Book Review: Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman, Divya Srinivasan

A talking tiger is the only one who may be able to get a princess to speak in this beautiful picture book set in a mythic India by Newbery Medal-winning and New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman, illustrated in bold colors by Divya Srinivasan.

Previously available only as an audio book, Cinnamon has never been published in print before, and Divya Srinivasan’s lush artwork brings Neil Gaiman’s text to life.

This stunning picture book will transport readers to another time and place and will delight parents and children alike.

Picked up in Foyles, Grand Central, Birmingham.

I didnt know this was coming out until I saw it displayed prominantly as I came in – I know that at least one member of staff is a Gaiman fan like me, so I wasnt surprised it was out, front and centre.

The text for this was originally released in 1995, according to the copyright, but I understand this is the first time it’s been released in print. This is, in effect, a children’s picture book, much lighter in text and visual than the author’s The Sleeper and the Spindle (for instance). Therefore this is little character development (though the Rani’s aunt is annoying in only a few lines).

However, this is really a vehicle for  Srinivasan to perform some illustration. It’s laid out in what I take to be (near to) traditional Indian style, with large scale landscapes in fairly 2D format. Cinnamon is a blind princess who hasnt talked in her life – her parents offer incentives for the person who can teach her to speak – only for that “person” to be a tiger, which is the first one to be successful. Naturally, the parents are not pleased, especially when they find out what the tiger really wants in compensation…….

Doctor Strange Vol. 2: The Last Days of Magic by Jason Aaron, Chris Bachalo

dr-strange

They’ve crossed the dimensions, purging each of all sorcery. Now the Empirikul are here. And with Earth’s Master of the Mystic Arts weakened beyond measure, is there any chance of stopping them? The Sorcerer is no longer Supreme, and he’ll find himself at the mercy of the Imperator! With his magic destroyed and his world on the brink of disaster, are there any more tricks left up Strange’s sleeves? Or failing that, how about some cool weapons? Plus: As the Empirikul wreak havoc on magic users across the Marvel Universe, discover Wong’s ultimate sacrifice, watch Brother Voodoo make a stand, and meet a new player just as she’s about to lose the game!

I’ve not read Dr Strange before and I picked this book up around the time the film came out in the hope of brushing up on some of the source material.

It took me several attempts to get into the story and it was only later that I realised the probable reason for this – when I brought it, I didn’t realise this was the second half of a story arc, and I haven’t read the first novel.  The Empirikul, having decimated other realities, have come to this world, and are decimating their way through the magical forces in the world. It is up to Strange and the other magicians to band together to prevent the loss of everything, sometimes making total sacrifices to achieve the end.

It’s taken me a while to write this review – I dont know the creators and I dont know the characters at all, so I dont know how well or badly those involved are performing, but judging by the other reviews around the place…..this is a poor second book, especially in relation to what is generally considered to be an excellent first book. Judging by the fact it took me so many attempts to get started, and it still took me ages to review, I generally agree with what else has been written about it.

So in summary: I have more than enough Graphic Novels on my TBR list that I need to read so I will not be in a rush to buy any more Doctor Strange stories.

 

Book Review: Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir by Stan Lee, Peter David, Colleen Doran (Illustrator)

amazing fantastic incredibleIn this gorgeously illustrated, full-color graphic memoir, Stan Lee—comic book legend and cocreator of Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, the Incredible Hulk, and a legion of other Marvel superheroes—shares his iconic legacy and the story of how modern comics came to be.

Stan Lee is a man who needs no introduction. The most legendary name in the history of comic books, he has been the leading creative force behind Marvel Comics, and has brought to life—and into the mainstream—some of the world’s best-known heroes and most infamous villains throughout his career. His stories—filled with superheroes struggling with personal hang-ups and bad guys who possessed previously unseen psychological complexity—added wit and subtlety to a field previously locked into flat portrayals of good vs. evil. Lee put the human in superhuman and in doing so, created a new mythology for the twentieth century.

In this beautifully illustrated graphic memoir—illustrated by celebrated artist Colleen Doran—Lee tells the story of his life with the same inimitable wit, energy, and offbeat spirit that he brought to the world of comics. Moving from his impoverished childhood in Manhattan to his early days writing comics, through his military training films during World War II and the rise of the Marvel empire in the 1960s to the current resurgence in movies, Amazing Fantastic Incredible documents the life of a man and the legacy of an industry and career.

