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

Monday, July 28, 2014

Judge Dredd: Necropolis (1998)

Author: John Wagner  |  Illustrator: Carlos Ezquerra  |  Page Count: 192

If you bring them back, th-thousands will die!
I disagree. You’re setting your sights too low. All will die. Total annihilation – it’s the best way!

In light of some poor decisions by the Justice Department, Chief Judge Silver makes another one that leaves the Big Meg vulnerable. Elsewhere, a door is being opened to a place where judgement of the guilty and the innocent returns the same sentence…the Sisters of Death are ready to move.

Ah, Necropolis. There have been bigger and some would say better Dredd epics since then but it remains my favourite for a number of reasons. It’s not Dredd specific. The story, by original creators Wagner and Ezquerra, is much too big for just one man to carry. PSI Division plays an important role, which means Judge Anderson's talents are needed. It splits the reactions and resolutions in a number of different ways. That could've made it feel fragmented but John Wagner was too focussed to allow that to happen. The build up toward it was extensive (see below) and the aftermath shaped many aspects of the world and the works that followed. In short, it was a huge game changer.

It’s from an era when 2000 AD was commissioning fully painted artwork for many of its ongoing stories. There are time-saving colour blocks but it doesn't feel like a cop out; the colours used are often representative of deeper allusions (e.g. the colours of malady). Ezquerra’s art style will forever be associated with Dredd; those weird black dashes that he uses to outline certain characters became a part of that. I even began to miss them when they weren't there.

Some backstory is needed if you're to fully understand the scope of what happens during the 26 chapter storyline, why it happens and how the Justice Department themselves were partly responsible. The minimum of which would be knowledge of the Morton Judd / Judda storyline and The Dead Man arc. The latter acts as an essential prelude to Necropolis and helps explain why Joe looks like someone has taken a huge acidic shit on his face.

It might sound like a daunting task tracking it all down but Rebellion made it easy by reprinting all past adventures in chronological order as The Complete Case Files. I don’t know which volumes you’ll need because I've not bought them yet, but if you’re still reading this then you’re well equipped to find the answers.

5 black hearts out of 5

EDIT: According to Wiki, the entire Necropolis story is in The Complete Case Files: Volume 14, along with The Dead Man arc that I mentioned above.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Assassin's Creed: The Fall (2011)

Authors: Cameron Stewart / Karl Kerschl  |  Illustrators: Cameron Stewart / Karl Kerschl  |  Page Count: 96 / 128 (Deluxe)

"Nothing is true, everything is permitted…"

Considering how asinine and clusterfucky the story of the AC games was, is and likely will become, I didn't have high hopes for The Fall. Shock news: It’s surprisingly good. It's not amazing but it does a better job at balancing two different time periods and making them feel like one cohesive whole than any of the games I've played so far have managed to do.*

You ought to know by now that each instalment has two protagonists; one in the present and one in the past. In the present (sometime around the turn of the 21st Century) there’s Daniel Cross. The book spends a fair amount of time showing us what kind of guy Daniel is and, perhaps more importantly, what kind of guy he isn't. He’s not a noble champion of the people. He’s quick to anger and full of doubts, dislikes authority, enjoys a drink and is slowly spiralling out of control.

By contrast his ancestor, a Russian born assassin named Nikolai Orelov, is selfless, honourable and fully committed to a cause greater than himself. His goal is that of all his Order: to stop the Templars from creating a new Eden structured solely to service them. (If you think about it, there are zealots on both sides.)

There are similarities between game and comic, such as the obligatory artefact that, like Desmond’s Apple, is of great importance but easily forgettable. However, by being self-contained the book doesn't have to drag out the modern day part of the story ad nauseam. It has a proper beginning / middle / end.

Okay, there’s a sequel, so you could argue that the 'end' is merely a stop gap, but you don’t have to read the sequel if you don’t want to. In short, it doesn't tease you with something and then fail to deliver it like the games do.

The artwork serves the story well. Panels aren't just rigid squares, there’s some thought put into them, including splash panels and pages when needed.

The Deluxe Edition has some extras including a 10-page epilogue that diminishes the power of the original ending and leads into AC: The Chain (2012). If you've more money than sense, both The Fall and The Chain were collected together in AC: Subject Four, a TPB that was part of The Ubiworkshop Edition of AC III (2012).

