Free Comic Book Day 2017

My trip to the local comics shop this year took in a considerably smaller haul than last, but that was because I stuck with just going to my local shop instead of driving around town to hit up bigger book stores that were also participating.  After wading through over twenty titles last year to share my thoughts on the ones that I liked best, I figured a smaller pile would be better.  I also picked up the sixth volume of Saga (it is so good!) along with Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward’s first issue of the new Black Bolt ongoing series (it’s only polite to buy something when you visit a shop for Free Comic Book Day).

Anyway, let’s get to the comics.

Bad Machinery: This FCBD issue is the first chapter in the latest arc of a series about a group of middle school aged children who solve mysteries.  It’s very English in all the ways that you want a series about a grammar school to be.  Of the six main characters, the three girls have delightfully distinct personalities (the boys don’t really stand out too much in comparison, but it’s possible their blandness is just a byproduct of not being the focus for this issue), and I would love to read more about their adventures.  This one was a random pickup, and I’m really glad I got it, since I love discovering entertaining all-ages books (they’re so refreshing in comparison to the gloom that typically accompanies more adult-oriented stories).

Buffy: The High School Years: Sometimes it’s a nifty cover that draws you to pick up a book.  I went with this one both because it’s a Buffy story (Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a lot of fun in the right context) and because I thought the cover, where Buffy is reading the comic that she’s featured on, charmed me.  The story inside does take place inside a comic shop, and it’s cute enough, but this one’s largely forgettable.  I didn’t even bother to read the backup Plants vs. Zombies story because I was so underwhelmed with the one that I picked up last year.

Catalyst Prime: The Event: I follow Joseph Illidge on Twitter because he used to write editorials discussing the comic book industry’s need for more diversity among its creators at the big publishers and highlighting instances of better representation among currently running books.  The project he’s been working on for a while now is the launch of a new shared universe from Lionforge Books called the Catalyst Prime universe.  The main selling point of Catalyst Prime is that it’s going to be a shared universe that takes representation and diversity seriously with a lineup of heroes that come from a large variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds (they seem to be trying to follow in the footsteps of Dwayne McDuffie’s Milestone Comics of the early ’90s).  The FCBD offering for Catalyst Prime’s launch is a prequel issue that recounts events in the lives of key people in the lead up to The Event, the moment that jump starts all the stories of the universe.  It’s a solid story by itself, but there’s a lot that’s just teasing readers with glimpses of major characters from the universe.  I’m not a floppy buyer, so I doubt I’ll read more for now, but there’s some promise here if Lionforge puts out some trades here once they wrap up the first arcs of their various titles.

Drawn & Quarterly Presents: Hostage: I like to pick up the Drawn & Quarterly issue because they put out stuff that’s less superheroes and more just about exploring interesting subjects through the comics medium.  This year’s issue has excerpts from Hostage by Guy Delisle, a nonfiction account of Christophe Andre’s time as a hostage in Chechnya, and Poppies of Iraq by Brigitte Findakly & Lewis Trondheim, a memoir of Findakly’s life growing up in Iraq.  The Hostage excerpt conveys the tension surrounding an instance where Andre, while attempting to break his restraints, accidentally tightened them to the point where they cut off circulation to his hand and had to spend the better part of a day trying to manage the pain while he waited for his captors to unbind him so he could eat.  Poppies of Iraq employs a simple, six panel layout with childlike illustrations to convey the social upheaval and uncertainty that followed the coup in Iraq in 1958.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: Like a few of the other books that I picked up this year, this one was taken mostly on a whim.  It has the first chapter of Akira Himekawa’s manga adaptation of Twilight Princess, recounting Link’s history prior to the beginning of the game.  It’s perfectly serviceable manga, and Himekawa’s illustrations are beautiful, but there’s not much here that’s super enticing if you aren’t already a mangaphile of Zelda fan.

Malika: Warrior Queen: This book caught my eye because it features an all-Black creative team from a small Black comic publisher, Youneek Studios.  The story follows the eponymous Malika, an African queen who rules the empire of Azzaz as she leads her army to quell a rebellion in one of her empire’s outer provinces.  The action is straightforward, and the art serves the story well, though something about it lacks the polish that you see in a book from a bigger publisher.  My biggest complaint is that the story beats feel pretty rote, but I’m not going to be too hard on a series from a small publisher.

Riverdale: I’ve not watched any of the new Archie television show; I took the year off from almost all my regular television, so the thought of picking up something new to watch on a weekly basis did not sound appealing to me, even though I hear that Riverdale is a delightfully soapy take on the Archie universe.  The FCBD issue that is set in that universe is meant as a prequel of sorts for Riverdale‘s first season, setting up the events that happened prior to the start of the show and giving some background on the key characters.  It’s perfectly cromulent, though I’m a little weirded out by Archie’s casual hooking up with a high school teacher (this trope just sets my teeth on edge; perpetuating inappropriate sexualization of teenagers much?).

