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

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Avengers: Ultron Unlimited (2004)

Author: Kurt Busiek | Illustrator: George Pérez | Page Count: 96

The battle goes poorly.”

Ultron rebuilds himself yet again and returns to cause trouble for the team.  He just can’t stay away.  Corny villain dialogue and panel-filling fights ensue.

The story threatens to become interesting once or twice in the first half when it introduces familial concerns but they’re frustratingly underdeveloped.  That lack of depth gets remedied in the second half, but it’s possible that only the most ardent fan will make it that far because throughout is Marvel at its most fanwanky, alienating anyone who isn't interested in developing an encyclopaedic knowledge of the characters and their convoluted relationships.

I kept reading just to see how bad it could get.  My brain almost shut down, but, like I said before, the second half saves the day a little.  It also paradoxically throws everything else into an even deeper pit of ridiculousness.  The number of enemies reaches critical proportions.  They’re like an unwanted currency attempting to achieve value by increasing in number. ‘More is Better,’ seems to be the motto, but a mountain is no better than a molehill when both are built out of crap.  Kurt Busiek had some genuinely great ideas but you’ll need superhero levels of endurance if you're to dig them out of the carnage.

The book collects together Avengers Vol. 3, issues 0 and 19 - 22.

2 yellow flashbacks out of 5

Monday, February 17, 2014

Lone Wolf and Cub: Omnibus: Volume Three (2013)

Author: Kazuo Koike | Illustrator: Goseki Kojima | Page Count: 720

"Life, death… Both are meaningless to an assassin of meifumadō."

You’d think that by this stage in the story, over 2000+ pages, that both Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima would begin to show signs of running out of steam, but there’s zero evidence of that.  The plotting and art are as perfect as ever.

There’s an occasional slight shift of perspective in some chapters, making Ogami Ittō more of a bit player, but it never once feels like an intrusion in the arc.  And it has the added effect of further opening up the world.  We get to see more of how the other half lives, which invariably helps in how we view Ogami.

One thing that should always be remembered is that, even when it’s not explicitly stated, the wicked Yagyū clan are never far from his thoughts.

The different regions that father and son travel through are often characterised by the number of hungry poor contrasted with the number of rich patrons eager to satisfy their vices.  I don’t think it’s a cliché that the poor people are more often than not the kindest of all.  I think that’s a universal truth in any era.

I found myself needing to consult the glossary of terms at the back of the book more often this time.  The more depth Koike added to the world, the more new terms were being introduced.  It's good that Dark Horse continue to include and add to it with each edition.

The book collects together chapters 28 - 40 of the original Lone Wolf and Cub manga (the remainder of Vol 5: Black Wind; all of Vol 6: Lanterns For the Dead; all of Vol Vol 7: Cloud Dragon, Wind Tiger; and the first part of the stories from Volume 8: Chains of Death).

5 gora, gora, gora out of 5

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Martian Chronicles: The Authorized Adaptation (2011)

Author: Ray Bradbury | Illustrators: Dennis Calero / Joe St. Pierre / Josh Adams / James Smith | Page Count: 160

"All the things which had uses.  All the mountains which had names.  We'll give them new names, but the old names are there, somewhere in time..."

A comic book adaptation of one of Bradbury’s most famous works.  I'm not going to give a synopsis of story or outline specific themes.  I’ll leave that for when I revisit the novel.  This is about the comic version only, and it’ll be brief because I wouldn't recommend a reading to anyone who isn't a huge Bradbury fan.

For those that haven’t read the source text, an introduction from the author details the genesis of the original novel, which is vital information if you’re to understand the passage of time and the contradictions in some of the stories.
What it neglects to mention, however, is that the adaptation is incomplete.  It wouldn't have been possible to fit every story into the limited page count but some of the exclusions are essential, defining parts of the overall work and their removal weakens it.  For those that care, the omissions are:

The Taxpayer / The Locusts / The Shore / The Fire Balloons / The Wilderness Way up in the Middle of the Air / The Naming of Names / Usher II / The Old Ones / The Luggage Store / The Silent Towns / The Long Years / There Will Come Soft Rains

Note: Red text denotes stories that are either absent from some editions of the original novel or have been replaced by one of the others for various reasons.

