Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More on books for boys - this time with bras on the cover

Following up on my post last week about what a "boy book" is, I wanted to throw out there a bit more on covers. A new YA title, THE SECOND BASE CLUB, recently came to my attention and I really had to give it a double take. Here's the publisher's description:

Elroy's got one thing on his mind: girls. In an effort to get to second base, he offers to tutor the hot new girl in math, forms a band with his two best friend (okay, so he gets a face full of tomato for his efforts) and joins the wrestling team.

Hes a little vague on the whole bases thing, but the jocks have a club dedicated to getting there with every girl they can. And now that hes a jock (sort of), maybe Elroy will find out for himself what it means to be a member of the Second Base Club.

So clearly a book aimed at teenage boys but I have to wonder - will a boy pick up a book with a bra swinging on the cover?

The Bobby Ellis-Chan series by Lisa Yee

In Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee, Bobby Ellis-Chan really wants a dog, but he's severely allergic to them, and his asthma attacks can sometimes lead to quiet time with a nebulizer mask. His best friend Holly wins a goldfish at the town fair and gives it to Bobby, who gave her the dollar needed to play the game. (Holly already has a pet, a lizard named Lulu, and she doesn't want her to get jealous.) Bobby promptly names his new friend Rover and takes great care of him, but he is initially disappointed in the fish's inability to do tricks or play with him like a dog could.

Bobby comes from an extremely awesome family. I was so happy to see a modern family that was truly happy and functional. That doesn't mean that the family members don't have their quirks - just wait 'til you meet little Casey! - but rather that they all do truly get along, and they love and protect each other. Bobby's father, an ex-football player known as The Freezer, is now a member of the PTA and a stay-at-home dad. He tries to cook, but his odd concoctions aren't always appetizing. Bobby's mom works full-time. His older sister, Annie, is the quarterback of her high school football team. His little sister, Casey, is an imaginative and energetic tiny girl who loves Princess Becky's Planet, a TV show about a sparkly little princess who helps people. Princess Becky is aided by Da-Da-Doo, a pint-sized dragon who blew rainbow bubbles instead of fire. Casey wears her Princess Becky dress and crown all of the time, carries around a wand she calls Wandee, and asks a lot of questions. A lot of questions. She also dispenses advice:

"And if you get scared, shut your eyes and sing," Casey suggested. "Then Da-Da-Doo the dragon will come rescue you."

Happy, hyper, and curious, Casey is hands-down my favorite supporting character in this series, because she's a lot like I was at that age.

At one point, Bobby writes an equation in his notebook that details his ethnic makeup:

1/2 Chinese
+ 1/8 English
+ 1/8 French
+ 1/8 German
+ 1/8 Not Sure
100% Bobby

Bobby's friends and classmates also have cool backgrounds, nicknames, and hobbies. There's Chess, who is of Indian descent. His real name is Sanjay Kapur. Then there's St. James, the class clown. He and Holly walk to school together, but always split up at a certain spot known as the Parting Place, where boys go one way to their group of friends and girls go another way. Now bratty Jillian has become Holly's friend, which bugs Bobby. Though he tries to let the girls have their space, when a class election threatens his friendship with Holly, Bobby has to figure out what on Earth happened and how he can smooth things over.

Finally, a book I can pair with the phenomenal Sixth Grade Secrets by Louis Sachar! Aimed at ages eight and up, Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) skews just a little bit younger than the audience for Sixth Grade Secrets, but it too casts light on the philosophy held by many elementary and middle school students: Boys and girls can't be friends . . . or can they? At that age, gender wars happen on the playground and in the classroom all the time. Faster than you can say "cooties," two kids who were thick as thieves in kindergarten may feel uncomfortable a few years later if their classmates taunt them with the "K-I-S-S-I-N-G" song. As anyone who reads my blog or enters my bookstore knows, I often discuss the absurdity of gender bias - and I praise books that say boys and girls can be friends, and that anything boys can do, girls can do, and vice-versa.

