Saga Volumes Four – Six (CBR14 #75-77)

The Saga re-read continues. I’m still in love with this series. It’s rare to have humor, sorrow, wit, action, adventure, and beautiful drawings married in one text, but this is that text. Volume Four would be my sole four star rated volume, but I am refusing to grade these against themselves, they are collectively some of the best storytelling I have read and will all be given five stars, regardless of swings in execution from volume to volume.

That said, while I’m sure that the plot Volume Four covers was necessary for the narrative it was both hard to read on an emotional level, and frankly a bit uneven. In order to watch people come back together, they have to be separated first and that is not enjoyable for the characters or the readers. We’ve got toddler Hazel, Alanna and Marko struggling with the reality of life in hiding and the stresses of family. My emotions are fragile and I love Marko and Alanna as a team figuring it out together, not sparring with one another, no matter how true it rings so this Volume is always going to be tough for me. The secondary plot dealing with the Robot monarchy and rebellion was still not well placed for me but without it we don’t get the great final panel so I can’t be too upset with it.

Volume Five picks up with Gwendolyn, Sophie, Lying Cat and The Brand looking for the ingredients for a cure for The Will. Marko’s uneasy alliance with Prince Robot IV to find their missing children is underway. The children, Alanna, and Marko’s mom are with their kidnapper and other terrifying new enemies who bring an entire new area of danger to light. While there are arguably only a couple of main characters in Saga the “supporting” characters are just as well-developed, sympathetic, and alive as Alanna and Marko. Gwendolyn has grown on me as she moves away from being solely focused on revenge and I do still think encapsulates a lot of what is great in how Vaughan and Staples have built their story. In this volume we see that part of her strength is built from rage, the rage she feels at the entire situation she is in, but that she tamps down. I understand her rage, that harnessing of emotion for the strength to push on. A highly emotional woman can be portrayed in lots of ways, and in lesser hands Gwendolyn would be broken, or simply the bitch but she isn’t portrayed that way here. The focus of this part of the story is deeply rooted in the personal stakes each character brings to the table (and will continue to be) and Gwendolyn is a great example of the complexity of the characters Vaughan and Staples are creating.

After a properly devastating time jump (which, I know worse is coming for me), in Volume Six we join Hazel and her grandmother in detention. Hazel is in kindergarten, no longer a cute chubby bundle, and we are treated to both the verbal Hazel on the page and the Hazel in the narration. She’s now an active part of the story.  Four years after my first read I am even more appreciative of Petrichor, and how her relationship with Hazel prompts the little girl to tell her teacher about being “half-wings, half-horns”. Meanwhile, her parents have been non-stop searching for her, and as we rejoin them they are finally close to finding Hazel. Unfortunately for me the tabloid journalists reappear (maybe the only characters I don’t actually look forward to having on page? I’ll have to think more about it). They are freed from the embargo put on them by The Brand and off looking for their scoop. Volume Six is a bit slower, a bit quieter, but it pays off so much that started earlier, specifically in Volume Four that it continues to work aces for me.

Hawkeye Volumes 3 & 4 (CBR13 #71-72)

Hawkeye, Volume 3: L.A. Woman

Hawkeye Volume 3: L.A. Woman (Collecting: Hawkeye #14, 16, 18, 20, Annual 1)

Chronicles Kate Bishop’s time after she leaves New York (and her partnership with Clint Barton) following the funeral of Grills and an argument with Clint, which we see in bits and pieces across several individual issues. This volume was unfortunately my least favorite, not because I don’t like Kate, I do, but more so because the narrative doesn’t balance Kate out with an equally strong character. Also, I really felt the absence of David Aja on the artistic side of the scale.

Narratively Kate hits wall after wall as nothing goes an anticipated, for her or the reader. When Kate arrives in L.A. and tries to check in to her hotel her card is declined, and her car repossessed. Enter Kate’s nemesis, Madame Masque who has it out for Kate following the events of Volume 1. Kate has been cut off by her father and must find her own way in L.A., deciding to open her own superhero detective agency, which goes terribly. Kate is great, but not cut out for the work she undertakes, particularly as she keeps running up against Madame Masque who seems to be pulling all the strings. My problem with the narrative hinges on this, from page to page and issue to issue I constantly felt I was on the backfoot, that I was simply missing important information and there were plot holes. Which, there may have been, but at the end of the day I was left dissatisfied. While I was reading Volume 4 I went back and re-read the individual volumes as they would have fit in to the chronological order and that helped some. I understand splitting the issues the way they did, but I didn’t enjoy it much.  

