Comic Book Review: Chicagoland Detective Agency No. 2: The Maltese Mummy

Comic Book Review: Chicagoland Detective Agency No. 2: The Maltese Mummy written by Trina Robbins with art by Tyler Page

Things have been slow lately for Bradley, hyperintelligent canine head of the Chicagoland Detective Agency and his two friends, computer whiz Raf and poet Megan.   In fact, they haven’t had a case since the one that inaugurated the agency.  Not that Megan is too disappointed.

Chicagoland Detective Agency No. 2: The Maltese Mummy

It seems that Megan has lucked into concert tickets through her journalistic connections (she’s haiku editor for the school paper) to see Sun D’Arc, the hottest new pretty boy singer on the market.  Naturally, Megan immediately thought of taking along her one human friend, Raf.

The next day, new girl Jazmin tries to cozy up to Megan to pick up the spare ticket, which only enrages our heroine.  Then Raf winds up with the flu, which sticks Megan with Raf’s goofball friend William as her plus one.

Things start getting weird at the concert, as Sun D’Arc and his oddly familiar manager are much more interested in meeting William than Megan, even though she’s the official reporter, or even putting on a concert.  Jazmin is acting suspiciously, and what does all this have to do with a missing mummy?

Though the protagonists are in high school, this graphic novelette is aimed at kids from about fourth grade on up.  Older readers will be way ahead of our heroes in figuring out what’s going on, particularly if they also read the first volume.  

That said, there’s some amusing side jokes in the newspaper clippings, and the basic plot is engaging.  There’s some mild scares.

Kids who liked the first volume should also enjoy this one, but it’s not necessary to have read that book to understand this one.  I just hope the agency gets an actual paying case soon!

Manga Review: Weekly Shonen Jump (2018)

Manga Review: Weekly Shonen Jump (2018) by various

Here we are at another anniversary for SKJAM! Reviews, and thus my annual review of the state of Shonen Jump.  This may, however, be the last in this format–more on that anon.

A quick recap for those who haven’t been here before:  Shounen Jump Weekly is the top-selling manga anthology in Japan, dominated by action-packed serials for adolescent boys.  Weekly Shonen Jump is the official online English release, with chapters appearing as soon as they are legally available in Japan.  The online version does not have all the same series, skipping ones Viz thinks are less interesting to Westerners, while slipping in monthly series from related magazines.

As of December 17, 2018, the Shonen Jump website will be ending its weekly magazine format.  The three most recent chapters of any given series will be available free to anyone, while those who pay for access will be able to read the entire catalog of manga that have been released on the site.  (There will be a “get some sleep” limit of 100 chapters per day.)   We’ll have to see how that pans out.

Let’s bid farewell to the current format with a rundown of the current series!  Weekly first.

Chainsaw Man by Tatsuki Fujimoto:  The first chapter just came out last week!  In a world infested with devils, Denji is a devil hunter.  It wasn’t his first choice of profession.  But after Denji’s father apparently committed suicide due to his insane debt to the Yakuza, Denji inherited the debt, and the fastest way to repay it was to become their devil hunter.  He works with his pet chainsaw devil Pochita to kill more dangerous critters, and then sells the corpses to the Yakuza for debt reduction.  It’s a miserable life, but in a few decades, he might be free. 

However, the Yakuza decide to modify the terms of the agreement–to get devil power for themselves, they agree to murder Denki.  Their Faustian bargain turns out poorly, while Denki’s seems to go well for him…for now.   By the end of the chapter, Denki is debt-free and has found a new employer who may be marginally better.

This is pretty grim and gory stuff for Shonen Jump but the creator’s previous series Fire Punch was well-received, so it’s worth watching.