Secret Empire: Y’all, Steve Rogers is a Nazi now.  I know that by the time Secret Empire is over he won’t be anymore, but the fact still remains: he’s a Nazi.  The purpose of this issue is to give some background on the big fight that the Avengers lost to Hydra after Cap went public with his Nazism.  It’s beautifully illustrated, and as a simple depiction of a hopeless fight, it works well enough.  Still, it does end with Cap lifting Thor’s hammer (a thing that Marvel’s version of Mjollnir only lets you do if it likes you) to declare a Nazi victory over the globe.  Given the history of Nazi iconography and their appropriation of Norse mythology, this is more than a little problematic.  You have Cap, heading up a fictional organization that is a stand in for actual Nazis, lifting an icon of actual Nazi ideology.  That’s a bad move; I’d highly recommend that you just skip Secret Empire completely, because apparently Marvel needs their wallet to hurt to understand that you don’t do this kind of stuff.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Mirror Broken: The premise of this upcoming miniseries is that it’s a story set in the Mirror Universe of Star Trek, but while following Picard’s crew rather than Kirk’s.  It’s a lot of fun, with more than its fair share of backstabbing and creepiness (Data has Borg implants!).  I’m not a massive Trekker, but if I came across a trade of this series once it’s done running, I’d look at it.

Wonder Woman: The Wonder Woman movie is coming out in a few weeks, so I guess DC figured they should do a promotional tie-in for Free Comic Book Day.  The issue they decided to put out is a reprint of the #1 for Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott’s Wonder Woman Rebirth series.  Rucka’s a perfectly good writer, and he does a nice job in this issue of alternating back and forth between scenes from Diana and Steve Trevor’s lives leading up to the fateful plane crash where they first meet.  It’s nice to see Rucka thinking about things like the fact that a society of only women probably wouldn’t be asexual (Diana is apparently a ladies’ woman among her peers).  Scott’s art is gorgeous; there’s enough good stuff in this issue that I want to look up what else she’s done.

Black Bolt #1: I bought this issue (again, because Saladin Ahmed), and it is definitely money well spent.  My biggest regret after reading it and seeing the cliffhanger that it ends on is that I know I won’t be reading the series on a month-to-month basis, but it’s definitely a strong contender for me to pick up the first trade when it all gets collected probably early next year.

Saga Volume 6: I really need to spend a whole post on this one, but my initial thoughts after the first read through are essentially this: Saga is good.  You should be reading it, either in floppies or in trades.

Free Comic Book Day 2016 Postmortem #2: Saga Volume Five

The other thing that I bought on Free Comic Book Day was the fifth collected volume of Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s ongoing sci-fantasy space opera Saga.  I’ve written in the past that I’m a big fan of this series, and thirty issues in, it’s still not disappointing.

I suppose I need to get folks up to speed just in case they haven’t read Saga yet, which is kind of a challenging proposition since Saga, being an R-rated space opera, involves lots of death and destruction, and part of the fun of reading the series is not knowing who’s going to die next (at this point, the only characters with plot armor seem to be Marko, Alana, and their daughter Hazel, and that’s only because Hazel’s narration hints that her parents are around for later events in her life).  Given that, take all this with a spoiler warning for an ongoing comic series that’s been running for over thirty issues at this point.

Things get messy. Also, I can’t post the punchline panel here, so you’ll just have to read the book to see what they’re reacting to. (Artwork by Fiona Staples)

Volume five is primarily concerned with Marko’s attempts to catch up to the rest of his family after they’re taken hostage by a janitor named Dengo from the robot planet who murdered Prince Robot IV’s wife and kidnapped his newborn son to make a political statement about the robot kingdom’s preoccupation with the ongoing war between Wreath and Landfall at the expense of its own subjects.  Marko’s accompanied by Prince Robot IV, who despises everything about Marko and Alana (he’s spent years trying to capture them for a mission he was coerced into accepting just before he found out his wife was pregnant), but wants to get revenge on Dengo even more.  Meanwhile, Alana’s trying to convince Dengo that they have parallel interests but he can’t align himself with a group of terrorists called the Last Revolution.  From there, things get messy.  The B-plot of this arc is about Gwen, Marko’s ex-fiancee; Sophie, an orphan girl that was rescued from the brothel planet Sextillion by The Will; and The Brand, The Will’s sister, going in search of some dragon semen as part of a miracle cure The Will needs to come out of a coma that he’s in.  Things also get messy there.

