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!

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Weekend Shorts: Put Your Hands Up!

Why, yes, it’s time for yet another round of “Read all the single issues lying around Alison’s house!” This is a super extra long post today because I have been reading ALL THE COMICS lately, so let’s just jump in, shall we?

Sparks Nevada, #3-4, by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, and J. Bone
Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars #3Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars #4Okay, so, who even knows where we left off here, but we pick up in the midst of Sparks and Croach rescuing the Johnsons and Felton from what turns out to be a space bounty hunter who thinks that Mr. Johnson, the lemon farmer, is a highly dangerous alien outlaw. This seems suspicious to Sparks, but if you’ve been ’round these parts before, you know things are never quite what they seem. There’s varmints and fightin’ and shootin’ and snarky talkin’ and so much onus and some quick retconning to make sure it all fits in with the show continuity. I loved it, and I’m sad to realize there aren’t more to come! (Yet? Please?)

I don’t remember from the first two issues, but these issues are particularly interesting in the way they play with the panels, with lots of two-page spreads and inset panels and sometimes it worked, with the speech bubbles guiding me through the maze of panels, and sometimes it really didn’t and I had to read a page (or two pages) over again a couple times to figure out what the heck was going on. But it made for some very pretty pages, so I’m not complaining too much! More? Please??

Back to the Future, #3-5, by Bob Gale and various artists
Back to the Future #3Back to the Future #4Back to the Future #5I’m ever so thankful to this series for having self-contained issues. Instead of being like, where did I leave off here, I can just say, hey, five cute little stories! Win!

In these three issues, we get our stories in the form of Marty’s parents seeking some relationship intervention from Marty but getting Doc instead, future Biff taking that almanac back to young Biff, Marty learning to stand up for himself (and getting the girl in the process), Doc visiting the future for the first time, and Doc and family preparing to travel… back to the future. Haaa. As always, they’re not the greatest comic stories ever written, but they are fun and well-drawn and catnip for Back to the Future-lovers like myself.

If I remember right, these issues were supposed to be the end of a little mini-series run, but then people bought so many they decided to make more! I’ve got issue #6 waiting for my next round of catch-up, so we’ll have to see if and how they change the setup.

Survivors’ Club #1, by Lauren Beukes and Dale Halvorsen
Survivors' Club #1I picked this comic up back in October with a couple other spooky Hallowe’en-y picks in a fit of RIP inspiration. I wonder if it would have seemed spookier if I had read it back then…

The premise of this series, it seems, is that there’s a mysterious list of mostly dead people, and one of the “survivors” on that list rounds up the other still alive people to try to figure out what’s up. She thinks that everything is related to an equally mysterious video game whose current incarnation is making people, including the survivors, go a little (or a lot) crazy. I didn’t really understand what was going on, and even the extra-creepy little end bit wasn’t enough to make me wish I had more issues handy. This is something I might check out if it ends up in my library, but probably not any sooner.

Descender #1-2, by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen
Descender #1Descender #2This series, on the other hand, had me super hooked. I had the first issue in my pile of things to read, and then I read it and I was like WHERE IS MORE and then I remembered that I had bought the second issue sort of accidentally and may have said “Hooray!” out loud. As you do. And now I need all the other issues. To the comics shop!

I wasn’t too sure starting out, though, as there is a Bad Thing that happens at the beginning that is not super well explained and then we flash forward ten years and several planets away and I was like wait, what? But then there’s this kid who’s been asleep for 10 years and everyone else on his planet is dead and I’m like, wait, seriously, what? but then of course he’s a robot and that makes more sense. Anyway, so, there’s this robot kid with a robot dog alone on a mining outpost, and he gets attacked by mercenaries but something something awesome robot fighting and in between there’s some flashbacks to how this robot came to be out here in the boonies and also there’s some stuff about a scientist back in the first place whatever ROBOT BOY. I love it. I can’t help myself.

Version Control, by Dexter Palmer

Version ControlThis book was not quite what I expected. I saw the premise — a woman who thinks the world is slightly off-kilter with a husband who’s invented what is totally not a time machine, thank you very much — and I was immediately sold. Time travel! Possible unreliable narrator! Give it to me now! And then when I started it, I thought it might end up like The Fold, another strange little not-quite-time-travel-y book.

But instead of The Fold‘s crazy-pants plot, Version Control gave me something more Margaret-Atwood-y, with interesting characters and interesting circumstances that revolve around the plot rather than moving it forward. This book is definitely more about its world than its premise, and what a strange world it’s got.

The book opens up with the stuff I came for, the off-kilter feelings and the potential time travel, but though that all comes on strong in the beginning it becomes much more subtle over the course of the story. What comes to the front instead is a world not entirely unlike our own, with millennial unemployment and malaise and interactions that take place almost entirely online, including those very important interactions of dating. The bulk of the story is really about our protagonist Rebecca’s relationships with her friends and her husband as they all sort of belatedly come of age and try to make their own paths in a tough world.

