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

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Something Wicked This Way Comes: The Authorized Adaptation (2011)

Author: Ray Bradbury | Illustrator: Ron Wimberly | Page Count: 144

'She was blind, yes, but special blind.  Just as they felt that balloon sift down like an autumn rain, so she could feel their souls.  Each soul, a vast warm fingerprint.'

I've covered the original novel HERE, so instead I’ll focus solely on whether or not I feel the adaptation is successful.  The short answer is yes, it mostly is.  It retains a lot more descriptive language than is normal for a graphic novel but that’s a good thing because that’s where the magic really happens in Bradbury's prose.  His worldbuilding is often more beautifully realised than his dialogue.

The narrative accentuates the differences in the two boys more than the novel did but that was necessary so that the second half of the story could do its job properly in a shorter space of time.

It was crucial that Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show was given the kind of attention it deserved, from the shape of the tents at 3 in the morning to the ominous flyers that herald its arrival.  It is; there’s only one thing I’d have did differently but it's likely a publisher would have heart-failure at the idea.

I suspect the most divisive thing about the book will be the art style.  It’s wholly B+W (grayscale).  There’ll be people who see the wobbly lines and exaggerated perspectives and decide that Ron Wimberly simply can’t draw.  But he can.  There are numerous tells throughout suggesting that his style is purposeful.  Why then do his characters look freakish, and his lines not always meet?  Will and Jim are adolescents; they’re still growing; they can climb trees and trellises with ease but they’ll still trip over themselves on occasion because their limbs are in a constant state of growth.  I believe Wimberly was hired because he was the correct man for the job, able to express visually the nuances of the world that Bradbury described—the world as seen through the eyes of the two youths.

The ill-defined people on the street aren't lazy constructs, they’re shadowy and flat for a reason: they’re aged and don’t feature in Will and Jim’s life as anything other than background.  It’s a hugely subjective style but it’s one that echoes my own feelings about the original text in many respects.  A lot of people will feel the polar opposite but hating something is equally as valid as loving it, because if we all wanted the same thing we’d still be painting on cave walls.

3½ pricked thumbs out of 5

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Bradbury Speaks: Too Soon from the Cave, Too Far from the Stars (2006)

Author: Ray Bradbury | Page Count: 256

Run, leaving your footprints to be blown away with the firewind as the last rocket targets the great Cosmic wall.”

Let’s talk in generalities.  Fiction authors are different from other folks.  They make a living telling lies much like actors but that’s where the similarities end.  An actor is a tool.  An author is a craftsman.  Actors want to take your love.  Authors want to excite your imagination.  Within a fiction writer's falsehoods is buried a universal or deeply personal truth, waiting to be exhumed by a reader.
They shut themselves indoors and confess their innermost thoughts to a non-judgemental keyboard.  They use their work to help them understand the world, not to make the cover of Hello! or OK! magazine.
So why should we care what an author has to say about anything other than his / her work?  Strictly speaking, we shouldn't.  And there it ends.

And yet, while I’d much rather have a Bradbury novel or short story collection to take me journeying, I’ll read anything and everything he wrote because his world view was informed 100% by his role as storyteller.  When he looked at a tree he didn't just see a tree--he saw a place where children climbed and friendships were born; a shelter from the biting rain where two lovers first kissed; a place that blossoms once a year, under which a lonely mother cried.  He saw the stories that might have been and both consciously and unconsciously catalogued the details he needed for the ones that would write themselves through him.

The 37 essays in this book are of interest to me only because they were written by Ray.  Some are two pages in length and some are ten.  Some are thought-provoking and informative and some aren't but in each instance his poetic mind was the hearth in which the insights were forged.

3½ backwards walks out of 5

Friday, January 17, 2014

Batman: The Dark Knight: Vol 2: Cycle Of Violence (2013)

Author: Gregg Hurwitz | Illustrator: David Finch | Page Count: 160

Little pretty bat who flew his way to me…
Look into the looking glass, and tell me what you see.”

In contrast to the disappointing Volume 1, this second collected edition delivers the goods in style. It's bloody and violent at times, but so completely reliant on the small details too that it feels as if it was sculpted as opposed to the pieced-togetherness of the previous book.