One Piece:  This long-running series about superpowered good guy pirates on a world that’s mostly ocean is still going strong, though creator Eichiro Oda is now taking breaks every few chapters to avoid burnout.   Stretchable pirate captain Luffy and his merry crew are currently in Wano, the local cultural equivalent of Feudal Japan.  It’s been sealed off from the outside world since evil pirates took it over a couple of decades ago, and Luffy is doing his best to imitate Admiral Perry except with much more hitting.  Meanwhile, there’s a meeting of the world’s leaders on another island, which will presumably tie in at some point.  Still fascinating stuff, but oh so many characters to keep track of.

Food Wars:   Soma and his classmates at Tootsuki Cooking Academy are now in their second year at the school, and most of the name characters are now on the Council of Ten, their version of the student council.  Currently, the kids are participating in the worldwide Blue cooking competition for young chefs.  In addition to the usual competitors, this time around they must also deal with the “noir” chefs of the criminal underworld, and a former apprentice of Soma’s father who’s abducted Erina, the current head of the school.  Honestly, it feels like this series has lost its way.

Black Clover:  In a world where everyone can use magic at least a bit, Asta was born magicless.  Naturally, this allowed him to be chosen to receive an anti-magic power and become a Magic Knight who fights to protect the Clover Kingdom.  Currently the Clover Kingdom is being overrun by mages who used to be its citizens but are now possessed by the spirits of elves allegedly killed by the Clover Kingdom centuries before.  Since many of the possessed people were powerful Magic Knights beforehand, this has reduced the defenders’ numbers while giving the vengeful elves access to dangerous magic.  Asta’s effective against the elves, but he can’t be everywhere, so other characters are getting the chance to shine.

My Hero Academia:  In a world where 90% of the population has mutations known as “Quirks”, being a superhero is a possible career choice.  U.A. is a magnet school for high school students who want to become superheroes.  At the moment, our young hero trainees are taking a break from fighting the League of Villains to have mock battles between Class A and Class B, with special guest star Shinso, he of the compelling voice.   This storyline will probably read better in the collected volume.

Dr. Stone: 3000 or so years ago, every human on the face of the Earth was petrified.  Now depetrified, teen prodigy Senku is attempting to revive scientific civilization.  Tsukasa’s “survival of the fittest” kingdom has been defeated, but at the cost of Tsukasa’s life.  There’s a possibility that the petrification effect could be used to revive him, if our intrepid science hero can cross to the other side of the world and find out how it was done.  This calls for a ship, and an expert navigator.  The depetrification fluid is running out, so they’ll have to choose carefully.  This is still one of the highlights of each week’s issue.

We Never Learn:  Poor boy Nariyuki wants to get into a top college so he can get a good job and support his destitute family.  But to get the recommendation he needs, Nariyuki must first help three girls get into the schools of their choice, despite each of them having a huge weakness in their studies.  It doesn’t help that all three girls develop feelings for their tutor, and that close proximity to curvy female flesh is distracting our young scholar from his own goals.  Hilarity ensues.  Currently in this romantic comedy, championship swimmer Uruka must find a way to break it to Nariyuki that she’s going abroad for study, and will she finally be able to tell him that she loves him?  To be honest, I find this series a bit cringy, but I am not the target audience.

The Promised Neverland:  Emma and her friends were raised in an orphanage where everything seemed just fine, but in reality, it was a farm for gourmet demon food.  Eventually, the children escaped only to find that they weren’t just on a world taken over by demons, but a parallel Earth where the demons have in effect always been in charge.  Currently, Emma is trying to arrange things so that no children will ever again have to be eaten by demons.  She and her large family are traveling to meet what may be at last trustworthy adult human allies.  But she’s been burned before!  Also a bright spot in each week’s issue.

And on to the monthlies!

World Trigger is the latest addition in this category.  I debuted a few years ago as a weekly series, but had to go on a long hiatus due to creator health problems.  There was a brief weekly return to re-introduce the concept and now it’s moving to monthly to mitigate the strain on the creator.

