REVIEW: Michel Vaillant: In the Name of the Son (2021)

A graphic novel by Denis Lapière, Philippe Graton – Art by Marc Bourgne, Benjamin Benéteau

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.

Time to jump out of my comfort zone, and read something different than my normal diet of Manga, dark comics, and occasional superhero comics. I can’t say I’ve ever read a comic based on racing in any way, so this is a bit of a new one for me. A new comic from Europe Comics, Michel Vaillant is coming soon to an eBook reader of your choice.

“Michel Vaillant is the star of all the biggest international auto racing circuits, and he’s revving up for a whole lot more than just a spin around the block. The Vaillant team finds itself up against new technological innovations, as well as some disconcerting changes in the world of auto racing. The fate of the Vaillant dynasty is in the hands of three generations of men and women. The first challenge is to fight their way to the top on the race track, with their sights set on Formula 1. The second is to try to keep the family together, despite increasingly differing points of views. And it will be up to Michel to ensure their success on both fronts.”

I was on a bit of a Tintin kick a few months ago and read a whole bunch of Belgian and French comics like Blake and Mortimer and Freddy Lombard, so the style of this comic immediately reminded me of those. I went back and did a bit of research and discovered that this was, in fact, an older comic that did indeed feature in the very same magazine. It’s funny when you can spot the tonal differences between some of these publications and their comics.

Despite not really being too much into racing, though I did watch Top Gear religiously in the past, I actually enjoyed this. Its probably because it wasn’t bogged down with laborious car racing descriptions and relied on the human drama to tell the story, the technical aspects were just there to spice it up.

The linework in this comic’s art is incredible, especially in backgrounds and technical aspects of the cars and other machines. Half of the time I spent reading this, was be looking around the pages taking in the gorgeous old-school art-style. Comics have sometimes veered towards a more cartoonish look as of late, and art styles like this, with highly detailed pen lines, make me feel nostalgic and give me hope that everything borrowing from the same style-sheet is soon coming to an end.

I was sad to see that this ended on a colossal cliffhanger, so I will try to keep an eye out for the next installment if I can. It’s crazy to think that there are so many diverse types of comics in Europe, it often makes me sad that The US market is over-saturated with superhero books in most of the main houses. That isn’t a dig on superheroes, but I’d love the diversity they have – I would have never likely read this otherwise. Great book, can’t wait to continue it!

REVIEW: The Black Civil War Soldier (2021)

A book by Deborah Willis

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.

The history of The American Civil War is often clouded by heaps and piles of romanticism and revisionism that has made the discussion of the conflict troubling for a number of years. One step onto Facebook, especially at any politically charged moment in modern times, and you’ll see all manner of misinformation and even blatant trolling that kills any sort of educated discourse. I’ve even read books that go into these tangents, and ultimately they lose sight of their purpose pretty fast and turn into a political quagmire.

Luckily, this book is not like that – it’s straightforward and uses the historical documents to tell the story, it avoids editorialization, and conjecture a fact that is refreshing to me in it’s simplicity. It reminds me a lot of Ken Burns’ Civil War series from thirty years ago – it also used documents and quotes to tell the story, and the general public loved it for that. The more-specific topic at hand is – the history of Black Civil War Soldiers on both sides of the conflict – their motivations, their feelings, and their dreams – told in many instances in their own words through letters and interviews given at the time or soon after.

While not shocking, some of the accounts of how both sides treated black people for the duration of the war was jarring at times. Well, jarring in the sense that many treat that war as a “good guys” vs “bad guys” situation, when it largely was more nuanced than that. One account that was particularly sad to me was a point when Union soldiers had arrived in a southern town to be greeted as liberators by all the the slaves left alone by their conscripted slave masters. Military leaders had to basically say “we are not here to free slaves, but to put the Union back together slavery and all” – for many slaves that sunk into their heart like a stone and colored their opinion of the Federal Government from then on. The book is an equal opportunity expectation-flipper, as there are also accounts of Black soldiers on the south being treated fairly by the Confederates.

This book is amazing, and highly recommended. I’m sure there are similar books out there, but this one was a real page-turner especially to see the gorgeous photographs that have been preserved in it.

REVIEW: A History of the Vampire in Popular Culture (2021)

A book by Violet Fenn

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.

A History of the Vampire in Popular Culture is a interesting new book that goes in detail of the subject matter at hand trying to inform, but not necessarily, as the author stresses, to be some sort of encyclopedia of vampires or the like. large swaths of vampire history are not present, but that’s fine as the point of the book is to look at common tropes within vampire media, and elaborate on them using examples from various TV Shows, Books, Films and even folklore.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, as the author used quite a few examples that are usually never referenced in books such as this; for example, referencing something like the popular gothic soap opera Dark Shadows is usually not something you see in books like this, despite its popularity many decades ago. Other topics included everything to Count Von Count of Sesame Street fame, as well as Twilight (shudders). While I’m not a fan at all of that franchise, I begrudgingly respect its place in popular culture.