In the second book, Bobby the Brave (Sometimes), Bobby continues trying to make his dad happy. He does not tell The Freezer that the food he makes are yucky. He buys the cookies his dad made for the school bake sale instead of the delicious treats and temptations made by other parents. He doesn't mind it when people talk about how amazing and athletic his father and older sister are, because he's proud of their accomplishments, but he doesn't want to follow in their footsteps. He'd rather be drawing than playing football. When a P.E. teacher wants The Freezer to come to their school, things get complicated.

Bobby's favorite hobby is drawing. The books feature black and white illustrations by Dan Santat which will most likely be copied on notebooks by readers who are also aspiring artists. It's always clear who is who in the pictures, and I love the fact that the characters come in all different shades, shapes, and sizes.

As she did with her interconnected middle grade books, Millicent Min, Girl Genius, Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time, & So Totally Emily Ebers, Lisa Yee teaches readers about responsibility, honesty, and loyalty in a subtle and realistic way. Bobby becomes very responsible while taking care of Rover. He is never disrespectful of his elders, and he's the type who would rather bite his tongue than hurt someone's feelings. He learns, though, that it's okay to speak up when something isn't right or someone upsets him.

I hope that Yee continues writing Bobby books. They are a treasure for boys and girls alike, and a must-have for elementary and middle school classrooms and libraries.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hobgoblin by John Coyne

Back to the vaults for an old book that deserves being read - this month it's Hobgoblin by John Coyne! This wicked little thriller has everything you could want: games, mayhem, Irish monsters... you like Irish monsters, right?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Nothing by Janne Teller

When Pierre Anthon realized that nothing matters, he announced his revelation to his classmates and left the room. His classmates, all thirteen- or fourteen-years-old, believe he is wrong. They decide to collect things with meaning to prove to Pierre Anthon that things matter and there is meaning to life. But what started as a collection of favorite toys and mementos soon escalates into something darker, as the classmates begin to force one another into giving up more than material possessions.

Agnes is one of the students. She participates in the collection of meaningful things and watches as things start to go wrong. She tries, early on, to convince her classmates they’re going too far. But their quest has taken on a momentum of its own and Agnes is compelled to remain a part of it. The students are all in it together. As a group, they decided not to tell adults about Pierre Anthon, and as a group, they refuse to let any of their number back out.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Banned Books Week 2010: Read These Books!

Banned Books Week started yesterday, September 25, and runs through October 2. If you're not familiar with Banned Books Week, you can read a short run-down here on the ALA website. But you may already be wondering, why should I care? Because, even in this day and age, books are still being banned. This is not some quaint, old-timey issue. Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: great book, right? Just got banned earlier this month in Stockton, MO. In this case, what that means is it's not just gone from school curriculum but removed from the school library, period. Laurie Halse Anderson's Printz-Award-winning book Speak was challenged this month, too.

Not just contemporary works but many books considered to be literary classics are still challenged or even outright banned in various parts of our country. Whether you agree with the people challenging the books or not, the truth remains that this is a form of censorship. Celebrating Banned Books Week and reading a banned book (or three, or five) is an easy way to support intellectual freedom—your own and that of others. The vast collective brain here at Guys Lit Wire has gotten together to suggest a few personal favorites for your perusal, all books which have been challenged or banned at one time or another. Read on for the first installment, and then tune in at the end of the week for Part II.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Challenging Reality: The Philip K. Dick Reader

If you haven't discovered it already, someone needs to tell you a scary truth about the world. Come closer and I'll whisper it to you.

It's weird. And nobody really knows what's wrong with it, or how it got this way, or who's in charge.

Philip K. Dick was a science fiction writer who embraced that weirdness and took the opportunity it offered to examine the assumptions we make about the nature of our reality. Perhaps the dominant theme in many of his books and short stories is that we are living an imaginary existence...and there's no way of telling just who is doing the imagining for us.