The basic premise that Earth is being invaded by undocumented aliens known as “Neighbors” and the only thing holding them off are the agents of BORDER.   Over time, it becomes clear that not all Neighbors are hostile–some of them even join BORDER, and there are multiple “nations” on the other side of the dimensional barrier.  Currently, the series is in an interminable tournament arc to determine which agents will go into the other dimension on a scouting/rescue mission to the other dimension.  I will be so happy when the plot moves forward again.

Boruto: A sequel to the long-running Naruto series, features the son of Naruto as he tries to find his own ninja way.  Presently the Uzumaki has a guest, a young fellow with a “curse mark” similar to Boruto’s, which gives them great power at a terrible price.  If our heroes can get the newcomer to join their side it will help deal with the evil organization they’re fighting.  But the guest was raised in an abusive environment which has left him with an unpleasant personality and trust issues.  Can he be won over?  Surprisingly good for a cash grab.

Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc-V:  Yet another iteration of the popular card game-based franchise.  Our hero has finally defeated G.O.D. and seeks to seal its power, but his rival from the future wants one last duel to wrest that power to his own control and reshape the world.  Please, let it die.

RWBY the Official Manga by Bunta Kinami is a more direct adaptation of the webseries than the side stories that had previously appeared.  Sisters Ruby and Yang are new students at Beacon Academy, a school for Huntsmen who track down and kill Grimm monsters.  Ruby’s a bit young but was pushed forward from regular school due to her talent.  They soon run into spoiled rich girl Weiss and surly Blake, who is of the oppressed beast-people.  Despite early friction, they will become one of the top teams at Beacon.  If you like the animated version, you’ll probably enjoy this.

Blue Exorcist:  Rebellious teen Rin discovers that he is in fact the son of Satan, but rather than take up his father’s cause as the Antichrist, becomes an exorcist.  At the moment, Rin is on an extended vision quest involving the past of his parents and just how they wound up in the situation that created him.  The author is not much good at romance.

Seraph of the End:  After a plague wipes out most human adults, vampires take over much of the world.  The remaining humans fight back with demonic weapons.  Currently, some of the human demon soldiers have teamed up with a few saner vampires to battle the creature that set this whole mess in motion, but it’s taking a lot of preparation.  I’ve lost track of most of the characters.

One Punch Man: Saitama trained to become a hero that could defeat any enemy with a single punch.  It worked too well.  Currently, his opposite number, Garo, who decided that it was important that heroes sometimes lose, finds himself being pushed into alliance with the monsters.  For as much as happens in this series, the pace is glacial right now.

Also of recent note:  Hunter X Hunter had a short run as a ship filled with princes having a succession crisis heads towards a mysterious new continent.  And the creator of the original Yu-Gi-Oh! series did a miniseries titled The Comiq in which manga artists solve a murder.  It was okay, but I felt the ending used some tropes that were uncomfortable.

Most of these series will be continuing, but I will miss the magazine format.

Comic Book Review: Bone Sharps, Cowboys and Thunder Lizards

Comic Book Review: Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards by Jim Ottaviani & Big Time Attic

It is the Gilded Age, a time of prosperity for some, and the advancement of knowledge.  Science is making great steps forward, but so is entrepreneurship, seeking any way to make a fast buck.  Professor O.C. Marsh, a paleontologist, and showman P.T. Barnum, an entertainer, meet on a train.  Barnum shows off his newest acquisition, the “Cardiff Giant.”  Marsh is not impressed, as he knows this is a copy, and he is convinced the original giant was a fake to begin with.  Not that this is going to stop Barnum one little bit.

Bone Sharps, Cowboys and Thunder Lizards

But Barnum’s antics are a sideshow here.  The meat of the story is the rivalry between Professor Marsh and Professor Edward Drinker Cope as they competed for the best fossil finds, and the funding and recognition of the scientific community of the late Nineteenth Century.   The story also delves a bit into the career of artist Charles R. Knight, whose pictures helped shape the way we see dinosaurs to this day.

This includes the story of the brontosaur, a dinosaur accidentally created when the wrong skull was placed on a skeleton due to the need for hasty publishing to ensure staying in the public eye.   (“Publish or perish” indeed!)