2½ things that 'used to be' out of 5

*You can read reviews of some of the games on our sister site, Nut Load.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

3001: The Final Odyssey (1997)

Author: Arthur C. Clarke | Page Count: 272

Finding TMA ONE on the Moon was a big enough shock, but five hundred years later there was a worse one.  And it was much nearer home…’

3001 is the fourth and, like it says in the title, final entry in the Space Odyssey series.  It’s a kind of semi-return to form after the abominable 2061 (1987).

Clarke seems to have enjoyed speculating about future technology and society almost as much as he enjoyed detailing the minutia of space dust and comet trajectories in previous books.  His enthusiasm translates into reader interest.  We came for science fiction and we got it.  It does eventually give way to droll lecturing, but it's broken up by some interesting letters to home that comment on developments and give an insight into people's thoughts.

The main protagonist is someone we've encountered before, but I'm not gong to reveal who it is even though the blurb on the back does.

There’s a secondary character introduced about halfway through that I suspect functions as the voice of the author undiluted.  He comes into the story, says some poignant things and then gets shuffled aside like the others.

That’s illustrative of the main problem with the book.  The characters are interesting but mostly they feel like nothing more than conduits to enable events to move from point A to point B.  It’s point B that we all want to know about, so it’s some consolation that when we do get there it references the previous adventures and uses our feelings of what transpired to enhance it.

Once again, there's some acknowledged minor inconsistencies in continuity due to real life science and space exploration catching up with or shedding new light on Clarke’s educated guesses.  In that respect, the entire series can be viewed as both a product of its time and a fixed record of how real science influenced the fiction writer.  It does that more successfully than it does most everything else.

2½ long-distance deliveries out of 5

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Ōkami: Official Complete Works Art Book (2008)

Author: Capcom | Illustrator: Various | Page Count: 288

As my evangelical work, I do record herein the various events to which I bore witness during my long travels with Ōkami Amaterasu.’
~Issun, Celestial Envoy.

It seems like every cash-grabbing, whoring video game developer or publisher these days is producing special editions of their biggest titles that require fans to dig deep into their pockets to acquire.  Most include some kind of plastic figurine with little or no articulation; they’re for display purposes only and that’s fine as long as you know beforehand what you’re getting.

The lazier developers don’t bother with any kind of plastic tat.  They throw in an A5 art book with shiny paper and minimal content and think it'll suffice.  The Ōkami Complete Works is like that except it’s on a bigger, grander and more beautiful scale.  Another difference is that it wasn't part of a game bundle.  It’s a separate release.  But if ever a game needed an art book, it was Ōkami.* It crosses the line from fan-pleasing tie-in into a collection of genuine artwork that justifies itself by being worthy of gallery space.  The Japanese watercolour style that made the game so stunning is returned to its origins on parchment style paper.

You get all the usual stuff, character art, concept sketches, location designs and production notes from the creators of the game (Clover Studios), but you also get some piano arrangements at the back of the book, so if you’re able to read music you can learn how to play the score.  I’m aware this’ll sound like I'm fan-wanking pretty hard but the music of the game is one of the finest video game scores I've ever heard.  Even separate from the imagery, if you play it to someone who likes Japanese instrumentation they’ll likely fall in love.

If you’re a fan of this kind of thing and can afford the asking price, it doesn't get any better than the Official Complete Works.

5 image scrolls out of 5

*There's a review of the game on our sister site, Nut Load.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Escape From Camp 14 (2012)

Author: Blaine Harden | Page Count: 210
A perverse benefit of birth in the camp was a complete absence of expectations.
And so Shin's misery never skidded into complete hopelessness. He had no hope to lose, no past to mourn, no pride to defend. He did not find it degrading to lick soup off the floor. He was not ashamed to beg a guard for forgiveness. It didn't trouble his conscience to betray a friend for food. These were merely survival skills, not motives for suicide.

Escape From Camp 14 tells the true story of a North Korean man Shin Dong-hyuk as he was born in a political prisoner labor camp, his life growing up inside and his eventual escape from the camp and North Korea. The hardships that he faced are some of the worst crimes against human rights that can be imagined. I felt a sort of disconnect at first like I was reading a history similar to the holocaust or stories of Russian gulags; terrible but with a distance that time and historical perspective brings. The author and Shin however stress in the text how North Korea has perpetrated among the cruelest and most long running campaigns of human rights violations ever that is still going on right now and how it is allowed to continue by a clusterfuck of politics, denial, conspiracy and apathy.

