David Petersen, Mouse Guard (2005-?)

Piotrek: I was very satisfied with myself when, recently, my little niece asked: why is it only uncle Piotr who knows comics? I try to keep Madzia (her sisters are too young) supplied with age-appropriate comics, stuff like Zita the Spacergirl or Yotsuba, which means I get to read them, out loud and often multiple times 😉 And, since I’m the one to choose, it’s usually something I enjoy myself, but obviously, not things I read in my own reading time. The topic of this review is different. This is a series of graphic novels for everyone to enjoy. I’m not going to leave the verdict for the final parts, I’ll admit straight away: I really like David Petersen’s Eisner-winning Mouse Guard series.

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Ola: Don’t forget it’s my find! 😛 It’s indeed a perfect comic book for all ages 7 and up – first, it definitely helps if you can read on your own ;), and second, the plot, themes and execution are best understood when one is at least a tiny bit learned in the ways of the world, having read or listened to Hobbit, for example, or at least made a passing acquaintance with the material culture of medieval times… On the other hand, the educational aspects and the straightforwardness of the plot suggest a younger cant to the target audience. However, I believe that being young at heart is absolutely sufficient to properly appreciate the Mouse Guard story. It’s a decidedly different read to your average superhero comic books, but the heroic and quite adult themes are very much present in David Petersen’s work.

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Iain M. Banks, Culture – first impressions

The Culture is a group-civilisation formed from seven or eight humanoid species, space-living elements of which established a loose federation approximately nine thousand years ago. The ships and habitats which formed the original alliance required each others’ support to pursue and maintain their independence from the political power structures – principally those of mature nation-states and autonomous commercial concerns – they had evolved from.

from Ian M Banks, A Few Notes on the Culture

It is also a series of 9 novels (plus a short story collection) and the place I want to go to in the afterlife. I’ve heard about it, I’ve read about, in 2016 I bought the first three books, and now I’ve finally started to read.

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Adrian Czajkowski, The Tiger and the Wolf (2016)

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Shadows of the Apt, the acclaimed ten book series about the world of the Insect-kinden, took place in an alternate Europe, during alternate World Wars – mostly the second one, to be precise. Shadows of the Apt is an epic tale of the struggle of different kinden, i.e. humans in kin with different types of animals which serve as their metaphysical and physical totems. Those totems can be perceived as ideals holding certain spiritual power, but also as matrices for particular species, influencing genotypes and phenotypes of individuals belonging to different kinden. But Shadows of the Apt is also a gripping tale of deadly rivalry between technical aptitude and ingenuity – and old wisdom and magic. The world of the Apt and Inapt is fully developed and based on an intriguing premise: it is a realm bereft of vertebrate. Their place has been fully taken by invertebrate of every kind and size, from insects through mollusks and crustaceans, to snails, jellyfish and arachnids. And although the reviews of the series are many – and varied – on this blog, there is a reason I make this short summary at the beginning of the review of Czajkowski’s new series, Echoes of the Fall.

With his new post-apocalyptic trilogy, Echoes of the Fall, Czajkowski takes the readers on a seemingly entirely different ride. Tribes from the time of early Iron Age, brought about as a result of an earlier, terrible shattering of their world, vie for domination in an unforgiving part of the world. They too are linked to their animal counterparts – but this time around, vertebrate are the only types of animals that count. Wolves and tigers, hawks and seals, bears and serpents, owls and bats, hyenas and lions, even toads, crocodiles and Comodo dragons (and wolverines! ;)), all of them act as true totems in the sense that they are the emblems of tribes, but they are also spiritual entities, powerful in their own way as non-omniscient, limited god-like beings watching over their chosen peoples.

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Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)

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Ola: The Last Jedi is the second instalment in the new Star Wars trilogy, produced by Disney and without any direct involvement of George Lucas, the original creator of Star Wars universe. The Last Jedi starts right where Episode VII ended. My review for The Force Awakens, and my openly expressed criticism, can be found here. Episode VIII was supposed to open a new field of play, built on the flimsy foundations set in the derivative plot of Episode VII. Most of the fans had high hopes for The Last Jedi, both because of the immensely advanced technology allowing for more picturesque and dynamic scenes, and because it is the middle part of the trilogy – the analogies to The Empire Strikes Back were clear from the beginning, with Luke Skywalker doomed to reprise the role of Master Yoda.

