Thursday, June 14, 2012

Comic Review - Scott Pilgrim Get It Together, by Bryan Lee O'Malley

This volume continues the motif of Scott’s deepening relationship with Ramona serving as a path for him to blunder into being an adult. Now that he’s defeated Todd and sent Envy on her way, Scott is forced to deal with baggage of a more immediate nature: having no job, relying endlessly on others, and pathologically avoiding any kind of responsibility, all of which appear to be giving Ramona second thoughts. If that wasn’t bad enough, he’s also facing a distinct upswing in attacks by people with swords- first by a mysterious older man, and then by the next of the Ramona’s evil exes.

The meta-humor and disregard for the fourth wall work a lot more seamlessly this time around, and there aren’t any awkward flashbacks to screw up the narrative. The humor is a bit darker, which is appropriate considering the direction that the story is starting to go. Beyond that, the fourth volume has everything that made the rest of the series so fun to read: the bizarre genre-blending, the constant video game callouts, and the understatedly hilarious characters and dialogue.

I did have one gripe, though. Spoiler alert: Ramona makes a big point of correcting Scott with “evil exes” every time he says “evil ex-boyfriends,” presaging the arrival and surprise attack of the decidedly female Roxie. The problem is, Ramona never makes this distinction until this volume, which gives the distinct impression that O’Malley made this development up on the spot. Inconsistencies like that bother me, but honestly, it fits within the slacker chic feel of the series. After grumbling about it for a while, I decided to let it go after realizing how much I was enjoying the rest of the book.

This volume is back up to par, after the ever so slight disappointment of Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness. I'm noticing that I'm lot more generous with my comic reviews than I am with my book reviews. I guess one could argue that there's a lower bar to meet, but honestly, I rate them based on how much I enjoyed them, and this is an eminently enjoyable read. As with the rest of the Scott Pilgrim books, though, you need a sense of irony and at least a passing familiarity with 8-bit video games to really appreciate it.

Verdict: 5 / 5

Book Review - The Monstrumologist, by Rick Yancey

Man-eating monsters! Grave robbers! Senseless violence! Worm infestations! Victorian manners! This Printz honor book is purported to have it all, and indeed it does. In fact, I’d argue that it has almost a little too much. Despite the occasional slouching towards gratuitousness, though, this is an extraordinarily fun book if you like monsters and don’t mind some gore.

The book is presented as a three-volume diary of one Will Henry, who served as the young apprentice to a New England “Monstrumologist,” Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, in the late 19th century. The folios recount a particular instance when a new “project” landed on Warthrop’s doorstep: a marauding pack of anthropophagi, a huge, cunning, and merciless variety of predator that normally resides in Africa. Ever the dutiful assistant, Will Henry follows Dr. Warthrop (along with a mysterious English colleague of the doctor’s) from their macabre laboratory to a lonely cemetery, a stinking asylum, and even into the bowels of the earth hunting the monsters, even as innocent bystanders are ruthlessly torn apart and eaten during the search. The mystery of the anthropophagi, however, may lead a lot closer than the distant savannas of Benin.

The ambiance of the story is perfect, and there is a wonderful interplay between the affected gentlemanliness of Warthrop, the distinctly Dickensian Will Henry, and the truly nightmarish scenarios they inhabit. The resulting mood of the book is slow-burning and genuinely tense, without ever (in my opinion) getting boring. The prose does get a little flowery when Will Henry ruminates on the nature of his mentor, or tries to make sense of the horrific things he has to experience. Then again, that makes sense, given the idea that this story is supposedly a journal transcription. Besides, I’m a vocabulary nerd, and Yancey’s writing is evocative and beautifully constructed, so I can forgive the frequent journeys into exposition.

This is not a book for young or squeamish readers, though. Even forewarned as I was, the level of gore in the book surprised me. I don’t necessarily have a problem with the depictions of the anthropophagus attacks, as their ferocity lent a sense of bloody urgency to the gothic atmosphere of the story. But some of the other scenes- the fate of Hezekiah Varner, the lingering over the deaths of young children, and the weird fixation on literal and metaphorical virgin sacrifices, for instance - seem to veer into the territory of shock for shock’s sake, which always strikes me as a little lazy (and has me mourning the current state of horror cinema).

That being said, though, Yancey treads the line between fun and over-the-top very well. While things occasionally get ridiculous, the entire story is deadly earnest, and there are plot reasons (or, at least, solid thematic writing) behind every bit of violence. I had a great time reading it, and while I’m not lying awake at night, I’m still thinking about some of the climactic moments. This is a great read for horror fans, teen or adult, that aren’t afraid of being revolted.

Verdict: 4 / 5