Weekend Shorts: Post-Hurricane Comics

Hey, look, a theme! And this is really a double theme, as my pile of comics reflects the fact that we’re in RIP season with mystery and spookiness abound! I enjoyed these comics outside in the lovely post-hurricane weather that approximates fall in Florida, and I’m hoping that weather sticks around but not the hurricane stuff. I don’t think my heart can take another one this year!

Goldie Vance, #1-4, by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams
Goldie Vance #1I put this series in my pull list basically as soon as I heard about it, back when it was just a four-issue thing. I actually have #5 in my house, as this series, like all the other miniseries I’ve subscribed to, is now ongoing, but I figured let’s take this one arc at a time.

It’s not quite what I was expecting; it’s advertised as along the lines of Nancy Drew and Veronica Mars and other Girl Detectives, and it… is, but it isn’t. It lacks the depth of mystery found in those stories, proooobably because it’s a comic and it’s intended for tweens and how much space do you have in those 20-something pages, anyway, and I found myself rather baffled and a bit disappointed in the ending.

But, on the other hand, you have delightfully fun characters. There’s Goldie, who wants nothing more than to solve ALL THE MYSTERIES; her friend Cheryl, who wants to be an astronaut; Walter the beleaguered actual detective who wants nothing more than to be left alone and maybe meet a hot chick; and Goldie’s dad and mom, hotel manager and mermaid-costumed entertainer, respectively. Did I mention this book is set in 1962, in Florida? And that most of the main cast is not white, and that so far that’s not a plot point? And that Goldie Vance is apparently a race-car driver with a crush on the hot record store chick? The mystery might be the weirdest, but I’ll stick with this cast for a little while longer and see what they’re up to.

Beyond Belief, #2-3, by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, and Phil Hester
Beyond Belief #3I thought these would be perfect RIP reads, until I got to the end of #3, realized there was a #4 to be had, scoured my shelf to find it, couldn’t find it, and then took to the internet to discover it CANCELLED. Who cancels what I presume was already the final issue??? Gah, comics publishers are the worst.

Right, so, anyway. Frank. Sadie. Reluctant monster hunters. In issue 2 they take on the incredibly creepy imaginary friend of the moderately creepy imaginary friend of a little girl who used to have under-the-bed monsters which Sadie is very sad not to get to meet. After besting this beast, Sadie’s friend Donna from issue 1 is kidnapped, leading to…

Issue 3! In which Frank and Sadie take on a literal tree with a literal cult following that seems to be doing evil but might actually be doing good but it is VERY HARD TO SAY BECAUSE THERE IS A CLIFFHANGER ENDING THAT I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO FINISH THANKS IMAGE. I might be be overly upset about this, but, I mean, seriously. I really enjoyed these two issues, which have a perfect blend of weird creepy story and Frank and Sadie banter and truly amazing artwork that captures the over-the-top quality of this series.

What’s that? If I put my mad librarian skillz to use I can actually find issue 4 available for purchase online? Excuse me a second…

[$3 and several minutes later…]

Beyond Belief, #4, by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, and Phil Hester
Aha! So. Yeah. The literal tree was being sort of a good guy, as he was trapping a big evil. Meanwhile, two detectives get in on this case and one of them becomes a ghost and the other one becomes Donna’s husband (I mean, later, not in this issue, there’s no time!), and all the good things I said about the previous issues still hold.

I do hope, whatever caused this shenanigan aside, that there can be more Thrilling Adventure Hour comics (Sparks Nevada too!) in the future, because they are sooooo good. I mean, I’m still getting sporadic radio shows in my feed long after the podcast “ended”, so anything can happen!

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Weekend Shorts: The Inevitable Hoopla Binge

When I first started with hoopla, I thought I could be responsible. I could check out a trade here and a couple issues there, and I’d be fine. FINE. I could stop at any time.

But no, no I couldn’t. With one of my libraries offering me an absurd number of checkouts every month, I should have known it would only be a matter of time before I read 25 single issues over the course of three days. I’m fine.

