Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 1: Squirrel Power by Ryan North and Eric Henderson

Frivolousness is in short supply in superhero universes -- we can usually only get one concentrated dose of it at a time, and even there it may be years between one dose and the next. I still have fond memories of John Byrne's silly She-Hulk comic, which is at least twenty years ago now, and there have been a few other examples.

Now I don't mean parody; superhero universes do occasionally descend into self-parody -- witness most of the '90s -- and even do it on purpose once in a while, as in Not Brand Ecch and the like. What I mean is a story that's supposedly in-universe but actually has a different tone and style than the standard superheroing-is-serious-business bullshit, that isn't in love with its self-image of caped weirdos as the purest, most special exemplars of humanity of all time.

One of those is actually coming out now -- has been for a couple of years now; I've been slow getting to it due to the aforementioned aversion to superhero bullshit -- under the title The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, written by Ryan North and drawn by Erica Henderson. And I finally read the first collection, Squirrel Power.

Squirrel Girl is not your average woman in comics: she's cute rather than gorgeous, sturdy rather than pneumatic, and her costume actually covers a majority of her body. She's got mousy hair and buck teeth: she's a normal person who happens to have the relative strength of a squirrel and an indomitable attitude. And, metafictionally, her real power is that she never loses -- that's what the title alludes to. She was originally a semi-joke character, who defeated all of the most powerful villains of the Marvel Universe by being perky and spunky and chipper and positive, but every joke in a superhero universe eventually turns into just another standard trope.

As this new series opens, Doreen Green -- yes, her name rhymes; she lives in the Marvel Universe, after all -- is moving out of the attic of Avengers Mansion and into a dorm at Empire State University, since she's finally a college student (after spending the last three decades being fourteen, more or less). And there's a bit of settling-into-college stuff in these first four issues, as Doreen meets her new roommate and thinks about joining clubs in the student center. But the bulk of the plot, of course, has to do with her defeating one of the most powerful villains available, since that's what she does. (It's Galactus, by the way.)

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is fun and zippy and amusing and light-hearted, with silly webcomics-style notes on the bottom of each page, as if North was telling us about the genesis of each page as they rolled out daily. It has a tone all its own, and shows that superhero comics don't need to be dour and self-important: they just prefer to be that way most of the time.

In a better world, it would be one of hundreds of similarly varied takes on standard comics tropes. Our world is very much not better, but at least we have this.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 1/28

Another week, another list of books from me: if you do something regularly enough, it becomes an obligation. This time out I have another bunch of manga and related stuff from the honorable folks at Yen Press, but first, I have a couple of hardcover SFF books to throw at you. (Not literally; please stop flinching.)

Norman Spinrad is back with a new novel, The People's Police, which I think is fantasy based on one ambiguous phrase. It's set in New Orleans, more or less now, in what may be a slightly alternate world if the flap copy has neglected to mention what in it is alternate. A cop spearheads a police strike when he's told to evict himself, a brothel owner is also being foreclosed on, and there's a voodoo queen who also is doing something (though not, as far as the copy says, losing her dwelling). Apparently the cop asks ordinary people to rise up against "fat cats" and "insiders" and "corrupt politicians," which as we've just seen always works out really well. The focus on post-Katrina and foreclosures gives it a quaint 2008 flavor, for those who want to forget this decade actually happened. The People's Police is a Tor hardcover, coming on February 7.

Also coming from Tor in hardcover (a week later, on February 14) is Jacqueline Carey's new novel, Miranda and Caliban. If you don't instantly recognize it as a retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest, I think this is not a book for you. Since it's Carey, I suspect Mir and Cal have a lot of kinky sex, but perhaps I'm typecasting her.

And now we hit the stack of books from Yen -- the rest of today's post will be all-Yen, all-the-time. These are either available right this second or will be available imminently.

Aoharu X Machinegun, Vol. 3 confuses me in several ways. The "X" in the title always looks like a graphic element rather than an actual letter -- because it is not actually a letter. And the creator is credited as "NAOE" in stenciled block caps, as if he/she/it is some NGO delivering supplies to a beleaguered group of refugees. I believe this series is about some kind of shooting competition, and I suspect it isn't about shooting each other...but I wouldn't swear to that.

