Weekend Shorts: More Volume Ones

I feel like I read a LOT of Volume Ones these days, and then I just, like, forget to read the rest of the series. And it’s not like I’m reading a lot of terrible series; it’s just that there are so many new ones to try that the good ones still get lost in the shuffle.

But, whatever, here are three more Volume Ones to add to the collection!

Descender, Vol. 1: “Tin Stars”, by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen
Descender, Vol. 1I read the first couple of issues of this series in my catchup binge a couple of months back, and I was like THIS SERIES HAS A ROBOT BOY YOUR ARGUMENT IS INVALID. Which still stands, really, but I’m a bit less excited about it now.

These six issues lay out some very interesting backstory with the promise of intrigue and subterfuge, which are things I am a big fan of, in the present. But the intrigue is less about strategy and more about brute force, which gets boring pretty quickly. I’m really not clear what is up with all the people trying to find my Robot Boy, and I’m not sure the book is either, what with all the trips into Backstory Land that are much more interesting than the main story.

I do have the second volume on hand, purchased at half price before I had finished the first one, and so probably maybe someday I will continue on with the series. But there will be dozens of other Volume Ones ahead of it, probably.

Paper Girls, Vol. 1, by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang
Paper Girls, Vol. 1This one, on the other hand, I’m regretting reading only because the next issue JUST came out and therefore a Volume Two is still in the distant future. Which is appropriate to the content of the book, I suppose.

The first issue promised me aliens in Cleveland, so of course I was all over it, but what we get is even stranger — time travelling teenagers in some kind of war with a different set of time travelling people, with dinosaurs, and Apple products, and I don’t even know what’s going on but man Cliff Chiang’s art is the prettiest.

This volume could almost have fallen into the same “too much brute force” category as Descender, but there’s enough subtle intrigue with the time travelers (and such a smart cliffhanger ending) that I am happily looking forward to more.

Preacher, Book 1, by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon
Preacher, Book 1I guess this isn’t technically a “Volume One”, as it collects a few more issues than the official Preacher, Vol. 1, but it’s got a 1 on the cover so it counts!

I read this because the people at my favorite comics podcast did a show on it and while I usually skip the shows about things I haven’t read, the discussion was interesting enough to keep listening. That sounds like a vote for a series in my book! And then it was free on hoopla, so it was clearly fate.

But, well, I definitely won’t be reading more of this. Not because it’s not interesting, which it is, with its concepts of gods and religions and hate and fear-mongering and all sorts of other fun human stuff. And not because the art’s not gorgeous, which it is, with incredibly detailed drawings and lovely colors.

What it is is that the story and the art are both just too gruesome for me. There’s this crazy scene that I had to show my husband, because I couldn’t be the only one to see it, with a guy whose face has been flayed and, like, tacked back on, and it is objectively a fascinating panel and an intriguing bit of story, but the fact that it’s only marginally weirder and grosser than other bits of the story means this book is just not for me. I’m really wondering how this has been turned into a TV show, but I really don’t think I want to watch it to find out!

Weekend Shorts: Locke & Sandman

Last week I talked about bingeing on single issues on hoopla, but this week I’m going to talk about a couple of trades that I read and loved and probably the only thing stopping me from binge-reading the rest of the already completed series is that I wanted to come tell you all about them first. Darn you, internet persons!

Sandman, Vol. 1: “Preludes and Nocturnes”, by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, and Malcolm Jones III
Sandman, Vol. 1Sandman has been on my list of comics to read for a very long time, even before I considered myself a “comics person”. And since the whole series is on hoopla, that’s totally going to happen. Eventually.

This first volume is interesting. It’s essentially the story of Dream, who is accidentally summoned instead of his sister, Death, by some less-than-great summoners. The first issue covers the bad things that happen when you trap the god of dreams in the mortal world — people who sleep forever, people who can no longer sleep — and what happens when that god gets out — revenge in the form of eternal waking. Remind me not to piss off a dream god, is what I’m saying.

The rest of the volume follows Dream as he recovers from his imprisonment and hunts down his stolen tools. This part is a little weirder, as Dream meets not only Cain and Abel but also John Constantine and weird demons and some Justice League people I don’t know and a weird crazy villain guy… There’s a lot going on.

I think my favorites of the issues are the first one, which sets everything up, and the sixth one, which pits a bunch of people against each other as their minds are controlled and which is quite well done in terms of story and art.

I wasn’t as super sold on this series as I’d hoped I’d be, but I recall from my initial interest in the series that the first volume isn’t necessarily the place to start so I’m pretty sure it’ll get better. I just need to find time to read nine more volumes!

Locke & Key, Vol. 1: “Welcome to Lovecraft”, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Locke & Key, Vol. 1This volume, on the other hand, was awesome sauce from beginning to end. I’m a sucker for a creepy murder story and also for a creepy supernatural story, and this is both!

