Thursday, December 27, 2007

It's been longer than i planned since my last post. I'll blame it on the holidays. I'm planning a long weekend coming up, so hopefully i'll get some sort of reviews up here soon. Until then, here's a few things i've read, watched, or listened to lately.

Vampire Loves by Joann Sfar - This is about the romantic misadventures of a rather nice vampire. He bites with one fang so as not to leave too ugly a mark (and doesn't kill). His ex-girlfriend (a mandrake) blames him for finding out that she was cheating on him. His friend (a tree man) falls for his ex-girlfriend. A crazy vampire girl gloms onto him, but he develops a crush on a mortal girl. Sfar's art really drew me in. It looks like it's all done in pen (before colors), which was how Charles Schultz did it. All the characters are likable, even the ones who do stuff you don't approve of. The colors, while all rather dark (it is about a vampire, after all) are rich. They match and enhance the line art. I'd like to read more of this, and more of Sfar's work in general. You can read an excerpt at the publisher's site.

Escapo, by Paul Pope - This was reviewed on newsarama recently, and that reminded me that i'd had this on my shelf for a long time but hadn't read it. So i read it (but not the review, yet). I love Paul Pope's work. Ever since i found THB at that cool little shop in Springdale (they had CDs, too, and that's where i bought A Love Supreme...which i think i'll listen to now) i've sought it out. This story is set on the same future Mars as the THB comic, although the characters are all different. It's subtitled "a reverse tragedy", and it's refreshing how that aspect plays out in the end. It's in that large "album" format, which compliments Pope's open, expressive style.

An interesting technical thing i noticed, because i read Escapo and Vampire Loves on the same day, is difference in their use of panels. Vampire Loves is 99% six-panel grids throughout. That made it less attractive when i flipped through it in the shop, but when reading it, it worked to convey the downbeat humor and the mundane-yet-strange aspects of the story. Escapo, on the other hand, rarely has more than two panels per page, and the pages are a lot bigger, too. Despite most of Escapo's panels being the same size, you still get the feeling of time passing at different rates. You "get" it automatically (or subconsciously, i suppose), but i had to stop and think about how it worked. I think it happens because of the amount of detail and "movement" in a panel. A panel showing a solitary object, with no indication of movement indicates a slow, contemplative moment. Another panel the same size with lots of characters, and movement, equals a faster scene.

The Call of Cthulhu film also got me thinking of technical storytelling stuff. It's an adaptation of the short story by H.P. Lovecraft. It's done in the style of a 1920s silent movie. Why? Well, a metafictional reason is that Lovecraft wrote in the 1920s. A practical reason is that limiting the production to those tropes removes some of the problems in adapting the story to the screen. Were a modern, big budget film to be made of this story, there'd be questions of how realistic the CGI monster was, or did the actors overplay their growing madness, etc. Placing it in this context, however, you accept that the monster is stop-animated, that the sets of the mysterious island are abstract, and that the actors' madness can be portrayed in a purposefully "stagey" manner.

Not only does it dodge some of those "how *right* is it" problems, i think it also opens the door for some just plain cool creative decisions. When we see the cyclopean ruins of Ryleh, it looks as if the actors are walking through some enormous, three-dimensional cubist panting. It's all strange angles and odd blocky shapes. It throws you off kilter, which is just the effect you want for this story. There's a neat bit of trick photography at one point, too. Some of the props, especially the statues, are very cool looking, and again, because the whole silent film approach is more abstract in itself, it seems the designer(s) had more freedom to be creative with them. Kudos for making the ones that were supposed to be from different eras and cultures actually look different, too. Ah, and the stop-motion animated Cthulhu is really creepy. I suspect that a full-blown CGI version wouldn't be as bizarre or frightening.

Here's the trailer on YouTube:

I finished Gregory Benford's The Sunborn, which was a big concept rollercoaster. It is in the sci-fi school of Idea over Characters, but the ideas were exciting and big, so i was happy. It's not that the characters are poorly drawn, but the story could have happened to other people, and would have played out pretty much the same. It's all about finding life on other planets in our solar system, and how they get stranger and wilder and bigger as you go further out. I dug it.

