The Mask Omnibus Vol. 1 [Review]

The Mask

Omnibus Volume 1 

by

John Arcudi, Doug Mahnke

(Dark Horse Comics)

Ever since I saw “The Mask”, unbeknownst that there was a much grander source material I’ve been thinking, why isn’t it R rated? Why aren’t there splashes of blood and over the top murder? And with a somewhat long delay I found my answer, but it wasn’t in the televised Cuban Pete version or the cartoon legend everyone remembers and loves. It was in the Dark Horse comic book series where The Mask, created by Mike Richardson, itself starts off in the hands of dear ol’ familiar Stanley and in the process finds its way in the possession of many other people each following their own agenda that is contorted through the Mask’s inner desires to seed chaos and destruction.

Brilliantly showcased with vibrant art that bounces back and forth along the pages in explosions and car crashes and chainsaw extravaganza at its most mundane, the comic series paints the pros and cons of using the Mask and its ricocheted effect on all involved bystander-wise or direct participant. The item, ancient and mysterious and highly dangerous, feeds on the need for revenge, protection, security. It allows the execution of actions unimaginable prior and seemingly asks no price so it ultimately feels like the best and most insane option in succeeding, in prevailing. In that way it transforms mostly noble causes, or noble and explanatory to the self, into dark and grandiose happenings that result in people’s deaths, a result which remains somewhat dampened by the Mask like it’s a periphery occurrence that the user being ecstatic doesn’t register until it becomes too often, too vivid and violent. And while that “blood sacrifice” and hyped state of being probably pleases the Mask itself, the person wearing it however weak in control over its actions does understand at some point that this auto-pilot is too violent and evil to be trusted in a prolonged way.

So they muster enough control to remove it and bury it somewhere before it destroys them and others completely. It however always manages to find its way to a new user, a new person with some desire that he or she cannot complete because of personal weakness and inability to fight. The Mask then shows a fraction of its potential and the person is hooked. It grants immortality, immense power, bends reality and with a pun, a laugh, a jest empowers its user to do the killing while having fun.

Even in the first issue that starts off with Stanley buying the Mask as a gift for his girlfriend Kath, we get where this is going. He’s the little man, the one who gets punched around and he desperately wants to punch back but he is unable. He is weak. The mask sensing that is an enabler, granting that imperviousness to its user to do whatever he or she pleases. The first time he puts it on, Stanley gets that it’s powerful, that he is now powerful as a result. He quickly forgets that the Mask is on him, that it truthfully is in control but he’s fine with that, because to him his actions are his own even being stripped of consciousness or guilt or fear of God even. He is able to take it off but the obsession has already started and he is making plans, writing down lists with names of all the people who’ve hurt him or wronged him in any way. And he even says sarcastically or not about saving the world, about becoming a superhero, but first he goes on down that list of names and he murders those people in a number of fascinating ways. When the Mask gets taken away from him, he panics. Without it he is no one.

What’s cool about this series is that regardless of all the brutal and often graphic violence it depicts, it maintains the cartoony look, vibrant and caricature-like, and the dark humor most people loved from the movie and the cartoon is there, the comedy gut-punching is there and it even has it up a notch or two so it translates as even louder and more maniacal which ultimately is what should be expected and wanted from The Mask. Each representation of the Mask showcases a little bit of its user, so it feels tailored to the person. We get a Mask that is equal parts high-heeled and leather-clad sporting mini-skirts and spikes and suave suits as the boss of the mafia. It’s never righteous, it’s psychopathic but with a pie hiding a bomb so it entertains. The art is on par with the actions and the narrative itself transforming itself to fit the shape-shifting skills of the Mask and for me it is by far the best way to enjoy the story not via one character but through many which allows a grander understanding and viewing of its capabilities.

The omnibus version which I read for vol. 1 is a hefty 370 pages but that gives a better flow to the story in my opinion. It’s easier to read it all at once without missing a beat but if you prefer it separated it appears as a trilogy.

If you’re a fan of The Mask and have somehow missed this comic book series, I highly recommended it. The original is pretty much always the best.

 

*Images used here belong to their sole creators.

