BOOK Review: Plutocracy by Abraham Martinez

BOOK Review: Plutocracy by Abraham Martinez

Description

2051. The world’s largest company, The Company, has seized power on a planetary scale and runs the world as if it were a business. In a plutocracy, the richer one is, the more powerful one is. In this context, an anonymous citizen becomes compelled to uncover how the world came to this situation, without paying any attention to the official version. Several members of the government end up encouraging him to carry out this investigation by giving him access to all information. He decides to discover the true history of The Company and the various interests that are trying to influence his investigation.

Review

This book is deeply flawed. There are 15 pages of exposition before we get introduced to our protagonist. There are also large parts of the book that are anti-capitalist and anti-communist rants about the dangers of monopolies and the anti-democratic steps that large multi-national corporations and banks are taking.

The art is ugly; the characters are unlikeable, and, it meanders as it puts across its thesis. The first of these two things are artistic decisions that are understandable and to a certain extent, are successful, given the nature of the story. The world of Plutocracy is not a one in which anyone would want to live in. However, the pace meant it was a slog to read.

Plutocracy does examine what is happening right now in the world and puts forward a nightmarish vision of a future dominated by a single corporate entity. It has plenty of proactive things to say about the dangers that humanity faces but does so in such a blunt, almost clumsy way that it was hard to engage with. It wants to serve as a warning of what is to come. It does so in such a way that few will heed.

I think I liked the book more than perhaps it deserves due to my agreement with some of the book’s politics, and, because when it does get going, it is both entertaining and thought-provoking. A shame then it takes too long to get to these sections and that they don’t last long enough.

ARC provided by Netgalley.

Book Review: Backtrack Vol. 1 by Brian Joines & JakeElphick

Book Review: Backtrack Vol. 1 by Brian Joines & JakeElphick

Backtrack Vol. 1 by Brian Joines

Oni Press
Pub Date 17 Nov 2020  

Description

A former criminal driver is given the chance at redemption by entering a car race but there’s just one catch: each leg covers a different period in history. 

If you had a chance to fix a mistake from your past, would you take it? Alyson Levy would.

Guilt weighs heavy on former criminal “wheelman,” Alyson, who led an illicit life that left hers shattered. Enter Casper Quellex, an eccentric businessman who offers her the break of a lifetime: a massive cross-country car race that grants the winner an opportunity to correct a single mistake in their life. But here’s the catch — each leg covers a different period in history. As if keeping the cars on the often-questionable (sometimes nonexistent) roads and staying ahead of competition wasn’t enough, the drivers will now have to contend with medieval warriors, dinosaurs, and natural disasters…it’s all a possibility. Only the one who survives it all will be proven the winner, and like that, Alyson and the rest of the drivers find themselves in a gut-wrenching race through time and quickly learn that they must band together to form any chance for survival. But for an opportunity to turn back time, Alyson will drive from the Big Bang to the death knell of the universe.

Review

Basically, this is Sliders meets Fast and Furious. If that sounds like your jam, then this comic won’t disappoint. The artwork is sumptuous, thickly inked and richly coloured it rides the line between gaudy and gorgeous. It is a beautiful book to look at. Much like a Fast Universe movie, the cast of characters includes criminals and corrupt cops. However, the competitors also include a spoiled heiress and her driver, the son of a Nascar driver, and, other assorted misfits that almost veers into Wacky Racers territory.

The action, for the most part, is riveting and well-illustrated. Certain sequences don’t work though, and I sort of think that this story would have been better served if it was either in live-action and animated. Securing the budget that would be needed to do justice to a time-travelling racing story that features dinosaurs might be why they decided to go the comic route. The characters are just well developed enough to where you are invested in their survival. Casper Quellex is a camp, devious, scenery-chewing villain that is a lot of fun to route against.