This funny, moving, and incredibly honest memoir is a must-have for collectors and fans of comic books and graphic novels of every age.

Christmas 2015 gift from my boss. Cue “Do you know who he is?” “Something to do with Marvel ain’t he?” “Something….?” Sputters. Sometimes I think she does it to wind me up, other times….

Anyway, Stan Lee turned 93 in 2015, and with the 75th Anniversary of Marvel comics, it was apparently time to produce his backstory in comic book format.   Due to the time span and the size of the book (a multi-volume, 1000+ page tome this ain’t), this doesn’t go into too much depth as to any event, and some are handled lightly if not at all.  Lee’s mother’s death is handled in a single frame, his father’s death not at all. Steve Ditka leaving Marvel and Spiderman gets a page, the legal troubles over the movie licencing gets 5.

Lee says he doesn’t know why Ditka, Kirby et al left Marvel (or incarnations thereof) and whilst I didnt necessarily believe him (is he really that self-absorbed that he knew nothing?) it’s easy to see this book for what it is and gloss over the negatives/omissions.

It’s a lighthearted and amusing tale of a man who has seen much in his 90+ years, knows that he’s probably been used along the way by various people (including Governments, Hollywood, Presidents etc), but who remains upbeat, positive, and is intent on getting as much out of life as possible, even when things are potentially bad (e.g. the death of his second dughter at 3 days old is mentioned so that he can recognise that it happened, but he’s not prepared to dwell on it).   As a man in his 80s, to start getting a new wind in cameos in practically ALL the Marvel movies and TV programs seems to be a delight to him – hopefully the link below will give you an indication as to what he’s done…

 

 

The story never gets too “heavy”, Colleen Doran—Lee manages to impart enough of the “Stan Lee” bravado/self -esteem so that the reader never has to worry about “Jeeze, not again” for Lee’s positivity to be too wearing.

In the end, the book is only as good as the source material. I know it’s flawed, but it’s a happy read and you come away feeling that anything can happen!

Book Review: Fantastic Four: The End by Alan Davis

fantastic four the endAlan Davis writes and pencils the final story of Marvel’s first family Even the strongest family can be torn apart by tragedy – and in the futuristic world of tomorrow, the members of the once-Fantastic Four are divided and vulnerable to opponents from their past. What events could have caused the FF to go their separate ways, and how does their disbanding set the stage for a conflict that will send shockwaves across the galaxy and beyond? Collects Fantastic Four: The End #1-6.

20 years after the death of Reed and Sue’s children in a FF Fight, we find that the Fantastic Four have split up. Johnny and Ben have moved on, building new lives  – Ben has three children with Alicia Masters and lives on Mars, while Johnny has become the leader of the Avengers. Reed and Sue are not longer talking to each other and both are losing themselves in work.

The plot is fairly forgettable – aliens attacking from outside and within. All the classic villains are there, such as  Annihilus, and the long defeated Doctor Doom: Galactus shows up for the finale and it all seems to be driven by the Kree and the Skree, with the Watchers managing to meddle somehow.

Whilst doing some deep water archaeology, Sue meets Namor, and finds a long abandoned Kree site, including a Kree Orb. In the end, during a massive battle, a (still grief stricken) Sue persuades the FF to go back in time to rescue her children at the point of their deaths, using the Kree orb.

Whilst the overall Marvel series is classed as “The End” the FF part is as much about beginnings as endings. It is a “cast of thousands” story, that means it ends up as a bit of a mess and it’s not really clear to know where the threat is really coming from.

#ArmchairBEA: Visual Expressions

Design by Amber of Shelf Notes
Design by Amber of Shelf Notes

Visual Expressions
There are so many ways to tell stories. Whether it’s comic books, graphic novels, visual novels, webcomics, etc, there are quite a lot of other mediums to tell a story. On this day, we will be talking about those books and formats that move beyond just words and use other ways to experience a story.

