Friday, December 30, 2011

REVIEW: Batgirl: The Lesson

Batgirl: The Lesson is the final collection of Stephanie Brown/Batgirl stories, collecting together The Lesson, a multi-part arc in which Batgirl finds herself as a fugitive after being framed by a strange gang of villains, adapts to becoming a part of Batman, Inc. and also comes face to face with her past.

The story is, on a basic level, fairly simple. As Batgirl, Steph tries to save a fellow student from being attacked by a group of mysterious robed figures, but later he's found dead and Batgirl is the prime suspect. As she tries to clear her name, she must also find those responsible for the murder but also cement her relationship with Proxy as well as deal with Oracle, who begins to work with the Birds of Prey again. On top of that she's still hiding her status as Batgirl from her mother, which is made even harder by now being part of Bruce Wayne's Batman Incorporated, and she finds herself being sent to London to fight alongside Squire, sidekick of The Knight, in a rather bizarre story.

Truth be told, I found the arc to run on a little too long, or at least was told in a manner I didn't particularly enjoy. It seemed to be made of a few smaller arcs and it felt a little disconnected and perhaps a little unbelievable or, in one case, too convenient. As a whole, it also highlighted problems I have with comics like this - Steph is a little younger than me, yet she's pulling all-nighters, barely sleeping, seems like she's barely eating too, yet she's running around constantly and besting almost everyone in fights, not to mention the seemingly temporary recovery from a dislocated shoulder. Whilst I understand there's got to be some artistic license, I just find my disbelief really stretching with this run.

Yet for those faults, I still enjoyed it. I think with this run of Batgirl, it's not so much the story that's key, more the little moments. Steph has a constant stream of witty remarks, Deadpool-esque fourth wall stretchers and so on, and regardless of whether she's fighting Livewire or herself, it's always going to be a humorous adventure that's complimented by a great cast. Steph's youth and eagerness is contrasted beautifully by Oracle and her way of doing things, but also by Proxy's lack of confidence. The rivalry between Damian, Bruce Wayne's son, and Steph doesn't feature as much in this run, but it's interesting to see how their not-quite-a-friendship develops.

I did like most of the art in this collection, as largely it adds to the humorous nature of the series. The way Batgirl poses or has an expression adds more to the humour than most other aspects, and you really do get a feel for her character from it. In particular, I like the scenes where you see her wit and cheekiness come through because it adds a dimension to her character that doesn't come across too well in words.

That said, at times the representations fell flat. Whilst I don't particularly want to harp on about the size of breasts in comics again, I do wish that Nguyen and PĂ©rez were a little bit more consistent with it. Some times, especially out of her costume, she seems well proportioned, but as soon as she's in it her chest goes from modest to a little too big, although never does she hit the size of Power Girl. I found it more irritating than anything else, however. There were also times when the poses or more action-based sequences looked wrong, and perhaps a little gratuitous. No moment was worse than the fight on a school bus, however, as Steph's arms were drawn very poorly. They looked too short and looked like more of an afterthought.

All in all, Batgirl: The Lesson is another fun series of adventures with Stephanie, but ultimately it left a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth, one that sadly won't really be addressed in future issues due to the Batgirl mantle having been returned to Barbara Gordon as part of the reboot. With the usual jokes, tongue-in-cheek comments and jovial view of the problems that plague Gotham, it still offers a somewhat bright outlook and if nothing else, it's a long arc with great characters (and a few guest stars towards the end!) and some memorable moments.

Monday, December 26, 2011

REVIEW: The Best of Archie Comics

Celebrate 70 years of Archie Comics fun with this massive full-color collection of over 50 favorite comic book stories hand-selected by noted Archie writers, artists, editors and historians. Also included are loads of entertaining behind-the-scenes anecdotes about the comics, their creators, and Archie's unique impact on America's pop culture!

The Best of Archie Comics is, as the title and blurb suggest, a retrospective that goes from the 1940s, when Archie first appeared, through to the present day. It's divided up into decades and showcases some shorter pieces from each one, with the main focus being Archie and its related titles, although some other series (Lil' Jinx, for example) do make an appearance. Whilst most of the pages are dedicated to reprinted full-page stories, there are cover art galleries and some pages of newspaper comics, and this breaks it up a little bit and showcases the different styles of comic that Archie Comics have printed over the decades. Some of the comics contained within this volume have never been reprinted before, whereas some have had various appearances elsewhere. This all combines to create a book with a lot of variety, and as such has something for everyone.

Each decade is fronted by an introduction that talks about the American social views of the time, and this gives context to the following stories. For example, it says that the 1950s were when teenagers began to really break away into their own "thing", and as such their titles like Archie adapted to that, but in a different way to other forms of entertainment. Whilst the social view was that teenagers were rebellious and unruly, Archie tried to represent them as something more average - a bunch of teens that got along, fell in love like anyone else, hung out at innocuous places and whilst they may have caused mayhem and problems at time, it was the product of accidents and carelessness rather than wanton destruction and vandalism.

That said, I personally didn't really enjoy most of the comics as such, and I think I can explain why. Unlike buying a comic from a shop or on a collection, you get a singular experience that is often engaging. With this volume, however, the pieces aren't particularly there to entertain and they're often one part out of many. There are some funny pieces, there are some emotional pieces, but it doesn't particularly have the context nor does it put you in the mindset to enjoy them as such. It's almost as if you're walking through the Archie Museum and these pieces are on the wall with a note underneath explaining why they've been chosen. You may chuckle at some, you may enjoy others, but it's weighed down with that heavy air of a gallery rather than the light-hearted and bright feel of many comics.

That's not to say it's boring or dull, nor worthless. The context alone for the changes to the series along with the analysis of the time periods helps give background to the series and what happens in the subsequent selections from that decade. It brings a level of understanding to them that you simply don't get with many comics, and in a way it's educational, both about American history but also a comics publisher.

In terms of negative aspects, I did feel like the quality of the book was rather poor at times. Some covers were of low quality which contrasts with the clearer representation of some others, and particularly with the earlier comics the sharpness and visual quality can vary quite wildly, although no piece is rendered unreadable. It isn't helped by being printed on what feels like standard "book" paper, the kind you'd expect in a novel rather than the matte or glossy pages you find in most major graphic novels or comics. Whilst it offers an authenticity to the volume, I felt it did detract a little, considering this was supposed to be a celebration of Archie Comics. Also, for all the mentions and references to the musical aspects of Archie Comics, i.e. Josie & the Pussycats and The Archies, there was very little about them. I believe there was only a single Josie story, and The Archies got nothing more than a couple of mentions. I would liked to have seen more pieces for both groups, especially Josie & the Pussycats as they had their own title and, as mentioned in the introduction to the year 2000, their own live-action movie.

To conclude, I felt that The Best of Archie was a noble attempt to compile some of the best shorter (and a few longer) moments in Archie Comics history. There's a good selection of titles, from Archie itself to Katy Keene, from Lil' Jinx to Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and material selected from each decade, from 1940 to 2010. Some of the comics will make you laugh, some won't, but if nothing else this collection is a largely well put together retrospective of one of the biggest comics companies around. Whilst the marketing on the back suggests it's a good introduction to Archie, I would instead suggest it's more of a supplementary collection rather than an introductory one.

Recommended to fans of Archie, comics in general or those interested in the history and development of comics.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Christmas Haul

I'm not one for showing off, but I'd like to share what I got for Christmas as I'll possibly be reviewing some of it, although largely they're for nothing but pleasure. I apologise in advance for the poor quality of the photographs, my iPod Touch 4G isn't particularly happy about taking them.

Books & Graphic Novels
I asked for a bunch of them this year, and that's exactly what I got.
That's two Warhammer 40,000 books (Dan Abnett's The Founding, the first Gaunt's Ghosts omnibus, and an anthology edited/collected by Abnett that includes a Ciaphas Cain short story), the first Fables trade, the final Stephanie Brown Batgirl trade (which collects 10 issues in one volume!), the seventh The Dark Tower (although the second subtitled The Gunslinger) hardcover The Little Sisters of Eluria, a reprinted Mike Mignola-written story called Jenny Finn: Doom Messiah, and finally in the bottom right is The Best of Archie Comics, a look back at the past seventy or so years of Archie Comics, with the main focus being on the Archie series.
 
