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