Book Review: The Sandman (Volume One) “Preludes and Nocturnes” by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III

TL;DR – The impacts on reality when the Lord of Dreams is caught and caged by a man obsessed in conquering death.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

He is known to many as “The Sandman”, to others he is called “Morpheus”, and those closest call him simply “Dream”. He is the ruler of the realm of possibilities and impossibilities, his creations assigned to generate hopes and nightmares. He is one of the Endless; a family that comprises of “Desire”, “Despair” and “Destiny” to name a few.

When Dream is accidentally captured by Roderick Burgess, a magus obsessed with achieving immortality and wanting to capture “Death”, he finds himself in the unusual situation of being the captive, when for most of his existence he has been the captor. Three objects that contain an abundance of Dream’s power is taken from him. A pouch of sand, a ruby and a helm.

Trapped inside a magical cage, Dream watches as Burgess uses his tools for his own selfish ends. In the process, the world is struck by an epidemic known as the sleeping sickness; a disease that causes people to fall asleep and never wake up. Others turn into a zombie-like state where they can’t fall asleep. Dream knows that irreparable harm is striking humans everywhere, and he also knows his own Dream realm is being ruined.

Several decades pass. When Dream finally escapes, he begins a quest to hunt down his pouch, ruby and helm. His goal is to restore his realm and the human world. But everything has changed, including himself.

Review

Neil Gaiman’s imagining of The Sandman/Morpheus/Dream is nothing short of brilliant. Combined with the sublime and ethereal illustrations of Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III, volume one is a treasure trove of wonderful stories that will leave you pondering far after you’ve read the last page.

Dream is a wonderfully complex character who undergoes transformations and struggles with conflicts of his own identity and being. He can be magnanimous and ruthless, compassionate and cruel, aloof and familiar. His connection to the human world and his rule over his own realm are filled with the contradictions of his own persona. One minute he can be empathetic, the next he can be disconnected.

As a being that appears to exist eternally, Dream is remarkable in that he undergoes changes in emotions and perceptions that make him fascinating. He is not some god-like creature that presents himself as immune to human feelings and expressions.

If anything he witnesses the inhumanity of humanity through characters such as Roderick Burgess and later John Dee (a.k.a. Doctor Destiny), who escapes from Arkham Asylum, and responds in ways you would not expect for a being of the Endless.

Volume one contains the first eight issues published by Vertigo Comics and largely follows Dream’s quest to retain his pouch of sand, magic ruby and helm. It is not the objects themselves that are of interest but the hands in which the objects have fallen into and how they have been used.

By far the most riveting sequence is when Dream faces off against John Dee who is in possession of the ruby. Issue #6 titled “24/7” is nothing short of captivating as we watch Dee use the ruby to manipulate the staff and patrons in an American Diner and revealing all the wonderful and wretched sides of human beings. He ultimately concludes that humanity should be driven mad and he will be the ruler of this mad world. When Dream seeks to intervene, Dee attempts to destroy Dream and take over his realm also. When Dee’s machinations backfire and he is defeated, I expected Dream to dole out swift and brutal justice. But instead, I was surprised by the actions Dream takes in concluding Dee’s fate. It is not that Dee ends up back in Arkham Asylum, but the interactions Dee has with Dream leading up to him being incarcerated once more.

And while “24/7” was probably the most riveting, the most thought-provoking in volume one was the last issue titled “The Sound of Her Wings”. In a totally unexpected turn of events, we see Dream sitting on a park bench feeding the pigeons. He has accomplished his quest and retrieved all his lost power, but unexpectedly we find him listless and melancholy. It is here, Gaiman introduces Death, Dream’s older sister. Their interactions are surprisingly familial, and Gaiman’s portrayal of Death is as layered and complex as Dream. They are wonderful foils for each other and their actions and thoughts will change your own perspective of the real and unreal, life and death.

You’ll never look at your dreams in the same way ever again.

5 out of 5.

Book Review: Chu (Volume One) “First Course” by John Layman and Dan Boultwood

TL;DR – An essential read for those who have read the Chew series.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

From the deranged and brilliant mind of John Layman comes Chu, a prequel to the Eisner award winning series Chew.

Saffron Chu and Tony Chu are siblings. Saffron is a cibopar; a food-power that allows her to read minds and obtain secrets from those she eats with. Tony is a cibopath; a food-power that allows him to obtain psychic impressions of what he eats.

If Saffron eats the same burger in the same room as someone else, she can access their thoughts and secrets.

If Tony eats a burger, he gets images of where the meat came from, how the cow was killed, where the vegetables were grown and how the bread was made. If Tony were to take a bite out of say, a murder victim, then he’ll get images of the killer. The only food that Tony does not get psychic impressions from are beets.

Saffron is a thief and in a relationship with Eddie Molay, fellow thief and expert locksmith. Tony is a detective.

When a job Saffron and Molay undertake goes sideways, Tony is asked to investigate setting the course for brother and sister to collide.

For those in the know (i.e., that have read Chew), this series is set when the onset of the avian flu that wipes out millions around the world starts.

Let the games begin!

Review

This delectable piece of work is to be savoured. Devoured slowly by examining each panel, digesting each beautiful morsel and then re-read for all its grandeur. I promise that’s the end of my culinary metaphors.

If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend you read Chew first. Even though Chu is a prequel, you will appreciate the references more if you have finished the epic body of work that is Chew by Layman and Rob Guillory.

This time Layman has teamed up with artist Dan Boultwood. There is both a familiarity and unique style to Boultwood’s art that I found delightful. I’m a huge fan of Rob Guillory, and his art in Chew is slightly grittier than Boultwood, but that doesn’t mean Chu’s art is any less effective. It’s a refreshing, clean take by Dan who uses angles, close-ups, and bird-eye views to capture all the action, comedy, violence and emotional angst of its characters while staying true to the Chew canon.

