Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Long Halloween: Batman at His Finest

A Review By: Amelia
Batman has had a lot of stories. He’s been around for seventy-five years–of course he’s had a lot of stories! Movies, videogames, comics, television, Batman has had more media coverage than some natural disasters. Over the course of so much material, some of those stories are remarkable, some not so much. Batman: The Long Halloween is one of the remarkable ones.

The Long Halloween is a story that spans a year. It’s a Batman epic that revolves around the untouchable crime family the Falcones and some of Batman’s most classic super-villains as a new killer dubbed Holiday kills on one holiday of every month.

Jeph Loeb, the writer of The Long Halloween, is a four-time Eisner Award winner and five-time Wizard Fan Awards winner and his comic book work, most of which he’s composed with artist Tim Sale, has appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list. 

All the rogues that appear throughout.
The Long Halloween, like many comics before it, feature a huge assortment of Batman’s famous gallery of rogues and they each get their own special appearance on a particular holiday. Poison Ivy gets St. Patrick’s day (her hair is made of clovers), Scarecrow gets Mother’s day (he killed his own mother on Mother’s day), and Riddler gets April Fools (for… obvious reasons I think). What makes The Long Halloween so remarkable is that regular criminals make up a huge part of this graphic novel too. The crime lords and their families fight amongst themselves and more than a few of their numbers are taken out by the killer dubbed Holiday. The supervillains of Gotham are only brought in as a last resort to help the Falcone family: it’s a great twist in the usual Batman-fights-freaks story line.

An example of the art deco style
The art style in The Long Halloween is fantastic–some of the best, most original art I’ve seen in a modern comic. It’s not hyper-realistic like, say, Hush (which is also a Batman comic written by Jeph Loeb) but instead has an art deco feel to it. The shadows are all encompassing yet they don’t overtake. Likewise with the colours, which are muted yet still vivid. Batman was, however, created for an art deco universe so the shadows, colours and design of the piece, which are solid, angular, and dark, fit the Bat-universe like a glove.

Batman is my favourite superhero so maybe I’m a little biased but The Long Halloween is perfect. It’s paced flawlessly with a killer whose identity you won’t be able to guess–not that that’s a bad thing, it was actually kind of nice to not know a thing about the killer. The plot is perfect, the art is perfect, just everything about this graphic novel is perfect.

My final thoughts on Batman: The Long Halloween are that it is just fantastic. It’s my favourite Batman comic and I think if you read it now it’ll be your favourite Batman comic too. The art deco style might be a little strange at first if you’re more the ilk of realism, but it grows on you quickly. Even if the art doesn’t appeal to you, the story–the perfect story–it’s more than enough to keep you reading!

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Stuff Hipsters Hate: A Book About Hate That I Also Hated!

A Review By: Amelia
Hipsters are a trend that we in the twenty-first century just can’t seem to get rid of. Their numbers have exploded in the last few years from a few disillusioned twenty-somethings that thought they were better than everyone else, to a nation of disillusioned twenty through forty somethings who think they’re better than everyone else! But what do we really know about them other than they work as baristas and claim to have ‘been into that’ before anyone else? This book, Stuff Hipsters Hate, stakes out to educate the non-hipsters.

Stuff Hipsters Hate is an insider’s take down of the two author’s own subculture–hipsterdom. The blog Stuff Hipsters Hate has been deconstructing this often-mocked subculture that’s known for its their wide-reaching disdain for most things.

The authors of this book are Brenna Ehrlich and Andrea Bartz and, as you might have guessed, they also run the Stuff Hipsters Hate blog. They are hipsters themselves, so I just had to trust they knew what they were talking/mocking about.

The plot of Stuff Hipsters Hate is right there in the title–it’s stuff hipsters hate. It’s laid out like a scientist’s field journal in chapters with sections, charts, diagrams, and pictures. It includes statistics and observations as if the hipsters were a hardly studied primate society and not just douchebag twenty-somethings that are too smug for their own good. Oops, is my unbiased hate towards hipsters showing again? Oh well, we’re almost down here.