We went to see American Aquarium at the Garage again, and they put on a great show. They were lit like mad, but still highly entertaining. I hope the fiddle player is with them next time, though. It really adds to some of the songs. After they played i bought the CD, which is the first one i've bought in a long time, and have been listening to it in the car for several days. The crowd was larger than last time, but cool. That's definitely my favorite music venue around here. They book good bands, the atmosphere is great, and it's just loud enough.

New comics have been slow lately, and i spent a bit too much when the local shop had a good sale before Christmas. So i haven't been to pick up new books, and probably won't for another week yet.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Engineer #1

By Brian Churilla (writer & penciller) and Jeremy Shepherd (writer & colorist), and Sean Glumace (letters)
Published by Archaia Studio Press

Hannibal Tabu, who writes “The Buy Pile” for, gave this comic a “WTF award”. I agree with him, except that i liked it, and he didn't (apparently). There is a lot of crazy stuff going on here.

There is a definite “cosmic” element. The hero, as i mentioned in an earlier post, travels between dimensions/worlds searching for parts of a mystical device. Is it mystical? It looks mechanical. It bestows godlike powers upon whoever wields it. You decide.

Actually, now's a decent time to wander into a discussion of what makes a comic cosmic. Does this subgenre even exist outside of comics? IDK. You know when you watch a documentary about the universe, about how stars are born and die, or the age of the cosmos, or how the best scientific minds can't find a huge chunk of the matter in the universe, or anything about quantum mechanics or string theory, and it starts tripping breakers in your brain that are usually tripped by mythology or ghost stories? That's the area that “cosmic” adventure comics inhabit, with superheroes and spacegods thrown in, natch.

Pages one and two set up the “big concept” backstory for the series. Page three drops us into the middle of the Engineer's latest mission. He's running from a huge, stoney spider-ish monster that wants to crush him. He's also running from the antler-crowned humanoids who worship the big stone spidery thing.

The three sisters appear. These are the mysterious beings who set the Engineer on his quest. They look...kinda like dolphins in long, ghosty cloaks? As all strange mystical beings should, they speak cryptically and never give the kind of help you ask for. They do (kinda) tell him that the piece of the konstrukt he's looking for in this world is inside the giant monster that's trying to crush him.

Once that is resolved*, the sisters do something very extreme to, in their minds, deal with the monster. The Engineer is very upset about this. This is not simply a good-guy-quests-against-evil kind of story. The hero's benefactors, while they are trying to save the universe from a force that would destroy it, are alien and uncaring when it comes to individual people or worlds within said universe. So the Engineer has to struggle with not just his enemies, but his allies as well.

The bizarre concepts don't stop. In that way, this comic is akin to Atomic Robo, but the tone is different. The Engineer is decidedly more melancholy, but that imaginative spark, the reckless creativity, is there. I've criticized a lot of comics for being too self-conscious: whether that meant being “cool” or “adult” or “edgy”. These comics blissfully avoid that. That makes me happy.**

I love that music is what powers the transport from world to world. The music/math or music/science connection is one of those phenomena that, while completely logical, always strike me as not quite right. Yes, i understand how math and music relate, but the experience of each is so disparate. (Especially considering that i love music, but am barely on speaking terms with math.)

The art has touches of Kirby and touches of Mignola, as you'd expect given the tone and cosmic-ness.

It's good. Look for it. Bug your comic shop if the didn't order it, because i think they can still get it. I've added it to my subscription list.

*I'm trying to find a synopsis/spoiler balance here; forgive me if it's awkward.

**This is an attitude i bring to all media, i think. Nothing kills a story, a song, or a film quicker than if i think the creators are trying only to look cool, or, even worse, trying to avoid looking uncool.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Comics Which I Got on December 12th, 2007 AD

The Engineer #1
Wow...very cool, and very bizarre! There are tons of big ideas mashed into this comic. This is one of the things i love about comics: creators can let their imaginations go wild, and the medium allows it to work. The Engineer has been tasked with recovering the pieces of the Konstrukt, which have been scattered across myriad dimensions. This is the only hope of defeating a malevolent being that is destined to destroy all worlds. That sounds kind of heavy, right? Well parts of the story are heavy, but also wildly inventive, and filled with great action/adventure elements. The imagination and excitement make it fun. I dig the character designs. The "three muses" characters do not look like what i expected. They are strange in a cool way. obviously i liked this one. Recommended!

