September, 2013

Dave's Unspoilt Capsules and Awards

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 Should be getting my first paycheck soon. Well, I got to shift from the "nearby" store in Lamar to the one in Joplin (Hurley's Heroes). Diamond's business-as-usual drove the Lamar store out of the comics biz...it's just too expensive and hassle-filled for them to waste shelf space on comics, as much as they'd like to sell 'em. Because of the last-minute nature of this, I don't actually have a paper copy of the Empowered special yet, but it's on order and I read a CBR copy. Plus it can be bought through Dark Horse Digital (and I'll pay for it that way if Hurley's can't get me a hardcopy). Items of Note (strongly recommended or otherwise worthy): My Little Pony Friendship is Magic #10. In this installment: Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, The Cartoon Guidebook to Absolute Failure, Atomic Robo Real Science Adventures #10-11, Empowered: Nine Beers with Ninjette, My Little Pony Friendship is Magic #10-11, My Little Pony Micro-Series #8 (of 10), Astro City #4, Gold Digger #203. "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. Marvel's Agents of SHIELD: ABC - While every new DC-based TV show anymore is its own universe, Marvel has decided to leverage its coherent cinematic setting with this show. It wallows in continuity, not just sharing some actors and characters, but also explicitly referencing events of the various movies. Obviously, with TV budgets we're not going to be seeing high-end powered stuff or big name actors (aside from maybe a quick cameo here or there), but Agents of SHIELD is about exploring the nooks and crannies anyway. The stuff that stays in the shadows because it prefers the shadows, or because it's smaller personal stories. For instance, one of the things Iron Man 3 didn't have time to do was really explore the circumstances of any of the no-name Extremis subjects, and the pilot episode of Agents of SHIELD does. Of course, without access to anyone more high-profile than Agent Coulson, the series is going to live or die on the writing and the ability of the actors to live up to the writing. For the most part, the pilot does a good job there, with plenty of eminently quotable Whedonesque dialogue and most of the actors backing it up. The lantern-jawed not-Clay-Quartermain agent, though, is a weak spot in the cast. Yeah, they need someone to play the straight man against all the weirdness (since Coulson has evolved in a direction that doesn't let him really do that anymore), but he's like a hole in the screen out through which the fun drains at times. Due to in-person social life stuff I'm having to watch this timeshifted, but I suppose I can put up with seeing random Whedonesque quotes showing up all over my facebook feed without context if I have to wait for the next day to watch my DVR'd copy. Recommended. 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. The Cartoon Guidebook to Absolute Failure #1: Slave Labor Graphics - This showed up free on ComiXology, so I decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, this parody of how-to guides swings between blatantly obvious (like fighting vampires using balloon animals instead of stakes) and simply bitter (like failing at pitching a TV show because it's really high quality but costs $10,000 an episode). It's the sort of idea that can support a T-shirt, not a comic...and there's other issues out there. Avoid. Atomic Robo: Real Science Adventures #10: Red5 Comics - Okay, the introductions are done, and the team is now taking significant actions against the industrialist cabal. Additionally, we learn more about the cabal and their feet of clay are revealed...which only makes them more dangerous, because they're desperate. Succeed or be destroyed. But as the story gets more serious, Erich Owen's art gets even more cartoony. And Clevinger doesn't seem to quite have the right characters to allow for the snarky tone used in Robo's own stories. Houdini and Lovecraft have occasional moments, but it feels a little too serious for both the art and the usual way the setting runs. A decent read, but not a great one. Recommended. $1.99 at ComiXology. Atomic Robo: Real Science Adventures #11: Red5 Comics - A bit of a schedule hiccup, with two issues of RSA this month and no Dr. Dinosaur (maybe the insanely successful kickstarter caused the hiccup). I guess #10 did too good a job of making things seem desperate for the villains, because they seemed to be doing VERY well for themselves here. It was your standard "after initial victories, the heroes get stomped by the badguys" Battle of Hoth sort of deal. The heroes get a few moments of awesome, but ultimately get jobbed. Yeah, it's necessary to have a setback to lead into the final conflict, but this one felt a little too perfunctory. There's a couple of Majestic-12 backups, but I'm pretty sure they're both reprints. Mildly recommended. $1.99 at ComiXology. Empowered: Nine Beers with Ninjette: Dark Horse - Supporting cast member Ninjette lays out the various parts of her life (past and present) through the metaphor of nine beers. As the most strongly tragic character in Empowered, using her more overt flaw (alcoholism) as a vehicle for exploring her doomed nature is very effective. While most of the events here have been described or alluded to in the main series, putting them all together this way is a very good counterpoint to the more action-intensive Ninjette focus volume. If anything, the hopeful tone at the end makes the "Oh, you're hosed" F***ing Oyuki-chan internal monologue scene in vol 7 even more jarring...Ninjette really doesn't realize what's coming. (Vol 7 came out over a year ago, so talking about it now isn't a particularly dire spoiler.) If the issue does have a problem for new readers I expect it's the fact that it *is* a bit misleading in terms of the "things may just get better" tone. Pretty much all of Ninjette's "Who's Who" entry data is in there somewhere, and it's an effective examination of a deeply flawed individual who'd really like to be a better person but has no clue what that might even entail, other than trying to live up to the example of Empowered. Art is all B&W this time, with the main story drawn by Takeshi Miyazawa, some of the framing by Adam Warren (although there's a LOT of framing to be had, and Miyazawa carries some of the load), and a short preview of volume 8 at the end by Warren. Recommended. $3.99 (digital or hardcopy) Trades: Trade paperbacks, collections, graphic novels, pocket manga, whatever. If it's bigger than a "floppy" it goes here. Nothing this time. Floppies: No, I don't have any particular disdain