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

Monday, March 16, 2015

Silent Hill — Past Life (2010)

Author: Tom Waltz  | Artist: Menton3  |  Page Count: 88

"Postmaster? But…you’re a negro."
"Ha! I am that, ain't no lie. Funny thing about Silent Hill…it don’t worry much ‘bout what’s on the outside of folks."

The four issue Past Life miniseries is a prequel of sorts to Silent Hill Downpour, but its intrinsic value is somewhat questionable. One of the game’s writers (Tom Waltz, who also penned Anne’s Story) sets this particular tale in a time close to the origins of the town, and while this is something I have often wished would occur, its focus only treads lightly on the periphery of its digital descendent.

Past Life’s story structure is unquestionably the most basic I've borne witness to in the franchise. Jebediah Foster and his wife Esther have come to Silent Hill to begin afresh, cut all ties with their pasts.  I'm not claiming that some of the games aren't predictable, but even when they are they’re still a good deal more subtle in pacing and execution and there is enough doubt present in the set-up and unravelling of the thread to make them compelling. That’s not so, here.

To Anne’s Story’s credit, it at least brought something to the table significantly relevant to the incarnation of Silent Hill that houses Downpour’s narrative. Even if its events can be inferred, they’re still presented well in terms of art and dialogue flowing from legitimate ancillary characters. Rather than simplistically spotlighting Jebediah, a better use of resources could have been a miniseries about Howard Blackwood, the town’s postmaster, who appears here, in the game itself, and later in Book of Memories on the Vita. Regrettably, one fact worth knowing is revealed for fans of the game. To save those respectable folks time and money, I will gladly share that information HERE.

If there’s anything overly positive worth noting it’s that Menton J. Matthews III’s artwork is systematically inconsistent, veering between sloppiness and startling precision. In this framework, I do see that as a strength, especially the nearly scrawled lettering and mystic-flavored HUD that surrounds certain panel-esque areas. A worn, zealot-inscribed Jarvis for a witch-powered Iron Man.

If you’re looking for a diaphanous jaunt into Silent Hill you can admittedly do worse when it comes to comics. In perspective, the level of connection to Downpour could easily be considered finespun and appropriately vague if Jebediah’s story was handled with nuance. It isn't and I feel justified in criticizing it for falling short in both of its intended purposes.

2 Unsuccessful Henshins out of 5

Nutted by NEG.

Note: You can find spoiler-free, mini-reviews of some of the Silent Hill games, including Downpour, at our sister site, Nut Load.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul (1789-1794)

Author: William Blake  |  Page Count: approx 50 

Love seeketh not itself to please, nor for itself hath any care, but for another gives its ease, and builds a Heaven in Hell's despair.” 

The book, as it’s collected here, was originally written in two parts: Songs of Innocence was published in 1789, with Songs of Experience following in full five years later.  The first is closely tied with the conventions of Romanticism; the second is dependent upon the same but for very different reasons.

It’s unknown if Blake always planned to have Experience follow Innocence, or if it was a result of Innocence failing to sufficiently shake the system, heightening his need to push further buttons.  Either way, the two books work in tandem to express an opposition to each other and to cement an idea.

The relationship between the unity and harmony that’s evident in Innocence is contrasted with a breaking away from unity in Experience.  The resultant fall from grace and abandonment of harmony giving rise to the social inequalities and human injustices of the day.  The contrast is evident not just in the poems’ titles but also in the imagery depicted within them and the illustrations that accompany each one.*  A reader wanting to attempt an understanding of the work needs to appreciate all of those aspects, and be aware that it'll require repeated readings before you're versed enough in the antithetical devices to give a proper critique.

The poet remarks on the things that used to connect us, saying they've become the very tools that others use in order to control us.  In that respect, you can’t fail to notice the political stance he took in regards to work practices of the era, highlighted by his use of children, themselves often cited in literature as an enduring epitome of innocence.   Indeed, the concerns of the first book seem initially childlike, the presentation simplified, but within it are darker moments telling what could happen should the state be abandoned.  Likewise, the second book has moments of beauty reminding us of what we've lost.

You could argue that Innocence is nothing but idealism and self-sustaining naivety; its opposite being Experience, with the woollen blanket pulled back the harsh truth of the world is revealed.  You're free to make that choice.

It seems there are some benefits to being perceived as a madman.  You can give a voice to a way of thinking that others fear to even admit to, lest they attract the attention of the very men responsible for the cruelty that Blake condemns.

4 immortal hands out of 5

*If you want an example, The Ecchoing Green (sic) is positioned third in Innocence, whereas The Clod and the Pebble takes that same spot in Experience.  There are many, many more examples with varying degrees of opacity.  Discovering them for yourself is part of the fun.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Dune (1965)

Author: Frank Herbert  |  Page Count: 562 (605 inc. Appendices)

What do you despise?  By this are you truly known.”
-From 'Manual of Muad’Dib' by the Princess Irulan

Frank Herbert's Dune Saga is the story of the planet Arrakis, also known as Dune, upon which is found a rare and valuable resource that every Great House in existence depends upon.  Without it, interstellar trade would end.  Even the Emperor of the Known Universe would be rendered mostly powerless in all but name.  Whosoever controls the retrieval and distribution of that specific resource will be a formidable foe in a never-ending, far-reaching power struggle.

