Friday, November 29, 2013

Booknote: Godzilla: Rulers of Earth

Chris Mowry and Matt Frank, Godzilla: Rulers of Earth. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2013. ISBN: 9781613777497.

I wanted to like this, but it was a convoluted mess for the most part. New giant monsters appear, and no one is sure why. Godzilla fights them, gets wounded, manages to overcome for now with a little help. But that is not all. There is an alien race behind the scenes plotting to take over the Earth, and the humans are unaware of that. These aliens seem to behind some of the monsters. We can add in the mandatory for this kind of story overeager youth "expert" who is there more for the cute factor, and we get a pretty average comic. This was mostly a bunch of monster fight scenes with some dialogue tossed in between. The alien conspiracy element has potential, but we are not given enough on that front yet. The comic is part of a continuing series, so readers may want to consider if they want to read on to see if it gets better or not. I am not sure I will.

Bottom line: this had about as much substance as one of those bad Transformers movies with a lot of explosions, and the humans pretty much standing around while the monsters duke it out. It's a light read, but there is not much else here. This volume is a compilation of the first few issues of the series. For further information, here is a link to IDW's series promo.

I am giving it a 2 out of 5 stars as the book was mostly ok.

Disclosure note: In order to keep The Man happy this is where I tell you that I read this book as an e-book galley from the publisher via NetGalley. It was provided in exchange for an honest review. Book due for publication on December 17, 2013.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Short Booknotes on Graphic Novels 19

Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories. New York: DC Comics, 2009. ISBN: 9781401222451

This is an anthology of stories from the Batman Adventure comics. If you have seen the television series Batman: The Animated Series, these comics draw on and expand on that. Though aimed at youth readers, these comics actually have some substance and some pretty good stories. This anthology made for a fun and light reading experience. For casual readers, this is a good way to read Batman tales.

Highlights of the volume include the title story, "Mad Love," which is an origin story for Harley Quinn, the Joker's girlfriend, and "Two of a Kind," a story where Harvey Dent is rid of Two-Face, but can that last? The latter story was also feature in the Black and White volume that I read a while back, but it was still good to reread it here. The rest of the tales in the collection are very good overall.

Grant Morrison,, Happy! Berkeley (CA): Image Comics, 2013. ISBN: 9781607066774.

This was an interesting discovery for me at my local public library. In this gritty tale, Nick Sax is a corrupt ex-cop who is now working as a hit man. A hit job goes wrong, and he gets shot. Suddenly, he starts seeing a blue winged little horse that talks. Is it an alcoholic hallucination? The drugs? And why does the horse keep pestering him about some little girl in trouble and needing his help? Sax escapes from the hospital, and he now has the cops and the mob chasing after him. Plus, it's Christmas, and a serial killer who kidnaps children and dresses like Santa Claus is on the loose? What else can possibly go wrong? I read this in a quick moment as it is a gripping tale with a bit of a surreal element. If you like noir, grit, and a bit of the Christmas spirit, this is one to read. Do note it is rated for mature readers.

Stuart Moore, Wolverine Noir. New York: Marvel, 2009. ISBN: 9780785139454.

It's 1937 New York, in The Bowery. Logan is a private detective running a seedy agency with his half-wit of a "brother." Then comes in a dame, just like in so many other private detective stories, and the trouble starts. Dog, Logan's partner, decides to take on the case, but then he vanishes. Now it falls to Logan to find him, and he suspects the Japanese femme fatale is not telling him all he needs to know. In addition, a man called Creed is running a gym that seems to be good for kids, getting them off the streets. But is that all those kids do, or are they getting involved in a life of crime as ninjas? The case gets complicated as Logan finds himself forced to revisit a very tormented past. This was definitely an excellent read, and the author creates a very good noir story that is comparable to other hard boiled detective stories. When it comes to Marvel's Noir series, it is always interesting to see how they adapt the characters to the noir era. Here, Logan's claws are knives, and he is an expert knife fighter and a man who knows a few moves, taught to him by a very worldly old man. This is definitely one I highly recommend. Do note the cover notes "parental advisory," so this is probably for older teens and up.