The story takes us back to THAT night in Bruce's past. It's a device we've seen a thousand times before, but it's the context acting as the catalyst that makes it seem different. It's even presented as a comparative and contrasting element to the Scarecrow's beginnings, which we're also treated to. Again, his story is nothing particularity new to comics readers but it's so tightly plotted and executed with nothing wasted that it's a joy to read.

Hurwitz and Finch's Scarecrow is genuinely terrifying and his actions calculated and chilling. It's as if he's been pulled directly out of a lonely child's darkest nightmare. I could almost smell the dusty, mouldy odour of his face mask.

The art is suitably dark and disturbing. Finch's liberal use of black hides nasty things of the reader's own making. Unseen horrors fill the cold spaces and add to the unease. Even Wayne Manor is draped in shadows, its size making Bruce seem small and insignificant, as helpless as a child. I got the feeling that if he only had some warmth in his life it would chase the shadows away. That's why I love Batman so much. He's the valiant knight, the defender of the weak, but he's also fragile and broken beneath the surface and he knows it.

Hopefully the quality of this arc is a sign of things to come from Hurwitz's run on the New 52 and not just a lucky strike. The next TPB is due to be released in a few weeks, so time will tell.

The book collects together Batman: The Dark Knight issues 0, 10-15.

4 defining fears out of 5

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Lobo / Judge Dredd: Psycho Bikers Vs. Mutants From Hell! (1995)

Authors: John Wagner / Alan Grant | Artists: Val Semeiks / John Dell
Page Count: 48

"Yer too stupid ta know when yer beat! I admire that in a man!"

I like it when the cover art does most of the work for me. What you see above is a perfect example of what you get between the front and back covers of this one-shot. The only thing that’s slightly misleading is that despite Dredd’s name adorning it, he’s more of a supporting character in the madness that unfolds.

The location makes Dredd's inclusion partly obligatory and partly incidental, as confusing as that sounds. But that’s as confusing as this one gets. It’s a straightforward action comic with some great one-liners courtesy of cover stars Lobo and the Cursed Earth’s most famous bastich, the guy with a dial on his head that goes all the way up to 4, Mean Machine Angel.

Mean and Lobo chew up the page like it was a chocolate stage. I had difficulty picking out a quote to use on this post because they had so many good lines to choose from. If you can begin to imagine how they might fit into a dangerous under-city mutie scenario then you’ll be close to understanding how much big dumb fun there is to be found if you're in the right frame of mind to appreciate it.

3 snot-nosed panty-liners out of 5

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Æon Flux (2006)

Author: Mike Kennedy | Illustrator: Timothy Green II | Page Count: 96

"They found my body, but they never found me."

The backstory of Æon Flux is a lot more complicated than it first appears, but for the purposes of this review I'll sum it up (badly) in one paragraph: Æon is a Monican assassin fighting against a Bregnan government that wants to control the personal freedoms of every citizen within its walls. The walls provide protection but are also a kind of prison. In the eyes of the Bregnans, she's a terrorist. She fits the textbook description of that but in reality she's fighting to free slaves who don't know they're slaves, so that makes her something else, too.

There's an ecological message to the fore but it's less important than Æon's own story and of her role within the mysterious organisation. You'll get small glimpses of both those things, but to understand her true motivations and the deeper workings of the world in which she operates you'll need to watch the anime TV series. Doing so will enrich the story of the book. However, having watched it you'll then be in a position to compare the two and you'll see that the book is weak in comparison. That leaves you with a problem: watch the anime to more fully appreciate the book's setting and in so doing enjoy the book's actual story less. Like they say, the more you know…

It can be viewed as a prequel of sorts to the Hollywood movie starring Charlize Theron, but the character designs are more specifically designed to reflect Peter Chung's originals from the TV series. If you're not familiar with his style you'll maybe think that Timothy II's illustrations are bad. Some of the perspectives are arguably a little wonky, but the elongated limbs and odd facial expressions are purposeful. The costumes and the architecture are as they ought to be. So too is the odd sexual nature of the lithe Æon. There'll be people who dislike or outright hate the style, but that's true of every stylistic choice.