Green Lantern Corps #19

Clearly the epilogue to "Sinestro Corps War", this issue is filled with strong character moments, as various Lanterns assess where they are after the huge war, and where they're going next. My favorite was the scene of Isamot Kol exulting in the simple joy of being alive. Writer Peter Tomasi knows his craft: he gives us satisfying vignettes of individual characters in single pages. I really thought there were more pages per sequence until i looked at it a second time, paying more attention to structure. I love these characters. No, i haven't read all the other parts of "The Sinestro Corps War". I'm a weird crank. :)

Fables #68
This story really feels epic and fable-ish. It's amazing how Willingham manages to make me believe that a character like Flycatcher can rise to these heights from the lows we'd seen him in for 60-plus issues. Part of it is that Fly hasn't become some kind of badass, he's simply found his particular strength, and gained belief in himself. His accomplishments are very positive, too. He builds a new place for people to flourish. That is awesome. We know there's tragedy coming, but i suspect that there will be long-term, positive gains, rather than that cheap "oh ain't it sad" type of "tragedy".

This was an awesome week for comics!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Dynamo 5 #9

Jay Faerber (writer), Mahmud Asrar (pencils & inks), Ron Riley (colors), Charles Pritchett (letters)
Published by Image Comics

What's It About? There was this alpha-type hero called Captain Dynamo. He had pretty much Martian Manhunter's power set: telepathy, flight, super strength and endurance, eye beams, and shape-changing. Captain Dynamo was married to Maddie Warner, an agent of government force that dealt with superhumans. Captain Dynamo slept around. A lot. After he died, Maddie found five of his offspring, exposed them to the same radiation that gave Captain Dynamo his powers, and voile: each sibling manifested one of the five powers. Thus was the superteam Dynamo 5 born.

Scatterbrain, the high-school football player, inherited the power of telepathy.
Slingshot, the high achiever, can fly.
Scrap, the dour gothy one, got super strength and toughness.
Visionary, the smart, shy guy gained the eye-beam powers.
Myriad, the playa, can mimic anyone.

In this issue, Scatterbrain is in a coma, due to straining his telepathic powers to the max in a recent battle. In order to maintain his cover, Myriad pretends to be him at home. Scrap and Slingshot investigate a pair of supervillains who have skulked into town.

Scatterbrain believes he's awoken from his coma, but it turns out that he's actually in something akin to astral from: he can perceive the waking world, but can't interact with it. He “travels” to his high school, where he discovers that Myriad's, ah, girl-crazy tendencies are going to make his life more complicated if he ever wakes up.

Then, one of the two new villains (the one with mental powers, called Brains) appears and attacks him! The telepathic smackdown is on!

Meanwhile, Scrap and Slingshot find the other villain, Brawn, who's laying low at a motel. When he apparently kidnaps a pizza delivery girl, they decide to ignore Maggie's orders and engage in battle.

Two concurrent battles ensue, one on a mental plane between Scatterbrain and Brains, another in the motel parking lot between Scrap, Slingshot and Brawn. Scatterbrain learns that his mental powers are much stronger than anyone expected. He defeats Brains, and when he does, they both wake up. Brains had been in the motel room, also comatose. She realizes that 1) the Dynamo 5 kids are tougher than expected, and that 2) their cover is blown, and more authorities are on the way. So Brains and Brawn skedaddle.

Back at D5 HQ, everyone is happy that Scatterbrain has recovered. The mood quickly changes when Myriad walks in and Scatterbrain clocks him for complicating his life back home! The issue ends with a meeting of Brains & Brawn and a couple of other previously vanquished villain: a villainous team in the making.