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The Books of Magic 1-4 by Neil Gaiman [Review]

The Books of Magic 1-4 (1990-1991) DC Comics, Vertigo

By Neil Gaiman 

As an avid fan of Neil Gaiman’s work I was super surprised to find out I totally missed out on The Books of Magic. I think I knew of the four issues in the back of my head but completely forgot they were a huge thing as time went by. And the weird thing is I was reminded of them due to a semi-recent tweet that addressed more or less people complaining Gaiman stole the idea of a boy “wizard” in his starting steps from J.K. Rowling. What sparked that conversation on Twitter I have no idea (was it the owl? Because Tim has an owl called Yo-Yo? People did read the comics before going on a Twitter rant, right? They know an actual yo-yo was turned into an owl just for Tim to know magic is real?), but it resulted in people and even Neil Gaiman himself having to explain to other users how fiction writing works and how inspiration works and also that 1990 comes before 1997. Yep, the Philosopher’s Stone came out in 1997 and The Books of Magic were written between 1990 and 1991. I think that’s pretty much a discussion ender there. Anyways…

Aside from that, as always I was really happy to explore another piece of Gaiman fiction in a universe I am familiar and comfortable with.

The Books of Magic give the starting point to Timothy Hunter’s adventure in becoming, if he choses so, one of the greatest if not the greatest magician of his generation. As he is quite young and unaware of that possibility, four practitioners of magic take it upon themselves to introduce Tim to the capabilities, promises, dangers, opportunities and costs of magic. Dubbed the “TrenchCoat Brigade”, its four members are John Constantine, the Phantom Stranger, Dr. Occult, and Mister E. Each of them take Tim on a specifically tailored tour of the magical realms that showcases certain aspects set in the distant past, the chaotic present, the dangerous multi-realms and Faerie and the far, far set future.

 

Between these points in time and magic, Tim is introduced to what are essentially Vertigo’s and DC’s greatest magical persons – Zatanna, Madame Xanadu, Dr. Fate, The Spectre, Merlin and many more. A fantastic treat are the appearances of Dream of the Endless and Death of the Endless, Sandman’s perhaps most beloved characters (I know they are mine).

So, in all that Tim has to decide whether he wants to pursue magic or science, science being a life of normality and rationality and safety without a hint of magic. He is given the opportunity to learn about magic and thus decide whether he wants it and also unbeknownst to him passes a sort of test which might help determine whether his affiliation, if he chooses magic, will lie with the forces of good or evil. Though that’s somewhat of a blurry line in that universe as things are neither black nor white. They’re kind of mood indigo, as Mister E knows all too well.

I wouldn’t want to spoil too much for anyone who hasn’t had the chance to read these four issues though it’s been years since they came out and the respected characters appear not only in their own arch’s but in many collaborative issues such as Justice League Dark and even the Sandman series just to name two out of the top of my head.

If you are keen on magic but in its philosophical, transcendental, esoteric, ancient, powerful and dark visage and admire smart and elegant and through and through brilliant writing that’s syphoning life-lessons on the backdrop of angels cascading flaming to earth, or Atlantis crumbling in the distance, or the universe and the stars being birthed, led by hierophant’s and jackasses and occult figures without true names, then this is absolutely the mini-series for you. You even get Death telling you about that appointment in Samara. Well not with so many words. You know the one, right? There was a merchant in Bagdad…

The mini-series is very strong even as a standalone series. Tim Hunter’s adventures do continue after this and the Books of Magic themselves make an appearance in Hellblazer and in Justice League Dark where John Constantine and Zatanna are important if not main characters. So there is a nice tie-in between very familiar characters and places that have been around in print form for a long time like Hellblazer, Sandman, Faerie to name some of the bigger ones. They don’t require an extensive introduction not only because of their pop-culture popularity but also since passing through them we do so as Tim does, our and his interval of introduction is based on the need to acquire knowledge, not to linger. It’s not an exploration mission, it’s one of understanding basics.

The Sphinx claimed that we are not really here at all. That we are an illusion, an oscillation in the final Event Horizon. But we feel like wer are real. We bicker and fight and make love for warmth and for comfort; We huddle together, and distrust one another.

                                                                                                                                             – Issue 4

My point being, even if you are a reader unfamiliar with that universe, you can still enjoy it just as much as avid fans do, because you get to experience these worlds and characters in their possibly most condensed form without losing from their allure and world mechanism. As brief as they come and go you understand what they are meant to be or represent.

Boston Brand aka Deadman even makes an appearance in The Books of Magic jumping from person to person to occupy their bodies and speak to Tim to inform him on who wants to kill him. The Spectre, though very briefly appears in the second issue and he is a huge DC character in its multiverse. Lady Titania, the Queen of Faerie represents a vital part in the third issue but she shares that introduction into Faerie with a famous fairy tale figure Baba Yaga, with a multitude of realms each bearing their own stories told masterfully in one page.

