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

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Labyrinth (1986)

Author: A.C.H. Smith (based on a story by Jim Henson and Dennis Lee, and a screenplay by Terry Jones) | Page Count: 128

'If she weighed the implications of every alternative, would she ever get to make a choice at all?  When one door opens, so does another.'

I adore the film upon which Labyrinth is based.  Over the years I've watched it more than any other children’s movie in existence.  It’s a story in which a young woman, Sarah, must summon the courage to overcome her own inhibiting, teenage perceptions.  The trials she faces are symbolic.  The concessions offered her and the help given by her companions are similarly meaningful in an easily understood and simplistic way.  There’s nothing challenging about the story but that’s not a failing; it's more of a strength, making the work universal and timeless.
I'm not saying it’s without fault, because it definitely isn't.  The episodic structure drags it down.  Viewed with adult eyes it becomes a string of random events tied loosely together by the journey from A to B.  Throw in a new event or remove an existing one and the outcome would be the same, provided the characters needed at the end still get their introduction somehow.

The text begins by expanding upon Sarah’s relationship with her stepmother.  It takes what was hinted in the film and gives it much needed back-story.  It’s safe and formulaic but at least it doesn't run contrary to what we already knew.

The further I got into the story the less extrapolation there was.  It’s as if the author simply wrote down what was happening onscreen.  Those moments offer nothing that a viewing of the film won’t give.  They arguably offer less because the visual element is gone and the music is impossible to recreate on the page.

Mostly the language is simplistic, which is fine considering it’s aimed at a young audience, but there’s an occasional jarring archaic word thrown in; words that had dropped out of usage before even Bowie was born.

The saving grace is that, ironically, the prose works best when filler is required, when Smith needs something to fill the gaps the songs would normally occupy.  It either forced him to invent something new or it freed him up to do so.  In those moments he gives the story extra depth and makes me believe that had the novel not been such a slave to the film, it would certainly have been better written.

2½ stars moved out of 5

Friday, December 6, 2013

Batman / Judge Dredd: Die Laughing (1998)

Authors: John Wagner / Alan Grant | Artists: Glenn Fabry / Jim Murray / Jason Brashill | Page Count: 95

"Let the dead fluidsss flow!"

The fourth and (to date) final entry in the Batman/Dredd crossover reminds the reader why the pairing was a good idea in the first place. It’s almost twice as long as previous books. It uses that extra space to craft a great Dredd story worthy of his own monthly Megazine. It's atypical of a Batman story but there's reasons that I can't go into why that's less of a problem this time. Events spiral far out of control and it all gets a bit insane, but when you consider who the villains of the piece are then that’s all the more fitting.

The fully painted art is absolutely stunning and the attention to detail is lovingly attended to (Alfred’s coffee cup made me chuckle). I’d be happy to wait twice as long for an issue of something if it was able to meet the standards of what’s on offer here. It took considerably longer than that because it reportedly went into production around the time Judgement on Gotham (1991) was released, which perhaps explains why the two books in-between feel a little like filler.
I still prefer Bisley's work on the first book but it would be hard to top that.

Often with crossover events, when the two parties go their separate ways at the end everything returns to normal, but there’s a lingering feeling that for Dredd’s world the memory of what happened won't quickly fade.

Note: There was an Anderson story (Postcards from the Edge) with a brief allusion to Die Laughing. You can find it in Judge Anderson: PSI Files Volume 2 (2012) or, if you prefer, a screenshot of the panels can be seen HERE. It’s not essential. I include it just for fans who want a reminder. It's not a spoiler to the Anderson story, but I'm not at fault if you haven't read it and still choose to click.

4 black hearts out of 5

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Batman / Judge Dredd: The Ultimate Riddle (1995)

Authors: John Wagner / Alan Grant | Artists: Carl Critchlow / Dermot Power | Page Count: 48

I seek no ‘sweet release’ from this life yet…

The third Batman/Dredd crossover is slightly better than the previous one, but that’s thanks mostly to Critchlow and Power’s wonderful art, because the actual story is one that comics fans will have read a hundred times before.

There seems to have been an effort made to balance the work more evenly between the two protagonists this time that partially works given the setting, but ironically the setting is one of the weak aspects of the work; it lacks the dangerous unpredictability of Mega-City One or the dark majesty of Gotham.

Dredd’s refusal to give up his primary concerns even when confronted with a more immediate and dangerous one is another of the reasons why it works better than before. Most people in his situation would experience an internal conflict as a result of the external one, but his insistence that the law be adhered to at all times provides a stability upon which is layered some typically cold-hearted 'Dredd style' black comedy.

Batman gets to put into practice the ‘Detective’ part of his nickname, instead of just being an iconic ‘Dark Knight’ silhouette.

Both men are forced to rely on their unique strengths to see them through the hardship, but in very different ways. It helps build the mutual respect/hate relationship that each feels for the other, but it still doesn't come close to matching the tension of the first book.

The changeover in art duties partway through the story isn't as jarring as it could've been. Both artists have a similar kind of style and use a similar colour palette, so the casual reader may not even notice the difference.

3 grudges out of 5

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Batman / Judge Dredd: Vendetta In Gotham (1993)

Authors: John Wagner / Alan Grant | Artist: Cam Kennedy  | Page Count: 46

I don’t like unfinished business. And I don’t like vigilantes!

The second Batman/Judge Dredd crossover isn't as good as Judgement on Gotham (1991). I couldn't shake the feeling that it was commissioned just to keep the pairing alive in the mind of the comic buying public, and to obviously make some easy money for someone.

Writers Wagner and Grant attempt to redress the balance a little by making it feel more like a Batman story, and they succeed. The Judge now feels like an unwelcome guest in Gotham, which, I guess, he actually is.

The villain is also Batman specific this time, but he’s one of the less interesting ones, in my opinion. And the story unfolding concurrently in two different places means the drama is lacking until the big reveal, but even then it's not up to the usual standard of the Batman one-shots.

Art is by veteran Dredd/Rogue Trooper regular Cam Kennedy. The colouring by Digital Chameleon is washed out and lazy; it's not at all complementary to his style. The story doesn't bother with a build-up, and realistically it doesn't have to because the first book did that, so the two men skip faux pleasantries and get right down to the gritty stuff. That enables Cam to have fun with an extended fight scene in which he keeps his angles low much of the time, imbuing the characters with the sense of grandeur that they deserve.

2½ time wasters out of 5

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Batman / Judge Dredd: Judgement on Gotham (1991)

Authors: John Wagner / Alan Grant | Artist: Simon Bisley | Page Count: 61

I can't stop! I'm goin' into an uncontrollable butt frenzy!"

As a young Faustus, picking this off a shelf in '91 was the most excited I've ever been for a ridiculous comic crossover event. Joe Dredd and Batman! Comic boner. The personality clash could be like two worlds colliding. While it's not quite that good, it's still pretty awesome and revisiting it again despite being 20+ years older gave me a similar kind of joy.

Batman has faced some very twisted minds in his own world, but he's never encountered anything like Judge Death before, so when the Superfiend D-Jumps from Mega-City One to Gotham it's going to take more than just a guy in a winged mammal suit to save the city from being Judddggged.

You'll need to be a fan of both characters to get the most from it. Wagner and Grant had more experience writing for Joe, and it shows. They don't do Batman an injustice, they capture his personality well and don't compromise his integrity in any way, but when weighed out it's mostly Dredd's story.