For that reason and many others, Philip K. Dick is a wonderful writer for younger folks. All his life, he resisted the pull of middle-class expectations. He refused to "sell out," to compromise, to "go along to get along." He paid a heavy price for pursuing his own vision, struggling in poverty and paranoia for many of his years. Dick was the real thing, a visionary, a person who saw the real behind the real. He was also only questionably sane, and the work he leaves behind lets us be crazy in small doses.

Many of his novels are masterpieces of cognitive displacement, philosophical horror tales that leave you wondering just what in your life is real, or even if being "real" is good. They can be dense and difficult to approach without some patience, however, and I'd recommend starting your career of challenging the assumptions of society with his shorter works.

It wouldn't do to jump into total perception and madness too early.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What We Talk About When We Talk About Books For Teenage Boys

Wonderful YA author Maureen Johnson has a post up about teenage boys and reading that has gotten the usual masses of comments and prompted me to craft this response. I should start with the fact that I agree with Maureen on the issue of Dead White Men when it comes to assigned titles in school. When I was in high school American Lit was all about Hemingway, Falkner and Fitzgerald; Brit Lit was all Shakespeare, Chaucer, Keats, Byron and Shelley (Percy alas, not Mary). (I really wish I knew why we didn't read Mary Shelley.) So I totally agree that there is way too much emphasis on male authors in most English classes (high school and college). I'd love to see more living authors, more female authors (dead or alive) and please - WAY more authors who aren't Caucasian. Hemingway's place in the canon of American writers is assured; I don't think it would hurt him to step aside a bit and let someone else up there for awhile.

But. But. But. When I talk about books for teenage boys (and why Guys Lit Wire even exists) I'm not talking about any of that. My reference is always and only the stacks of YA books that arrive on my doorstep for review and the overwhelming number of them that are directed toward female readers. I don't reference studies, I don't talk to publishers, I don't judge based on the gender of the author. It is always about the YA books I see published every single year and the YA books I receive every single year and the overwhelming number of them that have female protagonists.

On twitter there was an immediate kickback to a few of my comments about books for boys that started and ended with "why can't boys read books with female protags". Well they can and they do and they should. But don't expect a boy to be as excited about a stack of books concerning a girl's dating travails and battles with the high school mean girl as a girl would be. (And I was really into that when I was a teenage girl so I'm not knocking it.) He really doesn't care if Bella chooses Edward or Jacob and that doesn't mean he isn't open minded it just means he'd rather read something else.

And that's where the real crux of the problem is. Where are the books for things that interest boys and, necessary sidebar, what interests boys differently in the first place?

What blows me away about reading for boys and girls is that in the middle grade years it's not so much of an issue. There are lots of books where male and female characters are mutually important, lots of getting into and out of trouble, lots of fun adventures, some drama, some coming-of-age, but really - it's all very equal in terms of boy books and girl books and books boys and girls mutually enjoy. And if you read the statistics, boys and girls are fairly equal when it comes to reading in the middle grade years. It's when you start reaching past 13 that boys seem to stop reading and those careful stats go off the proverbial cliff. That too is also when we start to see a huge drop off in books that appeal to both genders equally. For example there are tons of MG mysteries but very few YA mysteries; lots of MG adventure (meaning garden variety adventure like THE PICKLE KING - not fantasy adventure) but few YA, and fantasy veers way in the direction of paranormal romance when you talk about YA. (And we all know the reason why and I'm sure this will pass.) (Please God let it pass.) So boys stand in the bookstore and see all these books with girls' faces on them (and it drives me crazy how books with male protagonists even have girls' faces on them) (see here and here and here and more examples below) and they walk away. And just like that you've lost them.

