FIVE GRAPHIC NOVEL MINI-REVIEWS: ZAC’S CHOICE

Every now and again I throw a challenge to a nearby personage to hit me up with five graphic novels from my collection they’d like me to review. This time it’s Lord 15’s buddy Zac who happened to be in the wrong room at the wrong time. Let’s see what I thought of the ones he picked out while I was shouting at him to hurry up.

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FIVE GRAPHIC NOVEL MINI-REVIEWS: TEAM-UPS, REBOOTS, CLASSICS, AND KINGDOMS

It’s been quite a little while since I managed to sit down and read some graphic novels. But the term is winding down: two out of my three classes have, to all intents and purposes, finished their work with a week to go — so there’s suddenly a little extra time in my week, and I’ve taken full advantage of it. So get ready: there are reviews galore to come.

Let’s get started with some easy takes, involving some of the core characters of both Marvel and DC.

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FIVE GRAPHIC NOVEL MINI-REVIEWS: XJLA OF THE UNCANNY GALAXY!

Well, at least if I don’t have to do any important grown-up things over the next couple of weeks, like herd the next generation of community leaders towards understanding why new dialogue should always start on a new line, at least I can do important grown-up things like read comic books and catch up on my Lego reviews.

Being grown up. Because they won’t let me be a kid anymore.

So let’s talk Justice League, X-Men, independent titles from decades ago that you’ve never heard of, and why you can’t go 80+ years without creating some absolute dud characters along the way…

 

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FIVE GRAPHIC NOVEL MINI-REVIEWS: VAMPIRES AND GODS AND CONSPIRACIES, OH MY.

So, suddenly you turn around, and it’s been nearly two weeks since you’ve posted anything: that’s life in a family requiring as much self-care as we have since Blake’s death. And it’s been a self-care-heavy kind of fortnight, coupled with reports and marking for school. Little time for Lego, even less time for writing about it, buuuuut I did manage to get a couple of graphic novels read, so let’s talk about them.

 

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FIVE GRAPHIC NOVEL MINI-REVIEWS: LUSCIOUS’ CHOICE

In my never-ending quest for things and stuff and junk, I turned control of my next five graphic novel reads over to Luscious, just to see what she’d pick put from my collection. Turns out it’s an endearing mix of used-to-be-Gods, Anti-Christs, Nazis, and assassins earthly and cosmic.

Good times.

 

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FIVE GRAPHIC NOVEL MINI-REVIEWS: FROM GOTHAM TO LONDON, AND BRIDGES BETWEEN

A veritable grab bag of titles this time out, from next-door-to-spandex mainstream, through novel tie-ins, the weird end of the superhero genre, and something tossed off by a formerly excellent comic book writer in between self-promotional gigs and a late dinner. There’s some genuine excellence in three of these five titles, which is a ratio I’ll happily accept on just about any occasion.

 

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FIVE GRAPHIC NOVEL MINI-REVIEWS: A QUICK TOUR OF DC’S GREATEST HITS RE-IMAGINED

It’s all gone a bit DC this time out. Four titles from the publisher, covering some of their major franchises: The Titans, JLA, Green Lantern, and Batman ‘worlds’ all get look at. Plus an oddity from an SF great in collaboration with a comix great published by a straight-up book publisher I’ve never heard of: what could possibly go wrong?

 

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FIVE GRAPHIC NOVEL MINI-REVIEWS: GINGER’S CHOICE

Okay, cyclone over. Back to business.

Having exhausted my recent purchases, and long ago burned through the local library’s meagre collection, I’ve turned to my family to randomly select some titles from my collection to read and review. First up, five volumes selected by the inimitable Lord 15. And just for a change, this time when I say I’m reviewing five graphic novels, I’m going to review five.

 

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Eavesdropping On Evil: Paperback + Spoken Word CdEavesdropping On Evil: Paperback + Spoken Word Cd by Wayne Howell

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Absolutely one of the worst true crime books I’ve ever read. It’s riddled with typos and grammatical errors, and takes the bizarre editorial decision to treat the narrative as if reporting on the various stages of a film or TV production, lending the whole thing an air of authorial frippery that it doesn’t deserve.

