Comicbook Corner 3: Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory

Well hellllllllllllloooooo there. How’s November been treating you so far? Getting all those good fall reads in?

Today’s Comicbook Corner is centered around the wild, weird, and completely disgusting, Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory. By now you should know that I have a huge soft spot in my nerdy little heart for comics and novels that realize their mediums are limitless and just run with it. This is that and then some.

It mostly focuses on an FDA agent with the power to get psychic impressions from eating things, and his superiors discovering that he can use that power to solve crimes. At first it seems pretty straight forward, if not super, duper gross (he’s constantly forced to eat the physical remains left at crime scenes, be it spilled blood or a toe or whatever). He eats a gross thing, gets an impression, and tracks down the criminals involved. At first I thought it was going to end up just being a police procedural with this one wacky hook, but it doesn’t take long for the comic to take a sharp left turn from the expected. There’s all sorts of weird food powers and other bananas shit going on, including a lady that can make you taste the food she reviews, a man who can carve anything, ANYTHING, from chocolate, a weird immortal vampire who can absorb other people’s food powers by eating them, a former cock fighting champion chicken that’s turned into a government owned cyborg killing machine, and a weird, maybe alien or intradimensional plant thing that people use as a chicken substitute. It’s so fucked up you gals.

But! Luckily for us, it’s just as fun and entertaining as it is weird and gross. The writer and artist really seem like they’re having a blast making this one, continually outdoing themselves with the wild and zany shit that they come up with, while still making sure that there’s a story at the center of it. In between the eating of dead body parts and robot chicken killing sprees, there’s moments of real emotion and character development.

Recommended for anybody with a strong stomach, a high threshold for suspension of disbelief, and a propensity for fiction in which, almost always, you have absolutely no fucking idea what’s going on, but you’re having fun anyways.

VBR

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Thor: Ragnarok

Hidyho there readerinos!

I’m gonna preface this review by saying, right off the bat, I have a huge case of the superhero movie fatigues. I know this is a thing that people have been saying for a while, so it’s not an original or interesting perspective, and it shouldn’t really be relevant when it comes to reviewing an individual piece of art (“judge it on it’s own merits!”), but it’s the truth. I’m tired of them. Tired of watching them, yeah, but also tired of getting excited and then, inevitably, disappointed by them. I made the mistaken claim after watching Spiderman: Homecoming (which was the dopest dope, in case you were wondering) that I was cured of it forever, but honestly? I think that was just a lucky shot.

Take this new Thor movie for example. I had really high hopes for it. It looked wacky and wild and colourful, different in a way that I’m so, so ready for. The posters were weird, hyper-saturated pieces of scifi art, the pre-release positive hype was there, the trailer was incredible. Everything was lined up to get me excited for this movie, to get me off my couch and into a theatre to see it. And then…*shrugs*.

Okay, let’s talk first about all the good bits (and there is a bunch of them!). Everything about Thor’s far off space adventure was amazing. The world was wonderful and odd and specific, the humor was great (this is probably the funniest marvel so far, which I think is helped a little by the Thor mythos. The campyness and spectacle of it really suits comedy a lotttttt better than self-serious drama), the costumes were top notch, the updated and translated Hulk was better and more interesting than he’s ever been. JEFF. MOTHERFUCKING. GOLDBLUM. Ugh, and that score you gals. This might just be the first time that I’ve been aware of a score in a Marvel movie, and it’s definitely the first time I loved one. So much good stuff! (Also, I’m going to insert a shoutout to Korg here, before people get mad at me for not mentioning him. Yes, he was the best. Yes, his weirdness and sense of humour perfectly personified everything that was great and good about this movie. Yes, I too, loved him).

