book review: the surrogates

The Surrogates is a science fiction mystery set in a future where people can sit in the privacy of their own room and teleoperate a surrogate to go out and interact with the real world for them. When you’re operating the surrogate you’re feeling what it feels and doing what it does, but without exposing your real self to danger.

What makes this book great is how Robert Venditti gets into what this would mean for a world. It turns most of our major crimes into property crimes, since a murder of a surrogate is basically like totalling someone’s car. People took up smoking again because all of the carcinogens accumulate in the surrogate’s body, leaving the real you with lungs pink like the insides of babies.

The story follows a police detective on the trail of a murderer who might be a terrorist, and gets at the heart of what this technology means. There’s an anti-surrogate political group, and a murderer who can do things no one has ever seen before. Also, between each issue in the trade paperback there are news reports or advertisements or academic papers that help to flesh out the world (much like you might remember from Watchmen, though there’s no parallel pirate story going on here), which are done superbly.

Venditti and Wendele did a great job with this book. I know there was a movie version fairly recently but didn’t see it. It seems like it’d be very easy to simplify it too much for the sake of good visuals. If the movie’s worth seeing let me know!

book review: wizzywig: portrait of a serial hacker

WIZZYWIG is Ed Piskor’s comic about a hacker named Kevin “Boingthump” Phenicle. It tells the story of how he grew up and learned to become a phone phreaker and scammed long distance companies and became a fugitive hunted by the FBI.

It’s an interestingly told story because Phenicle is a fictional amalgam of all the famous hackers of the 20th century (or he at least knows them a la Forrest Gump). The way he’s interwoven with the real history (including the Secret Service raid on Steve Jackson Games, which was my personal introduction to how governments can freak out about hacking) makes it feel very real. It also helps that Piskor is a guy who’s drawn historical work before (including Harvey Pekar’s The Beats).

So yes, a well-told story that is a good jumping off point for further research of how hackers actually did things (as opposed to their portrayal in ’90s movies about cyberspace). And in the end the parallels to Wikilieaks and Bradley Manning contemporizes it nicely. Well-done.

book review: league of extraordinary gentlemen century 1969 (vol. 3 pt. 2)

I love love love the first two volumes of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the ones where the league of fictional characters are assembled into a team of literary Victorian superheroes and thwart badguys. I also really liked the Black Dossier too, mostly because of the variety of forms of fiction they used in it.

The third volume is called Century and deals with more modern happenings and I’m sorry but I didn’t really care for Century 1969.

Because the characters are immortal they’re in London in 1969 trying to head off the summoning of an Antichrist by a magician who’s swapping his consciousness across bodies. Mina and Allan are having relationship issues and then there’s some astral plane tripping and it’s over. I never got really engrossed in the story. Maybe it would have helped if the famous people involved didn’t have to be obscured because they might still be alive/protected by copyright. There might have been something great in there, but it never made itself known to me. This is probably my first dud of an Alan Moore book (I haven’t read everything he’s done, obviously).

book review: ax (vol.1)

Ax is an anthology of alternative manga stories. I don’t really read enough manga, so I figure anthologies are a good way to help me find new things. There were a bunch of stories I didn’t like, because they were too crudely drawn or too much florid art/language (which might have been better in Japanese). But there were a few I did like.

Love’s Bride by Yoshihiro Tatsumi: A guy gets possessive about a girl he knows so she tells him to fuck off and he goes to the zoo and falls in love with an ape who truly understands him. I’ve read a bunch of Yoshihiro Tatsumi books before so maybe it’s just familiarity with his straightforward style, but the story was well-done.

Conch of the Sky by Imiri Sakabashira: This one was way more metaphorical and weird, with squids crawling into the sick guy’s futon and then going off on a chase through the dark. The narration and the sinuous but not overdone art really sold it for me. It felt like a fever dream. In a good way.

A Broken Soul by Nishioka Brosis: The art in this story was what I really liked. It felt kind of cubist as the main character discovered his soul was broken.

