony of people in a desert encampment, however the humans are not so accepting of Wanda, especially not Jared. Wanda eventually manages to forge a place in the society, but she soon becomes entangled in (to steal a line from The O.C.) a “love rhombus,” as Melanie inside Wanda loves Jared, and Jared loves Melanie, but Wanda has her body so Melanie doesn’t want Jared touching Wanda, and Wanda herself has a bit of a thing developing with a human named Ian, but if she were to act on this it would be a betrayal of Melanie’s body and… do you see where I’m going with this? It’s a mess. And Melanie is extremely petty and childish throughout the entire novel. Really, I wanted her to leave and Wanda to stay. That’s right, I turned against the human, not the aliens (as it should be, eh?). In any case, inevitably the question becomes whether or not they can keep life going like this, what to do with Wanda’s crazed Seeker that is looking for her (seriously, Seeker woman, let it go. You are like Javert at this point), and most importantly, what to do with Wanda being inside Melanie’s body.

If you’ve read the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, you are probably aware that she likes perfect, almost too happy endings. This book is no different, and while there may have been some struggles and loss throughout, things are just too neatly wrapped up, and the pains of the characters don’t really transcend to the reader at all. It’s like the difference between choosing to kill off Luna Lovegood or Hannah Abbot in the Harry Potter series. One would hit hard, while the other is not really as emotional at all as I gained no real attachment to the character, despite them being present (not the best example, I know, but you get the idea).

While I’ll admit that The Host wasn’t nearly as boring once I got past the part I had reached when I tried to read it previously (my bookmark was still in the book after all those years), it still suffered from a dragging feeling. Everything was drawn out and took way too long. Not to mention, the writing suffering from having silly metaphors and attempts at poetic language that made me groan, as well as trying to be clinical and exact at the same time, mimicking the speech patterns of the Souls. It was like the overly-poetic-and-sappy-without-saying-anything writing of the last Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants book and the textbook-like precision of World War Z had a mutant baby resulting in this writing style. It was frustrating, to say the least.

But more than anything, the relationship stuff was just plain weird. You know, the stuff with there always being an extra mind present, or the body versus soul nonsense. And yes, I understand that (spoilers?) having Ian accept Wanda’s soul in a different body is making a statement about love being more than what a person looks like, but one definite part of human attraction is physical, and while I believe that it really is about who a person is and not how they appear, I don’t think Ian would have accepted the whole thing so instantly if he were a real person: there would have to be some kind of work done to get over the weirdness of this person being a different person now but the person you saw being someone new now too and… it’s exhausting just thinking about it.

Despite all these problems, however, I did keep reading, as I wanted to know how everything would be solved. And I did think that the idea of there still being a human mind present even after the parasitic souls took over had some potential; it even made me think of some questions I have about the Angelic vessels on Supernatural, and the person trapped inside (don’t worry, I’m not going to elaborate on that). But turning it into a strange, childish romance scenario? Not such a great move. I don’t know, I think that in another author’s hands this idea could have been made into a better book, but as it is now, The Host just seemed a bit juvenile to me. Maybe if I was 17 again I could better relate to the sappy love scenes? Yeah, I probably could, but unfortunately I’m not a teenager anymore…

P.S: Now that I’ve read the book though, I just know I’m going to see the movie adaptation. I always have to see what they do with it, you know? And Cloud Atlas wasn’t that bad as a movie, right? I mean, Ben Whishaw was fantastic as Robert Frobisher, at least… but now we are getting off track.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog

Thursday, July 11, 2013

#CBR5 Review #33: Peter Panzerfaust, vol. 1 – The Great Escape by Kurtis Wiebe and Tyler Jenkins

The simplest way to describe the comic series of Peter Panzerfaust would be as a mid-teens Peter Pan, fighting through World War II Europe with a group of French orphans. It’s the kind of thing that makes some people turn away as it seems ridiculous, while others are intrigued by how it could work, putting this classic figure of Peter Pan into a completely different and historically real universe.

And does it work? I think it does, extremely well: Peter Panzerfaust takes the iconic image of the boy who never wants to grow up and turns his mythology on its head to become something else entirely. It’s not about not wanting to grow up, but about keeping a youthful spirit in a situation where you are forced to grow up before you are really even an adult.

The first volume of Peter Panzerfaust (there are only two trade volumes as of now), entitled The Great Escape deals with how a group of young French orphans first meet up with the vivacious figure of Peter. The story is told from the point of view of one of the orphans, Gilbert, who is now an elderly man, as he recalls his stories to a slightly younger gentleman who appears to be very interested in learning more about the character of Peter. While it is unclear what the man is truly searching for, it gives Gilbert the opportunity to explain how Peter had saved him and a number of his friends in an abandoned orphanage in Calais, France when the city was taken German troops. This small group of boys (whose age is not specified, though one does turn 15 during the course of the story, so I’d say they are all around that age) joins up with the mysterious American boy, Peter, who they know hardly anything about, and choose to go with him to the city of Paris. Along they way, the group faces harsh adversaries, meet three more young siblings (the Darling children) who have lost their family as well, and trudge their way through fear and hardships to eventually reach Paris. It is safe for them for a time, but as it is during times of war, nowhere is safe for forever. Peter’s true intentions and goals in travelling are never fully explained within the first volume, though there are hints that we will learn more about him through the course of more installments to the series. All we know as of yet is that Peter is a truly charismatic –if sometimes reckless—boy, who really just wants to try and help people if he can.