A series that is about a competition in which the competitors are forced to murder each other returns in Junya Inoue's BTOOOM!, Vol. 16, the loudest title in manga. In this volume, there's only one day to the end of the competition, but it's not clear if the many losers will get to go free, or stay trapped on the island, or just be killed in the last frenzy, because that's how stories like this work. If you want to see teenagers forced to kill each other with exotic explosives, this is probably your only choice.

Dimension W, Vol. 5 continues some kind of SFnal story -- I think there are sapient robot helpers for everyone, and possibly some kind of detective. Since this is manga, I'm vaguely remembering there's a supernatural element as well, but I could easily be confused.

Konosuba: God's Blessing on This Wonderful World, Vol. 2 is, I think, a harem manga about the usual "ordinary guy" transported to a fantasy world, where he and the usual gorgeous girls have to save the world. This may also be more like a game than an actual real world, from the phrasing on the back cover. It also seems to be adapted from a light novel -- art is by Masahito Watari, the original story is by Natsume Akatsuki, and character designs were by Kurone Mishima.

The never-ending and ever-proliferating group of stories about magical girls continues with Puella Magi: Oriko Magica: Sadness Prayer, Vol. 2, which was written by Magica Quartet (the brain trust for this entire universe) and drawn by Mura Kuroe. I have no idea what a "sadness prayer" is, or why I should care.

This next one, I think, is adapted from an animated TV show -- I could have that backwards, but I don't think so -- and it's called Rose Guns Days, Season 2, Vol. 2. Story is by the post-human entity called Ryukishi07 by mere humans, and the art comes from Nana Natsunishi, who has not yet transcended physical form. What's the story about? Gang conflict in a free city! (Note: this is probably entirely wrong, but it's my best guess.)

Next up is Smokin' Parade, Vol. 1, from Jinsei Kataaoka and Kazuma Kondou. Good news! our hero Youkou is finally seeing his handicapped kid sister get a new set of cybernetic legs to allow her to walk and live a normal life! Bad news! Those legs also turn many wearers into murderous psychopaths! (See what happens when you stop regulating medical devices? This could be the USA in a few years!) So Youkou does the only thing he can: join a secret group of mercenaries to battle the company that provides the prostheses! Because, apparently, lawsuits and media and government and just plain taking off prosthetics are things that don't work.

Today's Cerberus, Vol. 2 comes from Ato Sakurai, and is yet another ordinary-guy-gets-hot-but-crazy-supernatural-girl-for-bizarre-reasons-and-is-stuck-with-her-embarrassing-weirdness story. This time, she's a "dog" who "bit" him when he was young and ate or took or destroyed part of his soul, so now she's his Rover or something. And, because nothing happens only once, there's a girl in school who has a "cat." Wacky hijinks are guaranteed to ensue!

Next up: Trinity Seven, Vol. 8,  written by Kenji Saito and drawn by Akinari Nao. As far as I can tell, the heroes are trying to defeat a Demon Lord, which doesn't differentiate it hugely from a million other stories.

Turning to the land of the light novel, here's A Certain Magical Index, Vol. 10, showing exactly where in a series the creators stop bothering to make up new subtitles. (That creator is Kazuma Kamachi, aided by illustrator Kiyotaka Haimura.) This is yet another kids-in-magic-school story, and it's festival time! Apparently it's still festival time from the last book, implying this is a pretty slow-moving story. Set your expectations accordingly.

I really do not want to meet anyone in my life who looks at the cover of Corpse Party: Blood Covered, Vol. 4 and thinks, "Yes! This is exactly the kind of book I want to read." But it does take all kinds to make up a world, so this manga by Makoto Kedouin and Toshimi Shinomiya exists. It's about kids trapped in a cursed elementary school and being slowly murdered by supernatural forces -- fun!