 “Here do many demons make their homes, the twisted geometries conforming with their own dark internal vistas…”

                                                                                                                                                       -Issue 3

John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess and Paul Johnson deserve more than praise for their work. They did fantastic work on the art of each of the four issues. Building these transitions in magic through realms in colors that stand out, that speak of ethereal and mystical is by far not an easy task as isn’t refreshing known characters and stylizing them according to the topic, the realms, this “TrenchCoat Brigade” but also keeping them consistent throughout the adventure even though each artists gives them different nuances. Each panel is detailed and the pages made such that they don’t feel clustered and obtrusive with colors or text. As always there are a few snapshots here for the viewing pleasure but their main purpose is to show just how amazing the art is and how important to this type of story. It is here to hook you up.

Any of you who know Neil Gaiman or his work know the universes he creates and know how carefully crafted they are, how vast and expanding they are and yet in their heart stands one person and their journey and them meeting all these bizarre and terrifying and amusing characters who offer riddles, or advice, or tales or danger. Trust me, The Books of Magic are a pleasure.

*Images and quotes used here belong to their sole creators. 

Visiting “Naomi’s Room” [Review]

Naomi’s Room

by  Jonathan Aycliffe

*Spoilers, maybe, I don’t know…

 

I can say with ease that I love horror novels. I love spooks, creaking floors and unnatural shadows and all that. I love horror in general, sub-genres and all. I’m a fan. One thing I don’t particularly like is little creepy ghost children. There’s something impossibly horrible about them versus any other ghost. So naturally “Naomi’s Room” was the perfect choice for a late night read.

To keep it short, the novel first introduces us to Dr. Charles Hillenbrand, the narrator of the novel. He’s a Cambridge academic enjoying a fantastic life with his wife Laura and four-year old daughter Naomi. The year is 1970 and as all is idyllic and the season is that of celebration, Charles takes Naomi out to shopping in London for Christmas Eve where the eager little girl wonders and cheers at the splendor of a toy store. Until Charles takes his eyes of her and Naomi disappears. Days later she is found dead in a nearby alley.

Now right off the start I really enjoyed what direction the novel took. It’s eerily atmospheric with a sort of archaic feel and phrasing to it but it settles the reader nicely in and doesn’t fool around with the paranormal aspect. But it can be quickly put aside for a certain amount of the first part of the novel, because it centers more on the grief of two parents who are completely helpless and equal doses of hopeful and devastated and desperate as the hours roll by and their little girl is missing. Ultimately she is found but she has been killed. The novel prepares you for that early on; it’s the story that leads to the reason of that early reveal that’s important.

We’ve all experienced the haunted house trope either through movies or games or novels and there’s a general idea as to how they work and what we can expect, so it’s crucial how the author controls and uses that environment. In “Naomi’s Room”, Aycliffe has the house more as a background character, a stage on which the story develops; it’s not highly interactive, it’s not responsible for the spooks themselves but it does serve a sufficient and important role as it is dimensional. In the true sense of the word, it shifts between time periods within the characters presence, so it not only provides a stage for the ghosts to manifest, but it also helps propel the story and gives it a refreshing touch with these very creepy time shifts happening in real time that feel not only like a gaze foreshadowing the outcome of the novel, but as a trap created by this evil presence and not by the house itself.

Aycliffe dodges the clichés haunted houses tend to run along with; the information he provides to the reader via Charles is compressed and given at a tension infused pace that helps keep you on edge. It’s very present as the memoir Charles is writing is the now of the story but we’re also experiencing the past very gradually at a nice pace that offers chunks of the truth, of the final reveal, filling the puzzle piece by piece. So the novel itself has a sense of time shifting in which the horror is both in the present and in the past; it’s very close and imminent in the present where Charles is 20 years after Naomi’s kidnapping and death, it’s with him in the rooms of the house, behind his back, so he’s very stationary as he tells that but the reader is prompted to understand and feel a lurking evil.

 “She is here now, here with me in the study. I do not have to look round to know, I can feel her presence, I have acquired a sensitivity. She has never come down here before, into this room, I had thought I was safe from her here.”

“Daddy.” Her voice, behind me, at the door. “Daddy.”

“I will not turn, I will not look at her.”

Like that. It spooks you because it comes as interruptions in his storytelling and it sometimes does that unexpectedly, reminding you the horror is not forgotten and this isn’t a novel telling of something that is over. Whereas in the past the horror happens slowly, it comes in waves that suffer proper explanation due to grief and is more inconsistent, the evil is still more of a theory and a sensation than a true happening. Until the novel kicks into full gear. Then it’s straight to hell.

