Leave It To Chance: Monster Madness and Other Stories

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Leave It To Chance: Monster Madness and Other Stories is the third book (Vol. 3) to the Leave It To Chance  series (yes, I know I’m out of order, but Vol. 2 was longer than I had time to read this week with grading and all) that I reviewed last week.  While I like this volume, I don’t like it quite as much as I liked Volume 1.  It tries to do something fairly unique, but the story (as presented) doesn’t quite work as well as it should.

Monster Madness takes the idea of what would happen in “movie monsters” came to life in the “real world” of Devil’s Echo (the city where the Chance stories take place).  However, it seems to focus more on Chance’s interaction with a “mysterious” character named “Lightfoot” than it does with her actually trying to solve a crime.  In fact, her dragon is knocked out for most of the story, and she is relegated to the sidelines while her father does most of the sleuthing/fighting the bad guys.  It doesn’t help that while Lightfoot is intended as a “possible” love interest in that Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys way of dropping similar characters of the opposite sex together and watching the sparks fly as their similar ways cause conflict (and interest), Lightfoot is drawn in such an unappealing manner that I (for one) was actively routing against Chance having anything to do with him.

I think Monster Madness (and the other story, which has heart, but still isn’t as good as the first volume’s story).  I think that while this was a good volume, Chance’s strengths are when she’s the center of the action, doing the sleuthing, rather than as a standby character who merely interacts when the action comes to her.

OVERALL GRADE: C+

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Leave It To Chance

Leave It To Chance is a young adult graphic novel that I really, really like.  I wanted to take a moment to highlight this great (& short) graphic novel series.  I just finished rereading the first volume this week (I’m trying to read all my graphic novels as a way to remind myself of the graphic novel format since I’ve been away for so long).

Leave It To Chance was published in the early 2000s (2002) and it was written in the height of the GrrlPower movement (James Robinson’s Forward is dated 3.25.97 and this is in the height of the movement, but as the hardcover collection wasn’t published until 2002 which, by then, was the tail-end of the movement).  The protagonist is Chance, a young girl who is the daughter of Falconer, a mage of eminence and importance in the city of Devil’s Echo.  She is “protected” from the magical intrigue and derring-do by her father, but she is of age to take up training to become the next in the line of Falconers who are sworn to protect the city.  Her father refuses to train her simply because of her gender (noting that this “burden” of training is passed from male heir to male heir).  Chance decides that this is horribly unfair and seeks to rectify this (& gets into adventures on her own).

James Robinson and Paul Smith collaborated on the story and art.  This is actually my first (and I think, my only) examples of their work, but I really enjoyed the story when I first read it at the Public Library–so much so, that I bought a copy for my personal collection.  I like Chance’s character–they made her very much like a Nancy Drew detective and set the world in a Neo-Noir setting (grim, dark alleyways merged with aircars).  Chance also has a “Jubilee”-vibe to her and dresses similarly (who in turn, has bit of the Frank Miller’s female Robin from the Dark Knight look) as well.  You can almost see a direct progression from Miller’s female Robin to Jubilee from the X-Men, to Chance.  I own all three books in the series (will be doing reviews of the other two as well), but as a pure story, I think this first volume, “Shaman’s Rain” holds up the best storywise.

I think too, that the setting of Devil’s Echo was very well used.  It definitely precedes the entire Urban Fantasy craze that authors like Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, and Kim Harrison (to name a few) helped popularize in the mid-to-late 2000s & early 2010s.  I personally love the fact that Chance has her own (mini-)dragon–as it recalls to mind Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsinger books of the 1980s.  This one is a great series for both Young Adult Readers (& younger children), but has enough complexity, character development, and setting that will at least keep older readers from being completely bored with it, even if it doesn’t completely captivate them.

OVERALL GRADE: B

ReReading: Dungeons & Dragons: Shadowplague (Graphic Novel)

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Book Cover: Five fantasy adventures ready to do battle.  Image Source: OgreCave.com

So, I’m in the process of moving all my academic books to a bookshelf (looks like it actually be a bookshelf and a half or perhaps two bookshelves total) with me as I work on my degree.  However, this leaves me with a fairly large gap of three to four shelves that I probably should fill.  I already have my graphic novels (& comic books) on my main bookcase, but I’ve decided to reread my graphic novels (& comics) and place them on those free shelves.  I have several fairly large graphic novels that don’t fit on the shelf with the other graphic novels on my main bookcase, but this secondary bookcase has more than enough room for them.  If I can remember, I will try to take a picture at the end of the project and post it here.

DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS: SHADOWPLAGUE

This is the first of a “new” series of graphic novels with original characters in the Dungeons and Dragons universe.  I say new because this was tried in the late 80s/early 90s with a different group of characters written by Jeff Grubb, a prolific writer of D&D novelizations of the time.  This book is written by Jim Rogers and is full of post Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson) adventure/banter.  While not a comedy, Rogers does the “witty banter” so often found in comics and comic book movies that irked my late creative writing professor, Ken Smith when I tried to present stories in his fiction class with this same type of banter.  For Ken, the banter trivialized the drama and lowered the emotional stakes for the characters.  His argument (loosely speaking) was that if the characters are joking around during a life-or-death situation, then we get the feeling that the characters aren’t really in any danger.  I can plainly see that here as I didn’t get the sense that any of the characters (protagonists) were any in real danger, per se.

This sounds like I don’t like the story and that’s not true–I do like the book, but this is a fun, rip-roaring comic book adventure, but it doesn’t have a sense that the characters are ever really in jeopardy.  This book introduces and follows a team of intrepid adventurers of the mostly standard races (Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling, and newcomer race, Tiefling) as they go through various adventures to discover the secret of the Shadowplague, a magical plague that turns ordinary people into zombies.  Abundant fight scenes, magic, and characters who all display a penchant for witty banter and sometimes painful backstories make this a fun and interesting story.

I did not happen to buy the other graphic novels that make up the rest of this series, but you can bet that I’ll definitely try to grab them as time and money allow.  The cover price of 24.99 is a bit steep for the product.  It is hardcover, but still it is really only worth about 14.99 to 17.99.  If I can find it for under 9.99, then I’ll definitely pull the trigger.  The problem is, the last I checked, it had gone out of print and Amazon 3rd party “scalpers” had driven the cost to above $30 dollars.  Sad days, indeed.  This is a fun little series that I wouldn’t mind getting a complete collection for myself–but if the remaining volumes stay out of reach, then this one volume will have to suffice, witty banter and all.

 

Comic-Con Week: Thor Ragnarok

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So, just like DC, Marvel also released a trailer for Comic-Con.  Their big focus this year, now that Spider-Man: Homecoming has been released, is Thor.  Thor Ragnarok seems like it is going for fun over a dark gritty storyline (which was the mistake that Thor: Dark World made).

As you can see in the trailer–Thor Ragnarok Trailermuch of the action is peppered with quips and fun set-pieces.  This trailer seems to bring back the fun characterization that made the first Thor movie such a surprise.

The only problem (if you can call it a problem) is that it releases in November (the same month that Justice League releases) so both of these movies are going to be fighting for much of the same audience.  Assuming that school and classes go well, I’m most certainly going to try to see both movies.

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Comic-Con Week: Justice League Trailer

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Image Source: SDCC Blog

Readers of the blog will remember that I didn’t dislike Batman v. Superman like many other reviewers did.  I was engaged and thought that, while darker than the Marvel movies in both tone and style, it was a worthwhile movie-going experience.  DC released a new trailer for their upcoming Justice League movie and it has me excited.

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Image Source: NME.com

The trailer–The Justice League Trailer–seems to contain much of the same gravitas as BvS, but it works to lighten the mood through quips.  There are quite a few lines that are either amusing or laugh-out-loud funny, whereas BvS was light on those elements.  For this reason alone, I’m cautiously optimistic that this movie will be received better than BvS.  I’m also interested in seeing the interaction of various super-heroes on-screen together.  The idea of the ensemble is not new, but the idea of clashing personalities along with clashing powers is what, I think, makes the superhero genre so compelling (well, that and the cool special effects that help aid in the “suspension of disbelief.”)

I’m hoping that this movie will be as good as Wonder Woman in terms of both story, characterization, and visual effects.  A great Justice League will a shot in the arm, I hope, for a public that is beginning to tire of the “comic book movie” as a genre.  Me, I’d like this genre to continue as long as possible and hopefully, JL can help continue the trend.

Black Panther vs. Spider-Man: Learning How to Navigate Social Interactions through Comic Book Trading

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Image Source: Heroic Universe

So, in high school, I developed a passion for comics (heroic, mostly).  This was just before the time of Graphic Novels exploded in popularity where individual comic book issues were still the dominant form of comic book collecting/reading.  In my freshman year, I found several acquaintances who shared my passion and I watched as they traded issues amongst themselves.

Eventually, I joined their group and began to become involved in reading and trading comics.  As noted before, Spider-Man was my favorite hero at the time and I traded whenever possible for Spider-Man comics.  However, one of my friends bought and read a four-issue mini-series of Black Panther.  He traded it to me and I read it and enjoyed it, but again, wanted as many issues of Spider-Man as possible, so then I traded it for four Spider-Man comics.  My friend found out about it and confronted me and said that if I wanted to trade them to “X” person, I would have done so, but I traded them to you.  Luckily, our friendship survived that “rocky” incident, and flourished during our junior and senior years (but unfortunately, we lost touch during college), but I’ve always regretted trading away those comics.

