Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Avatar: The Last Airbender The Promise Part 3

Author: Gene Luen Yang | Illustrator: Gurihiru | Page Count:76
It's a new kind of world. There's no getting around risk.
Shit has hit the fan. The Harmony Restoration Movement is a failure and now multiple sides on the conflict are about to come to head. Aang is tasked with maintaining balance, but is now unsure how exactly that can be accomplished. Sticking to the rigid definition of it has only led to the current state that threatens the hard earned peace and has itself become a danger to the future of the people and Aang himself. Zuko faces a similar conundrum except that it is mostly an internal conflict in himself. Aang must manage peace between the 3 sides of the conflict which may involve invoking the titular promise.

That sounds pretty heavy, but this is Avatar we're dealing with so it is still that same adventurous, humorous and action storytelling that's to be expected that is still a light tone given its target audience. Toph and Sokka will provide any levity that readers may need. The story and action are great but come to a somewhat rushed and incomplete conclusion. To be expected as it is revealed that this has merely been a prelude to the next series of adventure that will presumably answer the question that readers came to this series hoping it would be answered; the whereabouts of Zuko's mother. But what is there is still entertaining, colorful and full of great character drama. A wonderful continuation of the series overall with great hints poking at future storylines.

4 fat guys and their inexplicably hot girlfriend out of 5

Saturday, November 3, 2012

DC Comics: Year by Year: A Visual Chronicle (2010)

Authors: Various  |  Illustrators: Various  |  Page Count: 352

A giant sized book that attempts to present a history of DC Comics from its beginnings as National Allied Publications in 1934, through its change to Detective Comics in 1937, right up to the year of publication (the last entry is Batman #700, August 2010). It's not just an encyclopaedic list of characters; it also gives an insight into the company and its various imprints, TV and film endeavours alongside real life events that clearly influenced the consciousness of the comics' creators of the era. It's an ambitious undertaking that has no choice but to hurry over certain things, otherwise it'd be bigger than the coffee table it sits on.

It's split into chapters, one for each year, that offer memorable quotes, an overview of events, creator profiles and an extensive timeline of the complicated DC Universe. Each page is awash with colourful illustrations and faithful reproductions of original cover art. It's a treasure trove of information. I admit I skipped over some of the character entries. As with most reference books, not every entry appeals to every reader.

It's an attractive package housed in a very sturdy slip case, with two unique lithographs by Ryan Sook that some folks will likely want to frame and hang to better appreciate their beauty. Unless you're the type of person that buys this kind of thing as an investment, thereby negating its very purpose, to be read, then you’ll maybe find yourself returning to it time and again. I know I have.

4 history lessons from men in tights out of 5

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Manhattan Projects: Volume 1: Science. Bad. (2012)

Author: Jonathan Hickman | Artist: Nick Pitarra | Page Count: 144

'Circles within circles. Worlds within worlds.
He saw the door for what it was, and he threw it open.'

Don't judge a book by its cover. Everyone knows the idiom but there's no doubt that a good cover is the thing that first attracts the eye. The covers of TMP caught my attention instantly. The monthlies, not the one above. They were simple but striking, enigmatic and alluring symbols on a spacious background that held the promise of something different, something deep. What lay beneath the cover delivered on those assumptions... mostly.

TMP is a wild fiction built around the real life creation of the first WWII atomic bomb. The build is simply a front for what the militant project leader identifies as "...more important concerns." He enlists the troubled scientist Oppenheimer and a team of equally disturbed real life geniuses to fulfil a very different agenda. More than once I was reminded of Mike Mignola; they're a kind of reverse B.P.R.D. 

It's an engaging and far-reaching story that draws the reader in with hermetic secrets, drip-feeding future possibilities alongside some cryptic past histories.

However, holding back like it does made me question whether it'll come together in a satisfyingly cohesive manner. By the end of the book that question was still ringing in my mind. One thing is clear, though: it’s a bubbling pot with two lids, neither of which is able to contain the inevitable—there will be spillage.

Nick Pitarra provides art so successfully that it's hard to imagine the work being presented in any other style. He's not completely original, his influences are clear to see, but his vision gels with Hickman's wild sciences perfectly.

The colouring is as important as the art in getting the message across. It uses a palette of contrasting primary and tertiary colours that support the dualities present in the written word. It was so well presented that for a change I didn't mind the digital colouring methods.

The book collects together The Manhattan Projects issues 1–5.

3½ flirtations with reckless abandon out of 5

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Dark Tower: The Little Sisters of Eluria (1998)

Author: Stephen King | Page Count: 66

'She might be a good nurse, and fair, but Roland thought her a poor liar. He was glad. Good liars were common. Honesty, on the other hand, came dear.'

Before beginning the Dark Tower books King was primarily known as a horror writer. The Dark Tower was a departure from that. It's essentially a Western wedded to a traditional Tolkien-esque fantasy, wherein the journey is of more importance than the destination. The reason I mention all of that is because the horror that he used to do so well can be strongly felt in this short piece. It creeps in tentatively at first but takes hold quickly. It's a fantasy-western-horror novella, and it works. It feels like an experiment that really paid off. It's perhaps the freshest instalment he's delivered since the very first book.

I'm not going to bother with a synopsis because if you've read previous Dark Tower books then you'll already know if you want to read more. Nothing will change that. But if you're new to Mid World, it'd be best not to start your journey here. It's primarily for readers with an existing knowledge of the series.

It starts out like a choose-your-own-adventure book that has had all the choices already made by someone else, but that's simply to get gunslinger Roland Deschain to where King needs him to be; the shorter format necessitates it. It also forces him to trim the waffle he usually spews, making this work a fast-paced adventure that left me wanting more.

NOTE: The short was released one year after Vol IV: Wizard and Glass (1997) but takes place before Vol I: The Gunslinger (1982). Does that make it the earliest of Roland's adventures chronologically? No, because it also confusingly takes place sometime after the events in Mejis, mentioned in Wizard and Glass. That places it prior the formation of the ka-tet, but after the Susan Delgado time period.

3½ thoughtful houses out of 5

Thursday, October 25, 2012

God Save the Queen (2007)

Author: Mike Carey | Illustrator: John Bolton | Page Count: 96

Every girl’s meant to fantasize about being Alice.
But I think it’s mainly guys that get all hot about rabbit holes.”

God Save the Queen is an adult tale full of visceral imagery and harsh realities that merge the aesthetic of British Punk with the magical but equally fearful nature of the cautionary tale / fairy story.  Those two things on the surface would seem to have nothing in common but Carey makes it work.
You’ll meet characters from other well-known Vertigo titles, namely The Sandman, The Dreaming, and The Books of Magic, but the book exists on the fringes of all three titles so you don’t need to have read any of them prior to reading this.

The story revolves around Linda, a bored, alienated, self-absorbed and self-destructive young adult.  If trouble doesn't find her, she’ll actively seek out and embrace it.  The rebellion of the individual against society and family is concurrent with the catastrophic repercussions that follow when Titania, the Queen of Faerie, receives an unwelcome visitor to her realm.

It’s a joy to see Carey get to write some strong female protagonists because he’s so very good at it.  On the flip side, the depth of many of the lesser characters is sacrificed due to the short page count.

It feels directionless for a time but pay attention to the small things because the strands weave beautifully as it gets nearer the ending.