As for the Chu story, Layman has concocted a wonderful prequel that connects many dots that lead into Chew. We get to see how Tony Chu and John Colby first meet; John’s hairdo and cowboy moustache is hilarious, and I didn’t realise it was him until he said his name. It was great to see how these two became life long partners in crime fighting.

We also dive into more of Tony’s family and learn about the twins Saffron and Sage Chu, as well as learning the disconcerting history of Ong Chu, their grandfather, who turns out was a total bad-ass.

Saffron must have got her criminal tendencies from her grandpa as she uses her food-power to read other people’s minds as information reconnaissance for jobs. She’s in deep with Eddie and together they get hired to do a job by a guy named “The Boss” to rob from the number one mobster in the city. However, things do not go according to plan when the team they work with starts getting serious food poisoning from eating chicken; their sniper man and strong woman both go down vomiting. This is a reference to the avian flu that will wipe out millions and leads into the Chew story arc.

As a result of the botched job, the mob come targeting Saffron and Eddie and want their pound of flesh (or their heads will work too). The juggling between Saffron performing her criminal hi-jinks with spending time with her family is cleverly done, and all the while, Tony is slowly piecing together what is going on.

For some readers, the climax of the collision between Saffron and Tony will be hard to swallow (okay, that’s the last culinary metaphor I swear). Tony’s actions appear extreme when in the context of the fact that Saffron is his sister. He doesn’t give her much chance to explain her actions but for those who have read Chew, they will know this is exactly what Tony’s character is like. He’s not just a detective but he sees things as black and white, and it is this perspective that ultimately becomes his undoing in both Chu and Chew series.

Though Saffron is arrested and ends up serving time in prison, she continues to use her food powers to absorb all the knowledge of her fellow prison inmates. So when she is released, she is now much more dangerous than before. Much to Tony’s chagrin. Like I said, it’s his undoing.

There’s a second volume to Chu but my library hasn’t got it yet. I might just have to bite the bullet and buy both volumes. Okay, okay, I lied about the “last” culinary metaphors. But can you blame me? John Layman uses it on practically every page.

5 out of 5.

Book Review: Lean Your Loneliness Slowly Against Mine by Klara Hveberg

TL;DR – a story about how even the most rational minds can be consumed by the irrational that is called ‘love’.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Rakel is a mathematics genius. She also has a passion for literature, music and art. In these things, she embodies herself completely. Her passions are a focus of such intensity that it often comes at the expense of everything else that is happening around her. Whether it is a mathematical problem, an evocative poem, a classical piece of music or a painting, if Rakel finds herself drawn to it then her whole focus is consumed by that which she has turned her mind toward. In doing so, it triggers emotions that ripple through her entire body and soul.

When she meets Jakob, her mathematics professor, a spark is ignited between them. Unfortunately, he’s married and has children, but Rakel can’t help herself. Her focus is only on him, and it threatens to consume her.

Review

According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the character Rakel is an INTJ (Introversion, iNtuition, Thinking, Judging). In one of the chapters, she examines this personality type and is described under Myers-Briggs as one of the rarest personalities; a combination of innovative, independent, strategic, logical, reserved, insightful, and driven by their own original ideas to achieve improvements.

In short, Rakel prioritises rationality and success over politeness and pleasantries.

Her honesty can be interpreted as being blunt to a fault. But it is this outlook, combined with her intellect, that attracts Jakob to her. He identifies in her all the brilliance and wonder that is contained within her mind’s eye and soul. When her attention is focused on him, and she demonstrates a sharpness of wit that surprises him, Jakob finds he cannot help but be drawn in to her orbit.

Being married with kids doesn’t stop Jakob from falling in love and sleeping with Rakel. And Rakel can’t stop herself from reciprocating. Jakob then makes a promise that after eight years (when his kids are old enough), he will leave his wife and they can be together. Rakel, of course, holds on to this promise like it is the sole purpose of her existence.

Stories of students falling in love with their teachers or vice versa is a universal minefield. Where Lean Your Loneliness Slowly Against Mine is effective is the in-depth dissection of Rakel’s thoughts and feelings towards Jakob.

Hveberg does this, not only through directly placing you in Rakel’s mind but also through the real life story of Sofia Kovalevskaya, who was a pioneer for women in mathematics and considered the greatest known woman scientist before the twentieth century. Sofia received private tutoring from Karl Weierstrass, a famous German mathematician, and speculation abounds whether the pair had a romantic relationship.

Capturing Rakel’s contradictory nature is impressively done by Hveberg (who on the back cover earned a PhD in mathematics and makes me wonder how much of the author is in Rakel). In one sense, Rakel is logical, insightful, and ambitious, in another sense, she is emotional (at times, overly so), clueless, and stagnant. Her interactions with Jakob summarise this dichotomy. One moment, their interactions are intelligent and witty, and other moments, Rakel comes off as clingy and jealous.

Thus demonstrating that even if you’re an INTJ personality type, you are not immune to the desire and actions of love, which can override everything that is fundamental to how a person perceives themselves. For example, Rakel is willing to wait the eight years even though the loneliness (when she and Jakob are apart) begins to manifest in psychosomatic ways. Rakel becomes so ill that she is bedridden for excruciatingly long periods of time. You can almost see her soul shrivelling before your eyes.

It will come as no surprise that Jakob breaks his promise. Nearing on the eight year mark, he confesses to Rakel that he won’t leave his wife, and he attempts to explain why. The title of the book is said from Jakob to Rakel as part of the explanation. Two lonely souls coming together to try and alleviate their loneliness. But when Jakob finally sees that he is not alone when he is with his wife and that he still loves her, it is only Rakel that is left alone.