And now the bad bits. Everything to do with Asgard. I felt like this film’s connection to Asgard and the previous Thor movies was a huge, cumbersome chain wrapped around its neck. Whenever I began to forget that this was just another Thor movie with another Big Bad who was trying to do Big Bad Things, we’d flash back to Hela and all the stuff I just could not give a shit about. I mean, you have a serious boring villain problem when even CATE BLANCHETT (who ate scenery for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and did a great job of it) can’t make them interesting. Listen, I get it, part of the theme of the movie was moving away from Asgard and the old Thor films, and in order to do that they had to go back and burn it all down. I just…I dunno. I guess I just didn’t care. I was having a really good time with this movie, and then the last twenty minutes of it turned into big explosions and magic and CGI fights and Karl Urban giving the cheesiest death performance outside of an anime. And because that was the end of the movie, the freshest part of it when I left the theatre, I ended up feeling like I liked this movie a lot less than I think I actually did (if that convoluted sentence made sense to you, you win ten points! And a hug!).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that this movie had a lot of promise and, even though it did deliver in a bunch of ways, I still left feeling kinda meh about it. And that’s so disappointing! If anything I wanted this to be the type of movie that you couldn’t shrug at, so weird and out there that you either loved or hated it. And I saw glimpses of that, yeah, but they were wrapped up in that same old marvel movie safeness, that feeling that I knew what was going to happen, I knew who was going to survive, I knew that Thor and all his friends would be victorious. I know that’s just the price of admission for a movie like this, but I guess it’s one I’m getting tired of paying.

Anywho! You should go out and see this movie. It’s fun, and your dollars will help Taika Waititi gain the power he needs within Marvel to really lean into his weirdness and (hopefully) provide us with a superhero movie that isn’t as anchored down by its own tropes, restrained by the industry’s impulse to meet our expectations, instead of exceeding them.

VBR

 

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Hello friends!

Now I know that I’ve been saying that I love things a lot lately (and it’s true. I’ve been on a wild hot streak for great books. That and I’ve been dipping into my back catalogue of beloved reads whenever I think I have something to say about them, rather than writing about books that I’m either not that into, or just liked and don’t have that much to say about), but I don’t want that to undermine the praise I’m about to heap on this particular novel. Which, when you think about it, why should it? I say I love people and different things a lot, yeah, but I mean it every time. I love to love things! And why not? Who wants to walk through life searching for reasons to dislike stuff? So I’m just going to say it, and I don’t want to hear anything about it, okay?

I loooooved this book.

There have been lots of books that I’ve liked recently (tons! See previous rambles), but this definitely going in my all-time fantasy favourites. I’d had it recommended to me a bunch of times before, seen it around in book shops and the internet, but for some reason I just never picked it up. I think it may have been my quick, lazy scanning of the description on the back, coupled with the name of the book itself, that made me think it was kind of YA-y and not really up my alley (there’s nothing wrong with YA. In fact, most of the YA stuff that I’ve read I’ve at least liked. I just don’t read a ton of it and I have to be in the mood for it when I do). But I finally received the recommendation that tipped me over the edge the other day and I haven’t seen the sun or any of my friends since.

Right off the top, YA this book is not. It is the complete and polar opposite of YA.  This book is OABBA (old-ass, bitter, broken adult). This is easily one of the most brutal, intense, completely banana-pants books I’ve ever read. And trust me, I’ve read some really weird shit (Malazan Book of the Fallen, The Dark Tower Series, anything written by Jeff Vandermeer). I always really dig it when a fantasy book leans into the limitlessness of the medium. You want a man that runs a library which holds the entirety of the knowledge he’s collected over his sixty thousands years as maybe-God? No problem. How about a family where some of the siblings can talk to animals, others can bring people back from the dead or use their ghost babies to see the future, and one of them has gone a little kooky from spending too much time in the afterlife (having been murdered in every conceivable way by their Father)? Why not? Think you should throw in a little crazy demi-god of murder fighting the US army to spice it up a bit? Go nuts! This novel is so jam packed with good, out there, original ideas that it easily could have rested on the laurels of its imagination and phoned the rest of it in. I still would have given it an A.