Geoff Johns,, Superman: Brainiac. New York: DC Comics, 2009. ISBN: 9781401220884.

Brainiac has been one of Superman's most challenging enemies, and now he has found Superman's adopted home of Earth. His cousin Supergirl, who was in Krypton when Brainiac came there and took one of its cities for his collection, certainly has reason to fear Brainiac. Superman decides it is time to finally confront Brainiac, but it will be quite the challenge for the Man of Steel, and he just might not be able to save everyone this time. One thing I liked about this comic is the art, where Superman's portrayal does remind me a bit of Christopher Reeve's portrayal in the Superman films, Fans of Superman will likely enjoy this Superman story. In addition to the main story, there is some humor in his workplace at The Daily Planet with a new gossip reporter who seems to be experience her midlife crisis and a new sports reporter who is pretty much a chauvinist pig but will get some comeuppance. Overall, a good read.

Signs the Economy is Bad, November 22, 2013

Welcome to another edition of "Signs the Economy is Bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the semi-regular (as in when I have time and/or feel like doing it) feature where I scour the Internet in search of the oh so subtle hints that the economy is bad. Sure, pundits may say things are getting better, but what do they know? And to show not all is bad, once in a while we look at how good the uber rich have it. 

This week has not been a good week for corporations. From companies that were once mighty and are now on death watch to companies just doing stupid shit, it has been a rough week for them. So let's see what the hell has happened recently.

From Cagle Cartoons
  • The big story this week is Walmart basically being an asshole of a company. You mean again? Walmart being an exploitative and greedy employer is not new, so this story should not be shocking. It is widely known that Walmart basically does not pay their workers a living wage (hell, they barely pay them a wage), so their workers have to end up using social net services like food stamps and Medicaid. Tax payers basically subsidize Walmart's workforce (you know, that would be you and me. See this story from CNN/Money for an illustration of the point). So naturally, national attention flared up when some Walmart store in Cleveland, Ohio had a food drive (via Bill Moyers). Who was the food drive for? Its own underpaid workers. From the Moyers link, “'Please Donate Food Items Here, so Associates in Need Can Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner,' read signs affixed to the tablecloths." That right there probably says all that needs to be said on the predatory exploitation of Walmart when it comes to its workers. It does not get any more shameless than that. Of course, not that people seem to care since they do like their low prices. Those low prices do come with a price, and that is not a low price at all. Me? I avoid shopping at Walmart as much as possible, and I urge others to shop elsewhere as well. We do not believe in enabling this exploitation in this joint. 
  • McDonald's, another exploitative corporation, is once again in hot water for giving financial and personal advice to their poor workers (via NBC News). Yes, they are literally poor given Mickey D's is, very much like Walmart, another company that pays low forcing its workers to use the social safety nets. In fact, they are known for actively encouraging this (via Bill Moyers). However, some folks do not think Mickey D's tips go far enough. The folks at Holy Taco have added some items to the list of tips for McDonald's workers, have a look.
  • J.C. Penney's and Abercrombie and Fitch are faring badly as well. This past week we got a report that they are at risk of getting kicked out of the S&P 500 (via BuzzFeed). They are just not as cool or hip anymore to be in the "the index tracks the 500 biggest corporations by market value traded on the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ"  
  • Heck, things are so bad, you can't even whack it for some cash. The sperm selling business is down (via Vice). Why you may ask? Well, the answer is "the financial recession has made sperm donating a competitive business. Sperm donation applications have doubled while the number of women looking for insemination has dropped." It seems to be a case of supply and demand. 
  • Poverty is often a very personal experience. There are degrees of poverty. Also, poverty is not just a lifestyle choice or just making poor decisions. And it is not all about "personal responsibility" like conservatives love to rail on in blaming the poor. The blogger at Killer Martinis tells us "Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or Poverty Thoughts." If you do not read anything else in my blog today, read this.  If nothing else, just for a little bit of humanity.
  • Are you down on your luck, maybe alcoholic, and you are a nuisance publicly? Well, in the Netherlands, they got a job for you (via Times Live). Get some beer and a little dinero for helping to keep parks clean. Maybe not a perfect solution, but it is certainly a constructive and practical one. And like most decent ideas, one you will not see in the U.S. any time soon. 
  • As we often point out, the economy is not bad for everyone. The one-percenters are certainly doing fine all over the place. In China, a cake millionaire has six castles (via Times of India). And I bet that, unlike certain American politician and his houses, he remembers where his castles are. 
  • Illustration of how, when you are rich, you can have choices. Want to leave the U.S.? If you have enough money, you could buy citizenship in another country. For example, for $865,000, you can buy Maltese citizenship (via Slate).
  • Now there is also the issue of underground economies and not so ethical economies. For the not so ethical, things are getting hard, so they need new ways to supplement the income. For example, in Kenya, which apparently is notorious for rampant corrupt cops, the cops are now using cellphones and mobile technology to process and receive their bribes (via Balancing Act Africa). 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Booknote: B.P.R.D.: Vampire