Each of the worlds has their own social problems. Dredd policies his with a stern take-no-bullshit attitude, and Batman does his best to keep the darkness from overtaking his in the usual pained, vigilante way. There's no buddy cop team up here. The two men don't even like each other, but that's usually what happens when two over-inflated egos are forced to occupy the same space.

There's a lot of humour throughout. Simon Bisley's fully-painted, blood-splattered style is able to be both aggressive and hilarious. He was the perfect choice to illustrate and highlight the severity of the story.

The easiest way to get a hold of this one is in the recent Batman / Judge Dredd Collection (2013), but it's been reduced in size, making it closer to a typical American comic.  To soften the blow, the collection also includes all 3 sequels, Vendetta In Gotham (1993), The Ultimate Riddle (1995), Die Laughing (1998) and the hard to find Lobo / Judge Dredd: Psycho Bikers Vs. Mutants From Hell! (1995).

4 swansongs out of 5

*Click the pic above for a wallpaper of the wraparound Biz cover.*

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Naked Sun (1957)

Author: Isaac Asimov | Page Count:  208

Perhaps it was annoyance that caused him to forget.  It was Daneel who annoyed him, he thought, with his unemotional approach to problems.  Or perhaps it was himself, with his emotional approach.’

The sequel to Asimov's The Caves of Steel (1954) is the second full length novel in his Robot Series.  It once again pairs up the Earth-born Detective, Elijah Baley (now a C- 6), with the Spacer Robot, Danell Olivaw.

It begins with a brief journey to help the reader recall what happened one year before.  It doesn't recount all the events of the previous novel, it just helps set the scene and reminds us of the working relationship between the two men.

Elijah, who’s spent his entire life in the vast underground cities of Earth, has to venture to one of the Outer Worlds, Solaria, to investigate a murder.  Why do the usually self-sufficient and technologically superior Spacers need terrestrial assistance to investigate a murder on their private soil?  No human has set foot on Solaria in over a thousand years.  And why did they choose him?

In the previous novel it was Danell who was the outsider; now it’s Elijah, and he’s way out of his comfort zone.  He’s forced to use his talents to uncover the murderer, while simultaneously struggling with fears about the environment.
The difference between the two cultures seems staggering at first, and any hope of finding the killer impossible, but Lije knows there’s more at stake than just his own reputation: he’s a representative of Earth, and he’s determined to show the arrogant Spacers that Earthmen aren't as stunted as they seem to think, even if that means pushing a few angry buttons.

The story moves along at a steady pace, in a typical mystery novel way.  The ending makes it clear that everything up to that point was merely to facilitate what Asimov wanted to say from the beginning, but by using the unique characteristics of Bailey and R. Daneel, he was able to better achieve that goal, and in true sci-fi style he manages to both look to the future while referencing the present and the past.

3½ long-distance relationships out of 5

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Search Part 1 (2013)

Author: Gene Luen Yang | Illustrator: Gurihiru | Page Count: 76
...and if you can't trust your family, who can you trust?
Alright then, now we're getting somewhere. The series is finally coughing up some details about Zuko's mother as a flashback of her story is woven between the present search for her. The circumstances of which force Zuko to conditionally release Azula from her imprisonment to aid in the search hindered not just by being Azula, but also by her still-damaged mental state.

The art is top notch and has fixed the weird face morphing that Zuko had in the previous comics. The story is interesting, but that is mostly due to the mystery of Ursa being slowly unraveled rather than an engaging plot. This being only the first part, it feels more like an exposition dump at times. The better parts are about the nature of family in both the text and in the contrasting sibling pairs of Sokka & Katara and that of Zuko & Azula. Zuko proves once again to be the more interesting of the characters though the whole is of course less because of a lack of Toph. And the short length is still irksome given they could have easily put all parts in one trade, but then of course you would only have to buy it once. Bastards.

4 Involuntary rape-face out of 5

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Blade Runner Sketchbook (1982)

Editor: David Scroggy | Illustrators: Syd Mead / Charles Knode / Michael Kaplan / Mentor Huebner / Ridley Scott | Page Count: 99

Many of the objects in this book, while fascinating, were either modified or eliminated for the final version of the film.’

I acknowledge that B+W ink and watercolour concept sketches aren’t the most exciting thing for most people but I usually find them interesting.  I say usually because this one manages to present the work in the dullest way possible.
‘Visual futurist’ (a fancy-schmancy name for industrial designer) Syd Mead’s work is rich in detail and his creations are so well researched that it’s easy to believe they could be functional if made in the real world.  The problem lies not with his work, but with the book itself because it offers very little insight into the creative process.  Mead’s lines are clear to see but there’s no information on his working method or the problems he’d have faced with the futuristic tech.

There are also a number of pages with costume designs from Charles Knode and Michael Kaplan that I didn't spend much time on, but someone with an interest in fashion design may may feel differently about them.

Like it says in the quote above, there are things which didn't make it into the film at all; they’re the most interesting aspect for that reason alone.
If you absolutely must own everything Blade Runner then check it out, but keep your expectations to the absolute minimum to lessen the disappointment.

1½ Ridleygrams out of 5

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Lone Wolf and Cub: Omnibus: Volume Two (2013)

Author: Kazuo Koike | Illustrator: Goseki Kojima | Page Count: 712

…in this hardscrabble world, fealty won’t put food on the table!

Ogami Ittō continues his journey across Japan in the second omnibus from Dark Horse. The manga is less linear than the films, so it occasionally jumps back to offer insight into earlier times. It tells us why Ogami and Daigoro are on the road, what sparked the quest for retribution and what happened to the young boy’s mother, as seen in the first part of the first film, Sword of Vengeance (1972).

Ogami is strong-willed and fierce when it comes to dealing with enemies. Yagyū Retsudō’s assassins and hungry mercenaries lie in wait at every turn, hoping to best the swordsman and claim the reward, but the ronin remains resolute in his duty even when confronted with seemingly impossible odds. When not engaged in swordplay he's comforting and practical when it comes to family matters.

Goseki Kojima’s artwork continues to help define the series. There’s often page after page without dialogue, but the imagery speaks volumes. He’ll follow a two page spread of excessive bloodshed and fury with a single branch of cherry blossom suspended over a still pond and it won’t seem out of place. Instead, it’ll seem like the most natural progression ever.

The ease with which he’s able to convey what young Daigoro is thinking deserves the highest praise I can give. Daigoro is just three years old, so he rarely speaks, but his simple, heartfelt expressions mean we’re consistently privy to the Cub’s thoughts; even more so in this volume because he gets a lot more to do.
I noticed something about Daigoro’s character that was given more significance this time, or perhaps I simply overlooked it before. Whatever the case, it’s subtle but all-important to his worldview.

I neglected to mention previously that covers are by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, so aren't representative of the superior B+W artwork inside.

The book collects together chapters 17 - 27 of the original Lone Wolf and Cub manga (the remainder of Vol 3: The Flute of the Fallen Tiger; all of Vol 4: The Bell Warden; and most of Vol 5:  Black Wind).  Make room on your shelf because if they release the remainder of the books in the same manner, with approximately two and half of the original volumes per omnibus, there'll be 11 books.

5 more steps along the white path out of 5

(EDIT: The DH website shows there to be 12 books in total.)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Batman: The Dark Knight: Vol 1: Knight Terrors (2012)

Authors: David Finch / Paul Jenkins / Joe Harris | Illustrators: David Finch / Ed Benes / Richard Friend | Page Count: 208

The only one in any shape to talk is Two-Face but he hasn't said anything coherent since he conveniently started bleeding out of his eyeballs.”

