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Dryad Vol. 1 by Kurtis Wiebe & Justin Barcelo Osterling

Dryad Vol. 1 by Kurtis Wiebe & Justin Barcelo Osterling

Description:

Best-selling writer Kurtis Wiebe (Rat Queens) and newcomer artist Justin Osterling launch a new fantasy saga! The Glass family has spent thirteen years hiding peacefully in the sleepy forest settlement of Frostbrook where Morgan and Yale planted roots and raised their twins, Griffon and Rana. But secrets never stay hidden, and the entire Glass family find themselves the target of an unearthly attack on Frostbrook. Now on the run from Muse Corp., they must flee to the massive city of Silver’s Bay to hide in plain sight. Rana and Griffon find themselves uprooted and answering for their parents’ mistakes. But, they’ll soon find that the past has a way of finding you, no matter where you run.

Review:

One of my favourite comedians Patrice O’Neal one said lies are brutal. At the heart of Dryad are the lies that parents tell their children to protect them and what happens when the truth is shocking revealed. Dryad has all the ingredients for a superb fantasy comic. Weibe’s characters are charming, well rounded, and, despite the elf ears believable. Something has driven Morgan and Yale to seek refuge in the isolated village of Frostbrook. Morgan and Yale have many lovely character moments centred around the affection they feel for each and how they both struggle with the demands of parenthood differently. Weibe’s dialogue is often witty and for the most part, engaging. Barcelo Osterling’s art is sumptuous. For me, it is somewhat reminiscent of Joe Madureira illustrations in Battlechasers with its thickly inked lines. The battle scenes have are dynamic and easy to follow.  

However, as with a lot of ongoing series, there are problems with pacing. There are obvious big reveals and explanations that are being held back for future issues. This is fine, but in Dryad’s case, there were moments that I felt that this was being done artificially, e.g. we will talk about it later. The other fault I found was that as more and more characters are introduced into our heroes’ lives, I found myself a bit lost as to where everyone’s loyalties lay. A common criticism of fantasy stories is the number of factions and world-building jargon thrown at a reader with the expectation that they remember it. I think this a fair criticism that Dryads was guilty of. This is an enjoyable and diverting read but is not one that lingered with me as the very best fantasy stories do. It is somehow less than the sum of its parts. 

There is a lot to like here, and while Dryad doesn’t quite reach the heights of Montress or Saga, this is a very, very good comic. Wiebe and  Barcelo Osterling have set an impressive stage for what could be comic books next grand fantasy adventure story. 

Book Review: Hardears by Created by Matthew Clarke and Nigel Lynch

Book Review: Hardears by Created by Matthew Clarke and Nigel Lynch

Note: The ARC review copy provided contained incomplete artwork and was of low resolution.

In Hardears Nigel Lynch and Matthew Clarke have created a fantasy world of extraordinary creatures and rich mythos on par with the very best. The decision to use Caribbean folktales as a base to jump off and tell original stories pays off. Often fantasy stories are set in Western European/Medieval settings which made the setting of Jouvert Island all the more unique and engaging. I loved the world of Headers. Everything from the character and creature designs to the world architecture is inventive and fabulous.

There are some intriguing characters in the book. The villainous Mr Harding and the pirates make fantastic foils. Unfortunately, most of the protagonists are two dimensional to the point of being cardboard cutouts. Bolo is bland, and I struggled to care about him or what he did. I found myself only caring if Bolo and his crew succeeded because I wanted Mr Harding to be stopped. The plot itself is basic, which is fine if you have a cast of intriguing and engaging characters who you want to succeed. The richness of the original artistry that makes the rest of the Hardears world contrasts with the deficiency of charisma in the heroes who are supposed to save it.

In the end, Hardears is fine. It is even terrific in parts when the action gets going. It’s worth reading just for the gorgeous artwork alone.

Lynch and Clarke have succeeded in creating a fascinating world. I would love to return to it and read more adventures set in it. Next time, I hope they write a story featuring characters who have the charm and complexity to match the setting in which their fates will unfold.

BOOK REVIEW: Penultimate Quest by Lars Brown

BOOK REVIEW: Penultimate Quest by Lars Brown

I’m really struggling to get my thoughts in order. I am not sure what to make of Penultimate Quest. Overall it was a satisfying reading experience. It is a strange, meandering tale about repeating patterns of behaviour that at one point served a useful purpose but now do more harm than good. The characters were well written, and I personally became very invested in their fates. Frustratingly this is one of those books that I think requires repeated readings to get the most out of it. It certainly makes literary allusions that I didn’t understand, and the plot is somewhat convoluted. It is overlong, but I think that is part of the point.

The dialogue is witty, and the banter between party members is engaging. The page layout and panel composition are masterfully done. The art style took me a while to get used to, but for the type of story this, it works well. Our protagonists are believable, damaged, and, sympathetic even when they are doing things that are hurtful to each other and the world around them.

My criticism is that this is a novel that requires a lot of effort, which given how the book starts caught me off guard. There are middle sections where plot and character progression almost crawls to a stop. If I didn’t have to review it, I might have stopped. I was lost at which direction the story was trying to take me, and there were points where I was frustrated and confused by what the comic was trying to do. I am glad I kept with and finished it but fair warning if you are expecting a light read think again. There are heavy ideas explored here, and Brown often takes the most arduous path to get his points across. The story takes characters off in unexpected tangents that are often delightful but on occasion are tedious.

I have mixed feelings about it. It is undoubtedly a novel that deserves to be read. I enjoyed vast chunks of it. Yet, when it didn’t work for me, it really didn’t work me. It is a thought-provoking and challenging book that stayed in my head for days after I had finished reading. It is the sort of book you want to discuss with other people to find out what they made of it. Lars is a fantastic cartoonist, and Penultimate Quest is a lavish showcase of his storytelling prowess.

The Grémillet Sisters by Giovanni Di Gregorio & Alessandro Barbucci

The Grémillet Sisters by Giovanni Di Gregorio & Alessandro Barbucci

An utterly adorable book. The Gremillet Sisters is a heartwarming story that is told with glorious eye-catching artwork. As a fan of Pixar and Studio Ghibli its lovely to read something that captures the same sense of adventure and emotional heft. Di Gregorio script does not treat the reader like an idiot. This is perhaps a more mature story than the initial impression of the artwork might lead you to believe. There is something here for both children and adults. I really enjoyed the interplay between Sarah, Cassiopeia, and, Lucille. The sibling rivalry as the sisters’ jockey for status and petty annoyances they inflict on each other is played both for laughs and dramatic purposes. There are hints of larger supernatural elements in the world of the story that were handled deftly. The core of themes of the novel though are memories, family secrets, and, what effect that hidden trauma has on loved ones when it is exposed.

Part Goonies with its mystery and detective elements and part My Neighbour Totoro with its fantastical creature designs and exploration of sisterhood deftly manages to blend moments of danger with moments of tenderness.

The dialogue is not as sharp as the art, and that does make me wonder if something was lost in translation. Also, at points, the pace does lag. However, these are minor quibbles Di Gregorio, and Barbuhave created a charming novel with a cast of characters that are memorable and who I, for one, would love to see more of.

Mary: The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter
The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter
by Brea Grant & Yishan Li 

Mary: The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter
The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter
by Brea Grant & Yishan Li 

Description
When angsty teenager Mary Shelley is not interested in carrying on her family’s celebrated legacy of being a great writer, but she soon discovers that she has the not-so-celebrated and super-secret Shelley power to heal monsters, just like her famous ancestor, and those monsters are not going to let her ignore her true calling anytime soon.

Everyone expects sixteen-year-old Mary to be a great writer. After all, her mother, her aunt, and her grandmother are all successful writers (as they constantly remind her)—not to mention her famous namesake, the OG Mary Shelley, horror author extraordinaire. But Mary is pretty sure she’s not cut out for that life. She can’t even stay awake in class! Then one dark and rainy night, she’s confronted with a whole new destiny. Mary has the ability to heal monsters… and they’re not going to leave her alone until she does.

With the help of a mysterious (and mysteriously cute) stranger, a Harpy, a possessed stuffed bunny, and her BFF Rhonda, Mary must uncover her family’s darkest secret if she’s going to save the monster world… and herself.

REVIEW:

This was fine. Li’s artwork is attractive, there is an assuredness with the panel layout, and line work makes this a pleasing book to look at. Storywise this is very much standard supernatural YA fair. The titular Mary is a likeable protagonist suffer under the weight of expectation from her family to become a great writer but wants something different for herself.
For the most part, Grant’s script balances teenage angst, horror with quippy humour rather well. It very much falls into a Buffy The Vampire Slayer mould of YA stories. It works well enough, and there are some stand out characters such as the Harpy with a toothache. Its when the quirky monsters are on the page that the book soars. However, I did not connect with any other human protagonists as much. The pacing of the story felt rushed toward the end, and there was a moment of Deus ex machina involving one of Mary’s schoolmates that did not work.

This book isn’t aimed 40-something blokes, but for teenagers looking for supernatural YA there’s is a lot to admire about Mary. Not my cup of tea, but it does what it sets out to do and does it rather well.

Mega-Dogs of New Kansas by Dan Jolley Jacques Khouri

Mega-Dogs of New Kansas by Dan Jolley Jacques Khouri

Lerner Publishing Group

Description
Sorry friends: e-Galley not available for Kindle download.
The story of a girl and her dog—in space. Sienna Barlow loves nothing more than riding around New Kansas on top of her mega-dog, Gus. He’s one of the massive pooches protecting the human settlers of a strange planet. In fact, Sienna connects better with Gus than with other kids. So when a visiting official threatens to shut down the mega-dog program, Sienna sneaks off with her best friend. After she, Gus, and a stowaway crash their escape ship, they discover a danger to every human in their community—and launch a wild plan to save New Kansas.

REVIEW

This a superb all-ages adventure. Set in a retro-futuristic Martian colony the character designs and look of the world takes inspiration from 70’s sci-fi shows like Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica. The colour palette is a pleasing mix of orange/yellow/brown that harkens back to those classics while still being fresh and modern enough to appeal to younger readers. Khouri skillfully manages to capture crippling shyness that Sienna suffers from and imbues the action scenes with enough peril to keep the reader hooked. Jolley’s script moves along at a decent clip, there is enough character development to the reader invested in the fates of Sienna and Gus. The dialogue captures the awkwardness and excitement of making new friends. Being a fan of Roald Dahl, I am always up for stories that are about children showing adults what clods they are being and setting the worlds to rights. I rather enjoyed this. Jolley and Khouri have done a commendable job of creating a tale filled with derring-do, friendships, and, personal growth.

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.