The first book concentrates on the rise of a reluctant messianic figure from not-quite-humble beginnings towards something he never expected to be.

The two things are connected but are each only a small part of what the novel contains.  There’s a staggering amount of depth beneath the surface, exploring everything from petty feuds and familial concerns to the basic needs of evolution, ecology, society and the intersection of religion, politics and power.

Don’t expect to find what’s great about Dune solely by reading the words on the page.  Doing so may lead to disappointment, especially in the early stages when the descriptive language is sometimes stiff and the dialogue unnatural.  No, the real treasure only reveals itself if you delve between the lines and identify the nuances and implications of the situations that Frank engineers.

He calls upon the reader to recognise what’s required of them, to engage with the layers of meaning.  Character responses are tailored to the person making the enquiry, dictated by the speaker’s relationship to the recipient and the calculated balancing of full or limited disclosure.  How they behave in different situations or in the presence of different people is itself a guide that teaches how we as readers ought to be analysing it.  New ways of seeing are gradually revealed to the protagonists and we must adopt the same approach or be left behind.

It eases you into the concept slowly.  The structured opening sets the base level and then builds upon it until you’re second-guessing every action and wondering at more than just the moral implications of every decision.  If you’re able to get into that mindset then reality can get swept away; nothing exists except the book and its world.  Texts are supposed to do that, but Dune consumes me, utterly.

A word of caution if you have the 40th Anniversary Edition:  Frank’s son Brian mentions in his afterword that he’s aware for some people the book they’re holding is their first experience with Dune, and yet he deems it acceptable to put in spoilers for Books II and III.  If you want to avoid those, either don’t read it at all or wait until after you've read Children of Dune (1976).

5 plans within plans within plans out of 5

Note: The book was adapted into a feature film and a TV miniseries, neither of which were wholly successful but deserve praise for making the attempt.  You can read about the miniseries HERE on one of our sister sites, Nut Box.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Sandman Presents: Taller Tales (2003)

Author: Bill Willingham  |  Illustrators: Mark Buckingham / Peter Gross / Paul Pope / Michael Kaluta / Phil Jimenez / Adam Hughes / Linda Medley / Marc Laming / Zander Cannon / Albert Monteys / Daniel Torres / Shawn McManus / Duncan Fegredo / Kevin Nowlan / Jason Little / Niko Henrichon  |  Page Count: 224

A bestial song of Darwinian law in six-part harmony.  A celebration of the never-ending, inescapable gospel of tooth and claw.

Taller Tales gathers into one book a small collection of the many post-Sandman stories.  There's some one-shots, a complete mini-series, and a single issue of the now defunct monthly 'The Dreaming'.  Each of the individual publications may still lurk in specialist comic shops, but why spend more than the cover price when you can have them in an advert-free TPB?  In the order presented:

01. Merv Pumpkinhead, Agent of D.R.E.A.M. (2000)
Merv recounts an unlikely story of derring-do in which he’s the one daring and doing.  I like Merv, but a James Bond parody isn't something that stays in my memory long.  Most of the actual Bond movies are like parodies of themselves, so besides the hero having a pumpkin for a head, there really isn't much difference.

02. The Dreaming, issue 55: The Further Adventures of Danny Nod (2000)
At Lucien's behest an enthusiastic young lad goes in search of books that are either overdue or have simply gone missing from the Great Library's stock.  The youth's dedication to his job is his shield as he enters the Book-Lands.
About half a dozen different artists lillustrate the short, fanciful journey.  The result could've been messy, but it works in the story’s favour for reasons that I can’t reveal.  It doesn't plumb any great depths emotionally or creatively, but it’s hugely enjoyable, nonetheless.

03. The Thessaliad (2002)
A four-issue miniseries featuring Thessaly, the last of the Thessalian witches, first seen in Sandman Vol V: A Game of You (1993).  On the surface she’s a meek, bespectacled and bookish college student with pink bunny slippers and a teddy bear backpack filled with English Lit work, but get closer and you’ll see she’s beautiful and powerful.  Get on her bad side and beautiful will sidestep so that terrible can take centre stage.  She'll fry your ass.

04. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Dreams... (2001)
Each answer is attributed just a few pages to make its point.  It’s mostly light-hearted stuff, but despite each short being written by the same person (Bill Willingham) there are a number of unique voices in play.
It makes a kind of sense that constructing a dream would be like constructing a movie, and that it should experience the same kind of production problems.

4 challenge stops on the Allegorical Subway out of 5