Review: CAPTAIN MARVEL VOLUME 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick

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ISBN: 0785165495

What You Get: The first six issues of Marvel Now’s new Captain Marvel series by Kelly Sue DeConnick with Dexter Roy and Emma Rios as artists. Ms. Marvel, aka Carol Danvers, is taking on the mantle of Mar-Vell, the previous Captain Marvel. There’s also a few pages of Carol Danvers’ biography in the back of the book, which is really handy for filling in all the gaps for new readers of this character (like me).

The Story: It successfully establishes Carol Danvers as the new Captain Marvel, and contains a fabulous time travel story that catches us up on her origin story, the people important to her, her powers, and what kind of a hero she is.

The first issue shows her reluctantly taking up Captain Marvel’s mantle, urged by Cap America (who is great). There’s a great fight scene where the two Captains team up, and it’s really fun seeing them work together so well (especially in “shielding” the civilians).

The rest of the volume explores Carol’s hesitancy in her new role by giving her the option of changing her life completely so that she isn’t a Captain Marvel or even a superhero anymore; but this personal journey is entrenched in a rollicking time-travel story with many kickass ladies as supporting characters. There’s a team of World War II pilots in issues 3-4 that I especially loved. Issues 5-6 focuses exclusively on the pasts of Helen Cobb, an important woman from Carol’s past, and Carol herself, and the two women find themselves alternately teaming up and fighting each other to work out all the flaws (or supposed flaws) in the timeline. Carol has to figure out whether or not she is who she is supposed to be, and whether what she wants matters. Helen and Carol have so much sass and swag that this is all endless fun.

Minor complaint: It’s clear that Burke and Carol have a strong, caring relationship, but there isn’t any explanation in the main issues of why that is. The biography answers questions but it still seemed odd that it isn’t shown or commented on in the main story.

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from #1 by Dexter Soy

The Art: The art matches the tone and style of the stories being told perfectly. It is perfect and I love it. Dexter Soy’s art in issues 1-4 is colorful and dark and vibrant and full of movement, and it is pretty much my favorite comic art I have ever experienced. Issues 5-6, by Emma Rios, have a pretty different style, but it evokes Soy’s in certain ways. Plus it’s a little retro, with lots of sharp edges and sassy ladies in awesome 60s clothing, and fits the story it is telling perfectly. LOTS OF PERFECTION, HERE, ARE YOU GETTING THAT.

from #5 by Emma Rios
from #5 by Emma Rios

My Rating: five out of five stars

Review: NORTH AND SOUTH by Elizabeth Gaskell

512710North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (a contemporary of Charles Dickens) is set in Victorian England, and focuses on the huge changes that industrialization had brought to the country, highlighted by the social clashes between the tradesmen who are becoming rich and powerful, and the “old money” gentility. The story is told through three families, the Thorntons (southern tradesmen, the Hales (northern gentility), and the Higginses (southern working class). Margaret Hale, our bold heroine protagonist, moves to Milton, a northern industrial town, with her father, a dissenting clergyman, and her mother. There, she is initially repulsed by the different way of living all around her, and especially by the owners of the various mills and factories, exemplified by Mr. Thornton. She also befriends the Higginses, who work in the mills and give her first-hand accounts of how horrible it can be to work there.
That’s the stage, in a nutshell, but there is a LOT going on in this novel, both on a basic plot level and on a thematic level. The Hales are struggling to adjust to their new life, the Thorntons are struggling with their business and a union strike, the Higginses are involved with the strike, pretty much everyone gets sick at some point, and there’s a mystery involving Margaret’s brother Frederick. There may or may not be a romantic plot as well. ALL of the individuals clash with each other, usually because of misunderstandings because they’re all REALLY defensive toward their own way of life. There are frequent arguments and collisions between the North and South, the rich and poor, the educated and non-educated, and the pride of one character and another.

DID I MENTION THERE IS A LOT GOING ON?

I enjoyed this novel, for the most part. It was very intelligent in the way that all angles of everything were thought out or developed. The different characters were all very well-rounded and the way they constantly misunderstood one another was hilarious, because the writing is thorough enough that the reader understands everyone but none of the characters understand each other. The strike was the most interesting for me of the many plots going on, because it showed all of the issues at stake so clearly. I REALLY loved Margaret. She’s very conscientious of how she behaves, so often other people don’t understand the amount of FEELS she is having because she’s trying to deal with her problems or not burden other people. This makes her come across as haughty and proud very often, when sometimes she’s just shy or feeling sad and covering it up. But she’s very bold and brave when it matters, and she takes care of her family through some really difficult times. Go Marg.

My main complaint is one of pacing. There were several sections that moved very slowly, mostly because a couple of characters would get bogged down in arguing about something, such as the strike, again. I kept willing external events to happen to the characters so that they would have to DEAL with them rather than talk about them. This could also make it feel like the author was just setting up these characters and this situation so she could talk about “Real Issues.”

