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

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Lost Adventures (2011)

Author: Various | Page Count: 229

With Nickelodeon being a multi media company and all, it’s understandable that they’d release original creator content from their cartoons in their various printed and digital outlets.

Such is the case for Brian Konietzko & Michael Dante’s epic martial arts fantasy series Avatar: The Last Airbender. The Lost Tales is a compilation of every comic strip that appeared in Nickelodeon Magazine as well as a few others.
The comics have been organized in chronological order with chapters corresponding with the show’s 3 seasons. And while many of the tales are just a page or two long there are a few that can go on for 5 pages or more. The stories themselves can easily be tucked between scenes and episodes of the series with no continuity conflicts whatsoever. Most are just a fun romp but a few of them fill in some story and plot points only skimmed over in the show. It’s nothing monumental or game changing, but they’re still fun little adventures nonetheless.

There are well over twenty different artists and writers who contributed to the making of these tales. And while Justin Ridge, Johane Matte, & Gurihiru’s artwork is the most show accurate and attractive. The rest is great at best and not too bad at worst. One of my favorite things about this is the lively facial expressions. Almost every page has a hilarious reaction image on it. Aang, Katara, Sokka, & Toph are just as cute and funny in this as they should be.
For what it is, Lost Tales is an enjoyable little anthology featuring some very lovable characters.

4 panels that looks like Katara is giving head but I’ve yet to see any shops of it for some reason out of 5

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Chasing Lincoln's Killer (2009)

Author: James L. Swanson | Page Count: 208

Chasing Lincoln's Killer is a novel about not just President Lincoln's assassination, but also the entire conspiracy behind it and of course the ensuing manhunt. Following many participants, we see the story unfold from the planning to well past the manhunt and trials of the guilty parties. The text presents the story as a more contemporary suspense novel rather than a history lesson, but still uses many details from transcripts and diaries of the participants as well as numerous photos from the period depicting many things from newspaper articles to actual photos of the conspirators. We learn a bit about how they felt about the events they were a part of.

What we don't really see in the novel is more of the historical causes and such that precipitated and allowed this tale to happen. This dumbing down is necessary for the books intended audience of young teenagers, so I can't really fault it for that. Don't want to scare the kiddies with the boring nuts and bolts behind the words. The book is well-paced and easy to read not just because of Swanson's writing, but also the layout itself. The big font and spaces are also intended to make it easier for a younger audience without the reading skills to handle a regular novels' length and small text. The book would be half the length otherwise.

Interesting subject matter written in an easily digestible style over 14 chapters that could serve as a launching point for the curious to learn more on their own.

3 Booth could have just strolled into the White House out of 5

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Crash (1973)

Author:  J.G. Ballard | Page Count: 185

“The intimate time and space of a single human being had been fossilized for ever in this web of chromium knives and frosted glass.”

Crash is a subversive novel about a film-maker named James Ballard (the same as the author) who meets a deviant named Robert Vaughan.  The longer Ballard spends in Vaughan’s company the more influenced by him he becomes.  He's soon happily entwined in a secret world of car crashes and illicit sex, and as a result his own sexual ideals begin to change dramatically.  Robert Vaughan is a character seen previously in The Atrocity Exhibition (1970).  He was a perverted weirdo there and he's much the same here.  He surrounds himself with like-minded individuals and the reasons for doing so become clear the more you read.

There's no doubting J. G. Ballard’s ability to write good prose, he has a unique and commanding style, but there's only so many times I can read about man-sauce running down the cracks of car seats before I begin to get very bored of it (the exact number is once).  In fact, novels that rely on graphic sex bore me completely.  It was the knowledge that Ballard (the author) uses language in a very overtly offensive way that kept me reading, not the story or the hateful characters who were each flawed but not in a beneficial, sympathetic way.

