Saturday, December 24, 2011

Comics of 2011, A Summary - pt. 1

One of my biggest undertakings of the year involved becoming addicted to comics. Which I suppose isn't so much an accomplishment as a new expense. But still, over the last 12 months I've read over 300 graphic novels/trade paperbacks/collections - whatever you want to call them, I've read a lot of them, not even counting single issues or webcomics. Regardless, this isn't a post to recount my reading accomplishments, but more to recount my favorite books of the year past. So, onwards:

My favorite 10 books released before 2011 that I read in 2011
When I think of The Nightly News, I think about how much I loved the design, and the pure oozing of style that it exuded. Then I think of the kind of disturbing (but awesome), story Jonathan Hickman told. That story depicts a man whose life was ruined by sensationalist news  as he joins an organization determined to bring violence back to the people who caused their pain. It reminds you both that newscasters are people, and their mistakes can truly damage innocent lives, albeit in an over-the-top way. But while I love and appreciate the story, the presentation is what really hooked me.
Keeping in line with books about the news, Channel Zero seems to be a very fitting book for this year. Brian Wood tells a story set in a near future New York City, where the news media is completely controlled and limited by the government. The book is rough and gritty (I hate using that word), and just really damn cool.  It's about complacency and rebellion and our expectations of how the world is and should be, and it feels so fitting for the world we're living in, even though it was released more than a decade ago. It doesn't matter that the situation and the details are different, the struggle seems the same.
I read many, many, (seriously) many Warren Ellis books this year, and while I love basically all of them, it's Global Frequency that takes the cake. The story of an independent intelligence agency run by a Miranda Zero and coordinated by a woman called Aleph, each of the 12 issues tells a standalone story of an emergency that some of the 1001 members of the Global Frequency are called on to help fix. I love the nature of the issues - connected by a common thread, but involving different characters across the globe, each time done by different artists. Even with the group of people changing each issue, Ellis makes them deep enough that you care about whether they succeed or fail - and there obviously are consequences to every mission - and the changing nature of the book means that everyone is vulnerable.
Also taking on the idea of standalone stories, but in a much different way, is Daytripper by Gabriel Bá and Fabio Moon. The ten issues jump around the life of Brás de Oliva Domingos, an obituary writer, showing important moments in his life that helped shape him as a person. Both the story and the art are poignant and beautiful, and even thinking about it makes me want to read it again.
Jeff Lemire's Essex County has poignancy in excess. Three standalone but interlocking stories set in rural Essex County, centered around the Toronto Maple Leafs and the importance of hockey to the characters. While I am a blooming hockey fan, I feel like I would have loved this regardless, as it is more of a setting than anything else. Each piece is remarkable for its simplicity, and the connections really bring it all to life. (I'm cheating a bit, as it was collected for the first time this year, but too bad)
Return of the Dapper Men is another beautiful book, with Janet Lee's style, and the complex nature of her art process for each page, really bringing it alive. Jim McCann's story is set in Anorev, a place where the clocks have stopped and time does not progress. An unorthodox friendship between a human boy, Ayden, and a robot girl, Zoe, is essential to starting time again, something neither the other robots, nor the other children, really seem to support. While plenty of books make me think and calculate, this really evoked that sense of wonder about the world of these people. The art was so adorable, and the friendship was so apparent that while parts were bittersweet, I can't help but feel full of joy when thinking about it. 
The Arrival by Shaun Tan has no words, but it tells a complete story without them: a story of hope and charity, despite some haunting and ominous art. The book shows a new immigrant being helped by people in the wondrous new place he moved, and eventually able to bring his wife and daughter over from their dangerous homeland. Despite the familiar journey, the world is fantastical, as is many of its populous. There are many odd creatures and buildings and foods, and the realistic nature of the art serves as a way of grounding it all in a really amazing way. It's a completely different experience to have a story told just with pictures, and one that I haven't experienced in a long time.
The Finder Library Volumes 1 & 2 collect previously released stories by Carla Speed McNeil. They all share a common world and related characters, but the main protagonist, Jaeger, isn't featured in all of the stories. The joy and depth of the stories is in the world, which is filled with richly described and shown cultures and societies. The writer describes it as "aboriginal science fiction", with the reader standing in for an observing anthropologist, seeing the inner workings of vastly different groups of people. I love the complexity of it all, and how everything, no matter how wild it seems, is grounded in the rules of the universe.
Another book with a rich mythology is Promethea, by Alan Moore, J.H. Williams III, and Mick Gray. Based in mysticism, and drawing on the Tree of Life and tarot, it tells the story of Sophie Bangs, a young woman who is the next host of Promethea, a being that is able to live forever by manifesting Immateria, the home of imagination, for the people she embodies. While the back story and world are fantastic, it's really the art that elevates this book. The layouts are continually creative and unique, and just plain beautiful, something that is always true with J.H. Williams' art. I love how the book mixes magic and super-heroics, and I could just look at the book for ages.
And finally, while I haven't technically read all of Gotham Central, by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka, with art (mostly) by Michael Lark, I'm completely enamored with what I have read (#1-31 of 40). The stories focus on the detectives of the Gotham City Police Department, with arcs alternating between the day and night shifts. It's a different take on the world of superheroes and both Brubaker and Rucka are very good at making you care about the characters and their cases. Unfortunately, the book suffers when Michael Lark leaves after issue 25, mostly due to the jarring impact of different artists, rather than poor art, but that doesn't prevent me from obsessing over the book.

I also loved Grant Morrison's Animal Man, which was deliciously meta, and weird and fun, and Sandman, especially Endless Nights, by Neil Gaiman, because all of the Endless were so well characterized and so gorgeously realized.

Since this is already more than long enough, I'll extoll the virtues of continuing and new series in other posts (which might actually feature superheroes). Also, the books I am looking forward to and webcomics that I love.

So those are some of the books I read this year that I love. What are books from the past that you only just read, or re-read and still love?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Goliath - Scott Westerfeld

Goliath is the third and final book of the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, which follows the adventures of Deryn Sharp and Prince Aleksander of Hohenburg (Alek). Deryn is a midshipman on the British airbeast Leviathan, a girl who has disguised herself as a man, calling herself 'Dylan.' Alek is the son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to Austria, whose murder helped start the first World War. In this world, rather than technology progressing as it does today, there are two camps of different technology. On one hand, the Darwinists have taken to genetically engineering species into a vast variety of uses, and on the other, the Clankers use steam powered machines.
Spoiler-free introduction out of the way, this book continues to tell the story of Deryn and Alek's journey on the Leviathan. Having just left the Ottoman Empire, they continue East into Russia to find Nikola Tesla, who claims he has a solution to the war. Also, Alek learns Deryn's biggest secret. Neither of which are spoilers if you read the jacket summary. But anyways. I love Alek and Deryn, and I think this may have been my favorite book of the series, as they come to really understand each other. All of the storylines planted in the earlier books come together, and while I think the ending went unnecessarily far, you always kind of knew there would be a happily ever after. And yeah, I'm a sucker for those when they are deserved, and both Deryn and Alek went through a lot through the course of the books for the sake of their people, their secrets, and each other.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Ship Who Sang - Anne McCaffrey

The first time I read a book by Anne McCaffrey, I was ten. After devouring it, I proceeded to read almost every book of hers that I could get my hands on, but I never read The Ship Who Sang, or any of the other books in its series. When she died last month, and articles mentioned how important the book was to her, I knew I had to finally read it, to see what I had missed out on.
I've come to both regret and am thankful that I didn't read the book sooner. It is beautiful, heartbreaking, and uplifting, so I am saddened that I did not experience it sooner, but I wonder if I had read it when I in the full thrall of my obsession (when I was 14) I would have appreciated the complex emotions that the story made me feel.
The Ship Who Sang centers around Helva, born with extreme physical disabilities, whose parents have the option of euthanizing her or giving her the opportunity to live a life inside a metal shell, controlling a ship with her brain after years of conditioning and training. As a shell-child, she develops a hobby for singing, a habit and talent unprecedented among the Brain Ships she is training to become. As a Brain ship, she becomes acclaimed for her skills and famous for her singing, and the book tells five stories of Helva's journeys through space partnered with normal human Brawns working to help planets in emergencies.
The stories are very much about pain, and about having your heart broken and suffering through it, and learning to be happy again, and maybe, eventually, finding someone who you want to share your life with again. So, uh, spoiler? I guess. The last story is my favorite, because it completes a relationship that had been building for a while, and shows what some people are willing to go through for the one they love. Like its precursors, it's painful in parts, but in ways that leave you faithfulhopeful that everything will work out, because you almost need for it to. You need for all of the past suffering to be worth it. Or at least I did.
Over the course of the book I became so attuned with Helva's voice that I felt with her. I got mad when people assumed she wasn't intelligent, wasn't as good as other humans even human, just because she was a ship. I rationalized their behavior to myself, thinking they must be idiots, because I knew, how caring and personable, as well as intelligent, she was. And I shouldn't be surprised that Anne McCaffrey could do this. She so skillfully portrayed the connection between dragonriders and their dragons, the telepathic communication of Linyaari. And I don't know that I was surprise. But looking back, I didn't expect this book to be so powerful and emotional for me. But it was, and it was a perfect read as a send-off for a sci-fi great who was so important to my childhood.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wednesday is new comic day (1)

I'm a self-professed nerd, and I have always identified as such, and I'm always trying to expand topics about which I can speak intelligently. As a result, about 18 months ago I began to slowly introduce myself in the medium of comic books, as well as the culture surrounding it. Of course, once I was immersed, I was also addicted.
To share this love with whomever reads this blog, every Wednesday I am going to highlight a comic I've been reading. I'm not going to focus on a single issue at this point, because most of these books are a fair ways in and have a lot of back story to discuss.

Today I am taking about Punisher, written by Greg Rucka, with art by Marco Checchetto and colors by Matt Hollingsworth (issue 6 art by Matt Clark and Matt Southworth). If you had told me 7 months ago that I would be loving a Punisher comic this much, I would have laughed in your face. I've never found the Punisher to be an interesting character. But then Marvel relaunched his book with Greg Rucka writing, and I couldn't say no to at least trying it. Of course, I was immediately hooked. In addition to Rucka's writing, I absolutely love the art, and even with different artists this week's art was consistent, and (most importantly), the colors were gorgeous*. We're also starting to get some narrative pay off for the arc, and I'm excited to see where the events of this issue take us.
If you know nothing about the Punisher, his name is Frank Castle, and he was a US Marine. When he returned home from war, it was to find that family had been murdered. Since then, he has been a ruthless vigilante fighting to punish the horrible people of the world.
Greg Rucka has also introduced Rachel Cole-Alves, a Marine Sergeant whose entire family was murdered on her wedding day, including her new husband, and brought in Norah Winters, an investigative reporter who is determined to not be confined to being just a pretty face.
Honestly, it is probably having Rachel and Norah there that has made this book so interesting to me. Plus, we aren't just seeing the Punisher take down bad guys through extreme violence. Instead, we him plan out his targets and get injured - he isn't a superhuman, after all. But the supporting characters really round the book out, and give Frank's mission more weight, as we see the person who was most profoundly hurt by the events leading up to the story (Rachel). Yeah, perhaps that was probably unclear, but I don't want to spoil anything.
Regardless, as of the first 6 issues of this comic, I am really enjoying it. I am glad that my love for Greg Rucka enabled me to try this book, because otherwise I would be missing out on what I consider to be one of the best books Marvel is putting out right now.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Umm, hi.

Several times over the last few years or so, I've tried to start a blog of some sort in order to keep better track of the things I read. Because I read a lot. Unfortunately, I failed, so here I am once again, trying this blogging thing.
For me, it's mostly going to be stream of consciousness, because once I start editing I second guess and go crazy and things take forever.
So here I am, starting this thing. I could start it with the new year, but I don't want it to be a resolution that fizzles out. I want it to be an automatic response to reading a book. So I will begin reviewing with the next book I finish.

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Welcome to my blog. I like to talk about books. And comics. And other nerdy things. Also, chocolate, cheese, and bread. I am a fan of all of those things. Hopefully you are too.