Only Love Can Break a Heart, But…

Considering Cathy Guisewite’s obsession with hearts and love, I thought a collection of Cathy comics would make an appropriate Valentine’s Day book review.  Only Love Can Break a Heart, But a Shoe Sale Can Come Close is a collection of Cathy comics from the 1990s.  Love, food, friends, work, and clothes all take center stage in Cathy’s humdrum but humorous life.

Cathy's dilemmaCathy’s best friend Andrea from the earlier comics has moved on and only shows up briefly at the end of the book.  In Andrea’s place is Cathy’s coworker and friend Charlene, with whom Cathy shares relationship and shopping woes and advice.  Irving is still at the center of Cathy’s slow-moving love life, and Cathy jealously competes with golf and Irving’s ex-girlfriend Julia for Irving’s attention.

Cathy and golf.JPGTo the annoyance of all the single women where Cathy and Charlene work, Charlene flaunts her happy relationship with her boyfriend Simon.  However, the envious coworkers enjoy their moments of triumph when Charlene’s happy expectations are occasionally disappointed.  Author Cathy Guisewite reveals in her Cathy comics the funny side of a modern woman’s world of shopping, relationships, and work.

Cathy's work.JPGThis collection of Cathy comics continues to display Guisewite’s witty humor.  Additionally, the artwork in Only Love Can Break a Heart, while still in Guisewite’s quirky and childlike style, shows how Guisewite improved as an artist in the two decades since she first began her comics.

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Note: If you want to read more about the Cathy comics, click here to view my other article on Cathy.

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Little Robot

Little Robot book cover

One night, a box tumbles off a shipping truck and into a river.  The next morning, a little girl skips school to play by herself, explore the woods near her home, and work in a junkyard fixing broken machines.  When she spots a cardboard box floating by in the river near the junkyard, she drags it onto dry land, opens it up, and finds inside it a friend in the form of a little robot.  While there is some danger and action thanks to an evil robot sent to capture and return the missing robot, the story is relatively quiet and simple.  The artwork is especially pretty, featuring softer lines and more natural colors than in Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl series.  With no narration and minimal dialogue, Ben Hatke tells a sweet story about friendship in his children’s graphic novel Little Robot.

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Two Charlie Brown Christmas Movies

This year, I discovered two Charlie Brown Christmas movies I had never seen before.  Part of me was excited, but I also wondered how the more modern short films would compare to A Charlie Brown Christmas, the 1965 short I’ve grown up watching.

Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales

Charlie Brown's Christmas TalesCharlie Brown’s Christmas Tales is an extremely brief film at only eighteen minutes in length.  One at a time, the short film focuses on each of the main Peanuts characters, depicting brief scenes of the protagonists and highlighting their personalities.  Each section of the film is like a Christmas postcard about the main characters, and the movie lacks a major storyline.  Interestingly, Christmas Tales introduces a new character to me, Lucy and Linus’ little brother Rerun.  At first I thought Rerun was Linus, but I eventually figured out who he was as I began watching the next short film.

I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown

Rerun and Snoopy

Rerun and Snoopy

A much more substantial forty-three minutes, I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown stars Rerun and Snoopy.  The main storyline follows Rerun’s attempts to get a dog of his own.  Rerun pesters Charlie Brown about playing with, and even buying, Snoopy and is constantly inventing new tactics for acquiring the dog he longs for.  Like Linus, Rerun is very serious but is still convincingly the youngest child because he is more whiney and less well-read than his older brother.

Conclusion

While I still prefer the 1965 Christmas short film, Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales and I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown are enjoyable too.  I like the new storylines involving Snoopy in I Want a Dog, and Rerun is a fun new character.  Both films are humorous and have the jazzy Peanuts music I love, including some additional tunes.  And although neither film has messages as deep as in A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charles Schulz still includes some thought-provoking moments.

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Anime Wizards and Blue Cats

Fiore is a land of wizardry and magic, and Fairy Tail is one of its many wizard guilds.  In addition to its unusual name, Fairy Tail has a reputation for leaving a trail of destruction in its wake, for its good-intentioned wizards are often reckless when fulfilling quests to help the people of Fiore.  The first season of the anime show Fairy Tail features a hilarious cast of characters, a story full of adventure and magic, and themes of loyalty, courage, and friendship.

