December 2011

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, Merry Optimas! He died repeatedly for our entertainment.... Items of Note (strongly recommended or otherwise worthy): Nothing this time. "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. The Adventures of Tintin: Nickelodeon Films - I've tried the comics a few times, because they're Important Works, but they've never really grabbed me. With the movie getting so much praise, though, I figured I'd give it a shot. On a purely technical level, it was quite good. Once you get used to the way Herge's stylized art has been made 3D, it all flows quite well, and the uncanny valley is neatly avoided. But unless you're already a Tintin fan, I doubt you'll be singing this movie's praises...I certainly won't. The running gags pretty consistently annoyed me, and jokes that were probably old when Herge first wrote the comic haven't improved with age. I do salute them for not wimping out...the various ethnic stereotypes of the original may have been softened, but they weren't removed. Oh, and I saw it in 2D, there weren't too many scenes that were obviously playing to the 3D. Nice looking, but that's about it unless you're already a fan. And if you're already a fan, you've probably already seen the movie. 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. Comic Book Comics #6 (of 6): Evil Twin Comics - In theory, I did order the hardcopy of this from my old store back in my final few months, but given how Diamond screwed up the second half of November for them, I'm not betting on them getting any copies. The ComiXology panel-by-panel method works okay here, although Dunleavy really likes to mess around with the canvas and I found myself tilting the iPod back and forth to get the best aspect ratio several times per page. While the cover is a Back to the Future parody with the copy "Comics to the Future," only the last quarter is about where comics may be going, if that. The history of graphic novels and the emergence of manga (dominated by a biography of Osamu) are the bulk of this issue. Then they cover the rise (and fall and rise and fall and...) of the Direct Market, and how it rescued comics from the slow decline of newsstand distribution at the cost of introducing cycles of speculator boom and bust. The very end of the issue comes down pretty firmly on the side of "piracy will destroy the comics industry as we know it" and offers very brief possibilities for where things might actually go as "comics to the future". IMO, not enough blame is laid at the feet of the big players for dragging their feet and making halfassed toe-dips into digital distribution while expecting everything else to remain the same as it ever was. Van Lente is right in that the "penny business" market for physical comics is not going to last long, but trying to preserve that and make digital an add-on has consistently not worked. It's going to have to be a digital instead of hardcopy, with hardcopy perhaps reserved for collectible collections a la Masterworks. Recommended. 99 cents on ComiXology, day and date of hardcopy release. So either Evil Twin is a better negotiator than DC, or Diamond didn't care about small fry undercutting shelf price. Eldritch #4: - Anya, previously the main character, doesn't even appear on-panel this issue. And her brother only has a few pages. This issue focuses on the father of the hellbeastchild as his deep DEEP denial is hammered upon from all directions. Few things capture the existential horror his situation like his wife longing for the good old days of the trailer park (and apparently one of the skeevier trailer parks, to boot). Good mood piece, and it even advances the plot. Recommended. 99 cents. DreamQuest Shorts: Mock Man Press - Lo these many moons ago I got a four issue miniseries adapting the Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, and it was good. Somewhat fewer moons ago, that comic was adapted into a motion comic movie, and it too was good. Now, taking advantage of the Kickstarter system, creator Jason Thompson has set up a nifty hardback collected edition of the original miniseries, plus extras. (It was MASSIVELY over-funded, one person even pledged at the $3000 level, so it's a much niftier final product than was announced back when I pledged at the "get a copy of the book" level.) Anyway, one of those extra add-ons is a trio of short pieces newly done for the collection, adapting shorter Lovecraft stories that were also in the dreaming vein: "The White Ship", "Celephais" and "The Strange High House in the Mist." Those of us who contributed at the get-stuff levels got an advance PDF of these three stories, which together are about the length of a standard comic. While viewing as PDFs does rob them of some of the impact of the art (even on my desktop, getting them to the resolution where I can easily read the text makes them larger than my screen can hold), I was able to follow the stories reasonably well on my iPod (iPseudopod?). Obviously, this isn't something currently available for separate purchase, although Mock Man may eventually sell the PDF of this set on its own. But it augurs well for the eventual collection. Recommended. Atomic Robo being 99 cents the week of release last month was apparently a fluke, it's back to $2.99 and I'm back to waiting for the price drop. :) Trades: Trade paperbacks, collections, graphic novels, pocket manga, whatever. If it's bigger than a "floppy" it goes here. The Adventures of Mr. Tompkins #1: Big Bang Productions - This is a companion to some online videos at, a trade collection of three comic-length stories in full color. Igor Gamow, son of original Mr. Tompkins author George Gamow, is credited as writer, with Scorpio Steele on art. I'm pretty sure Steele deserves some writing credit as well, for adapting it to comics format. The premise is that this is an update of the original stories, with Tompkins being a modern-day banker (with a number of archaic affectations). The three stories in this volume involve Einstein explaining spacetime curvature, Rutherford explaining the atom, and Curie explaining radiation. Steele's base style reminds me of Darick Robinson, but he aggressively shifts all over the map, from faux-Victorian to Kirby homage to photorealism, with several pop-art stops along the way. It feels like he's trying to go all League of Extraordinary