Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Book List 2015: May


* = reread
[GN] = Graphic novel or comic anthology

[GN]   59 & 60   [GN]


Prelude to Schism
written by. Paul Jenkins
pencils by. Will Conrad, Roberto de la Torre, Clay Mann, & Andrea Mutti

written by. Jason Aaron & Kieron Gillen
pencils by. Daniel Acuna, Frank Cho, Alan Davis, Adam Kubert, Carlos Pacheco, & Billy Tan

Scott Summers (aka Cyclops) has finally created a home for mutant kind on the island of Utopia. But when a newly reformed Hellfire Club stirs up anti-mutant hysteria Summers gets backed into a corner and is forced to make a decision in which there are no right answers...one that could break apart the X-Men for good.

So in Ms. Marvel theres a story where Wolverine has a cameo by and he briefly mentions the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning and I was like, What? Theres a Jean Grey school? When did that happen? So I read Jason Aarons Wolverine and the X-Men in order to see what that was about. And then Wolverine and the X-Men talks about how the school was started after Wolverine quit the X-Men due to the events of the Schism storyline. So my curiosity then forced me to find out what happened here!

[as you can tell superhero comics are a rabbit hole of intertwining stories]

Prelude to Schism:
This one is kind of stupid actually. Its a collection of 4 comics, each one taking a look at a different mutant leader (Professor X, Magneto, Cyclops, and Wolverine) and looking at how their past and personality effects how they lead. While I imagine it would be great for newer X-Men fans, it kind of seemed like a glorified clip show to me.

This oneon the other hand—is quite exciting. My only problem is that the artists in this book cant draw young adults to save their life. The young adults all look like weird skinny adults? Something like that. In Wolverine and the X-men comics theyre generally pretty good at drawing young people, so seeing those characters looking all crazy was especially unsettling.

In other news: F*#% Cyclops. Now that I know why the split happened I am totally on team Wolverine here. I mean, Cyclops was always a dull character, but now he is officially the worst.

[GN] *  61.  * [GN]

volumes 1-5

by. Kiyohiko Azuma

The light-hearted tales of an endlessly energetic and fun-loving little kid named Yotsuba and the many little adventures she has with her father and her next-door neighbors.

Perhaps the cutest comic series ever? Quite possibly!

Normally I dont put manga on here unless Ive read the entire series, because listing becomes very complicated when you’re reading 30+ volumes of something over a long period. But unfortunately that also means that some beloved series of mine dont always get included, because Ill jump in and out of them at different storylines, instead of reading through the whole thing straight.

But these lists subtly change over the years and its time I started working in the manga Im re-reading.

And nothing puts a smile on my face faster than Yotsuba&! It is just the sweetest thing. Its like everything you love about little kids distilled into comic form. It is one of my all time favorite comics.


Machine Man

by. Max Barry

After an engineer loses a leg in a lab accident he starts to realize just how inefficient flesh is and starts down a road of trying to build himself a better body. However, the people around him all have their own plans for his designs.

It was an enjoyable read, but Im really at a loss about what the point of it was. It seemed to be advocating for people to embrace technology over biology, while simultaneously making that seem like a really horrible idea.

So who knows. I will say this though: Max Barrys novels are not always brilliantly plotted, but they are always incredibly interesting. They never fail to make you look at a part of our world in a different way.

“Oh. I didn’t try to kill myself. I’ve been saying this over and over. I don’t want to kill myself. I just want to replace my legs.”
-pg. 70

*   63.   *


by. Terry Pratchett

When an assassin is hired to do away with the jolly gift-giving winter deity known as the Hogfather, Death must fill in for him while his granddaughter Susan tries to save his life.

I think that after Night Watch this is the next Discworld story Im most familiar with (although that probably has a lot to do with the fact that I watch the movie adaptation every Christmas).

The book is a bit of an odd one in that parts of it are just phenomenal and other parts fall a bit flat.

As far as Christmas satire goes it doesnt get any better than this. Not to mention that it stars the wonderful character Susan Sto Helit & provides some of the most philosophically brilliant passages of the entire series.

Yet, Ive gotta say that the plot is far from streamline. It tends to meander all over the place.

Its sad, there are only 3 novels starring Susan and Im already through 2 of them! ;___;

“After tea she read them a story. They liked her stories. The one in the book was pretty awful, but the Susan version was well received. She translated as she read.

