Saturday, 31 August 2013

Joker: A Disturbing Take on a Super Villain Who Is Already Pretty Disturbing

A Review By: Amelia

Joker has always been one of the greatest–if not the greatest–superhero foe. He’s a madman with no regard for human life but he does it with a smile and usually, a ridiculously over the top plan to cause absolute chaos. What makes Joker such an interesting case study for comic fans and comic writers alike is that he doesn’t have to be over-the-top, and to make him more grounded is to make him more terrifying. That’s what drew me to read and review Joker.

Joker, written by Brian Azzarello and illustrated by Lee Bermejo, is a comic book that is entirely about a realistic Joker in a realistic Gotham. Joker stays the same, but his methods are more grounded–more real world gangster–than what we’ve seen of Joker before.

Azzarello and Lee have worked together a few times and their notable work within the DC Universe (aside from Joker) is Lex Luthor: Man of Steel which is a noir/pulp take on why Lex Luthor feels he needs to be a constant foe to Superman. Azzarello and Lee both have gritty styles that suit each other perfectly, and their comics are always intricately written and drawn.

The characters in Joker include Joker (duh), Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, and Two-Face, with a brief (and I
mean really brief) appearance of the Dark Knight in the last few pages of the comic. Surprisingly though, the story isn’t out of the perspective of any of these characters. The story comes courtesy of a low-level criminal named Johnny Frost that has the good luck (or bad depending on how you look at it) of becoming Joker’s right hand man. Having a new character weigh in on what’s happening around him is a really intense experience. He believes working for Joker will be a good thing, but as the story wears on and Johnny sees Joker for what he really is, that shiny veneer begins to fade and Johnny, along with readers, begin to see the Joker in a new light–no easy feat for a character with as many stories as Joker.

The characters are also given a small tweaking to make them more original to the writer. As an example, usually talkative Harley Quinn is silent: she never utters a single word throughout the whole comic.

The art style in Joker is gritty and realistic. There’s a lot of shadows, and a lot of sharp, square angles. For close ups, Bermejo softens his style and the sharp angles are replaced by smooth, regular features while the colours, that are stark and/or lacking in most panels, are more plentiful and blended together. Overall, the colour scheme is drab, but the excessive details–especially in clothing and cars–make up for the subdued colour palate.

Joker is a great comic book. It shows the crime in Gotham like crime in the real-world and that’s something you don’t usually get in comic books. Joker’s still bat-shit crazy, but also has his moments of weakness, and that’s also something that’s fairly original. The art style is unique and beautiful in it’s sharp-edged, drab colour way and the story is fantastic.

My final thoughts on Brian Azzarello’s Joker are that it is a terrific comic book. Read it more than once to really get it and let your mouth water at the art style. Keep in mind it’s incredibly violent and for mature audiences only, but for me, that only added to the charm. In Joker, Azzarello showed what Gotham would be like in the real world and it’s disturbing, but more than compelling enough to read this comic book over and over again.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

The Monuments Men: History, Art, Nazis – It’s Three, Three, Three Books in One!

A Review By: Amelia
It’s amazing the things we–as a collective people–have never really thought of before and The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel is one of those things. World War II was some of the worst destruction that the world had ever seen before and miraculously, the artwork survived. Why? Well, a little known group of highly educated, extremely brave men named the Monuments Men are to thank, and within the four-hundred pages of the book, you’ll discover that they didn’t receive half the thanks they should have!

The book follows the Allied group known as the Monuments Men as they raced against time and behind enemy lines to find, retrieve, and save as much Nazi stolen and relocated art from destruction as they could. It focuses on the eleven-month period between D-Day and V-E Day and follows the accounts of six of the Monuments Men and the seemingly impossible task of saving the world’s art from the Nazis destruction.

The plot of this book is all about art and how it ever survived the ferocity of World War II’s fighting and Nazi looting. At the same time that Adolf Hitler was attempting to take over the western world and eradict the Jewish race from the face of the Earth, his armies were methodically seeking and hoarding the finest art treasures in Europe for Hitler’s and his highest officers private art collections. The Nazis were painstakingly cataloguing art that Hitler planned to display in his Fuehrer Museum in Lintz but also destroying modern art that they considered ‘degenerate’ art. 

To stop the cultural destruction of Europe from reaching the level of devastation that Hitler intended to reach, American museum directors, Canadian art historians, British curators–and anyone else educated in fine art, were to travel through Europe and save what they could. Their searches lead them from France, to Belgium, to Germany, and back to France. They found huge art warehouses in semi-collapsed mines, Austrian castles, and German basements. They were helped by employees of the Louvre, as well as members of the Nazi party that didn’t want to see the art come to harm.

The Monuments Men is such a wonderful non-fiction book. Edsel writes facts and dates in such an elegant way it almost makes you believe that you’re reading fiction. He goes inside the characters head and writes about what they’re thinking after he painstakingly went through personal letters and diaries of the men who worked so hard to preserve the culture of a war-torn Europe. Without what they did, looting would have run rampant, priceless works would have been stolen or destroyed. Art as we know it would have changed forever!

