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

Friday, March 30, 2012

Qi: The Book of General Ignorance (2006)

Author: John Lloyd and John Mitchinson  |  Page Count: 320

Qi (Quite interesting) is a television series hosted by the always entertaining and rather dapper Stephen Fry.  It’s a panel game / quiz show that'll make you laugh while presenting some obscure fact about jellyfish or bread rolls.  If you’re lucky it'll have a story involving jellyfish and bread rolls together that'll cause funny-man Alan Davies to bring great shame upon his curly head... bless his follicles.

The book is co-authored by the creator of the show, so it’s not just a quick cash-in, it’s the real deal.  It collects together a wealth of trivia about all things unusual, some wickedly cruel and some very mundane things you didn't know you wanted to learn more about.  It’s broken up into digestible chucks.  Each topic is typically just one page in length.  Some are only half a page but still manage to squeeze in enough info to justify their inclusion.  Topics are the usual general knowledge categories: history, science, religion, food, geography, geology, etc.  It even sheds light on whether or not a Jaffa Cake is really a cake or simply a biscuit.

It’s written for people who speak the Queen's English, so Americans may well get a little lost at times.  I make no allegations.  If you’re not convinced you need a book of general ignorance, ask yourself this question: Who wouldn't want to know which insect has a penis that snaps off in times of stress?

Buy it.  Eat it.  Regurgitate the trivia at your friends during lunch break.  They'll love you from afar.  Leave it in the shitter and learn while you birth a log.  It has exactly 101 uses.  It’s really Quite Interesting.

5 slices of French Toast (but is it really French?) out of 5

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Alone (2005)

Author: Lisa Gardner | Page Count: 448

Bobby Dodge is a Massachusetts State Police sniper called in for a domestic disturbance involving a man holding his family hostage. He watches the scene unfold through his scope and when the man seems to make a move toward the woman, Bobby blows his head apart. Everything is routine with investigators, press and lawyers... or so it seems. The man he just killed will forever change his life as he is caught up in the intrigue surrounding the woman he saved including political ties, family secrets and mysterious illnesses.

Lisa Gardner writes a lot of these types of novels and this one is actually a first in the D.D. Warren series, but it genuinely had me surprised with all its twists and turns. Whether she just wrote it well or because the novel is just saturated with twists that some are bound to work, I'm not sure. The prose is very well-paced and I even found myself getting wood from some of her sex scenes as she is good at giving detail without hampering what's going on. I feel like a middle aged woman in her target audience for liking the book as much as I did, but at least the subject matter makes it closer to stereotypical pulp mystery than cheesy romance. Saves some man points for enjoying it.

Rich, White People problems can be really toxic out of 5

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

H.R. Giger Tarot (2000)

aka: Baphomet: The Tarot of the Underworld

Author: Akron | Illustrator: H.R. Giger | Page Count: 223

This is the usual Tarot package, which means it’s a book giving details of readings and spreads and a deck with which to use. The cards are beautifully presented, large format card but totally impractical for use; nor is it a full deck, it’s just the Major Arcana. Worse, some of them have been changed. The Hanged Man is now The Hanged Woman, to better represent the painting Akron has chosen, and Temperance has become Alchemy. It doesn't really matter as they weren't painted to commission; like I said, they were simply chosen, the paintings existed before the book was conceived and have none of the traditional imagery or symbolism necessary for the user.

I've no doubt Giger could have produced a fundamentally different Tarot if he set his mind to it, one which included the necessary symbolism and still managed to maintain his sexually fuelled nightmarish imagery.  The book includes a chinagraph pencil sketch for each of the 22 cards, most of which would have been better suited to the purpose had they been fully painted.

After a brief introduction wherein Akron gives his reasons and justifications for using the paintings, he gives his interpretation of the meanings of the cards. Some of Akron’s writings are deep and insightful; had the book been written as a mere observational piece it could have been fascinating.

I know there are people that collect decks regardless of their usefulness, so for those people, and especially for fans of Giger, it’s an interesting package.  The collection is available in the German or English language.  It contains: a soft cover book by the occultist Akron, 22 fully illustrated Tarot cards and a spread mat for laying the cards on during readings.