Enrique Kobayahsi’s Eldorado by Toranusuke Shimada: This is the story of an Eldorado motorcycle found in an uncle’s garage. Toranusuke Shimada draws in a style reminiscent of Joe Sacco and tells the history of these Brazilian motorcycle manufacturers who turned out to have gotten their skills from Nazis. This one probably felt the least like what I think of as manga of the book.

book review: lost girls

I think this is my first review of pornography on librarianaut, but Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s graphic novel Lost Girls is exactly the kind of pornography you want to talk about even if showing it to people might be a little awkward.

At its core, Lost Girls is about three women who are staying in a hotel in Austria in 1914. These women are the grown-up heroines from key works of children’s literature: Wendy, Dorothy and Alice (of Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, and ALice in Wonderland, respectively). Each of these women is there for their own reasons. Wendy is accompanying her intolerably dull husband; Dorothy has left America to see Europe (in a seemingly naive farm-girl manner). Alice is there by herself, the grand dame of the tree.

The characters meet and begin to tell each other their stories, which are the tales we know, but are in a less fantastical and more explicit form. The cowardly lion is a farmhand who yells and catcalls boorishly and when Dorothy faces him down and strips, all his bravado falls away and he’s actually a virgin and they have a lot of sex. (Actually, you can just add that “and they have a lot of sex” ending to every bit of plot in the book.) Wendy’s story is about her and her brothers masturbating each other and the peeping tom with the deformed hand in the park. Alice’s story is about Alice being used as a sexual object by all sorts of people who had much more power than her.

The stories are split up between them and what is happening in the hotel, which gets more and more debauched as they share their stories and break down social barriers and fuck an incredible amount. There’s a chapter wherein Dorothy’s boyfriend and Wendy’s husband have a secret tryst. An orgy where the manager of the hotel is reading a tale of incest and pedophilia and ruminating about how stories of such things are titillating even if you would never do such a thing, although as he says that he’s just finished with a 12-year-old boy (who is of course also fictional).

Now the thing about this is that it’s Alan Moore writing this stuff, so the layers to the literature are all there and intricate and studiable. He’s doing his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen literary ransacking here but with stories of sex and coming of age and how stories of sex work. Melinda Gebbie’s art is amazing. It’s a beautiful, lavish book filled with paintings you’d want to shove in everyone’s faces, if only they weren’t filled with cocks and cunts. She uses different styles for each of the women’s tales, and for the different stories of what’s happening in the hotel as The Great War breaks out. There are visual jokes conveying subtext in shadows and the opening and closing motifs are of the mirror that was Alice’s.

Basically my review here is: Best Porn Ever. (And just to be clear, the creators are very clear about it being pornography and the value of pornography. Here’s a great interview with Alan Moore on the topic.)

book review: second thoughts

I liked Niklas Asker’s Second Thoughts. It’s a comic about a writer and the way relationships slowly end. She’s writing a story about a relationship and it mirrors the relationship she’s in. It’s kind of your traditional literary fiction and doesn’t do anything really new, but it’s very well-crafted. I really liked the opening sequence of P.O.V. panels that included phantom images of the woman the P.O.V. character was talking to in the scene. By the end the person who inspired the story buys it in a bookshop and reads it, and the universality of the whole story comes around. Very well done.

book review: the complete essex county

The Complete Essex County, by Jeff Lemire, is a story about loneliness and abandonment in southern Ontario. And hockey. Old-time hockey. It’s so sad and good.

There are three books and some minicomics in this collection. The first story is about a boy being raised by his uncle, and who befriends Jimmy the gas-station guy who scored a goal in the NHL. The second story is about Jimmy’s father and uncle and how they were hockey players in Toronto and never spoke for twenty five years and then came to be old lonely men after everyone else around them dies. The third story is about the county nurse who meddles in people’s lives and tells Jimmy his uncle has died. There’s also parallel story set way back in time with the nurse’s ancestor who was a nun in charge of an orphanage.

All three stories work together and the book’s exactly the kind of thing I’d recommend for someone who wanted to see what kind of serious literary stuff comics can handle.