I don’t care if you don’t like comics or speculative fiction. I don’t care what bullshit preconditions you put on what a good story can be. They don’t matter. You should be reading Saga.
At its core it’s the story of a family set in a sprawling fantasy space opera… on acid. I was going to make a list of the themes Saga tackles, but I realized that Saga is about everything. It’s about being alive, about everything that happens along the way, and about knowing you and everyone you love are eventually going to die. I know, I’m not necessarily selling this. Existential Dread! Only $4.99!! But seriously, read Saga.
Writer Brian K. Vaughn came up with the idea as a kid, as he says, when he was bored in math class. That seed seemed to grow somewhere in his brain while he built a prolific comics career with creations like Y: The Last Man and Runaways. As that seed was planted and left to grow for so long, Saga appears rooted in Vaughn’s life — in being married and having kids and all the ordinary things that are much more compelling if you set them in the midst of a horrifying galactic war.
Saga is funny, violent, weird, sweet, perverted, brutal, and tender. It’s also really smart, but more than just smart, it’s got an emotional depth that rings of truth.
The war in Saga doesn’t have good guys and bad guys, although it does often have perpetrators and victims. But everyone loses, everyone pays, nobody wins. All the characters are interesting and well-drawn — both literally and figuratively — and while most are at odds with each other, everyone has a point of view you can understand.
There are scenes in this story that stuck with me well after I’m done reading. The final panels in the most recent issue have haunted me since I read it, for reasons I obviously can’t describe without spoilers.
Part of what makes Saga amazing is how good artist Fiona Staples and Vaughn are together.
Every panel Staples creates is inventive and energetic. There are some really great artists working in comics right now doing original, exciting stuff, and Fiona Staples is their rightful queen.
I have no idea how the collaboration works in practice, but between these two creators the imagination is apparently bottomless. The book is an immense hodgepodge that jumps between genres, inspirations, biologies, and ideas, and brings them all together to create one seamless trippy tapestry.
Did you enjoy Westworld? Firefly? Battlestar Galactica? Logan? Then Descender is right for you. Hell, even if you didn’t enjoy any of those things, you should still check out Descender.
In the distant future, a technologically advanced civilization of humans and aliens relies heavily on the existence of artificially intelligent androids.
Planet sized robots called Harvesters appear mysteriously and launch a devastating attack on humanity before disappearing just as mysteriously.
As humans are wont to do, the response is the attempted and ongoing genocide of all artificial life from the universe.
Nearly a decade later, Tim-21 reawakens. A young companion android, Tim-21 wakes up alone on an abandoned mining colony with no idea what happened. He sets off with his robot dog Bandit and a collection of untrustworthy allies to find his human brother, Andy.
Descender is a story teeming with energy and life, full of aliens, bounty hunters, android rebels, a cult of human-robot hybrids and all sorts of SF fun. A little bit of a western, a large bit of a space opera, and every bit enjoyable.
Like all the best SF, the series touches on big concepts, including the nature of life, social structures, war, prejudice, morality, and self-awareness, just to name a few.
I love everything about this series: the story, the worldbuilding, the way it arranges familiar tropes and conventions in an exciting way.
My absolute favorite thing is Dustin Nguyen’s watercolor illustrations. The book is beautiful, and his style is so singular within the comics and graphic novels I’ve read. As a relative novice to the current comics scene, there aren’t too many comic artists who have captured my attention so strongly that I will start finding their work — regardless of what it is — to read it. Nguyen is immediately one of those artists for me.
Sony bought the rights last year, so look for a film, a series, or both on the horizon.
Joe Hill (second child of Stephen King) writes the sort of horror I enjoy, the kind that uses the scary and macabre to tell a story instead of just attempting to manipulate certain reactions and emotions for the hell of it. Too much horror wants nothing more than to scare or disturb people for a moment, which isn’t really that hard to do. There are versions of that cheap sort of manipulation in every genre and medium, but the better storytellers transcend that and use the tropes of their genre or medium as a palette to paint a larger, more engaging picture.
In Locke & Key Hill does exactly that, teaming up with artist Gabriel Rodriguez to create a truly fantastic series of comics. The story follows the Locke family, who after a grisly tragedy retreat to an ancestral home in New England. The three children of the family begin finding keys around the house, each unlocking its own remarkable power.
At first the magical keys are as fun as they sound, but it soon becomes clear that there are much darker things at play within Keyhouse, and that the Locke children will be tasked with stopping an evil presence from obtaining the Omega Key while also trying to put their lives back together and prepare for adulthood in the wake of ongoing trauma.
