Review – The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

Title: The Sculptor

Author: Scott McCloud

Genre: Graphic Novel

Stars: * * *

Cover - The Sculptor

I have complicated feelings about Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor. I very rapidly became immersed in the narrative, so much so that I blew through 200 pages while standing around in a store. However, despite the ease at which I devoured the book, it wasn’t wholly satisfying as McCloud relies too heavily on overused tropes and fails to rise above what other writers have done, often better, before.

SPOILERS AHOY

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Review – Wandering Son Volumes 1 and 2 by Shimura Takako

Title: Wandering Son: Volumes 1 and 2

Author: Shimura Takako

Star Rating: * * (Volume 1), * (Volume 2)

Genre: Graphic Novel, Transgender/Gender Identity

Volume 1

Cover - Wandering Son 1

When I heard that Wandering Son was about two kids, Yoshino and Shuichi, dealing with trans identity issues, it skyrocketed upwards on my to-be-read list. After all, there are not many stories dealing with trans realities in a positive and well-thought out manner, and I was super excited to see that this series was receiving excellent ratings. Unfortunately, volume 1 did little to endear me to the series as I thought that both the art and the story were weak.

The Wandering Son volumes are packaged in beautiful, oversized hardcover editions. Regrettably, the series would have looked better in the normal, smaller tankobon size. Takako’s art is very simplistic and sparse. While the printing is clear and crisp, by enlarging the pages so much, the blankness of many of them was emphasised, as well as the weaknesses of the character designs. While is it not uncommon for manga to have rather barebones backgrounds and similar character constructions, I felt that both were an impediment to my immersion in this story. I kept getting characters mixed up since most had the same, wide-eyed face, and even the hair styles weren’t all that different. Very little stood out to me in regards to the art, and I missed the detail that is often present in so many popular manga.

Wandering Son Example 1

Another major issue I had with the book was the way in which decompression was used. Decompression refers to the pacing of a graphic story. A decompressed story is one that moves slowly, and can take many panels to show small events or reactions. This particular technique is quite common in Japanese manga, and I usually quite appreciate the more sedate, but detailed pace. However, the decompression in this volume left too many gaps in the narrative for me to fully understand what was going on. Scenes would be quite detailed, but then the story would jump forward to a different day or week. Very little time was spent on transition scenes, and even though these can be less interesting or emotional, they are still crucial to a well-constructed story.

Finally, I am sad to admit that there was just not much happening in this volume. Yoshino and Shuichi are just starting to figure out that they may be different, and it is understandable that they need time to sort out their feelings. However, most of the manga is comprised of Shuichi looking distressed and uncomfortable while she stares at things. When dealing with an introverted character that is rather shy and withdrawn, an author has to work particularly hard to make their struggles engaging and understandable for the reader. In the Wandering Son, we don’t get that far into Shuichi’s head, and being pummeled with panel after panel of emotional angst that isn’t very well conveyed does not make me feel for the character, or want to know more about her journey.

Overall, volume one starts off with a very interesting and potentially powerful premise that unfortunately just does not pay off.

Volume Two

Cover - Wandering Son 2

Volume two is where everything really starts to fall apart for me. Technically, the book is a lot better than volume one. The story flowed a lot more smoothly, and I wasn’t getting lost between scenes. I still had many problems telling characters apart, but there were also more characters introduced that looked sufficiently different that the volume felt less same-y than before. Furthermore, the character development was more interesting, and Yoshino and Shuichi were doing more than just spending pages upon pages looking stricken and nervous. Overall, volume two was a much more enjoyable read except for one rather gigantic problem that ruined the entire book for me.

Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence

My issues with this book center on the two characters: Yuki and Shii. Yuki was actually introduced in volume one in a short, but disturbing scene. During Yoshino’s first public appearance as a young boy, Yuki hits on him rather directly despite the fact that Yuki looks to be in her twenties and Yoshino is a pre-teen dressed in a high school uniform. The scene was short, and I forgot about it until Yuki reappeared in volume 2. This time Yuki runs into both Yoshino and Shuichi wandering around as their preferred genders. She invites them over to her house, but tells Yoshino that she would love it if he came back alone one time. When the two kids come over again, Yuki expresses displeasure about Yoshino not coming on his own, and her partner, Shii, walks in just as she’s petting Yoshino’s face. He accuses her of having an affair with Yoshino, and the escorts the two kids out of the apartment. While in the elevator, he fondles Yoshino’s crotch and chest, acting quite surprised that Yoshino is biologically a girl. This leads both Yoshino and Shuichi to discover that Yuki is also transgender, and sets her up as a mentor for the two.

I have tried to come up with a positive interpretation for this scene, but I just can’t. Some have claimed the Shii tends to act spontaneously and was just trying to check to see if Yoshino and Yuki were having an affair, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that he sexually touched a minor. Under the law in my country, what he did is considered sexual assault, and the narrative even shows that Yoshino was quite disturbed and upset by the incident, yet these feelings were completely brushed aside. Given the disproportionate levels of violence perpetuated against trans and gender queer people, this supposedly gag-like scene is unacceptable. I was even more discomforted by the fact that Yuki was supposed to be a mentor for the two pre-teens despite her inappropriate behaviour.

