Category Archive: Reviews

Reviews of all kinds

Oct 03 2014

Frankenstein: The Real Story

Of course when the History channel says real, they mean historical influences etc. I liked this small collection of a few documentaries on the history of and the influenced by Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein story–a story I happen to really enjoy. The author was very young when she wrote the work and its influence has been incredible, much more than you might guess, although when you think about it: isn’t Frankenstein a household name? However, if you don’t care anything for the original (or even the classic Young Frankenstein) than this isn’t for you… so why are you still here? 

Oct 02 2014

Zombillenium (vol. 1): Gretchen – Arthur De Pins

Coming to us in English is French cartoonist de Pins’ story about a horror themed amusement park that actually is staffed exclusively by monsters. The latest addition is a down and out guy who “accidentally” gets turned into a monster (what type is still an ongoing debate) and is forced to become an employee. So far the story is nothing super deep (although there is this whole zombie union issue that I think is a very nice added element) and I’m not sold on the art which smacks to me of CGI, yet I enjoyed this very short (although very large in page size) comic and will look for the next volume. 

Sep 28 2014

Message to Adolf (Part 2) – Osamu Tezuka

You need to read the first review here before this one. Done that? Then you will recall that I was eager to read this second part. Having done so there is a lot less eagerness here. The story continues as before but with jumps in time that disrupts the plot and character development to the point of annoyance (although considering how long this thing is it would take another thousand pages to finish at a proper rate), and the earth-shattering information  that started the whole story becomes boring at best, a joke at worse, as it is never really dealt with. There are times of true artistic beauty in terms of poignant moments of tragedy and Tezuka does not shy away from having evil characters do good or good characters commit evil, but there are too many stretches  with me wishing the whole thing would come to an end. If you manage to get the whole way through I think you will find it a fascinating work from an unusual perspective and a story both worth telling and reading, even if it does not live up to what I might have wanted it to be. 

Sep 27 2014

Fantastic Four – Jonathan Hickman

Since I didn’t want to eat up the title line, here are the collections that make up this review: Dark Reign: Fantastic Four, Fantastic Four vol 1-4, FF vol. 1-2, Fantastic Four vol. 5, FF vol. 3, Fantastic Four vol. 6, & FF vol. 4 

The Fantastic Four is a group of super heroes (based vaguely on the four elements), each with their own dynamic personality, but you wouldn’t know that from reading this comic run better labeled: The God-Scientistic Reed Richards With Appearances From His Two Kids And Dad. The stories largely deal with Reed/kids/dad trying to save the world from cosmic threats they seem to have created, and how one solutions just leads to a more dangerous situation later–something that is rather interesting. I don’t know how anyone unfamiliar with the title could know who the characters are (both old and new ones) or particularly care as stories are rather bare boned, and, early on, tended to end as soon as something interesting might happen. I would like to tell you what the plot of these works were, but nothing really happens until volume 4 and only then because of events that start with a character’s death, which is a device I hate. Also, does anyone remember the time that the FF would solve problems that didn’t involves the slaughter of perhaps tens of thousands of people? (Wait, sorry, they aren’t humans that get killed–and they don’t cry out in fear/pain–so it is ok.) Additionally, while it may seem cool to have plots within plots, time travel galore–the bread and butter of Hickman–, and lots of scenes of a kid kicking people in the nuts, there is something boring about, for example, a 3 year old that is smarter than every genius that have ever lived put together and multiplied by 3 and capable of doing things in ten minutes that ever scientist on the planet, using every resource on the planet, could not achieve in a decade. And that’s hardly the worst of it, as people quite literally become gods. It may seem neat at first, but it quickly becomes pointless. Also, there is too much rock-paper-scissors in that hero X can defeat villain Y who can destroy entity Z who can crush hero X. Don’t misunderstand me. I love cosmic battles and alien invasions, but I don’t like to simply have “unclassified power levels” and aliens destroying all of Manhattan. Subtly is good, as are parameters, and without these elements the writing becomes sloppy. The best work is vol. 5 as various strings come together if nothing else and you have a sense of both completion, that past events were leading somewhere, and enough action and pathos to get a reader involved. However, I challenge anyone to say that there has been much of any character development, or that the events really mesh together (without one of the characters saying that this is simply what happens, always, in all time lines). The writing is not particularly snappy or funny and there are more artists than I can shake a stick at–and I’ve been known to shake a stick. I was ready to quit until the end of vol. 4 and that, sadly, kept me around as I saw the spark of great potential. Potential that never seemed to materialize. I will give props to vol. 6, which is more a series of vignettes of the aftermath, and I think these short, focused, rather self contained tales are where Hickman shines brighter. Luckily, this largely continues in FF vol. 3 (albeit on a slightly sillier note at times), which brings his run to its end. In the final analysis, I can’t really recommend these books. If Cej (who enjoyed it) had told me the entire story, I probably would have liked it more than reading it. Still, it is understandable why people get into Hickman’s convoluted plots; I guess I’m more interested in other aspects. 

