Category: Reviews

The Red Menace’s Top Five Books of 2017

By all accounts, 2017 has been a difficult year, one plagued by natural disasters, tragedy, and a polarizing political climate. Yet, in spite of it all, or in some cases even because of it, we’ve been privy to some incredible stories this year – books that challenge, enlighten, inform and inspire. Here are a few of my favorites – some I’ve reviewed here before, some I haven’t. All of them are written by women.
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Smalerie Reads Christmas Comics: The Return

While it’s very possible that I’m the only one getting a kick out of these seasonal comic creations, this year I decided to revisit the ghosts of blog posts past and share some more holiday themed comics with you all.

 

The Last Christmas – Story by Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn, Art by Rick Remender

last christmas

Image: Image Comics

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Review: She Makes Comics

At Comicazi Book Club last week, we had a new member stop by (we LOVE new members, so if you’re local to Somerville, MA – come sees us!), and we were discussing other books we’d read recently. Elfquest came up as an example of a rare book so massive we needed to break it up into two meetings – since we’d read volume one of the “Complete” edition, it was 720 pages of story. At the mention of the book, Honorary Lady Bill mentioned that he’d recently watched a documentary on Netflix that had featured Elfquest creator Wendy Pini, albeit more for her groundbreaking Red Sonja cosplay than for her comics. A documentary about women making comics? And me without a post? It was a match made in heaven. The Toyman and I sat down and watched the other night – what did we think?
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Netflix Hidden Gem: April and the Extraordinary World

The weather has turned cold and many of us are preparing for the long winter – filled with hot cups of tea, ill-fated attempts to wear 6 sweaters at once, and spending snowy evenings with your dear friend, Netflix.

And that’s where I come in. I’m a firm believer that Netflix time should be quality time. Until their algorithm improves, I’m hoping to spare you some time searching through their catalog and point you right towards the good stuff. So in this edition of Netflix Hidden Gems, I present you with April and the Extraordinary World.

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Henchgirl Review

Back in July, Smalerie shared a recipe for a hamburger. What it lacked in deliciousness it made up for in creativity and in its physical resemblance to the product that inspired it – the Cthulhu burger in Kristen Gudsnuk’s Henchgirl. At the time, she mentioned she wasn’t going to review the book; the focus of the post was the horrifying delicacy she’d created. Since then, we’ve discussed the book at Comicazi Book Club, and hosted Kristen as one of our guests of honor at LadiesCon.

Kristen at LadiesCon 2017.

So it seems like a good time to review the book and let you know that if you haven’t jumped on this bandwagon, you should.

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Netflix Review: Marvel’s Defenders

Warning: Possible spoilers

Welp, it’s been a long time coming. Back from when we all were like “Whoa” when the first Daredevil series came out, to when we were like “Ugh” at what went down with Danny Rand, the Defenders is now on Netflix.

Coming down off Iron Fist, I feel like Defenders could only go up. And it did, starting with the open credits, which remind us that the city is actually the main character here. And it’s more than Cap just calling back to being from Brooklyn every chance he gets, the boroughs of NY are more than a setting, they are the uniting factor for the team. As metaphors go it has the subtlety of a jack hammer, but that’s ok, I’m not really watching this for subtlety.

Defenders isn’t perfect, and I did wish there was more, but for the most part what Marvel does well is bringing together the huge cast of characters they have been building towards. It’s not just about the title characters, but also all those supporting folks. Almost all of them are there (though I do wish there was more Marci), even if some character appearances feel like checking a box. That said I’m not going to complain about one moment of Sigourney Weaver’s (and her outfits) screen time, so yes, sacrifices need to be made.

The main storyline focuses on The Hand, immortal clan leaders, and dragon skeletons, so this gives Matt Murdock and Danny Rand an easier entry into the main story line, while Luke and Jessica remain a bit more street level chasing down tendrils that show how larger schemes affect everyday people. This is really the heart of Defenders and having Jessica remain a 5-star general of snark gives you a touchstone back to what the regular folk might be thinking.

Some additional thoughts:

Claire Temple. She is the voice of reason and a pragmatist in a world with super strength, glowing fists, and bullet proof skin. She’s also the catalyst, the center spoke who brings everyone together. While her appearances in earlier episodes start strong, as the series continues she and Colleen are marginalized to emotional back-up for Luke and Danny.  NOT COOL.