There’s a fair bit of historical discussion here as well, including forays into various vampire themed moral panics, including a bizarre one where children were led to believe a random cemetery was home to a murdering vampire, which led to hundreds of pint-sized Van Helsings to descend on it – with the entire debacle being used as a catalyst to push comic book censorship.

I think there were a few missed opportunities here; perhaps a sequel might be in order? Most of this opinion comes from the fact that the more Romance-based vampire things (Twilight, True Blood etc) are not my cup of tea, but the author was very passionate about them and their presence in vampire history, so I can’t fault her for that (once again, its not an encyclopedia). None-the-less, this is an enjoyable read, and gave me a few thigs to jot down to read or watch in the future. The book is well-written, packed full of facts and anecdotes, even a couple of interviews. While not a perfect book, there is a lot to sink your teeth into.

REVIEW: The Vain (2021)

A graphic novel by Eliot Rahal

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.

Generic Vampire stories are a dime a dozen these days. If you don’t just have a weird version of Bram Stroker’s Dracula, but this time he’s in SPACE or something, you have the other side of the coin that alters them beyond recognition, perhaps into teenage sparkly pretty boys – and it all sucks for the most part. For me to get into a modern Vampire story, it has to be something different (but keeping with the lore), and this volume by Eliot Rahal fits the bill. Spanning more than 40 years, The Vain tells the story of a group of Vampiric survivors – changing with the times to stay alive at any means necessary. If that includes enlisting in the military to kill Nazis, or starting a vampire drug cult in the 70s, if thats what it takes that’s what they do.

Chicago, 1941. A blood bank is held up in a robbery, but no cash is taken—only blood. It’s the latest in a string of similar robberies and as the United States prepares to enter World War II, FBI Agent Felix Franklin is certain it’s part of a wider plot to weaken the United States by depriving it of its blood supply. But the truth is much more sinister.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like this at first. At times, some of the art in the book was somewhat simplistic, but as the story goes on, it improves drastically. The dialogue is also kind of janky in spots, but overall the script is pretty good, and you honestly can’t beat the setting. Vampires living through the Cold-War is something I’m pretty certain I’ve never seen before. As it went on, I was interested to see how The Vain (their WWII Codename) dealt with the zeitgeist of whatever decade they had made it to. The book didn’t overstay its welcome, and had a logical ending that made sense.

I haven’t read much by Oni Press, although I have seen them at Comicon in the past. Once Covid-19 dies down I will have to do a deeper dive on their library if conventions ever come back, I’d love to see if the quality of this book continues on.

REVIEW: First World War Trials and Executions (2021)

A book by Simon Webb

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 haven’t read too many true crime books as of late, although I do listen to a ton of podcasts on it. And I mean a ton, its probably a red flag on Spotify, and I am likely on some list somewhere. Some of my favorite ones are historical accounts vs modern ones simply because the cases seem to always take wild turns that you aren’t expecting. You hear about these insane investigations and primitive forensics efforts that likely led to tons of false imprisonments, but its exciting none-the-less. This book chronicles 51 such historical cases in the UK between 1914-1918 – The era of World War I. Taking a small, specific era in history is interesting as one really gets into the time period when its all laid out like this.

Webb splits each case into its own small chapters which are then split into sub-headings such as cases all committed by straight razor, or all axe-murders etc. I liked this configuration a lot; it made this easy for me to read bit-by-bit before I went to bed this past week. This is an entertaining read insomuch as a book on murders can be simply because of the way it is written. That isn’t to say Simon Webb makes light of the cases, as they are all very tragic, but he keeps you wanting to read more and more, and the information is well-researched. This book also acts, in a way, as a chronicle as to why Britain eventually did away with Capital Punishment – many of these cases have terrible things happen during the execution, it you can tell it scarred the main executioner quite a bit.

Another Solid historical offering from Pen and Sword, I’ll have to see if they have anymore books by this author, as a continuation of this series (if it becomes one) into later or previous years would be interesting. If you want a quick read to keep your true crime interest satiated, I’d recommend this book. It’s definitely to die for.

REVIEW: The Commandant of Auschwitz – Rudolf Höss (2021)

A book by Volker Koop

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.

