Review: V for Vendetta (graphic novel)

V title page
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and plot
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason
should ever be forgot.

V for Vendetta, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd, was originally published in the 1980s, but my recent reading revealed that it still has strong current relevance.  My rating: 4.5 / 5 stars

In a future Britain, war has led to societal collapse, and a fascist government has taken control, using fear to rule via surveillance programs and detention camps for undesirables.  Enter Codename: V, a terrorist with a penchant for bombs and knives who dedicates his life to overthrowing the government and restoring freedom to the people through anarchy.

screenshot_2016-10-18-20-31-04V typically wears a Guy Fawkes mask, referencing a member of the Gunpowder Plot that attempted to blow up the House of Lords on November 5, 1605.  V clearly sees himself as a contemporary Fawkes and does in fact blow up several London landmarks including Parliament and 10 Downing Street.  The Guy Fawkes mask has recently been co-opted by the hacker group Anonymous, which loosely shares V’s anti-censorship/pro-civil liberties views. The masks are frequently seen at protests, making a statement in addition to hiding identities.

The 2006 movie adaptation tones down the fascist-anarchist themes, instead targeting a US audience that was learning how to live in a post-9/11 world.  I absolutely love this movie, and I think it’s one of the best comic book movies ever made.  The cast, particularly Hugo Weaving as V, is wonderful.  There are some changes from the source material, some good, some not.

Take the character of Evey for example.  We meet her in the first pages of the graphic novel as a sixteen-year-old going out to begin prostituting herself; she then forms romantic attachments to two adult men over the course of the story.  To me, this screams “female character written/seen through male perspective.”  (I don’t think the other females characters fare much better in this regard.)  Hence I prefer Natalie Portman’s version of Evey, questionable accent included, because she has more independence and agency to start with.  But does that perhaps lessen the necessity and impact of the “re-education” that V puts her through?

Similarly, in the graphic novel we get a much better picture of the workings of the government.  Each branch is detailed: the Mouth sends out propaganda, the Ear does surveillance, the Nose investigates, etc.  And the Leader, very much a flat character in the movie, is given some interesting development.  But the movie also streamlines many of the government characters and plots that I found a bit confusing in the novel.  After a bit, a lot of white men in suits start to look alike.  Detective Finch also gets a slightly more heroic character arc in the movie, which I think lends more optimism to the ending.

Now, I posted this today specifically for several reasons.  First, because Saturday is the 5th of November, so that felt appropriate.  Second, because the US is about to have an election, and this story has a whole lot to say about the relationship between the government and its people.

Those following the presidential election here will understand why I did a serious double take on the second page, where a minister in the fascist government espouses his desire to “make Britain great again.”

make Britain great again

Can you believe that something written in the 80s has such relevance today?  V for Vendetta is explicitly saying that the politicians that use this kind of rhetoric are also the kind that rule by fear, the kind that curb our civil liberties, the kind that persecute minorities for the sake of “strength” and “unity.”

Further, if these are the politicians in power, V asks, whose fault is that?  Only our own.

So I will conclude by simply saying: please go vote next Tuesday and have your say in our government, without having to blow up anything at all.

If you really want to hear more about Alan Moore’s opinions on current politics, check out his interesting recent interview here.

One last, more frivolous note: I’ve started reading comics on my Kindle Fire, and it’s really pretty good.  You can double tap a panel to enlarge it, which is super important in a comic like V for Vendetta where there’s all kinds of details in the backgrounds.  I also have access to a lot of digital comics for free from my public library through Overdrive; if you live in Ohio, check it out here.  I think I’m going to try Fables next.

Review: Runaways (v1)

So going along with my well-established love of stories about teenagers with superpowers comes the collected first volume of Marvel’s Runaways.  I picked it up because I love love love the writer Brian K. Vaughan’s current work Saga, and the premise sounded interesting: what if you discovered as a teenager that your parents really were evil?

runawaysI totally devoured this in a weekend, and there’re just so many things to love about it.  Great character design, quirky humor, drama and plot twists, and small nods to the wider Marvel universe.

The cast of characters is so great it’s hard to pick a favorite.  Gertrude, Nico, Alex, Chase, Karolina, and Molly decide to band together and run away from home when they discover their parents are all part of some sort of the secret evil organization.  They all have special abilities and items, from pet velociraptor to magic staff to alien psychedelic flight.  But one or more of them may actually have ulterior motives…

Nico Minoru

I particularly enjoyed the four female Runaways, and I especially gravitated toward Nico Minoru, aka Sister Grimm.  Maybe it has something to do with the Asian goth vibe she has, like Scarlet Witch meets an anime magical girl.  She’s smart and loyal, has great fashion sense, and her magic is interesting with potential to be really powerful.

This volume is really great because it compiles the first 18 issues of the comic, which is a complete story arc.  So the volume is a completely self-contained story, and you don’t need to read any other comics at all to enjoy it.

I would also give a special shoutout to issues 11 and 12, which were drawn by Takeshi Miyazawa in a slightly more anime style and feature a story arc with Cloak and Dagger, two Marvel characters who were themselves young runaways.  I really loved meeting these two and am looking forward to their upcoming TV show on the Freeform channel (formerly ABC Family).

5 / 5 stars

Review: I am Princess X

17408897I am Princess X is the YA debut of steampunk author Cherie Priest.  I happened to stumble upon it at the library after seeing it recommended by some bloggers.

May is a young teenager living in Seattle with her parents when her best friend Libby dies in a tragic car accident.  Three years later she’s back in Seattle with her dad when she begins to notice street art featuring Princess X, a character that she created with Libby as children.  She becomes convinced that Libby is still alive and, what’s more, is sending her secret messages through the popular webcomic, I am Princess X.