The story is an existential piece of work that is clearly personal to Hveberg and confirmed by the author’s notes at the end of the novel. For some readers, they will identify and be consumed by Rakel and what she experiences because they have experienced something similar. For others, they will likely not get past the first few chapters because they will want to slap Rakel and yell at her to dump Jakob’s sorry ass and get over it.

For myself, I found the last third of the novel to be a struggle as it becomes repetitive both in the ongoing investigation into Sofia Kovalevskaya’s life and Rakel’s ruminations. Rakel also comes to love another man named David, who works with mechanical puzzles (like Rubik’s cubes), and when she realises that she’s fallen for him (note: David is also married), she lets him go. Thus, demonstrating that she will not make the same mistake twice. However, I personally did not think it was necessary to include David’s character.

When Jakob reveals he won’t leave his wife, it would have been sufficient to then lead into Rakel’s process to move on and how she goes about it. The insertion of David into the story just felt like dragging out an already pretty depressing story.

The ‘hope’ at the end, comes in the form of Rakel writing her own novel. A process of catharsis. She talks about the structure of her book being in two parts – gold and granite – and repeating it over and over so there are multiple parts all made up of gold and granite. She concludes that even though there might be more granite, overall there will be a gold sheen because the gold will stand out more.

I don’t know about that. The granite seems to definitely come to the forefront and weigh heavy in Lean Your Loneliness Slowly Against Mine. Rakel’s luminous moments are sucked in by the black hole that forms by her longing and subsequent break-up with Jakob. She uses the black hole metaphor throughout the story.

And though there are theories that suggest that certain things can escape a black hole, and we are given the impression that Rakel is able to escape hers by story’s end, it does not feel like she will ever be whole again.

In the end, a quote from the story sums it up: The irrational always wins over the rational in this world. And thus is love captured in many a story because of this.

2 out of 5.

Book Review: Y: The Last Man (Book Five) by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra & Jose Marzan Jr.

TL;DR – the origins of the plague are revealed, and Yorick reunites with Beth. But will they live happily ever after?

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Click here for reviews of previous books of this Eisner award winning series.

The concluding volume is packed. The highlights are as follows:

  • Dr Allison Mann undergoes surgery at a bioethics institute in order to save her life from internal bleeding caused by a previous miscarriage. There she discovers her father, Dr Matsumori, is actually still alive (making Yorick not the last man on earth).
  • Dr Matsumori reveals he was not attempting to clone himself. Instead, he managed to create clones of his daughter (Ayuko Matsumori aka Dr Mann). It is his belief that the moment he was able to successfully create a female clone, the plague struck (see further detail below in the ‘review’ section). Dr Matsumori is killed by Dr Mann in order to protect Yorick.
  • Dr Mann and Rose stay in China while Yorick and Agent 355 move on to Paris to find Beth. Yorick keeps having dreams about a decaying Beth telling him not to come find her. These dreams are a subconscious red flag, but Yorick ignores them. It is also clear that after four years of being together, and the countless times Agent 355 and Yorick have had each other’s backs, that the pair have feelings for each other. But Yorick has made a commitment to Beth (proposing to her prior to the plague) and is determined to find her.
  • Hero (Yorick’s sister), Beth II (the second Beth who seduced Yorick in Cooksfield, California), Beth II’s child (who is also called ‘Beth’… I kid you not… and is Yorick’s daughter), the female astronaut Ciba and her son, and the Russian agent Natalya journey to Paris also to find Yorick.
  • Alter is also converging on Paris to find Yorick. The reason she gives to her soldiers is that they need to secure the last man for Israel (to ensure its future). In reality, she wants to die a soldier’s death and be killed by a man (as opposed to a female soldier). Her reasons for this are explained below.
  • Agent 355 locates Beth and organises for her and Yorick to reunite. Her ‘mission’ complete, Agent 355 slips away unnoticed (burying her feelings for Yorick) and deciding to live a life as a civilian.
  • Yorick and Beth are initially happy and spend a night in a hotel. However, when they start talking, the past and Yorick’s dreams come to the fore. Beth wants to discard everything that has happened in the past, but Yorick argues that the past is important. He asks her what she was going to tell him over the phone the day he proposed to her (the phone line cut out when the plague hit, so Yorick never heard her response). Beth confesses she was going to break up with him and tries unsuccessfully to convince Yorick that she has changed and does want to marry. When Yorick leaves to think things over, Beth is left waiting. Hero and company arrive, and when Beth II and baby Beth meets Beth, a lot of confusion occurs.
  • Yorick spends the whole night thinking and eventually hunts down Agent 355. There he confesses his feelings to her, and she acknowledges she feels the same way but says it’s a mistake and that he should try to work things out with Beth. It is then he reveals the vision he saw during his suicide intervention in Colorado with Agent 711 (refer book two review). The vision was of Agent 355 wrapped in the green scarf she has been knitting for years (and that she actually gave to Yorick as a parting gift). After more conversation, Yorick convinces Agent 355 that they should be together.
  • Agent 355 finally whispers her real name in Yorick’s ear, and they appear that they will move forward hand-in-hand. However, the moment is short lived as Alter shoots Agent 355 in the head with a sniper rifle.
  • Alter confronts Yorick. In the ensuing melee, Yorick manages to get Alter’s gun. Alter tries to convince Yorick that the cause of the plague was actually the Culper Ring (which Agent 355 worked for) and that the American government had developed a chemical weapon that was used against China that was meant to make all the women unable to conceive boys but instead it wiped out 99.99% of all men instead. Yorick doesn’t believe her. Alter then reveals she is responsible for assassinating Yorick’s mother. She yells at Yorick for him to pull the trigger, and he realises that what Alter wants is to commit suicide (just as he did before his intervention in Colorado by Agent 711), but she wants to do it as a soldier killed by a man. Yorick cuffs her instead, brings her outside where Alter’s soldiers are waiting, throws her on the ground in front of them, drops the gun and walks away.
  • The epilogue reveals a number of things detailed in the ‘review’ section.

