Thursday, June 6, 2013

Star Crossed Lovers in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Saga:  Volume One

Written by Brian K. Vaughan

Illustrated by Fiona Staples

Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Amanda
4 Out of 5 Stars


How to describe Saga? It's like someone took Firefly, coated it liberally in WTF, and sprinkled a little Quentin Tarantino on top. Yeah, it's some wonderfully messed up stuff.
The Family That Fights Together . . .
The planet Landfall is at war with one of its moons, known as Wreath. The indigenous people of Landfall seem reliant on technology and sport some nifty little insect-like wings, while the people of Wreath have horns (they may be my favorites as each character in the later issues has horns varying from rhino, to antelope, to ox--you get the idea) and are skilled in the use of magic. The war between these cultures has become an accepted part of life, the hatred of the enemy deeply ingrained in both species.

Now enter Marko and Alana, from Wreath and Landfall, respectively, who are ex-soldiers in this war. Defying their cultures, they have fallen in love and the birth of their newborn child, Hazel, has marked them for termination by basically everyone in the universe. Both have known violence and are adept at using it to protect each other and Hazel. On the run from the numerous assassins tracking them, they banter away like a married couple and slowly reveal the history that brought them to this juncture.

And now a convenient list of the absurdities that await the Saga reader, so you can gauge whether or not the "WTF" element is for you:

--a planet known as Sextillion that specializes in, you guessed it, sex, but not just any mundane sexual act; this place is like the Baskin Robins 31 flavors of sex
--prostitutes that consist of giant heads teetering on top of Rockette style legs
--a forest that actually grows rocketships
--a race of robots that have television screens for heads
--graphic sex scene featuring the aforementioned robots
--a topless assassin who is all woman (sans arms) from the waist up and all arachnid from the waist down
--the ghost of a teenage girl who must have suffered a gruesome death as she's nothing but hanging intestines from the waist down; naturally, she tags along as Hazel's "babysitter"
--and LYING CAT, my new favorite comic book character is a giant feline sidekick to The Will, one of the assassins contacted about offing Marko and Alana; Lying Cat can detect whether or not others are engaging in a bit of creative truth telling

Lying Cat Spots a Fib

While the base storyline is one we've read before, the execution is unlike anything I've ever read. Vaughan gleefully injects new and intriguing absurdities into the premise and it's really difficult to get a fix on where this sucker is going--but that's part of the great thing. The ride is so much fun that I really don't care. The artwork by Fiona Staples has a raw and edgy quality that suits the storyline perfectly.

I've been getting the monthly issues, which have the added benefit of a letters section in which Vaughan responds to reader letters. The results are often hilarious and I find myself looking forward to this section with the same anticipation I look forward to the storyline. 

Saga:  Volume Two

Written by Brian K. Vaughan

Illustrated by Fiona Staples

Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Amanda
4 Out of 5 Stars

In the first 6 issues of Saga (which comprised volume 1 of the trade edition), Brian K. Vaughan threw in enough weird ass shit to keep me in a delightfully perpetual state of "what the hell was that?" So much so that I worried the inventiveness might eventually wear thin, begin to feel as though it's trying too hard (as I sometimes feel with China Mieville's Dial H), or simply create such a labyrinthine mythology that it's just not worth trying to puzzle it all out. The second 6 issues have definitely allayed those fears as they are as outrageous and genuine as the first story arc, losing none of the bat shit craziness or heart.

The Will and The Stalk: 
Lovers and Assassins

Hazel, the newborn daughter of Marko and Alana, continues to narrate the story of her parents from an unknown point in the future. Marko and Alana, both soldiers from two warring alien races, have a romance that reads like Romeo and Juliet on crack. On the run as fugitives from their respective races, they continue to search the universe for a safe place to live, love, and raise Hazel. But, alas, bounty hunters continue to plague them and, worst of all, the sudden appearance of ex-flames (an enraged Gwendolyn, Marko's one time fiancée) and in-laws (Marko's parents seek out their wayward child at the worst possible of times, complicating his escape with Alana).

This arc provides background on several significant characters, including how Marko and Alana met, as well as the history of the relationship between The Will and The Stalk, the star-crossed (and bad ass) bounty hunters hot on their trail. For those uninitiated to Brian Vaughan's work, however, be forewarned: there will be sex scenes, giants with pendulous scrotums, and enough deviant behavior to make Sodom and Gomorrah blush with shame. However, I also appreciate the maturity with which the relationships are portrayed--they're real without being romanticized. Saga works beautifully because of this and because of the huge debt the series owes to illustrator Fiona Staples. The work of any other artist could have made Vaughan's ideas too cartoonish, too over-the-top, but Staples's work is the right mesh of quirky and realistic that roots this world in an organic quality that gives it weight and authenticity.

Exemplary Illustrations by Fiona Staples
Give Saga a Raw Edginess

In short, I can't praise Saga highly enough. It's a testament to what comics can achieve when writers and artists are let off the leashes of pre-conceived, "safe" concepts and allowed to chase after their most vivid, fevered imaginings.