But it didn’t. I’m shocked (and jealous and…a little aroused?) that this is Scott Hawkins first book. I think it might be one of the most well plotted, tightly structured fantasy novels I’ve ever read. Even though the framing of the story is massive and sprawling (the search for a potentially dead God, the vying for his now empty throne, the end of the world), the actual core of the story is really personal, almost small. The threats are all legitimate and well established (we know how bad the bads are, what it is they can and will do), but even more importantly than that they’re properly motivated. You may not always know why people are doing the terrible things they’re doing while they do them, but by the end of the novel it all makes sense. It’s incredibly complicated, filled with a complex, diverse cast of characters who are all intelligent (they all do the things that intelligent people would do in their circumstances…for the most part. Sometimes the situations are so wacky that it’s hard to tell what it is a smart person would do), capable, driven by their own agendas, and often at odds with one another. That’s a lot of balls to juggle, but Hawkins nails it. It all just fits, you know? And the ending is so satisfying that, even though I love all the characters and definitely want to spend more time in this world, I don’t really want to go back to this story. It’s done. It’s been told. I don’t need anymore.

Anyways, I could really go on and on about this book (there’s so much good stuff here guys), but I feel like you’ve put up with enough of my barely coherent rambling for one day, so I’ll try my best to wrap it up. It’s big, brutal, surprisingly moving, darkly funny, extremely well thought out and, for all that, still a blast to read. I’d recommend this one for anybody who loves mythology, urban fantasy, dark humour, or just likes a super-duper, fucked up, wackadoodle story every now and again.

Get out there and revel in the weirdness, ya’ll. It’s lots of fun 🙂

VBR

PS. As a brief disclaimer, this book is not for the faint of heart. It’s got just about every type of violence you could think of in it (sexual, psychological, emotional, boybeingslowlyburnedaliveoverthecourseofafewdaysinagiantbronzebullwhilehissiblings-aremadetowatchinordertoteachthemallaveryimportantlessonaboutlisteningtoyourfather-ical) and more than a few that would never cross your mind. If we’re doing a 1 to 10 scale of violence and depredation, 1 being See Spot Run, and 10 being A Song of Ice and Fire, this is a solid 12 or 13. I think you should brave it, but if you’re not the type of person that can handle this type of thing, you’ve been suitably warned.

The Malazan Book of the Fallen Series by Steven Erikson

Even though now, when asked, I always list this as one of the best fantasy series of all time, I actually went at this one a couple of times before I was able to really sink into it. I remember my uncle, the man who introduced me to fantasy in the first place, gave me this as a gift when I was maybe twelve or thirteen years old (and I know, some of you out there are thinking about the sex and the violence in these books and wondering if that’s an appropriate gift for a twelve year old and I just want to say…cool it, okay? The internet exists. There’s dicks and boobs and karate fights everywhere. This battle you’re fighting is already lost). He really recommended it, and I thought he was just the coolest, so I gave it the ol’ college try, bounced off the first chapter a few times, then shelved it and moved on. Thinking back on it now, I’m pretty sure the thing that pushed me away from it the first time, is the same thing that made me love this series when I actually got into it.

It’s completely and totally fucking bananas. It starts off in the aftermath of this huge magical battle, with a flying castle thing and hell hounds being teleported into a wizard’s tent and a marionette doll with a powerful mage (or maybe a demi god? It’s been a while you guys) trapped inside and a whole bunch of other batshit things just flying around. And it just spirals out from there. There’s a whole race of undead soldiers and weird loner sealmen things that can bring on ice ages and four armed giants and gods from different dimensions and just about everything you could think to shove in a fantasy series. I love it. It’s so crazy. As you can probably tell, I’m all about the weird now, the weirder the better, but back then it was a little much for me. And if it’s a little much for you too, I get it. No judgement.

