fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series

{comic} brand spanking new, except not.

battlingboycoverBattling Boy by Paul Pope

First Second 2013.

One of the things I like about superhero comics is their ability to both maintain continuity and prove regenerative. Need to reboot a character or story? Will do. Has the essence of the hero and their story really changed? No. Even so, it is still hard to break into the superhero realm of comics. Someone is always there to remind you that you didn’t start reading that particular comic early enough, never mind that you have to be born in order to have done so. Comparing storylines and/or creators is a competitive sport and that in itself can be entertaining. I get it. It is also exhausting. It is exciting to have the opportunity to start at the actual beginning with the character for once.

Battling Boy is familiar to the tradition of old school superhero comics with the paneling, line work, and a pleasing color palette just this side of garish.


We begin with Battling Boy’s origin story. Yet to be referred to as any name other than Boy, our reluctant hero hails from the Hidden Gilded Realm. He is set up to perform heroic deeds for the Acropolis as his rite of passage (a rambling).

battling boy westsAnother hero is introduced in the figure of Aurora West, the daughter of the recently departed Acropolis hero Haggard West. Her apprenticeship under her father was cut tragically short, but she has nerve and weaponry. Her “Alfred” is the impressive womanly amputee Ms. Grately—the only family Aurora has left.

battling boy T RexThe villains are creepy, and the scale of some of the monsters ups the ante for our action heroes. Battling Boy’s arsenal is clever. I love the t-shirt idea (and not just for its merchandising potential). Pope evidences a well-thought out narrative. He amusingly considers the angles, like where Battling Boy is going to reside and cover expenses. The relationship between parents and child is pretty sweet, too. I am trying desperately not to anticipate some looming tragic circumstance, Aurora’s loss is sobering enough.battling-boy-paul-pope-first-second-2013

battling boy

I feel a bit late to the Battling Boy party, but only a little. And now I won’t have to wait so long for The Rise of Aurora West. Battling Boy’s second(ish) installment hits store shelves late September. Yes, already with a prequel and Miss West’s backstory told from her point of view (which we do get portions of in Battling Boy). As for the first prequel published (October 2013), not sure how dedicated I am to getting a hold of the one-shot copy of Haggard West’s story—I wouldn’t say no if you could get my hands on a copy of the limited release…

Paul Pope has hit the ground running with an Eisner for Battling Boy. Battling Boy and Aurora West promise and fantastic series of adventures to grow up with. Too, the series returns us to the warm fuzzy of old school superhero aesthetics, while being all shiny and new and clever with it.


from Michael Cavna’s piece “Paul Pope: With Escapo and Battling Boy, 2014 Eisner Winner Deftly Blends the Old with the New” in the Washington Post

“There are all these classic superheroes we know, but [Battling Boy] is not another Spider-Man or Batman,” Pope says. It’s a new character — we don’t even know his name — and I think [that’s] appealing to kids.”

“With ‘Battling Boy,’ I’m trying to use the rhetoric of the classic Silver Age hero’s story, and tell a genuine story about this kind of coming-of-age — through the metaphor of a superhero being a young person moving into their own,[…] “But I’m doing it through the [comics] language of Jack Kirby, John Romita and Steve Ditko.”

“But kids are getting it for the first time,” he continues. “They’re not aware of Kirby or Romita or Ditko. They might know the Red Skull from the movie, but they’re not going to know him from the comic.

“I’m trying to make a new story using these old tools, I guess.”


{images belong to Paul Pope, & remember to check out his site for more enticing fare}

cinema · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · wondermous

{film} Guardians of the Galaxy, 5 Reasons.

I’m sure someone will decide their means for being relevant will require them to pan James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). They’ll claim some disconnect with the director’s work in general as their opening disclaimer or some such entry wound into their “review.” I am fine–relieved, actually–to be absorbed into the clamoring for an encore. Was the film perfect? no. Was it AWESOME? yes. Look for the early-bird special if you need to, and take a friend.

5 Reasons to see Guardians of the Galaxy (in no particular order).

gotg crew
Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket Raccoon (voice Bradley Cooper), Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Groot (voice Vin Diesel), Drax (Dave Bautista)

# : You are a fan of mischievous heroes in space and the silliness that is sure to prevail aka Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Gamora and Nebula have siblings, can one future casting call be Gina Torres (Zoe in Firefly)? But, really, the comedy, much of which was unanticipated and then subjected to the long-joke, was fantastic. Its a film that doesn’t rely on the energy of the audience to keep you laughing. Too, that the film is based on an under-read, lower-tier-developed comic has some appeal. While this may frustrate those who like to debate which characters get cast and how terrible the reboot was, I liked going into the film with the notion that we were not wading through a lot of backstory and bickering. It is fun feeling like you are discovering a hero for the first time with a theater geeked on the SFF genre alone.