I live in the same city in the UK that I lived in in the late 1980s when I went to Uni. It was the 1980s and Uni that lead me into reading and buying comics – I’m not sure that the phrase “Graphic Novel” was heavily in use then. When I moved to Ireland in the mid 1990s, I unfortunately made the decision to get rid of my comics – of which I had a decent collection at that time. I moved back here in 2006 and have been collecting comics/Graphic Novels ever since.   The same shop (and some of the same staff!) is there from the 1980s.   There’s a great community around it, with fund raising, drinking down the pub, and even out of hours tweeting by and between staff.

I have several nieces and nephews and I have already converted at least one to enjoying reading Comics – including the English classics of “The Beano” and “The Dandy”. He has recently started reading some of the “Asterix” books too.

In terms of what I’m reading right now: Lots of Marvel and DC comics, so Captain America, Avengers, Spiderman, Wonderwoman etc. I am also trying to branch out into other houses and writers – the good thing about this year’s Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) which was on Saturday May 2nd, is that it seems that the comic book houses have twigged it’s a great opportunity to get new readers to view new stories, characters or lines. I managed to pick up several comics on the day and there are already new lines I have an eye on.

As with many industries, especially the general entertainment one, there has been some progression in terms of gender and sexual equality within the comic book world but plenty more still to do. Whilst on one hand there’s Orson Scott Card, on the other there’s Gail Simone.

 

Book Review: Saga (Volume #1) by Brian K. Vaughan (Writer), Fiona Staples (Artist)

saga graphic novelStar Wars-style action collides with Game of Thrones-esque drama in this original sci-fi/fantasy epic for mature readers, as new parents Marko and Alana risk everything to raise their child amidst a never-ending galactic war.

This has been on my shelves for a while, as have Volumes 2 and 3….

It starts with Alana (from the planet Landfall) giving birth to her daughter conceived with Marko (he from the moon Wreath) – they are from two opposing sides on a long running war, that noone really knows why the war is still going on. Both are soldiers, though Marko is really a vegetarian pacifist, who has a good line in healing powers.

They have to go onto the move almost immediately as they are being chased by their enemies, including Prince IV (a humanoid with TV for a head); The Stalk and The Will, the latter two being mercenaries who have been hired to track the two of them down. Alana and Marko are to be killed but their child (now being called Hazel) is to be brought in alive.

Alana, Marko and Hazel are guided to an escape point by Izabel, a ghost – a young girl who is presented as being cut off at the waist, her entrails hanging neatly below her torso.

This is the beginning of the story (there are another three volumes, with more likely) so there are plenty of threads being kicked off and none of them really being resolved. The story is narrated by Hazel whose voice is portrayed as writing in the cell, foreshadowing what’s coming.

The artwork is thankfully away from that of the main houses, which allows for a more individualistic look, and where you rarely remember the wings or the horns of the two main characters. It has all the makings of a decent space opera and I can see why this, and subsequent volumes, are award winning. Certainly a set of books to keep an eye on.

Book Review: The Torch by Mike Carey, Alex Ross, Patrick Berkenkoter

thetorchThe Torch is dead – buried with full military honors. But what does death mean for an artificial man? The Mad Thinker is determined to find out, with the reluctant help of the Torch’s best and oldest friend – Tom ‘Toro’ Raymond.

Picked up in my local comic book store as a retelling of one of the original superheroes. Jimmy Storm from the Fantastic Four (the Human Torch that people are more familiar with) named himself after this character who is an android with the ability to set himself on fire. He’s been resurrected by The Mad Thinker, who is trying to dominate the world – naturally – and his best friend Tom has been resurrected along side him.

Both have to confront the modern world, whilst confronting The Torch’s demise (The Mad Thinker is destroying his cell structure) and deal with the grand children of the original Nazis who have set up a New Berlin in South America stocked with androids.

It’s not the most deep or complex of stories – the Mad Thinker and his associates seem to be able to double cross each other with regularity and ease, and the Torch’s struggles with human thinking and emotion makes him like Data/Spock but much less engaging.

The graphics are good, Toro looks remarkably like Clark Kent, and situations have to be resolved by using brains as well as brawn.  The contacts with the Resistance seem to accept remaining in New Berlin rather easily but…..mid level story for a lazy afternoon read