‘...and then Jack chopped down the beanstalk, adding murder and ecological vandalism to the theft, enticement and trespass charges already mentioned, but he got away with it and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done. Which proves that you can be excused just about anything if youre a hero, because no one asks inconvenient questions. And now,’ she closed the book with a snap, ‘its time for bed.’”
-pg. 24-25

[GN]   64. & 65.   [GN]

Wolverine and the X-Men:

Volume 5
written by. Jason Aaron
pencils by. Nick Bradshaw, David Lopez, & Steve Sanders

Volume 6
written by. Jason Aaron
pencils by. Ramon K. Perez

These comics continue to be thoroughly enjoyable. Especially because these ones dont have any of the continuity/crossover madness the last couple did AND they start introducing some fun new characters in these two volumes. Plus all the usual silly-good-fun adventures continue.

The only real negative I have with the series is that I think they could do with a little less superhero-y action and a little more character-development drama overall. Don’t get me wrong, I love action, but theyve got such fun and compelling characters and thats the part that really makes the series interesting.


The Drunken Botanist:
The Plants That Create the Worlds Great Drinks

by. Amy Stewart
design by. Tract Sunrize Johnson

A guide to all the plants that go into the creation of alcohol.

I know its really obvious when you think about it, but I had never really stopped to consider how all our alcohol comes from plants. Think about it! Its all plants. Barley, hops, corn, rye, rice, grapes, and on and on.

Its very fun book that really gives you an idea of how these various alcoholic drinks are created and what theyre created from. The only downside is that it has a guidebook type format, that makes it ill-suited for sitting down and reading it at any length.

“Before we left, we stood in the doorway for a minute and looked around us. There wasn’t a bottle in the store that we couldn’t assign a genus and species to. Bourbon? Zea mays, an overgrown grass. Absinthe? Artemisia absinthium, a much-misunderstood Mediterranean herb. Polish vodka? Solanum tuberosum—a nightshade, which is a weird family of plants if ever there was one. Beer? Humulus lupulus, a sticky climbing vine that happens to be a close cousin to cannabis. Suddenly we weren’t in a liquor store anymore. We were in a fantastical greenhouse, the world’s most exotic botanical garden, the sort of strange and overgrown conservatory we only encounter in our dreams.”



by. Terry Pratchett

A storm of awesome proportions wrecks havok upon a an island in the Pacific and leaves a young boy and a ship-wrecked girl as the islands sole survivors. Together they manage to overcome their differences, set aside what they thought they knew, and build a new kind of world.

In A Slip of the Keyboard Terry Pratchett mentions that he considers this book to be the greatest thing he has ever written. It was actually one of the few Pratchett books Id never read, so I figured I needed to rectify that.

Overall its a very good book and I can understand why he felt such a personal love for it.

But in the end, I found the whole thing to be too much of an act of wish-fulfillment for my tastes. Definitely worth the read though.

“‘It is not all about you! I envy your rage, demon boy. It fills you up! It feeds you, gives you strength. But the rest of us listen for the certainty, and there is nothing. Yet in our heads we know there must be...something, some reason, some pattern, some order, so we call upon silent gods, because they are better than the darkness. That is it, boy. I have no answers you.’”
-pg. 235


Hard-boiled Wonderland and
the End of the World

by. Haruki Murakami
translated by. Alfred Birnbaum

A mental cryptographer uses his own subconscious to turn data into codes and back again. However, when a rogue scientist tricks him into coding a program into his brain it creates a time bomb in his mind. And if he cant reverse what was done to him in time it will mean the end of him.


A wanderer trades his shadow to enter a strange town encircled by a massive wall wherein he takes a job as a dream reader. However, as he talks with the townsfolk he begins to realize that things arent quite what they seem and if he doesnt get his shadow back hes going to slowly become just like all the other townsfolk.

I love this book! However, it is so far from normal that I have a hard time getting anyone else to read it. It takes place through two parallel storylines that alternate chapters: The Hard-boiled Wonderland (a slightly fantastic/cyber-punk version of our reality) and The End of the World (a strange fantasy town inhabited only by unicorns and people with no spark). As both stories progress we begin to see how exactly they are connected and what it all means for the main character.

The novel is this wonderful blend of science-fiction and fantasy. Of reality and dream. Murakami masterfully weaves together a story unlike anything Ive read before. Its wonderfully different and intricate. He is able to do that wonderful thing of writing words that tell his story, but writing them in a way that instills a specific mindset into you and you dont even realize he did it to you until later.

“I left the apartment wide open—as if I had any other option—and took the elevator down. I waited for the cab behind the hedge by the entranceway. It was one-thirty by my watch. Two and a half hours since the demolition derby had begun. A very long two-and-a-half hours ago.