Of course, this makes for terrible blogging as I can’t possibly remember all those stories enough to write about them, but here’s my best college try:

Giant Days, #5-12, by John Allison and Lissa Treiman
Giant Days #12It’s just, it’s so good, guys. It’s also appropriate that this series would lead to my downfall, as my beloved characters are also having some seriously bad times in this set of issues. My BFF Susan is off having an unexpected relationship that starts off okay but runs into some serious turbulence when Susan stops putting enough effort into it. Esther continues her term as Drama Queen with both an end-of-term panic over not studying for exams and an ill-advised relationship with a TA. Ed finally finds a girl who likes him back but that relationship fizzles before it even begins. Daisy stays relatively drama-free but does become temporarily obsessed with Friday Night Lights. The stories continue to be adorable and hilarious. I am mad at myself for reading all of these and not saving any for later.

Welcome Back, #1-5, by Christopher Sebela and Jonathan Brandon Sawyer
Welcome Back #1I actually own the first two or three of these in print, but am lazy and had hoopla handy so I read everything available there in one go. I’m kind of mad at myself for reading all of these, but for a different reason.

See, I own the issues because this was supposed to be a quick four-issue series, and I’m a weird backward person who buys those in issues but ongoing series in trades. But if you are proficient in numbers, you’ll see that I read five issues because someone decided to make this an ongoing series.

I can see why — the series has an interesting premise in that there are people in the world (lots of people? Just a relative few? It’s not super clear) who are involved in some crazypants eons-long war for the purpose of which one hunts the other down, kills them, and then kills themself so that the two can reincarnate together and do it all again. Why this seemed like a great idea to whoever set it up, I do not know, but it leads to some very exciting intrigue and subterfuge so I am willing to suspend some disbelief for a while.

But what I can’t let go of is the fact that there is a pretty obvious ending that’s being built up to in issue four, but at the last minute the story swerves to accommodate the new ongoing nature of the series and ruins it. I don’t know if it would have been a great ending (I’ve been burned by miniseries before), but I can tell that it didn’t get a chance to be. Issue five was okay, but I’m not sure I’m excited enough about it to keep going.

Lumberjanes, #14-24, by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke Allen, Carolyn Nowak, and Carey Pietsch (and other people too)
Lumberjanes #14Holy Mae Jemison. This is what happens when you have a nice relaxing day off of work and you get all your productive stuff done early. You get to read ALL THE LUMBERJANES. What happened here, let’s see…

Well, badges, obviously, but also a crazy snowstorm that leads to some interesting and terrible camp backstory, mermaids with friendship problems, and some serious shape-shifter adventures. Throughout, our favorite Lumberjanes work through the lovely insanity of friendship to the max, including reining in loose cannon friends and dealing with new friends who seem like they’re taking over and wondering whether friendship is more important than personal development. These are some deep thoughts to be reading about at the same time as mermaids, I’ll tell you.

Reading all these issues at once was a little crazy in another way, as there was some serious turnover going on at Lumberjanes headquarters, with the departure of Noelle Stevenson as writer and the introduction of other writers and artists. I have to say, if I can’t have Brooke Allen I hope I can keep having Carey Pietsch going forward; I think the two of them have the best interpretations of the characters. Writing-wise the series seems pretty much the same, probably because it’s hard to go wrong throwing teenagers into crazy supernatural circumstances.

Lumberjanes: Beyond Bay Leaf Special #1, by Faith Erin Hicks and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Lumberjanes: Beyond Bay Leaf #1Bonus Lumberjanes fun! Comixology says this is a one-shot special, so I’m not sure what’s up with the #1, but whatever, it’s cute. This issue is a weird sort of The Last Unicorn-esque story about a magic ghost pony and a strange camper who has designs on the pony and on the Lumberjanes while she’s at it. It’s completely outside the realm of regular Lumberjanes, so you don’t really need to read it, but if you love this series I know you’ll read it anyway.