Kei Sanbe's Erased, Vol. 1 is in hardcover, which I presume means it's more important/impressive than the other books. It's about a would-be manga artist -- write what you know! -- who's stuck in a dead-end job delivering pizza and who also keeps reliving moments of his own life until he manages to stop an impending disaster.

This week's winner of the overly-complicated title derby is....Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? On the Side: Sword Oratoria 2. It's by Fujino Omori, and is a light novel sidebar story to the regular light-novel series about picking up girls in dungeons. This side story seems to be about several of the girls, though isn't clear on whether they have been picked up or are still available.

And last is Psycome, Vol. 3 by Mizumi Mizushiro and illustrated by Namanie, a light novel about love in a penitentiary for the juvenile criminally insane! Oh, and it's wacky!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Incoming Books: January

These have been sitting on my desk for a while, daring me to do something about them and help them get up on shelves where they belong. And, so, since this is a Sunday with nothing more important to do, I'll shove them through.

These are all comics of one kind or another, the product of two kinds of shopping: an online order from Midtown Comics (because they had one of their periodic "a bunch of stuff is 40% off" sales) and an in-person order at a local comics shop (because I had some stuff to trade in). And here's what I got:

The Bakers: Babies and Kittens by Kyle Baker -- I've been on something of a Kyle Baker kick lately, and he actually has a lot of stuff in print right now, making such a kick easy. (He said, implying others would be well served to have a kick of their own.) This is from about a decade ago, collecting a bunch of e strips about his then-young family.

Nexus Archives, Vol. 1 by Mike Baron and Steve Rude -- I've got four other volumes of this reprint series, but was missing the first one. Now, I could actually start a Nexus re-read, though I'll probably wait until I have more of it on the shelves. I remember this as being one of the comics series that did SF reasonably well -- more space opera than hard SF, definitely, but not stupid space opera like so many comics.

Ocean/Orbiter written by Warren Ellis and drawn by various people -- I don't think I've ever read much Ellis, and I always confuse him with Garth Ennis, anyway. But he did two SFnal comics stories in the last few years, and this collects both of them in one volume. I've been trying to find ways to read more SF recently -- I kinda burned out on it, and on epic fantasy, when I wasn't able to get another job in the field.

The Lindbergh Child by Rick Geary -- one of the middle volumes of his long-running series of small hardcovers about various famous murders of the past two hundred years.

Troll Bridge by Neil Gaiman and Collen Doran -- I didn't know this story of Gaiman's had been adapted into comics. Actually, to step back, when I think "Troll Bridge," short story by a British fantasy writer, I think of Terry Pratchett's version, and I have no memory of Gaiman's version at all. But what the hell, right?

The DC Universe by Neil Gaiman -- I am amused by the amazingly expansive title -- the whole universe! made by Gaiman! or perhaps owned by him! -- and I think this has some good stuff in it. And I bet it will replace a lot of things I had as floppy comics and lost in my 2011 flood.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess -- the big illustrated edition, which is the one to own. Before the flood, I had what I think was a signed-and-numbered limited edition of that, along with a just-prose first edition Stardust, but all physical objects are eventually destroyed.

Multiple Warheads by Brandon Graham -- the title is actually officially The Complete Multiple Warheads, Vol. 1, but that's not what it looks like, and there's no Vol. 2 yet, so phooey to that. I read this a couple of years back, and it was weird enough that I thought I should have my own copy.

Madwoman of the Sacred Heart by Alexandro Jodorowsky and Moebius -- This got good reviews, and I keep thinking I should try to get back into Moebius. (I had the whole Epic library of his stuff before the flood, plus what I think was all of the "Blueberry" stories written by Charlier that had been translated, and liked some of it better than others.)

100% by Paul Pope -- I like Pope's work, but I'm missing large portions of his output. (Was there ever a decent big collection of THB, for example?) Well, I've got this one now.

The Complete Maus by art spiegelman -- I had the two small hardcovers, bought back in the '80s as they came out, but, again, it flooded here in 2011. I don't know that I'm looking forward to re-reading such an emotionally demanding work, but I'd like to see if middle-aged me gets anything from it that college-aged me missed.

