Book review: At the Mountains of Madness, Volume 2 (adapted by Gou Tanabe)

H.P. Lovecraft’s at the Mountains of Madness, Volume 2 by Gou Tanabe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The concluding volume follows Professor Dyer and Danforth as they fly out to the ancient ruins, to discover the fate of Gedney, the still-missing expedition member, and to explore the remains of a long-dead civilization.

This is where things get weird and Tanabe does a great job with the illustrations, constructing the baffling, maze-like remains of the Old Ones’ sprawling city in grand detail. Staying faithful to the story, Dyer and Danforth come across the giant albino penguins and…other things.

All visual adaptations of Lovecraft must grapple with the same dilemma–how do you illustrate things that, per the prose, will drive people mad merely be seeing them? Tanabe does this in two ways–the first is by depicting the shoggoths as so physically weird that it’s difficult to tell what they are, other than organic, immense and heading straight for you. In the second way, Tanabe allows the reader–equipped with his hundreds of illustrations of the labyrinthine ruins as background–to imagine what drives Danforth mad, with no description offered. And it works.

Highly recommended, particularly for those who have already read the story. This is a great adaptation and short of the seemingly ill-fated Guillermo Del Toro film, may be the best we will see.

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Book review: At the Mountains of Madness, Volume One (adapted by Gou Tanabe)

H.P. Lovecraft’s at the Mountains of Madness, Volume 1 by Gou Tanabe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an excellent adaptation of Lovecraft’s classic tale, with artist and writer Gou Tanabe providing exquisite black and white illustrations depicting the doomed expedition to the Antarctic, done in a realistic Manga style. Tanabe often lets the characters speak through reaction shots alone, and it works well.

This is only Volume One of two, so it ends with the discovery of what remains of Professor Lake’s camp and the promise to find out what led to its grisly end. It works well as a cliffhanger for those unfamiliar with the story, and as terrific anticipation for those like myself who are.

The depiction of the otherworldly elements, from the strange star-faced creatures to the towering Black Mountains, does an excellent job of conveying the sinister feeling of entering a realm that is both weird and brimming with malevolence.

Recommended.

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Book review: Flamer

Flamer by Mike Curato

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a cute and affecting coming of age story about a pudgy 14-year-old Filipino boy spending his last summer at scouts camp before starting high school.

Author Mike Curato notes the story is fictional but deftly deploys his real life experience going through scouts, setting the story in 1995, the same time he was in scouts. The result is a story filled with lots of authentic details, ranging from the mundane (you’ll learn about a bunch of different knots) to the mildly horrifying (best summed up as “boys will be boys”).

The titular character Aiden grapples with his identity while fighting off accusations of being gay. A few of the boys are openly hostile to him, throwing slurs about his race and orientation. Things come to a head and for a time turn dark for Aiden, but he ultimately finds the strength to be true to himself.

The artwork here, is terrific–the facial expressions often convey more than any words could. The teasing and threats, the quick dismissal of the same, the gangly awkwardness of teenagers, and the effortless cruelty of boys–all of it is captured in a pleasing black and white style that bursts into color when things get hot (symbolism!)

While this feels like a YA graphic novel, its frankness when it comes to sexuality might make for some squeamishness, depending on the sensibilities of the reader. That said, this is a warm, funny and ultimately touching story. Recommended.

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Book review: Seconds

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Seconds, written by Bryan Lee O’Malley, author of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, is a graphic novel that delights in throwing unintended consequences at its protagonist, an ambitious young chef named Katie Clay.

Katie discovers a notebook and some mushrooms in a secret compartment in a dresser that resides in her suite above the restaurant she works in, called Seconds. The notebook offers the promise to undo something if you write it in the notebook, eat a mushroom, and sleep on it.

Feeling guilt over an accident that causes a waitress to burn her arms in the kitchen, Katie tries out the notebook and mushroom. The next morning the accident has never happened.

From there a spiraling set of complications sets in as Katie tries to fix more and more problems in her life–perceived and otherwise–unaware that there are other forces at work, not the least of which is a very odd girl who seems to roost upon the dresser from time to time, offering cryptic warnings.

The twists the story takes are best read unspoiled, so I won’t go further into the plot, but it honors the tradition of time travel/magic/tech stories where changing seemingly small things can have far-reaching results.

The narration is very much in line with what you would expect from O’Malley, breaking down the fourth well and sometimes even arguing with Katie directly. I love this stuff when it works well–as it does here.

The art takes advantage of the medium, especially as things go sideways and is pretty much a perfect match to the tone and delivery of the characters.

This was an enjoyable “What if?” romp and is, for me, a welcome addition to the sub-genre of using magic/tech to (try) fix the past. Recommended.

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