Friday, 3 August 2012

Comics: Some Mini Reviews

Some reviews for my latest comics haul!

Astonishing X-Men #51

Or, The One With The Gay Wedding.

First things first: Yay, a same sex wedding in a superhero comic!

Other than that, I don't have all that much to say about this issue. It was sweet. The artwork wasn't anything special, but it was nice. I don't know enough about Northstar or the current Astonishing X-Men arc to comment on the story, but I liked what I saw. Beast had some good moments, and X-23 had a funny line. And I liked the moment where Rogue was wondering if her two mothers (Mystique and Destiny) would have gotten married. It was a nice nod to another canon GLBT relationship.

Captain Marvel #1

This is Marvel's only solo female title (I know, it's pathetic, right? I'm not a DC girl but in this department they have Marvel beat, no question), so even though I'm not a huge Carol Danvers fan, there was no way I wasn't going to buy this one and thus vote with my wallet. See, Marvel? People want to read stories about women! GIVE US MORE. I'LL GIVE YOU MY MONEY.

Aside from that, this is good. I mean really good. The artwork is stunning, and quite unusual for a comic. I liked the acknowledgement that yes, Ms Marvel outranks Captain America.  Spider Man has a funny moment. And Carol herself is excellent. She's not naked in every second panel and she isn't drawn in rediculous poses. There's a nice moment at the end where she gets to meet her childhood hero, a female air force pilot.

On the plot front, this is mainly set up. The story focuses on Carol deciding to assume the Captain Marvel role, and more or less ends there. But it's a good set up, and a promising start.

Captain America and Hawkeye #631

This is about Captain America and Hawkeye fighting mutant dinosaurs.

'Nuff said.

Avengers Assemble #5

With a cover like that, do you think I care about anything else in this comic?

This comic contained Black Widow/Hawkeye smooches, which upset a lot of people online, apparently. I wasn't one of them, and I think people who are going "STOP SINKING MY SHIP!" are overreacting. It's not clear where exactly Avengers Assemble fits in with main Marvel continuity (as much as the 616 verse can have a coherent continuity...), since it seems to be following the movies more. And it's not clear where Winter Soldier fits in either. And if it does follow the main continuity, it's one kiss. I doubt it's going to be the start of an affair or anything. If normal comics relationships are anything to go by, it probably won't even be mentioned again. Remember that Wolverine/Rogue kiss? No? Neither do they. So Natasha/Bucky shippers, chill out, okay?

Winter Soldier #6-8

This is a damn good comic. The dialogue is above average for a superhero comic (since, let's face it, dialogue in comics can get pretty cheesy sometimes) and the artwork is stunning. That said, I have some thoughts about the current arc, which is that Natasha has been captured and it looks like she's been brainwashed again, and Bucky needs to save her.


I don't want to say Natasha's been shoved in a fridge just yet, but Brubaker needs to tread very carefully if he wants to avoid it. So far Bucky has a few manpain!moments and it looks like the villain is brainwashing Natasha to get back at Bucky, which is a massive DO NOT WANT. That said, this is only Bucky's speculation at this point. Let's hope Bucky is wrong.

Depending on where they go with it, this could be a very important arc for Natasha. Being brainwashed again would be a huge blow to her and it would be interesting to see how she deals with it afterwards.

Or it could be all about the man smashing things and angsting about HOW DARE THEY HURT HIS WOMAN. At this point it could go either way. Right now it's walking a very fine line. Obviously I'm hoping that this isn't yet another case of Women in Fridges, but I might be giving the genre too much credit.

By the look of one of the future covers it also looks like Hawkeye is going to feature in the story somehow, probably assisting Bucky. Depending on how the rest of the arc pans out, I'm cautiously optimistic about this. I don't want a love triangle, but I can dream that my hoped for Clint/Natasha/Bucky threesome might actually happen. :P I mean, if Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver can have sex in canon...

Black Widow: The Name of the Rose

Oh, Marvel. Marvel, Marvel. You really shot yourself in the foot by not continuing with this.

This may be the best comic I've ever read. It's certainly my favourite. When people say superhero comics are stupid, this is one of the comics I can provide as evidence for the contrary. It's smart. It's well written. The art is some of the best I've seen in a comic. It features an awesome woman who is never slut shamed despite being sexual, is respected by the men around her, does not hate other women and actually breaks out of a fridge. 

Did I mention it's also written by a woman?