The artwork pendulums from merely adequate to mildly awful.  The limited colours, the deep Martian reds and browns, were expected but the lifelessness of the characters, the lack of singular identity in many of the protagonists was definitely not.  Pilots, explorers, settlers and home-makers should be starkly different in their approach to the new World but, with a few well-rounded exceptions, those qualities were lost somewhere along the way.
The highlight of the book is the final chapter / story.  It retains some of the weight, the poignancy and the poetic tragedy that’s missing from all the others.

Fans of the novel, beware.  This is a pale imitation.  It’s a shadow cast on a hollow wall.  Its intentions are good but it delivers bitter disappointment.  Although, thankfully, it uses the original timeline, not the ridiculous revised ’97 version.

2 Hammer Horror stars out of 5

This wasn't the only attempt at adapting TMC.  A TV Miniseries surfaced in 1980, with similar results.  You can read about it HERE on one of our sister sites, Nut Box.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Batman: Annual 2014 / Superman: Annual 2014 (2013)

Author: Various | Illustrators: Various | Page Count: 74 (each)

"That’s what Superheroes do. They hit people."

Annuals used to be eagerly awaited jumbo-sized hardback editions with specially commissioned stories. There was little or no reprint. The dates for year of first publication as stated on the copyright page of both these individual titles suggest a lot of reprint, although I can't be entirely sure of that.

Yes, that qualifies as an old man, "back in my day…" grumble. But £7.99 for 74 pages? In Britain we call that a rip-off. The last regular DC comic I bought was three days ago. It had 100 pages and was half the RRP of just one of these.

Even more insulting is that both publications have adverts! They’re relevant to the character, but still, I'm heavily opposed to that kind of thing. It means we're essentially paying for advertisements. Not good.

Happily, the content is worth reading. The Superman annual is targeting a slightly younger audience than the current monthlies, so the stories have a younger focus; but it's not exclusive, there are still a number of things that'll also ring true for adults and perhaps, in some cases, even leave a deeper resonance.
The highlight is a story by Devin Grayson with art by Ariel Olivetti. It begins with two kids arguing over who is the better hero, Superman or Batman, and develops into something more than the sum of its parts.

The Batman book is darker in tone than the Superman one, like it ought to be. The stories chosen are more diverse. Each one shows a different facet of Batman's character, so new readers will, without their knowing it, be seeing the result of a lot of history filtered into short, self-contained one-shots. They explore in very different ways and in varying levels of detail what Batman is and what he isn't, what he stands for morally and what people think he stands for.
One in particular, written by Andrew Dabb and illustrated by Giorgio Pontrelli, uses a fictional world as a contrast to deepen the 'reality' of Batman’s world. The motivations of the second lot can't ever be fully understood by the first, but the story is crafted so that the reader, who belongs to neither world, will garner a deeper appreciation of the hero.

Value for Money: 1 wallet moth out of 5
Superman: 2½ schoolyard squabbles out of 5
Batman: 3½ defining moments of darkness out of 5

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Unwritten: Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity (2010)

Author: Mike Carey | Illustrator: Peter Gross | Page Count: 144

“…you auditioned to play yourself and didn't get the part.”

The Tommy Taylor™ books are a cultural phenomenon.  Tommy™ is a boy wizard with a small group of friends, whose adventures have spanned 13 books.  They routinely save their world from the kind of villains that populate children's literature.  The author of the books is Wilson Taylor.  It's a well known fact that Wilson based the lead character on his own son, Tom Taylor.  Consequently, Tom has grown up in the public eye.  He's not a writer, and had no direct input in the books, but people love him regardless.  He attends conventions and answers questions from fans; some of whom can't separate reality from fiction.

If you're thinking Harry Potter crossed with Christopher Robin then you're on the right track.  But that's merely a stepping stone into a much larger ocean of unpredictability.  Carey has used that simple premise to craft something that brings together all the tools of storytelling available to the modern writer, from the earliest times when tales were told at the fireside to travellers, to the modern era of public signings, film adaptations and the distribution of information via internet communities.

He uses his skills to build a world that is itself fictional but tied invariably to reality at every turn.  If you're interested in the machinations of storytelling as much as in a story's ability to entertain a reader, you'll find much to adore in the work.  I was hooked from chapter two.