Alright, I know calendars aren't books, but it's comic-related as it's Dilbert. That Doctor Who annual is really aimed at kids, but I had a flick through before I ate too much, and there's a variety of things. Some facts about monsters, a few short stories, a comic or two, and some other interesting snippets. Probably won't tell me anything I didn't really know, but I think it's pretty cool nonetheless.

DVDs & Games
So, there's two of the latest Marvel-based releases - Captain America: The First Avenger and X-Men: First Class, the fantasy-cum-dude-movie Your Highness, and the rather brilliant LEGO Star Wars: The Padawan Menace, which is a comical and self-referential take on the Star Wars universe (although some of the chronology seems a little... odd). Finally, there's the Collector's Edition of Relic Entertainment's recent release Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, a third-person action game which involves the slaughter of those dratted Orks. I've had a little play with it this evening, and it was fairly enjoyable but I'll probably be sitting down to play it in the near future. As far as Collector's Editions go, it's actually a nicely put together - although not perfect - piece, and I like how much detail went into it.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Song for Sunday (Almost): Anti-Christmas Special

Again, Merry Christmas!

It's Christmas Eve - blogs, TV and radio are no doubt going to be full of Noddy Holder screaming as if someone's kicked him in the Noddy Holders, Wizzard will still be beardy and that song by The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl won't be getting the airtime it deserves. I'm sick of Christmas songs, although thankfully I've escaped most of them, and I'm sure some of you will also be sick of them.

And that is why I chose this song. It's a bit of relief, albeit of a slightly flirtatious nature, and it'll break up the humdrum of vomit-inducing jingle-filled crap.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year!

Well, I might as well get into the Christmas spirit, eh? That said, my advent calendar is still sitting untouched after three weeks, but I digress. I've still got a post or two half-planned before the year is out, including a song for Christmas Day itself, but I think this will be one of the last posts of the year.

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish my readers and anyone who visits this blog a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. I hope you all enjoy the time off from work, the time with your family, and that if you get any presents, that you get things you enjoy.

And to finish, here's a slightly Christmas-themed image:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

REVIEW - Betty & Veronica: In Each Other's Shoes

In Each Other's Shoes (Betty & Veronica) by Adrianne Ambrose

In Each Other's Shoes sees Betty and Veronica in a bit of a tricky situation at Riverdale High. Due to a mix-up with the school ballots, the fashion-loving Veronica finds herself as editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, whereas Betty is out of her depth when she's elected to run the school's charity fashion show. Both girls help each other to get to grips with the basics of their new positions, but their friendship becomes strained due to the interference of a third party, making their responsibilities all the harder to bear.

Despite the closeness of the setting, most of the other main characters are pushed to the background, often not even having any input or importance in the story once it gets going. Kevin Keller, however, moved forwards into a fairly big role in this one - with another comment about his sexuality, one that actually means quite a lot when you read between the lines - again showing that Ambrose is not holding back with the potential Kevin has.

I was less impressed with this book, however. I couldn't really believe the way the girls acted with each other, at times acting more like young girls than the young women that they truly are. As is most likely predictable to anyone with even the smallest knowledge of Archie and its characters, Betty and Veronica fall out but reconcile towards the end, but to me it was too neat and they were too forgiving towards the third party I referenced earlier. The charity aspect of the fashion show was largely forgotten too, whereas I would have thought that for Betty it would have been the important thing.

I also felt that unlike the previous two books, there wasn't much of a message. There is an underlying vibe of "you must take responsibility if you seek it" or something similar, but it wasn't particularly powerful or even well thought out. The character that causes the issue in the first place never really takes responsibility, the character that exacerbates the problem and causes many of the issues does, and they atone and make up for it towards the end, but I didn't feel that there was a real lesson behind this book as the situation itself didn't make much sense. The problem they faced felt artificial and was artificially sustained.

In conclusion, In Each Other's Shoes was a good, but not particularly impressive, read. Anyone who has enjoyed the previous books or comics will likely find an enjoyable tale here, but one that perhaps doesn't work as well as others have. The target audience may not find the flaws I have, and I'm sure they'll get more out of it than I have.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Song for Sunday #7

Last one before Christmas. I really struggled to think of something this week, so I've fallen back on a really awesome fan-made video for the song "Want You Gone" by Jonathan Coulton, as featured in this year's Portal 2.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Song for Sunday #6

I'm going to have to go back to Battles again, as I've been listening to them a fair amount recently. I found this song called My Machines, and it has Gary Numan singing in it (Yay!), and I love it. The bass line got stuck in my head one night, constantly looping around and around.

Just excuse the rather... bizarre video.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Verdicts for 2011 - The Awards

It's now December, and I'm thinking back over the year. There were books I surprisingly enjoyed, books I finally got around to, books I wish I hadn't bought, books I wish I'd read sooner - The usual, I guess. According to my Goodreads account, this year I'll have read almost 100 books, if not that figure exactly. I didn't get to read as many releases this year as I'd hoped to, instead I was mostly catching up on things I hadn't yet read, but also the books that came before this year's releases if they were part of an existing series. I found some great books, and some that weren't so great, but I've enjoyed most of them. This has also been the first year in which I've had reviews published on popular genre sites, I did my first interview with an author, and one signed to a major genre publisher at that, as well as a few other little things here and there.

If I can, I'll link to my Goodreads reviews, no matter how brief they are. I read many of these books with no intention of reviewing them properly, and in the case of one book I was too lost for words to do it any justice.

2011 Awards

Best Sci-Fi
Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1) - James S.A. Corey
Goodreads Review
Written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck under a shared name, Leviathan Wakes was a stand-out book for me. It combined mystery and aspects of detective novels with some military themes, and the product was a very strong read with some great characters. It was vivid, it was compelling and it showed great promise for future iterations. It wasn't perfect, the horror aspects weren't that strong in my opinion, but aside from that I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Best Fantasy - Tied
I could not decide which of these two books was most deserving of "Best Fantasy", because both had an emotional hold over me and still do. I was absolutely enamoured with each one, and I think it only fair for them to share it.

The Snow Queen's Shadow (Princess series #4) - Jim C. Hines
Goodreads Review (Brief)
The Snow Queen's Shadow is the final book in Hines' excellent Princess series, one I followed since early last year after a recommendation, and it blew me away. It was touching, it was emotional and it was incredibly well-written. Most of all, it was a fitting end to what had been a largely high quality series, and I don't regret even one minute of that experience.

Huntress - Malinda Lo
Goodreads Review 
Huntress is a sequel to 2010's Ash, but the links are fairly minor so one could say it's more akin to a spin-off. Unlike that book, however, Lo isn't restricted to the structure or style of fairy tales and it allows her to bring Huntress out into something deeper, with better pacing and more interesting characters. It was a book I devoured in no time at all, and it was one I thought about for a long while after I finished the last page. At its simplest, it's an engrossing story with a beautiful romance that flowers into something touching and emotional.

Best Graphic Novel
Anya's Ghost - Vera Brosgol
Goodreads Review (Brief)
I came across Anya's Ghost thanks to a preview on tor.com, I believe, and I fell in love with the preview. I quickly went and placed my order, and the day it came I went from start to finish in an evening. It was a very, very enjoyable read. The art was cute and worked really well, but it never took away from the story, and vice versa. I also liked how the themes went deeper than they appeared to be, and as such it offers some good views on bullying, friends, teen life as a whole, but also integration into a new country and a new culture, especially at the volatile high school age.

I would urge anyone who likes comics, graphic novels or even just YA fiction to pick this up, because it's nothing short of beautiful.
Most Disappointing
Prince of Thorns (Broken Empire #1) - Mark Lawrence
Goodreads Review 
Unlike many of my peers, I didn't like this book all that much. I was quite hyped for it, too, as it was getting good reviews, it had been part of a UK-wide promotion in Waterstone's and it was shaping up to be a good read, and I even though the author seemed a decent chap. Instead, what I got was a book that pushed the limits of my taste and my patience. The portrayal of women was shocking, the writing was average at best, and overall I felt disappointed that my experience was vastly different to that of many others. I could see where the book got praise, I understood why some people liked it, but to me it just wasn't what I'd call a fun read.