I’m kind of torn on this book. On one hand, it’s about hipsters and I hate hipsters (at least, the hardcore ones) so reading this was a bit of a chore. On the other hand, it’s about mocking hipsters (I love doing that) so that made me want to keep reading. It was all very conflicting. Now that I’ve finished the book and am reviewing it, the charm of mocking hipsters has worn off–and quickly!

My final thoughts on Stuff Hipsters Hate are that as far as this blog-to-book goes, Stuff Hipsters Hate is average. Two stars out of five stars at most. I got some laughs from this book, and it was a pleasant surprise how unblog-like this book was, but like any online blog/forum/Tumblr page etc., it is way better in small doses on the internet, not ‘I’m going to sit and read for a few hours’ portions. Especially since the topic is hipsters and haven’t we all had enough of this ridiculous trend yet?

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Nowhere Fast: A Bleak Steampunk Story About a Future That’s Bound to Happen

A Review By: Amelia
Steampunk is a personal passion of mine. I love the mythology that authors have created over the years all wrapped around the thought of Victorian age machinery that never was. Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories is a book that I was instantly drawn too for this reason.

Steampunk! is an anthology of fourteen short stories that all have something to do with a steampunk world. Nowhere Fast, by Christopher Rowe, was one of those stories and, although not my favourite story in the book, it’s one that really resonated with me as it’s a story of what might the world become when oil runs out.

The author of Nowhere Fast is Christopher Rowe, a writer whose short stories have been nominated for awards such as World Fantasy, Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Sturgeon–all of which are awards for fantasy pieces, so when this guy sits down to write a steampunk story, he knows what he’s doing!

There are a host of characters introduced in the span of this short story but the main characters (which represent the main themes of the piece) are Luza, a teenage girl that wishes to explore the world, Fizz, a teenage boy that wishes to change the world, and Luza’s father and the Federals (the story’s equivalent to the military), that are scared and opposed to the world changing. The story doesn’t present a lot of character development within its thirty or so pages, but I don’t think it was supposed too. The characters–as I stated above–represent an idea more than they do characters that we’re supposed to think are living, breathing beings.

The location of the story is Kentucky in the not so distant future (it’s never said exactly what year it is, but it’s sometime past the year 2050). The world has run out of oil so things like plastics and cars have ceased to exist for years and years. Going any distance is an arduous task, so no one goes anywhere anymore except the Federals which have steam powered machinery. The United States has no federal government and any cities or towns of reasonable size have become their own sovereign states. It’s an interesting concept because although the world isn’t in a completely feudal state, it’s still a world divided.

In an anthology of steampunk stories, Nowhere Fast doesn’t quite fit. It has steampunk elements: coal powered horses, Da Vinci inspired flying machines, and a world built on recycling and reusing. At the same time though, it’s more a story of a bleak future. Whereas steampunk–true steampunk–is about a past in which steam powered machinery is an advancement, Nowhere Fast is a story where steam powered machinery is the only option: it’s not an advancement, it’s in fact a hindrance. It’s a nice twist on the usual steampunk trope.

My final thoughts on the short story Nowhere Fast are that it is bleak. Maybe it’s not supposed to be as bleak as my mind as made it out to be, but–even if it isn’t–it’s still bleak. It’s a story that’s telling us we need to find other ways to live our lives because oil isn’t going to cut it for much longer. It’s not the best, or the most steampunk story in the anthology, but it’s compelling and completely worth it all the same.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Fruits Basket: I Hope You Don’t Have A Weak Heart, ‘Cause This Adorable Manga Could Stop It!

A Review By: Amelia
I personally believe that the root of all cuteness in the world, stems from three things: smiling babies, cats, and Japanese manga. When I sat down to read Fruits Basket, I had no idea that my theory would be confirmed nearly a thousand times over!

Fruits Basket is a twenty-three volume manga about a family cursed by the Chinese zodiac. The curse manifests itself when the cursed person is hugged by someone of the opposite sex and the cursed person turns into an animal from the zodiac! The family deals with it in stride, but when a naïve teenage girl begins living with three of the cursed males of the family, crazy shenanigans ensue!

