December 18, 2009

Mini Challenges & Book Suggestions - A Call for HELP!

Dear Fanboys, Fangirls, and Fanpersons,

Are you all freaking THRILLED about kicking off the Graphic Novels Challenge 2010? I know I am! Nymeth and I (Chris) have lots of fun stuff planned for you this year with the challenge, and one of those things is monthly mini-challenges! We already have a few people who have signed up to host mini-challenges, but there are still plenty of spots available for others to host. So what is a mini-challenge, you ask. can be anything really. It's basically a short, quick, easy to do challenge within the larger challenge. It can center around a specific theme, it can require a certain action, you can basically do whatever you want as long as it centers around graphic novels. We just ask that it doesn't last any longer than one month. You may want to ask people to do a group read of a certain graphic novel, or pair up with a partner and read a graphic novel, stand on their head and read a graphic novel. Anything! Be creative. If you want to offer a prize, you're more than welcome to. If you don't, that's fine too! This is all just about having fun.

So, does this sound like something you're interested in? If so, please send us an email at the dedicated challenge email address: graphicnovelschallenge (at) googlemail (dot) com. Please notice that it's NOT GMAIL, it's GOOGLEMAIL. (edit: we've discovered it's fine if you use the gmail extension!) What we would need to know is your name of course and blog address, which month you'd be interested in hosting your mini-challenge in, and just a brief, general idea of what your mini challenge will be about. We don't need specifics yet, so no need to fret about that! And of course, if more than 12 people volunteer, we'll just have more than one mini-challenge per month which will mean more fun :)

The second thing that we thought would be fun was to put together a recommended reading list! This will be especially good for people who are new to the graphic novel medium! What we're looking for here is an "if you like this....then you'll love this" type of list. So an example would be:

If you like John Green novels, you'll love the Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O'Malley
or more specific:
If you like Watership Down by Richard Adams you'll love Mouseguard by David Petersen.

That way, people who know which novels they love will have an idea of what kind of Graphic Novels to try out. We'd appreciate any suggestions you could send us!!! Please don't leave your suggestions in the comment, email them to us pretty please!! Once again, you can email them to: graphicnovelschallenge (at) googlemail (dot) com. That way when the list goes up, it's a surprise :) We'll try to have it up by the start of the challenge! The more suggestions the better, so send us a list!!

One last thing, if you're looking for a fantastic list of Graphic Novels to get you started, check out Flashlight Worthy Books list of the Best Graphic Novels of 2009! And I swear I'm not just pointing you over there because Nymeth and I are contributors >> Though it is awesome to be in such great company! It really is a fantastic list and I know I'll be reading some of those myself!

And once again, if you have any questions at all, feel free to contact us!! And happy reading!! And if you haven't signed up yet, don't wait! Sign up the post below this one ;)

December 13, 2009

Graphic Novels Challenge 2010

Hello everyone - Nymeth from things mean a lot here. Chris at Stuff as Dreams are Made On and I spoke to Laza recently - she did an excellent job with the challenge as you all know, but she's been busy and hasn't been able to blog much lately, so Chris and I will be hosting the challenge in 2010. This means a lot to the both of us - not only because we love Graphic Novels, but also because the challenge was started by a friend we dearly miss, Dewey.

So - rules and guidelines:
  • The challenge starts on January 1st 2010 and ends on December 31st (but we don't mind you starting early.)
  • You don't have to make a list beforehand (but you can, of course! Lists are great because they give ideas to people who aren't sure what to read. And if you do make one, don't feel forced to stick to it!)
  • We simplified the levels of participation: you can be a Beginner (3 Comics or Graphic Novels), Intermediate (3-10) or an Expert (10+). You're more than free to adjust your level of participation after the challenge has begun.
  • There will be mini-challenges! Look for a post with more info on that soon.
  • Overlaps with other challenges are totally fine.
We also wanted to ask participants whether they'd rather post their reviews to the blog like we did for the past two years, or if we should post a monthly/bi-monthly Mr Linky where you'd enter your reviews like some other challenges do. We'd be fine with either option - just let us know in the comments which one you'd find more convenient, and we'll let the majority decide.

If you have any further questions or suggestions, please feel free to e-mails us at untuneric (Ana) or Chrisa511 (Chris) at gmail. And to sign up, just enter your name in the Mr Linky below - you can link to your sign-up posts should you chose to write one, or just to your blog's main page if you don't. Happy reading!

December 12, 2009

Captain Britain Omnibus

by Alan Moore & Alan Davis

This is my 24th review! Virtual champaign all around!

