March, 2012

Dave's Unspoilt Capsules and Awards

Intermittent Picks and Pans, plus Awards of Dubious Merit Standard Disclaimers: Please set appropriate followups. Recommendation does not factor in price. Not all books will have arrived in your area this week. An archive can be found on my homepage, I managed to fall so that I smacked both elbows and both knees. Ow. By the time I post this, Patch & Crow's Nest (the store I shopped at while in Kansas) will have closed its doors. A combination of factors led to its demise, Diamond's antics not least among them. Items of Note (strongly recommended or otherwise worthy): Atomic Robo: the Ghost of Station X #5 (of 5), The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath & Other Stories "Other Media" Capsules: Things that are comics-related but not necessarily comics (i.e. comics-based movies like Iron Man or Hulk), or that aren't going to be available via comic shops (like comic pack-ins with DVDs) will go in this section when I have any to mention. They may not be as timely as comic reviews, especially if I decide to review novels that take me a week or two (or ten) to get around to. Justice League: Doom: DC/Warner Brothers - The final McDuffie-helmed project, set in more or less the same sub-universe as the Wonder Woman movie, the Fillion-voiced Green Lantern and the Earth-2 movie. It adapts Waid's "Tower of Babel" arc, or so I'm told...I never read that arc. It runs reasonably well, but while the basic premises are decent, the execution tends to be weak. Part of this is no doubt a flaw in the source material (you do NOT keep complete copies of "take down my teammates" plans anywhere but in your head, but I know that was Waid's fault), some of it probably comes from this adaptation. Far be it from me to quibble with the type of doomsday device used here, for instance, but the way it was actually treated was, well, Mon-El Brings A White Dwarf To Earth levels of stupid. The voice actors and animators do a pretty good job with what they were handed, at least, and I rather like Claudia Black as Cheetah. Mildly recommended. Oh, and I got the regular version, without the McDuffie memorial feature. Digital Content: Unless I find a really compelling reason to do so, I won't be turning this into a webcomic review column. Rather, stuff in this section will be full books available for reading online or for download, usually for pay. I will often be reading these things on my iPod if it's at all possible. Justice League Beyond #3: DC - "Several wars that time forgot have taken place here." Yep, it's off to Dinosaur Island. This one definitely feels like it's not 22 pages...extended establishing shot, very short action sequence, and done. Batman gets some good bon mots in, but I'm definitely starting to feel like I'm not getting my money's worth, even for a 99 cent comic. Mildly recommended. Justice League Beyond #4: DC - Giving it one last shot to impress me. And it did not. More actually happens, granted. But the visual storytelling falls down in several places, even if I were reading this on paper I'd have needed to go back and forth in a couple of places to figure out what just happened. And on a panel-by-panel format, it's a much bigger problem. Might be more readable on an iPad, or wait for the hardcopy version (some number of installments will be published monthly on paper in an "oversized" edition). But as a digital-first, neither the pacing nor the visual storytelling work well. It's written for the trade, and served up in smaller than single issue bites. 99 cents per installment. Atomic Robo: the Ghost of Station X #5 (of 5): Red5 Comics - A fairly talky and exposition-heavy final issue, but given that the mood Clevinger and Wegener are going for is that of tragic waste, it fits. The general thrust of the climax has been done plenty of times (Superman being one of the first comics to really explore it), but it still works very well when handled properly, and they handle it properly here. Sometimes the highest ideals lead to the depths of evil. Strongly recommended. $1.99 digital comic, $3.50 hardcopy. The Last Man On Earth Club: Therapy for Apocalypse Survivors: (Also available directly on the Amazon Kindle store, but Smashwords has multiple formats). This isn't a comic, it's a novel (170,000 words of novel), but I have a good reason for reviewing it here unlike all the other novels I read. Specifically, it's written by Paul R. Hardy, formerly of the Legion of Net.Heroes writing group on rec.arts.comics.creative. He's since gone off and gotten work in Real Writing, but he's still remembered fondly as one of the best writers on RACC, and one of the most successful at writing deadly serious stories in a fundamentally silly universe. While there's no mention of the LNH