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

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