Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Book #26

Y: The Last Man - One Small Step by Brian K Vaughn, Pia Guerra, José Marzán Jr & Paul Chadwick

After a mysterious occurrence instantaneously killed every male human on Earth, twenty-something escape artist Yorick Brown suddenly found himself as the last man alive on a planet inhabited solely by females. But when Yorick and his secret service bodyguard learn of a Russian spaceship with two healthy males on board, they quickly journey to its projected landing site in Kansas to see if the rumor is true. Now as Yorick and Agent 355 wait to see if the cosmonauts will survive their return to Earth’s atmosphere, a zealous faction of the Israeli military attempt to kidnap the last man for their own nefarious purposes.

The plot wears on, with the kick-ass chicks trying to protect and defend Yorick, for reasons which I'm sure we've all forgotten. It was good here to see the subplot involving the Israelis come to a head, and I liked the idea that their plans for him were merely to use and objectify him in order to repopulate their country. I just hope they weren't looking for any post-coital conversation from him. Yorick was still pathetic, and a pain in the arse. He cleverly grows a beard to allow him to pass as a woman (ironic, but explained by the fact women are now sporting beards), yet still remains a little boy.

A subplot involving a theatre troupe was fired into the end of the volume. This didn't connect well, and seemed to be a bit of a pointless exercise, other than a tiny bit of foreshadowing and more off the mark feminist commentary. The characters talk of 'exploding gender roles', then sneer at a woman who likes soap operas and home baking. Yes, that's a traditional female role, but who cares if that's what you like? We can't all be sword-toting militants.

Again, the artwork was gorgeous, particularly the between issue pages. My favourite being this clever and gorgeous piece of Ampersand and Yorick: 

The premise of the story, and a need to know what happens, is the only thing that's keeping this going for me. I really want to love it; the story itself is engaging, and there is a real desire to see it through to the end, but the little niggly things above, and in previous reviews, are getting to me.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Book #25

Y: The Last Man - Cycles by Brian K Vaughn, Pia Guerra & José Marzán Jr

As Yorick Brown, the last man on Earth, begins to make his way across the country to California, he and his companions are forced to make an unscheduled stop in Marrisville, Ohio—a small town with a big secret.

Another round of fast-paced strange happenings, violence, and plot twists.

I still have a real issue with Yorick. I understand that he's being conveyed as a general 'everyman', but I genuinely dislike him. I hope his monkey and his magic tricks eventually come to something, because at the moment they seem like little nuances to give him some sort of a personality. He's dull and incredibly self-centred, and despite being described as 'liberal', makes a good few 'uber macho' comments about women, and the situation, which just didn't endear me to him in the slightest. Which brings me to my next point.

As an apparent feminist novel, it could not be more obvious this was written by a man. Phrases like, "You haven't seen us during our periods. All of our cycles are in synch, so once a month, this town turns into a bloody whirlpool of bitchiness," and "I didn't think pretty girls were into that kind of stuff," really grated. Not only that, but Yorick meets a young lady, hits her with a monologue of how in love he is with his girlfriend, then puts the moves on her anyway. Surely a woman developing such a fast fancy for Yorick is defining his self-importance and power even further? And slowly, but surely, more women seem to be falling in love with him. Why?! Where is the social point here? Not to mention the Amazons are far too 'man-hating'. Surely with only one man left in the world, that level of rage would be pretty superfluous? If they are supposed to be symbolising feminists, then feminists are being totally demonised and caricatured as insane here.

The plot itself is pretty gripping, and Guerra's artwork is flawless. She adds depth to the plot with her drawings, invoking suspense and panic all at the right time.

I really don't mean to slaughter this completely; I enjoyed reading it, and was just as gripped as I was with the first volume. Some of the above things I've mentioned just didn't sit well with me. However, I'm moving on to volume three, and third time's the charm, as they say.

Book #24

Y: The Last Man - Unmanned by Brian K Vaughn, Pia Guerra & José Marzán Jr

When a plague of unknown origin instantly kills every mammal with a Y chromosome, unemployed and unmotivated slacker Yorick Brown suddenly discovers that he is the only male left in a world inhabited solely by women. Accompanied by his mischievous monkey and the mysterious Agent 355, Yorick embarks on a transcontinental journey to find his girlfriend and discover why he is the last man on Earth. But with a gang of feminist extremists and the leader of the Israel Defense Forces hunting him, Yorick's future, as well as that of the human race, may be short-lived.

I love a good apocalypse. I particularly love the idea of one which wipes out the entire male species, excepting one man and his monkey. I like knowing the cause of the plague itself is vague, and could be a number of different things. I can also live with the fact that the survival of good old Yorick (well done, Shakespeare loving father), is pretty far-fetched. For now, at least.