On the whole, this book is entertaining. I felt it lost steam towards the end, and the final chapters had me rolling my eyes with the silliness what was on-page. It might say more about me that I had a bigger problem suspending my disbelief with the protagonists escaping from kidnappers than I did with them outrunning a T-Rex. I also felt that the creators used most of their best ideas early on. Not sure if the concept has enough going for it to sustain an ongoing series. There are some great set-pieces and engaging character moments that are best enjoyed with your brain switched off.

I am not a fan of Micahel Bay films or The Fast & Furious movies it is not normally a comic I would seek out but I had a nice enough while I was reading it.

BOOK Review: Odessa by Jonathan Hill

BOOK Review: Odessa by Jonathan Hill

Odessa by Jonathan Hill

Oni Press

Pub Date 10 Nov 2020 

Description
Three siblings search for their missing mother across a ruined America in this original graphic novel perfect for fans of Scott Westerfeld and Neal Shusterman. 

Eight years ago an earthquake—the Big One—hit along the Cascadia fault line, toppling cities and changing landscapes all up and down the west coast of the United States. Life as we know it changed forever. But for Vietnamese-American Virginia Crane, life changed shortly after the earthquake, when her mother left and never came back.

Ginny has gotten used to a life without her mother, helping her father take care of her two younger brothers, Wes and Harry. But when a mysterious package arrives for her eighteenth birthday, her life is shaken up yet again. For the first time, Ginny wants something more than to survive. And it might be a selfish desire, but she’s determined to find out what happened to her mother—even if it means leaving her family behind.

Review

Odessa is a good comic. The artwork is vibrant and engrossing. The characters, for the most part, are believable, likeable, and, well written. The opening three or four chapters are marvellous. However, the plot and uneven pacing let down the story resulting in a book which is merely good when it had the potential to be great. I would recommend buying the book because it is an enjoyable read.

Odessa follows the journey of a Vietnamese-American family trying to survive in a post-collapse society. It is a coming of age story and grand adventure tale that pits the wits of Ginny and her siblings against a harsh environment, and vicious gangs prowling the countryside.

The character designs are charming, and Hill does a splendid job of building a believably dangerous world in which the story takes place.

There are far too many coincidental meetings between key characters, and our heroes are saved once too often by friendly adults who just happen to arrive in the nick of time. Also, while the family is Vietnamese-American, I didn’t get a strong sense of any Vietnamese culture which would have given the characters greater depth. There also is little character development towards the end of the book. Ginny does most of her growing in the first half. Very few of the villans are as complicated or developed as our protagonists. Most of the baddies don’t have motivations that go beyond protecting their turf or being mean for mean’s sake.

Hill makes some bold choices with his art. Of particular note is the pink colour palette that creates some impactful juxtapositions. Some of the actions sequences are cinematic and dramatic. The panels are masterfully laid out, and the shot selection can’t be faulted. I genuinely liked Ginny, a hurt young woman looking for answers in an uncertain and treacherous world. She is resourceful, kind, and, determined. Being a teen, she also makes a lot of dumb decisions. She is a great heroine.

For YA readers there is much to enjoy. There are memorable characters, scenes of nail-biting tension, and, moments of tenderness and humour. For older readers, the story never quite reaches the heights one would expect considering how good the opening chapters are.

Book Review: Just Act Normal: A Pie Comics Collection by John McNamee

Book Review: Just Act Normal: A Pie Comics Collection by John McNamee

Just Act Normal: A Pie Comics Collection by John McNamee
Oni Press
Pub Date 17 Nov 2020
Description
“A dry, sarcastic humor that hits you hard in the chuckles.” — BoredPanda.com

This third collection from The Onion and the New Yorker contributor John McNamee features his most absurdly relatable comics on our futile attempts to seem “normal,” and why that’s hilarious.

Pie Comics began as a college comic strip way back in the mid ’00s, when flip phones roamed the earth. But after a shoulder injury forced cartoonist John McNamee to simplify his drawing style and improvise comics, Pie Comics evolved into the beloved strip it is today!

This third collection from The Onion and the New Yorker contributor features his most absurdly relatable comics on our futile attempts to look “normal,” and why that’s hilarious.

Review

This is a fab collection of comic strips. Ranging from the absurd and amusing to the enlightening and scathing McNamee consistently hits heights few others can match. The art is delightful. Doing simple well is not easy. I chuckled, and, guffawed all the way through reading this. There isn’t a week strip in the collection; it is all top-quality stuff. McNamee is a gag machine who is equally skilled at making fun of mundane everyday life to more serious topics like depression and death. Utterly brilliant. Persistently entertaining and always funny.

Book Review: The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle: An American Legend by Fabien Nury & Brünof

Book Review: The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle: An American Legend by Fabien Nury & Brünof

The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle: An American Legend
by Fabien Nury & Brüno

Europe Comics
Pub Date 26 Aug 2020   |   Archive Date Not set

Description
A former Navy SEAL and Iraq War veteran, Chris Kyle is the most lethal sniper in American military history. His autobiography, American Sniper, was a best-seller in the US. On February 2, 2013, Chris Kyle is killed by another veteran, Eddie Ray Routh. The murder takes place on a shooting range in Stephenville, Texas. But that’s only the beginning of their story.

Review:

Don’t think I was the target audience for this book. It was fine, but it didn’t really have anything fresh or new to say about the tragic events. It is a rather shallow biography of Chris Kyle and his murderer Eddie Ray Routh. It covers events leading up to Chris’s death.

There is a lack of commentary about the actions of Chris and Eddie that took me out the story. I’m not sure if it was even-handedness or an attempt at impartiality, but it meant my own preconceived notions weren’t challenged. The art ranges from serviceable to chillingly good. The final few pages are especially impactful. Nury’s script, as far as the dialogue and descriptions go is good. Clearly, the creative team have gone above and beyond in researching the events and quite rightly so. However, I didn’t find myself caring about any of the characters in the book. Chris is held up as an American hero to some; he was also a liar and defamer, I would have liked a deeper examination of what compelled Chris not only to go to Iraq but also do what he did to Jesse Ventura. Similarly with Eddie if felt like a series of things that happened. It never managed to get under the skin of either victim or the killer.

Sometimes it is fine not to take an angle and let the reader make up their own mind. Here it didn’t work. The book is neither salacious nor exploitative, nor is it revelatory or particularly illuminating.

I don’t know, the book didn’t work me, I wasn’t bored exactly, but unless you have an interest in the Chris Kyle story, I would be difficult for me to recommend this. I didn’t emotionally connect with it.

Book Review: Pistouvi by Merwan, Bertrand Gatignol

Book Review: Pistouvi by Merwan, Bertrand Gatignol

Pistouvi by Merwan, Bertrand Gatignol
Diamond Book Distributors & Magnetic Press
Pub Date 10 Nov 2020 |

Description
Childhood should last forever…

Jeanne is a little girl who lies with a mischievous young fox named Pistouvi. They share a charming little treehouse surrounded by a magical prairie tended by a giant ‘tractor-man’ and the wind-spirit he loves. Together, Jeanne and Pistouvie spend frolicking days without a care, but soon, the birds arrive and everything changes…

A beautiful, lyrical fable about the inevitable transition from childhood freedom to adult responsibility, replete with laughs, nostalgia and heartache.

Review:
Sometimes a book gets you right in the feels. The art is breathtakingly good, and it is in service of a story and characters that immediately capture your heart.
It is a story about growing up, friendship, and, how eventually everything changes. Pistouvi is a rascal given to fits of tempers and acts of general cheekiness that are, for the most part utterly charming. Jeanne, his best friend and who I think the story is really about, is brave, kind, and, because of her curiosity is often impatient. They bring out the best in each other and I fell in love with them both.

