Friday, 3 October 2014

Heads up on "Strong Female Protagonist" by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag (Top Shelf Comics)

"Strong Female Protagonist" Book One by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag (Top Shelf Comics)
The over-long reign of male-dominated cardboard cutout comicbook heroes seems to be dribbling to an end, and it's about time too. For a while, there has been a definite shift in the typical demographic associated with the creation of comics, away from those sexist boob-window-obsessed rags towards intelligent thought provoking stuff. Comics such as "Strong Female Protagonist" - a title in itself that's bound to raise howls of derision from an industry that still has an awful lot of growing up to do.

Alison Green is the titular protagonist, a tough and uncompromising superhero mixing strength and invulnerability with a brain the size of a planet. Life as a superhero is fairly sweet until a showdown with a mind-reading supervillain shows Alison that things aren't quite as straight-cut as they seem. Alison - also known as Mega Girl - gives up the superhero gig for a life of study, riding under the radar in order to affect change from within. But sometimes there's no route back from being at the top of your game, and Alison's past catches up with her all too quickly while she hides in plain sight as a student at a local college.

 Will Alison need to become Mega Girl again? Is someone playing mind-tricks? Just how far down does the rabbit hole of conspiracy and mistrust go?

 Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag's web comic comes to vibrant life collected together as the first volume of a graphic novel series, recalling intelligent and grown-up strips like "The New Statesmen" and even with shades of the better parts of "Watchmen" bubbling under thought-provoking and smart storytelling.

 It's strictly for grown ups (hence why it's being reviewed here at DaddyAfterDark rather than on ReadItDaddy, our sister blog) but it's utterly fantastic and engrossing stuff. Top Shelf's latest run of titles is hitting all the right notes, gathering together an enviable catalogue of cool stuff to dive into.

 Follow the web comic over at http://strongfemaleprotagonist.com or drop by the Top Shelf Website for more excellent comics in this vein.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Saga Volume III by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

Saga Volume III by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
With a whoop of glee, I tore the packaging off the latest book to drop through the "Daddy After Dark" mail slot. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are exquisite torturers, drip feeding us "Saga" addicts with their collected graphic novels one volume at a time and we gladly sign up for this sort of abuse because Saga is flipping brilliant.

 Sweary, sexy, uber-violent but ultra-intelligent, we left Alana and Marko embarking on a completely bonkers quest (along with their wistful daughter Hazel, the "not-quite-mother-in-law-from-hell", and a ghostly babysitter with half of her guts hanging out). They're seeking out a novelist on a long-dead world, in order to find some twisted wisdom in his words. Hotly pursued by just about everyone, including Prince Robot IV, Marko's ex-girlfriend with a serious case of heartbreak, and "The Will" - a violent psychopathic mercenary with a buzz-cut, a heart of gold and size 11 doc martens.

 On meeting their idol, Alana and Marko find that danger is close, but just as we think we're about to see one cataclysmic finale, Brian and Fi yank the rug out from under us and we're left hanging off the edge of a precipice (or should that be lighthouse) again. Saga's appeal is in the way it balances fast-paced sweary dialogue with mind-meltingly gorgeous art. It reminds me of fabulous 'out-there' sci fi like Farscape, but with a serious adult edge to it that will have you wincing in places.

 Saga is so satisfyingly sprawling that coming in at Volume 3 will blow your mind. Best to pick up Volume 1 and 2 though and seriously treat yourself as you meet an eclectic and dangerous bunch of comic misfits, peripheral characters that are filthy as well as sexy, and two journalists who could almost double for DR and Quinch.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet (Drawn and Quarterly)

Beautiful Darkness. Do not judge this one by its cover, this is definitely not kids stuff!


My children's book-reviewing alter ego is quite used to seeing books that feature magical folk or princesses, anthropomorphic animals and other cutesy-pie stuff. For a brief moment, from the corner of your eye or your peripheral vision you might mistakenly believe that "Beautiful Darkness" is a book that belongs on my daughter's shelf rather than mine. Aside, that is, from that David Lynch-like presence sharing the cover with Aurora, the tiny hero of this tale. A corpse. A human corpse.

Worst of all, the corpse of a little girl. "Beautiful Darkness" (recently reviewed enticingly on BoingBoing) takes all the traditional fairy-tale tropes, puts them in a washing machine with a ton of barbed wire and some animal guts, and puts the whole lot on a high spin-speed. The result is one of the darkest and most visceral fairy tales I've ever read.