Housewives filed past, leek and daikon radish tops sticking up from supermarket bags. I found myself envying them. They hadn’t had their refrigerators raped or their bellies slashed. Leeks and daikon and the kids’ grades—all was right with the world. No unicorn skulls or secret codes or consciousness transfers. This was normal, everyday life.”
-pg. 161


Battle Royale

by. Koushun Takami
translated by. Yuji Oniki

In a world much like our own a wicked event is held in the area we know of as Japan. Every year a highschool class is chosen to participate in the Battle Royale: a game wherein everyone is taken to a remote location and forced to kill or be killed. The last person standing is the winner. This is the story of Trial#12 and the Ninth Grade Class B of Shiroiwa Junior High.

I heard that the movie Battle Royale was based on a novel and I had to see what exactly the source material for such a movie was like.

And you know what? The book is much, MUCH better than the movie! If you liked the movie you should really check out the book. If youve never seen the movie? Well, then perhaps you should read the book first then lord it over your cinephile friends.

It very much has the feel of a modern day successor to Lord of the Flies. Except wherein the Lord of the Flies dealt with a group of kids going nutty due to a lack of adult-instilled order, Battle Royale is about adults being the root source of kids madness.

And yes, the whole thing is bloody and violent and over-the-top, but its also such an engaging story. While the movie just featured the bloodshed, the book is able to really develop all the characters. No one dies without you knowing who they were, what they were like, and what their murderer was like, how they felt about it, and why they did what they did. Almost no one is overlooked. The author makes sure that anytime someone dies it matters. It forces you to acknowledge the humanity of not only the victims, but also the murderers.

[On a side note: there is a new translation done by Nathan Collins recently released. I checked it out from the library and compared to it the old version I had read and Ive gotta say that although the new one has a much cooler cover, the Yuji Oniki version felt far superior to me. The Collins translation is quite similar, but his verb choices often felt rather flat to me. So, if you have a choice Id personally recommend you go with the Yuji Oniki version.]

“Without any warning Kyoichi shot at Shogo. Shuya saw Shogo quickly duck. As he heard the explosion from the shotgun that Shogo still held in his kneeling position, sparks flew from the muzzle like a flamethrower, and the next moment Kyoichi’s right arm was gone. Bloody mist filled the air. Kyoichi gazed blankly at the half-sleeve of his school-uniform. The rest of his sleeve, from his elbow to the hand that was holding the gun, was now lying on the grass. Shogo quickly pumped the shotgun and loaded the next shot. A red plastic shell flew out to the side after spitting out its pellets.

‘AIEEEE!’ Kyoichi screamed like an animal as he suddenly realized what had happened. Shuya thought he would fall to his knees.

But he didn’t. The representative instead ran for his arm. He pried the gun loose from his right hand with his left hand. Like a one-man baton relay. Great. Shuya once again felt like he was watching a bad horror flick. Or better yet, reading a bad horror novel.

Damn, this was bad.”
-pg. 117

[GN]   79, 70*,71, 80, 81.   [GN]

volumes 0-4

Kate Kane is many things. She is the daughter of an elite soldier, a twin to a sister she thought was long dead, a protector of those who cant protect themselves, an award-winning gymnast, the head of her class, a Westpoint academy exile, a lesbian, a former alcoholic, and a vigilante known as the Batwoman. Now shes attracted the attentions of a murderous cult, a succeed-at-any-cost government agency, the beautiful head detective of the Gotham PD, and the legendary Batman himself. Kate Kanes life is about to get intense.

Volume 0: Elegy
written by. Greg Rucka
pencils by. J.H.Williams III

Id say this book is 3/5ths Phenomenal and 2/5ths Just Alright. The backstory on Kate Kane is really intriguing, but her modern-day mission wasnt as riveting.

vol. 1: Hydrology
written by. J.H.Williams III & W.Haden Blackman
pencils by. J.H.Williams III & Amy Reeder

I cant say enough nice things about this volume. It is brilliant. 5/5. A+. I stumbled into it at a comic shop and after glancing through it I bought it immediately The style, the artwork, the story, the plotting, everything is firing on all cylinders. Even if youre not a Batwoman fan Id recommend giving this one a try for the pure aesthetic of it all.

vol. 2: To Drown the World
written by. J.H.Williams III & W.Haden Blackman
pencils by. Amy Reeder, Trevor McCarthy, Rob Hunter, Pere Perez, & Richard Friend

The story becomes much more superhero-y here. Not that that is a bad thing necessarily, but it is definitely much more campy than before.

vol. 3: Worlds Finest
written by. J.H.Williams III & W.Haden Blackman
pencils by. Trevor McCarthy & J.H.Williams III

While some it suffers from a disjointed artistic flow and a slightly over-the-top story, the rest provides a really satisfying end to the Weeping Woman storyline established in Vol.1 and some really fantastic character development for Batwoman.

vol. 4: This Blood is Thick
written by. J.H.Williams III & W.Haden Blackman
pencils by. Trevor McCarthy, Francesco Francavilla, Walden Wong, Sandu Florea, & Derek Fridolfs

A new storyline is established and it is a doozy! Im really excited to see how it plays out. I love how Kate Kane is given a such a solid support network. It is a refreshing change from the usual brooding-lone-wolf angle that everyone uses and no one but Batman has mastered.