As this is a comic book rather than a full scholarly history, some events have been invented to move the story along, and others tied up more neatly than they were in real life.  But the medium of choice allows this to be a fast-paced telling, and there are stunning sequences rendering two Native American legends about the ancient bones.  (Professor Marsh thinks one of these stories is not true because it contradicts scientific fact.  Chief Red Cloud realizes that it is true in a different way.)

There are notes in the back indicating where liberties have been taken with known history.

Overall, this is an excellent graphic novel for science-minded dinosaur fans from middle school on up who can take the bitter history with the sweet pictures of prehistoric beasts.   (Note: some period racism towards Native Americans, even if the people doing it are well-meaning.)

Manga Review: Vinland Saga Book Nine

Manga Review: Vinland Saga Book Nine by Makoto Yukimura

Warning:  This review will have SPOILERS for previous volumes of the series; you may want to read earlier reviews first.

Vinland Saga Book Nine

Previously:  Thorfinn Thorsson and his ragtag band are taking a load of narwhal horns to Greece, where they hope to sell them to get funding for a voyage to Vinland.  They’re now composed of Leif Ericson, the first sailor to find Vinland; Einar, a British former slave and now Thorfinn’s sworn brother; Bug-Eyes Thorfinn, Leif’s apprentice sailor; Gudrid, a runaway bride; plus a dog and a baby picked up along the way.  In Norway, they run into a huntress named Hild, who is connected to Thorfinn’s violent past.

It seems that when Thorfinn worked for Askeladd’s band of mercenaries (so that he could eventually get revenge on Askeladd for the murder of his father), they were hired to kill Hild’s father.  And by extension the rest of his family.  Thorfinn, as it happens, was the one who actually killed Hild’s father and spared her on the grounds that she was too weak to bother with.  And also because he didn’t believe in killing unnecessarily.

Fleeing from the other mercenaries, though, Hild was badly injured, and nearly lost an eye.  She was found and trained by a bear hunter, and used her mechanical genius to create a new kind of crossbow.  For years, she has lived with hate and bitterness.

At last, Hild has come face to face with the murderous scum who took her father, working with those that killed her family.  And now, now he claims to be working for peace, to atone for his violent ways?    Her vengeance shall not be denied!

But, well, Thorfinn kind of has to survive or the story is over, so Hild’s vengeance is delayed.  But only for now!

So it’s off to Denmark.  But there a new danger appears.  It is time to pick a new chieftain of the fierce Jomsvikings, greatest of the Viking raiders.  The wicked Floki’s grandson is one candidate, but he’s only ten and would no doubt be the puppet of his grandsire.  Much to Thorfinn’s horror, he too has been raised as a possible candidate.  Our protagonist has no interest in going back to a violent lifestyle, but Floki may not give him a choice.

This series continues to be great stuff.  The art is excellent, and the action intense.  As well, the characters are layered.  We see the inner conflict between Hild’s Norse custom of familial vengeance, and her Christian father’s belief in forgiveness.

There are also bits of humor, such as mighty Thorkell’s near-death from too much peace, and Gudrid’s erstwhile husband trying not to be recognized when she might see him in reduced circumstances.

Thorfinn’s quest to atone for his violent ways gains resonance with the new constant reminder of the human cost of his (ultimately futile) quest for vengeance.

There is, of course, quite a bit of bloody violence in this volume, and in Hild’s flashback it is heavily implied that Askeladd’s mercenaries would have raped her had she been caught.

This series continues to impress and is highly recommended.


Book Review: Under a Wild Sky: John James Audubon and the Making of THE BIRDS OF AMERICA

Book Review: Under a Wild Sky: John James Audubon and the Making of THE BIRDS OF AMERICA by William Souder

When John James Audubon arrived in Philadelphia in 1824, he carried with him a portfolio of beautiful bird paintings he hoped to turn into a book, and a backstory of childhood in Louisiana, being the son of a French admiral, and studying painting under one of the great artists of the previous era.   The paintings were very well done, especially since Audubon insisted on always making them life-sized.  But much of his supposed history was simply not true.  In fact, John James Audubon wasn’t even his birth name!

