Saturday, July 31, 2010

CURRENT: Harvey by Herve Bouchard

Despite my proclivity for movie viewing lately (seriously, it's becoming a problem. I have about 10 movies from the library at home... including the oddly addicting second season of True Blood) I'm slowly getting back to books. We can thank School Library Journal once again for sending me a graphic novel to review. It's definitely something that's completely out of my normal element. Harvey, by Herve Bouchard and illustrated by Janice Nadeau, will hit bookstores on the first of October. In France and Canada, the book is already out. The catch is you have to read it in French. In fact, it's actually won one of the many literary awards I've never heard of. In this case, it's the Canada Council for the Arts Governor General's Literary Award. Pictured here is the French/Canadian, and not the upcoming American, cover of the book.

I'm about halfway through the title. I suspect it might win some American literary awards as well. The book is obviously for children, focusing on a young child and written with a kind of childlike innocence. The book is also pretty dark, using muted colors and, for lack of a better description, "ugly" art. I'm not usually a fan of unpretty pictures in graphic novels. Harvey is one of the rare exceptions. For this title, it works. It helps sets the mood that ultimately, this is not going to be a happy book about happy things. I'm already planning on handing it off to a few other librarians to see what they think about it, especially when it comes to deciding which age groups it's the most appropriate for.

For those of you who follow me on Goodreads and LibraryThing, you probably noticed that I splurged a little and brought a new graphic novel recently. There should be a review and musings about Spider-Man: The Birth of Venom sometime in August. After going through the early sections of the tome, it's a lot more about Spidey getting used to his new costume than it is about Venom. I guess arguably the costume is Venom, but the story really starts for me when Eddie Brock gets his new threads and starts talking about himself in the plural form.

So... what's on your summer reading list?

Monday, July 26, 2010

IN REVIEW: Pontypool (2008)

While it is extremely rare that I will gush about movies here, there's just one that I have to tell you about. For about a year, I heard about- which is ironic, keep reading- a little horror flick called Pontypool. Discussing this movie is oddly appropriate on a book blog because it was based on a novel titled Pontypool Changes Everything. A man named Tony Burgess wrote both the book then adapted the movie for the screen. I'm curious to read the book. The movie is inspired by Welles' War of the Worlds, taking place inside a radio station from the perspective of a radio shock jock, his producer, and a few supporting characters. I think the book might go into greater depth than the movie does, expanding the general concept of Burgess's radical idea which, sadly, is being reviewed as "a zombie flick."

Pontypool is not a zombie movie. There are similarities, sure. But this is more of an epidemic/disaster movie and kind of an original one at that. Burgess proposes an idea that language can become a disease. In this movie, as the characters struggle to realize what's happening, they learn that certain words are "infected." When they say a word, they don't understand. Then they keep trying to repeat it until they do. An infected word for you is not an infected word for someone else. As your mind deteriorates, you begin "hunting" for sound. In sort of the zombie twist, infected people try to ingest the sound. So, for instance, if you hear someone talking you grab them and try to bite their mouth. Literally, they are trying to steal the sound. One infected person, after going through repeats and confusion, just goes off in a corner and starts making this low pitched howl at one point. Super creepy.

A repeating mantra or chant seems to throw off infected people. With everyone saying the same thing, it somehow appeases the disease. It's as if one vocal concept can become a consensus. I also like the idea that when an infected person initially starts repeating a word it might be "an immune response" - your body and mind trying to find this unnamed word disease. It's also kind of great to have a movie where characters are warned halfway through to "avoid the English language." The key to curing this affliction is to understand words in ways that are not the way they are. For example, the one cured person in the film starts repeating "kill" over and over again. When the hero tells her, "kill is kiss" over and over again, she begins to conceptually understand the word differently. Opposites are warned against in the climax, which I'd like to assume is because when you are thinking about the opposite of what a word means, you are still sort of understanding the root word. What's really scary is, can you really stop understanding what a word means? I don't think I could.

Part horror, part suspense, Pontypool is definitely a unique thriller. It challenges your conception of language. Even when the characters know they shouldn't be talking later in the movie, they still can't help themselves. Both the Internet Movie Database and Wikipedia have fun articles about the film because well, gosh darnit... it was just so good! Movies don't usually keep me on the edge of my seat like that. I also just read and remembered that, although unnamed in the movie, those afflicted are known as "Conversationalists." Awesome. And a sequel is planner. Awesomer. Without giving away the end, I leave you with the line the protagonist, Grant Mazzy, leaves Pontypool with at the end, "It's not the end of the world, it's just the end of the day."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

IN REVIEW: Blackout by Keith R.A. DeCandido

I often tell people that despite working in the library environment for nearly a decade, it wasn't until recently that I started "reading again." This is actually somewhat inaccurate; in a way, I really never stopped reading; I just didn't tell people what I was reading because it was slightly embarrassing - I had a weakness for anything Buffy the Vampire Slayer from Pocket Books.