Every Day, by David Levithan

Every DayIt may not surprise you to learn that as a child I loved me a show called Quantum Leap. Scott Bakula, wacky person-in-a-different-body hijinks… to my elementary-school self, it was the greatest. Today you could not pay me to watch an episode as it can only have aged poorly, but I will cherish my childhood-tinged memories forever.

So of course I was intrigued by the premise of this book, in which a 16-year-old kid (entity? being?) we’ll call A wakes up every morning in a different body — always has and presumably always will. This is life for A, and A is more or less happy to put up with it, until the day A falls in love with Rhiannon, the girlfriend of A’s current body. A can’t get Rhiannon out of their head and breaks all of the rules they’ve made for themself to try to make a relationship with Rhiannon work.

I found this book incredibly interesting at its premise — it does a really good job making you think about identity (gender, most obviously, but other forms of identity as well) and how it is all completely constructed by ourselves and the people around us and how uncomfortable other people are when these constructions are challenged. There’s also some intriguing talk (spoilers? ish?) about how A exists and what happens to the people in the bodies A briefly inhabits and what would happen if A never left.

But that romance plotline? Ehhhhhhh. I was more or less okay with it when I read the book, as I was focused more on the stuff noted above, but as I talked about it with my book group I started to like it less and less. It’s a weird and creepy relationship that is hugely selfish and places Rhiannon in an impossible situation and potentially hurts many other people in the process and it’s just, again, weird and creepy. Full disclosure, though, one book-club-mate found it super incredibly romantic, so it’s possible that if you are or are temporarily inhabited by a 16-year-old you will feel the same way?

Other book-clubbers had issues with an odd B-plot storyline wherein a kid and later a pastor become obsessed with A and it leads to some half-formed revelations about A’s existence and possibilities that would have needed their own entire book to become fully formed. I didn’t mind that we didn’t get any closure on some of those things, but it was definitely a bone of contention at book club.

There’s a companion novel to this, called Another Day, that tells the same story from Rhiannon’s point of view, and I’m kind of interested to see if her side of the story helps fill in some of the weird blanks left in A’s story but I’m worried it will just make those gaps even larger. I don’t know. I’m pretty content leaving this story where it left itself, and moving on to better things.

Recommendation: For anyone who thrives on improbable romance stories, slightly less for anyone who is interested in one author’s take on identity politics.

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl, by Melissa Keil

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon GirlI read Keil’s first book several months ago, and it was super cute adorable brain candy. When I was done, I went to read her second book, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl, but it wasn’t out in the US yet! Noooooo! But luckily, it’s here now, and I grabbed it up as soon as I could.

Cinnamon Girl sounded like it was going to be even more up my alley than Outer Space, since it had a nerdy comics-loving protagonist in addition to its lovely Melbourne setting. Our girl, Alba, is just after graduating high school and is planning on putting off thinking about the future for as long as she can, or until the end of the summer when everyone’s off to university, I guess. But her plans for an uneventful summer are ruined when a weird internet prophet names her sleepy town as the place that’s going to survive when the world ends in a few short weeks.

This sounds great! I’m super in! But, unfortunately, the story takes a really really strange tack on the love triangle story that I just couldn’t make myself enjoy. Alba’s got a cute boy bff who is ONLY her bff, but when a former classmate turned super hot TV star shows up in town to partake in the end-of-the-world festivities, things get super weird between her and the hot guy and also her and the bff. Throughout the whole book it seems like Alba knows what she wants, and what she wants is not to have a relationship with either of these guys, or anyone, really, but then at the end, surprise! A relationship is totally in the cards. If there had been any indication of this, it would have been okay, but it seriously came out of nowhere. Laaaame.

Also lame was the fact that “comics-loving protagonist” turned out to be “name-dropping comics-artist-obsessed protagonist”, with seemingly every sentence out of Alba’s mouth containing a reference to a comics artist or their run on a series or something else crazy specific. When I got the reference (Kelly Sue!) it was awesome, but when I didn’t it just felt awkward. It is entirely possible that I am too old and uncool for this book. That would be unfortunate.