Love Fights, Vol. 2 by Andi Watson -- the back half of a very good story by Watson from the mid-aughts, when he was racking up an impressive run of very good stories. I'm still rebuilding my Watson shelf post-flood, like so many other things.

Museum of Mistakes by Julia Wertz -- this is the big, definitive collection of her "Fart Party" webcomics, coming well after she got tired and/or embarrassed of that old name. She's a real talent who I hope has a big breakthrough book in her -- and she's still horribly young, too. (But then, to me, a lot of people are horribly young.)

Wandering Star by Teri S.Wood -- a big fat collection of a good SF comic that Wood self-published back in the '80s and '90s and was never fully collected before. (I think I had one or two of the trade paperbacks, pre-flood, but they were old and battered even then.) My memory is that this was good comics, and respectable as SF, so I'm happy to take another look.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 4: Last Days by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona

This book pissed me off. (I don't know why I keep reading Big Two superheroes, since they keep finding new ways to piss me off. At least I just get them from the library now, so I'm not spending my own money on my own frustration.)

I've been mildly frustrated with some aspects of the "good superhero story" Ms. Marvel since the beginning -- see my notes on volumes one and two and three for more details -- mostly because the "Kamala is a normal young woman in a real world" aspects keeps being overwhelmed by the "superheroes have to act LIKE THIS and talk in stilted terms about their capes and responsibility for at least five pages every goddamn issue" aspects.

(Look, folks: dressing up in colorful clothes and running around beating up people is essentially silly. Please stop calling attention to how silly it is!)

And then this fourth volume -- ominously titled Last Days, though two more collections of this ongoing series have been published since, so it's not that "last," is it? -- doubles down on the superhero shit-shoveling by having our heroine's role model (the previous Ms. Marvel and current Captain Marvel -- I can't make this stuff up, people) wander through the story in the drabbest costume possible (very different from the one she wears on the covers, oddly) to stimulate even more pointless conversations about how important and special it is to put on a mask and run around beating up people who steal TVs.

That would be dull enough, but the whole point of Last Days is that some apocalyptic thing is going on -- there's a planet in the sky over NYC, though not over Jersey City, where Kamala actually is, and that has led to widespread looting and panic exactly the way actual crises in the NYC area over the last decade-plus have not. (Speaking as someone who evacuated, with hundreds of thousands of others, from Manhattan into Jersey for both 9/11 and the blackout of '02, let me say a personal fuck you to the idea that such people are automatically going to be causing chaos.) So that's bullshit, to begin with -- the same kind of pernicious bullshit that leads to Trump lying about seeing thousands of Muslims celebrating in the streets.

Of course, the lesson of the real world is that we don't actually need superheroes to keep order and make peace, so any superhero story has to by definition be set in a more crapsack version of our world. But I wouldn't expect a comic primarily about a Muslim family to lean so heavily on the "law and order" vibe.

Anyway, the apocalypse is happening next door. It doesn't seem to be actually affecting the Gold Coast directly, though, aside from the opportunistic criminal assholes. But everyone in town is heading to the high school for shelter because...um, why? It's not the refugees from New York going there, which would make some kind of sense, but the regular cast, the people whose houses and businesses are right around the corner and all seem to still be perfectly fine now.

But wait! It gets worse.

There's no sign that the electricity is even off, no mention of services being out. But the police and fire and other governmental folks are completely absent -- there's not even a "oh, yeah, every single cop in Jersey went into The City, because that's totally a thing that would actually happen" throwaway line of dialogue. So the entire population of Jersey City has run into shelter because of word-of-mouth reports of some vague, unknown thing happening in Manhattan.

This is the Manhattan of the Marvel Universe, mind you, the one that Galactus visits on a yearly basis and which has been torn down and rebuilt at least a dozen times since the last time history was reset. One might assume that people would have a more nuanced reaction to potential apocalypses when they happen on a monthly basis.