Sep 26 2014

X-Men: Manifest Destiny

At best this is a bunch of B work from various writers and artists attempting to show depth about mutants as they settle in to life in San Fran after most mutants have been murdered. You would think that last part would be a good place to start when it comes to writing emotionally potent comics, but no, these stories are largely about nothing. 

Sep 25 2014

Mister Negativity and other tales of Supernatural Law – Batton Lash

Alanna Wolff and Jeff Byrd are two attorneys who specialize in representing the supernatural in courts of law. The last time I read a collection and reviewed it, I was disappointed. This time I was much more pleased. Lash (who I met once and he seemed very nice) does not rely as much on the puns and focuses more on telling clever and enjoyable (if not scream with laughter) stories revolving around parodies of fantasy and horror genres. In this collection he has a boy wizard with tourets, the Muse of potboilers who is a plagiarist, a misogynistic  monster (who isn’t at all Dave Sim), a talking ape, and a great Steven King bit. Regretfully, the same concern with the flat characters is still here. While Lash tried to have romances for the characters to flesh them out, it is too little to really matter, and while you can like the parodies, this comic isn’t going to be great until he can make the characters, not just the cases, come to life. 

Sep 24 2014

Town Boy – Lat

I’ve never seen such a unique style of art as Lat has for his memoir about growing up Malay with his Chinese best friend (perhaps because the art is so stylized that it would appear racists if drawn by your average white guy lah). In any event, I thought the story and art were great, putting plenty of smiles on my face lah. Little short and even littler (?!) background–if you do not know of the ethnic make-up of Malaysia you might lose something in your reading–yet lots of enjoyment lah (ok, I have no idea if I’m using that expression correctly). 

Sep 23 2014

Dork Covenant (The Collected Dork Tower, vol 1) – John Kovalic

I wanted to like this comic more than I did, and I should have. Silly drawings of nerdy guys talking about role playing games and their geek pop culture world, what’s not to love?! Yet I just didn’t find it quite silly or funny enough, sorry. It is the first collection of a series that has been going on for a while, so there is a good chance I’ll grab another collection and find that one to be better than this and thus like it even more. I’ll keep you posted. 

Sep 22 2014

Secret Invasion: X-Men – Mike Carey

I like a lot of Carey’s work, but he seems incapable of writing a decent super-hero comic. The mutant team, the X-Men, fight against the shape shifting aliens, the Skrulls, who are invading Earth. Yep, that’s it. 

Sep 21 2014

Return of the Dapper Men – Jim McCann

Despite hearing rumors about how great this is, I was rather disappointed. It is suppose to be a fairy tale where time has stopped and kids and robots live separately but equally so to speak, but everything changes when the Dapper Men return. While Janet Lee certainly does some interesting work with the art, you are much better off looking at the illustrations and making up your own  story rather than read the boring, oh so clever (but meaningless) writing.