for the monthlies, but they *are* floppy, yes? My Little Pony Friendship is Magic #10: IDW - I got the Justice League homage cover, with Vinyl Scratch as Guy Gardner, and other background ponies as other Leaguers. However, they're not really involved in the story, which continues to be Big Macintosh's misadventures for the want of a nail. Cook and Price are rocking it on all cylinders, and if the story is "more of the same" from #9, it's more of some very good same. Oh, and Cook has a short "photos from the fair" piece that includes an epilogue to the gazebo macguffin-plot. Strongly recommended. $3.99 My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic #11: IDW - This was a fun read, but it bugged me in one way. Y'see, the core aesthetic of the setting is the sort of mythologized Victorian-era small town America seen in the heyday of movie musicals, with occasional forays into the Wild West or Edwardian Comedies of Manners. But this story takes a sight gag from the cartoon (the schoolteacher Cheerilee showing a picture of her own school days, with legwarmers and scrunchies and other 1980s fashion elements) and worldbuilds with it. The story of how Shining Armor and Cadence met is played out like a John Hughes movie...no, like ALL of the John Hughes movies mashed up into one. It's fun for the same reasons the Hughes highschool movies were fun, but for something that would have happened less than a generation ago in Equestria, it feels jarring. Lest I get too into overthinking things, though, it's established in the framing sequence that Shining Armor embellished a lot of the events, so it's also possible that some of the more jarring 80s-isms are part of the embellishment (i.e. a more historically accurate view would have a school more in keeping with late 1800s academies), and if we see Cadence's side of the story next issue it could have an entirely different look and feel. The framing sequence is set about the time Mac begins his Quest for Nails in #9, thus explaining why the Mane 6 were absent from the chaos, as they were in Tealove's shop. Presumably the tale-telling finishes before the events of #10, or perhaps we'll see a dazed Tealove at the end of #12. :) On a technical level, this is definitely an issue that's best read in full page format, not in ComiXology's Guided View. The panel borders are sometimes part of the story, and there's a two page spread musical number which loses something when all fragmented. I later picked up a hardcopy at the new shop in Joplin, because I'd rather have it in paper form than even fullscreen digital. Recommended (not quite as good as the Gazebo Epic, plus I think it tries a little too hard to cram in All The High School Movies). $3.99 at ComiXology or in hardcopy. My Little Pony Micro-Series #8 (of 10): IDW - This focus on Celestia is written by Georgia Ball and drawn by Amy Mebberson (who has let herself relax a bit more since her first outing, there's a lot more Cook-style background fun here). While the canonicity of the comics is always questionable, this does flesh out some of the recent history and establish that there's always been troubles...it's not that things all started to go to Tartarus when Nightmare Moon returned, there were invasions and evil forces during the thousand years of "peace" as well. Anyway, the focus on Celestia is not so much a story of her own life, but of how she's dealt with the mortal ponies she's bonded with over the centuries. In the present, an elderly teacher at the School for Gifted Unicorns (which has students from both Hogwarts and the Sailor Senshi) is starting to show the eccentricities of age, leading to parents calling for her removal. In a flashback, the 1940s-Lois-Lane-ish version of the character earns her place as friend and protege. Yes, we've had this sort of story in the Microseries already, but where Twilight Sparkle's story set up a conflict of "how does the young ingenue deal with sudden fame and responsibility?" via the aged pony, this one pushes front and center the issue of an immortal ruler having to find a way to remain loyal to old friends without harming the present. There's also a message about how old people can still contribute, but that's secondary to Celestia's inner conflict. Recommended. $3.99 Astro City #4: Vertigo - In any sufficiently developed superhero setting, there will be people who don't want to be either heroes or villains, just find a way to make an honest living with their powers. Some settings address this pretty explicitly, with government programs to make sure no one turns to supervillainy just to pay the rent...or to control national resources more effectively by drafting superhumans to work in careers where their powers would be most useful. But the "standard" superhero setting assumes that anyone not in the game has to hide their powers and never use them to make a living (exceptions like Damage Control aside). This issue introduces a sort of Secret Society of "Sideliners" who do actively use their powers to make a living, but network and look after each other. The specific story about the Sideliners here does end a little conveniently for the protagonist, but it just drives home the point that for Sideliners to have managed to lead their lives for any real amount of time in a superhero universe, they'd need to be pretty good at telling pushy sorts to shove off, and make it stick. Recommended. $3.99 Gold Digger #203: Antarctic Press - The last book I got from my semi-local shop, but at least ComiXology started selling current issues in case the new store's order isn't in time for me to get #204 from them. This issue is the climax of the Portia subplot, which has worked fine from Portia's side, but I think the "Gina and Nez as a couple" part was lacking in development. This issue reminds the reader why they make a good couple, but it still feels like it started off-screen and then Perry forgot to ever officially introduce it, just wrote as if they'd been dating for a while. I expect if I went back over the past year or so more carefully, I'd find the starting point, but.... Anyway, despite some weakness in the lead-up, it's a good resolution, including leading naturally into another subplot that can run in the background for a while, and that Perry hopefully won't just forget about for three years or something. ;) Also, honeycrabs are adorable and plushies should exist. Recommended. $3.99 Dave Van Domelen, "Beer #7 is ALSO on tap when I decide it would be AN ENTIRELY AWESOME IDEA to fight a GIANT ALIEN LASER KIDNEY while armed only with a BORROWED SWORD." - Ninjette, Empowered Special: Nine Beers with Ninjette
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