REVIEW: Freiheit! (2021)

A graphic novel by Andrea Grosso Ciponte

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

There’s a tendency, in World War II scholarship, to almost entirely concentrate on Hitler and the battles of the war, keeping some of the more human aspects of the war in the background. Even the Holocaust is usually spoken about in vague terms if its not explicit something like a diary or journal of one the victims. Something I knew almost nothing about, prior to this book, were internal German resistance groups. I knew they absolutely had to be a thing, but seeing as they did not overthrow Hitler on their own, it’s usually relegated to a footnote in many books. The White Rose was one such group, and this graphic novel tells their tragic story.

With an entire nation blindly following an evil leader, where did a handful of students find the courage to resist? The university students who formed the White Rose, an undercover resistance movement in Nazi Germany, knew that doing so could cost them their lives. But some things are worth dying for. The White Rose printed and distributed leaflets to expose Nazi atrocities and wake up their fellow citizens. The Gestapo caught and executed them. Sophie Scholl was twenty-one; her brother Hans, twenty-four; Christoph Probst, twenty-three; Alexander Schmorell and Willi Graf, twenty-five. But the White Rose was not silenced. Their heroism continues to inspire new generations of resisters. Now, for the first time, this story that has been celebrated in print and film can be experienced as a graphic novel. Italian artist Andrea Grosso Ciponte’s haunting imagery will resonate with today’s students and activists. The challenges they face may vary, but the need for young people to stand up against evil, whatever the cost, will remain.

Description

The story in Freiheit! is told largely from the point of view of Sophie Scholl, who has become disillusioned with the government of Germany due to their strong-arm policies and mistreatment of Jews. Prior to the events of the book, her brothers were arrested by the Gestapo, setting in motion their membership into an underground resistance movement of intellectuals that produced subversive pamphlets calling the Nazi leadership into question. One nice touch, is that translations of these documents are included in the book.

The art style and overall composition by Andrea Grosso Ciponte was very moving and vibrant despite the book’s muted color palette. Each panel, even the most subdued, is treated like a scene in a film – interesting transitions, camera angles, and blocking are all well-done. It gives this book a VERY cinematic feel.

I enjoyed this a lot, and plan to look at some other books by the same publisher pretty soon. The book has served it’s purpose of making me interested in The White Rose, and I may also look into a book about the Scholl siblings at some point. Having historical documents in the back of the book was a great touch, and immediately elevates this to the status of being a teaching tool. I once took a class in college about The Holocaust, and I honestly really wish this was out at that time. This would have been a great story to share with my class. Solid book, definitely recommended.

REVIEW: Snow Angels (2021)

A short story by Jeff Lemire

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Life in the Trench is harsh but simple—until a young girl braves an unknown path in a bracing coming-of-age short story by the New York Times bestselling author of Sweet Tooth and the Gideon Falls comics. Born into a small, sheltered community on a hostile ice planet, Milliken was raised to believe that the Trench provides for those who huddle beneath its massive walls—and that those walls stretch to infinity. But venturing into the wilds beyond the village is a rite of passage she’s longed for. To push into utterly forbidden territory is to make a discovery that will forever change how Milliken sees her home, her family, and her future.

Description

What a fitting thing to read as I sit in my house with unseasonably cold -25 degree weather outside. Cold air creeping into every crevasse of my home, and an air that stings my face when I have to do mundane things like checking the mail. What better thing could I do than curl up in a blanket and read some interesting stuff on my kindle. I was drawn to Snow Angels, as I am a big fan of his comic-related works. I did not realize he sometimes wrote books, so this was a pleasant surprise.

Amazon appears to be sweetening the deal for those that use Amazon Prime, by offering a series of short stories exclusively for members. I am not 100% sure how new promotion is, as this was the first I’ve heard of it, but they have some pretty big names on-board.

I quite enjoyed this story, and hope it goes past being just a short story. As it stands (20 pages or so) this looks like the first few chapters of a larger book, and I was like “nooooo!” at the end when I realized it was over. Perhaps, Lemire can bring this to the comics world as well? There isn’t much I can say about this story without spoiling it, but I will say that the best part was trying to figure out what was going on. Is this a fantasy story, prehistoric, or even post-apocalyptic? You get a hint at the end, but it simply makes you want to know more. If you have yet to check out Amazon Original Stories, this is a fitting first look. I loved it!

REVIEW: Haru’s Curse (2021)

A Manga by Asuka Konishi

Cover

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Natsumi’s little sister Haru was her whole world—and now she’s gone. After the funeral, Natsumi reluctantly agrees to date her sister’s fiancé Togo. But as their relationship develops with the passing seasons, Haru’s memory lingers over them like a curse. Asuka Konishi’s English-language debut is a nuanced and affecting portrait of the conflict between romantic and familial love, and of the hard choices that face us all in making our lives our own.