At some point this year, assuming Covid doesn’t keep ravaging the country, Kansas City will be hosting an exhibit that will showcase artifacts from Poland’s Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Having visited Dachau some twenty years ago in person, this might be the closest I could get to seeing these items for a long time, if ever. And if its anything like Dachau, I’m sure just seeing the artifacts will be a rough, if not VERY sobering experience. I mention this, because today’s topic is the man that made Auschwitz Concentration Camp so notorious, Rudolf Höss, and this new book about him The Commandant of Auschwitz, by Volker Koop and published by Pen and Sword Books. I basically wanted to educate myself more than what I was on the topic, and figured this book would be a solid look at the man responsible for one of the worst episodes in world history.

Koop does a solid job of not just regurgitating things from the memoirs of Rudolf Höss, and quickly points out that Höss appears to be a habitual liar in pretty much everything he does. Much of the information comes from things such as this material, but using historical records, and conflicting accounts by contemporaries, the portrait of a truly terrible man is painted. Even when everything was lost, and the man faced trial, he claimed to be a normal guy that just did his job and had no idea bad things were happening under his command. Reading some of the atrocities he signed off on, such as throwing children directly into a fire pit while still alive, was infuriating to say the least.

This was a tough read, for obvious reasons, but I enjoyed it and learned a lot about, perhaps, one of the biggest monsters in modern history. One would have hoped that he would have stayed in prison much longer than he did when he literally committed a political murder, but alas Hitler needed the most despicable to do his evil deeds. Very good book, if you are curious, or a WWII history buff, I’d check it out.

REVIEW: Shadowman by Andy Diggle Deluxe Edition (2021)

A Graphic Novel by Andy Diggle (Author), Stephen Segovia (Artist), Shawn Martinbrough (Artist), Doug Braithwaite (Artist), Renato Guedes (Artist)

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 don’t want to beat a dead horse on here regarding my love for Valiant Comics (but you can read me gushing about it here), but this Comic is yet another series that confirms that. Shadowman, is a long running character that has persisted for nearly 30 years in different forms, The character probably hit its peak in the late 1990s when a cult classic videogame hit the shelves, its a shame a rumored film was never produced during this time, as the property was especially hot then. The current iteration of the character is a much less 90s-riffic version of the original Shadowman, Jack Boniface, and his exploits fighting foes from the underworld using voodoo powers.

The rise of the Shadowman! For years, Jack Boniface believed that he knew the true story of the Shadowman loa – the true story of the curse inside him. He was wrong. Now, the man once known as Shadowman is returning home to sharpen the weapon within… and unleash a reckoning on the evils of our world that will soon send shockwaves through heaven and hell alike… Superstar writer Andy Diggle (Green Arrow: Year One, The Losers) joins high-octane artists Stephen Segovia (Action Comics), Shawn Martinbrough (Thief of Thieves), Doug Braithwaite (Justice), and Renato Guedes(Action Comics) to reveal the full scope and power of the Shadowman mythos in an oversized deluxe edition hardcover of the series Nerdist calls “killer”! Collecting SHADOWMAN (2018) #1-11, and SHADOWMAN/RAE SREMMURD #1, along with more than 20 pages of rarely seen art and extras!

FIRST WATCH: Andy Diggle & Stephen Segovia Descend Into the Deadside with  SHADOWMAN #3, Hitting Stores In May! - Comic Watch

When I last left the character, he was bound in eternal servitude in the underworld, and I wasn’t sure where the comic was going to go afterwards. I think I’ve missed a portion of the story past that, but they allude to everything in the narrative pretty well. This actually could be a decent start for somebody new to the series, it doesn’t get bogged down in past lore, and re-introduces everything slowly. At it’s core, Shadowman is Valiant’s main “magic” comic ala Constantine or Doctor Strange, if we think in terms of rival companies. What definitely sets it apart is the emphasis on Voodoo lore, and the setting itself.

While I had an advanced review copy of this in digital format, I have purchased hardcover deluxe editions from Valiant in the past, and they are really good production-wise and great bang for your buck. Instead of buying 3-4 trades at fifteen a pop each, they usually collect an entire series in one volume and price it to where you get a decent discount. I’m sure this will follow suit.

This is another solid edition in my Valiant Comics library, and I really love the character. I should have quickly reviewed this for Black History Month, as Shadowman is a VERY solid overlooked black superhero that more people should know about. Then again, that’s Valiant’s M.O. most of the time, being inclusive, but in a natural way, unlike some other guys that do it in the fake corporate way. Highly recommended if you have not checked these guys out before.

REVIEW: X-O Manowar Book 1 (2021)

by Dennis Hopeless

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 Valiant Comics for a while now, especially since their relaunch about a decade ago. I think what sets them apart from other companies headed by out of touch movie execs or cartoon mice, is that they have their finger on the pulse with what fans actually want to read, and don’t pump tons of “fluff” into the market and over-saturate and shrink their audience through constant relaunches and special events. They have been amazing to interact with at conventions, and I honestly say say enough good things about them. Today’s topic is a graphic novel of the 2020 X-O Manowar book from Dennis Hopeless, I will admit, I’m about two years behind on keeping up with Valiant due to work keeping me VERY busy as of late, but I definitely wanted to read this as everyone’s favorite Visigoth Warrior is always one of my favorite titles.