Seriously, there's a scene where Natasha has been captured and is tied to a chair in a walk in refridgerator. And then she breaks out of that same fridge. Given that Women In Fridges is such a well known trope, I doubt Marjorie Liu wrote this as a coincidence. Take note, Brubaker.

As much as I love this, I can't help but be saddened by how unique Name of the Rose is. Because here is an amazing example of what comics can be, what women in comics can be, and there's only five issues. What's more, there are no plans to give Natasha another solo comic, and I highly doubt we're going to get that movie. And this is despite the masses of female fans The Avengers, and more importantly Black Widow, have gained. Black Widow was immensely popular with movie goers, and yet Marvel refuses to acknowledge that said fans exist, which aside from being sexist is also bloody stupid. Fans have money, fans want to spend money. Name of the Rose is difficult to find and if you're a movie fan who wants to read comics about Natasha, there aren't a lot of options, especially not if you want to read comics where she isn't demoted to just being somebody's girlfriend, as she is in Winter Soldier. And then people wonder why comic sales are dwindling.

You have the potential for something great here, Marvel. Name of the Rose is proof you can do it.

Instead you're making Ant Man.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Mini Review: Fruits Basket

If I could describe the anime series Fruits Basket in only one word, it would be 'charming.' Utterly adorable and I'm kind of in love with it.

It takes a lot to make my cry at a fictional story, so when I say that there were some moments in Fruits Basket that made me tear up a little, that's saying a lot. It's primarily a comedy and a very funny one at that, but there are some moments that are genuinely tragic and work really well because the characters are so well developed, and you care about them.

The premise is reasonably simple. Recently orphaned high school student Tohru Honda becomes a live in housekeeper for three young men who are members of the wealthy Sohma family. Before you think something sleazy is going on, don't worry, the Sohma boys not only won't lay a hand on her, they are incapable of doing so. They are afflicted by a strange family curse that causes them to turn into one of the animals of the Chinese zodiac when they are weak or hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Hijinks ensue.

-Tohru's saintlike personality and near-constant gullibility got a bit annoying after a while, but overall she's still a well developed character whom I like. The way she deals with the loss of her mother is very well done.

-I liked the continued emphasis on Tohru's female friendships, and that said female friends were more than stereotypical cut outs. Uotani and Hanajima are well developed characters in their own right. They also provide a lot of the comedy without merely existing to be comedic foils for other characters, which is also nice to see. I love fiction that focuses on female friendship, so I really enjoyed this aspect of the series.

-The animation in this series is... not great. It's pretty cheap and there are some obvious moments where they cut corners. That being said, the artwork is very nice to look at and the expressiveness of the faces almost makes up for the cheap animation. But then again, my favourite anime is and always will be Sailor Moon. Cheap and dated animation clearly doesn't bother me that much. It's a matter of taste.

- The ending of Fruits Basket leaves a lot to be desired, and it's my understanding that this bothers a lot of fans of the series. It doesn't really resolve anything and the only answers we get bring up even more questions. It's also my understanding that these plot points get resolved in the manga, and while the anime is widely loved, the manga is regarded as a lot better. So guess what I'm reading in my spare time!

I give Fruits Basket an A-. If you're looking for something to watch while curled up on the sofa with a hot glass of milk after a stressful day, this may well be it.

Review: The Avengers

Last night I went to see the midnight premiere of The Avengers, and my opinion can be summed up in one line:

This movie is pure, concentrated awesome.

I have not read The Avengers comics (though I might do so now), but I was easily able to keep track of who everyone was and what was going on, so this is accessable to the casual viewer as well.

I've tried to keep this review as spoiler free as possible, but if you absolutely don't want to be spoiled about anything, proceed with caution.

- What I really loved about this movie was that it's a real ensemble piece. I was worried it would be the Iron Man show and was pleasantly surprised when that did not happen. Each character has their own storylines and arcs. This works to brilliant effect in the fight scenes as each character gets plenty of moments in the spotlight. The action sequences make use of all the Avengers' unique strengths and characteristics, so the action sequences never start to feel same-y. The only one who is underused and thus we connect with the least is Hawkeye, which is a shame as he seems like a pretty interesting character and I'm going to read up on him now. Also I may now ship Hawkeye/Black Widow.

There's plenty of personality clashes particularly between the three egos of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, but there's also a lot of bonding moments too. When the Avengers step out as a team, they feel like a team and it was great to see how they worked together. This is what X-Men: The Last Stand should have been.