The book once more teams Carey with artist John Bolton.  Bolton’s art is a good fit for the dark themes on display.  His panelling is traditional but he’ll occasionally break out with a full page piece that teems with life; it’s clear he enjoys the freedom that brings.  His history of horror illustration brings an elegant darkness to the visuals which highlight the grimy and terrible nature of the environments, and the people.

3½ Midsummer ‘Red Horse’ Nightmares out of 5

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole (2012)

Author: Stephen King | Page Count: 335

"I won't kill him, but you shall be there when he swings, and with my own hand I'll give you the bread to scatter beneath his dead feet."

Stephen King calls it book 4.5 of The Dark Tower series because it's set chronologically between Book IV: Wizard and Glass (1997) and Book V: Wolves of the Calla (2003). He also suggests that you can read it without having read any of the previous works, but I would strongly advise against doing that. It would nullify one of the most dramatic and defining moments in the early books. I feel it's best if you start at the series beginning or not at all.

The Wind Through the Keyhole uses the story within a story (within another story) literary device. The bulk of the book is taken up by gunslinger Roland Deschain telling his ka-tet self-contained stories from his past. The interpolated frame narrative used is so very brief that it draws attention to itself; it serves little purpose other than to enable King to slip the book into the existing continuity without upsetting it further. In doing so, it offered him the perfect opportunity to remedy the dramatic shift the reader experienced between Books IV and V (he had a near death accident in the interim—it clearly influenced the direction the narrative took in Book V), but there's no real attempt to smooth that transition. I'd hoped that distance and hindsight would've offered a renewed perspective.

Ultimately, I think a collection of shorts, removing the unnecessary frame and the three-tiered structure, would've been a better approach. Telling of Roland's youth and expanding upon his relationship with his family and his peers would've been preferable. It could've better explored the reasons for his actions in later books and offered a deeper insight into why he allows himself to be so utterly consumed by his obsessions. It could even have been the beginning of a series of prequels, offering King the opportunity to do the same for the other members of the ka-tet prior to their meeting Roland, enabling him to tell a different kind of story, one removed from the fantasy setting but still a part of it.

To his credit, though, he's crafted a story about storytelling and about the power of the imagination to create horrors or to stave them off. It's the written word but it captures a style of verbal storytelling that's almost dead now, and for a short time it comes alive once more. That kept me reading.

Ironically, the best part of the book is the story most removed from the Dark Tower mythos and its 4000+ pages of fictional but rigidly dogmatic continuity.

The author's addiction to Midworld makes me suspect this won't be the last time he journeys there. I sincerely hope he makes the next one less awkward, because I'm a sucker for Roland’s way and I'll surely buy into it.

2½ throckets of bumblers out of 5

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Avatar: The Last Airbender The Promise Part 2

Author: Gene Luen Yang | Illustrator: Gurihiru | Page Count:76
Who you choose to defend deserves to be defended simply because you chose them.
Aang is working to towards a peaceful resolution to the failure of the Harmony Restoration Movement while Sokka joins Toph in an effort to motivate her students and keep her new school from being usurped; two similar situations that may end up being resolved the same way just on different scales. Zuko takes the opportunity to learn how to be an effective Fire Lord from the only person he knows who has experience and regular citizens prepare for the clash that may be unavoidable as cooler heads may not prevail.

The characters introduced and then ignored in the first volume are now fleshed out and made interesting and my desire for more Toph was given and it is great. Her plot-line provides the most in character growth, humor and the action. The action is scarce in this volume as it is setting up for the concluding 3rd part, but if you actually like these characters then there is plenty going on to make up for it. The art is still crisp and vibrant and seems to be closer to the character models of the show though Zuko still looks off. Maybe it's just me.

More fleshed out characters and some little teases for long time fans are what fill this volume.

4 Immovable hats made of spears out of 5

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence: After the Long Goodbye (2007)

Author: Masaki Yamada | Translators: Yuji Oniki & Carl Gustav Horn
Page Count: 197 

"I'm not all that popular. At the same time, I hardly ever meet someone I like. In that sense, my life is balanced out."

A prequel to the second Ghost in the Shell feature film, Innocence (2004). Unlike most TV and film tie-in novels this one is actually good—damn good. It creates a singular narrative that doesn't rely heavily on the film but remains referential and respectful to it. Knowledge of the characters is obviously necessary to fully appreciate the small intricacies, but the text also manages to stand on its own two feet admirably.

It,s told first person, from the cyborg Batou's perspective  Batou isn't the most intelligent or passionate of individuals, so it may come as a surprise to find that his sensitive side, a secretive part of himself that he reserves for mostly one person in the films, could be so well-developed without compromising the integrity of the character. It gets deep into the mind of the man, the only part of him that's still human, to explore the themes of self that René Descartes popularised. That self-analysis is the novel's greatest strength, and what Ghost in the Shell is perfectly suited to.

If you want an action-packed Section 9 novel you'll be disappointed. After the Long Goodbye is a Batou book from beginning to end. It expands upon the feelings he was left to nurture at the end of the first film, and further develops the philosophical questions that were a large part of the second. It embraces the personal in an impersonal world. It's sci-fi with heart that doesn't shy away from the bigger questions. I only wish it had been longer.

With regards the translation, the prose flows beautifully, never feeling clunky or awkward. It's one of the most successful translations from such a difficult language that I've ever encountered.

Included at the end is a transcript of a short talk between author Yamada and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence director, Mamoru Oshii. It's fascinating, but, unless you want spoilers, don't read until you've viewed both films.

4 specific brands of dog food out of 5

Monday, September 10, 2012

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century (2009 / 2011 / 2012)

Author: Alan Moore | Illustrator: Kevin O'Neill | Page Count: 240

Then maybe this magical landscape mirrors the real world.”
“Perhaps that’s why it’s so awful.

Century is split into three distinct parts, each 80 pages in length.  Whilst each book attempts a self-contained narrative, it makes sense to group them together for review because they’re really three parts of the same story.  It's only a matter of time before they get collected together in a single trade and sold as such.*

The majority of the original League members have been killed off by the ravages of time.  The few that remain have assembled a new collective to tackle new threats, one of which involves sleuthing up a magical cult on the basis of a premonitory dream.  You’ll need to have read The Black Dossier to get the back-story of the new members.  They aren't as alluring or as charismatic as the old team, but each brings something new to the table.

The number of literary references Moore slips into the first two parts threaten to overwhelm the plot.  It was at an acceptable level in Volumes One and Two, and it felt at home as part of the Black Dossier's expositional text sections and documents of people the League were involved with, but he’s arguably gone overboard this time.  If you’re not familiar with the characters he’s referring to, many of whom aren't in the public domain—forcing names to be modified, then  you’ll be wondering who the hell that guy was and why was he there?

Book One takes place in the year 1910.  It sets up the relationships of the new members, explores their validity and questions their necessity in an ever-changing world.  Moore again uses the work to comment on the monstrous deeds that some humans thrive on.  The violence, sexual and otherwise, is something he's explored before.  Expect big ripples in the League’s little pond.  As a standalone it’s less successful than the two that follow.

Book Two skips forward to 1969.  London has embraced psychedelic drugs, and the music culture that sprang up around it.  It's the perfect climate for a magical cult to exist in.  Kevin O'Neill appears to having a blast on art duties.  It takes twice as long to read a League book as any other because your attention is constantly drawn to background information and parodic in-jokes.

Book Three closes the story in 2009.  It was my favourite.  Moore streamlined it beautifully.  Perhaps he'd exhausted his stock of extraneous allusions.  I won't say anything more, but I don’t think any readers that have followed the League's adventures from the outset will be disappointed with the direction taken.

