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

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Guild: Knights of Good (2012)

Author: Felicia Day | Page Count: 129
"I recited Ozymandias offstage per your request for character motivation. Look on your works ye mighty, and despair."
The second volume of The Guild trades collects the one-off comics that featured the backstory of the guild members and functions as pretty much a prequel to the first season of the show actually ending right where episode one of the show would begin. Ms. Day's writing chops shine through, but are also enhanced by the guest writers that include many of the actors that portray the characters which gives them an extra bit of authenticity and they really help the characters translate from screen to page. The fleshed out backstories adds layers and insight into the characters.

The art is vivid and varied and the plots are character driven hilarity with a touch of maudlin. The Zaboo one is exceedingly entertaining as it is both hilarious and somewhat manic with some even sort of interactive minigames added to it, as it should be I suppose given the gamer tendencies of the franchise. I don't imagine non-fans will find a lot to enjoy, but for viewers it can add much to the experience.

4 infections of Hand AIDS out of 5

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Matrix Comics: Volume One (2003)

Authors: Various | Illustrators: Various | Page Count: 160

"The answer. It's right there. I can touch it. It's beautiful. Simple. And it scares the hell out of me."

Beyond the infinite possibilities offered by a virtual world, part of what keeps the Matrix universe so appealing is that it hasn't been milked to death by a greedy studio. Exploitation and oversaturation would've killed it as easily as it does any other commodity. I assume the Wachowski's had some hand in regulating that, so kudos to them and everyone else who stuck to their guns - although I'd really love another anime collection like The Animatrix (2003).

Anyhow, most of the twelve stories (eleven comics and one short prose work)* contained in the collection were originally available on the Matrix website from 1999 to 2003. They're gone from there now, so your only option if you want to read them is to buy the book. As with all the other tie-ins, they expand upon and attempt to enrich the core concerns explored in the film trilogy. They were created over a period of time, so aren't tied to, or designed to reflect, any one specific film. Some were written before the first movie even came out.

I'm delighted to have them archived in some manner, and I did enjoy them for what they were, but the truth is that the majority of them just aren't very interesting. As web comics they'd have been a fun way to keep a viewer/reader connected to the ongoing story, but they don't hold up when brought together into a medium they weren't originally designed for.

The short creator profiles that accompany each entry are a nice touch; every anthology should have those.

2½ zeroes and ones out of 5

NOTESee the comments section of this post for a full list of contributors.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Ghost in the Shell: Vol 2: Man-Machine Interface (2001)

Author: Masamune Shirow | Illustrator: Masamune Shirow | Page Count: 312

"Characters and letters are mirrors on the soul—books are their body. Life can be defined in so many different ways…"

If you've read either of the previous books in the series (Vol 1 (1991) / Vol 1.5: Human-Error Processor (2003)), the first thing you'll notice about M-MI is the difference in art style. The technology needed to fully visualise the future world as Shirow imagined it had finally caught up with his vision. His obsession with depicting the future as detailed and as sexy as possible took him approximately four years and five months to achieve. It's the most perfect blend of traditional manga and digital colouring that I've ever seen. I don't generally like the technique, but it's almost impossible not to be awed by the result.

It’s set in 2035, five years after the events of the first book, but it's not a direct continuation. Section 9 feature occasionally, but mostly it follows the Major, who's now the chief security officer for a huge conglomerate. She protects their business interests while also financing some of her own.

As ridiculous as it may sound, your enjoyment of the book will be partly dependent on your reading speed. If you're a slow reader, the rigid, tech-talk will appear to reduce everything else to a stuttering pace. Conversely, if you can read at a steady and moderate speed, you'll be able to better balance the action that's happening around the information overload. Yes, Ghost in the Shell is about lofty concepts, but it's also about action and about moving from problem to solution in the quickest possible time. Unfortunately, Shirow throws constant interruptions at you in the form of lengthy and atmosphere-breaking footnotes, further impeding the all-important flow.

It's a feast for the eyes, there's no doubt of that, but the plot is much too complicated for its own good, so expect to be overwhelmed and possibly even completely lost on your first read through. For me, the deeper understanding that came with repeated readings was accompanied by a realisation that a sizeable part of the first half could've been cut with no great impact to the resolution.

3½ remotely controlled humanoid terminals out of 5

Monday, June 16, 2014

Mother, Brother, Lover: Selected Lyrics (2012)

Author: Jarvis Cocker | Page Count: 192

If nobody’s listening you can say whatever you want.

A selection of lyrics (sixty-six in all) penned by Meister Cocker over the span of three decades.  They're mostly from his time in Pulp but his solo work is well represented too.  Each one is accompanied by notes that act as illumination and commentary on the themes and allusions made in the songs themselves; which will be helpful to people outside the UK or those who were born too late.

Before you get to the main event, there’s an introduction from Jarvis that’s so beautifully constructed and insightful that it’s worth the asking price alone.  He speaks of the profound things that occur in everyday life, the things that don’t stand out until later, and he speaks of them in common language for (ahem) common people.  It’s from a point in time that enables experience to lay tender hands on and memory to whittle away anything superfluous.  Without meaning to demean anything that comes after, the intro is the highlight of the work.

