Tuesday, June 20, 2017

SOUTHERN BASTARDS: BOOK ONE by Jason Aaron


This surprising crime story starts as a country noir tale about a man returning home and finding it difficult to escape his legacy, and it ends with a look at the desperate actions that some people take for their passions. This can stand right up there with some of the best of contemporary grit lit. 

It has a genuinely shocking plot twist/redirection at the end of the first volume that had me reeling, and after that I knew I was in good hands and that I should never expect anything formulaic from this series. With its hefty doses of violence, generational hate, football, dogshit, beer, and BBQ, Southern Bastards feels like a love/hate letter to the deep American South, and a series that's a must-read.


GRADE: A-

MAPPING THE INTERIOR by Stephen Graham Jones

This elegiac new novella by Stephen Graham Jones features a haunting in the way that I believe it would actually occur. Not with translucent, floating apparitions banging on walls, levitating over you while you sleep, or chasing you down the halls of your house, but a haunting by something much more personal, quiet, and understated the way it is here.

Jones uses weaves together elements of horror, superstition, family conflict, and Native American culture and lore to tell a coming of age story about a young boy searching for ways to connect with his dead father, who has begun to visit him and his brother late at night. In many horror books, the haunting is an external thing, a disturbance that our main character has to overcome. But here, I believe that the haunting is more interior, more a product of Junior's insecurities and fears than anything else. And to overcome it he has to overcome something within himself.

I do feel like it could've been a little more efficient in it's storytelling though. It feels extra-wordy and bloated and dulled the experience a bit.

Big ups to Netgalley and Tor Books for the Advance Reader Copy in exchange for this honest review.

GRADE: B-

Friday, June 16, 2017

SAGA: VOL. 3 by Brian K. Vaughan

Everything comes to a head now in this installment of Saga as all of our characters converge around Oswald Heist's lighthouse home on the sleepy planet Quietus. You can tell that the creators are more confident and comfortable with the characters and the story as things quiet down a bit and they focus on exploring them. But then it all blows up in grand action-packed form in the end. My favorite characters are still Prince Robot IV and The Will, the three-dimensional antagonists hunting our heroes. The series continues to be heartfelt and endearing and I can't wait to see where they take the story next! Tons of possibilities!


GRADE: A-

Thursday, June 15, 2017

LITTLE GIRL LOST by Richard Aleas

Richard Aleas's debut novel is a hard-boiled NY detective tale in the vein of Block's Scudder series but featuring one of the worst detectives out there. Seriously, it was kind of hilarious how this guy just couldn't get it together! He seemed to fail at even simple detective decision-making. But ultimately I think that was part of the point.

Our hero, John Blake is one half of a tiny detective agency and he is obsessed with solving the murder of his old high school sweetheart, a girl who went from pre-med studies to shaking her ass in a grimy titty bar called the Sin Factory. The story and its turns kept me fairly engaged throughout and Aleas keeps it all going at a smooth pace. But as a whole, the book never lived up to its potential, mostly due to the weak presentation of Blake's motivations. Despite a few flashbacks, I never really felt the connection between Blake and his deceased ex, a connection that's supposed to fuel Blake's dogged determination. If I really felt his emotional connection to Miranda, it could've made the events through the book and its ending much more affecting. But I still enjoyed it and it's another solid Hard Case Crime book!

GRADE: B-

Sunday, June 11, 2017

I HATE FAIRYLAND VOL. 2: FLUFF MY LIFE by Scottie Young


Yes, dammit. We're still stuck in Fairyland with Gertrude. But now she's in an interesting position after taking Cloudia's place as the queen of Fairyland and all the juicy authority that comes with it. But who would have guessed that being queen would be so boring and tiring? And Gertrude's maniacal search is still on to find secret ways of finally escaping Fairyland.

I enjoyed getting deeper into the world-building of Fairyland this go-round as Gertrude roams the land looking for a way out, and Scottie Young got a chance to flex his creativity even more. Although the story seemed a little less focused this time, this volume is funnier than the first one. It's become much more wacky and meta and with copious amounts of candy-colored ultra violence for our enjoyment! There's some crazy shit in here, like Gertie's dangerous adventure inside Larry's bottomless Hat of Holding where she's forced to fend off lint zombies. Not to mention the batshit final issue. I love it!


GRADE: B+

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

BAR SCARS by Nik Korpon

My life is a crooked deck of cards: all varying slightly, but basically the same and repeated endlessly.
Nik Korpon's short story collection exists in its very own Baltimore, a tough and uncompromising place that always seems to be shrouded in the dark of night and filled with sadness and ruin. And Korpon is the perfect person to give you the tour. He has this very singular, bluesy, atmospheric prose style that sets the mood and really finds the beauty in emotional wreckage. It's sharp, to the point, and uncompromising, while still being stylish.