What weirdly enough had me chuckle a bit were the steps of revelation into Naomi’s death. That’s probably my only bicker with the novel. It was like those jokes that keep adding up for the shock factor, black humour-esq. I suppose the author detained the details so the reader could gradually find out the murder wasn’t a regular one, that it meant something or it was the exact opposite, that it served to derail both the characters and the readers as to the nature of the killing. I’m not sure, that’s pretty much open to interpretation.

For me the “shock factor” for a lack of a better word was not in these gory descriptions of mutilations of a child, though I know that would upset most people and it would sit with them for some time. It was the notion the novel first installed, the one in the quotes above, that the child is still present in the house but that she is an apparition between the moments before death and the moments after it, so she appears normal and interactive in that way but at the same time she is a walking demonstration of the aftermath of her killer’s actions.  I suppose that’s how the necessary added details connect with the narrative. Charles also sees both versions and instead of handing them to the reader at once, the author slips in the details here and there to prepare us for how and why the characters act a certain way later on. Also again for the desired shock factor in the end that just keeps on adding and adding mercilessly. It’s a foreshadowing in a way for the finale. Not for the faint-hearted readers I guess.

I did enjoy the way the reveals were done in terms of discovering there are multiple ghosts in the house. It was through photographs taken by a journalist or paparazzi come to film the grieving couple. As all that may seem familiar what’s nice here is that the journalist took it upon himself to understand the logic behind the existence of spirits in the house and their intent, to try to save Charles and Laura by providing them with evidence of multiple shots from different angles and places in and of the house. He is the key figure in the narrative prompting an investigation.

The fact that the novel stays away from doors slamming and nightly whispers most of the time and instead works in a more psychological manner with overwhelming feelings and abnormal behavior infesting their clarity, was very nice. The force of evil that the characters faced was more often present inside them, manifesting through impure thoughts and desires to harm and control and abuse, quite directly sexually abuse even. And that was the uneasy part of the novel, the one you know will escalate tremendously by the end. Again there is a shock factor there to show how merciless and impossible to bypass the situation is – there is no hero of the hour, no escape, no last survivors in that sense of the word. We are weak and corruptible and the thoughts of harm are there in our being just waiting to be unlocked, to be guided perhaps. All it takes is a whisper in your ear, an idea.

Overall “Naomi’s Room” is a great read; it’s proper scary, it’s gory, it’s psychological and intense and for such a short read (somewhere around 200 pages, depends on the copy) it serves a complete story with heart-thumping escalation and reveals that keep you on edge while at the same time takes the readers on an emotional ride through loss and grief and insanity. And if like me you don’t really fancy creepy little ghost children, I recommend reading this late at night, under your bed covers if you’re a Kindle user, or under a fragile light in a quiet room. All alone. 10/10

Descender – Pure Sci-Fi Bliss [Review]

Descender (2015 – ongoing, Image comics)

By  Jeff Lemire Dustin Nguyen

On a long quest to find new and fresh SF comics to read, I stumbled upon Descender and I immediately fell in love with it.

To keep it short and sweet, Descender invites you to enter a universe where androids are a common element in people’s daily lives, from companions to worker bots and so on. Of nine core planets that are under the rule of the United Galactic Council or UGC for short our attention is placed on Niyarata, the technological and cultural hub of the UGC, populated with over 5 billion people. Then, right from the get go an attack of colossal proportions takes place – a space invasion from gigantic robots called Harvesters, an unknown and unpredictable force.

Ten years later, Niyarata has a population of barely 1 billion and the androids, well they are facing genocide as people blame them for the attack. As humanity, shaken and nearly destroyed rise from the ashes of their demolished cities, only the robots remain to put the blame on and retaliate against. With an outlaw issued and bounty hunters known as Scrappers tracking them for sports or cash or revenge, the remaining androids have only two options – they can either flee, hoping to survive the melting pits, or they can take up arms and start a rebellion.

But the protagonist, a specific advanced type of android built by Dr. Jin Quon (so advanced its on par with Westworld hosts in its vision and mannerisms but like more deadly and yet sweet? ), a young boy bot companion for your child or elderly called TIM-21 is far away from the troubles of the planets. He has been asleep for the past 10 years on a small mining colony. And once he wakes up only to find everyone dead and the mines abandoned, the journey begins.

