TV Review: iZombie season 1

imagesLiv Moore (*rimshot*) was an overachiever headed straight for a prestigious career as a heart surgeon and a wonderful life as the wife of perfect, sweet heart throb Major Lilywhite. (Yup, enjoy the puns, folks.) And then, after being encouraged to loosen up, Liv attends a party that ends in a zombie mini-pocalypse. Liv is infected, and like many who suddenly have to face a chronic health condition, she struggles to salvage her life. And to find a reason to salvage it.

While she has a decent support network (some more than others) being supportive of a medical condition is a little different when you have to eat brains to survive. So Liv gets a job as a medical examiner in a morgue. Eating brains gives her visions, memories from the people whose brains she’s consuming, as well as behavior patterns from those people. Part addiction, part basic survival need, and part annoying side effect.

Partnering with her boss and a detective on the police force, Liv finds new life through her “victims”. Their lives, and deaths affect her so she in return tries to give them justice and their family’s closure.

I really enjoyed the first season. While there is lots of camp, Liv, and most of the characters actually, are smart and capable. The plots remain engaging and while they could go for sensational, often the sensational bits (like the open relationship in the first few episodes) are just the tip of the iceberg. It does include sexual aspect as she recovers that part of her relationships with humans, and some really dark material (predatory behaviors on humans, gore, morality) but it makes a lot of the gore into dark humor instead and ultimately viewers are left with a positive outlook.

No for young children, but teens and adults should find a lot to really like in this show.

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Interview with David Gallaher, Author of High Moon

Reviewer Lizzy Walker had the opportunity to interview David Gallaher, author of  the werewolf Western graphic novel series High Moon, just in time for the full moon…

Look for our review of volume 1 of High Moon, coming soon! You’ll definitely want to check it out after you read what David has to say!

 

LW: I’m familiar with and enjoy The Only Living Boy immensely. In fact, I recommended it for my academic library’s juvenile collection.​ High Moon has a very different feel to the tale of a lost boy in a strange world not his own, yet it feels familiar all the same. How different were these two worlds for you to write?

David: THE ONLY LIVING BOY comes from a place of innocence, wonder and exploration. It’s an emotionally complex story, but set against a background of High Adventure. It’s about fighting the good fight because it’s the right thing to do. HIGH MOON is a little more cynical and far more visceral. It explores man’s inhumanity and cruelty. It’s about fighting the good fight because nobody else will.

THE ONLY LIVING BOY is about finding yourself amid very challenge and adverse circumstances. It’s playful and defiant in the way I think great children’s literature is.

HIGH MOON by its nature is more violent, mythical, mysterious and savage. I don’t really enjoy violence or horror, so that’s a real challenge for me, but I do enjoy writing about the heroes sworn to uphold justice and protect those that can’t protect themselves.

 

LW: You have an excellent grasp on writing a Western horror. How rooted in actual American history is High Moon and how much research did you have to do in order to get a solid footing in this time period? What made you decide to write in such a specific time period and genre?

David: I was never much a fan of Westerns, but there were a few old radio westerns that I loved — HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, GUNSMOKE, and THE LONE RANGER — so I challenged myself to write the sort of western that I would want to read. As a big fan of American history, I through I’d approach the story from that angle first. I really tried to find moments to pin the story against.

I wanted to be authentic, down to the architecture, the weaponry, the costuming, and the other flourishes. I didn’t want HIGH MOON to be a generic western, I wanted it to align with the economic anxieties, troubles and tribulations that were experienced on the frontier.

The Sherman Silver Purchase Act was a United States federal law enacted on July 14, 1890. Farmers were straining under growing debt and sharply falling silver prices. It created a lot of economic instability in the country. Given werewolves own aversion to silver, this seemed like a good place to story telling the story of HIGH MOON. Combining that event with the stories of Jim Bowie’s botched expedition to the San Saba Silver Mines and well… it all seemed to fit.

