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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Manhattan Projects: Volume 2: They Rule. (2013)

Author: Jonathan Hickman | Artists: Nick Pitarra / Ryan Browne
Page Count: 152

'All men are pawns to a master with vision.'

Volume 2 of TMP is just as insane as Volume 1 (2012) but it's more explosive, which is another way of saying it’s less focused. I had to take some time prior to reading to reacquaint myself with the characters because there are a lot of them. It didn't help that even more new ones were introduced.

The superpowers are done playing it safe, so the Cold War heats up. The alternate history shit hits the chaos fan and sprays all over the place.

The dramatic change of pace was unexpected and I wasn't completely enamoured with it, but part of me knows it had to happen and I suspect it'll happen again on a larger scale sometime in the future. That particular storyline takes up the bulk of the book but it feels rushed. I heard that it was falling behind schedule, so maybe the hurry was to compensate for that? Let's hope the pacing is better next time.

The second part of the book is much more satisfying despite being shorter. It's a continuation of J. Robert Oppenheimer's story that paradoxically feels like a new beginning, and as such would've been better suited as an opening to Volume 3. If you remember the mess Oppenheimer was in at the end of Volume 1, then you'll know that his fractured state of mind would demand consequences for one or other of his personalities. Hickman doesn't disappoint. His intricate plotting and attention to detail shine through. I can't wait to see where he takes it.

Nick Pitarra is still on art duties, except on episode 10 where Ryan Browne fills in; the wonderfully stylised colouring scheme is the same regardless. Rarely do art and text gel so beautifully.

The book collects together The Manhattan Projects issues 6–10.

3 familiar landscapes out of 5

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Hot Zone (1994)

Author: Richard Preston | Page Count: 418
She had bled around the edges of the Band-Aid. She did not see any monkey blood on her hand.
She put the last glove under the faucet. The water was running and it filled up the glove. The glove swelled up like a water balloon. She dreaded the sudden appearance of a thread of water squirting from the glove, the telltale of a leak, a sign that her life was over.
A true story about an outbreak of Ebola virus in a suburb of Washington D.C. Written more as a thriller than a historical account worked in making the story incredibly dramatic and more horrifying than any actual horror novel if one were to think about the possibilities put forward in the text. The book covers many principal characters from the first outbreak of the so called filoviruses or thread viruses as they first appeared in Africa and the ensuing chaos they wreaked on the populace of Sudan and Zaire and the possible sequence of events that led to their traveling to the U.S. The workers at a monkey house stumble upon some sick monkeys which will eventually turn into a huge joint operation between the Army and CDC to prevent an outbreak that could endanger 90 percent of the population.

Preston weaves the history of the viruses and the many characters surprisingly well as the story is easy to follow despite the large number of participants and multiple events happening simultaneously. Writing it in the style of a thriller was a good decision as writing it any other way that could possible make it uninteresting would be a shame.  It will keep you up at night if you imagine the filoviruses spreading the same way that say HIV has spread. It would be a world changing event. Riveting stuff in a surprisingly quick read.

Livers turned as hard as salami out of 5

Friday, April 12, 2013

Survival in Auschwitz (1958)

Author: Primo Levi | Page Count: 187
At that time I had not yet been taught the doctrine... that man is bound to pursue his own ends by all possible means, while he who errs but once pays dearly.
Survival in Auschwitz first appeared in English as If This Is A Man. Translated from its original italian, it tells the story of the author Primo Levi's capture, transfer to Auschwitz and subsequent liberation from it. He describes the inhuman treatment of the "haftlings"( the word for prisoner) by not only the nazis, but also fellow prisoners either out of the same racist views of the time, to possibly gain favor and privilege or just as a means to help themselves. The latter of which he didn't seem to hold against them given the circumstances and as it was a behavior he also participated in.

Levi actually doesn't beat the reader over the head with how it was horrible and how the reader should feel. He simply states clearly the events that transpired and lets the reader think about it as if he doesn't want pity or sympathy, but rather just to tell the story. There is even a running theme about how the physical stress, as bad as it was with disease, malnutrition and inadequate...everything, wasn't as bad as the dehumanization. Being told they were less than human and then forced to prove them right by having to embrace it for survival by stealing from fellow prisoners, loss of compassion for a struggling worker because it only slows down their work and other moments that he felt nothing for at the time and only much later remembered clearly enough to feel regret.
His prose is clear and concise, but still affecting and insightful. A very good read.

4 Soup and bread rations out of 5

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Durham Red: Vermin Stars (2003)

Author: Dan Abnett | Illustrator: Mark Harrison | Page Count: 96

The universe is insane.  We’re falling into step with it.

Volume II of the new and unimproved Durham Red continued the story from the previous book, The Scarlet Cantos (2006).  Durham and her small but devoted crew set course for a mysterious region of space known as the Vermin Stars.  She has a reason for wanting to get there but is reluctant to explain.  The trip won't be all plain sailing because The Iconoclast (human religious zealots) are still on her tail, and their enemies, the Tenebrae (mutant terrorist cell), will also need to be confronted before the journey's end.

