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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Sandman: Vol III: Dream Country (1991)

Author: Neil Gaiman | Illustrators: Kelley Jones / Charles Vess / Colleen Doran |
Page Count: 152

"Things need not have happened to be true.  Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes…” 

Book 3 of 10 in the Sandman saga sets aside the multipart work and gives us some standalones.  There are still references to things outside of each individual story so they’re still a part of the series story arc but can be removed from it and enjoyed separately.  The publisher claims that each collection “can be read in order or as individual volumes” but that’s just publisher bullshit to sell more copies.  Read them in order, always, even the standalones.

-The first story will appeal to anyone who’s ever tried to write a story (or review) and found they're still staring in despair at a blank page after half an hour of toil.
-The second will appeal to cat lovers, and is perhaps Gaiman’s most emotionally touching standalone; at least it is for me.  It’s brought to life by the pencils of Kelley Jones who either owns a cat himself or studied them at length.
-The third is the highlight of the book and won Gaiman a World Fantasy Award, the only comic to ever do so.  It requires you to have read Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream to get the most enjoyment from it.  It marks the first time artist Charles Vess worked on the series.
-The last story is the wildcard.  It features a long forgotten superheroine; it examines what life is like when the world no longer needs you and you don’t have a normal life to fall back on.  What do you do when you can’t do anything?

Because book 3 collects just 4 issues, the short length is padded out with a 39 page script for the first story.  It’ll either fascinate or bore; think of it like a dvd extra, do you watch them or not?  If not, you’re paying the same price for 4 issues as you’ve paid for 7 previously.  It’s a diverse mix but luckily for me I'm a fan of all of those things so I enjoyed every squiggly word of it.

The book collects together Sandman issues 17 - 20

5 faeries and masks that won’t stick out of 5

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Sandman: Vol II: The Doll's House (1990)

Author: Neil Gaiman | Illustrators: Mike Dringenberg / Chris Bachalo / Michael Zulli | Page Count: 228

…if it touched you, you could wash and wash until your skin was tattered and bloodied, but you’d never be clean again.

Book 2 of 10 in the Sandman saga is where the series really begins to separate itself from the larger DC Universe; it feels like a self-contained world populated by a collection of believable people not dependent on past histories.  Morpheus becomes a more three dimensional character, not the insubstantial entity he was at the beginning.  Everything is more focussed and immediate.  The stories also undergo a drastic change.  They are much better developed this time in terms of interconnectivity; some of the subject matter is a lot darker and more adult.  One part of the story I found very uncomfortable reading but at the same time the very idea that it could ever happen was intriguing.

Dream orders a census of the Realm and discovers some of the inhabitants are missing.  He deems it his responsibility to find them and bring them back before they can do damage in the waking world.  Gaiman lets his imagination run free with those.  We meet some more of the Endless family and begin to notice something unusual about all of them.  Some of those bit players I mentioned from book one return and upset the apple cart.  Gaiman gets the opportunity to create a house full of weirdo’s and studies them like a sociological experiment.
I could go on and on about the ripples this book creates but it’s best if you discover for yourself.  If you didn't give up at the beginning of book one your patience is well rewarded in book two.

The book collects together Sandman issues 9 - 16

4½ we don’t shit where we eat out of 5

Monday, February 27, 2012

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)

Author: Philip K. Dick | Page Count: 210

"You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity."

I like Dick. I can go to the library and ask the woman at the counter if she likes Dick, and if she'd like to come home with me and see my big Dick collection. Being a Dick-Head is a source of endless in-jokes with other Dick-Heads.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is set on Earth, an Earth that is mostly abandoned and almost totally poisoned. The hardy stragglers that haven't left the planet are in danger of being unable to leave the planet. Rick Deckard is one such person. He's a bounty hunter, policing Androids (aka Andys) that have gone rogue. A group of Nexus 6 Andys have come to Earth and it's Rick's job to take them out, which means a nice big fat paycheque for his wallet. Along the way he's forced to make some tough decisions while dealing with his own neuroses.

As with most of Dick's books, there's a fundamental duality ticking away like clockwork under the surface. Even the title of the book has a double meaning; I won't say what it is, because it's up to the reader to discover it. His prose style can be off-putting to people not already familiar with the conventions of the genre; and it's certainly not something that I think a casual reader will be able to easily engage with. At times it's cold and sterile, but it's also thought-provoking, full of deep introspection and emotional reasoning, particularity in the latter half.

4 Dick-Heads aren't chickenheads out of 5

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Sandman: Vol I: Preludes & Nocturnes (1991)

Author: Neil Gaiman | Illustrators: Sam Kieth / Mike Dringenberg |
Page Count:  235

"I'd just had this nightmare.  These things with faces like appendectomy scars were crocheting my intestines into body bags for the blind and dead."

Book 1 of 10 in Gaiman’s Sandman saga brings together the More Than Rubies storyline.  The Lord of all Dreaming, Morpheus, gets into a spot of trouble with an enthusiastic occultist who steals his possessions, magical things that weren't ever meant for the human world.  Morpheus spends most of the remainder of the book trying to get them back.  His journey takes him to places he'd rather not set foot.

It had been years since I last read this and I’d forgotten how closely tied it was to the DC universe at the beginning.  It’s not until the epilogue that the first phase of where Gaiman would eventually take the character begins to surface.  Until then it exists in a number of already established genres, from the traditional English fireside horror tale, through generic dark fantasy territory and even the merging of horror with the superhero genre.  It didn’t fit with that genre at all so it’s good that it was just an experiment.  There is one person from the DC Vertigo pantheon that did fit right into the Sandman world but I won’t spoil it by saying who.

Some of the dialogue is embarrassingly bad in the first few chapters but don’t be put off by that, it really does get better, much better.  Despite the dodgy wording there are some very interesting ideas under the surface, ideas that have deeper connotations than may be initially apparent.  We are also introduced to a number of bit players that will return later and play bigger roles, but of course we didn't know that at the start, so it rewards repeated readings later down the line.

The book collects together Sandman issues 1 - 8.

3½ all night parties at the 24 hour diner out of 5

Note: At time of writing, the official DC site is offering the first Sandman issue FREE as a PDF.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Death: The Time of Your Life (1996)

Author: Neil Gaiman | Illustrators: Chris Bachalo / Mark Buckingham |
Page Count: 95

"My face feels prickly and pale and chill, and my hands are cold, and my heart is beating oddly in my chest—banging against my ribcage, unpleasantly hard, as if it needs to be free."

The second miniseries for Death of the Endless is a full colour exploration of life, love, identity and loss.  Unlike the previous collection, The High Cost of Living (1993), it more closely mirrors the Sandman style of storytelling.  Death exists in the background until the story is ready for her to enter; when she appears it’s as a catalyst for change (like her Tarot attribution) and not as a principal player.  Quite often those kinds of stories are what Gaiman does best.

The main characters are Donna “Foxglove” Cavanagh and Hazel McNamara, first seen in Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House (1990).  Foxglove is dealing with life as a pop star, and Hazel is dealing with life as a mother.  Both are struggling with not seeing the other for extended periods of time.  The two women were once close but due to work pressures are now walking different paths.  Foxglove is slowly rolling toward a precipice and her life is teetering on the edge of indecision; she's unsure if she should pull it back or let it fall.  Hazel is at home with her thoughts and her failings.  They're both drifting.

Death has her usual sentimental but focussed on duty attitude.  Gaiman has lived with her in his head for years so he knows how to write for the character.  The story is less adventurous than The High Cost of Living but is more sympathetic and emotional, and certainly more rewarding for the reader.  It’s initially slow to unravel but by the end has blossomed into a celebration of life and love, and the beauty and tragedy that can arise from both.

The book collects together Death: The Time of Your Life issues 1 – 3

4 butterflies and bowls of blood out of 5

Monday, February 20, 2012

Badass: A Relentless Onslaught of the Toughest Warlords, Vikings, Samurai, Pirates, Gunfighters and Military Commanders to Ever Live (2009)

Author: Ben Thompson | Page Count: 337
The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.
Badass is a book written by Ben Thompson as an extension of his website chronicling historical figures who excelled at what they do whether it be combat, science, espionage or just generally being awesome. The book contains 40 chapters each telling the story of one historical figure with articles arranged by time period from antiquity to the modern age.

Rather than a boring history lesson though, Thompson gives these awesome stories the interesting enthusiasm they deserve by punching up the stories with his laid-back writing style filled with hyperbolic analogies and profanity-laced pop culture similes making history somewhat less stodgy. The text is never boring or overwhelming like staring into a textbook in class and is easily digestible with short, to-the-point chapters (unlike the mouthful of a title) and various extras like fun facts, various illustrations and some personal commentary. If history is your thing, then you'll probably enjoy this and if it's not your thing then you still might appreciate the stories in this much more entertaining format.