3½ eyeballs in your ankle out of 5

*EDIT: The three parts were collected in 2014 as one edition titled The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume 3: Century with new cover art.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Through the Wire: Lyrics & Illuminations (2009)

Author: Kanye West | Illustrator: Bill Plypton | Page Count: 79

Huh? Y'all eat pieces of shit? What's the basis? 
We ain't going nowhere but got suits and cases.

I picked it up for 99p in clearance because it had Bill Plypton art. I left the store feeling like I’d cheated the owners by paying so little. I think we both got lucky and unlucky that day.

I’d heard the name Kanye West but had no idea what he did or didn’t do. He’s a hip-hop ‘artist,’ apparently. That places him very far from the field I normally graze in. I haven’t heard his music and I have no wish to. His lyrics are abysmal; fourth grade poetry has more meaningful content than this fucking drivel. See above quote for a very fine example of Mr West’s poetical talent.

Each song is briefly annotated with an autobiographical anecdote in what most of us call the English language, which is a mercy.

Celebrated artist Bill Plypton illustrates the lyrics of twelve songs that collectively tell the tale of Kanye’s rise from a college drop-out to a college drop-out that learned how to hold a microphone. Plypton illustrates with his usual distinctive style; the sketchy pencil lines, the crosshatched colouring pencils and the dynamic perspectives are are all here. The illustrations are often blackly humorous, full of religious motifs and political musings.

I console myself with the knowledge that I got some cool Plympton art to admire, and pray it won't be long until my ageing brain forgets the Kanye West portion.

0 points for trying out of 5 for Kanye. | 5 wicked grins out of 5 for Bill.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Star Wars Republic Commando: True Colors (2007)

Author: Karen Traviss | Page Count: 482
We have laws on how we treat animals and semi-sentients. We even have laws protecting plants. But we have absolutely no laws whatsoever governing the welfare of clone troops - human beings. They have no legal status, no rights, no freedoms and no representation.
The Clone Wars are wearing on all involved. Clones are becoming aware of the raw deal they have been given and non-clones wrestle with their moral failings at so easily accepting such an ethically indefensible option as a slave army. The republic commandos of Omega Squad are at the center of this dilemma as their exposure to civilians in previous novels has given them an appreciation for a normal life. They are conflicted as they want normalcy, but doubt if they or any clone would even know what to do with it if they did have any. But plans are in motion to try to make it better as a side mission to capture the main clone geneticist who has fled makes headway to a cure for the clones genetically engineered accelerated aging. As the war comes to a head and doubt is sown as to how the Republic doesn't have everyone's best interest in mind (even it's own), all dramatis personae may have to make hard choices.

The ethical quandary of cloning has now become the main focus with the action becoming secondary, but that is not a bad thing as it is much more engrossing and the characters much more interesting faced with such a problem among others that also involve secrets, espionage and exposed hypocrisy. It's what raises science fiction from average to above-average.

slow cooked grandma stew out of 5

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier (2007)

Author: Alan Moore  |  Illustrator: Kevin O'Neill  |  Page Count: 200

"Um... B-Bread and tits to you, flashing Monsignor.

The Black Dossier fits chronologically between Volumes Two and Three of the long-running series.  It takes place sixty years after the events of the previous volumes.  If you didn't read the New Traveller's Almanac section at the end of Volume Two you’ll be confused.  I'd recommend doing so before dipping into TBD.

It differs from previous books.  Whereas they were traditional comics, the Dossier, as the title suggests, is a collection of documents relating to the League.  It’s a largely text-based sourcebook with some comic panels throughout.  The comic part tells the story of how certain characters acquire the Dossier, and the text is the actual Dossier that they have in their possession.
The text sections can be further broken down into prose works, letters, magazine articles and even a tiny Tijuana Bible insert.  There's a LOT of reading and not all of it is fun.  There's also a map, a cross section and a guidebook.  A 7” vinyl record of Moore singing was planned but sadly held back from the standard edition.

As usual it squeezes in a plethora of literary references, even more than before: George Orwell, Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Jonathan Swift, Shakespeare, Homer, Virgil, John Wyndham, Kurt Vonnegut, John Cleland, Ian Fleming, Orson Wellles, John Buchan, Margaret Cavendish, Aleister Crowley, John Dee and many, many more.  I could go on for the entire length of this Nut.  It ceases throwing influences and allusions at the reader just long enough to get some plot in.

O'Neill's art is the best the series has had to date.  It's vibrant and filled with the same level of background details as the prose.

A small part of the book is in 3D.  It includes a pair of 3D glasses for you to pop-out and assemble.  It’s a gimmick that I think is supposed to parody such gimmicks, but it’s asinine and really fucking irritating.  What next?  Scratch and sniff?  I imagine Alan Moore smells of ashtray, cabbage and marmalade.  Perhaps Kevin O'Neill smells of school erasers, Tharg’s sweaty leather and censor’s anger.

3 rocket-ships to another dimension out of 5

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch (1994)

Author: Neil Gaiman | Illustrator: Dave McKean | Page Count: 96

"I had an Aunt who claimed she had a tail, beneath her dress.
I sneered at her, made sure she knew I knew she was lying; but secretly, I could not stop myself from wondering."

I've read a large percentage of Gaiman's published works but I'd never encountered anything from him quite like this before.  It’s a loss of innocence tale presented as a first person memoir from a boy, now grown.  He recalls the Punch and Judy show that he encountered one dark summer, and which paralleled an aspect of his own life.  Intertwined within that recollection are a group of people that came briefly into his life, people who carried a sickness, a darkness that he was unable to make sense of.  Two things trouble him still, the sinister, violent Punch, and the family secrets.

It explores the nature of memory, and whether recollections can be relied upon considering they are often influenced by fear and perception.  It’s gloomy and saddening at times, offering little respite from the wickedness of the mind and the corruption that settles in the heart of the guilty.

The work is fully painted by Artist Dave McKean.  He doesn’t just use inks and paint to create his world, he throws in photographs of real people, blurred, painted over, time-lapsed moments, cut out seemingly slipshod but placed meticulously within the frame, or stuck onto models in abstract ways.  He also sculpts from driftwood, foliage, mechanical parts, cogs and clock faces, adding deep shadows and rust, giving the image a sinister, aged quality.  There is one picture in particular that gave me serious wiggins, yet I couldn’t look away.  His working method has been copied by many people over the years but McKean remains the master of it.

3½ adolescent fears out of 5

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death (1969)

Author: Kurt Vonnegut  |  Page Count: 192

'Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.'

Slaughterhouse-Five is all things to all people.  It’s a short novel but it squeezes in historical fact, fiction, autobiography, sci-fi, romance, comedy, tragedy and satire.
The book begins with Vonnegut as narrator telling us why he'll write the novel, giving his intentions and hopes for how it'll eventually turn out, which has already either happened according to plan or hasn't.

It then switches to the third person to tell Billy Pilgrim’s story.  Does the ‘story’ begin in chapter two?  Or is the introduction fictitious, making the narrator a part of the story?  Take nothing for granted.  It’s a metafiction that exposes the fictional illusion and throws doubt on the validity of history as it's written.  Trying to comprehend that is less confusing than it sounds when reading.

Billy has come "unstuck in time", creating a situation that plays havoc with his social life.  He’s forced to randomly experience events from various eras in which he's lived, often triggered by some kind of tragic or comical occurrence.  He's a fatalistic character.  Fatalism is a trait that is almost impossible to do properly in literature without leaving the reader bored, because characters should have opinions and act to change their destiny.  Vonnegut not only does it well, he excels at it.  You'll laugh, cry and even learn something along the way.