This is again the Finnish edition. The US edition has Marvel Super-Heroes (UK) #377-388, The Daredevils (UK) #1-11, Captain America #305-306, Mighty World of Marvel (UK) #7-16, Captain Britain (UK) #1-14, New Mutants Annual #2, and Uncanny X-Men Annual #11.
The Finnish one has Marvel Super-Heroes (UK) #387-388, The Daredevils (UK) #1-11, Mighty World of Marvel (UK) #7-13. However, the New Mutants and the X-Men Annual have been published here years ago in the X-Men comic.

I’ve been a fan of Alan Davis for longer than I care to remember. Here, his style is yet a bit less streamlined than in say, the Authority or the Fantastic Four, but it’s definitely recognizable and enjoyable.

I like most of what I’ve read from Moore. For example V for Vendetta and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen which are all excellent.

Captain Britain, Brian Braddock, is a man of science who, nevertheless, accepts magical powers from a man he believes to be Merlin from the Arthurian tales. He’s loyal and brave but not to foolishness. Here he finds himself in alternate realities, seeing other versions of himself (some of them female), and trying to stay sane. He doesn’t quite succeed. In another reality, he has to fight a mutant who can alter reality with his mind and the superhero killing machine that the mutant has created. The machine kills Brian.

Merlyn and his daughter Roma are playing a deadly game, and their playing field is the whole of omniverse. Merlyn needs a champion and when Brian dies, Merlyn builds him up again and places him back to his own reality.

There Brian has to face the chance that what happened in that alternate reality might happen in his home as well: one well-placed and selfish mutant might manage to rally the whole Britain against super beings and put them into concentration camps.

This story has many classic cosmic superhero elements: alternate universes and histories, and nearly invincible villains. The stories are quite cosmic although there is time for a one more mundane villain beating.

Some of the classic Captain Britain and X-men characters are met for the first time: Betsy Braddock who later becomes Psylocke, Opal Luna Saturnyne and her Avant Guard, and of course Merlyn and Roma the Omniversal Majestrix.

I like the first run of Excalibur where Brian was a member along with Meggan, Shadowcat, Nightcrawler and Phoenix, and which featured almost as much dimension-hopping as this one. Even though the stories are quite old (the first one came out in 1982), they hold up admirably and are quite enjoyable.

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December 10, 2009

Hellboy: Wake the Devil

By Michael Mignola

I've only got one more review to go before the doctorate!

The second Hellboy trade is dedicated to Dracula which is appropriate considering that one of the main baddies in this trade is a vampire. Here Mignola continues his mythic tale of Hellboy and adds Norse and Russian myths to the mix. Most of the story is set in Romania in a quite Draculan setting.

Roderico Zinco, a very rich entrepreneur, offers sanctuary to the three Nazis whom we saw emerging from their life preservation bods at the end of the previous story. Their mysterious master had appeared to Zinco and recruited him.

One year later, the trio is in New York and Ilsa kills the curator of a wax museum. Later, the BPRD investigates and finds out that the seemingly simple murder gives a clue to a far larger conspiracy; the owner used to hold the body of Vladimir Giurescu. According to the Romanian folk tales, Giurescu could never die; that the moonlight would revive him when he was in a specific room in his castle. The Nazis made an effort to recruit him but after meeting Giurescu, Hilter ordered him and his family (six women) to be killed and burned. However, it’s possible that one of the Nazis preserved Giurescu’s body and brought it to the US. In fact, the murdered curator turns out to be German.

The BPRD sends three teams to Romania to investigate. Hellboy has the honor to check out Giurescu’s castle all by himself. Meanwhile, Ilsa has brought the crate where Giurescu’s corpse is supposed to be, back to the castle. When Hellboy shows up she makes a cyborg Nazi fight him.

Later, the Nazi trio’s Master from the previous trade appears as a ghost-like being and Ilsa follows him without question. The Master (I’m trying very hard not to spoiler here) is again the main villain of the story. We learn his history and connections to a famous Russian fairy tale character. Also, Hellboy finds out why he’s on Earth and to fight against his inner demonic being.

The art is again very distinctive. It borrows from the ancient mythologies and the more modern vampire mythology. I also liked the close-ups where we could see just how many of the equipment that the BPRD uses are made by the Zinco Corporation. The enemy was nearer than the BPRD agents ever knew.

The story continues from Seed of Destruction and I recommend starting with that trade. The main villain is the same and story of Hellboy’s origin continues here.