I told you the final volume was packed.

Review

The conclusion to Y: The Last Man does not disappoint. The sense of devastation when Agent 355 was shot hit me like a sledge hammer. Both the art and script were brilliant throughout, but the scenes leading up to Yorick finally finding Beth, their subsequent fall-out, and Yorick and Agent 355 coming together were by far the most impactful.

There would be no happy ending for Yorick.

While it is an amazing accomplishment the body of work Vaughan, Guerra and Marzan have generated, there are some bits that didn’t quite work for me.

The first is the revelation that Dr Matsumori is alive. Everything works up to a point. The doctor reveals that he successfully cloned his daughter a number of times. And when he heard that his ‘original’ daughter, Dr Allison Mann, was close to creating a clone, he wanted to sabotage her by sending Ampersand with a serum in his body that would infect and kill Allison’s unborn child. Through chances of fate, Ampersand got mixed up with another monkey and ended up in Yorick’s hands. Further, the serum that Dr Matsumori injected into Ampersand turned out to shield both monkey and Yorick from the plague. This same serum protected Matsumori. However, he then goes into this theory about morphic resonance and that’s where things go a tad sideways.

Morphic resonance is a pseudoscience described in this volume as the “socio-biological interconnectedness of species”. An example is monkeys on one island learning to wash their food, and the practice spread to another tribe of monkeys on another island that have never interacted with the first group of monkeys. Morphic resonance is the idea of almost spontaneous transmission of data at a genetic level. Matsumori posits that as soon as the first female clone was born, men no longer served any use, so Mother Nature (through morphic resonance) wiped out everyone with a Y-chromosome. By all intents, Dr Matsumori was mentally ill at this point and intended to complete the evolution by killing Yorick and then himself. It kind of works up to the morphic resonance bit. Then it’s up to the reader as to whether you believe it’s true (or even possible).

This truth is further debated based on Alter revealing later that she found government documents that showed the plague was caused by a chemical agent released in China (i.e., it had nothing to do with morphic resonance). This ambiguity is intentional by Vaughan et al. And you, the reader, are left to form your own conclusions.

The second thing that didn’t quite work for me is Alter’s true intentions. The wanting to commit suicide but doing it by having a man kill her like a soldier was quite the twist. All along you believe her mission to secure Yorick as the last man for Israel and protect him from other countries is her only objective. But really her motives are entirely selfish, which feels like quite a swing in her character. The amount of collateral damage she inflicts through all five volumes to reach the point where Yorick is holding a gun at her is extensive. Alter did not hesitate to kill those women closest to her (that have served her faithfully) and manipulating events to convince her soldiers to continue to follow her. All so that she could have a man shoot her? I don’t know, I’ve gone over the pages a number of times now and I’m not sure it works.

The third nugget is Yorick’s reaction to the revelation that Beth had intended to break up with him when he proposed. It is not the revelation itself that is unbelievable. It is more Yorick’s reaction. Beth explains that at the time, they were moving in opposite directions. This was true. She was working to be an Anthropolgist and had a clear purpose, while Yorick seemed to be sailing along listlessly working to be an escape artist/magician. She then goes on to say, however, that he has now completely changed since the plague struck. He has grown, and she believed he was still alive even though all evidence showed that the plague wiped out every male.

Yorick focuses on the fact that she was going to dump him, rather than everything she says afterwards. He’s hurt and devastated, which is understandable. But for him, to just let it all go to find Agent 355 was a struggle for me to believe. I have nothing against him and Agent 355 coming together. It was simply the transition felt hurried. And let us not forget that Yorick is far from flawless (recall he got Beth II pregnant). Yet, he holds on to this fact that Beth intended to break up like that means they’re irreconcilable and that the only reason she now wants to marry him is because he’s the last man on earth.

Lastly, it is never revealed why Beth travelled from Australia to France to find Yorick. The previous volume said that there was meant to be some special meaning between Beth and Yorick about Paris even though Yorick, himself, didn’t know what that significance was. This little plot hole was left unexplained.

Others may view the above as nit-picking. And truth be told, none of the above sways me from saying this was one of the best graphic novels series I have ever read. Y: The Last Man is a must read for fans of dystopian fiction. Intelligent, thought-provoking and killer art.

5 out of 5.

Book Review: Y: The Last Man (Book Four) by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra & Jose Marzan Jr.

TL;DR – Yorick reaches Australia after three years since the plague hit. Will he finally find Beth?

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Click here for reviews of previous books of this Eisner award winning series.

Having arrived in Sydney aboard an Australian submarine, Yorick is determined to find Beth. Though Agent 355 accompanies him and tries to watch his back, he’s found by a reporter who takes a photo of him with all his man bits on display so she can publish the news to the world and win a Pulitzer.

Agent 355 finds the reporter but fails to retrieve the film. Yorick is able to convince her to let the reporter go and allow the photo to be published because it’s a tabloid paper as opposed to a ‘real’ newspaper, and no woman will believe the tabloid photo.

Returning to his search, Yorick discovers that Beth has left for Paris to search for him. Paris is meant to hold some special meaning between the pair, but Yorick has no idea what that might be and why she would journey to France in search of him.

Meanwhile, Ampersand the monkey has arrived in Yokogata and managed to escape from the clutches of Toyota, a Japanese ninja (never thought I’d write a sentence like that…)

Review

Conflicting agendas are the name of the game at the start of book 4 of Y: The Last Man. Agent 355 and Dr Mann want to head to Yokogata to rescue Ampersand. On the other hand, Yorick has finally reached Australia and wants to find Beth. Agent 355 agrees to giving him 24 hours to see what he can find about Beth and her location and then it’s destination Japan.