gotg pratt
Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star Lord

# : Chris Pratt, and not only to witness the musculature. The comparisons of Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly) and Han Solo (Star Wars) to Peter Quill are accurate and appealing.He is hilarious and charming, and you never once doubt his abilities to play an action star. When he plays the goofball, it isn’t because he lacks intellect or strategy. Pratt has range, and bless it, but they do not push the romancing Gamora line too far. Pratt’s comedic timing is golden. Natalya cites Quill’s dancing (near the beginning) as her favorite scene: she always thought heroes should carry their soundtracks with them. I actually like his troubled looks, like when he is subdued in the prison (just after the shirt went back on). Pratt does not suffer from the lackluster nor the over-the-top. I’m not sure the casting could have more perfect.

gotg gamora
Zoe Saldana as Gamora

# : Gamora (Zoe Saldana) as kick-ass, smart-ass, and vulnerable. Saldana finds and uses complexity in a character that could be just one idea of a female in comics or another. Yes, we were still subjected to the “male gaze.” I’m thinking of the opportunities for her to show she is not unaffected by the world around her. She isn’t a strong character because she is invulnerable, in fact, her circumstances make her courage and capability all the more impressive. The fight choreography is spectacular, though the quick cutting and cross-cutting during her fight with Nebula was frustrating in it’s lack of spectacle. Love how smart yet charmed Gamora is by Quill–and we are still laughing about the “Kevin Bacon” scenes.

gotg groot
Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel)

#: Groot. Yes, all the fuss is warranted. A bit of humor is floating around about how the production staff really only needed Vin Diesel to read a few variations on his one line. Digital manipulation would manage the actual reading for the film. Vin Diesel insisted, in what is taken as a lug-headed fashion, on reading the scripted lines as they would sound in the scene. I am having a hard time imagining what the results would have been with the original plan, but between the effects and Diesel’s reading, Groot was a flawless presence on screen.

gillan nebula
via David White interview; Karen Gillan as Nebula

# : The Make-Up and Special Effects. David White is the special effects makeup designer on the film, “he created the tangible, high-concept looks for Gamora, Drax, Nebula, Yondu, Korath, and the film’s numerous aliens.” You can read Scott Pierce’s interview with him on Co.Create (there are images of the process), “‘I’ve been fortunate to have been around the Marvel world for a little while,’ White says. ‘I like to think my own artwork and style has worked well within the universe’.” Indeed it does. The Kree architecture/design produced in the film is noteworthy. The ships are amazing as well. Sean favored the Black Aster, but we agreed that the ships, tech and the battle scenes were frankly marvelous.

"review" · cinema · sci-fi/fantasy

{film} not exactly transcending

Despite the ubiquity with which it was panned, we decided to watch Transcendence (2014) anyway. I am not going to pan the film, but I would recommend it to only to a niche audience.


Transcendence-PosterWally Pfister directed Transcendence was pitched as a near kin to Inception (2010). And Christopher Nolan’s name is attached to both; he is executive producer of Transcendence and Writer/Director of the other. Their likeness will be found in the question of whether you believe a particular premise to be real or not. Which point-of-view is reliable, let alone right. What the films do not share is Inception’s action sequences and dazzling effects. I’m not trying to spoil the film, but rather rescue it from expectations. And the film could use some help at reception.

An activist organization is trying to thwart the advancement of Artificial Intelligent (A.I.), believing that technology has crossed ethical boundaries and must be stopped. One of their targets, Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is fatally wounded and between his research and other top scientist’s work, his wife Dr. Evelyn Caster (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Dr. Max Waters (Paul Bettany) are able to preserve his consciousness by uploading his brain’s neural engineering. A big question is whether it worked or is PINN (the A.I. Caster designed) hiding behind Caster’s façade (avatar). Another is: can the ensuing god-complex be stopped—and should it.

The cast is an impressive one, but the wow factor is suppressed by script, direction, and editing. The opening series of cross-cuts are inelegant. The science and philosophy in visual dialog and vocal are heavy* and either depends upon a savvy viewer, or an ignorant one. Transcendence is a film about ideas and, thus, is one for conversation afterward. Too, the film does choose a clearly delineated side to the kind of moral implications with which it wrestles.

Technology in the form of A.I. is both promising and perilous. What boundaries should this technology observe? Can and should it be regulated?  Who can we trust to make those moral and legislative decisions?


Finding the hero in the film is part of its psychological playground. Paul Bettany as Max is our way in and through the film. He holds the interest of both the human and the machine; loves both the Casters and respects the fears of the rest. He is also only interested in intervening at what is perceived as the most fraught moment, suggesting he reacts rather than function as a proactive participant. And in the end, we are left to judge his actions over any other institution represented: science, marriage, government, activists. Because he is our representative, the viewer demands a less conflicted resolution—because we are sheepish that way.