Mike Mignola, et. al., B.P.R.D.: Vampire.  Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 2013. ISBN: 978-1-61655-196-4. (link to publisher)

In this tale, which follows the series B.P.R.D.: 1946-1948, an agent is haunted by dreams of vampires. He leaves the agency to go hunt them down. He heads to Czechoslovakia for his quest. What he finds is a feud between vampires and witches; the witches have a cult to a blood-thirsty Hecate. There are many layers of intrigue in this tale, including the fact that Agent Sanders is not an ordinary agent.

This is a good vampire tale with a good amount of suspense, which makes it a good Halloween read. You can read it any time of the year though. The tale brings together ingredients of the classic vampire tale: a mysterious noble who vanishes or seems to die only to come back, a spooky castle, haunted woods, seductive women, so on.

The volume includes a sketchbook with notes by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon. This section features a good discussion of the art work as well as sketches to really appreciate the art and craft of the artists who helped bring the story to life. Overall, we get great art with excellent attention to detail, as we can expect from Mignola and artists that work with him. As a reader, this tale draws one in.

I'd give it 5 out of 5 stars if you ask me.

Disclosure note: In order to keep The Man happy this is where I tell you that I read this book as an e-book galley from the publisher via NetGalley. It was provided in exchange for an honest review. Book due for publication on November 27, 2013.

Signs the Economy is Bad, November 15, 2013

We made it through another week, and there are still signs out there that the economy is bad. Do not let the pundits fool you into thinking that things are getting better. Sure, there may be a couple of anomalies, mostly stuff for the one-percenters, but for the rest of us, things are still rough. Let's see what have we found this week.

  • J.C. Penney's has ended free wi-fi in its stores. If you thought you could mooch off some free Internet while shopping, or if you work there, and this was likely your only perk worth a damn, that's gone. The company needs to save some money pronto, so probably enabling people to come into their stores, hop on their smartphones, use their store to "showroom," then buy the stuff on Amazon was probably not a hot idea. They are saving about 7 million dollars, which seems like small change given that "$985 million net loss posted by J.C. Penney in the year ended Feb. 2, 2013." 
  • And a follow up to last week, Blockbuster is history as they have rented their last movie ever.
  • I hate when people think that college students somehow have it cushy. College students are often there through hard work and sacrifice, and poverty conditions are quite common (were it not for technicalities, many likely would fully qualify for aid other poor people get). I have been in that boat of making decisions based on how much money I had or rather did not have and having to basically hide that part of me from others. So this open letter from a Duke student, which could basically be a student in any college or university, struck a nerve with me. Our students here at Berea College certainly, more often than not, arrive with empty wallets, and we at least try our best to care for them. Most colleges and universities could not care less. 
  • In fact, these days, things are so bad that rich people are pleading poverty. You know shit is hitting the fan when the wealthy whine they can't afford designer clothes. While I do understand the concept that for celebrities, those fancy clothes and jewels they wear to galas are often loaners (loaned by designers basically for promotion purposes, and those items often or usually do have to be returned), sympathy here does not go far. Learn to dress more modestly hun. Some of us are lucky we can afford any clothes at all. 
  • Stephen Colbert certainly knows how to spot signs of bad economy. While the rest of us have hard times, he shows us how the wealthy can now go "glumming" for vacation. Don't know what "glumming" is? Read the article and watch the video clip to find out. 
  • Now, often these days I do find signs that things may not be so bad for some people. Remember the line from the film Pulp Fiction where Vincent asks Marsellus' wife, Mia, what a $5 dollar shake (link to quote) might taste like (here is the movie clip for context)? Forget that! We have found a $500 dollar milkshake. Read the story to find out what it's made out of. I have a feeling if Mia was sipping that shake, poor Vincent would not be given a taste. 
  • Finally, in other news, a new Miss Universe was crowned. The new beauty queen was spotted wearing a $1 million bathing suit. Apparently her new gig as Miss Universe includes being spokesperson for some swimsuit company, and they unveiled the suit that Miss Universe is modeling. Have a look and read for more details. 

