Friday, June 25, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Bryan Lee O'Malley)

Volume 2! Of Scott Pilgrim! Yes!



Flashback: 7 years ago. A 16-year-old Scott Pilgrim has just moved to Toronto. New school, new friends, new kids trying to beat him up all the time. He meets Lisa; they hang out and play video games. He meets Kim; they hang out and do geography class projects together. The three unite and form a band called Sonic & Knuckles. Boys from a rival school storm Scott, Lisa, and Kim's school and kidnap Kim, but Scott fights his way through several levels of bosses to get her back. Scott and Kim start dating! Everything is cutesy and fun until Scott moves away again and the two break up. Wait a minute, Scott and Kim? Kim Pine? Drummer for Scott's current band, Sex Bob-omb? Oooooohhh snap! Right from the get go in volume two we start to learn a little bit more about Scott: mainly, that he isn't the super innocent nerd everyone thinks he is. He used to date Kim, has started dating Ramona, and has yet to officially break up with Knives. And who is this mysterious ex-girlfriend that people keep saying is evil?

Scott finally breaks up with Knives, sending her on a jealous rampage that involves dying her hair and attacking Ramona in a library. Meanwhile, Scott's gay roommate Wallace gets the skinny on the next evil ex-boyfriend that Scott has to face: famous movie star Lucas Lee. Lucas is in town shooting a movie, but finds time to fight Scott in between takes, no big. At their first encounter, Scott gets his ass handed to him, but Lucas decides to take a break and drink some gatorade. While the two are hanging out waiting for round 2 to start, Scott notices Lucas' skateboard, and dares him to grind down a 200-step staircase. Lucas can't turn down a challenge! He makes it all the way down the staircase but botches the landing, reducing himself to a $14 pile of change. Scott wins! By default. Scott goes home bummed out that he couldn't even keep the item that appeared after Lucas' demise, a mithril skateboard. (Scott didn't pick up the skateboard proficiency in grade five. Oh well.)

While chilling at home after the fight, Scott gets a call from his ex-girlfriend, Envy Adams. Not much is known about Envy, except that she's now the lead singer of The Clash at Demonhead, a band that's been swiftly gaining popularity. Oh, and she broke Scott's heart. Envy tells Scott that her band is playing a few shows in Toronto, and that his band should open one of the shows. Scott lapses into depression, clearly not wanting to see Envy—or her new boyfriend Todd—at all, let alone open for their band. Stephen Stills protests! They must play! The band goes to one of The Clash at Demonhead's shows so that arrangements can be made, with Ramona and Young Neil in tow. Drama! Young Neil arrives with his new girlfriend on his arm—his new girlfriend KNIVES CHAU! Even more drama! Once the show starts, Ramona realizes that Scott's ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend, Todd, is actually RAMONA'S THIRD EVIL EX-BOYFRIEND!


Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
by Bryan Lee O'Malley

This volume doesn't have as much action as the first (the intro fight is a flashback and the boss battle is hardly even a real fight), but it contains a ton of much-needed backstory. You get a much deeper understanding of all of the characters, as well as a few quirky tidbits thrown in that were alluded to in volume one (example: in volume one Scott mentions that he'll discuss his last employment situation in a future volume, and here he follows through).

These are probably going to get 10s across the board for style. Bryan Lee O'Malley continues his commitment to video game references by including several more distinctly stylistic scenes, the mithril skateboard "item" being the most prominent.

The plot doesn't drive forward as strongly as the first book, but it's still incredible smooth to get through and ridiculously fun to read. The inclusion of backstory also ups the character investment, which is one of the few things that the first book could have benefitted from, I think.


Keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life (Bryan Lee O'Malley)

You may or may not know this already, but July 20, 2010, will see the release of one of the most highly-anticipated comic books of all time: Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O'Malley. Now, I know what some of you are saying. Who is this Scott Pilgrim character? Why do I care? Well, you care because the Scott Pilgrim series is one of the GREATEST LITERARY CREATIONS OF ALL TIME AND SCOTT HIMSELF IS AWESOME!

Oh yeah, and did I mention that the entire series is going to be a movie directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and starring Michael Cera (Superbad, Arrested Development)??? Because it is! August 13! Yes!


Over the course of the next five weeks, I'm going to post reviews of each of the first five volumes of Scott Pilgrim, culminating in a review of the final volume on July 23. Well, review doesn't seem to be the right word. These are going to be more like recaps. Unlike normal Genoshan reviews, these WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS, so read at your own risk! If you just want the straight up ratings, without any spoilers, feel free to scroll down to the bottom of each recap, where the usual numerical ratings will remain spoiler-free. Now that all the business stuff is taken care of, let's get this show on the road!