Ballard has pointed out in interviews that the glamorisation and sexual means used to sell fast cars to the public is way out of control.  I completely agree.  How many times have you seen an attractive model draped seductively across the bonnet of a car?  The darker side of car ownership is the death toll associated with misuse.  We accept automobiles as a part of daily life, even lust after them, but they're as much instruments of murder and manslaughter as they are of convenience.  The later part tends to be forgotten—or more precisely pushed out of mind.  We put our children in them.  We fuck in them.  We cry in them.  We die in them.  Crash attempts to remind on every page that sex and death are inextricably linked and that one can be a means to the other, and vice versa.  It’s a largely boring but superbly written endeavour.

2 logic and reason are not the same thing out of 5

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Book of Sea Monsters (1998)

Author: Nigel Suckling | Illustrator: Bob Eggleton | Page Count: 112
"Monsters are always good for a thrill."
A nice hardcover book filled with the myths and legends of the deep and dark ocean from all around the world. From the most notable like Leviathan and Kraken to lesser known ones like vampire squid and merhorses. Presented both as entertaining myths and with a more historical stance examining the stories themselves and what might have led to their creation including some we now know are real such as giant squid and a section on the famous fictional ones like Godzilla. Accompanying the text are numerous illustrations beautifully done in a style resembling old master painters. They are both detailed and yet still vague enough to perhaps give a sense of fear if you let it. We are talking about monsters here. Maybe it's just me since thoughts of the deep ocean frighten me.

I came to the book thinking it was mostly a picture book to ignite a child's imagination, but it turned out to be one that was made to reignite it in adults. It is presented as borne out of a deep fascination of the illustrator and combined with the history presented in the text it is definitely outside the realm of a child's attention span. The history is fascinating, but I would have preferred a less clinical style while reading about myths and legends. Suckling spends way too many words describing lake sizes and the reliability of drunk sailors instead of focusing on the awe and wonder myths should inspire. If the words get too stodgy the articles are mercifully short. Most aren't longer than 2 pages. Good read if you like the history and beautiful artwork.

3½ A lot of monsters are serpent-shaped out of 5

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ghost in the Shell : Stand Alone Complex : Episode 002 : Testation (2010)

Author: Yu Kinutani | Page Count: 277

"Don't come crying to me if it kicks your ass!"

A heavy-assault multi-ped tank goes crazy and escapes from a testing facility with live ammunition equipped. The tank’s designer is initially suspected, but he died a week earlier. Section 9 must somehow stop the tank before it can reach a heavily populated civilian area.

Episode 002 is the second episode of the GitS: SAC anime in manga form. If they give each episode its own book there'll be twenty-six volumes in all. However, at the current rate of releases of just two books a year it’ll take over a decade to finish. Perhaps they’ll skip the complex Laughing Man case because breaking it up over such a long time would be a bad idea. Who knows at this stage?

It’s illustrated well and like the first book is full of dynamic panels and crazy sound effects. The action is punctuated with some minor back-story that was absent from the anime, offering a welcome break from the tank moments.

Unlike Voluume One there's no unique Tachikomatic Days episode at the end. I'd hoped they'd be a regular addition.

3 experience points from getting shot to shit out of 5

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Babylon 5 : To Dream in the City of Sorrows (1997)

Author: Kathryn M. Drennan | Page Count: 278

"Maybe," said Sinclair, "but I sometimes think the Vorlons just make up nonsense to amuse themselves at our expense."

The only Babylon 5 book that is 100% part of the five year canon. It's fully sanctioned by creator J. Michael Straczynski and is penned by his then wife, Kathryn M. Drennan. It's the untold story of what happened to Commander Jeffrey Sinclair after he left the station. It relies heavily on your knowledge of the TV series and as such it’s stuck between having to remain faithfully tied to it and trying to present something exciting and independently new.

Unfortunately, sandwiched between the potential of the beginning and the very average ending is a middle made up of lots of meh. The dialogue is clunky, the story lacks any real sense of urgency or danger and most of the people are uninteresting. It focuses on my least favourite characters (Catherine Sakai… give me a break!), so unless you found Jeff and his partner to be charismatic and exciting (if you did, you need to get out more) then you may feel similarly.

