Thursday, August 30, 2007

Putting the Strong in Super-Strong

Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse, with multiple other creators at different points.

There’s something weird going on with The Ottawa Library and Alan Moore collections. Both Promethea and Tom Strong are available, except for the last book. This may have meant that I missed a return to form in Promethea but ending Tom Strong on book five wasn’t exactly great either, albeit for different reasons. The last story in book five is a decent cut off point but I simply want more of the character and the world Alan Moore created for him. Regardless, I’ve requested that the library system add both books to their collection, so if you’re in Ottawa, please do the same.

What did I think about the Tom Strong stories? Simply put, I loved them. This is basically the superhero comics I wish I had more of. And it’s not simply that Alan Moore is writing them, I love the stories in book five (and I believe some of the other volumes) that were written by others just as much. If you don’t know, Tom Strong is basically the combination of Superman and Mr. Fantastic. The stories are not just great four coloured superhero action but also act as a meditation on how superhero comics evolved from pulp heroes through the golden age, the silver age and the extreme age to become something of their own.

These stories are as much a history lesson of the medium as they are just plain old ripping yarns.

Chris Sprouse does an amazing job on the characters here. Tom is just realistic enough to be convincing as a person but also stylized enough to be a fictional superhero. Looking at each panel was making me start to really dislike Mr. Sprouse because the art just looks so neat and easy. The characters are presented with an almost absence of detail and Tom, in particular, looks all the better for it. Like the stories themselves, the characters are only drawn to focus on the important aspects and that in itself makes them look and feel like they should for this work.

Characters aside, the rest of the world is populated by everything you could possibly imagine. Old-timey science gadgets, retro-sci-fi space suits and flying saucers, cable cars, and a city that reaches higher into the sky than anything modern could ever hope to. This is a perfect mix of the idealized past and idealized future presented for us in the here and now. If you’ve made the connection in your head once about pretty much anything in comic books then it’s probably here in a story and it looks better than you could imagine.

I love how the hero tends to find amicable solutions to problems but isn't afraid to duke it out either. He manages to fight Nazis, time travellers, shape shifters, and he fights villains with his wife and daughter, a robot, and a talking gorilla.

So yeah, I liked it. A lot. So much I’ll be buying the series even though I’ve read it all through the library. From what I can gather the original release schedule was kind of All-Star Batman and Robin like and I can’t imagine I’d have enjoyed the series as much reading it in that manner. Maybe it’s just my general malaise with monthly floppies at the moment but I’m really glad I read this series in the trade. My attention span is long enough to sustain it and there is more than enough hope and joy in these stories to come out the other end feeling better for having read it. Now, to find copies of the last book and to start the Terrific Tales and the rest of the America’s Best line…

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Comics I didn't really like

Okay time to go all negative on your butts. These aren't recent comics but I did try to read them recently.

Goodbye Chunky Rice
I thought the character design was interesting but I found this book almost unreadable. I freely admit it could be my unwillingness to try to understand it but it just didn't relate to anything or have any sort of point or theme that creates a point for mediation or whatever. I tried but couldn't read it.

This one I actually wanted to like since Kubert's Tarzan stuff was so enjoyable. While I didn't mind the actual Tor stuff, I just liked the idea of the additional material more than the actual material itself. Sort of how I feel about a lot of the black and white reprint books. I want to like them more than I actually do, even on a pure sugar rush of insanity level but this just didn't work for me. I guess I'm just not a big fan of comedic sidekick animals.

Monday, August 27, 2007

This book is good.

Kings in Disguise
James Vance and Dan Burr

Okay, honesty time. I read this book a while back. Not years ago, mind you, but a few weeks if not a month or so ago. So my assessment doesn’t involve any notes I may have made or having the book next to me so I can flip through it and remember points I wanted to make. Also, I pretty much forget all the character names except The King of Spain, Jesse James and Joker. I love that they’ve named a character Joker and I’m hoping it was just the creators wearing their comic book villain fandom on their sleeves. After all, the Joker in this book is a demented man and while not prone to themed villainy is pretty creepy.

This book is about hoboes. It is a tale about a young man fighting through that time in America that has managed to span almost as much tales as the cowboy era. The stories we get now or that are written now and set during the depression all tend to be tales. The common thread isn’t the setting or the hardships suffered but how cleverness in the face of desperation is what has helped Americans, and America itself, survive and grow into the nation it is now.