Hawkeye, Volume 4: Rio Bravo

Hawkeye Volume 4: Rio Bravo (Collecting: Hawkeye #12-13, 15, 17, 19, 21-22)

This volume was my favorite of the two, but still uneven. The volume finds us back in New York with Clint. The issues contained in this volume are back onto the creative experimentations we saw in the earlier volumes. Issue 17 goes on an adventure in Clint’s dreaming mind as he envisions an Avenger adventure where he and his compatriots are the Winter Friends. It does a good job of encapsulating the tenor of the previous volumes and highlighting Clint’s instinct to go it alone. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s a good Christmas read, if you’re on the hunt for something holiday adjacent.

We are introduced to Barney Barton, Clint’s brother, as he arrives in New York worse for wear. From there we get a Fraction and Aja led homage to westerns (the volume is titled Rio Bravo after all) as Clint must protect the building from the Tracksuit Bros and the assassin out to get him, whom killed Grills. It could all have gone so much better, and midway through Clint and Barney are grievously injured and Clint is deafened, which leads to one of the most visually creative issues where the world is presented as Clint would experience it – silent – and having ASL incorporated into the story telling, as well as eventually his hearing aids. Thankfully Kate had gotten word that Clint was in trouble and rushed back to New York, and the Volume leaves off with the pair reunited.

I’m glad to have spent the time with these two Hawkeyes, the two understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and provide a support system as they both understand better than anyone what their specific line of work requires and costs, and the importance on focusing on the everyday needs of people surrounding them.

Quiet Girl in a Noisy World (CBR11 #42)

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I love a list, LOVE them. When Cannonball Bingo is unveiled I happily settle in and draft up what books I want to read for what squares, cross-referencing them with my other reading challenges to see which books might cross-pollinate, and finally devise a schedule to try to get a Blackout by the time Bingo wraps up. It worked perfectly last year as I snuck in just under the wire with my 25th review.

This year its been a slightly more bumpy road, two months in and I still don’t have a book picked out for every square, but I’ve also had to upend my initial Cannonballer Says choice because KimMIE”’s review of Quiet Girl in a Noisy World spoke to me and I immediately put it on my library hold list.

In some ways this is a very straightforward, slim, volume. Tung wrote and illustrated a collection of comics that tell the story of her life as an introvert, from being misunderstood as a child and shepherded away from her more solitary interests to her experiences making friends, being social, and marrying her husband. It all comes together pretty well, my only real complaint about the book is that it doesn’t structurally delineate from one comic to the next. They run together without any visual clues that the reader is now in another thought Tung is working through. It made for a slightly bumpy reading experience as there is no set length for Tung’s comics.

However, once I got settled in it was so nice to see a version of myself so clearly rendered on the page and have yet another reminder that I’m not alone in processing the world this way. Tung’s black and white comics – which look like beautiful watercolors at times – captured the truth in a way that many memoirs try to but fall short of. I agree with KimMIE” the only real problem with a book like this is that only introverts are likely to ever read it and that’s a real shame as it serves as a great primer for loving and working with your favorite introvert/social anxiety sufferer/ Myers Briggs INFJ (all three being me!).

Chi’s Sweet Home, Part 1 (CBR11 #26 – Half Cannonball)

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I’m pretty sure I’ve never read manga before I picked up The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home. I know some of the reasons I didn’t pick one up before, (honestly, I blame Sailor Moon TV Show – I didn’t like it at all and there’s something about the overly large eyes typical of manga that bothers me) but it was mostly just a decision I had made that the manga/comics section of the bookstore or library wasn’t for me. I was wrong. While I read more comics now than I ever have before, I don’t think I’m converted to manga necessarily, but I did very much enjoy Kanata Konami’s work.

I think part of my enjoyment of Chi’s Sweet Home is that it is part of a subgenre I didn’t know existed: cat manga. Manga of course has something in basically any genre you’re looking for: action, adventure, comedy, detective, drama, historical, horror, mystery, romance, science fiction and fantasy, erotica, sports and games, and suspense so I really have no excuse for not finding something for myself sooner, or for being surprised that beloved cats wouldn’t also have their own place in this world.