Before I abandoned the series, I wanted to see what would happen with Yuki. In volume 3, Yoshino goes to Yuki when his classmates have found out that he and Shuichi are gender queer and have begun to mock and torment the two of them. Yuki acts completely inappropriately with Yoshino, asking to compare their panties, and wanting to bath together so that she can see his breasts. She encourages Yoshino to share a bed with her, and then she cuddles with him in a way that makes Yoshino uncomfortable enough to run away as Yuki is far too physically close, and saying uncomfortably intimate things. The two end up “making up” by the end of the chapter, and once again I was left feeling extraordinarily uncomfortable at the fact that a pre-teen was just molested by an adult who suffered no repercussions for her actions. For a manga that spends so much time delving into controversial and difficult concepts, it was a terrible error to write plots involving violence without unpacking them with the same care and respect as the other difficult issues approached by this series.

Final Thoughts

I was really excited to read Wandering Son when I heard that it dealt with gender identity issues. However, I wasn’t a fan of the story, and there are some extremely problematic aspects to the narrative that I just can’t brush aside. Violence, particularly sexual violence, is perpetuated against trans people all the time, and I cannot support or enjoy a story that uses this violence as a gag. Even if this is one of the few substantive stories about kids dealing with trans identities, the scenes in volume 2 make it a highly inappropriate and problematic read.

RRRs: The Fables Spin-offs Edition

Rapid response reviews are shorter entries for books that I want to comment on, but don’t have enough time or material to finish a normal post. Given the sheer length of the Fables series, the only way I’ll ever be able to tackle most of its volumes is if I keep my comments short and sweet! My reviews for the actual Fables series are simple: go read them all! To get the whole story, readers need to finish all of the books, and even though there are 19 volumes (as of now), all of them are worth the read. Today’s RRR, therefore, is dedicated to the Fables spin-offs since they are almost as voluminous, but differ widely in their importance to the main series and their overall quality.

Title: Jack of Fables (Volumes 1-9, including The Literals mini-series)

Author: Bill Willingham

Rating: *

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Graphic Novel

Cover - Jack of Fables Series

I’m cheating a bit with Jack of Fables as I am lumping all of the books into one write-up (though I did write mini-reviews for volumes one and two here). Simply put, I hated this series. Jack of Fables is extraordinarily different from its predecessor, and very little of what I loved about Fables was present in Jack. Admittedly, the story premise is quite intriguing as these books deal with the existence of the Literals, beings that are the anthropomorphic representations of writing tools, but the titular character makes the story all but unbearable. I read the full series because there is a cross-over between it and Fables, but after trudging through these books, I am pretty sure I could have just skipped Fables 13 and saved myself the trouble. While the Literals are an interesting concept, most of the series is dedicated to showing how Jack is a terrible human being. The humour is sexist (for example, Jack sleeps with his half-sisters and this fact keeps coming up throughout the entire series as something that is supposed to be funny or admirable), the art is inconsistent, and I could not care less about any of the characters. Unless you are a diehard Fables fan, these books should be a skip. Continue reading

Nostalgic Re-Reads: Goosebumps by R.L. Stine (Night of the Living Dummy, The Girl Who Cried Monster, and Camp Nightmare)

Title: Goosebumps #7: Night of the Living Dummy

Rating: * *

GB 7 - Night of the Living Dummy

Like Monster Blood, Night of the Living Dummy is one of the central, re-occurring Goosebumps stories, but I am not a very big fan of this initial installment (though I am quite fond of the sequels). So what made this one so different? Character development is not a strong point for the Goosebumps series, but I found the main characters in this story were particularly irritating and flat. Night of the Living Dummy stars twins Lindy and Kris who find a dummy in the trash. Lindy decides to keep the dummy, naming him Slappy, and Kris becomes jealous of her ventriloquism skills and the attention that it brings her twin. To stop the two from fighting, the twins’ father buys Kris a second dummy that she names Mr. Wood. However, Mr. Wood isn’t a normal dummy, and he acts out violently, taking control of Kris’ acts. No one will believe her when she claims that the dummy is alive, so the sisters have to team up to defeat this evil marionette.

The idea of a living dummy is nerve-racking, and the Slappy and Mr. Wood characters are scary because they seem to be sociopathic, unkillable monsters. The part of the story involving the dummies doing evil things worked well because it is pretty chilling to think about strange, living dolls wandering around your house at night, destroying things and trying to mess up your life. However, I could have done without Kris. I generally do not have a problem with well-written, unlikeable characters, or young characters that act their age. Kris, on the other hand, just gives me a headache. She’s so intensely jealous of her sister, and I felt that there wasn’t enough pushback against her bad behaviour in the narrative telling her that she should just chill out and figure out her own way to shine. I know that the relationship between twins is unique, but one would think that she wouldn’t want to strive to do the exact same things as her sister. I also felt that her parents should definitely not have encouraged Kris to try and steal the stoplight from Lindy so obviously. However, if they had done that, we wouldn’t have had this story, so the awkward characterisation can be forgiven as it led to a particularly memorable villain.