Actually, “Things get messy,” is a good summary for any given story arc in Saga.

The particulars of this arc get into issues of violence and addiction in some interesting ways (as an essentially anti-war story, there’s a lot of exploration of the ways violence indirectly damages others besides its intended target).  Marko’s generally the focal point for these explorations here, since it’s been established for some time that he has an extremely complicated relationship with violence as a war veteran who’s become a sworn pacifist since he deserted with Alana.  What we learn about Marko here is that his relationship to violence extends back to his childhood when, in a fit of rage, he beat up a girl who had been torturing his pet dog.  From the series’s start, Marko’s always been an unstable character who would erupt into extreme violence under unusual circumstances, and this connection with past trauma is pretty enlightening (we see that not only has Marko always had his rage problem, but he also first learned to control it after being beaten by his father).  It does a lot to explain why Marko so often equates his rage to a form of addiction, and why even the specter of domestic abuse terrifies him (to be clear of course, domestic abuse is a horrible thing, and I find Marko’s constant monitoring of his own behavior in that regard admirable).  This subplot only gets significant attention for about one issue, but it’s still an interesting one to look at, particularly in conjunction with the storyline from Volume Four where Alana starts taking drugs as part of her lifestyle as a daytime television actress (that plot resolves with Marko hitting Alana because he discovers her drug habit, which is the inciting incident for his spiral of self doubt here).  The contrast between Alana, who sees her drug use as purely recreational and generally harmless (she embarks on scoring her first high with an enthusiasm that is the textbook definition of “not cool”) and Marko, who polices his own behavior so heavily in a variety of aspects, is really fascinating.

Way elaborate on the first sentence there, Hazel. (Artwork by Fiona Staples)

Besides all the intricate thematic stuff that Vaughan and Staples play with, there’s still just a ton of great humor here too.  Saga is an extremely sex-positive series, and most of the best jokes still revolve around stuff that’s pretty bawdy (my favorite joke by far is a panel that shows Gwen and The Brand looking on at something in horror while Gwen covers Sophie’s eyes followed by a double page spread of the dragon they’ve been seeking fellating itself).  Other, more innocent bits revolve around Hazel herself, who’s a toddler in this arc that occasionally comments on the horrible things happening around her with the kind of matter of fact naivety that the other characters can’t pull off (her first line in this volume is “My Grampa made this coat for me when I was a baby.  It is so toasty and he is dead now.”).  Either way, the book’s filled with alternately hilarious and heartbreaking moments.

I’m really looking forward to Volume Six coming out.

Help Me I Have Probably Done Hugo Nominations Wrong 2015

So, the big news for the day is that Hugo Award nominations closed early this morning, and for the first time, I was able to submit my own ballot.  The background goes like this: Rachael has had a very good year with her writing, and WorldCon, which is the annual convention where the Hugos take place every year, is happening in Spokane, Washington this year, and because we have several friends on the West Coast who are planning on attending, we thought we’d try to go and see them.  We bought our memberships late last year when they went on sale, and one of the benefits is being allowed to cast a nomination ballot for the Hugo Awards.

All of that is to say that being a first time nominator, I have probably done everything totally wrong (the most obvious thing being that I waited until the last minute to do some research on what was eligible and fill out my ballot so that this post is going up after the nomination window has closed), but I am okay with that.  In thinking over what I cared enough about to put on my ballot, I realized that much of what I’m nominating is stuff that I’ve written about in the last year.  So, even if I’ve done this all wrong and nothing I nominated actually gets on the final ballot, I figured it’s at least worth letting folks know this stuff is out there and I think it’s, objectively, the best things.  For 2014.

Best Short Story

  • “Makeisha in Time” by Rachael K. Jones – Yes, I’m more than a little biased because Rachael wrote this story, but that’s irrelevant here, because it’s a wonderful intersectional piece on historical erasure of women and people of color in the vein of Kameron Hurley’s essay “We Have Always Fought.”  I’ve read all of Rachael’s writing, and this is one of her best to come out in the last year.