If the film is only ever a love story between the Casters, one desperate to preserve her husband, the other only wanting to spend what time he can with her and see to her needs, it is the one story arch that finds clarity (especially if you are paying good attention to the framing sequences). The preservation of the loving union at its idyllic is of and returned to the garden. The sunflower is revived and can once again turn its face toward the sun, its creator (alluding to the Greek myth here).

The conversation of the creator and created is unavoidable in Transcendence. There is a question of where any relevant distinctions can be found between the created and its creator. Is PINN not somehow Will** even before the upload? And what does Evelyn contribute to the experiment? (more on that in a moment.) The created only live as long as the creator is connected (and vice versa); at least in some sequences anyway. The conversation neatly nestles into the soul vs. intelligence dilemma. Does the intelligence invent the concept of the soul, naming its self-consciousness thus? How does human emotion figure in—an equally rational part of us? Max argues that where emotion can handle the “illogical conflicts” like ‘loving someone, yet hating the things they’ve done.’ He observes that the “machine can’t reconcile that.”


There is a concern in the narrative that Evelyn has emotionally contaminated the experiment somehow. She is the only figure connected with nature (gardening) and has the vision to change the world with the technology they are advancing. It is a subject of amusement and horror in the film that where she would change things for the greater good, while her husband only wants to figure out how the transcendent A.I. could/would work. I think the end points to a conflation of the two creators, male/female, Will/Evelyn. The two of whom we must kill, yet must also preserve in a story, in a garden. And yet, I am still nettled by the suggestion of her failure to remain indifferent makes her the compromised scientist and an inferior goddess. Additionally, his vulnerability to her desires makes him the failure as well. Transcendence is the story of The Fall: the edenic being the internet, the apple being A.I. and its subsequent technological advancements and/or you could read eden as the garden of their shared domestic space, and technology the intruding and fatal apple.

Transcendence wrestles with the conflict of mankind and technology, of our fears of how technology could aide us, but might supplant us. But the tension in the film relies on our cultural fear of a lack of privacy and intrusion upon individuality. It moves to cultivate a fear of the internet and the efficiency of its collaborative nature; a fear of the collective conscious; and a fear of the avatar and the anonymity of its user.

transcendence_ver5_xlgThe end suggestion is that we would rather embrace a stunted growth, a blissful ignorance even if it means suffering. Those who reach too far, too quickly are punished. Their regulators are an interesting brew of governmental entity and grassroots activism.

The leader of the activist-terrorists is not against technology. No one in the film is saying this: even Evelyn likes to unplug and spend time in her garden, etc. Will decides to forgo lab work to spend quality time with his wife.  The terrorist group encapsulates its manifesto in the length of a tweet. It uses cars, computers, phones, and weaponry to carry out its efforts; the difference, they cite, is the use of technology as aide, not attempting to supplant humanity. The government nurtures scientific inquiry, but it also wants to monitor it in the paternalistic way they do.

The trick in the film is to decide who is right, the government and activist who care for public interests, or those like the Casters who are protecting private interests. The answer is likely found in the love story—a marriage, which is both of public and private interest to succeed; and the only thing to transcend the human and the technological interferences.  Of course, I come to this conclusion with some thought and some indecision.

I was troubled by the framing narrative of the future where the Caster’s neighborhood shows children playing out of doors, people on bicycles, a warm summery glow, yet there is a military presence, and a lack of resources (the sign on the corner market door announcing no eggs or milk). Before they enact a “necessary” catastrophic event, the understanding is they will be met with an apocalyptic landscape. The only interruption or cease/desist to the increasingly rapid advancement of scientific technology is an apocalypse. The only way to stop the encroaching power and its technological over-reach of humanity is to annihilate it. Technology has to be returned to the state of an idea, a utopic vision; for its promises to be actualized would be perilous.

transcendence 1

Plenty hinges on a particular declaration near the end of the film, because the question of whether tech has any vision to be realized at all is in the balance. It is the not dissimilar to the debate regarding the humanity of corporations. There is a human consciousness generating an agenda at some point in the machine’s creation. We know that humans demonstrate a failure to self-regulate, and certainly able to perform acts without considerations for whom it harms. Even good intentions can wreak havoc. However, is it enough to get rid of the human behind the machine, if the machine has taken off without its inability to compute moral implication properly? And we’re back to figuring out who defines “propriety.”

The collaboration for the advancement of science witnessed in the film may be improper, while collaboration for the advancement of humanity is. But then we have to make the distinction between when the advancement of science is not in the interest of advancing humanity; or in the language of the film, when the “intelligence” becomes artificial and loses its “soul.” This is where the criticism of Dr. Max Waters’ seeming passivity comes into play. Interestingly enough: he becomes subject to the persuasive desires of two women. He gets yelled at a lot. The males are much more sympathetic to each other’s plights and interact in softer tones.

transcendence paul-bettany-

A lovely enough tension, it is Caster (science/tech/boundary-pushing) who appeals to his heart, and the other who must appeal to his reason. A question is whether he is able to reconcile the two successfully. The baiting and switching of sympathies between the competing interests muddled any easy conclusions.