Toronto. 2004. Scott Pilgrim—23; awesome—has just started dating Knives Chau—17; Chinese—and his friends are giving him shit about it. In order to stop the beration (berating? berativeness?), Scott brings Knives to meet his friends and fellow band members at one of their rehearsals. The band's name: Sex Bob-omb, one of roughly three trillion video game references in the series. The band meets Knives; Scott's gay roommate Wallace Wells meets Knives; Scott's little sister Stacey finds out about Knives; EVERYTHING IS GOING WELL FOR SCOTT OH YEAH! But then Scott starts seeing this mysterious hipster chick with funky hair in his dreams. Then he sees her in real life, at the library! After meeting her at a party, he finds out that she works for, so he places an order, hoping that she'll bring him his package. She does! Her name is Ramona Flowers, and through an awkward dialogue with a smitten Scott the world discovers that she's been entering his dreams through a subspace highway—basically a shortcut on her delivery route that runs directly through his brain. Weird!

Scott somehow manages to convince Ramona to go on a date with him (even though he's technically dating Knives! Uh oh!), and then invites her to come see his band perform at a local bar. After their date, Scott receives a strange email, and subsequent letter, from someone named Matthew Patel, claiming that they should schedule a time to fight. Pssh, junk mail. Scott and the other Sex Bob-omb band members, Stephen Stills and Kim Pine, show up to their gig and meet up with: Stacey Pilgrim; a boy that Stacey brings; Wallace Wells, who hits on Stacey's boy; Young Neil, Sex Bob-omb's biggest fan; Knives Chau; Knives' friend, also 17; some other people; AND RAMONA FLOWERS OH NO BUT ISN'T KNIVES THERE YES SHE IS. Scott hides backstage while the first band, Clash and the Boys, plays their set. Unfortunately, the final song in Clash and the Boy's set knocks most of the audience unconscious, except for Scott's friends, who were all either in the balcony, or in the bathroom. As Sex Bob-omb takes the stage to play to a mostly comatose audience, Matthew Patel bursts through the ceiling and attacks Scott! Unfortunately for Matthew Patel, Scott Pilgrim is the best fighter in the province (we're in Canada, remember). Scott fights Matthew Patel! Matthew Patel summons flying demon hipster chicks! Scott summons his friends! The flying demon hipster chicks shoot fire balls at Scott! Deflected! Scott K-O's Matthew Patel, turning him into coins.

What was that all about? Oh, sorry Scott, that was the first of Ramona Flowers' SEVEN EVIL EX-BOYFRIENDS! All of whom have to be defeated if Scott wants to date Ramona. Bummer. Scott and Ramona start dating, and the book ends with several cliffhangers, mainly: what's Scott gonna tell Knives? who are Ramona's other evil exes, and will Scott be able to defeat them all?? why does Ramona get a weird blinking halo around her head whenever Scott asks her about her past??? WILL SCOTT GET MORE THAN $2.10 NEXT TIME HE DEFEATS AN EVIL EX-BOYFRIEND BECAUSE THAT'S HOW MUCH HE GOT FOR BEATING MATTHEW PATEL AND THAT DOESN'T EVEN COVER BUS FARE?!?!?

So there's that. Why is this book so good? Where do I even start? How about I don't, and just jump right to the ratings?


Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life
by Brian Lee O'Malley

It's soooooo original. Bryan Lee O'Malley creates a unique, quasi-realistic, video game-esque world where normal, mundane things happen all the time, but boss battles and subspace highways get thrown in for good measure. This first volume loses just a few tenths of a point for having a completely unexpected ending. I didn't have a problem with it, and actually think that it shouldn't have been unexpected at all, but alas, it's the number one complaint people have about the volume.

I have never seen anything like this ever in my life and it is glorious. This is the kind of book that people will be stealing ideas from forever. A+++++

Maybe you don't read comic books. So what? This is exactly the kind of comic book that I would give to someone who doesn't read comic books. It's funny, accessible, easy to follow, but also has a decent amount of conflict and genuine emotion. Scott Pilgrim is a real person with real problems and real reactions. He just happens to live in a world where people can build up a 64-hit combo.


Now before you get too worried that the 2010 Daily Genoshan Top Ten List is going to be 60% Scott Pilgrim, let me tell you how the rating system is actually going to work. Similar to previous comic book series that have been reviewed, the final rating will encompass each of the individual volumes. This volume's rating of 9.58 will be averaged in with the ratings of the other five books to produce the Ultimate Scott Pilgrim Rating that will be revealed alongside the final review. Until next time, keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon)

Other writing responsibilities and World Cup soccer have been cutting in on Genoshan time lately, so unfortunately this has to be short. Luckily, though, reviews are easy to make short when the book is good, like this one.


Christopher Boone is an English boy living with what has to be some kind of autism. He remembers absolutely everything, but has trouble handling even the simplest social and emotional issues. One day Christopher comes across a dead dog in his neighbor's yard, and decides that the death is a mystery that he must solve. Christopher's father objects to the investigation, but it continues nonetheless, sending the boy off on a path that leads him to startling realizations about his own life.

