Silver Age Showdown

It’s always a treat when I get to add a vintage comic book to my collection. You simply don’t come across these things every day. Plus, I’ve been looking for this particular issue for a while now. I’m a huge Flash fan, and you can’t have a proper Flash collection without collecting his races against Superman.

I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard (or participated in) the age-old debate about who’s faster between these two titans. Well, things weren’t much different half a century ago. Superman is known for being “faster than a speeding bullet” and Flash is the Scarlet Speedster, the Sultan of Speed, the Crimson Comet. So it only makes sense to pit the two against each other in a race around the world.

It was in 1967 – nearly 30 years after the creation of the two superheroes – that DC Comics finally gave the fans what they wanted. The race that was three decades in the making took place in the pages of Superman #199 where the two raced for a charity event organized by the U.N. This was one of the earliest comic book crossovers and certainly the most interesting one at the time.

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With the success of this Superman issue, a rematch shortly followed in the pages of Flash #175, and the two went on to have several races against each other in the decades that followed. Nearly 50 years since the iconic showdown, the Flash raced Supergirl in a crossover episode of their TV shows, proving that super-speed races still captivate fans of the superhero genre.

…Though if you really want to know who’s faster, check out this page from the third issue of The Flash: Rebirth (2009).

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Sci-filosophy

I’m a hundred pages into my fifth novel for the year and it’s been an interesting ride thus far. We are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson is a sci-fi novel about a teenage boy named Henry Denton whose seemingly average life is disrupted by a series of alien abductions. He has no idea why he was chosen. All he knows is that the aliens have given him 144 days to decide whether or not he wishes to save mankind from an unknown catastrophe that will destroy the planet. All he has to do is press a shiny red button and everything will be okay.

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To most people, the choice seems to be an obvious one. But for sixteen year old Henry, it’s not exactly black and white. His boyfriend just recently committed suicide. His grandmother is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and is slipping further and further by the day. His relationship with his chain-smoking mom is going south. His dad left them a long time ago. His brother just got his girlfriend pregnant and dropped out of college. And the popular boy at school who makes fun of him when everyone’s looking and secretly makes out with him when they’re alone only complicates the equation. Beyond his personal life, world events haven’t been encouraging either, with rising tension between nations that are overly eager to jump-start a nuclear war.

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When everything’s falling apart, is the world really worth saving?

The book invites us to examine this question. And as you read along, you realize that the answer really isn’t as simple as you thought it would be – especially for Henry Denton.

I like how the book is both human and alien (literally and figuratively). One moment, Henry is struggling with every conceivable problem a high school kid can have. Next thing you know he’s immobilized on a slab inside a spacecraft for God knows what reason. The guy just can’t get a break.

What makes the book entertaining is its breadth. It gives you ample doses of genuine human struggle while having a compelling sci-fi spin. It challenges you to question the value of life and our existence as a species. It urges you to find meaning in our daily struggles. It makes you wonder what the point of living is, or if there is a point at all. It encourages you to ponder the infinite vastness of the universe and what role we’re supposed to play in it. The book gives you so many things to think about, and that’s always a good thing. I’m really looking forward to the remaining 350 pages.

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Unfinished business

I wrote a book report on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe back in high school. I can’t say I remember much about the story, but what I do remember how much I liked reading it. I think it was the first book I finished willingly and without difficulty – or in other words, it was the first book I enjoyed. I never got around to reading the entire series, however. And since I started getting into novels, I’ve always had this on my want list.

I finally found a nice hardcover box set of The Chronicles of Narnia yesterday and my sister got it for me as an early birthday present. So yeah, I’m one happy bibliophile.

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Here’s the box set in all its glory. Narnia is quite common around here but the other box sets I’ve seen were all paperbacks. I also found a hardcover compilation with all seven volumes in it but it was too bulky. I like that this set has individual hardcovers for all seven books.

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The art on the dust jackets are by Caldecott Medal winner David Wiesner. The books also contain the original illustrations by Pauline Baynes. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing those.

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And here they are without the dust jackets. I really like the overall design and color of each book. The black spines with silver lettering add a nice touch, too.

C.S. Lewis’ work was one of the reasons I got into novels and getting reacquainted with his writing is something I’ll surely enjoy. I can’t wait to tear through this series.

Super spies and secret lies

I finally got to read the final volume of Mind MGMT, Matt Kindt’s masterwork and one of my favorite graphic novels. It’s always bittersweet when you reach the end of an amazing story – on one hand, you finally get to find out how it ends but at the same time, you don’t want it to end.

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I remember picking up volume one a couple of years ago in an effort to add some mystery books to my reading list. The first thing that caught my attention was the funky cover art. It looked different and that’s what I always go for; though it wasn’t an easy decision to get it. After some Googling I found out that the series was about spies and conspiracy theories and I felt like that type of story had already been told too many times. I worried that the book had nothing new to offer, but it proved otherwise.