Best Related Work

  • Tropes Vs. Women’s “Women As Background Decoration” by Anita Sarkeesian – I have been a fan of Sarkeesian’s work from the start of Tropes Vs. Women in Games, and this entry felt pretty groundbreaking to me, if for no other reason than the way it hammered home the very important point that depiction is not equivalent to critique.  The two part episode is also notable as the last major publication in Tropes Vs. Women in Games before the eruption of GamerGate.  That cesspool had been festering for a while, and its fallout has undoubtedly been a difficult experience for Sarkeesian, but I’m pleased that her work is getting more mainstream attention in light of that.
  • The Wolf Among Us by Telltale Games – I am a huge fan of Telltale Games’s style of choice-based narrative games, and of the two that launched last year, this one was probably my favorite.  The art style and noir tone are really groovy, and dilemmas that Bigby faces are some very interesting moral conundrums.  I also loved The Walking Dead Season 2, but that series delves so much more into purely awful choices over actual ethical questions that I prefer Wolf.
  • Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men by Rachel Edidin and Miles Stokes – I just got into this podcast a couple weeks ago, and I’ve been burning through episodes at a ridiculous rate.  It’s a wonderful casual introduction to the X-Men franchise, and Rachel and Miles’s enthusiasm for their subject really bleeds over where I always finish an episode wanting to re-read the material they’re discussing, whether it’s objectively good or just absurdly awesome.

Best Graphic Story

  • Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona – I have been in love with this series ever since I picked up my second edition #1 last May, and that love has only grown as I’ve read more and more of the series.  I love that this book features a Pakistani-American girl who’s trying to navigate her life in New Jersey, and I love that its creative team involves two Muslim women.  It does great things for diversity in comics, both for characters and creators, and it’s also just wonderful storytelling.
  • Rat Queens Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch – As a D&D nerd, I love this book for its hilariously skewed take on typical high fantasy tropes, and as a feminist I love the independent, unique main characters who are all so well written and drawn.  Even disregarding all that, I’d probably want to nominate this simply because Betty never stops making me laugh.
  • Saga Volume Three by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples – There’s probably so much more that I could say about this series than what I’ve already said, and maybe someday I will.  For now, it’s probably enough to say that the core theme of Saga really resonates for me, especially since I’m coming out of an evangelical background where ideas about sexuality and warfare are all kinds of messed up.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)

  • Snowpiercer – It’s a Marxist/Gnostic allegory set on a bullet train that involves a scene where a bunch of guys gut a fish then have an axe fight.  This movie’s insane, and if you try to watch it on a literal level you’ll likely get really frustrated with the absurdity of the worldbuilding, but it’s a really wonderful ride if you take it for the metaphor that it is.  Of what I’ve seen this past year, I think this was probably the best science fiction movie to come out in 2014.
  • Big Hero 6 – I just saw this a couple weeks ago with my students, and I was thoroughly impressed with it.  It’s fun, funny, actiony, and heartwarming with a really well-realized world.  Perhaps I’m remembering it more fondly than it deserves, but I can’t knock a movie that has my entire class of cynical high schoolers (several of whom were loudly whining that they hate kid movies) watching and laughing in delight less than twenty minutes in.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

  • Dark Dungeons – Tabletop gaming and tongue-in-cheek criticism of fundamentalist Christianity.  What’s not to love?
  • PodCastle Episode 339 “Help Summon the Most Holy Folded One!” by Harry Connolly – I’m really sad that Dave Thompson and Anna Schwind are stepping down as editors at PodCastle at the end of this month, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that we’ll always have wonderful episodes like this one, which is a full cast reading of a short story framed as the Kickstarter page of a project meant to summon Tacthulhu.  It’s every bit as awesome and silly as you think.
  • PodCastle Episode 324 “Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy” by Saladin Ahmed – I was never an Edmund Spenser fan when I was in school, though I do recall taking a couple classes with some hardcore Spenserians.  After listening to this reading of Ahmed’s story, I doubt I could ever go back and really enjoy Spenser, because he does such a great job of critiquing Spenser’s dehumanization of Muslim soldiers as adversaries for his hero in Faerie Queene.  I rarely get really emotionally invested in short stories, but this reading honestly had me in tears by the time it ended.  I can’t recommend it enough.

And that’s about it.  I made some nominations in other categories, but they’re pretty minor in comparison to what I’ve covered here.  I don’t know if any of it will actually get nominated, but that’s probably beside the point here.  These things are great, and they’re worth checking out, Hugo Award or no.

New Music’s Always Nice

Really brief post today, simply because I’ve been wracking my brain for topics, and all I can think is that I got some new music this week, and all I really want to do is listen to it over and over (my approach to music typically consists of completely immersing myself in whatever the latest thing is that I’ve decided I like enough to own, and then I listen to only that ad nauseum for weeks or months on end) instead of thinking about other things that might be interesting to discuss on the interwebz.  “But Jason, why don’t you just write about the music you’re listening to?” you probably didn’t ask.  Well, I’ve done that in the past, on a couple of occasions, but they were instances where the music was tied into a particular idea I was mulling over.  The first time was about the defunct band 19 Action News, and that was because they have a concept album that tells the story of a near-future Earth where a meteor’s about to hit the planet; it’s a really good album that explores a lot of facets of the human experience when faced with an extinction event (also, it’s a pretty wry liberal fairy tale where all the rich people who could afford to buy passage off of Earth end up colliding with the meteor on their way to Mars, breaking the meteor up into small enough chunks that will disintegrate on entry and leaving the rest of humanity perfectly safe).  The second time was about my rather feverish preoccupation with Mumford & Sons’ first album Sigh No More, which I listened to exclusively for over a month straight back when I was wrestling with all my hangups about white evangelical Christianity (Mumford & Sons, being a band that enjoys lots of literary allusion in their lyrics, is rife with imagery that evokes both ideas about faith and failed romance; there’s a reason I called it my breakup album for evangelicalism).