On the plus side, I really did enjoy the whole end of the world plot line and the general existential angst of the post-high-school summer, and I did like Alba quite a bit as a character until her sudden but inevitable betrayal of my expectations. So maybe if you’re prepared for the romance bit it’ll play about better for you?

Recommendation: For serious lover of comics, regular lovers of teen angst stories and Australia.

Weekend Shorts: Book Club Re-Reads

I don’t re-read books terribly often, but when I do, it’s for book club. This year is probably going to be seeing more than its fair share of re-reads as I’ve been tasked with putting the book list together for my in-person book club, which means several very popular or much-requested books but also some books I know we can talk a lot about — the re-reads!

Of course, re-reading a book doesn’t always turn out the way you think it will…

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
Code Name VerityOh, man. I picked this book for my book club for several reasons, including that it’s short-ish and we were short on time, I remember loving the heck out of it, and it had been a while since we read a WWII book. It seemed like a winner.

What I didn’t remember from my first reading is the fact that the first half is slow as molasses in winter. It’s slow, it’s kinda boring, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for what’s happening, the narrator’s kinda weird… it’s bad. About half of the people who showed up for book club hadn’t made it past this part, and they were like, we are here to determine what you were smoking when you chose this book. The other half had finished it, with the redirect and the new narrator and the Actual Plot, and while they didn’t all love it they at least understood what I was going for!

True story, even I only just finished the first half before going to book club, so it was kind of hard to convince everyone else they should finish. But finish I did, and yes, again, the second half was much better, though I didn’t find myself shedding a single tear at the end of it where a few years ago I was ugly crying in public. I’m not sure if this is a function of reading it soooooo slowwwwly this time, or the conversation with people who didn’t like it right in the middle of my re-read, or just the fact that I knew what terrible things were going to happen. But it was just… an ending.

Recommendation: Absolutely yes you should read this. Maybe don’t read it twice.

Lock In, by John Scalzi
Lock InLet’s be honest, and TOTALLY SPOILERIFFIC IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK. I mostly wanted my book club to read this to see how many of them thought Chris Shane was a lady. I had Shane in my head as, like, robot first, dude second; my husband totally thought she was a badass chick. There weren’t a lot of book clubbers at this meeting because apparently sci-fi-based procedural crime stories are not my club’s jam, but of the handful who were there it was a mostly dude-Chris consensus, and in fact a sizable white-Chris minority who had missed the “angry black guy with a shotgun” line about Chris’s father.

I had actually tried very hard to get myself into chick-Chris mode, going so far as to use my free Audible trial to obtain the audio version of this book narrated by Amber Benson (you can also get one narrated by Wil Wheaton). It was a very weird experience. Sometimes my initial read of the book, and Benson’s not-super-feminine voice, kept me thinking Shane was a dude. After a while at each listen, I could get into chick mode, but only if I imagined that Amber Benson was Eliza Dushku instead. I would totally watch this movie with Dushku (or her voice, whatever) as the lead, by the way. And with Joss Whedon somewhere at the helm. Hollywood, make this happen!

Outside of all that, though, the book was just as weird and twisty as it was the first time, enough that I couldn’t exactly remember what was going to happen and all the big reveals were still pretty much intact. My book club was not a big fan of all the intrigue and subterfuge, which of course I loved, but they all agreed it was at least interesting.

Recommendation: Totally pick up the audio book in whichever narrator you didn’t expect the first time. It’s weird and fun.

The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson

The Summer PrinceI meant to read this book back when it came out, but somehow I just never got around to it. First there were other books, then there was a mild internet controversy over how well the race/ethnicity portion of the book came off, then there were other books again. But this month has been a really weird month of reading for me and I needed a book that was fun, interesting, and, most importantly, short, and this fit the bill.

In the world of The Summer Prince, bad things have happened to the Earth and the people who have survived them have largely moved to the Equatorial regions where there are seasons instead of the perpetual winter you find everywhere else. At the same time, humans have been developing gene therapies or something that keeps them living much longer, to where 250 years old is the new 90.