- Black Widow was great, proving that it is possible to have a female superhero who isn't just fanservice on screen. I've never been a huge fan of Scarlet Johansson, but she manages to give Black Widow real depth here. She's an intelligent powerhouse who kicks plenty of butt in her own right. I also liked that her story arc didn't centre on a romance, although they're clearly hinting at one.

It was also refreshing to have a female character in an action movie who isn't subject to threats of sexual violence or intimidation, which was a welcome change especially after that episode of Game of Thrones I watched yesterday.

- Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner is the heart of the film, and the Hulk provides a lot of comedy. And smashes.

- The jokes in this movie are great. From the more or less the first scene the zingers start flying. They're funny and witty without being too 'Whedonesque.' It doesn't feel like Joss simply reworked jokes from Buffy.

- The 3D doesn't add all that much apart from a few cool perspective moments. You can enjoy it just as much in 2D and save yourself some money.

- The movie is pretty thin on plot, but that's to be expected in a superhero movie and having a basic main plotline actually worked to the film's advantage in my opinion. It left more time for character interaction rather than trying to cram in tonnes of confusing twists and exposition. Joss Whedon's strengths have always been with character development rather than plots, so keeping things simple was a wise move. One criticism I do have with this is we don't learn much about Loki's army and what their agenda is, but when everything else is so good, who gives a damn.

- This is not a 'serious' superhero movie that goes above and beyond the genre like The Dark Knight. But it is a brilliant example of a comic book action flick done right, with plenty of character moments and humour among the explosions. I give The Avengers an A.

Go see it. You'll have fun.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Review: The Hunger Games Film

This week I went and saw the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games, which I was really looking forward to but also terrified of because I really liked the book and I've been disappointed by almost every film adaptation of a young adult novel.

Fortunately this was not the case with The Hunger Games.

Minor quibbles aside, this is a really great adaptation. I was pleasantly surprised by how faithful it was to the book, as well as being a good movie in its own right. The changes they did make from the book were relatively minor and helped the transition from page to screen.

I'm now getting into the more spoilery aspects of the review, so be warned.

~ I really liked that the movie didn't talk down to its audience. This is a smart film that expects the audience to be smart, which is so refreshing to see in a teenage oriented film, especially in a world of endless Transformers sequels.

~ The fact that the main characters with the exception of Rue were all white felt like a cop out. Katniss and Gale's ethnicity was left faily ambiguous in the books, and that could have been a great oppotunity to have Katniss and/or Gale played by non-white actors. That being said, Jennifer Lawrence was brilliant in the role, and the acting from the rest of the cast was really good too.

Apparently Rue being black came as a surprise to some fans of the books, which mystifies me since the books make her race pretty clear.

~ The opening with the shaky cam made me feel sick, and I remember thinking that if the rest of the movie was like this I would have trouble keeping my popcorn down. Fortunately it calmed down later.

~ I understand why they didn't want to give this film a higher rating since they were aiming at a teen audience, but it could have benefitted from it because they could have shown a lot more. In the book tributes were swinging axes into each other's faces, which obviously they couldn't do here. They tried to make up for the lack of gore with shaky cam sequences, which some reviewers found annoying but I found pretty effective. I liked that despite having to tone down the violence (which was to be expected), they still managed to convey the brutality of the situation by showing the emotional impact on the characters, which worked really well.

The only time I felt that the lower rating did the film a disservice was during Rue's death, because that was such a powerful moment in the book and by changing the manner in which she died they took out a lot of the impact. Then again, people were crying in the theatre so maybe I'm just heartless.

The Hunger Games has often been called a watered down or Americanised Battle Royale. I haven't seen Battle Royale so I can only say that judging by the Wikipedia summary the premise is almost identical but that's where the similarities end. According to friends of mine who've seen both, the comparison is a little unfair because essentially they're very different stories and the execution is completely different. Like I said, I haven't seen Battle Royale and honestly I'm not in a rush to see it either, so I can't really comment.

That being said, people being thrown together to fight to the death for the entertainment of the masses is hardly a new idea- the Romans were big fans of it- and was not invented with the writing of Battle Royale, so make of that what you will.

What I really liked about the movie was that they followed the book in that the actual Hunger Games is not really the point of the story. It's about the society that created the Hunger Games and the people who are forced to live in it. It's great that they stayed away from the temptation to focus entirely on the action and instead focused on the characters and the build up. The Hunger Games don't start until the second part of the movie, which worked really well. The tension created by the slow build up is really effective.