 

No, not an A.I. Artificial Intelligence type of journey, though both works of fiction feature a child android with built or inherited or learned complex emotions and a strong connection to a family or family member. Tim-21 knows what he is and he knows deep in his core what his purpose was. That however does not stop him from addressing his human “owner” as brother – he cares deeply for Andy, the child he was assigned to and Andy’s mother, who both took him in as a son and a brother. So he feels responsible for them, afraid that they’ve been hurt. Understanding Andy has survived the disaster in the colony he sets of to find him. Find his brother. It is that pure and simple for Tim-21.

What I love about this series is that the art style is fucking amazing – the watercolor layer makes everything pop out and is really gorgeous to look at; the character models and world building, these huge, desolate landscapes and vast patches of space are simply beautiful – Dustin Nguyen has done and is doing an outstanding job of bringing to life visually pleasing faces and places  in a kind of old school way, it often just reminds me of older SF comics.

What I also love about Descender is that it introduces in a comfortable pace new and interesting characters that are complex each in their own way. Tim-21 has his own journey and it stretches beyond that of his want to find Andy and protect his pet-bot Bandit; The worker bot, Driller may seem as just an addition to the team for his “Driller is a Real Killer” puns, but he has a much larger and important role and his own heartfelt story line which develops over time without feeling tedious or a burden to the whole of the narrative.

Captain Telsa ( ok, there was a pun with calling her Tesla by accident, I’ll let that one slide cause it’s inevitable) strong-headed and rule-obeying as she seems, takes a complete turn from fighting robots to helping one. She becomes invested in this bonkers world and war and the secrets of the Descender and what the Harvesters mean.

Andy, all grown-up and a Scrapper himself is torn between the man he thinks he is and the boy he used to be.

And there is this group of people who support the robots and protect their rights by augmenting themselves with robotic parts, becoming cyborgs essentially. It’s a fascinating universe that Jeff Lemire wrote and loves and lives in, or has lived in since his childhood unbeknownst to him even. So you can easily understand and read the passion he’s put into Descender and how much more the story has to offer and evolve. With just 28 issues published there is so much room to expand the universe and understand more behind its nine planets and their purpose and secrets.

The story has a very ancient and mysterious war in its core that opens up to the reader little by little as the narrative progresses and it has very precise twists and turns and pre-history that grows the lore that the first issue barely scratches the surface of.

All of the characters are likable, even the flawed one because they have such strong voices and emotions.

I highly recommend Descender. It is as I said a refreshing and of the times SF story inhabited by wonderful characters via a strong storytelling and a mystery still unfolding plus the cherry on top – its gorgeous to look at art.

 

*Images used here belong to their sole creator. All images taken from Vol. 1: Tin Stars

The Arrival by Shaun Tan [Review]

The Arrival (2007)

By

Shaun Tan

 

Immigrating somewhere far away from everything you know and love, to e place that is foreign in all aspects is an unimaginably difficult task that often if not always rises out of necessity – the desperate need for a better and more secure life, a one-way ticket to self-exploration and inner peace, the escape from the dreadful reaches of war.

“The Arrival” explores the struggles of immigration through the heartbreaking story of a man parting from his wife and daughter as he boards a steamship across the ocean to find a better future for the three of them.

Very intimately through Shaun Tan’s brilliant imagination and gorgeous pencil art we are invited to observe the man’s exploration, his experience and struggles as he lands in an unknown land of impossible proportions and architecture without the knowledge of the language and understanding of the local customs.

It’s maybe hard for some people to imagine that culture shock and instant barrier for probably the most important of tools anyone can have in a foreign land – words, language. Especially if said language has none and uses symbols, shapes and geometry instead. Then it becomes impossible to navigate without a true to the source reference.

The very important look and style of The Arrival come into play here. I was truly hooked from the first panel because the art style is simply gorgeous and the emotions evoked through it are resting on such a wide specter. Animals inhabiting the strange new land have so much personality and charm and I’m a huge sucker of a good side-kick, companion pet.

      Harbour’ pencil on paper by Shaun Tan

It’s an altogether different type of graphic novel, very different from the ones I’m used to read – in order to tell the story, Tan cleverly strips all words away and at first I was a bit worried whether I would understand what’s happening or will be completely lost in translation, but Tan presents each panel carefully, taking time and slots to follow a complete and detailed narrative. That way our experience can be as equal as that of the main character.

And as he cannot communicate with the symbol language of the megalopolis, so can’t  we as the readers. We are forbidden that luxury and so understand the isolation that builds for the man so far away from home. We begin learning with him, growing in this world and slowly becoming part of it. We are left with wordless art that speaks volumes.