So, getting back (FINALLY) to Maureen's fascinating post. On the one front, when it comes to changing the way classic (and by classic I mean Dickinson, Parker, Wharton, and many of the other fine dead female writers she mentions) are overlooked, misrepresented and ignored, I totally agree. For sure. If we're reading Hemingway in class why not Wharton and good grief - Dorothy Parker?! Yes. Yes. Yes. But none of that, in my mind, has anything to do with teen boys reading. What I read in English classes had nothing - nothing at all - to do with what I read for pleasure. (And I realize that is not true for everyone but I'm talking about books you just pick up at the bookstore or library and not for assignment as my brother and I did.) When it comes to boys reading for pleasure I think there should be more nonfiction published for teens and also more books about teens doing something (from road trips to mysteries to going into outer space to actually killing some damn vampires) and more than anything - MORE THAN ANYTHING - more marketing of books in a gender-neutral way.

PAPER TOWNS has an excellent gender-neutral paperback cover. I'd love to know what they were thinking with the hardcover edition. (And I think we can all agree that covers matter when it comes to teenagers and reading.) YOU ARE HERE by Jennifer E. Smith is a great road trip novel told in alternating POV from a teen boy and girl and yet the cover is all girl. AFTER THE MOMENT by Garret Weyr is actually written entirely from a male POV about a love affair gone wrong and yet what's on the cover? A girl. Only a girl. You wouldn't know looking at this one that a boy has anything to do with the telling at all.

I think boys can happily read books with female protagonists and I also believe the gender of the author really is insignificant. I'd give a boy LIFE AS WE KNEW IT as easily as I would THIS WORLD WE LIVE IN and I'm sure they'd love each one. (And please note the smart gender-neutral covers on Susan Pfeffer's series.) But from where I'm sitting (with over 600 books delivered thus far this year), boys are not the market publishers are looking to satisfy and decrying the fact that we all had to read Hemingway & his male contemporaries doesn't make up for that. (As I recall there wasn't a single boy in my lit classes who was thrilled with our dead white guy assignments either.)

I really like when this topic comes up because it always makes people think and talk about something very important - teens and reading. I truly believe that what we are doing now - the way books are marketed and the idea of what teens read - needs to change. I think more graphic novels for teens who like more visual reading and perhaps are reluctant, is important. More, "meatier" nonfiction, is important. More titles in multiple genres is important. And more than anything, we need to take a broader viewer of what the American teenager looks like and is interested in and that includes, along with ethnicity and sexuality, gender. Publishers choose the books they want the public to know about, they create the buzz, and I think all too often those books are not ones that boys will be excited about.

It doesn't have to be a gender battle - a modern day version of a Wharton vs Hemingway cage match. If anything, our mutual frustration over all those assigned Dead White Males is proof of how hard we should push to change contemporary reading for teens today. I'm trying to find gender balance with my November column right now and it's not easy; quite frankly, it is never easy. And that's why this topic bothers me so much because I've been writing the column for five years and it is still a lot harder to find a variety of books with male protagonists as it is with females.

(And oddly enough - my current round of NF includes bios of Edith Wharton, Janis Joplin and Barbie. What are the odds of that happening???)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour -- and finale

And so, as the still mysteriously-fizzling (financially -- it's still a fun flick) "Scott Pilgrim" movie wraps up its late summer run, we have the "alternate ending" -- the one that comics creator Bryan Lee O'Malley gives us in the final volume of his, well, epic of epic epicness. To quote some Hollywood marketing maven somewhere.

Vol. 6 of the saga, "Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour," brings us to the conclusion of the late teen /20-something saga about love, loss, power-ups (and downs) and moving through life's "levels." And indeed, since he's growing up (and creator O'Malley just hit his 30s), maybe it's his early autumn.
The videogame logic of the previous editions here reaches its apotheosis, sometimes -- it must be confessed -- to the detriment of the story itself. The "rules" of this universe keep shifting around, and yes, I know, we're at a a different "level" than the previous volumes.

Still, Scott's tentative forays into romance finally get resolved, though not without some blood spilled (isn't that always the way?), and O'Malley makes some of the best use of blank pages I've ever seen in a comic (to suggest a subjective experience of oblivion).