This book is a fascinating mix of novel and graphic novel; it regularly features whole strips from the Princess X comic as May tries to dissect its secrets and discover Libby’s true fate.  The artwork is incredible and fits the story perfectly.  I felt like there was some manga influence in the drawing style and layout, which works thematically, considering that Libby originally conceived Princess X as looking like herself (half-Japanese) and wielding a katana.

The setting is contemporary and urban, but the Princess X comic features a lot of fantasy elements.  I loved the crossover between real-life Seattle and the fantasy world of Silverdale, home of Princess X.  It adds a layer of surrealness (surreality? someone help me out here) to the mystery/thriller aspect of the story.

This story is not long, and it’s so engaging that I read it straight through in one evening.  The plot unfolds beautifully, everything in its place, though perhaps a bit simple and convenient at times.  The “hacking” and other tech elements of the story are perhaps not perfect, but they’re not laughably bad either.

The characters are great, too (Jackdaw was my favorite).  Princess X’s antagonist, The Needle Man, is rather scary in his ruthlessness.  I liked that our teenage protagonists do their best to be brave and smart, but they do make mistakes; they don’t have any kind of special powers or training.  It was also refreshing to see a YA story with multiple female main characters and no romance subplots.

4/5 stars

I (still) read banned books

bbw-fd2015

Celebrate Banned Books Week with me!  According to the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, there were 311 challenges to books last year.  Check out the infographic below for 2014’s list of top 10 challenged books, plus a bunch of other info.

There are three graphic novels on the list this year: Persepolis, Drama, and the Saga series. (Korean manhwa The Color of Earth has also been on the list previously.) Graphic novels are an interesting case.  People who are unfamiliar with them may see “comics” and assume that children are the intended audience when that is not always the case.  And the visuality of the medium sometimes makes things that might not be so racy in a written book seem much more…graphic.

I absolutely adore Saga, written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples.  You can read my previous thoughts on it here.  To be honest, its content is very adult and I would be hesitant to include it in a high school library collection or assign it for a class unless there were a specific reason a teacher wanted to teach it.

Public libraries are a different story; I first read Saga by checking it out of my local public library—I found it in the section specifically for adult graphic novels, distinct from the comic/manga section in the young adult area.  I think that kind of labeling is useful because it helps readers (and parents of readers) make an informed decision about the kind of content they are selecting.

I am tickled by the fact that one of the reasons for challenging Saga is that it is “anti-family.”  I think most people who have read it would agree that it is, in fact, very pro-family.  The cover of issue 1, shown on the infographic below, depicts the main characters Alana and Marko (a married couple) and their infant daughter Hazel (who narrates the story).  Much of the story has to do with them struggling to keep their family together in the face of racism and war.  What is more pro-family than that?

I have just picked up Persepolis from the library and will be reading it this week.  Are you reading any “banned” books right now, or have you in the past?  What is your favorite book on the 2014 challenged list?

StateAmLib-infographic-600

2014 Reading Review

I read approximately 50 “new” books (including a few graphic novels) this year.  Here are some that stood out:

leviathan wakesSci-Fi:

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

This book, the first in The Expanse series, is summer blockbuster sci-fi at its finest.  Here’s my original mention.  I am looking forward to reading the other books in the series (which is being adapted for TV) in the upcoming year.

I recently played Eclipse Phase, a tabletop RPG, which reminded me greatly of Leviathan Wakes.  The setting has some similar elements, and the Ego Hunter one-shot we played really had some of the same concepts and themes.  Definitely recommend it if you are a fan.

YA series:

The Thief by MW Turner, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Legend by Marie Lu

This year was for me the year of YA series.  I had a lot to catch up on (and still do) because there’s been an explosion of YA fantasy and dystopian series in the past few years.  These were 3 that really stood out to me as adding something to the genre.

The Queen’s Thief (now a 4-book series) is definitely the most intelligent of the lot. Some of the best YA writing I’ve read recently, and you must be a careful reader.  The characters feel like dear friends at this point.  Here’s my original review.

I was ready to write off The Girl of Fire and Thorns as being slightly above average when I gave the second book, The Crown of Embers, a chance and was blown away.  If you like YA fantasy romance, look no further.  Here’s my original review.

While I had some issues with the stupid science writing in Champion, it did not detract from my appreciation for the exciting Legend series.  There were some really nice sci-fi elements that elevated it from other dystopias, and the two main characters, June and Day, have really stayed with me.  Here’s my original review.  I recently read Marie Lu’s The Young Elites and I look forward to more books from her.

Parkour!Latest installment:

Skin Game (The Dresden Files) by Jim Butcher

I can’t believe these books are still this amazing at number 15 in the series.  Here’s my review.

countofmc“Literature”:

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

A very very long book, but there’s a reason it’s a classic.  I began reading this one when I went to Europe way back in 2012, but finally got it finished over a long weekend early in 2014.  If all you know is the 2002 Jim Caviezel movie (which I admit is good), then I highly recommend you pick up an abridged copy.  Hint: the book ending is different.

Fellow bloggers:

Not surprisingly, many of my fellow bloggers are authors.  Two standouts this year:

  • Benevolence Archives by Luther M. Siler, a humorous series of short stories in kind of a Star Wars/D&D mashup world (my review)–it’s FREE at Smashwords
  • Kiss of the Fey by Charlotte Cyprus, a quick fantasy romance (my review)

Saga1Graphic novel:

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Just got volume 4 and I’m still in love.  Here’s my original review.