April 2015

Dave's Comicbook Capsules Et Cetera

Intermittent Picks and Pans of Comics and Related Media 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, http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/Rants Spring is here, spring is here. Life is skittles, and life is beer. Items of Note (strongly recommended or otherwise worthy): Last of the Sandwalkers, Transformers More than Meets the Eye #39-40 In this installment: Shadow Scale, Dual, Daredevil (Netflix), Batman vs. Robin (Direct To Video), Last of the Sandwalkers, Wonderella: A Hero for All Seasons, Brody's Ghost vol 6 (of 6), Steampunk Snow Queen #1, Astro City #22, Spider-Man 2099 #11, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #4, SHIELD #4-5, Ms. Marvel #14, Kaijumax #1, My Little Pony: FIENDship is Magic #1-5 (of 5), The Transformers #40, Transformers Windblade v2 #2, Transformers More Than Meets the Eye #39-40. "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. Shadow Scale: Random House - Rachel Hartman wraps up Seraphina's storyline and radically changes the face of Goredd in particular and the Southlands in general. Of course, the first order of business is to complicate matters, since Seraphina was written to have sufficient resolution to stand alone. There's a LOT of complications here, and some readers may be put off by how most of the book is "one step forward, five steps back," but it's an engaging read. In addition to plot-related stuff, Hartman challenges the reader on social and philosophical issues with matters touched upon in Seraphina but mostly left as background. (I've decided to hold off a little longer before giving these to my nieces, as a result...precocious they may be, but this book is definitely aimed a little later in the ethical development process.) As an aside, if you're one of the few Amy Unbounded fans who hasn't read this book yet, there's some resolution of plot threads from that minicomic series. Anyway, if you're an adult, or don't mind challenging your kids on matters of gender role, sexuality, and religion (if still at a fairly gentle level), recommended. $18.99 Dual: Kindle Book - Christopher Priest's second novel release through Kindle, initially written about 20 years ago, and left set in that era because of ties to real-world events. The high concept is, "Uptight guy is murdered, his wife is the main suspect, her twin also might have done it, and by the way the dead guy continues to narrate despite being dead." He makes for a sort of omniscient and snarky narrator, occasionally calling characters on their BS. As with Zion, events turn out to be both more complicated than they first seem and less complicated than they might have been. One of those complications is voodoo magic, which can't be discounted because, you know, the DEAD GUY IS NARRATING. As with Zion, it's full of damaged and/or horrible people (by the end of the first chapter, I was thinking the murder victim was really lucky to have made it that long without being murdered), for whom love is an alien force. If love was the tragic protagonist of Zion, love is probably the antagonist here. Perhaps a subtle distinction, but one I'm comfortable making. Love destroys several characters, and fear of love leads others to destroy themselves (or each other). And love has very little to do with the great deal of sex going on in this book (definitely not a book to read where strangers could be reading over your shoulder), something Priest admits in the endnotes to being kinda uncomfortable with 20 years and an ordination later. The book was initially written in 5 days, and despite a few rounds of editing does bear the signs of that kind of frenzied writing, such as phrases or motifs being repeated in a way that feels unintentional. An idea that stuck in Priest's head and got written into the story multiple times because there was so little processing time between chapters, kinda like buying a book or record twice by mistake because you didn't get around to reading or listening to it before seeing it on the shelf again. Recommended, but warning on the graphic sexual content. Currently $4.95 on the Amazon Kindle store. [Later clarification: It's listed under James Priest, although searching on just Priest and Dual will get you there.] Daredevil the series: Marvel/Netflix - Normally, I'd just wait for this to hit DVD, because I dislike watching streaming video for more than a few minutes at a time if I can avoid it. But a friend sent me copies which I burned to DVD and watched on my TV anyway. (I'll still be buying the pro copies when they come out.) Unlike what seems to be almost everyone else, I didn't binge-watch it, so I've only gotten about halfway through the series so far. What I've seen, I like. The series is clearly set in the MCU, but has plausible reasons for not involving the fantastic (and expensive to film) stuff. They even