**Saga:  Volume 1 is available now.  Saga:  Volume 2 will be available on July 2.

AMERICAN HONOR KILLINGS: Desire and Rage Among Men

Akashic Books
$15.95 trade paper, available now

Reviewed by Richard, 5* of five

The Publisher Says: In American Honor Killings, straight and gay guys cross paths, and the result is murder. But what really happened? What role did hatred play? What were the men involved really like, and what was going on between them when the murder occurred? American Honor Killings explores the truth behind squeamish reporting and uninformed political rants of the far right or fringe left. David McConnell, a New York-based novelist, researched cases from small-town Alabama to San Quentin's death row. The book recounts some of the most notorious crimes of our era.

Beginning in 1999 and lasting until the 2011 conviction of a youth in Queens, New York, the book shows how some murderers think they're cleaning up society. Surprisingly, other killings feel almost preordained, not a matter of the victim's personality or actions so much as a twisted display of a young man's will to compete or dominate. We want to think these stories involve simple sexual conflict, either the killer's internal struggle over his own identity or a fatally miscalculated proposition. They're almost never that simple.

Together, the cases form a secret American history of rage and desire. McConnell cuts through cant and political special pleading to turn these cases into enduring literature. In each story, victims, murderers, friends, and relatives come breathtakingly alive. The result is more soulful, more sensitive, more artful than the sort of "true crime” writing the book was modeled on. A wealth of new detail has been woven into old cases, while new cases are plumbed for the first time. The resulting stories play out exactly as they happened, an inexorable sequence of events—grisly, touching, disturbing, sometimes even with moments of levity.

My Review: It is no secret that I'm a leftist, anti-religion queer. I loathe the existence of the systems of "Rightness" that the murderers in these crimes use to justify their actions. The mere ability of a person to point to a bible and have any segment of society secretly or not-so-secretly justify or even agree with the heinous crime of murder is shameful to us as a society.

That said, it's still true. These accounts of the motives and actions of some seriously mentally ill young men, certain that they are Right and they are Correct in the actions, are enlightening and chilling.

I spent most of the time I read this book alternating between scaring my dog with loud, rasping screeches of outraged indignation that such stupidity is allowed to exist by this gawd person most of these boys, their families, and their communities profess belief in, and miserable, hopeless weeping of sympathetic pain at the agonies of loss, grief, and longing that the families, the parents, the loving friends of the murdered men will spend the rest of their lives experiencing, because the holey babble and its hellspawn idiot-friendly "culture" don't like the idea of men having sex with each other.

Who cares what you think? Did someone ask you? Drag your mind out of the prurient gutter of thinking about what other people do in their bedrooms.

McConnell has written a book as horrifying and as necessary as [In Cold Blood], and as likely to stand the test of time as a document of the consequences of sociopathic thinking. I can't recommend that you read it; but really, you should. Depressingly, most of you won't. It's not YOUR friend, brother, cousin, so why bother?

Because until people confront the horrible consequences of their smug, exclusionary language of "salvation" and the like, this won't be the last time a book like this is necessary.

I received a review copy of the book from Akashic Books.

Meet the Shelf Inflicted Staff - Sesana

Today's guest is Sesana.  She is allergic to all nuts except filberts.

How did you discover Goodreads?
I followed a link on a YA book blog. This was about two years ago, and I don't remember now which blog it was.

What have been your most memorable Goodreads experiences?
The first time I got a comment on one of my reviews from the author. Luckily, it was a nice, "thanks for reviewing" sort of thing. Getting the Shelf Inflicted blog up and running.

Name one reviewer not in the Forbes 25 that people should be aware of.
Toughest question, by far. There are tons of really talented reviewers on Goodreads. But since I can only name one, I'll say our own Carol. The fact that she wrote the About Us page on the blog has absolutely nothing to do with this. Really.

What was your initial reaction to Amazon buying Goodreads?
Cautious ambivalence, I guess. I knew it was possible that Amazon would destroy the site entirely, given time, and that the best case scenario would be that they would basically leave it alone. But since that's exactly what Amazon did with IMDB, I wasn't terribly concerned.

How many books do you own?
Since I do a lot of my reading through the library, not as many as you might think. I'd go completely broke if I had to buy everything I read! I probably have around 200 physical books, and close to 100 ebooks.

Who is your favorite author?
Victor Hugo, without a doubt.

What is your favorite book of all time?
Les Misérables. I actually took French in college because I wanted so badly to read it untranslated. That was doomed to failure. I've read it five times, and own every available English translation. There are very few books, very few pieces of media, that have touched me so deeply or lived with me so long. I love this book so much I can't even write coherently about it. Trust me when I say that it's beautiful beyond words, or at least beyond my ability to form words. And yes, I do love the musical every bit as much.

What are your thoughts on ebooks?
I'm finding that I like the idea of ebooks more than the reality. For me, clicking a button will never compare to turning a page. And yet I do love how compact it can make a library, the ready availability of free and cheap ebooks, and how it makes self-publishing much easier.

What are your thoughts on self-publishing?
The good thing is that it makes it easier for writers who aren't working within standard publishing house boxes to get their work out there. And more voices in the marketplace is good. Sure, there's a lot of dreadful books to wade through, but there's also a lot of dreadful books published by major publishing houses
Any literary aspirations? 
HAHAHAHA no. It's for the good of all, trust me.

What is your ideal super villain lair? 
An abandoned missile silo would make a fantastic lair. Cool history, unique architectural details, mostly underground and thus defensible... What else can you ask for in a lair?

And here's a website with some cool pictures with converted missile silos: