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Vlog: What I'm Reading - Oct. 13

Books, Comics and Manga, General UpdatesKristina PinoComment

I'm going to try and do a weekly vlog about what I'm reading! No promises about consistency, but we'll see how this one goes.

This week's books:

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: RAT QUEENS, SECONDS, and UNDERSTANDING COMICS

Comics and MangaKristina PinoComment

Welcome to another comics-filled edition of Bite-Sized Book Reviews.

Rat Queens vol. 1

I can't really gush enough about this book and how obsessed I am with it right now. And it's a weird kind of obsession - I'm waiting for trades, because I want to own it in pretty editions I can put up on my shelf. So I'm waiting - patiently.

This book is about the Rat Queens, a 4-lady team of mercenaries who kick some serious butt for money. Or pleasure. It's got this fantasy setting, not unlike Lord of the Rings, or World of Warcraft, or Final Fantasy... lots of fighting, magical monsters, and our main team has a basic fantasy game party setup.

I love everything about this book - it doesn't lack in depth despite the super high level of fun (it gets a little dark), and also I really want to cosplay as Violet sometime next year. "Sass and Sorcery" is basically the perfect title for the first trade.

The team: Kurtis J Wiebe (writer), Roc Upchurch (art), Ed Brisson (letters), Laura Tavishati (editor).

Seconds

Seconds is about a 20-something girl, Katie, who is rather successful, but has some anxieties about a new restaurant she wants to open, her love life, and other things. They get the better of her when she learns she could turn back time to try and fix some of her past mistakes, and of course, things get out of hand. The story goes to some extremes - Katie really makes a mess of things - but I thought it was interesting. Why should she be rational?

In our own heads, we've probably all imagined ourselves trying to fix things, big and small, about our past, and have wondered how it would affect our future. In this book, we get a look at how differently some things might pan out. It gets a little scary.

I liked this story because it speaks a lot to where I am in life right now. I'm taking steps towards something bigger and better, and it's easy to get lost in all the doubt.

Recommended! Team: Bryan Lee O'Malley (art and story), Jason Fischer (art assistant), Dustin Harbin (letters), Nathan Fairbairn (colorist).

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

I read this book on recommendation of folks I work with at Book Riot and Panels. It's a great introduction to the history of comics, and an explanation of the kind of story-telling devices that make up the panel layout on the pages of a comic book. It helped me understand some terminology better, and was fantastically thorough, even including European and Japanese comics in the scope of its explanations.

This book is really dense with information, and it took me a while to read through it. That isn't to say that Understanding Comics is a drag - it's fantastic, and rich. It was nice to read a comic that was designed to teach, with Scott McCloud's character giving me a one-on-one lesson on all of the things he had to say.

I recommend this book for anyone who wants to get a better understanding of where comics come from and gain a deeper appreciation for storytelling through sequential art.

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: DARTH VADER AND SON, VADER'S LITTLE PRINCESS, and GOODNIGHT DARTH VADER

Books, Comics and MangaKristina PinoComment

In case you couldn't tell, the theme this time around is Jeffrey Brown's graphic novels about Darth Vader in a zany alternate world where he gets to raise Luke and Leia. Though I read Vader's Little Princess a while back, I read the other two more recently, and decided I may as well review them all together. By the way, I've also read Jeffrey Brown's Jedi Academy and wrote my thoughts on that earlier this year.

Darth Vader and Son and Vader's Little Princess

I have a lot of the same things to say about both of these books, so I'm going to review them together. In each, we get to see mostly the relationship between Vader and the respective twin implied by the title. A lot of the scenes in the book come straight out of the movies, but with a bit of humorous parenting added. Iconic lines, locations, characters, and lead-ins to what ended up being important conversations in the films were adapted to parenting, or botched by one of the kids. Many new scenes were also made up, of course, such as Leia getting dropped off at school or learning to pilot.

If I really had to choose just one of the two, I found Leia's way funnier, and I feel like Brown got so much more creative with it than with Darth Vader and Son. Some of the themes Princess dealt with extended beyond the little moments with a young kid, and spanned into "she's growing up too fast," which Son didn't. Either way though, both are fantastic, warm-fuzzy-feeling, and make great nightstand table or gift books. I highly recommend them for Star Wars (old and new) fans of all ages - even folks who don't really know the franchise.

Goodnight Darth Vader

I was so happy when I learned this book was a thing - it was just released this week. Though the other two books I talked about above had brief other-twin-cameos, they largely dealt with Vader's relationship with just the one sibling. In Goodnight Darth Vader, we get to experience bedtime stories as told by Big Daddy himself to both of the twins at bed time. Sure, it isn't the Luke and Leia antics I was hoping for, but it's still a surprisingly sweet book that brings up a ton of characters and aspects of the Star Wars universe in the context of hitting the ol' hay. Cameos include Han Solo and Chewie, Ahsoka Tano, General Grievous, Admiral Ackbar, and even Sebulba. Brown dug deep and wide to include all sorts of characters and create funny scenes about what they all do when it's bed time.

As with the above books, I recommend this one for all ages and all levels of Star Wars know-how.