As you would imagine, much of what I read was horrible. However, it's also where I discovered Christopher Golden, a writer who contributed greatly to the Buffy expanded universe. I now read his titles unrelated to Buffy and discovered some truly great horror and fantasy worlds that he's created. Some of the books- in particular one by Golden and his often co-writer Nancy Holder- like Spike & Dru: Pretty Maids All in a Row is excellent. Taking place during World War II, it follows what Spike and Drusilla were doing in Europe. The title I'm reviewing today was in a similar vein; taking Buffy-type supporting characters from the past and expanding upon the little information we cold glean about them from the television series. You know, if you go for that sort of thing.

Blackout is an amazing book, second only to the aforementioned Spike & Dru novel. The book is now out of print and pretty hard to come by. I had to interlibrary loan, just as I did the Days of Future Past story from the X-Men. The story centers around two primary characters it focuses on are Spike and Nikki Wood, the latter of which was the vampire slayer during 1977 in New York City. Keith R.A. DeCandido, a native New Yorker who grew up during the seventies, did a bunch of research into the title. He found out that in July, NYC suffered a 25-hour city-wide blackout. Hence the name of the book. Most New Yorkers are facing a city-wide budget crises, including prisoners being released because it was no longer cost-effective to hold them, and the Son of Sam killer was still unidentified and roaming the streets.

While Keith did take some liberties, it's surprising how accurate a picture of 1977 he creates. He also creates Reet Weldon, a former plantation slave turned vampire who has overrun (and now mostly controls) the criminal underground of the city. Reet is probably one of the best villains ever in a Buffy book, a villain who is so used to controlling things behind the scenes that when he finally steps up to fight, well... you can probably guess what happens. The book incorporates several a-ha! moments from the television series and Angel, including Roger Wyndom-Pryce's run in with Spike mentioned in an aside comment from one episode. Keith was obviously a fan of the show and really did his homework. Drusilla, who I feared wasn't going to be in the novel, does finally appear. She's written wonderfully despite being relegated to a sort of damsel-in-distress role.

This novel was so good. I'm sad it didn't make it to hardcover, but I'm guessing that by this point, they weren't really publishing many more of the books. They've all but ceased now, which is sad. Especially if this is the type of story than can be told. Read Blackout and tell me what y'all think!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

VINTAGE - X-Men, Days of Future Past

Taking advantage of my local library's Interlibrary Loan service, I was able to get my hands on a copy of the long out-of-print Days of Future Past trade paperback. While, as a teenager, I read a novelization of the story- which even quotes the comic, I remember some of the banter back and forth word for word- I still hadn't seen John Byrne's art in all it's glory. The collection features some odd surrounding material; while Cyclops's departure from the X-Men due to Jean Grey's recent death does indeed go with the story, the X-Men Annual storyline of Nightcrawler's mother trapping him in a magical version of Dante's Inferno, and the final story of Kitty Pryde home alone with an alien trying to kill her... these don't really go with the rest of the story. This collection was bound and printed long before Marvel started printing their 'epic' black and white collections of ALL issues of Uncanny X-Men. Even though the stories don't go together, I'm glad I got to read the X-Men Annual story. I doubt I would have gotten a chance to read it otherwise.

"Days of Future Past" actually only last for two issues in the Uncanny X-Men comic, despite being one of the most pivotal (and interesting) stories in the X-Men's history. The story begins 30 years in the future. In the "present" the year is 1980, and Kitty Pryde has just recently joined the X-Men. While in the "future" Kate Pryde is a middle-aged women running for her life, trying to meet up with an elderly Wolverine in a now-destroyed New York City. The future is bleak; an assassination of a presidential hopeful senator in 1980 led to a series of events that allowed the robotic Sentinels into taking over North America. The Sentinels are ready to move overseas to spread their control world-wide, but the rest of the world is ready to launch nuclear weapons to prevent that from happening. The surviving X-Men, who are very few, are Storm, Colossus, Wolverine, newcomer Rachel, and Kate herself. They are assisted by Rachel's lover, Franklin Richards the only surviving member of the Fantastic Four, and Magnus- Magneto, who ironically has been confined to a wheelchair.

The future X-Men, facing what they accurately predict to be the end of the world, hatch a two-fold plot. They escape from the south Bronx internment camp that they have been confined two and plan to destroy the Sentinels' Manhattan HQ located in the Baxter Building. Meanwhile, Rachel and Kate have an even more implausible plan; Rachel is going to telepathically send Kate's consciousness back in time to inhabit her younger self. This is kind of genuis because it gets away from the normal conventions involved in your typical time travel story. If people really do have crazy telepathic powers, why couldn't they shoot someone mind back 30 years? Kate is chosen to inhabit Kitty because, having just joined the X-Men, the youngest member of them won't be ready for a psychic assault. It's also worth noting that when Kate inhabits Kitty, it's not a switcheroo; the young Kitty's consciousness just becomes displaced for the rest of the story.