“Save the day, destroy the world… Torn from the past and bonded with a living alien armor, will X-O Manowar become the hero the world needs now? As a futuristic force arises to destroy the planet, only this ancient warrior king has the courage to stand against impossible odds! Harvey Award winning writer Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum (All-New X-Men) and breakout star Emilio Laisio (Marvel’s Spider-Man: Velocity) unleash Valiant’s most powerful protector! Collecting X-O MANOWAR (2020) #1-4.”

This most recent storyline adds some grounding the the character that I really enjoyed. Prince Aric, in the past, has been somewhat distant from much of humanity considering his personality and origin of being a warrior from over a thousand years ago. This sticks him into a domestic situation, as he attempts to live amongst the people he tries to protect – all to a variable amount of success. One can’t help draw comparisons to either Spawn or Thor, which both had similar grounding to those characters that made them have a bit of humanity. Also, the “fish out of water antics” are perfect for a bit of humor. We are also introduced to a advisor-type character that is not unlike Elon Musk in real world terms, in Troy Whitaker. I’m not convinced he isn’t a villain as of yet, but he does help X-O with his image problem.

This is a solid read, and a perfect starting point if you’ve never read anything from Valiant before. If you are jaded with comics, or are tired of the nonsense “the big two” are always up to – give this a try! It’s honestly bee hard to go back after I started reading comics that are fun again.

REVIEW: Hercules Intergalactic Agent: Book 2 The Intruder (2021)

A graphic novel by Zabus & art by Antonello Dalena

Apparently, Hercules Intergalactic Agent: Book 2 The Intruder is the second book in a series that I was unaware of, I only realized after I started reading and saw the tiny “book 2” that was sighed an audible “oops.” Thankfully it’s honestly pretty easy to grasp what was happening despite missing the “first episode” as it were. It tells the story of a couple of underdogs, bottom of their class, students at an intergalactic agent school.

“Hercules and Marlon are in their second year of intergalactic agent school and they still have a lot to learn! But when their teacher is bitten by a strange alien creature, they’ll need to put down the books and leap into action because the sickness affecting Teach seems to be spreading throughout the school…”

While this isn’t really meant for kids, as it alludes to cursing a few times, the messages in the book would be good for a kid’s book – never judging a book by its cover, and having compassion for all living things. It has a pretty strong allegory to the recent string of migrant and asylum seeker crises that have arisen as of late, which makes it a pretty forward thinking book. The allusions could be a tad heavy-handed, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The art is fun, and it reminds me of something from the 80’s Heavy Metal movie.

REVIEW: Brontë (2021)

by Manuela Santoni

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.

“Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë—faced with an ailing father and an alcoholic brother—pursue independence through art in this graphic vision of the lives of three legendary writers.”

Going into this, I sadly did not know much of the Brontë sisters aside from a passing knowledge of how the initially wrote under pseudonyms, ad their untimely deaths due to tuberculosis at relatively the same time. This book did an amazing job filling in the gaps for the most formative time period of their lives – the moment that they decided to start publishing their writings to help save their family. With an ailing father, and a deadbeat brother addicted to both alcohol and opium, the sisters set aside their fears of judgement and finally publish their works to much critical acclaim. It was not until death met their mighty blow, that much of the world found out the true nature of the three writers that took nineteenth century England by storm, and defined that time period for many people in the modern era.

Manuela Santoni has a simple pen drawn art style that was interesting to see. At a few moments, some actions are hard to understand due to this stylistic limitation, but the script is there to cover for it. all-in-all this was a very well-done book and very informative.

REVIEW: The Two Lives of Penelope (2021)

A Graphic Novel by Judith Vanistendael

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.

Before today, Judith Vanistendael was completely off of my radar as a comic creator, which is a complete shame as she has put together easily the best book I’ve read this month. Rendered in gorgeous watercolor paintings and poetic text, The Two Lives of Penelope is not your typical comic book and is a VERY emotional roller coaster ride for the short time that one is reading it. Dealing with a heavy topic such as the mental health issues that arise when one spends too much time in a war zone doing humanitarian work, This book was both not easy to read and not easy to put down at the same time. Nothing particularly heinous happens in the comic, I just feel bad for the entire family, that despite their troubles, are hanging in there.

“Penelope is a Belgian physician who works with Doctors Without Borders in war-torn Syria. She returns to Belgium when she can in order to see her husband and daughter, but the transition is hard. Her latest trip home for the holidays proves even tougher than usual, as the coexistence of the two excruciatingly different worlds she inhabits becomes increasingly fraught.”