Comic Book Review: NAJA

Comics and MangaKristina PinoComment

"Naja is the perfect killer because she feels nothing… literally. Her body registers no pain, nor does her heart, coldly executing jobs given to her by her mysterious boss, known only as 'Zero.' When another killer in Zero’s organization targets Naja for elimination, she has no choice but to fall off the grid and seek answers, as bloody as they might be…"

Listen to a bestseller for $7.49 at audible.com!

This one was an oddball choice for me, because I wanted something fresh to read that would begin and end in just one volume. The artwork on the cover looked kind of dreamy, with this great blue motif, and I figured "why not?"

So, as the brief blurb above says, the main character, Naja, feels no pain. Her body takes damage as normal, but she never feels it. The comic is divided into neat arcs that wrap up narratives for each major character in the story (written by J.D. Morvan). I loved that, because the actual plot ended up being way more twisted than anticipated going from the start. Naja has a bunch of problems, but we never know half of it until we're almost at the end.

I liked the slow trickle of information while we got to explore Naja's character through her relationship with the others. She's definitely got an awful past; I might even give it a bit of a content warning depending on how sensitive you are to graphic content depicting abusive relationships.

Despite the squick factor, I enjoyed it overall in terms of story. In terms of art (by Bengal), it was also rather fascinating. The artwork was, at times, gorgeous, and other times, more focused on expressions or movement, so it varied widely from page to page, and sometimes even panel to panel. Usually, I prefer art to be uniform, and I did rather like the style it took whenever the panel was meant to look gorgeous, but I think the variations worked for this book. It took on whatever style worked for what was going on in the story. I should also mention that there were themes with the colors as well, something I love about Hawkeye and also appreciated here.

I recommend this comic if you're into twisted, gritty stories. I don't mean twisted as in sick or horrifying, by the way. I mean more like, convoluted politics between people who are all after something different while playing the same game. They're all assassins, and they're all related in ways they don't know. It's pretty cool, and wrapped up neatly in this one volume, which comprises just five books.

Buy this book from the publisher.

Comic Thoughts: HARLEY QUINN #4

Comics and MangaKristina PinoComment

Alrighty, so I was a little late in reading this one, which is too bad. On the bright side, I don't have the usual wait for issue #5, which I'll get to soon, here.

Spoilers ahead!

So, this issue we got to see some more of Harley's incredible "feels syndrome" (that's what I'm going to call it), and she goes on a rampage in the name of a little old lady who says her family doesn't go visit her as often as they should. Except, as she finds out the hard way, she was wrong. It was a mistake, and it was interesting to see how she'd handle it. Now I know: she rolls with the punches and follows her convictions, and sweats it later.

What made me happiest while reading this issue though was that one scene where Harley's in a diner and everything plays out exactly like a scene from Star Wars. And just in case the dialogue's homage weren't enough, the R2D2-inspired cup and the poster on the wall were just icing on that cake. Let it be known: Harley struck first.

Really, though, I'm still having fun reading this and I hope the series continues to keep the energy high. I'm kind of dubious about where things are headed now with this bionic dude - she agreed to help him a little too quickly, but then again, that's so Harley. I just don't want things to get too complicated, especially since so many thugs are after her. I guess we'll see? I'm trying not to jump to conclusions, anyway.

Graphic Novel Review: HELLO KITTY: SURPRISE!

Comics and MangaKristina PinoComment

It's no secret that I absolutely love the Hello Kitty books that VIZ Media imprint Perfect Square have been releasing (digitally and in print, by the way). And I'm happy to report straight from the start that the third book in this new series is still the same delightful stuff I fell in love with in volume 1.

Blurb:

"What’s that? Who’s there? It’s a surprise!  Expect the unexpected! A day at the beach is more than just fun in the sun. A mysterious egg holds a tiny secret. Mama and Papa have a few secrets of their own. And a quiet afternoon with a good book is more enchanting than Hello Kitty ever could have imagined! Plus, prepare to be amazed by Anastassia Neislotova’s tales of wonder!"

Where Here We Go! (reviewed on Japanator previously) focused on Hello Kitty traveling and having adventures here and there and everywhere, and Delicious! (reviewed on Japanator previously) focused on adventures surrounding food, Surprise! naturally focused on.. well, surprises. Only pleasant surprises, I assure you. And of course, what all three books have in common is you'll probably get cavities. 

Ian McGinty made his big co-creator debut in this volume, and it looks like there was a big focus on showcasing his talents this time around. He handled four of the seven major stories in this book, which alternated with stories by Jacob Chabot and Jorge Monlongo, and shorts by Anastassia Neislotova (bonus: take a look at the endpapers and one of the shorts by Neislotova). Though I was sad to see less of the others, it was still refreshing and fun to follow Hello Kitty's adventures as told by McGinty, who had been briefly featured in Delicious!.

Despite only having one story, Jacob Chabot did some really stand-out work in this book (story by the book's Editor Traci N. Todd - credit where credit's due). Specifically, I love the big change in art style when Hello Kitty went on an adventure that was literally out of a book. The textures and even the background under the panels were completely changed since everything except Kitty herself was made out of paper. Delightful work, right there.