Pistouvi is told in vignettes of almost self-contained stories. Some are eerie; others are wholesome. If I were to describe the tone and feel of the book, it would be somewhere between the melancholy weirdness of the Moomins and the eccentric fun of Adventure Time. A friend of mine once said Tove Jansen’s books taught her how to be human to other human beings. Relationships, especially the friendships we have as children are difficult things to maintain; people grow up, move away and change. Nothing lasts. Everything hurts more when you’re a kid. This book brought back a lot of emotions and memories I had growing up. I’m not saying I cried, but I’m not saying I didn’t.

This is a wonderful book. It does that Pixar thing of giving something substantial for both children and adults to enjoy. I loved this. I’ll be purchasing a copy for the little ones in my life, and I would recommend you do the same.

Book Review: The Zolas by Méliane Marcaggi & Alice Chemama

Book Review: The Zolas by Méliane Marcaggi & Alice Chemama

The Zolas by Méliane Marcaggi & Alice Chemama
Europe Comics
Pub Date 17 Jun 2020

Description
We know the brilliant writer of the Rougon-Macquart series and the committed author of the open letter “J’accuse…!” but what do we know about his private life?

Who were the women in his life? How did they help him to accomplish his work? At what sacrifice?

A remarkable fresco that takes us back to the end of the 19th century, to the heart of an ever-changing France and the city of Paris, full of artists and workers.

Review

really enjoyed this. It tells the story of Émile Zola and Éléonore-Alexandrine Meley. What begins as a rather tender love story unfolds into something more complex and nuanced. The Zolas’ are a charismatic couple who had an enormous cultural impact on French literature and they led an interesting life. The marriage between Émile and Alexandrine forms the bedrock of the story, it is a relationship filled with grief, heartbreak, betrayal, as well as bliss, contentment, and, comfort.

Chemama’s artwork is gorgeous. It is painterly with a watercolour-like aesthetic. At points it is exquisite, of special note is her ability to show the emotions in the faces of the characters. For me, there was a real air of authenticity through the book. Marcaggi’s script is superb. It manages to balance the flaws and strengths of each character without turning them into monsters.

I think parts of the book assume that you have knowledge of French culture and history. As a result, I felt that a lot of cultural references went over my head and I think I missed some aspects of the story because of this. There is a trial section where I didn’t really understand what was happening or why.

All in all, though this book is a very pleasant read with some of the best art I’ve seen this year and a memorable story that lingers long in the memory after you have put it down.

Book Review: Battle Born Lapis Lazuli by Maximilian Uriarte

Book Review: Battle Born Lapis Lazuli by Maximilian Uriarte

Battle Born Lapis Lazuli by Maximilian Uriarte

Little, Brown and Company
Pub Date 28 Jul 2020  

Description

From the bestselling author of The White Donkey, a heartbreaking and visceral graphic novel set against the stark beauty of Afghanistan’s mountain villages that examines prejudice and the military remnants of colonialism.
In this hotly anticipated new work from Maximilian Uriarte, creator of the popular Terminal Lance comics and The White Donkey, tells a “thrillingly cinematic” (Publishers Weekly) story of the personal cost of war and the power of human connection.Lapis Lazuli is a rich blue semiprecious gemstone found deep in the Sar-i-sang mountains of Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province. For thousands of years it has sustained the nearby mining villages, whose inhabitants lived peacefully in the mountainous landscape–until the Taliban, known in the region as the Horsemen, came to seek the riches stored deep beneath the earth. Taliban rule has turned the stone into a conflict mineral, as they steal and sell it for their own gain.At the behest of the fledgling Afghan government, seeking to wrest back control of the province, United States Marines are sent into the mountains. A platoon led by their eager and naive commander, First Lieutenant Roberts, and a stoic, fierce squad leader, Sergeant King, must overcome barriers of language and culture in this remote region to win the locals’ trust, and their freedom from Taliban rule. Along the way, they must also wrestle with their demons–and face unimaginably difficult choices.A sweeping yet intimate story about brutality, kindness, and the remnants of colonialism, Battle Born: Lapis Lazuli is an epic saga from the voice of a new generation of military veterans.