Friday, November 08, 2013

Signs the Economy is Bad, November 8, 2013

Ah, it's time once again to notice the oh-so-subtle signs that the economy is bad. I know my four readers are busy people, so I scour the Internet (when I get time and/or feel like it) in search of the not-so-noticeable things that tell us that the economy is bad. So, what has been going on?

  • This week's seriously grim news: the economy is bad in Puerto Rico, and I mean seriously fucked up (pardon the language, but we need to tell it like it is).  Colonial status, removal of a popular federal tax breaks many manufacturers used to set up shop in PR, a seriously fucked up and corrupt local government, and a consistent "ay bendito" attitude (a.k.a. "woe is poor me")  mean things are bad and will remain bad for the foreseeable future. In fact, there is a major brain drain going on as the smart people are leaving the island in droves. I can personally tell you, as Puerto Rican myself, I am not going back any time soon. I have managed to make a nice, modest life here where I can make a living. I don't do woe is me. Plus, at this moment, I am working where I can actually make a difference.
  • As we all know (or should know), the Republican Party in the U.S. has been on a rampage to cut back food stamps and other social services. I am betting their new party platform is to decrease the surplus population. Sadly, stuff like this does affect real people, and real people DO suffer (not that they care). The Rude Pundit brings us "In Brief: A Personal Take on Food Stamps." He puts it very well when he writes, "When you are spit out of the middle class by the capitalist monster, it's a short trip to America's garbage heap of the disempowered." This is worth reading.
  • Notoriously "hip" store Abercrombie & Fitch announced things are bad. Sales are plunging at the stores for the beautiful people, and apparently they are closing down some lingerie stores they owned. I am sure it has nothing to do with their CEO's remarks that only cool people should wear his company's clothes. Their recent decision to finally offer some larger sizes I am sure is all a coincidence. It could not happen to a nicer retailer. 
  • Blockbuster video is still open? Apparently DISH Network, who now owns the company, is all but closing down the video rental chain.We had one here in Berea, and it closed down earlier this year. Basically, they got beaten by Netflix. A pity, since not all of us can or are willing to stream our movie rentals. The Redboxes in town seem to be doing ok if the people I see lining up to them on the weekends are an indication. 
  • Collections in churches are going down (I believe we have mentioned this before). Some pastors have even gotten a little bitchy over the fact people are not giving as much. Hey, economy is bad, and let's be honest, ROI from tithing is not that great, so when you have to cut back, tithing and money on the plate have to go. So, how might you entice people to come back to your church? Serving some beer may be a good idea, they think.
  • And in higher education news from my old stomping ground, the state of Indiana, Anderson University (a small private Christian school) is axing programs in theater, French, and philosophy. Yea, who needs that "high fallutin'" elitist stuff anyhow? The usual claims of loss of enrollment were made. Not saying they are not true, but I am sure with a little creativity we can keep exposing students to courses and majors that may encourage things like critical thinking and self-expression. And axing philosophy? Given the serious lacks of ethics in society today, that may be a curriculum they definitely need to keep.
  • Of course, the economy is not bad for everyone. Oprah recently had a "garage/yard sale" to get rid of a few things cluttering up the house. I know when I declutter my house, it's not going to be $600,000 worth of stuff. However, today we are looking at her list of "favorite things." One of them? "$62-a-pound truffle-flavored cheese." Hey, if you need some seriously decadent early ideas for Christmas gifts, and you have money to burn, this may be your list. Now, please excuse me while I go cut some pieces of cheddar bought at the supermarket (supermarket brand, on sale if you go at the right time) to go with my Two-Buck Chuck.
  • And if you need to wash down that fancy, schmancy truffle-flavored cheese, boy, do I have the cocktail for you. You can get this $176 cocktail in some high end hotel in New York City. But hurry, only available during the month of November.

