Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Patsy Walker aka Hellcat! Vol 1: Hooked on a Feline by Kate Leth and Brittney L Williams

Patsy Walker aka Hellcat! Vol 1: Hooked on a Feline written by Kate Leth and illustrated by Brittney L Williams is the first collected volume of a brand new ongoing series featuring (obviously) the titular character. You might remember me mentioning Patsy/Hellcat in my She-Hulk reviews. This new series follows on from the same situation, with some overlapping character and also some new characters. And, of course, a focus on Patsy rather than She-Hulk/Jen.

Patsy Walker has managed to escape her past, her enemies and Hell itself (literally) - but nothing compares to job hunting in New York City! Between trying to make rent and dodging bullets, Patsy barely has time to deal with her mother's exploitative romance comics about Patsy's past resurfacing, much less how they start to interfere with her work and dating life. As she goes from living a double life to a triple, what the hell is Patsy Walker supposed to do? There'll be friendship and burgers, monsters and rent checks and a ghost from the past with questionable motives! Comics' most flexible heroine has been a provisional Avenger, a Defender, Satan's daughter-in-law and a dead woman–but she's never been anything like this!

This comic was excellent and even better than I expected. I was expecting to enjoy it because I like the character (and She-Hulk!). What I didn't see coming, however, was the lightheartedness and sheer fun of the comic. On that front, I'd say it was probably most like Squirrel Girl, with a similar — but not identical — style of puns, quips and jokes. There were several laugh-out-loud moments for me.

The story is basically: Patsy gets fired from being Jen's investigator because Jen is broke and then Patsy has bad-guy-thwarting adventures while trying to set up a new business. There's also the matter of romance stories that Patsy's mum wrote about teenaged Patsy and friends resurfacing, which Patsy is not impressed by.

I also really liked the art. It was bright and cheerful and Hellcat was often drawn in a chibi style, which was just adorable. Also, She-Hulk got to have pants as part of her hero costume! Win!

This was an excellent and entertaining read. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys fun comics and doesn't hate female characters. I will definitely be reading the next volume in this series and hope that it runs for MANY issues. <3

5 / 5 stars

First published: July 2016, Marvel
Series: Yes, first collected volume of an ongoing series, containing issues #1–5
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Some comic book shop or other (Orbital Comics in London, I think)

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play written by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, telling an eighth story in the Harry Potter series. I recently saw it in London and thought I would write a short and spoiler-free review. There's a very strong #KeepTheSecrets campaign going, which is about a third of the reason this review is spoiler-free. The other two reasons are that most of my reviews are spoiler-free, and that I genuinely think it's a story best approached cold. The cover and blurb I've used in this post come from the upcoming script book to be released at the end of July.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes darkness comes from unexpected places.

How long has it been since we had a new Harry Potter story to enjoy? If you, like me, read the later books on the day they came out and avoided your friends and the internet until you were done inhaling them so that you could avoid spoilers and experience them quickly and not be left behind... And then be sad that there wasn't more and that you had to wait who knows how long until the next one... This play brought back those feelings of excitement. It's not the same as the books and the story follows a different arc to the year-by-year unfolding of the books, but it's still a Harry Potter story.

More than that, it's a story that's in conversation with the earlier cannon and with some of the criticisms that have been levelled against it. It makes me wonder where else there is to go from here, as far as stories about the British present-day (-ish) Wizarding World is concerned. On the other hand, this is not a play that's going to be all things to all people. I wasn't sure what to expect going in — I think I was bracing for the disappointing meh-ness of the movies — and I was more than pleased with what I got.

Did I mention the special effects were excellent? I can't imagine that many superfans will be able to resist reading the script book, but if they do, it will be a loooong journey of avoiding spoilers until getting to the play. If you don't already have tickets... well, I checked and all available tickets are sold out until May 2017, although forty tickets are being released every Friday... to the entire internet. For a play that's only on in London. So I can see how the script book will end up being a main way people first experience the story. I hope they did a good job with it, but I doubt it will compare with the awesome special effects in the play. Alas.

5 / 5 stars

First published: July 2017 (I got tickets to a preview show)
Series: Harry Potter, eighth story, following the seven books
Format read: Saw the play at the Palace in London
Source: Waking up early and waiting in an internet queue for two hours last year

Monday, 11 July 2016

Ms Marvel Volume 5: Super Famous by G Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona and Nico Leon

Ms Marvel Volume 5: Super Famous written by G Willow Wilson and illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona and Nico Leon is the latest collected volume of Ms Marvel comics. It takes place after Secret Wars and collects issues #1–6 of the 2015 run. This volume follows on directly from Last Days, which the world didn't end, and takes place after Secret Wars. The last issue is apparently part of the Civil War II event, but not in a way that disrupts the story (in fact, I didn't even realise it was until after I'd finished it and saw the Civil War II cover).

She's your new favorite. She's everyone's new favorite. And now she's joining the big leagues. Look out world, Kamala Khan is an Avenger! But is she really cut out to be one of Earth's Mightiest Heroes? Saving the world is important, but Jersey City still needs its protector — and a development company that co-opted Ms. Marvel's face for its project has more in mind for gentrification than just real estate! Can Kamala take down the evil suits destroying her home without ruining her grades and personal life? Speaking of which, who exactly is that with Bruno? And when Kamala creates an army of automatons to help her fight crime, will she learn that too much Ms. Marvel is actually a bad thing? Get back on board, Kamala Korps, the ride is about to get wild!

As seems to always be the case with Ms Marvel, this was an excellent issue with a cohesive storyline. It deals with issues of gentrification in Jersey City, with the issue of the normal residence being pushed out by new developers being central to the plot. It also deals with the question of ownership of the Ms Marvel image. If she's everyone's hero and otherwise anonymous, can anyone use her likeness, for example in advertising?