Review:

Mild spoilers. I have mixed feelings about Battle Born Lapis Lazuli. In many ways Uriarte latest is stunning. The artwork is magnificent. The linework and flow of the panels are elegant, capturing both the intimate moments of camaraderie and violence of battle equally well. A particularly memorable sequence sees a parent lamenting the loss of their child as American soldiers stand by helpless unable to offer comfort. A lot of research went into crafting the story, paying respect to the culture of the people of Afghanistan and to the sacrifice that foreign troops made there. Battle Born is not afraid to show the ugliness of people, the way that war degrades and dehumanises us all. There is a cinematic quality to the landscapes as well as the action sequences. It feels like part-war movie, part-western. It captures both the sense of being trapped by chaotic, unmanageable geopolitics of an unwanted soldier in a country with a rich and complex history and, the frustration of being a hampered by locals who are highly suspicious of any foreign presences.

The main characters all feel like lived-in characters. We get a glimpse of the inner lives of every character that has page time, there are no two-dimensional stereotypes, everyone has an internal driving force that affects the way that they react to the awful conditions that they are put in. Sergeant King, who is our protagonist, is a compelling figure, equal parts stoic and vulnerable, Uritate imbues King’s eyes with a deeply ingrained sadness. King is fierce, intelligent, and, inspires loyalty. Chavez and Forest as sporting characters well-grounded and provide King with a platform for levity and pathos.

Pretty positive so far. Where my problems with the book arise is with its tacit approval of torture and war crimes. I am going to say this three times: Torture does not work. Torture does not work. Torture does not work. There is a sequence in which a prisoner of war is beaten. My reading of the story is that due to high emotions that these actions were justified or understandable. In a tragic book, one of the recurring themes is how we in the West use our “civilised” view of ourselves to justify cruelty to those who aren’t. Maybe Uriate was trying to get across the point that even the best of us can do unjustifiable things. I don’t know. I did find it disturbing. In addition to being morally repugnant, torture does not produce accurate, reliable information. Any story that propagates the myth that it does is lessened in my eyes. There are further war crimes later in the book, but by then, the damage to my experience was already done.

It’s unfortunate that a few pages so marred my enjoyment of the whole. Maybe it’s my regret that the character didn’t take. This is first-class stuff, but I just can’t get on board with some of the messages it puts forward. It deserves to be read and probably read widely.

Book Review: Strange Skies Over East Berlin by Jeff Loveness & Lisandro Estherren

Book Review: Strange Skies Over East Berlin by Jeff Loveness & Lisandro Estherren

Strange Skies Over East Berlin
by Jeff Loveness & Lisandro Estherren

BOOM! Studios

Pub Date 18 Aug 2020   |  

Description
A chilling and intense thriller about an American spy who encounters a terrifying inhuman threat at the heart of the Cold War.

East Berlin, 1973. Herring, a disillusioned American spy, has spent the entire Cold War infiltrating the inner circles of East German intelligence for a cause he barely believes in anymore. He’s seen everything and done anything his government asked, but his latest mission pits the brilliant, embittered operative against an enemy force so vast it could obliterate all of humanity.

The Space Race had greater consequences than even the Soviets could have guessed, and when they sent the first human ever to the stars, something not quite human followed them back. When a mysterious alien probe lands outside East Berlin and into Soviet control, the Americans send their top spy in to investigate. But as Herring gets ever closer to the truth at the heart of the conspiracy, he may find that the power he so desperately seeks is too dangerous for anyone to control or contain.

Writer Jeff Loveness (Judas) and artist Lisandro Estherren (Redneck) present a chilling and intense thriller about a terrifying inhuman threat at the heart of the Cold War – and the one American spy who can save the world…if he can save himself first.