Chi’s Sweet Home tells the story of Chi: a mischievous newborn kitten who gets lost. Separated from the warmth and protection of her mother, Chi is distraught and she breaks into tears in a large park meadow where she comes face to face with a similarly upset young boy. Chi is rescued by Yohei and his mother. The book takes off from there, giving us a view into how our cute little kitten is incorporated into the warm and inviting Yamada family, and all the subterfuge needed to hide a kitten in an apartment complex that does not allows pets.

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This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Vol. 1: Commencement (CBR10 #21)

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Vol. 1: Commencement (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, #1)

This book is another Read Harder Challenge twofer. I don’t read a lot of comics; it’s a style of book that isn’t as natural for me as it so obviously is for others. While I was reading through this year’s tasks I saw there were two that related to comics and I knew that I would have to step out of my comfort zone (which is the entire point) to get them done.

But… it was much easier than anticipated. Either my tastes are broader than I give myself credit for or my sleuthing skills have improved over the years. I’m leaning towards the second of those. Task 18 was to read a book published by a house other than Marvel, DC, or Image. I used to listen to Thought Bubble, I know about Dark Horse, AND that they publish Star Wars books. One problem solved. Next, Task 8 was all about diversity (because really and truly #weneeddiversebooks) I needed to find a book written or illustrated by a person of color. A quick skim of the Star Wars offerings from Dark Horse Comics and a cross check of my library’s holdings, and voila I was off on my first visit to the Old Republic .

Here’s the thing I learned about myself and my Star Wars fandom while reading this: I really and truly do love the world of Star Wars, not just the characters of the original trilogy. Could this book have been improved by adding a Wookie? Of course, Chewbacca is the literal best (but he wasn’t alive yet). What I got here though, was a story of a padawan (or apprentice as his favorite antagonizer is so fond of misremembering) who was betrayed by people who were trying to take too much control of what the visions of the future might have shown them, and he must run to save his life, or perhaps stay and fight for what is right. I am always on the lookout for those who stay and fight for what is right.

The art was a bit dark for me, but it reminded me in all the best ways of the animation on Star Wars Rebels. I wish I had more substantive thoughts on this book, but perhaps the highest praise I can give it is that I am thinking about putting the next book in the series onto my stupid long to read list even though my library doesn’t have it in its holdings. Pretty high praise from me, if we’re being honest.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

Lobster is the Best Medicine (CBR9 #39)

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When crystalclear reviewed Lobster is the Best Medicine, she suggested passing along this book about friendship to your friends. I am lucky enough to call her friend – and I am the same friend who moved recently and had the naked refrigerator in need of fun Liz Climo magnets – so when she was over my house the other night she handed me this book and I immediately blew through it.

Reviewing this one is a bit tough, as it is very straightforward in its purpose. If you aren’t familiar with Liz Climo’s art, and I hope you are because it is delightful, it is set up in two panel “set ‘em up, knock ‘em down” jokes with clean backgrounds and simple but evocative illustrations. Climo has centered this collection around friendship and trots out her usual suspect characters, and highlights the similarities and differences amongst the animals to find resonate humor about our relationships. The panels are as simple as their base level and can be viewed simply for a quick pick me up, but they also speak softly and intentionally about the power and value of friendship. These quick comics are more often than not highlighting how the ways in which we care for each other are the glue that holds the whole darn thing together.

Why am I placing so much value on the meaning behind the comics, which Climo spells out in her introduction? Because I believe wholeheartedly in the message it sends. Love your people, love them well, and make sure they have had a smile today. And who wouldn’t love a rabbit who makes sure a bear has pizza for dinner instead of carrots?

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This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. We read what we want, review how we want (with a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (CBR8 #75)

I, like so many other dedicated Cannonball Book Clubbers, am working my way through The Count of Monte Cristo. I have gone abridged, and it is still a long book. In that time, I have also been interspersing my reading with quicker, lighter, fare. Enter, Kingsman.

This is lighter fare if you are a particular kind of reader, or find certain kinds of jokes funny. The first few pages of issue one, where (SPOILER) Mark Hamill gets killed, by accident? Perfection as far as I’m concerned.

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I am vaguely familiar with the work of author Mark Millar. He is perhaps best known for Kick-Ass and Wanted? I’m just not sure, I know that he’s a name in the industry and I’ll hope that you’ll forgive me since comics are a new area for me. I was turned onto this series by the movie that was based on it, which I enjoyed (right up until the very end). The movie and the comics share a lot of the same DNA, with a few changes in the movie which I think were for the better.

