Volume Four takes a little timeskip to move the story on, and it’s a wise decision. It drops us right in the middle of Alana and Marko’s difficulties with Hazel as a toddler, and with balancing their lives between caring for her and working, and scraping some time for each other. And it’s kind of awesome how not fantastical those aspects of Saga are — the way Marko and Alana mess up and hurt each other, and don’t manage to do the right or best thing, despite their love for each other and for Hazel.
The other storylines of Prince Robot, Gwendolyn and even the gay reporters are also touched on, but they felt more throwaway when compared to the messing up of Marko and Alana. And, to be fair, the way other people participate in messing them up — looking at you, dancing teacher lady and high-as-a-kite tree lady.
Batgirl: A Knight Alone, Kelley Puckett, Damion Scott, Robert Campanella, Coy Turnbull, Dan Davis
I found this second volume of Cassandra Cain as Batgirl a lot easier to digest, somehow, than the first one. Unfortunately for the character concept, it probably helps that she’s now able to express herself in words and understand the words of people around her. There were still some issues for me in understanding the backstory — for example, wtf is Batman’s relationship to the assassin who trained Cassandra? Why did he ever train under an assassin himself? Also, a couple of aspects were skimmed over — like the training Cassandra received from Lady Shiva.
Sometimes, reading this, I felt like the panels were badly ordered; sometimes it seemed to make more sense to read the page right to left. Which is fine, but it’s really not the convention in Western comics, so it throws me every time. Or maybe it’s just experimentation with layout — either way, it didn’t work very well for me, alas. The whole train of events feels unhinged sometimes. I just can’t see how we get from A to B, how the stories relate to each other. It feels like a much less defined arc of events.
Again, I’m still not a great fan of the art, though some of the expressions are great. I’m a little leery of the attention given to highlighting Cassandra’s breasts and butt; come on, she’s practically a kid, let’s maybe not sexualise her.
Still, Oracle continues to play a part, Cassandra proves her worth, and we see her being desperate to do justice. It’s a solid volume, and if I used half-stars, I’d give it 3.5 to show that it improved from the first volume for me.
Spider-Gwen: Greater Power, Jason Latour, Robbi Rodriguez, Chris Visions
The second volume of Spider-Gwen takes us further into the different reality of Earth-65 — a world where Matt Murdock is a bad guy, and Tony Stark sells a lot of coffee via his company “Starkbucks”. Oh, and where Gwen Stacy was bitten by the radioactive spider, and Peter Parker was the Lizard. It’s complicated and I think that to know all the little subverted and tweaked bits unique to this universe, you’d need to be a fan of Marvel bigtime. But a basic knowledge of Spider-man canon (like who the Green Goblin is) will suffice.
This volume has a lot less of Gwen’s ordinary life (there’s references to her roommates and the Mary Janes, but nothing major), and follows her as she struggles — still — with the death of Peter Parker and the responsibility that puts on her. Meanwhile, her dad struggles with the right thing to do, Matt Murdock’s up to something, and Captain America is on the case.
Which, yeah, I don’t know if this version of Cap appears elsewhere, but I hope she does. Captain Samantha Wilson is badass and awesome. Jessica Drew, of the main timeline, also makes an appearance for a couple of scenes that made me giggle, but Cap was really the highlight of the TPB for me.
Spider-Gwen is fun and though I’m not always a fan of the art, it generally looks good. I’m in for future volumes, definitely.
Batgirl: Silent Running, Kelley Puckett, Scott Peterson, Damion Scott, Robert Campanella
I’ve been intrigued by the idea of Cassandra Cain as Batgirl ever since I heard about this series; I love the idea of a girl trained so intensively to be an assassin that she knows no language, but can interpret vast amounts from movement, even from tiny cues in body language. It’s fascinating because it’s to some degree possible; “feral children” without language who weren’t exposed to language during their critical period for learning it have existed, and who knows? Maybe they do learn to pay attention to other cues, appropriate to the environment they live in, which would be missed by those who rely on words to communicate.
In practice, though, Silent Running is kind of an awkward place to jump in. It’s not so bad for me because I know Barbara Gordon’s story, why she became Oracle, who she is — and everyone knows at least a little about Batman. But it feels like jumping into the middle of a run, not the beginning of one. The art style doesn’t greatly appeal to me either, and the storytelling is appropriately visual, which is never going to work that well for me (I just don’t and can’t think visually).
It’s also a little awkward because that uniqueness about this Batgirl is wiped out almost immediately: a psychic man rearranges her thoughts and gives her language, taking away her preternatural combat abilities by changing the way she experiences the world. It makes sense, but it does lose the thing that intrigued me about the character.
Also, Batman being paternalistic and judgemental, all the time. Gah. He should have some idea of how Cassandra was raised, you’d think, but somehow he spends the book denying it, and having a really weird tension with Cassandra when they’re working together.
I’m going to read the second volume, since I have it, but at the moment I’m not greatly enthused about following this version of Batgirl, which is a shame. (But might save me some money, since wow the TPBs can get expensive!)
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power, Ryan North, Erica Henderson
I haven’t come across Squirrel Girl before, but this comic is self-aware and fun; in some ways, the style reminded me of the recent run of Young Avengers. (Which is getting less and less recent all the time, but you know what I mean. The most recent, by McKelvie and Gillen.) Little snippets of facebook interaction between heroes, meta commentary below each page, and all kinds of dorkiness. Squirrel Girl is a lot of fun, and what’s also nice is that she doesn’t primarily set out to beat up villains — she also figures out how to talk things out and fix things in another way.