 

LW: One of the most interesting characters in the book was the mysterious Tristan Macgregor. Is this a character you want to explore further at some point? Would you consider writing an arc devoted to him?

I love writing Tristan. He’s this crazy throwback character, basically an Arthurian knight in a world of cowboys, armed with this Tesla-made prosthetic arm. Steve and I have an outline for a Tristan spin-off that covers his adventures, his loves, and his loses. We’d love an opportunity to tell it.

 

LW: Which part of the first volume proved to be the most challenging to write?

David: There’s one scene about slavery during the Civil War that was particularly challenging to research and write about concerning black slave owners. It’s a cruel aspect of American history and was eye-opening for me.

One of the things I love about working on the series is that teaches me things that I never learned in history class. There are heroes like Bass Reeves, for instance, that have yet to really receive their due in the annals of history.

 

LW: Is there something in particular about the Macgregor storyline that you were the most invested in when you were writing it?

David: The foundation for the Macgregor storyline is based in Irish Mythology and Scottish History. It’s endlessly appealing to splatter those elements across a western landscape. Macgregor, for instance, is named after the Scottish outlaw, folk-hero and cattleman. It’s fun to tease all of our mysteries out on the pages, especially when they are illustrated by Steve Ellis.

 

LW: If you could add anything else to this Wild West world, what would it be? Unless that would be giving up too many mysteries you want to keep hidden for now!

I can say this… one of the things that I’d love to have included, but it didn’t quite mesh with our timeline, were the Bald Knobbers, a group of masked vigilantes in southwest Missouri. They began as group dedicated to protecting life and property, aiding law enforcement officials. They have a remarkably fascinating history, but didn’t mesh with the timeline we’ve established.

 

LW: Tell the Monster Librarian readers a little about yourself.

I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. I traveled a lot as a kid, before my family settled down in Maryland. I spent my formative years in an old Civil War town littered with racists, mysterious military bases, and a twenty-five acre forest in my backyard. Those pieces of my childhood eventually became the basis for HIGH MOON, BOX 13, and THE ONLY LIVING BOY that I write from my studio, BOTTLED LIGHTNING.

Aside the projects I write for our studio, I’ve had the opportunity to write for Marvel, DC Comics, Image Comics and Amazon Studios. I also had the great fortune of being the editor of ATTACK ON TITAN and SAILOR MOON for Kodansha Comics. As a writer and as an editor, I love being involved in bringing great stories to reader of all ages.

 

LW:  Why bring back this particular book? What’s its history that makes it a cult classic?

David: Convention after convention, HIGH MOON is the one story that our fans consistently ask us about. I think they like the rough and tumble cinematic presentation of it all. As a webcomic, under DC Comics’ Zuda imprint, it build quite a following week after week, where it was notable for its cliffhangers. When the imprint folded, fans were left with all of the lingering questions. Brining the series back allows us to answer those questions and bring in a whole new audience of readers. I don’t know what makes it a ‘cult classic’ but Steve and I put a tremendous amount of passion into every page. We hope it shows.

 

LW: What are some of your favorite books/graphic novels? 
David: I was deeply influenced by the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Rudyard Kipling. Madeleine L’Engle’s work on A WRINKLE IN TIME was also deeply influential. I tend to read much more classic literature than modern literature, but I recently enjoyed NO GOOD DEED by Goldy Moldavsky.

 

LW: Why should libraries be interested in High Moon? 
David: I think HIGH MOON presents an interesting opportunity to remind readers that American history is wild, rich, and wonderful. If we can use monsters to help new readers discover more about the American frontier, well… that’s great teachable opportunity for libraries.

 

LW: What else would you like librarians and readers to know about your work?
David: Steve Ellis and I travel the country speaking at libraries. We frequently give talks about making graphic novels, participate in library conventions, and give readings. We adore how much the graphic novel has become an important piece of library collections around the country. We hope that conversation continues and we love being a part of it.