downplay the radar sense, primarily indicating it via sound effects and just leaving it as a given that Daredevil can somehow "see" without trying to get inside his POV like the Affleck movie did. A good choice, really. Avoiding looking cheap when translating something like that to live action is VERY hard, so they save it for rare occasions. This season (S2 has already been greenlit) is basically an 11 hour (episodes usually around 50 minutes not counting credits) origin story for Daredevil and several of his supporting cast and villains. This lets them avoid the kind of bare-bones shorthand seen in 90-120 minute big screen movies, develop some emotional content here and there, and still get in enough action and arc plot to satisfy. There's a few places where it feels like they didn't QUITE have enough content to fill the 11 hours, and maybe the story could have been told just as well in 8-10 episodes, but it's definitely better than they're likely to have gotten with a 2 hour movie. Recommended, currently on Netflix, but will eventually be on DVD. [Later note: I finished season 1. Very good resolution.] Batman vs. Robin: DC Comics - A follow-up to the recent Son of Batman direct to video movie, which I liked enough to take a chance on this one. And this was...okay. It had some pacing and storytelling problems, but since I never read the comics it's adapting, I can't say if the structural flaws were in the original or a result of the adaptation process. The main antagonists, the Council of Owls, never really struck me as a good idea. They felt like someone trying to hard to explain Owlman's identity as something more than "picked a different nocturnal hunter," and even implying that they might have been behind the death of Bruce's parents feels too much like a writer trying to claim they're better than all Batman writers before them. But, given that this movie isn't to blame for the story it's adapting, it's a decent way to spend an hour and a half. Mildly recommended. Price varies by store and format. Batman statue included with the high-end bundle didn't look remotely worth the extra $15+. 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 iPhone if it's at all possible. Nothing this month. Trades: Trade paperbacks, collections, graphic novels, pocket manga, whatever. If it's bigger than a "floppy" it goes here. Last of the Sandwalkers: :01 First Second - Jay Hosler of Clan Apis and the unrelated Sandwalk Adventures is back with a graphic novel featuring a bold band of beetle explorers venturing out past the oasis that defined their world for a millennium. It's told in chapters that would make for acceptable serial installments (although they're however long they need to be, so it'd have to be an online thing rather than floppies), and the chapter title pages are cleverly used to tell a "meanwhile, back at the ranch" sort of story in snapshot form. The world starts off as a sort of pseudo-Victorian beetle society with a few primitive inventions created by the main protagonist... but it rapidly shoots past "steampunk" (steambug?) and into more of a proper edisonade full of wild stuff borrowed from Astro Boy and Jack Kirby. As with most of Hosler's comics, it seeks to educate while it entertains, and making the main characters into scientific explorers helps accomplish this without being too awkward. Having Professor Bombadier stop to explain something is perfectly in character, whereas it might be a bit more jarring if these were just a bunch of everybugs. (Clan Apis did suffer a little from "why are they expositing?" issues, by contrast.) And, unsurprisingly, there's endnotes and a list of references. Strongly recommended. $16.99/$19.50Cn The Non-Adventures of Wonderella: A Hero for All Seasons: Kickstarter self-publishing - This is the second volume collecting the webcomic found at http://nonadventures.com , a sarcastic parody of superheroics. Wonderella herself is mostly a Wonder Woman parody, but with the added element of being a legacy hero, daughter of the original Wonderella. As with many collections of webcomics, this adds bonus material in the margins. Unlike most of those, though, these notes are not so much informative as they are a commentary track by Wonderella herself. Who is probably being paid to do them, but not paid enough to care. It also includes a several-page-long new story about when she took over the Wonderella role from her mother and accidentally saved the world. Recommended. Not sure what the price will be if/when it becomes available to non-Kickstarter people. Brody's Ghost book 6 (of 6): Dark Horse Books - Mark Crilley's murder mystery involving the active participation of the victim is much more supernatural than Dual and far safer to read in public. :) It also took a LOT longer to write, as Crilley notes in the end notes. Most of the mystery has been worked out at this point, leaving