 The graphic novel starts with idyllic scenes of Aurora, and the rather annoying and uppity Prince Hector enjoying an afternoon tea party. Aurora is dreaming, but when she awakes we see her world unfold. The aforementioned corpse is relegated to little more than a backdrop, a scenery prop and as harrowing as this sounds, it's actually this aspect of the novel that would have me hiding it away in a cupboard so my own little girl didn't see it until she's a moody teen.

Seeing a human being featuring in this way is quite startling and disturbing, particularly when you see the lives of the tiny folk who accompany Aurora happening in complete oblivion to this tragic set of circumstances. Vehlmann and Kerascoet boil the bones of fairy tales until the rich gelatine is extracted and spread thickly like an opaque haze over the story as it emerges.

Aurora's 'friends' are definitely not cute in any way, preoccupied with the more human-like struggles for sustenance and peer acceptance. Aurora's main rival in love is the bitch queen from hell, a doll-like would-be princess who is as predatory and vicious as any of the wildlife living in the woodland glade where the story takes place.

Dialogue is purposely child-like, fairy-tale-like - but all the urges and passions of this tiny group of characters are as dark and blood red as the human world's. Aurora is also misleadingly sweet and the book leads to a conclusion that will simultaneously fill you with the urge to shout "YESSSS!" at the top of your voice, but will also fill you with dark horror as revenge is exacted in a brutal way. I cannot recommend "Beautiful Darkness" highly enough if you're looking for something that feels wholly original, desperately darkly tinged and extremely grown up without resorting to the usual graphic novel excesses of sex and violence (though don't get me wrong - it most certainly is quite icky in places).

 Please though, if you have an inquisitive 6 year old kicking around at home, don't let them loose on this unless you want to spend the next few weeks dealing with their nightmares. Title: Beautiful Darkness Author(s): Vehlmann and Kerascoet Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly Format: Graphic Novel / Hardback

Monday, 10 February 2014

"Hollow City" (Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children II) by Ransom Riggs (Quirk Books)

Feeling peculiar? You will after you've read "Hollow City"
Quirk Books have established themselves as the sort of publisher who don't dally with the mundane and everyday stuff. They like to dance in the darkness, embracing a backlist of titles that I'd quite happily stuff my bookshelves with. I reviewed "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" a while ago, describing it as a darkly delicious treat that left me craving more.

With book 2 I wasn't disappointed. (Please watch out below for spoilers if you've yet to read the first book...!) Ransom Riggs swaps curiosity and discovery for a hell-for-leather mad scramble into the unknown in "Hollow City". Miss Peregrine's rag-tag bunch of "Peculiars" are left devastated by wight attacks after book one, and Miss Peregrine herself - a powerful Ymbryne - is seemingly stuck in bird form, unable to transform back into a human. Jacob, the teenage boy central to the plot in "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" leads the rest of the peculiars to seek out the one remaining Ymbryne left - Miss Wren.

Will she know how to transform Miss Peregrine back, and perhaps also offer safe haven for the peculiars before the wights finally catch up with them? As their journey takes a dark and dangerous twist, Jacob struggles with his own strength of character in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. But peculiars have a habit of surprising even those allied with them, and soon Jacob realises that Miss Peregrine's loop wasn't the only one...

 Deftly woven, but unfolding at a far more breakneck pace compared to the original book, "Hollow City" pours on tension and excitement with every chapter and like the first book, leaves you craving more. As the complex relationships of the peculiars are teased out more in this book, it's going to be very interesting to see what happens in "Don't Look Away" - Book 3 in Ransom Riggs' superb series. We'll be first in line...rest assured. (Kindly sent to us for review by Mat at PGUK / Quirk Books)

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The Long and Whining Road by Simeon Courtie (Simantics Ltd)

Penny, the 6th member of the happy band who roamed the earth in aid of Unicef

My mother in law has very good taste when it comes to books, and after seeing Simeon Courtie talking about his experiences on a trip round the world with his family in aid of Unicef, touring as "The World's Worst Beatles Tribute Band" I said that he should write a book about the trip. 

Little did I know that he had, and that the book was my secret christmas present this year. A signed copy of "The Long and Whining Road" and the start of an on-off-on love/hate relationship with the book for me. 

You see, I'm envious - ridiculously envious of the sort of folk who can throw everything in to pursue something that - on paper - sounds absolutely ridiculously crazy. Simply thinking about the logistics of what it would take to chuck in the towel for a year or more, and pursue the dream of taking a battered old VW camper van around the world, driving across continents and through hazardous countries for what must have been (in sheer understatement here) the trip of a lifetime. 