The literalized metaphors toward's book's end, about being trapped inside our heads all jibe, but I could've used more of the minimalism of the earlier books, the sense that a lot was left unspoken, or happening betwee, or out, of frame. Maybe a slight "power-down" on the relentless sword fighting. Here the blades come out, even inside the aforementioned heads.

But maybe that's what modern life feels like. And since it's different than the movie's ending, your "summer of Pilgrim" isn't quite over yet.

A different version of this review appeared in Nexus Graphica.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Center Field by Robert Lipsyte

Robert Lipsyte is becoming quite the prolific creator of sports fiction. He has covered a variety of sports including racing with Yellow Flag and football with Raiders Night. In Center Field, Lipsyte takes on baseball from many angles.

Mike Semak loves playing Center Field more than anything and this is his year. Mike is ready to begin starting for the varsity and emulating his hero, New York Yankee Billy Budd. However, as a new student and great outfielder, Oscar Ramirez, joins the squad, things begin to quickly unravel. Mike's injured ankle is not healing quickly, he might lose his starting position and he loses his temper with another student that he pushes and injures at school.

In order to stay out of trouble, Coach Cody forces him to help the school's computer club. There he meets the contentious and athletic Kat, who makes him question his relationship with his baton twirling girlfriend. As his Coach directs Mike to spy on the club to find what they are really doing the intrigue begins.

There is actually more intriguing questions in this book than I could ever imagine. Was his altercation a set up? Is Oscar illegally in the country? Is the computer club trying to ruin the baseball team and his coach? Is his coach even who he says he is? And how is his father involved in all this?

Lipsyte tries to do too much here, but the baseball sequences are wonderfully written and there is not a slow part in this book. Among the morals investigated here are celebrity worship, parental involvement in sports and immigration issues. It is well worth the read to any fan of sports or mysteries and would especially be great for those who enjoy Carl Deuker or Mike Lupica.

Friday, September 17, 2010


When a book has a cover as dramatic as YOU by Charles Benoit it creates some pretty serious expectations for a reader. When a book has a cover as dramatic as YOU and a chain of glowing recommendations from the likes of Chris Crutcher, Lauren Oliver, Patricia McCormick and others, you get really curious.

YOU is the riveting story of Kyle Chase's hellish high school experience. He's an average kid who is a lot smarter than his grades or his behaviors suggest. Kyle is stuck in a school with a poor reputation. He's stuck with parents who don't understand him, boring and/or jerkish teachers, slacker friends, and a girl he's secretly in love with but who doesn't seem to see him as anything more than a friend. And that's not including what happened last year that made him put his fist through a schoolbus window. Nothing is working, but nothing is changing. Until Zack McDade, an unusual guy with his own baggage, shows up and makes everything even more complicated.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier

Right there, at the top of the cover, is a blurb from Brian Selznick, author/illustrator of the extremely engaging The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which I hear is going to be a movie starring (wait for it) people including Ben Kingsley, Jude Law, and Christopher Lee. And there was much rejoicing! But I digress. The Selznick blurb says "Be prepared. You're going to love it."

Well, Mr. Selznick, let me tell you something. You were absolutely correct! It only took a few pages of this graphic novel to capture my attention (and affection) hook, line and sinker. (See what I just did there?) It opens with a boy (the terribly clever Walker Bean) interacting with his grandfather, who is telling him wild stories - like the Princess Bride, only not, because in this case, Walker and his grandfather are about to become part of the story.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Chinese Adventure Fantasy for All Ages!

There’s a great line in THE DC GUIDE TO WRITING COMICS, where author and editor Denny O’Neal shares one of the cardinal rules for writing popular fiction. “You would rather chew glass than bore the reader.” The best stories grip us by the eyeball and never let go. Check out this opening:

“It isn’t every day you meet a tiger. And certainly not a tiger in a suit and tie. And definitely not one who knows your first name.”