Spinal cords ripped out through the urethra out of 5

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Last Temptation (1994)

Author: Neil Gaiman | Illustrator:  Michael Zulli | Page Count: 102

“I'll take away the uncertainty, Steven.  I'll take away the fear.  I'll take away the boredom and the pain.  You want more than that?”

This is a strange fish.  It’s the product of a partnership between writer Neil Gaiman and rock musician Alice Cooper.  It’s not Alice’s first foray into the world of comics.  He’s been here before but never with such notable talent.  I'm a fan of both Alice and Gaiman so it should've been manna from heaven to me.  It’s a coming of age story, much like Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This way Comes (1962) which it reminded me of more than once; if the Showman of TLT isn't based on Bradbury’s carnival leader Mr Dark then I’ll eat Impudent Urinal’s hat.

The story illustrates the pitfalls that lie ahead when a frightened kid, Steven, is forced to take control of his own destiny for the first time in his life.  He meets a host of freaks that tempt him with promises of new experiences.  The Showman reveals his Theatre of the Real, the Grandest Guignol, and offers Steven something that I'm sure many of us have wished in our lives.

It’s a morality tale with theatrical trappings, telling the same story as Alice's concept album of the same name, but where Alice had music, Gaiman has artist Mike Zulli who does a wonderful job with the sinister themes.  There are times when the frame is much too busy but most of the time Zulli gets it right.
It’s all done in the blackest of ink with no colour, which sadly can be said for the story too.  Everything is black and white: good and bad is clearly defined.  There's little room for the emotional ambiguity that Gaiman is good at.  While the narrative is restricted by the source material, he still manages to play around a little (one of the kids is dressed like Morpheus from Sandman for Hallowe’en).

If you know the album you’ll know how it all ends.  If you’re reading it as a Gaiman fan without prior knowledge of the album concept, it'll entertain but not as much as his regular day job would.  I'm such a nerd that I've sat and read the book while listening to the music.  It didn't enrich either experience very much but it was a fun experiment nonetheless.

2½ sideshows and dodgy back alley deals out of 5

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (1997)

Author: Alan Moore | Illustrator: Curt Swan | Page Count: 48

By the time we heard the screams ... the nightmare was already underway. There must have been hundreds of them and they all wanted the same thing…

Whatever Happened...? is the final Superman story. The end. It was decided that the entire comic Universe be revamped after the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, wiping out years of complicated back-story and killing off redundant characters. It’s a move that’s generally regarded to coincide with the ending of the Bronze Age of comics. Moore had a hand in the direction of what followed that era, but it seems he wanted a hand in what had preceded it, too. So he penned a belated, final Silver Age Man of Steel story, giving it another emotional end. We all know Superman continued, but beneath the bright colours was a darker canvas.

It's a love story to that Silver time, filled with weird and wonderful things, including the caped-dog Krypto and Jimmy Olsen's signal-watch. Readers of the modern era may not appreciate the allusions and the changes that it heralded, but older readers, those of us that grew up with comics, that read them under bed covers with a flashlight, will see the real importance and heart of the story. The majority of which is told in flashback. Lois tells the tale of Superman's final days to an aspiring Daily Planet reporter ten years after they happened.

The book is saturated with aspects of finality and loss. It uses the kind of language those old stories used, but it’s more streamlined—there's a weight to them that a lesser writer would need twice as much space to convey. In that way, Moore put a nail in the coffin of not just the character but of a style of writing that had endured for decades. It was the right time to do it. A new breed of storytellers had emerged, influenced by the past but equally ready to sculpt something shiny and new from the ashes of the old. So long, Superman.

The book collects together Superman 423 and Action Comics 583, both originally published in 1986.

3½ (Super)man-sized statues in memoriam out of 5

Friday, February 17, 2012

Iron Man: Extremis (2005)

Author: Warren Ellis | Illustrator: Adi Granov | Page Count: 160

“John Pillinger says the Iron Man suit is a military application.  I told him he was wrong.  I’m trying to decide if I was lying."

This work, perhaps more than any other, is responsible for the origin and aesthetic of the first Iron Man film.  Warren Ellis is a good writer, he’s not afraid to take bold chances with existing properties and it paid off this time, mostly.  Extremis was a new start for the character, bringing it up to date while still remaining faithful to the original team of Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby.  It’s less of a superhero approach and more of a sci-fi thriller; Iron Man is a weapon, not a flying hero in metallic tights.