If you want a proper Tarot deck get the Rider-Waite deck, not this.  I'm scoring this from a Giger fan POV and ignoring the lack of practicality.

5 biomechanical phallic disturbances out of 5

Monday, March 12, 2012

Thor: Volume I (2008)

Author: J. Michael Straczynski | Illustrator: Olivier Coipel | Page Count: 160

It is not for the gods to decide whether or not man exists -- 
it is for man to decide whether or not the gods exist.”

I read Thor stories for over two years because it was part of a monthly collection I used to buy but I never really liked the character very much.  I always felt he didn’t fit in the superhero world; he was a Norse god, not a costumed hero with overpants.  However, the Thor: Reborn storyline took me by complete surprise.  I picked it up because of J. Michael Straczynski’s name.  I’m a JMS fan; I enjoyed his work on The Amazing Spider-Man.  His Thor is a rebirth for the character, three years after it was cancelled.  It’s not a traditional origin story from Day 0, it picks up the threads that Michael Avon Oeming's Ragnarok arc (2004) sensibly left for whoever would follow him.  I haven’t read Ragnarok but it didn’t matter too much, JMS gives enough of a recap to help figure out what happened back then.

The best thing about the book is that at times it reminded me of some of the better Superman stories; not the leap tall buildings version, I mean the inner vulnerability, weight of the world on his shoulders, lost little child in an adult body version of Superman.  Thor is alone, in a post-Civil War universe, and he’s none too happy about how that turned out.  There are the obligatory fight scenes but they aren’t the main focus.  It’s a character piece exploring the inner feelings and the outer actions that a rebirth, both spiritual and physical, can have upon a person.  He is forced to reacquaint himself with his humanity and his duty.

Olivier Coipel, who you may know from House of M, did great things with his panelling and perspectives.  His art is fantastic, alternating between close-ups and large open vistas as needed.  His poses help humanise the man behind the musculature.

There are hints of where the story would eventually go, and I’m excited to find out if JMS managed to keep the fragility of the character as a focus when the shit hits the fan, as I’m sure it did.

The book collects together Thor v3 issues 1 – 6.

4 Krakkabooooom Fwoom Fwoooom out of 5

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Boy Who Kicked Pigs (1999)

Author: Tom Baker | Illustrator: David Roberts | Page Count: 124 

Robert withdrew himself in preparation for the kick of a lifetime.  And then he burst into life and delivered a marvellous kick to Trevor’s arse.

A subversive fantasy novella told in the style of a kid’s story.  The language used is purposefully simplistic and childlike, and for the most part wasted on the lack of anything interesting to convey.

The story moves from one event to the next with little regard for cohesion.  The first half feels like it was written simply to make up the page count, so that it could be considered a novella and not a short.  The second half has a focus that improves the narrative greatly, the light of which throws the first half into an even darker pit of pointlessness.  It's a shame as it’s a beautifully presented book.  It’s the size of a paperback but bound in an attractive, slick hard binding.  The paper is thicker than usual and serves the illustrations well.

Every second page has a black ink sketch to illustrate some part of the story detailed on the adjacent page.  The pictures are on the left side and the text on the right, and quite often were depicting something half a page ahead of where I’d read, so there were dozens of mild spoilers.  The illustrations will please fans of Tim Burton’s sketchy nightmare style; they're very obviously inspired by him and are the reason it's still in residence on my shelf.  Overall, it's a quality presentation for a work that I don't feel tries hard enough to really deserve it.

2 yes, it is that Tom Baker out of 5

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Star Trek: Countdown (2009)

Authors: Mike Johnson / Tim Jones | Illustrator: David Messina | Page Count: 98

"Friends, Romulans, countrymen... we share the same ears."

Countdown is a prequel to the 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise.   A comic prequel is usually easy milk from the cash cow, but Countdown is 99% water.  The script reads like a first draft from a high school student.  It attempts to link The Next Generation cast with events from the film, acting as a kind of passing of the torch, but it’s ham-fisted.  Cameos from TNG crew exist for no reason other than to have cameos from TNG crew.  They act and speak nothing like their TV show counterparts, so could be anybody under the facial likeness.  Speaking of which, the artwork is good, with characters looking like the actors they represent.  Both light and shadow are handled well.

