Category Archives: @ashertopia

FIGHT! #2 (Nobrow Serial Box) by Teagle

Diablo isn’t a bad guy. Never mind his name, his look, his character that he wrestles with. He just wants to be a good guy for once.

FIGHT! #2
Nobrow Serial Box
by Jack Teagle
Nobrow Press
September 2012

This story is very Wreck It! Ralph-ish in Diablo’s “I’m bad but that’s good…” focus. He’s a wrestler and the son of a wrestler. Because of his red skin, horns and ability to breath fire (which I guess means he actually is a medieval demon) is called “devil” and plays the bad guy. He’s about to retire and in his final fight he faces eye ball headed twins who go to town on him. The fight starts out like a normal match but quickly it becomes clear that the twins want to kill him. The crowd sees him getting beat down and slowly turns in his favor. Emboldened by the positive cheering he fights back.

After the fight, we find an injured devil who just wants to be judged by the content of his character rather than the character he plays in the ring. He seems to be a young man (since he lives with his mom) and deals with insecurities that a devil in his shoes may. If this isn’t making a ton of sense or sounding like a very good story we have a lot in common.

I know that Nobrow allows their artists to create whatever stories they want to. I think this sounds better in thought than practice. Editors do a great job of helping focus stories; not just holding artists back ala “the man.” Art doesn’t need an editor necessarily. But graphic novels really do. This one does. It’s a meandering, non-sensical, rough cut story that goes almost nowhere. I didn’t care about the characters and didn’t get the metaphor or point of Teagle making the devil good and the bad guy [mild spoiler] look like a modern surfer Jesus, but is a drunk “good wrestler” who is really bad but no one knows it.

This is my second book from Nobrow and the second time I’ve been very underwhelmed. I’m not a fan of the content or the execution of the stories.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Happiness 1 by Oshimi

Makoto Ozaki made the choice to live. Now he has to live with it.

Happiness
Part 1 of 3
by Shuzo Oshimi
Kodansha Comics
September 2016

A vampire is loose. Makoto Ozaki is a young high school student who goes out one night to get a movie and ends up getting attacked by the vampire. She gives him the choice to live like she lives or to die. He chooses life. The rest of the manga is about Ozaki’s evolution into a vampire.

Previously bullied, now Ozaki fights back and accidentally finds himself in a position of power. He also finds that food isn’t satisfying. In fact, he finds a strong pull towards blood. As relationships change – that’s the main point of this story – and he grows we find a completely different Ozaki than we start with. But there is quite a bit of information that is hidden and surely to be revealed in the coming books. For instance, the cover has the female vampire that converts Ozaki but we see her only twice and we learn nothing about her. If my description of this story was all it was I’d be interested to see how it goes. But it doesn’t.

My main issues are with the unnecessary mature parts of the story. The mature rating of this book is due to the violence (in the vampire scenes) and also the sexuality. In one uncomfortable scene Ozaki masturbates to a PC monitor, taking time to pull down his pants and face the monitor. Fortunately we don’t see anything else. There is also where he get’s the smell of blood from while at school – clearly from girls who are on their periods. I found these distractions to be more young teenager fantasies than good storytelling.

The art is well done, exciting and conveys the story very well.

There are other parts to this story but I’ll not be reading them. The story barely gets going in volume 1 and the extra material don’t excite me.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

La La Land Review

A love story. But not the one you think it is.

[SPOILERS ABOUND] The first scene of the film sets the stage for a fun reintroduction to Hollywood musicals with a single shot dance number on a gridlocked freeway, but the story actually starts when we see Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) meet for the first time. Preoccupied when traffic finally moves a few spots, Mia doesn’t move forward fast enough so Sebastian honks long and hard at her before passing her – and her up raised middle finger. And so we are introduced to the two main characters in this highly lauded film who we will watch develop from strangers to friends to lovers to something else over the course of a year.

Why this movie won seven Golden Globes, among other awards, is clear from the opening song to the surprising ending.