In an abandoned slaughterhouse, a test subject is injected with a secret serum; it transforms him into something more than human.  Iron Man is called in by an old friend to fix the situation but he’s carrying around more baggage than just a heavy suit of armour.  It places Tony temporarily out of the convoluted continuity of the extended Marvel universe, and focuses on the man; it humanises him, exposes his flaws and shows that being a millionaire isn’t always just necking champagne and bedding bunny girls.  When it works, it’s fantastic.  He still finds time to have the obligatory fight scene with people lifting cars over their heads etc.

The real star here is Adi Granov’s amazing art.  He sketches in pencil and colours with watercolour, inks, gouache etc.  He takes that into Photoshop and renders there.  It’s a mix of the traditional and the new (like the story) and the result is emotionally charged and dramatically staged panels that often tell a story without the need for words.  It needs to be seen to be understood properly.  It’s a slow process, it took him a year and a half to complete the work but the finished product is definitely worth the wait.

The book collects together Iron Man vol.4, issues 1-6.

3½ pieces of shrapnel in an awkward place out of 5

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation (2009)

Author: Ray Bradbury | Illustrator: Tim Hamilton | Page Count: 149

"Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater.
No wonder books stopped selling.  The public, knowing what it wanted, let the comic books survive."

A comic adaptation of Bradbury’s classic novel; I've already reviewed the novel HERE so I won't go over the plot again.  This transition from novel to comic is fully authorised by Bradbury so you would expect a faithful retelling.  (He doesn't let just anyone have his works, he recently told his publisher to “go to hell” when they wanted to release 451 as an e-book.  Sadly he was forced to give in, once more proving that the publishing world has caught up with the film world in not giving a damn about the author’s intentions.)

It uses Bradbury’s own dialogue but the majority of the descriptive language is lost, and it’s that part of writing that Bradbury excels in.  His character dialogue is often simplistic and minimal.  Also, there are some parts of the story absent.  I was expecting that but mercifully it’s not enough to dilute the story too much.  It’s heavily abridged but it’s not overly dismissive; it’s made some changes that are acceptable to facilitate a different medium, and some which aren't.  It retains the same concerns and sense of urgency in action but the loss of that descriptive language is a severe handicap, especially the ending which is hurried and lifeless.

The artwork is excellent.  The frame in never cluttered, it shows only what’s important and does it from some interesting angles.  On the down side, it's that lazy digital colouring technique that I really don't like; it's turning comics into a standardised art form that keeps everything the same (ironically similar to one of the themes of the novel).  It uses a muted palette of earthy browns and cold blues, contrasted with the fiery orange and yellow of the flames when the firemen do their thing.  The best part of the colouring is the wonderful use of shadows and blacks; they are deep and symbolic, casting faces in gloom and insinuating secrets and character failings.  It reminds me somewhat of Tim Sale’s work on Batman, or the colouring in Mignola’s Hellboy comics.

There is too much missing from the story to recommend this as an alternative to the novel but enough included to perhaps inspire someone to move from the pictures to the prose.  In that respect, it's partially successful.

2½ shadows in the bedroom out of 5

Friday, February 10, 2012

Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

Author: Ray Bradbury | Page Count: 172

"Go home and think of your first husband divorced and your second husband killed in a jet and your third husband blowing his brains out, go home and think of the dozen abortions you’ve had, go home and think of that and your damn Caesarian sections, too, and your children who hate your guts! Go home and think how it all happened and what did you ever do to stop it?"

Fahrenheit 451 tells of a time when the written word is anathema, books are burned for their heretic meanings and too much knowledge is forbidden. If one man is smarter than another it makes the other man feel shame and inadequacy. The state doesn't want that; they want everyone to be happy; everyone to be the same; no one to question the equilibrium or to protest.

Television is the dominant information medium, delivering sound and fury but saying nothing and meaning even less.

Life slithers along under a coloured blanket; the colour is grey and occasionally the colour of flame, but only if you try to think for yourself.

If you dare to own a book the firemen will come and burn it (and your home) because that’s what firemen do. It’s what they've always did, isn't it? Montag asks that question and the consequences of such an independent, suffering thought turn his life into an inferno of frightened indecision and instinctual abrupt actions.