 

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Book Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire


Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2) by Seanan McGuire

Tor, 2017

ISBN-13: 978-0765392039

Available: Hardcover, Kindle edition, audiobook

Down  Among the Sticks and Bones is a companion novella to Seanan McGuire’s award-winning novella Every Heart a Doorway. Every Heart a Doorway explored the question of what happens after children who walk through a door to a fantasy world return to our own. In that novella, the main character was sent to a boarding school specifically for children who have returned, to help them readjust. It’s a spare, magical, heartbreaking, and brutal mystery that explores identity, destiny, and desire in multiple ways.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the story of Jack and Jill, twins who play major roles in Every Heart a Doorway, and their lives in the world they walked into. The girls escaped a life of strictly enforced gender roles by entering a door to a world with many dangers called “The Moors.” There, the girls are able to discard their parents’ expectations, although they are shaped by new ones.  Unfortunately, what the girls’ parents wanted for them affected not just their outward actions, but their interior thoughts and emotions, so the characters are very flat. Jack has a little more self-awareness and develops a genuine loving relationship with another girl, so her character is slightly more developed. The story is more of a fable than a work requiring deep character development, but it means the reader feels much less invested.

In Every Heart a Doorway, Jack and Jill are a mysterious and disturbing pair, but Down Among the Sticks and Bones dispels a lot of that mystery, in the process making their actions, or lack of them, more explicable and sympathetic. The story also lacks tension: it’s the story of growing up over time, and doesn’t have the urgency or bloodiness of the mystery in the earlier novella (this isn’t to say it lacks blood and gore: in a Gothic world of vampires and mad scientists, there’s always going to be blood and gore, but I feel like it’s dialed down in this story).

Seanan McGuire is a fantastic writer, and I’m glad she wrote this second novella, because almost the first thing I wanted to know after finishing Every Heart a Doorway was Jack and Jill’s story. Despite the events of Down Among the Sticks and Bones taking place first, though, and although it can stand alone, readers should read Every Heart a Doorway first, to prevent spoilers and preserve its suspense and wonder. Recommended.

Contains: murder, gore.

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Book Review: High Moon, Volume 1: Bullet Holes and Bite Marks by David Gallaher, art by Steve Ellis

High Moon Volume 1: Bullet Holes and Bite Marks by David Gallaher, art by Steve Ellis

Super Genius, 2017

ISBN: 9781629918419

Available: print

High Moon, the horror adventure webcomic from Zudacomics.com, full of werewolves, hoodoo, and supernatural mystery, is now in graphic novel form. In the first chapter, set in the Old West, bounty hunter Matthew Macgregor investigates the strange occurrences in Blest, Texas. Plagued by drought, famine, and hardship, Blest’s townspeople are suspicious of newcomers, especially when they are acting as the hand of the law. However, Matthew’s unwanted presence is the least of the town’s worries. Matthew discovers unnatural creatures stalk to town in the dark of night. Not one to cower from a fight, he pushes to bring light to the darkness, and chase the monsters out, while he tries to bury his own supernaturally driven past.

The second chapter centers on outlaw Eddie Conroy, who happens to be under the curse of the werewolf. The story opens with a train robbery in Ragged Rock, Oklahoma that yields mysterious cargo. A series of grisly murders follows in its wake. Things get even weirder when Tristan Macgregor, Matthew’s brother, arrives in town, with a mechanical arm, and hid face obscured by goggles and a mask. What does this mysterious figure want in this town? Another key part of the story is a violent love triangle between brothers, August and Frederick Kittel, and the beautiful Vivian. Conroy, while attempting to make amends for his past, discovers a dark secret about the strained relationship in the small town of Ragged Rock.

I am not normally a fan of Westerns, or of werewolf tales, but this is a great combination of the two genres. Ellis’ artwork provides the perfect atmosphere and tone for Gallaher’s well-crafted story of the supernatural in the Old West. If you want to read another amazing title by this team, pick up The Only Living Boy, the survival story of 12-year old Erik Farrell, who finds himself in an unknown, dangerous world where nothing is as it seems.