The book starts off with the horrible murder of a high school guidance counselor by a bright but very troubled student, flashing back and forth between the murder and the aftermath. The counselor’s family makes it out alive, but they decide to pack up all their stuff and move into the counselor’s childhood home, called Keyhouse, with his brother. As these things go, though, Keyhouse is not necessarily a safer place for the family — the house is full of secret places and mysterious keys and an apparition who seems to be running the whole show from the bottom of a well.

I love the way this book plays with its creepy elements, interspersing them perfectly with the mundane to make everything seem almost normal. I also love the characters; Hill does a great job of showing their love for each other even while they’re still a bickering family. And that chick in the well, well (HA), she’s veeery intriguing and I’m looking forward to seeing what she does next.

Weekend Shorts: Gods and Avengers

The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 3: “Commercial Suicide”, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 3After the insane ending of the second volume of this series, I was eager to get my hands on this one. So imagine my surprise when I jumped in and found out that this arc has very little to do with those very important events. Shoot!

Well, all right, the first issue (#12) covers a bit of the aftermath, but the story is mostly an excuse for some god-fighting, which is pretty cool on its own, so, okay. The subsequent issues delve a little more into the stories of the individual gods, mostly the ones who haven’t been front and center so far. There’s an issue for Tara that is secretly about the price of fame and the awfulness of the internet, one for Woden that clarifies a few things that happened earlier, one for Amaterasu that talks about identity and appropriation, a… very odd one for The Morrigan and Baphomet, and one for Sakhmet that reminds everyone that cats are adorable and dangerous.

Then, finally, in the last pages, the so-titled “Inevitable Cliffhanger”. These guys are killing me, I swear.

Speaking of these guys, this volume was a little strange as most of the issues weren’t actually drawn by McKelvie, who was gallivanting about somewhere and was replaced by various artists on each issue. Some of the artists stayed close to McKelvie’s art, which made things a bit uncanny valley as I strived to remember who this particular chick with short black hair was supposed to be, and some of the artists (especially Brandon Graham in the Sakhmet issue) went in a completely different direction, which was even more distracting. I don’t know how people who read superhero comics put up with fill-in artists on a regular basis; so much of what I love about my favorite comics is the art and it is so strange to see anything else.

Hawkeye, Vol. 4: “Rio Bravo”, by Matt Fraction and David Aja
Hawkeye, Vol. 4Although, to be fair, guests artists can’t be any stranger than this whole Hawkeye run, especially these last two volumes. Reading them in the collected volumes is the way to go, definitely, since the two storylines trade off in the issues but are kept separate here.

Unfortunately, they gave me the better storyline first, with Kate Bishop off in LA. This half of the story is… way more confusing. We get that terrible jumping-around-in-time thing again, leaving me baffled as to what order anything happens in, and it turns out that Clint has a brother who seems like he might be a bad guy, maybe, but maybe not?, and it also turns out that the tracksuit mafia guys are just trying to maintain a real estate deal, which, what, and also Clint goes deaf and resorts to sign language which makes for some really interesting page layouts but is SO CONFUSING.

I can see why this run didn’t make it any farther, is what I’m saying, but I’m also glad that I read it because Hawkeye is way cooler than Jeremy Renner and Kate Bishop is way cooler than Clint Barton and now I know these things and that makes me smart. And since the next volume of this series (Volume 5, collecting issues #1-5, I hate comics numbering) is written by Jeff Lemire, it is very likely that I will be checking that out in the near future.

The Broken Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin

The Broken KingdomsI read the first book in this series, and Jemisin’s first novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, a little over a year ago, and liked it pretty well. I thought the premise was interesting and the writing very cool if kind of weird to follow sometimes. Then I followed that up with Jemisin’s most recent novel, the first in a completely different series, The Fifth Season, and I loved that book SO HARD. I have no idea when that book’s sequel is coming out, so until then I’ll be over here reading through Jemisin’s decent-sized backlist.

I was a little worried coming back to this series, since I loved the later book so much more, but this book falls solidly in between the two on my Line of Adoration that I just made up. It’s technically a sequel to the first book, but I barely remember the details of that book and I did just fine here. All the stuff from the first book that’s important is mentioned when needed, and anything else is just window dressing.

And, luckily, this follow-up gets rid of the weird interludes of the first novel that made it so hard to read. This narrative is much more straightforward, but it still has a bit of a twist in that the protagonist is blind. Sort of. I mean, yes, she’s blind, but she can “see” magic and the things that magic touches, and there’s a lot of magic in this book. So the narrative is filled with a lot of description of touching and hearing and smelling and so forth, but then also sometimes with some unexpectedly complex descriptions of seeing. I don’t know if that makes sense, but then this is a Jemisin novel and that’s just what you’re getting into when you read one.