There are two primary narrative threads.  Firstly Billy’s life, the one that has him whizzing through time, is presented in a non-linear fashion.  The second is his War days that, although broken up repeatedly by the first thread, are more or less linear in nature.  The book flicks back and forth between the two states of being seamlessly.  Mostly because the language is a very matter-of-fact conversational tone; it tells you what you need to know in as few words as possible.  It’s packed with metaphors but spends little time setting them up.

Vonnegut is full of confidence and it shows.  Post-modern metafiction can be daunting to the newcomer but Slaughterhouse-Five makes it wholly accessible, while still retaining the depth and subtext if we want to look for it.

5 boxes of Trout and a teapot out of 5

Monday, August 20, 2012

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962)

Author: Ray Bradbury | Page Count: 272

'He knew what the wind was doing to them, where it was taking them, to all the secret places that were never so secret again in life.'

Green Town, Illinois, a quiet Midwestern town, is home to best friends William Halloway and Jim Nightshade, both aged thirteen; one was born as the day ended, the other born as the day begins. They've much in common but also reflect each other, thriving on the mirror image differences. You'll recognise them. They’re you and me. They’re everyone that ever lived or ever will. Tapping into the archetypal and imbuing it with magic is one of Bradbury's many talents. His currency is emotion and he spends it without reservation.

SWTWC is a timeless study of childhood and loss of innocence, wrapped up in a dark fantasy that will excite or terrify depending on the age of the reader.

In truth, the story is a vehicle for the subtext to cling to. Characters are invaded and appear to paradoxically invite the things that terrify them the most. If you’re young you'll identify with the boys and share their sense of adventure. If you're an adult, if you understand the duality of change and the pangs of nostalgia, you’ll discover a truer, more poignant aspect. The further removed you are from the boys’ age the more poignant that subtext will feel and its affect on you will become intimately personal because optimism is a fragile thing.

It’s Bradbury at max level.  It’s much darker than his other works and he doesn't try to hide it. The wonderfully named Mr. Dark is painted in shadow colours for a reason. His prose style, that word association game he plays, is evocative of so many things all at once that it left me dizzy with joy. There's a lengthy scene in a library that had me literally wide-eyed with awe.

The ending is a little cheesy but doesn't diminish the journey, the pace of which is your own heartbeat.  Novels are rarely this close to perfection.

5 spins on the creepy carousel out of 5

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Neil Gaiman's Midnight Days (1999)

Author: Neil Gaiman | Illustrators: Stephen R. Bissette / John Totleben / Dave McKean / Teddy Kristiansen / Sergio Aragones / Mike Mignola / Richard Piers Rayner / Mike Hoffman / Kim DeMulder | Page Count: 176

'In her dreams her fingers had become tiny snakes.
When she awoke she could not feel her hands; but she could hear her fingers, slithering over the sheets and away from her in the darkness.'

Midnight Days collects together some of Gaiman’s earliest works for DC.  It’s not of his usual high standard, and it’s certainly not the place to start if you’ve not read any of his works before.
He admits in the introduction that he was still finding his feet.
It’s not all bad news.  There are parts of it worthy of praise.  A short piece featuring the wonderful John Constantine is creepy and unnerving, and without a doubt the highlight of the whole endeavour.  Plus, it has art by Dave McKean.

The collection contains six stories in all, one of which came from an unused Swamp Thing script; it was illustrated specifically for the book.  It’s interesting.
Each story has its own full page introduction detailing the creation, or the inspiration behind it.  I enjoyed those, sometimes more than the story itself.

Perhaps the biggest draw, from a completist point of view, is the lengthy noirish Sandman Midnight Theatre, which has the first and only meeting between The Golden Age Sandman (Wesley Dodds) and Gaiman’s Sandman of the Endless.

After being hard to find for many years, it has recently been reprinted as a ‘Deluxe Edition’ (August 2012) with an embossed hardcover, which means they can charge more for the same product.  It’s much too expensive for the small amount of content given; even the most ardent fan will feel a little empty in the pocket.
If it gets a softcover edition, or if you see it on sale, it could be worth picking up.

The book collects together Swamp Thing Annual 5, Sandman Midnight Theatre, Hellblazer issue 27, and Welcome Back to the House of Mystery issue 1.

3 leaves on the hotel carpet out of 5

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man: Kraven's Last Hunt (1987)

Author: J. M. DeMatteis | Illustrator: Mike Zeck | Page Count: 168

Don’t fear me.  Love me.  For I intend to bless you.  With pain.
And blood.  And Sorrow.  Tonight.”

I didn’t expect this to be very good because Kraven hasn't held much of an allure for me in the past.  It turned out to be one of the finest Spider-Man stories I’ve ever read.  Hell, it’s one of the finest comics I've ever read.  J. M. DeMatteis has crafted a dark tale of personal suffering, full of symbolism and primal longings that puts many other writers to shame.

One of the reasons it works so well is because there’s very little dialogue.  Often writers use dialogue to bridge the gaps between small parts, or to lengthen action scenes.  There is no such trickery here.  Instead, there are inner monologues to tell the story; they really get inside the head of each of the three main players: Spider-Man (obviously) and two very different antagonists.
Reading Kraven's Last Hunt feels like reading a Noir text but not any Noir I’ve ever encountered before.  Neither Spade nor Marlowe could climb walls for a start.

Quite often whole pages go by with no text at all, because it’s not needed.  The imagery, from Illustrator Mike Zeck, is able to deliver everything we need to follow the drama.  His work oozes dynamic movement and pace.  The colouring paints everything with a shadowy, other-worldly brush.  The colours act like a kind of curtain, or a veil, that gets pushed aside just enough to let the person behind it act out their role.  It’s a truly collaborative effort between writer, inker and colorists, and no one part would be as powerful on its own.

With a little help from William Blake and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, DeMatteis presented us with an enduring tale of men fighting for their sanity in a world that seems destined to take it away from them, piece by piece.  It deserves a place on every comic fan's shelf.

The book collects together Web of Spider-Man issues 31 - 32, The Amazing Spider-Man issues 293 - 294, and Spectacular Spider-Man issues 131 - 132

5 symbolic risings from the depths out of 5

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Astonishing X-Men Vol 1: Gifted (2006)

Author: Joss Whedon | Illustrator: John Cassaday | Page Count: 152

"Maybe Scott and Logan could fight on the lawn again. The kids love that."

Astonishing X-Men is a continuation of Grant Morrison's New X-Men title although it makes some big changes, not least in the costume dept. Joss Whedon assumes writing duties. He's a bit of a comic nerd. He probably earned his 100 metre nerd dash badge in high school. Nerds write the best comics because they care about the material; it's not just a job, it's a passion.

For me, Joss' trademark clever puns actually work better in written form. When Wolverine delivers a Whedon put-down it makes me grin insanely.

Joss' greatest strength as a writer is the group dynamic. He strips away all the unnecessary action scenes that can plague a title like this and finds the real heart of the story by focussing almost completely on the character relationships.
Scott has assumed leadership of the team but is struggling to make his authority felt. With Jean gone he's lost in a kind of limbo. He tries not to show it for both personal and professional reasons. He needs the support of his friends but they're busy squabbling amongst themselves.
Furthermore, the discovery of a mutant "cure" puts the team on alert. The story studies the effect it has on the mutant population as a whole and the tightly knit X-Men team as individuals. Yes, it's the story they took the idea from for the third film, but don't hold that against it; it shits all over the film from a very great height.