Booknote: Batman, Vol. 3: Death of the Family

Scott Snyder, Batman, Vol. 3: Death of the Family.  New York: DC Comics, 2013. ISBN: 9781401242343.

This is part of DC's New 52 series, and it continues the run on the title by Scott Snyder, an author I have come to like from his work in American Vampire. I also enjoyed his first two Batman volumes for the New 52 (my review of those two here). This volume follows the events of city of owls event. In this volume, the Joker returns. He had his face sliced off, and he has been gone for a year. Some folks began to feel safe, but Joker is not about safe. He has now returned, and he is madder than ever. He has a new plan to hurt Batman: he will hurt members of the Batman family one at a time. Batman now struggles with letting them help out and his need to protect them and keep them out of harm's way.

From the beginning, Snyder makes it clear that Joker is very different now. Even Harley notices this is not her usual Mr. J. Joker's plan is not revealed right away; the author builds up to the plan's revelation. Batman is challenged to his limits once more as Joker even mocks him referring to Batman's run with the Owls (you may appreciate the story better if you read the previous two volumes. However, this volume stands well on its own, and you can pick up the story without having read the previous ones). The story provides a good blend of action and intrigue as we wonder who the Joker will hurt next. The artwork is gritty and strong; it brings the story to life. Overall, this was a volume that kept me riveted. Once I started it, I just keep flipping the pages to read on. If Snyder stays on this title, I may have to keep following it for a while. At least on Batman, it seems DC's New 52 is doing something right.

I'd give it 5 out of 5 stars if you ask me. I really liked this one. Public libraries with graphic novel and comics collections definitely need to add this one, as well as the previous volumes of Snyder's run. I will be ordering them for my academic library. Academic libraries with graphic novels, whether for pop culture or recreational collections, should add these, especially if they have not updated their collections recently.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Booknote: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Villains Micro-Series, Vol. 1

Various authors, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Villains Micro-Series, Vol. 1. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2013.

This is an anthology of short stories featuring the origins of four villains, enemies of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The turtles may make small appearances, but these volumes focus on the villains. This is a compilation of the first four issues of the villains micro-series. This volume features the following villains:

  • Krang, the alien warlord. 
  • Baxter the scientist, who is now forced to work for Krang. 
  • Old Hob, a mutated feline who is now a street gang banger and human hater.
  • Alopex, Shredder's top student and lieutenant, who is a mutated artic vixen.
The stories are short enough to make good tales and give some detail. I particularly liked Baxter's story as it shows interactions with his father, the man who really teaches Baxter how to think. His father uses the game of chess as a way to teach his son to think and plan ahead, skills that will serve Baxter well as he tries to get ahead of Krang and carry out his own plans. Alopex's story was my next favorite. We get some hints of her past before she came to, reluctantly, serve the Shredder. Now she faces one more ritual to prove her loyalty to the Foot Clan and her master. Old Hob's story does end in a cliffhanger, which was a small detail I found a bit irritating. The artwork is by various artists, but it does maintain a fairly consistent feel. Overall, this is a very easy to read volume that fans of the turtles will likely enjoy.

If you ask me, 4.5 out of  5 stars on this one. This is one that public libraries will likely want to add, especially if they already collect other TMNT comics. It could be a nice title for academic libraries if they already buy graphic novels and comics, but I would view it as optional.

Disclosure note: In order to keep The Man happy this is where I tell you that I read this book as an e-book galley from the publisher via NetGalley. It was provided in exchange for an honest review. Book due for publication around November 19, 2013.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Booknote: The 47 Ronin

Sean Michael Wilson, The 47 Ronin. Boston, MA: Shambala, 2013. ISBN: 9781611801378. 