Whoa! Whatever else that opening it is, it sure ain’t boring!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Tone Deaf: The Last Song of Orpheus

Eternal return, serpents: Orpheus sees it all Robert Silverberg’s The Last Song of Orpheus—out September 30 from Subterranean Press—starts from a worthwhile premise. Greek mythology is scattered through with stories about the semi-divine musician. A character who intersects Euridice, Jason (of the golden fleece), Medea, and Odysseus before his own violent, final meeting with the Bacchates should offer an exciting trip through some of the better myths. Gathering them into a single narrative told by Orpheus not only unifies his story, as well as those of the other heroes whose paths he crosses, but employing the first-person presents an opportunity to introduce more personality and motivation to the character than is typically found in, say, Edith Hamilton. Unfortunately, Silverberg’s execution runs around short of this promise.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Way Down Yonder in Vietnam

My hold came in at the library (I love the library!): Shooting the Moon, by Frances O'Roark Dowell. It's a novel about a girl whose brother wants to join the army and go fight in Vietnam. She tells the story. Her father, an army colonel, has always taught them that the army way is the way. So she's confused when he tries to talk her brother out of enlisting.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Shades of Caddyshack: Outwitting Squirrels

When I was six I announced to my parents that I wanted a pet squirrel.  There was a coat closet under the stairs in our apartment that was under utilized and I was determined to turn it into a squirrel habitat.  Never mind that I had never seen a live squirrel in my urban neighborhood, ever, or that the closet habitat had no source of natural light, and that in my mind it would just live in the dark except for when I chose to visit it and occasionally throw it acorns I found at the park, I was determined.

Until I'd read Outwitting Squirrels I hadn't realized there was such a huge division between bird people and squirrel people, much like there are cat people and dog people.  Clearly, from the age of six, I knew which side I was on, and Adler does a pretty good job in his book proving that I chose the right side.

Adler admits to having casually set out a bird feeder, only to find it ravaged by squirrels due to easy access.  Then, like the maniacal groundskeepper Karl in Caddyshack, he purchases and mounts an increasing array of feeders designed to keep the rodents out... if he can only find the right place to do so.  Squirrels, it turns out, are true acrobats in the animal world, diving and climbing and jumping from incredible angles and dangling from various positions in their attempt at a good, free meal.  They aren't easily discouraged and, compared to birds, appear to be a lot smarter about using the tools at their disposal.  In all, Adler explains how he went through almost two dozen different feeders in his attempts to keep those furry little creatures from eating the seed intended for the winged creatures.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Great Big Best

Like most readers, most of the fiction that I read comes in the form of novels. The novel I’m reading at any point in time forms the backdrop of my life and it affects my mood, attitude and philosophy of the world as much as the weather or the geography of where I’m living. In fact, the question “what are you reading now?” often leads to discussions of how one is feeling just then about life.

Short stories are different. Most often I come across short stories while browsing through magazines or flipping through anthologies that purport to introduce a new sub-genre or collect the best of a year or decade. It’s rare that I’ll read a complete collection of short stories by a single author, but when I do it’s always eye opening, providing a new insight into a particular writer’s work.

It certainly did with The Best of Larry Niven, a giant collection of stories by the master sci-fi writer due out this winter from Subterranean press. I read a number of Niven’s novels when I was in high school and so I knew to expect lots of cool ideas plucked from theoretical physics and the real qualities of real space. I also knew to expect aliens that were truly alien and not just some very human looking beings with ridged noses.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Return of the Verdilak!

Lately I've been reading multiple books at once, a chapter here and there of completely unrelated things. Usually I'll get into one of these at the expense of the others and read it through to the end before returning to the pile, but in this case I got pulled off-track by something I unexpectedly found in a local used book store: the 1996 graphic novel Verdilak, by Bo Hampton and Mark Kneece.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Lockdown: Escape From Furnace, #1 -- Alexander Gordon Smith

Set far enough forward into the future that there are seven Indiana Jones movies¹, a few years after the Summer of Slaughter, and enter a world in which adults are so scared of teenagers -- and children -- that they've built Furnace: an underground, maximum security prison.