Some of the characters get more flesh in their bones. Ironically, they are mostly the villains, the Master and Ilsa, whom we’ll hopefully see in the future. I also enjoyed the return of the old Greek goddess and the way that the people in the village near Giurescu’s castle reacted to his return. Dracula came strongly to mind with the latter.

I found it quite remarkable how well Mignola was able to mix the different myths. Hecate, Baba Yaga, Lovecraftian monsters, the seven-in-one, and vampires can co-exist in the same world without it feeling forced. Not to mention all of the other characters from their respective myths. Impressive.

However, the ending was somewhat disappointing especially if the three people stay dead. Giurescu didn’t really get a chance to do anything; the Master and the Nazis got to do pretty much everything.

Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall

1001 Nights of Snowfall by Bill Willingham
Prequel of sorts to the Fables series

Pages: 140 pgs.
First Published: 2006
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Once upon a time, as all stories of this type must begin, a lovely woman traveled to a far-off demon-haunted land of magnificent jeweled cities, cast adrift in a sea of wind-tossed desert.

Reason for Reading: next published book in the Fables series.

Summary: Snow White is sent to the land of the Arabian fables to ask for their help in fighting the Adversary. The time period is shortly after the fables have settled in our world and from information gathered in this book that is probably somewhere in the 1600s. When she arrives the court of the Sultan does not know what to do with such an insult, a woman emissary! They lock her in her rooms for quite some time but after she becomes troublesome they decide to send her to the Sultan as his nightly bride who will be killed the following morning but Snow White decides to tell him a story and so she continues on for 1001 nights. This book contains only a select few of those tales.

Comments: This book is not a part of the Fables series proper. It was not published in comic book format but is an original graphic novel. The book is still written by Bill Willingham but each story has been illustrated by various different artists, creating a visually pleasing book. The book is often listed as a prequel to the series since the events take place some hundreds of years prior to the Fables series, yet it can be read at any time. I chose to read it now, after book 7, because this is when it was chronologically published. In book 7, Arabian Nights (and Days), there is a brief scene where someone asks Snow White hadn't she been to the Arabian fables world before and she replies shortly with oh that was a long time ago, I'm paraphrasing here. Thus Willingham has set up the scene for introducing this book at this time.

A great book! Beautiful art work. It was really enjoyable to see the Fables world come alive through different artists' perspectives, some of the art is especially fantastic. The stories are all great fun. Some short, some long. We meet many familiar faces from the Fables world and learn their past stories. Such as how King Cole came to Fabletown and why he was elected mayor. How many of the animal fables made it to Fabletown. The sad story behind Ambrose, the prince who was turned into a frog and the story of Bigby's birth, along with others. It's a lot of fun getting to know some background on favourite characters.

Personally, I don't think this book should be read as a prequel as you will know information which is supposed to be a secret until it is revealed in the series itself. You can't go wrong if you read it when it was published, after book 7; then you'll know just as much as the author knew. Great book and certainly don't skip it as it's a worthy addition to the Fables series.

December 5, 2009

Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom

Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom by Eric Wight
First in the Frankie Pickle series

Pages: 85 pgs.
Ages: 7+
First Published: 2009
Rating: 4.5/5

First sentences:

"I've been called a lot of names: treasure seeker, relic hunter, grave robber. I prefer the one my mom gave me: FRANKIE PICKLE!"

Reason for Reading: Cybils nominee.

Comments: Frankie has a vivid imagination and he spends a great deal of his time play-acting that he is a treasure seeker, super hero, prisoner, surgeon, etc. His escapades turn his room into a gigantic mess and when his mother tells him to clean it, he questions the need since it will just get messy again, and mum agrees he doesn't ever have to clean his room again but he must deal with any consequences. A really fun story that the 7 to 10 crowd are going to love! Frankie is a fun-loving, intelligent character who never lets anything get him down. His imagination is enormous and truly splendid. I loved the part when his room had become so messy he accidentally stepped on his favourite action figure breaking his special karate chop leg, and since he had to deal with all consequences himself his dad couldn't fix it as would be the norm. So Frankie grabs the epoxy glue and fades into the role of a surgeon as he performs surgery on the wounded superhero. Another thing I'm impressed with is that Frankie is fully respectful towards his parents, no backtalk or whining.

This book is what is called a hybrid, meaning that it is a mixture of both graphic novel format and a regular textual chapter book. There are entire chapters of print, entire chapters in graphic format and chapters that are a mix of both. The graphic content is quite high, though I don't think I'd say 50%, more like 60/40. The author has also done the artwork and it is a fun, cartoon-style illustration. I think this is a series that will prove popular with the kids. Parents will also like it as Frankie is a good role model showing kids they can have a ton of fun with just their imagination (no remotes, re-charging or wifi required).