Description

I usually stay clear of romance manga because its generally childish, basically pornography for men, or entirely comprised of slapstick comedy, usually taking place in high school, and is so far distanced from my life that its like me watching Disney Channel sitcoms meant for children. I gravitated towards reading Haru’s Curse for two reasons: I love atypical art styles in anime/manga, and the description sounded mature and somewhat thrilling for a romance manga.

The art style thing comes from my distaste of how most anime has looked for the last decade or so, I’ll likely upset people here, but I feel most of the Moe Manga boom from 2008 onwards looks the same and tells the same stories, and this style has infiltrated just about every non-shonen property. The tall, angular art style in Haru’s Curse reminds me of CLAMP or its derivatives upwards of 20 years ago. I love it when manga artists are willing to move away from the stylistic norm, even if it’s a throw-back of sorts. Usually, to me, its a sign of quality. and it definitely was.

Internal page

Storyline-wise, the way Asuka Konishi writes is refreshing. Most romance manga follow the tried-and-true cliched plot of 1) girl lusts over dreamy and brooding guy 2)he has mysterious past 3) they go headlong into love 4) some obstruction gets in the way 4) they work through it and are together, or in some cases the main characters die etc. It gets tiresome and seems too formulaic. This story is somewhat flipped on its head as it jumps point of view a few times, even telling the story from the male protagonist’s POV a few times. The couple in question only start “dating” as some sort of mourning for Natsumi’s younger sister Haru, who has died of cancer. Once they meet a requirement of her proposal, that Togo takes her to all the places that he enjoyed with Haru, their relationship abruptly ends. Or at least, that’s what they think. I don’t plan to spoil everything, don’t worry!

All of the main characters are written as real people, none are “Mary-Sue” perfect people, and each has flaws. Seeing the story from all points of view was great, and gave depth to everyone. This comic deals with issues like arranged marriages, familiar pressure, and even Japanese societal norms that really leaves you on the edge of your seat like any good drama would. I don’t normally say this about this genre, but I think this has been my favorite manga of the year so far, and I will try to find a way to read the author’s previous work, Raise wa Tanin ga Ii (something like: I’d Prefer It If We’re Strangers in Our Next Life).

REVIEW: Northern Ireland: The Troubles: From The Provos to The Det, 1968–1998

A book by Kenneth Lesley-Dixon

Cover

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Being a member of the Irish Diaspora, I try to occasionally learn something about my ancestral homeland’s history when I can. We’re talking usually ancient history, so I felt that I was severely lacking in my knowledge of more recent events. Its no secret that American schools usually don’t go over details about world events of recent memory, and corporate news largely ignores anything that is not politics anymore. So unless I decide that Cranberries and U2 song lyrics will be my only window into “The Troubles”, I figured a book would be in order! That’s why I was excited for my opportunity to read Northern Ireland: The Troubles: From The Provos to The Det, 1968–1998. This appears to be the newest book in a series called History of Terror including books on Islamic State and Zulu Guerilla attacks.

It is, of course, no secret that undercover Special Forces and intelligence agencies operated in Northern Ireland and the Republic throughout the ‘troubles’, from 1969 to 2001 and beyond. What is less well known is how these units were recruited, how they operated, what their mandate was and what they actually did. This is the first account to reveal much of this hitherto unpublished information, providing a truly unique record of surveillance, reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, collusion and undercover combat. An astonishing number of agencies were active to combat the IRA murder squads (‘the Provos’), among others the Military Reaction Force (MRF) and the Special Reconnaissance Unit, also known as the 14 Field Security and Intelligence Company (‘The Det’), as well as MI5, Special Branch, the RUC, the UDR and the Force Research Unit (FRU), later the Joint Support Group (JSG)). It deals with still contentious and challenging issues as shoot-to-kill, murder squads, the Disappeared, and collusion with loyalists. It examines the findings of the Stevens, Cassel and De Silva reports and looks at operations Loughgall, Andersonstown, Gibraltar and others.

Book description.

I will confess, my knowledge of “The Troubles”, prior to this book, boiled down to my assumption that the whole thing was a guerilla war between the IRA and the UK military, not realizing there were dozens of various paramilitary groups acting in their own self-interests, some nationalist, some loyalist, others seemingly agents of chaos, ever splintering into more groups and in-fighting the entire time. trying to sift through all of the allegiances, and goals for these various groups was hard, but I feel like I learned a lot more from it.