My not-quite-review got a few comments on Goodreads, and actually caused quite the heated discussion on SFFWorld, and looking back I was a little harsh, but aren't we all when we have such a disappointing book? I've had some people, including reviewers, turn around and say they agreed with me, at least on some level, whereas others have been less thrilled by my review. I wrote it with perhaps a little too much emotion behind it, but upon reading it since I feel that I could add no more to the discussion. I was disappointed, and if I'm honest I was a little shocked.

-----------------------
And there we have it, my 2011 awards. I'm sure many will disagree with my choices, but these are the only titles that really deserved such a prominent mention. Most of what I've read from this year was good, but it never grabbed me or affected me like the titles above, or in the case of sci-fi, I just hadn't really read all that much from this year.

A Song for Sunday #5

I came across this band, Battles, when they were first appearing on the bigger scene. They had some great songs, notably Tonto and Atlas, with some really interesting structures and sounds. Last year, the singer Tyondai left, leaving just three members. They're still going and put out their album, and this is a live-ish recording of one of the songs, called Futura. I've listened to it a few times already, and I've got to say I love it.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Superheroines & Comics - A follow-up

Previously, over on SciFi Now's blog, I discussed the line-ups and presentation of female superheroes, but I feel I missed out on many points that I only thought of with hindsight.

I've spoken about exaggerated figures, but there's a blonde elephant in the room in a white costume – Power Girl. The epitome of exaggeration, with her blonde hair, voluptuous curves, back-breaking chest and cleavage-window. However, I believe Power Girl should be one of a kind rather than “a bit bigger than everyone else”. Her large assets have often been used as a plot point in both serious and humorous ways, and I feel they define her as a character, but the opposite is also true. As a character, she transcends her figure and is strong, capable and perhaps even empowering. Her costume is also quite flattering, but depending on the artist it leaves her exposed to a varying degree, sometimes exposing quite a lot of her bust. Her bosom is arguably one of her trademarks, though, and to change that could easily change how she's viewed. She would become just another exaggerated figure, not one that stands apart for a reason.

Supergirl also deserves a mention, and for similar reasons. Her figure is the opposite of Power Girl, her stomach flat, her hips fairly narrow and her chest being amongst the smallest of any I've seen in mainstream comics – I actually find it odd if she's depicted with a large chest. Her 'traditional' costume bares her midriff, and she has a short pleated skirt to go with it, giving her a cheerleader vibe. This could easily be exploited, and I'm sure it has been, but in my limited experience I've found her to be drawn with some level of restraint and decency, and it makes me wonder why she is one of the few characters that seems subject to it.

There aren't many serious characters, male or female, superhero or not, who are in the fuller-figured section of the population. Marvel have Kingpin and The Blob, and Big Bertha's power is to enlarge herself to Blob-esque proportions, but DC had a very powerful character by the name of Amanda Waller. She was a large lady, and very formidable. In the reboot (Suicide Squad, I think), she's a slim and large breasted woman. That, to me, is precisely what has been wrong with certain aspects of the reboot. Characters have been changed in various ways for no reason except for the sake of it. There is no way that such a physical change can be justified by the artists or writers, because it was part of her character.

 "Mommy, why is Black Widow facing the wrong way?"

With the upcoming The Avengers film from Marvel Studios, a large (and squishy) problem has become prominent again – how artists pose the women on their covers. In the marketing images for The Avengers, Black Widow (played by Scarlett Johansson) has been depicted in a rather worrying pose. Her rear is facing the camera, and she is looking over her shoulder – this is true both for the artwork poster and the photograph banner – whereas all of the male characters are facing the camera with their chests, the only exception being Loki who is side-on. This is prevalent on cover art too, an example being the Frank Cho cover art work for the recent X-Men: Schism arc. A number of women, more so on issues #4 and #5, are in poses with their backs to the camera or are showing off in some form, not to mention Rogue's rather exposed cleavage,. The male characters are doing little, if anything, beyond standing around or sitting down although they do all seem to be rather muscular and sporting prominent six/eight-packs.

Whilst talking of Marvel, I think I'll bring up their Women of Marvel event again. It was an event, as far as I'm aware, to promote the female characters they have. There were numerous one-shots under the event, from new characters like Lady Deadpool through to more established characters such as Dazzler and X-23 (which went on to be a now-cancelled ongoing), as well as a few smaller series like Marvel Her-oes, which I think existed more for teen girls, and the questionably-titled Girl Comics. Overall it was a noble act which put their varied cast into the spotlight, but they went and got it a little wrong, especially when you look at the trade paperback they put out which collected the issues together...
Could they fit more breasts into this cover? 

This is the absolutely brilliant (snort) image that was chosen to adorn the cover of a trade celebrating strong women, drawn by Greg Land (apologies to the site I stole it from). Let's look - more breasts than a stripper bar, all four women have the exact same porn star face, the lady on the right makes Power Girl look flat-chested, and there's basically nothing redeeming about it. That's not a celebration of women, that's a straight-out hypersexualised... Well, I've no more words for it. It goes against everything the event seemed to stand for.

Whilst the proportions and figures of female characters are an issue, the above image brings me to a new point - I've found that the other half of the issue is how they're posed and how they carry themselves. It's the exaggerated hip movements, the arched backs, the pushed-out breasts – they all carry an air of flirtation or sexualisation, whether the character is sixteen or thirty-six. There have also been many instances of the 'camera' in the panel being used to get shots of the character's rears or to look below their legs, even to show a little bit of underwear if the character wears a skirt. It's the context and the art itself that causes the sexualisation, and with both major publishers I find it a big issue. There was an issue of B.P.R.D. (Dark Horse Comics) that read to me as a tongue-in-cheek take on such portrayals, and it even had shots between his legs and of his backside. I thought it was absolutely hilarious, and it showed just how ridiculous comics can be. Something similar was also done in one of the Deadpool arcs (X Marks The Spot) in which Wolverine and Domino are climbing through a duct. Domino becomes paralysed with fear due to an errant chicken (placed there by our favourite mercenary), causing Wolverine to go head-first into Domino's bulbous seat.

Looking back to costumes as a whole, I think it's important to explain why some things are good and why others are bad, but also problems related to them. The traditional form-fitting costume makes a lot of sense, as there's nothing for your assailant to get purchase on. A lot of costumes go against this, though, even by simply letting the character have their hair out, especially if they've got long hair and engage in physical combat. Capes, sashes – they all go against it, too. Form-fitting is not inherently sexual, though. It's how the artists draw the characters and decide how they wear what they do. The cover for Pixie Strikes Back has five of the X-Men (Blindfold, X-23, Pixie, Armor & Mercury) walking towards the character, with a hint of hip-wiggle from some of them, but it's not sexual despite the tight costumes.


It's also a case of practicality or just common sense missing, too. With the large chest being common in comics, one has to look at it practically. Large chests mean bras become almost necessary, if not necessary, especially if you're going to engage in a lot of physical activities. By all rights, Emma Frost should be popping out of her bustier with anything faster than a walk, let alone doing any sort of combat. A number of the costumes seem to incorporate or at least allow for the possibility of sports bras, a necessity for many of the women in comics, but it's clear that a lot of artists don't understand that or choose to ignore it for no obvious reason.

The authors and artists should not just stick to positive representations, though. I feel it's just as important to show weakness and negative characters. There's nothing wrong with having an evil, or morally corrupt, female character. Marvel have done really well with Mystique in that role, and DC often cast the Gotham City Sirens (Catwoman, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy) in such positions. To reference one of the most famous and important titles in comic history, Batman: The Killing Joke, the temporary humiliation and exploitative representation of Barbara, even for just those few moments, set the scene for one of the most empowering characters to have ever existed - Oracle. Shocking events can be used to rocket characters into new strengths, and that's good as it adds suspense and drama, drawing the reader in, pushing them to read on. It's when those weaknesses are never fought-against or dealt with that it's poor.