On a character level, this issue also has Kamala struggling to balance everything going on in her life. Between being an Avenger and a normal teenager who has school and family commitments, there's a lot for her to fit in. Unlike for a normal teenager, the consequences of letting a few things slide or trying to fit more in are rather dire and dramatic.

As well as enjoying the story, I absolutely loved the art. There are several panels with extra detail in the backgrounds which adds amusement while reading. It was pretty rest and I was soon finding myself disappointed with the sparser panels that didn't have significant backgrounds.

Ms Marvel is an excellent comic series that you should probably be reading if you're not already. I am particularly pleased to see with this volume and the previous one that the creators have managed not to disrupt the main story and character development too much with events. Although, so far this has probably been helped by the fact that Ms Marvel hasn't been to instrumental to said events, which could change in the future (fingers crossed that it doesn't). I highly recommend this comic to all comics fans and YA readers to might be interested in dabbling in comics. I do suggest starting from the first volume, however. While this volume doesn't make a terrible entry point, it is volume five and does build on the story from the previous volume and so forth.

5 / 5 stars

First published: July 2016, Marvel
Series: Volume 5 of Ms Marvel (Kamala Khan), ongoing series, containing issues #1–6 of the second run (2015)
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Local comic book shop

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers is a debut science fiction novel by a new-to-me author. It's a standalone book, although I hear a companion novel is on the way.

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn't expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that's seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.

But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful - exactly what Rosemary wants.

Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime: the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They'll earn enough money to live comfortably for years... if they survive the long trip through war-torn interstellar space without endangering any of the fragile alliances that keep the galaxy peaceful.

But Rosemary isn't the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

I had heard a lot of comparisons of this book to Firefly, and also how the cover, while pretty, was not representative of that. That commentary was part of what made me pick this book up sooner rather than later (a friend gushing and a sale are what led me to buy it). However, aside from being an ensemble cast on a spaceship in the distant future, there really aren't many similarities to Firefly. I'd argue that the significance of each character in Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is more evenly spread than in Firefly, too. And then there's the plethora of alien races, the lack of criminal activity on the part of the crew as a whole, no fugitive magical girls... The differences are endless.

It probably will appeal to a similar demographic, though.

The plot in Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is less direct than in most of the books I've read lately, possibly because I've been reading a lot of YA and comics. Each crew member has their own goals as well as the common goal of doing their jobs and not dying in the process. At the start, we probably get a bit more of Rosemary's perspective since she's the new arrival and a good in for the audience. But we also see a lot of Captain Ashby's point of view to set the scene. As the story progresses, we learn backstories for all the characters, which are diverse and interesting.

The title comes from a key job the crew takes on, which takes a significant portion of the book to complete and does contribute to the climax. But it's not the only significant thing happening to the characters and I liked that.

I read this book on a transcontinental flight and I'd rank it as one of my better-chosen plane reads. I don't think I enjoyed it less for the severe sleep deprivation I was experiencing and I actively wanted to come back to it when I wasn't dozing. So much so that I ended up not watching any movies, not even during meals.

I highly recommend Long Way to a Small Angry Planet to all science fiction fans. I think it's a book with broad appeal with both fun and serious moments. The cast of characters is also broad enough that even if you're not interested in one character, there will be others to pick up the slack (I found all the stories interesting, however).

5 / 5 stars

First published: 2014, self-pub (Kickstarter was involved) then picked up by a couple of large publishers for the edition I read
Series: Standalone but another book in the same world ("Wayfarers") is on the way
Format read: ePub on Kobo
Source: Purchased from Google Play

Friday, 1 July 2016

Batgirl Volume 1: Batgirl of Burnside by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr

Batgirl Volume 1: Batgirl of Burnside written by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher and illustrated by Babs Tarr is the start of a new story for Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. This is also the first Batgirl comic that I've read.

Barbara Gordon is no stranger to dusting herself off when disaster strikes, so when a fire destroys everything she owns, she spots the opportunity for a new lease on life – and seizes it! Following the rest of Gotham City’s young adults to the hip border district of Burnside, Barbara sets about building an all-new Batgirl…and discovers new threats preying on her peers! As the new hero of Burnside, Batgirl gets started by facing twin sister assassins on motorcycles!

Although this is a volume one and a new start for Batgirl, it actually contains issues #35–40, meaning it doesn't quite work as a complete origin story for the character. I was not previously very familiar with Batgirl, and I was a little bit lost at the start when there are references made to her previous life. If I hadn't heard a Galactic Suburbia discussion about Barbara Gordon being in a wheelchair, then I think I would've been even more confused. (Note this volume actually takes place after Babs has been magically cured of her paralysis.) That said, the wheelchair aspect did become clear towards the latter part of the volume.

This is set in the DC universe, which is filled with city names that differ from the real world. There were a large number of fake social media references were actually very "now" and easy to follow. I suspect someone living under a social media rock may have felt a little bit lost, however. Another aspect I quite liked was that Barbara Gordon was doing a PhD while also being a superhero. I like the trend of clever female superheroes.

So, although the start could have been a little bit clearer more, it wasn't too bad and I would recommend this as a starting point for Batgirl. Keep in mind, though, that I am saying this is someone who hasn't read any other Batgirl comics. Having read this volume, I am interested in reading the next and have added Batgirl to my mental list of female superheroes that don't suck (which also contains almost all the other female superhero comics I've reviewed here, if you're wondering).

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2015, DC Comics
Series: Yes. Issues #35–40 of the 2011 run. Don't ask me how that logically translates to a Volume 1, although it is a sensible starting point story-wise.
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Present or something like that