Enter the kick-ass chicks. Every female character here has some sort of agenda, whether political or otherwise. It truly is every woman for herself, and the power struggles are literally violent. The feminist commentary here is rife, but with a few amusing asides, such as women using the Washington Memorial, a very obvious phallic symbol, as a memorial to the lost men. I'm not entirely convinced a woman-only world would operate like this, but it's an interesting concept. I read a few (male) reviews of this, and it's hilarious to see them say, "So that's what a female inhabited world would be like!" No, darling; my guess is we'd be absolutely fine. But that's a conversation for another day.

Yorick himself is pretty spineless and kind of pathetic. He insists on crossing the globe to be reunited with his girlfriend, who is currently in Australia, and fuck finding out why he survived! Never mind all the political bloodspill at home! He wants to see her, regardless of the consequences. How typically male! The problem is, if the human race is to be repopulated, he'll have to co-operate. But how can he, when he's so devoted to his girlfriend? He's pitiful. I wouldn't sleep with him if he was the last man on... oh. 

Volumes 2 &3 coming up next!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Book #23

Batman: Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean

The inmates of Arkham Asylum have taken over Gotham's detention center for the criminally insane on April Fools Day, demanding Batman in exchange for their hostages. Accepting their demented challenge, Batman is forced to live and endure the personal hells of his sworn enemies in order to save the innocents and retake the prison. During his run through this absurd gauntlet, the Dark Knight's own sanity is placed in jeopardy. 

This absolutely terrified me, and I wasn't expecting it. I had flicked through the pages before, noting that the artwork was very different from what I was used to; more disjointed and abstract. I had no idea that this technique, along with the pace and tone of the characters' dialogue, would scare me out of my absolute wits.

Two different storylines run alongside each other here; one taking place in the 1920s, with Amadeus Arkham trying to cope with the death of his insane mother, and turning her house into the asylum that stands today; the other a present day tale, where the inmates take over the institution and ask for Batman to join them as ransom for the hostages. Batman then endures an hour of hell as he traverses the asylum, coming into contact with many of the psychologically questionable criminals he's incarcerated there. Towards the end, the stories intertwine, with the narrative taking place in the 1920s, but with the panels reflecting Batman's experiences. This was a great technique, showing the power of Arkham spanning the years.

The artwork was fantastic, with Arkham set as the sinister and brooding place it's always been. The drawings are by no means typically comic book; instead, they're entirely surreal, with dream-like qualities attached. McKean's art itself could conjure nightmares; it was so eerie and forbidding.

I liked the idea that Batman perhaps belonged in Arkham as he wasn't quite sane himself. Let's face it, wearing a bat costume and prancing around at night fighting crime isn't really within the realms of sanity. There was a hint of each of the villains he encountered representing one of his fears, and huge load of Freudian hints, such as matricide and the structural theory of the mind being symbolised by the structure of Arkham itself. I particularly enjoyed seeing all of the villains in there, and the effect they had on Batman and his inherent fears as he ran into them one at a time.

Incredibly frightening and wonderful all at once.

"And then I look at the doll's house. And the doll's house look at me."

Book #22

The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins by Irvine Welsh

When Lucy Brennan, a Miami Beach personal-fitness trainer, disarms a gunman chasing two frightened homeless men, the police and the breaking-news cameras are not far behind and, within hours, Lucy is a media hero. The solitary eye-witness is the depressed and overweight Lena Sorensen, who becomes obsessed with Lucy and signs up as her client - though she seems more interested in the trainer's body than her own. When the two women find themselves more closely aligned, and can't stop thinking about the sex lives of Siamese twins, the real problems start.

My favourite thing about Welsh's writing is that every single one of his characters are fundamentally flawed. In fact, most of them are close to monstrous, and he explores their dispositions to a wonderful degree. Seeing these psychopaths dissected on paper is absolutely delectable, and it's these scrutinisations of incomprehensible psyches that attracts me to Welsh time and time again.

I wasn't disappointed in Lucy and Lena. They each had their necessary depravities, and the plot moved itself along well as we learned where these came from for each of the girls. Welsh uses different narrative styles to depict whose story is being told at a certain time, and this is something I particularly enjoy in his novels.

The story is typical Welsh - heavily adult, shocking, and macabre. Many dislike his penchant for the grotesque, however it's another thing I love him for. The novel doesn't shock for the sake of it, but each scene is there for a purpose, whether to move the plot along, or to convey a message.

Welsh uses his characters and plot to challenge our attitudes towards everything from the media, sex, body image, and most of all, celebrity culture. He forces us to think outside of the box about the controlled media bubble we live in, along with all of our other modern obsessions; it feels confrontational and passionate, as our pre-conceived ideas are blasted out of the water.

The Siamese twins aspect comes into play with the heavily broadcast story of two conjoined girls from Arkansas. Their tale seems so irrelevant at the beginning of the novel, playing on televisions in the background, or printed in glanced at magazines, but this quickly becomes symbolic of Lucy and Lena's developing relationship, and their own similarities and contrasts. The symbolism of this built at the same pace as developments in the plot, which worked really well in allowing the two to interweave.