So, there we have another load of thoughts on the portrayal of women in comics. I may do more later.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Song for Sunday #4

And we come to the last Sunday in November, and I think I'll post something that is best described as different. Now, I'll be honest, I have no idea what the lyrics are, nor what they mean. All I know is that the song sounds really good and that the video is really odd.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mini-Review x 3 - Free Comic Book Day 2011 #1

I'm going to - finally - get around to reading and reviewing the Free Comic Book Day 2011 issues I have sat around. I meant to do so months ago, but I never got around to it. That changes now! Today I'll be reviewing Super Dinosaur: Origin Special (Image), Young Justice/Batman: The Brave and the Bold (DC) and Pep Comics: Featuring Betty & Veronica (Archie).

Young Justice/Batman: The Brave and the Bold
This was my first foray into these titles, both of which are aimed at younger readers. As the title suggests, this is split into two parts. The first part is a short Young Justice comic, the second part is the Batman one. I'll review them separately.

Young Justice
The team is made up of Kid Flash, Superboy, Robin, Miss Martian and Aqualad, and they've been sent to Colorado to face Psycho-Pirate, who has managed to get hold of some plutonium. The Young Justice team try and get it from him, but they all get put into a trance of self-doubt which reveals to us all of the issues the characters currently face, i.e. they're not as good as the "older" superheroes they're based on/team up with.

The art is really quite good and appropriate for the age group and the theme of the team, and I found it clear and easy to follow. Despite being perhaps twice the target age, I did enjoy it.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold
In this shorter piece, Bruce Wayne is supposed to be attending a charity function, but is instead helping the Flash save people from a fire. We're treated to a brilliant duality with the attention flicking back and forth between the function and the conflict between Batman, the Flash, Heat Wave and the Firefly. It's really well done, and gives two great perspectives. One is that Bruce Wayne's reputation with the Gotham elite is being slightly tarnished by his string of non-appearances, but we know that he's actually out there saving people and kicking butt. It ends with Alfred giving a brilliant witty retort that really catches the guests off-guard.

The art is pretty good in that rather ridiculously exaggerated way that you often find in cartoons, and it works quite well for this. It's clear and easy to follow.

Overall, a good taster issue. I think even adults would enjoy reading this, because the Young Justice section is quite deep once you get into it, but also because the Batman section harks back to an Adam West-era Batman, where it wasn't all dark and brooding.


Pep Comics: Featuring Betty & Veronica
I had to do a little bit of research on this. Pep Comics was the name of the series in which Archie had his debut, and it was one of the classic series - along with ones such as Action Comics. It had a brief resurgence in the '80s, but has since lain mostly dormant.

In this issue, we follow Betty and Veronica as they discover the old Club Archie treehouse, and reminisce about when the gang were kids. After an embarrassing moment for Veronica, they all go to Pop's and discuss creating a new club. Archie, Jughead, Nancy and some others create a club for younger children, in which they help them with one-on-one attention, whereas Veronica's idea is to basically spoil the kids rotten. The kids like Veronica's club, but ultimately prefer the one-on-one attention they get in Archie's.

It's a sugar-sweet issue with some really good ideas behind it, mostly about friendship and how you should help others. I found myself a little confused, however, as it didn't really introduce any of the characters and only a few were referred to by name. Sadly, I didn't think much of the art. So much of it seemed reused and poor quality, which I found to be a disappointment. Facial expressions seemed odd, and barely changed during panels. When the characters spoke, and they weren't grinning, they looked really, really odd. I hope that's not true of most Archie comics, as I could see it becoming annoying very quickly.

In conclusion, a fairly fun read with some rather inconsistent art, the quality of which is questionable.

Super Dinosaur: Origin Special
I've never heard of Super Dinosaur before, but I'm fairly glad I picked this issue up. Derek Dynamo is a young boy with a dinosaur for a best friend. His father and his assistant, Max Maximus, had discovered Inner Earth, an untouched place with dinosaurs and a rock called DynOre, which could be used as a fuel. Max begins conducting experiments to alter and "improve" the dinosaurs to create an army, as well as creating the harness that Super Dinosaur wears, whereas Derek's father is oblivious to the sinister nature of the experiments. Max goes renegade, Dr Dynamo is injured in a blast, but Super Dinosaur (SD, as he's often referred to) sticks with Derek.

I hadn't really realised it until this morning, but Derek is a terrible character. He's about ten years old, he's a supergenius, and he's a brat. He finishes his dad's equations, because he can't as the blast caused some brain damage, he improves and upgrades SD's armour and many other things, including fooling the government. That's pretty ridiculous, even by comic standards.

That's not to say it wasn't a good read. The backgrounding seemed really thought out, and the art was largely pretty good. There's a nice mix of characters and it looked as if the series would be pretty good. Heck, there's even a female dinosaur/human hybrid mentioned in the character pages at the back.

If one can get over the arrogant brat of a protagonist, I got a good impression of the series. It looks as if it could be some really daft, explosion-loving fun. I may just have to pick it up.

A Song for Sunday #3

I shall say nothing, but simply leave you with this great song. Some of us have waking up and reviews to do, y'know.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mini-Review - X-23 Issue #17 (Marvel Comics)

I've known about X-23, the character, for a few years now, and I've got a few things with her in, and she's a character I've wanted to know more about. I've been meaning to pick up the few solo trades she has, including the one for this most recent series, and I sort-of enjoyed the one-shot from the Women of Marvel theme that Marvel ran, which was collected in the not-so-great Mighty Marvel: Women of Marvel collection not too long ago.

So, here we are with issue 17 of the now-cancelled series, with only three more to go. I saw a preview of this on Comics Alliance, and I liked the look, but I was also confused as to Laura (X-23) being chosen to babysit. This is the girl with six retractable blades, history with the X-Men, the Weapon X Project and also the X-Men's secret and highly dangerous team, X-Force. She's not what I'd call the ideal babysitter, although one could easily argue that there's few better people around to protect others.

With a hint of trepidation, I got started. A few moments later, I was done. Wow, that was short. I mean really short. I count 20 pages of panels! I think I've had longer sneezing fits. Anyway, those 20 pages packed a nice amount of content (albeit with too many panels of Laura completely void of any expression. There weren't many characters (Hellions, Laura, Gambit, Wolverine, the two kids, Reed Richards and Sue Storm), and it didn't seem as if it needed the reader to have read every single bloody series Marvel is putting out, which makes it a great stand-alone, although I'm sure it does have deeper ties to some current events. The synopsis explains the basics well, and they should be enough for any new reader to get a quick grip on what is or isn't going on.

The art was really well drawn, and had a really nice blur effect to it, but I can see it only working for a few titles and art styles. Everything was really well drawn with a great attention to detail, and it worked wonders. The colours were fairly muted for the most part, but it created an effect that was easy on the eyes without sacrificing detail or contrast between objects. Whilst not part of the issue itself, the cover isn't actually that great. On my copy at least, the colouration for the skin tones in particular looks really poor, making Laura look like she's just escaped from a very hot bath.

X-23 #17 restored my faith in Marvel a little. The art was good, the writing was good, the characters were well drawn and portrayed, and I enjoyed the issue, even if I did feel it was a little short. The quality of the art and the writing just go to show that Marvel dropping this series was a mistake, and I hope they rethink that decision in the coming weeks.

4.5/5

REVIEW - Among the Ghosts by Amber Benson


Among the Ghosts' protagonist, Noh, is a girl with a secret. Whilst like many girls her age she's resourceful, intelligent and just a little stubborn, she inherited a gift from her mother – the ability to see and communicate with ghosts. When her father goes away on his latest scientific journey, she is bundled off to her aunt Clara, who is conveniently on holiday as Noh arrives at her house. Taking matters into her own hands after a brief talk with Clara's neighbour, she goes to the only other place she can, which is to her Aunt Sarah who lives and works at the New Newbridge Academy boarding school. As she ventures to the school, Noh detours into the comfort of a graveyard and encounters an older woman there, who gives our young heroine a strange stone. From there onwards, her life begins to change.

We are first introduced to the titular ghosts in the first chapter, which tells a brief story about a boy named Thomas. This very chapter also introduces some ants, which exist as a recurring theme and a page embellishment, and a strange event that happens to Thomas and first hints at what is to come in the book. In the second we learn a little about Noh's childhood and birth, such as the death of her mother just moments after giving birth to Noh, and also what may be in store for her in life.

It's not until the third chapter that we really get into the story. After the first chapter, which is set somewhere chronologically around the time of chapter six, we follow Noh as she arrives at the Academy, and as she discovers what she is and what she can do. Whilst the Academy, especially the unsafe and unused West Wing, is free of children, Noh is certain she keeps seeing some. As is implied by the title, Noh is in fact able to see the ghosts of the Academy. From the chatty Trina to the depressed and sorrowful Henry, Noh interacts with a small party of ghosts and quickly discovers that all is not as it seems.

Benson creates a very well written protagonist with Noh. She's got all the hallmarks of a girl her age, but she never once is a girly-girl, nor a tomboy. She's Noh, and that's all there is to it. The ghost children are also nicely diverse. Trina is very chatty and somewhat girly, Thomas wanted to be a detective, and Nelly plays the perfect part as Trina's best, but rather different, friend. The adult characters, such as Hullie and Aunt Sarah, treat Noh as both a young girl but also an adult, which I felt worked well and seemed fairly typical of how adults can treat children, especially as they're both teachers.

In terms of the writing, I felt Among the Ghosts was on the whole a very well written and thought out book, but by no means perfect. At times I felt as if Benson went beyond the age group this book is aimed at (8-12 years) with both the words she used and the occasional tone or subject of a paragraph. The characters were all nicely written and worked well together, but they also felt real. Towards the end of the book, however, I felt that the story became a little complex and potentially confusing. A big monster is hinted at via brief chapters in the last two thirds of the book, but I felt it was poorly explained and not necessary for the story. There is also a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment for one of the characters, and if not noticed will leave some readers scratching their heads for a few chapters.

The illustrations drawn by Sina Grace compliment the story well. They're cartoony and stylistic, but easy to match up with the story and they give a good idea of what some characters may look like. I felt they added little to the story, but they break up the text and sometimes tell more than the paragraphs themselves. My gripe with the illustrations is that, as I have noticed in other illustrative books, they can often spoil the story without meaning to. For example, we are told the story of how a child died in the book, and later on we see an illustration of him that takes up about a quarter of a page. My eyes instantly scanned over it and I realised who it was before I'd gotten to him being mentioned, and I felt it took away from that surprise.

Overall, I feel Among the Ghosts is a good read. With Hallowe'en coming up, it would be the perfect gift for the little monster(ess) in your life, although I would encourage parents to give it a read first as it can feel a little dark or gory at times, and they may not wish to upset their child. It's a largely well written story with rare moments of complexity, and I can't help but draw parallels to Neil Gaiman's excellent Coraline, to which this book is a perfect sister. 

((This is a review I did some months ago as practice. It was never published, although it was originally posted - along with a different version of the review - on SFFWorld. I have slightly reworded parts of it from the version posted there, as well.))

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

REVIEW - Betty & Veronica: We're With the Band

We're With the Band (Betty & Veronica) by Adrianne Ambrose

We're With the Band begins during the summer vacation, and The Archies are once again playing at Pop's Chocklit Shoppe. Betty and Veronica go outside to get some things before they start, but the bouncer doesn't let them back in. Thanks to good timing from Archie and Reggie, they get inside and soon the band start playing another popular set, but the seeds of discomfort begin to grow. Veronica feels jealous of Betty's freedom on stage and her proximity to Archie, the boy both girls have an on/off relationship with. After they've finished playing, Veronica proposes a somewhat selfish name change for the band, but it doesn't seem to go down too well. Reggie comments that neither girl really is part of the band, and that they are the "frosting" on the "cake" that is The Archies, causing an argument that results in both Betty and Veronica leaving the band and gives them the idea to start their own.

After some unsuccessful auditions, Nancy and a new girl by the name of Tina are chosen as the bassist and drummer for the band, the name of which is The Candy Hearts. They quickly begin to rehearse and perform shows, but with one member driving the band faster and harder, it's only a matter of time before something goes wrong...

As with Living the Dream, I felt We're With the Band was well-written and it didn't feel as if it was trying to be too simplistic or patronising. It was a smooth, clear and perhaps gentle read that was well paced and fairly vivid. I also noticed less product placement in this book, which to me was an improvement as the setting of Riverdale has really no need for constant pop-culture or real-world references. The way Betty and Veronica's sometimes-strained friendship was portrayed seemed very in-line with how teenage girls genuinely act, as did their reactions to each other and their friends. Kevin makes another few appearances in this book, and his sexuality is directly mentioned, and again I felt that it was done well and I must applaud the author for handling it as she did.

Whilst the themes didn't have quite the depth of the previous book that I read, they instead were much more personal and about the strength of friendship, but also about how we're not perfect. Veronica was quite selfish and deceptive at times, which itself was a factor in the initial split from The Archies, but Tina caused many more problems. As well as being selfish, she was too occupied on fame and fortune to realise that The Candy Hearts were about fun and friendship as well as showing The Archies up, not about being playing multiple gigs a week. Betty again seemed to get the short end of the straw as she found herself quickly worn out and upset by the problems within the band. It seemed to me that fame and money aren't more important than friends, and if you begin to lose the enjoyment of doing something like a band together, you should quit before it ruins a friendship.

I did have a few minor issues with the book, though. The biggest issue was the trigger for the split. Whilst I don't feel that it was intended to come across as it did, the way Reggie spoke about the girls seemed eerily reminiscent of the "because they are girls" argument used by some people to explain why females cannot/should not do certain things. I honestly do not think that was the intention, but it's how it came across to me as a reader. As I mentioned above, I also noticed that Veronica was almost overly selfish and deceptive, and that wasn't tackled with a resolution. It was basically brushed to one side and left unresolved, although the girls - obviously - did make up at the end.

We're With the Band was another fun read, although perhaps not as enjoyable as Living the Dream, and it should appeal to Archie fans of all ages and genders. It's funny, it's sad, and it's got a lot of honest representations of how band life can affect friends. Again, a must-read for Archie fans, but non-fans will still find some enjoyment here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

REVIEW - Betty & Veronica: Living the Dream

Living the Dream (Betty & Veronica) by Christa Roberts

This year, one of the Penguin imprints (Grosset & Dunlap) released three Betty & Veronica novels - Living the Dream, We're With the Band and In Each Other's Shoes - which revolve around the titular characters from the Archie series of comics. Like aspects of the comics they revolve around both girls, their relationships and other aspects of their lives, all of which takes place in the town of Riverdale, a quintessential American town that seems to have barely changed in the seventy years that Archie has been published.

In Living the Dream, Betty and Veronica have just begun their summer vacation. Betty, as a responsible teenaged girl, has been trying to get a job for the summer for experience but also to earn enough money to replace her laptop. Veronica, coming from a background of money, has no such inclinations but quickly realises that experience in the fashion field would be vital for her dream career. Betty has spent the past few weeks applying for various jobs with only a single interview, and she's getting distraught. Whilst she loves spending time with her friends, she feels that she needs the experience and the money. Veronica, however, applies for just one job at a store called Belle Pink and gets it within days. It's not until Betty meets Archie at Pop's Chocklit Shoppe that she gets a job thanks to Georgette, the head waitress, overhearing and going to talk to Pop.

Both girls become quickly frustrated with aspects of their jobs, Betty with the attitudes of the customers and her frequent mistakes, and Veronica with the realisation that working in a clothes store isn't all about helping people directly and honestly. They both struggle through the first weeks, but whilst things begin to improve for Veronica, they only get worse for Betty...

I was quite tentative about reading these books, because children's lit - to me, as an adult - can sometimes feel too simplistic, and perhaps a little patronising. However, I never found that to be a problem with Living the Dream, as I felt it was well written and easy to follow but it didn't talk down to me. As you'd expect from a book for a lower age group, the descriptions are often quite simplistic and basic, but I found them to create quite a vivid picture of what the characters were wearing or doing at those moments in time. The interactions between characters also seemed very natural and in-keeping with both the characters but also the contemporary setting.