It's been two years since we started this blog, meaning it's long overdue time we had some Batman on it. The New 52 seems like a good place to start because I hadn't read it before and just finally got around to it.

DC cancelled its entire line of monthly superhero comics and then started them over from issue one. It gave creators an opportunity to trim the roster, to have Batman do his thing alone, reliant solely on his skills and his experience in the field. It gave writers an opportunity to re-evaluate their approach and offer a perfect jumping-on point for new readers. Instead, they did exactly what they did before: they introduced the extended Bat-Family earlier than was necessary and further messed things up with an excess of villains. Why relaunch at all?

The inmates have broken out of Arkham Asylum. Again. Someone better resign over this shit because it's all too frequent. There's something unusual about each of them this time, so Batman digs for clues and chases a white rabbit down a hole of self-analysis that threatened to become something interesting in the second half but ended up being over all too quickly.

The dialogue offers an occasional flurry of style over substance but mostly it's standard comic book stuff. I'm not so naïve that I believe every issue can be a classic, but you'd expect a relaunch to pull out something special, not rely on a tired old plot with unrealistic dialogue. Alfred tries to help out by being sarcastic but he lacks any of the charm he ought to have.

Artwork is suitably dark and moody and much too good for the bland story that is supposed to underpin it. The two-page spreads are great.

The book collects together Batman: The Dark Knight issues 1-9.

2½ slow starts out of 5

Friday, November 8, 2013

Coraline: 10th Anniversary Edition (2012)

Author: Neil Gaiman | Illustrator: Chris Riddell | Page Count: 192

The names are the first things to go, after the breath has gone, and the beating of the heart.  We keep our memories longer than our names.”

Coraline is a children's book.  It follows the conventions of children's literature closely, not only in story but also in structure and wording.  It even has a “Once upon a time…” moment but in typical Gaiman style it doesn't come until near the end of page one.  It's good to bend rules but he doesn't do it often often.  If he did, it might be a little less formulaic, and a lot more exciting.

It’s not even a very original idea.  The basic plot about a little girl who finds a tunnel to another world throws up obvious comparisons to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).  It’s neither as imaginative nor as good as Carroll’s work but it’s darker in tone, and with it being Gaiman the way the fantastical is hidden in the seemingly mundane is well constructed.

The world and the people in it are described from Coraline’s perspective.  It’s not a first person narrative but she’s there every step of the way.  Her limited experience with the trials of life outside her safe home environment inform her decisions and her observations, which are then passed onto the reader undiluted and free of complication.  Children who are avid readers shouldn't have much difficulty with the language, although the very young may not understand the unsettling nature of some of the themes presented.
It'll likely appeal more to the kids that collect spiders in a matchbox than the kind that make daisy chains.

The 10th Anniversary Edition adds a short introduction by the author, and some black and white illustrations by artist Chris Riddell that weren't in the original release.  There's one full page picture before each chapter begins.  The actual story content is identical to the previous edition.

2½ eerie familiarities out of 5

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Let the Right One In (2004)

Author: John Ajvide Lindqvist | Translator: Ebba Segerberg | Page Count: 519

'They could give a number of reasons for why they had to torment him; he was too fat, too ugly, too disgusting.  But the real problem was simply that he existed, and every reminder of his existence was a crime.'

Lindqvist has been described as ‘the new Stephen King’ in the press.  It quickly lets you know that you're getting a well-written horror novel but it isn't just a lazy journo way of getting an idea across, because he really does write like King.  His character development, his plotting and his reliance on the reader to fully invest in the magic realism of the world are uncannily similar.  He also has almost identical failings as King: the awkward wording at the end that ruins an otherwise perfect paragraph of prose, the over-indulgence, the pop culture references that date the work, etc.  They're all here.

The biggest difference between the two, at least with this novel, is that Lindqvist doesn't give the reader anyone to like.
Firstly, there’s young Oskar, the school bully's favourite punching bag.  Ordinarily it would be he that receives our sympathies but his vivid imagination and morbid fascination with death keep him just outside the realm of likeable.
Next, there’s Eli, the girl next door.  Is she the one?  She’s as much a victim as Oskar.  She has some likeable and noble traits but she exists in another world.
Then there’s Eli’s adult protector but it's certainly not he, for reasons I can’t expand upon in this review.  In fact, all of the adults are selfish and flawed in some way; there’ll be no parent of the year awards given out to any of them.

I feel I should give a warning before you even consider picking up the book: there’s some graphic sexual content that most readers will find offensive, both morally and ethically.  If you don’t get offended then you've got serious, serious problems.  Parts of it make for very uncomfortable reading.
Elsewhere, there are some equally graphic horror moments that are so well described, so beautifully depicted, that you may even be reeling back from the page as you read.  They really are magnificent in a grotesque way.

The ending is abrupt.  It makes sense within the context of the story but it’s almost as if Lindqvist thought, I guess I’d better end this now, it’s gone on long enough.  He subsequently wrote a short story that you can find in the collection Let the Old Dreams Die (2012) to document what happened afterwards, and to clarify his intentions because they’re unclear and open to interpretation.

4 complex puzzles out of 5

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Incredible Hulk: Planet Hulk Omnibus (2007)

Author: Greg Pak | Illustrators: Carlo Pagulayan / Aaron Lopresti / Michael Avon Oeming / Alex Nino / Marshall Rogers  | Page Count: 384

"I didn't come here for a whisper. I wanna hear you scream."

The best Hulk stories are the ones that don’t rely on the Hulk Smash! clichés as an excuse to litter the page with the detritus of teenage wet dreams involving explosive violence and bloody carnage.  Planet Hulk avoids that for a while but eventually crumbles like a cookie in Hulk’s hand, and there’s so much “Finally. Hulk knows who to smash,” that my brain almost seeped out of my ears trying to get away from what my eyes were forcing it to assimilate.  It’s a great shame because the first half of Book I is bursting with promise, and even delivers upon some of it from time to time.

Prior to the story’s beginnings Hulk’s world is shaken by the realisation (or confirmation) that his ‘friends’ each brandish a back-stabbing knife and share a collective fear of his condition.  Instead of putting extra effort into helping him cope they take the coward’s way out by removing him from their space.

Stranded now on a world torn apart by a tyrannical ruler, the bulging green menace is forced to rely on his wits, and his (*chuckle) people skills.
For reasons I won’t go into, Hulk is thrust into the role of reluctant leader, which doesn't sit well because he’s not ever been what your boss at work would call a team player.  There’s a large cast of characters woven around his situation, and they exist in a world that’s well fleshed out with its own history and culture.

The strengths of the work lie in the perspectives taken, both literal (the art direction) and in how to view a hero / villain depending on which side of the fence you happen to lie.  In war the enemy is always the villain but both sides are an enemy.  Hulk is a monster but he’s our monster.  His goals are sympathetic to our goals, and our goals are noble because we are noble.  Does that make him more like us, or make us more like him?

When those kinds of questions are raised the story excels.  Unfortunately the chaos overshadows them, and by Book II, when everything turns to shit for the characters, the story suffers.  There’s a deeply emotional moment that knocked me for six but overall by the end of the chaos I felt physically drained by the experience when I should’ve been more emotionally drained.

The book collects together The Incredible Hulk Vol. 2 issues 92 – 105; Giant-Size Hulk vol. 2 issue 1; and ‘Mastermind Excello’ from Amazing Fantasy issue 15.