First, this movie is amazingly charming. Overflowing with nostalgia of Hollywood’s golden ages of musical films and a love of creativity and the arts that exudes from (in-movie) film scene to jazz music. Constant references to the great actors, films and musicians accompany the dreams that Mia and Sebastian have – Mia to be an actress and Sebastian to open a jazz bar. Watching Gosling and Stone sing and dance in the twilight in the hills of Hollywood is fantastic!

As the movie progresses, and the seasons change, so too does the love story between Mia and Sebastian evolve. [EXPLICIT SPOILERS] By the end of the film, in the final act, the two lovers are on the edge of achieving their dreams… and the end of their relationship. This is where the film falters and the second reason why I think so many in Hollywood loved it so much.

The lesson we learn in this film is that we can follow some of our dreams, but not all of them. After a tender scene where Mia and Sebastian tell each other that they will always love each other, we find ourselves 5 years later after Mia becomes a successful actress. We see her perfect life where she was able to achieve her dream and just as our happiness for her is almost complete we see her kissing a different man and we meet her daughter with that man. The moment we realize that Mia choose her film dreams over her love for Sebastian is the moment the film loses its luster for me.

Hollywood may love this decision because perhaps many who have been successful have had to make similar decisions. Perhaps they see this sacrifice as worthy because of the achievement. My dream or my love, but not both. Maybe it makes them nostalgic and feel better about their choices. Whatever emotions it prompts in Hollywood, it prompts very different emotions in me: pity and sadness.

This isn’t Rick and Ilsa’s ending in Casablanca, which is also bittersweet and doesn’t end happily ever after. There are no political under tones, no sacrifice for a cause as great as the Allies war effort in WW2, or even the ambiguity accompanying whether or not they truly loved each other out were better off with someone else. La La Land’s ending is the sudden introduction of a new love interest making it clear that the sacrifice of Mia and Sebastian’s relationship by Mia was solely for personal ambition.

If Mia and Sebastian truly loved each other, and would have been overwhelmingly happy, as we see in a sad montage of the film re-imagining each scene working out perfectly for their relationship to have been successful, including a home as a family and even a son, the loss of their relationship is far sadder than not being an actress or owning a jazz bar. To give up possible life-long fulfilment and happiness to chase after fleeting fame and riches is sad to me.

Not just me. As Mia kisses this new man, my teenage daughter watching with me cried out, “what?” My wife left dissatisfied with the ending as well. It wasn’t a happy one from their perspective. Because loving relationships and family are a higher goal than getting a job.

Hollywood clearly doesn’t agree. And we don’t have to. Lovers of film, including of musicals, as I consider myself to be, may not enjoy the whole vision of the director to enjoy the film and appreciate that it was made at all. Stone and Gosling do an outstanding job – Gosling really was playing the piano the whole time! – singing and dancing their ways into our hearts.

While I didn’t like the ending it is clear that director and writer Damien Chazelle was successful on at least two fronts: making the musical popular again and making the audience, including me and my family, fall in love with Mia and Sebastian.

4/5 stars. Language, including the f word, GD, and others. Mia moves in with Sebastian prior to marriage. Drinking alcohol. No nudity or sex scenes.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

Department Zero by Crilley

Multiple dimensions, the end of reality and all worlds, plus Cthulhu.

Department Zero
By Paul Crilley
Pyr
January 2017

Harry Priest is a crime scene cleaner. It was as close as he could get to being in law enforcement. He’s called to a scene that defies logic – it’s so graphically gross. He is sent off the scene by Havelock Graves, someone who works for something called ICD (Interstitial Crime Department). When Harry accidentally kills a member of ICD, Graves brings him on as a replacement/ bait and he soon finds himself embroiled in an interdimensional battle to save all of time and space from the monsters written of by H.P. Lovecraft.

Good comedy usually has a funny character and a straight character, but this book has two so-called comedians. Everything they say is sarcastic and rude to each other. By the time I got to the midpoint of the book, I came to believe that Harry and Graves are essentially the same person. And when everyone in the book is equally sarcastic no one becomes likeable. It’s like bad cop, bad cop. One of these guys should have been the good cop. I stuck it out to see how it went – partially because of the inexplicably close relationship Harry has with his daughter and the hope that he and his estranged wife may work things out. No spoilers!