I hope i haven't done this issue an injustice. I'm tired tonight, but i wanted to get out another post before i turn in. I left out a whole subplot about Visionary's mom finding out that he's a superhero. I think she's gonna sue Maggie.

Here's what i like about Dynamo 5. The characters are likable and are being gradually fleshed out, while their roles in the team remain very clear. The art is strong. Each character is distinctive, and the costume designs are classic superhero stuff. The interpersonal dynamics are fun. The continuing revelation of the ramifications of Captain Dynamo's indiscretions is cool. There are plenty of questions about Maggie's history and motivations, too. I don't know how else to say it except that it's a fun, interesting superhero book with all the elements that make superheroes fun, without a lot of the complications we find in comics from the Big Two.

Good night. :) Comment!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #9

"No Future For You" part four
By Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Georges Jeanty (pencils), Andy Owens (inks), Dave Stewart (colors), Richard Starkings (letters), and Joss Whedon (executive producer). Published by Dark Horse Comics.

Here concludes the arc concerned primarily with our favorite troubled slayer, Faith.

Her cover blown in the previous issue, Faith now confronts Genevieve, the rogue slayer whom Giles tasked her to kill.

Before we get to the action, however, we have a flashback, narrated by Faith, that helps to set up this issue's theme of mentorship and growth. The gist of this flashback is the conflicted feelings Faith has for her former mentor/father figure, the Mayor.* She felt loved by the Mayor, despite his evil nature.

This past relationship mirrors the current relationship between Genevieve and her mentor, Roden, a warlock who's a sort of anti-watcher. Roden has filled Genevieve's head with the notion that the slayer powers are her exclusive birthright, and that it is her destiny to slay all the pretenders.

Faith and Genevieve have this much in common, that mentors who supposedly care for them have led them down very bad paths.

While the slayers battle, Giles, with the help of a diminutive fellow named Trafalgar, tries to break the mystical barrier that Roden has erected around Genevieve's estate. They can't do it.

The fight continues. Faith wins, albeit more decisively than she intended. At this point Roden appears, and he's not upset at the loss of his charge. Instead, he asks Faith to take her place and help him get rid of Buffy.

Now, here Faith has brief reaction that implies she'd like to get rid of Buffy. Roden plays on this in his evil-villain-tempts-with-promises-of-power speech. Admittedly i haven't given the final television season of BtVS as much attention as the rest**, but i seem to remember that Faith and Buffy at least made peace with one another. It's been implied earlier in this arc that Faith would still like to kill Buffy, but that doesn't scan. It's a retrofit in her characterization. That said, it isn't dwelt upon, and the character moves past it, so it's not something that really mars the story.

Herein we get a tantalizing bit about the overarching threat for this season. Roden presents Faith with a big black book emblazoned with the "twilight" symbol that's been strewn about since issue one. He calls it "the guidebook" and claims it will show them how to get rid of Buffy. More, he says that, in exchange for helping his superiors achieve this goal, he will be granted "clemency from the coming purge."

Faith cracks the book across Roden's face. Roden starts in with the violent hoodoo. Just when it looks like he's got Faith on the ropes, Giles enters and stabs Roden. He's not down, however. Faith hurls the twilight guidebook to Giles. Somehow, Giles flips immediately to a page with a useful spell. He didn't have to check the index or anything! I won't tell you what happens, except to say that the Ripper aspect of Giles comes to the fore, and Roden is done for.

I need to backtrack a bit here. How did Giles get through the mystical barrier? Willow did it. Also, Buffy is really pissy about the fact that Giles is working with "her" without even telling her. Again, when did Faith and Buffy start hating each other again? Of course Buffy's reaction is over the top. When she storms off, Xander says that maybe she just needs some alone time, to which Buffy responds "what other kind is there?" Yes, Buffy, nobody loves you. Your friends risk their lives for you over and over, they always forgive you when you do something really stupid, and hundreds of slayers idolize you. You're SO ALONE. Why don't you go cry about it to one of the TWO vampires who worship you. And, apparently in all the years she's spent with Giles she hasn't learned to trust him. Even though this part bothers me, it's still very true to the show. This is just one of those moments when i really don't like Buffy.