The book deals with a lot of subjects, such as the role of a man in society to notions of masculinity itself, as well as why the idea of a social safety net was never something agreed upon by citizens when one was so desperately needed, but at the basic level it’s a bildungsromans. It shows how a boy starts out looking for an ideal of adventure but needs to grow up to become a man. The boy is constantly pulled between his needs and his desires and, at times, his escape into the unknown becomes his exile from home.

All this is found in addition to the beautiful Dan Burr artwork. It’s black and white but again, this just helps set the scene all that much more. The characters are presented with a feel for the underground sixties comic. It’s not a direct correlation or anything but the art feels like it needs to evoke the same feeling that spawned the hidden artwork of sixties underground comics to portray the hidden underground men of the depression. Some men seem interchangeable but the more you know them the more they become individuals. It’s all done to masterful effect and with just enough precision in the lines to instantly know when the characters are in wide plains, dirty cities, falsely clean suburbs, and various shanty towns.

Plus you get a lot of hobo fights. I think that was an unfortunate internet fad about five years ago, wasn't it?

This is a great book that I’m surprised I never heard of before I just randomly picked it up at the library. It’s now a recommendation I’ll be making for the more serious friends I have – the ones who don’t find Sgt. Rock punching a Nazi to be a high watermark in their entertainment choices.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

New Greatest Book

I think this is probably the greatest thing I've seen in pretty much my whole life.

It's like the Anarchist Cookbook for LegoManiacs.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What I used to like

You know what I used to like? Blogging about comics. And more importantly having the time and inspiration to do it.

Damned life.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Monday, er make that Tuesday update

I totally meant to post a review here today but have just been entirely too swamped with non-comic related business. That's right, I don't prepare in advance. Yes, I probably should as it leads to better content.

And with this post I've made the internet die just a little bit, or made someone weep at the futility of it all.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Double you, Tee, Eff?

I read Grant Morrison's take on Kid Eternity last night. I like the idea better than the product. But this is the second book in a row where I can appreciate the art over the plot. Duncan Fegredo's painted artwork paved the way for a huge amount of Photoshop abuse. At first I couldn't tell if this was straight up painted work or Photoshopery which kind of shows you where things went from this point on in comics. Dark, scary, and scarier the more you can't make out the finer details. It's a great fit for a story where you're meant to fear what lurks in the corners. It's kind of hard to make out the details but rather than be frustrating, it just adds to the undercurrents of unease. The same goes for the colours used. There is a lot of bright colours but their use just makes things look more unnatural. It is equally ephemiral and bloody scary.

The ideas I really liked were the map of Hell being a book of highlights rather than an actual map and the whole twisting of reality playing in on itself. The rest felt a bit too much like an exercise in deconstruction and feedback loops. This isn't a fault, I just wasn't in the mood for that type of thing. If I read this on a different day I may have loved it, may have hated it, last night I just found it sort of dull and confusing rather than clever and intreguing.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sensational Drunk

The Professor's Daughter
by Joann Sfar and EmmanuelGuibert

I’ve been thinking a bit more about online comic book reviews over the last few days. I’m certain my opinions don’t help books fly off the shelves but I sort of can’t help but think critically about what I read. This blog was helping me formulate some of my thoughts into something a bit more cohesive but I would go through phases where it seemed more of a chore than an enjoyable pastime.

And this all brings me to The Professor’s Daughter. Because I don’t put up artwork scans it’s a bit tough for me to give you a sense of the artwork. I’m going to try though. These are characters that are presented with a strong silhouette and a thick sketchy outline. It’s not one of those outlines that is simply thicker but here the character outlines seem defined yet with a more sketched out line than their internal linework.

The colouring is done with watercolours. This in turn gives the characters and the setting a feeling of history. Watercolours are an art style that is attached to the time period the action takes place in, so it helps set the scene not just by what is presented on the page but by what the art style’s history brings to the work from outside the page. This is Victorian England and it looks like it, not just in panel but in materials chosen and with an artstyle that itself looks like it is influenced from some of the original political cartoons showing up at that time.

As for the characters themselves they are each given, not just a recognizable silhouette but their figure itself portrays their character to you without the need for words. The protagonist mummy is tall regal and a bit rigid if not somewhat stunted and separated from the world around him. His father is rotting on the outside as he is on the inside. The professor is stuck in his ways and the daughter is, well, acting flighty to avoid her real emotions. She’s trying to remove herself as the mummy is himself forced to be separate from the world around him.

