Three Things: To Read On a Picnic Blanket

After a particularly brutal winter here in the northeast, a fantastic spring is finally upon us. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the flowers are blooming (much to the chagrin of my sinuses) - it's the perfect weather to grab a blanket and a good book or three and just sprawl around in the sunshine. (With appropriate hydration and sunscreen, of course.) But what to read, you ask? Fear not, I have some terrific suggestions for you! And in further good news, they are all upcoming Comicazi Book Club selections, which means that if you're local and decide to try one or all of these, you can come and talk about them with other people!

So shiny, how can you resist?

Letter 44 by Charles Soule, art by Alberto Jimenez Albuquerque

What's it about? Stephen Blades has just been elected the 44th President of the United States, and he couldn't be more excited to clean up the mistakes of the previous administration - pointless wars, financial mismanagement, and ridiculous healthcare policies. Then he reads a letter from his predecessor and learns that seven years ago, NASA discovered that some sort of alien intelligence was parked in the solar system, building something...big. The US has kept it a secret from the rest of the world, but sent a crew of scientists and military personnel to see what exactly the aliens are building out there and why. Now Stephen has to decide if he's going to tell the rest of the world - if his enemies will let him.

Why read it? Simply put, this is some of the best-told sci fi I've seen in quite some time in any medium. Soule creates a believable situation in which the US government accelerated the space program in response to a potential threat - you feel like they really could get a team into space if conditions were right - and he then explores the consequences for those actions, both for the incoming president and the team on the mission. The story reveals enough of its secrets to keep you interested without tipping its hand too soon. The art is serviceable - the people and expressions are a bit workman-like, but the space scenes and backgrounds are flawless. I could easily see this becoming a tv miniseries.

Bonus: Diverse characters. The president is Latino, the leader of the space expedition is a woman, and none of this is particularly talked about - it's just how things are in this universe.

Read it and want to talk about it? We'll be discussing Volume 1: Escape Velocity on June 16th!

Though there are four of them and four Ladies, the similarities end there.

Rat Queens by Kurtis Wiebe, art by Roc Upchurch (volume 1),  Stjepan Šejić thereafter.

 What's it about?  The Rat Queens are your basic medieval fantasy adventurer team - you know the ones. There's an elven mage, a human cleric, a dwarf warrior and a hobbit smidgen thief. They fight in brawls, gather treasure, and kill orcs - the usually Dungeons and Dragons stuff. Except that the Rat Queens are all female - and they definitely aren't ladies. The elf is a necromancer, the cleric is an atheist, the dwarf is a bit of a hipster, and the thief seems more interested in illegal substances than just about anything else. As you might imagine, this all adds up to a team that gets in a lot of trouble and whose adventures don't always go as planned.

Why read it?:  For one thing, it's a bit of a phenomenon right now.  It had an Eisner nod in 2014 for best new series, it won the GLAAD media award in 2015, and it may be getting an animated series. The book sold out in a heartbeat when it debuted, and all of the praise is deserved. While not a philosophical think-fest the way Letter 44 is, this book is seriously FUN.  And as this recent Comics Alliance piece points out, there's a bit of a dearth of that for female characters - it's not missing completely, but it's rare enough that I, for one, sit  up and take notice when it's happening and happening well. The Rat Queens adventure and fight and do other non-PG things because it's fun, not to learn lessons and save the world, though they might end up doing those things by accident. It's a breath of fresh air.

ANTI-Bonus: So the art in this book is really lovely, and normally, that would be a bonus. But in this case I can't help but bring up a slight fly in the ointment, namely that the volume 1 artist, Roc Upchurch, was arrested at the end of 2014 for alleged domestic abuse. In happier news, Kurtis Wiebe quickly decided to replace him as the artist rather than implicitly condone the behavior, and the new artist, Stjepan Šejić's work looks pretty darn great.

Read it and want to talk about it? We'll be discussing Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery on June 30th!

I kind of want Katie's hair.

Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley

What's it about? Katie is the chef-owner of Seconds, a successful restaurant that she is hoping to expand into a second venture. She's also kind of a mess - sleeping with one of her employees while still pining over her ex-boyfriend, drinking too much, self-absorbed. When these traits combine into a terrible kitchen accident, Katie feels awful - until she's visited by a strange girl who gives her a mushroom, a notebook, and a second chance. Will the power to undo her mistakes help Katie become the person she always wanted to be? Or are there consequences to messing around with time and space? (SPOILER ALERT: THERE ARE ALWAYS CONSEQUENCES TO MESSING AROUND WITH TIME AND SPACE)

Why read it? You may remember O'Malley from that little Scott Pilgrim thing he wrote. If you enjoyed that, you'll probably like Seconds, although I find the latter to be a more mature work, relying less on reader nostalgia and more on a coherent narrative. Still, the theme of being young and successful and that not being remotely the same thing as responsible (or even a good person) is there. (Though I suppose Scott was only successful at fighting and poor girlfriend choices. Still, I think you get the point.)

Bonus: House spirits! I have a soft spot for anything involving folklore, fairytales or mythology, and O'Malley manages to infuse his tale with that element without losing any of the modern flair or angst.

Read it and want to talk about it? We'll be discussing Seconds on September 1!

Three stories to frolic in the sun with - not a bad start to the summer! What are you reading currently? Tell us in the comments!