Luke Cage has the patience of a saint. He finally calls Danny out on his privilege, asking him what he did before he became the Iron Fist, has he really earned what he thinks he’s owed? And maybe that’s what will salvage this version of Iron Fist, giving him counterbalance. And remarkably, Danny seems to welcome this. Sometimes boundaries are good, so let’s hope Luke continues to play that role because when the series starts one of the biggest disappointments is that Danny Rand hasn’t grown at all. He still thinks everything is about him, and for some reason, Colleen is still with him. WHY??? And she even makes excuses for him when he finally does turn inward to examine what Luke says. WHAT???

By episode 3 we see the 4 heroes come together in what is now a ubiquitous hallway fight scene. I love this and I don’t care if they do one in every series. There are also some nice Power Man and Iron Fist feels.

Black Sky (or as I called it, Dark Afternoon) made Elektra more palatable for me. Previously I didn’t find her overly interesting, but this incarnation of her seemed to have more dimension.

Unlike Claire and Colleen, Misty Knight’s story progressed in some really big and important ways. She has a new look and will soon have a new arm. Will we see Control? God, I hope so.

Despite my earlier griping, this story is still about Danny Rand. He’s like the Key Master or something, and while the character is better in this series, he’s still the least compelling. Except for one moment…..that dumpling scene in the restaurant. Danny finally abandons all his super hero drama and just wants to stuff his face the instant some dumplings show up. I have never felt closer to the character than in that moment.

In this moment Danny Rand is my spirit animal. Photo Credit: Netflix

The next Netflix series is The Punisher, and while it’s in this universe, it’s not super closely tied to the Defenders. I think what I am looking the most forward to is right now is the next Jessica Jones season. David Tennant is still involved so what’s not to look forward to?

3 Manga Titles The Red Menace Recommends

In my last post, I mentioned that there were some manga I was excited to share with you all. Since nothing else took my attention this time around, let’s talk about them.

I should note that I haven’t yet read a lot of manga – I really enjoyed Ranma 1/2 when I was just getting into comics, but that was nearly 25 years ago, when the selection of good translations in America weren’t as plentiful as they are now. Additionally, there are SO many manga, in every genre you can imagine. Separating the wheat from the chaff, or even just what stories might be interesting to you in particular, can be a daunting task. Luckily, there are folks out there who can help. Comicazi has a manga book club – I learned about one of these titles from their list. Another I learned about from my pal Morgana, who is the manga maven at Comicopia, a store with a great selection of manga. The last was given to me by my husband, who thought it just looked up my alley. So here are my three picks – don’t be afraid to ask your local shop for other suggestions!
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Review: The Secret Loves of Geek Girls

Guys, I’m sure you’re tired of hearing us say this over and over again, but LadiesCon is getting closer by the moment. While I can’t speak for the other Ladies, I can say without a doubt that I’m feeling both VERY excited and VERY tired. Putting together this event is a constant adventure so I’ve been making a point to find time to relax, recharge my batteries, and seek out other lady-led geeky projects for both motivation and inspiration.

My latest attempt at “Chicken Soup for the Geek Girl Soul” was getting my hands on The Secret Lives of Geek Girls. Kick-starter funded and featuring over 50 writers and artists, this non-fiction anthology contains short stories and comics about love, being a girl, and being a geek. So um yeah, pretty much what the title promised.

 

geek

Image: Dark Horse

 

The Good

Just one look at the list of writers and contributors and I knew I needed to own this book. Not only does it include LadiesCon guest Kristen Gudsnuk, but it pretty much goes on to read as a dream guest list for future Cons..or maybe as a list of guests for the world’s greatest cocktail party.

Many of the stories are well-written, relatable, and at times powerful. My favorites included Marjorie Liu’s haunting story about lost memories and dreams and Katie West’s story that cleverly compares the end of a marriage to surviving the apocalypse.

At its best, you can see yourself reflected in the pages of this compilation. While reading, I found myself feeling odd nostalgic pangs for when I first discovered some of my favorite fandoms and swooned over their adventures. Of when I would stay up late watching Red Dwarf on PBS and dream about meeting someone who would think my ability to quote Invader Zim on command was one of my best qualities. Corny, yes, but that’s the point. These stories run the gamut and cover not only the process of love, but how our own love of “geekdom” can make us who we are and help find who we want to be. To me, that’s the good stuff.

The Bad

The trouble with all anthologies is that they can be uneven. Not every story is a home-run and not every story spoke to me. There were times when I just didn’t love the style or tone. There were even times when I wasn’t sure what the point was, especially if there were a lot of references to fandoms that I’m not familiar with. At worst, there were certain stories that felt too cute or trite, just another meet-cute starring characters who happen to be geeks. Meh. Time to move on to the next one.