~ One of the criticisms I read in a professional review (I can't remember where! I'm such a bad research student) was that the movie never went into social criticism. Uh, Mr Critic, were we watching the same movie? It's a biting satire of the sadistic nature of reality television and Western society's fascination with celebrity and pop culture, where it seems like the more horrible a person you are the more people will worship you and try to excuse everything you do. The fact that Chris Brown still has a career is a case in point.

~ I was really impressed by how closely the film followed the book while still making it accessable to people who hadn't read the books. I saw the film with my dad and my friend, neither of whom had read the books, and they followed the plot without any problems. It wasn't like the Harry Potter adaptations where they didn't follow the books much at all except for the most basic plot points, and if you hadn't read the books you would have been completely lost.

I mostly really liked the few changes they did make for The Hunger Games. I loved seeing the control room, that was a fantastic addition and it was great to see the behind the scenes stuff while the Games were going on, which isn't possible in the books because it's all first person narration.

One quibble I did have was that some of the exposition felt very clumsy and obvious, particularly at the beginning. Maybe it just seemed that way because I've read the books, and a lot of it was necessary information, but it felt a bit heavy handed and could have been a lot smoother. I also felt that there were a few moments when they could have pushed the ratings bar a bit and they didn't, particularly with Rue's death, but that might be personal taste.

I give the film adaptation of The Hunger Games an A-. It's a really good to see an intelligent film aimed at teenagers for once, particularly with a strong female lead. I'm looking forward to seeing Catching Fire!

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Review: The Parasol Protectorate

And now for something completely different.

The Parasol Protectorate is a steampunk fantasy series by Gail Carriger. It is unashamedly silly and a little bit brilliant. It's literary candy of the best kind, precisely because it doesn't take itself seriously and is written with a great deal of wit.

As before, there are spoilers ahead for the entire series, so if you don't want to be spoiled I suggest you stop reading here.

In Summation

The world for The Parasol Protectorate is pretty standard steampunk, which will either delight you or annoy you depending on your fondness for the sub-genre. There's dirigibles, goggles, clockwork automatons and even a mechanical giant octopus. Steampunk can be a matter of taste, and as it is very much to my taste, I loved it. Your mileage may vary.

However, there are some pretty nifty original ideas alongside the standard steampunk ones. The concept of the supernatural vs. the preternatural was very interesting, and I liked a soulless heroine who wasn't dead, for once.

The first three books are the best. I found the fifth and last book somewhat disappointing, but there was some good character development for Alexia and Ivy, and Prudence is adorable.

Likes and Gripes

Professor Lyall is amazing and should have his own series. That is all.

Similarly, Madame Lefoux. It's actually one of my gripes that she doesn't get enough attention. She's a fascinating character and you don't learn enough about her. Still, when she's there she's fabulous.

Ivy started off very silly and I found that a bit annoying. She does become awesome later on, especially in the last book, but it would have been nice to see hints of that earlier.

I never got much of a sense of Conall Maccon, which is odd as he's the love interest. He's not really there half the time. It didn't bother me since I was happy to read about Alexia's adventures without her husband and she and Madame Lefoux really should have gotten together. He just didn't make all that much of an impression.


There's not much more to say, really. It's a fun and very silly series executed with style. If you're after an entertaining, witty light read involving werewolves and dart shooting parasols, this may well be it.

I give the series an A-.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Review: The Hunger Games

*creeps in* So.... hi guys! It's sure been a while!

The reason this blog has been neglected is that my thesis topic underwent serious revision and as a result, Twilight was thrown out. As fun as the reviews are to write, I don't really have the time to do chapter by chapter reviews of something that isn't related to my thesis. I do intend to go back and at least finish reviewing the first book, but for now the Twilight reviews are on an indefinite hiatus.

I've decided to instead write a more general review blog, where I write less detailed reviews of books, tv shows, movies, comics etc that I come across both in my research and my fangirl activities. I've decided to start with The Hunger Games in light of the upcoming movie.

So, a new age of The Snarktress begins!

'The Hunger Games,' by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games is a rediculously popular Young Adult trilogy by Suzanne Collins. All three books are massive bestsellers and, like most bestsellers, there have been countless rip-offs trying to cash in on the success. You can't go into the Young Adult section now without stumbling across at least a dozen dystopian love triangles. Read an article on Young Adult fiction and you'll undoubtedly find The Hunger Games being heralded as the new Twilight fanchise.

But does it live up to the hype?