in this novel or in his bio, in some ways this is a thematic continuation of the Legion of Occult Heroes series. As the title suggests, it's about the last survivors of worlds. The setting is one in which space travel is still out of reach, but interdimensional travel has been figured out by countless races. And not all of them end well. So, in a world dedicated to helping evacuate survivors of dying Earths, a special therapy group has been set up for six individuals believed to be the sole survivors of their versions of humanity. Numerous mysteries intertwine with their stories, and the therapist who starts off as a neutral observer finds herself quickly drawn into events herself. The premise lets Hardy play with numerous character is from a Victorian Horror setting, another from a War Against The Machines setting, one is a sort of X-Files agent, one is from a superhero world, and so forth. I'm sure Hardy was tempted to bring some LNH into the superhero world, but he resisted the temptation. :) The story does start somewhat slowly and dryly, there's a lot of exposition needed to just make sense of the concept and place the characters where they need to be. But by about the quarter mark, the mysteries start to poke their heads above water and the action gets moving. And despite the presence of eight main characters (and several important supporting characters), Hardy manages to keep the spotlight moving around with deft ease. As one might expect from someone with experience in superhero team writing. ;) Recommended. $2.99 at Smashwords. Young Justice #13: DC - Yeah, I normally have this under floppies, but apparently I was beaten to the one copy at Hastings this time, or they've simply stopped ordering it (the lack of #14 on the shelf too tends to support the latter). So I waited for it to drop to $1.99 before buying digital. This wraps up the Clayface origin story, and helps drive home why Aqualad isn't leading the team anymore. It also provides some background for the Belle Reve breakout episodes in season 1. Decent stories in general. Recommended. $1.99 at ComiXology. Rocketeer Adventures #4 (of 4): IDW - This was sort of the lone dangler on my old pull list at the now-defunct Patch & Crow's Nest, the last hardcopy I didn't simply write off and bugged them about for a few months before it became clear Diamond would never be shipping it. So, with Rocketeer Adventures 2 coming out this week, I was reminded to check for a digital copy, and naturally it had dropped to $1.99 by this point. "A Day At The Beach" by Gibbons and Hampton is a pretty good complete story that lets Rocketeer interface with surf culture without being anachronistic. "Waterlogged" Pruett and Harris continues the seaside theme, although boardwalk rather than beach. As I've mentioned before, reading on the iPod brings into sharp relief any weaknesses in visual storytelling, and this story feels like it's missing several key panels. "The Flight of the Aeronaut" by Arcudi and McCarthy is decent, although it's more of a prelude than a story in its own right. And, of course, there's some nice pinups. Recommended. $1.99 at ComiXology. Trades: Trade paperbacks, collections, graphic novels, pocket manga, whatever. If it's bigger than a "floppy" it goes here. Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot: Dark Horse - This is an oversized-page collection of the two-issue miniseries from the mid-90s by Frank Miller and Geoff Darrow. My first exposure to the characters was the late 90s cartoon, and while the basic looks and premise are the same (although the cartoon had Big Guy a lot taller), that's about it. This comic reads a lot like the various Kirby homages of recent years, in which the bombast is turned up to 11 and the story tries oh so hard to be campy. A cover gallery of "classic" issues ties in with the idea that this is a Silver Age comic that never was. But...not. The story is set in what was the present day at the time, and reads like a relaunch that.... Meh. Let's just say that it's like Frank Miller learned all the wrong lessons from Astro City and decided to do his own version. It's like trying to retell a Kirby monster comic with flashy new art (and Darrow's art is pretty good) and a modern setting but keeping the actual storytelling at what the writer's inner child remembers the writing to have been. And it just doesn't work. The cartoon did a FAR better job of keeping the retro homage feel while actually updating it for the 90s. If you like the cartoon, buying the comic does not make an acceptable substitute for the lack of a DVD release. This is the Frank Miller of The Dark Knight Returns, if not as foul in details. $14.95 Mastering Manga with Mark Crilley: Impact - Normally, I avoid broad-based "how to draw" books, because