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

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 rōnin (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 unshakeable.

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