Under a Wild Sky: John James Audubon and the Making of THE BIRDS OF AMERICA

Possibly worse, Audubon was seen as stepping on the legacy of Alexander Wilson, America’s greatest ornithologist to that point.  Wilson’s life work, American Ornithology, had been posthumously completed by his friends, including one George Ord, a member of Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences.   Audubon reportedly was dismissive of Wilson’s accuracy and completeness, and claimed to have met the older man some years before, given him pointers, and then not given credit in the published version.

Ord was angered by this, and suspicious of Audubon’s wild tales of his past, blackballed the painter from Academy membership, as well as convincing the city’s publishers not to print Audubon’s work.   Rejected, Audubon knew he would have to find another way.

That setback begins this biography of the famed painter and ornithologist.  It then tracks back to his origins as they are  now understood.  The name change and fib about where he was born was meant to conceal that Audubon had been born out of wedlock in what is now Haiti.  Some of the rest was to boost his social status, and the remainder was just the tall tales frontiersmen liked to tell.

This volume also serves as a biography for Alexander Wilson, and how the British immigrant weaver, poet and schoolteacher came to be one of the top experts on American birds.   It’s interesting to compare and contrast his life to Audubon’s.

After things got dicey on Haiti for the French, Audubon’s father (who was merely a commander) took him to France to live with his family.   When young Jean came of age, France was at war, and to avoid having the boy drafted, his father sent “John James” to America to manage some property there.

Audubon loved the great outdoors, especially the birds, and spent most of his time out there shooting birds and drawing pictures of them.  He had his ups and downs, moving from place to place for business with mixed results, though his rambling ways seemed not to be the major reason for poor income.  Indeed, he was doing quite well for a few years before the Panic of 1819 left Audubon and his family penniless.

Mrs. Audubon took on various jobs, mostly teaching, and their family resided with friends while Audubon buckled down to the project of creating as many bird illustrations as possible for the project he was sure would make their fortune.  Once he felt ready, Audubon headed northeast to Philadelphia, with the results we have already seen.

Audubon scrimped and saved for a ticket to Britain, where he thought he might have better luck.   As indeed he did.  First in Scotland, then in England, Audubon’s bird paintings were a sensation.  Alexander Wilson was a non-entity there, and Audubon’s outlandish ways and stories so denigrated in Pennsylvania were adored by the Brits.

The Birds of America found a printer there, as did the companion volume Ornithological Biography which not only described the birds depicted in Audubon’s pictures, but had sidebars on the author’s personal life.  Alas, these sidebars are often at least partially fictional.

Audubon began having larger mood swings while residing in Britain, perhaps foreshadowing the mental illness he would have in his twilight years.  (Constant exposure to arsenic, which was used to preserve bird specimens, probably didn’t help.)   Eventually, The Birds of America was finished, though only a few hundred complete sets were ever published, and Audubon went on to other projects.

After John James Audubon died, his widow Lucy wrote a sanitized biography of him, which most children’s biographies of the man have worked from.  Between that and his own habit of prevarication, it can be difficult to sort out what of his life is true.

The prose style of this biography is decent, and does not spend too much time on the drier side of history.  I was a bit disappointed that there is only a small selection of black and white illustrations in the center, as the whole book is about the beautiful color paintings Audubon did.  There are endnotes (good reading as the author sifts through the sources for reliability), a bibliography, and a small index.

Sensitive readers should be aware that there’s a lot of descriptions of hunting (Audubon was after all an avid hunter) and that Audubon, like many people who lived in Kentucky and points south during this time period, owned or rented slaves.  (No quotes are cited about his personal feelings on the subject of slavery.)