It's a dystopian novel but that doesn't mean it’s depressing. Bradbury doesn't do depressing. He does heartfelt and cordial emotion, tinged with a beautiful sadness that touches your heart in a very special way. You can read an entire page effortlessly because his prose flows like water over glass, but stop and take the time to examine the words and you’ll be amazed at their strength and subtle power. I'm in awe of the great man’s ability to mould such a crude language into something so beautifully understated. It's a short book but has enduring ideas that have the potential to remain with the reader forever.

If I was to be burned for owning a book it would be for owning F451.

5 families in the TV out of 5

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Pleasure to Burn: Fahrenheit 451 Stories (2010)

Author: Ray Bradbury | Page Count: 389

This is a companion piece to Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953).  It really should come with a warning on the cover but it doesn’t.  I’ll give it:  DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU'VE ALREADY READ FAHRENHEIT 451.  It'll spoil that novel for you completely if you do.  It has 14 shorts and 2 novellas.  They all echo or inform the 451 novel in some way, some are tenuously linked and others could almost be a part of it.
Editors Donn Albright and Jon Eller should be ashamed for the lack of information they give about the works.  Were they written before 451?  After?  Do they pave the way, or reflect upon it?
I’m a long time fan so know that all but two of the shorts (‘Bonfire’ and ‘The Library’) have been printed before in previous collections.  The novellas, both also previously published are ‘Long After Midnight’ and ‘The Fireman’.  Both are early versions of 451; they’re well written but the plot is almost identical to the novel, and the two stories are almost identical to each other.  With no explanation from the editors the casual reader will be confused.

If you’re thinking of buying the book for the two new pieces I mentioned, you may be disappointed.  They feel like they were abandoned midway.  The ideas were later integrated into other works.
Every writer has these kinds of things lying around in an ideas drawer; they're extended notes, disembodied scenes, ideas given form but crude and severely underdeveloped.  I don’t believe they were intended to be stand-alone works.  Bradbury isn't that shoddy, ever.  The cynic in me says they're simply used to sell more books.  I wonder what the author would think of their inclusion?

I love Bradbury.  I believe he's the finest living American author and I will shed real tears when he leaves us.  I mean no disrespect to his name but I don’t feel this book is of the usual high standard that we've come to expect.  It’s repackaged reprint by editors that aren't fit to wipe the old man’s ass; reprint that offers little in the way of variety for the reader.  Its only real merit is Bradbury’s poetic voice and his words that settle into the mind like treacle.  My score reflects that aspect of it not the collection which is insulting to the long time fan, and ruinous for the newcomer.  Seek out the original.

2½ kerosene canisters and controlled freedoms out of 5

Sunday, February 5, 2012

MBQ Volume 3 (2007)

Author: Felipe Smith | Page Count: 232
"Gat Damn! You reek of dog anus!"
The third and last of the volumes brings Omario's story to a close of sorts. Omario's brash attitude is endangering his friendships and a chance encounter with a fellow artist combined with a costly repair job forces him to rethink his priorities. Also Officer Aiden may be reaching his psychological breaking point as the violence in the seedy underworld of the city ramps up.

All stories not featuring Omario have now severed all connection and are now a completely separate story. This makes the underworld violence shocking, but ultimately inconsequential as it doesn't affect Omario in the slightest. The now separate stories are nice even if they now seem to be page filler or I'm looking at it the wrong way and Aiden was always a 2nd main character. If that's the case, he didn't get near enough face-time to convincingly wrap up his plot. Bad form there, but Smith is more artist than writer so I let it slide since his humor and action scenes are in top form and there is a nice message at the end there in Omario's epiphany that all volumes have been working toward.

Showing up a douchebag in front of his ladies with a rose made of $100 bills out of 5

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ghost in the Shell : S.A.C : Revenge of the Cold Machines (2006)

Author: Junichi Fujisaku | Page Count: 204 Pages

'Kusanagi's body soared through the air.  She crashed through the lounge's glass wall, tumbling out into the sky.'

The second in a trilogy of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex tie-in novels.
This time we get three short stories that are thematically tied together; they also tie in with episode 6 of the GitS: SAC: 2nd GIG anime TV series (episode titled: Excavation) but it’s not necessary to have seen it to read the book.  The three stories are stand alone but when viewed together tell a larger story.  The middle one is a Tachikoma story, told from their POV.  It’s fun.  The two that bookend it are more suited to being an actual episode starting point.

The work is a lot less cold and technical than the previous book which makes it easier to read but also highlights how empty the prose is at times.
It sets out to give fans some new Section 9 adventures and it succeeds but don't sell your grandma to afford it because it's not that essential.

2½ sorry I ruined your little Minipat out of 5