Fairy Tail characters

Left to right, top to bottom: Natsu, Lucy, Happy, Gray, and Erza

Natsu, Happy, and Lucy form the core trio of Fairy Tail characters.  When the story begins, Lucy joins Fairy Tail as its newest member, and viewers get to know the guild and its members along with Lucy.  Lucy often feels intimidated among Fairy Tail’s powerful wizards but manages to hold her own with her special brand of celestial wizard magic—where she uses magical keys to summon spirits to help her.  Despite a sweet disposition, Lucy can be feisty, especially when Natsu, Happy, and Gray annoy her.  Raised by a dragon, Natsu fights with fire magic and a temper to match.  Impetuous, cocky, and stubborn, Natsu’s character qualities may seem negative but end up endearing him to his friends and the audience.  These traits also make him a formidable opponent when fighting evil wizards because hard-headed persistence can be an effective strategy.  Natsu’s best friend is the talking cat Happy, who stands out for being blue, able to fly, and one of the sweetest characters in the show.  Gray and Erza are two other main characters.  Ice wizard Gray is taciturn and reclusive, and he and Natsu get along about as well as ice and fire because Natsu’s competitive spirit keeps the two of them fighting all the time.  Fairy Tail is often like a big, dysfunctional family with constant competition and squabbles, and Erza would be the mother figure, except that she often joins in the bickering herself.  An intimidating warrioress who’s most comfortable in a suit of medieval armor, Erza scares enemies and friends alike.  Erza wields magical weapons and outfits that she can exchange whenever she wants (leading to one caveat I have about the show, which is that some of Erza’s and other wizards’ outfits are immodest).  Because of her powerful abilities and serious personality, Erza is about the only person who can stop Gray and Natsu from fighting and keep them—and everyone else in Fairy Tail—in line.

Natsu and Happy

Happy and Natsu

Much of Fairy Tail’s plot revolves around its characters, developing their personalities and pasts.  As Fairy Tail proceeds through the first season, the audience learns each protagonist’s backstory and meets more members of Fairy Tail and other light and dark guilds in Fiore.  The story follows Lucy, Natsu, Happy, Gray, and Erza on their many adventures as they answer job requests, help citizens of Fiore, and compete with each other and their fellow guild members.  While elements of the plot are very episodic, Fairy Tail also has larger story arcs that tie the show together.  In fact, as I watched season two, story threads from season one came back into play within the new plot.

In addition to endearing characters and a fun story, Fairy Tail also contains wholesome themes.  Forced to work as a team on quests, the five main characters gradually become friends, learning to trust, fight with, and make sacrifices for each other.  Each of them has lost family but finds a new family in Fairy Tail and its members.  Thanks to the support of their friends, the wizards are able to forgive grievances, and even the most faint-hearted wizards discover loyalty and courage within themselves.  Hidden beneath a reputation for destruction, brawling, and partying, Fairy Tail has true heart that makes it strong.  When times are hard, Fairy Tail bands together, supporting and looking after its members and everyone who needs its help.

HappyHappy sums up a lot about Fairy Tail and why I like it.  Like Happy’s colorful appearance, unique abilities, and amicable personality, Fairy Tail has a literally and figuratively colorful cast of characters.  Each character is unique, and even the serious and reserved ones add to the show’s upbeat tone.  Combined with a story and themes to match these characters, Fairy Tail is a fun anime show to watch.

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Summer Reads Reviewed

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Tokyo Ghoul

What happens when college student Kaneki finally goes on a date with his crush Rize? Well, she turns out to be a ghoul and tries to eat him. When the smoke clears on this situation, Kaneki is part-human, part-ghoul, and must figure out how to live as a different person – holding to his “human values” (not eating people, etc.) while dealing with his nature (only human flesh can satisfy his hunger).

It’s a philosophical sort of manga, with references to Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Herman Hesse (“Who would be born must first destroy the world”). Volumes 1-8 were very interesting, albeit extremely disturbing and violent in places. If extreme violence makes you uncomfortable, maybe pass this series up–the manga seems to get progressively darker and more grotesque.

the-coldest-city

The Coldest City

The Coldest City is a sparse, slow-burning, noir graphic novel set in Berlin near the end of the Cold War. A missing list containing the identities of all the secret agents operating in Berlin (on both sides) is the linchpin around which this story moves.

As a spy thriller, the graphic novel is well set up, but knowing that it was a spy novel, I found some of the plot revelations predictable. Unfortunately, unexpected plot twists are half the fun for me in spy stories–getting my mind blown by third-act revelations. That said, the graphic novel has an interesting set of characters and enough layers that, even with a somewhat obvious conclusion, it’s still interesting.

Also, The Coldest City is apparently the inspiration for the film Atomic Blonde? I did not know.

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Highs and Lows of “Hilo: The Great Big Boom”

The Great Big BoomJudd Winick’s third Hilo book has its ups and downs.  Compared to the first two books, Hilo: The Great Big Boom has a much weaker opening.  However, I think the plot of the third book is stronger than the second.  The story is more interesting, and I appreciate the change of scenery that accompanies Hilo and D.J.’s journey to rescue Gina, who was sucked into a portal at the end of the second book.  As Hilo and D.J. search for Gina on a strange planet, readers get to ride along into a new setting, meeting unusual interplanetary creatures along the way.  In addition to the stronger plot and revitalized setting, I think it’s necessary to note that, because this is a series in which humor is important, the third book has better jokes than Saving the Whole Wide World.

