Thursday, June 23, 2016

#CBR8 Review #17: Captain America, Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection by Ed Brubaker

I will admit that when it comes to comicbooks (and especially well-established characters), I have read far less than I would have liked. They all have so much history and so many appearances that it's hard to keep up or even know where to start! Therefore, a lot of my knowledge of these characters has come from just looking things up, talking to friends who are also into these worlds, and ultimately watching the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Along those lines, I must say that I absolutely ADORE the movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and therefore thought the Winter Soldier storyline might interest me in the comics. That being said, having seen the movie (and no I did not cry the last time I watched it, what are you talking about??), I can't help but now face the book without wanting to compare the two to one another. There weren't too many new twists to be found in this collection, having seen the general plot play out in the film, but how plot ultimately unraveled was a bit different. This is most notably in the presence and importance of certain characters throughout Ed Brubaker's collection. Some of these differences really worked for me, while some I was a little uncertain on, though that may also have to do with my gaps in knowledge of some of the backstory and history of certain characters.

The focus of Captain America: Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection is on Captain America facing the threat of a resurfacing cosmic cube, the power of which could alter worlds and be incredibly destructive in the wrong hands. Yet Steve Rogers' attention in this mission is drawn to the figure of the Winter Soldier, a soviet super-soldier and assassin, whose identity is... well.. you know.... Spoilers?????
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Bucky with the good hair.

Obviously, seeing his old friend anew and under the influence of Hydra mind-control does a number on Steve and puts a kink in his mission and makes him question what to do. Is Bucky still somewhere in there, or is it just his body with a totally blank mind? Can he be saved? Will he have to relive Bucky's death all over again in a new way?

As I mentioned, the way this story plays out is different than in the film, though ultimately leading to a similar end that can then continue on. One big difference that I really liked was the presence of Red Skull. He is important, effective, and just keeps going as a real threat and villain in the shadows, long after you think he is gone. I like having the actual figure present in the stories, and I know Red Skull was pretty important in a lot of comic books and story arcs throughout the ages.
Other characters that showed up that I didn't realize were around or a big part of Captain America's stories during the War are Namor and the Human Torch. They are seen in a few flashbacks of when Cap, Bucky, and the Howling Commandos used to work together, and it really adds to the history of Captain America and just how many battles he got into during the War, showing how he wasn't just an iconic figurehead for a short period of time, but actually quite active, along with all the other heroes who have become a part of American history in that universe.

One major distinction, however, that I am actually pretty hype about is Sharon Carter (Agent 13). While apparently she is Steve's ex-girlfriend, she is not simply reduced to love interest like she was in the Marvel movies, nor an egregiously forced one at that: she is actually an awesome field agent who Nicky Fury cares about, as well as Steve and all her other teammates. She is given her own work to do and her own character, and honestly she deserves it. It's almost as though she is the figure that Natasha plays in the Winter Soldier film.
Oh, and speaking of character differences, something else I didn't realize was that Sam Wilson (lovely as ever, and always down to help his friends out) as Falcon can actually listen to birds and get intel from them??? Amazing! I love this!

And now I come to the thing that always throws me off in the comic books: Bucky and Steve's relationship. They are clearly close friends who love each other a lot, but there is something that I just can't let go of from the film adaptations in how they grew up together and have been friends all their lives, that I just don't want to shake off for the "young boy who Cap took under his wing as a partner in war". Though as I said, they are still clearly connected and care for each other, making their dynamic and how Steve responds to finding out the Winter Soldier is Bucky very engaging.

So overall, there wasn't per say anything too new in this story that I had not seen before, but I did like all the variances and inclusions of other characters in the story as compared to the film. As a book alone, it is an interesting story with some twists to it to keep you going, and I definitely want to get more into this series and the Captain America comics themselves. (And no, not just because my friends and I have determined that I am basically pre-supersoldier Steve Rogers).


[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

#CBR8 Review #16 – The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

I feel like I’ve been saying this about a lot of books lately, but I just seem to want more. I’ve had The Sisters Brothers stashed on my e-reader for a few years now but haven’t gotten around to reading it until now. The writing is simple and easy to follow, and the story is interesting in that I wanted to see see what wacky antics would happen as the story progressed, but I ultimately wasn’t all that engaged by it. It’s as though certain scenes and interactions between people would be laid out with lots of detail as though they should be focused deeply on, only to not end up coming back up again or really meaning all that much in the end. Maybe that’s one of the themes, though: things happen and sometimes they don’t amount to much or lead us anywhere close to where we thought we would be.