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Mind MGMT isn’t just about spies. It’s about super spies who have insanely powerful mental abilities. There are those who have the power to make you do things through verbal suggestions, poems, music and art. Others can make you see things and confuse you by changing your surroundings and their own appearance. Some can live on indefinitely and heal from virtually any type of injury through sheer willpower. Some can erase your memories while others can see into the future. And then there are the really powerful ones who can do all of the above and more. Now, imagine two groups of super spies – one seeking to fix the world, the other trying to control it – using their abilities to take each other out.

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This graphic novel is riveting. It is fast-paced and has lots of action, as you would expect in any spy story. But what grips you is the way the story is told. It’s one of those stories that make you ask so many questions when you begin reading it. But the more you find out, the more you want to know. And on a day when you have nothing else to do, there’s just no way you’re putting this book down. You’ll just have to find a comfortable spot and accept that you’ll be there until you finish the volume.

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Similar to his earlier works, Kindt’s watercolors create beautiful dreamlike scenes that work brilliantly for telling this highly cerebral story. But the art isn’t the only thing that will keep your eyes busy.

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You’ll also find clues on page borders and hidden messages scattered throughout much of the series which eventually come together to expand the breadth of the story. There will be times when you have to go back to earlier pages to make sense of things, and you will have fun doing it. (Because who doesn’t enjoy playing detective every now and then?)

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Mind MGMT is one of those stories that you should read after you’ve had your cup of coffee. There are so many things going on in every page that you most definitely want to get into it with a fresh mind, lest you miss out on some of the more subtle details. Kindt’s execution is flawless. As you read, you get the sense that everything about the graphic novel is deliberate. The level of thought that went into this series is simply astounding. If you’re a fan of the spy game, definitely (and I mean DEFINITELY) pick this one up. There really isn’t anything like it.

Crime of the sensory

So this is what arrived for me this weekend. I saw the film adaptation of this book back when I was in college and found out later that it was based on a novel by Patrick Süskind– I’ve been wanting to read it since.

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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is about Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an orphan born with an extraordinary sense of smell. He is able to sniff out objects from great distances and distinguish different substances by their scent. Eager to put his talent to use, he seeks out a famous perfumer and ends up working at his shop. There, Grenouille learns the art of perfumery and starts experimenting to find out which objects would produce the most pleasant smell. Things take a wicked turn when he discovers that women give off the most desirable scents, prompting him to go on a killing spree to distill the essence of his victims.

At least that’s what I remember from the movie. I had so much fun with the film adaptation and I can’t wait to enjoy the story in its original form. If novels are indeed always better than their movie counterparts, then I must be in for a treat.

You may check out the film’s official trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZUkIwuc6so

 

The Baltimore series

I just finished reading Baltimore: The Plague Ships, the first volume of the supernatural series by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden and Ben Steinbeck. The graphic novel is a continuation of the novel Baltimore, or, the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, written by Mignola and Golden.

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I read the book last year and enjoyed it immensely, which is why I was really excited to get started on this series. You know how, when you read a good book, you wish the story could go on forever? In most cases, you’re left to imagine what happens with the characters after everything that had transpired in the novel. With Baltimore, you get to find out.

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It’s also nice to see the characters illustrated and in full color. Steinbeck’s art complements the macabre story really well with its gothic vibe.

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Reading it at night makes the experience that much more enjoyable too.

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As with his other works, Mignola managed to make the occult fun without losing its darker aspects. Baltimore is horror mingled with lots of action and enriched by elements of fantasy and mysticism.

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The series is already six volumes in with The Cult of the Red King released last month – a seventh volume entitled Empty Graves is already in the works.

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Overall, volume one did a great job transitioning the story from its written form to the illustrated medium and ended with a good set-up for the next arc. But as enjoyable as it was, I get the feeling the creators were only getting warmed up when they made it. I’m excited for volume two and I am definitely looking forward to seeing how far they can take the Baltimore mythos.

The weekend that was

Last Saturday I read one of Matt Kindt’s earlier works entitled 3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man. I became a huge fan of Kindt when I started following his recently-concluded Mind MGMT series, a comic book about a secret organization of spies with out-of-this-world mental capabilities. 3 Story, meanwhile, follows the life of Craig Pressgang, a boy who literally couldn’t stop growing.

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I tried tempering my expectations going into this one since it’s something Kindt made earlier in his career, plus Mind MGMT sets the bar really high not just for his works but for comics in general. But I was pleasantly surprised that the book didn’t feel like it was a lesser creation. Far from it, actually; the graphic novel has a lot of the things I enjoy about Kindt’s comics.