Though he ends up getting photographed nude and published in a tabloid newspaper, he discovers that Beth has left the Land Down Under for the lights of Paris, which makes absolutely no sense to Yorick.

A lot of threads continue to get tugged as we follow Yorick’s journey. As the reader, we get to jump all around the world and see what is happening to the various people Yorick has interacted with previously. A number of surprises include:

  • The Beth who lives in Cooksfield, California that seduced Yorick is now pregnant with a baby girl. She is visited by Hero and joins her. Together, they head to Kansas to meet up with the Hartle twins.
  • In Washington, Yorick’s mother, Jennifer (aka Secretary Brown) discovers the tabloid and photo of him and realises he is still alive. Unfortunately, she is visited by Alter, the Israeli rebel, and is murdered.
  • More backstory on Agent 355 and how she came to work for the Culper Ring. The surprise being that she ended up killing her teacher, who attempted to assassinate the president after joining the splinter group, Setauket Ring.
  • The origins of Ampersand and his immunity are shown. He was a test monkey and injected with mysterious serum and was meant to be shipped off to Dr Mann’s laboratory. In transit, however, he ended up escaping and getting mixed up with another monkey that was destined for “Helping Hands” (an organisation that trains monkeys to help disable people). When Yorick applied at Helping Hands, he was assigned Ampersand.
  • Alter interrogates the Hartle twins and finds out that Yorick is making his way to Paris. We learn more of Alter’s origins, and there’s small surprise that she joined the army not to seek revenge for her sister’s death (who we thought was killed by Palestinians) but because she believes the world will always have war and operates on bloodshed. We discover that Alter’s sister was actually killed protesting against the destruction of Palestinian homes by an Israeli Defence Forces bulldozer.

However, the juiciest pieces of the puzzle come forth from Dr Allison Mann as we get several flashbacks to her upbringing. As a child, she learned her father, Dr Matsumori (a radical bioengineer) was having an affair with his research assistant, Dr Ming. We also learn he and Dr Ming were also studying cloning.

It then jumps to when Allison was a young adult, living in America with her father and falling in love with another woman named Mercedes. When her father announces that they will be moving to China, Allison refuses and accuses her father of wanting to get back together with Dr Ming. The dissolution of her relationship with her father leads her to move in with Mercedes. However, their relationship does not last, which leaves an indelible mark on Allison.

Jumping forward to where she is now a lecturer in genetics at Harvard, she receives the news that her father is a few years away from cloning himself. Refusing to allow her father to achieve such a scientific breakthrough, Allison seeks to clone herself and dangerously self-impregnates with the help of her assistant Sunil. This then leads into the events we see in book one where she is rushed to hospital because something is wrong with the baby and then the “instant” plague hits killing every man on earth except Yorick.

These flashbacks bring us full circle to the present where Allison is back on the submarine in her cabin and starts haemorrhaging. The complications of her failed birth to her clone has clearly left damage that is now coming back to haunt her.

If there are any shortfalls with book four, it lies in a feeling of repetitiveness. There is even dialogue between Yorick and Agent 355 that reflects that they just seem to jump from one dangerous situation to the next. Agent 355 is at wits’ end and lets out a number of expletives at how hard it all is, while Yorick tries to console her. However, when you you’re the last man on earth, there were always going to be several countries of women looking to find him. You can always trust politics or misplaced religious beliefs to ensure little agreement as to who should “secure” Yorick.

With only one volume remaining, it will be interesting to see what will be the fate of Yorick, Ampersand, Agent 355 and Dr Mann.

4 out of 5.

Book Review: Y: The Last Man (Book Three) by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra & Jose Marzan Jr.

TL;DR – The answers to saving humanity rest on the shoulders of one man, Yorick Brown, or so we thought…

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Click here for reviews of previous books of this Eisner award winning series.

Yorick, Agent 355 and Dr Mann reach San Francisco to Mann’s backup lab where they hope to finally get some answers as to why Yorick was the only man that survived a mysterious plague that wiped out every other man (and mammal with a Y chromosome) on earth simultaneously.

He and his pet monkey, Ampersand, are the only males known to be alive after this apocalyptic event.

While they undergo tests, Yorick and Agent 355 explore what has become of the city. They eventually are found by three different parties, all with different motives.

There is Hero, Yorick’s sister, who has been deprogrammed and is battling her brainwashing as an Amazon (a group of women who believe men were the oppressors and the world is better without them) and desires to find her brother to seek his forgiveness for killing a woman Yorick cared for in Marrisville (refer book two).

Then there is a splinter group known as the Setauket Ring that is looking to obtain the Amulet of Helene taken by Agent 355. There is a myth around the amulet that should it ever be removed from Jordan, a catastrophe would befall the world (refer book one). The Setauket Ring believe it is this amulet that caused the plague to occur.

Last, is a Japanese ninja named Toyota. She has been following the trio for some time but her target is not Yorick, Agent 355 or Dr Mann. She’s after Ampersand and has been hired by a mystery person named “Doctor M” to retrieve the monkey.

When Dr Mann finally obtains what she believes is the reason why Yorick survived the plague, it coincides with the above three groups colliding into them and not everyone coming out alive or unharmed. Dr Mann believes that Ampersand has some sort of mutation in him, and the monkey has a penchant for throwing its faeces at Yorick, who in turn obtained protection from the plague.

Toyota successfully captures Ampersand and heads to Japan, which results in Yorick, Agent 355 and Dr Mann boarding a cruise ship that supposedly is transporting medical supplies but turns out is tons of heroin, and they end up in a sea battle with an Australian submarine. In book one, it was revealed when 2.9 billion men were wiped out, Australia, Norway and Sweden were the only countries that had women serving on board submarines at the time.

Through all of this, we see flashbacks of Yorick and how he came to fall in love with Beth.

Speaking of Beth, we finally get to see what she has been up to in the Australian Outback since the outbreak. Suffice to say, she is going through her own trials.