That’s as much as I can say without spoiling anything, but you should definitely check this title out. They’re all in trade paperbacks now so you won’t even have to worry about having to wait a long time for a new issue to see what happens next.
Random warning: don’t let the fact that minors are the focal point of the story fool you. These are very dark, violent books intended for mature readers.
And for those who want to check out Joe Hill but aren’t willing to give graphic novels a try, 20th Century Ghostsis a collection of his short stories that would be an excellent introduction.
I wasn’t sure if I was coming back after this recent hiatus. I’m still not entirely sure, but here I am writing a ‘five things’ anyway. I’ll need several ‘five things’ posts to catch up on sharing all the things I’ve been enjoying lately with the friends who read this blog.
I apologize in advance for typos, I haven’t slept in a very long time.
1. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
This book is really wonderful. A time capsule of one small-town summer in 1928, told in a style that is basically a connected series of short stories. Primarily, it tells the story of one boy truly coming into the knowledge of what it is to be alive, and then coming to inevitably fear death, and the loss of the remarkable life he’d discovered. More subtle and real to me than other coming of age tales I’ve read. Bradbury certainly was a master.
2. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
The story of a boy named Todd, who lives on a planet where men’s thoughts are audible to anyone nearby. Todd is counting the days until he becomes a man, until an unexpected discovery leads to a thrilling and heartbreaking adventure that has me excited for book two… that is, once I whittle down my ‘To Read’ shelf a bit first.
The book was smart and well-written, and should be added to the list of good books you should read even though it has what I believe to be an ugly cover.
3. Batman: Year One
When it comes to the two primary comic book players, Marvel is far and away more successful than DC with making films from their brand. Marvel Studios has taken characters that common logic said would have trouble making money in film franchises, and then proceeded to make enormous amounts of money off of them, while also churning out some great films along the way. However, in the last decade, DC can only make a profit off of a hero if that hero’s name is Batman.
What DC/Warner Bros. does do well is animation. Much of my love for Batman is rooted in watching Batman: The Animated Series every weekday at 4:30 throughout my formative years. These days, I don’t catch much in the way of animated television series, but I have recently gotten into something called DC Universe Animated Original Movies. DC is bringing some of their most beloved and celebrated comic storylines to life via animation, and my first experience was Batman: Year One. It’s a really great adaptation of one of the best graphic novels ever, and it has gotten me into the rest of the new original animated movies DC has been producing.
I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
4. The Long Goodbye
Way back when Noir Month ended several weeks ago, I decided to watch an updated private detective film in the form of Robert Altman’s 70’s rendition of Philip Marlowe (the guy from The Big Sleep, as well as a large number of novels).
It was awesome. Just as I wanted to keep watching Bogart play Marlowe in the film from the 40’s, I wanted to watch Gould keep delivering his smart-ass, deadpan lines for all eternity… well, maybe not eternity, but for much longer than the all too brief 112 minutes of the film.
It’s a great movie that was underappreciated upon release, only to garner the respect and accolades it deserves in the decades to follow.
5. Beasts of the Southern Wild
It’s been a few weeks since I saw this, and I still don’t really have words to describe my feelings about it. I could come up with some, but I think it would cheapen my experience some, in a mystical sort of way. Suffice it to say I thought it was an uncommonly beautiful film that has stayed with me long after viewing it.
Also, Dwight Henry and Quvenzhané Wallis gave genuinely stunning performances. Wallis was especially awe-inspiring, showing talent far, far beyond her years as our fierce young heroine, Hushpuppy.
This movie honestly moved me to silence afterward.
It’s been a while since I’ve written a ‘five things’ post. The time has come.
In personal news, I finally got back to writing my novel in earnest, again. It’s still early, but I’ll be pushing past the 20,000 word mark today, so that’s a lot better than nothing.
1. The Magician’s Elephant – Kate DiCamillo
I’ve never read DiCamillo’s hugely successful books, The Tale of Despereaux or Because of Winn Dixie, so unlike most who have read her work, The Magician’s Elephant was my first encounter with her. Emily encouraged me to read it because she thought it would be the perfect story for my sensibilities. She was very, very right.
I want to believe that there is genuine beauty and magic in the world. I want to believe that there is grace and goodness there for those who keep their eyes open to see glimpses of them. I want to believe that there are such things as home, belonging, and love. I want to believe that if we are good to one another, and if we are willing to do crazy, extraordinary things, the world can be made lighter and kinder and better. I want to believe those things, and in my better moments, I actually do.