The Verdict

Back in July another Kickstarter was launched for The Secret Loves of Geek Girls Redux – a more compact follow-up to the original book. If history repeats itself, there is a good chance the book will be picked up by Dark Horse for another wider release. Assuming that’s the case, I will be there throwing my money in its direction.

The Secret Loves of Geek Girls is a fun book with a great message. It’s also a great way to support female and feminist creators who are producing some very high-quality work. Who knows, your new favorite might be waiting to be discovered among these pages. At the very least, it might be nice to know that you’re not the only who fell in love while gaming or used stories to help you made sense of the complexities of growing up. Really, many of us have been there, so why not spend some time with your kindred spirits?

 

 

 

Netflix Review: GLOW

Hey all, I’m gonna review the Netflix show, GLOW. If you haven’t seen it yet, go watch it and then let’s chat. There be spoilers here and I don’t want to ruin the show for you, ok?

GLOW starts with an acting audition that is too real even by today’s standards. Main character Ruth (Alison Brie) is at an audition; she reads a meaty part with passion, and conviction….only to be told, no honey, that was the male part, can you try it again reading the other part? The other part is one line, letting the boss know he has a call on hold. This sets the stage for one of the more meta themes of this show. Yes, it’s 2017 now, but really, how much have things changed? Continue reading

Comic Review: Clean Room Vol. 1

When I discovered that Gail Simone was writing a series for Vertigo, I was annoyed with myself for not knowing about it sooner. I mean, seriously Smalerie? Gail Simone. Original horror series. Get on it, girl.

So I did.

Then I wrote a review.

 

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Image: Vertigo

 

The Plot

After Chloe Pierce loses her fiance to suicide, she embarks on a mission find out what could have driven him to take his own life. When all signs point towards self-help guru Astrid Mueller, Chloe will stop at nothing to find the truth behind Astrid and her mysterious organization.

My Thoughts

When writing a mystery/horror story, the author has the difficult task of providing enough intrigue to keep the reader interested without making them frustrated. Clues need to be left behind like breadcrumbs or shiny pebbles leading you out of the dark forest. Clean Room handles this so well that I simply could not stop reading the first trade. At one point I was forced to put the book down, and it almost felt like the story followed me, hiding in a dark part of my mind and forcing me to think about it when I should have been concentrating on dinner conversation or watching an action flick with my family. I think reading this one as the issues came out might have driven me crazy.

 

CleanRoomExcerpt1

Image: Vertigo

 

From the description alone, I’m sure that most of you have figured out this book is for mature audiences. There are some VERY disturbing things that both happen and are referenced in this book. And while there were a few times when I felt that certain language and nudity might have been used more for the shock value rather than because it added to the story or said something about a character’s true nature, this story intends to strip characters down to their emotional cores and that is rarely pretty.  But regardless of how ugly it gets, it still remains an engrossing read.

Mueller’s organization is an extremely secretive and organized one, providing more access and information as you go up the ranks. While this structure is common among many organizations, there is a lot here that reminds me of Scientology. It’s still early in the story for me to say if Mueller and her followers are dealing with their reality in the best way, but this book makes you really wonder what’s happening behind closed doors. This is true both in the story and in the outside world. What’s being kept from us? What do we have the right to know? And how high do the stakes need to be for you to give someone complete power over you? It makes you question authority and feel uneasy. And it’s very possible these questions might never really be answered in the story, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth asking.

 

cleanroom5

Image: Vertigo

 

The Art

Jon Davis-Hunt’s artwork is slick and detailed. His art and Quinton Winter’s colors match the writing well and create a really creepy and stark environment. This is especially true when we get the contrast between the Clean Room itself and the outside world.  I will admit that there were a few times I felt that the characters seemed too stiff, but it still kinda works once you start to understand what’s really happening in the story. Without giving any spoilers, I think it’s safe enough to say that what you see on the surface is not always a reliable tool for truly understanding the world of this book.

As for the monster factor, I found them to be suitably creepy. You know when you run across something that’s just spooky or gross enough that you need to share it with someone? To either validate your feelings or just to make someone else shudder? Well, let’s just say there were a few times I found myself showing a page to whoever was unfortunate enough to be in the room with me.

The Verdict

It’s great to see Gail Simone writing, well, pretty much anything.

The story builds, feels satisfying enough to keep you reading, and I defy you not to run out and get Vol. 2 immediately.