Author Dan Abnett’s dialogue is still stiff and unnatural but his pacing and his plotting are both much improved.  But I still can’t accept the ridiculous conceit that was built up around Durham, no matter how much polish is put on the surface.

There’s more emphasis on the HR Giger influence in Mark Harrison’s art this time, and mercifully less reliance on the irritating lens flares.  There are even some pages that make it hard to tell where the paint ends and the digital manipulation begins; he seems to have gotten more skilled with the software.  If he could curtail his need to fill the frame with noisy backgrounds, and the overcrowded, forced depth of field, I would be able to enjoy the work a lot more.

I didn't buy the remainder of the Durham Red collections after this one, for obvious reasons.

1½ homecoming queens out of 5

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Judge Anderson: Triad (2003)

Author: Alan Grant | Illustrators: Arthur Ranson / David Roach / Mick Austin / Mark Farmer | Page Count: 112

Childhood… the only real innocence any of us ever know…

There are five stories in this one; one long and four short.  The long one is the best of them, and is the one the book’s named after.  It teams author Alan Grant with artist Arthur Ranson, which, for me, is a match made in comic heaven.
Grant’s writing is better when he has room to develop a deeper narrative.  He writes the PSI Judge strong but sensitive, heavy handed when necessary, while remaining responsive to a victim’s emotions.
Ranson’s work is black and white, and I mean black and white – no greys.  His ability to add emotion and fear to a face with the minimum of lines is part of why I love his style.  His version of Anderson is my favourite.

It adds to the arc that was slowly developing in all of the longer works.  It took years to fully flourish, and being aware of it now while rereading gives the whole series extra depth.  I'm guessing Grant knew early on where he would eventually take her but I'm not sure he knew quite how tough he'd make that journey.

The events of Hour of the Wolf (2003) are a prelude to Triad so read it first if you can.  However, like Wolf, the story has an unresolved aspect; it’s another small snippet of a larger whole.

The remaining four stories vary in quality.  Sometimes it feels like Grant puts very little thought into his short work.  They helped keep Anderson in the consciousness of the weekly 2000AD readers but they're mostly throwaway.

3½ bad dreams out of 5

Monday, April 8, 2013

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Official Log 1 (2005)

Authors: Various | Editors: Various | Page Count: 148

The Official Log is a book + dvd combo that offers a deeper insight into the expansive Ghost in the Shell world.  Or does it?

The Book:  It gives a history of the franchise, beginning with Masamune Shirow’s original manga (1989) and ending with Season 1 of the S.A.C TV Series.  It even covers the video games, which was a nice addition.
Then there are some character profiles.  Have you ever wanted to know how tall Motoko was?  Now you can.  The excitement never ends.
Next up are plot summaries of each episode -- watch the series instead.
It then delves into background info, design, and the technology featured in each episode, up to ep 19.  A second log was released that milks your wallet for the remaining 7 episodes.  Within that section are concept drawings that show the evolution from Shirow’s unique style to the style settled on for the TV show.  I found that part fascinating.

The DVD: The disc lasts 90 mins.  Content is split into 3 parts.
1. A 37 min overview of the series that offers nothing new.
2. 33 minutes of interviews with staff.  There are some words from Dir. Kenji Kamiyama but mostly it’s drivel from voice actors.  I mean, voice actors?!  They turn up, they read some lines, and they get paid.  What can they tell you about the deeper intricacies of plot development?  Nothing.
3. A 20 minutes look into the work of Production I.G.  This is the only part that didn’t have me nodding off.  It could have the opposite effect on many people.

The packaging is interesting.  The dvd is embedded in a cut-out section of the book (See Here).  It’s exciting until you decide to take it out.  You have to remove the wraparound plastic dust jacket to get near the disc, then carefully pop it out and hope to Jebus you don’t pop out the thing that holds it in place too.  It’s maybe a good thing that it's only worth watching once.

2½ incomplete volumes out of 5

Note: A link to a review of the Stand Alone Complex TV Series is included above but you can also find spoiler-free, mini-reviews of some of the Ghost in the Shell feature films at our sister site, In a Nutshell.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Judge Anderson: Hour of the Wolf (2003)

Authors: Alan Grant / John Wagner | Illustrators: Barry Kitson / Ian Gibson / David Roach  |  Page Count: 128

‘...always in the background, the pained static generated by the desperate, homeless dreams of 400 million unhappy people.’

There's 2 main parts to this book; there's a few short pieces too but I’ll be focussing on the 2 two multi-part stories that have been collected together, despite being written 2 years apart (1987 and 1989).

The first is the titular Hour of the Wolf, penned by John Wagner and Alan Grant.
PSI Judge Cassandra Anderson begins to experience unsettling visions of a wolf attacking the City.  Naturally she sets out to find the reasons why.
The story unfolds slowly, and while it doesn't really go anywhere satisfying it sets up events for something that’ll resurface further down the line.
I enjoyed it for one very specific reason that I can’t even hint at because it’ll be major spoiler.  All I can say is that it has ties with something that significantly shook Mega-City One in the past.