Gentlemen here. Artistically it's interesting, but the storytelling gets a bit muddled. On a purely educational level, I'm afraid I can't recommend this. Not only does it have several scientific mistakes (i.e. saying that the negative charge of the electrons holds a nucleus together), but Steele's art style runs smack into a problem we're discussing on the Physics Education Research mailing list: distraction. Eric Mazur of Harvard, among others, has done a study showing that the more distractions, the more options a text has, the less likely it is someone will learn anything from it. And while Steele's style is entertaining for someone who already knows the science, I expect it only muddies the waters for a hypothetical modern-day Tompkins attempting to learn from these comics. Mildly recommended, mostly for the artistic side. $24.95 cover price, $18.58 at Amazon. The Manga Guide to Relativity: Ohmsha/No Starch Press - This is part of a series of manga guides, and it came to my attention at work. Every few months, the library sends a stack of cards around to relevant faculty (i.e. astronomy and physics titles to the physics department) to get our input on what they should spend their new book budget on. Since I'd like to have a decent but inexpensive relativity text the next time I teach Einstein's Universe, I decided to buy a copy for myself at Amazon. If you're already familiar with the tropes of Japanese school manga, this is a pretty good guide to the concepts of relativity. The manga part is a mix of historical recounting and walk-throughs of gedankenexperiments. Between the chapters are more traditional textbooky sections, which actually fits in well with some of that education research mentioned earlier. Textbooks seem to be most effective if they follow exploration, and thought experiments are about as good as you can get for relativity on a budget. However, if you're not already familiar with the schoolmanga tropes, I'm afraid the framing story will be more confusing than the science. If I tried using this in a classroom, I'd spent more time explaining the headmaster than I would explaining Lorentz contraction. Recommended for manga fans interested in science, not recommended as a textbook. $19.95 cover price, $10.88 at Amazon. 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. Transformers Timelines #6: FanPro - This is the "Diamond Edition," meaning that it's theoretically possible your store could order it from Diamond and actually get copies. I got mine direct from the Transformers Collectors' Club after reading a pirate copy of the BotCon edition and deciding it was good enough to tip me over the edge on the decision to join the TFCC. (Well, rejoin, strictly speaking.) The main story, "The Stunti-Con Job," is a police story set after the end of Transformers Animated, with Sideswipe (a cop nearing retirement, in G2-inspired colors) trying to figure out what was up with a group of actors playing the roles of Decepticons. For a story that needed to introduce all of the 2011 convention toys, it's not too shabby, and it's paced pretty well for something that could have been made into an episode (when TV writers do comics, it doesn't always come out very well, so the fact that the TFA writers did this story didn't guarantee it'd be any good). There's plenty of bonus content, from little things like a Shortpacked strip, a two-page prequel to the main story, or the BotCon coverage (which takes a lot of pages, but I still consider it "little") to the reason I decided I wanted the hardcopy: an AllSpark Almanac addendum. There's AA-style entries for the nine new characters, episode summaries for the two stories, and a two page spread on Trypticon Prison and its environs. The Prison spread also has short entries on six Mini-Cons seen in the background of the main story. A bit expensive at $7.95, especially if you have to get it online and pay shipping on top of that, but otherwise recommended. Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #20: Marvel - Jeff Parker does a one-shot story involving the Fantastic Four first meeting Black Panther in the present day of the loose sorta-continuity of the MAdv books. Unfortunately, Parker tries to fit too much into a single issue, resulting in the plot complications being wafer-thin and verging on the Idiot Plot at times. The Prep & Landing backup in which the elves have to ready Avengers Mansion for Santa's visit is pretty good, though. Mildly recommended. $2.99 Young Justice #10: DC - Yes, it has a Cartoon Network logo on the cover, so it ends up in the Kiddie Book section of Hastings (along with Marvel Adventures books). But Young Justice is part of CN's Friday night adventure block, which includes a lot of pretty dark themes, and this issue is darker than most. The compressed retelling of the first dozen or so issues of Captain Atom (1986-1988) involves several killings as a conspiracy is rolled up, and ends with the bad guys winning...a recurring theme in the cartoon, as every apparent success by the young heroes is revealed to be part of the master plan of The Light all along (or, at best, costs The Light a minor asset while their major plans continue to advance). On the character development side, since Captain Atom isn't getting the business end of an X-Ionized sword as in the original side, Superboy gets a taste of vulnerability instead, although Hopps and Weisman don't dwell overmuch on Superboy's rattled confidence. Recommended. $2.99 Young Justice #11: DC - Okay, so waiting for an Amazon shipment to arrive meant another issue of this dropped in the meantime. :) Set at the same time as the Doctor Fate episode of the cartoon, this explains what Robin was off doing, while bringing in all the essential elements of the Ra's al Ghul stuff (Talia, Ubu, the Lazarus Pit, the whole Extreme Environmentalist motivation, etc). Character-wise, it reinforces that Robin is a guy who loves his job, and shows that the Dark Knight has at least one crack in his armor of grimness. Oh, and the Artemis subplot gets an ominous tick forward, although given that the events here regarding that don't seem to have been reflected in the cartoon, they'll presumably be cleared up next issue. Recommended. $2.99 Dave Van Domelen, "Why is a dog the Vice Principal around here, anyway?" - Manga Guide to Relativity
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