First, I'll start by saying that The Hunger Games has about as much in common with Twilight as Fight Club has with Pride and Prejudice. They're both hugely successful and they both include love triangles, but that's where the similarities end.

I should warn you at this point that there are major spoilers ahead, so if you haven't read this series I suggest you stop here.

I'll give a summary of my main impression of the series: The Hunger Games is an enjoyable trilogy. The first book in particular reads like a thriller in print. It's fast-paced, well developed and once the action starts, it's non-stop. The tension is built up really well and I found myself on tenterhooks wanting to know what happened next. The writing style is fairly simple but certainly not bad, and a simple, no-frills style actually adds to the atmosphere and the rapid pacing.

Catching Fire, the second in the series, has a slower beginning before delving into the action again. The action sequences are the best thing about this series so Collins was wise to keep it up, but throwing Katniss back into the arena was repetitive and a little unneccessary. Both Catching Fire and Mockingjay have a lot of filler scenes, so I think the events of both books could easily have been combined into one. I would even argue against reading the other two books unless you really loved the first one. The first book can stand alone easily enough.

The third book has a larger scale than the first two and is a very different story, but let's just say that anyone who's read Animal Farm (or has a working knowledge of the Russian Revolution) knows how it will end. To be fair, the ending isn't telegraphed a mile off and the build up to it is decent, but it's still not surprising.

And now for some observations and gripes.

The Violence

A lot of the talk around The Hunger Games focuses on the fact that it's very violent. The phrase I've seen connected with it is 'hyper-violent.' I don't know if this is just me being desensitised from watching HBO, but I didn't find The Hunger Games quite as violent as its reputed to be. Oh, the books are violent, don't get me wrong, and I would think twice before giving them to a twelve year old to read, but overall The Hunger Games isn't any more violent than the average action movie. At least the violence has a point... somewhat. I'm interested to see how the violence is done in the movie and how much it will be inevitably be toned down. I doubt we'll see a tribute get an axe to the face, for example.


I wouldn't say Katniss is the anti-Bella exactly, but she's definitely a much stronger character. I like her. I don't know if I'd like Katniss if she were a real person, but as a character overall I like her, even if she becomes somewhat unlikable in Mockingjay.

That being said, upon re-reading I found something about Katniss' characterisation rubbed me the wrong way, and I finally realised what that was. I first read The Hunger Games while I was still in the midst of reading Twilight, and Katniss was such a breath of fresh air after Bella that I didn't pay that much attention to what bothered me about her, but now I have.

Katniss isn't 'girly.' This is emphasised pretty much all the time. She doesn't care about 'girly' things, she has no female friends. That's totally fine, especially given her background, but it creates the impression that to be 'girly' is to be frivolous, vain, silly, deserving of ridicule. And that bothers me somewhat. It buys into the idea that in order to be a strong female character, said female character has to reject all that is traditionally considered feminine. This could easily have been solved by having another female character who had 'girly' interests but was still shown to be smart and active, ie. being feminine doesn't automatically mean silly.

The Love Triangle

The love triangle starts to get annoying after a while. I'm not overly fond of love triangles to begin with especially since they're so overused and most of the time will make all the characters involved look like arseholes, but the love triangle in The Hunger Games actually has a point- at first.

Fortunately the 'who will Katniss choose' subplot only really kicks off in Mockingjay and it's not the main focus of the story, but it still feels oddly out of place. Don't these kids have other things to worry about?

I think most of my frustration with the love triangle stems from the fact that Gale is a huge douche and I was sick to death of him by Book 2, let alone Book 3. Katniss' attraction to him and her subsequent confusion over Gale and Peeta does feel more organic than love triangles usually do, since the romance for Peeta was, at least on her end, for the benefit of the cameras and not something she considered might be real. Katniss has known Gale for years, whereas Peeta was a virtual stranger to her before the Games.

But by the time Mockingjay comes around it felt like the love triangle and the surrounding subplot had run out of steam, and was only there because of the belief that Young Adult fiction needs a romance. It's the least interesting thing about The Hunger Games and didn't need to take up nearly the amount of time that it did. Of course, the majority of The Hunger Games ripoffs have focused almost exclusively on the romance aspect rather than the dystopia.

I did like that the heroine didn't end up with Mr Tall, Dark and Brooding for once, though. It's a nice change of pace.


I give The Hunger Games Trilogy overall a B+, broken down into A- for The Hunger Games, B for Catching Fire and B- for the disappointing Mockingjay. The first book is highly recommended, but the series is only worth continuing if you really loved the first one.