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For instance, his funky art. Kindt uses simple illustrations and brings them to life with his masterful use of watercolors. One thing that makes a comic book good is if it balances the use of words and pictures, and this is something Kindt does particularly well – he lets you read his art as his words guide you along.

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Kindt is widely known for his spy comics, so of course the protagonist gets recruited by the CIA. The book is actually presented as a secret file detailing Pressgang’s life, hence the title.

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Overall, 3 Story is a treat. For first-time readers of Kindt, you’ll get a good glimpse of his brilliance which you can fully appreciate when you dive into his lengthier works. For those who have read his comics before, you probably already know that reading anything from Kindt is always pleasurable, and this is no exception. Dynamic characters, emotional sequences, brilliant imagery and exceptional storytelling – Nobody does it like Matt Kindt.

Welcome to the Rez

Last week I read the third volume of Scalped, the highly acclaimed series from writer Jason Aaron and artist R. M. Guéra. The story follows Dashiell “Dash” Badhorse who, after running away from the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation fourteen years ago, returns as an undercover agent for the FBI. His mission: to investigate suspected crime boss and tribal leader Lincoln Red Crow.

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The first three volumes of Scalped: The Deluxe Edition from Vertigo Comics.

This series was an unlikely favorite since crime isn’t really a genre I’d go crazy for, and the only reason I picked up the first volume was because there was so much praise behind it. But as soon as I started reading the novel, I was hooked.

What I really like about this series is that it feels very real. A lot of the story’s elements are grounded on Native American history, and the richness of their culture makes the novel that much more compelling. I also love that the art fits the story really well. The mixture of dark and vibrant colors adds so much to the comic’s gritty atmosphere.

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This is definitely one of the more serious graphic novels I read, but Aaron’s masterful writing is sure to have you turning pages with all the twists and turns. You’ll find yourself deeply invested in the characters, constantly worrying when they get into trouble and breathing a sigh of relief when they pull through.

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You know a story is good when it evokes real emotion, and that is precisely what this book does. Scalped capped off with issue number 60 back in 2012, and the hardcover compilations which I’m collecting will have two more volumes, set to be released later this year. With consistently solid and intense story arcs, I’m sure the conclusion to this sordid masterpiece can only be explosive. I can’t wait to read it.

A year in books

It’s hard to believe I only started reading novels as a hobby two years ago. I wasn’t much of a book lover when I was still studying and the only novels I read back then were those that were required for English class. I didn’t even finish most of the books that were assigned to us and I was happy enough to get all the details I needed from online summaries (yes, I have a shameful past). It’s not that I hated reading, but anything that was required for school simply lost its charm. Luckily, however, I picked up the habit a few years down the road, and here I am tearing through as much fiction as I can.

I finished 10 novels in 2014 – a big improvement considering I spent several years prior with an annual book count of zero. When the year ended, I was determined to read more. I felt that although  I had read so much, there are still so many stories to enjoy; so many treasures waiting to be discovered.

These days I often find myself standing in the middle of bookstores wondering if I’ll have enough time to read every book I want to read. There are just so many stories! And I want to read as many of them as I can. So for this year, I set out to finish one novel for each month, and I’m happy to say I was able to accomplish my goal. Here’s a look at the twelve books that made my 2015 amazing.

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Book #1 – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

I had a lot of fun with this one, and I imagine anyone who was ever a boy would, too. Tom Sawyer is a classic tale about a boy who did everything a juvenile male would; from escaping chores and corporal punishment, to roughhousing, to flirting with schoolgirls and getting into all sorts of trouble. Twain’s work is the embodiment of “boys being boys.”

Book #2 – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Do not let the bad film adaptations dissuade you from picking up this novel. Shelley’s masterpiece, hailed as one of the cornerstones of science fiction, makes for an entertaining read. This cleverly written novel cautions against the sin of hubris and the dangers of knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

Read: Beyond pitchforks and torches

Book #3 – The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

This is why I don’t let classifications such as “children’s literature” deter me from picking up books. This illustrated novel is like a silent film on paper. Selznick’s illustrations give life to the story and make for a truly unique reading experience. The story is brilliantly conceptualized and will surely delight you from beginning ‘til end.

Interesting fact: The invention of Hugo Cabret is the first novel to win the Caldecott Medal, an award reserved only for picture books.

Book #4 – The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

Gangsters, drugs, prostitutes and three unlikely heroes crammed inside a walled city. This fast-paced dystopian fiction will have you turning pages as you follow the protagonists in their struggle to survive Hak Nam and escape the city of criminals before it’s too late.

Book #5 – The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Set against the backdrop of 19th century New York, Wecker’s historical fiction is an epic tale that spans a thousand years. This is fantasy done right. I really liked how the author created very human relationships between two magical beings and the people around them. What’s even more amazing is the fact that this is only her first novel. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for Wecker’s future works.