Marcus Cole's back-story was what kept me reading because I really liked him in the series. (Mentioning him isn't spoiler, he's on the cover.)

If you've read and enjoyed this kind of pulp tie-in novel before, for any of the sci-fi franchises, then you can probably estimate before even opening whether or not the content will satisfy your needs; it's not taxing or overly engaging but it has a huge audience, so if that's you then pick it up to complete your B5 experience.

1 because I’m not a total monster out of 5

Friday, January 6, 2012

De Profundis (Written 1897. Published 1905)

Author: Oscar Wilde| Page Count: 72

"We have forgotten that water can cleanse, and fire purify, and that the Earth is mother to us all. As a consequence our art is of the moon and plays with shadows..."

De Profundis is an epistle written by Oscar during his imprisonment in Reading Gaol (that be ye olde spelling of jail, the big house, the hoosegow etc).  The work was for the eyes of Lord Alfred Douglas, although he isn't mentioned by name.  It’s a piece of writing which at times seems almost pitiful, full of both profound realisations and what seems to me to be obvious attempts at self-delusion.  It’s also both self-effacing and at times supremely arrogant (although if arrogance was to ever be perceived as a kind of misunderstood virtue there is no one more deserving of it than Wilde).  In short, it’s a monologue about the beauty of suffering and about the need for it in order to be born anew.

The religious tones get very heavy at times and it occasionally feels like he is clutching at illusory straws with which to weave himself a basket that he might sail away from the very real hardships into a world of literary flagellation, overseen by Christ as poet, offering salvation through escapism.  Two years of eating black bread and scrubbing stone floors would do that to even the sturdiest individual.  It offers a very real insight into his mindset during those last years but is perhaps much too gloomy to be of interest to anyone other than Wilde fans.

3½ fruits of experience grow on trees in shadow out of 5

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ghost in the Shell : Stand Alone Complex : Episode 001 : Section 9 (2010)

Author: Yu Kinutani | Page Count: 248

"...we've determined the contents of the brain are fake.  So where's the real one?"

The manga of the anime inspired by the film of the manga. A number of cyborg Geishas have taken clients hostage, among them a high-ranking government official who was engaging in some odd activities with the pretend ladies. The Prime Minister summons Public Security Section 9, their best counter-terrorist unit. Led by the cybernetically enhanced Major Kusanagi the team are called upon to not only resolve the situation but to find out who's behind it and why.

It's the entire first episode of the GitS: SAC anime in manga form; it’s almost verbatim except for some minor changes in the action scenes that don’t alter the main storyline one bit. It’s less fun than watching the anime, so is recommended for super-fans only.

Artwork is good and it's well-paced. The characterisation could've been handled better, but it's a successful transition otherwise.

It has its own unique brief Tachikomatic Days at the end but without the audible infectious curiosity of their animated counterparts it’s far from essential.

3 silly sound effects out of 5

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

MBQ Volume 2 (2006)

Author: Felipe Smith | Page Count: 200
"You're gonna have to fight for it if you want it. It's always a fight."
Volume 2 picks up where volume 1 left off with Omario looking to get his pages published, but this volume focuses more on the other characters of the series. They get some much needed development that was missing in the first volume. We learn that roommate Jeff is aspiring to more than his fast food job and Omario's brash attitude may finally be straining on him. We also get a little more info on Dee, Omario's drug dealing, gun running, thieving friend, and why they are friends at all. Dee is certainly a thug, but even he plays a role in Omario's journey that we are following. Also we get a small look at the 2 cops R.J. and Aiden.