The Magician’s Elephant, the story of a boy in search of a home and a family, is written by someone who wants to believe those things along with me, and it is written for everyone else who feels similarly.
2. The Avengers
I know, I’ve written about this once already, but there was one important thought that I forgot to mention in my last post about it. It seems like today is a good day to blog about it again, as in its third weekend so far, The Avengers CRUSHED Battleship, leading everyone in the blogosphere to make bad puns about sinking and torpedoes.
Speaking of which, I still don’t understand how they can say that a movie is based on the game ‘Battleship’ when it has nothing to do with the game ‘Battleship.’ I mean, just because there are battleships in it doesn’t mean you can say ‘based on the game.’ Just because both the game and the movie happen to center on the reality that battleships do, in fact, exist… that’s enough? I’m going to write an indie film about a tortured architect trying to complete a project building a huge tower. The project is going to cost him more and more emotionally and financially, but his ego is going to be so tied up in the project that he is going to push himself to utter ruin because he just won’t let go. I’m going to call it Jenga. I mean, they both have towers, so I think that is probably enough to say it is ‘based on the game.’
Anyway, the thought that I forgot to share before was this: In almost every movie that has as much scope and potential as The Avengers, I find myself disappointed. I still like the movies, but usually I find myself saying, “It was really good, but they could have done so much more! Maybe they will in the sequel.” Not so with The Avengers. It delivers excitement, fun, and size that truly fulfills all of the movie’s potential. It is everything a movie with this many great, dynamic, superhuman personalities should be. I’ve seen it twice so far, and I am itching for number three.
The life of a Community fan sure is bittersweet. First came the news that the show would be renewed for a fourth season, but only for a half-order of episodes. Then came the rumors that Dan Harmon was out as showrunner. Then came the confirmation that Dan Harmon was out as showrunner. It’s entirely possible that most of what we all love about the show will be leaving with him. Hopefully not, but it is highly likely. He was the brains, heart, and soul of the show. It was his baby. Now that he’s gone… ::sigh::
Yet, since the final episodes of Season 3 were written with the distinct possibility that the show would be cancelled altogether, they offer a beautiful end to what Community has been. From the awesome 8-bit episode, to Jeff’s final monologue in which he articulates the soul of the show: that even though we are cynical, jaded, self-centered, broken people, we still need each other, and we make the world better when we embrace that and get over ourselves a little bit. It’s a thought that temporarily zaps the beard off my inner ‘Evil Abed.’ It was all I could do to keep from bursting into tears when the final story ended with a single screen featuring the ‘six seasons and a movie’ hashtag. I love the show that much. I really hope we don’t all come to wish it had just been cancelled when Dan Harmon was fired. I really wish the show had somehow moved to Netflix like Arrested Development. That would have immediately made Netflix my favorite company on the planet.
4. Wasteland Companion – M. Ward
I realize that I’ve never recommended M. Ward’s newest release. That’s an oversight that needs to be remedied right this moment. Ward is a master of crafting sweet, sad, spiritual songs of life and existence, disappointment and love. He has the ability to be as silly as he is melancholy. His music is perfect for the soul of the rainy pacific northwest. I love him.
Speaking of M. Ward, Sasquatch starts Friday!! And I’M GOING TO BE THERE!! In the immortal words of Jason Penopolis, “Wee-ow!” I made a list of things I want to do in my 30’s. This weekend, I cross one of those things off!
Easily the best graphic novel I’ve read in a very long time. Gene Luen Yang’s tale of a young boy who moves from San Francisco’s Chinatown to the suburbs is nothing short of a masterpiece in the medium.
It weaves between three strands: the story of Jin Wang (mentioned above), the tale of the Monkey King, and a fake sitcom about a character named Chin-kee, who embodies the many hurtful stereotypes Chinese Americans are subjected to.
Yang’s novel offers heartfelt messages about racism, faith, identity, and the pain of being rejected as the other, and thus trying to change oneself to match the dominant paradigm and blend in.
Moving and engaging from beginning to end, Yang tells a story as beautiful as it is important. There should be more books like this one.
Read this the other day. I loved it. I’m excited as to where it might go from the first volume, there are four out so far. My friend Dave told me about it a long time ago, and I just finally got around to reading it. I love the art, I love the magical world that Kibuishi is creating, I love his willingness to allow dark things to happen to his young characters.
If you’ve ever read the Bone series and enjoyed that, you should check these out. If you’ve never read Bone, do that, too.