The other important thing about both of those posts was that I was also coming to them after spending a lot of time with their respective playlists.  Songs are way more compact than other narratives that I like to think about, and they typically demand multiple exposures before I’m able to form any coherent thoughts about them beyond “Dur, I like the way this sounds.”  That’s the case with my current musical fascination, since I’ve only been listening to it for a week.

Cover of Ceremonials. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

Therefore, please excuse any incoherence.

Anyway, let’s get to the gushy part.  I bought Florence + The Machine’s second album Ceremonials, and aside from the occasional podcast, it’s all I’ve been listening to for about four days now.  This wasn’t a totally blind purchase; like with Mumford & Sons, I discovered this band after spending much time on Pandora listening to a channel built around Of Monsters & Men.  Being the proud owner of a shiny new iPod after Christmas (thanks Mom and Dad!) and armed with a bit of iTunes credit, I decided that I did like their sound enough to invest in an album.

I think it was a pretty good choice.

My early impressions of the album go something like this: the instrumentation’s incredibly lush (it reminds me a little of Death Cab for Cutie at their most decadent, but every song is infused with a kind of urgency that I don’t always get from Death Cab), Florence Welch’s vocals are remarkably rich, and the lyrics are suitably complex.  Also, the album’s single biggest recurring motif (to me, anyway) is the conflation between romance and faith, which tickles all my intellectual buttons.  I can’t say much more than that about the individual songs themselves since I’m still getting to know them (except for “Bedroom Hymns,” both the shortest track and the most intense in the set, which is, as you might guess, about sex being a religious experience; it’s not necessarily an original idea, but it’s a really good song, and its theme really resonates with all the thinking I’ve been doing about Saga lately), but I hope I can give some more in depth thoughts in the future once I’ve gotten to know the lyrics in and out.

So yeah, that’s what I’m listening to right now.  I suppose I might have been able to say all that in a bit less than seven hundred words, but you know how it goes; you set out to write something short, and it blows up, and when you want to write a really long piece you can’t get a hundred words.

What’s everyone else listening to at the moment?

More On Saga

I feel like what I said about Saga the other day was rather inadequate, simply because there’s a lot more to it than just an exploration of the social dichotomy between violence and sex (okay, that’s actually a broad enough topic that now as I’m thinking over what happens in the first three volumes I’m seeing that everything really does echo back to that central motif, but that’s beside the point; the series explores so many different facets of how sex and violence impact our lives and the choices we make that it really feels like it’s hitting on a bunch of different topics).

True story: I got volumes 2 and 3 for Christmas, and when I opened them up, I excitedly showed them to my entire family, including my parents and grandmother. Upon realizing that I was showing them a picture of a goat man drenched in blood, I sheepishly put the books away; I’m just glad I didn’t accidentally flip to the page with the naked giant who has a scrotum the size of his thigh. (Image credit: Comic Vine)

Since I just kind of rambled randomly last time, let me give you the basic premise of the series (as entertaining as it was to talk about Prince Robot IV and that douchebag Gale, I’m sure anyone who’s not read the series will be a little befuddled by these allusions).  Alana and Marko are new parents who are on the run after defecting from opposing sides in an ongoing galactic war.  The ongoing conflict is based around a dispute between the native inhabitants of the planet Landfall, who all happen to have wings of some kind, and the inhabitants of its moon Wreath, who all sport horns on their heads.  This conflict has become so hostile and bloody that the two worlds agreed to export their fighting to other planets, and have consequently drawn pretty much the whole galaxy into the fight.  Alana and Marko have tired of this situation and are now being chased by authorities from both sides, since their union (and newborn child, Hazel) undermines the ongoing propaganda that both governments have been disseminating to keep the populace invested in the war.

Pursuing the family are Prince Robot IV, a combat veteran on the Landfallian side who is pressed into service chasing Alana and Marko when he just wants to settle down with his wife and soon-to-be-born child, and The Will, a member of a freelance mercenary/bounty hunter organization who has been hired by the Wreath government to track down and eliminate the fugitives.  Both men are interesting, fleshed out characters who echo Alana and Marko’s ambitions with their own desires to get away from their lives of violence and settle down with families.

