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

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Search: Part 2 (2013)

Author: Gene Luen Yang | Page Count: 76
When people come to your throne room and bow, they're not bowing to you. They're bowing to what you represent.
Continuing on their quest to find the whereabouts of Ursa, the Gaang are increasingly at odds with Azula until Zuko makes a concession over Ursa's letter and a confession to Aang about his willingness to rule. With some peace between them, they make it to Ursa's hometown of Hira'a  where they meet the director of the acting troupe of which Ursa used to be a member. The director leads them towards Forgetful Valley, a dangerous place where people who enter supposedly never return.

The suspense is killing me, but leaves me giddy with excitement. The characters felt so alive, I could picture them moving like I was watching the show, especially a certain bit of Sokka making faces. The interwoven flashbacks are also deliciously revealing and contain quite a few continuity nods to the series. Azula's antagonism was a little tiresome as it was clear that she would only freak out so as to add some drama that wasn't really needed, but she is there so she needs something to do. Still a decent read with great art, characters and the reveals on a tragic and romantic story.

4 involuntary poop face out of 5

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Assassin's Creed: The Chain (2012)

Authors: Cameron Stewart / Karl Kerschl  |  Illustrators: Cameron Stewart / Karl Kerschl  |  Page Count: 96

"They like to think of themselves as a Brotherhood. A family. But if that’s true, then they’re a family of wolves."

A sequel to Assassin's Creed: The Fall (2011) that continues the story of both Daniel Cross and the assassin Nikolai Orelov. In one man's world a peace time is broken, while in the other a kind of peace is attained but it’s quite possibly fallacious.

The book explores the resultant struggles of the two men, but it's difficult to say how Daniel got to where he is at the beginning without spoiling the end of the previous entry, so I’ll take the easy option and not mention him again directly. On the other hand, the Russian born Nikolai's story is easier to summarise. He's settled in a new territory but experiences the same old prejudices. It follows that where there’s hatred and men willing to do evil for money there’s often tragedy.

Central to everything, and the part that carries the most emotional weight, is the journey of a young boy who learns the difference between killing out of necessity or mercy and allowing suffering to continue by doing nothing—the understanding of which is a basic tenet of the Assassin order.

There’s a second lesson to be learned, too, that every deed has consequences even if sometimes they take years to surface or occur. How we deal with them determines what kind of man we are, and that in turn determines which side an individual is compelled to take in the Templar/Assassin war.

There are a number of pages with little or no dialogue, meaning the onus is on the art to tell the story, which it does very effectively. The changing colour palette also contributes in a clever, almost subliminal way.

3 balance adjustments out of 5

Monday, September 22, 2014

Lone Wolf and Cub: Omnibus: Volume Five (2014)

Author: Kazuo Koike | Illustrator: Goseki Kojima | Page Count: 712

"Love, affection, obligation, revenge!  Joy, anger, sorrow, pleasure!  Of the human emotions we choose revenge!"

Three years have passed since father and son set out on the road.  In that time there's been much death and there’s more to come.  The Yagyū letter arc that featured in Volume Four continues into Volume Five.  The Lone Wolf, Ogami Ittō, who carries the letter on his person, is hunting for his missing son, Daigoro.  The perspective is split between his journey and the lost and lonely Cub's search for his father.  Even when separated the path on which they walk is unchanged, so neither of them neglects their other duties.

For Daigoro, even being close to death is no reason not to honour a father’s teachings.  For Ogami and Retsudō, history repeats.  For the Yagyū clan, the retrieval of the letter is all-important, because if the secret hidden within it is discovered then the consequences for them would be grave.  Everyone has something to lose and no one is prepared to be the one that does.

One of the things that fascinates me the most about the series, other than the two protagonists, of course, is the way Kazuo Koike is able to put us quickly and directly into the troubled mindset of the people that hire Ogami to kill on their behalf.  They've reached the end of their tether and it's snapped, but does that justify paying a man with a child five hundred ryō to kill someone?  If we sympathise with their situation, quite often the answer to that is a resounding yes.

The book collects together chapters 53 - 63 of the original Lone Wolf and Cub manga (the remainder of Volume 10: Hostage Child; all of Volume 11: Talisman of Hades; and all of Volume 12: Shattered Stones).

5 wild dogs out of 5

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Mrs Fry's Diary (2010)

Author: Mrs Stephen Fry  | Page Count: 346

We told the kids a homicidal clown lives in their wardrobe today.  It wasn't an April Fool, we just thought they should know.’