Suddenly we are able to experience joy just like the main character does because even if the place is difficult to grasp and navigate it isn’t that much foreign when you look closely. How many more were on that steam ship coming to this new land? How many have come before?

We do meet some of them. Without a shared language they have shared stories intersected by their necessity to leave and their decision to do it. With the sharing of food and music they do communicate and tell their own stories in individual panels that address child labor and war. But as the last square in panel of their arc drives them away from that past life and into this city of acceptance and colorful nationalities, it also communicates happiness and hope. For them and for our main character it’s a new chance to be alive and to have a future. One hurdle at a time.

“The Arrival” is an important graphic novel; it’s an important story deriving its topic from historical facts from the 1800 and 1900 hundreds through to today.  And it’s probably one of the most beautifully drawn ones I’ve read. I say read for a lack of a better word. Experienced? It could be both – you can read it, read through the expressions, the faces, the buildings, the symbols, the interactions. And you can experience it just from the viewpoint of the main character as he stumbles in isolation and exploration, wordless through to his joy and embracing of the world.

What I can do is implore you to read The Arrival if you haven’t. Tan comes from a family of immigrants himself and you can read more about that influencing him and this book on his website, but just know that The Arrival tells real stories of real people regardless of its fantastical world.

Actual stories of immigrants are incorporated into the story whether indirectly or not. By all its means, it’s a way to represent true fates, true events that transpired and made an impact. You can learn that just by seeing the spreads filled with portraits of so many people.

I hope I at least spark someone’s curiosity to go and check the story for themselves in whatever format you prefer. Because it is worth it.

 

*Images used belong to the sole creator of the work.

Plutona – A Review

Plutona (2016, Image Comics)

By

Jeff Lemire & Emi Lenox 

I don’t know if you’ve ever put thought into what could happen if a bunch of kids found a corpse in the woods and what might follow that discovery and luckily or not for you someone did just that but put a neat spin to it and made the corpse that of a superhero, nay not just any random one but the world’s greatest superhero, Plutona.

In a short arc this comic or rather graphic novel manages to introduce the duality of superheroes. We are introduced to some rather bizarre names put on a list but Dr. Bion and C.O.M.BAT and Blastek remain fixated as just the heroes or villains of the night. Plutona on the other hand works shifts at a diner and looks and feels tired. She wants to go home to her daughter and be a mother. But duty often calls first and off she goes, changing one personality for the other inherited one, the one who fights for justice. Leaving motherhood somewhere in between.  It’s rather sad because we don’t get to know her beyond that like a backstory, but the provided glimpses of her actual superheroing (is that a word?)  as character strokes are sufficient to make us lament her sudden death.

But in its core this comic obsesses itself with the lives of people living outside of that range of powers and direct impact. It’s the suburbs where nothing ever happens. Even if and when we go with that semi cliché, there are the five kids to consider – Mie, Mike, Diane, Teddy and Ray.

They are quickly recognizable as character types just by the introduction panels: the rebel (Mie), the youngest one(her brother Mike), the shy one (best friend Diane), the geek obsessed with superheroes (Teddy) and the bully (Ray). And perhaps at first I did think, oh here we go again, stereotypes. I know how these characters are going to work with the story and how they would act but the truth is I was kind of wrong.

I wouldn’t want to give away much on their shift in personality here. The experience of finding the body does affect that but the pre-existing factor that is building and growing within them is there and it has to do with loneliness, with anxiety, domestic issues, hopes and dreams. And I’m oversimplifying it, I’m sure.

So what happens when these five unlikely and bored to death kids find the body of Plutona deep into the woods?

They become afraid. Sure finally something has happened but it’s not the epic adventure they’ve all low key dreamed of. They make a pact to not tell anyone and persistently reassure each other no one is going to snitch. Because they think their parents and school will sound trouble if they knew. Because they think some villain might follow.

Mostly I suppose because the greatest superhero is in fact dead. And if that symbol of hope is dead then…what’s left for them? Sure, some of them are so uninterested in the lives of superheroes you might wonder how is that even possible. That’s a symptom from viewing our superhero movies. It’s easy to deceive yourself the happenings in them are global when in fact they never really are. And Marvel’s TV series such as Jessica Jones make that an even more obvious fact. People on the ground floor, the streets don’t associate themselves with what happens high in the skies where most often these colossal battles are fought and won or lost. They just carry on living.