This is a graphic novel adaptation of a very well known Japanese true story. In feudal Japan, a noble is insulted by his host. He kills the offender (and to be honest, in today's term, the guy was a dick and probably had it coming) as honor demands. The Shogun, however, does not see it that way, and he orders the noble forced to commit seppuku. The dead samurai's other samurai retainers are left then to become ronins. Being loyal to their master, the ronin, honoring the code of bushido, seek justice and take revenge on the offending noble. After their revenge, they turn themselves in to the shogun, who then makes them commit seppuku as well. The 47 Ronin are admired as heroes in Japan and as ideals of the bushido code.

For this adaptation, the author does bring the tragedy and drama to life. This is a moving tale, and it does have a good amount of action. Though the art is good, some better differentiation in some characters would have been desirable. There were a couple of characters that I had difficulty separating one from the other because they looked very much alike. The cover is in color, but the graphics in the story are in black and white. However, the tale does have a good pace, and it is an easy read that hooks you in until the end. If you enjoy works  like Lone Wolf and Cub, you will probably enjoy this graphic novel as well.

I'd give it four out of five stars.

Disclosure note: In order to keep The Man happy this is where I tell you that I read this book as an e-book galley from the publisher via NetGalley. It was provided in exchange for an honest review. 

Signs that the economy is bad, November 1, 2013 edition

Yes, the economy is still bad. Unfortunately for me, there are not as many "fun" items lately. Things are bad. There is no other way to put it, but people and the press usually pay attention to everything except what actually matters. What else is new? Lucky for my four readers, I scour from one end of the Internet to the other in search of the oh-so-subtle signs that the economy is bad. So, let's see what we have this week:

  • UC Berkeley's Center for Labor and Research Education has a new report out on "Fast Food, Poverty Wages." Companies like Mickey D's and Walmart are notorious for not paying a decent living wage to their employees (you, the guys and gals who actually help them make their fortunes), which means their workers have to end up signing up for food stamps and other government assistance to make ends meet. That is part of what you define as "the working poor." From the report's executive summary: "Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of enrollments in America's major public benefits programs are from working families. But many of them work in jobs that pay wages so low that their paychecks do not generate enough income to provide for life's basic necessities. Low wages paid by employers in the fast-food industry create especially acute problems for the families of workers in this industry." Think about that statement for a moment. Look, this is not really rocket science: you either pay people a decent living wage, or you pay them crap, and they have to rely on public assistance. If you choose the latter option, don't go bitching about how your taxes go pay to help the poor. In reality, you are subsidizing Mickey D's and its slave labor conditions. But hey, as long as that Big Mac is still cheap, right? 
  • Via the U.S. Courts website, highlight of a 2012 report that are MORE repeat bankruptcies. Yes, things are so bad some people go bankrupt more than once. A bit from the article: "Filers had a median average monthly income of $2,743, most filed under chapter 7, and for more debtors in 2012 this was not the first time they had filed for bankruptcy." The report is an annual report required by the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) of 2005. A link to the full report (in PDF) is available on the site. 
  • Things are also bad for churches. Apparently, according to the Religion News Service, church giving is down, as in way down. I wish it was because people may be finally catching on the con that is religion and putting their money in better options, but that does not seem to be the case. It's probably the bad economy. Of course, the religious organizations worry it is just people are too consumer oriented, and the churches are just not hip enough to get them to part with their money. From the article, “'Is the issue that the church is not providing an authentic alternative to the consumer mindset?' said Sylvia Ronsvalle, executive vice president of Empty Tomb. 'Over a period of time, if the church isn’t providing more of an authentic alternative, the church will lose.'” Yes, the church just needs to make its image more hip so people will give. The article does not that church memberships overall are down as well. Now, less members would not mean less money by any chance, would it? 
  • However, things are not bad for everyone. The rich continue to make a killing even if everyone else gets exploited. And boy, can they find ways to spend lavishly. Via AlterNet, here are 3 insane things that rich people blow money on. Craving some truffles? You can get a very fancy one for $95,000. Hey, I am not saying if you have the money, don't spend it. Knock yourself out. But me, hoi polloi, I get to shake my head and say, "dude, really? That was the best you could do?"