Maybe using the setting of WWII as an alternative universe for stories is becoming overdone nowadays, but in this context, I feel as though author Kurtis Wiebe put a lot of thought into it, and it wasn’t just some gimmicky idea to throw a well-known figure into this other well-known time. This is also quite noticeable in artist Tyler Jenkin’s frequent use of imagery from traditional war posters and propaganda throughout the volume, but giving it a new and spirited quality to it. The artwork in itself is just beautiful, and almost lively in a sense, especially where the image of Peter is concerned.

Little references to the original story of Peter Pan are also included at some points in the novel, and in my opinion, they work quite effectively, both acknowledging the original source material, but also establishing that this is not simply a retelling of the same old story. And despite being based on a childhood figure, I think it goes without saying that this series may not be all that good for children. Though it deals with young protagonists, they are put into very adult situations, and deal with some serious losses along the way. Wiebe isn’t afraid to poke little holes in your heart, and yet, the overall feel to the first instalment to this series is so energetic that it is didn’t leave me downtrodden at the end like I suspected it would. I’ve started quite a number of comic series this year, and as of now, I would say that Peter Panzerfaust may well be my favourite.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

#CBR5 Review #32: Chew, vol. 1 – Taster’s Choice, by John Layman and Rob Guillory

What would you do if every time you ate something that was once living (we’re talking animals and plants), the history and memories of the food item passed through your mind? Wait, what? Well, besides seeming like the kind of strange question I might just like to ask people for no reason on occasion, that is basically the premise of the comic series Chew, written by John Layman, with the art of Rob Guillory. But it’s a little more complicated than that of course, as this series deals with using these strange gifts and abilities to hunt down criminals and murderers, as well as making some remarks on the government and underground operations at the same time. And although it is a bit twisted, this series (so far, after one volume at least) is quite funny, in a twisted sort of way.

The first trade volume, Taster’s Choice is really the beginning of the tale of our protagonist, Tony Chu, and it effectively sets up what should become the main conflict of the series as a whole. Tony is what is known as a cibopath, which means that anything he eats, he can see its history and memories, and know, effectively, everything about what it is he has just consumed (with the exception of beets, for some strange reason). The story starts off with Tony as a normal police officer, on the case of an underground chicken-dealing ring. Yes, you read that correctly: in this universe’s United States, the meat of chicken has been made illegal due to a serious outbreak of an avian disease (essentially, “bird flu”) that has killed millions of people. When swept up in this case, Tony inadvertently ingests some blood of a serial murderer, and goes after him, only to have the killer kill himself. In order to find out all the names of the killer’s many victims, Tony is forced to eat some of the now deceased criminal.

While under normal circumstances, this would mean the end of Tony’s career, his psychic abilities from consuming things are recognized by one of the only other two cibopaths on the planet, who just so happens to work for the Food and Drug Administration. Tony is offered a position there, partnering with fellow cibopath, Mason Savoy, and the rest of the volume follows these two partners as they investigate their first case together: a missing health inspector whose finger was found in a hamburger at a fast food restaurant. Throughout the case, Tony and Mason end up consuming different blood samples and parts as a means of gaining information. At one point this also involves ingesting a part of someone’s pet dog, and frankly, I found that to be almost more disturbing than the cannibalism, for some reason. Tony also finds himself a female fancy at one point during their case, in the form of a food-writer who has the ability to write about food so vividly that readers can essentially taste what she is describing. For Tony, this is a big deal, as he can now have this experience of consuming without all the psychic impressions coming forth in his mind because of her. Will this blossom into something? I guess I’ll have to read some more to really find out.

Once the story continues towards the end of this volume, however, things start to get strange, and people start to wonder if the bird flu that the government has used as an excuse to ban chicken has been just that: an excuse. Even Tony’s brother, a once-renowned TV chef gets swept up in the trouble, and Tony ends up facing a few difficult choices as to where he wants to go from here with his career and his abilities.

As I mentioned earlier, Taster’s Choice is what appears to be the basic starting point to the series, as it lays everything into place to make a real conflict between two characters, as well as set up some nice theories on governmental conspiracy. It’s a quick book to read, and while somewhat demented at times, it has a dark and dry humor to it, which I quite liked. The artwork by Rob Guillory is very precise and graphically refined as well, which makes reading easy and enjoyable, though sometimes the food and blood drawings can be quite visceral and a little grotesque every now and again; the authors certainly don’t shy away from being bloody and dirty, so if you are not a fan of that, I might not recommend this to you. But if not, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the first Chew of the series, and am curious to see where it goes from here.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]

Monday, July 8, 2013

#CBR5 Review #31: The Sandman – The Kindly Ones by Neil Gaiman

The Kindly Ones is the ninth book in Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel series of The Sandman. After finding the previous installment to be slightly lackluster compared to some of the others, I had been putting off reading this volume for a while. But now that I have, I can tell you that this hesitation was not warranted, despite being the largest and longest inclusion to the series. In fact, the heft that The Kindly Ones bares allows for many of the interconnecting tales within to be fleshed out in detail, thus making this volume one of the strongest in the series, in my opinion. More than anything, however, The Kindly Ones is the novel in which everything really comes to a head in the series, after simply providing us with snippets along the way up to this point; many characters return and are once again interwoven in the world of dreaming in one way or another, and we see where most everything was ultimately heading after all this time.