Epilogue one: Faith and Giles decide to continue to work together. At first it sounds like Faith wants to focus on helping new Slayers who are headed down the wrong path. But then it sounds like she and Giles will also be doing more "black ops" that are too dirty for Buffy and the other Scoobies. It would seem that either goal could be very time-consuming, but hey, this is a world with talking slugs, so it would be silly of me to get nitpicky about time management. The important thing is that these two characters go together very well. More importantly, Faith now has a good mentor at last.

Epilogue two: Tease the season-plot! A woman in military garb exits a helicopter and requests an audience with someone who's floating. She displays the "twilight" symbol on her palm. Here we see the Big Bad directly for the first time. His name is Twilight. His face is covered with a mask, and he has that symbol on his chest. Here's the cool stuff that has got me speculating, trying to figure out where this season is going***. Twilight says that he's trying to end the "age of magic." He doesn't regret losing Genevieve and Roden, because that's two magical elements removed from the world. Since he floats, or flys, it would seem that he uses magic, but it could be advanced technology. Or...maybe he's a supervillain? It would make metafictional sense that the first comic book -based season of Buffy would have a bone fide supervillain as the big bad. He does have a mask and a symbol on his chest. Hrmm. Also, in the Fray comic from a few years back, the future was shown to have been free of most if not all magical elements. Could Twilight be successful in his quest? We should learn more about all this quite soon, since Faith and Giles now have a copy of the "guidebook".

Verdict: Thumbs up!

*Best villain in the history of BtVS, bar none.

**I watched S7 once only, S6 twice (plus a couple more times for the musical episodes), S1-5 i've watched many, many times.

***Which really takes me back to the heyday of the tv show. It's awesome! B5 was that way, too. I just realized that the HBO shows i like are also like that, but since i watch them on DVD, the answers come quicker.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Random Comics Thought

I wonder if it would be possible to put together a typical shipping list for a week's comics in say, 1945, '55, 65, etc? I'm thinking that those records are long gone, since in the past there were multiple streams of distribution, and far less practice of market research. It would be interesting to see what variety of comics were being produced in various decades. Although with the Golden Age it might be hard to tell from just titles, since there were so many generic titles like Whiz, New, More Fun, etc.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Quick Reviews for Comics Released December 5th

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #9
"No Future for You" Part 4. This concludes the Faith-centric arc. It lays the groundwork for future roles for both Faith and Giles. There is a Final Confrontation with Genevieve and her anti-Watcher. The characterization of Faith feels like they ignored some of her development in the latter seasons, but they also move her forward, so it's a net gain. There's a bit of Ripper in Giles in this ish, and we see that he can find just the right page in a book faster than the Flash. The best villain in the show's history makes an appearance, and get a look at this season's Big Bad. Overall, quite cool, and a satisfying conclusion to this arc.

Resurrection #1
The premise: A roughly contemporary Earth was at war with advanced aliens for years until shortly before page one. This story is about the world after the invaders are driven away. I like where it's going. I like the lead character of Sara. It's cool that it's set in my neck of the woods. Some of the language is distracting. Some of the art choices are off-putting, in particular several scenes where eyes are shaded completely black. The storytelling aspect of the art is good, though. A good start.

Justice Society of America #11
The art is really strong. Lots of informative detail, good "acting". I didn't like the designs on the Japanese characters, though. What's the real point of this "Kingdom Come" Superman, though? It's probably just setup for Final Crisis, and that irks me. I want to read a story about the JSA, not an advertisement for some series coming out next year. There's also a moment where Starman breaks the fourth wall, and a comment from Citizen Steel that comes off very meta. That stuff bugs me too. It works in comedy, but... I'm cranky b/c there wasn't much JSA in this JSA comic. It does introduce a new Judomaster, who will apparently be part of a group of new JSA members next issue.

Dynamo 5 #9
Cool. We've got developments in Scatterbrain's and Visionary's personal lives, and Scatterbrain learns some neat new tricks with his powers. There are references to Faeber's other Image series, "Nobel Causes", in a way that builds the world but doesn't confuse or complicate the continuity. We a pair of fairly nifty villains, and end on a nice teaser. I look forward to this one. Like Blue Beetle and The Spirit, it's the kind of superhero book that i enjoy.

