Friday, June 24, 2022

Atomic Robo and Other Strangeness Vol IV By Brian Clevinger

 Atomic Robo and Other Strangeness Vol IV

By Brian Clevinger


“No! You're an idiot and your origin story doesn't make any sense!” Atomic Robo to Doctor Dinosaur


So, I'm not gonna spend too much time on introductions here, since we've reviewed the past 3 volumes already. Just be aware we're talking about a world where comic book super science works and Atomic Robo is the living avatar of that. We got a lot to cover so let's get to it.


Other Strangeness isn't a unified story about Robo's struggles against one of the many threats that lurk in the universe. It is mostly set in the late 90s and early 2000s, so it still functions as a look into a specific period of Robo's life (A very special time in US history.  When history was supposedly over. Get bent Fukuyama!). At this point Robo is riding high on the hog, leading Telsadyne in investigations on the very edge of human learning and living knee-deep in Action Science. Robo isn't just wealthy, respected, and politically connected; he's a damn celebrity and frankly, he deserves it. He's not just devoting his life to pushing the frontiers of knowledge in between bouts of fighting living and undead Nazis. He's also our nuclear-powered, steel-forged guardian angel. While much of his life is secret from the general public, everyone knows he's averted multiple mass extinction events. Just don't think too much about why he had to avert multiple mass extinction events in the first place! After all, you need to be able to sleep at some point in your life.


It's not like Atomic Robo is the only guy in the business of pursuing the extreme edge of science and punching evil while doing it. In this issue, we're introduced to the Japanese institution of Big Science Incorporated and its team of super scientists, the Super Science Team Five (This is incredibly Japanese.). Just in case you're wondering, yes each member dresses in a suit that is a different bright primary color from the others. Big Science Inc and Super Science Team Five are a bit mono-focused compared to Telsadyne however, as they focus their energies on containing and stopping a single threat. The strange biological monsters that defy all manner of laws of biology and physics called Biomega. They operate much like Kaiju with some extra weird almost alien biology but I'm sure everything will be fine (They’re just Kaiju.). After all, after being fought off in the 1970s no one has seen a biomega emerge from the oceans. How many giant alien monsters that ignore everything we know about science could be hiding in the Pacific ocean anyways right? (Probably a great many!  What is this false sense of security?)


We also find out that our nearest neighborhood universe has an earth where everyone was turned into blood-drinking vampires (Oh No.). They're so close that any experiment that monkeys about with the universal barriers can bring them over by accident. Like various experiments in hyperspatial technology or quantum barriers or so on and so forth. Thankfully these experiments are easy to reverse so long as a single vampire never escapes into the “wild” from the initial infection point. We'll be fine (No, no we won’t!). It helps that the vampires seem to have lost most of their intelligence, so they're not able to create their own technology to jump dimensions. To do that, they would have to have to turn someone who was driven and brilliant and not tear him apart while doing so and how likely is that? (Pretty fuckin’ likely!  STOP JUMPING DIMENSIONS!  OR IF YOU DO, HAVE FREAKISH CONTAINMENT PROTOCOLS!   DO IT ON MARS! {plays Doom theme})


Finally, we have the glorious Dr. Dinosaur! One of the most magnificent comic book villains ever. Now whether he's a threat to humanity is open to debate but he is certainly the biggest threat to Robo's sanity and pride. If you believe Dr. Dinosaur, real name H'ssssk, he's a refugee from the Mesozoic Era, a Velociraptor mutated into a genius by mammal energies echoing backward through time to wipe out the dinosaurs (Woah.  That might make him bitter.). As Robo points out, however, he has no feathers and is way to big to be a Velociraptor, although he's pretty close to the build and size of a small Deinonychus (Then he is an artificial construct.  No Feathers=Not an actual Dromaeosaur.  I HAVE SPOKEN!). If you believe Robo, Dr. Dinosaur is most likely the result of illegal genetic experiments on one of the many Pacific islands that hide secret super science labs run by various nations such as Russia, the United States, France, the UK, Japan, China, and more. This volume doesn't provide answers to the question of where the hell Dr. Dinosaur came from but it does show the first meeting of Dr. Dinosaur and Robo. As well as explaining why these two hate each other. So, so very hilariously much. 


We also get introduced to allies and friends of Robo, such as Dr. Bernard Fischer. Who has degrees in paleontology and paleobotany. He's also studied a fair bit of geology but I'm sure that won't come up (If he’s a paleobiologist, he has studied and will use a lot of geology.  Period.{Yes but he’s applying for a job in Action Science!}). Dr. Fischer's biggest qualities are that he's some kinda weirdness magnet, like having vampires phase into reality during his job interview, kind of magnet. He is also absurdly lucky, like, incredibly bad luck or amazing good luck, there is no in-between. That said he can keep his cool just enough that he's an asset. We're also reintroduced to the unstoppable Jenkins, in this case by watching him tear through a small army as if they were dummies made of plywood filled with blood. So. Much. Blood.