I will say that, perhaps, one flaw of the book is that it dumps a ton of information on you all at once assuming you have a passing knowledge of the topic – Since I was remedial at best, a lot of the beginning of the book just washed over me. I understand that I, an American far distanced from The Troubles, isn’t likely the author’s target audience, but maybe a more “training wheels” introduction would be in order if a second edition were to ever be made. Once the book took a step away from statistics and went more into a narrative history of the events, I was sold on it. Later sections went over prominent players in each “side” of the conflict, their origins, goals, and what sort of terror they caused. The information is in depth, and conveys the terror that everyone had to deal with for so long.

“Republicans and Nationalists were matched in their paramilitary activity during the troubles by loyalists intent on championing Unionism, protecting Protestant communities, and ruthlessly retaliating against Republican violence.”

Book quote

Most-jarring for me, but honestly not a big surprise, was the revelation that the British Military had a hand in basically supporting some of the loyalist murder squads. I mean, sure, everyone could assume that the old saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, but it goes a bit far when that “friend” is killing civilians. This was revealed via documents that were recently de-classified that the author discussed in the book.

Care is made, by the author, to not take a side for the most part, any of the various paramilitary “murder squads” are all painted as ruthless and somewhat evil in their doings. I appreciated this, as most books on terrorism, and counter-insurgency that I’ve read are very one-sided and downplay the reasons behind the behavior. I wasn’t expecting a pro-Britain book or anything, but the honesty was refreshing.

I enjoyed this book a lot, It’s very dense with information and covers a lot of ground. I think its written a bit too much like a government analytical report meant to debrief a law enforcement agent or something, but it wasn’t hard to read or anything – its just VERY heavily with numbers and statistics. Having any prior knowledge of the events is also a plus. This is definitely a series that I plan to check out more of, I feel like I learned quite a bit.

Cells at Work! Baby 1 (2021)

A graphic novel by Yasuhiro Fukuda

Cells at work! is one of those little surprises I found last year when I was still subscribed to Kindle Unlimited. While seemingly every new manga coming out is some sort of isekai story – the plot of Cells At Work! was rather refreshing despite its simplicity. The main series told the story of the relationship between a lowly red-blood cell and her budding relationship with a heroic white blood cell while they go about their lives trying to keep their home healthy. The way biological functions were realized on an anthropomorphized scale was cool, and vaguely educational. I later found some of the spin-off works such as Code Black (which was gender swapped and dealt with a destructive person heavily drinking and such), and enjoyed them as well. This is the first time I’ve heard of this detour from the main story- and I’m pretty excited as we now have cells living inside a baby:

BEING A BABY IS HARD WORK! Join these cute baby cells as they work hard within their tiny body! A mini-Red Blood Cell picks up oxygen from the helpful ladies at the Placenta, and meets a White Blood Cell for the first time, in this adorable spinoff of Cells at Work! But when tremors begin to shake their world, they’ll need to consult the Gene Library to find out what’s going on! Could this be…a contraction? And might their body soon have to…fend for itself?!

Official description

This book still tells the story of a Red Blood Cell, however rather than seeing her task of delivering oxygen throughout the body as some sort of delivery job ala the Post Office, this book starts out in a pre-school setting sort sorts with all of the Red Blood Cells first learning how to deliver it then transitions to the setting we’re all used to. The story takes us from forty weeks into the pregnancy, to the birth, and finally into some situations a baby might have in their small life such as removal of the umbilical cord, eating for the first time, and the lungs being filled with fluid etc. This all leads up to a viral attack, and the introduction of fan favorites – The White Blood Cells, this time in chibi form. We see this through the relationship between Red Blood Cell and her big brother that watches over her, and keeps her out of trouble (or at least he tries).

Interior art

I will give this book props for not just being a total rehash of previous books with chibi characters, or a book with wall-to-wall jokes. I’m thinking of the Attack On Titan spinoff set in a school, and how awful it was. This stands on its own, and honestly is paced largely the same as the other books, it just has a different setting an somewhat different characters.

I enjoyed this book a lot, and it is a great volume in the ever-growing Cells at Work! saga. Honestly, I think the only thing left for them to do would be a animal version of it, or something about viruses (they did bacteria already I suppose). We’ll see where it goes I guess. If you like Cells at Work! you will enjoy this, if are not familiar with what this is all about, it stands on its own for the most part and could be read without prior knowledge of the other books. Definitely, a recommendation.