The Last Jedi turned out to be a wholehearted reprisal of The Empire Strikes Back: with Dagobah set on a stony island, a reluctant hermit teaching the secrets of the Force to a young (but too old anyway!) and strong in the Force adept, a doom hanging on suddenly desperate Rebels… What happened to the New Republic? There are also some additional scenes taken out from The Return of the Jedi: our protagonist, trained in the ways of Force, tries to rescue the Big Bad Skywalker, in whom a conflict of darkness and light burns brightly… The protagonist is tortured by the evil Emperor with a badly distorted face and a penchant for terrible sneer (or Supreme Leader, whatever) only to be saved by the Big Bad Skywalker.

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I hope everyone’s already seen Episode VIII. Because my first question is: WTF??? Why are you, Disney, so bent on killing all the beloved characters of old trilogy? Is this some kind of ritualistic patricide? I mean, I probably should be glad you didn’t use pretzels as a means of gruesome death, but that’s not enough for me, not by a long shot.

Piotrek: I, on the other hand, had fun watching the latest installment of Star Wars franchise. I’d say it was a very nice movie, but perhaps not a good addition to the SW universe.

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Marvel’s The Punisher (2017-present)

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Piotrek: And the winner of my personal favourite tv series of the year award is… Stranger Things, again. Punisher is a close second. It means a lot, considering in 2017 I’ve seen American Gods, Legion, Samurai Jack’s final season and discovered Rick and Morty. It was even better than this little beauty that sparked my hopes a few years back. I might go as far as to say Netflix might have saved its part of the MCU with this, although it is not a typical superhero show. And it’s not as linked together with Jessica Jones or Daredevil, Frank Castle wasn’t even part of The Defenders (and good for him 😉 ). It is a TV series based on a Marvel comic, part of the geek takeover of the pop-culture of our times, but mostly it is a great story about, and commentary on, the war on terror, military/society relations, and, most of all, individuals involved in all this.

Ola: Huh, for me it’s the other way round: Punisher just a hair breadth before Stranger Things, right up there with the first season of Daredevil among the very best MCU has to offer. Punisher is the comic-based TV series I’ve been waiting for: dark, gritty, realistic, tackling vital and controversial themes and topics in a way that is both respectful and immensely entertaining. It is closely linked with Daredevil, both in the overarching theme of violence as a means of justice, with DD and Punisher two sides of the same ethical coin, and in the supporting cast of characters – most notably Karen Page, who plays an important role in both series.

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Greg Park, Carlo Pulayan, Aaron Lopresti et al., The Incredible Hulk: Planet Hulk (2006-2007)

Piotrek: We did not like Thor: Ragnarok. I was unimpressed, Ola hated it almost as much as Wonder Woman.

Ola: That’s right. Only almost :P.

Piotrek: As we’ve mentioned, one of the reasons was the lack of respect towards the material it was supposed to adapt to the silver screen. Another – a feeling that it could easily be more entertaining, but also much, much deeper.

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Wonder Woman (2017) – votum separatum

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There’s been a lot of talk about Wonder Woman, very favorable reviews (one of them, by Piotrek, on this blog), fan hype and critical acclaim. The movie’s heyday is already past, with Justice League on screen and other superhero movies crowding the benches. So why do I come back to it now?

Well, probably partly because I’ve been recently reading Moses Finley’s seminal work, The World of Odysseus – very highly recommended to anyone interested in ancient Greece. And partly because the movie sits like a thorn in my side, its popularity and acclaim, when confronted with its painfully stereotypical message, truly baffling.

Wonder Woman has been hailed as the first superhero movie with a woman as a lead. This is surely something laudable? After all, thanks to this movie we’ve read about subversive feminism and whatnots, discussed chainmail bikinis as a source of empowerment or subjugation, depending on one’s stance, and so on. Even Gloria Steinem took a stand, saying the film was very good, although noting at the same time that she “may be desperate – […] just happy that the Amazons had wild hair”. It’s been called the best of DCU movies so far, and while it in itself is not a big feat, it definitely forces comparison to other movies. It all seems highly beneficial to a summer flick which on its own is rather mediocre. We’ve all probably heard the voice of reason, saying, “it’s not perfect, but better this than nothing”, “it’s a step in right direction”, “I’ve seen worse”.

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