In the meantime there’s that time travel business, which mostly manifests itself in the social awkwardness of physicists and some strange lab experiments that totally don’t work, except they really should be working, and seem to the reader to be working, but are definitely not working. Probably. There’s a lot in this bit of the plot about the politics of science and the relationships between coworkers and the, you know, ephemeral nature of time. No big.

Also peppered in throughout the novel are little discussions about race and presentation and living in a “post-racial society” that seem a little out of place when they start popping up but do a good job of fitting in to the whole story when it wraps itself up.

I had hoped that the time travel part of the book would be more active and exciting, because, you know, time travel, but in the end I very much liked that it stayed primarily in the background, which is quite appropriate given how things end up. I like the way the author plays with time and with the characters’ actions and conversations throughout the novel, but it’s hard to say why I like it so much without sort of spoiling the book. It’s not that there’s some big plot twist or action sequence that would be ruined; it’s more that the novel has a lot of moments that are great because you recognize how they fit in with something else and I don’t want to take away that delight of discovery.

What I can say is that pieces and ideas from this book have lodged themselves in my brain for at least the next little while, and the parts that aren’t making me nervous about my mental health are giving me a lot to think about. I need you all to go read this book so I can have people to help me figure it all out!

Recommendation: For fans of Margaret Atwood, mildly alternate universes, time travel, and books that make you go, “Aha!”

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.

Trillium, by Jeff Lemire

TrilliumI can’t remember where I first read about this comic mini-series, but whatever I read made me think it would be a perfect buy for my library. Now that I’ve read it, well, there are definitely a couple of people I can recommend it to, but not as many as I might have hoped. My library people are not quite as into the super weird as I am, and this is super duper weird.

So there’s a woman, Nika, who is a scientist of some sort on a space base of some sort whose job is to make headway in speaking to the planet’s native inhabitants because they have a bunch of pretty flowers that are the only cure to a terrible terrible plague. Unfortunately, her diplomatic mission is cut short when the plague arrives even closer to her base, so she goes in for a last-ditch effort. To her surprise, she is greeted by hundreds of the formerly well hidden natives, who invite her to eat one of those precious precious flowers, called trillium, and suddenly things get a heck of a lot weirder.

Nika ends up finding a portal of sorts that leads from her base in 3797 to the Amazon jungle in 1921, where she meets a soldier named William, who has been seeking a lost temple, the same one that Nika comes out of. But just as Nika’s colleagues have designs on the trillium flowers, William’s compatriots have plans for the temple that do not involve keeping it sacred. The two of them soon get separated, and as they try to protect themselves and their homes and find each other again, they are beseiged on all sides by people trying to stop them, going so far as to rewrite their histories and swap their lives.

It’s… very confusing. But also pretty cool. The artwork is striking in its sketchy, blocky-ness, with subtly distinct color palettes for each world that become more obvious in some of the crazier panel layouts, including one issue that is read across the top, flipped, and then read across the bottom. I also like that the writer gave the flower-bearing natives an incomprehensible language that is actually just a cryptogram, so that if I were a less lazy person I could indeed figure out what’s up with them. I bet the internet could tell me, though, so problem solved! I also like the way the author subtly plays with gender roles, giving each of the characters equal agency and helplessness, even when their lives are eventually swapped. And the worldbuilding! The space base is okay, but I love what Lemire does with Earth 1921, slowly building it up so that we can see that William is from a completely different Earth than the one we live on. So cool.

I think the best part of this book is that it is a limited eight-issue run, so it has a nice beginning, middle, and end to it when collected. I love my ongoing series, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes you just need a neatly packed story, and this is a good one. I will definitely be checking out more from this writer in the future.

Recommendation: For fans of weirdness and spaaaaace.

Rating: 8/10

Weekend Shorts: ODY-C and The Bunker

Before we dive in to this week’s comics, I want to remind everyone that tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day! I have like a million things I am doing this weekend but one of the most important to me (like, seriously, I took off work for this) is stopping into my local comic shop and grabbing my allotted free comics as well as whatever they have that I want to pay for. If you have a comic shop within driving distance of you (which you can check at that link above), you have no excuse not to stop in and grab 100 percent absolutely free comics!

Okay, back to the writeups!

ODY-C, #1, by Matt Fraction and Christian Ward
ODY-C #1I bought this issue the day it came out, knowing nothing about it other than that Matt Fraction wrote it and that Matt Fraction is awesome. I then read it shortly thereafter, and only realized that I hadn’t talked about it here as I was packing it up to donate to my library.

Why did I forget to talk about it for five months? Well, I had really bought it for my husband, and almost entirely because the first couple of “pages” are this huge, 8-page fold-out with a giant illustration on one side and a four-page timeline and four-page map on the other. Timelines? Maps? They are squarely in Scott’s wheelhouse. But still I wanted to read it first, to save Scott the trouble of reading it if it was bad and because MATT FRACTION come on.