Taking place in the middle of the still raging Syrian Civil War, this book tells the tale of a humanitarian surgeon attempting to spend some time with her family before she travels back into the war zone. In many ways, this should be a time to relax, but sadly her life is now that of a war doctor, and her home life is increasingly hard to cope with. Penelope has PTSD (or something similar), and cannot connect to the needs of her family anymore – when one deals with war atrocities on a day-to-day basis things like a style of preferred winter coat, or a daughter worried about her nose size are no longer of great significance. She is haunted, both literally and figuratively, by her job – and can’t seperate from it anymore – it is her now. Everyone deals with this the best they can, and sadly we do not get any resolution – one can assume Penelope is still in Syria to this day.

Every once in a while, you come across a comic that surpasses the medium and is an instant classic – for me The Two Lives of Penelope is up there with comics such as Persepolis and even Maus, as a comic tackling a VERY tough subject matter in such a way that it becomes something that should be required reading. I will definitely check into other works by the author, and keep an eye on this, as I really hope this book gets the attention it deserves.

REVIEW: Babylon (2021)

A book by Laurent Galandon, Frank Giroud & art by Philippe Nicloux

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.

Another day, another book by one of my new “companies to look out for”, Europe Comics. Babylon is another French comic, translated into English. I’ve recently come across a handful of their comics, and have really enjoyed them. Comics from western Europe have an entirely different feel to them than either the United States or Japan, focusing more on mature stories vs superheroes and the like, and for that I love them.

“If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him, Max Ferlane is your man: a good man with skills a bad past has left him. Now he’s trying to leave that bad life behind, put those skills to good use. He’s in the Congo rescuing a young girl from an arranged marriage when an old employer turns up: the Babylon Agency, specializing in high-profile political exfiltrations. Max is forced into a different, far more dangerous mission that will take him deep into warring jungles and his own past mistakes. For Max’s PTSD hallucinations are only getting worse…”

At first glance, and in the initial few pages, I figured this was going to be a bog-standard run-of-the-mill mercenary for hire story, but was surprisingly wrong when things took a weird turn. There are times in the book, where you are led to believe that things have suddenly gone VERY science fiction VERY fast, but its not what you think. Having the book take place somewhere in Eastern Africa, was also interesting, and gave the setting a bit of a political edge that I really enjoy in European Comics. That said, In many ways, Max Ferlane is somewhat of a cliché character in comics, one part Snake Pliskin, another Max Payne (if anyone else remembers that game), but this doesn’t detract from the story in any way.

This is the first part of a multi-part story, and I will eagerly be waiting for the next chapter. With my quibbles aside regarding some clichés, The setting, plot, and characters are cool enough to keep me reading. Yeah, it’s basically “Escape from Congo”, but that’s honestly better than most of the actual sequels to that franchise.

REVIEW: The Cimmerian Vol. 2 (2021)

by Sylvain Runberg, Robin Recht, Robert E. Howard

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.

By Crom! Conan The Cimmerian has appeared in comics almost nonstop since the 1970s (even a few appearances beforehand). Whether it be Marvel Comics, Dark Horse Comics, or Dynamite Comics, there is always some company producing their take on the legendary, thief, barbarian and king. In the U.S., I’m pretty sure that Dynamite still has the Conan rights (I could be wrong), but in Italy, Ablaze Publishing had an interesting option: they could freely publish comics related to Conan, without specifically calling them “Conan” or “Conan the Barbarian” comics, even though that’s what they are. Thus “The Cimmerian” was born.

This series is a pretty cool alternative to the other Conan Comics out there. About half of the book is comprised of adaptations of classic Conan stories The People of The Black Circle, and The Frost-Giant’s Daughter. The rest of the book, aside from the typical art section and cover gallery, found in most trade editions, are the entire prose versions of the same stories, originally printed in pulp magazines such as Weird Tales or Fantasy Fan Magazine nearly 100 years ago. Due to the properties interesting status in Europe, they have the freedom to do something like this without dealing with multiple rights holders, and I absolutely LOVED it.

This is as true to a “true” take on Conan can be. All of the heavier stuff such as gore and sex, that other comics might avoid, is here in the open just as Robert E, Howard intended. The dialogue can be a bit verbose in places, especially in The People of the Black Circle, but that can be directly tied to the size of the comics that were published and the amount of dialogue in the original story.

I went into this without reading the first volume, but plan to go back now that I see the quality of this is en pointe. While the typical issues that arise from translating a comic are there a bit, its not bad, nor does it detract from the story. As a HUGE Conan and Red Sonja fan, I’m glad I had the opportunity to read this.