There's a lot of scene-setting in this volume but it's worked into some really nice slice of lifestyle storytelling and done in a very entertaining way. Mr. Clevinger basically uses a series of short more-or-less self-contained stories to set up elements of Robo's world that establish that Robo isn't the only super scientist in town. As well as setting up the fact that our tranquil little civilization is in fact ringed around by terrors beyond our ability to meaningfully comprehend, never mind resist, without the protection of these groups of Super Science practitioners. Which I'm sure won't be an issue, I mean it's not like a government will decide that leaving the security of humanity to a bunch of free-range nerds is a bad idea or that one of these threats will slink under the radar and bite us all (Honestly, given the global response to HIV and then COVID, I think leaving it up to free-range nerds might be better.). What makes this satisfying is the fact that even the stories setting up elements for later use have their own payouts; as well as working as single self-contained episodes which means I can simply enjoy them for their own sake.


As you might have guessed I really did enjoy this volume. There wasn't a single unifying threat. Despite that all the stories, save the Dr. Dinosaur ones, were connected enough to make it work. Also, Dr. Dinosaur needs no justification, he really is one of my favorite villains and this introduction shows him as capable of being a danger to Robo. While also being insane and hysterically funny. Atomic Robo and Other strangeness gets an A.


I hope you enjoyed this review.  If you did consider joining us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads where you can vote on upcoming projects for as little as a dollar a month.  Speaking of upcoming projects, I will be skipping a week to put in more work on such a project.  My paterons will be getting a sneak peek at that and I hope you’ll join us.  See you soon and until then Keep Reading!


Red Text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen

Black Text is your reviewer Garvin Anders



Friday, June 17, 2022

The Star Wars By Jonathan W Rinzler and illustrated by Mike Mayhew

 The Star Wars

By Jonathan W Rinzler and illustrated by Mike Mayhew


So as I'm sure most of you were aware, A New Hope didn't just leap out of George Lucas' head fully formed but was the result of a writing process that took several years. The first hack at it was in 1973, a two page outline called Journal of the Whills. Lucas shared with his agent and his agent told him bluntly that he couldn't make heads or tails of the document. Lucas accepted the criticism and trudged back to the writing desk and came up with a ten-page document Star Wars: Story Synopsis. This was shopped around, rejected by United Artists, passed over by Universal but accepted by 20th Century Fox. However the suits at Fox weren't just going to shove money at Lucas, they wisely wanted a full script first.


In May 1974, Mr. Lucas completed The Star Wars: A Rough Draft. Which gave us characters, a plot, and the first outline of the Star Wars galaxy. Not happy with it, Mr. Lucas went back and rewrote it. At least 2 more times before producing A New Hope in 1977. The Star Wars however was not thrown away but was allowed to molder on the shelves of the Lucas archives. Fast forward to the 21st century, Mr. Rinzler was hired to write books that would look at the behind-the-scenes processes and events of making Star Wars, both the main trilogy and the prequels. This gave him access to the archives and during his work, he discovered the rough draft. He approached Mr. Lucas and was at first rejected; to be fair I wouldn't want to share my rough drafts with the public either (None of us would…).  However, with the help of Dark Horse Comics producing a few pages of artwork and storyboards he got the go-ahead from Mr. Lucas a few years later.


Dark Horse published the eight-issue run of The Star Wars from September 2013 to May 2014. The comic tells the story of Annikin Starkiller and Luke Skywalker and their efforts to protect the planet of Aquilae from the forces of the New Galactic Empire. Now in this version, the characters are very different. In fact, Luke is a Jedi Bendu General in his 60s and Annikin is a young man just entering his prime. Furthermore, Luke and Annikin are not related, Annikin is the son of another character named  Kane Starkiller. In this version of the story, Kane asks Luke to train Annikin to become a Jedi Bendu, being unable to do so because he has become more machine than man (But not twisted and evil? {Not so much} Huh).


The plot follows Luke and Annikin with their allies such as the alien Han Solo and the secret agent Clieg Whitsun as they attempt to keep Princess Leia and her younger brothers from being captured by Imperial Shocktroopers. This is complicated given that the Empire has brought a gigantic Space Fortress into the Aquilae system causing a collapse of organized resistance. The Empire may be on the verge of victory with the death of Leia's father and the capture of her mother but much like how I pointed out in my Arslan review, as long as one member of the royal family stays free there is a center for resistance to form around. So Luke's plan is to basically keep the royal children from being captured while he assembles a rebel alliance to try and destroy the space fortress and throw the Empire back.


To do this, he not only has to gather old allies but recruit new ones, such as the Wookies of Yavin Four led by their Prince Chewbacca (Which, it turns out, actual prince.  Though what the hell is it with all this Space Monarchism? {George Lucas was copying Japanese Samurai movies and Flash Gordon, you do that you’ll have space monarchies.  You should write me some socialist Space Opera} I have been nursing that idea…). Meanwhile, Annikin has to deal with his romantic feelings toward Leia and try to complete his training (Well at least she isn’t his sister this time around…{Except they never reveal who Annikin’s Mother was…Dun Dun Dun!}). They are in turn hunted by the forces of General Darth Vader, a hulking scarred man, and the Sith Knight Valorum. Darth Vader doesn't get a lot of screen time in this version with Valorum serving as the more central antagonist. The Jedi and Sith are both portrayed as rival warrior orders without much explanation as to why they're opposed to each other and we don't see much in the way of Force powers here. The Jedi and the Sith just appear to be really well-trained fighters and swordsmen. Although I'll note that even regular Shocktroopers carry laser swords in this version so people and creatures are getting chopped into bits all over the place.