Overall, I recommend it if you are interested in this time period or enjoy complicated romantic dramas. It’s worth the work.

Magical Words: The Power of Speech in Old Irish Texts

[Originally posted on my old blogspot, written after I took a college course called “Age of Beowulf.”]

 

I am a word nerd; I love words, their meanings, and the connections between them. Therefore I have a tendency to focus on specific words rather than on the overall effect or power or meaning the collective words have. This term I took a course called “The Age of Beowulf,” and it changed the way I think about words to include how words produce an action, and how heavily actions rely on words. The relationship between words and deeds, especially the question of which causes which (i.e. chicken or egg) was a prevalent theme in most of the texts we read, but I was particularly struck by it in the Celtic texts because of the concept of geis (or plural gessa). This is essentially a taboo or spell-like order on someone else, requiring them to operate under those gessa. But words in general are very powerful from the viewpoint of the Celtic texts we read, as we see time and time again.

In the Old Irish lyric, “To Mary and Her Son,” the speaker says, “I call upon you with true words” (Carney 19) “that we may have talk together with the compassion of unblemished heart” (21). Mary, a saint in heaven, is expected to come and speak with her caller because of mere words, almost like a summoning. The speaker expects Mary to listen to him because of his words. In “The World,” another lyric, the speaker says, “Take no oath, take no oath by the sod you stand upon” (41). The implication (taken with the rest of the lyric) is that since oaths are binding but the earth won’t last, the oath will remain but it will be impotent, because its witness is gone. Oaths, statements of words, are more permanent than the earth itself. In the wisdom poetry “The Sayings of Flann Fina,” this idea is complicated by the statement, “Vain speech is the beginning of evil” (Ireland 79). Speech is very powerful; once spoken, it spreads a certain power that enables speaker, listener, or both to act on the vain speech. This emphasizes the negative influence words can impart.

These are examples of how words influence actions, but there are also many instances in Celtic texts where words are blatantly magical, affecting the weather or other people in forceful ways. In “The Irish Life of Brigit,” Brigit communicates through speech with an infant, asking it who its father was. The infant, “thought it had not yet begun to speak” (Davies 153), answered, thereby saving an innocent man from a rape accusation. Birgit also calmed a storm, “stilled the rain and wind” (154), by chanting a verse to God. Brigit’s power is drawn from her spiritual connection with God, and channeled out through words.

This is evocative to the powers druids are shown to have throughout the earlier texts “The Book of Invasions” and “The Second Battle of Mag Tured.” When the Irish druids send a wind to keep the sons of Mil away, Amergin stands up and chants a counter-spell of some sort, beginning with “I invoke the land of Ireland” (Cross 19). This suggests names are very powerful as well. The result of Amergin’s chant is that “Immediately a tranquil calm came to them on the sea” (19). Amergin is a druid, but also one of the “men of learning” (19) Donn refers to, and also a “poet” (21), showing once again how closely connected magic is to words. Words, simple sounds that these druids make, are able to influence and control nature itself.

In The Tain, the gessa that Cuchulainn and the Morrigan place on each other further illustrates the power words have over deeds. When Cuchulainn refuses her proposition, she vows to hinder him in his fights (Kinsella 133). They trade promises of pain to each other until Cuchulainn finishes with, “I’ll hurl a stone at you…and shatter your leg, and you’ll carry that mark forever unless I lift it from you with a blessing” (133). All of these pronouncements eventually happen: “Cuchulainn did to the Morrigan the three things he had sworn” (136). In this episode, their previous meeting and words dictated the actual events in the future and the outcome of what happened.

Additionally, as we saw, words can have both positive and negative results. This is humbling and makes me want to be very careful and aware how I use my words, both in speech and on paper. As an English major, my entire academic life revolves around how well or how foolishly (as is more often the case) I use words to communicate and attempt to affect others. Before this term, I had considered this solely in terms of how I can persuade other people, but now words seem much more volatile and powerful in real life, not just the abstract world of ideas.

All of these examples drawn from the texts show words as having concrete, physical consequences. The power that words can have over people and situations, and their power to create, support, and destroy ideas is amazing and terrifying, and the Celts clearly knew all about this. When ideas move history, from the mundane day to day history of one person to the nation-changing wars and treaties of global history, it shows how absurdly powerful mere words are.

I have two large goals as I move out of this term resulting from this course specifically. The first one is to handle words as I would dynamite: very, very carefully and respectfully. I may not be able to use words to raise or calm storms (although that would be awesome), but how I speak to everyone around me on a daily basis, how I write, how I use Facebook to express myself, how I speak to employers, professors, and peers, are all very powerful forms of communication and directly influence both my own actions and those of others’.