I’m not one who thinks a film should generate an easy conclusion, or neatly bow every question it raises. However, I am flustered by Transcendence’s attempts to be cagey and struggle to pinpoint the lack of coherence in the film.  I can identify a mediocrity in the crafting of the film, and chafe at anti-fem suggestions, but my best guess at the pivotal flaw is the attempt at being too clever in trying to settle on a singular identity of the transcendent technology/intelligence—and maybe this failure is the point of the film: our desire to create a singular from a plural. I guess the question now, is how hard did I work to create coherence where there is likely too little to be had in the film. That “love is what transcends” message bleeds into nothing but the Casters and their friendships. Their love leads to nothing but a negative impact on the world when it meets with regulatory interference. Hmmm…***


Of note: Transcendence is Wally Pfister’s debut as director. He is otherwise known for his work as director of photography. I would like to also acknowledge that David Rosenbloom has a hit-or-miss filmography as editor.

*By heavy, I mean weighted closed to plodding, not heavy in the heft of the delivery Matthew McConaughey’s character manages in True Detective (2014).

**Note the names…how literary of the writer…

***now to sort out whether this message applies to “love between two people,” their partnership or “marriage” of the heteronormative sort.


Transcendence posterTranscendence (2014). Director Wally Pfister; Writer Jack Paglen’ Editor David Rosenbloom; Music by Mychael Danna; Cinematography Jess Hall; Executive Producers: Dan Mintz, Christopher Nolan & Emma Thomas; Producers: Kate Cohen, Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove; Annie Marter, Marisa Polvino; Aaron Ryder & David Valdes.  Starring: Johnny Depp (Will Caster), Rebecca Hall (Evelyn Caster); Paul Bettany (Max Waters); Cillian Murphy (Agent Buchanan); Kate Mara (Bree) & Morgan Freeman (Joseph Tagger).

PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality.  Running time 119 minutes.


"review" · cinema · sci-fi/fantasy · Tales

{film} a winter’s tale that left me a bit cold

Young Willa (Mckayla Twiggs) & Jessica Brown Findlay (Beverly Penn). spinning romantic tales.

The promise of an urban fantasy in director Akiva Goldsman’s Winter’s Tale (2014) was tempting. I have yet to read Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel of the same name, but I do not recall it being panned. Nor had I heard much about the critical reception of the film. I hadn’t sought it out. I figured Winter’s Tale would be an enchanting watch, I didn’t figure it for being so cloying. I spent most of the film digging around in my body for that necessary romantic bone—femur-sized preferably. I think I arrived at this film too many years too late.

The film opens with the riveting vocals of Jessica Brown Findlay (Sibyl of Downton Abbey) telling us about this belief that there is this “world behind the world where we are all connected” and how “time and distance are not what they appear to be.” Her voice is the world-builder where we have come to expect some moving and/or trending song to play over a time collapsing visual narrative (aka dumb show, theatrically speaking). I didn’t think I’d need to time the prologue, but I was thinking I should have long before the title appeared on screen. Maybe it was its lyricism that made the voice-over so lengthy and laden, or was it the necessity to situate the film’s premise.

winter's tale colin farrell
Colin Farrell as Peter Lake. …are you sure we shouldn’t just go now?…

Besides the title bearing the words Winter and Tale, Colin Farrell as the lead, and a white horse figuring in somewhere, this is the only other thing I knew about the film: Internet Movie Database’s proffered synopsis: which you should refrain from reading.

Set in 1916 New York, burglar Peter Lake (Farrell) falls in love with an heiress Beverly Penn (Findlay) during an attempted robbery. Unfortunately for them both, each are imperiled in their own way. He is being hunted by the convincingly evil and also ridiculously named gangster Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe). She is nearly-dead of consumption—a pulmonary disease the orphaned Peter’s immigrant parents were diagnosed with and refused entrance into New York.

It may be that in the truly magical world, Beverly is misdiagnosed with consumption, a prevalent disease at the time, because her symptoms are better suited towards her transitioning into a star—the after-life destination she is anticipating. The stars feature prominently, their lore, their connection to the universe. The film also draws from angel/demon and Native American mythologies.


Winter’s Tale alludes to the interconnected, renaming, and shared history of every mythology in the opening. How it all plays out is the slow-reveal. By the time the tale begins to make real sense, you are near the close and understand why they had to be so mystifying—to compel you with the intrigue.  The other option is to compel you with the romance, which is the predestined sort, which may not be as compelling as the growing dread of unanticipated tragedy it could have supported better. Peter has to save Beverly somehow and how all that is to work out is the most mystifying of all.