 

 

Contains: some blood, violence in the Old West

Reviewed by Lizzy Walker

Highly recommended

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TV Review: The Gifted S1E1- EXposed

MV5BMjA3MTc2NDY1MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTI0NjIzMzI@._V1_SY1000_SX800_AL_Spawned by the popularity of super hero shows, Fox gives up The Gifted, a post X-men tale of mutants trying to survive in a world very literally out to get them. The X-men series has always outright tackled themes of racism, violence against minorities, and systematic prejudice.

Important note: While Marvel shows (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter, Inhumans) are considered concurrent with the movies (Iron Man, Avengers, Thor), the DC shows (Supergirl, Arrow, The Flash) are considered a different version of the comic canon than the movies (Justice League, Suicide Squad). I’m not sure if The Gifted plans to follow the Marvel style (since it is a Marvel comic series) or not. The X-men movies are considered outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe because they are licensed to a different production company.

First off, we meet Lorna Dane (Polaris, canon character), Thunderbird (also canon), and Eclipse (not canon) as they try to get to Blink (canon), a mutant who escaped a detention facility. As part of the Mutant Underground these three try to protect mutants from systematic injustice (the Holocaust kind). Polaris is captured.

The prosecutor assigned to her is Reed Strucker, a human, who, of course, quickly discovers his children are mutants when they “initiate a terrorist attack” on their high school during a school dance. Daughter Lauren (not canon) has force field powers. Son Andy (not canon) has powerful telekinesis. When Sentinel Services (mutant hunter government agents who have a number of different incarnations in the comics, most notably as giant robots) comes for the kids and the family runs, right to the Mutant Underground for help.

While predictable (it is a pilot) it is engaging while touching on cliches (like the perfect white bread nuclear family who are suddenly under attack by OMG racism that everyone else sees and deals with daily.) Lauren has a very Hayden Panettiere-vibe (the whole family does, with the dad being a “bad guy” to begin with too.) However, The Gifted goes more for action and plot than dramatic mood like Heroes.

Reed tries to proclaim his family American citizens with rights, but quickly discovers what the mutants already know, that rights mean little when the people behind the badges see you as a threat, not as a human.

Again, while predictable t the point of cliche, The Gifted has enough going for it (like solid effects, characters comic fans have yet to see on screen before, and the parallel of the show’s politics and real life politics) to keep me interested.

Contains: Violence, racism

 

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TV Review: Riverdale Season One

riverdaleOMG, this is the come-from-nowhere must see drama of the year. Based on the Archie comic, a pretty expansive collection of comics that runs the gamut from cute and wholesome (Lil Archie) to violent and gory (Afterlife with Archie), Riverdale is a vivid, moody take on the source material.

Told from the view of Jughead Jones (OMG, who is adorable and soulful and struggling, y’all!), the overly mature, homeless incarnation of the comic goofball, the story starts straight out with a murder. Someone murdered Jason Blossom one lovely summer day. And of course as threads untangle this one murder drags dozens of town secrets into the light.

Torrid affairs, check. Closet gays, check. Bitchy girls, mega check. Plus secret babies, crazy captives, gangs, and some fraud thrown in. Every episode offers gasps, drama, humor, and most importantly, tons of literary references, including jabs at the Riverdale family of comics.

Highly recommended, but does contain adult themes such as violence, sexuality, abuse, borderline rape and sexual assault, etc.

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Book Review: Demon Freaks by J.R.R.R. Hardison

Demon Freaks by J.R.R.R. (Jim) Hardison

Fiery Seas Publishing, 2017

ISBN-13: 978-1-946143-16-7

Available: Paperback, Kindle edition

 

Jim Hardison’s Demon Freaks pits high schoolers on the eve of their SAT exams against wicked would-be wizards and monsters, with the fate of the world at stake.  The story is written with irony and humor from the viewpoint of teenagers.  The protagonists are members of an ad hoc school band, including twin boys who don’t look or think alike.  The drummer, who is the low-achieving son of a high-achieving family, is the comic foil. The female member is a “brain” who is happiest taking a shower.