This is very much a rough draft and it shows. The cast is simply too large for the size of the story and the plot is also too packed with events and factions. Honestly, I feel Mr. Rinzler, in his desire to stick as close to the script as possible, did himself a disservice because that led to a poorer story. Especially since he only had eight issues to get this all wrapped up in. Which forces him to move at light speed. For example, the Wookies are supposed to be brutal fighters who attack everyone, until they meet Annikin and now they're best friends with the Jedi. We're also never really clear on why the Empire has decided to crush this planet, although there is some vague talk of “scientific and genetic” treasures. Also, the Force called the Force of Others in this story is very ill-defined. It seems to function more as a popular religious belief than anything else.


That said if you're a Star Wars fan there's a lot of value to be had here. You can see story elements from the prequels and you can see the seeds of A New Hope and other stories in this comic and that alone makes it an interesting read. If you're not a Star Wars fan, give this one a miss. If you are, go ahead and take a look but temper your expectations. That said I wouldn't mind someone tackling this and seeing if they could create something different from it than what Lucas did but that's just me. If I have to grade this, I have to give it a D+ at best for the fact that we have incomplete characterizations, only half-realized world-building, and a cast that is too big to be really used in a smart fashion. Which I feel isn't fair all things considered. That said I am a Star Wars fan, if not as intense as some and I enjoyed the peek into the process this provided. So your mileage I think will vary by a great deal.


I hope you enjoyed this week’s review.  If you did you should consider joining us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads for as little as a dollar a month you get a vote in upcoming reviews, projects, and more.  Join us next week for the review selected by our ever wise patrons of Atomic Robo and Other Strangeness.  Hope to see you there!  Until then, stay safe and keep reading! 

Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
Black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders

Friday, June 10, 2022

Heroic Legend of Arslan Volume 3 By Yoshiki Tanaka

 Heroic Legend of Arslan Volume 3

By Yoshiki Tanaka


I've covered Volume II and Volume I recently enough that I think we can just leap into it. If you haven't read those reviews please check last month and the month before. Anyways let's just jump into it.


With the capital city of Pars under occupation and Arslan being the only member of the royal family still free and running loose, the nation of Lusitania seems on the verge of complete victory. However, the war ain't over yet and like a lot of overconfident powers, the Lusitanians are making a series of brutal and serious mistakes. While they had taken the capital in part by inciting the Gholam slave class to rise up and tie up the defending forces, this was done by loudly promising freedom, land, and money to anyone who rose up. Well, the Gholam did their part only to find themselves still treated as slaves. Worse they are mocked for asking the Lusitanians to keep their word. With one soldier comparing them to livestock.


This isn't the only mistake that the Lusitanians are making, they're also publicly burning cultural works of Pars and abusing the free population (It takes modern militaries one soldier per twenty civilians to occupy with minimal internal resistance.  This is not going to create minimal resistance.). By doing so they're making enemies of the common men and women of Pars who could have been lulled to indifference or at least nonresistance. Of course, the common folk could have been made irrelevant by an alliance with the Gholam but that ship is also being sunk as I mentioned. Meanwhile, the elite classes of the occupying force are being split due to the King, Innocentius VII, falling in love with the Queen of Pars, Tahamine. This is causing horror and disgust in the other members of the high church and nobility but the King seems rather blind to this we'll discuss this more in a future review.


On top of this, the traitor Kharlan and his master Silvermask are clearly pursuing their own agenda  (Traitors usually do…). This volume is actually fairly important in revealing a lot about Silvermask. I won't go into spoilers but frankly, it means Kharlan's motivation was relatively straightforward. This only increases my irritation at his insistence that no one would be able to understand from the last volume. That said, neither one of them has taken their eye off the ball and are throwing everything they’ve got at the search for Arslan because they know this game isn't won until every member of the royal family is off the board. Which is more than I can say for anyone else on Team Antagonist


Speaking of Arslan, he's been using this time wisely, getting Narsus onside and escaping the armies hunting him. He's also gathering more allies and information. We see two more members get added to this troop of retainers to our aspiring heroic royal. One of which is the priestess Farangis, a drop-dead gorgeous, intelligent, and deadly woman who seems to have ice in her veins and nerves of steel. Seriously, we're introduced to her riding through a recently conquered territory wearing something that seems more in place in swimsuit illustrated magazine (WTF? {Look man, I just review the stories okay?}). When she encounters a squadron of Lusitanian cavalry, she simply rides right through them and when they chase her, she starts shooting them all dead from horseback. I know this is a heroic epic but man everyone is ridiculously lethal here but then I suppose those who aren't don't live long enough to get an introduction scene(Yes, in stories like this, it ends up being a study in armoring long-range bombers.).


Of course, Farangis brings her own baggage in the form of Gieve, the minstrel from Volume II. Gieve had done his own looting during the fall of Pars' capital and made a run for it. Now I don't blame him for that, it wasn't his country and it wasn't his fight(And in a situation like yeah, yeah, you loot.  Because you’ll need that stuff to survive later.). I even appreciate his skill and willingness to throw down with a squadron of Lusitanian cavalry to help Farangis. What has me rolling my eyes is the fact that he talks himself into it for a chance to get into her... err... Swimsuit(Men.). Even then I could let it pass if he didn't continue trying to trot out every tired lie and pick up line to try and get into her good graces. Maybe I'll warm up to Grieve but honestly, as a character, he falls flat to me (You just don’t like him, buddy.  That isn’t falling flat.  It is just being a shit.  Unfortunately, a lot of men are just shit. {I can point to a good number of women who are shit, I don't think it's a gender-specific trait}). Maybe I'm just cold to that archetype. I'm way more enjoying the by-play between Narsus and Daryun. Thankfully, Farangis doesn't put up with his crap and makes it clear that she only tolerates him hanging around as long he's useful but toleration is all he'll get.