The black humor is intact and the action is even ratcheted up as is some sexy interludes, but it is pretty disconnected from the story at times and while it is clearly setting up a resolution, it doesn't come in this volume. There is also a pretty weird bit with an ironic jab at lame and uninspired comics that while funny seems a bit over-the-top. That was the point, but it could have been handled differently. It even had an actual author insertion as opposed to the metaphorical one Omario represents. Nice action and comedy, but it could have focused on Omario's story more instead of just the one bit at the end.

3 intercontinental ballistic missiles fired from a demon midget's ass out of 5

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Metamorphosis (1915)

Original title: Die Verwandlung

Author: Franz Kafka | Page Count: 61

"In the hall, he stretched his right hand out towards the stairway as if out there, there were some supernatural force waiting to save him."

Gregor Samsa goes to bed as normal. He has a routine and he sticks to it. He wakes transformed into a hideous insect. Life gets complicated. Firstly, he can’t get to work looking like a Naked Lunch extra, and that pisses him off. Gregor tries to live his life as normal, but even the smallest change in his behaviour or his environment has a domino effect in the world around him and he’s forced to adapt or suffer. He soon realises that to be a burden is a terrible thing, which is worse than having tiny legs and an inability to get to work on time.

I'm trivialising it, but why not? There have been more than enough overly complex critical appraisals elsewhere. Marxist? Jungian? Post-wankerism? It’s not necessary. (Your English tutor would have a hernia.) I'm trying to show that despite being arty-farty literature it can be enjoyed by all.

However, unless you can read German your only option is to read the text in translation like I did and that means relying to a large degree on the translator for the flow of the narrative. The translation I read seemed very simplistic at times, almost childlike, which had the effect of making the revelatory moments seem all the more powerful. German has the participle at the end of the sentence, so there was some necessary shuffling of words in English and consequently subtle meaning may have been similarly shuffled.

I doubt even the arty-farty critics can contextualise every part of this work; its surface simplicity means it’s open to numerous interpretations, all of which are valid as far as I'm concerned. Take from it what YOU want and to hell with everyone else (including this review). One thing I noticed that I thought was important to a reading: It's not just Gregor's story. With that in mind, subsequent readings may raise my score. Until then:

4 days off work due to a bad case of the bug out of 5

Note: Due to its age, The Metamorphosis is in the public domain and can be found online at Project Gutenberg, or similar sites.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Atrocity Exhibition (1970)

Author: J. G. Ballard | Page Count: 184 

'The blitzkriegs will be fought out on the spinal battlefields, in terms of the postures we assume, of our traumas mimetized in the angle of a wall or balcony.'

The Atrocity Exhibition is one one of the finest examples of the English experimental novel.  There's no obvious start/middle/end structure.  You can flick to any page and start reading to get an immediate feel for the overall style and perspective of the work; doing just that is something Ballard recommends.

The thematic merging of sexual excitement, death of celebrity, architecture and the evils of consumer society are explored as only he could, without deference to the social consciousness or exhibiting shame.

It’s an obtuse book that'll only begin to make sense the more you begin to adopt his point of view and look at your own life as the protagonist views his.  I’m not saying you should get your jollies watching automobile crashes or the removal of the top of Kennedy's head, I mean appreciating the minutiae of life, being aware of the lack of difference in things at their most basic level.

The protagonist, Talbert, Travis, Talbot, Traven (his name changes frequently, depending on where he is or what he's doing) looks upon a poster of a dune but the anatomist in him sees as an outsized female pudenda; the point where two walls merge can be a sexual thing; central nervous systems have been externalised as roads; the assassination of Kennedy encapsulates everything that's wrong and right with the world—not from a political point of view, but from a universal constant.  It's complex but also equally rewarding, particularly the second half, if you can set aside your teachings and embrace its unique structure.

If you've ever enjoyed the works of William Burroughs or Anthony Burgess then maybe Ballard will fit into your life and onto your shelf.

Note: I recommend the Fourth Estate edition published by Harper Collins, it has extended notes by the author that offer extra insight into the creation of many of the stories, and much of it is even more interesting than the novel.

5 roads that lead to celebrity death out of 5