REVIEW: Manga Classics – Romeo and Juliet (2018, 2020)

An adaptation of the 1597 Classic by Stacy King, Crystal S. Chan, and Julien Choy

Romeo and Juliet: Manga Classics

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

This is the second book by Manga Classics that the gracious folks over at that company were nice enough to let me peruse, with the first Being The Count of Monte Cristo. I won’t bore everyone re-treading the same pre-amble as with that review, but I will summarize that I very much enjoyed that edition, and love the idea behind the whole initiative – an attempt to get kids and younger adults to get into classic literature without throwing huge 800 page tomes their way. I felt the respect for the source material was, perhaps, one of the best things about that book – as it avoided the many pitfalls others have fallen into making “manga versions” of things when they were not, in fact, a part of the Japanese manga (comic book) scene.

Romeo and Juliet is the classic tragedy of western literature. Created by William Shakespeare, it is tale of two very young lovers from Verona, Italy who defy the wishes of their feuding families, get married then, and tragically, end their own lives in the name of love. It is their deaths that ultimately help the rival families of the Capulet’s and Montague’s find reconciliation. Manga
Classics brings an incredible new reading experience with this adaptation of Shakespeare’s most popular and frequently performed plays: Romeo and Juliet.

Manga Classics product page
Romeo and Juliet | Ch01 Pg04

Going into this book, I was somewhat worried, as the Count of Monte Cristo is largely available in Modern English readily, whereas any adaptation of a Shakespeare play has a choice – keep the archaic, yet poetic language of the original play, or adapt it into modern language and perhaps lose some of the wordplay and witty dialogue. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the dialogue was largely left intact from the source material, albeit cleaned up a tad. While this could make it hard to read for some folks, this would make it a great source to help one’s understanding of the language in the actual book – I recall occasionally using a supplementary Cliff notes book in high school whenever doing a Shakespearean assignment (I was big on British Lit back then) – honestly this would have been way better.

The art style is clean, well done, and consistent with many shoujo comics of the near past without losing itself to modern clichés. I personally love the manga style from the middle to late 90’s, so I especially liked this one. I will say that, of the two, I preferred the Count of Monte Cristo a bit more, but that could be that I’ve read Romeo and Juliet so many times that it does not hold the same “oomph” as it once dead, whereas I’ve never fully read The Count. All-in-all, still a solid read and a great addition to anyone’s manga or classical literature library. As I said in my previous review – Schools and libraries should really look into getting a ton of these, you’d probably be surprised how popular they’d be.

REVIEW: Tankies (2021)

A graphic novel by Garth Ennis, Carlos Ezquerra, Hector Ezquerra, Tony Avina and Simon Bowland.

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I’ve been a fan of Garth Ennis for a while, and while I definitely enjoy his classics such as Preacher or The Boys, I have grown very fond of his lesser-known military-themed books ever since I did a promotion a while back and inquired a whole slew of Battlefields books. When I saw that this volume was available, I jumped at the chance to check it out. I think the one thing I appreciate the most about these books is that, while definitely casting The Allies as heroes in most books, he doesn’t pull punches. Bad things happen in war, and its important to show that – for far too long we’ve been fed a steady stream of overly-patriotic Captain America vs Hitler stories, completely undermining the fact that war is horror-incarnate. Ennis excels at showing the human side of war, and the toll it takes.

After D-Day the largely untried Allied armies meet their seasoned German counterparts on the killing grounds ofBocage country. As Panzers and SS units turn the French hedgerows into a slaughterhouse, a lone British tank crew struggles to rejoin their squadron. Their only hope lies in their commander, Corporal Stiles—but does even this wily old trooper stand a chance against the infamous Tiger? Newly promoted but just as angry, Sergeant Stiles enters the battle for Germany in command of a Sherman Firefly—capable of taking out any tank thus far encountered. Unfortunately, the enemy have a new tank of their own, the mighty “King Tiger,” with twice the firepower of the original. As Stiles and his men join the Allied advance into the Nazi homeland, they find worse horrors than Tigers lurking in the German twilight.

Book description

This volume is comprised of nine comics, grouped into three separate story-arcs in the life of Sergeant Stiles, a tough as nails tank commander from Newcastle that has seen it all in the world of mechanized combat and is one of the few who has lived to tell the tale. Usually lamenting on the poor state of British tank engineering in the face of ever increasing mechanical brutality from Germany, Stiles is well respected despite his Geordie accent being a focal point of mocking. One little tidbit I enjoyed was that we learn Stiles is Pagan when they were forced to shell a German church, makes me like him even more.

The third section takes place during the Korean War, which I am glad to see. My Grandfather served in that war, and I always think it gets largely ignored by just about everyone, so seeing it here was awesome. It was crazy to see the shift in battlefield tactics. German tank commanders in parts one and two almost seem aristocratic and machine-like vs the relentless hordes of Chinese soldiers they come across in Korea. Men climbing on the tanks, trying to drop bombs in the engines, doing suicidal attacks. Sheer insanity I can imagine.