Read more about the book and its author here.

Book #6 – Dracula by Bram Stoker

The king of horror stories. Mystery, suspense, adventure and a diabolical villain combine for a thrilling read. As with Frankenstein, no movie adaptation can ever do justice to this classic. Don’t make the mistake of lumping this book together with all the other vampire stories. The amount of creativity and originality that went into this novel is simply mind-blowing, especially if you consider the fact that it was first published in 1897. This book started it all. Literally.

Book #7 – Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch

Probably the most grueling book I’ve read so far. This is another historical fiction novel that draws on the real-life account of Charles Jamrach, a famous 19th century wildlife dealer, saving a boy from the jaws of an escaped Bengal tiger. The novel crafts a story of survival that revolves around Jaffy Brown, the boy Jamrach saved, who unfortunately gets involved in a failed expedition to capture a dragon.

Book #8 – Baltimore, or the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire by Mike Mignola

This dark fantasy/horror novel from the creator of Hellboy is both thrilling and enchanting. Mignola’s illustrations add to the eerie atmosphere of the book, and you’re sure to find yourself highly engrossed with each chapter. If you like stories of the supernatural, this book is definitely for you.

Read: The Mignola novels

Book #9 – The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

The book is about a dystopian world where much of the human population has been wiped out by a fungus that hijacks the brain and turns its victims to flesh eaters – but this isn’t your typical zombie apocalypse. Carey’s work is emotionally charged as it depicts the struggles of the five protagonists to keep, and in some cases, find their humanity amid all the hardships and tough choices they face along the way. I’m really looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation.

Book #10 – Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

This wasn’t the simple, happy family story I expected, and I’m glad for it. Alcott’s novel is more than the story of four daughters growing up. In its own way, it perfectly depicts life and all its twists and turns. This coming of age book is a reminder that not all things turn out the way you expect them to. That, in fact, very few things do. But while you may not get what you initially wanted, there could be other happy endings in store for you. This is one book that I’m excited to read again when I get older.

Read: Meet the Marches

Book #11 – The Number 7 by Jessica Lidh

This book caught me by surprise. The early chapters gave me what I would expect from young adult novels, but as the ending drew near, the story progressed to something much deeper. The closing chapters made me wish I could read more about the Magnusson family, but at the same time the length of the entire novel felt just right. Teenage problems and a mystery rooted in the protagonist’s family history make this an entertaining read.

Book #12 – Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

Who wouldn’t want to read about a magical circus? Reading this novel was a complete joy from start to finish. It’s one of those books that, if you didn’t run out of pages, you’d just keep on reading. Finishing it almost felt like being in a real circus and not wanting to leave even when the show’s over.

And there you have it; 12 books in 12 months! As great as this year was, I’m hoping to read much, much more in 2016. There are so many classics that I have yet to get acquainted with and even more new authors who are putting out brilliant stories on the shelves. It’s definitely a good time to be a bibliophile.

 

Author’s note: Since this is a year-end post, I’d like to take the opportunity to send a big THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to check out my blog. I’m quite new at this and having people take interest in the things I share is such a treat. Always feel free to reach out – I enjoy and appreciate all the comments and exchanges. Have a happy new year, and may your 2016 be filled with adventure and wonder!

Holiday pick: Emily Brontë’s lone novel

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A leather-bound copy of Wuthering Heights. Cover art by Jessica Hische, cover design by Jo Obarowski, book design by Patrice Kaplan.

So this is what I decided to read for the holidays. I’ve been wanting to read novels from the Brontë sisters since I haven’t heard anything about their works and I find it a real treat to go into a novel blind, not having any notion of what it’s about or what to expect. I’m also very interested to see how one sister’s writing style differed from the others, so I was really excited to start reading this one.

Unfortunately, the only thing Christmassy about Wuthering Heights is that you’d probably enjoy it best during a snowstorm. (At least I would imagine so; we never get any snow here and it’s been all sunshine for days now.) This is one dark and gloomy book, but don’t get me wrong – I am enjoying it immensely.

You know how some neighborhoods have that one weird family that everyone wants to avoid? And everyone has some story or speculation explaining why they’re like that? That’s precisely what this book is. I like how the novel opened with Mr. Lockwood’s first encounter with the strange characters living in Wuthering Heights. I found myself quite confused, just as the protagonist was, by their unnatural, almost uncivilized mannerisms and queer interactions. Lockwood would later find someone who could shed light on the grim events that had transpired on the premises in decades past, and the story just gets more and more addictive from there. Every chapter reveals a part of the family’s dark history that aids you in understanding how their relationships deteriorated over time; and the more you find out, the more you want to know.  Stories about old secrets of old families are always fascinating, especially if they’re weird. So although I’m only nine chapters in, I can already tell this will be a very good read.