If you get sent to down to Furnace, you're there for life.

Not that your life there will be very long...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Girl Parts by John M. Cusick

Girl Parts by John M Cusick
"David and Charlie are opposites. David has a million friends, online and off. Charlie is a soulful outsider, off the grid completely. But neither feels close to anybody. When David’s parents present him with a hot Companion bot designed to encourage healthy bonds and treat his “dissociative disorder,” he can’t get enough of luscious redheaded Rose — and he can’t get it soon. Companions come with strict intimacy protocols, and whenever he tries anything, David gets an electric shock.

Parted from the boy she was built to love, Rose turns to Charlie, who finds he can open up, knowing Rose isn’t real. With Charlie’s help, the ideal “companion” is about to become her own best friend."-summary from Amazon

I really enjoyed this book, though it's one of those that I was hoping no one would ask me about or see the cover and of course it's the one I brought to ALA to read. Cover aside, it had a fantastic premise and was really original. I loved how Cusick digged in deep and made his characters three-dimensional, including even the Companion. There's a lot of introspective and quiet moments that you might not expect to be in this novel, so that was a nice aspect.

There is also lots of humor sprinkled throughout, though it's not as hilarious as the back cover summary suggests. I also thought it was kind of funny how the way for these boys to become more social and away from the machines that they're obsessed with (though I'm sure there's a few boys who have them who are more like Charlie, who doesn't do much on the computer) is through a machine and not, yknow, getting involved in extracurriculars.

Also in the book is a bit of a mystery, though it doesn't come into play until the latter half of the novel. There's something going on though with Sakora Solutions (the company that makes the Companions) and I'm excited to see what it is. The ending had me going "This can't be all. There must be more. There isn't?! NOOOOO!!" and then people looked at me funny but whatever. However, there is a sequel coming, so at least there's that to look forward to. I can't wait to see where the story goes.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Secret Six: Unhinged

Want to know a secret? The best comic book on the market today features no big-name, A-List superheroes. It's not written by Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis or Geoff Johns. And it's pencilled by a fairly obscure artist. The book in question is Secret Six, and if you haven't read any issues of the series, do yourself a favor and pick up the trade paperback collecting the first six issues of the currently ongoing series - Secret Six: Unhinged.

There seem to be a lot of reasons NOT to read Secret Six at first glance. I mean, honestly, who wants to read a book that features D-List Batman villain Catman on a regular basis. Catman? Really? But the bottom line about Secret Six is that writer Gail Simone takes characters no one in the DC universe gives a whit about and makes them engaging, compelling (if not totally likable) human beings. Think of it this way: Alan Moore did the same thing with a previously mishandled property called Swamp Thing, and Neil Gaiman took the Sandman and transformed him/it into an unprecedented literary property. So if they can do it, and make it work, so can Gail Simone.

Don't look for conventional super heroics here. There just ain't any. These aren't lovable, or even in some cases tolerable, characters. Catman was emotionally and physically brutalized by a big game hunting father; Scandal Savage was raised by an immortal demigod bent on world conquest; Bane was addled by the same drug that powered him; Deadshot was, and is, simply a sociopath, and Ragdoll....well, the less said about Ragdoll the better. I don't think I was ready for this new character invented by Simone, and even now I'm not sure my psyche can handle him.

There is some concern that Secret Six may not last much longer as an ongoing series, and I think I'd like to do my own part to help rectify this situation. This is a great book, well worth the time and energy it takes to read it. It challenges the norms of the conventional, melodramatic funny book and it does so in seriously subversive ways. This is comic book writing without a safety net, since there doesn't seem to be any editorial edict against killing off these characters. No one is safe, and if that isn't the beginnings of good storytelling, I don't know what is.