Sep 20 2014

Scarlet – Brian Michael Bendis

For the record, I was a huge fan of Bendis back before most of you ever heard of him, and would push his indy crime comics on people all the time. So it would seem that his return to the genre would be a bonus, and it might be if I were 12, and knew nothing about cops, the Occupy movement, or the world in general. This comic is a revenge fantasy staring a very hot punk chick who decided that she is going to change the entire world by killing corrupt cops, which, naturally sparks a revolution of people on her side. Listen, cops have always treated me like garbage (at best) and it would be great if people would organize themselves to fight for their rights, but considering how many people I know that vote against their own interests–if they bother to vote at all–, and the lazy “what can you do” attitude that permeates society, and the complete dismissal of anything realistic in terms of what people and cops have the resources to do as displayed in this comic, I just can’t express how pointless and sloppy this work is. And all that is without discussing Bendis’ penchant for having characters talk directly to the reader and, well, just talk and talk and talk, in general. 

Sep 19 2014

Will & Whit – Laura Lee Gulledge

I thought the art was great and loved the idea that the art goes to gray scale once a blackout occurs due to a storm half way through the comic. The trouble is I can’t really tell you what the story is about. Yes, there are several teenage characters, many who have nice quirkiness to them, that are all dealing with their own concerns during a summer break (Will, the female protagonist, has an actual “real” problems), yet there is no true plot that drives the story–sorry, unrequited love and the existence of carnival don’t count, and while dealing with loss could, it isn’t made into a plot. Neither does the fear of shadows, nor the fact that the characters have their own talents count as plot, although these things could also be turned into story lines. It is this lack of story that drove me away from truly enjoying the work, and while the author is attempting to turn the work into a stage piece I think she is going to have zero luck without a major rewrite. 

Sep 18 2014

Greek Gods, Heroes and Monsters

This History Channel series has a similar name to a course of mine in CUNY. I like it when the channel has shows that aren’t totally nonsense like aliens creating civilization, and this pseudo-scholarly series does provide a nice introduction to various mythological ideas. It does have some problems such as always trying to hint that the mythology could have an actual historical foundation and they always have to link the stories to Jesus somehow, as if if they didn’t we might think they are promoting paganism or something. It is also pretty funny that I think the show has one fancy jacket that they make most of their interviewed scholars wear. I wishes there were more shows like this (and less on aliens, it is the HISTORY channel after all). 

Sep 17 2014

Best Shot in the West: The Adventures of Nat Love – Patricia C. & Fredrick L. McKissack

Better known at Deadwood Dick, the life of this slave turned cowboy is amazing by any standard. The fact that there were any, never mind many, black cowboys, might be a shock to some and that is understandable, and thus I wished more was done to stress the fact that Nat Love was a black man and show how it mattered/didn’t matter in his life. The art, by Randy Duburke, bothered me in that respect because, while elegant, makes ethnicity difficult to discern when I think it is an important factor. It is hard to put so much story in such a short comic book, but this was made somewhat harder as I didn’t feel the McKissacks truly understand the medium or use it to its fullest (e.g., too much narration). Wish there was a movie/documentary on this man. 

Sep 16 2014

Trouble Maker (book 1): a Barnaby and Hooker graphic novel – Janet & Alex Evanovich

Sassy blond Barney, and also sassy blond Hooker, try to rescue their sassy but not blond friend Rosa from a Voodoo cult. It is a cute story with key elements of romance, humor, adventure, a big dog, etc. with nice cartoony art by Joelle Jones, but nothing particularly ground breaking. Perhaps the authors should stick to the novel forms of this series. Good for younger readers but at $18 for a short hardcover?! 

Sep 15 2014

X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga – Chris Claremont

I think that for its time this was pretty amazing. Looking back, perhaps not so much so. John Byrne’s art is great, even if my tastes have changed, giving details to bodies that set a new standard for comic art. The story itself is about a group of mutant superheroes and villains that struggle against each other and to protect/conquer the world. Specifically it deals with the increasing power of Jean Grey/Marvel Girl/Phoenix/Dark Phoenix until the point that she is a threat to all life and how those who love her will fight to protect her despite what she might do. Interestingly, Dark Phoenix takes up very little of this collection; it is the events that help to initiate the dark power in Jean that are truly important. As such I really enjoyed the manipulation that the hypnotist, Mastermind, pulled and feel that such indirect actions are something more comics should consider. As for the whole “how do we stop Dark Phoenix?!” I didn’t really care that much about it. It happened too fast and such high stakes as the sudden destruction of our galaxy doesn’t seem as real to me as the subtle stab of a knife in the gut. I’d like to think that Claremont was pressured into short changing a story he wished to expand upon, if only I didn’t read a decade worth of his comics and realized he was just kind of making things up as he went (akin to modern failures like Lost and Pretty little Liars among so many other sopa opera stories). 