The night before the SAT, the band members plan to meet to jam and cram, but are caught in the middle of a deadly rivalry between two groups of elderly, evil golfers, the Servants of Darkness and the Golfers’ Association.   The Servants of Darkness are led by the teens’ sarcastic, vindictive English teacher, while the Golfers follow his power-hungry brother, who looks like a twisted Santa Claus.  Both groups want to possess a magical dagger that traps souls, communicates telepathically with its victims, and can control their minds. Think of the Ring of Power in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.

Each group plans to use the dagger for a human sacrifice, in order to open the gates to Hell and release a powerful demon that they hope will help them dominate the world.  Two of the teens are captured, possibly to be the human sacrifices.  The rest of their friends, along with commandos from a clandestine division of the McDonald’s Corporation called McODD (McDonald’s Occult Dangers Division) fight the Servantsthe Golfers and Teethheads (scaly, fish-headed monsters with hundreds of teeth) in tunnels and chambers under the golf course.

The story is told in an engaging, fast-paced, tongue–in-cheek style.  The teenagers are quirky, but discover hidden talents that help them outwit the adults.  The adults are caricatures of hubris and greed.  The plot will appeal to children and teenagers.  The monsters are scary, but not frightening.  The violence and gore are mild.  The author has written another novel, an epic fantasy Fish Wielder. Recommended.

 

Contains: Not applicable.

 

Reviewed by Robert D. Yee

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Book Review: Calexit #1 by Matteo Pizzolo, art by Amancay Nahuelpan

Calexit #1 by Matteo Pizzolo, art by Amancay Nahuelpan

Black Mask Studios, 2017

ASIN: B07146NKY6

Available: Kindle ebook and comiXology

 

Calexit #1, a new comic series from indie publishing house Black Mask Studios, presents a frightening world not far off from the current political climate. A fascist, autocratic president takes control of the United States, but loses California, the sixth largest economy on Earth. The largest mass demonstration in history happens only one day after the president takes over, and not surprisingly, the state he lost has the largest turnout of protesters. The next week, LAX and SFO, two of the largest international airports, are blockaded by protesters. California becomes a political battlefield after declaring its status as a sanctuary state, and her citizens refuse to be ruled. Deportations similar to home invasions occur regularly; militiamen are hired to act as guards, and California is angry. Jamil, smuggler to some and courier to others, and Zora, a freedom fighter for the Pacific Coast Sister Cities Resistance, are at the center of this dystopian story.

There is strong political commentary in the first volume of Calexit that left me uneasy, yet hopeful. Pizzolo doesn’t pull any punches with his content, and Nahuelpan’s art adds to the gritty, imposing environment and characters. The President uses language and terminology that is uncomfortably like that of our current president, and has the same perfectly coiffed hair when he makes his fleeting appearances. The man in charge of deportation operations is the spitting image of Steve Bannon. I’m wondering what the next installment will look like in the coming months as our real world political landscape shifts.

This volume includes an editorial essay written by Pizzolo that sheds light on the world of Calexit and interviews with political activist Amanda Weaver, director Lexi Alexander, and professor emeritus and author Bill Ayers. Recommended.

Contains: blood, nudity, violence

Reviewed by Lizzy Walker

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Comic Book Review: Afterlife with Archie, vol. 1: Escape from Riverdale by Roberto Auirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francovilla

Afterlife with Archie volume 1: Escape from Riverdale by Roberto Auirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francovilla

Archie Comics, 2014

ISBN: 9781619889088

Available: New, used & digital

Oh, Riverdale. The iconic small town USA, perpetually stuck in the 1950s, where a boy struggles with such heady things
as which girl to invite to a movie Friday night. Archie-with-zombies could have been a silly, campy adventure and still have been a fun read.