Review

The third volume in Vaughan’s series is chock full of plots and sub-plots that examines the multitude of perspectives from characters living in a world where all men except one have been wiped out.

It should be noted that while Yorick is the last man, the future of humankind does not rest solely on his shoulders as it is revealed that the female astronaut (from book two) has successfully given birth to a baby boy in a hot suite (basically, a medical bubble that provides protection from all external germs). However, the boy will most certainly die if it steps outside the hot suite, thus the need to find a vaccine.

A lot of themes continue to be examined including religion, sexuality, identity and purpose, and gender roles. One of the more interesting examinations is at the beginning of volume three, where Yorick enters a Catholic church in Cooksfield, California, and encounters a woman named Beth (no, not his girlfriend Beth who is stuck in Australia but a ‘new’ Beth). It seems Yorick wants to confess his sins but Beth reveals technically it’s no use because only auricular confessions (i.e., confessions made to a priest) can be heard and thus forgiven. This dilemma is short-lived, however, as Yorick’s conscience mustn’t be too heavy cause he ends up being seduced by Beth.

While a lot goes on, thankfully, it appears a number of sub-plots also get tied up. The Amulet of Helene turns out to be just a sandstone figurine with no magical powers. It gets smashed by the Setauket Ring who blackmail Agent 355 into giving it to them.

Hero achieves forgiveness and reconciliation with her brother, and she even manages to get over the mind games of her deceased Amazonian leader, Victoria. She ends up heading back east to tell their mother that Yorick is safe.

Ampersand is revealed as being the ‘miracle’ (not Yorick) containing a mutation that protects mammals with the Y chromosome from the plague. But the celebrations are short lived as Ampersand is monkey-napped by Toyota the Japanese Ninja.

It becomes clearer that Agent 355 is harbouring feelings for Yorick. Things get complicated when she ends up sleeping with Dr Mann because she thinks Yorick is sleeping with the captain of the cruise ship heading to Japan.

All in all though, the most interesting revelations in book three revolve around Yorick’s supposed true love, Beth (yes, the ‘Beth’ that is stuck in Australia). For the first time, we get to see her side more and the memories she has of her relationship with Yorick. These flashbacks lend much needed depth to her character, which up until now was only portrayed as an attractive blonde who looks good in a bikini and hiking boots (yes, in book one she is shown to be an anthropologist studying Aboriginals in the Australian outback, but really all you get is a character that is good-looking with a pretence at depth).

Will Yorick and Beth reunite? Only two volumes remain to find out.

4.5 out of 5.

Book Review: The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling

TL;DR – a companion piece to Rowling’s hugely successful Harry Potter series.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

A collection of short stories that have been passed down through generations of witches and wizards that demonstrate that for all the benefits magic can bring, it can also cause just as many problems.

Review

I have been debating for some time whether to write a review of each of Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Their success and reach worldwide (along with the multitude of reviews already written on the series) has held me at bay. I devoured the seven-book journey of young Harry when they were first published; the first book alone I have read at least eight times. But venturing into writing a book review seems somewhat superfluous when I’m sure millions have already dissected the series.

So, while I continue to have this inner monologue with myself, I decided instead to write a review on The Tales of Beedle the Bard which is a collection of short stories written from the wizarding world of Harry Potter. The introduction outlines its genesis. The collection was read at bed time to young witches and wizards as often as fairy tales like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty have been read to Muggles (i.e., us non-magical folk).

For centuries they have been told and re-told, and this latest incarnation has been “translated from the original runes by Hermione Granger” and has the added benefit of having additional notes written by Professor Albus Dumbledore himself.

One particular distinction between Muggle fairy tales and The Tales of Beedle the Bard are that in Muggle fairy tales, magic is usually the source of the hero/heroine’s problems, while in Beedle the stories tell of characters that can perform magic themselves but discover it is just as hard to solve their problems with magic as we do without magic.

In this way the morals in The Tales of Beedle the Bard are similar to parables and cautionary tales that have been written and shared through human history.

What makes this read a little different are the added notes by Albus Dumbledore after each story. He provides insight into how these tales link to the world of Harry Potter, Voldemort, the Malfoys and other famous witches and wizards and the historical prejudices that exist between the magical and non-magical worlds. It also underpins the division between those witches/wizards that believe they are superior and should rule over Muggles versus those who believe they should co-exist with Muggles.

Of the tales themselves, “The Fortune of Fair Fountain” is probably one of my favourites along with “The Tale of the Three Brothers” which is prophetic in nature and will be familiar to those who have read the Harry Potter series.

For die-hard fans who can’t get enough of all things Harry Potter, The Tales of Beedle the Bard will be a necessity for answering those obscure Potter trivia based on Rowling’s creation.

3.5 out of 5.

Book Review: Y: The Last Man (Book Two) by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra & Jose Marzan Jr.

TL;DR – Yorick, Dr Allison Mann and Agent 355 are heading to the west coast to Allison’s lab where they hope to find the answers to how Yorick survived a plague that wiped out every man on earth except him.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Click here for review of book one of this Eisner award winning series.

Yorick is trying to make his way to California with Agent 355 and Dr Mann. Along the way they bump into a Russian secret agent, a group of Israeli troopers, a travelling theatre troupe called Fish & Bicycle, a Japanese ninja, a posse of rangers, and a militia group that has taken over Arizona and cut off transport from east to west and vice versa. And then there’s Agent 711, friend to Agent 355, who turns out to be a dominatrix psychologist (I’ll let all that sink in for a moment).