The final piece of bullshit on top of this towering and unbelievable pile of poo is that none of our teenage main characters can find out anything about the goings-on in Manhattan besides those initial confused reports from eyewitnesses. These teens apparently don't own cellphones, and have never heard of social media. TVs have also entirely disappeared from the world, as have radios -- this is a purely pre-Industrial world, where news can only be spread by couriers.

OK. OK. I get that writer G. Willow Wilson wants to focus on what's going on in Jersey City, and not get into whatever this particular stupid line-wide apocalypse actually was. I do get that. But she does that here by ignoring both how people actually react to real crises and the media landscape that currently exists. Instead of writing a story about plucky small people living their lives in the shadow of looming danger, she instead has written the story of a group of moles who can't see their paws in front of their damn faces and who panic when they bump into each other.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln did like parts of the play. There's some good family stuff, although a family member does get superpowers, which we could have done without. (If the characters in Big Two comics were statistically average, 75% of the US population would be superpowered.) And Adrian Alphona's art is human and warm as usual.

But, all in all, Last Days is a textbook case in how not to tie into a line-wide story. If I were Emperor of Comics, books like Ms. Marvel wouldn't have to tie-in to those things anyway -- of course, I also would eliminate superhero universes and the idea of line-wide crossovers, so that particular point would be moot.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan

I like to think I'm good at talking about narrative -- I was an editor for a long time, and have been deconstructing stories in my head since I learned those tools. I'm not necessarily right, or even in the right neighborhood, since no one ever is. But I'm usually plausible, which is what talking-about-narrative game aims for.

I don't have the similar tools for art, though. I do write about comics of various types here, but I don't pretend to have the chops to talk about art the way I can talk about story. And, sometimes, I get into something that's all art, or much purer art than narrative, and my usual lines of patter fail me.

So, hey! Here's Shaun Tan back again with a new book, The Singing Bones. Tan has previously done great books like the wordless The Arrival and the slightly more verbose The Lost Thing, working deep in that no-man's land between an illustrated book and a graphic novel. (The big distinctions: is the story broken into panels? Is the text and dialogue presented as balloons or captions?)

The Singing Bones is something else again: Tan has made small sculptures out of clay and papier-mache, cut and molded and painted, to illustrate iconically seventy-five tales from the Brothers Grimm. Each sculpture is photographed carefully, in an appropriate but minimalist environment, and presented on a full page, On the facing page is a scrap of Tan text, from that tale. (Also included in the book: Tan's thumbnails of all of the stories and an afterword, and introductory essays from Neil Gaiman and Jack Zipes.)

I can tell you that Tan's words are well-chosen and precise, one short paragraph for each image that crystallizes an important moment or theme or idea in each tale. And the sculptures are pleasing to the eyes, looking like the sacred artifacts of some previously-unknown civilization or the wares at the world's hippest craft fair. But I can't really go any farther than that -- critiquing the way Tan implies a story in a physical object is beyond me.

So this is a neat book, deeply quirky in the best way, and particularly interesting for those who like to think about standard stories and how they can be retold and reshaped. More than that, I'm not really qualified to say anything coherent.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

In the Company of Thieves by Kage Baker

Kage Baker died seven years ago, which seems far too long to be true. But then she should have had at least twenty more good years, he said selfishly, thinking of all of the novels he won't get to read. As the tiniest bit of rebellion against a universe that could allow such a horrible thing to happen, I've been rationing her last few books -- if she still has stories that I haven't read yet, in one way she still is alive and can surprise me.

(So her two fantasy novels -- The Anvil of the World and The House of the Stag -- still sit on by to-be-read shelves with so much else, next to The Best of Kage Baker, which I've probably read the vast majority of anyway. But, if I wait long enough, the Best of book will feel new, and that will have to be good enough.)

But I do weaken, now and then. And so I read her 2013 collection In the Company of Thieves -- collecting six stories from her Company series, three of them novellas and one of them finished by her sister Kathleen Bartholomew and appearing here for the first time -- in the cold dark beginning of the year, maybe because Baker herself left us in the cold dark beginning of 2010. It's as good a reason as any.