Carlos Ezquerra (1947–2018) was the artist for this series, and I have seen him do the pencils for much of Ennis’s war books – he’s great at the technical side of historical aircrafts, tanks, guns etc, as well as depicting humans and the actions of war. When I saw that the book was dedicated to him, I was sad as he was always a n artist I looked forward to seeing in this genre. Best known as one of the original creators of Judge Dredd, Ezquerra will be VERY missed.

This was a great book, and any fan of war comics, history, or honestly anyone into comics at all should check out. Stiles is a great character, and I’d love to see him pop up again, although I’d imagine this will be all as it ends in a decent spot. I loved the afterward, which is a lengthy essay detailing where some of the ideas for the book came from, you can tell Ennis is interested in teaching history here, and as a history buff, I loved it.

REVIEW: Lia, Human of Utah (2021)

A boon by Greg Ramsay

Cover

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Not going to lie, I requested this entirely because the cover was cool, and made it look like it was part of a sci-fi genre that I enjoy quite a bit – the ones where people become bio-weapons and usually fight other bio-weapons. things like The Guyver, Karras: The Prophecy, or Aposimz, even Ultraman is somewhat in that broad description. Luckily for me, that is exactly what this is – the story of a woman that unwittingly gains immense power with the drawback that she now lives a symbiotic relationship with a seemingly psychopathic intelligent suit of armor. Think Venom meets 28 Days Later, and you basically have Lia, Human of Utah.

In the year 2342, Lia wakes up to a nightmarish world where the remnants of mankind have mutated into ravaging monsters. Alone and hunted, she struggles to remember who she is and what happened to civilization. She cannot run forever. But when she turns on her hunters, the mutation takes her over violently. Now she must fight to maintain her humanity and uncover the terrible truth behind the apocalyptic infection—before the beast within her takes over and seals her fate forever. Who is she? What is she? The fate of Earth and more hinges on the answers. And even all her courage may not be enough when the moment of truth arrives.

Book description

Lia, Human of Utah is an entertaining novella that keeps you reading. Its a quick read, just over 100 pages, but it does what it needs to do and doesn’t overstay its welcome. For this being one of the authors first books (as far as I can tell), it’s pretty good. Its occasionally a bit stilted in the dialogue department, but the meat and potatoes of the book are vivid descriptions of gruesome fight scenes – these are realized very well. Ramsay is also good at giving descriptions of body horror and building tension as seen in the initial, more horror-filled section of the book.

I would absolutely love to see this turned into some sort of a graphic novel or video game at some point. The plot, characters and overall themes of the book would suit that medium very well. I do think, however, that Lia’s motivations become a bit clouded later in the book and it became a bit harder to relate to the character at that point. To be honest, I was not a huge fan of the ending either, but I can see what the author was doing with the story.

REVIEW: Titanic: ‘Iceberg Ahead’ The Story of the Disaster By Some of those Who Were There (2001)

A book by by James W Bancroft

Book Cover

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

It’s been a long while since I read a book on the Titanic, as aside from a ton of whackadoo conspiracy stuff I was always of the mind that everything that could have been said had been said. Perhaps ignoring looking more into the material was a mistake because I quite enjoyed reading this book. I’m not surprised as I absolutely loved being able to visit a local museum exhibition around a decade or so ago that used props from the James Cameron film show what the ship was like, seeing that full-sized replicas were built (I believe the full museum is in Branson, Missouri now, this was a traveling thing). The reason I enjoyed it were the person stories, and the points of view from the handful of survivors.

That’s basically what this book is, it tells the story of the sinking of the Titanic, from early bad omens all the way up to the aftermath, but its sold through personal correspondence and accounts of the very people that were on the ship, organized in a linear way so that every bit of the trip is explained. Its an interesting way to piece a book like this together, and I appreciate the author doing it this way vs telling us the accepted “this is what happened” version of the story. It was particularly heartbreaking to read letters basically saying “The boats 100% unsinkable, I’ve never felt more safe in my life!” mailed from the last port before the boat went towards its water grave in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

I particularly enjoyed a section about a man who was apparently so drunk that he somehow survived the sinking by wandering out onto the ship as it was listing to the side and swam around until the Carpathia showed up. In actuality it was less ridiculous as he hung halfway onto a lifeboat, held by a friend, but the descriptions make it sound like Mr. Magoo obliviously avoiding certain doom. I also enjoyed the descriptions of the conspiracies that yellow newspapers started printing after the disaster – like ones involving Captain Smith sightings. to me, this shows that nothing ever changes and gullible people are eternal.