Mrs Fry’s Diary is a diary by Mrs Fry, the fictional wife of the recipient of the reincarnated wit of Oscar Wilde, Stephen Fry.  Edna, as she’s also known, is oblivious to her husband's career as a television and radio personality.  She believes him to be an occasional window cleaner, taxi driver, avid collector of Razzle magazine and part-time father to her six kids.  (Or is it seven?  She’s not entirely sure.)  Her struggles and flashes of insight are recorded on a daily basis, and when read chronologically they become a kind of story.

I've read a small number of books written in a diary format, and out of curiosity have even used it myself on one occasion, but I'm definitely not a fan of it.  It's difficult to engage with the start / stop nature of the narrative.  It’s like reading twitter.  Apparently Mrs Fry is a popular tweeter.  That was news to me.  Unlike Stephen, I have nothing nice to say about Twitter at all but it doesn't look like it’s going to go away any time soon, more's the pity.

Anyhow, back to the book.  There are dozens of subtle references to Stephen’s career both past and present buried in the wordplay that long-time fans will get extra chuckles from, knowledge of which isn't a prerequisite but will definitely make a reading more enjoyable.  It’ll also help if you’re able to spot references to other famous literary works, and know what tinned Spam tastes like.

3 pitchers of Dorian Gray tea out of 5

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Death Note: Black Edition: Vols I - VI (2011)

Author: Tsugumi Ohba  |  Illustrator: Takeshi Obata  |  Page Count: Approx 400 in each volume (2424 in total)

We’re both using them as bait to lure each other out...
and we’re both well aware of that…

At its most basic level, Death Note is the story of two determined individuals, each of whom have people that support them in various ways.

The first is Light Yagami, a seventeen-year-old high school student with a high IQ, an elevated sense of superiority and a tendency to get bored easily. He wants to make the world a better place and doesn't care who he has to step on to achieve it.

The second is his nemesis, the mysteriously named L, a young, reclusive detective with a sharp, analytical and overly-suspicious mind. L never fails in anything he does but he’s never been up against anyone as merciless as Light Yagami before.

What unfolds is a battle of skills, wills and wits between a pair of evenly matched masters of second-guessing and deductive reasoning. When the line between who’s the protagonist and who’s the antagonist begins to blur, the question of what's right and what's wrong grows more and more difficult to answer.

Revelling in the chaos caused by the actions and reactions of the two main characters is Ryuk, a Shinigami. Ryuk’s not the sharpest tool in the box but that trait makes him arguably more interesting: there’s the possibility of a false sense of security being devolved between the Shinigami and the human it attaches to.

Obata’s artwork is amazing. He gives every detail full attention, from the smallest car headlight to the largest building. I could fill an entire post about just it.

I must mention Misa Amane. The story doesn't have many female characters, but even if it had Misa would eclipse them all. For a time she’s one of the most fascinating, tragic additions to any manga I've ever read. It’s a shame that she gets shuffled to the side as the story goes on.

Note: There are six volumes in the Black Edition that when collected together contain all twelve of the original mangas. Alternatively, you can buy a box set for only a few notes more that collects the same twelve books as individual editions. The box also includes a thirteenth volume of character profiles and production art, etc. The reason I chose the Black Editions is because they're slightly larger than the usual manga format (the same as a Viz Big) and seeing the art presented as beautifully as possible is more important to me than shelf-busting packaging.

5 distinctions out of 5

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster (2012)

Author: Terrance Dicks | Page Count: 162

A hand came down on Sarah’s shoulder.  But it wasn’t a human hand.  It was orange-green in colour, claw-like and alien.’

There’s something rotten in Scotland and it isn't just haggis.  In the village of Tulloch, located in the South highlands, strange happenings warrant the attention of no one’s favourite military organisation, UNIT, and everyone’s favourite time-hopping eccentric, the Doctor (fourth incarnation).  He’s going to need that scarf.

Sarah Jane Smith provides commentary on the Doctor’s actions and draws attention to his quirks when needed, for those readers not familiar with them already.  She gets some investigative scenes of her own; she was a journalist after all, so that makes sense.  With Sarah being useful the plot needed a bitch to be kidnapped. i.e. Harry Sullivan, the third wheel.  Poor Harry wasn't cut out for adventure.  And finally Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is… well… he just is.

It’s a reprint of the original Target edition (Doctor Who Library #40) published in 1976 that was itself based on a four episode arc of the Doctor Who TV series (Terror of the Zygons) originally broadcast from August to September 1975.  I admit to not having seen the original episodes but familiarly with the production values of the show during that era and with Tom Baker’s inimitable style made it easy to visualise the happenings.

It’s not the most exciting Doctor Who book I've ever read but I never expect high art when I sit down to this kind of thing.  I expect hurried advancements and convenient turns that get me from point A: danger and mystery, to point B: happy resolution.  It delivers that with some cheapo 70s charm.  Job done.

2 hullabaloos out of 5