“The move she uses doesn’t exist in any fighting styles I’ve studied. It’s something she invented herself. Almost got the best of me.

It’s not just the moves that gives her away…

...it’s the way her eyes burn.

Those eyes tell me she won’t ever be a victim again.

I’m not sure what she’s after…

...but this is far from over.” 
-from Batwoman, vol1: Hydrology

[GN]   72. & 74.   [GN]

Wolverine and the X-Men:

Volume 7
written by. Jason Aaron
pencils by. Nick Bradshaw, Salvador Espin, Pasqual Ferry, Pepe Larraz, & Walden Wong

Volume 8
written by. Jason Aaron
pencils by. Nuno Alves, Chris Bachalo, Nick Bradshaw, Shawn Crystal, Karl Kesel, Pepe Larraz, Todd Nauck, Victor Olazaba, Ramon K. Perez, Steve Sanders, Tim Townsend, Walden Wong

The end of Jason Aarons run on Wolverine and the X-Men.

Alas! While superhero stories never truly end, this is certainly the end of this particular storyline. And it goes out in high form. Id say that these last two volumes are some of the best ones of the series.

Not only is there plenty of crazy mutant high-school shenanigans, but they also have some fun character development, and add some really interesting layers to Wolverines character.

Despite the fact that a couple volumes in Aarons run went off the tracks with Marvel continuity madness, I think this was a really great series. Just all sorts of good ol fashioned X-Men fun.

Fun is not a dirty word.

That was my mantra coming into this series.

The X-Men had just gone through an ideological split, a Schism, which prompted Wolverine to head back to Westchester, to the X-Mens old home base, where he reopened the school for young mutants. I was given the chance by my esteemed editors, Nick Lowe and Axel Alonso, to create that new school.

I knew right away, I wanted it to be the wildest, craziest school the Marvel Universe had ever seen.

I wanted to reclaim the tag line that once ran above the title of the original X-Men series: The Strangest Teens of All!

Above all else, I wanted it to be fun.


I didnt want to write about dark and serious X-Men. I wanted to write something that was full of joy and laughs but was more than just a series of jokes. Something that was about growing up, about what it means to be an oddball kid in school, to be a parent.
-from Jason Aarons Afterward

[GN]  *  73, 77, 75, 78.  *  [GN]

A Softer World:

vol.1: Truth and Beauty Bombs
vol.3: Everybody Get Got
vol.2: Second Best Isnt So Bad
vol.4: Lets Do Something Wrong

by. Joey Comeau & Emily Horne

The collections of the webcomic A Softer World (aka my favorite strip of all time.)

A Softer World was not only one of my favorite comics, but it was also one of my all-around favorite things. Joey Comeau and Emily Hornes work spoke to me in a way that few things ever have.

Sadly, this month they decided to end the series on a high-note and ride off into the sunset. So as a kudos to them I went back and reread all of my ASW collections.

My love for A Softer World is the personal kind you cant really properly put into words. The comic is touching and yet funny. It holds up the darker parts of life and shows you how to see the lightness in them.

I think Ill save the rest of my thoughts about for when I read the final Best-of volume they just successfully Kickstartered, but suffice it to say that I highly recommend you take a journey through their archives. You wont regret it.

[GN]   76.   [GN]

Pretty Deadly
vol.1: The Shrike

written by. Kelly Sue Deconnick
art by. Emma Rios

The tale of a monster, a disgraced father/husband, Death, the woman he loves, & Deathface Ginny: a woman who is neither dead or alive, mortal or god.

First off, I feel obliged to mention that this is a mainstream comic wherein the creation team was 4/5ths female! What!? Amazing.

As for the comic itself: pretty amazing as well. Personally I would have liked if it had taken a slower pace and gone in depth into all its wonderful characters, but alas, Ill take what I can get.

The whole thing is an enjoyable tale that combines fairy tales/legends into the Western genre.

“Attend the song of Deathface Ginny, and how she came to be
A wrath of rage for men who’d cage
And harm what should be free.”

-Pretty Deadly, issue 1