The artwork really is the draw here because the plot – not so interesting. It seems to set up a whole lot of great story telling possibilities but none of them seem to pay off here. I’m not sure if it’s the translations or simply the books I happen to get but the French comics I’m reading all tend to do that. Lots of ideas but not a heck of a lot of follow through. It’s like they want to write for the big two superhero publishers. Now, I can understand losing the plot or train of thought on a monthly book, dealing with editorial fiats and missing creative teams, etc but on one piece of work presented as a whole it just doesn’t sit right with me. There’s still enough there to make this a worthwhile and enjoyable book but I simply wanted to know more about the characters and what happens to them.

What is done well though is that complete ideas are presented on one page. It’s hard to understand that without reading the book, but say, on page 6 (sorry I returned the book to the library so this is a made up example) the mummy drinks tea and the experience makes him drunk with feeling – the whole sequence is presented on one page. The consequences are then presented on one page, and the consequences of the consequences on their own page. It’s a very rigid structure that I think may be leading to the feeling that ideas simply aren’t followed through. One idea per page. If there were more of that in superhero comics I’d continue to buy them.
I'm really happy a company like FirstSecond exists to bring these books to a new audience. They really are quality materials that are always worth a look.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Oh no.

Mike Weiringo passed away. I'm shocked and saddened. I pass along my sympathies to all his family and friends.

His work and insights have been nothing but pleasing and wonderful. This is a very sad day indeed.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Random Update

Chris Mautner has a great little collection of quotables from some bloggers about why they do or do not include scans of artwork from comics in their reviews. For me, it's simply a matter of not really having access to a scanner outside of work and I'm abusing my working hours enough by writing this pap. Also, my art vocabulary tends to repeat itself.

If you look at the comments you'll see a great bit from Warren Ellis which gives me a bit of an idea. I'm going to start just making up Warren Ellis quotations in my posts this week. That is if I manage to post more than once.

I cancelled my comic shop subscriptions on Friday. I'll still drop by to pick up The Spirit while Cooke is producing it, and the next issue of Batman because I like what Morrison is doing, same with All-Star Superman. The rest I can simply live without. Time to work on my trade collections again - more Hellboy really.

To make up for my subscription decommission I'm going to take Warren Ellis's advice and save a fuckload of money by finding my comics elsewhere. (Dubious/fake quotation 1).

Also I've freed up time and money to watch more soccer (proper football). And this is a good week because Newcastle United are top of the table, until Tuesday or Wednesday when some teams play their second matches. This is probably the only time I'll be able to brag about it so I'm making the most of it.

I saw Stardust on Saturday and really enjoyed it. It's a solid Fairy Tale movie, much like a cousin to The Princess Bride. It's just a solid movie with a crowd of bookish nerds and goths.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


I want to write about comic books but I'm sort of angry at the prospect of paying $15 a month just to watch Newcastle United this year. I'm debating whether or not I cancel my comics and watch soccer or read comics and watch crappy second string games. I really don't want to head to the pub at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning to watch my beloved Magpies, so I'm in a bit of a funk.

Stupid greedy bastards with their pay-per-view channels. For the last few years I guess I was just spoiled with the triple-header each Saturday morning free of charge.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Friday Night Fights - Uppercut!!! - Round 7 - The boxer and The rock

Bahlactus is at his seat, and Ding! Ding! Ding!
He's not the boxer that Simon and Garfunkel sang about and he's not the guy who Stallone based Rocky on but he is the toughest man in comics.

That's right. Straight from the first story in Sgt. Rock's Combat Tales we get the origin of the man.

That's right. C'mon and fight. He won't stay down.

Although not a great way to avoid brain damage as a boxer I have a feeling Rock just didn't like hitting fellow Americans. But if you were a Nazi, watch out fool!

Later he blew up a tank with a bazooka.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

New Burning Desire

I've just realized what I want to see in a comic. Ideally it would be Batman but I think Robin, the new Blue Beetle, Guy Gardner, Hawkman, Black Canary, Power Girl or Wonder Woman would work as well. For Marvel I'd say probably Thing, Gorilla Man, or anyone written by Jeff Parker or Fred van Lente but that's just because theirs are the only Marvel comics I read so I'm a bit biased.

Basically have a story that isn't totally in tune with the latest and greatest cross-over. Some character comes up to our lead and says something along the lines of "This is entirely contradictory from the time in [cross-over] when you [acted differently]."

