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

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