While the revelation of Silvermask's motive and true identity is kind of a big deal, the introduction of Farangis is something I think is going to be important to the series. I won't discuss my thoughts on the revelation until another review because I do want to avoid spoilers. That said, most of this volume feels like setup. We're seeing a lot of story and plot elements being set into play that don't pay off in this volume. It's good that Mr. Tanaka isn't rushing but I kind of wish we got Arslan moving, the boy needs an army if he's gonna have an impact; if nothing else so that Daryun can take breaks when he gets tired of plowing through large groups of armed men like they're small children with sticks. I'm still enjoying the series, however. Still, this is better than average. Heroic Legend of Arslan Volume III gets a B- from me. Read it but maybe read Volume IV right after.


I hope you enjoyed this week’s review.  If you did, consider joining us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads where for a dollar a month you can vote on upcoming content.  I have two polls active right now! Hope to see you there.  Our next review is The Star Wars, based on a rough draft of A New Hope.  Until then, stay safe and keep reading! 


Red text is Dr. Ben Allen, your editor

Black text is Garvin Anders, your reviewer.



Friday, June 3, 2022

Magus of the Library Vol IV By Mitsu Izumi

Magus of the Library Vol IV

By Mitsu Izumi


At this point, I feel like I should just point you back to the last three reviews on the series if you need to know the concept and background of the story. So if this is your first review, go ahead and take a look and catch up. For those of you who have kept up, good news! Theo Fumis, our hero, has passed the examinations and made it into Kafna training! Bad news, compared to the training, the examinations were a walk in the park (Uh Oh!). This volume brings us to the beginning of Theo's training and we can see the Kafna are not messing around. I mean, seriously they open the first day of class with a test just right off the bat. That's bloody cold, no chill in the central library (None at all.  Not even a hello…).


What's interesting is the variety of trainees though; we have trainees of different religions and nations and cultures all thrown together. There's also a wide range of ages present, with the eldest being 35 and the youngest being 11. That said the overwhelming majority of the trainees are girls, for reasons we learned in the last couple of volumes. Theo isn't the only young man here however, Alv has made it and there's also a new character Sumomo. Sumomo is a nice enough boy.  However, being the youngest of a family of nine sisters, two of which became Kafna, definitely left a mark on the poor boy as he regards girls as dangerous (Woah.). This is more of the youngest child being a bit scared of his elders kind of thing than what you would find on Reddit though so I'll let it pass (Yeah, I’ll let it pass as a survival strategy rather than incel energy.).


We learn more about the supernatural disaster that shaped Theo's world in this volume.  For example, we learn that everyone is cut off from the sea, because large parts of the continent are still covered by a dangerous blighted fog that corrupts or kills whatever it touches (That… is gonna mess up global ecosystems really well. See, soil nutrients get washed out of the soil and into watersheds, where they get transported to the sea.  Barring rock weathering, the only way to get things like phosphorus back onto land is by transport via living things.  This is why dams kill forests upstream, fish like salmon can’t bring those nutrients back upstream). To the point that most believe that life itself is impossible within the fog. However, we learn that's not entirely true and something's lurking in the fog even if no one is entirely sure what it is.


We also learn that there's at least one monotheist religion that starts the day off with a round of morning prayers; they also represent their god as having the head of a Triceratops (There are worse things to use as a godhead.). Another thing we learn is that students at the end of their training get assigned to one of sixteen offices and three of those offices are considered more prestigious than the others. Those being the Treasury, Guidance, and General Affairs offices. Not in small part because the leadership of the library tends to come from those offices.


While most of the trainees are burning with ambition, Theo is just struggling to deal with the new weight of training. It doesn't help that being a Kafna was the height of his ambition, so now being asked to look further ahead he finds... He has no idea, he just wanted to work among the books and help give back to the Library what the library had given him. I honestly just find myself wanting to give Theo a comforting pat on the head and tell him it'll be alright as long as he tries his hardest but this is a serious job he's embarking on (Honestly that might be all he needs.).


We learn in this volume that the central library is engaged in a bitter battle against those who wish to use the infrastructure of the libraries to push certain ideologies and views on people while hiding other ones. The Kafna have to run a strict regime of constant inspections to prevent books from disappearing or forbidden organization methods being used to promote one set of ideas over the others (I like this militant eccumenicism.). To put it bluntly, the central library is waging war against leaders and factions who wish to control the flow of information and they can only win by constant vigilance. Meanwhile, we also get the hint of internal politics being played out in the library.


This is because one generation is passing away and with it the last remains of the living memory of the dangers of disunity and how division almost destroyed everyone. The new generation meanwhile is living in a society where xenophobia hasn't been banished yet and there is the temptation to pursue self-interest over the good of everyone. Theo's world approaches a dangerous transition point where if one generation refuses to learn the lessons of their elders they could end up losing everything that has been gained.