My on-off-on love hate relationship with the book had nothing really to do with Simeon Courtie's writing style (which is funny, and at times the right kind of 'brutally honest' that books of this ilk need to be) but an unshakeable recollection of a sketch that once appeared on the darkly comic TV show "The Day Today". 

The sketch was an interview between Chris Morris' bile-filled parody of a Jeremy Paxman-style news anchor, and a woman who had raised some money for charity through selling jam. 

It basically pivots around the amount of money she raises, and Morris' reaction - which is less than complimentary about the amount. 

Throughout "The Long and Whining Road" I kept thinking about the costs involved in sending a family of 5 (plus a diesel camper van) around the world, and what would happen if that budget was - well - just handed over to Unicef rather than the final amount raised in donations or obtained through busking. 

Of course, if that had been page 1 it would've been an extremely short book, and we wouldn't have been able to follow Simeon's journey of discovery, along with his family, and the ups and downs of their trip. 

Things that stuck in the mind were how much we (humans) take our machines for granted. If a sane rational (and let's face it, 'play it safe') type of person had planned a trip like this, they'd be looking at taking the most up to date technologically advanced and reliable vehicle on the journey - not a 20 year old camper van. They would have made a meticulous plan of routes, factored in the need to deal with emergencies, and would (quite possibly) have been about as entertaining to read as most travelogues. The book swung up on my "I like it" scale when Simeon described the nitty gritty reality of globetrotting across land. Not only that, his description of humans encountered along the way ranged from amazing people who you sincerely wish were part of your community where you lived, and people who you'd quite happily see fired in a rocket straight at the heart of the sun. 

I finished the book, ended on an up-swing. Breeze through nasty pessimistic views of how much easier it would've been to skip the trip and donate the money, put a boot through the 'fussy parent' notion of what impact the trip must've had on his daughters' educations (or sanity in places!) and thoroughly engross yourself in the story of what happens when people wake up one morning, look out of the window and contemplate the morning commute or the daily grind and say "Stuff that, I'm going to do something crazy but worthwhile instead"

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Hollow City - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children II - Don't miss the absolutely fantastic book trailer!

Ransom Riggs' fantastic Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children  rocked our world back in June and the sequel - Hollow City - is about to arrive. The New York Times Best Seller gets darker second time around as we once again catch up with Jacob, and the incumbents of the mysterious parallel universe - centred around a creepy home for 'gifted' children. 

We're on the edge of our seats for this one and can't wait...meanwhile enjoy the spooky book trailer for this. 

"Hollow City" (Miss Peregrine II) by Ransom Riggs is out on the 14th January 2014 from Quirk Books



Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Hive Monkey by Gareth L. Powell (Solaris Books)

"Hive Monkey" by Gareth L. Powell. Intelligent, effortlessly cool sci fi. 
Back before I decided to put all the 'grown up' books I review in a more grown up place, I reviewed "Ack Ack Macaque" by Gareth L. Powell on my other blog ReadItDaddy - bought purely on the strength of a glowing write-up on BoingBoing (who cost me an arm and a leg in book recommendations, the beggars!)

A whirlwind mix of virtual reality gaming, primates, hot ninja chicks and kick-ass action, it was just my kind of novel.

"Hive Monkey" is the sequel, and (spoilers ahead) now Ack Ack Macaque is a real and tangible being rather than a computer game character, life doesn't really get any easier for our banana dacquiri-swilling antihero.

The world, it seems, is caught up in change - and not for the better.  In hiding aboard a nuclear powered Zeppelin, we find Ack Ack kicking his heels up, craving action.

The saying "be careful what you wish for" rings in his ears as K8, kick ass sidekick and friend is kidnapped, for indoctrination into an insidious organisation known as The Gestalt. Ack Ack's only hope is to break K8 out, with the help of some old friends and more than a goodly dose of gung-ho, Spitfire fuel and machine gun bullets.

Reading "Hive Monkey" reminded me that Powell's style is to lull you into a false sense of security. At first, the novel feels like a slightly slower paced adventure than Ack Ack Macaque - But before long your arse is sliding down a razor-blade of tension, action and inventive characterisation as Ack Ack's "shoot first, ask questions later, then shoot again" approach begins to bear fruit.

Again without spoiling too much, there's the distinct feeling that a third book in the story arc (or indeed a fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh) certainly won't go amiss. I stick to my machine guns on this though, if they ever cast a movie without Ron Perlman as Ack Ack, I'll be beside myself with grief.

Third book soon please Gareth!