If words have power and belief has power, then belief in the power of words must be an even more potent force.  Carey proves it.

The book collects together The Unwritten, issues 1 - 5.

4 map pins out of 5

Monday, February 3, 2014

Batman: The Dark Knight: Vol 3: Mad (2014)

Author: Gregg Hurwitz | Illustrators: Ethan Van Sciver / Szymon Kudranski
Page Count: 176

"They're merciless. They'll kill each other just to get to me.
Or keep me from getting to them."

I'm really liking Hurwitz’s writing style. He's not another wannabe trying to mimic Frank Miller. His approach to Mad Hatter is similar to the one he took with Scarecrow in the previous book, which is also something that the New 52 seems to be doing a lot. He shows us the Hatter's past to help explain his actions in the present. If I hadn't read both arcs so closely together I might not have minded that so much, but I did and it's either less successful this time or I was just less involved. Possibly because I just didn't like the haberdashery ham very much. If he's your favourite villain, though, the odds are you'll feel differently.

He's defined primarily by his anger. There are reasons given but it doesn't translate well into character empathy (unless you too are a vicious murdering psychopath with small man syndrome). His own failings being partly responsible for his warped state of mind should open up a door to a great tragedy, but it lacks something vital. When his true motivation is eventually revealed, however, it helps explain why he's so single-minded and detached about everything else.

There's a body count that's quickly forgotten, replaced by something no less aggressive but much more personal; put the two on balance scales and they would tip one way for Bruce and the other way for Gordon.

Van Sciver's art is great, but one thing in particular stood out more than any other: Batman's cape. It was simply amazing. His crosshatching was perfection. Small details captivate when they're given such love and attention. I also loved how during flashbacks the adults purposefully didn't fit into the frame.

Kudranski had the misfortune of trying to follow Van Sciver for the last few chapters. His style is interesting but the changeover was jarring to the eye. It also feels rushed, as if he was on a tight schedule. It's certainly not his best work.

The DK series is beginning to incorporate into its structure more of what's happening in the other monthly Batman comics that DC spew out (they're almost as bad as Marvel these days). If you're reading them all it's probably a welcome addition, but spare a thought for someone who doesn't or can’t afford to.

The book collects together Batman: TDK issues 16-21 and TDK: Annual 1.

3½ special teas out of 5

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born (2007)

Author: Peter David / Robin Furth | Artist: Jae Lee | Page Count: 240

See the gunslinger now, in his youth, with the shades of young men who have little concept of their mortality.’

The first of five collections that brought the life of Roland Deschain to the comic book medium. It was researched and plotted by Robin Furth, and then turned into a comic script by Peter David. It uses Stephen King's language as much as possible but it's been streamlined to fit the format. It's no lazy cash-cow milking session of an existing IP with an inbuilt audience. It's a genuine work of art in its own right deserving separate appraisal.

Much of The Gunslinger Born is taken from events revealed in Book IV: Wizard and Glass (1997). It's possible to read the comic without having read the novels, but I view them more as a companion piece to be read afterwards. If, however, you are entering Mid-World for the first time, and may someday want to delve into the source novels, I recommended you skip Ralph Macchio's written introduction in the book because he drops a very real spoiler of something that didn't (or won't) happen until book VI: Song of Susannah (2004).

For the first time ever, Roland's story is presented in chronological order. He’s fourteen-years-old at the beginning, not yet a gunslinger, still under the tutelage of the brutish but experienced Cort. His personality is already well-defined but his long, arduous journey toward the Tower has yet to begin.

The events that push him into his coming-of-age trial are detailed beautifully. It depicts and explains his anger and feelings of abandonment. We're introduced to the people that played an instrumental role in shaping him: his parents; his tormentor; and the original ka-tet of Roland, Alain and Cuthbert. It was a joy to see the latter two get the attention they deserved.

Jae Lee's art is masterful. There's a collection of sketches at the back of the book that show just how amazing it was before being coloured. His lines have a real beauty of their own, even in their non-inked form. Richard Isanove's colouring is flawless. It's almost too perfect, like an airbrushed celebrity magazine cover, but it's steeped in deep blacks that throw everything into a terrifying contrast.

5 bullets that hit true out of 5