REVIEW: Marsupilami: The Beast (2021)

A book by Zidrou & Frank Pé

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.

After reading another book by the aptly-named publishing house, European Comics, and absolutely loving it – I decided to wade into their catalogue to see what else they had to offer. I picked Marsupilami based on the cover, as it looked fairly interesting. I’m glad I did because this was a great comic in each and every way.

“Belgium, 1955. A mysterious animal is caught in the jungles of South America and transported to Europe on a cargo ship, where it ends up starving and half-dead on the outskirts of Brussels. François, a young boy with a fondness for taking in strays, finds it and brings it home to his mother and his menagerie—his best and only friends. As the son of a departed German soldier, François is the favorite target of every bully in school. Nobody can identify the strange creature with the voracious appetite and the stupendously long tail, and François figures his new pet is perfect for show-and-tell… But with a wild beast and a small classroom, things quickly get out of hand. Will this spell the end for François’s new animal friend? The real story of the legendary Marsupilami!”

Marsupilami is an interesting story, not too different than a typical “dog bites somebody and the villainous neighborhood busybody wants it put down” story with a number of interesting twists. First and foremost – the setting. This takes place in Belgium a decade after the end of World War II. With the war over, some wounds take time to heal, and being seen as someone that had ANYTHING to do with the German occupation put that person in a bad place. Thus the plight of our hero Francois, a boy relentlessly bullied at school due to being the lovechild of a Belgian Woman and a German Soldier, he retreats into a world of taking care of exotic animals in his very own home menagerie.

Next up we have the “dog” which is a crazy cryptid of some sort – seemingly a monkey with feline attributes and a 30 foot long tail. I was initially worried this would be a simple horror story with “The Beast” going on a rampage, but truthfully he seems pretty intelligent and acts only in self-preservation. whether it be animal smugglers, or The bullies at Francois’ school – something is always trying to attack the poor creature. Francois and his family, including the animals, are his only allies, it seems.

This was part one of a two part story, it’s hard to read it without the other half, but I quite enjoyed this. The setting was awesome, and the tropes were used well to create something wholly unique. I can’t wait to finish this, but hope that it doesn’t end on a huge downer.

REVIEW: Wild West (2021)

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A graphic novel by Thierry Gloris & Lamontagne Jacques

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’m a big fan of European comics (which is coincidentally the name of this books publisher, but I mean the geographical area), usually because they don’t worry about keeping everything for children at all times, and treat the material far more seriously than in either Japan or America. That isn’t to say its all gore-filled pornography either, its just like the difference between an HBO show and a Disney+ show in terms of sensibility, if that makes sense. I’ve been on a big Metal Hurlant and Heavy Metal kick as of late, so I was intrigued to see a French language comic (translated, of course) about Calamity Jane, and how a European publisher would handle the “origin story” of the famous frontierswoman.

“The westward drive of Americans after the Civil War was unstoppable. For some, the vast territory meant new wealth and new opportunities. The ever-progressing railroads made many rich. Whereas others found their fortune selling the flesh of the less fortunate. In a brothel in Omaha, all manner of destinies intersect in a violent collision that many won’t survive. This is the incredible story of Martha Cannary, a young woman who shrugged off what destiny had in store for her and made herself into a legend.”

Wild West comic book sample Calamity Jane

Wild West is a quick read at only 66 pages, but it tells its story well, and doesn’t linger too long. Honestly, I hope they produce more of this, as this is basically the story of her beginnings and her first encounter with Wild Bill Hickock and up to her enlistment into the US Army under the pretense that she’s a boy rather than a woman. The thing about Calamity jane, and whether this book is historical, is that most of her backstory was created as a booklet to market her “character” at a series of tours that she participated in. I assume a lot of this was embellished, and sadly we’ll never know for sure. Not much is said about her time working as a prostitute (which is the focal point of this story), so I imagine there is a lot of artistic liberty here, with something that already had some to begin with.

All-in-all, this was a great comic with exquisite, detailed artwork. for fans of history, western comics, European comics, or just adult comics in general, this would be a great addition to your collection. I’m not certain that the book is available physically in the US, but a digital copy (like the one I have) is very affordable. This is a publisher that is now on my radar, if their quality is this good on everything, I’ll have to do some more research.

REVIEW: Old Norse For Modern Times (2021)

A book by Ian Stuart Sharpe

Having an interest in all things Viking, and learning Bokmål Norwegian led me to check this out. I currently don’t plan to attempt to learn Old Norse in any way, but I was curious into exactly what this was. From the description, I could tell this was a humor book rather than a learning tool, so I wasn’t disappointed when that’s exactly what it was. I was also drawn to this because I have a book in The Vikingverse line (The Allfather Paradox, I need to review that on here), and had no idea this company was based here in Kansas City, which makes me excited to hopefully meet these dudes at Comicon or something one day.