There is a purity and a focus evident here that team-based comics often lack. It's not bogged-down by a convoluted continuity or filled with excessive characters that have no real agenda. I need book 2 in my life as soon as possible.

The book collects together Astonishing X-Men vol 3 issues 1–6

4 snide remarks out of 5

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Captain Britain (2002)

Author: Alan Moore | Illustrator: Alan Davis | Page Count: 208

I hit one of you and ten of you get nose-bleeds!  What are you people?

Alan Moore’s only work for Marvel was for the Marvel UK imprint.  For too short a time he took over author duties of the unimaginatively named Capt. Britain.

The bearded-one plays it safe for the first few issues, but Moore being Moore means he can’t contain himself for very long.  Early in his run he chucked the manual out the window, rewrote the character’s origin story in a convincing manner, making the manipulative Merlyn and his daughter Roma much more instrumental in decision making, and turned the Captain into a fully fledged Moore-esque character.  It was exactly what was needed to revive the series.  At times it feels like an episode of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  He even slips in a quick vision of a dystopian England, much like his V for Vendetta.

It’s very British; The Captain gets deeply frustrated when things don't turn out as expected, and characters display the quirks that define the quintessential Englishman.  However, rather than reinforce stereotypes, it succeeds in turning them into comical strengths.  More than once I found myself in hysterics at the behavioural traits of the group.  The villains are equally ridiculous, with names to match: The Omniversal Majestrix Saturnyne; the Special Executive; the Avant Guard; and Jim Jaspers—with a name like that it sounds like he should be teaching high school Chemistry, not destroying entire worlds.

As the scripts got more insane so too did Alan Davis’ panels grow more adventurous.  Some of the expressions he uses are fantastic.  It’s refreshing to see someone break from a regular routine and admirably rise to a challenge.

The book is noteworthy for also featuring the first purple-haired appearance of the Captain’s twin sister, Betsy Braddock, who works for the British version of S.H.I.E.L.D, called S.T.R.I.K.E.  You may know Betsy better as Psylocke of the X-Men.

The book collects together stories from Marvel Super-Heroes (UK) issues 387 - 388, Daredevils issues 1 - 11, and Mighty World of Marvel V2 7 - 13.

4 superhero pip pips out of 5

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sláine: The Horned God (1998)

Author: Pat Mills | Illustrator: Simon Bisley | Page Count: 192

'From the south came the Drune Lords and their Skull Sword soldiers … led by the Old Horned God – The Lord Weird Slough Feg.'

Sláine gave Pat Mills the opportunity to write the traditional axe-wielding barbarian but to tinker with the stereotype a little.  He took the muscle-bound Conan type and gave him a sensitive side.  The dwarf, Ukko, narrates the story of Slaine’s ascent to power, his love of the Goddess and his quest to acquire four sacred weapons.  It contrasts the reflective quiet moments in the warrior's life with the bloody and violent necessity of war, providing ample opportunity to bury his trusty axe (Brainbiter) in some thick enemy skulls.

This book is often cited as the quintessential Sláine epic but in truth it’s not the best work Mills has produced; it never really excites as much as it should or as much as Mills was capable of.

I suspect the real reason The Horned God endures is due to Simon Bisley’s magnificent art.  2000 AD gave Bisley his start and its right that he should have given them his finest work to date, on both Sláine and ABC warriors (also written by Mills).  His influences are easy to spot.  He’s heavily inspired by Frank Frazetta and Gustav Klimt, and even throws in some HR Giger from time to time.
It’s fully-painted throughout.  Fully-painted work is so rare these days that it’s a joy to revisit a time when it received the love it deserves.  For me, it's Bisley’s masterpiece.  There are a number of full-page pieces which are simply stunning.

If the quality of the story matched the quality of the art, The Horned God would get a resounding 5 out of 5 but unfortunately it falls a little short of perfection.

3½ reasons to kiss my axe out of 5

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Lucifer: Vol 11: Evensong (2007)

Author: Mike Carey | Illustrators: Peter Gross / Ryan Kelly / Dean Ormston / John J. Muth / Zander Cannon / Aaron Alexovich | Page Count: 216

If mercy’s your aim, be relentless in your mercy.  Be absolute. 
Be yourself, until you bleed.

The final volume.  It’s time for Lucifer to put his affairs in order before taking what he feels is the best course of action.  Carey wraps up the series with some single issue stories that pick up the pieces and suggest potential futures of many of the main characters and a few of the more memorable secondary ones.

The women of the series made the toughest choices and underwent the greatest change.  Their growth is explored beautifully.  In a perfect world that story would never end.  It’s a bitter-sweet experience; particularly for my favourite character.
It surprised me to find that I will miss the Lucifer cast just as much (and in some cases even more) than I miss the Sandman cast.

More than any other volume, Evensong feels like it’s firmly in the Sandman universe.  The structure of certain events and the interactions of the players are on a par with it.  Carey states in his afterword that Lucifer was never his character, he was just lucky enough to be able to journey with him, to guide him through adventures and growth.  While that is certainly true, in my mind Lucifer was an underdeveloped catalyst until Carey wrote him firmly into Sandman lore.  He deserves credit for taking a piece of clay and crafting an exquisite piece of art.

The book collects together Lucifer issues 70 - 75, and Lucifer: Nirvana one-shot.

5 farewell gifts out of 5

Friday, August 10, 2012

Lucifer: Vol 10: Morningstar (2006)

Author: Mike Carey | Illustrators: Peter Gross / Ryan Kelly / Colleen Doran / Michael Kaluta | Page Count: 192

Fight.  Win, or be defeated.  Die.  Make your own arrangements.
I'm not your keeper.”

Book 10 of 11 in the Lucifer series.  After a deeply emotional opening, picking up a thread that you may have thought done and dusted from one of the earlier books, the apocalyptic conclusion to the shit-storm that has built around the Lightbringer for the past few books gets quickly underway.  What follows is conflict on a grand scale.  It’s chaos unleashed in a place unprepared for it.  Again.

While some fight for victory, some for honour, and some for the joy of fighting, Lucifer knows that to craft the New he must first destroy the Old, and not just in the physical sense.  The victor may win the battle but it’s not just Above and Below any longer; the whole of Creation itself is at stake.  So what if the collateral damage is a few billion souls?  His rules are the only rules that matter.

It could’ve turned into preachy theologizing but Carey avoids that, cleverly balancing the personal with the practical, the individual aspect with the mob mentality.  It makes sense that it ends this way.  Lucifer was never God’s opposite; he was the thing that God could never be, grounded as he was by his own stagnant rules.  Lucifer fights against predestination.  He fights for freedom; not the human militant concept of freedom, but the freedom of the individual will.

This penultimate volume is the focal end of the series.  Vol 11 is the coda.  That gives Carey the opportunity to concentrate on the story at hand and leave the loose end gathering for another time.

The book collects together Lucifer issues 62 – 69.

4½ family feuds out of 5

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

2010: Odyssey Two (1982)

Author: Arthur C. Clarke | Page Count: 297

"Moods and emotions were leaking into his own consciousness, though he could not identify any specific concepts or ideas. It was as if he were listening, outside a closed door, to a debate in progress, and in a language he could not understand."