3 stupid names out of 5

Friday, October 4, 2013

Wolverine: Origin (2009)

Authors: Paul Jenkins / Bill Jemas / Joe Quesada | Illustrator: Andy Kubert | Page Count: 200

There's cruelty in his eyes now, make no mistake. When I catch him looking up at my window, it frightens me.

I've already reviewed the story in which Wolverine got his adamantium skeleton (Weapon X (2009)), but this one takes place before that. Like the title says, it's the character's origin story, not his transformation story. It lifts the veil from his past by following him from childhood, through adolescence and into maturity.

I was hesitant about reading it because the mystery of the character was a large part of his allure. Filling in the blanks was a bold move by Marvel, one that could've sent ripples of derision and disappointment through the fanbase, but, in my opinion, it paid off. The book is by far one of the best that the House of (regurgitated) ideas ever commissioned; at least, of the ones I've read.

Part of the reason it stands head and shoulders above many of the others is because it dares to break free from the typical comic book format. It draws from other sources, primarily classic women's literature. It's Wolvie’s story but it unfolds through the eyes of a young girl, who is herself moving from adolescence into maturity. As she sits atop a symbolic hill, her diary entries record her thoughts; they strip Wolverine metaphorically naked, enabling the reader to forget the assumptions and biases formed by his chronologically subsequent exploits. Her observations show him instead as a troubled youth being shaped by a world of divided social class; a world that isn't a happy one for either of them.

The art was coloured straight from Andy Kubert's pencils by Richard Isanove, leaving out the inker completely. The rich candlelit oranges and earthy browns, contrasted by the dark bluish nights and the cold grey of winter give the book an organic, less rigid appearance that's incredibly complementary to the historical setting. The volume of textless panels vs exposition is perfect and lets the story's strengths rise to the surface early on.

The book collects together Wolverine: Origin, issues 1–6.

5 fearful symmetries out of 5

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Wolverine: Weapon X (2009)

Author + Illustrator: Barry Windsor-Smith | Page Count: 152

When all the secrets are exposed an’ all the runnin’ ends.  Hell… Hell is comin’.”

The story of how Logan got his adamantium skeleton.  You've maybe read or seen that same event elsewhere in comics or film, but in 'Weapon X' Barry Windsor-Smith, an auteur of the comic world, does it his way.  He scripted, sketched, inked and coloured the work; the only thing he didn't do was the lettering.

It uses the format’s strengths in every way.  Sure, you could adapt it into a film but you’d lose most of what makes it special because it’s not just the story that makes it memorable.  In fact, it’s hardly the story at all, it's the structure.

Often in comics when a page is broken up into patterns the positioning of dialogue is what helps us keep track of which panel to go to next.  That applies here too but it’s more complicated because the text boxes are arranged in a stylistic, unconventional manner and sometimes there's more than one voice speaking simultaneously.  A large portion of it is what I’d call background chatter that’s functional but hardly revelatory, and it’s repetitious, so why is it there?  It has a second function: it’s arranged in a circular pattern upon the page and in order to advance the story you sometimes have to read widdershins.  It’s like a clock face that requires you to read it backwards—it’s a timer counting down and we know what’s going to happen when that timer reaches zero.

It's structurally complex but easy to follow in practice.  There were only two or three occasions when I was unsure of which panel to go to next.

The book collects together Marvel Comics Presents issues 72 – 84.  The story is also included in The Best of Wolverine, Volume 1 (2004).

4 bestial needs out of 5

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Doctor Who and the Tenth Planet (2012)

Author: Gerry Davis | Page Count: 167

They lived by the inexorable laws of pure logic.  Love, hate, anger, even fear, were eliminated from their lives when the last flesh was replaced by plastic.’

A new planet appears in the heavens, and threatens the safety of Earth.  But it’s not new at all—it’s very, very old, and very familiar to the travelling Time Lord.

The text is a reprint of the original Target edition (Doctor Who Library #62) published in 1976, that was itself based on an actual four episode arc of the TV series originally broadcast in October 1966.

It’s notable for a number of reasons:
-It was the first Hartnell-era serial novelization ever commissioned by Target.
-It’s the final story to feature the first Doctor (not counting the cameo appearances and stock footage used in some later episodes).
-It’s the first story to feature Hartnell’s successor, Patrick Troughton.
-And finally, it’s the first time we encounter one of the Doctor’s most famous recurring foes (the shiny bondage people with the headlamp on the cover).

I’d like to say that it’s an exciting adventure worthy of all that but it’s lacking something crucial.  The Doctor doesn't do very much because he’s hardly in it, even when he’s present in the room in which the action happens.  It’s left to travelling companions Ben (the Cockney sailor) and occasionally Polly (the “Duchess”) to carry the story along to its inevitable conclusion.

The oddest thing happened while reading; I pictured it all happening in black and white because that’s how I remember the Hartnell years.

2½ energy drains out of 5

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Irminsûl (2002)

Author: Varg Vikernes | Page Count: 16

"He wants peace, but also war.
He wants wealth, but not too much – it only leads to decay."

In contrast to Sorcery and Religion in Ancient Scandinavia (2011), which was a thoroughly engaging work, Irminsûl (a kind of pillar) sees Varg go on a rant about how the Germanic gods relate to the expanding universe, and how a continued belief in them and a hatred of the Judeo-Christian religion can sustain both the individual and the world for an indefinite amount of time.

His view is as valid as the next man’s and is no doubt well researched but there’s a problem with much of the work: it’s quite possibly insane.

One of the things I do agree with is that modern schooling is essentially brainwashing.  I applaud his call to assertive thinking in response to that but it would validate his stance more if he stopped sounding like the guy from War of the Worlds who wanted to live underground.

2 thorn-like nails out of 5

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Ultimates: Volume 2: Homeland Security (2004)

Author: Mark Millar | Illustrator: Bryan Hitch | Page Count: 200

"Why would she put up with that?"
"I don't know.  Why would anyone?"

By the end of Volume 1 Millar had taken steps in setting up a real opportunity to tackle a subject that needs to come out from behind closed doors.  He could've did it in a powerful and sensitive way but for some reason he pushed it aside too soon, and instead exploded the main story into a boring three and a half issue battle with some pretend Nazis.  I was bored out of my mind by the end.
I'd love to know why he ignored such a prime opportunity.  Was it his idea, or his editor's?  Was there a more satisfying draft that got rejected?  Or did he just get bored and decide to blow shit up because it's the easy way out?

Conversely, if lengthy combat scenes like the one at the end of The Avengers (2012) movie is something you enjoy then maybe you’ll get even more jollies from Volume 2 than you did from Volume 1.

Prior to the DBZ moment, Hawkeye gets an action scene and proves how problematic a character he is to write for; there’s not much you can do with a guy whose superpower is the ability to magically not run out of arrows.  He's teamed with Black Widow who has a similarly limiting condition.  It played out fine regardless but it felt like it was forced into the narrative just to give the pair something meaningful to do.  Hawkeye has his own current title but I've not read it; I'd be interested in seeing how he fares in it.

The addition of two guests from another title seemed superfluous, unless Millar was setting up something that he’d develop further in Ultimates 2; I don’t have the subsequent books so I don't know.  I'd hate to think it was pointless fan-service or there simply to undermine the main team dynamic.

At almost every turn this book left me wondering about things that were outside of the story, but not in a 'food for thought' kind of way, more in a 'I wonder would something else be better than this' kind of way.