But you guys, you should really stick with it. This series is sooooo big and well thought out and well written and epic and surprising and amazing and weird (are you allowed to put half a dozen conjunctives in one sentence? I guess that’s what happens when you drink a vat of coffee for your morning meal. Looking back on it, this whole post has been a little more Burroughs-y than normal. Ah, the wonders of cheap and readily available drugs for breakfast). I had a hermitty, indoor summer a few years back where I read through all of them and, even though this series has ten books in it and each are around a thousand pages, at the end of it I was still sad. Don’t get me wrong, the ending is perfect, one of the best I’ve read in a fantasy series. The problem was, I didn’t want it to end at all. What I wanted was to spend more time in this world, more time with the characters and the cultures that Erikson created…..After ten thousand pages. If that doesn’t sell you on this series, than I don’t think I really want to be book friends with you anymore.

Great for readers of epic fantasy who are looking for something a little different, history and anthropology nerds (there’s tons of stuff about ethnic groups and races, meaning other than human, migration patterns of people etc. etc.), and people interested in worlds with a deep, well-conceived mythology and history.

Okay, I’m going to go run a few laps or maybe take a Xanex or something.

Love,

VBR ❤

PS. As a brief side note, I’m aware that there’s somebody else out there writing more stuff in this universe (or was, I haven’t really kept up) but…it’s not the same. I gave it a go a few years back and it just didn’t hit it for me.

PPS. I’m kidding about the book friends. I want to be book friends with all the book people. Even if you don’t like outstandingly written, bonkers epic fantasies. Is there an emoji that I can use that looks like a mildly threatening, sort of joking, sarcastic looking side-eye? You know, that look that you give where you’re like “I’m kidding, but also I’m trying to tell you something”? Asking for a friend.

The Gunslinger by Stephen King

So….I just watched the trailer for the new movie coming out and….blegh. Which is a shame, because I had actually managed to get myself excited for this one. I love Idris Elba, and ol’ Matty McC is a really good casting choice for the Man in Black. I mean, I never really thought it was going to do the books justice (which is a really complicated, next to impossible thing for a movie to do. The only time I think I’ve ever seen a movie that I liked more than I liked the book was No Country for Old Men. I love that book, but the definitive vision of it in my head is, and always will be, the movie), but I was hoping it would at least be interesting and weird. Apparently, action-shlock, uber-hollywood, “I’ll save the world for the both of us, just after I figure out a cool new way to load my six shooter” was the way they decided to go. Double blegh.
It’s such a dumb, predictable, terrible direction to take this franchise. To keep the big and the action packed, but remove all the zany parallel world, sf/fantasy stuff. The things that I liked the most about all these books were how batshit weird they were. Even this first one, which adheres the closest to the old school tropes, a good ol’ western vengeance, has streaks of strange marbled throughout (like our hero does mescaline sometimes, just to put a little pep in his step), and it only spirals out from there. I can’t think of any other series that would be able to pull off having an Arthurian culture that uses six shooters instead of swords, nineteen twenties style gangsters, and doombots with explosive golden snitches and lightsabers in the same world. And with Stephen King at the helm, the journey may have been big and wacky and sprawling, but I always felt like I was in good hands. He may not have known from the getgo where exactly the story was going to go, but I always felt like he could get there.
These books are great, and fucking weird, and so much fun. By all means go and see the bland ass movie they’re making (and let me know if I’m wrong about it, because I’m giving this one the firmest of passes. And yes, I realize I have a big, bitter pill stuck in my craw about this, so I’m being more harsh than I need to be but I feel the way I feel), but please, please, if you’re going to do that, put a little time and effort into the books first. There’s a lot to get out of them.

Love you folks,

VBR

PS. As a side note to all the entertainment big wigs that read this blog, when you have a series this big, this sprawling, MAKE IT A TV SHOW YA DUMMIES. There are tons and tons of Stephen King fans out there (even just the mild ones, like me) who would tune in to a Dark Tower series done right. And you just can’t collapse something this large into a two, or even three, hour movie. You’re setting yourself up to fail.

PPS. Did you guys hear about the fact that they’re trying to turn The Sandman into a movie? INTO A MOVIE?! AAARRRRRGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!

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