In response the lead character punches them in the face.


I give this to any writer to use freely but I would ask for one of those asterix next to the dialogue and a caption at the bottom that read "Inspired by Jon Cormier." Or you could just steal it, I don't really care.

Edit - I was using those coding greater than, less than brackets and they didn't show up in my fake quotation.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

All Things Geek

A new month starts and I’m going to pull this blog into a new direction for a little while – probably just this one post. My comic book reading has been somewhat curtailed since I’ve been reading Harry Potter. My wife got the new book first so I read the previous one as she read the latest, then after a busy schedule I’ve finally picked up the latest offering and have yet to come across any spoilers. If you post a spoiler in the comments section you will be banished as if by internet magic.

So here’s a few points of interest (maybe) and reviews of non-comic book yet still geeky items. I guess I was unknowingly influenced by Siskoid's Geekery.

Peach Pie #1
As a precursor I just want to let everyone know that in order to get the best peach pies outside of Georgia, you’ll have to come to my house. I made one for a bbq on Monday night (made the pie on Sunday) and it was probably the best pie I’ve ever made. I’m already legendary for my apple pies in the neighbourhood.

Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga
I picked this up quite a while ago. Since it’s a game for the Gameboy Advance I managed to snag it pretty cheaply and it works in my wife’s pink Nintendo DS. How can I describe this game? It’s basically Mario Bros. done up as Final Fantasy.

It’s got a lot of the standard Mario Bros. baddies and fictional world aspects that are required from anything involving Mario and Luigi. Basically, turtles, mushrooms, Princess Peach, Bowser and coins. There is a few new baddies introduced since this takes place in the Bean Bean Kingdom rather than the Mushroom Kingdom but for the most part the baddies and the heroes are readily identifiable. If you’ve ever played Final Fantasy type RPGs before you’ll also understand how combat works. You run into a creature the scene cuts to a battle screen and you take turns either throwing attacks or healing up.

It’s in the battle scenes that things change up from the regular formula though. Rather than just passively acting out your chosen selection, you still need to hit buttons for your characters during the fights. There is no automatic dodge so you need to make your characters jump attacks (or later on, use the hammers to mash attackers). The same goes for attacking. When you select an attack you can let it play out or you can time some extra damage by pressing buttons at the right time. Yes, it’s still repetitive but at least you’re more involved other than just selecting options form a list then waiting to select the next option during the fight scenes.

For the most part it is rather light fare. You won’t end the game by being defeated all that much. It happened maybe two or three times for me anyway and I’m no hardcore gamer. Being lighter doesn’t mean it isn’t engaging or challenging. No, there is a lot to explore and a lot of items to collect and new moves to learn. One of the things I really appreciated was the lack of backtracking missions. It wasn’t until the very end that you really had to go back to old places to discover new locations you couldn’t previously get to.

For such a long game you’re kept involved by the self-referential humor. There’s lots of jokes about jumping, being the somewhat odd staple of Mario and Luigi’s arsenal of weapons. There’s even a Steve Martin allusion that you’ll either get or just be entirely too young or uncultured to realize.

I’ve enjoyed this game a heck of a lot. It was always easy to pick up and jump right back into it even after longer times between plays. That being said I’ve gotten to the final boss battle and after about a thousand, possibly even hundreds of tries I simply can’t beat her. So the game sits in my game cupboard unfinished. I may give it another try but since our friend’s five year old who has a DS told us his mom doesn’t let him play if he gets mad at the game, I figured the same rule should apply to me. I really don’t want to launch the pretty pink DS I bought for my wife’s last birthday into oblivion because I can’t get Mario and Luigi to beat Cackletta’s spirit form. Also, I seem to have missed one of their dual attacks along the way but I wanted to get through without relying on an online walkthrough.

I recommend this game to anyone looking for an engaging RPG game that isn’t reliant on elves and dwarves or Japanese anime type stock characters. It’s fun and bright, which makes it perfect for the summer game and while it’s generally a nice light game experience the end makes you feel like Mario and Luigi are actually beating you with their hammers rather than the boss.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
This game is probably one of the weirdest things I’ve ever played. Another DS game but this one is just well odd. Fun, but odd. It’s more of a text based game than anything else so if you like that type of thing, or you fondly remember physically plugging a phone headset into a modem to read your way through a blue screen, white text dungeon crawl then this would definitely appeal to you.