December 3, 2009

Crogan's Vengeance

Crogan's Vengeance by Chris Schweizer

Pages: 185 pgs.
Ages: 13+
First Published: Oct. 2008
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

...and he'll be over every week until school starts to mow your lawn.

Reason for Reading: Cybils nominee.

Summary: The first in a proposed series to chronicle the adventures of the fathers and sons of a family throughout history. This book tells the story of how "Catfoot" Crogan became a pirate, starting off as an honest sailor.

Comments: This is a book for boys; there is not a single female character in sight and that's all right because the world aboard a 1701 English sailing ship is no place a woman would be found. All the horrible aspects of sailing life are experienced as the ship is captained by a madman reverend who will punish, whip or shoot anyone who he even thinks has been insubordinate to him. Then the swashbuckling action starts as they are met and boarded by pirates, from this point on the book is a series of rip-roaring action.

While we follow the adventures of Crogan there is another side here and the reason for the tale in the first place. The story is being told by a father to his son who has just been through a situation where he got in trouble because rather than fleeing the scene he made a moral decision to do the right thing. The story of "Catfish" is the story of a sailor dragged into the violent world of pirates, a man who participates in that violence, and yet retains a moral code he won't step over. That may sound a little preachy written out in words like that but the book is not by any means. Crogan is the good guy and it just shows in the way he acts and reacts.

Boys are certain to eat this one up and any girl who loves a good dose of swashbuckling action will too. The teen rating is due to the plethora of violence (what can you expect with pirates) though none of it is gory or overly disturbing. A really fun, engrossing, well-written yarn.


December 2, 2009

Hellboy: Seed of destruction

By Michael Mignola and John Byrne

This is the collection of the first Hellboy miniseries. It’s also part of the first Finnish Hellboy trade.

The first chapter is set in the final years of WWII when the Nazis are trying to get magical help. A mysterious magician performs a mighty spell which seems to go somewhat wrong.

He was supposed to summon a miracle for the Nazis but nothing happens. Meanwhile, a group of British and USAians are in East Bromwich where something magical is supposed to happen. The group consists of soldiers and three paranormal people. In the end, a scary looking little boy appears. The boy is taken in by the paranormals who are members of BPRD, the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.

The next chapter opens 50 years later. The little boy has grown up to be Hellboy, one of BPRD’s best agents. He still doesn’t know where he came from or why.

Hellboy’s old adoptive father, professor Trevor Bruttenholm, has taken part in an expedition which was seeking something mystical from the Northern Polar Regions. It was believed that the expedition perished just like all the previous ones. However, Bruttenholm survived. He tells Hellboy about a weird statue and how he has lost some of his memories. Soon, a group of frogs appears and Bruttenholm is killed. Hellboy battles a human-sized frog creature whose tongue can make his arm go numb. Even though Hellboy kills the creature, he’s only clues are the other members of the expedition. They were three young men from a famous explorer family of Cavendish. Hellboy’s small team goes to the Cavendish Hall which is rumored to have been built on cursed land.

The story is told mostly from the point-of-view of Hellboy who has to face not only the death of the only parent he has ever known but also the possibility of knowing more about his purpose on Earth – which is likely not a benevolent one. However, he has had a long time to live with the uncertainty. He’s not a brooding teenager but a professional who has a job to do.

His team mates are interesting and I hope we get to know more about them in the later stories. This time we barely got a glimpse of them. Abe Sapien, the amphibian paranormal, was found in an underground tube where he could have been a long time. He seems to be a consummate professional as well. Liz Sherman is a pyrokinetic whose power was first so uncontrolled that she burned her family to death when she was ten. That must have left a lot of traumas and yet she has a job where she probably has to use her powers. She spends most of the comic off-screen so we don’t learn much about her.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the comic is the atmosphere. There are quite a few Lovecraftian monsters around and magic is real. I could even compare Hellboy to sword and sorcery –type fantasy stories where the magicians are almost always evil. There are some references to real myths, especially in the artwork, and Hellboy himself seems to have come out of one, as well.

The artwork is different than the current manga-style or the sleek superhero -style which I’m mostly used to, but that’s good. It emphasizes the setting, the feeling of mythology, and creates a unique feel to the comic.

The first Finnish trade contains Seed of Destruction, Wake the Devil, and one of the later short stories. It’s in black and white which gives the stories perhaps a more intense atmosphere than the standard four color comics.

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