2010: Odyssey Two is a direct sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) but it's not that simple. Stanley Kubrick's filmed version of 2001 had some minor but significant differences from the novel. The second book mostly follows on from the film, not the novel, so we're returning to Jupiter and Io, not to Saturn and Iapetus. If you bypass the film and come direct from the first book, then you'll be confused and perhaps angry at the discrepancies and apparent lack of continuity.

Dr. Heywood Floyd, a scientist mentioned previously in 2001, is determined to understand the fate of the Spaceship Discovery and its crew, so a second mission is launched in order to intercept the Discovery, which has remained dead in Jupiter's orbit for the past nine years. Along for the ride is Dr. Chandra, the creator of the H.A.L 9000 computer. In Kubrick's film he was called Mr. Langley.

Clarke isn't very good at characterisation this timne. When he breaks from hard sci-fi in an attempt to offer some insight into the crew it feels forced, and there's a lot more crew aboard this time. They offer ample opportunity for tension and drama but he never fully avails of it. Most of the time he uses an expositive cold narrative in place of proper dialogue that keeps the characters two dimensional. Some of the lesser characters have no function other than to fill a necessary scientific role so that Clarke can extrapolate about scientific principles that may or may not be wholly relevant to the plot. In retrospect, the absence of dialogue is what helped make the first half of the 2001 novel so successful.

While critical of his ability to develop characters, I can't fault his passion for detailing new worlds and forms of life. His brain seemed more attuned to receiving creative input from a scientific perspective than from a dramatic one. If you accept that and embrace the science-head aspect of it, at the expense of a satisfactory human element, you can get sucked into Clarke's vision more easily.

Personally, I didn't want to know what became of Dave, I liked the uncertainty, but I was eager for more of H.A.L.

3 problematic epilogues out of 5

Monday, August 6, 2012

Lucifer: Vol 9: Crux (2006)

Author: Mike Carey | Illustrators: Peter Gross / Ryan Kelly / Marc Hempel / Ronald Wimberly | Page Count: 168

I walked on into chaos, and the earth beat like a heart beneath my feet.”

Book 9 of 11 in the Lucifer series.  The dictionary defines a CRUX as “…a vital or decisive stage, point, etc. / a baffling problem or difficulty.”  The book embodies both of those things.

The first story kicks off with the politics of Hell once again in disarray.  The current Duke of Gly plays a pivotal role in what direction it’ll take.  I didn't think Marc Hempel’s art on this piece a good match for Mike Carey’s words.  His cartoon styling lessens the severity of the situation.  I liked his version of Gaudium but I’d like Gaudium even if he was drawn by a 5 year old in a blindfold.

After that single issue the regular team of Gross and Kelly take over for the titular tale.  Carey’s ability to drop little things into the plot, things that through causality will escalate into giant things if left unchecked, makes this volume more than exciting.  While it’s true that characters should be left to grow at their own pace, sometimes they need a little push.

A short interlude follows, full of contrasts and hard choices for a series regular.  It runs concurrent with the Crux storyline.  Guest artist Ronald Wimberly takes pen duties.  His style is perfect for depicting what unfolds.  I loved every purposeful line of it.  From that point on, Crux kicks ass all the way to the very end.  Lucifer is back to being essential reading again.

The book collects together Lucifer issues 55 – 61.

4½ happenings in Vegas out of 5

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Lucifer: Vol 8: The Wolf Beneath the Tree (2005)

Author: Mike Carey | Illustrators: Peter Gross / Ryan Kelly / P. Craig Russell / Ted Naifeh | Page Count: 160

To read aloud from the book makes the book an element in the story it tells.”

Book 8 of 11 in the Lucifer series. This one opens with the 50th issue, pencilled by P. Craig Russell. He did The Sandman 50th issue so it makes sense he’d also do this one. Russell’s art is of his usual high standard, full of open splendour or intimate moments when needed. It’s titled Lilith. If you've been following the series from the beginning you’ll be able to guess how that ties in with events thus far, and what it means for one or more of the supporting characters. What you may not know is how large a part it played in other events. It’s an eye-opener.

A gathering puts the Lightbringer face to face with the embodiment of the thing he despises the most; if you've been paying attention to what you've been reading up to now you’ll notice it’s the thing that he’s spent the previous seven books trying to escape. Carey lets the character’s arrogance come to the fore as a defence mechanism. Strength gained from vulnerability is a theme we've seen before but is handled differently this time. I enjoyed that part.

The consequence of Lucifer's actions has caused all sorts of vile things to surface from their lairs. Similarly, Fenris, the Asgardian wolf of Norse mythology, feels the time is right for him to bring on Ragnarok, as was foretold. If that happens it could put a giant Yggdrasil sized splinter in Lucifer’s plans.

Make sure you have book 9 because there is another cliff-hanger ending.

The book collects together Lucifer issues 45, and 50 – 54.

3 guests at the table out of 5

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Boozy Bard: Shakespeare on Drinking (2006)

Author: William Shakespeare | Page Count: 208

"I am weary; yea, my memory is tired.
Have we no wine here?"
Coriolanus.  Act I. Scene 9.

Boozy Bard is one of those books that leave you in no doubt as to the content, as the title tells you all you need to know. It's Shakespeare on drinking. Someone, the editor(s) name is mysteriously absent, has collected together all the instances that the bard had his characters tanked or used alcohol as a metaphor for something else. It's no surprise that Falstaff features more than once.

There's no good reason for it to exist as a physical book. A webpage could offer the same content and be equally as irreverent. Save yourself money by going to the library, borrow The Norton Shakespeare and then hit the bar to toast his good name until you see the underside of the table. Job done.

Naught but a waste of paper and ink out of 5

Monday, July 30, 2012

Lucifer: Vol 7: Exodus (2005)

Author: Mike Carey | Illustrators: Peter Gross / Ryan Kelly | Page Count: 168

I served our Father faithfully,
and my reward was to be chastised for not being you.”

Book 7 of 11 in the Lucifer series.  The Morningstar is forced to take preventative measures to ensure the safety of his property.  After the effort expelled to create and then to keep it, to leave it open to God’s whim now would be folly.  This forces him into a position with the Heavenly Host that’d he’d rather avoid but sometimes circumstance forces even the hand of the angels.

Elsewhere, the secondary characters are given more to do, in a more thought-out and interesting storyline than last time.  And while this leaves Lucifer absent a lot of the time it really didn't matter because the parallel storylines kept my attention diverted.

There's a lot of humour in Exodus.  It was unexpected but not unwelcome after the drawn-out nature of the previous book.  The fugly little fallen Cherub Gaudium gets a chance to shine.  He and his sister could sustain an off-shoot of their own, about the domestic problems of two incompetent siblings.  I’d buy it.

There's a beautifully penned dark fairytale about a troubled boy and an eager, pensive demon.  It works both in the context of the Lucifer universe and would work equally well if it were removed from it.  It reminded me why I fell in love with comics.  Their ability to be both heart-warming visually and filled with deeper metaphor textually is a great strength.

The final few pages are a cliff-hanger that had me grasping for the next volume off the shelf immediately.

The book collects together Lucifer issues 42 - 44, and 46 – 49

4 great needs to blaspheme out of 5

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Lucifer: Vol 6: Mansions of the Silence (2004)

Author: Mike Carey | Illustrators: Peter Gross / Ryan Kelly / Dean Ormston / David Hahn | Page Count: 144

"You are the King of contrivance and manipulation, my Samael.  But in that, as in all things, you learned from your Father."