This book would be best appreciated by bird lovers from senior high school level on up who want to know more about America’s early ornithologists.

While you’re here, if you like birds and want to support them, please consider donating to the Audubon Society, named after the fellow we’ve just been discussing.  (Note:  I am not a member of the Audubon Society and was not asked to provide this endorsement.)

And for those of you tired of the words, here’s some pictures:


Comic Book Review: The Clandestinauts

Comic Book Review: The Clandestinauts  by Tim Sievert

The Clandestinauts are adventurers for hire in a harsh fantasy world.   Currently, they are tasked with retrieving an item in the possession of the mysterious Red Wizard.  To do so, they’ll have to penetrate his fortress lair, evade or slay his many minions and monsters, make a side trip or two to Hell, and learn the wizard’s most closely guarded secrets.  Piece of cake!  If it weren’t for one of them getting killed in the first few pages….

The Clandestinauts

This graphic novel is very much in the fantasy role-playing tradition, and my copy actually came with character sheets for the protagonists.  (I don’t know if that’s a standard feature or only for those buying directly from the artist.)  It seems to have been loosely based on a campaign the author was involved with.  It’s got dark magic, lots of gory combat, and plenty of twists.

The group is led by Chuck Ronan, a wizard who never completed his education.  Also with them are Rogon, possibly the last of the slugmen warriors; Gravel, an artificial strongman; Rutger, a warlock who traded his soul for a magical weapon; Wilhelm, an elderly knight with severe bloodlust, and Ganglion the Grim, another warlock with a much more disturbing pact.

It’s this last thing that causes quite a bit of the intraparty issues.  Ganglion has signed up for the Pact of Predation, which allows him to summon other warlocks who’ve made the same pact, and are thus immortal unless they are eaten by another warlock.   The monster he summons does eliminate their current threat, but Rutger gets in its way, and while Ganglion is able to devour the newcomer, Rutger is a goner.

Now faced with several goals, the party splits up and remain in smaller teams or solo for most of the story.  Several are faced with new revelations about themselves or tasks that apply only to them.  And a new protagonist pops up, Juniper, who has secrets of her own.

The story gives the artist plenty of opportunity to display his skill at grotesquerie; as the chapters go on, they are each done in a different colored ink rather than the standard black and white.  In addition to the aforementioned gore, there’s also full-frontal nudity of both male and female varieties.  (Usually non-sexual.)

Where the book fell down a bit for me is that I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likable.  There were clever moments, funny moments, but never enough to make me want to know what happens to the Clandestinauts in the next volume if any.

I think this book will do best with older RPG fans who remember when the hobby was disreputable, most folks had at least some homebrew in their campaigns, and hack ‘n’ slash was the preferred play mode for many with depth of characterization as a secondary goal at best.

Book Review: The World of HIstory

Book Review: The World of History edited by Courtlandt Canby & Nancy E. Gross

History is a very wide and deep subject.  It extends from the beginning of the universe (though much before written records is speculative at best) to just this last minute, and from the movements of great nations to what precisely people in Twelfth Century England had for breakfast.  There’s more of it every year!

The World of History

This volume published in 1954 is a sampler of historical writing that was considered relevant and high-quality at the time.  There are 24 pieces from already published works, and four from upcoming volumes.  It was sponsored by the Society of American Historians, though not all the writers are American.

After a brief introduction by Allan Nevins, the book begins with “Sailing to Byzantium” by Gilbert Highet.  He talks about why Byzantium was at the time a relatively less-studied subject of history, and the cycles of civilizations; perhaps America is not yet as mature for its time as Byzantium was?

Each essay has an editor’s introduction that attempts  to segue from the previous entry to the new one.  Some work very well–others are stretching it.

The final selection is “The Retreat into Isolationism” by Foster Rhea Dulles, on the topic of why America chose not to join the League of Nations.  It was as much domestic issues as the fear of foreign entanglements, and policy designed to protect a weak and struggling nation was applied to a strong nation that was increasingly projecting its power outside the borders.