The film is one to be patient with and of a certain humor. It has a dated feel already, and I am still in awe of how Colin Farrell can deliver the lines he does with such earnest sincerity. The awkward delivery in the film was in the editing.


Winter’s Tale has a wonderful cast, great scenery…I think the offense arrives with understanding its potential to be a truly magical—what, because I think the failure is anticipating an adventure out of a standard memoir. I should check the filmographies for Lifetime network credentials. Winter’s Tale, as I understand it from the film, would make for a more interesting Indie-house attempt. Maybe someone could steampunk it—yes, let’s have a do-over.

The message of “true love gives life meaning” is a message of optimism an otherwise heartlessly harmful cultural landscape might find appealing. Only, you have to believe that the universe will still bend backwards for you, that the significant other hasn’t lost their miracle (or had it crushed) by the “agents of chaos.”



….SPOILER…[[& of likely relevance to only those who’ve seen the film]] a conversation Sean and I had that is too hilarious not to share.  After we learn that Beverly is “the girl [his] miracle is for,” the word virginity occasionally became interchangeable w/ miracle. His virginity was going to save her, but I phooey the idea because it’s a him, not the other way ‘round. Turns out, Sean was right about the virginity-concept when she dies after losing her virginity which signifies the true love that grants him the power of reincarnation, which is really just resurrection and failure to age.

On a related note, her virginal love saves him, and he in turn saves the female child of a single mother. The world is stabilized once more.…SPOILER DONE ….



Winter’s Tale (2014) Direction & Screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, Based on the novel Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, Produced by Goldsman, Marc E. Platt, Michael Tadross & Tony Allard; Music by Hans Zimmer & Rupert Gregson-Williams, Cinematography by Caleb Deschanel, Edited by Wayne Wahman & Tim Squyres. Production companies: Village Roadshow Pictures & Weed Road Pictures, Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures & Village Roadshow.

Starring: Colin Farrell (Peter Lake), Jessica Brown Findlay (Beverly Penn), Jennifer Connelly (Virginia Gamely), William Hurt (Isaac Penn), Maurice Jones (Cecil Mature), Mckayla Twigg (Young Willa), Eva Marie Saint (older Willa), Russell Crowe (Pearly Soames), and Will Smith (Judge).

Rated PG-13 for violence and some sensuality. Running time 118 minutes.

{images belong to Warner Bros Pictures}

"review" · comics/graphic novels · concenter · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · Uncategorized · young adult lit

{comic} Good as Grace

good as lily coverGood as Lily by Derek Kirk Kim (Same Difference, Tune, The Eternal Smile)

& artist Jesse Hamm (extensive resume)

Minx 2007

A strange mishap on her eighteenth birthday causes Grace Kwon to be confronted with herself at three different periods in her life–ages six, twenty-nine, and seventy–while she and her friends struggle to save a crumbling school play.–publisher’s comments

A typical story of the anxiety of major changes: 18th birthday aka “adulthood,” college acceptance letters, maturing relationships: takes on an atypical twist or three. I’m not referring to the presence of past and future selves; somehow that does not seem rare. I think it is that intriguing struggle between each of the Graces to control their fate.

Grace Kwon expresses significant anxieties in her different ages and situations. Kim’s resolution is not as simple as ‘there is one solution to save them all,’ nor are the Graces consciously working toward the same end (except maybe one). Each relational conflict the Graces experience address those different facets that affect a whole person: parents, friends, lovers, enemies, education/experiences. Resolving each Grace’s trouble creates a more reassured present-day Grace. Perhaps more simply put, the worry about a future where incidents from childhood and present failures/successes have an effect, is drawn into a story called Good as Lily.

Good as Lily only becomes more complicated as I think about it. Read, the story is easy. Kim and Hamm are entertaining as they carrying us through the awkward and the sweet with a deft hand. Even appreciation for the way the creators render the differently aged Grace’s as individual comes later. Each Grace is remarkably similar in look and personality, but different. That particular desires of each Grace have not changed centers their shared identity.


The title was the only part that took its time being readily apparent. It took a while to meet Lily. Of course, the figure and the wording relay the standard by which Grace measures herself and her successes. However, it is not Lily who is actualized in order to haunt Grace–but Grace herself x3.

goodaslily03Grace is Korean-American, as are some of the other characters (see left), and Good as Lily denotes <dialog> translated from Korean and other times will asterisk a word for translation. Some great cultural readings can/will be made of this comic.* Derek Kirk Kim also writes convincing female characters. My notice is attached to an interview with author Danielle Evans that came to mind. Evans was asked if it was difficult writing a male character’s point-of-view: “His main issues weren’t really gendered, and his voice was pretty familiar, because it reminded me of some men I know.”