The stories here are billed as "previously uncollected," which is not entirely true -- "The Carpet Beds of Sutro Park," the first and least of the stories, was in The Best of Kage Baker, which has to be considered a collection. And the darkly funny novella Mother Aegypt was the title story of a collection of miscellaneous (i.e. -- not all Company-related) stories from Night Shade back in 2004; it's the only one of these stories that I'd read before.

But the other two novellas -- The Women of Nell Gwynne's and Rude Mechanicals -- appeared as expensive books and are difficult to find now in print. And "The Unfortunate Gytt" only appeared in the Chris Roberson-edited anthology Adventure over a decade ago. And, finally, "Hollywood Ikons," the story completed by Bartholomew, didn't appear anywhere at all before this book.

As I implied up above, I'm a fan of both Baker in general and the Company books in particular; I read her first novel In the Garden of Iden in manuscript, longer ago than I want to remember, and put together the eight Company novels into four omnibuses when I worked at the SF Book Club. (See my reviews of the last few Baker books Not Less than Gods, The Bird of the River, The Empress of Mars, and The Hotel Under the Sand for more of my burbling about how great a writer she was.) I wouldn't necessarily suggest starting here, though -- these are sidebar stories in an existing universe, so knowing the ground rules going in is a good thing. Instead, if you haven't read Baker, I'd suggest the first Company novel, In the Garden of Iden, first, or perhaps the Company collection Gods and Pawns, or one of her standalone fantasy novels if you like fantasy better than SF.

But do read Kage Baker: her career wasn't as long as it should have been, but she was very prolific for about a decade and wrote a whole bunch of really good novellas in particular -- the hallmark, I think, of a quintessentially great genre writer. And if you are a Baker fan who didn't know this book existed, or had forgotten about it -- well, you've just been reminded.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Sally Heathcote,Suffragette by Mary M. Talbot, Kate Charlesworth, and Bryan Talbot

There are two things this graphic novel will not tell you easily. First, that it's entirely a work of fiction -- "Sally Heathcote" is not a real person. (That is buried in the backmatter, and easy to miss, since she interacts closely with so many real people, many of whom know her well in this book.) Second is the question of what exactly the three co-authors each did on this book. 

Sally Heathcote, Suffragette is worthy and historical and true in the right ways and politically committed and powerful in its advocacy. It's also a bit dull and schoolbook-ish, a parade of dates and names from a century ago with only a thin thread of narrative to connect them and a lot of half-explained internecine politics that were hugely important to the suffragette movement at the time but are of mostly scholarly interest now.

It's brought to us by Mary M. Talbot (a scholar and academic with expertise in gender study), Kate Charlesworth (a cartoonist and illustrator who I don't think has previously done a graphic novel-length story), and Bryan Talbot (Mary's husband and a comics- and graphic-novel-maker of many years' standing). As far as I can see, the only clear thing is that Mary Talbot didn't draw any of the pages.

(I've just done some Googling, and found from an interview that Mary Talbot wrote it as a full script, Bryan Talbot laid it out and did some light editing and adapting, and Charlesworth drew the final art. There's no reason the book couldn't actually tell us that.)

Finally, on to the actual story. Sally is a working-class girl from Manchester, in service in the home of Mrs. Pankhurst, who is then and will continue to be a major force in the suffragette movement. Sally is smart and motivated -- and, not less important, rightfully angry about the oppression of women and the lower classes at the time -- so she educates herself and joins the cause, before long moving to London. (We lose track of what she actually does for a living, which is slightly unfortunate -- hers is a class story as much as a women's story, and her class, unlike the Pankhursts and their ilk, always have to work for their bread.)

There's a lot of dates and marches and meetings with Parliamentary representatives and raucous speeches, covering primarily the years from 1896 to the beginning of the Great War in 1914. It pointedly does not end with (some) women getting the vote in 1918, and doesn't dramatize that moment at all. In fact, the ending fizzles more than pops -- this is a long, ongoing struggle, so there's no one moment of victory, but Mary Talbot doesn't seem to even want to show a minor victory. There is a very sparse frame story of Sally at the end of her life, but it doesn't put the rest of the story into any perspective -- it seems to exist just to show when she died. and use that later time as a  contrast to Sally's activist years.