In the end, we have an interesting idea, cool settings, fun gadgets, a main character that is easy to like because of his family, and a lot of cliché writing. If expectations are lowered to this point, then this book can be entertaining. But for the most part, I’d recommend re-writing Harry to remove the sarcasm and give us an “every man” to root for.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Journey of Captain Scaredy Cat by Andrés & Wimmer

There are three areas that a children’s book must excel at, and where this one fails: language, story and artwork. So if the story doesn’t matter, the artwork isn’t important and you don’t mind pausing the story to explain the words used then this book is for you.

The Journey of Captain Scaredy Cat
Somos8 (Book 21)
Written by José Carlos Andrés
Illustrated by Sonja Wimmer
NubeOcho
April 2016

The story is supposed to encourage children who deal with fears to cover come them by asking the question, “is this fear real?” and then responding, “[thing] isn’t real” three times. This idea isn’t a bad one. Many times, a child’s fears are irrational. Ghosts? Sure, they aren’t real and self-talk is helpful in overcoming that fear. Vampires? Werewolves? Yes and yes. In fact, those are the three fears that Captain Scaredy Cat faces.

The problems start when the author starts the book out with the captain being scared of real things and it continues when any adult recognizes that children have fears that are all too often actually real. Death? Abuse? Fighting with siblings? Divorce? Yes, yes, yes, yes and more. And saying, “divorce isn’t real! Divorce isn’t real! Divorce isn’t real!” isn’t helpful. This logic applies to the things that Captain Scaredy cat is inexplicably afraid of as well: his clothes, his height, his shadow, the size of his shoes. How does saying, “It’s not real!” help any of his stated fears? They don’t. If a child is afraid of ghosts, well the refrain may work. But not so much for real fears.

If your child is afraid of ghosts, by the way, I wouldn’t recommend this book anyway. The very well done art can be terrifying for younger children. The ghost was his blanket that inexplicably turns into a giant monster ghost. The vampire and werewolf are similarly giant and scary. I have four children. I’ve never once, when one of them were afraid at night, thought, “I should show them scary pictures! That will help!” A shadow or the hint of a scary thing would be much more effective without actually causing fear in the viewer.

The choice of language used in the book is poorly selected. Odd words, including words not usually used by children (or even many adults) leaves the adult reader to explain words rather than moving through the story. Do you normally refer to “rancid” milk? Me either. I know that’s a thing, but a child may better understand “spoiled” or “rotten” milk leaving them free to follow the story.

In my experience with my children and with working with children for more than a decade I can tell you I would not show this book to them or recommend it to parents dealing with fear. The message is a good one for dealing with not real fears and in those cases I could see me asking guided questions like the book does, “Are ghosts real?” Then a refrain like the one included may help. Otherwise, I would pass on this one.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

17×23 Showcase #1

An anthology by five artists who have ten pages to tell any story they want to. Unfortunately, most don’t actually tell a story as much as color in pages.

17×23 Showcase #1
by Isaac Lenkiewicz, Kyle Platts, Henry McCausland, Nick ‘Showchicken’ Sheehy, Joe Kessler
Nobrow Press
November 2012

From the start, the book seemed to celebrate a lack of clarity and purpose. There is almost no narrative in the stories. The art is interesting and visually most of the stories are appealing. But like the story about cardboard boxes, the vicious drum playing bird, or the son of the moon, there wasn’t much that made sense. A fact that most likely made the artists more satisfied with their work as they celebrate this anti-narrative achievement.

Being fifty pages with almost no dialog a reader can finish in only 15 minutes without any real effort. That same reader will, if they are like me, shrug, set the book down and move on to a better graphic novel.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

40 Days to a Joyful Motherhood by Humphrey

Adult coloring books are all the rage right now. They have complicated, detailed designs that help calm and focus and ultimately reduce stress. Coupling this with a daily devotional sends like a great idea. But it isn’t done well at all.