There is no attempt to analyse or place the events within any larger context, simply chapter after chapter of copy-pasted transcripts that haven’t even been neatened up to aid readability– as if every ‘um’, ‘uh’, or wandering off into irrelevant discussions is somehow necessary to understand the story, rather than just the product of a lazy author rattling off a quickie cash-in — squeezed in between breathless, over the top tabloid descriptions that hit every stereotype in the Murdoch Fish Wrapper Manual.

I read this while trapped inside my house during a cyclone, without power, by battery-powered lantern, and *still* almost gave up in favour of lying in the dark listening to my fences being torn down. An absolute junk job.

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REVIEW: EAVESDROPPING ON EVIL, by WAYNE HOWELL

FROM MOONGIRL TO BOOMERBUTT: MINI-REVIEWS OF FIVE GRAPHIC NOVELS

One thing I realised last year: I’m reading a lot of graphic novels these days. I always have, but for reasons of digestibility, time, and interest, I’m smashing through them over the last year or two. Sixteen days into 2020, I’ve read six, so I thought it might be fun to post a paragraph or two each time I get through another five.

Naturally, to start with, I’m going to do six. Because that’s how I roll. Badly.

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REVIEW: ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE, by ERIC IDLE

First book of 2020 finished.

 

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A SortabiographyAlways Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography by Eric Idle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Entertaining but superficial glossing over of a celebrity life that eschews self-reflection and insight in favour of name dropping and shaggy dog stories. It’s fun, and occasionally funny, but if you’re of the opinion that Idle’s career has been running off nostalgia and cannibalisation of his Pythonic roots for a long while now, this will not be the book to change your mind.

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REVIEW: TRACE- WHO KILLED MARIA JAMES?

Trace: who killed Maria James?Trace: who killed Maria James? by Rachael Brown

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely jaw-dropping, compelling reading. I felt like I needed to have a shower after I’d finished. Having not been aware of the podcast, it was all new to me, and I was utterly gobsmacked. The pacing is perfect, the revelations astounding, the writing a pitch-perfect combination of the journalistic and the personal. This is the best true crime book, and the best book about becoming involved in the investigation of a crime, that I have read in a long time. A superb achievement.

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REVIEW; THE VIOLATED, BY BILL PRONZINI

The ViolatedThe Violated by Bill Pronzini

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellently constructed, multi-level narrative utilising a wide range of points of view and narrative strands. A simple crime builds in complexity and consequence, and the red herrings that constitute the secondary narrative are perfectly weighted and timed to create suspense and confusion. A slightly weak ending and reveal do not diminish the satisfaction.

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REVIEW: MR. MIKE- THE LIFE AND WORK OF MICHAEL O’DONOGHUE

Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O'DonoghueMr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O’Donoghue by Dennis Perrin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An entertaining, but on reflection superficial, examination of an author who was a major influence in the establishment of both National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live. There were obviously worms underneath the psyche of O’Donoghue, but as portrayed by Perrin, he comes across as a massively talented adolescent with the emotional control of an angry toddler. There’s a frustrating lack of depth or analysis. The acknowledgements page betrays a possible reason– despite O’Donoghue’s life touching a cast of thousands across both the Lampoon and SNL, as well as the rest of his varied career, only O’Donoghue’s wife Cheryl Hardwicke stands out, as well as Tony Hendra, Matty Simmons and Lorne Michaels for glimpses of their own works about the man. While the likes of Chevy Chase and Anne Beats discuss him in passing, the opportunity to really dig through the memories of those who knew him best seems to be shied away from.

The book is an entertaining read, and it skims across the major points of a complex and driven artistic soul, but it’s hard not to feel that the opportunity for a major examination of O’Donoghue’s influence on his contemporaries and industry has been missed, here. In all probability, this was the only chance, and it’s now been missed. Try as he might, Perrin never gets beyond the image of O’Donoghue as a tortured enfant terrible, leaving us with only glimpses of what might exist beyond that role.

It’s a book to treasure for those of us who were, and remain, fans, but it’s a bittersweet fandom: we never really get to know the man, just the image.