The book collects together The Ultimates, issues 7 - 13.

2½ vendettas out of 5

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Daredevil: Born Again (1987)

Author: Frank Miller | Illustrator: David Mazzucchelli | Page Count: 176

'I shouldn't call him Matt.  Give the man his due.  He's wearing the tights.
He's Daredevil.  The man without fear.'

Frank Miller returned to the series that he’d worked on years before to give Daredevil a new perspective.  To do that he dragged Matt Murdock through a hellish descent into paranoia and destitution, stripping the character of everything that was important to him so that he could be born anew.

If your only experience of Daredevil is the steaming turd filmed version then you won’t know how deeply profound his struggles can be.  Murdock exists in a world of darkness, literally.  Daredevil strives to combat the evil that arises from the darkness in men’s hearts.  The religious aspect of the light at the end of the hero's struggle plays a key role in his journey through hardship.

Even though it’s mostly self-contained the Born Again storyline isn't the best place to jump on board because it’s really the ending of a larger story, a longer string of events that are all now meeting in one place.
It’s more akin to a crime novel than a superhero comic.  Outside of Miller’s own Sin City his affectatious hard-boiled dialogue can seem awkward and ill-fitting but not so with Daredevil; it fits beautifully (except for his usual excessive use of dashes and unnecessary ellipsis points that drive me crazy).

It’s a well crafted story with only minor flaws, the most prominent being the themes that Miller wants to comment on tend to overshadow the characters.  With the exception of Matt, the story isn't happening to the characters; instead, the characters are shuffled around within a rigid framework to advance the writer’s goal, and when it comes to the crunch Miller backs down a little.  Perhaps he was unsure of the answer to the problem and hoped the act of writing would clarify it for both him and us?  Unfortunately it doesn't, at least not in the way I'd hoped for.
You can view it from the other perceptive and say that what he did was shift from the personal to the public but either way it robs DD of the intimate resolution I craved.  If the ending had been as gripping and as satisfying as the build-up I’d have scored this a perfect 5 out of 5; it misses out on that narrowly.

The book collects together Daredevil issues 227 - 231.

4½ foetal positions out of 5

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Ultimates: Volume 1: Super-Human (2002)

Author: Mark Millar | Illustrator: Bryan Hitch | Page Count: 160

Listen, I’m really sorry about breaking your nose back there, General Fury.”
“Take it easy... This nose has been smashed more times than Robert Downey Jr.”

The team with the modest name are like an Ultimate Universe version of the Avengers.  (See Spider-Man post if you need Ultimate Universe info.)  It’s not a typical origin story; it’s more of a recruitment story.  General Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. (who was comic book Sam Jackson years before real life Sam Jackson was movie Nick Fury) puts together a team of the best and brightest superheroes he can find because he fears an attack on the U.S. by some as yet unknown super villain(s); he’s the ultimate paranoid Boy Scout.  There’s only one problem with that strategy: they've got no one to fight.  When that many egos are gathered together in one place some members of the team begin to get anxious.

Millar’s heroes are part warrior, part pawn and part celebrity in a world not unlike our own.  I was a little annoyed by the many references to the real world he kept throwing in.  Some of it was blackly humourous (I think he was mocking the kind of sad individual that believes namechecking celebrities will give them status) but mostly it was just irritating, and is the thing that will cause the book to feel most dated the further we are removed from the pop culture events mentioned.
It’s a good thing Millar was able to balance it out with some excellent pacing elsewhere, and some fast but deep character developments.

His style is as cinematic as they come.  In fact, both the first Captain America and Avengers films stole large chucks of his story for their scripts, and all they gave him was a thank you in the screen credit; they ought to be ashamed.

Bryan Hitch’s artwork is great, and some clever use of thick shadows by colourist Paul Mounts means it isn't ruined by the digital colouring techniques.

The book collects together The Ultimates, issues 1 - 6.

4 kinds of jealousy out of 5

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Looking For Alaska (2005)

Author: John Green | Page Count: 221
"Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together, in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage, and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane."
Miles has grown fed up with his Florida high school where he has no friends and, with the help of his habit of memorizing famous people's last words, convinces his parents to let him transfer to a more prestigious boarding school. Despite failing to reinvent his antisocial personality, he gains some new friends and is introduced to and immediately falls in love with Alaska; a beautiful and buxom girl who is everything he is not. She is fearless and impulsive and prone to rash behavior and mood swings. Through her and his new friends he just may manage to break out of his shell and learn more about himself.

The writing is solid with some likeable and interesting characters though I found Miles partly insufferable and his devotion to Alaska felt rushed. Maybe I just read the book too fast, but the time it takes place in is too short to inspire the lifelong love Miles says his infatuation has become. Or maybe that is partly the point as despite his intellectual aptitude he is still an inexperienced teenager in his existential crises, adolescent adventures and hilarious sexual encounters. The "controversial" sexual content isn't, but it is good at conveying what it was meant to and anyone who objects to it must not realize that teenagers somewhere are having sexy times right now. The introspective thoughts and themes still make this flawed book a great read that is worth dissecting and digesting.

4 Homicidal Swans out of 5

Monday, September 2, 2013

Doctor Who: The Three Doctors (2012)

Author: Terrance Dicks | Page Count: 192

A quivering line of faceless horrors marched steadily towards him.  Too astonished to challenge them, or even to give the alarm, he simply opened fire…’

A mysterious black hole has appeared.  Elsewhere a small number of people have disappeared.  Are the two events connected?  Of course they are.  Don’t be expecting a great work of literature.  It’s pulp that moves at a lighting pace, and should be enjoyed as such.  It even has menacing blobs of jelly (that’s UK jelly, not the American kind) running around terrorising innocent people; pure pulp.

It’s based on an actual four episode arc of the Doctor Who TV series that was originally broadcast from December 1972 to January 1973.  It didn't take 39 years to appear, it’s a reprint of the original Target edition (Doctor Who Library #64) published in 1975 .  The text is exactly as it was before; including some awkward grammar that would give a modern editor worry lines.

Like the title and the artwork reveal, it features three incarnations of the Doctor, the first three: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee.  If they can quit squabbling like children for a minute or three they might just be able to stop Mr derpy helmet, who's even more dangerous than the Master.

3 anomalies within impossibilities out of 5

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ultimate Spider-Man: Volume 1: Power and Responsibility (2001)

Author: Brian Michael Bendis | Illustrator: Mark Bagley | Page Count: 200


Above is some brief information about why this title launched. You can ignore it if you’re not interested.

There’s no flaffing around in Brian Michael Bendis’ Spider-Man.  It introduces the teenage Peter Parker, his friends and family, sets up the relationships he has with them and gives a glimpse of the world in which they all exist.  Then BANG!  The spider bite, the transformation, and the crux of the story takes hold.

Comics are often filled with narrative boxes that document what a character is feeling; it gives a reader an insight into the head-space of the Hero but an overreliance on them can be a crutch.  Bendis makes use of them, it's difficult not to, but he keeps them at a minimum in the early stages.  What he does instead is revert to a ‘show don’t tell’ attitude that gives the story a real vibrancy and immediacy; it filled me with a desire to get to the next page as hurriedly as possible, which is the opposite of what I normally do because I like to take in all aspects of the work (construction, style, art etc).

Artist Mark Bagley understood this approach and fills his panels with everything necessary to communicate the unspoken parts.  In just a few pages writer and artist show Peter’s isolation, Mary Jane’s compassion, Harry Osborn’s arrogance, Uncle Ben’s paternal longing and Aunt May’s stern but sensitive role-play.