40 Days to a Joyful Motherhood
Devotions and Coloring Book to Nourish Mom
by Sarah Humphrey
Abingdon Press
August 2016

See the included picture for example of how this utterly fails at being a coloring book. This is a random picture that is very representative of what can be found. The drawings are sparse and uninteresting. They are all hearts and flowers with very little detail and no difference between pages. There is a ton of open space. Nothing that makes the artist do fine designs or focus on the miniscule details.

The cover design is more detailed than almost every page inside the book.

I’m very disappointed.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Dark Blood by Smith

darkbloodRham Jas Rami is on a mission that only he can do. But he is going to need help. And he is going to have to complete it quickly.

The Dark Blood
by A.J. Smith
Heads of Zeus
December 2016

In the second installment of the Long War, the title moves from Brom (the Black Guard) to Rham Jas Rami (the assassin with uncanny powers) who is the only person who can get past their dark magic and kill one of the Seven Sisters. All the living characters from the first book continue their story as well, including interesting intersections between them as knights confront Free Company barbarians, southern warriors against merchant cities, and the introduction to a new race and participant in the Long War and perhaps the last Old Blood.

What I enjoy about this book is that while characters do rise and some die, they all evolve. They aren’t the same caricatures of fantasy heroes that serve their function and then pass away. They also aren’t morally ambiguous. I love that several characters who are enemies, remain enemies, but join the battle against the dark god who is trying to win the Long War. Why? Because right or wrong outweigh nationality. And good characters are good, bad characters are bad. I find this better and more enjoyable, like Tolkien, rather than the moral mess that Martin has started (but not finished.)

I’m very much looking forward to the third installment. This is epic fantasy in a very well crafted world with characters I enjoy reading about.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Tales of a Fifth-Grade Knight by Gibson

knightJust your average story of three fifth graders who look for a missing little girl in their elementary school and who find themselves in a world of magic and nonsense.

Tales of a Fifth-Grade Knight
by Douglas Gibson
Capstone
August 2015

Isaac, Max and Emma’s Narnian transition from school play practice to the domain of the Elf King is equal parts fun and silly. Older readers, like me, will find the King’s threat of the children getting stuck there to be empty, but the fun isn’t in the resolution, but the adventure. All three characters are fun and bring different personalities and perspectives to the adventure. They are joined along their quest by an invisible person, a man-sized bat who is way smarter than he looks, and other zany characters who are slightly different than normal humans (I don’t want to give anything away.)

This is a fun book that kids in fourth or fifth grade will enjoy. My fourth grader did. He didn’t have much trouble understanding words and I was happy to find a clean book without worry about language or activities. We both recommend it.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Black Guard by Smith

blackguardBrom’s parents are dead, his friends and sister missing, and his home sacked. And he’s too far away to do anything about it.

The Black Guard
by A.J. Smith
Heads of Zeus
September 2016

The Long War has been waged for eons and will continue for eons – unless the Seven Sisters can upset the status quo and win the war for their god. Under their power, kingdoms wage war and established gods find their followers and influence diminishing. By the time the world wakes up will it be too late to stop?

The world of the Long War is suitably small – just three countries, surrounded by waters to the west and between them, ice to the north, sand to the south and unending forest to the east, with a map helpfully included – but also very deep as well. At the start of the saga, Smith gives the reader only information about the three main countries, but as the novel progresses – and the who trilogy – we find a lot more than what met the eye. Additional races, histories and creatures – even more gods – join the war. But the story stays relatable, unlike some “epic” fantasy, by focusing on a core group of characters and their interactions with the war.

Brom, his sister, their friends, and even some knights and warriors of the countries around them give characters that are easy to follow and find yourself rooting for. Unlike Martin’s characters, which this book alludes to on the cover, there are good and evil characters and while death does come it doesn’t come to everyone or in meaningless ways. In this way, I found this series to be superior to the messy, never ending series of books in the Game of Thrones series.

This is a fantastic, fun, deep, and well written epic fantasy more in line with Goodkind, Williams or even Sanderson than Martin. I enjoyed it thoroughly and look forward to the next books.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.