Instead, we have the comic book that spawned a Lovecraft-themed version of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. The authors go all out with a dark, moody story of a teen who loves his dog enough to court dark magics to bring him back, for which thewhole town will pay.

Zombies aren’t the only thematic element here. The writers also address substance abuse, some of the darker aspects of Riverdale relationships (like Reggie’s obsession with the taken Midge, Midge and Moose’s mismatch, and the more realistic angst of Archie being caught between Betty and Veronica), and even the struggles of being gay/lesbian in Riverdale. Highly recommended for horror fans and especially public library collections. It’s easy to dismiss this one, but Afterlife with Archie is
wonderful: self-aware, inclusive, and innovative.

Contains: gore, violence, animal abuse

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Book Review: Return to the Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz

Return to the Isle of the Lost: A Descendants Novel by Melissa de la Cruz

Disney Hyperion Publishing, May 2016

 

Last year, Melissa de la Cruz introduced us to an interesting, darker twist on the typical Disney tale in Isle of the Lost. In the Disney fairytale realm of Auradon, all the villains, along with their children, have been captured and imprisoned on the deteriorating, isolated Isle of the Lost. The first book introduced a variety of villain children, but focused on four in particular: Mal, the daughter of Maleficent; Jay, the son of Jafar; Evie, the daughter of Evil Queen; and Carlos, the son of Cruella de Vil. At the end of the book, the four of them were invited by Prince Ben, soon to become king of Auradon, to attend boarding school in Auradon.  Isle of the Lost was quickly followed by the live action, made-for-television movie musical, Descendants, in which Mal and her villain compatriots chose to defend Auradon from an attack by Maleficent, who had regained her magic and escaped. Mal defeated Maleficent, transforming her into a harmless lizard.

Return to the Isle of the Lost directly follows the events of the movie. Mal, Jay, Evie, and Carlos are adjusting to, and mostly enjoying, life in Auradon when they receive mysterious messages that they must return home. When they do return,  they make the disturbing discovery that their parents have disappeared without a trace, in an attempt to escape the island through secret, underground passages. Mal, Jay, Evie, and Carlos must find and travel the passageways to keep their parents from tunneling through to Auradon, but to do so, they each must face a challenge left behind by their parents. A note for English teachers: the meaning of the term “anti-hero” is hammered home pretty thoroughly.

In the meantime, Merlin has approached King Ben with a request to use magic, which has been forbidden, in order to deal with a threat to Camelot; the citizens there report attacks by a purple dragon. Ben’s immediate thought is that Maleficent is the cause of the trouble, but since she is still a lizard, that seems unlikely. If you’ve been watching animated Disney movies for most of your life, you probably can figure out who the purple dragon really is in about thirty seconds, but it was a complete mystery to my 8 year old daughter.

I found Return to the Isle of the Lost to be a disappointing follow-up to the first book and the movie. In those, we got to see some very complex characters dealing with conflicts central to their identity. The villain kids in Isle of the Lost are not nice kids. They steal, lie, destroy property, treat other people badly, and can often be shallow. Despite that, you can see these are kids who desperately want their parents’ approval, and there is something there that makes you want to root for them. In Return to the Isle of the Lost, that’s missing. Their parents are absent, so we don’t get to see that conflict, and the kids have pretty much settled on being “good”, although with a preference for painting gloomy castles instead of peaceful sunsets. Very little is done to further character development either; It’s just not as interesting. To be fair, de la Cruz is dealing with a huge cast of characters, and it would be impossible to do justice to all of them, but it seemed like even the main characters got short shrift.

While Isle of the Lost could appeal to those who like their fairy tales dark and twisted, I don’t think Return to the Isle of the Lost will satisfy. However, for your Disney-loving 8 year old who is tired of the same old princesses, I can speak from experience; the book will be a tremendous hit. Recommended for ages 8+.

Reviewed by Kirsten Kowalewski

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