My second new goal is to learn Old Irish.

Works Cited:

Carney, James. Medieval Irish Lyrics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967. Print.

Cross, Tom Peete. Ancient Irish Tales. ed. Tom Peete Cross and Clark Harris Slover. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1936. Print.

Davies, Oliver. Celtic Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press, 1999. Print.

Ireland, Colin A. Old Irish Wisdom Attributed to Aldfrith of Northumbria. Tempe: Arizona
Center for Medieval Renaissance Studies, 1999. Print.

Kinsella, Thomas. The Táin: From the Irish Epic Táin Bó Cuailnge. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2002. Print.

Review: Avengers Vs. X-Men PHC

14885892ISBN: 0785163174

Warning: mild and/or vague spoilers!

What You Get: 568 pages. Comic book collections generally contain 4-10 issues, but this one has 22.5. BAM. There are thirteen for the main AvX storyline, along with six “VS” match issues (pitting various X-Men against various Avengers) and three “Infinite Comics” issues, which were created for digital. So that’s cool.

The Story: Let’s face facts, the whole reason behind this storyline is so that the writers/artists could depict what happens when, say, Magneto and Iron Man fight each other, and the fans can watch. I had a hard time believing that various characters would actually react in a certain way (or so strongly), especially in the first few issues. But the writers did the best they could in showing how stressed out everyone is from the years of Intense Story Arcs and past trauma from the Phoenix. I also appreciated how certain characters went bad; if they’re going to go bad, even for just one decision or for the entire series, I thought it was in-character how they went bad. That is, the characters’ pre-existing flaws were what was emphasized when they behaved in dastardly ways, here.

 The Art: The art was really great. I’m not an art critic in any sense of the word, so I’m not sure what I should be allowed to say besides “IT WAS REALLY PRETTY AND I JUST WANTED TO MAKE OUT WITH SOME OF THOSE TWO-PAGE SPREADS.” I don’t think all Marvel should have the same art, but sometimes it makes me cry how some titles get such ross-awful art, while others get really special unique art (like Hawkeye or Captain Marvel) or simply high-quality art, like Avengers vs X-Men. Some of the “VS” and “Infinite” issues stood out awkwardly as less awesome. Olivier Coipel was my favorite line artist, overall, in this volume.

The Cool: I really liked how Nova was used (although I’ve never seen Nova before (I’m only a year old in comic years!)). I couldn’t help thinking that if this was a DC series, an even dozen of Green Lanterns would have to be maimed or killed for this story function. I’ve also been waiting for Captain America to hit Namor in the head with his shield since I started reading comics. There’s a one-page gag comic in which Captain America and Cyclops trade verbal abuse, and it was one of my favorite pages in the entire volume. This is also a good story for Hope fans (of which I am one most of the time). She’s one of a handful of characters who have fully-fleshed out, believable storylines, and hers is just awesome. So.

The Not-So-Cool: Some big couples may or may not break up in this storyline, and it may or may not seem ludicrously contrived. Some of the “Vs” issues didn’t really make sense in how the action panned out.

My Rating: three out of five stars

Review: HUNGER by Jackie Morse Kessler

7247856I’ve had this book on my TBR for a long time, but some part of my brain pigeon-holed it as “another anorexia book,” so it took me a while to get down to reading it. Fortunately, it was well-written, focused and interesting, with a mythological twist that kept me reading. It’s definitely worth the read!

I like that this book is so short. There are many, many 400-page YA books that I just want to slice down to half the page-count because the protagonists spend so much time wandering around, wondering what to do and wondering who they are. Hunger gets right down to the story, who the characters are, and what they want and need.

Lisa, an anorexic who is about to commit suicide, is chosen as the new Famine, who is one the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Death is the one who gives her the job, and he seems to be the leader of the four. War and Pestilence come into the story, too, in their own ways. I really enjoyed how the Four Horsemen were modernized, so to speak, and it was really interesting how Lisa’s struggle with anorexia feeds into her role as Famine, and how her role of Famine influences the rest of her life choices. Death, War, and Pestilence were all really interesting characters in their own right, although we don’t get to completely know any of them; this is one of the drawbacks of the shortness of the book. However, there are three sequels for the three Horsemen aside from Famine. Death was the most intriguing and fleshed out (so to speak).

Lisa’s adventures as Famine, both in faraway countries and close to home were very interesting, but every time she got on her horse (Midnight, who is much nicer than you might expect from a Horseman’s steed), the tone of the book became almost surreal and very dream-like. I liked that. It made you question a little just how much of it was really happening, but it doesn’t really matter because it all reflects what is happening in her real life so well.