This story takes place in Palmares Tres, a big shiny glass building of a city in Brazil, run by “Aunties” and a queen who has ruled for decades. In this matriarchal society, kings are elected every five years to rule for one year, doing really not much ruling but instead preparing to sacrifice themselves at the end of the year to choose the new queen. In this particular election year, an 18-year-old called Enki is elected, to the delight of our hero, June, but it becomes quickly obvious that he is not intending to rule quietly. Instead, June and Enki take art to the streets to protest pretty much all the things that make Palmares Tres the city that June loves.

So, it definitely hits that “interesting” mark dead on. I really liked the worldbuilding in this story, from the physical style of the city to its struggles with age, class, race, technology, isolationism… it’s really cool. I don’t remember that mild internet controversy well enough to really discuss it, but I thought Johnson did a good job with all of the prejudices that mix in this novel.

It also hit the “fun” mark pretty well, as the beginning of the book is filled with June’s graffiti art escapades and the impropriety of Enki as summer king. But eventually things turn serious, and the implications of June’s actions and Enki’s shenanigans become dangerous, and it’s still pretty cool but it loses a lot of the fun. There are long passages of lecture on morality and some anvil-subtle scenes that drive home those struggles I mentioned above.

Luckily it was a short book, so even though I kind of wanted to set it aside when it got serious I was almost done and I saw it through. I’m glad I did finish it, even if the ending was terribly predictable, and overall I did enjoy my time with it. If you’re in my same reading slump boat, though, don’t mistake this for the brain candy I thought it was!

Recommendation: For lovers of quasi-dystopian futures and near-future worldbuilding.

Rating: 6/10

Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell

Carry OnYou know, I’m not really sure why I bother try to find other books like Rainbow Rowell’s books, when Rowell’s books are amazing and wonderful and I could probably read a couple of them thirty-six more times each and have the next few years of my reading life covered.

Carry On comes out of one of those beloved books, Fangirl, in which the main character is writing an epic fanfiction called Carry On, Simon, about a Harry-Potter-esque wizard and his Draco-Malfoy-esque nemesis/crush object. Carry On is unfortunately not that fanfiction, which I presume would never have gotten past the editors, but is instead Rowell’s version of what the last Simon Snow book might look like if indeed Simon and Baz discovered their true feelings for each other.

Confused? Don’t even worry about it. The whole book is just so dang adorable you will forget that you have no idea what’s going on.

I won’t summarize the plot, because it’s basically “Insert Standard Harry-Potter-Esque Story Line Here”, but I will say it takes that SHPESL and does some fun stuff with it. The wizarding world gets to have vampires but it doesn’t get Quidditch, instead having the wizards play soccer like normal people. The spells in this world are the best, all based on commonly-used phrases and catchphrases like “some like it hot” “Scooby-Dooby-Doo, where are you!”, and also you have to watch out that your spells don’t go too literal and, say, set everything on fire.

It also does some dark stuff with the SHPESL, giving us a Dumbledore of dubious trustworthiness and also a Big Bad who is far more existentially terrifying than any Voldemort. My bestie and I, who bonded over the Bartimaeus trilogy and its better-than-HP ending, agree that Carry On‘s ending is also obviously superior and obviously more depressing, just as it should be.

And then, of course, there’s the Simon/Baz romance, which is just so perfectly teenagery with the longing and the missed connections and the misunderstandings and the complete insecurity and although I do not miss those days my teenage heart is happy to relive them from the comfort of the future. There is just a little bit of angst over whether Simon is gay or gay for Baz or what, and it’s kind of nice that Rowell mostly gets that out of the way and lets everyone get back to stalking vampires and solving magical mysteries.

Basically, I loved this book, which I read in one sitting, curled up inside on a perfectly nice day. The only problem is that now I’m caught up on Rainbow Rowell again and I don’t even know when her next book will come out!

Recommendation: For fans of Rowell, Harry Potter, and adorable fan fiction.

Rating: 9/10