A lot of the characters from the comics make appearances, cameo or otherwise. Archie, the love interest for both of our protagonists, appears with some regularity and often with Jughead, his best friend. The very well received Kevin Keller, Archie Comics' first openly gay character, also makes a couple of appearances and I felt that the way he was treated was no different to how any other character would be, which to me is worth mentioning as it's such a rarity amongst LGBT characters. Together, these characters work just as well as they do in the comics, and I got a sense of the camaraderie that has been around for years.

If one looks a little deeper into the text, there seems to be some sort of reference to the current state of affairs. Jobs are hard to come by, the girls talk about how it's hard to get work without experience - I think whilst the depth might not be noticeable to younger readers, I'm sure any teenage or adult readers would quickly pick up on it and sympathise with the characters that much more. It helps connect the series to our "real" world, but also shows that for all its perpetual and arguably idealistic views towards teenagers and life, the world of Archie can still represent and show problems that we ourselves face.

However, I did feel the book had a little too much product placement in its attempts to seem relevant. One of the big appeals about Archie and the spin-off series is that it has a timeless quality to it - many of the stories could happen in 1950 or 1990 - and I was a little disappointed by the amount of direct references to our culture. Lady Gaga and Katy Perry are name-dropped (and to be honest, I'm quite surprised by that. Their personalities seem so different to the tone of Archie), and at one point we are told Kevin Keller has an iPod. I felt that Roberts could perhaps have used references from within the Archie world or catch-all terms, so for example Veronica could have listened to Josie and the Pussycats, and Kevin could have just had a music player.

In conclusion, I felt that Living the Dream was a very enjoyable read that should appeal to Archie fans of any age. It's quick, it's funny, it's light-hearted - It's a brilliant read. It was my first true foray into the Archie world, and I don't regret it one bit. I won't call it a must-read for anyone but Archie fans, though, as I feel the almost sugar-sweet tone and simplistic writing will grate with some.

I'll be reading and reviewing We're With the Band later this week...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Changes & Updates (Updated!)

I decided to give the blog a bit of a going over this morning. I liked the header image, but I felt it was low quality and not particularly interesting. I also went over the blog roll and removed those that either aren't updated or that I don't follow any more.

I still need to go back and re-tag a number of my posts, however, which I may do this afternoon depending on how bored I get.

Changes:
- Added and removed blogs from the link section.
- Updated mini-profile.
- Added section containing personal links.
- Removed header image, added new description.
- About page.
- Compile published reviews in some form.

To-Do List:
- Tag posts.

A Song for Sunday #2

First heard this song on Liberty Rock Radio, a fictional radio station in Grand Theft Auto IV, presented by Iggy Pop. At first I thought it was early Sonic Youth, but apparently not.

So, without further ado, "1979" by The Smashing Pumpkins.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Demon King Review Is Now Up!

My latest review, for Cinda Williams Chima's The Demon King, went up on Speculative Book Review yesterday. It can be found here. My review is less than glowing, and I was a little harsh on it.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Song for Sunday

Not much of a post this time. I felt like sharing this song, which I've enjoyed on-and-off for a couple of years. It's by a band called Battlelore, and their music is pretty much exclusively about Middle-Earth.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Wolverine & the X-Men (TV) - Some thoughts

So, for those who don't know, Wolverine & the X-Men was a cartoon series done not too long ago. It had a prequel in the form of a one-off episode called Hulk vs. Wolverine (part of a double-feature package called Hulk Vs), and only managed one season of 26 episodes before being cancelled. This year the whole show (bar Hulk vs. Wolverine) was repackaged in a complete collection, and that's the one I picked up. £10 for 26 episodes, each about 20 minutes long. Talk about a bargain.


I'm now halfway through the set, having watched volumes one and two, and so far I'm really enjoying it. It fits in with how the X-Men comics have been going in the past years, with allusions to events from various spin-offs and adaptations. There's hints towards Wolverine's romantic past with Mystique at times (detailed in comic form in Wolverine: Origins, I believe), he's been shown as he was in Hulk vs. Wolverine and also the Wolverine: Origins movie with Hugh Jackman. A lot of the lesser-known or more superfluous mutants get a showing, too. I've noticed my beloved Mercury in a couple of episodes, X-23 appears in at least one, Pixie does appear but is sidelined (whereas in the comics, she has a much more prominent position), and so forth. It's really good as someone who's dabbled in X-Men over the past year or two, because I know who certain characters are and/or I can relate to certain events.

Steve Blum is cast as Wolverine, and I feel he does an excellent job. He gets the voice, the tone and even the anger down perfectly (I wonder if it's because he tends to get cast in those sorts of voice roles), and Tom Kane is a very excellent Magneto. A number of the supporting cast also sound really good, plus Nolan North is in it as Cyclops. I'll get to Cyc later. I also noticed Jennifer Hale, known to me best as the female Commander Shepard from the Mass Effect series, is cast as Jean Grey, but she's not in it too much. I think they all tend to work together really well, but I feel that the more classic characters, such as Storm and Nightcrawler, are sidelined a little in favour of the newer or "improved" characters, such as Shadowcat and Iceman.

It's not all great, though. With Rogue they went back to Anna Paquin's performance from the X-Men movies for inspiration, including the accent. Her costume is back to the '90s style one, though, which is an improvement over what little she wore in X-Men: Evolution. Whilst Emma Frost is finally wearing something semi-decent for a woman of her age, I can't help but feel that she's the most pretentious, unlikeable and irritating "good guy" ever. She's so far up her backside that a colonoscopy wouldn't be sufficient to find her head. I mean no disrespect to the voice actress, but whenever Emma Frost talks I want to kick a puppy.

I mentioned Cyclops earlier, and I think he deserves a bit of explanation. Nolan North is a pretty good voice actor, I loved him in Portal 2 as the Space Core and his portrayal of Deadpool in Hulk vs. Wolverine was absolutely spot-on, but it's doing nothing to make me like Cyclops. I must admit I've never really cared much for the character, and as I've read more into things, it's becoming clear why. He's such a dick, and there's no other way to put it. He's self-absorbed, he's an idiot, he's arrogant, he's stubborn... I just can't stand him. All he does is get angry or whine, and this show is no different. One episode has him freaking out about Jean Grey (who pulled her disappearing trick again), and he creates a huge amount of destruction. It's stupid.

I suppose that leads to another problem I have. Wolverine has six blades, yet never cuts anyone (I believe he's only been shown to slice Deadpool). Cyclops' power can destroy cars and such, but it's more of a physical hit on people/mutants. They all take huge amounts of damage, like Arclight who got thrown from a bike at a high speed, but take no actual injuries and often don't even sustain damage to their costumes. I understand it's a kid's show, but it's really grating that they don't even show grazes or tears in costumes for the most part. They also cause huge amounts of damage to the surrounding environments, whether it's destroying roads, severely damaging buildings, breaking windows - everything is there to be destroyed. There's no sense of responsibility on either side.

The episodes also seem to wind between various plotlines. The next episode you watch isn't guaranteed to directly follow the previous one, and may in fact relate more to an earlier episode. They do have introductions with clips of the episode they link to, so often it takes no time at all to remember what happened before.

So far, so good. I've got two more volumes to go, and I'm looking forward to them.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Review of Stephen King's The Green Mile

Wow, I'm really getting around these days. My review of Stephen King's The Green Mile just went up on Speculative Book Review. Check it out! I'm quite proud of that review, and the book was really worth reading. On retrospect, 8.5/10 seems a little low for it, but I can't think of a more appropriate score.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Clive Barker's Abarat Review on Voyager

Just another quick blog post. My review of Clive Barker's Abarat just went up on Harper Voyager's blog. You can find the review here.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Film Review: But I'm A Cheerleader (1999)

Thanks to the Queereaders group on Goodreads, I came across this film which was said to be one of the best LGBT-themed films that a number of members had seen, and as it was cheap I thought "Well, why not?" Whilst I would love to say I agree with them, I simply haven't seen enough films with LGBT themes to really comment on it fairly.