While many things occur throughout this novel simultaneously, the main focus of the story is on Hippolyta Hall. After Hippolyta’s son, Daniel, is kidnapped by the mischevious characters Loki and Robin Goodfellow, Hippolyta is convinced that Morpheus has claimed him, and seeks revenge on the Dream Lord; to find her son, she seeks the guidance of the witches known as the Furies (who are essentially like The Fates for all intents and purposes of explanation), as they can help her seek revenge on Morpheus due to the fact that he has familial blood on his hands. Great destruction falls upon the land of Dreaming as the Furies begin to attack, all leading to one inevitable conclusion that Destiny has foreseen.

As I mentioned before, one great strength to this novel is the fact that it is longer than many of the others, allowing for more detail and story to take place. Despite this, however, some little storylines are still left very vague and on the outskirts of everything, making me wonder if their significance is really anything substantial, and if they are necessary to include at all. Regardless, because this volume comes near the end of the series, all the events of the overarching story really start to come together, and characters from long before all begin to reappear and make sense with one another. Some of them I had forgotten, as I read many of the previous books in this series quite a while ago, and this made me confused as to how they were really related to anything in the story at first, but slowly everything started to piece together. And yet, the ending was slightly vague, leaving you wondering what is to come in the next (and final) installment to the series. However, I’m sure there will always be questions and mysteries, and little things left up to the reader to interpret for themselves.

So did I like it? Yes, I did! It was one of the more enjoyable in the series for certain, but as always, if you are already a fan of The Sandman, then I doubt The Kindly Ones will disappoint you, as it kind of took me back to some of the wonder and interests of some of the first few volumes in the series, where the enjoyment all began (yeesh, that sounded cheesy, and yet...).

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

#CBR5 Review #30: Hellboy vol. 3 - The Chained Coffin and Others by Mike Mignola

The third trade volume of Mike Mignola’s Helloboy series isn’t all that connected with the over-arching plot and story of Hellboy, but is more so a presentation of various little events throughout Hellboy’s career as a paranormal detective. Essentially, The Chained Coffin and Others is a collection of short stories, all featuring different ancient folk-tales, but with the twist of Hellboy eventually becoming involved in them. While it may have been nice to continue where we left off in the previous volume of the series, Wake the Devil, to find out more about Hellboy and the ominous “purpose” that he was awoken for, this volume is still fun and enjoyable, mostly to do with the fact that the character of Hellboy is just as strong as ever: he is powerful and seemingly indestructible, and his nonchalance about the serious situations he gets himself into really draws you to him as a good-spirited individual, though it is clear that he does care for people, despite his seemingly casual nature. If you couldn’t tell, I personally just love Hellboy, as I find him to be a really positive and amusing character.

There are 7 short-stories in The Chained Coffin and Others altogether, including the following:

1. The Corpse – Based on an old Irish Folktale, Hellboy must seek to give an animated corpse a Christian burial before sunrise in order to obtain a child that has been stolen from it’s family.

2. Iron Shoes – Once again based in Ireland as a follow-up to The Corpse, Hellboy must try to defeat a demonic goblin-esque creature that stomps on people with his iron shoes.

3. The Baba Yaga – Originally mentioned in the previous Hellboy volume, Wake the Devil, this story concerns how Hellboy shot out the eye of the Russian witch known as the Baba Yaga.

4. A Christmas Underground – At the aid of a cursed, dying woman, Hellboy searches finds himself searching for the spirit of the woman’s daughter underneath a graveyard.

5. The Chained Coffin – Based on another old folktale, Hellboy has a vision of a priest and a nun standing watch over a chained coffin, to try and prevent the soul inside from being taken by a demonic force.

6. The Wolves of Saint August – Yet again based on an Irish tale about St. Patrick cursing a group of pagans, Hellboy travels to Griart in The Balkans, after the small town is all but destroyed by what appears to be a group of werewolves.

7. Almost Colossus – Following up events concerning the homunculus first seen in Wake the Devil, the homunculus finds a “brother” version of a homunculus created before him, which seeks to take revenge on humans.

In general, all of the stories presented are quick and easy to both read and understand. I found myself going through the entire book in just one short sitting, in fact. While on the one hand, I wish some of the stories were a bit longer and more in-depth, they all still seem to work very well on their own: I think maybe I wanted them to keep going because I found the folklore and general plot of each of them to be heading in such interesting directions. Hopefully I will be able to get my hands on some more volumes in this series soon, to spend some more time with this fantastic creation of Mike Mignola.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]