Book 6 of 11 in the Lucifer series.  Seeing as how it’s on the cover, I can say without crossing into spoiler territory that Lucifer has got himself a big-ass ship.  Why or where he intends it to sail will be revealed if you read the book.

Sadly, the story is formulaic.  After an intro that leaves you wondering what happened between the last book and this one, something that Carey has been careful to address up until now, the premise gets underway.  In the tradition of Jason and the Argonauts, all manner of mythical creatures that exist merely to interfere and harm are encountered during the long and arduous voyage.  The crew bicker and fight amongst themselves and against the nasties.  That’s really all there is to it.  I wanted them to succeed but wished they’d hurry the hell up and get to their destination.   It felt like someone other than Carey was at the helm and was afraid to mess too much with the relationships, so instead they made everyone boring and ineffectual.

It's the mid-way point of the series and it functions as such.  It closes the first half and opens the second.  It’s essential you read it for a number of reasons that will eventually become clear but don’t expect it to peak your excitement meter like previous volumes have.

The book collects together Lucifer issues 36 - 41

2½ pools of thought out of 5

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Lucifer: Vol 5: Inferno (2004)

Author: Mike Carey | Illustrators: Peter Gross / Ryan Kelly / Dean Ormston / Craig Hamilton | Page Count: 166

It was an irony very much to his taste, that he could no longer live without her.”

Book 5 of 11 in the Lucifer series.  The four-part storyline that opens this volume closes a deal made in Vol 2: Children and Monsters (2001); Lucifer and Amanadiel meet at the arranged place and time to resolve their differences.  Some secondary characters find the event fortuitous, believing it the perfect opportunity to gain favour with one side or the other.  It gives writer Mike Carey a chance to further develop threads from previous books and once more stress that Lucifer can rely just as well on his wits as on his powers; for power is useless without the knowledge of when to best use it.

A large part of Inferno feels like an interlude—a  time of rest and recuperation before Lucifer can fulfil the promise he made himself in the previous book.  Before he can set that in motion he must seek out something specific, but to secure it he has to offer yet another promise that'll likely bring him trouble further down the line.  It’s business as usual for the fallen angel.

Carey’s multifaceted narratives work best when they have a large cast to entwine themselves in; this volume is lessened by those deep interrelations being removed as everyone is separated by duty.  The closings, the side-events and the setting up of a new arc are all dependent on your enjoyment of the previous books, and as such this feels disjointed and stitched together haphazardly.  The stories are strong in characterisation but structurally messy when collected together in a trade; the format highlights its own artificial nature.  In single issues they’d have worked much better.

One of the stand-alone works is a story of joy, dependent upon someone going to someplace dark within himself.  It was quite beautiful.

The book collects together Lucifer issues 29 – 35

3½ rules bent out of 5

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lucifer: Vol 4: The Divine Comedy (2003)

Author: Mike Carey | Illustrators: Peter Gross / Ryan Kelly / Dean Ormston |
Page Count: 190

Grace and perfection and eternity were her heritage.  […]
And a soul so bright it could be seen from Hell.

Book 4 of 11 in the Lucifer series.  The consequences of things unseen would be a simple way to describe this volume.  To elaborate will be hard to do without giving anything away because almost everyone of any significance in the previous books is gathered in Carey’s playground within a fractured part of Gaiman’s universe.  It’s a five pointed star with all the points pointing inwards.  No one is safe when everyone wants the same thing and most of them are prepared to do anything to obtain it.  It’s as powerful as a series finale, and yet it’s not even close to the end.  Nevertheless, not everyone makes it out alive.

When giants walk through the forest, the bugs that get trampled underfoot also have a story to tell.  The book breaks from the power play to focus upon the consequences the big players have upon some of those small inhabitants.  In doing so it attaches more drama to the main play and reminds us that our actions impact upon the innocent.

The Lightbringer’s pride, his most defining attribute, is once again the thing that gets him into trouble.  It makes him think he can stop any opposition and it puts him in the debt of a gift given willingly.  He won’t let that pass without due recompense.  The Devil keeps his promises, even the unspoken ones.

The book collects together Lucifer issues 21 – 28

5 exploding fap hands out of 5

Monday, July 23, 2012

Naked Heat (2010)

Author: Richard Castle | Page Count: 290
It was to be the last night of her anonymity. She had hoped that, as Mr. Warhol predicted, her fame would only last fifteen minutes and be done, but for the last two weeks, everywhere she went, it was the same. Sometimes stares, sometimes comments, always a pain.

Detective Nikki Heat returns to solve the high profile murder of a gossip writer during a city-wide garbage strike. Compounding the difficulty is the high number of suspects as the tabloid writer had no shortage of prominent enemies and Heat's own high profile which is still flying high in the wake of former ride-along journalist Jameson Rook's cover article detailing her crimefighting. It has caused a rift between the two, but they are forced back together as Rook was profiling the victim at the time of the murder.

The story is more or less the same as before as it reads like a script of its tie-in show which is even pointed out at one point with a joke about commercial breaks and the dialogue is still as snappy as ever though it does focus more on characters than mystery. The mystery is still intriguing though you may find better ones elsewhere. Still perfectly serviceable and like the first book is better when used as intended as a tie-in for the show.

3 Snitches get stitches out of 5

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Devotion of Suspect X (2005)

Author: Keigo Higashino | Page Count: 298 Pages

Sometimes, all you had to do was exist in order to be someone's saviour.

I love the mystery genre in theory, but I'm frequently disappointed by mystery novels when I actually sit down to read them. So many books are all about the detective and don't bother doing much to create a compelling mystery. Others don't create a mystery that's solvable, and leave you frustrated when you see the solution you never could have come to on your own.

The Devotion of Suspect X frames its mystery in an unconventional way, and succeeds in every way most mysteries fail. You know who was murdered and how from the opening chapter, and you're left to figure out the cover-up with clues perfectly hidden out of site. The book is full of interesting characters, but the mystery itself is always the primary focus, and the ultimate solution is as satisfying as it is painful. I didn't manage to figure it out, but could instantly see how the answers had been hinted at throughout - exactly how a reader should feel when a mystery is solved.

There are two big flaws that keep me from giving this one a perfect score. The English translation is weak, so much so that I put this one down several times before I really got into it. The writing is so flat that if the plot doesn't capture you, you won't maintain interest. I don't think this is true of the original novel, which has won awards in its native Japan. My other issue is with the female characters - they're flat and underdeveloped, which isn't a big problem for the minor characters, but frustrating when it comes to the major ones. I never cared much about Yasuko or Misato, which is a shame. The book would have been much more intense if I had. But in spite of these flaws, this is an impressive book, and is a must-read for anyone who cares more for mysteries than detectives.

4 finger-printed bicycles out of 5

Friday, July 20, 2012

Lucifer: Vol 3: A Dalliance With The Damned (2002)

Author: Mike Carey | Illustrators: Peter Gross / Ryan Kelly / Dean Ormston |
Page Count: 160

I think you should stop talking to the snake.  These things he tells you
are making you unhappy.

Book 3 of 11 in the Eisner award winning Lucifer series.  Things unfold at a more leisurely pace in this volume as writer Mike Carey shifts the focus away from the titular anti-hero.  Instead, he explores the virtues and vices of some of the other inhabitants of the realm.  In the first half of the book we get three shorter episodes that have a self-contained beginning / middle / end but are themselves interconnected and still manage to tie in with the series arc.

In story number one, you’ll sympathise with Mazikeen as she embarks on a very personal mission that’ll have consequences for everyone.

