Sunday, 14 May 2017

The White Powder's Not That Either: Review and Analysis of Arthur Machen's 'The Novel of the White Powder' (1895)

This review will spoil the plot in full

Machen could only have disappointed. Praised by Lovecraft and Stephen King, Arthur Machen’s story will be known by horror fans, though rarely read. And if read, better left unread, if The Novel of the White Powder indicates his oeuvre. Machen writes competently, but he cannot justify the label ‘horror’.

Helen Leicester’s brother does nothing but study law. His idea of recreation involves sitting idly in a chair between case law binges. But even lawyers grow sick, and he requires a special medicine. Too special it turns out. The prescription he gets from Dr Haberden changes him – Francis wants a holiday! More than that he wants to give up the law altogether. He starts slumming around London. Helen doesn’t know what’s happened, or what she can do. Her brother rots in front of her, and the very weather seems to degenerate alongside him. Eventually, he shuts himself in his room, saying he’s studying law again. When Helen and Haberden knock down the door, they find a oozing mass. Haberden leaves England, never to return, but sends Helen his colleague’s analysis of the medicine. This white powder, left on the shelf so long, with the temperature rising and lowering, had become something… other. And it has something to do with medieval pagan devil-worshiping cults.   

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Dark Before Dawn: An Analysis of Oscar Wilde's 'Salomé' (1891)

Without knowing its disease, the body still succumbs to disease. A civilisation’s flame dwindles to flicker, before snuffing. In The Hollow Men, T. S. Eliot wrote the world ends ‘not with a bang but a whimper’. Eliot wrote of a tired death, a whimper at the end of weariness. Wilde culls a world with decadence. Only when the rotting flesh of Herod, Herodias, Salomé ferments do they whimper.

Reading Salomé, another of Eliot’s poems echoed: Journey of the Magi. One of the three wise men recounts meeting the baby Jesus. But through his opaque narration, we learn he witnessed not just Christ, but his world’s death. With Christianity came a revolution in values, a revolution in culture, a revolution in the world, but the old world, culture, values must die. The magi cannot become a Christian. 

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Style Substitutes Substance: A Review of Waid and Samnee's 'Black Widow' (2016-7 comic)

I don’t mean style over substance as an insult. In Waid and Samnee’s twelve-issue, single-arc run on Black Widow, plot threads only just hold together, characters have rote motivations, and the themes extend to characters saying ‘secret’ a lot. On their own, these elements are merely competent. Here, they are redeemed, because they fuel the book’s style.

Black Widow runs from SHIELD. A masked terrorist named Weeping Lion blackmails her into digging up her own past. He wants information on the Red Room, a school for child assassins. The Red Room has resurrected, ready to educate a new generation of assassins.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

A Gay Old Time: A Review of 'Moll Cutpurse: Her True History' by Ellen Galford (1985)

It’s amazing what you can find, trawling through second-hand bookstores. I found a swashbuckling, historical yarn, starring a tomboyish lesbian, in a loving relationship, written in the 1980s – which doesn’t end in misery.

During the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, when women weren’t at their most emancipated, a dashing thief-tress stole her way through England: Moll Cutpurse. We follow her from her start as her parent’s problem child, to her managing a pick-pocket academy, to her bambooziling a shanghai-ing ship captain, and beyond. Throughout her life, Moll has one constant, her apothecary girlfriend Bridget. 

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Approaching Mediocrity: A Review of 'Kindred Spirits on the Roof' (2015 manga)

Perhaps this collection appeals to fans of the original game, but Kindred Spirits on the Roof underwhelms as a standalone manga. Cameos pop up, as though we should care about them, and maybe players of the game do. But none of the characters in this work are compelling or distinct. What we have here are graphic novellas that feel slight and unsatisfying.

Both stories share Shirojo high-school as a setting, but otherwise do not overlap. The first story focuses on Shiori. She still pangs with guilt over fleeing her best friend, Mako, when Mako confessed her love for Shiori. With the help of her new friends, Hina and Seina, Shiori must learn to stop running from her problems, and her feelings.

The second story concerns a girl, Hase, who adores seeing female friendships. She loves her voyeurism so much, she joins the quiz club just to pour over the friendship of the club’s two leaders, Tomoe and Sasaki. Together they aim to win the national quiz tournament. And will Tomoe and Sasaki’s friendship become something more? (Not even a spoiler: it will.) 

Sunday, 19 March 2017

All Sweetness and Light: A Review of 'Hana and Hina After School' Vol. 1 (2015 manga)

Calling Hana and Hina After School ‘sweet’ seems like damning with faint praise. It’s like I’m saying, ‘This piece of fluff has nothing to say.’ And indeed, this series does have little to say (at least in this volume). But while this series has no grand moral messages, nor very deep characters, nor even grand conflict, the series is a sweet story of budding love.  

Quite against school rules, Hana has a part-time job. She works in a toy store, but she keeps a low profile. If her school finds out, they’ll expel her. One day, one of her regular customers, the dashing Hina, asks if the store still has a vacancy open. It turns out, despite her cool demeanour, Hina goes gaga over everything cute: plush-toys, dolls, Hana – Not that she’d ever reveal that last one. But until both Hana and Hina figure out their feelings, their biggest worry is that their school will discover their jobs, and expel them. 

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Break Your Shell: A Review of Princess Jellyfish Omnibus One (2009 manga)

Princess Jellyfish has a passive protagonist shocked into life by a manic pixie dream girl – and yet it’s not a bad book. Going on omnibus one, this seems to be a belated-coming-of-age story. Our heroine’s must learn to overcome her passivity. And the manic pixie dream girl is not the male wish fulfilment it so often is, because 1) this book is about a woman’s coming-of-age, and 2) our dream girl is a male transvestite.  

Tsukimi is a fujoshi, who shares an apartment building with other fujoshi, self-proclaimed ‘rotten women’. They have no time for social lives, or, really, lives at all, outside their obsessions. Tsukimi seems resigned to a life of social stagnation. Until, she runs into Koibuchi, a girl with all the style and affability Tsukimi lacks. But it turns out Koibuchi is a cross-dressing guy. And though Tsukimi gave up on her social life, Koibuchi has far more ambition for her.