Review

This is marvellous. Strange Skies Over East Berlin is an exceedingly delightful genre mash-up. It is Harry Palmer meets The Thing. Weirdly, it reminds of Robocop in that almost perfectly does what it sets out to do. It is not the best comic ever written, but this is a book I think that I’ll probably end up reading again and again. There is something comforting about reading a story that cranks up the tension. The stakes are high, and I relished that battle of words between characters trying to outwit each other under terrible pressure.

Set in the cold war, our hero Herring must find out what the Russians know about an object that has fallen from space. It all goes downhill from there.

The art here is fantastic, Lessandro Estherren work as the lead artist shows a mastery of storytelling that intelligent and engaging. Patricio Depleche’s colouring is particularly notable for the moody atmosphere it establishes. I read this in one sitting, eagerly turning the pages as the story zips along at a quick pace.

This could have been much messier and hokier. It could have been b-movie style shlock. Loveness’s script manages to pull together different genres and hang the tale on characters who you want to survive. The dialogue had me on tenterhooks, and one-liners made me grin.

I could wax lyrical about the characters, art, and, story for several more pages, but I did a podcast explaining why I enjoyed this book so much (See Through Panel episode 10). My recommendation is that you read it. One of my books of the year. I had fun reading it. Despite being provided with an ARC from NetGalley, I’ll be purchasing a hardcopy to keep.

Book Review: Rampokan 1: Java by Peter Van Dongen

Book Review: Rampokan 1: Java by Peter Van Dongen

Rampokan 1: Java by Peter Van Dongen

Europe Comics

Comics & Graphic Novels | Historical Fiction
Pub Date 17 Jun 2020   |   

Description
1946: The Dutch have been driven out of Indonesia by the Japanese invasion, but they refuse to recognize the country’s declaration of independence. In an attempt to regain their former colony, the government mobilizes the Royal Dutch Indian Army. When they fail to take control, an unofficial force is sent to subdue the “terrorists.” Among the volunteers is Johan Knevel, who has personal reasons for joining: he wants to find out what happened to his Indonesian nurse. But far from rediscovering the lost idyll of his youth, he is confronted by the complex realities of a country in turmoil.

Review

I have been reading a lot of biographical or historical fiction graphic novels recently. When done well, they can be both entertaining and a fantastic way of learning about the past. They can be universal stories that remind us of what went before and how we must strive to be better today and tomorrow.

I wanted to like this book much more than I did. The history of the Dutch empire and its relationship with Indonesia is something I knew nothing about, and it seems to be potentially fertile ground for an engaging story. There is some good stuff here. The story explores how imperial ideals often produce hypocrites who commit barbaric, inhumane acts in the name of civilisation. It is its own way also explores what happens to generations of occupiers who love the country they live in being potentially forced back to a homeland that they have never lived in. Racism, corruption, incompetence are all themes that run through the story.

BUT, I felt it was all rather messy. For someone with no knowledge of this historical context, I felt that I was lost at the purpose of the political machinations of some of the characters. I struggled to read some of the pages due to the panel layout, which seemed to rely on the same structure repeatedly, which was rather frustrating. The pace of the story seemed odd; it never fell into a rhythm.

The art was serviceable. Van Dongen does a masterful job of creating a sense of place, that characters melt under the heat of the sun and colour palette sublime. That said he does things better than people. I genuinely struggled to tell some of the characters apart. There is a case of mistaken identity that occurs over in the story that did not work for me. Our protagonist Johan Knevel is a character I struggled to care about. I neither wanted him to succeed or fail. Which I think is where the book floundered. It is pleasant enough to look at, and action was good enough for me to keep turning the pages. However, without a character or set of characters that you can engage with I didn’t finish the book with much enthusiasm. There is some interesting stuff here, but it wasn’t as engrossing as it should have been.

There is a good story to be told about colonial powers seeking to hold onto their lands in Asia. This is average stuff that doesn’t do enough with historical material. One to borrow from your local library if they have it.