only relatively unimportant details (like the name of the killer) and an extended urban chase scene in the rain. A goodly chunk of this volume is actually denounment, which is good, because ending right after the climax would leave way too many danglers. And they lived (or, you know, remained dead), happily (or surly-ly) ever after. Recommended. $7.99/$8.99Cn I also got The Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy by Michael Patton and Kevin Cannon, and The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua right at the end of the month, didn't have time to read them before going to "press" with the April reviews. Floppies: No, I don't have any particular disdain for the monthlies, but they *are* floppy, yes? Steampunk Snow Queen #1: Antartic Press - This is basically Steampunk Frozen. It does take some elements from the same fairy tales (various "Snow Queen" stories), but it hews pretty closely to the modern take used in Frozen. That said, it's not just the exact same story with a few gears glued on, and Espinosa is not trying to make it fit into a one-shot like some of the other steampunk fairy tales he's done. There's no indication in the comic itself whether it's intended to be a miniseries or an open-ended one, but this issue does provide enough hooks to support an ongoing. Recommended. $3.99 Astro City #22: DC/Vertigo - A done-in-one story summarizing the life and times of Starfighter, who's definitely not the generic blaster type he seemed to be in his previous spearcarrying appearances. More like Doctor Strange crossed with Adam Strange. The story is a complement to the Quarrel four-parter, with Starfighter being old and retired, but far more at peace with the decision, and with only a single regret...which is addressed here. I do hope we get a break from the "getting too old for this" theme for a while, though. Recommended. $3.99 Spider-Man 2099 #11: Marvel - Meh. Most of the issue gets back to a subplot abandoned for all the crossovering, cramming in several issues' worth of subplotting all at once and making it the primary plot. Doesn't really work as a primary plot, but I guess it had to be wrapped up before Secret Wars. The rest of the issue is trying to deal with the time paradox stuff that will also be rendered kinda moot by Secret Wars, and there was a lingering air of anticlimax around everything. Neutral. $3.99 The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #4: Marvel - Well, plausible mechanism for defeating Galactus. But I gave this series a shot and don't really find myself caring what happens next issue. So this is a good jumping-off point. Neutral. $3.99 SHIELD #4: Marvel - AKA Phil Coulson Team-Up. This time, Phil and Sue Storm team up to rescue someone from Hydra, but there's a complication due to someone else having a similar idea and different motives. Oh, and Hydra being evil bastards, too. Good done-in-one from Waid and Sprouse, and it doesn't require knowing what the heck is going on in Fantastic Four continuity right now. Recommended. $3.99 SHIELD #5: Marvel - There's been a very light sort of metaplot popping up here and there in this book, involving Mys-Tech. That comes to a head this issue, as Waid and Mike Choi bring in Scarlet Witch to help Agent May and Fitz track down the source of some mystic handguns used to almost kill a number of sorcerors. Some decent light banter, followed by a cliffhanger. Mildly recommended. $3.99 Ms. Marvel #14: Marvel - Whew. A thing I was worried would be dragged out in a cliche fashion instead got resolved this issue. Miyazawa continues on the art, and Wilson takes time out of the main plot to advance an entirely different romantic subplot in a way that gives depth to a couple of the supporting cast (including the older brother, who's always been in danger of being portrayed one-dimensionally). Recommended. $2.99 Kaijumax #1: Oni - So, the high concept here is that in a world of tokusatsu monster fighters, what do you do with the monsters who don't actually die at the end? Zander Cannon's Kaijumax, a high security prison island for monsters, that's what. Like the Monster Island of the Godzilla Showa era movies, but crossed with modern prison dramas, complete with gangs, corrupt jailers, substance abuse (radioisotopes, mostly), and a poor schlub tossed into the middle of it while just stealing to feed his family. Obviously, it's full of in-jokes and references to kaiju and tokusatsu references, such as the "ape-whale" crime boss (Gojira is a portmanteau from the words for ape and whale), but for the most part it's a prison drama with rubber suits. Good so far. Recommended. $3.99 Where DC decided to run fill-in books run by Pointless Fight Man, IDW decided to run a month-long "My Little Pony: FIENDship is Magic" weekly miniseries, exploring the backstories of various villains. Not entirely sure why the subscription cover variants