One aspect of the series that has drawn me on has been the larger story arc that encompasses all the books.  I like how Winick reveals more about Hilo’s past as the robot’s elusive memories return.  Some of the developments in The Great Big Boom feel a bit silly—including the explanation for the book’s title—, but Winick does introduce some intriguing elements.  For example, Hilo becomes hesitant to use his powers in fights, and this places his friends in danger.  Hilo’s self-doubts are sympathetic flaws, and I like how Winick uses them to round out Hilo’s character.  Hilo has to wrestle with the question, “What do you do when you don’t want to harm anyone by using your powers but could endanger your friends by inaction?”  Hilo’s struggles bring surprising depth to this children’s book.

When I began this series, I thought it was a trilogy.  I must admit I was a bit disappointed to learn that it wasn’t because I think more than three books is a bit excessive.  The second and third book might have been stronger if Winick had packed more into them and finished the story with The Great Big Boom.  However, time and the next book (or books) in the series will tell whether or not Winick was wise to stretch the story out.

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Redefining Wonder Woman

WW posterPrior to this spring, my image of Wonder Woman consisted of a woman with poufy hair wearing starry spandex, spouting cardboard dialogue, and wielding a laughable “Lasso of Truth.”  This year’s movie adaptation of the comic book heroine, however, paints a different picture.  Now, Diana Prince displays dignity and strength and is simultaneously a warrior and a woman.  Together, all the elements of the movie combine to reflect the change of tone.

Wonder Woman’s plot focuses on Diana Prince’s Amazonian backstory, including a comic book version of the Greek myths.  While DC’s retelling of Greek myths is at times a bit cheesy, the other aspects of the Amazonian world are very captivating, and as Diana enters the chaos and modernity of WWI, the scriptwriters keep the audience wondering whether Diana’s Amazonian stories have any bearing on the modern world.  Particularly, viewers question Diana’s claim that Ares is the cause of the war.  Although the plot can be predictable, the characters and dialogue carry the story well.  American pilot Steve Trevor and the other members of Diana’s ragtag team back Diana up with skill and plenty of humor.  Most importantly, Gal Gadot fills her role as Diana Prince amazingly, bringing character to a caricature.  With her smiles and seriousness, Gadot transforms Diana Prince into a real person.

Gal Gadot

Diana’s reaction to her first taste of ice cream and her first encounter with a revolving door are hilariously believable thanks to Gadot’s acting, and the new character of Diana Prince brings with it freshness and vitality.  Another interesting sign of the movie’s novel approach to Wonder Woman is that throughout the movie Diana Prince is known by her personal name, not by her title “Wonder Woman.”

In keeping with the movie’s plot and tone, the costumes and music blend with the times and cultures the movie represents.  When fighting, Diana dons Greek-style armor, not tights, and the outfits she wears while “fitting in” with London and German society are pretty much historically accurate (although no woman would be able to wear a sword down the back of her dress without anyone noticing).  Both the costumes and music capture elements of the ancient Greek and WWI eras, and I especially like the theme song’s Eastern air.  Composer Rupert Gregson-Williams expertly crafts a score that complements and represents the film’s titular character.  Like Diana Prince, the music is an exotic blend of cultures and is impressive, beautiful, and inspiring with its swelling themes and incorporation of brass, strings, choir, and percussion.

Wonder Woman photoMore surprising than the production quality, acting, or story, though, are the themes that the movie incorporates.  Diana Prince has an attachment to truth that goes beyond her golden lasso, and she demonstrates this in her blunt honesty, questions, and actions.  Throughout the movie, she is searching for truth and the difference between right and wrong.  When she faces the enemy, she refuses to believe his twisted representations of the truth.  Yet, she is willing to change her beliefs when she discovers she is wrong.  From the opening to the closing lines, Diana reveals her struggle with the truth that humans don’t deserve to be rescued, for they have created their own problems and wickedness.  Mankind is not basically good, and no matter what enemies she defeats, she will never be able to change that.  Men don’t deserve to be saved—a truth that Diana reluctantly admits.  This truth is evident, even in the banter of three of the main character soldiers, who joke, “May we get what we want…and may we get what we need…But may we never get what we deserve” (“Quotes”).  Diana doesn’t end there, though, for she realizes another, greater truth:  love is the reason to fight to save mankind.

Surprisingly, though imperfectly, Wonder Woman points to realities about love, mercy, truth, and man’s condition which I would never have expected to find in a pagan superhero movie.  While Wonder Woman lacks the ultimate answer to man’s problems, I think its discussion of these themes is valuable.  If more people understood what Diana learns in this fictional story, history and the world would be drastically different, for all too often, people assume that mankind is essentially good and blame every problem on the government, greedy businesses, or a few particularly evil people.

Diana Prince

Wonder Woman’s themes create a thoughtful movie that impacts viewers with more than just jokes or exciting action scenes.  In the midst of recent antihero movies, Wonder Woman stands out with its heroine and themes.  Diana Prince has honesty and heart.  In her actions, she uses her principles as much as her weapons, and throughout the story she emanates a dignity, strength, and compassion which give her title “Wonder Woman” a whole new meaning.


Works Cited

Wonder Woman (2017) Quotes.”  IMDb.com.  2017.  Internet Movie Database.  30 Aug. 2017, imdb.com/title/tt0451279/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu.

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