Monday, April 12, 2010

"The Name's Mouse. Missile Mouse. "

I really, really hope that Jake Parker's graphic novel Missile Mouse and the Star Crusher is the launch to a new series.  This  mouse has "winner" written all over him.  He's gutsy.  He's cool. He's smart.  He's a secret agent.  He's got a dangerous reputation, a spaceship, and enough nifty gadgets to rival James Bond. And he's in full, glorious technicolour.  Really, when you're sitting down to read a bedtime story to your friendly neighbourhood action/adventure/sci-fi/superhero  fan, you couldn't ask for better than this.

The plot--let's just say it involves a weapon of mass destruction.  Galaxy-sized mass destruction, not just puny earth-size. The good guys and bad guys are racing to find it first.   There is a kidnapped scientist involved.  Missile Mouse is on the good team.  That's really all we need to know.

What really makes Missile Mouse a standout piece of graphic fiction is its superb artwork.  Parker's ability to express character and mood through face and body language is impressive.  The characters, aliens and backdrops are all well-delineated and easy to read visually, but they also convey so much dynamic movement, and do it so smoothly.  Although Missile Mouse is on one level a take-off on the spy genre and makes full use of its cliches, Parker never lets his heroes feel one-dimensional.  The story is fast-paced and exciting, and the overall effect is sophisticated, lively, and lots of fun.  

By the way, Missile Mouse and the Star Crusher is actually the second outing for MM.  A short Missile Mouse story was featured in the graphic fiction anthology for young people Flight:  Explorer, which I also highly recommend.

Here's the Missile Mouse book trailer:

Missile Mouse: The Star Crusher Book Trailer from jakeparker on Vimeo.

Friday, April 9, 2010

And Now for Something Completely Different: The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech

After reading Dawn (see below), Sharon Creech's Unfinished Angel felt light as air.  Unfinished Angel is a small, simple, lovingly written story about an untrained angel who lives in a castle in Switzerland and speaks broken English,  and a girl from America who can see and talk to him.  When Zola, the young girl, discovers a group of mistreated orphans hiding nearby, she informs the angel that they are his responsibility:

"Angel!  You're supposed to know everything!"
I am?  This is a little shock to me.  No, it is a big shock.  Because I am not knowing many, many things.
Zola does not look too happy with me.  She says, "There are kids there, living there, in that dark and dirty and cold place.  A bunch of them.  Eight or ten.  Maybe more.  They're skinny and hungry and dirty.  It is extremely tragical."
"Why are they living there?"
"Angel!"  Zola holds her head in her hands as if I am giving her a very big headache.  "That's what I'm asking youYou're supposed to know these things.  You're supposed to fix these things."
Know and fix?  How does Zola know these things?  Why does she know them and I don't?  I am not feeling so good. 

Between them, Zola and the angel successfully rescue the orphans and make sure they are welcomed into the community.  Creech's world is warm and comforting, and a lot of humour comes from the angel's exasperation at the peculiar ways of humanity.  There's a bit of sadness and reality in this book, and a bit of magic too.  All in all, it's a lovely, uplifting treat.

Dawn by Kevin Brooks

"And tomorrow I'm going to start killing God." 

There's no question that Kevin Brooks is a powerful writer.  He's unafraid of taking chances, and he is relentless when writing about the darkness and squalor of the world his characters populate.  His stories are brooding and violent, and feature angry or bewildered misfits with the odds stacked against them.  Betrayals are par for the course,  and no one comes to save you from your problems just in the nick of time.   He's not for everyone, that's for sure.  But for those who like that  kind of unflinching stare into the heart of darkness, he's an excellent choice. 

Dawn Bundy, the heroine of Brooks' latest novel,  has big odds stacked against her.  Her mother is an unemployed alcoholic who spends her days watching television, and her father disappeared two years previously after raping her in an orgy of alcohol and religious frenzy (while singing hymns about the blood of the lamb).  Dawn has no friends  and struggles with repressed memories and deep feelings of abandonment.  Her closest companions are her two dogs, Jesus and Mary, named after the notoriously melancholy and violent band Jesus and Mary Chain, to which Dawn listens incessantly.  She also loves and feels protective of her barely-functional mother. She blames a local Christian sect for taking her father away from her, and fantasizes about killing God, although as she sadly admits early on, "there is no God.  He doesn't exist. Which is why it's going to be kind of difficult to kill him."

Into this bleak world  Brooks throws two schoolmates who enter Dawn's life with suspicious agendas and a dangerous mobster just out of jail who believes the family owes him money.  Dawn is in way over her head, and we expect to see her situation spiral disasterously out of control, which it does.  But not at all in the way that I thought it would.

And then, miraculously, Brooks leaves Dawn at the end in a state of inner grace.  Love, forgiveness and healing prove to be within her reach, and they transform her.  It's not a happy ending, exactly, but at least she has the inner resources to sustain herself as she faces her difficult situation.   And how incredible is that, that Brooks can make us feel that Dawn has somehow saved herself even as her world falls apart?  It's a testament to his ability to create literature that is soulful and unnerving at the same time.