Jesse Hamm designs character, panel and page with appealing vitality. Some sequences are all his, yet he still manages the quantity of text with dexterity. The artwork is accessible, the play with form is hardly gratuitous/distracting. Savvy authors should have equally savvy artists and this is a team that proves itself. Hamm is amusing and sharp without drawing attention away from the story being told; even so, I could pause to appreciate moments his work delighted me with out breaking the stride of the book.

good as lily characters


Good as Lily provides all the drama and blushes of High School, threading the bow with that sweetest of story-lines: “I’ve been trying to giver her one of these [cards] every Valentine’s Day since 4th grade. Heh…It gets harder every year…”(Jeremy 99). There are some difficult moments in characters’ lives, but Kim/Hamm are excellent in generating the energy and humor to buoy the reader without being disingenuous.

Good as Lily is a nice addition to that Derek Kirk Kim collection of yours. Any-reader friendly, it is a nice Spring afternoon read. For fans of creators like Gene Luen Yang, Hope Larson, Faith Erin Hicks, Bryan O’Malley Raina Teglemeier, Vera Brosgol…even Buffy.


*I skimmed a couple of reviews that seemed to rate the success of the book on whether it proved “important” or not; as if “important” trumped good craftsmanship; as if good craftsmanship isn’t important; as if “important” aka culturally relevant statement-making as compared to ? is where the pleasure of the art is derived, and, for them, evidently it is. I mean, I know it isn’t the best read ever! A range of emotions proceeded: fatigue, nausea, indignant, sadness. Is there an unfair burdening of certain works/creators…of readers? I wonder if we would all become misanthropes if we only read “important” reads.

a note: if you could explain the pig piñata? thanks.

{images belong to Derek Kirk Kim & Jesse Hamm}



"review" · cinema · sci-fi/fantasy · young adult lit

{film} running time 101 minutes

how i live ronan

An American girl, sent to the English countryside to stay with relatives, finds love and purpose while fighting for her survival as war envelops the world around her.—IMDb.

I was not aware Kevin Macdonald’s How I Live Now (2013) was adapted from a 2004 YA novel by Meg Rosoff until just prior to cueing it up on Netflix. I have not heard anything bad about Rosoff’s novel(s) and I am aware of the difficulties in adapting novels to screen, so what follows is purely in response to the film. Even so,  this would be a good film for playing bingo with popular YA-fiction tropes.

We saw the trailer some months ago and the film stayed on our radar. We like actress Saoirse Ronan and the premise of the film sounded promising: after being separated, two young lovers try to get back home to one another. I do like romance stories, really. And while Ronan was not a letdown, the premise, I am sad to say, was.

how-i-live-now-saoirse-ronan-george-mckay{Saoirse Ronan as Daisy w/ George MacKay as Eddie}

The primary difficulty with the narrative is that it is told along chronological lines. Elizabeth, now Daisy, gets off the plane and is met by her young cousin Isaac (Tom Holland). They go to his country house where she meets her older cousin Eddie (George MacKay). Everything slows when they interact so we catch the intensity of their response to one another. Over the next few days, she has to will herself out of her comfort zone and she finds herself in love with Eddie, so much so that she couldn’t possibly think of leaving him after some official hunts her down to give her a plane ticket home after London has been possibly nuked, but certainly bombed the hell out of. I would have preferred a series of flashbacks to an idyllic time and place, like those precious and sexy moments Daisy will come to dream about anyway. It would move her love outside of time, maybe to weeks instead of days. It would eliminate, too, the noticeable absences of kind adults, an odd appearance of the American official, and the aggression of the military presence vacating the homestead. Every ingredient at the opening is so ridiculously amped up and intense.

Why the “I hate my father who has a new baby and could care less about me now” trope? To explain her attitude, introduce daddy issues, and possibly compare him with Eddie, I suppose, but it comes across as just too much for the film. And what is with the mystery of the mother having gone to this home when she was a child, too? A nod to Rosoff’s readership, I hope; just as those scars on Eddie’s back. I also missed somewhere just how people are related exactly, outside of cousins. As I’ve been reading 18th-to-early 20th century literature of late, that Eddie and Daisy are cousins was not startling, but it was still odd. I think they were supposed to struggle with the notion themselves, but the pace of the movie and our understanding that theirs is the great romance removed that quandary pretty quickly—just about as quickly as they lost their clothing.

If the opening is to create an investment in the characters and their edenic situation, the success is tepid at best. And this is not the only part Natalya—our resident teenager—declared boring.

how i live still

{George MacKay as Eddie being evacuated and/or pressed into service}

A militarized state is imposed during the ensuing national crisis. A violent military presence arrives at this idyllic home and, acting as if the children are combatants, roughly separates the youth by gender and carts them away. We don’t know about the boys, but the girls—Ronan and a child Piper (Harley Bird)—end up in the home of a military official and his wife, just the two of them. They work sorting edible vegetables from heaps. Daisy begins to plan an escape, having not only sex dreams of Eddie, but ones where he is summoning her home. She is sure the boys have already made a break for it.