Altogether a wonderful presentation (reminder: these are wordless graphic novels) that is suitable for all ages, these books are a fun read to toss into the TBR pile for when you need a break from the heavy stuff. The stories are guaranteed to make you smile, and are told in the simplest way - artwork that isn't too busy, and nice, bold colors. This book was released on April 1 and there doesn't seem to be a listing for a fourth title yet. Once I see it, I'll be sure to post about it on this blog, though.

Comic Thoughts: X-MEN Vol.4 #s9-11

Comics and MangaKristina PinoComment

While I wasn't looking, I missed not just one, but three issues of Brian Wood's X-Men. Whoops.

It's just as well, though. While I'm enjoying the story, my overall level of excitement has gone down as the art style keeps going all over the place. I'm still going to stick to it, though. I'm enjoying everything else that's going on with these books, for the most part, and the writing/pacing is still tight and exciting. Issue #11 left off at a great spot to leave me drooling for more.

The only minor problem I'm running into now is the cast has gotten huge, and I'm starting to mix people up. Since this is my first X-Men comic, I'm not familiar with a lot of the characters' given names, just their titles like Psylocke, Rogue, etc. Using the real names adds a lot to the narrative - I'm absolutely not complaining about it - it's just getting a little tough for me to keep up sometimes because for me, they're mostly new.

That and I was confused a bit by the dialogue between Ana and Yuriko. Maybe the lettering should be a different typeface when one or the other is speaking, kind of like there's a different font for Enchantress. But then again, maybe it's confusing on purpose because they both speak through the same body, so the others wouldn't know the difference just by the sound of her voice. Whatever the case, I did have to re-read a few panels to make sense of what was going on there, because it wasn't immediately obvious to me while reading that dialogue the first time around.

Anywho, these are my thoughts for now. Like I said, I'll keep reading! I also kind of hope that Clay Mann, who penciled the last few pages of #s 10 and 11 to fill in what's going on with Jubilee and the students, keeps coming back. Out of the three artists whose work I saw in these three issues, I love his the best. Though, to Dodson's credit, the covers look brilliant. The art in between the covers, though - It just doesn't jibe with me, personally.

Listen to a bestseller for $7.49 at audible.com!

Comic Review: BLACK WIDOW #3

Comics and MangaKristina PinoComment
"She's the kind of woman you call when you need to escape from a South American prison."

This issue of Black Widow was, again, largely introspective. We're learning more and more things about her and the personal decisions she makes, and how it affects her work. In previous issues, she's mentioned that she has standards for the jobs she takes, and her agent is supposed to make sure they all meet her specifications. In this case, it turns out she took a job without realizing who she was saving, and had to make a personal call. What makes this even better is she suffers no immediate repercussions from changing the plan, and her agent even commends her on the decision. Maybe it'll come back to bite her later.

Most of this issue was really a great discussion about what home means, and where it is. It resounded with me a bit, since I personally consider home to be wherever I live or am at at the moment, though most folks refer to "home" as the place they grew up at, or where their family is. Natasha's view is that home is wherever she's at, but there's always that "special" home that she describes as "where the hurt is." What followed that statement was awesome.

Phil Noto's artwork continues to delight me beyond words. This book is so easy to read and all the lines are easy to follow, the words are positioned splendidly (letters by VC's Clayton Cowles) and the writing is tight, as if every letter made a difference. I love that I'm having a great time reading this book as a first timer with this character, and I'm also happy to hear, according to the fan mail responses at the back of the issue, that Phil Noto is going to remain as this book's artist for the foreseeable future.

I'm excited for the next issue, which is a S.H.I.E.L.D. job.

Comic Review: HARLEY QUINN #3

Comics and MangaKristina PinoComment

This was a Valentine's Day-themed issue, and Harley spent it looking for someone to hang out with. And of course, she found plenty of trouble along the way.

I'm still loving this comic, and it isn't just because the team behind it is fantastic at writing and illustrating her character. I've gushed enough about those things in previous reviews of this series. One of the things I noticed in this issue, and appreciate, is all of Harley's costume changes. It's one of those obvious things that you don't really register until it's put right up in your face. In this case, Harley has a line in which she mentions Superman always wearing the same outfit as she changes into a sexy little dress and stockings to go out and find a hot date.

This book still has tons of laugh-out-loud moments, and bizarre imagery that works superbly well with Harley's character, though they'd be troubling out of context (such as her sitting in a bath while watching a TV set that's just sitting on a board on the tub, which also happens to have a stack of toasters next to it). It's also slightly disconcerting how she longs for "her puddin'" the way any normal girl might sigh and pine for her boyfriend (or ex) who's been gone a while. It also didn't help that one panel in particular had her picking up her dead Beaver with glee and she totally had Joker face.

I think that's just it, though. Harley's a normal girl. She's just bonkers. And really good at killing people.

Besides that, story-wise, there was a lot of the same as last issue: a bunch of goons are after Harley because someone put a hit on her on the internet. She's still mad about it, and in total Harley fashion, she's still taking it all in stride. This issue also ensured me that Poison Ivy is gone, but not forgotten, and makes me hopeful she'll make more appearances.