With regards the lyrics, despite Jarvis’ insistence to the contrary, they’re intrinsically poetic and therefore I'm labelling the book as poetry.  (He’s never going to read this so I think I’ll get away with it.)
They’re narrative-based, so work just as well when written on the page as they did when put to music.  I could go into depth about why I think that is but I’d need twice the word count I have, and you’d not care anyhow.  I will say, though, that the lyrics of songs I've not heard sung were more enjoyable to read than the ones I know well.  I found myself breaking up the words of the familiar ones into their metre structure, attributing qualitative and quantitative, and because I was hearing the music in my head, I was putting pauses in places that a pause would be better left out.  It was a very odd experience.

I'm not appraising with blind bias; I'm a Pulp fan, yes, but that fact doesn't influence the score.  I only own two Pulp albums and one Jarvis solo album.  I'm interested in the others but just haven’t got around to purchasing them yet.

4 less obvious places out of 5

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Batman: Arkham Unhinged: Vol. 1 (2013)

Author: Derek Fridolfs | Artists: Various | Page Count: 160

"There's always a reason to send in the clowns."

A collection of stories of differing lengths that are connected to events in the Batman: Arkham City (2011) video game. I didn't much like the game, but it's Batman in comic form so I read it. It's okay. It's better than expected.

Both the game and comic exist in their own kind of Elseworlds universe, so any changes to character design or attributes from the norm should be overlooked.

In this version of Gotham the old part of the city, Old Gotham, has been sealed-off and now houses the inmates from Arkham Asylum and Blackgate. The area is a large prison but the freedom given to the inmates makes it also a playground for crime, similar to how Manhattan was in John Carpenter's Escape from N.Y (1981). The area is overseen by Hugo Strange, Operations Manager. Batman mistrusts Strange, so he enters Old Gotham to sniff out the professor's true agenda.

Batman is the moody, broody kind. He kicks some ass and then returns to a nearby rooftop to converse with Gordon and comment on the themes and concerns that weren't able to be fully explored during the action scenes.

The familiar locations are there and the characters are plentiful, but putting heroes in a building that features in a game doesn't enrich the story all that much. What's more interesting are the alliances and disagreements that the villains, who will eventually each control their own little area of the game-world, engage in.

For the most part the art is as good as the other half a dozen (or more) regular Batman monthlies, which was a welcome surprise.

The book collects together Batman: Arkham Unhinged issues 1–5.

2½ double-crosses out of 5

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Ghost in the Shell : Stand Alone Complex : Episode 005 : Not Equal (2014)

Author: Yu Kinutani | Page Count: 282

He went too far down the rabbit hole and caught a glimpse of hell…”

I can’t be the only person slightly irked that the manga has been leaving out episodes of the anime. Book 005 gives us one of the missing ones (episode thirteen), but that means the two mediums are now presenting the same stories in a different order. Thankfully, the continuity is intact because a minor reference to a previous adventure that was in the anime has been removed from the manga.

A child that was abducted sixteen years previously by an extremist organisation is recently spotted on a surveillance camera, but she hasn't aged. Logic says that a replacement prosthetic body could explain that easily, but things aren't that simple. A mystery needs to be solved and Section 9 is called in to solve it.

The anime episode was split between exploration and dialogue in the first part and action in the second (of the gung-ho kind for some of the team!). Someone must have thought that needed redressed, so additional action scenes have been added in the first half and, not to be outdone, even more explosive moments squeezed into the already combat-packed finale. It's a little overwhelming.

3 flesh supremacists out of 5

Edit: It’s possible that Episode 005 is the final numbered GitS: SAC manga. The release date given by the press for the next volume has come and gone. I've had two separate orders accepted and subsequently cancelled by sellers. I've contacted a number of suppliers, including Kodansha in the US and the UK, but no one seems to know where the hell Episode 006 is or if it even exists. If anyone knows any different, please let me now. I’ll keep checking and will update if there’s any news. It’s also unknown at this stage whether or not we’ll be getting the Laughing Man mangas translated.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

.hack//4Koma (2010)

Author: Koichi Sumimaru | Illustrator: Various |  Page Count: 192

Your morals as a protagonist are being challenged, aren't they?

A yonkoma, often shortened to 4koma, is a four-panel manga similar to the kind of thing you’d see in a Sunday newspaper, except that most yonkoma are read from top to bottom, not left to right horizontal.

The .hack yonkoma parodies Project .hack and .hack Conglomerate.  The comedy is derived mostly from non-canon meetings, rivalries, awkward social situations and typically friendly people being dicks to other characters.  As such, in-jokes are definitely the order of the day, so if you're not very familiar with each person's usual demeanour, or the .hack world, you'll miss most of the situational humour.

There are a lot of familiar faces, such as BlackRose, Balmung, Mistral, Shino and Atoli (even Lios the system admin gets some page time!), but it’s mostly about Kite and moody Haseo—both of whom are perfect targets for the kind of piss-takes and rebuttals that the format is best used for.  But Haseo’s troubles don’t stop with Kite's frequent slights.  He also has women to deal with, and that gives rise to an entirely different kind of anguish for the G.U hero.

2½ brands of crazy out of 5