And last, but certainly not least, there’s also the crew of three astronauts returning from the international space station… two of them men…

Review

There’s a lot of people hunting down Yorick including:

  • Alter, the new chief of the Israeli army, is wanting to kidnap Yorick and keep the last man in the country of Israel. She views wars as a means of control. In her mind, a country not at war with another country will implode by fighting itself.
  • The Amazons, a group of women who believe that the world should be rid of all men. They think the world would be a better place without the testosterone, but they rule with a matriarchal iron fist, which shows they’re not any better than their deceased Y-chromosome counterparts.
  • His mother, congresswoman Jennifer Brown, who actually reunited with Yorick briefly in book one before sending him off with Agent 355 to the west coast. She now believes that the Culper Ring (a mysterious US government agency) that Agent 355 works for has its own agenda and she has placed her son in danger.

However, it is not these encounters that drive book two of Y: The Last Man. The psychological, emotional and physical impacts of 2.9 billion men dying in an instant on the remaining female population along with somehow immune Yorick and his pet male monkey, Ampersand, is what makes this series riveting.

While the dystopian reactions of the remaining female groups are expected, the surprises come in the form of moments where more backstory is revealed for Yorick, Agent 355 and Dr Mann.

Agent 355’s encounter with Russian agent, Natalya Zamyatin, leads to the discovery that three astronauts are returning from the international space station, and the possibility that Yorick will no longer be “the last man” on earth. Unfortunately, the astronauts suffer complications in re-entry and only the female astronaut survives. Also turns out that the female astronaut is pregnant and later we find out it’s a boy. While these implications are yet to be fully explored, we learn that Agent 355 appears to be a decent woman trying to do the right thing (in contrast to Congresswoman Brown who thinks she has an alternative agenda).

Dr Mann confesses she has been lying to Yorick and Agent 355 all along, revealing that when she was pregnant she was actually carrying a clone of herself. She has serious doubts that she will unravel the mystery of the plague and somehow save humanity. We also learn she has a serious attraction to Agent 355.

The best bits, however, are saved for Yorick. The biggest revelation being that his reckless desire to jump into danger stems not from his clueless and goofy attitude but something far deeper. Something that only arises to the surface when he is tortured and seduced and put through the wringer by dominatrix psychologist Agent 711. This is by far the most riveting sequence in book two where Yorick is left in Agent 711’s care while Agent 355 and Dr Mann take an injured Ampersand to a hospital in search of meds.

Agent 711 is given a journal that Agent 355 has been keeping and learns about Yorick’s adventures to date. Adventures that have spanned over a year and a half now. Through this she identifies that Yorick, for some reason, has a desire for self-destruction (even though he supposedly wants to get to Australia and find the woman he loves, Beth).

Through her unique method of “therapy”, Agent 711 gets Yorick to dig deep into his soul much to his objection. His memories and experiences revealing scars and how he would have no trouble in simply giving up. He confesses as such to Agent 711 who grants his wish by shoving his head underwater. However, it is in this near death moment that Yorick sees something (not revealed to us) that gives him a reason to want to live, and he fights back.

Book two is not without flaws though as I found the chapters relating to the Fish & Bicycle travelling troupe not as strong. Still, there’s plenty going on. Enough to keep you eagerly turning each page. Engrossing.

4.5 out of 5.

Book Review: Y: The Last Man (Book One) by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra & Jose Marzan Jr.

TL;DR – a plague strikes the world instantly killing every mammal with a Y chromosome except for Yorick. The last man on earth.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

In 2002, an unknown plague wipes every sperm, foetus, and mammal with a Y chromosome except for Yorick and his pet (male) Capuchin monkey. Approximately 2.9 billion men are now dead.

Welcome to the new world…

Review

Y: The Last Man is the winner of three Eisner awards and has a quote from Stephen King on its cover that simply states, “The best graphic novel I’ve ever read.”

High praise equals high expectations. Brian K. Vaughan has imagined an intriguing and gripping premise. The story begins in Brooklyn, New York where a mother runs up to a police woman saying her boys are sick. The police woman says it’s too late. She says the same thing has happened to her husband, and it’s happening across the entire city. All the men are dead. The police woman then pulls out her Glock and points it at her head.

The story then jumps to twenty-nine minutes prior to this cataclysmic event. We meet Yorick, an unemployed young man, hanging upside down in a strait jacket, talking on the phone to his girlfriend, Beth, who is on a holiday in the Australian outback. Yorick is a bit of a budding magician and manages to get out of the strait jacket before chasing after his pet monkey, Ampersand. Yorick applied for Ampersand from some group in Boston who are seeking to train the monkeys to help with quadriplegics.

As the countdown continues, we jump to different parts of the world and meet other characters including:

  • Yorick’s mother, Congresswoman Jen Brown who is in Washington D. C. She’s a Democrat, who has a heated debate with a Senator in her own party about amendment 1646. Senator Marty wants her to vote against the amendment which would prevent State Departments providing foreign aid to organisations that perform abortions. Jen doesn’t want to vote against it and is accused by Senator Marty of being pro-life.
  • Alter, a female colonel fighting in Nablus in the West Bank. She actually doesn’t know her first name (‘Alter’ is a nickname given to her by her friends). When two of her siblings died at birth and she came along, her parents decided not to speak her name out loud as a way of deceiving the angel of death from finding her.
  • Agent 355, an American female spy/assassin working in Al Karak, Jordan. She confronts a Dr Frozan Hamad and tries to convince Dr Hamad to escape with her. The doctor refuses stating that Jordan is her home, and she will continue to fight for the rights of women in her country. But Agent 355 tells her the threat against her is not because of her political beliefs but because of the amulet she wears around her neck. The amulet of Helene, which was given to her by her father. The story behind the artefact is that if the amulet was ever removed from Jordan then a catastrophe comparable to the Trojan War would take place. Unfortunately, Dr Hamad gets attacked and though Agent 355 manages to kill the assassins, the good doctor dies. Agent 355 takes the amulet and hops on a plane back America.
  • Bioengineer, Dr Mann, who has been rushed to hospital because she is in labour even though she is six weeks early. Michael Gilman is the doctor on site and happens to be one of Dr Mann’s previous students (he took her biotech class). In a weird exchange, Dr Mann reveals to Dr Gilman that she is pregnant with her ‘clone’.
  • Hero, a female paramedic in Boston, Massachusetts, who is having a quick romp in the back of her ambulance with a fire fighter named Joe. Seems Hero has a bit of a reputation and is sleeping her way through all the guys in the fire fighter department. There’s also hints in the opening pages that she is the daughter of Congresswoman Brown and brother to Yorick.