The Sword #3
Events take some big steps forward, forcing the story into its next phase. End of Act 1, in other words. I'm still intrigued by what's going on, but some choices don't work for me, and the visuals don't convey the tone that the words imply.

Atomic Robo #3
Very entertaining. The ending is abrupt, but the ride is a doosey. The action is brisk, the dialog is enjoyably snarky, and the wildly imaginative ideas are incessant. I really like this. We'll definitely need more after this initial six-issue run concludes. Recommended!

Fuller reviews forthcoming...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

People who searched for the following terms were directed to this blog. Usually when people post these kinds of things, there's a lot of pervy stuff being searched for. Not so here. Am i doing something wrong? ;)

sallust rome blogger
built to spill keep it like a secret blogspot
bryan lee o'malley
allan handleman's theme song
stephen stills blogspot
hbo justin the preacher
kim pine hot
girlfriend matthew sweet
sex bob-omb
scott pilgrim
what happened to dara demi
sword #2 review luna brothers
scott pilgrim 4

Who is Dara Demi???

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Cities of the Underworld

I've been watching this show via Netflix. So far i've seen the first two discs. AFAIK there is only one season on DVD.

My favorite episode so far has been the first one, which was about Edinburgh in Scotland. Some of the large underground spaces there came about when older neighborhoods were built over in an effort to expand the city's usable space. The spaces were then used by all sorts of criminals, some of whom shouldn't have been considered so, like the bootleggers. I always enjoy stories of people flummoxing unjust legal institutions.

The episode about Paris' "catacombs" (they're not primarily burial places, as that term implies) was good, too. I hadn't known that the Romans mined there, or how they did it. The open, trench-style mines wound wherever the veins of ore took them, and these mines became the "catacombs" as the city grew over them. (In its ancient Roman aspect, this links to Gallic War, which is a nice bit of personal cross-media synchronicity.) Now large swaths of it are used as a canvas by more adventurous artists, and there's a subculture of urban spelunkers who explore it all.

The weak points: It feels like it's written with the assumption that people will be tuning in and out over the course of an episode. After each commercial break, lots of information is repeated. I reckon that's not bad, it's just something that becomes more obvious, and less useful, on DVD. Considering how long commercial breaks often are on cable, i can understand why the producers include these recaps.
Also, the banter of the host can get repetitive. You could make a bender-inducing drinking game out of this show. Taking a drink everytime the host said something like "We're 60 feet under the streets of Blahblahville, and the pedestrians above don't even know what's under their feet!" would get you schplitz pretty quick. And sometimes it's obvious that a fair number of people do know it's there, as evidenced by the presence of graffiti or electric lights.

Still, it's a cool show. I dig underground stuff: movies like The Descent, ERB's Pelucidar, Hollow Earth paranormalia, etc.

Giant Killer Mantises

The cool thing about being a gigantic, kaiju-style preying mantis (colossal monstrous praying mantis, 400d8, chaotic template, increase INT to 30) is that you get to destroy major cities and instill fear in the hearts of humans everywhere. The bad thing is that your giantkillerbride will bite your head off after intercourse. C'est la vie.
Petty Pop Music Aside
On the way home yesterday i heard a radio story about the band Fallout Boy, specifically about how they play with perceptions of sexuality. They acted like it was a big deal that the lead singer/bass player (that's a cool/unusual combination*) wears mascara. Okay, fine, but, as i shouted at the radio in unhinged fashion: "Robert Smith beat you to it by 20-odd years!" Sheesh. Do some research, lazy radio story producer.

*Other bands fronted by bass players: The Police, The Call. Bands with hot bass players: Smashing Pumpkins, Zwan.
Cool Deviantart Gallery

While i was looking for pics from Wet Moon, i stumbled upon the gallery of somebody called girltripped. About them i know nothing, but i thought i'd share the link to their gallery b/c they post awesome pictures like these: