Back in May, I started a habit of noting down everything that I read with an accompanying bit of text about the book’s topic and what my thoughts on it were. Shortly thereafter I discovered GoodReads and the book review blogosphere, and this is what inspired me to start my own blog. However, I’ve run into a bit of a problem: I read too fast. I can’t write full reviews quickly enough to keep up with the books that I finish, but I often have at least some brief comments to say about what I read. Consequently, I have decided to launch “Rapid Response Reviews”, named so because saying RRRs is fun. These are meant to be short reviews for books that I just don’t have as much to say about or ones that I don’t have time to write a full review on. They’ll be released in sets, possibly with themes, possibly not when I am lazy. In any case, it will be a good way of getting myself back into the habit of commenting on a bigger selection of my reading material.
Today’s theme is graphic novels that I have read within the past little while. I swear I’ll get back to writing about other types of fiction soon. I have been glutting myself on comics ever since I got a library card in my new city and discovered that their collection is vast and amazing. Consequently, this RRR is going to be longer than I anticipate most will be so that I can get through the vast majority of graphic novels that I have built up over the past little while.
1. 21 Journeys – Cloudscape Comics Society
Star Rating: * * *
21 Journeys is a collection of comics about travel published by Vancouver artists (the Cloudscape Comics Society). I always love purchasing books like this that support local community endeavours and amateur creators often just starting their careers. 21 Journeys is filled with interesting little glimpses into what travel can do for people, and there are some real gems in terms of story and art. Some pieces could have used some more editing, but that comes with the territory of an indie piece. I highly recommend checking out Cloudscape’s other anthologies as I will most certainly be trying to track them down.
2. Batman: The Court of Owls (Volume 1) – Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo (Illustrator), Jonathan Glapion (Illustrator)
Star Rating: * *
It is no secret that I am not a fan of DC’s new-52 reboot, but since Batman is my favourite superhero, I figured that I should give his stories a shot before I dismissed the whole of the DC universe. Unfortunately, my response to The Court of Owls is a resounding meh. The book suffers from the strange starting point of this reboot. The new-52 universe takes place around five years after Batman started his career as a costumed hero, and DC assumes that readers are familiar enough with his background and universe that they don’t need to have a traditional introduction. Instead, the story starts in medias res. Being that readers have no idea exactly what Batman canon survived the reboot, however, it’s hard to engage with the characters not knowing exactly who they are anymore.
The Court of Owls also introduced a new set of villains, but by the end of the volume, I really couldn’t care less about them. They’re overly violent, and the graphic imagery of their exploits was intense, but I have no idea what their motivations are, or even who the court actually is. Unlike Batman’s most famous villains who have a backstory that can attract reader sympathy or at least fear, the Court is a blank slate that was underutilised. If the book was going to wipe away so much of what came before, the author needed to replace this world-building with something else other than generic grittiness and angst. The Court of Owls, unfortunately, didn’t deliver.
Also, I hate the art style. The lines are very light and narrow, and the illustrators filled all available space with hatching and the like. There is little density to this style of line work, and I find the overabundance of detail distracting. Batman and the Robins all look alike, as do many of the other characters (and yes, I know that part of this is plot related, but I felt that the similarity of many of the characters was excessive). Overall, The Court of Owls was a boring book to start off an unappreciated reboot.
3. Batman: The City of Owls (Volume 2) – Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo (Illustrator), Jonathan Glapion (Illustrator)
Star Rating: * *
Batman: The City of Owls is the direction continuation of The Court of Owls, and it receives another bored review from me. We get more information about the Court itself, but I still don’t feel that these villains are as interesting as Batman’s usual array of enemies.
The thing I disliked most about this book was the changes to canon. I am not necessarily a canon miser, but I do believe that when a company like DC starts messing with the foundational parts of some of their most famous characters, they should have a damn good reason for doing so that makes the overall story stronger. Of the two examples of canon changes in this book, however, I feel as if DC failed rather spectacularly. The first change involves Mr. Freeze, a character that many were introduced to through the Batman Animated series. His backstory episode won an Emmy for its writing, yet the comic writers decided to abandon it in lieu of something newer and grittier. Nora the frozen woman still exists, but she was never Mr. Freeze’s wife. Instead, she’s a case study that he fell in love with even though they had never met. Instead of a man whose villainy was inspired by actual love, we have a “crazy” man ruled by delusions that is hard to differentiate from all the other “crazy” men in the Batman universe.
The second change to canon comes in the form of Lincoln March, a man running for mayor of Gotham. Interestingly enough, he looks exactly like Bruce Wayne! Why? Well, it’s possible that he is Bruce’s long-lost disabled brother, captured by the Owls to become their fiercest warrior. Or maybe not. Maybe he was just deluded into thinking that. No one’s really quite sure. In any case, the story is meant to bring into question the fact that Bruce was an only child and make him feel as if he lost even more family members. Because if Batman needed anything else added to his backstory, it was additional angst.
This second volume of Batman does little to convince me to stick with the series. The tone of Batman remains very grim, and the authors seem committed to making sure that there is no joy in this universe. With the canon changes that make this story seem particularly generic, I doubt I’ll be back for volume 3.
4. Jack of Fables: The (Nearly) Great Escape (Volume 1) – Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, Tony Akins (Illustrator), Andrew Pepoy (Illustrator)
Star Rating: * * *
Jack of Fables is a companion series to Fables, an extremely popular and long-running graphic novel collection that I adore. The Jack comics follow the tituluar character after his exile from Fabletown, and readers find out that there is a force other than the adversary to be frightened of. Jack is captured by a group of people working for a man named Revise who is “sanitizing” fables and making them lose their powers. While this is an interesting plot, Jack himself is an extremely irritating character. He’s narcissistic to the extreme with no redeeming qualities. His attitude shifts the tone of this series to something much less serious than that of the original Fables. Finally, the art is a fair bit less solid in the Jack volumes, to the point that the uneven body proportions began to distract me from the story. It’s a fun book for those who really want to soak up everything from the Fables universe, but not something I’d recommend otherwise.
5. Jack of Fables: Jack of Hearts (Volume 2) – Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, Tony Akins (Illustrator), Steve Leialoha (Illustrator)
Star Rating: * *
Jack of Hearts starts where The (Nearly) Great Escape left off, with Jack and a collection of runaway fables hiding out in the mountains. To pass the time, Jack tells them all the story of how he became Jack Frost and essentially fouled up much of the Fables homeland. I sided with Goldilocks when she remained decidedly unimpressed. Jack then takes off to Las Vegas where he manages to get himself married to a rich heiress. When she is killed by the henchmen of Lady Luck, he gives the reader’s a terrible grin, making me wonder why Bill Willingham thought it was a good idea to make readers put up with this jerk in order to get the full story of Fables. The plot points being introduced in Jack are really quite interesting, but I am loathing this character more and more. At least I only have a few more volumes to get through?
(Since this is already a hefty post, I will save the other five entries for tomorrow)