Threaded throughout the story is the idea that Alana and Marko are kind of quirky for wanting to be pacifists (it’s a whole thing where they become convinced this is the life philosophy for them after reading a subtext-laden romance novel about a rock monster and the daughter of a quarry owner who lead a quiet life together instead of being mortal enemies like everyone expects; it’s both poignant and silly that the foundational text for our heroes is a pulpy romance of which no one thinks very much), with everyone else calling them disgusting for subverting the expectation that all Landfallians and Wreathians should hate one another (and could conceive a child together; much of the war propaganda seems to revolve around the idea that the two species are so different that they can’t even interbreed; I suppose it’s a good example of how people tend to demonize others in order to make violence against them more palatable).  This very straightforward, kind of vanilla, heterosexual coupling gets juxtaposed all the time with various other sexual activities that span the gamut and which none of the characters really bats an eye at (there’s a scene in one of the later chapters of the series where the douchebag Gale, while making a veiled threat against a couple of reporters who are trying to learn more about Alana and Marko’s story, remarks on how backwards these reporters’ home world is for still discriminating against gay people; this is all a very mild example of the progressive nature of Saga‘s universe) as a way of highlighting just how absurd narrowly defined sexual taboos are.

The irony of Alana and Marko’s quirkiness is that they’re pursued by people who really want the same thing as them.  Prince Robot IV is coping with severe PTSD after two near death experiences, and he’s only involved in the hunt for Alana and Marko because the douchebag Gale is coercing him through threats to his wife.  If not for that pressure, you get the impression that Prince Robot IV would be happy to let Alana and Marko escape without any care that they’re deserters or potentially dangerous to the war effort.  The Will, in comparison, doesn’t have a family of his own, but it becomes clear early on that he has aspirations of leaving behind the freelancer life and settling down, although he becomes further embroiled in the chase after Prince Robot IV inadvertently kills a close friend while pursuing Alana and Marko; if not for that personal vendetta, The Will would be content to give up on the contract.

There’s probably much more that could be said, but I think I’ll leave it here for now.  This is a series that’s best digested in small chunks, and I think I’ve already put too much out there to chew on.

All The Really Funny Lines Are Really Bawdy, So Pretend There’s a Hilarious Joke From Saga Here

There are some things you have to be comfortable with in order to enjoy reading Saga.

They put a breastfeeding mother on the cover of the first issue. This series has things to say about sex and violence. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

First, you have to be okay with surprise nudity of any and all types, because you’re liable to turn a page and get a splash panel of someone having sex or just walking around in the buff without any advance warning (and if that weren’t enough, any time you find yourself reading a scene involving Prince Robot IV, be prepared for really weird sexual stuff to flash across his face as an expression of his post traumatic stress disorder; seriously, you’ll just be reading about him interrogating someone in his manic quest to finish tracking down the protagonists so he can get back to his wife and unborn child, and suddenly there’s an image of a guy performing fellatio on his screen).

Second, you have to be okay with sudden bursts of absurdly horrific violence, because where you get bizarre sexual imagery on every third page, there’s terrible violence on every fourth page.  Characters have limbs chopped off, faces slashed in half, and entire bodies imploded with absurd regularity.

Third, if you can get over these first two hurdles, you will love this series immensely, because it’s shoving all this stuff in your face as part of its larger pattern exploring the interplay between horrible things that we do to one another which we don’t find horrific and wonderful things that we do to one another which we do.

Besides all that, every character on every side of this conflict (except for that Secret Intelligence guy, who’s a total douchebag) is remarkably complex and leaves you in the awkward position of rooting for a bunch of people who will inevitably end up hurting one another horribly because they have diametrically opposed goals, and the rest of the universe is just too insane to let a bunch of people who’ve had enough of the horrible things live quiet lives enjoying the wonderful things.

So put Saga on your reading list, because it’s brilliant and way more fun to read than the fictional romance novel that drives the protagonists ideology (whom everyone in-universe says is really boring until you get what it’s about).

Boxing Day

It’s the day after Christmas, and I’m preparing to enjoy the second week of my winter break, which is the best time of year aside from the summer break that’s four times as long.  In that time, I hope to do some revision on a short story I wrote during NaNoWriMo (it’s always nice to have goals that don’t involve just sitting on the couch, reading comics and playing video games) and catch up on some podcasts (I’m pretty much over the moon that I got a new MP3 player this year since my last one went kaput over two years ago).  Besides the ambitious goals, I also have all the typical vacation plans of just enjoying my Christmas gifts and then writing furiously about them, because stories are meant to be engaged, and one of my favorite parts of getting into anything new is the chance to think it over and share my thoughts on it.

