Thursday, March 27, 2014

Travis' Book Review: Joker: Death of the Family by Scott Snyder and others

Writer Scott Snyder, whose Batman titles The Black Mirror and Night of the Owls are being heralded as some of the best comic runs ever, came up with the concept of recruiting all the writers in the current Batman universe to write about a single event – the return of the Joker. Having been absent from comic books for over a year, the last appearance of the Joker was in an early run of Tony S. Daniels’ Detective Comics when the Joker allowed another Gotham psycho to cut his face off before he disappeared from the world of The New 52. A year later, the Joker suddenly reappears in Gotham wearing his old face as a mask, permanently revealing both the grit and grin beneath. The Joker also reveals that he has been busy, and by sporting a mechanic’s jumpsuit complete with the nametag Joe (instead of his old purple tuxedo), he shows everyone that he’s a working man. He’s spent the past year plotting his most nefarious and elaborate joke, yet – making Batman stronger. In the Joker’s demented mind, however, making Batman stronger means freeing him from the burden of friends and family. And it’s time for him to go to work.  

A collaboration of 9 different series, each with different writers, Joker: Death of the Family is a lofty undertaking that works much better in theory than in practice. While the premise stays intact within the confines of the nearly 500 pages, the story is jumbled and often jumps around without any continuity. The reader gets to see what happens to Batman and his allies (Batgirl, Nightwing, Robin, etc.), but since the events happened as individual parts of their own story, the compendium lacks any transition between the individual plots. The individual stories of most of the characters have also been edited for relevant information, like exposition. If the reader wants to fully engage with their favorite non-Batman hero, or even villain in some instances, he or she will have to read that character’s series. For most part, reading the compendium is like reading the newspaper headlines and not the articles – you know what happened, but you don’t know all of the details.

Even so, the plot still develops and concludes with enough cohesiveness that the reader sees the big picture – which, in essence, is the goal of any collection. Be warned, though, that the collection, and its parts, can be a bit gruesome and is only recommended for older teens and above. For example, the book includes some crowbars to the head, a little bit of face-removal, and at one point, the Joker even creates a human tapestry reminiscent of The Human Centipede. Quite often, the violence can detract from the story, seemingly only there for shock value. If the writers wanted to use violence to push the demented villain further than he ever has gone before, then some Batman fans, like me, could potentially see the effort as juvenile and even disrespectful to the legacy of the comics. So, Joker: Death of the Family is definitely not for the squeamish. That said, Joker is still a must read for any fan of Batman that lacks either the means or desire to read the separate series, simply to appreciate the magnitude of the event, love it or hate it. For casual comic readers, though, you’ll get just as much from the story by simply reading Batman Vol. 3.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Jennifer's Book Review: The Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter

Cammie Morgan attends the prestigious Gallagher Academy, an all-girls school for gifted students. Or, at least that’s what the brochure says. What it doesn’t say is that it’s also an all-girls school for spies-in-training. The school invites the best and the brightest girls, beginning in sixth grade, to learn about picking locks, weapons and all forms of espionage. Cammie is a legacy, and her mother is the headmistress.

 The series is an amusing, fast-paced and totally unrealistic read. Cammie and her friends manage to solve international crimes and mysteries that adults can’t, and they generally outsmart any baddie they come up against. While the adventures get more and more dangerous as the girls age (from 15 to 18), the contents do not “age” with the character as some other series do. The romance is minimal (moving from flirting to handholding to chaste kisses[1]), and while there is some violence, it’s not very detailed (Cammie does kill two people in self-defense and witnesses the deaths of other people). It is important to read this series in order because it has an ongoing adventure throughout the series—the mysterious secret society the Circle of Cavan wants Cammie dead, and she’s determined to discover why.

This book isn’t without its faults. It definitely has its fill of token (geek, minority) characters who serve as Cammie’s sidekicks. Most characters are completely one-dimensional, and the girls in the school, except for level-headed Cammie, all act like annoying stereotypical teenage girls when in the presence of boys and handsome professors. Additionally, the premise is not very believable. Training girls from the age of 12 up to become spies (and having them perform actual, deadly missions in their upper teens) is unlikely, so warn potential readers that they will be required to suspend their disbelief!

Despite these issues, the series is a fun action-adventure romp, with just a small bit of romance sprinkled in. It ends on a happily-ever-after note, and the series could easily be transformed into a Disney TV show or movie. I’d recommend this to middle-grades teens who are looking for a laugh-out-loud, easy-to-read series.

[1] The most risqué thing in the final novel is this line: “But Zach’s hand was warm in mine, and I didn’t feel the chill, even when he stopped me on the stairs, pressed me against the wall, and kissed me. Softly at first, then more urgently, hungrily. It was like he hadn’t eaten in weeks.” And that’s it. They pull apart, and talk. And that’s only in the last book…the earlier books have even less. p.s. Does it sound like he’s trying to eat her face to anyone else? Seriously…like he hadn’t eaten in weeks? Ick.