That is the point, but the tale itself is more personal as it relates to Shin. He is one of many who were trained from birth to be subservient to authority with no cause towards things like human dignity and integrity as well as the physical hardships of forced slave labor, malnutrition, starvation and murder. Things like respect and love were not even foreign concepts; they didn't exist at all. When his mother and brother are executed for a planned escape, Shin is forced to watch and won't meet his mother's  eye not because he can't bear the sight of her death, but because he was angry at her for putting him in danger by escaping. She was his mother only by fact she birthed him, but there was no love. She was just a person and competitor for food who would beat him when he stole her lunch. Even his eventual escape wasn't prodded on by some grandiose uprising of the human spirit within him. He escaped because he was tired of being hungry and heard from an outside prisoner that grilled meat was particularly good.

A fascinating look at a personal tale behind North Korea's cloak that gives some insight to international geopolitics and the perhaps unseen side of the strength of human spirit.

5 spit roasted rats out of 5

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Let the Old Dreams Die (2005)

Author: John Ajvide Lindqvist | Translator: Marlaine Delargy | Page Count: 518

“…as I stood there, I don’t know why, but I became more and more convinced that if… if she turned around… she wouldn't have a face.

A collection of eleven short stories from the Swedish author, most of which were originally published in his homeland as Paper Walls (2005).  The English language edition added the titular Let the Old Dreams Die, which takes place after Lindqvist’s full-length novel, Let the Right One In (2004).  Similarly, the last story in the book, The Final Processing, is a sequel to the full-length Handling the Undead (2005) novel.  The remainder of the shorts are standalone but some could be called spiritual successors in other ways.*

Some will appeal to people with a twisted, grisly imagination, but some will only really make sense to individuals who've felt isolated, distanced or uncomfortable in their own skin or in familiar surroundings.

A lot of the protagonists are in a position whereby they fear the truth of a situation because it will invariably cause some kind of gulf to open and separate them from their safe, routine existence.  The situations start normal but the observations fantastical; together they create a strange believability, even when logic says that those kinds of things really couldn’t happen… I hope.

I've never had such difficulty in choosing a quote to use on a post.  I had a dozen or more jotted down, each as good as the other but for very different reasons and evocative of equally different emotions.  If the endings had been as perfect as the singular observations, the book would've been even better.

3½ meaningful lyrics out of 5

*The US edition appears to be missing Paper Walls, whereas the UK edition lacks Tindalos.  Mine’s the UK edition so I have no idea what Tindalos is about but I can say with certainty after having read it that I’d not want Paper Walls to be absent.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Boy (2007)

Author: Takeshi Kitano | Translator: David James Karashima | Page Count: 185

He probably couldn't run fast enough and had been caught.  I suddenly became really worried.  I was completely alone.

Takeshi Kitano is best known as a filmmaker, but in Japan he’s also a famous comedian, writer, critic and painter among other things.  It seems as if he’ll turn his hand to whatever best enables him to communicate with an audience.
Boy was the first time any of his fiction was translated into English.  It was published in Japan many years ago as Shonen (1987), so it wasn't a new work.

Two of the three stories are told first person and revolve around something I know a lot about: having a brother.  My own brother was a huge inspiration and defining presence in my life as a child.  I’d not change a thing about our time together, even the bad times, because they helped me become who I am.  That same connection is part of the glue that binds the first two stories together.

All three utilise a specific aspect of adolescence as a foundation.  There’s a school sports day that’s memorable for more than just the runners.  There’s a shared, inherited interest that gives two brothers a deeper understanding of each one’s nature.  And finally, there’s a tale that explores the tentative first steps of a youth experiencing the duality of love for the first time.

The language used is simplistic and beautiful; there’s nothing wasted.  The urge to fill the narrative with more complex allusions must have been difficult to quell.
However, that same simplicity may disappoint readers hoping for something closer to his violent film work.  If I had to compare it to one of his films it’d be Kikujiro (1999) but even that is far off the mark.

What the two mediums do have in common is an understanding of the value of expression.  Kitano is a ‘show-don't-tell’ kind of filmmaker and he uses that same principle in his writing.  Little gestures filled with deeper meaning are littered throughout and may go unnoticed if you don’t pay careful attention.

2½ bars of magic chocolate out of 5

Note: You can find spoiler-free, mini-reviews of some of Takeshi Kitano’s films at our sister site, In a Nutshell.