Fred Dukes, the criminal tub of goo known as the Blob, escapes from prison in the issue before "Days" begins. It's revealed that he's been recruited for a new "Brotherhood of Evil Mutants" - this lineup, led by Mystique, include the earth-shattering Avalanche, the flame-controlling Pyro, and the future-telling Destiny. I believe it's the first appearence for probably all of the new Brotherhood. The fight between the Brotherhood and X-Men is pretty evenly matched, even with the X-Men's superior numbers- the team consisted of Storm, Colossus, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Angel, and Sprite (Kitty Pryde's then-codename, not the lemon/lime delicious beverage as many assume). As a kid, I was confused as to why Angel was a part of this lineup; it's explained in the issue before that he's filling in for Cyclops, who left the team shortly after Jean's death. This is also Storm's first leadership gig post-Cyclops, so Mystique kind of banks on the fact that Ororo will be inexperienced to deal with her and her evil team. It's a good bet. While Storm douses Pyro's flames more than once, Blob is shown to be the bruiser of the team. Colossus, at first, really can't move the immovable. He eventually, with Wolverine's help, figures out that you can move the ground beneath Blob. Nightcrawler is initially doing well against Avalanche with a punch-teleport combo, but Destiny's prediction power allows her to tell Avalanche where he will appear next. While Nightcralwer recovers, Mystique morphs half her body into his form, taunting him with how similar they appear. She also knows his real name and the name of his gypsy adopted mother, which somewhat horrifies Nightcrawler. Her biological connection, though assumed for many many years after this, isn't actually confirmed until an X-Men annual story well over a decade later. Chris Claremont, who of course wrote Days, had an initial plan for Mystique's biological connection to Kurt... which would have been far, far cooler.

The dire situation for the future X-Men turns to be just as grim as they expected. Rachel stays behind to guard the unconscious Kate while Storm, Colossus, and Wolverine all storm the Baxter Building. Surprisingly, Wolverine is the first to die after trying to "fastball special" a Sentinel with a sneak attack. Turns out, the robot knew he was there. Storm fights valiantly, but is soon impaled. Colossus manages to toss a Sentinel from the building in a fit of rage, but Rachel later hears his death telepathically as she sadly reflects on the loss of her friends. In the past, Kate (still in young Kitty's body) stops Destiny from killing Senator Robert Kelly. Kate disappears, presumably to the future (later stories confirm this) and Kitty is back to her old self. The X-Men wonder if they've really averted the disaster. While it looks like maybe the have, Kelly later appoints Henry Peter Gyrich and Sebastian Shaw to head up Project Wideawake. The Project's goal? To build Sentinels. Hopefully this collection, or a similar one, will find it's way back in print. If not, you can always try to interlibrary loan it at your local library! I did, and I'm glad I did :-)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Reading FIREWORKS! Happy 4th!!

Hey everyone! Thought I would give you a quick update before the United States celebrates her birthday. Should out to School Library Journal for featuring most of my graphic novel reviews that I've written for them in the past few months. In fact, there's only one they haven't yet published... and that was probably the meanest of them all. Hopefully, they will publish my review of Benoit's "You" next month, and this month? I got three more graphic novels to review, including one on privacy (that I hated), the Paul Pope "100%" collection, and the latest volume in Brian Wood's "DMZ" series.

I'm finding that actually paying for a Marvel Comics subscription is frustrating, as the newest issue of Peter David's "X-Factor" has been out for awhile at this point, but I have yet to receive/read it. I am looking to expand my monthy comic titles beyond simply "X-Factor" and "Buffy" season 8, the latter of which will be ending soon (sad! I know!). I have cast my lot with the new Gail Simone "Bird of Prey" series, and bought a new issue of "Harley Quinn" which I fear might just be a one-shot. I like the idea of a monthly Harley title, any anything that anyone comes out with now has to be better than the crappy one tried a few years back. Seriously, it was pretty bad. The fact that 2nd issue had Two-Face featured? That was the best part of the entire comics' run.

I will hopefully return to the "Vintage" series before the summer is over, and have quite a few Dark Horse Buffy & Angel gems to share with you (can't wait to tell you how I hated "The Dust Waltz" in depth). In the meantime, I'm going to hopefully creating several original blog entries for work to highlight summer reading and some recent YA novels I really liked. The ALA Conference got me excited about graphic novels all over again, so I'm going to try and focus more on them. Also, read or re-read Joss Whedon's Fray. I just did. It's awesome.