The author and artist behind the whole of the brilliant series Fruits Basket is Natsuki Takaya who has wanted to be a manga artist since she was in first grade. When Fruits Basket’s twenty-three volume run was complete, Takaya had written and drawn the top selling shōjo manga in North America and the second best selling in Japan.

There are a multitude of characters that appear throughout the twenty-three volumes, but if you narrow it down to characters you consistently see from volume-to-volume, there’s about a dozen. Narrow it down to characters in nearly every panel and you’re left with Tohru Honda, and Kyo and Yuki Sohma. Tohru is the kind-hearted, sweet, selfless, albeit a little naïve girl who, after a series of unfortunate events, has nowhere to live. Yuki and Kyo are the constantly fighting cousins who are two of thirteen people possessed by animals of the Chinese zodiac that Tohru comes to live with and share all kinds of wacky adventures! The characters are all very different and all very fleshed out with different personalities. They’re funny and unique and although some of them aren’t the kindest characters, they have their reasons for being unkind and it makes them all the more human.

The art style in Fruits Basket is a cutsie, quasi-realistic style. I say quasi-realistic because although the characters are drawn with correct human portions it’s still manga so characters’ eyes are huge, the boys androgynously sexy, and everyone has such beautiful and perfect hair it’s enough to drive someone mad! Aside from going crazy over the impossible hair standards though, the art style is really fitting to the story. Everything’s cute and cuddly: the characters’ expressions, their over-the-top reactions, the animal transformations–just everything is neat, crisp, and just so darn cute!

All in all, Fruits Basket is a great experience. It’s a ridiculous concept for a manga–I’ll be the first to admit that–but as it comes together, the story and characters, it’s an amazing experience. There’s romance and fantasy, humour and genuine emotion. The art is adorable and the story line even more so. I really can’t get enough of this manga and it has great re-readability.

My final thoughts on Fruits Basket are that you need to read this manga. Like, right now. It is so cute, so touching, and so SO funny. Tohru’s reactions to the family transforming into animals is enough to bring me back to this manga time and time again!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Ju-On: J-Horror Fiction at Its Absolute Best

A Review By: Amelia
I love to read scary stories: give me a good horror novel and I’m set for days! There’s just something about horror novels that appeal to all of us–they convey chills in written word better than any horror movie ever could and reading them by yourself, at night, is always a terrifying experience! Ju-On, although a novelization of a movie, is a greatly crafted horror novel and shouldn’t be overlooked if you’re longing a good thrill.

Ju-On, by Kei Ohishi, is a Japanese horror story of a murdered woman named Kayako come back as a vengeful ghost who curses all who dare to enter her house (the place where she was viciously murdered). The story is told out of order as different characters enter into it and time jumps around. The main living character is Rika, a woman who has become cursed by entering the house as a social worker. She races against time and the every strengthening curse as she tries to solve the mystery surrounding the house and save herself from a gruesome death.

What makes this story so interesting is that the ghost can go anywhere so long as there’s a cursed person for her to follow. Anyone who steps into Kayako’s house is cursed, they go about their daily lives as the curse manifests around them, and Kayako comes to claim their lives. This leads to some interesting and horrifying places where you think you’re safe, but the ghost can get you anyways. An example of this is when a character locks herself in her apartment and hides under her covers only to discover that the ghost is under there with her!

In my wrap up, I simply must say that Ju-On is what all horror stories should be and that, dear reader, is simple. The simpler, the scarier. There’s nothing in this book but a ghost story. Some readers might be put off by the fact that it is a novelization of a movie and not the original work, but the author, Kei Ohishi, does a wonderful job expanding the characters, highlighting the tension, and adding in extra creepy bits that have nothing to do with Kayako and her curse but add to the overall atmosphere and dread of the ghost story.

My final thoughts on Ju-On are that it is a great horror story because of how plausible it all is. It’s not over the top or complicated–it’s just a good, old fashioned ghost story–and it’s scary as all hell. I highly recommend this book to horror aficionados and causal fright seekers alike!