I loved the way Korpon constantly peeled back different layers and pieces of information as each story moved forward, setting up expectations on what you think the story might be about at first, but subverting them at every turn, keeping you guessing about the characters and their motivations, whether they be a bootleg backroom surgical assistant in "His Footsteps are Made of Soot," a bagman on his way to propose to his girl in "Intersections," or a man in love with an underage girl in "A Sparrow with White Scars." Great little collection of contemporary noir. I love the way Korpon writes.
Pulling her close, we started dancing. Her breasts pressing on my chest, curves filling in the shape of my body, her fingers kneading mine, I took a chorus-length inhale, took in all her begonia and saltwater, her soft skin and our 2 AM laughs, our rough sex and quiet nights and everything we'd ever talked about and planned for, I took it in and held my breath.
GRADE: A-

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

SOUTHERN CROSS: VOL. 1 by Becky Cloonan

This moody piece is a bit of cosmic horror and mystery set aboard a large passenger vessel on the way to the Saturn refinery moon Titan, where ex-con Alex Braith wants to find out the truth about her sister's suspicious death and ends up stumbling onto something terrifying aboard the Southern Cross. I enjoyed a lot of the atmosphere in this one and the way the cold artwork made the ship feel almost subterranean. I especially loved the creative panel work to show the geography of the ship and some cool imagery. The story itself wasn't as memorable as I hoped and the heavy first-person present narration is a pet peeve of mine. Especially in a comic book. I'd rather the makers show not tell. The constant "I wonder what's around this corner" or "What have I done?" type of narration tends to grate my nerves.

See a sample of this below:



I might continue to see where this all goes but this first volume was disappointing.

GRADE: C


Friday, June 2, 2017

WONDER WOMAN: THE TRUE AMAZON by Jill Thompson

Wonder Woman has always had the reputation of being one of the most stable and well-adjusted of the comic book heroes as well as having on of the kindest hearts. What I liked about this most recent telling of her origin tale is the new take that Thompson takes on how she became that way. She portrays Diana as growing up as a spoiled brat and ultimately learning through her mistakes how to be the person we know her to be today. I've seen more than a few reviews that seem to be angry at this new approach, saying that it goes against everything that we know of Wonder Woman. That she's supposed to represent the best of us, that her role is to be an example for all of us. But I think that introducing this story's ideas makes her even more of an inspiration, showing that all of us can make mistakes and learn from them to be a better person. Plus, who wants to read a story where someone is always perfect.

The graphic novel is told in a storybook style that is a perfect fit for a mythical fable with magical lands and Greek gods, complete with a pretty watercolor-painted style and lots of "once upon a time" narration. Normally this might annoy me, but it really fits this story.

My only gripe here would be the circumstances around Diana leaving Themyscira. I believe that by taking away her choice to leave, it takes away some her choice to be selfless. But this new take seems pretty valid. Many seem to think that Wonder Woman wouldn't be a spoiled brat but I would expect any little girl with the knowledge that she was born from the tears of gods as a princess and pampered by everyone would grow to feel a bit entitled! And the fact that she makes tragic mistakes due to her arrogance and from those mistakes learned to selflessly fight for the weak is what makes her a true heroine. A true Wonder Woman.



GRADE: B+


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

ARARAT by Christopher Golden

Ararat is set in that always dependable horror environment:  the cold, unyielding snow. It also works as a pretty effective locked-room thriller as well, taking place almost entirely in a recently-opened cave thousands of miles high up on the side of a mountain. In it, a group of scientists and adventurers discover what they believe to be the mummified wreck of Noah's Ark. But it really starts to get freaky once they find a tomb there with a body inside. A body with horns on its head.

As I mentioned before, the location sets a great mood and Golden does a good job at maintaining the atmosphere and the isolation of being stuck in a 4,000 year old shipwreck in a never-ending snowstorm. What's pretty potent in the middle section of the book is the feeling of paranoia that begins to infect the group.

The book never really took off for me though. Golden seemed to be skirting around a lot of interesting ideas and great moments but never really nailing it the way I'd hoped. Some of the conflicts and plot twists came off as strained and artificial. It wasn't terrible but when it features such great material for a premise, and it's effective setting, I expected to be more engaged and affected than I was. Golden does some solid writing here but it feels as if a stronger writer would have taken this story and killed it! Ararat may make for a good summer read thriller for some though, along the lines of Michael Crichton, Dan Simmons, or Dan Brown.

GRADE: C+

Sunday, May 28, 2017

SAGA VOL. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan

Jumped back into Saga with this second volume! We pick up again with our heroes as they are still on the run in their rocket ship (which happens to be a living tree they picked out of a rocket ship forest). And The Will, Lying Cat, and their two unlikely new partners are still in hot pursuit. This volume is just as enjoyable and hilarious as the first one. But we also explore the characters a bit deeper.

We get flashbacks that show us the time when Alana and Marko first meet as enemies and fall in love, which not only pushes the story forward by setting up their desire to seek out Oswald Heist, but it also makes the reader love them even more as a couple which is what makes the series work so well. Every character is great and I want to learn more about them! I especially enjoyed the further development of Prince Robot IV and his PTSD.

Vaughan and Staples seem to have found something really special here with this series.


GRADE: A-