So I did. And it was… weird. See, ODY-C is a complete rewrite of Greek mythology, specifically The Odyssey (see what they did there?), wherein all the characters are either ladies or an intersex… sex… created for the purposes of procreation. That timeline thing explains it all, I think, if it doesn’t break your brain, which it totally did mine.

As a person with limited knowledge of Greek mythology, I found myself knowing just enough to know that things were oddly different, not enough to know why, and too much to be able to just read the book as a new story and let it do its own thing. I also really couldn’t get past the voice of the story, in which people say things like, “There should come thunderous punishment from we Olympians for their insolence and hubris.” No. My brain is broken already, I cannot read formal language.

But it’s a super pretty book, with wild technicolor illustrations and amazing, intricate detail. If you’re the kind of person who wants to read space-based, gender-swapped version of The Odyssey, I can’t imagine you’ll do anything but love this.

The Bunker, Vol. 1, by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari
The Bunker, Vol. 1This, on the other hand, this book was solidly in my wheelhouse. Five college kids go off into the woods to bury a time capsule, because nerds, but when they find the perfect spot it turns out it’s already taken, by a giant bunker. Even weirder, this bunker has their names on it. Even even weirder, this bunker contains letters to themselves, from their future selves. AWESOME.

It seems that most of the letter writers are doing this as a way to stop the terrible horrible things that are going to happen from happening, but the letter we read first wants none of that. This letter wants its reader to make sure everything happens just as it’s supposed to, which may be a little hard with all of his friends working against him.

As we go through the story we get bits and pieces of the letters, with flashes forward to the horrors of the future world and some flashes back that show how all these guys became friends in the first place and how that’s all about to fall apart. The bunker also has a surprise guest who is going to make things very intriguing in the future.

I love the art in this book as well, which is this interesting sketchy pencilly style that fits with the book’s themes of despair and also the malleability of this timeline. I am super excited to see where this comic goes!

The Lost Boys Symphony, by Mark Andrew Ferguson

The Lost Boys SymphonyIt’s apparently the time of year for me to read weird books. Sex strikes, cocaine as a narrator, odd people hanging out in hotels…. But where those books were weird in a “What the heck is going on?” way, this book is weird in a “My brain is broken and I don’t have enough duct tape to fix it right now” sort of way, largely because time travel.

And it’s the most brain-breaking-est kind of time travel, too, where people change history and then remember new memories but also old memories and are still hanging out wherever they were when they changed history regardless of the fact that they CHANGED HISTORY and shouldn’t be there anymore! It’s not Looper levels of ridiculous with severed limbs or anything, but it comes pretty close.

Okay, so, the story. There’s this dude, Henry (the best time traveller name?), and he’s a super percussionist, awesome boyfriend to Val, and best of best friends to Gabe. However, he’s got some mental issues, and at the beginning of the story he is escaping his mother’s house and the imaginary cacophony that surrounds him there to hike across the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan and get back together with Val, who recently left him for a new life. Halfway across the bridge, he is overcome by the bridge’s music (again, imaginary) and collapses, waking up some time later in a strange place with two strange but eerily familiar people watching over him.

Turns out those dudes are the Henrys 80 and 41 (as they call themselves), and they have figured out how to use the crazy bridge music to time travel (as you do) and they have come to talk to 19 and see if he can’t fix their lives that have not gone quite the way they want them to. Henry 19 is really unclear about how and why they’ve come to him and what he can do to help, and as the story goes along he comes to find that maybe 80 and 41 aren’t any more clear than he is on that score.

When I started reading this book, I thought it was going to be a more or less straightforward (for a time travel book, anyway) guy-gets-girl book, with Henry chasing the elusive Val across time and space so that they can be together forever in all timelines or whatever. But it’s so much more complicated than that. Staying true to the time-bending conceit, the chapters go back and forth between times and characters, chronicling the three friends mostly in the time of 19 but also going back to high school and forward to 41’s time. We find out how the time travel got started and we see how it is way less useful than anyone ever thinks it is as things go wrong and are corrected and then go wrong again. And then meanwhile to the whole Henrys thing, we see Gabe and Val taking in 19’s disappearance and changing their relationship in a way that threatens to be pretty disastrous to all Henrys involved.

I love the way that Ferguson played with time and narrative, doling out important bits slowly across all timelines until they finally made sense. I also love that Val, who could easily have gone Manic Pixie Dream Girl, got to be a real live human with thoughts and problems of her own. The ending of the book left a little bit to be desired, resolution-wise, which if I’m saying that means it’s seriously a thing, and the very end is just too simple for my tastes, but on the plus side I’ll be thinking about what happened (and what might have happened) for days. This is an amazing first book and I will definitely be looking for more from Ferguson.

Recommendation: For people whose brains are extra-strong and those who love a good time travel yarn.

Rating: 9/10