One of our complaints is the inability to measure time after the separation. Daisy’s roots kept changing length. I think a time stamp would not have been amiss.

Cue neighbor boy’s reappearance so we can reconnect with him emotionally before he dies rather horribly. Cue also a string of events that show just how imperiled the heroine is without actually imperiling her. She doesn’t even have blisters from all the walking, the little girl suffers them. She does get to find the heap of inexplicably bagged bodies at the farm where the boys were to have been sent.

how-i-live-now (1){Harley Bird as Piper w/ Ronan (Daisy)}

There is a sense of dread that Eddie might not be waiting. Call me morbid, but I was also a bit excited by the prospect, if only to subvert that inevitable reuniting—which is the only thing the film does not make easy. Yes, never fear, there is a happy ending…as happy as the film can afford Daisy understanding what Eddie has been through.

As frustrated as the narrative leaves me, Ronan did not disappoint me, and I enjoyed MacKay’s acting as well. Piper makes the journey sufferable. That Ronan’s character was so abrasive at first was a bit off-putting, but we were sure that it was important to the character’s development. She is going to be changed by her experience from a distracted, cold and angry young woman to a kinder, gentler, selfless young woman; which is what happens–however inelegantly. That angry shock of hair gets swept up in domestication. Her insecurities and their attempts to please popular culture are energies refocused into pleasing her man—a man not taken up with popular culture himself. No, Eddie is handsome, quiet, sensitive to nature, family-oriented, and possibly telepathic? He’s the swoon-worthy boy of contemporary romance literature.

Daisy:  Before the war I used my willpower for stupid stuff, like not eating chocolate. I think I thought if I could control myself, then maybe the world around me would start to make sense. I guess I was pretty naive back then.

We like the flawed protagonist, we do. Only sometimes she was just so focused as to be dangerous. The consistency is laudable, and the shift of it being a negative attribute to a positive one is equally so. I find that the shift accompanies a recalibrated selflessness of greatest interest. Her love of Eddie is selfish to some degree. She wants to give up on all life without him. He is always before her. She cannot leave him behind, and she will sacrifice the little sister for him. She needs him (in order to be domestic) and he, we come to know, needs her determination and focus. His PTSD requires her attention and patience. Even the musical compositions still and soften. Daisy is not that hero of primary importance to be recovered by the end–voice over trope not withstanding–it is Eddie. So maybe the happy ending is more tentative than I first proposed.

how i live now

As for sound and cinematography: The sound is well-enough and the cinematography was pretty, too—except this one hideous quick zoom to her face as she makes a realization. She has this supernatural connection to Eddie, you see, and she suddenly knows something and the camera must close the space between a medium shot and a close-up. The zoom would have struck a sour note if the film hadn’t already turned.

If the expectation is low and the mood light-weight or drunk like it, the premise may romance you enough to satisfy. Otherwise, the How I Live Now is lackluster at best.


how-i-live-nowHow I Live Now (2013). Directed by Kevin Macdonald; written by Jeremy Brock Tony Grisoni & Penelope Skinner; based on novel by Meg Rosoff; music by Jon Hopkins; Cinematography by Franz Lustig; Editing by Jinx Godfrey; produced by John Battsek, Alasdair Flind, Andrew Ruhemann & Charles Steel. Studios Cowboy Films, Film 4. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures, Momentum Pictures, Madman Entertainment. Starring: Saoirse Ronan (Daisy), George MacKay (Eddie), Tom Holland (Isaac), Harley Bird (Piper) & Anna Chancellor (Aunt Penn).

Running Time: 101 minutes.  Rated R for violence, disturbing images, language and some sexuality. So the majority of its best bet as far as audiences go was rated out of seeing it in theaters…

To pair w/ the new Red Dawn…



"review" · concenter · juvenile lit · mystery · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · short story · Tales · Uncategorized

{comics} lost islands & found creators

Explorer: The Lost Islands 

edited by Kazu Kibuishi

Amulet Books (Abrams) 2013.

tradepaper, 128 pages, incl “about the creators.” Library Loan

The highly anticipated second volume to the critically acclaimed Explorer series, “The Lost Islands “is a collection of seven all-new stories written and illustrated by an award-winning roster of comics artists, with each story centered around the theme of hidden places. Edited by the “New York Times “bestselling comics creator Kazu Kibuishi, this graphic anthology includes well-written, beautifully illustrated stories by Kazu (the Amulet series), Jason Caffoe (the Flight series), Raina Telgemeier (“Drama “and “Smile”), Dave Roman (the Astronaut Academy series), Jake Parker (the Missile Mouse series), Michel Gagne (“The Saga of Rex”), Katie and Steven Shanahan (the Flight series), and up-and-coming new artist Chrystin Garland. –publisher’s comments

Can I begin a post about a Kazu Kibuishi affiliated anything without confessing what a fan-girl I am of his work? No. It is a goal of mine to not only own a collection of his work, but be able to gift some away. His Amulet series is an easy recommendation for instilling that comic book addiction in your young. But like his Flight anthologies for the older crowd, Explorer curates excellent talent in which to introduce the young to potential fan-girl and -boy obsessions with various industry creators. See my review of Explorer: Mystery Boxes here and lets take a look at this installment’s theme “hidden places.” [click creator name for link to their website. *=a favorite]

*”Rabbit Island” by Jake Parker (Missile Mouse, illus The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man) pp 4-19.