There is a definite trend towards a Christian Anglo-American white male viewpoint, with little of what modern academics would call “own voices” being represented.   Thus this book might be most interesting as a time capsule of the historical writing field as it existed in the early 1950s (especially as it talked about recent events, such as Frank Gibney’s “The Japanese Way”, about post-World War Two Japanese society, which was about to undergo massive changes.)

A couple of favorite pieces:  “Dinner at Four” by Arnold Palmer (no, not that one) which looks at how the British upper crust came to be eating their meals later and later in the day. (Dinner being here what I’d call “lunch.”)  And “Charles Dickens: Social Reformer” by Edgar Johnson, which talks about just that.

“The People’s Crusade” by Steven Runciman is a dry account of exciting events, while “The Young Napoleon” by J.M. Thompson is shot through with gratuitous French, ordinary words and phrases immediately followed with their mundane translations, rather than confining it to a few bon mots.

This  book seems not to have been reprinted any time recently, so recommended to the sort of history fan who likes combing used book stores and rummage sales for one-offs and odd pieces.


Comic Book Review: Kaijumax, Season One: Terror and Respect

Comic Book Review: Kaijumax, Season One: Terror and Respect by Zander Cannon

Electrogor just wanted to feed his family.  His children were the only things in the world he cared about.  Unfortunately, what Electrogor’s children eat is gigawatts of electrical power and he got caught trying to tap one of the humans’ power cables.   There is no trial for kaiju (giant monsters) so it’s off to prison he goes!

Kaijumax, Season One: Terror and Respect

Once the kaiju were powerful, effectively rulers of the Earth who laughed at the puny humans’ attempts to fend them off.  But those days are over.  The humans have the technology to fight the monsters and imprison those that break human law in an island facility in the South Pacific referred to as “Kaijumax.”

This Oni Press miniseries by Zander Cannon combines giant monster action with prison drama.  It’s an odd combination that works about eighty percent of the time.  Mr. Cannon has mentioned that while anti-kaiju prejudice has echoes of real world bigotry, kaiju should not be read as any specific race or religious group; it’s whatever works for the story.

While Electrogor is sympathetic ala Jean Valjean, many of his fellow prisoners are on the island for good reason.  Drug dealers, murderers, organized crime types, and some who are just plain evil.  There’s a lot more of them than the ones who just made a mistake or had an accident.   (Or in the case of Whoofy, son of Ape-Whale, just related to a criminal.)

To be honest, it’s not as though most of the guards are much better.  The Warden is brutal and has little sympathy for his charges, guard Gupta is openly corrupt, and the prison doctor has compromised her ethics for a prisoner she’s emotionally attached to.   Any guard who comes in with idealism will soon find much of it crushed.

In the tradition of prison soap operas (I used to be a big fan of Australia’s Prisoner, aka Prisoner in Cell Block H) we  follow multiple characters in their own subplots.  Electrogor, the new meat, learns how the prison works and who he can and cannot trust.  Whoofy, abused by his father, meets a mysterious human boy who suggests how to get even.  Gupta wheels and deals, but may have gotten in over his head.  Mecha-Zonn, a pacifist built to destroy the monster Zonn (but who refused to destroy anyone), has family issues with his creator/father and little sister.

This volume has an explosive (literally) climax that leads into the events of the second volume.  (Watch for my review of that one!)

One of the nice things about having kaiju as the main characters is that each can be a unique design and thus easy to tell apart, making it easy to follow the story.  The humans are a bit harder to differentiate, especially as most of them in this volume are wearing uniforms.  The art is a good kind of cartoony, and doesn’t skimp on the backgrounds.

On the less good side, every so often there’s a moment that doesn’t quite nail the combination of goofy and dramatic, and that took me out of the story multiple times.

Content note:  Rape and abortion happen, as well as a lot of monster gore.  This is a “Mature Readers” title, despite the usual obscenities and ethnic slurs being substituted with other words.  As a movie, maybe a hard “R”?