The second tale sees the little girl with the special talent take a walk in a dark place where little girls with special talents shouldn't be.  Look out for a cameo from some Sandman escapees.

And finally, the concept of free will is given more attention in some place new that resembles some place very, very old.  It’s a well crafted, beautifully presented tale filled with some dark humour and some scathing observations.

Most of the second half of the book is a three part story with a large cast that plays out like a subversive period drama; it's about lust, leisure, pleasure and pain.

One final story finishes the volume.  It returns to the series arc; contrasting it alongside a smaller, more personal story of a couple lost in more than one sense of the word.  The coda will have you on the edge of your seat, particularly if you have a healthy interest in the occult and religious hypocrisy; or at the very least a basic knowledge of Tarot.

The book collects together Lucifer issues 14 – 20.

4 armadillo canons out of 5

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Lucifer: Vol 2: Children and Monsters (2001)

Author: Mike Carey | Illustrators: Peter Gross / Ryan Kelly / Dean Ormston |
Page Count: 208

"You know how it is.  You put things away for a rainy day ... then you look up one day and it's raining Angels."

Book 2 of 11 in the Lucifer series.  This volume contains two distinct but interconnected parts.  Lucifer owns a piano bar in Los Angeles called Lux.  The irony of that amuses him because he’s not without a Machiavellian sense of humour.  In the four part "The House of Windowless Rooms" he leaves his precious bar behind for a time to pursue the next part in his great work.  That requires him to speak with Izanami-no-Mikoto, the Japanese Goddess of creation and death.  He will be powerless in her realm so must rely on his wits and his cunning to be his weapon and his armour.  Shit hits the Japanese fan.

The second story, the five part "Children and Monsters," focuses on what happens while Lucifer is away from Lux.  Mazikeen gets a chance to prove her loyalty to the Morningstar.  I like her a lot.  If you have trouble understanding what Mazikeen is saying, try reading it aloud and listen phonetically.  It makes sense then.  Dean Ormston takes art duties on this one.  Even if you dislike his style, the story is strong enough to distract you.  I like his work so was easily sucked into the world.

The reasons for Lucifer’s actions up until now begin to become clear and it further develops the people, places and things that are keen to stop him achieving it.
The position he holds between cockiness and arrogance is what keeps him an enigma to his enemies and his followers, and only he knows the distinction between the two.  His unbending will is his greatest weapon and he uses it without fear of reticence.

Lucifer may be a spin-off series but it’s definitely not a Sandman clone.  In terms of spiralling narrative, Mike Carey is easily Gaiman’s equal (or better).

The book collects together Lucifer issues 5 – 13

5 Ghosts, Gods, Demons and the Host of Heaven out of 5

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Lucifer: Vol 1: Devil in the Gateway (2001)

Author: Mike Carey | Illustrators: Scott Hampton / Chris Weston / James Hodgkins / Warren Pleece / Dean Ormston  | Page Count: 160

"Every time I try to improvise I find my moves were right there in the script all along."

Book 1 of 11 in the Lucifer series.  It’ll help your introduction into Lucifer’s world if you've read The Sandman: Vol IV: Season of Mists (1992); it’s not essential but it’s recommended.  This series follows on from events that began there.
The Dream King tried to find a balance but The Morningstar wants to upset the balance because he knows the balance is a lie.  He wants to tear it away and leave a naked truth.  As one door closes…

Vol One isn't just a casual introduction, it presents characters that’ll become important in later issues.  You may think their story has ended with the final panel but it more often than not hasn't.  Carey has the ability to leave a reader with the impression that those people exist outside of the story; when you close the book they don’t disappear, they continue to exist in new more personal stories that we aren’t privy to.

He writes for adults.  That doesn't mean he deals in Hollywood sex and violence, it means he creates characters with flaws, prone to introspection, with selfish tendencies that influence their actions, like all of us.  He places the fallen angel in their world.  Lucifer has a goal that he'll do almost anything to achieve but he needs help.  He uses his talents to influence people.  He may toss them aside afterwards but he’ll always allow them free will.  Give the Devil his dues: it's not him that makes you walk the path to hell.  It should be remembered that manipulation is just another part of the game.  If Lucifer achieves his goal, all of creation will be thrown into chaos.

The book collects together The Sandman Presents: Lucifer issues 1 – 3, and Lucifer issues 1 – 4

5 walking Miltonian anti-heroes out of 5

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Analects (2010)

Author: Confucius (and friends) | Editor: John Baldock | Page Count: 128

Confucius was a Chinese philosopher, teacher and politician that lived from 551-479 BC (by the western calendar). He taught morality, piety, justice and sincerity by example, both for the individual and for society. People listened, and governments (eventually) conceded he'd something interesting to say about their methods and their madness. He endured great hardships in his life by officials opposed to his teachings; fear of truth and change is not just a modern concern.

What has become known as 'The Analects' is a collection of teachings and transcribed words attributed to Confucius and his contemporaries, collected together by many disciples over a number of years. People have pointed out that in that respect it's similar in construction to the Christian Bible. However, unlike the religion that sprang up around the Jesus figure, Confucius is revered by his followers, not deified.

A library-full of criticisms and critiques of the text already exist online so I’ll limit my observations to the book itself, to the presentation and the care taken to present the work.

It's a small hardcover, almost pocket sized, with a quality paper stock that's crisp and white. It's an edited text, based upon the accepted translation carried out by W. E. Soothill first published in 1910. It distils the work into an accessible size and includes an essential introduction to principles that would become the basis of modern day Confucianism. One-colour illustrations are included at the beginning of each chapter and reflect the topic; they aren't intrusive and are really quite beautiful. There are more elaborate, in-depth editions available for more willing students, but as a starting block this one is certainly worthy of your attentions.

4 sage beards out of 5

Sunday, June 17, 2012

John Lydon: Stories of Johnny - A Compendium of Thoughts on the Icon of an Era (2006)

Editor: Rob Johnstone | Page Count: 318

…he has proved time and again that a big anti-establishment Fuck You can and should be something that any individual is free to choose.”

The correct ratio of arrogance and enthusiasm can be a positive thing.  John Lydon has spent his entire life making himself a visible target for the socially repressed and political ideologists to attack, and in so doing he exposes the attacker’s own prejudices and fears.  Love him or hate him, the world needs Lydon.  Truth needs Lydon.  He admits the things he says can seem contradictory and that his opinion will change from day to day but it always reflects how he feels at that time, and the core values that underline his philosophy never change.

I’ve labelled this a ‘biography’ but it only slightly fits that category.  It’s similar to the kind of critical studies you find on every academic reading list at school, the kind of thing that collects together essays offering different perspectives on a chosen topic.  By assimilating the separate elements it helps build up a picture of a man; whether or not it’s an accurate picture is open to debate.  Nevertheless, it’s a fun undertaking and the constantly shifting topics keep it interesting.  

One chapter focuses on the rise of punk, one on the reaction of the media, and another on the nuances of Lydon’s unique vocal delivery, etc.  You don’t need to start at the beginning and work your way through to the end, you can jump in anywhere.  It’s focussed primarily on the Sex Pistols era but there are enough Public image Ltd anecdotes to please fans of both sides.

Black & white photos are scattered haphazardly across the pages.  They’re obvious filler, sometimes bearing no relation to the text whatsoever.

The entry by Kris Needs and the essay by Judy Nylon are essential reading.

3 “originality always offends” out of 5