My final thoughts on The Monuments Men are that it’s an interesting book. It’s written elegantly and contains a lot of facts that I’d never heard before. Everyone knows the stats of how many people were killed in World War II and of Hitler’s hellish policies and practices, but a vast majority of us know hardly anything of the tireless efforts of the Monuments Men. This book remedies that and everyone with even an inkling of interest in history, World War II, or art should pick of this book and learn something new. 

Saturday, 10 August 2013

All My Friends Are Dead: One Story, Two Minutes, Hilarity Ensues

A Review By: Amelia

When looking for my next short story to review, I will admit that I kind of left it until the last minute. I didn’t really have any time at all to settle down, read, and take notes on a short story like Heart of Darkness, which, although a fantastic story is way too long. This is where All My Friends Are Dead came in and my god, what a life saver of a short story!

All My Friends Are Dead is a dark comedy short story written and illustrated by Avery Monsen and Jory John. The story consists of just over three hundred words spread over ninety two pages. It’s a short story about how, well, how an assortment of characters’ friends are dead. Although not everyone’s friends are dead, some are missing, or obsolete, or expired, or have scurvy.
The illustrations that go along with the three hundred words of texts 
are simple doodles with basic colouring. They go perfectly with the story – simple drawings, simple plot, simple concept.

My final thoughts on All My Friends Are Dead is that it is cute, weird, and funny and comes off in a very spoken-word poetry kind-of-way. It makes me feel like I should be in a smoky coffee shop listening to a guy emote poorly on a stage made of milk crates. It’s an interesting little story that I suggest anyone who has a couple of minutes to spare check out.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Princess Resurrection: Fight Off Evil With a Smile

A Review By: Amelia
Werewolves, demons, monsters, vampires. All these ferocious creatures are afraid of the same thing: the beautiful Princess Hime, an awesome warrior who fights off the forces of evil with a chainsaw and a smile. Not only does she look great in a tiara, she has magical powers that allow her to raise the dead. She’s a girl on a mission, and with the help of her undead servant, an overly aggressive yet feminine werewolf, a sexy vampire with a taste for virgin blood, and a super cute robot maid, there’s no creature of darkness she can’t take down!

So begins Yasunori Mitsunaga’s manga Princess Resurrection, a manga series about a warring royal clan in a magical kingdom that has been in steady decline for the last couple of eons. As their own world slips away, the royal children move their epic battle to the human world and they bring their monstrous (literally) assassins with them. Princess Hime is part of this warring royal family and, if it were up to her, she wouldn’t be fighting for the crown of her kingdom because she just doesn’t want it. Unfortunately, the rest of her siblings do and they send all manner of horrible monsters after her to get her out of their way on their violent quest for the crown.

Princess Resurrection is currently an ongoing manga series with sixteen volumes published in Japan and seven volumes translated into English. Each volume is divided further into about five chapters with their own independent storylines, each about Hime’s misadventures in the human world. Each chapters within each volume follows a ‘monster of the week’ formula where a new foe will appear with its own miniature storyline and, by the end, will inevitably die by Hime’s hand. Later on in the series it’s revealed that there’s been an arching storyline that has been intersecting with Hime’s storylines all along, but that’s a review for another day.

The art in Princess Resurrection is your general manga art style: big eyes, bigger busted, blonde haired, petite females in black and white line art. Now, that being said, just because the art is nothing surprising or completely original, it is beautifully rendered and the lines are crisp and neat which displays the talent of Mitsunaga nicely and often shows that less is indeed more. Panels are intensified with details during dramatic scenes and stripped of almost all details during a comedic one. The author/artist also has an interesting style for drawing fight sequences. Mitsunaga figured that as the whole manga series involves Princess Him continually fighting horrible monsters that drawing all these constant battle scenes would be, well, exhaustive. So instead of continuously drawing extremely detailed fight panels, the battle panels include close up shots of the two (or more) fighting and the backgrounds are simple lines. Aside from making the artist’s job easier, these lines are actually quite ingenious as they convey a sense of urgency and rapid movement that solid and detailed backgrounds just wouldn’t.

Mitsunaga definitely create an interesting manga when he wrote and then penned Princess Resurrection. You’ll find yourself laughing at and cheering for the rag-tag group of misfits that play the protagonists as they fight for their lives in their ridiculously epic quest to survive. The art style may not be overly striking or dramatic, but a few clever tricks help it to pop and the original and fantastic plot will keep you intrigued if the art doesn’t.

My final thoughts on Princess Resurrection is that it’s incredibly entertaining. Every once in a while a story comes along that is, for lack of a better word, fun. You’re embroiled in the story from beginning to end for no apparent reason other than it is fun. This fun has nothing to do with a complicated plot that you have to keep reading to even remotely understand what’s going down or characters so in depth they their lives become yours, it just simply is. I found myself wanting more and more of Princess Resurrection because it put a smile on my face. I find that the more repetitive media in the current day and age gets (pardon the cliché), the harder and harder it is to entertain the populous, so why not smile when Hime swings a chainsaw around because an invisible man is after her or laugh when the maid’s ample breasts are constantly given the caption ‘bouncy bouncy’? There’s nothing wrong with loving something just because it’s absurd, outlandish, or just plain silly, and if Princess Resurrection is anything, it’s silly. I give it a high rating for being simply and strange but still amazingly fun to read.