Pictures of the new film crew precede each chapter.  Why?  They’ve neither place nor part in the story, except for Capt Kirk, once, and he looks like William Shatner, not the new guy.  (If you want to know who's in it, look at the cover.)

The book will have limited appeal to non-Trek fans, and Trek fans will have almost no interest in the wafer-thin plot and uncharacteristic actions and dialogues of the cast.  It raises the questions of who the target audience really is and why the publishers even bothered to produce it?  I think both questions have the same answer: to exploit money from existing fans - fans that recognise the cow for what it is but can tolerate a glass of watered-down milk with their TV snacks.

The book collects together Star Trek: Countdown issues 1 - 4

1½ (is the guy dead or alive?  Oh, you forgot to write that part) out of 5

Friday, March 9, 2012

Ghosts Caught on Film 3: Photographs of the Supernatural (2011)

Author:  Gordon Rutter  |  Page Count: 159

With an ever increasing amount of photographic evidence of the paranormal, Gordon Rutter takes command to organize the images in this collection and administer his expert analysis. GCoF3 is a hardcover book consisting of over 60 disputed images of ghost photography.

The photos are organized into 8 chapters including opinions from the author on each piece. From reading each description it's obvious that Rutter is an expert in the field of photography and has gone to great lengths to investigate the stories on each image. The author's level of technical knowledge (i.e. camera & film type, shutter speed, etc) when debunking the content is truly fascinating. He never once labels any photo as definitive proof of ghosts, only calling them "intriguing mysteries". And though there are a mass of interesting shots, a number of them I found hardly supernatural.

At times it felt as if I was staring at a Where's Waldo book, never locating the intended subject. While followers of ghost photography will find this entry intriguing be warned that some images are more curiosity than paranormal.

4 cases of pareidolia out of 5

Nutted by Borderline

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Serenity: Those Left Behind [2005]

Author: Joss Whedon & Brett Matthews |  Illustrator: Will Conrad & Laura Martin
Page Count:  104 Pages

“What’s up, Wash?”
”The usual -- crime
…and us trying to avoid punishment.”

You know the story by now:  Buffy The Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon created a space western TV series called Firefly for the FOX network.  FOX hated it, tossed it around, seeming like they purposedly wanted it canceled and got their wish after 11 episodes.  Fans created an uproar, DVD sales skyrocketed through the roof, resulting in Firefly being taken to the bigscreen to tie up loose ends in the feature film Serenity.

Whedon didn’t have enough screentime to tie-up everything in 2 hours, so went to Dark Horse comics for a 3-issue mini-series that bridged the gap between the series finale and the feature film.  Serenity: Those Left Behind is not essential reading and answers some things I preferred left a mystery but is still a good time that captures the feeling of the series perfectly.

Written by Joss Whedon & Firefly/Supernatural writer Brett Matthews is probably why it seems exactly like a lost episode.  In fact, a little too much at times, as the format doesn’t translate into graphic novel form all that well.   What’s great though, is Whedon & Matthews don’t go “Oh look, it’s in comic form!  We don’t have a budget limit here, we can do whatever the hell we want!”  They stay true to the series and let the story pacing unravel at a slow, yet pleasant pace without ever relying on anything too huge.

As a huge fan of series I can recommend it to anyone else who’s a fan…however if you’re not, it really makes no sense at all, as it spends no time explaining the backstory and that’s where it falls short.

It's available as 3 out of print separate issues or collected into a TPB or HC edition which is worth purchasing for Nathan Fillion's entertaining foreward.

3 BIG DAMN blue hands out of 5

Nutted by cuckoo

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Sandman: Vol VI: Fables and Reflections (1993)

Author: Neil Gaiman | Illustrators: Kent Williams / Shawn McManus / Stan Woch / Duncan Eagleson / Bryan Talbot / John Watkiss / Jill Thompson / P.Craig Russell | Page Count: 259 

Death was a little older than Dream.  Things had the potential to die before they had the potential to dream.

Book 6 of 10 in the Sandman saga is another collection of standalones.  It’s twice as long as the previous collection (Vol III: Dream Country) but only half as good.