The comic builds around the idea of the world’s greatest secret agent – named Jack London – has a punk nephew who he decides should follow in his footsteps in the service. Small problem, he’s on a case trying to discover the link between a series of kidnapped stars. Under Uncle Jack’s supervision, Gary’s spy skills only increase, but solving the celebrity kidnappings isn’t without a price.

While the pacing was a bit hit or miss, the visuals by Dave Gibbons were fantastic. There are parts of the movie version I’ll always enjoy more (Mark Strong and Michael Caine’s parts being two distinct characters instead of one in the comic, more time spent in training, and with *gasp* girls also in the training), but all in all a good read.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (CBR8 #72)

I’ve been pretty open about the idea that comics are still a reading stumbling block for me. My friend Alison loves comics so whenever she comes across something she thinks might do the trick for me, she makes sure to get it into my hands. I sometimes decline her suggestions due to time limitations, but I always try to see what she’s offering. A couple weeks ago she handed me Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey in comic form, and there was no way I wasn’t going to give this one a go – Jane Austen is my jam.

I struggled a bit with Northanger Abbey when I read it for the first time a few years ago, and its one of very few books I have read in my CBR years that I did not review. I struggled to sink into the book on that round, but I think its because I read the academic introduction which preceded it. This time I let myself just float along with the loving adaption of Jane Austen’s most humorous work.

Matching Austen’s satire of Gothic Literature, we follow Catherine Morland’s quest to be the leading lady of her own great romance. Catherine is determined to find the correlations between real life and  the Gothic novels she finds so enchanting. Austen upturns Catherine’s expectations at each turn, and Nancy Butler and illustrator Janet Lee capture the original while making it their own as well. While not my favorite reading experience, I can suggest this to anyone looking for a quick revisit of Austen.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Born Standing Up (CBR8 #67)

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I wasn’t planning on listening to this book right now, but then a sale happened and here we are. This book was on my to read list starting years ago, when I put together my Goodreads page at the same time as signing up for my first Cannonball Read (that would be number 4). I love listening to people tell me about their lives, whether it’s a friend or acquaintance on the sofa across from me, or if its someone’s memoir or autobiography.

Steve Martin didn’t disappoint. I can’t say that I’m in any way a huge Martin fan. I remember being aware of him always, by the time my active memory kicks in he was already working in movies. I’ve seen/heard at least portions of his most famous standup routines, but I don’t know that it ever occurred to me to realize that he up and stopped performing that way and embarked on other creative pursuits, let alone why he would have done such.

In this work Martin chronicles his life from birth until he walks away from standup comedy in 1981. This is not a laugh-out-loud book, but there are funny bits in it, but they are almost all about the comedy inherent in the journey he was taking from working at Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland, through being opening acts, to headlining on his own. Martin chronicles the creative life, and his outlet for his immense intellect and creativity changed in the course of the book, and eventually out of standup comedy and into movies, writing, and other pursuits.

In this crisp book (only four hours on audio including banjo interludes written and performed by Martin) and while as usual I feel like I missed something not having the pictures the hard copy includes, there was something gained, a large something gained, by listening to Martin tell me in his own words about his life, and the work he did in researching himself and his experiences in order to bring it to life for us.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Hark! A Vagrant (CBR8 #49)

I’m glad I lent crystalclear the Hamilton book when I had it out from the library, or I’d feel in real friend debt, since she has been lending me books all year. This is another delivery from her, and it served as a palate cleanser between Children of God, When a Scot Ties the Knot, and The House of the Spirits. Yes, I have weird reading habits, Casino Royale was in there too for a short time.

Its tough for me to review this book, crystalclear declined to, not being able to figure out how to say “just go read it, the cartoons are funny” in 250 words (did I get that right? I hope I did.) Since I have a rule to review everything, I’m sitting here typing furiously, trying to explain to you why I really liked this book, but I still only gave it three stars.

The problem, as usual, is me.

Comics just are not my thing. I’ve tried a couple different variations on graphic novel type literature and universally my brain just doesn’t process information that way. I also was never a big Sunday comics reader, I’d skim a few when I could pry the section from my parents or grandparents, but not much more.  Beaton, however, is exactly the type of writer who should hit my funny bone, and does, most of the time. Her writing is a wry, delightful, and shows an intelligent wit and her line drawings accomplish so much with so little. It’s no wonder to me at all that so many of you have liked this book a great deal.

If you’re in the mood for the comic version of Texts with Jane Eyre, then this is the book you are most rightly looking for.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.