This is the first novel of Welsh's that doesn't involve his native Scotland, or a Scottish character, in any way. It's hard to blame him when he's been living in America for so long, however the fact that the book is heavily satirising American obesity, reality TV, food and fitness, seems quite poignant to me. 

Abhorrent, thought-provoking, and with absolutely fascinating characters, Welsh impresses me yet again. Roll on the next one!

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Book #21

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn & Mike Mignola

What would the Gotham City of 100 years ago have been like? In an age of mystery and superstition, how would the people of Gotham react to a weird creature of the night, a bat-garbed vigilante feared by the guilty and the innocent alike? Some would live in terror. Others would rest easier. Only one man would take no notice at all...a man with other matters to attend to. His name? No one knows for sure. Most people know him only as Jack. Jack the Ripper.

The idea of Batman in the Victorian era is absolutely delectable to me. All of my favourite classic novels are set in this era, and seeing the streets of Gotham so beautifully illustrated to reflect the architecture, costume, and general feel of that time was absolutely compelling. The colours were dark and moody to suit the tone, giving a real sense of doom, and the Gotham streets just looked so terrifying as they held Jack the Ripper somewhere in their folds.

It would've been great to see some of the other well-known Batman characters in their Victorian form. A gaslight Selina Kyle or Cobblepott would have been brilliant, but it wasn't to be. I'd also have loved to have seen more of Arkham - 19th century asylums are fascinating places, so more of this would have endeared me massively.

The steampunk element here isn't as prevalent as other reviews may have you believe. I would've liked more industrial gadgets, something clockwork, perhaps. Without his gadgets, however, Batman is totally charming, relying on thousands of scraps of paper, and writing "WHO?! WHY?!" all over the walls in order to solve crimes.

I'd have loved for this to be a bit longer and more in-depth. The idea of Batman facing up to Jack to Ripper feels like a battle of giants, and more could've been done with this. Overall, though, I absolutely loved it, and the Victorian setting made it for me entirely.

Book #20

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Balram Halwai is a complicated man. Servant. Philosopher. Entrepreneur. Murderer. Over the course of seven nights, by the scattered light of a preposterous chandelier, Balram tells us the terrible and transfixing story of how he came to be a success in life -- having nothing but his own wits to help him along. Balram's eyes penetrate India as few outsiders can: the cockroaches and the call centers; the prostitutes and the worshippers; the ancient and Internet cultures; the water buffalo and, trapped in so many kinds of cages that escape is (almost) impossible, the white tiger. And with a charisma as undeniable as it is unexpected, Balram teaches us that religion doesn't create virtue, and money doesn't solve every problem -- but decency can still be found in a corrupt world, and you can get what you want out of life if you eavesdrop on the right conversations.

This is a story themed solely around corruption and social inequalities in India. Our protagonist, Balram Halwai, was born in 'the Darkness' - an area of India which is overpopulated by the poor and poverty-stricken, and where the rich regularly oppress and use the poor as they deem required. The story is a a rags-to-riches tale of Balram rising up from the Darkness and becoming an entrepreneur. Along the way, we are treated to a great deal of social commentary from Adiga, and mostly unsubtle bashings of the Indian political system.

I liked the portrayal of two Indias in the novel - the Darkness and the Light. The first, a world of poverty and gloom filled with people who can't seem to break out of their chains, succumbing to the demands of the rich, and sacrificing basic privileges to try and get ahead. The Light is inhabited by a different type of human - corrupt politicians and businessmen with endless wealth, doing everything they can to ensure their own luxury, and constantly exploiting those from the alternate India entirely without shame. Adiga highlights the impact living in the Darkness can have on a person's health, opportunity, and basic human rights.

Although Adiga's view of humanity here is presented in a mostly comical way, ultimately the novel is pretty depressing. To rise from the slums, Balram killed his own boss (or 'master') and stole a bag of money which was originally to be used to pay off a poltician. Being introduced to Adiga's poor characters in comparison to his rich ones, the only difference was their sheer lack of opportunity. They were still sleazy, vile, selfish, and cruel. I didn't engage, nor like, a single character.

I understood, and enjoyed, the themes Adiga was trying to chastise here, such as politics, corruption, the caste system, and sexual relationships. In the end, what the novel has left me with is a sense of selfishness, individualism, and a complete scorn of community and family relations. Not once in this book did one character help another without somehow gaining something from it. Balram was quite happy to allow his family to struggle, and even be beaten or murdered, as long as he was where he wanted to be. My judging eyes were on our protagonist, rather than the corrupt political forces I was supposed to be directing my contempt towards.

Overall, this is an entertaining read. It's very much a satiric information giver rather than a work of art, but with good perspective, and brings India's societal issues to the fore.