The Sisters Brothers is set during the California gold rush, and follows two brothers, Eli and Charlie Sisters, as they perform a job for a man named the Commodore. These brothers are essentially assassins, assigned to take out a man who the Commodore claims to be a thief. But as time goes on, you realize that this may not in fact be entirely true, and the brothers continually end up in strange situation after strange situation that they never really expected on their journey.

The story itself is told from the point of view of Eli Sisters, who is essentially the second-in-command on the job, as his brother, Charlie, is much more hot-headed and likely to go along with the plan and job in any way that will benefit him the most. I grew to like Eli along the way, though was sometimes a little confused by his actions and tendency to change moods quite suddenly: but not as suddenly or as violently as his brother, Charlie. In a way, I couldn’t understand Eli’s loyalty to Charlie or his character, and didn’t like Charlie at all. I know that there is often a strong bond and loyalty between brothers, but using that as the only explanation to how they are so tight-knit despite their antagonistic behavior towards one another just wasn’t enough for me. I wanted more explanation as their relationship and how they got into this type of work, rather than seeming to just be plopped right in the middle of it and just having to accept that they are in it for the long haul with one another.

But as I mentioned earlier, I suppose the biggest sticking point for me with this book was that things would happen or seem to be leading somewhere, only to result in meaning nothing or having little consequence in the end. And that was really frustrating to me for some reason. We are made to see the brutal life and killings of the “old west” or whatever you want to call it but just as a plot point to move us on to the next. And maybe I’m just growing tired of stories like that, with so much death that just moves us on to the next stage without much thought. I don’t know. Because really this wasn’t a bad book at all! I just never felt like I was all that engaged in it or really caring all that much.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

#CBR8 Review #15: Damned by Chuck Palahniuk


I don’t know why I keep trying to read books by Chuck Palahniuk. That is not to say that he’s not a good writer, it’s just that his very distinct style and way of telling a story is not for me. I’ve given him a go with a couple of other novels, but I think I’ve just come to realize that while I can see why others might like his work, I just can’t seem to enjoy it. And that’s okay. Though I will say that out of the three books I’ve read by Chuck Palahniuk to date, this one was not my least favourite, so that’s a good thing!

Damned is about a thirteen year-old girl who has just died and is now in Hell. The story of how she died and what her life was like is told through almost a series of journal-entry type chapters addressed to Satan. Her accounts of Hell are vivid and include a lot of grotesque filth and imagery, as well as descriptions on how the whole operation is set up to run as she comes to learn more and more. Madison is intelligent and snarky, but definitely also a teenager. And as I read this book, I am reminded of a fact that I came to realize very clearly in myself earlier this year: I do not know how to age people properly. Particularly young people: two children or teenagers could be the same age and I could perceive them to be drastically different in age. Such as what kind of happens with Madison throughout this novel. At some times she seems much older than she is, but at other times she seems so young and innocent in some ways. But that, I believe, is somewhat intentional and reflective of her upbringing as the daughter of a well-known actress and film producer who themselves a bit eccentric, and try to keep their daughter within an infantilized image for public consumption, all while pushing her to experiment with drugs and other activities in her life as a way to experience life and come to know herself.

There are also a host of other characters present, particularly four other friends that Madison meets in Hell who, along with her, come to form a parallel image to those archetypes found in The Breakfast Club. These characters are all intriguing but I feel like we almost don’t get enough of them, or they don’t end up being as important as you think they are going to be, the way they are introduced and the roles they play near the beginning of the book. I also feel like there is some minor shifting in characters that doesn’t entirely make sense, or at least, I couldn’t make sense of as things went along.

Essentially, the whole novel revolves around Madison telling her story of how she got to Hell, coming to terms with being there, and learning the ropes of the place in order to make her time there bearable, and perhaps use all the potential her living life lost in this new setting. There are a lot of details included, both in terms of physical setting and background of Madison, which makes her and the universe seem very vivid and real, despite some of the information not per-say being completely necessary. It’s an interesting take on the conception of Hell and how arbitrary a trip there can be based on our lives. Yet there is still a bit of an inconclusiveness to the whole thing, both the ending and the story itself: I wasn’t really sure what the purpose was or where it was going. And yes, there is a sequel entitled Doomed, but based on my response to this first book, I am not inclined to really get into that one. It just didn’t engage me for some reason, and therefore, I think it’s time for me to break up my readership with Chuck Palahniuk. It’s not you, sir, it’s me. I promise you.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]