Never be lost for words again…with this book of lost words. Have you ever wanted to wield the silver tongue of Loki, or to hammer home your point like a Thundergod? Old Norse is the language of legends and the stuff of sagas, the inspiration for Tolkien and Marvel, for award-winning manga and epic videogames. It is the language of cleverly crafted kennings, blood-curdling curses, and pithy retorts to Ragnarök. Old Norse for Modern Times gives you the perfect phrase for every contemporary situation—from memorable movie quotes (“We’re going to need a bigger boat.” Þurfa munu vér skip stærra) to battle-cries to yell on Discord (“Do I look to be in a gaming mood?” Sýnisk þér ek vera í skapi til leika?), from mead hall musings (“This drink, I like it! ANOTHER!” Líkar mér drykkr þessi! ANNAN!) to tried-and-tested pickup lines (“Nice tattoo!” Fagrt er húðflúrið”). With over 500 phrases inside (plus the chance to add your own!) it is the perfect guide for Vikings fans, whether they are re-enactors, role-players, or simply in love with Ragnar.

Old Norse For Modern Times Is almost like a parody of a travel phrase book that somebody might pick up visiting a foreign country. There are phrases of all natures, from social media lingo, to sci-fi references. Is any of it very useful? Probably not. But is it funny? Yes it is! Quite a few of these gave me a good chuckle, like “Beam me up Skadi” or “Where is the Batman!?” However, I honestly think this would work best as an audiobook, and I believe that is available according to the preface in the book. Sadly, I did not have this, so knowing things like correct pronunciations (or as close as we can get today) are lost on a book-only reader.

As a result, I can’t go in with a huge recommendation of getting a print or eBook of this if you plan to actually say these things out loud – go with the audiobook, or a combo of both. As a humor book, this is a fun little diversion for a little while. a quick read that you can have fun with. If you enjoy things like books written in Klingon and the like, definitely check some version of this out.

REVIEW: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Heaven According to The Devil (2020)

A book by Bedrettin Simsek

The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Heaven According to The Devil by [Bedrettin Simsek]

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 think the backstory of the author, as described in the preface, is almost more intriguing than this book itself. A Turkish author, Simsek apparently wrote a book early in his career that was deemed heretical and was jailed in his home country along with people associated with the book publisher that released it. When released, he tried for decades to get his books out there, but was blocked and threatened forcing him to self-publish. This caused his books to go largely forgotten until now apparently.

The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Heaven According to The Devil is written in the tradition of the ancient Gnostics, who composed a whole litany of religious texts in the early eras of Christianity, and were later deemed the most heretical of all heretics and driven underground by what is now The Catholic Church, they were oppressed, killed, and had their books destroyed. Most of what we have of their works was only made available due to a monk burying scrolls in a clay pot hundreds of years ago. Being a person that formerly considered themselves Gnostic, and having read a lot on the subject, this was a definite interest for me.

This is basically a retelling of The first part of the Biblical Book of Genesis with an emphasis on the Devil as the main protagonist. While the ideas presented are interesting, I’m not sure they wholly represent the Gnostic ideas of the “Garden of Eden” events as seen in books like The Testimony of Truth or The Apocalypse of Adam which are historical texts detailing the same story, but actually written by The Gnostics. However, many old biblical texts are basically religious fan-fiction in their own right – designed to tell an allegory within the context of a set of known characters. This is, of course, something Biblical literalists don’t want to hear, but I digress.

My qualms aside, this is a solid book, and I liked what the text was trying to do here. The dialog definitely grounds the characters, and gives you sympathy for a character that is largely seen as very misunderstood for a multitude of reasons. All-in-all, I liked this and would like to read more by the author. And of course I’d like to learn more about his troubles, and am glad he is finally getting his work out there.

REVIEW: Look Mom I’m a Poet (and So Is My Cat) (2021)

A book of poems by Andrew Shaffer

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.

Books like this are always hard to review. Sometimes I’ve read poetry books that are critically acclaimed that I couldn’t get into – perhaps I’m an uncultured swine and can’t handle it or some such. Other times the humor isn’t for me, and I read the book with mild annoyance. Good news, that wasn’t this book, as I quite enjoyed this. Andrew Shaffer has collected a series of short poems, asides, and observations that are not too dissimilar to the old 90s era SNL skit “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey” without completely ripping the style off. Some are better than others, but the ones I really liked made me laugh out loud which is a plus for any humor book.

This is a very quick read, so keep that in mind if you are considering a purchase. But if you or your BFF likes goofy poetry, this would make a great small gift, stocking stuffer, or bathroom reader. After reading this, I plan to look at some of the author’s other works.