When the twenty-nine minutes expire, scenes all around the world are shown of men (and male animals) dying including Congresswoman Brown’s male aide, the male reporters working with Alter, the male pilot that Agent 355 is flying with, Dr Gilman and fire fighter Joe who dies in Hero’s arms.

A page of text is then presented outlining a number of statistics such as 495 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are now dead; in the US alone, more than 95% of all commercial pilots, truck drivers, and ship captains died… as did 92% of all violent felons. Internationally, 99% of all mechanics, electricians, and construction works are now deceased… though 51% of the planet’s agriculture labour force is still alive.

Of particular note, it states that only 14 nations including Spain and Germany, have women soldiers who have served in ground combat units. None of the United States’ nearly 200,000 female troops have ever participated in ground combat. Australia, Norway and Sweden are the only countries that have women serving on board submarines. And in Israel, all women between the age of 18 and 26 have performed compulsory military service in the Israeli Defense Force for at least one year and nine months.

And all of the above is only in part one (of five parts in book one) of this dystopian journey for Yorick Brown who seeks to find his mother and sister and reunite with Beth (who he proposed over the phone to before chaos erupted).

Craziness abounds as Yorick encounters a female ex-model who now drives a garbage truck and collects all the deceased males from houses and buildings in exchange for food; a group of women calling themselves Amazons who believe Mother Earth has rid the planet of the scourge that is man; wives of Republicans who seek to wrest the power of the White House from the Democrats; a small country town that is self-sufficient called Marrisville run by a group of women who are hiding a dark secret; and Alter and her Israeli soldiers who are being helped by an unseen ally trying to hunt down Yorick.

Plus there’s a huge surprise on the last page.

Crikey! This is brilliant stuff.

5 out of 5.

Book Review: Family Tree (Volume Three) “Forest” by Jeff Lemire, Eric Gapstur, Phil Hester & Ryan Cody

TL;DR – The final volume in a trilogy about the end of the world that is flatly disappointing.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Click here for reviews of previous volumes and what has happened so far.

Meg has turned into a tree. Her ‘spiritual’ human form resides in a giant mystical world tree where other human spirits reside. These individuals have either also turned into trees, or they are those who believed the transformation had to happen and defended those who could not defend themselves from chain saws and axes.

The story jumps from past events soon after Meg’s transformation where she is defended and kept safe by Meg’s mother and brother, Loretta and Josh, to the present where much of the world has transformed into forest and the remaining humans are either looking to protect Meg (the first human-turned-fully-tree) or are trying to find Meg and destroy her.

In the present, Loretta and Josh are still alive though now much older. Josh has a wife and child, and together this small unit has kept the many remaining human hunters at bay from finding and tearing down Meg.

In the final confrontation, there’s plenty of death, destruction, blood and fire. But in the end, the world will live on.

Review

I enjoy short stories, and I enjoy shoestring stories where you’re thrown into the middle of something and you have to try and figure out why and what is going on. Graphic novels are a perfect medium for this type of writing because you have to be economical with your words and allow the pictures to help tell the story.

Family Tree started off in this way. An ordinary single mother and her two kids witness the beginning of the end of the world when the daughter starts having branches growing out of her and her skin starts turning into bark. There’s a mysterious group of people looking to destroy all humans-turning-into-trees, and the artwork conveys the body horror with enough oomph that you want to know where it is all going to go.

And the answer is: it all goes downhill.

There is nowhere near enough in the plot. If you’re not going to explain why people are turning into trees (which they don’t) then at least explain why certain people are affected by the seeds/pollen that come out of Meg. When inhaled, they instantly turn into trees. But do they explain this? No. If you’re unlucky enough to be susceptible (and the chances are you will be) then you better be wearing a hazmat suit, otherwise it’ll be instant bye-bye.

However, what makes things even more confusing is that certain people are not affected by the spreading seeds/pollen that come out of Meg. Both Loretta and Josh are somehow immune, which is interesting when you consider that both Meg and Meg’s father transformed into trees. So, why doesn’t Loretta and Josh? If it is somehow genetic from the father’s side then you’d think, at least, Josh would also succumb to the transformation but he doesn’t.

And then there are the other select few that remain human. Josh meets a man and his daughter while hunting for food at an abandoned grocery store. Josh and the girl eventually fall in love and have a child. Neither Josh, nor the girl transform, yet in the final pages we see that their baby has a small twig growing out of his hand. It’s all random and unexplained.

As for the “bad guys”, nothing is revealed in the final volume that explains their mission to destroy Meg other than they believe somehow the world will right itself once this happens. Their dedication is bizarre and futile given most of the planet has turned into forest and jungle. There is no real depth provided to these characters. Their leader, a woman in glasses, believes this is the right thing to do because her own father transformed and she killed him.

Even in the end, when Meg-the-tree is successfully put to the flame by a bunch of men with flamethrowers, and you see the spiritual version of Meg perish, it’s hard to feel anything. Because you know that even in Meg’s death, the world has reclaimed itself. An environmental coup to usurp power from humanity.

Flat and disappointing given its promising premise. Is Family Tree seeking to be a cautionary tale on climate change? Maybe, but I doubt writer, Jeff Lemire, had any intent to be that deep. To me, it seems he wrote this story purely for the body horror.

1 out of 5.