There is also a small cast of human characters in Lisa’s “real” life. Her boyfriend James and her ex-BFF Suzanne have realized Lisa has a problem and are trying to help her. Her new best friend, Tammy, is bulimic, and Lisa looks up to her but comes to realize that Tammy isn’t as confident or self-controlled as Lisa had though. Lisa’s parents are polar opposites but were a really great part of the cast. Her mom and dad are both flawed, realistic characters but still her parents.

There are a lot of detailed descriptions of anorexic or bulimic habits, which were really unpleasant to read but really helped me to understand the lengths people with those illnesses will go to feel some sort of control over themselves. Obviously, it’s really sad, and Hunger, through Lisa and Tammy, helps you understand and sympathize with those characters.

I gave Hunger four out of five stars.

Children’s books are cool (mini-reviews)

I’ve read a handful of children’s books this year already, and they’re all good ones, so have some mini-reviews!

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Earwig and The Witch by Diana Wynne Jones:

Diana Wynne Jones is one of those authors who makes me flail and go ASDFGHJKL; no matter what she does, so it’s hard for me to review her books. I am striving to remain objective about this book because I loved it to pieces, but I know it has some flaws. So, flaws first: There are several characters and a couple of plot threads that are introduced in this book which then disappear or taper off by the end of the book. This was her last book so I am guessing that if she had lived (RIP forever) to finish it, she would have fleshed out those better. In any case, there is still a complete story here, but it feels like there should be a sequel or more chapters for sub-plot/characters.

Besides that, though, this book is flawless. Earwig is hilarious, bossy, and clever, and sets herself to taking control of her household in a forthright manner that you can’t help but root for. It reminded me of a kids’ version of Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (another EXCELLENT book, by the way). The illustrations were really fun, too, and matched the feel of the story. The characters are all shown as varying degrees of “ugly,” but they’re so unique and expressive that it’s fabulous.

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien:

This was a reread, and was so much better than I remembered! I mostly remembered lots of tramping through the wilderness and Bilbo derping all over everywhere, but Bilbo is seriously epic. The dwarves are still really difficult to keep track of.

One thing that I appreciated more this time around was how the seeds for the final confrontation (I don’t mean the dragon) are sewn much earlier in the book than I remembered, and the entire story is very cohesive within itself. It can seem like an episodic travelogue, but there are a lot of themes and threats that interweave through the whole story and make it very complete. It’s awesome.

I may or may not have cried at the end.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne Valente:

Fairyland, the series that this book belongs to, is a really great romp of a story. It’s a brilliant postmodern take on the older child-in-Faerie/Alice-in-Wonderland stories, so if you’re familiar with those, there are constant hilarious subtle (or not so subtle) references to those. Valente likes turning all expectations on their head and twisting tropes into pretzels. But even if you don’t “get” that layer, like I said, there’s still a fun, hilarious, dark, awesome story in the forefront.

I didn’t like this one as much as the first (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making) but it was still fabulous. The Mad Scientist and her inventions was probably my favorite bit, but the Duke of Tea is not to be missed!

The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan:

After the perfection of Son of Neptune, the sequel had a hard time standing up to it. The plot was a lot smaller scale(even though there were plenty of bad guys and angry Romans for our heroes to deal with), which made me just want the book to be over so they could get back to dealing with The Big Bads of the series. It was good to have Annabeth back in the forefront, smarter and more badass than ever, and I was happy to have a Leo POV again, too.

My favorite part of this new series is how Riordan brings in the Roman gods—they are still the older Greek gods, but with different personalities and/or powers. In this book, Athena/Minerva and Dionysus/Bacchus stand out as really clever reimaginings of the characters we’re already familiar with.

PS: Nico is very special to me and I demand more page time for that boy.

Bout of Books: Book Crack mini-challenge

bookgoonie’s mini-challenge for today asks: What is your Book Crack? What can you NOT SAY NO to? What bookish things make you blissful?

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Russian folklore reimagining
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Sleeping Beauty retelling

I have a weakness for fairy tale reimaginings/retellings (the twistier, the better!), as well as stories where someone goes to Fairyland/Faerie (willingly or unwillingly). Robin McKinley is a good example, but if I read the premise and it is a new take on a fairy tale, I’m halfway sold already.

 

 

 

10060016I also love stories that are retellings of really old stories but told from a different character’s perspective. Some examples are Lavinia by Ursula K Le Guin (The Aeneid), The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (The Iliad) and Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis (Cupid and Psyche). Different authors treating a story that you love is always really interesting. If it’s bad, of course, it makes me 500 times as angry, but if it’s good, it feels like additional “canon.”

 

 

As for “bookish things” that make me “blissful,” I love seeing interesting ways to decorate your house using books or bookshelves, odd bookstores, and “book architecture.”

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Kansas City Public Librarytumblr_m9p910gJcw1qd5tf8o1_500El Ateneo Bookstore in Buenos Aires, Argentinatumblr_mb70bbI6Jn1rq31qso1_500