The book is a fairly quick read and is split into two halves. Part one is the chronology of the entire disaster, and the second half are short biographies of the people involved alive or dead. Throughout the “main” bit of the book names sometimes have asterisks next to them, meaning that the author has included historical information to look at. There are also photographs and references in the back. All-in-all its well researched and well put together.

My only gripe with this book is that information is sometimes duplicated when jumping between accounts, its somewhat jarring when it happens and made me think that I was tired and reading the same line multiple times. Its a small gripe, and I understand why it happened, but I wonder if that could have been addressed.

While I’m not going to jump headlong into Titanic Mania like some did a while back (The anniversary especially) I think I have a new appreciation or understanding for what these unfortunate folks went through. It makes me want to go and see that big museum down in Branson one of these days, just to see what else I can learn.

REVIEW: Teddy (2021)

A Graphic Novel by Laurence Luckinbill; Adapted by Eryck Tait

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

July 1918. Preparing to speak to an eager audience, 61-year-old Teddy Roosevelt receives the telegram that all parents of children who serve in war fear most: His son Quentin’s plane has been shot down in a dogfight over France. His fate is unknown. Despite rising fear for his youngest son, Teddy takes the stage to speak to his beloved fellow citizens. It is, he says, “my simple duty.” But the speech evolves from politics and the war, into an examination of his life, the choices he’s made, and the costs of his “Warrior Philosophy.”

Official description

Teddy Roosevelt is one of those Presidents that comes to mind when one thinks about the great orators that we have had in the past in that very office. I won’t get too political here, but recent events in the political world make me look back at old speeches and feel some weird sense of nostalgia for a time that is WAYYYY before my time – a time when The President was remarkable and gave intellectual lectures as speeches rather than ridiculous messes designed for sound-bites. This graphic novel, about Theodore Roosevelt, encapsulates this very well as it showcases a oration by Roosevelt that is intertwined with biographical information.

Despite being a history major, I am not 100% certain that this was an actual speech or if its pieced together from various speeches and ideas that Roosevelt espoused. Either way, the storytelling here is remarkable. The speech is right after Teddy has learned that his son is missing fighting Germans during WWI – he was told that giving a speech in his state of mind was likely a bad call, but he does it anyway. He talks about his rough upbringing as he was very sickly as a child. It was only through sheer perseverance and respect for his father that he was able to largely overcome most of his ailments or at least learn to keep them at bay.

Interior page

Giving the speech as a former President, Roosevelt lashes out at President Woodrow Wilson, the man that unseated his chosen successor William Howard Taft, and himself when he attempted to run for a third term. Wilson is accused of causing deaths of many (including Teddy’s soon, not confirmed dead at this point) and paving the way for German domination of the world. The speech is fairly “hawkish” and really shows the mindset America was in at the time. The speech is peppered with an overview of Teddy’s life, and what it means to be a real patriot as well as other themes.

I absolutely loved the story here, and despite being skeptical of the format initially, it works very well. The art style, minimalist with blacks and blues, is great and not something you see too often. I’d love to see more of these made from other well-known speeches in the future. This is honestly a great book, as one could toss this into a school library or assign it as a class project, and I think kids would really gain a bit of extra understanding that merely just reading a speech or textbook does not allow. Definitely recommended!

REVIEW: Black Star (2021)

A graphic novel by Eric E. Glover (Author), Arielle Jovellanos (Illustrator)

Black Star by [Eric E. Glover, Arielle Jovellanos]
Cover via Amazon

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I was awarded a review copy of Black Star. The plot was intriguing, but I was und=familiar with the creative team, so I had no idea what to expect. What Black Star is, is a solid debut for Eric Glover, one would never guess that this was his first foray into comic writing (granted, this was originally a screenplay) by what we have here.

[…] In order to retrieve samples of an alien flower that may hold the key to saving countless lives, Harper North and her crew of scientists must journey to Eleos, a dangerous planet in deep space. But as they approach Eleos, their ship is caught in an asteroid storm and as it hurtles towards the surface, its reserve shuttle detaches, landing over 100 kilometers away. When the rest of the crew perishes in the burning wreckage of the ship, North races towards the rescue shuttle built for one, hoping to fulfill their mission and survive.  But North isn’t alone: The team’s wilderness expert is still alive and hell-bent on hunting North down and claiming the shuttle for herself.