Theo, lost in his own problems, is largely blind to this and to be fair he is a rural village youth barely old enough to shave. So it wouldn't be fair to expect him to be steeped in geopolitics. As he flounders in his own self-doubt and struggle, we do have the reappearance of someone capable of inspiring Theo to new heights. A woman who can not only do that but will revel in it and make it as super dramatic for Theo as possible.  Because if she can't do it in a way that is cool and fun, what's the point? I'm course talking about Sedona Bleu, who has grown into a powerful member of the Protections Office. I have to admit I enjoy Sedona taking extra effort just to add a flair of the dramatic to her interactions with Theo.   Even if it is just slightly ridiculous.


I enjoyed Volume IV and in a way, it seems to be setting the table for a new story featuring Theo. Whereas the last three volumes could all be read as the story of how Theo came to his ambition to be a Kafna of the library and how he realized that ambition. Volume IV is showing us how Theo is very much like the dog that finally caught the car he was chasing. It's also building up to the wider story we're seemingly about to embark on. As always the art was great and the storytelling is well done.  I imagine some folks might not like the pace but I'm enjoying having a writer who isn't in a hurry and wants to spend some time on characterization before throwing us into the fantasy epic. Volume IV of Magus of the Library gets an A from me.


I hope you enjoyed this week’s review.  If you did and would like to have a voice in future reviews and a sneak peek at our special summer project, join us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads where you can vote on upcoming reviews and projects for as little as a dollar a month!  I’ll be updating our reward tiers this month so stay tuned for future updates. In fact, my patrons have a poll up regarding the summer project right now!  Next week however I return an ever-wise patron favorite in The Heroic Legend of Arslan Volume 3!  Hope to see you there until then, stay safe and Keep Reading. 


Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen

Black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders


Friday, May 27, 2022

Magus of the Library Volume III By Mitsu Izumi

 Magus of the Library Volume III

By Mitsu Izumi


So we proceed with a series that is rapidly becoming a favorite of mine, Magus of the Library. Where our hero, the book-loving Theo Fumis, gives it everything he has to become a member of the central library. This is honestly a great series that comes from a love of just not books but of learning and texts of all sorts. The Library system isn't just about preserving books and ensuring that everyone gets access to them but also about preserving culture and knowledge; as well as promoting cross-cultural ties and understanding (It is what good libraries do, and why librarians are always awesome.  All Librarians Are Awesome.). I'll be honest folks, I'm all for it. It's not just celebrating books, which I agree is incredibly important; it's the idea that reaching out and understanding each other across cultural lines is a good thing.  We don't need to live apart and isolated. But let's actually review the story shall we?


Volume III takes place mostly in the city of Aftzaak, the city of books. Aftzaak isn't just the headquarters of the Library system or the location of the central library, it's a cultural and academic capital of an entire continent.  The city was placed in a central location on the continent.  This gives each of the six dominant cultures and races of the continent equal access to it.  These cultures are very different from each in their dress, traditions, and social codes but the library seeks to promote ties between them. Part of that is by promoting universal literacy and education.  This is to try and create a cosmopolitan class of people and prevent the rise of xenophobia. By some measure, they have succeeded as even remote villages have primary schools that are open to everyone free of charge (Universal literacy is probably the most important thing a society can do, and historically one of the first things a communist society does.  Someone who cannot read is virtually always at the mercy of someone who does, which is why, for instance, you should always be deeply suspicious about the motives of someone wanting to make English, for instance, the official language of the United States.  The powerful people who promote that position want immigrants with poor English fluency at their mercy.).


In this volume and the last one, we learned why over 90 years a great supernatural evil befell the world, and seven Magi from different peoples and cultures united to fight it. However, in the aftermath of the ruinous struggle, the races and cultures of the continent turned on each other, fighting over resources and space. This also led to a bout of ethnic cleansing or to be blunter attempted genocide (They’re the same thing.  Genocides don’t need to be complete to be genocides.). While the surviving Magi were able to stop it, there were still heavy losses and the library was their great gamble to prevent it from happening again. As the scars and memories of the last round of conflicts fade and a new generation of leaders comes to the forefront there is a fear that some will pursue their own narrow self-interest and choose violence.


Theo is not aware of any of this, as much of the “prevent war and genocide” agenda is something the library keeps under wraps. Even if he was, he has enough stress simply focusing on things like "can I pass the entrance exams or will I embarrass myself and by extension everyone in my home village?".  In the last volume, we saw that the first round alone was incredibly stressful. The written exam was designed to weed out people unable to manage their time effectively or use basic references. This was done by making the test so extensive and broad in subject matter that you simply couldn't just memorize everything it covers.  In fact, we saw some hopeful test-takers just crack under the stress and give up right then and there. (I am suddenly reminded of the movie Real Geniuses.)