Frankly, this seems aimed at young women who don't realize that their sex didn't always have the vote, with the hope that they'll dig into the history and learn more about how the franchise expanded from lords to rich men and on to nearly everyone in modern Britain. As such, it does reasonably well. As an actual story with a shape and structure -- including a beginning and an ending -- it's much more problematic; it lacks most of that. It starts in the middle of an unexplained inter-suffragette power struggle, drops back in time to pick up Sally's earlier days, never explains that initial conflict, and meanders forward from there before stopping at the outbreak of war for no clearly apparent reason and jumping to Sally's death in the hopes that will look like an ending. (It does look like one, yes.)

I expect Sally Heathcote, Suffragette to be adopted a lot, passed around quite a bit, and read randomly for pleasure not at all. That's absolutely fine, but potential readers -- particularly those who enjoyed the Talbots' more conventional historical book Dotter of Her Father's Eyes -- should take note that this does not provide a similar experience.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 1/21

Yeah, yeah, it's another Monday. But at least I have some books to tell you about.

Most of these are from the fabled Big Monthly Box from Yen Press -- so all of those are from those fine folks, and are manga and/or light novels, and are Japanese in origin, and lastly are publishing any day now. But before I get into that Big Box, I have one other book, which will get to go first to keep it distinct.

Wires and Nerve is a graphic novel set in the "Lunar Chronicles" series of Marissa Meyer, in which she's been retelling fairy tales in an interplanetary SFnal setting (and I suspect there's a lot of dystopia, because it's YA). That's the series that started with Cinder, in case series titles don't stick in your head. Wires is a new story in the same continuity, written by Meyer and drawn by Doug Holgate, which focuses on Iko, who I suppose is an established character in the series. This is a hardcover from Feiwel and Friends, on sale January 31st.

And, just to reiterate: everything else from here on is from Yen Press, and will be in your favorite store Real Soon Now.

Akame ga KILL!, Vol. 9 is by Takahiro and Tetsuya Tashiro, and presumably features a lot of KILLing.

Big Order, Vol. 1 is indeed much fatter than the typical manga volume, so top marks for honesty in advertising there. It's by the manga-ka Sakae Esuno, and focuses on a young man named Eiji, who just got a superhuman power and is wishing to destroy the world. Given the length of the volume, I guess he doesn't actually destroy it on page 5 so that the rest of the book can be nice calming blank pages, but the thing is shrink-wrapped, so that's just barely possible.

A Certain Magical Index, Vol. 8 is a manga by Chuya Kogino adapted from the light novel of the same name by Kazuma Kamachi, and the creators would also like you to know that character designs were by Kiyotaka Haimura. This is one of those magic-school stories, with presumably the usual saving-the-world extracurriculars.

First Love Monster, Vol. 6 continues Akira Hiyoshimaru's story of young lovers and the incredibly minor tumults in their teenage lives. (I say teenage, though I think the first volume said the boy was still in grade school. I still am assuming I just don't understand how Japanese schools work la la la la LA!) This time, someone else reveals to the boy that he (?) forced a kiss on the girl!!!!! OMG!

Horimiya, Vol. 6 comes to us from a person who wishes to be known as "Hero" and someone else with the more normal name Daisuke Hagiwara. This is another cute-couple-in-high-school story, which seems to focus more on the "cute" than the drama.

The Isolator, Vol. 1 is the compelling story of a lab technician who heroically centrifuges samples in order to isolate their...oh, ok. No it isn't. Instead, it's the story of a driven security guard in a SuperMax prison, who keeps his fiendishly sneaky international-terrorist prisoners from communicating with each other and the outside world, foiling horrifying plots every...um, not that, either? Well, what is it about? It's about a normal Japanese boy who wants to live a normal life but had some weird thing from space "embedded" in his body, which sounds painful, actually. And he now has "impossible powers," because that's what weird things from space do. The manga is by Naoki Koshimizu, from a light novel by Reki Kawahara.