Press synopsis excerpt

It’s hard to talk about this without giving away tons of spoilers, so I will attempt avoid that. This is an unconventional disaster story of sorts – a survival story akin to Lord of the Flies, in that the protagonists are not necessarily “good guys”. Perhaps the strongest thing about Black Star is its emphasis on moral ambiguity. This is the story of people doing things they need to do in order to survive. Sometimes that means making tough decisions and hurting others, selflessness is not always an option if you believe your own survival is the key to saving the world. That also comes with a burden, can one live with their choices if bad things are done?

There is a point in the book where one of the characters actions was pretty upsetting, I realized that they had basically “turned heel” entirely – their actions are rough to witness and really make you question if, in the same shoes, a sane person could go through with such an act.

All-in-all, Black Star has really put Eric E. Glover and Arielle Jovellanos on my radar. If this doesn’t get picked up as a film, I’m hoping this is successful and they continue in the comics industry. Not only is the story interesting, but it avoids cliches in a lot of comics. The story structure almost reminds me of European comics, such as ones found in Metal Hurlant and Humanoids to name a few. The storytelling has a darker edge, and doesn’t feel the need to have “a happy ending” for the sake of it. I would definitely recommend this book.

REVIEW: Manga Classics – The Count of Monte Cristo (2017, 2020)

An adaptation of the 1884 Novel by by Stacy King , Nokman Poon, and Crystal S. Chan.

The Count of Monte Cristo
The cover

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

There’s always a tendency for companies to fall back on classical media and attempt to market it to youths in questionable ways: by making it modern, changing the setting, or re-writing it entirely. Sometimes this works great, I would say that the 1996 Baz Luhrmann adaptation of Romeo & Juliet was both very enjoyable and fairly true to the original story despite a modern setting, but you also run the risk of making films like 2006’s children’s film Romeo & Juliet: Sealed With A Kiss, wherein everyone was replaced by anthropomorphized seals and any sort of tension was removed entirely to be replaced with jokes. Today, we aren’t talking about films, but a company called Manga Classics that has waded heavily into an attempt to market classical literature to fans of Japanese Comic books or Manga and one of their books I just finished. The following is an excerpt from the Company’s website:

Intended for a young adult audience, Manga Classics™ are just as likely to be enjoyed in the reader’s free time as in the classroom.  The gripping and intense story and the lush artwork will place them easily alongside today’s bestselling popular manga, with strong and accurate adaptations that will please even the toughest teacher or librarian!  Manga Classics are also a wonderful way for adult readers to rediscover their favorite classics, or experience them for the first time!

https://www.mangaclassics.com/

Luckily, this endeavor seems to have been rather successful to me (at least), as I just finished an edition of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Christo and thoroughly enjoyed it. I think this initiative is successful for many reasons, but chiefly it’s because it respects the material and avoids the failures of other companies that attempt to make a “manga version” of a property i.e. overly sexualized, overly cartoonish, constant slapstick humor, making things pseudo-Japanese (in a racist way, usually written by Non-Japanese) etc. It’s hard to express exactly why a lot of this misses the mark so bad, but things like “The Marvel Mangaverse” was a champion of this misguided approach for all those reasons. People always forget that Manga/anime is a medium, NOT a genre – any attempt to have it as such always blows up.

Count of Monte Cristo | Ch01 Pg22
Interior page

If you have never read the story or seen an adaptation of this story, it follows a young man named Edmond Dantès that seems to have it all, a promising new career, and beautiful fiance and wedding planned, and an ability to finally repay his friends and family for helping him in his success. Unfortunately, he has come into contact with men that want no more than to commit a total miscarriage of justice to falsely imprison Edmond out of jealousy. One man desires his job, one his wife, and one needs a fall man to protect his own family from treason allegations. After 14 years Dantès is able to escape, and becomes wealthy setting his plan in place – REVENGE.

This edition of The Count of Monte Christo is VERY accurate to the source material, it is cleaned up into modern language a bit, but for the most part, it hits every beat that Dumas intended. There are a few differences between the book and its source material, but the book has a handy section explaining these alterations and why they were made. I appreciated this addition quite a bit.

 The original book of The Count of Monte Christo is somewhere around 700 pages long, and takes an insane amount of time to read. This book, however can be kicked back in a few hours which is a great incentive to look into these- not only for young readers that may be intimidated by such a large book, but people with busy lives, or those that have trouble keeping attention in long books. To me, these are classic stories everyone should know about, and companies like this are doing a great job making this available.

As you can see, I absolutely loved this – the artwork is great, the adaptation is well-written, and the pacing keeps you on the edge of your seat. I will admit, despite being a reader, I ignore books like the source material due to the size most of the time. While, I already know this story and have read parts of the original, this was a great way for me to know what has been left out of various projects. I definitely plan to get more books by Manga Classics – so far this has been my biggest book surprise of 2021.