The book collects together the entire Æon Flux comic, issues 1-4.

2½ dionaea muscipulae out of 5

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Ghost in the Shell : S.A.C : White Maze (2006)

Author: Junichi Fujisaku  |  Page Count: 220

‘…Kusanagi experienced an uncomfortable sensation, as if insects were swarming over the surface of her consciousness.

The last in a trilogy of Stand Alone Complex tie-in novels.  It’s based on the TV series but there’s some interesting info about cyberbrains that’s reminiscent of Shirow’s original, meaning it manages to be referential and respectful to both.

There’s something malevolent lurking in the new tech.  Its transmission leaves a victim with two puncture wounds in their neck.  Is it a new virus or is it something very old?  And what have the anti-China faction got to do with anything?  The answer lies in the past.

Major Motoko Kusanagi investigates.  As expected, she meets opposition and is forced to rely on her Section 9 training and her wits to survive.
The story focuses primarily on her but when the others do appear they’re faithful to their TV counterparts.  And Fujisaku places them in situations that play to their strengths.  If you love the Tachikomas as much as I do, there are a couple of scenes that’ll make you literally grin with glee.

The translation is functional but not always enjoyable.  The Japanese language may rely heavily on proper nouns but a more liberal and efficient use of pronouns in the translation would've helped it feel less like it was handled by a machine while the real translator slept.  Yes, I'm suggesting small changes could've been made but in this instance it would've been beneficial, not heretical.  It's a fine line for people who care about such things but a compromise can be found.

Fujisaku mentions in the afterword that he planned to work on another SAC novel but it didn’t appear, and the chances that it ever will are diminished even more now that the Arise anime has replaced the SAC series.  Someone ought to tell Production I.G that light novels like this would be the perfect way to continue the SAC franchise as it was.  I’d buy them.

3 QRS Plugs out of 5

Monday, January 6, 2014

Max Payne 3: The Complete Series (2013)

Author: Dan Houser / Sam Lake | Illustrator: Fernando Blanco | Page Count: 39

"My name’s Max… Max Payne."
"Jesus.  You poor bastard.  Your parents must have really hated you."

If playing through Max Payne 3 (2012) wasn't enough punishment for your senses, there’s a prequel comic book for you to enjoy that delves deeper into the barfly's troubled past.  It aims to help you better understand why he’s such a miserable asshole by giving reasons for his descent into alcoholism and drug use.

It takes place over a number of years, and shows how different events took their toll on the anti-hero, from his academy days up to the era the game is set.
If you’ve played the game you’ll already have seen and participated in some of the events depicted.  Logic says that being an active participant in a story should be a more engaging experience but not in this case.  The comic is much more enjoyable.  It uses the same kind of noir dialogue as the game but it works better as the written word than it did as the spoken word.  The inner monologue and fatalistic running commentary that Max provides about his own condition lost a lot of believability when spoken aloud.

Fernando Blanco’s art is the best part.  It uses a muted colour palate reflective of Max’s outlook on life, and offers up some really interesting panel layouts.  It helps raise the quality of what would otherwise be a standard noir comic.

Max Payne 3: The Complete Series is available as a FREE download from the Rockstar website or, if you’re more inclined, you can purchase an actual print edition for your shelf that has some bonus content.

The book collects together all 3 issues of the Max Payne comic.

2½ bottles of Kong out of 5

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Doctor Who: Houdini and the Space Cuckoos (2013)

Author: Joseph Lidster | Page Count: 22

'…the dark metal back wall of the safe had exploded into light.  And beyond that light, a whole new world of metal and circles and machines…'

This is one of a series of Dr Who short stories for younger readers that were given out free on the BBC website.  It employs a clever literary technique whereby the absence of an ancillary companion for the Doctor to converse with is filled by having him invent one.  He talks directly to a creation in his head, which, as it happens, is closely related to what the reader is doing in his/her head.  The result is that it seems as if the Doctor is talking directly to the reader—we become the companion!  The narrative even anticipates and responds to the kind of questions a reader would ask.  Kids’ll love that.  Hell, I loved that!  Good job, Joseph Lidster.