In this volume, we see the second and third parts of the examinations, that being an oral interview and the final exam. The oral interview itself is glossed over in the story, which I thought was likely a good choice since it would have bogged down the pace of the story. Instead, time was devoted to Theo actually seeing the city. This is where the art of the story really comes into play and let me tell you the city is fantastically drawn, with spellbinding inhabitants and marvelous vistas. My biggest regret is again that the art is in black and white. We also get to examine the nature of Theo's own gifts, which is that he is naturally gifted with a large storehouse of mana. Water mana specifically, this mana also enhances his physical abilities which are demonstrated when Theo finds himself briefly in the crossfire of an emergency. (Which likely means he’ll also be learning magic at some point?{already knows a bit but I assume he'll be learning more})


Much of the book is focused on the third exam, which is a team project. I will pause for a moment while everyone who has had experience with a team project in high school or college winces and curses. I know I did, I mean it has been years and I am salty about a team project I did in population statistics (For me, it was Genetics.). Now, there are reasons that the Kafna do this to poor innocent teenagers just reaching out for their dreams. Some of those are even good reasons as if you're going to spend a lot of time and resources on training people, you better make sure they can actually operate in the environment and under the methodology required. Still, I can't really say I'm a fan, maybe that is my individualism over everything American side speaking though (We live in a Society.  And sometimes, regrettably, you have to work in groups.  Of course in the real world, you often get to pick your groups, or at least have a baseline level of competence and dedication in the group you’re working in.).


Throughout the story, we get hints that not everything is as pleasant and harmonious as the Library would like it to be and it's very possible that Theo might be emerging into adulthood at a time when young men and women are going to be asked to put themselves on the line to keep the system from crashing down. The story itself remains rather light-hearted despite these dark hints, which even has a discussion between Theo and his mentor about how his mentor failed in his original dream but that failure has allowed him to do a lot of good in helping others like Theo achieve their dreams.


That lends the volume a bit of bittersweet depth, the idea that sometimes your failure can lead to you being the springboard for someone else's success. I don't know how much of a comfort that would be but at least you would know you had a positive impact on the world around you. Honestly, in my view, if we don't leave something positive behind for the people who come after us, what is the point? What does all the wealth and power and influence in the world amount to if you don't leave something good behind you when you go? (Nothing.  A lesson the Elon Musks of the world will learn when they are worked to the bone in the glitter mines after the Gay Communist Revolution.{Once again the views of the editor are not the view of the review as a whole and I take no responsibility for him})


With a healthy mix of lore and action to keep the pace moving and draw the reader more into Theo's world, Volume III helps us grasp the stakes of the story as well as shows us Theo's coming of age. It's well written and drawn with great attention to detail providing something very enjoyable. Magus of the Library Volume III gets an A from me.


I hope you enjoyed this review.  If you did, consider joining the ranks of our everwise patrons, who will with some luck be getting the first view on a special project in July.  You can join us for as little as a dollar a month at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads Next week Volume IV of Magus of the Library. Hope to see you there and until then stay safe and keep reading.

Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
Black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders

Friday, May 20, 2022

GI Joe Volume X By Larry Hama

GI Joe Volume X

By Larry Hama


So we have reached Volume 10 in our coverage of the original Marvel comic run of GI Joe by the legendary but still underappreciated Larry Hama. This graphic novel collects issue 91 which was released in October 1989 to issue 100 which was released in May 1990. That's right folks we've hit the 90s so buckle up (For queer liberation.  Oh, wait…this is GI Joe, not the actual 1990s, which we seem to be reliving in a traumatic way.  Don’t mind me, I’ll just be over here, trying to resurrect the Gay Liberation Front. {Considering you’re in Florida, you kinda need to}).


At this point, Cobra has been reunited under Destro's firm capitalist boot and he is vastly less interested in taking over the world than the old Cobra Commander was. Destro does instead take advantage of Cobra's legal status as a sovereign nation to provide a front for the activities of his own MARS corporation (As insane as it is, this isn’t even far off. So yeah, I’ll allow it!). MARS is frankly...  Well, imagine you took the worse parts of aristocratic tradition, Scientology, Blackwater, and Lockheed Martin. Then add just a dash of British Petroleum just to make sure the immoral disregard of anything besides profit is maintained. I mean, not only does Destro maintain a private army that he'll hire out but he'll push or even start wars to make a profit ending them(So, United Fruit, or US Steel? {A united fruit expy is actually one of the competitors that Destro tears down in this graphic novel}). He's also incredibly good at his job and will keep his word to the letter, which lets him build up repeat customers who will excuse his many sins. Because after all, it was only business.


Don't get me wrong, Destro is happy to further the Cobra agenda of destroying American democracy and rule of law from within and without but only to remove American industry as a competitor and turn the US into a possible market (*Snickers at the irony*). This has left the Joes flailing a bit as they were built to fight a fascist terrorist cult, not a slippery amoral terrorist corporation (*Laugh-Cries in Communist* {Look to fight someone like Destro you need a lawfare division and a PR Corps in addition to kinetic operations forces, the Joes simply don’t have that}). Still, they're able to check the greatest of Destro's ambitions and keep their forces in the field when everyone else has been crushed so that says something.


That's not all that's going on though. We also see the end of the Zartan and Red Ninja Vengeance arc here. Vengeance and the price of vengeance have long been a running theme in this comic series. Earlier we had the epic feud between the mercenary Kwinn and the Cobra mad scientist Dr. Venom, Kwinn's pursuit of vengeance led to his death and the fear of vengeance led to Dr. Venom's death. Learning to let go of vengeance is what lets Storm Shadow rise above his own base urges and become a better person. It also allowed Snake Eyes to start rebuilding his life and consider pursuing a future with Scarlet.


