Sunday, September 29, 2013

Happy Marriage?! Volume 1 by Maki Enjoji

Links: Goodreads Amazon B&N

The premise of an arranged marriage between a company head and a clerk is a perfect fairytale, but Happy Marriage?! has a couple of surprising takes on the gooey-eyed girl and cold boss man. Chiwa, the blushing bride, is a typical 22-year-old. She can be flaky and silly, but also practical and determined. I enjoyed her backbone when she did what she thought was right and followed through with her ideas, even when they didn't turn out quite like she thought they would. There is definitely some gender roles that are way too old - the slob husband and the neat wife always picking up after him - but in general the hero and heroine play fewer gender games than the typical romance manga.

Chiwa's thoughtfulness gives this series more depth than expected. Her husband, Hokuto, is also more complex than the broody bad boy or tortured hero who usually lead these romantic storylines. Hokuto is all alpha, but kind and open to ideas, especially when it comes to Chiwa's naivete. He respects Chiwa's decisions, even when he disagrees and does his best not to get in her way, even as he tries to help on his own. They are totally lovely and future volumes are not to be missed!

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Saga, Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples

Sometimes coming into a story in progress can be a challenge. Brian K. Vaughn must be some master storyteller because I was hooked on the first page and filled in on the backstory beautifully through the six books in this volume. I felt so thoroughly caught up that I wondered what Volume 1 could possibly contain.

Saga is epic (haha). War has created a legacy of hate between two species with no end in sight. Political machinations churn beneath strange alliances. In the middle of all this, two enemies meet and find common ground in probably the awesomest way ever - a romance novel. Alana, a solider, reads while on boring guard duty and can't find anyone to share her enthusiasm for it, until she is assigned to watch Marko, a prisoner of war. The book has a not-terribly-subtle subversive message, of pacifism, an idea wholly verboten in their world. They fall in love over the book and eventually seek refuge with Marko's parents while two factions pursue them across the universe: Marko's people (headed up by his very angry ex-girlfriend) and Alana's military cronies (led by a diabolical prince).

Let's be honest here, just about no one is happy here, but the story is remarkably unflinching and real without being gritty or broody. It is at times hilarious, poignant, and thankfully unsentimental. It can also be gory, phantasmagorical, and crude. If the plot and the mood sound like a wide spectrum, the tropes also run the gamut. The impossible-to-please mother-in-law, the wiseass kid, the star-crossed lovers, the sad waif, the adorably smug pet, the scorned woman, but they don't feel like tropes. Every character is nuanced to give each depth and humanity. It's a wonder and everyone needs to experience Vaughn's virtuosity. My only caveat is that this isn't for kids. Some elements reminded me of Bleach, which is for teens because of violence, and this is a step up from that. Get kids to read Saga, by all means, but when it's appropriate.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

G.I. JOE: The Cobra Files, Volume 1 by Mike Costa and Antonio Fuso

Links: Goodreads Amazon B&N

I grew up watching the afternoon G.I. Joe cartoons in the glorious 80s and imagining my Barbies pair much better with the Joe action figures (dolls!) than with Ken. I can't say I've been a dedicated fan since, but they claim a nostalgic spot in my heart.

The graphic novel here, which is a collection of #1-4, retains the macho patriotism I remember, but none of the humor or camaraderie. The good guys are still going strong, but there is a lot more psychological gamesmanship to the good-bad fight. It's a machiavellian world out there and the Joes reflect that. Greater good ho! I recently watched the latest Bond movie, Skyfall, and it struck me that Bond isn't really a hero. He's a dude doing a job and he's not there to prevent innocent lives being lost even if he can manage it. Collateral damage, here we come. The Joes aren't much different. Maybe this is because the bad guys seem to be much worse than I remember. Mostly they were stupid and/or incompetent. These villains are decidedly not. The evil end of the spectrum has expanded, so it seems the Joes have shifted over to maintain the status quo. A lot of food for thought in a comic book!

The art was a bit tough on my eyes. A lot of dark and ill-defined areas for a reader who likes details and realism. Did they fire the cleanup artist? Everyone looks the same! The art does mirror the mood and tension of the characters, though. Things are blurry and shadowy and definitely not smooth.

The plot is well-thought out and executed. Chameleon, a COBRA defector, is trying to prove her new loyalty to the Joes while remaining out of reach of her old cronies. COBRA is temporarily out of commission, but the faithful are far and wide. The Joes lay a trap for the wiliest bunch only to have it backfire and it's up to the backup crew (all women, curiously), including Chameleon, to salvage the mission. The Joes's existence depends on it.