Natasha Lyonne stars as Megan, the titular cheerleader. She's seventeen, she's got a boyfriend and she's happy as she is, but is blissfully ignorant of two things. Firstly, that she's a lesbian. Secondly, that everyone else thinks she's one. Her parents and friends intervene with the help of an ex-gay by the name of Mike (Played by RuPaul), and she's sent to a corrective therapy camp called True Directions. It is there she meets Graham (Clea DuVall) and in a rather ironic fashion, falls in love and accepts who she truly is.

The film is filled with a lot of subtle and less subtle imagery, both sexual and otherwise. At the camp, gender stereotypes are heavily involved, leading to rather hilarious scenes such as the boys flailing and flapping as they try to play American football or doing mechanical work on a car whilst a giant metal phallic structure created from a giant spanner and two hubcaps looms over them. The woman in charge of the camp is shown to be blind of her own son's sexuality, and it's clear from the start that most of the teens there will not be "corrected", at least not permanently.

Whilst the film has a clearly feminine focus, or at least feel to it, there is a lot of comedy for the men too. Most of the jokes, both subtle and obvious, come from the male cast, whether it's one character dancing around in denim hot pants with a strimmer or Mike's struggle with his own homosexual desires (Both are quite strongly linked, actually). One of the male characters towards the end also teams up with Megan, and both get their happy endings. It could have easily been forgotten about, as things like that often are, but I felt adding it really made a difference.

The camp itself, despite its exaggerated and humorous visuals, is sadly all too real and so are the attitudes in the film. Homosexuality is seen by many characters, including the teenagers in the camp, as wrong and unnatural, and something that can be corrected. They're threatened with losing their families and homes, with deliberately misleading propaganda. The psychology involved revolves around ignorance and almost Freudian thinking, for example the idea of Megan's father being unemployed emasculated him, meaning her mother became the breadwinner and as such it's a trigger that may have caused her to become gay.

It's not all sunshine and lollipops, however. The characters, especially the males, relied way too heavily on stereotypes. All five males at the camp were at least moderately camp in their manner, the camp owner's son walked around in very short shorts and was obviously supposed to be gay, the two ex-ex-gays were also quite stereotypical in a way. There seemed to be no "normalisation", for want of a better term, so what representation there was of gay males it was based on stereotypes and exaggeration. To contrast, the girls were nicely varied. Megan was a cheerleader, Graham was slightly butch in a way, Sinead was a sort of goth (And hot!), there was a very geeky girl and, well, I think you have to see the film for the fifth girl (Who might have actually been a transman, I'm not too sure).

The acting and casting itself also seemed a bit shaky, and in my opinion the worst actors were in fact cast as the two main characters. DuVall held herself and acted in a way that never worked for me. She seemed too old or mature for the role, and I never bought her as a character. Lyonne also grated with me. It was her expressions, the things she said and how she said them, it seemed as if she just couldn't fully get into her character's shoes. The way they held themselves together, the way they acted around others, it seemed way too awkward and false, as if there was someone off screen holding their pay cheques above a naked flame.

Overall, I think But I'm A Cheerleader was definitely a good watch, and a film I don't regret seeing, but I feel it could have been better and more representative whilst still retaining the humour and its message.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Beautiful Friendship - David Weber (SFFWorld Review)

So, I did it again. I've had my second review for SFFWorld made public, and it's for the recent David Weber book, A Beautiful Friendship. It's not a brilliant review, I'm still learning to write them, but I feel I got my message across.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Header Image & A Song

As you may have noticed, I finally got off my backside and created a header image! I feel that it's only fair to credit the artists for the work I used. So, from left to right we have:
Dave Seeley and his cover for Elizabeth Moon's Engaging the Enemy (Del Rey)
Jason Chan's cover for Ari Marmell's upcoming Thief's Covenant (Pyr)
Guy Davis  and the cover for B.P.R.D.: Plague of Frogs Vol. 1 Issue #4, illustrated by himself and written by Mike Mignola for Dark Horse Comics.
I felt all three represented the three main aspects of what I created this blog for. Science fiction, fantasy and comics respectively, but also highlights the emphasis I put on female characters.

And, as promised, I have a song to share.
Joan Jett - Change the World.

UPDATE (16/11/11): I removed the header image earlier in the week. I'll leave the details up, however.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Worries of a Rag Doll

As some have probably worked out from my Goodreads account and my blog here, I do dabble in lesbian-related YA/teen fiction (With a few adult books in there for good measure) whether it's Malinda Lo, Nancy Garden or even male-written works from the likes of Jim C. Hines or J.A. Pitts. I love it, I'll say that and say it proudly. Annie On My Mind was an absolutely beautiful work, and Malinda Lo's Ash and Huntress almost brought me to tears at times.

But this brings me to my problem. Finding fiction in that vein is hard, doubly so for fantasy. Finding a well-written piece just about two people falling in love seems to be overly hard. Some are about abuse, some are clearly going to be overtly erotic tales, some are written from the perspective of someone not in the relationship itself. I understand all these books have a purpose and a market, but to me they're not what I'm after. I don't want to read a book about domestic abuse or rape - I hear about things like that all too often on the news for a start - I just want to read a tale about self-discovery and romance.

Fantasy is even worse for things like that. Despite being an arguably bigger genre, it's full of Bloke Meets Woman, Bloke Loves Woman, Bloke Bonks Woman, stories. There's a fair amount of gay fantasy tales, especially in the dark fantasy/paranormal sub-genre, but very little lesbian fantasy. I suppose lesbian werewolves are somehow less interesting than gay ones. Anyway, Malinda Lo is the only author I've read who has what I'm looking for. Whilst I loved Jim C. Hines' Princess series and I do love John Pitts' Black Blade/Sarah Beauhall books, they're about women with established relationships (Although there is some unrequited love in the former and soul-searching in the former) and I do honestly love those series, they're not exactly what I want.

I suppose I'm just worried that with the recent controversies about LGBT YA fiction, and the rise in popularity of genre fiction itself, publishers, agents and perhaps even authors themselves aren't stepping up to bring more diversity into the market. I'm not saying they aren't, I'm just saying that I'm not seeing a lot. I'd like to see more.

Publishers, authors, agents... If you read this, then I have just one thing to say to you. Please publish more LGBT tales, please give transpeople and lesbians in particular a bit more prominence. Please take the chance, and please give young people the ability to read a book that changes their lives for the better. Life is not a fun thing at the worst of times, and for those who are LGBT, they may feel as if they're wrong or broken. Please, put books out there that show that's not the case.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My book of the moment

Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden is beautiful, touching, full of sugar-sweet moments, but also tackles institutionalised homophobia in schools and even touches on those using religion as their basis for homophobic tirades. It's about two girls, Eliza and Annie, who fall in love only to find that, especially in Eliza's case, that her school isn't ready for her. It contrasts between poor and rich, open minded and closed minded, shame and pride. It's such a stunning book that I found it hard to sleep after reading it.

I read it all in one night, and this was after reading a good chunk of Scott Westerfeld's Goliath, and I don't regret staying up to read it. It was worth every moment.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

DC's New 52 - Four Reviews (Light Spoilers)

These reviews are ones I posted over on SFFWorld, but I'll add them to my blog too and give a bit of a better intro and a quick bit of editing.

I've been somewhat interested in DC for a while, but like Marvel I've found it seemingly impenetrable. There also hasn't been much in the way of characters or teams for me to care for. Whilst Marvel had the young adult X-Men with Mercury, Blindfold, Pixie, X-23 et al, along with Deadpool and some other titles, I never found anything really interesting in DC's stable until recently. Over the past few months, I've read the excellent Batwoman: Elegy and the first two Stephanie Brown/Batgirl trades, Batgirl Rising and The Flood, both of which I enjoyed. There's also been a few other things here and there I've been interested by. I found out about the New 52 a short while ago, and I've been waiting until now to give DC a fair try. I ordered four of the female-centric first issues, Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey, Batgirl and Batwoman in order to see if I'd like them and wish to continue reading.

Without further ado, here are my quick reviews. Of course, it goes without saying that there are some spoilers ahead.