Murcielago, Vol. 1 is by Yoshimurakana, and apparently is about a sex-crazed lesbian international assassin. Well, "assassin" might be stretching it -- looks like she just likes to kill lots of people, and has recently been hired "as a hit woman for the police," because that's totally a thing that could actually exist in any plausible universe.

Speaking of implausible things, check out the "no, it's not a ribbon, it's my bra!" on the cover of Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers, Vol. 1. Luckily she's drawn, so it will never inadvertently slip unless the artist wants it to. This one also seems to be from a light novel, as it's credited to Kei Toru (art) and Ishio Yamagata (original story). And it's about the six predestined heroes who will save the world from destruction...only, when they assemble, there's seven of them, implying a ringer who will undermine their work and destroy them all.

Taboo Tattoo, Vol. 5 comes from Shinjiro, and this seems to be the volume in which the hero picks himself up after losing a big fight with the big baddie (who is "Princess Aryabhata," in this case) and throws himself into a training montage to be better for the next time. He also plans to travel back in time, which never goes wrong.

The cheerfully titled manga from Kaori Yuki is back with Alice in Murderland, Vol. 5. This is the one where all of the many pubescent children of a family must fight to the death for a single inheritance, again because that's totally a thing that would ever happen.

One of my favorite nutty titles! Have a gander at Hiro Ainana's light novel Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody, Vol. 1! (I'm not sure how it can be both a March and a Rhapsody at the same time, but perhaps some more musically-talented person than myself can hazard a theory.) The story itself is another stuck-in-the-MMO story, though this time our hero is one of the game's programmers, and dropped into it in his sleep somehow.

Fruits Basket Collector's Edition, Vol. 9 continues the reprinting of Natsuki Takaya's popular series in big friendly omnibus editions.

Another light novel series continues with Kagerou Daze VI: Over the Dimension, by Jin (Shizen No Teki-P). No, I don't understand the author's name. And no, I have no idea what's going on in the book, either -- the back-cover copy sounds like our hero is amnesiac and trapped in a virtual reality, but I could be mistaken.

Liselotte & Witch's Forest, Vol. 3 is by Natsuki Takaya, and it seems to be one of those gushing-emotion shojo manga, focused on a young exiled aristocrat and her household.

Another light novel: Overlord, Vol. 3: The Bloody Valkyrie, by Kugane Maruyama. If I remember correctly, it's another trapped-in-an-MMO story, only the hero is basically the Dark Lord and is also pretending to be another person, who is a great hero. This time out, there seems to also be a bloody Valkyrie, who I suppose requires some medical assistance.

Scum's Wish, Vol. 2 is by Mengo Yokoyari is about two young people who are dating, apparently only to make the people each of them really wants jealous. And that always works out right, doesn't it?

The cover of the light novel Strike the Blood, Vol. 5: Fiesta for the Observers has much more schoolgirl upper-inner-thigh than I personally am comfortable with, and I'm trying not to look at it. It's by Gakunto Mikumo, has illustrations by Manyako, and presumably is not about the First Airborne Lolita Force. (Maybe she's an Observer, parachuting in for the Fiesta?)

Tohyo Game, Vol. 2 seems to be another manga adapted from a light novel -- it's credited to G.O. (original story), CHIHIRO (adaptation) and Tatsuhiko (art). And it looks like one of those torturing-teenagers stories, in which either they or outside forces need to kill a certain number of people every so often to keep the story moving. I don't expect to look much further.

The massively long series of huge manga adapted from video games continues with (deep breath) Umineko WHEN THEY CRY, Episode 6: Dawn of the Golden Witch, Vol. 3. It has a story by Ryukishi07 and art by Hinase Momoyama, and has some version of the story about people killing each other on a remote island, a la And Then There Were None.

And last for this week is Void's Enigmatic Mansion, Vol. 5, by HeeEun Kim from the original by JiEun Ha. I think "original" in this case was a TV show, but I don't actually care enough to figure that out right now. This is also the last volume, for those who care about such things.