Unfortunately it doesn’t last long and the format soon breaks into a regular hoppity-skippity Doctor adventure.  He’s having trouble with an alien race that’s really good at creating locks.  If the Sonic Screwdriver can’t open it, then what or who can?  Or to put it another way, if you’re a Time Lord who can go to any point in history and meet with any human that ever lived, who would you recruit to open a lock?  (There's no prizes for getting the answer to that question.)

Lidster’s version of the Doctor is faithful to TV version, as is the structure of the story despite being so short.  It would've been challenging to pack in as much as he was able to and still make it feel like it had run its course sufficiently.

It’s difficult to judge the merits of a kid’s story when you’re an adult reader but there’s a conflicting greyness to the situation that might spark debate in a young mind, so I’ll give it bonus points for that.

2½ purple eyes out of 5

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Tropic of the Sea (2013)

Author: Satoshi Kon |  Illustrator: Satoshi Kon | Page Count: 236

"I don't get what just happened but I think it's your fault."

Satoshi Kon was a filmmaker.  What’s less well known in the West is that he also created manga that, in the case of Tropic of the Sea, wasn't readily available outside of Japan until now.  It was created for a weekly magazine in 1990.  This is the first time it’s been translated into English, but don’t get too excited because it’s nowhere near as good as his film work and the translation is even worse.  It was Kon’s first ever attempt at a serialised manga, and he wasn't at all pleased with the result.  He was under pressure to provide each episode on time, meaning the work was rushed; a state of affairs that’s evident during reading.

It’s a nature Vs industry morality tale with a little bit of the magical world thrown in; the kind of thing that Miyazaki does a million times better.  There’s almost nothing in the narrative to suggest that Kon would go on to become an auteur of such high calibre in the anime world.  The characterisation is slight, the pacing is languid and the depth rarely delves below surface deep, which is something that can be said to apply to the main protagonist, Yosuke, too.

It's Yosuke's job to protect a 60 year old Mermaid egg, just like it was his father's job before him, and his grandfather's before then.  Until now there's been very little to protect it from, but tourism is growing and small town traditions are meaningless to a property developer with a thirst for Yen.

Alongside some words from Kon, many of the covers from the original serialization are included at the end of the book.  I'm pleased about that but feel they would've been better placed as they were originally intended because their removal means there's no longer any indication when the story was structured to pause, which causes it to feel repeatedly broken.

2 buckets out of 5

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Manhattan Projects: Volume 3: Building. (2013)

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

This whole thing has just come completely off the rails."

I like to try and distil a book down to just one word, which is a crazy thing to do, I admit, but it helps me plot the journey that a serialised work takes from one point on a map to the next point in the most fundamental way. The word for this book is SECRETS. TMP is a secret organisation and each member of the group has their own. Within that framework a small number of new projects are undertaken that split the group into little pockets of filler. One of them is an undisclosed undertaking by one specific member and is the only part of the story that goes anywhere interesting. There's a probability the others will get their time to shine in the next volume, but I'm not prepared to bet any money on it.

Which brings me to the quote above; it was chosen for two reasons. It's spoken by one of the group but they echo my own sentiments and quite possibly the author's own. It's like a commentary or an admission that's pertinent not just to what's happening on the page but to the creative process and the story's construction as a whole.  The characters are there but they don't really do anything, except for Oppenheimer and he gets pushed aside for too long. When he does come back it becomes clear that his story is the only one still firmly on track, which in Oppenheimer's case means he's very much "off the rails," but in a good way; good for us, at least. He's the man with the most secrets and they're fighting inside his head for dominance.

The series started strong and then hit a rocky patch, but the slide in quality in this volume was even steeper than I'd predicted. Throwing in a great ending each time won't be enough to sustain reader interest if the overall strength and focus doesn't pick up a little in the next book. I really hope it does because TMP is unusual and I love to see the unusual be successful.

Nick Pitarra's art is as good as ever, or as bad as ever if you're not a fan of his style. Ryan Browne fills in for one chapter but you'll likely hardly notice the difference because his style mimics Pitarra's well and Bellaire's colouring keeps everything beautifully unified.

The book collects together The Manhattan Projects issues 11–15.

2½ space perverts out of 5