I know Bendis has his haters but I would argue that when he didn't dilute himself across multiple titles he was damn good at what he did.

If you want a Spider-Man origin story that closely resembles the Sam Raimi film version, and you want a great comic that starts strong and keeps on giving, then Ultimate Spidey is highly recommended.

The book collects together Ultimate Spider-Man issues 1 – 7.

4 after school activities out of 5

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sorcery and Religion in Ancient Scandinavia (2011)

Author: Varg Vikernes | Page Count: 128

When the woman then gave birth to a child the newborn was given the dead person’s name and regarded as the same person as the one in the grave.’

This short but insightful work is Varg Vikernes’ personal interpretation of the myths and folklore of his homeland.  Its relevance goes beyond just Scandinavia because at heart most creation myths share a common origin, and what’s true for one is very possibly true for another, so even if you're not of Scandinavian origin there's much to interest a student of lore.

The reason the kinds of stories and legends cited have remained in the human consciousness for centuries is because they’ve been adapted and changed to fit the society and the times.  That change keeps them alive but can warp the original intent and bury the ideas within under so much symbolism that it’s impossible for the uneducated mind to see beyond the obvious.  Varg’s theories are the product of many years of research on the subject, comparing the different versions and decoding the hidden meanings piece by piece.  I imagine it was like putting together a jigsaw; once one piece fell into place it made finding the next piece easier until finally the full illuminated picture was revealed.

Because of the archetypal nature of the source material it’s easy to adapt them to fit with any number of theories.  I didn't have sufficient knowledge of the topic to refute anything he said but in all honesty the logic he presents the reader in the first half of the text makes perfect sense.  The associations seem irrefutable and the suppositions are similar to what an archaeologist might make when presented with a more tangible version of the past.

The second half of the book studies the Völuspá, the first and best known work of the Poetic Edda.  The Edda is the story of the creation of the Norse world and of its predicted end. Odin, Loki, Ragnarök etc.  It's perhaps the single most important source for the study of Norse mythology.  Using the theories presented in the first half of the book as a key, Varg attempts to link verses to the Runes hoping to unlock meaning and reveal the story anew.

Happily, the book is unlike the treatise of aggression that was Vargsmål (1997).  His political beliefs were more than likely the motivation for wanting to get to the truth but he shows restraint by keeping the text almost completely free of his hatred for the Judeo-Christian religion; it surfaces only once at the very end, and even then it's mild by comparison.

4 mistletoe keys out of 5

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank (2001)

Author: Garth Ennis | Illustrator: Steve Dillon | Page Count: 288

By the time he’s done, I've passed out half a dozen times, the bullet is almost bitten through, and I'm holding the forty-five so tight the barrel’s dripping blood.

Like the colours of the logo emblazoned on Frank’s chest, a lot of writers tend to make their Punisher stories black and white when it comes to motivations.  They see the character as either a troubled victim lashing out at the world that created him or as a hopelessly violent sociopath who enjoys what he does and cares little for anything else.  Both of those perspectives are in fact true but there’s much more to Frank Castle.  There’s a psychological depth that can be explored, and when that happens the stories take on a second life.

With that in mind, it made sense to hire writer Garth Ennis to bring Frank back to Earth.  Prior to this reboot Frank had been working for a group of angels, killing sinners with ridiculous supernatural weapons.  Something had to be done before he disappeared up the ass of incredulity forever.  Ennis’ love of violence and black humour, and his dislike of traditional ‘superhero’ stories, seemed like he’d make a perfect fit, but it’s not as perfect as it should’ve been.
It’s disappointing that he ignored the potential and instead went all out to make his début on the character as explosive and as violent as possible.  Not content with just one vigilante killing people he added more and butchered dozens.  It certainly helped wash away the memory of what came before but it’s far from his best work.  His usual black humour is there but it’s smothered under the brutality.

The first half of the book is filled with awful dialogue.  Here’s an example: “Well, don’t just stand there!  There he is!  Get him!”  It’s uninspired bad guy stuff, and henchmen are dumb cannon fodder.  I struggled on and the second half of the book saved the day.  It had secondary characters worth caring about and when all was said and done it delivered a decent conclusion for everyone involved.  Ennis had taken baby steps (in puddles of blood) toward a more interesting Frank.

The art is something else that could’ve been better.  Artist Steve Dillon worked with Ennis years before on the British comic 2000 AD, and together they’d created the controversial long running series Preacher (1995 - 2000) for Vertigo.  The problem isn't his pencils but Chris Sotomayer’s bland colouring.  There’s a good chance he was working to Marvel’s brief because a lot of their output around this era was similarly boring and lazy but it doesn't make it any easier to ignore.

The book collects together The Punisher Vol 3, issues 1 – 12.

3 or more limbs removed out of 5

Monday, August 19, 2013

Lone Wolf and Cub: Omnibus: Volume One (2013)

Author: Kazuo Koike | Illustrator: Goseki Kojima | Page Count: 712

"I beg of you.  Use your sword to rid our lord of these jackals at his side."

Lone Wolf and Cub is the story of the swordsman Ogami Ittō and his young son Daigoro.  Ogami was once the Shogun’s loyal executioner, but now he’s a hunted ronin (a sword for hire).  Together, man and child travel a path beset on all sides by enemies; it's a path of vengeance that'll take them directly into Hell.

Structurally it’s episodic.  Ogami roams from village to village, contract killing for money to buy food and shelter, but the bigger picture is never forgotten: the hunt for revenge is the reason he moves that way and he won’t stop until it’s achieved.
He’s a superb tactician and a lateral thinker as quick with his wits as he is with his sword.  Even when all around is death and fury his concern for Daigoro remains paramount.  The bond between them is unshakable.

Creator Kazuo Koike’s storytelling is masterful.  Every word has purpose.  Ogami says very little, so when he does speak we know to sit up and pay attention.

Much of the time Kazuo lets Goseki Kojima’s amazingly kinetic black and white visuals carry the story along.  It’s not the typical, clean-lined, big-eyed style you may picture when you hear the word ‘manga’.  It’s grittier with deft strokes of the pen.  When the blood starts to fly, Goseki captures the intensity better than any other manga artist I've ever encountered.

I'm happy to report that Dark Horse chose not to attempt to translate words with no direct English equivalent.  Instead, they included a short but informative glossary of terms at the back of the book to explain the meanings.

The book collects together chapters 01 - 16 of the original Lone Wolf and Cub manga (all of Vol 1: The Assassin's Road; all of Vol 2: The Gateless Barrier; and the first part of the stories from Vol 3: The Flute of the Fallen Tiger).

4½ twisted ropes out of 5

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Judge Anderson: PSI Files Volume 3 (2013)

Authors: Alan Grant / Peter Milligan / Dan Abnett / Andy Lanning |  Illustrators: Arthur Ranson / Steve Sampson / Charles Gillespie / Angel Unzueta / Ian Gibson / Trevor Hairsine / Eddy Cant / Mick Austin / Anthony Williams | Page Count: 304

"...My blood's so red, and the ground is so far, far away..."

Alan Grant drags Anderson even deeper into the realms of philosophy and religion in this volume.  Her hitherto discoveries about her past, coupled with a recent changed perception of what ‘Justice’ is, have opened her consciousness to previously unexplored concerns affecting Mega City One.  She begins to experience visions that lead her into the unknown.  The iconography used will be familiar to everyone but the associations are Anderson specific.

There’s quite a lot of Dredd in this one.  It’s interesting to see Old Stony in Anderson’s world.  It distances him a little from the typically masculine arena he usually embodies.  Grant knows that Joe needs to present the appearance of a non-conformist with a controlling influence but there’s also an almost parental guiding attitude present.  He won’t accept failure from Anderson but he’s more than happy to step aside to let her prove herself, or team-up if the Law permits.

The two main artists are Arthur Ranson and Steve Sampson.  I've mentioned my love for Ranson in previous reviews so I’ll skip over that this time.  Steve Sampson has a radically different style.  His use of thick, bright colours contrasts with Ranson’s more subdued, realistic palette but it works beautifully.  Sampson’s portrayal highlights a different side of Cassandra.  She has a glow about her, as if her emotions are shining out from within like a beacon or a redeeming light.  His panelling is equally vibrant when necessary; the more space he allows himself the more impressive his final product.  He's my 2nd favourite Anderson artist.

As usual there's some random one-shots from annuals and yearbooks to close the book that neither match up to the main stories in terms of quality or continuity.

I’d encountered most of this volume before on first printing but it was shortly after the last multi-part work that Grant put Anderson on hiatus, and (for unrelated reasons) I stopped buying the magazines, so Vol 4 will be mostly new to me.  I can’t wait for it to appear.

4 Books of Man out of 5

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Reflex (2004)

Author: Steven Gould | Page Count: 380

The sequel novel to Jumper takes place about 10 years later from the first book. Davy and Millie are married and she earns a living as a therapist while Davy takes infrequent assignments from the NSA only if they are nonviolent or otherwise morally straight. Davy goes to a typical meeting with his handler when he is unexpectedly drugged and kidnapped. This sets Millie off on a search for him assisted by agents from both the NSA and FBI. The perspective alternates between chapters from Millie to Davy as she searches for him and Davy tries to learn more about his mysterious captors who have somehow found out enough about him to be able to restrain his teleportation abilities.

The sequel has moved past the character building of the first novel and is mostly now a straight up thriller. The characters are still as readers know them just in a larger story that the author manages to make feel authentic with some interesting stretches of science fiction. Most notably the question of restraining a teleport and some other technicalities of physics show Gould has an understanding of science that helps ground the story in a sort of reality. Albeit one where teleportation is possible. Mixed with the the mystery and intrigue of spies and conspiracies makes for an entertaining read.

"In the box" reflexes out of 5

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Dark Tower: Book I: The Gunslinger (1982)

Author: Stephen King | Page Count: 212

'No one ever really pays for it in silver, he thought. The price of any evil – necessary or otherwise – comes due in flesh.'

Book One is your introduction to Roland Deschain, also known as Roland of Gilead, the titular gunslinger. Roland is a man obsessed. His obsession carries him across Midworld, the land of his birth. Midworld is a familiar amalgamation of our own recorded history and a romanticised version of the same. It's the type of fictional reality that fans of King's other works will feel right at home in.

Now would be a good time to say that this isn't a Horror novel. It's Fantasy merged with the old-fashioned Western, but it's still populated with the kind of well-defined characters that the author is so very good at. Love him or loathe him, you can't deny his strengths.

Later books in the series take too damn long to get to where they're going (some could do with at least 100 pages trimmed off the beginning), but this one is more focused. There's no unnecessary waffle. There are flashbacks to earlier times at opportune moments but they aren't whimsical, they offer a deeper insight into the present situation and help explain why Roland acts like he does. You may find him hard to connect with initially, but as his story deepens so too does his depth of character and his principles become less obtuse.

The book was written over a period of twelve years (when time allowed between other projects) and originally published as five short stories before being collected together. The progression in the writing is clear to see. If you compare the earliest part with the later parts, you'll see a huge difference in quality.

You should know before you even begin that the series, originally planned to reach approx 3000 pages in length, swelled to eight books that if collected together would be a whopping 4250 pages long.* Also, that's assuming King has finished with the series. I suspect he's got some more Dark Tower in him, so that figure could increase in the future. That's not to say it's unfinished. It did get an ending, but there are stories that could be told within the existing framework, as evidenced by the interquel, The Wind Through the Keyhole (2012).

3½ gateways out of 5

*That figure is obtained from my own copies, which are a mix of paperback and hardback. King revised the first book in 2003. The listing on amazon gives a 304 page count for it. That would add another 92 pages to the tally.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sláine: The Lord of Misrule (2011)

Author: Pat Mills | Illustrators: Clint Langley / Greg Staples / Jim Murray
Page Count: 128

'He wasn't wearing the horns... the horns were wearing him...'

Sláine, now a time-travelling instrument of the Earth Goddess, gets dropped into historical events circa 1140 AD.  It’s more akin to a death / rebirth cycle than time travel but that’s semantics, the important thing is he’s tasked with destroying the Blood God so that the false religion he preaches can be torn down and the old religion put back where it belongs.  Christians will be upset.

You’re going to have to accept the time travel aspect if you’re to get any enjoyment out of it.  Why can’t one person be born again and again to better represent the many aspects of the Horned God?   I don’t think it’s as anachronistic as some folks accused it of at the time.  In fact, I think it’s aged better than some of the other Sláine stories.

Along the way our anti-hero gets to bury his axe in some Norman head, because it wouldn't do to go some place new and not slaughter a few dozen zealots.

A lengthy prelude (The Name of the Sword) begins the work.  It chronicles Sláine’s slipping into the boots of the Goddess’ champion of the time, with painted art by Greg Staples.  It’s a necessary set-up to get to the good stuff - the good stuff being the titular Lord of Misrule story.

Clint Langley takes over for the main feature.  He lets his brush go wild inside and outside panels with some two-page spreads that show how dynamic Sláine can be when he’s given room to really spasm out.  Langley hadn't started dabbling in his photography / digital art in '95 so it was regular pen and inks.  However, the 2011 collected edition was recoloured.  Please stop recolouring stuff!

The story ends abruptly, which is something that happened a lot in 2000AD because the anthology format usually meant a conclusion had to be given in the limited page count of one issue.  There’s an epilogue to try and make up for it.  It feels like a bonus rather than an unnecessary stretching out.

The book collects together The Name of the Sword (Progs 950 - 956), Lord of Misrule (Progs 958 - 963 + 995 - 998), and The Bowels of Hell (Prog 1000).

3½ two finger salutes out of 5

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Death in Five Boxes (1938)

Author: John Dickson Carr | Page Count: 310

"After inspecting the wreckage, he sat down on the running-board of the car, picked up a banana, peeled it, and malevolently began to eat it."

Death in Five Boxes is the seventh of Carr's Sir Henry Merrivale stories, and although it's one of the weakest, it still has some lovely riddles. It's an entertaining, borderline comical murder mystery with a cast of characters who almost feel like they've come out of a board game. In fact, there's much that feels game like about this tale. Characters bounce theories off each other like players trying their hardest to put together a solution to a complicated brainteaser.

The appeal of Carr's mysteries lies largely in his impossible crimes and intricate puzzles, and unfortunately, this might be this tale's biggest flaw. The main trick is a great one, but it's so good that it's been lifted and reused time and time again. The minor mysteries aren't as satisfying to solve, and one solution in particular feels rather cheap. Still, the mystery itself is fairly solid, and an intrepid detective should be able to solve it before Merrivale makes his grand reveal.

This is a story only for mystery die hards. The writing and characters are nothing special, and there's not much to recommend aside from the thrill of puzzle solving. Still, it's a quick read, and if you'd like to work your way up to the best Carr has to offer, it's not a bad read.

 2 suspicious uncles chucking flowerpots at constables out of 5.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Night Strike (1990)

Author: Gregory G. Vanhee | Page Count: 375
"Oh, c'mon, Kelly. This is all just a bit maudlin, isn't it?"
Not actually maudlin. Somewhat entertaining, kind of cheesy and a little dated now, but the latter can't be helped. The story follows protagonists J.R. Kelly, a gruff, balding cop turned CIA agent, and Rosemary Hawkins, a national security advisor known for using her feminine wiles and her political savvy to get ahead, while a domestic terror plot is brewing against the president.

That was a very non-spoilerish description despite how much is given away on the damn cover just above and on the back of the book and through very blunt foreshadowing that ends many chapters. The book is a halfway decent thriller that is a conservative wet dream about sexy women, spies, booze and destroying commies with high tech toys in the height of Cold War tensions. Or rather what a liberal thinks is a wet dream of conservatives. It comes off almost as a parody of the spy thriller genre, but seems to be totally serious. It at least doesn't diminish the entertainment value and is the literary equivalent of a summer blockbuster filled with explosions. Partly engaging and then mostly forgotten once it's done, but not necessarily bad.

Old white Blue-Bloods are evil incarnate out of 5

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Judge Anderson: PSI Files Volume 2 (2012)

Authors: Alan Grant / John Wagner  |  Illustrators: Arthur Ranson / David Roach / Kevin Walker / Mark Wilkinson / Charles Gillespie / Xuasus / Ian Gibson / Enric Romero / Mike Collins / Steve Sampson / Tony Luke  |  Page Count: 304

Nine years old and already they’re learning they’re a breed apart.
They belong to the Law.  They don’t take part in life.  They watch it.  When they grow up, they’ll judge it.’

Volume 2 continues the reprint of the Judge Cassandra Anderson stories in (mostly) chronological order, and unlike Volume 1 (2009) the majority of this one’s in colour.  Cassandra can kick ass if she wants to but her stories deal with subjects more emotional, cerebral and far-reaching than Dredd’s.  Old Stony Face pops up occasionally but it’s either as fan-service or simply as a device to keep alive a connection to the judicial system.  Everyone’s favourite asshole, Judge Goon, also pops his ugly head up when least wanted.

Up until now we've primarily viewed Anderson as the thing that didn't fit into the world, she was at cross-purposes with her calling and an affront to the times.  The book shifts more to her perspective and shows that it’s the world that’s gone to hell, and she is perhaps the only free thinker in a sea of oppression.

A large part of this volume is about religion.  Living life by a code written in a book that’s part truth and part lie (which part is which?) is something Cassandra has been doing all her life, so it’s a natural fit to bring religion into it, and doing so helped further place her as a tiny speck in the enormity of the world; the mote in God’s eye.  She often finds herself feeling sympathetic to people with any kind of faith because her own is wavering, and ironically the more truth she uncovers the more her faith collapses, or is subjugated by a large green boot.

The best story here is the magnificent Shamballa.  It’s one of Grant’s most successful studies of self, and an absolute perfect fit to the talents of artist Arthur Ranson.  Shamballa is the finest Anderson story I've ever read.  It's also the only one taken from the pages of 2000 AD.  The remainder comes from the Judge Dredd Megazine (with some bonus one shots gathered together at the end, culled from the Judge Dredd annuals (1985 – 88)).

The Megazine launched in 1990, and quickly established itself as a platform for more adult stories than 2000 AD.  The format wasn't afraid to take chances both in narrative and in the art department.  There are 11 different artists on display here, and each of them offer a unique view of what Anderson is.

Partway through the book is the Childhood’s End storyline that I've reviewed already (HERE).  After that things take a different route, literally.  The narrative manages to be both self-analytical and more open-ended.  It’s like a road trip that takes regular stops at Cassandra town.  Each part is self-contained and also part of the arc that takes her into the unknown.

5 death symbols out of 5

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Frozen Heat (2012)

Author: Richard Castle | Page Count: 313
Just like back then, dazed, empty, and terribly alone, she watched a forensics team work that same apartment from the same perspective. Surrounded by broken glass and toppled furnishings, Nikki felt as shaken as any earthquake could cause her to feel, making the very ground under her feet suspect and untrustworthy.
The book series is following the same ramping up of the TV series as the plot is now getting more involved in a central plot rather than stand alone mysteries and the stakes are getting bigger. Detective Nikki Heat shows up to her latest crime scene of a murdered woman shoved into a suitcase and left in the back of a refrigerator truck, but is unaware of how this case will possibly upend her life and perspective just like the earthquakes that are shaking up New York.

This 4th book in the series feels both the same and different from the others. It still reads like an unused script from the show, but less so and doesn't follow the same pattern as the others. The characters are starting to feel like regular characters rather than the parodies of the TV counterparts that they actually are. Whether because it is written better or because this far into the series I have just come to accept it is debatable, but it doesn't change the fact that this installment felt much more enthralling and engaging than the others. The writing is still crisp with an effective mix of drama and snarky comedy. Just like the show it is tied into. Effective cross media stuff.

4 Assaulting your boss always nets a dream vacation out of 5

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Ghost in the Shell : Stand Alone Complex : Episode 004 : ¥€$ (2013)

Author: Yu Kinutani | Page Count: 256

Not even the shotgun can stop him?!

The previous book was a retelling of episode seven from Season One of the SAC Anime. Episode 004 jumps far ahead and recreates episode fourteen.

It sticks to the same plot, but there are some significant differences in how it gets from beginning to end. Kinutani has sexed it up with more suggestive POV angles and gratuitous panty-shots. That kind of thing has no place in SAC, but the changes made in other areas are interesting. The action scenes have been extended, or in some cases added anew, giving the work more immediacy. There’s some aggressive flashbacks that establish a deeper emotional connection and offer up a more sympathetic view of the antagonist.

Art is great as usual except for the occasional elongated limb that’s very unlike Kinutani. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect from inbetweeners on a bad day.

The Tachikomatic Days episodes return. Yay. We get a double dose that makes up for their absence last time.

3 ghostless dolls out of 5

Edit: Fixed an error (see comments).  Thanks, Borderline.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The City (1994)

Author: James Herbert | Illustrator: Ian Miller | Page Count: 64

"Hey, Tinman.  Don't look now, but you got company."

The fourth entry in Herbert’s Rats books, but unlike the previous three (The Rats (1974), Lair (1979), and Domain (1984)), it's a graphic novel.  What’s even more unusual is that it’s a story told largely through imagery.  By the time it came out Herbert had developed a unique relationship with words, his descriptive language was a big part of his appeal, so delivering a story with minimal dialogue was a little out of character.

I’m limited in what I can say without touching on how the trilogy ended, so I’ll be brief.  It follows a lone figure as he returns to The City (London) in search of something he left behind.  The City is under the grip of a New Order.  There’s danger at every turn and eyes watching his every move.

The story is weak when compared to his other books.  It’ll be of interest to fans of the original trilogy but would probably be best avoided by everyone else.

Conversely, Ian Miller’s art is fascinating and is without a doubt the real star.  His blood red skies and swirling colour schemes help flesh out the grotesque perversions of normalcy and societal standings that are faithful in essence to the metaphor set up by Herbert in the original trilogy.

1½ bridges burned out of 5