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REVIEW: THE LIFE OF GRAHAM GREENE VOL. 3– 1955-1991

The Life of Graham Greene Volume Three: 1955 - 1991: 1955-1991 Vol 3The Life of Graham Greene Volume Three: 1955 – 1991: 1955-1991 Vol 3 by Norman Sherry

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The first two volumes of Sherry’s biography of Greene skirted hero worship by dint of sheer volume of reportage– Greene’s life was filled with momentous happenings, and simply relating them kept Sherry’s over-ripe familiarity mostly at bay. Here, unfortunately, as the subject’s life begins to wind down, there are no such brakes– what has been, until now, a mildly cringing sycophancy devolves into full blown toadying. Anyone who is apposite to Greene is portrayed as deluded, jealous, or outright wrong. Greene himself is a warrior for truth, a noble of unsurpassable grandeur, Sherry’s personal hero. The author even begins to insert himself into the narrative in an effort to tie himself to his famous subject. This is the weakest, and most tedious, volume in the series, deeply flawed and worthwhile only for a sense of completism, because Sherry has committed the cardinal sin of the biographer: he has fallen in love with his subject.

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REVIEW: I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK, BY MICHELLE MCNAMARA

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State KillerI’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fine piece of investigative journalism by Michelle McNamara into the identity of the East Area Rapist and the connections between him and other, unsolved crimes attributed to other personae. Unfortunately, as has been well documented, McNamara died before the book could be completed, and the text has been completed using a composite of notes, transcripts, and commentary by her husband and fellow amateur sleuths who occupied the message boards she frequented. The result is a patchwork narrative of wildly varying quality, and while the depth and rigorousness of McNamara’s pursuit shines through, the book as a whole feels like exactly what it is: a cobbled-together, unfinished work.

Had McNamara lived to complete the work– especially, had she lived to see the recent arrest of Joseph DeAngelo on DNA evidence– there’s no doubt that this book would have been a superb account of the piecing together of the jigsaw trail leading to him. As it is, it remains frustratingly raw and incomplete, a glimpse of the book we might have had, and have to be content with. Three stars for McNamara’s superb job, but no further because the book, ultimately, does not go the rest of the way.

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REVIEW: MONSTRESS VOLUME 1, AWAKENING

Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening (Monstress, #1)Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening by Marjorie M. Liu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely stunning combination of artwork, non-traditional and traditional fantasy tropes, sexual politics, and quest narrative that hits the mark at every available opportunity. Looks utterly beautiful, is complex in both its character motivations and story, and just excels in every way it is possible for a comic book to do so. Books like this are the reason why the comic book format exists: to tell a story that cannot be encompassed by text or image alone, but by both forms combined. A wonderful and wondrous work.

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REVIEW: THE LIFE OF GRAHAM GREENE, VOLUME 1– 1904-1939

The Life of Graham Greene, Vol. 1: 1904-1939The Life of Graham Greene, Vol. 1: 1904-1939 by Norman Sherry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A dense and exhausting tome covering the first 35 years of Greene’s life, from birth to the dawn of WWII. Sherry delves deeply into not only Greene’s own memories, but interviews with those who knew him at the time and a mass of collected documentation– sometimes too deeply, as after fascinating accounts of his schooling and University day, a long and tedious picking apart of love letters with his first wife Vivien when courting threaten to derail the reading experience. Thankfully, the narrative regains its momentum when the minutiae of a very ordinary courtship are over and the book returns to detailing the extraordinary course of Greene’s life, closing with his solitary journey through a savagely Anti-Catholic Mexico and returning to England to find war preparations very much afoot.

Although Sherry can’t resist the occasional moment of hero-worship and self-aggrandisement, he generally lets Greene’s life speak for itself, and the result is an impressively collated and thoroughly enjoyable examination of the insipirations and influences on one of the most important literary figures of the 20th Century.

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REVIEW: X-MEN LEGACY– LEGION OMNIBUS

X-Men Legacy: Legion: OmnibusX-Men Legacy: Legion: Omnibus by Simon Spurrier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stunning extension of the graphic novel art that is reminiscent of the high points of Vertigo’s initial burst of creativity and experimentation. Superhero tropes are deliberately inverted, then examined and shown to be the ridiculous soap-operas we know they are. The ongoing X-plots and wider Marvel world are confronted and dismissed as irrelevant and trifling. And the book moves beyond them to explore deeper issues of individuality, personality, psychology and conformity through the lens of a potentially all-powerful mind who has finally escaped from years of psychological abuse at the hands of characters held up by the majority as heroes and examples to follow.