Anywho, here’s a quick rundown of things that I’ll be mulling over in the near future, as a kind of road map to what I want to discuss in the coming weeks (I’m not going to say in the coming year, because I operate on the academic calendar, and as far as I’m concerned the year ends in May and starts in August).

I’ve picked up several volumes of some comic series that I’ve been excited about following, including the first story arc of the new Ms. Marvel ongoing (I picked the first issue up way back in May and was instantly taken with it), the first volume of Rat Queens (on the recommendation of a friend of Rachael’s, who I now fully trust has excellent taste in comics), and a couple volumes of Saga (I know I said I was going to write about that one at some point, but I never got around to it; maybe with three volumes of the series to read through, I’ll get back to it now).  I expect I’ll have read through all of them before the end of the weekend, so maybe I’ll have something on at least one of those series in the next week.

On the video game front, I’m still working my way through Dragon Age: Inquisition, and I expect I’ll be chipping at that for a while.  If I have any further thoughts beyond, “This game’s a lot of fun, and I really don’t like Vivienne,” then I’d love to share those.  For Alex, who specifically asked me if I’m going to do any writing on Chrono Cross, the sequel to Chrono Trigger, I’d really like to blog through a replay of that game.  It’s an odd one, and it does a lot to complicate Chrono Trigger‘s pretty streamlined narrative (as much as any time-travel story can have), but I remember the game being such a big deal in my mind when it came out simply because it was a sequel to that game that I’d love to revisit it and see how it holds up fifteen years later.

On the front of non-graphical fiction, I’m nearly finished reading the third book in Dan Simmons’s Hyperion saga, and I’d love to mull over that series in depth once I’ve finished with it.  Without getting into too much detail, it’s a series that’s kindled a slight interest in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and also reminds me so much of Mass Effect (which I strongly suspect was cribbing heavily from Simmons’s series).  Also, if I can keep my promise to myself about getting back into podcasts, I might try to write more regularly about stories that I listen to.  I already said it above, but it bears repeating: stories are meant to be engaged.

So that’s what I’m thinking about; we’ll see if I actually stick to any of these plans.  Nonetheless, I hope you all had a pleasant Christmas if you celebrate it, and happy holidays throughout the rest of the season.

I Like Free Comic Book Day

Which is a strange realization because this is the first year I’ve ever celebrated it by actually going to a shop and picking up some free comics.

Nonetheless, it was a fun experience.  I went to a local shop that I’ve never visited before where one of the employees was hanging out in a Spider-Man costume while a variety of families and adult regulars milled through in the forty-five minutes I spent browsing the shop (it’s amazing how much time you can actually spend in a one-room store that’s probably smaller than my living room).  They had a whole wall devoted to the free comics they had available (there were probably close to thirty titles on offer, and the store had a five freebies per person policy, which was great), and I got a decent variety.

There was the obligatory promotional issue from Marvel explaining the roster of Guardians of the Galaxy in anticipation of the big movie that’s coming out at the end of the summer (though I know virtually nothing about this franchise, I’m inclined to feel warmly towards it because the trailer proudly blares “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede as we’re treated to scenes of a bunch of interstellar misfits generally being chaotic awesome).

Also, I got the first issue of a series called Steam Wars which is a steam-punk homage to Star Wars (complete with the lovable rogue pilot Hansel Lowe–say the name quickly out loud–and his trained bear co-pilot, Smokey).  It’s entertaining, though the Leia stand-in feels very poorly drawn, with none of the competence and resolve that her originator displays.  Further perusal of the publisher’s website suggests this is a problem inherent in their editorial philosophy; multiple series feature female leads, but the emphasis seems to be universally on the characters’ appearance as a way of appealing to the male gaze (also, in an unrelated aside, the publisher has a one-shot featuring stories about Sarah Palin of all people).

In a less regressive vein, I picked up another first issue (all the free comic books seem to be either promotional or first issues of older series, which makes sense) of a series called Courtney Crumrin.  The cover prominently features a tween-age girl standing in front of a shadowy backdrop, looking like she’s wavering between intrepid and unsure.  I thought it was a good read, although the issue ends with a cliffhanger, which bums me out because I like having some resolution with my free comics–I acknowledge up front that I likely will not go out and buy back issues of any of these series.  The tone and style of this one reminds me a lot of Bone by Jeff Smith, which is never a bad thing.