And just like that for the five suburban children, life in the city where all the action occurs seems very distant. It’s easy for them to detach. The natural curiosity rises only when Plutona is presented to them. It’s an affirmation, it’s a crack in their reality, a solid fact that removes the control and perpetuity of the daily from their lives. The only truth remains deep into the woods. And the questions. What are they to do with it? What could they possibly do with that power of knowledge? And how would that affect the rest of their lives?

It does run a bit short and on first reading the ending felt abrupt and the climax surprisingly shifted to another conclusion all too sudden but a re-reading allows a sense of direction and proven plot twists from Lemire and Lenox to flow through the cracks to mend the bumps. They do know what they were going for and it does work given time to process it and accept that there’s a unexpected shift in the narrative.

Overall it’s a fun read, it’s beautiful to look at, it’s quirky, it has superheroes and an aerial fight and most important of all it has the difficult and long and terrifying coming of age and facing consequences.

That being said, if by chance you’ve missed Plutona because as you can see it came out in 2016, I advise you to go check it out. By sheer viewing of the displayed art or two here you can catch just how smooth and clean the art is and how refreshing the character models.

 

 

*Images used belog to the sole creators of the comic

#BestReads2017: Outdoorsy Horror

Lists from previous years:

Best Reads 2012

Best Reads 2013

Best Reads 2014

Best Reads 2015

Best Reads 2016

I hope you had a fantastic 2017 and that you read the best, the kindest, the scariest, funniest, saddest and most adventurous stories to your heart’s content! If you have a list, please feel free to share it in the comments. Book suggestions are always welcomed.

FANTASY/SCI-FI

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

9969571It’s a somewhat weird moment when you find a book through a song but browsing through YouTube’s forgotten hits of the 80’s would do that for you it appears. Oingo Bongo’s ‘Dead Man’s Party’ had a top comment “Waiting for Anorak’s invitation to arrive” and naturally I got curious what that references. I’m very glad I did because ‘Ready Player One’ was probably my favorite summer read.

It has a pinch of that teen romance gamers edition, but it runs alongside a deftly generated world (to think of one close reference, it’s akin to what you can see in Sword Art Online for all you anime fans out there) geekish to bursting, chock-full of references, stretching out platforms to Japanese tv shows and cultural pop phenomenon’s and of course paying a wonderful homage to everything 80’s. And I loved that. I’m a big 80’s enthusiast myself, music and movie wise, so those were 385 pages of sheer pleasure and geek-out.

All that is nicely layered on top of a dystopian future in which as a paradox opposing the societal degradation, endless possibilities exist built within what is a beastly virtual reality machinery in the face of a complex imagination-stretching world, or I should rather say universe, called the Oasis.

Throw into that mix some traditional RPG tropes, an adventure, a quest system worth billions and I think you end up with an entertaining story worth the read.

HISTORICAL/DYSTOPIAN

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

38447The most captivating aspect of this ageless dystopian novel is its protagonist’s point of view storytelling. I’m sure there’s no argument there. It’s akin to time traveling within the narrative without the pressure of it being labeled as sci-fi or having need of machines and quantum mechanics. And it shakes you; it pulls you down and strips you naked and often takes your breath away.

It’s kind of fitting reading it today and I’m certain we’ll be reading it tomorrow and next year and at these different times we’ll view it either as a dystopian, futuristic story, or as a historical artefact. It will be relevant at all times and it will be a pinnacle for many women as it has been thus far.

I was fascinated at how much nostalgia it carries and what strong attention it gives to these everyday “invisible” things and objects that serve as some sort of weird corner stones of our lives, of our understanding of modern and ownership. And then there’s the interaction human to human, a frivolous act that can be difficult and anxiety burdened and that usually requires a non-linear and a vastly subconscious approach and it’s destroyed in Atwood’s work. It’s brought down to absurdity. Can you imagine not having Offred’s inner thoughts, her memories? Just those orchestrated interactions, dry and suspicious? You wouldn’t even think about the layers of words and thoughts and fears that are quieted down behind “the right thing to say”.

It’s a fascinating novel and I strongly advise reading it.

HORROR/THRILLER

Bone White by Ronald Malfi

32920015‘Bone White’ is a 2017 newbie but man, does it pack a punch! It’s what I’d say a claustrophobic novel set within the coldest, most remote parts of Alaska. Malfi deftly handles what could easily be local lore, mythology and the supernatural elements mixing it with the sudden confession of a serial killer, the discovery of numerous unmarked graves, a town called Dread’s Hand (which isn’t a far stretch cause’ Alaska has places called Red Devil, Holy Cross and Crooked Creek) and a man hell bent of finding what happened to his missing brother.