The writing is razor-sharp, the art and colours are swirlingly psychedelic, the characters are bright and unusual, and the whole thing grabs the tiger’s tail and refuses to let go until the entire dizzy ride is over. Even the ending refuses to back down and soothe us with latex-clad platitudes. There are consequences, and finalities, and when the coup de grace arrives, it does so with meaning.

One of the best graphic novels I’ve read in years. Highly recommended.

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IMDb: Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5979874/

20 years after humanity is driven from Earth by kaiju, the remaining 4000 survivors return, determined to destroy Godzilla and reclaim the planet. A planet that– due to time dilation– has spent 20,000 years evolving into a perfect environment for the species’ that now inhabit it.

So, essentially, 4000 humans set out on a deliberate campaign of environmental genocide out of a hubristic sense of entitlement (If I had a dollar for every time a character cries “It’s our planet!” I could afford a really nice lunch.) and somehow the audience is expected to side with them.

Nobody watches a Godzilla movie because of its intelligent, nuanced scriptwriting. But this is as stupid a movie as I have ever seen. Not even the beautiful graphics– and the big G is beautiful— can save it. This movie is simply too dumb to live.

REVIEW: SECRET AVENGERS

Secret InvasionSecret Invasion by Brian Michael Bendis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s obviously a huge task to establish, narrate, and then wrap up a cohesive narrative in a single graphic novel, when that narrative has been the basis of a massive, company-wide story line that has run for a significant amount of time over a wide range of titles. Even so, this feels truncated and somehow lightweight. It breezes across all the major story points without given any weight or time to anything, leaving the result feeling like a series of random team-ups punching on without any coherence or consequence. Characters act without logic, turning points breeze past without any importance, and the climactic solution, when it arrives, pretty much happens within two panels, isn’t explained our expanded upon, and leaves the reader wondering what the whole point of anything was. The whole thing is tied together with Bendis’ usual character weaknesses– everybody is witty, snappy, and ultimately, sounds exactly the same as everybody else. The whole thing is fun, in a kind of guest-star-of-the-week kind of way, but for the climax of a major story line, it all feels rather inconsequential.

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REVIEW: THE MURDER OF NELLIE DUFFY

The Murder Of Nellie DuffyThe Murder Of Nellie Duffy by Stephanie Bennett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An intriguing examination of a notorious Northern Queensland murder in the early years of the 20th Century, which picks apart the various personalities at the remote cattle station at which it happened, as well as the gross incompetency of the police and the possible interference on the part of the powerful meat company that owned the property. The insight into the treatment of women and Aborigines of the time is stark, and at times confronting. Narrated as a straight retelling of the known facts, it presents a compelling mosaic of the attitudes and culture of the time.

Bennett’s style is slightly messy, and doesn’t do quite enough to keep all the players on the board, so that when certain names crop up late in the narrative it takes too long to recall how they fit into the story. The book is further weakened by Bennett’s predilection for speculating on motives and reasons, often spinning narrative chains with little more than supposition to go on. The second to last chapter, where she presents her own theory as to the murderer and the reasons for their actions, is gossamer-thin and weakens the book considerably.

Had she avoided the conceit of her own imagination, and simply laid out all the pieces of what is an engrossing mystery in its own right, this would have been a much stronger and more compelling read. As it is, it slips towards the ‘amateur historian’ style of writing, and is merely a good book when it could have been a must-read.

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REVIEW: CHURCHILL’S MINISTRY OF UNGENTLEMANLY WARFARE

Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler's DefeatChurchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat by Giles Milton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Absolutely fascinating insight into the formation, development, and successes of a typically British endeavour: a disparate collection of professional soldiers, backyard garage boffins, Oxbridge Mafia types and gentlemen of ill-repute who were drawn together to create the definite rule book and arsenal of sabotage, assassination, and guerrilla warfare.

Milton draws on multiple sources to provide a comprehensive and seamless narrative, including the campaign of obstruction that was waged against the department by members of the military hierarchy, particularly Air Command. The result is an intricate and compelling account of a hidden war that defied the known rules and brought enormous success to the Allied cause, as well as the complex and unusual personalities who drove it. Fantastic stuff.

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