Aaaaanyway, in the story proper our protagonist, Oree, is living a more or less simple life as a blind artist and vendor, while also hanging out with godlings (the gods’ kids) and housing a very strange sort of being who doesn’t really talk to her. This is all fine until a godling she sort of knows ends up dead, which is not, so far as anyone knows, actually possible, and Oree ends up a prime suspect due to her relationships and her not-so-well-hidden magical talents. As Oree tries to figure out what’s going on in all quarters, she learns some very interesting things about the gods and the government and the way their strange world works.

And I loved it. I am officially a Jemisin fangirl, not to be stopped, and I am very much looking forward to continuing in her backlist. I love the worlds she creates and her characters and their adventures and the fact that she can develop so much drama and action and emotion in a relatively normal-sized novel — 400 pages is not nothing, but it’s easier to handle than certain other series I could name!

Recommendation: For lovers of fantasy and mythology and gorgeous sentences.

Weekend Shorts: Gods and Monsters

It turns out that settling into a new job requires a lot of effort, and also that having a job that lets you go home for lunch leaves you with very little time to read. Luckily, I have a backlog of comics that fit very nicely into the tiny reading times I currently have. Let’s talk about some!

The Bunker, Vol. 2, by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari
The Bunker, Vol. 2Huh.

That was my reaction upon finishing this book. Not “Huh?” or “Huh!” or “Huh…”, just “Huh.” I was super psyched after reading the first volume of this comic back in May, with the time travel and the plotting and the subterfuge and the time travel, and I grabbed this second volume immediately upon its arrival at my library. Unfortunately, there’s almost none of the good stuff from the first volume here, and all of the bad.

Time travel? I mean, it’s there, obviously, with the story jumping back and forth, sometimes incredibly subtly, between the now and the future and the times in between, and that’s cool. And I guess the plotting and the subterfuge is there, as most of the book is spent on said plotting and there is a ton of people being told or convinced to do something and then someone else being all, “-tents fingers- All according to plan….” But none of it serves to drive along any semblance of plot, which was definitely the most important part of me loving the first volume, so.

Also not great is the fact that, as was true in the first volume, all of these dang characters look alike. I know there are characters named Grady and Billy and Daniel but hell if I know which one is which, even when they’re standing next to each other, and the girls I just couldn’t even tell you their names right now they’re so neglected. This was okay the first time, when the important stuff was reading letters from the future and wondering if these kids could change the world, but this volume focuses heavily on the stuff that specific characters do to cause the future’s problems and I just don’t even know who did what. Nor do I care. Sorry, The Bunker, I’ve got better comics to spend my time with.

The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 2: “Fandemonium”, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 2Like this one! One of the perks of my new job is a coworker who reads several of the same comics I do, though he reads them in issues more often and is way ahead of me on the storylines. When he heard I was reading this series, he nearly spoiled this volume for me, so I knew it was time for me to actually read the dang thing instead of leaving it to look pretty on my shelf.

And, holy smokes, guys. We pick up a little while after the big death of the first volume, with our hero Laura now famous amongst her peers for being there when it happened. She is not dealing well with any of it at all, but decides that finding out what really happened will make everything better. Luckily, several of the gods are on her side and invite her to do crazy godly things while she’s investigating.

These godly things (uh, parties, mostly) are the best bits of this volume, because they lead to the coolest artwork. Issue 8’s “Underground Dionysus Kiss Story Part XI” does amazing things with neon rave colors against the generally dreary colors of Laura’s world, and issue 10 tries a bunch of different things, including a one-page poem art thing (I am good with words), that are all just brilliant.

In plot points, we learn that there are people who think you can kill a god to steal his powers, or that gods can kill other gods to live a little longer (the gods on earth get about 2 years before they all go away again), and we also get a look into Creepy Old Lady Ananke’s backstory and the history of the gods’ 90-year cycle. But of course the most important thing happens at the end of this volume and I refuse to tell you about it because, again, holy smokes, guys. I may have to see if I can borrow the next few issues from my coworker because the next volume doesn’t come out until February and I kinda need to know what happens next.

Weekend Shorts: Wicked, Divine, and Unwritten

The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 1: “The Faust Act”, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
The Wicked and the Divine, Vol. 1I had heard vague good things about this book around the internets, but not enough to really get me interested. But then I was at the comic shop getting other things and I asked the guy at the counter what he thought about it and he was like, “It’s fantastic, you should buy it immediately.” He was not wrong.