Okay. This book is actually really well written. It reminds me a lot of 2009's #1-rated Daily Genoshan book, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Both books follow a special young boy who goes off on a quest to answer a question that's been nagging him. Both are written from a diary-like first person perspective. Both boys come from broken households. I couldn't help thinking of Jonathan Safran Foer's book while I was reading this one, though it should be noted that this book actually came out first. Regardless, the likeness is a good thing. Mark Haddon does an excellent job getting into Christopher's mind. Everything makes perfect sense the way Christopher explains it, even ridiculous actions like detesting the color yellow or punching a cop in the face. Christopher writes everything down, even things that make him look bad, because that's what he thinks he is supposed to do. It's great, though. I could never imagine having to live that like, but Haddon brings me about as close as I think I could ever be.

There's a ton of really good conflict, and the book takes some very unexpected turns. Christopher winds up learning much more about himself than about the dead dog. Not all of it is good, though. His reactions, while slightly exaggerated to us, make perfect sense to him, and create a depth of drama you don't often find. I also really enjoyed the fact that there are plenty of puzzles, maps, and diagrams included in the book. Christopher is primarily a logic-based entity, and does his best to explain things in as rational a way as possible. Sometimes this means illustrating examples. Haddon is able to bring everything together in such a way that it all makes complete sense. It's an excellent book, I highly recommend it to pretty much everyone.


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
by Mark Haddon

I was genuinely intrigued by Christopher's compulsion to continue on with his investigation even after his father made him swear he would stop. He has to find justifiable ways to keep going so that he can't be labeled a liar, which is extremely important to him.

This book came out two years ahead of what I personally labelled one of the best books ever written, but shares many of the same stylistic quirks. Haddon doesn't take things to the extreme that Foer did, but the creativity is astounding.

I can see why this is such a popular book, and my only regret is that I never read it sooner. It's easy to find, often filling up "Buy 2, Get the 3rd Free!" tables at Barnes & Noble.


Pick this book up. It's bound to be a classic. Keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, June 4, 2010

City of Thieves (David Benioff)

Wow. So good.


From the guy who brought you The 25th Hour and the screenplays for The Kite Runner and—more importantly— X-Men Origins: Wolverine, comes a book about two guys trying to find a carton of eggs. Huh? Wait, this book is about a couple of guys just running around trying to find some eggs? There's got to be more to it than that...

Okay, so there's a little bit more to it than that. Lev Beniov is a teenaged boy living in Leningrad well into the Nazis' horrific siege of the city during World War II. Starving and lacking any hope of relief in the near future, he resorts to robbing a dead German paratrooper that lands outside Lev's building. Unfortunately, the dead Nazi doesn't have any food on him, and Lev is arrested for breaking curfew essentially without reward. Expecting to be executed alongside his handsome and outgoing cellmate, Kolya, Lev is surprised when he and his new friend are instead taken to a mansion on the other side of the city. They are met by a powerful Soviet colonel who sends them on a deadly mission: secure a dozen eggs for the colonel's daughter's wedding cake. Lev and Kolya's ration cards are confiscated as an incentive to comply, and the two are left with little choice but to search the city for a carton of eggs that they know they won't find.

Let me just get something out of the way here: this book is incredible. It's not some profound, paradigm-shattering epic that speaks to very essence of man. It's not a poetic masterpiece, sure to be cherished for generations to come because of its beautiful handling of the English language. Screw that noise. It's a 260-page novel with a plot that covers probably 240 of those pages. But damn, is it a good plot. Benioff writes conflict so well. No, really, so, so, so well. Everything that can go wrong for this poor kid Lev doesn't just go wrong, it goes horribly, hellaciously wrong. Early on in their journey, Lev and Kolya are confronted by a man who says he has eggs if they've got cash. They go with the man, but stay on guard. When he invites them up to his apartment, they're clearly a little skeptical, assuming they're about to get robbed. Nope, cannibals. Dude starts swinging a cleaver around, his wife coming at the pair with a knife, people's flayed corpses just chilling from meat hooks in the ceiling. Terrifying stuff. It doesn't get much better for the kid after that, either. They realize that the most likely place to find eggs these days is outside the city—the city that's surrounded by Nazis—on farms—controlled by Nazis—where farmers might still have chickens laying eggs—for Nazi omelettes or whatever Germans eat for breakfast. Oh yeah, and Lev's Jewish. We all know how much the Nazis love them some Jews.

Seriously, folks, this book is top notch. It's got love, war, cannibals, chickens, Nazis, hookers, death marches, paratroopers, candy made out of glue, Scandinavian rebels, sexy snipers, and a little bit of chess and poetry for all you cultured readers out there. Great conflict, great drama, beautiful characterization, and just overall fantastic storytelling. READ THIS BOOK!


City of Thieves
by David Benioff

Benioff keeps it simple: strong plot, strong characters, strong motivation. It's surprising how far good old rising action will take you.

This kind of thing has been done before, sure. You don't read this book because you're looking for something completely new. You read this book because you're looking for something to reassure yourself that strong, quality writing still exists and that a book can succeed on the strength of its story.

This book is extremely quick to read, extremely fun to read, and deceptively easy to get hooked into once you've started. Don't be surprised if you pick it up early one afternoon and find yourself turning the last page at 3 am, clueless as to where your day went.


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