In this graphic novel, Zartan has to make a choice as to whether or not to keep riding the road of vengeance and lashing out at the Joes in fear of them taking revenge for his actions, accidentally killing one of Storm Shadow and Snake Eye's ninja teachers, or to move on and try to atone. Honestly, this is the strongest part of the graphic novel and it doesn't involve a single member of the Joe team unless we count Billy, Cobra Commander's son.


Ironically the weakest part of the novel also involves the same themes. In this case, with Snake Eyes deciding to no longer live in the past.  He travels to Switzerland with Scarlet to see a world-renowned plastic surgeon. While Scarlet might not give a damn about Snake Eyes' face, he wants to be able to walk down the street and feel the sunlight on his own skin without invoking horror and to some of us even worse, pity, from everyone who sees him. He and Scarlet have an on-screen conversation about this and Scarlet can pick up his point from just a few gestures. This speaks volumes about how deep and strong their connection has grown over the time of this series, as I don't think they could have had this conservation back in Issue 1. This is what I mean about Mr. Hama being underappreciated, he shows us the depth that has grown over time here through character actions in the story.  Snake Eyes basically wants a life outside the shadows with Scarlet and frankly, he's earned it a million times over at this point.


Sadly he is betrayed and while he's being operated on the remote mountain villa that the surgeon works out of comes under attack by Cobra operatives led by the Baroness. This is where we get into the part I don't like. See, the Baroness is here to score vengeance of her own because she believes that back in Vietnam that Snake Eyes killed her brother. He was a humanitarian who was bringing in medical supplies for the Vietnamese people and I'm going to keep the details under my Captain America Hat but suffice to say there was a firefight, Snake Eyes was the only one standing and Baroness has never forgiven him.  That hate drove her to become an internationally hated terrorist just to find and kill him (People in this comic seriously need therapy. All of them. {Stalker and Road Block actually seem fairly well adjusted honestly. I would happily point to them as role models}).


On its own, it's not that big of a deal but considering that Snake Eyes is also connected to Storm Shadow, Stalker, Zartan, Cobra Commander, the defector Crimson Guardsmen Wade Collins, and even more... It starts to feel like the planet doesn't revolve around the sun, it revolves around Snake Eyes. I mean am I going to find out that he's secretly related to Hawk, Gung Ho, and Roadblock as well as the secret heir to never-damned-enough Cobra-La as well? Why not make Snake Eyes father the true heir to the MARS corporation while we're at it!?! Dear writers, you can over-connect your characters. Just to throw out an example. It would have been more interesting if Baroness had a grudge against Scarlet since she was supposed to be in intelligence before joining the Joes. I mean it would let Scarlet have something that had nothing to do with Snake Eyes right? (That would be nice, yes.)


That said the battle between Scarlet defending a Snake Eyes who is down under medical anesthesia from around two squads of vipers and the Baroness is tense and exciting, and the end result is something you’ve got to read. I also did enjoy Snake Eyes' reaction to this and the humanity he shows to Baroness... Eventually, there's a lot of Snake Eyes burning her world down around her ears going on at first but in all fairness, she did try to kill him. I just wish we didn't have yet another character whose entire motivation and origin were wrapped up with Snake Eyes. I mean, at this point we could have prevented the whole series by just having Snake Eyes arrive home one day earlier or later, and then Cobra never gets founded, the Hard Master is never killed tearing Storm Shadow's world apart and the Joes remain normal soldiers who likely serve their time and go home.


The story is still very well written and I really like the characters despite my annoyance at the over-focus on Snake Eyes. Don't get me wrong, I like Snake Eyes but there are other Joes on this team! Oh, there's also a huge surprise in this volume, which means I'm going to tell you not to skip it but I don't want to spoil it. So I'll wait until we review Volume 11, where the return of a long-missing character kick-starts a huge pile of fecal matter hitting the old rotating blade. Until then Volume X by Larry Hama is gonna get a B from me.


We hope you enjoyed this week's review which was chosen by our ever-wise patrons. Our patrons vote every month for upcoming reviews as well as have discussions about theme months and new directions for the review series. For example, our patrons voted on a project I’ve been working on that should be ready for release this summer.  We’re gonna keep that project between us and the patrons for now though.  If you’d like to join us for as little as a dollar a month, head over to https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads hope to see you there.  Next week is Magus of the Library Volume 3.  Until then, stay safe and keep reading!


Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen

Black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders


Friday, May 13, 2022

Heroic Legend of Arslan Vol II By Yoshiki Tanaka

 Heroic Legend of Arslan Vol II

By Yoshiki Tanaka


So our first review of Heroic Legend of Arslan was just last month. So let me do an incredibly brief recap here. Warning there are spoilers for Volume I ahead!


Our story focuses on Arslan who is the royal prince of a nation called Pars (Death to all monarchists! {I’d like to note again that the views of my editor are not the views of this review}). Pars is an ancient nation steeped in wealth and culture, defended by its large army of renowned cavalrymen. Much of its wealth comes from its position on the continental highway, a vast trade route linking the east and west. This position and its wealth makes it a target, in this case for the religiously fanatical armies of Lusitania. A built-in weakness of the nation is that the people of Pars own slaves. A lot of slaves. The Lusitanian religion forbids slavery but their version of the religion calls for the slaughter of non-believers so I feel it's not as big of a virtue as it could be (I mean, no… but at the same time, I revere John Brown and Nat Turner so…{John Brown didn’t call for the execution of all non-Christians}). This is a pressing concern for our hero Arslan as his first battle ends up being a brutal defeat for the men of Pars. With his father the King missing (From what I remember of that King… good.), and the main field army scattered, Arslan is trying to escape capture and rally resistance.