they're so broad and shallow that they're not really helpful to anyone. Too few of the basics to help newbies, too few advanced techniques for the more accomplished artists, and yet trying to cover all topics at all levels. However, this is Mark Crilley, so I decided to give it a shot. It does have most of the stereotypical problems of a How To Draw, but there's a number of points that make it a little more useful. Crilley spends a fair amount of time on body types not presented very often in introductory books (heavyset people, older people), and his occasional double-page spread of elements (a couple pages of just eyes, for instance) make for good reference files for the intermediate artist. Nerdy aside: while pondering this review, I realized that the typical How To Draw book has at its core something that physics education research has been pushing for a while now. We seek to get students to explicitly see and use the underlying structure, rather than just copying equations and plugging in numbers. That's analogous to HTDs' insistence on guidelines and perspective points, etc. I haven't found any pedagogical research supporting this approach for art, but most art education research focuses on the cognitive and affective benefits of having art education, rather than the details of teaching technique. And just to get some use out of my professional jargon, most HTD books devote about a quarter of their pages to material clearly outside the Zone of Proximal Development of the intended audience. Or, less jargon-ly, either trivial wastes of pages or stuff that's too advanced. Like all Impact books, it's a slick production in full color, although most of the actual lessons are just line art, with some spot colors to add contrast. Oh, and Mark narrates the book in the form of occasional six-panel strips...his author photo in the back looks more cartoony than the drawn version. ;) Recommended. $22.99 cover price, $15.63 at Amazon. The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath & Other Stories: Mock Man Press - A few months ago ( to be specific) I reviewed the new short stories created for this volume, and I enjoyed the original miniseries when I got it at a convention, although I can't find my review of it anywhere. This book is a case of Kickstarter working better than expected, and creator Jason Bradley Thompson was able to create a much nicer package than he'd originally hoped. I supported at the $40 level, enough to get one of the first copies and some nice digital extras, although not enough to get the poster-sized map of the Dreamlands that makes up the endpieces. The contents are definitely worthy of the support. In addition to the original 4 issue adaptation of Lovecraft's biggest "Dreamlands" story blown up to A4 (ish) page size, there's three more Dreamlands short stories drawn for this volume and presented as prequels (Celephais, in fact, is something of a direct prequel to Kadath), plus design sketches, production notes and some early pre-comic pieces on the subject. It has a new wraparound cover, and the aforementioned detailed map of the Dreamlands. Excellent visual storytelling wrapped in beautiful (if sanity-endangering) production value, well worth the money I spent. And definitely worth your money, especially if you haven't read this adapatation yet. Strongly recommended. $24.99. Floppies: If I actually pick up some monthly issues, they'll go here. Given my reluctance to put money in Diamond's hands, though, these would likely only be review copies or stuff found in oddball places. And no, I don't have any particular disdain for the monthlies, but they *are* floppy, yes? And like floppy disks they may be a doomed format. Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #24: Marvel - FINAL ISSUE. After limping along for a while, the Marvel Adventures imprint is no more after this month. Instead, next month there will be two Marvel Universe titles based on the two Disney XD shows (Ultimate Spider-Man and Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes) taking over the All Ages slot. The plot of this issue involves the old Silver Age premise of "guy becomes supervillain because he's obsessed with Janet Van Dyne," although this time it's not Whirlwind. It's certainly a valid way to get that particular villain into the setting without needing a bunch of other baggage, not that this setting seems to be continuing. Sumerak probably didn't know he was writing the final story for the MASH-Avengers setting at the time, but it's a decent story to go out on. Recommended. $2.99 Dave Van Domelen, "I would like for ONE THING about this case to stop being weird. Just ONE." "Couldn't agree more." - Atomic Robo: the Ghost of Station X #5 (of 5).
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