REVIEW: Don Vega (2020)

A graphic Novel by Alary Pierre

Don Vega by [Alary Pierre]
Cover, via Amazon

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I am Zorro!

I have recently become a fan of the Pulp character Zorro, with much thanks to the line of comics from Dynamite Comics. Eventually, I plan to read the original serialized novel, but I have read a few things inspired by it already and I’ve loved every minute. For me, Western Comics have become a surprise hit for me, considering its not really a genre I consume too much in any other medium. And of these, Zorro has easily become my favorite. Yes, you could say its more of a swashbuckling adventure, but a lot of it deals with cattle ranching and horse rearing, so I’m sticking to my guns lol.

Pierre Alary has set out to create what I assume is a new generation of Zorro if I recall the original chronology at all. Alta California has fallen, and a new wave of exploitation and evil has befallen the land. Memories of the man once called Zorro, “The fox” , is a distant legend that folks often cling to in order to have hope in a hopeless time. There are a group of farmers that occasionally don the trademark mask, to usually disastrous results. That is, until the “real Zorro” finally returns and begins to make life hard for gold-grubbing career criminals. This is presumably the son of the original Zorro, but it’s left vague enough that I would have to do more research to make 100 percent certain. Considering the time jump, it could even be the third Zorro…

An interior page towards the beginning, one of the “fake” Zorros

In this story, Zorro has been shifted from a Robin hood sort of character to a depiction of chaos and revenge. This Zorro borrows a lot from characters such as V from V for Vendetta, or even Spartacus. He exists as more of an idea, a thing that many people see as the only way to get people to rise up against oppression. As a result, there isn’t just one Zorro, there is a band of Zorros that ultimately help the “real one” in the end. I hope there ends up being a second volume of this, as this idea is the most intriguing part of the story, and I’d love to see how this pans out. Like, who is the leader of these fake Zorros before Don Vega came back? When did it start? who adopted the logo that children are seen painting on walls etc. Many questions that I’d love to see answered.

Due to this being seemingly “part one” of a longer story, it somewhat rushes to the climax at the end, and you really don’t get much characterization for Don Vega. Had there been a longer page-count I could see that this would have been different, but under the circumstance, this was good, and there weren’t any plot holes for the most part. If the author has anything else in English (I presume he is French) I’d love to read it, I see on Amazon, that he has written some Conan stuff, so I’m definitely interested.

All-in-all good entry into the Zorro franchise. Perhaps not perfect, as some ideas were not fully realized, but I enjoyed it a lot and will be patiently hoping for more. If you are a fan of Zorro, or swashbuckling or western comics, I’d definitely recommend this story. it’s an interesting take on the Pulp legend, and keeps you wanting more.

REVIEW: The History of Video Games (2021)

A book by Charlie Fish

55182782
Cover via Goodreads

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Going into this book, I was honestly skeptical that a 200 page book was sufficient enough to cover a topic as dense as “The History of Video Games” without glossing over large swaths of time, or focusing on things that weren’t as important as stated. The recent Netflix show “High Score” comes to mind with what it focused on – while important, not everything presented was actually warranting a full episode to cover, and LOTS of stuff was left out. That isn’t an issue with The History of Videogames by Charlie Fish, the book is jam-packed with plenty of information, and does a fine job as any other history book at presenting a general topic.

I quite enjoyed that the book didn’t just focus on the tried-and-true pop-culture history of games, it successfully goes over the full origin of games, going back to huge machines that played simple games such as tic-tac-toe using lightbulbs as a graphic interface dating all the way back to post-war America. This part of the lineage is almost NEVER discussed, usually people start with 1959s Spacewar! as “the first videogame” which is not correct in many ways. I appreciate the research that Fish put into this, and enjoyed his unique experience as a gamer based in the UK, as that scene never really gets elaborated on, seeing that its fairly divergent than either the Japanese or American scenes.

Perhaps my main quibble with the book was the formatting – about one-quarter of the book is the “history of videogames” all in one section, then it goes to a section on profiles of important people in the field, then a section on companies, social issues, a section on top ten lists (such as bestselling games) and more. I think the book could benefit form being reshuffled to being broken up a bit more and having those latter sections intertwined into the main section, as it feels a tad like a series of blog posts that have been collected as-is. What is here works well nonetheless, and this isn’t a huge deal-breaker. the book is still organized well, and contains pictures and screenshots to help illustrate certain points.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a fairly concise history of videogames, I’ve read a lot of similar books in the past (especially when I briefly worked for a gaming website), but honestly this is probably one of the best I’ve come across.