are all Mane 6 ponies done up in elaborate Dia de los Muertos makeup, but they look good. FIENDship #1: Whitley and Hickey open strong with the backstory of King Sombra. It does imply that his reign was very short-lived, but gives some good depth of character to what was in the show a fairly boring monster. Recommended. $3.99 FIENDship #2: Rice and Fleecs tackle Tirek. Rather than the complete biography approach of #1, they focus on a specific few days in emo teenage Tirek's life. Not as strong as #1, but an adequate exploration of how a son of privilege might turn to evil. Mildly recommended. $3.99 FIENDship #3: Anderson and Garbowska set out to tell a lighter tale with the Sirens here, to break up the gloom of the series, but...eh. Didn't work for me. It ended up feeling more like a story told about the Sirens by someone who didn't really know much beyond a few sentences in history class and decided to make up the rest because it sounded cool to them. Neutral. $3.99 FIENDship #4: Nightmare Moon, courtesy of Nuhfer and Fleecs. It's consistent with the Nightmare Rarity arc in the main series, while turning about one of the implications of that arc. It does a good job of establishing some of the rules of dreamwalking, and how Luna learned the skill in the first place (from dream guardians named Gaiman and Doran, naturally). Recommended. $3.99 FIENDship #5: Cook and Price wrap up the event with the villain they cut their teeth on, Chrysalis. Like the Sombra installment, this uses a present-day framing sequence to show multiple parts of the villain's life, although not quite in chronological order. Cook also pokes fun at the whole "a thousand years ago" bit that has become cliche in MLP. Lots of side bits and running gags, as usual with this duo, but not quite as strong an actual story as #1. I'd put this at second-best of the five. Recommended. $3.99 The Transformers #40: IDW - Combiner Wars part 2. The not-yet-combiner Protectobots transport Mirage into the storyline to get them in position to be Enigma'ed (seriously, this is not a spoiler if you know any Transformers at all), while also taking the hallucinatory Spotlight: Mirage and trying to wedge it into continuity. Starscream bloviates a lot, a news reporter talks to various people, and generally everyone catches their breath after the Superion/Menasor fight while the readers wait for the next combiner warring. Amusing bits here and there, but the plot in general is feeling kinda obligatory, like the writers were told to wedge Combiner Wars stuff into their ongoing storylines. Mildly recommended. $3.99 The Transformers Windblade v2 #2: IDW - Combiner Wars part 3, and sadly burdened with Ramondelli's shinydark art as well as the "Everyone was Combiner Fighting!" bit. Scott manages to get some good interplanetary political intrigue into the spaces around Prowlstator attacking and being fought by Superion and this issue's new combiner who's on the cover so it's not really a spoiler to say it's Defensor. Rook appears out of nowhere, but Ramondelli's art is so dark I suppose he could have been in a dozen panels of The Transformers #40 and was just concealed under a lens flare or something. Mildly recommended. $3.99 Transformers More than Meets the Eye #39: IDW - Not part of Combiner Wars, and not Ramondelli-drawn. Heck, it's not even a part of the Lost Light crew. Yes, this is a Decepticon Justice Division focus issue, introducing instant fan-favorite medic Nickel. The story takes place in segments spread out over the past year or so, as the DJD finds out about Megatron's side switch and has to decide on what they're about if even Megatron's no longer a Decepticon. Tarn is a True Believer, accepting that he's doing some pretty solidly evil things in the name of his ideals (kinda like the guy with the sword in the Serenity movie)...but what was it all for if Megatron claims to have been wrong all along? Roberts does a good job of examining this problem through Tarn's eyes (most of the DJD are just sociopathic killers content to follow Tarn's lead, weapons for him to deploy...literally in the case of one of them). Strongly recommended. $3.99 Transformers More than Meets the Eye #40: IDW - And back to the Lost Light, to wrap up some of the loose ends. Like...Brainstorm almost destroyed reality, is there gonna be some kind of punishment for that? But it's mostly about Ratchet, cranky and distant Ratchet, doing his damnedest to at least put a crack in his own shell and reach out to others. Lots of touching character moments to be had. Perhaps not the best issue to be jumping in on, since emotional resolutions are always better for having been there for the buildup, but strongly recommended nonetheless. $3.99 Dave Van Domelen, "Ten." - Ten, TF: More than Meets the Eye, summing it up better than anyone else could have.
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