Perhaps the worst acquisition from my free books was Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #0 (a prequel to a series that IDW Publishing seems to be launching in July of this year).  The story’s lackluster, and the art, which seems to be going for a retro ’80s feel, just doesn’t do anything to excite the imagination.  Also, this book uses a weird convention where the Transformers speak in Cybertronian, which is depicted as audio visualizations in speech bubbles with translations overlaid in rectangular boxes.  Perhaps I’ve just read too much Marvel, but the simple convention of enclosing any dialogue that’s not supposed to be in English in brackets with a single editor’s note saying what the intended language is works just fine.  There is such a thing as too much text crowding out a perfectly decent panel, and it’s something I really don’t miss from ’80s era comics.  Also, I never really cared that much for G.I. Joe anyway, so this was purely a “That book has Transformers; I will get it” sort of decision (I should have learned from when I was a kid that just because the cover of a comic features a character you want to read about doesn’t mean the character will be included in the story in any meaningful way).  If only there had been a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic book instead; I would have picked that up in a heartbeat.

The absolute best free comic that I picked up was Project Black Sky, a promotional story from Dark Horse’s superhero universe that features a snarky psychic who hates his own codename, a technologically inclined superhero from the 1940s, and a cyborg gorilla named Ape-X who communicates using American Sign Language.  The letterer for the issue went to the trouble of making a font specifically for Ape-X that mimics the signs in ASL (with an English translation).  Rachael said the icons are pretty good at conveying the signs, but the grammar’s all wrong.  Nonetheless, the book features a panel where Ape-X signs angrily that the eponymous Project Black Sky does “dirty bad science.”  If I ever commission a custom t-shirt, it’s going to have that phrase.

Naturally, because it’s kind of rude to show up to a store and just ask for free comics, I also bought a couple of other titles.  I’ve heard many good things about Kelly Sue DeConnick’s work on Captain Marvel, which just relaunched with a new #1, so I decided to pick that up.  I’m pretty familiar with Carol Danvers as a fixture of the Marvel Universe (her history has a lot of overlap with various folks in the X-books, so she’s shown up pretty regularly in the stuff that I’ve read through over the years), so I don’t need a whole lot of introduction to the character here, which is supposed to inaugurate her move towards being a space-based hero like the original Captain Marvel was.  There are some threads left over from the DeConnick’s first volume of Captain Marvel that I’m not familiar with, but it doesn’t detract much from the story which has some good momentum in the opening pages, but then flashes back to explain how Carol ended up in space in the first place (my one complaint about the pacing is probably the splash page declaring “Six Weeks Ago” on an all black background; yeah, the reader can’t miss it and get confused about the plot’s timeline, but it’s an entire page dedicated to some text with no accompanying art; comics are an expensive medium, and the artwork is a major draw when four dollars only buys a fraction of the total story arc, so shorting readers out of a whole page of artwork kind of irks me).  It’s a solid first issue, but I’m not sure it does enough to get me interested in picking up #2 (perhaps I’d consider buying the trade paperback of the whole story arc somewhere down the road, but going issue to issue doesn’t really appeal to me).

I also picked up the first volume of Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’s Saga, which I have heard nothing but good things about.  It’s an ambitious work, and the six issue collection was priced at only ten dollars, which is absurdly cheap in comparison to the three-to-four dollar cover price of single issues of comics.  I’ll definitely be looking to read more of this series in the future, and will probably expound more on it later.

I picked up a second printing, which uses blue accents for the cover and title instead of the red and pink of the first run (I think I like the blue better). (Image credit: Comicvine)

The book I picked up which I’m most excited about is one that I mentioned a few weeks ago in a link roundup.  With Carol Danvers taking over as Captain Marvel, Marvel has decided to launch a new Ms. Marvel in the form of Kamala Khan, a sixteen-year-old, Muslim Pakistani-American who lives in Jersey City.  I might have gushed a little bit when I first heard the news because having a non-white, female Muslim as the headliner of a solo title is a huge deal.  Anyway, the shop had a few copies of the second printing of Ms. Marvel #1, so I picked it up, and it is phenomenal.  Adrian Alphona’s art is just gorgeous with a cast of characters who all look wonderfully unique and background details that really drew me into examining each panel closely.  G. Willow Wilson, who’s penning the series, writes some of the most satisfying teenager dialogue I’ve ever read (so much better than the pointless chatter that Brian Michael Bendis was guilty of resorting to for his high school scenes in Ultimate Spider-Man) and includes all these great details about Kamala’s life that are endlessly fascinating to me (the sequence where Kamala hallucinates the Avengers’ big three appearing to her as a trio of Urdu-speaking messengers from heaven is both hilarious and intriguing in its depiction of an aspect of a faith tradition I know terribly little about).  I seriously want to read more of this series.

Anyhow, that was a long, probably unnecessary, breakdown of what I picked up for this year’s Free Comic Book Day.  I’m already looking forward to next year’s now.