The gist of the game is that you’re a rookie defense attorney who pulls double duty as an investigator. So you get to point and click (well, touchscreen) your way through crime scenes as well as interrogate suspects then you get to cross examine them in the court where you can press them for more information as well as present evidence to cut holes in their testimony.

There is a lot of reading involved, and while there is characters onscreen, for the most part they don’t do anything but react to statements. All the characterization is accomplished through the dialogue, which as a comic fan is quite appealing. Especially seeing it done well. The only thing that doesn’t work is when there is simply too much characterization. Yes it is true to the character but at the same time I don’t want to keep clicking the A button to read “…” as someone stands there either pausing, shocked or awestruck. So, yeah, sometimes there is just too much to read and you can skip it.

But the court battles are fun as you try to puzzle out how their testimony contradicts itself, their previous statements or some other testimony. The only thing that really irked me a few times was that the evidence you present sometimes just feels way too far out to lunch. I couldn’t see the connection so luckily I had saved just before the moment and would simply reload and try the next bit of evidence until something worked, which is sort of the opposite of fun – but this doesn’t happen often.

What does happen a bit more often is that women are basically window dressing. And by window dressing I mean there is some weird ass and, to me, uncomfortable sexual issues going on in this game. All the women are bursting out of their clothes with heaving chests, except your young teenage assistant who is dressed in traditional peasant garb. I’m not sure what the message is here but what I’m taking out of it doesn’t sit right with me.

So I’m not quite through this game but from what I’ve read the last trial has a lot of DS specific content – more use of the touch screen and microphone. But for the most part it is quite enjoyable, I just can’t help but think it would be much more enjoyable if the game didn’t make me feel like a pervert every time a woman was onscreen.

Resident Evil 4 – Wii Edition
Wow. This game is entirely too much fun. I probably shouldn’t say that killing Spanish villagers is my idea of fun but there is just something satisfying about using a shotgun to blow away the wooden shield of an Cthulu-type cultist holding a ball and chain. Plus, that chainsaw wielding lunatic with a sack on his head really scared the bejeezus out of me. I’ve played it a bit less now that it is exceptionally sunny outside.

Gears of War
Finally finished this on the weekend at my friend’s place. We stayed up entirely too late but at least I don’t have kids. This game is a masterpiece but it has a totally unsatisfying ending.

It’s not just the unbelievable animation and world created that makes this game so good. It’s the complete package. The story is okay, the design is as good as it gets, the AI and physics engines are all top notch, the voice acting and dialogue is great as well. Nope, what makes this game so good in my opinion is that you can play it cooperatively. And it doesn’t feel tacked on. Nope you get to play the whole freaking campaign side by side with a friend and it works from start to end.

Plus, chainsaw bayonet. You haven’t lived until you’ve chainsawed a grub. Believe me, it’s worth it. On top of that, if you play as the second player, you hear your man screaming “What’s up bitches!” at the aliens as he shoots them. Good times, good times. I’m just happy to have an exceptional co-op game that is geared towards the adult gamer. Totally worth the hype in my opinion and I’m waiting for more.

Wits and Wagers
I picked up this boardgame for my dad when I was on vacation. It was basically a belated birthday present and since it was pouring rain for the majority of time we spent in Dieppe I was really really happy I picked this up. We always have the biannual Risk game when my wife and dad meet up – they both have some weird desire to dominate the world – but without new boardgames being introduced we’re usually relegated to playing Monopoly, Risk, Trivial Pursuit and maybe some card games or Cranium. Now while I have nothing against any of these games, in fact I like all of them from time to time, it’s good to shake things up every now and again.

Well, Wits and Wagers was a raging success. Even after my dad called it Wits and Waggers. What happens is that 7 trivia questions are read, and each has a numerical answer. Each player writes down their answer and you place the answers from lowest to highest on a betting mat. The more extreme the answer (lowest or highest) the higher the odds are for that answer. Then everyone bets on which answer they think is closest without going over.

It’s very simple but a whole heck of a lot of fun. Everyone was skeptical at first but after two questions we were all hooked, staying up way too late as a family and drinking entirely too much booze. Twice.

If you’re spending time with family and can’t bear the thought of being trapped in the old family home or a cottage while it pours rain – seek this game out. I suggest Fun Games CafĂ© if you’re in Canada, I’ve used them in past and they’re fantastic (although on vacation from August 3 to 13th) or your local game shop.