Hugo Nominee Reviews: Best Graphic Novel

Ms. Marvel: First page has quoted as saying “This may be the most important comic published in 2014”.  Bad start.  It’s like throwing up a defensive shield before even letting the reader see what you have to say.

Chapter One doesn’t impress.  It’s good as a pure slice-of-life child-of-immigrants story, but the only depth to it may have been entirely unintentional — mainly, in that the trials and tribulations of the “outsiders” are positively tame compared to the experiences of past generations.  The worst our suffering heroine has to face is a snarky “valley girl”.  Beyond that, it’s the usual “traditional parents don’t understand me” and “I don’t fit in at school” tropes.

Chapters Two through Everything: It’s all slice-of-life, a frenetic take on being an unwilling superheroine with a secret identity.  It’s a good read.  It’s not anything I haven’t read before.  The art itself is fun and gives a good sense of both action and character.

But there’s nothing here that’s “important”, let alone anything which makes it the “most important comic published in 2014”.  Sorry, that’s a strike.

Rat Queens: “Sass and Sorcery”?  Didn’t “sass” go out with the 1970s?  Here it just sounds like the book is going for a hipster vibe, and failing badly at it.  The character intros aren’t promising, either.  “I know my sword is designer.  I use it ironically.”  Lady, unless you use crappy cheap arms, that’s not even a good pun.  “I conjured up a nice fuck you.”  Well fuck you too.

Am I not amused yet?

No, I’m pretty much just bored with second-rate witticisms.

The plot, once it gets started, doesn’t fare much better.  In fact, it’s almost identical to a comic-strip arc I guest-starred in, what, about a decade ago?  Bar brawl, angry mayor, go on a quest or else, bad things happen which weren’t supposed to be part of the quest.  All wrapped up in modern dialogue and cultural references…

…hang on.  I’m going to skip to the end and see if this is actually some online fantasy MMO and the four “grrrls” starring in it are players logging in from Cheeto-dusted armchairs.

…ummm, nope.  It’s all supposed to be straight-up legit sword-and-sorcery.  Oh, excuse me, “sass and sorcery”.  Oogh.  That’s still too stupid not to be painful.  The final page also happens to be the final insult: a list of critical acclamations from people who apparently did not read what I just read.

* “Portrayal of realistic-looking female characters… not in Photoshopped ads from fashion magazines.”  No, actually, it’s the complete opposite of that.  Unless, for example, you know of any two-foot-tall women with squared-off heads and giant floppy ears.

* “These women know how to party… Think Sex & the City meets Lord of the Rings”.  I regret I have but two hands to facepalm with.

*…never have I ever seen such an incredible cast of women where I wanted to be/hang out with/make out with all of them” …wow.  Just wow.  What a creeper.

* “The perfect sword and sorcery book for the WoW generation.”  So I wasn’t the only one who called it…

* “BEST NEW SERIES 2013” sez IGN.  Then again, those are the same people who generated the “8/10 it was meh, 10/10 with Dorito” jokes.

Saga (Volume Three): Hm.  Interesting, in that it throws a lot of stuff at you, both foreground and background.  The plot itself tumbles helter-skelter, barely laying down a groundwork to follow along the way. Every page has something which raises a question that might be fun to — nope, we’re on to the next thing, and that last thing which intrigued you was just window-dressing.

Something about warring peoples, forbidden love, and now Not-Raymond-E.-Feist is throwing up on the spawn of that union.  It seems to settle in around Page 50 with some serious backstory pieces.

Then it proceeds to go around and around and around while things happen.

I’ve written stories like that.  I HATE when I write stories like that, because I’ve already made the point at the beginning and there ultimately is no real end.  At that point, it’s just lives that I’m chronicling for no good reason.

I think Cory Doctorow decided me on this work, however: “The story transcends mere pace-pounding, and manages moments of sweetness, sorrow, and sentiment that will have you daubing your eyes between laughing and gasping over audacious battles.”

No, it’s none of that.

It’s a decent read, but it’s none of that.

Sex Criminals (Volume One: One Weird Trick): Ugh.  Now I feel like if I read this, I’m rewarding clickbait advertising — “read up on this One Weird Trick that gets police officers to give up on writing speeding tickets!” (hint: the trick is to use your brakes and speedometer in conjunction with the posted speed limits).

In the story, though, the One Weird Trick is that after having an orgasm, time literally stops for the Two Crazy Kids who serve as combination protag/antagonists.

So they use these superpowers to rob a bank in order to pay the bank back to save a library.

Um, okay.

The story itself has great writing, humor and characterization — most of which comes across (no pun intended) as natural.  That’s the best kind of storytelling, even if the porn theme might turn you off.  Heck, I’ve seen weirder: try finding an old copy of Phil Foglio’s “XXXenophile” comics.  The one with the accidental centaurs.  It’s a hoot.

Sex Criminals doesn’t just jump straight into any of that, though.  There is a LONG buildup of explanation and exploration, which serves to introduce and humanize the main actress (and, later, her partner, the main actor).

Of the lot, I have to give Sex Criminals my Hugo vote, hands down.

One, it’s an actual story.  Two, it’s a genuinely good story.  It is, thirdly, a story which left me wanting to know what happened next by the end of it.  I wish the best of luck to creator/authors Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky in their quest for the Hugo nod.  I only wish their competition had been stiffer.

Yes, that one was intentional.

EDIT:  Although “Zombie Nation” is on the voting card, it’s not in the downloadable packet, so I thought it had been yanked.  I was wrong.

It’s an online comic strip, and the Hugo-nommed book is a collection of strips which was published last year. No indicator of which strips are included in the book, and other people on the Internet appear to be using the online strip archives as their means of reviewing it at this point.

…time passes…

Okay, after about fifty strips, I can tell:

1) The art isn’t as good as most of the Graphic Novel category,
2) The writing isn’t as bad as most of the Graphic Novel category, and
3) The plotline (in an online comic strip!) is more coherent than most of the Graphic Novel category.

My vote is still for “Sex Criminals”, but “Zombie Nation” is taking either Slot 2 or 3.  Probably 3, as Ms. Marvel is also a coherent story, just not terribly engaging.  ZN at least made me chuckle, which a comedy comic strip is supposed to do.  I might just have ’em fight for it.


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