The rabbits have built a nice little utopia when one especially hard-working (and innovative) bunny salvages a robot and puts it to work alongside him.  Soon, it isn’t only the robot who becomes unrecognizable.

I really dig the color palette, it and the staining/wash and lettering bubbles reminds me of my worn out kids comics from well, ages ago when I was a kid. Not only does it work with the tale-quality of the comic, but it affords today’s youth the experience of their parent’s nostalgia with more contemporary sensibilities. In a way, it is like Will Eisner for kids, but with Jake Parker’s singular drawing arm. And may I say that I find the finish refreshingly absent of dramatic lighting–when I say ‘shiny!’ I want to employ the Whedon-esque meaning.

*”The Mask Dance” by Chrystin Garland pp 20-37 (d)

Nathaniel Hawthorne (minus the religious moral) meets one dancing princess in this mysterious and thrilling tale of a young lady’s night out.

The dark is just dark enough and the color dazzling into appropriately garish. The painterly quality helps animate and lend the light that artificial quality that tonally unsettles. An up-and-comer to watch.

“Carapace” by Jason Caffoe (lead production assistant for Amulet series, contributor for FlightExplorer) pp 38-55

You could easily create a moral from surviving and being nurtured by observing nature and finding a spirit guide, but “Carapace” is a story of friendship, of (im)moveable shelters. It is a nice twist on a deserted island story when the boy isn’t left completely abandoned nor is the island deserted.

Caffoe’s work with color is a stock & trade, but he tells a good story. There is a lot of text and a lot of setting, but there is also an eye for detail that draws the reader in. The island becomes less terrifying and more exotically beautiful, mimicking the camaraderie between boy and crab-ghost-from-the-shell.

{w/out text}

*”Desert Island Playlist” by Dave Roman (Astronaut AcademyTeen Boat!) & Raina Telgemeier (SmileDrama), colors by Braden Lamb (Adventure Time) pp 56-73. (d)

Wow, this one was creative with the playlist theme. The baby-toy is a stroke of genius and helps with the time-travel puzzle. I also appreciate that they aren’t willing to underestimate the youth-audience’s ability to get the “memory” pieces in juxtaposition to text and tale. This is a smart and beautiful story, but then it is Roman and Telgemeier.

The creators are good with movement and use the text with economy. They are as explicit with translating important visuals as is necessary, but engage the reader in creating meaning. The art is accessible, full of movement and just enough cartoon to lighten the tone.

“Loah” by Michel Gagne (The Saga of RexZED: A Cosmic Tale) pp 74-91.

Loah is a special creature, but what is even more remarkable is her friendship. She sees a way out of her crumbling world and she dreams for all of the others, and swears that her friendship helps her to do so.

The movement, like the story is sweeping, but the story itself small and deceptively simple. I am enjoying this thread of neither inhabiting nor leaving these hidden places alone. I’ve been impressed with the vibrant colors up to this point, but Gange’s piece is as magical as the tale he tells. 

“Radio Adrift” by Katie Shanahan (Womanthology: Heroic) & Steven Shanahan (sibling co-creators of Silly Kingdom), colors by Eric Kim & Selena Dizazzo pp. 92-109

Alright, so this one is just stinking cute. Mage-in-training, Wiya needs for her pixie egg to hatch and has attempted every sound possible. And then Radio Adrift drifts in for a limited time engagement. The focus turns outward, especially when Wiya recognizes that she has to refocus the conversation.

The style of artwork is fun, and I enjoy the light shift for the storytelling portion of the story told. This will be effortless in its candy colors, spunky characters and magical turn.

*”The Fishermen” by Kazu Kibuishi, colors by Jason Caffoe pp 110-27. (d)

The captain may have lost it (mentally and physically?), to the greed of a catch of a (literal) lifetime. The story uncovers hidden things both base and incredible, and with an old fisherman and his granddaughter at the helm it is a delightful short story.

Kibuishi is marvelous with scale as well as story. The characters are expressive. And the action sequences are fun, the illustrations managing a great deal of movement between steadying frames.

{images belong to respective artists. be sure to check out their sites, and of course, the book to enjoy more of their work!} {d=diversity in lit}