There are nine stories in all.  Four of which are known collectively as Distant Mirrors, and three of which are known collectively as Convergence.  The Distant Mirrors section, featuring historical figures, offers little of interest for the average reader; except perhaps Ramadan, the 50th issue of the series, the lingering revelations after the last page is turned, and P. Craig Russell’s beautiful art help raise it above average.  The Convergence section is mostly uninteresting, except for the lengthy Orpheus tale, which is essential to the overall arc of the series.

The remainder of the shorts are merely subtext that I found tedious to read.
They flit backwards and forwards in time, showing different eras of Morpheus’ lifetime but they are out of sequence, the publication order has been shuffled around for some reason leaving all the better stuff in the second half.  This made the first half a real struggle to get through.

The book collects together Sandman issues 29 – 31, 38 – 40 and 50, Sandman Special issue 1, and Vertigo Preview issue 1

2½ Greek myths resurrected out of 5

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Sandman: Vol V: A Game of You (1993)

Author: Neil Gaiman | Illustrators: Shawn McManus / Colleen Doran / Bryan Talbot | Page Count: 189 

"We will all die, and the land will die, and the world will die, and the Cuckoo will reign in bleak dominion over all.” 

Book 5 of 10 in the Sandman saga.  For the people that accuse Gaiman of sacrificing character development so he can focus on the fantastical and whimsical, this one is for you; it'll crush your argument flat, like a little flat crushed dead argument bug thing, with orange blood and a satisfying crunch.  It picks up the story of someone last seen in Vol II (The Doll's House) and treats us to the details of how her life has changed.  Lives may begin and end in Sandman but stories go on.

All the characters are beautifully crafted; each has a perfect part to play in the tale within a tale, and out of it, becoming a critique of the genre as a whole.  It’s a fairy story that both utilises and parodies that whimsical aspect of fairy stories, the childish locales, the unrealistic aspirations, the creatures, and the journeys that the hero takes; it’s Wonderland, it’s Narnia, it’s Middle Earth, it’s Oz and it’s the part of every one of us that hides the things we hope and fear.  It also jocundly makes use of, and exposes the absurdity of, the deus ex machina that comics use much too often.  It’s flat-out magnificent.  Go read it.

It also introduces a new character who will return much later and bring great change to the Dream King.

The book collects together Sandman issues 32 - 37

5 it’s a small world for a big dog and a sleeping beauty out of 5

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Sandman: Vol IV: Season of Mists (1992)

Author: Neil Gaiman | Illustrators: Malcolm Jones III / P. Craig Russell / George Pratt / Dick Giordano | Page Count: 218

"To absent friends, lost loves, old Gods, and the season of mists; and may each and every one of us always give the Devil his due.” 

Book 4 of 10 in the Sandman saga introduces more of the Endless family as they gather for a family meeting.  What invariably happens at family gatherings?   Anthropomorphic personifications of abstract terms aren’t exempt.  Shit hits the fan.  It’s a hard life being an Endless.  Morpheus’ conscience gets the better of him and he attempts to right a wrong he committed centuries before (see Vol 2: The Doll's House) by going somewhere he has no wish to ever go to again (see Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes).  See now why I said to read them in order?

Morpheus has something he doesn’t want.  Everyone else, who doesn’t have it, wants it.  He has to decide which of them, if any, deserves it.  This is the best multi-part story yet.  Gaiman wove a garment so elaborate, with so many strands of weave flying loose, that he gave himself the means to knit any number of scarves from in the future.  There are minor flaws in the weave if you look closely but it’s so beautiful you won’t care.  Later in the book is a second gathering which creates ripples so big they are best described as immense crashing waves, leaving dead fish all over the place.  Not literally, there aren’t really dead fish but there are a few dead school kids who got a spin-off (The Children's Crusade) which I haven’t read as it’s never been collected as a trade.  *Grumble.  Talking of spin-offs, if you ever wish to read Mike Carey’s spin-off series Lucifer (and you should, it’s excellent) it would be a good idea to try and get a hold of this book first.

If you’ve read comic books for any length of time you’ll know that Todd Klein is the best letterer in the business, this book gives him a chance to show the world why that is.  I bet he had as much fun making this one as I did reading it.

The book collects together Sandman issues 21 - 28

5 crazy kids and an empty cardboard box out of 5