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Image Source: Comic Vine (GameSpot)

Black Panther is such a “unique” character in that he (along with Storm) represent a non-traditional representation of a character of African descent.  While I like Cyborg (yes, I know, different publisher than Black Panther and Storm), I’ve always found that his characterization (like most African-American, African-descendent characters) relied on too much stereotype (esp. in the late 80s/early 90s).  Cyborg (and other characters of color) during that time period would often drop endings on words (such as I’m goin’, I’m goin’).  In the late 90s, early 2000s, this morphed to “cool” catchphrases such as “Booyah!”  Black Panther and Storm are both articulate and well-spoken, highly moral (often surpassing Captain America in terms of “Goodness”), and highly educated.  They are often aspirational and represent the “best” of the culture of African/African Americans/Those of Color.

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Image Source: Pinterest

With the upcoming Black Panther movie, I really wish that I’d kept that particular mini-series.  While I’m familiar with the Black Panther, I’d love a “refresher course” on the character to see what changes Marvel has made.  I’d also love to be able to compare comic and movie changes to Black Panther in the same way that I could do a comparison with Spider-Man’s movies and comics.  I will try to find out if that storyline was adapted/reprinted in a Graphic Novel, but somehow it won’t be the same.  To have the actual issues in hand to refer back to as well as the nostalgia of the issues and the trade and the friendship–that is something older me would tell younger me is far more important than the ephemeral satisfaction of “making the trade.”

Dr. Strange: Mini-Review (No Spoilers)

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Source: ComingSoon.net

MAGIC AND MARTIAL ARTS

This is a really interesting story.  In many ways it is the story that I was trying to write with my own story, I, Magi.  The creators manage to combine Magic with Martial Arts and the results come together surprisingly well.  Now, martial arts movies are a “guilty pleasure” of mine.  I know some of the earlier ones in the 70s and 80s aren’t really good narratively speaking and that the English dubbing is sometimes so awful as to have entered into the realm of cliche, but I love the action, the movement, and the artistry of the genre.  Recent entries, since the mid-90s have been much better and I feel they have come into their own thanks to great actors in the field.  I love (& have seen most of the practicing martial arts actors–male and female–and have enjoyed them immensely, but I have a personal fondness for Jackie Chan, mostly for the outtakes reel that he includes at the end of his movies).  There are two or three centerpiece fights in this movie and add in magic–and well, you have a strong action based movie.

If there is a downside, its that the movie is an origin story, so if you already know the origin of the hero, Dr. Stephen Strange, then you will have a pretty good clue to the first half of the movie.  Still, that is a minor complaint (similar to knowing the origin stories of heroes like Batman or Spider-man.)

A GOOD SENSE OF HUMOR

This movie has a pretty good sense of humor as well.  From other reviewers, some of the jokes seemed to be hit or miss for them, but for me, I chuckled at the jokes, even when the set-up was telegraphed a mile away.  There were some truly laugh aloud moments, but the movie didn’t set out to be a comedy.  In many ways, the humor is much more sedate, more dry than say, the Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy.  The humor seems on par with Ant-Man.

COMIC BOOK MOVIE FATIGUE

Many reviewers seemed to be noting comic fatigue for friends who they took to see the movie and reported not like it.  I think that they fact that it is also as much of a martial arts movie as a “Marvel” movie also has something to with one’s enjoyment.  If you don’t like Martial Arts movies then chances are really good you aren’t going to like this movie as many of its set-ups and structure follow that genre and its conventions.

In many ways, the director and writers of this movie did what I wished Joss Whedon would have done (if possible based on studio notes) for Age of Ultron. They completely went to another genre–martial arts movies, just as the last two Captain America movies have done to a larger/lesser degree political thrillers.  Imagine if Age of Ultron had gone for a completely “horror” movie vibe with Ultron (and the twins) hunting/eliminating Avengers in pursuit of the “Vision” prototype.

I wonder if it is truly a case of comic book movie fatigue or rather a miscommunication of what genre to which this movie actually belongs.

IMPLICATIONS FOR MY WRITING

Fight scenes need clarity.  As I mentioned above, this is what I’d hoped I, Magi would be like, except that Magic is limited, so they (mages) have to rely on fighting skills to make up for the lack of magic available to them.  In the movie, however, I noticed that the fight scenes were clear.  I think that at times (especially when I try for action scenes) my own description breaks down and it is unclear who is where.

I intend to try to work on that and make might fight/action scenes more clear and more visual in the reader’s mind.