Sep 14 2014

Run Far, Run Fast – Timothy Decker

Decker presents some of the best illustrated stories I’ve ever seen, about a girl caught up in the horrors of the black death of mid-14th century Europe. The problem is that most young readers will not be able to follow and/or understand what is being presented and drawn. Decker is an amazing artist, and I’ve rarely seen such lovingly cross hatching details, but as an author he isn’t anything special and this could have been incredible with the help of a professional writer. 

Sep 13 2014

Fargo

Not the movie, which is fine by me because that was not my favorite Coen brothers’ film, although it is shameless in its cross promotion (the show doesn’t even take place in the same state!), but the TV show of the same name is a really enjoyable crime drama. It is hard to boil down the plot but let’s just say that there are all sorts of shady characters, with strange quirks, who get involved with often pathetic characters to create a sh!t storm of absolute chaos that is gripping, frightening, and hilarious. Rounded characters, interesting plots, fine cast and directing, it is probably one of the best shows on TV right now (not that I watch too many shows–ok, I still watch too many).

Sep 12 2014

24

My father got the complete television series as a Father’s Day gift, and has been forcing our family to watch it with him. It revolves around agent Jack Bauer of the Counter Terrorism Unit out of LA. And I just want to say that if any real government CTU is as understaffed as this one we have already lost to the terrorists. (Blame the GOP for cutting government budget all the time.) All the agents are brilliant, but for no justifiable reason they are constantly infiltrated by criminals and have situations wherein “tens of millions of lives are on the line, let just send one guy to handle the problem” and thus the hundreds of terrorists who are already in our country are constantly, and easily, slipping through dragnets. The show is designed so that every hour long episode takes place over an hour in the show’s world and an entire season is 24 hours–thus the name, rather clever I admit. The show itself, unfortunately, is not so clever. Everything is over the top with lots of yelling, running, double crossing, torture, murder (with surprisingly little blood ever), explosions, and constant ridiculous situations–naturally involving terrorists. It is easy to see how people get hooked on the show (they can also get hooked on junk food), although it is largely obvious to me what is about to happen from one moment to the next.

Sep 11 2014

Berlin: City of Stone & City of Smoke (Books One-Two) – Jason Lutes

Apparently, I never did a review of the first of Lutes’ incredible tales of pre-WWII Germany, so you are going to hear about both Books One and Two now. Originally I was going to say that a problem with the second volume was that it had been so long since the first I had really lost most memory of the various characters and spent half of the second book relearning about many of them (as well as being introduced to new ones (yes, I could have reread the first book but it was elsewhere when I grabbed this from the library)). I would also say that I didn’t have this disconnect with the characters the first time around, but then again I was learning about them from scratch. Still, all that really doesn’t matter in the end. In fact, none of the characters, for all their complexities, depth, and uniqueness, matter at all. The reason is that what you are reading, in all it’s painstakingly specific art and historical care, is about the dead. No, I don’t simply mean characters who are fictional anyway, but about a country and a time period. The end is “spoiled” because we know what is to come: this cosmopolitain Berlin of a crippled Germany struggling between the forces of communists and fascists in an attempt to maintain one of the most liberal democracies the world has ever known, is doomed to be engulfed in flames and never seen again–at least never like this. And that’s what makes this an amazing read. Lutes tells the tale of a dead man, and we watch, helplessly and pathetically, as it marches off blindly into oblivion, wondering if there was anything anyone could have done to save this starving, confused, wonderfully diverse land, filled with history, culture, and dreams, before it nearly destroyed the entire world, succeeding only is annihilating itself. 

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