Arslan is aided in this by the quick-witted and frankly scarily capable knight Daryun. In volume I, we watched Daryun kill pretty much an entire platoon of Lusitanian troops single-handedly to get young Arslan out of danger (That is… a disturbing level of competence.). Even with his terrifying killing skills, Daryun can't beat an entire army by himself. I mean if nothing else his arms will get tired by the sheer amount of killing that would take (Yeah, he’d get thirsty if nothing else.). So he takes his prince and flees to the smartest guy he knows, the disgraced noble Narsus. Now, Narsus is a genius in a lot of ways but he fell into disgrace when he pushed for universal emancipation of the slave class (Very good reason to fall into disgrace.). While this does make him the smartest and most moral man in Pars, it also made him a target of every wealthy man in Pars.


So our story takes us to Narsus’ mountain cabin, where he lives simply with a single free servant Elam. Here Narsus lives in nature and paints, pursuing the idea of leaving behind fine art for future generations to appreciate. The problem here is that while he's a genius, he's also a terrible artist (I feel seen.). So it's more likely some terrified art critic will burn the works after his death to protect future generations. Elam is an interesting character as well, the son of liberated slaves (Narsus freed the men and women of his estate as soon as he legally could), he is fiercely devoted to Narsus' well-being and comfort. This doesn't stop him from lecturing Narsus or berating him if he feels Narsus is acting foolishly, which makes for a fun dynamic (I’m getting bickering gay couple vibes.).


We're also introduced to the character Gieve, a freewheeling minstrel who is skilled in music and fighting. He's also a fairly mercenary sort and while he's willing to do a good deed, he's very much focused on finding a way to get out of the warzone. Preferably with as much loot as he can carry. To be fair to him, it's not like he's a soldier or this is his war to start with. On the other hand, he's also the kind of guy who thinks nothing of lying to women to get into bed with them and I find that rather contemptible at best (Definitely contemptible.). I've also found that if you'll lie to score some fun time in bed, you'll lie about other things so claims that such a person can still be a trustworthy and dependable sort seem rather dubious at best to me. A lie we all tell ourselves to avoid facing the fact that yes, such behavior is bad at worst. As you can guess, I'm not terribly fond of him so far but maybe I'll warm up to him later.


On the other side, we see more of a mysterious character only known as Silvermask. This is due to the fact that he wears a silver mask over the top part of his face and a long black cloak. He seems very familiar with Pars and has a hell of a grudge against the royal family (I can’t blame someone for having a grudge against royals…). This is paired with at least one member of the upper nobility openly betraying the royal family. This brings me to my biggest gripe with the graphic novel. Several times our traitor is asked by a former comrade in arms and his response?


“You wouldn't understand!”


Which is such a damn cop-out. I mean, I've never heard anyone with a good reason wail that, especially to people they've fought with, ate with, and socialized with for decades (Yeah, normally they have some kind of manifesto, or will recite their soliloquy.). Dear writers, please don't use this excuse, come up with something! I realize that our writer is trying to maintain suspense but he could have his traitor say he's been sworn to secrecy. He could have his traitor declare the men he's fighting damn well know why. He could point to the King being a dick or just flat-out lie. It is okay to have your characters flat-out lie to each other in the story by the way, in some cases that can improve the story! Hell, have the story cut away every time he does explain! Don't pull this lame you wouldn't understand crap though, because it basically screams that there's no good in-story reason for the character not to explain, but I don't want you the reader to know yet. Which yanks me right out of the story!


I wouldn't complain about it so much except every other part of this story is so well done. Narsus is convincingly written as smart and canny for example. On top of that other characters don't magically turn into idiots around him, which helps make him look smarter since he's surrounded by smart people being smart! Arslan continues to be a good and decent kid trying his best to do his royal duty to resist the invasion of his home. The Lusitanians are written in a very human manner, with the foot soldiers being true believers but still resentful of churchmen who didn't fight getting the first pick of the loot (And that’s your angle on how to turn them against the invasion…), as well as loathing churchmen who do nothing but torture and kill captives. Instead of an army of orcs, we get an army of human beings. Human beings who are behaving brutally, but current events are showing us that if anyone is capable of inhuman behavior, it's a person utterly convinced of their righteousness.


It's a single glaring flaw in a well-written story that is rather effortlessly pulling me in but it is a flaw. Otherwise, the tactics, the dialogue, and actions of the characters are all very well done and the characters themselves are increasingly complex and motivated by a variety of drives that make what could have been a very simple and boring fantasy war into an increasingly complicated and intricate 20 car pile-up of agendas and conflicting desires. I'm enjoying it and I do recommend it. However, Volume II is getting an A- from me.


I hope you enjoyed this week’s review which was requested by one of our ever-wise patrons. You can join us at  https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads where right now there is a vote as to whether or not to change our patron ranking and rewards.  So for a dollar a month you can not only decide what books get reviewed but what the patron structure will look like in the future!  Next week we’ll be covering our most requested review of the month GI Joe volume X.  Until then, stay safe and keep reading!


@Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen

@Black text your reviewer Garvin Anders