REVIEW: IRA Terror on Britain’s Streets 1939–1940 (2021)

A Book by Dick Kirby

Cover

It is little known today that, in January 1939, the IRA launched a bombing campaign, codenamed The S – or Sabotage – Plan on mainland England. With cynical self-justification, they announced that it was not their intention to harm human life but in just over a year, more than 300 explosive devices resulted in 10 deaths, 96 injuries and widespread devastation. London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and many other towns and cities were targeted.

Description

It hasn’t been too long since I read another book by Pen & Sword Books on the so-called “Troubles” that scarred Northern Ireland for nearly a century. That book was more concentrated on the large flare-ups in terrorist tit-for-tat fighting in and around the 1960’s and 1970’s, so I jumped at the chance to read IRA Terror on Britain’s Streets 1939–1940 as it concerned a period that was briefly glossed over in that previous book. Technically not part of “The Troubles” as a whole, you can see the seeds being planted in this period that would later bloom into a full-blown war.

The narration of this book is very informative, although it doesn’t strive to be very neutral (if one can be in a situation like this). Being a former Detective that worked directly in Northern Ireland for a period, one can assume that Kirby wouldn’t be too excited to sing the virtues of men that would have wanted him dead. With his unique insight on the situation, and both an acerbic wit and self deprecating humor – this book is very addictive and sometimes humorous despite the dark topic.

I think my biggest takeaways from the book are some of the origins of The Troubles, even dating back into the nineteenth century. I had no idea that The IRA sprang from groups like the Fenian Brotherhood and the fact that it was originally an American organization that repatriated back into Ireland to instigate an uprising was interesting. I also had no idea that some versions of the IRA had ties to Hitler during the Second World War.

Just like with many books from this publisher that I have been reading lately, I quite enjoyed this book, and would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in true crime books, Ireland, or World War II history. It covers a topic that not many of my American friends, with me being an American myself, would know about.

REVIEW: The Anglo-Soviet Alliance – Comrades and Allies during WW2 (2021)

A book by by Colin Turbett

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.

Continuing my late winter history book dive, I’ve decided to get into a topic I know a bit about, but from an entirely different perspective than what I’ve come accustomed to. Being from the American school system, we all know that the USSR were part of the Allied Forces in WWII, however, there was always an explicit attempt by textbook writers to downplay their involvement and champion US-Centric takes on the war. It’s a shame since Russia carried that war largely on its own shoulders. I enjoy books by Pen and Sword because they are generally VERY in depth on a specific topic, and challenge y comfort zone on what I think I know; The Anglo-Soviet Alliance – Comrades and Allies during WW2 is one such book.

This book can be seen, in some ways, as an analysis of the Communist Party of Great Britain – going from Nazi Sympathizers early on, due to Hitler’s initial alliance with the USSR, to being “neutral” seeing the war as a Capitalist charade, to finally being pro war, and seeing the war as a fight against Fascism. This secondary narrative is illustrated masterfully by the authors descriptions, and examples of official party literature in his own collection. Its not unheard of to see politics change at such a whiplash pace, but we always see COMMUNISM through the eyes of decades of State-led propaganda, even today. Its interesting to see just how fluid it was.

While the Anglo-Soviet Alliance was mostly born out of necessity, with both sides not being 100 percent on board at any given time, it was a testament of what good can come from a pragmatic alliance during wartime. Whether it be the UKs sandbagging and delay at opening a second front to pull pressure out of Belarus and Ukraine, or Stalin committing a political Genocide in Poland and covering it up, only to be found out then flat out lying about it, neither the USSR or UK were “the good guys” in many ways. neither side trusted each other politically, but all accounts from soldier level are that everyone got along for the most part. It’s a shame to see how everything ultimately fell apart, and in many ways we aligned ourselves with Fascists far too easily with fears of making everyday Germans too mad at us. This is a common thing that still happens today that always upsets me – being tolerant of intolerance ultimately leads to intolerance, but I digress. Who knows where we’d be without the Cold War, good or bad.

Colin Turbett did a excellent job with this book, his insight and items from his personal collection regarding the CPGB and its relationship to wartime politics, was very interesting and paints of vivid picture of this period both internationally and domestically in the UK. I was most taken aback by the general feeling that Russia was this unsung hero of the war (until deemed otherwise), being the focal point of fundraising drives, and pro-USSR charity events. This was very thought provoking, and runs counter to my notions of where Russia sat within the media at the time. Perhaps people were willing to look the other way to a maniacal monster like Stalin, much like how we do now with many of our “allies”, but the whole thing comes across as if the UK somewhat used the USSR and perhaps they used the UK.

Another solid offering from Pen and Sword, highly recommended.