I’m not a huge fan of the art — it’s a bit too cartoony for my usual tastes — but does suit the style. And I love things like the Squirrel Suit and the Iron Squirrel and Doreen being tongue-tied around guys.
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a theme after my own heart: what ten books would you buy if someone handed you a fully loaded gift card right now?
Ultimates: Omniversal, by Al Ewing. I’ve never much liked the sound of the Ultimates as such, though I enjoy Ultimate Spider-man, but this line-up just sounds straight-up amazing. America Chavez and Captain Marvel? Sign me right up.
Captain Marvel: Rise of Alpha Flight, by Tara Butters. Okay, I love DeConnick’s run on Captain Marvel, but I love the character too, and I’m excited to see what a new writer has done for her.
Tower of Thorns, by Juliet Marillier. Because I don’t have a physical copy, and I haven’t got round to reading it yet either.
A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan. I’ve read this twice now, but I still don’t own a physical copy. What’s wrong with me?
Gunmetal Magic, by Ilona Andrews. I’m jolted by the gap in Andrea’s story that Kate’s books just bridged in a matter of sentences. Gimme more Andrea!
The New Avengers: Everything Is New, by Al Ewing. The number of Avengers teams is going to get confusing but excuse me is that Hulkling on the cover? And Wiccan?
I’m back in Belgium! And I brought a bunch of books with me.
I’m… not sure which of these I bought and which I got as review copies, now. But yay.
I love me some non-fiction.
I, uh, needed to catch up…
Finished this week:
Reviews posted this week:
–Fever, by Mary Beth Keane.An interesting historical novel taking the point of view of Typhoid Mary, and doing reasonably well at making us sympathise with her. 4/5 stars –Talking Hands, by Margalit Fox.Fascinating discussion of both the history of sign language and the development of languages in general, with a case study of an emerging language in a Bedouin village. 4/5 stars –Murder and Mendelssohn, by Kerry Greenwood.This last (so far?) adventure with Phryne is a lot of fun, though the main feature is really the BBC Sherlock inspired John Wilson and Rupert Sheffield, and their Phryne-facilitated romance. 4/5 stars –Saga Volume 3, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.Awesome as usual, and mostly the volume in which I really loved the Lying Cat more than ever. 5/5 stars –Mortal Heart, by Robin LaFevers.Thanks to a certain reveal that just didn’t quite fit the way I saw the world, this wasn’t my favourite of a series I have generally really enjoyed. 3/5 stars –A Fall of Moondust, by Arthur C. Clarke.Fans of The Martian might enjoy this classic story of rescue in space, even if the situation — tourism on the moon — seems as far away as ever. 4/5 stars –Flashback Friday: Sword at Sunset, by Rosemary Sutcliff.Powerful version of the Arthurian stories, with a real and strong connection between Arthur and Bedwyr (who here basically has the role of Lancelot). I wasn’t sure at first, but for me it really, really worked. 5/5 stars
So yeah, not much reading this week because… I don’t really know why, but on Friday I got Pokemon Go and went for a three hour walk (finally hitting my Fitbit goals again!) so I blame that. Somewhat. How is everyone?
The third volume of Saga feels like it slows down a bit — and not at all in a bad way. Most of the characters get some development here, and one of the major themes about Marko and Alana’s transgressive cross-species relationship gets explored a bit more. Marko’s mother, Klara, takes a pretty active role too, while at the same time the Will, Gwendolyn and Slave Girl (Sophie) get to know each other more while stranded on a seemingly idyllic planet. (Classic storyline there, too, executed with wit and humour — that’s a thing I especially love about Saga; while the storylines aren’t necessarily unique, the approach makes everything fresh.)
My favourite scene of all, though, is a small and quiet one. Slave Girl is talking to the Lying Cat about herself, and says that she did bad things because of what happened to her as a sex slave. She speaks as if the moral responsibility for that is on her, as if it was something she did — and Lying Cat says, “Lying.”
It just says so much, so perfectly contained in one panel.
The art, of course, continues spectacular, and my only complaint is that the volumes never seem to last long enough.
In volume two of Saga, Fiona Staples’ art continues to really shine. She manages to make the characters come alive, conveying movement and expression, mood and attitude and even a little of their voice. It helps that the characters are pretty awesome: the Lying Cat is a pretty amazing creation, Alana, Gwendolyn and Marko’s mother are straight-up badass, the interlude with Barr manages to inject just enough emotional attachment…
Oh, and in case you were wondering if Marko’s ex-fiancé was a fridged love interest who wouldn’t turn up again because his love for Alana is all the matters, nope. Gwendolyn shows up, kicks ass, and has very decided opinions about Marko and what he’s up to.
And I do love the device of the narrator being Alana and Marko’s child; it sets the tone, and makes some scenes less harrowing, while also bringing in hindsight.
And don’t forget the humour. Normally, I’m quite difficult to please when it comes to Saga, and it’s possible I wouldn’t laugh at the visual and verbal jokes if someone made them IRL. However, when it’s me and a book…
The first volume of Saga had me hooked right away: something about the clean lines of the art, the way it perfectly brings across character and expression, to begin with. Also the quirkier details, like the pictures that show on Prince Robot’s monitor. But also the story: the offbeat narration by a character who has only just been born at the start of the story, the set-up of the worlds fighting, the Robot kingdom assisting, etc. Alanna and Marko’s relationship is believably silly: they’re ridiculously in love, they’re not always best-suited for each other, but they’re muddling through anyway.
It’s also funny in general — not always in the most “tasteful” or “refined” way, as some of the sex-related humour shows, but believably. You can like these characters, it says, because even though one has wings and the other has horns, they’re dweebs like you.