It highlights the only real problem I have with the Anderson PSI stories in general: they occasionally rely on knowledge of the larger Mega City.  If you've not followed her adventures when she teams with Judge Dredd in his own stories, you’ll be a little lost at times; this is one of those times.  Fortunately, I did know what was going on but I can sympathise with readers that don’t.

The second story, Helios, written solely by Alan Grant, is much better if all you want is a self-contained narrative.  It teams Anderson with her close friend Judge Corey, and pits her against a different kind of threat.
The two stories couldn't be more different.  Put side by side they present a contrast that helps the book just as much as it divides it.

I’d forgotten how much I love black and white comic art.  It’s much more dramatic than coloured work when done correctly.  Each of the artists has their own style but the focus is always the same, which ties it all together.

3 ricochet bullets out of 5

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Durham Red: The Scarlet Cantos (2006)

Author: Dan Abnett | Illustrator: Mark Harrison | Page Count: 96

History does not repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes.”

Mark Harrison’s version of Strontium Bitch Durham Red is far removed from co-creator Carlos Ezquerra’s vision.  Working from a Dan Abnett script that distanced itself not only artistically but chronologically from the source, the two men changed almost everything that Strontium Dog fans had come to love.

Harrison used the story to showcase his love for digital colouring effects, giving him the dubious honour of destroying a long running series with excessive simulated lens flare years before JJ Abrahams got his hands on Star Trek.
Harrison is a damn fine artist, visit his 2000 AD gallery page for proof, but I dislike his colouring methods on Durham Red.  To his credit, though, he was light years ahead of what Marvel and DC were issuing at the time.

In my experience, Dan Abnett seems to be more at home with hard sci-fi than he is with comic book scripting.  His characterisation in TSC is almost nil.  Everyone is two dimensional; their motivations get mentioned occasionally in caption boxes lest we forget who they are, or why they even exist.  I didn't care who lived or who died.  There’s a large body count but it could've been wood chips on the floor in place of bodies for all the emotion it stirred.  It's not Dan's best work.

The single issue story that’s included at the end, the one that would traditionally be filler, is vastly superior to what came before it.  I enjoyed it.  It gives Durham some depth without shitting all over her origins.

The book collects together The Scarlet Cantos parts 1 – 11, and the Mask of the Red Death one shot, both first printed in 1998.

1½ snecks out of 5

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

She-Hulk: Vol 1: Single Green Female (2004)

Author: Dan Slott | Illustrators: Juan Bobillo / Paul Pelletier | Page Count: 136

Your bed should come with air bags.
"Sorry, sweetie.  Little involuntary muscle spasm."

SGF was my first, and to date only, She-Hulk book.  Is it always like this?  It was less of a traditional Super Hero story and more of a self-discovery comedy, which is not at all what I expected.  Based on the cover art I was thinking it was going to be Hulk with tits, and was less than excited by that prospect.

Shulkie isn't like her cousin Bruce Banner/Hulk at all.  She can transform at will and keeps all her faculties intact; that gives the writers much more leeway.
She uses her brain as much as her brawn to solve problems and defeat foes.  It’s nice to see a female character that isn't defined by her impossible cleavage.  Her sex appeal is still a factor but it's addressed in a comical way.

Her human side is Jennifer Walters, a practising lawyer.  She’s a petite girl with a well-developed inferiority complex.  When called upon by a prominent law firm to work for them she assumes it’s the brawny She-Hulk they want, because it’s always She-Hulk they want, never the brainy Jennifer.

There are some fun cameos from the Avengers.  In fact, fun is what the book is all about.  It recognises the absurdity that’s a large part of the Marvel Universe and plays around with it.  There’s a progression arc that ties it all together but mostly each story is self-contained.

The artwork is occasionally inconsistent, and I don’t just mean the changeover from Bobillo to Pelletier.  It's distracting but it doesn't interfere with the storytelling.  Both artists provide some fantastic facial expressions.

It’s not a triple A title and it won’t send huge continuity ripples through the larger universe, but it’s an entertaining read from beginning to end and a nice change of pace from the usual Marvel fare.

The book collects together She-Hulk (2004 series) issues 1 – 6.

3 longboxes out of 5

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Marvel Zombies (2006)

Author: Robert Kirkman | Illustrator: Sean Phillips | Page Count: 136

"Whoever makes the kill gets double rations."

A post-apoc, alternate world spin-off from a story that appeared in Ultimate Fantastic Four (issues 21-23). I don't believe that putting zombies into something automatically makes it better; more often than not it makes it worse. The zombie metaphor has been done to death (no pun intended) and outside of the early Romero films it’s mostly been done badly. MZ sets a new low, even for Marvel.

It was written by Robert Kirkman, the guy that writes The Walking Dead. I've not read TWD, but it’s been selling well, so I'm assuming it’s a lot better than MZ.

The plot is as thin as something I'd write. The heroes/villains are hungry. There’s some gore. They eat. They get hungry. There's gore... eat... hungry, etc. Yawn.

The book collects together Marvel Zombies, issues 1 - 5.

1 severed limb out of 5