The conceit of this story is that various gods incarnate themselves into the bodies of more or less ordinary twenty-somethings for two years every 90 years, because sure, why not? In their 2014 bodies, the gods are literal rock stars, performing and giving interviews and being totally open and honest about their godly status, but of course no one really believes them. Except maybe for Laura, a groupie who ends up in the right place at the right time to see Luci (slash Lucifer) snap her fingers and explode a couple of dudes’ heads. When Luci is arrested and the other gods more or less abandon her, Laura does everything she can to help out.

This is a fantastic book, starting with the super pretty artwork that I just need to have all over my walls, like, immediately. Look at these covers, people! So gorgeous. And then also it’s neat to see gods from all the different religions (some of whom could be from several religions all by themselves) hanging out doing their god thing, and then even better there’s an intrepid girl reporter on the case who is probably going to be majorly pissed when she finds out these gods are for reals. I’m super in love.

The Unwritten, Issues 45 and 46: “The Corpse Harvest Reiteration”
The Unwritten #45It has been an absurdly long time since I delved into the world of The Unwritten, and I was more than a little worried that I might have forgotten everything. Luckily I found myself at the start of a little two-issue run wherein 1) the action focused mostly not on the overarching plot and 2) our favorite vampire spent a page explaining the important stuff. Thanks, Richie!

The Unwritten #46So in this set of issues, Richie is feeling bad for himself and Didge is doing her police thing, and then the two of them join forces when a little kid loses first his babysitters and then his dad in freak deaths that have brain damage as the common link between them. Turns out the kid is writing stories that come true, and although he’s not explicitly writing anyone into these stories the people he’s basing them on end up in big trouble. It seems that the story world, once thought a bit dead, may be only mostly dead.

I am super excited to get back into this series, which is good because I have a pile of issues and trades lying around for it!

What fantastic short stuff are you reading this weekend?

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin

The Hundred Thousand KingdomsOne thing that is alternately very useful and very pathetic in my 2015 quest to read more diversely is the fact that my Goodreads TBR is pretty much full of diverse books and authors that I could have been reading this whole time. Case in point: this almost-five-year-old book that has been on my TBR list practically since it came out.

To be fair, the fact that this is a fantasy series didn’t particularly help it top Mount TBR all these years. I love the idea of fantasy series, but I am rarely willing to commit the time to read ALL THE PAGES, even in this series of three 400-600-page books. That sounds like effort, guys.

But it turns out that, as you may have guessed, that effort was totally worth it. I can’t really say that I enjoyed this book, but I liked it a lot and found it absolutely fascinating and full of really interesting ideas and I am totally going to read the rest of this series but probably not immediately.

So there’s this chick called Yeine, and she’s the leader of a nation called Darr and also the granddaughter of the dude who rules, um, everything. All the nations. As you do. Yeine is called to Sky, the city and castle her grandfather rules from, and she quickly finds out that a) her grandfather is dying, b) there’s going to be a literal fight to the death to replace him, and c) he has thrown her name into that fight, along with her cousins Relad and Scimina. Thanks, gramps!

Now, when I say fight to the death that makes it sound like this book is going to be action-packed and full of intrigue and subterfuge and daggers and all that good stuff, and that’s certainly what I was expecting. But it turns out that this part of the story is about politics, actually, and the ways in which people can fight without even having to see each other, which is pretty darn cool in its own right. This quieter intrigue and subterfuge plays out slowly over the course of the novel, leaving lots of room for what I thought was the more interesting part of the story, namely Jemisin’s worldbuilding.

So there’s this world-encompassing government that I’ve already mentioned, and you might be like, hey, how does someone run an entire world for any length of time without, you know, being overthrown twice on Tuesday? Turns out it’s pretty easy if you’ve enslaved your gods. All the gods. As you do. The ruling family, of which Yeine is a part, has the ability to command the gods to varying degrees, with grandpa Dekarta wielding more or less full power. Throughout the novel Jemisin parcels out information about the gods in their current state and the widely held beliefs about how the gods got there and also the actually true facts about how they got there and how they might get themselves out, which of course involves Yeine.

Oh, and, meanwhile, Yeine is trying to use her limited time left in this world (she has no illusions about her chances in the fight to the death) to help her homeland of Darr and to sift through the widely held beliefs and actually true facts about her mother’s life and recent death, and whether her grandfather had anything to do with the latter.

There’s a lot to the story, and it’s almost all really well done and intricately plotted and again, absolutely fascinating. But I have to admit that the ending was absolutely baffling to me, with all of the various threads of the story getting snarled in one big mess of a climax that probably has a logical explanation if only I could understand it. I mean, I understand the results of the crazy stuff, but I don’t really get how we got to the crazy stuff in the first place. Luckily the next book, at least from the preview pages I read, is going to move away from that weird stuff and give me different weird to look forward to.

Recommendation: For fans of epic fantasy and worldbuilding and big ideas.

Rating: 8/10