Overall, I have already purchased the second volume, and recommend this to grown-up kaiju fans and prison drama fans who can accept the bizarre premise.

Book Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Book Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

On Alice Island, off the coast of Massachusetts, there is a bookstore, Island Books.  It isn’t doing so well right now.   Owner A.J. Fikry was never the most sociable of people, and he’s gotten downright surly since the death of his wife Nic.  Sales are down, the sales clerk is only not fired because it would take too much effort, and even reading is bringing no joy to Fikry’s heart.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

So when it turns out that the one publisher’s representative Fikry could tolerate has died, and rookie rep Amelia manages to poke several of his sore spots at their first meeting, the bookstore owner explodes in anger.

Sick of himself and his life, A.J. Fikry gets blackout drunk that night.  When he wakes up, he discovers evidence that someone else has been in his small apartment above the store, and the most monetarily valuable book, a rare first edition, has vanished.   Fikry had hoped to sell the book and retire from the store.

Now more or less forced to stay in business, Fikry struggles along until a few months later he returns from a stroll to discover that a foundling has been left in his store.  Two year old Maya’s mother is dead, and the father is completely unknown, so Fikry does the obvious thing and adopts her.

Raising a toddler is not something best done on one’s own, so Fikry finds himself reaching out to his community.  Kind-hearted police chief Lambiase, long-suffering sister-in-law Ismay, her writer husband Daniel Parrish (whose first book is the only one people read), Amelia and the other people of Alice Island.   Life will never be the same again.  But there are a few more curveballs ahead!

This is a book for book clubs.  Each chapter begins with A.J. Fikry recommending a short story to Maya that is somehow thematically relevant to the chapter.  There are loads and loads of references to literary works of many kinds (and naturally Fikry has very strong opinions about them.)  (A website is listed which explains all the references.)  A love of books bonds the characters.  There’s even (in the edition I read) a set of discussion questions in the back just for book clubs.

There are many clever bits; just about every interaction with Lambiase is a winner.  I had fun spotting all the literary references.  (While Silas Marner is namedropped, none of the characters seem to notice how similar that book’s adoption plotline is to this story.)  I also appreciated the bit which suggests that a story doesn’t have to be factual to have truth in it.

Fikry has an “invisible disability”, seizures that disqualify him from driving, which comes up a few times and then becomes a major plot point towards the end.  Both Fikry and Maya are mixed-race, and ethnic prejudice comes up a couple of times.

Content note: suicide.

The book is unabashedly sentimental, and digs deep into tearjerker territory by the end, while the mystery subplot just sort of fizzles in favor of a “fated outcome.”  Some sections border on twee.  If you’re not the sort of person who likes having heavy-handed manipulation of your emotions, this is not the best book for you.

Recommended primarily to book clubs, because boy howdy is this a book club book.


Comic Book Review: Over the Wall

Comic Book Review: Over the Wall  by Peter Wartman

The girl shouldn’t be here.  Only boys come to the walled city, and only for their coming of age ceremony.  The city has nothing in it but demons who eat names, and bones.

Over the Wall

But the girl’s brother did not return from the ceremony.  Perhaps he got lost, perhaps he has lost his memory?  Surely he is not already dead!  The girl is determined to find out, and if he’s not dead, to bring her brother home.  She’s already partially forgotten him.  If only she had an ally, like perhaps a non-evil demon?  Is there such a thing?

This young adult fantasy graphic novel has an interesting three-color palette, black, white and purple.  This gives it a unique look.  I like the architecture of the walled city and the bas-relief artwork for history lessons.

Also good is the moment our heroine learns that the history she knows is not complete–the demons have their own story of what happened in the city.

That said, the plot is a very terse one, and much is left unsaid outside the one night’s adventure.  Which is why there’s a sequel, Stonebreakers.

Recommended to fans of young fantasy heroines.

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