I loved’ Bone White’ and would have even if it didn’t throw in the word ‘wendigo’. As far as its wilderness exploration goes (and boy does it go far) it has that Algernon Blackwood flavor that I respect and love and fear but it does its own thing. I can’t share the lore of it without spoiling major aspects but it’s gut churning, skin crawling and worth delving into.

As with these types of novels where it’s a whodunit mixed in with a supernatural fueled thriller, the ending doesn’t disappoint. Far from it.

I highly recommend Ronald Malfi’s ‘Bone White’. It’s certainly a high contender for best horror novel.

The Ritual by Adam Nevill

12063443It’s been years of bypassing anything Nevill and I blame ‘Apartment 16’. Or maybe my mood at the time. Could be a mixture of both. But I had a hard time digesting his pacing until I gave ‘The Ritual’ a fair try.

Sure, at the start its all japes and grumbling and friendly banter but the atmosphere is tense right from the get go and it’s a miserable one. The surrounding nature is nothing equal to that described by Blackwood for example with ‘The Willows’. It’s not a direct character per say, it’s a nuisance, it’s a labyrinth and it’s a guide of sorts but it’s not the subject of the character’s direct fears. It’s what within the woods.

What I love about ‘The Ritual’ is the sense of true expedition, though one gone horribly, horribly wrong. But the hike bears all the marks that make it believable – it’s tiresome and treacherous and lonely. It however lacks that spiritual, cleansing, outdoorsy sensation and replaces it with the helplessness and hopelessness of disorientation, lack of communication and the feeling of trespassing. That on itself is terrifying and it progresses and escalates in terms of the narrative with the decreasing amount of provisions, the sustained injuries and the incessant battle with the unyielding nature. It’s barren against the human spirit, a continuing isolation far, far from civilization and yet rather close to the wrong one.

I’m happy when a novel keeps me suspicious and cautious and I love it even more when it tweaks things to that disturbing level making you me uncomfortable. ‘The Ritual’ certainly did that. I enjoyed the lurking monstrosity, was pretty on terms with the gore part, but I was mostly a fan of that religious aspect of it, of the desolate, forgotten monuments, the Nordic runes hidden within the forest’s folds. The decrepit filter on top of the base narrative is what really sold it to me. And of course the sudden shift from endless wandering and death to a very reminiscent of actual Scandinavian metal/riot history, part 2 of the book. That’s when the true Ritual begins and when the novel really tests the reader. It’s by far not the most disturbing or lacking humanity story I’ve read.

I mean there’s ‘Zombie’ and many, many more all disturbing in their own fashion, but ‘The Ritual’ being the psychological horror that it is, kept me reading way into the early hours day after day. It urges to be progressed and thus served to give me a very different opinion on Nevill’s work. He gave the novel a reality check on superstition, old, pagan beliefs and deities, brought them back under the sounds of death metal (black metal, doom metal any kind of worshiping metal. Rock on!) and he did it via Norwegian and Swedish lore risen together in an effigy of its own.

GRAPHIC NOVELS

The October Faction by  Steve Niles and Damien Worm

25061099‘The October Faction’, a four-volume graphic novel is nothing particularly new on the drawn horizon, but its art done by Damian Worm is outstanding and the issues are worth checking just based on that.

It tells the story of the monster-hunting Allan family, semi-retired from the ghastly business until they are urged to get back in and this time include the children, who also possess certain abilities witching and warlocking being the main two. It’s an adventure beautifully done in browns and blues, blacks and deep yellows and dried-blood reds, dealing with the price of hiding truths and feeding lies, of soul-seeing teens, homosexuality, coming of age, purpose in life and much more craziness.

It’s the family business up-jumped aka popularized vastly by Supernatural but with refined finesse that in following issues expands and welcomes in a werewolf and a robot?

Nothing can suffice to convince to the worthy read so look at these pages I took the liberty of adding for viewing pleasure.

 

SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS    

 Fishing the Sloe-Black River by Colum McCann

110898Life is being far away from home, being alone, being weak, being loved. It’s being afraid and caring about others. And when it’s done like an Irish lullaby, well…it’s something special. It’s very human. It’s stories you wished you knew yourself but then reading them in ‘Fishing the Sloe-Black River’ you feel like you might have been there.

There are a roulette of outstanding characters, quirky and bold, young and old. They each have unique stories.

‘Sisters’ and ‘Around the Bend and Back Again’ are favorites, I think. Tomorrow maybe others will be.

 

 

 

I wish you to read many more books in 2018 and share them with others. A single book can bring so much joy in someone’s life.