Title: Goosebumps #8: The Girl Who Cried Monster

Rating: * * ½

GB 8 - The Girl Who Cried Monster

Lucy is obsessed with monsters. She’s always looking to learn more about them, and her favourite activity is scaring her little brother with monster stories. However, she talks about monsters so often that no one believes her when she sees a real one! When she stays late in the library one night, she sees the local librarian turn into a disgusting creature that eats flies! Though she tries all sorts of things to prove to her parents that the librarian is a monster, all her efforts fail, and he discovers that she knows what he is. Lucy is convinced that she’s going to get eaten when her parents invite him over for dinner, but the tables are turned rather quickly when Lucy’s parents devour the librarian before the rest of the community is alerted to the presence of monsters among them. As it turns out, Lucy is obsessed with horror story creatures because she is one!

The Girl Who Cried Monster is a solid horror book for kids. Lucy is a bit obnoxious, but within reason for a precocious twelve year old. The plot is a fairly typical one, with Lucy getting herself into all sorts of suspenseful situations trying to get proof that the librarian is a monster. However, it is the ending that really makes this particular addition to the series stand out. I did not guess that Lucy’s family were monsters, and it was a delightful creepy ending to a creepy story.


Title: Goosebumps #9: Welcome to Camp Nightmare

Rating: * * *

GB 9 - Welcome to Camp Nightmare

Camp Nightmare is a strange story, but it certainly delivers in terms of scariness. This Goosebumps stars Mike, a normal 12 year old heading off to an overnight camp for the first time. However, his trip seems cursed from the start as the bus that was supposed to take all the kids to camp drops them off in the middle of nowhere, leaving them to be attacked by strange, dog-like creatures. They are saved by the camp director, but it seems that the troubles with this camp are just beginning. One of Mike’s campmates is bitten by a snake, but the camp has no nurse to treat him, and he disappears overnight. Slowly, members of his cabin fall victim to mysterious accidents, but the camp staff don’t seem to care. Mike finally decides he has to stand up to this callousness when the camp director orders the campers to hunt through the forest with tranquilizer guns for two run-aways. With this choice, he finds out he passed the test that his parents were putting him through in order to take him along on a scientific expedition to an alien world: Earth!

The idea that a camp could exist that is so careless towards the children that it is responsible for seems pretty unlikely, and as a reader, I was trying to figure out what the catch was from the very first few pages. However, with the twist reveal at the end, suddenly the callousness and neglect makes sense, even if the plot was a bit silly. Despite the ridiculous plot, Camp Nightmare is great for scaring younger readers. Camp can be a frightening experience at the best of times, and this story plays on those fears of abandonment and danger. Camp myths turn deadly, and Mike has no adults to turn to. He must survive on his own, and stand up against those who are supposed to be protecting him. All in all, this is one of my favourite books in the Goosebumps series.

Review – The One by Kiera Cass

Title: The One (The Selection #3)

Author: Kiera Cass

Star Rating: *

Genre: Romance, Dystopia

Cover - The One

Synopsis

The end is finally here. America Singer was pressured into joining the selection, a televised competition between young women vying to be the next princess of Illea, and now she and Prince Maxon must sort out their feelings for one another as a rebellion intensifies in violence around them. Will America win Maxon’s heart or will she be going home heartbroken?

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Review – Grim edited by Christine Johnson

Title: Grim

Editor: Christine Johnson

Star Rating: * * *

Genre: Fairy Tale Retellings, Short Stories, Young Adult

Thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin Teen for a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

 Cover - Grim

Synopsis

Grim is a collection of short stories based on classic fairy tales with new twists and reimaginings.

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Review: Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine by Tim Hanley

Title: Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine

Author: Tim Hanley

Star Rating: * * * *

Genre: Pop culture analysis, Superhero

Thanks to NetGalley and Chicago Review Press who provided me with a free copy of this book in return for a fair review.

 Cover - Wonder Woman Unbound

Background and Synopsis

Wonder Woman is a very hot topic at the moment due to the immense popularity of superhero movies, and the unfortunate absence of female leads in any of these films. For Marvel, the conversation has been focused on Black Widow, a character that has at least gotten screen time. For DC, the heroine at the heart of these discussions is Wonder Woman, one of their “holy trinity” of main properties. However, despite the fact that she is supposedly one of the central DC characters, Wonder Woman is often ignored in terms of merchandise and non-comic appearance opportunities. This has led to a situation where most people could probably talk about the histories of Batman and Superman, but are largely ignorant of Wonder Woman’s origins and basic story premises.

Hanley published Wonder Woman Unbound to try and clear up some of the confusion regarding this iconic character. He painstakingly details her history, from the golden age to today, talking about how her stories have been affected by different authors and varying time periods. To those who think Wonder Woman is too confusing a character, Hanley proves them wrong by presenting Wonder Woman as a hero who has undergone extensive changes like all the other major superheroes of DC and Marvel, but she has multiple histories and origins that can be drawn upon to make a cohesive, interesting, and empowering whole.

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