Wonder Woman #1
The art is the easiest bit for this one. It was clear, well drawn and fairly modest for DC. I am very worried that Wonder Woman will lose her height, however. She seemed to stand a good six or seven feet tall, but I reckon she'll drop down a bit later or stand at the same height as other women.

As for the story? I... am disappointed, I must admit. I will be honest and say nothing really had me wanting more bar Wonder Woman herself. Whilst I understand it's a set up issue, it didn't really bother to answer any questions nor give any real grounding, simply opting to say this guy will cause issues, Wonder Woman is hot and don't you know it, this guy is dead, centaurs exist and that was about it. I put it down and I wasn't itching for more. I had no idea what was really going on, how the events connected, and I wasn't made to care more about them.

Maybe a 5/10. It wasn't bad, but could have been better.

Birds of Prey #1
This is my second favourite of the four 52 comics I have. The art was generally very well done and, again, quite modest. Whereas Wonder Woman didn't thrill me, Birds of Prey really got me interested. There was just Black Canary and Starling in this issue and I wanted to know more about them. I wanted to know what happened next. I wanted them to find out what was going on, and I also wanted to know more about the upcoming Birds.

That said, I wonder if the author was annoyed about Babs. There's a bit where Black Canary meets up with Babs, and she comments on seeing Babs walking (It's emphasised). I interpreted it as a sly jab at the change for Babs, because she was an important member of Birds of Prey

A good 8/10, I reckon.

Batgirl #1
Yay, Batgirl! Like the Stephanie trades I've just read, Batgirl still has a good amount of humour, including a reference to Batwoman (Who is also red-headed and wears black). The art is also very similar in that it's rather dark but not oppressively so. It's a little less modest, I felt, but still fairly decent.

Of course, you can't comment on Batgirl without the change to Babs. I will say now that I don't buy it. It's potentially disrespectful to those who had Babs as an icon, especially as Oracle, plus it claims it's been "three years" since the events of The Killing Joke. That doesn't add up to me, personally, especially as the events of most comics from the past 20-30 years since The Killing Joke are seemingly still valid. There's no mention of Steph, no mention of the Birds, nothing. It's as if they've completely ignored it but everything else still stands. However, they have spun it interestingly and Babs is arguably weaker than she was before 52. You'll have to read to find out.

Probably a 7/10. I wanted to see more, but the changes to Babs do bug me.

Finally...
Batwoman #1
My most anticipated read! Again starting with the art, it's still very clear and follows the style of Elegy in that some panels flow and others are more abstract, as well as the continuation of the different colour schemes for different aspects of Batwoman's life. However, parts of it didn't feel as polished nor as artistically beautiful as they had in Elegy. There's also a few clumsy moments here and there with some very odd poses for Kate as well as her changing cup size. At moments it seems very decent, at others it seems as if they've got her and Flamebird semi-nude just for the sake of it.

The writing was fairly good, too. I'm not sure what's happened to Renee but she's hinted at. The events of Elegy are still very, very fresh in Kate's mind - and her publication too - and as I read that recently, I thought it gave me a grounding point, but Kate does take the liberty of giving a quick overview of what happened. There's definitely some mystery so it's good to see that the Detective Comics style is carrying forward into this new trade. Batsy has another potential love interest, too, and I'm interested to see how that pans out. It also looks like she's getting more and more independent, although it seems as if she may be getting a sidekick.

Probably another 8/10. It's let down by some slightly wobbly art, and Flamebird does kinda just suddenly exist in this.

Conclusion:
I think the new 52 is fairly promising, as a new reader, but it depends on your experience with DC in the past. Anyone who reads them with regularity will likely pick up on things straight away, whereas those who haven't might find themselves stumbling over things and not being quite sure of what's going on. Overall, I was pleased with my purchases, although Wonder Woman was a disappointment to me. I will certainly be picking up the trades for the other three, though.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures - One Year On

I first played Clone Wars Adventures about a year ago, maybe a bit before then when it was still in beta. It was, and still is, a Star Wars-themed online game which revolves around the player doing a number of minigames for credits, which they can used to buy costumes, gear, housing items and a lot of other arguably cosmetic stuff. It's free-to-play and aimed at the younger end of the market, so it's hardly complex... Or is it?

When I played it for the first time, I found CWA to have a lot of potential but for a free-to-play game, there wasn't a lot of content. A number of games only had a handful of levels for free players, and even then the player could only access about a third of the games available. As for gear, you were given two ways to buy it - Credits or Station Cash. Credits are the in-game currency earned from games and a couple of other activities whereas Station Cash is the form of moon money Sony Online Entertainment uses in their online titles. Very little, if any, is able to be gained from gameplay so if you want certain gear items, pets or whatever, you need to stump up money.

I decided this afternoon to give it another go, to see what has changed over the past year or so and if I would be able to kill an evening by playing it. As I'm writing this about two/three hours after first going onto the site, I think the answer is obvious. I found the registration painless and simple, although the game still lacks any real character customisation. You have two races (I believe) per gender, and three variations per race. There's no customisation beyond that, so if you want a brunette Human female, she'll look like every other brunette Human female. I opted for a female green Twi'lek. The game then generates a name for you, but you can type in your own or randomise it. I cycled through them and ended up with Shaela Farslasher - Not inspiring in any way, but it would do. The next step was to choose my country and age, not my date of birth, and I was in! A short download and plug-in install later, I was ready to go.

The game plonks you in a starting area, after an introductory cutscene, where you're surrounded by new players, NPCs and vendors. You're given 250 Station Cash points, some credits and a couple of pieces of gear that depend on your character selection choice. I instantly dove into the store, and was greeted with a lot of new sets. Some looked amazing, some were overpriced, some weren't to my taste, but I flicked through. Many of the sets were locked down as Jedi Only, which means only those who are subscribing to the game can buy them. I found one I liked, the Ahsoka Tano set, and I bought it - minus the lightsabers - for 200 SC. This image gives you an idea of what Shaela looks like at this point:
Not exactly uncute, is she? After a little more browsing, I discovered that very few items are purchaseable for credits, and most of those that are require Jedi membership. I shrugged it off for the moment and went to my house. Yes, the game gives you a free house and a free trophy room! I bought a bed, which used up most of my credits, and that was it as most sets were, you guessed it, Station Cash and/or Jedi only. After getting bored of that within seconds, I went back to the main game world and went exploring. In CWA, you have a very small number of rooms to explore. I think free members get access to about six or seven rooms, with a couple more being Jedi-only. If you want to save time in selecting games, you have a game browser with all the games you can and can't play. There's a Daily Spin game to get free credits, and you truly to see - at this point - just how little is actually free. I opted for a game I loved from the first time I played, Stunt Gungan, in which you fling Jar-Jar and try to achieve the maximum distance. If you've ever played the Yeti games, you'll know what I'm talking about. I achieved a pittance of credits from that, and decided to run around a bit more.

Whilst I ran around, I was spammed with friend and group requests, found two adverts in my mailbox and was greeted by another advert as I explored. That didn't sit well with me, considering that the Jedi membership was flung in my face every two seconds. One of the disadvantages of running to the different hubs where the games are is that you don't find out they're members-only until you're there. I remember from my brief subscription period in my first time that there was a blaster game. I went to it, but I couldn't play it as I wasn't a subscriber. I looked at one game I could play, one called Starfighter, and free members had access to a grand total of two levels, out of something like 15. I think I'm going to stop there.

Clone Wars Adventures could be something really fun, even if it's aimed at the younger end of the market, but there's just absolutely no content to it. Kids will become frustrated by what little there is to do on a free account without putting money into it, and subscribing - whilst it offers a lot - just doesn't offer enough. There is absolutely no content to this game beyond being a paper doll simulator and a collection of minigames which vary in quality. By the time a child is able to play this without the parent's help, although I do suggest supervision, they will be able to take part in the much more accessible and much nicer Free Realms. CWA has an overly complex user interface that is sluggish and useless, it has nothing to engage you as a player, and your character is barely your own as you can't really customise them to any meaningful degree. You could spend, easily, a lot of money on costumes but to what effect? You can't communicate well with other players, and the chances are they just don't care about your costume.

I would suggest to give this game a wide berth. It's just not worth the time nor effort.