Archive for the ‘review’ Category
Congratulations to fellow PANELista Matt Kish for having his book, Moby Dick in Pictures featured on Oprah’s website in the article 11 Books You Never Thought You’d Read (but Will Fall in Love with Instantly).
“What artist Matt Kish has done is create one drawing for and inspired by each page of Melville’s 552-page masterpiece (for the record, the Signet Classics version). The result is less a story and more a cabinet of visual and literary curiosities.”
Way to go, Matt. I hope this latest exposure brings you fame and riches beyond your wildest dreams. But don’t forget us little guys while lighting your cigars with hundred dollar bills!
I never got into the Batman: The Brave and the Bold animated series as the show was a bit too campy for my tastes. Not that I had anything against it. I think it was a fun cartoon and certainly found an audience of fans both young and old. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.
However, by coincidence I caught this week’s episode, which just happened to be the series finale. And wow, what an amazing ending to a fun, wacky show! Titled “Mitefall,” it featured Batmite, the imp from the 5th dimension with an unhealthy obsession with Batman, trying to get the “goofy” show cancelled to make room for a darker, edgier, “more dramatic” Batman series. Fanboy stand-in, anyone?
Anyway, Batmite’s strategy is to alienate the show’s viewing audience by making it “jump the shark” (which he does both literally and figuratively). He gives Batman a precocious little daughter, a Scrapy-Doo like canine sidekick, switches Aquaman’s voice actor to Ted McGinley, and introduces several ridiculous Batman outfits based on the toy lines we’re all familiar with (things like arctic explorer Batman). Oh, and then there’s the aforementioned Neon Talking Super Street Bat Luge.
Series writer Paul Dini turned in a fantastically subversive, self-referential script, both acknowledging and ridiculing many of the real world entertainment and business aspects of a show like this. I’m talking about demographics, toy lines, ad executives, ratings, etc. The episode wasn’t just meta, it was hyper meta.
Oh, and it also featured Ambush Bug.
Anyway, whether you were a fan of the show or not, I’d highly recommend this episode, if only for the in-jokes and meta-commentary. And the faux new Batman CGI cartoon hinted at in the end.
Bonus for Craig: in the opening sequence, Batman teams up with Abraham Lincoln to defeat a steampunk John Wilkes Booth!
Jon J. Muth, one of my favorite artists, takes a shot at capturing the tone of the Dracula novel in a 48-page graphic novel. As you can well imagine, this isn’t a straight-up adaptation, not even an abridged one. It’s more of a “reimagining,” with liberties taken with characters and plot. And actually, it’s not exactly accurate to describe it as a graphic novel, as the presentation is more of a collage of writing and art. But most of the story elements are there, and the gothic tone is richly captured by Muth’s artwork.
The story is told through various devices: excerpts of ship logs, diaries, traditional prose, conversations, and even a movie script. The evocative artwork, beautifully painted in watercolor as always by Muth, is sometimes in the form of a full page illustration, other times as a collage, or even pseudo comic book sequentials. The overall effect is a wholly unique book that is light on narrative, but heavy on atmosphere and emotion, which I found befitting the material. If you’re a die-hard fan of the Bram Stoker novel and don’t like reinterpretations, you may want to skip this book. But if you’d like to see a consummate professional flex not just his artistic skills, but his writing and design muscles as well, or are just a fan of Muth in general, this is a great book to track down. It’s a quick read, but you can spend hours looking over the beautiful artwork. I found it to be a worthy experiment from a fantastic artist, and would definitely recommend it.
Originally published in 1988 by Marvel Comics (#26 in their line of oversized graphic novels), Muth’s Dracula was was later reprinted by NBM in 1993 and is easy to find.
At the movies, that is. i09 takes a look at Why Iron Man Succeeded Where Green Lantern Failed. The basic argument is that the GL movie just tried too hard to cram in everything from the GL mythos – all the back story, several villains, the whole corps, etc. – where in fact less would have been more. And I completely agree.
“The lesson of Green Lantern is, pandering to vocal fans of a property almost never pays off.”
I didn’t hate the movie, I found it to be entertaining, at least. But it certainly wasn’t cohesive, and wasn’t as strong a narrative as Iron man.
I’m not a fan of religion as a topic, and despite the accolades this graphic novel had received, I wasn’t exactly rushing to the bookstore to grab a copy. But I’m glad I did, because it really delivers on all levels.
Joann Sfar’s art took a while for me to warm up to, but on every page there’s something new – a detail, a sight gag, a different technique – that proves he’s an illustrator at the top of his game. And the story…wow. It’s poignant, charming, funny, heartwarming, heartbreaking, and meaningful. Sfar uses the characters of an old Rabbi in Algeria, his daughter, and his cat (who gains the gift of speech after eating the Rabbi’s parrot) to masterfully ruminate on the nature of religion and Judaism, human nature, philosophy, and relationships. And just when you think that the subject may be getting a bit too deep or heady, he very naturally and organically interjects subtle humor into the narrative.
Through the pages of this book, I traveled to Algeria and Paris in the 1930s, saw human foibles through the eyes of a smart-ass cat, and fell in love with the central characters. A truly fantastic work of sequential art and storytelling. I just got the sequel to this book, and I’m looking forward to reading it as well.
I’d bought this graphic novel (published by Drawn & Quarterly) a while back on a whim, based on the artwork alone. Finally got around to reading it this week, and it was a refreshing change of pace from my other readings.
A straight-up mafia crime story set in Napoli in the 70s takes a few surreal turns in this book by Igort (aka Igor Tuveri). Peppino is a retired hitman for the mob who picks up his guns again to avenge the death of his son, also a mob hitman. What transpires next is an escalating spiral of violence and intrigue. While most of the characters are criminals and not exactly likeable, Igort does a good job of making them at least relatable. At times the story veers a bit too deep into philosophical discussions, but I actually prefer that to just action and violence.
The artwork, produced in an atmospheric duotone, is in turns sparse, dense, breezy, or brooding. He uses very subtle, ethereal lines when drawing a peaceful village setting, but easily switches to heavy inks and blocky black shadows to portray dangerous rendezvous and moments of emotional intensity. It’s also published in the larger European graphic novel size, so you can truly appreciate Igort’s layouts and composition as they were intended.
The only problem I had with this book was the translation from Italian. The captions sometimes came off as dry, stilted, and academic. By contrast, the spoken dialogue tried too hard to affect an accent or realistic slang, but just came off as stereotypical and clunky. Stuff like “Get yar ass over here” or “dis here is my gun”.
But overall, if you like crime stories, this is a pretty good one, and the sequential storytelling is quite strong.
The problem with these prolific, Hugo-award winning sci-fi authors is it’s hard to be sure you’re starting with their best stuff.
I’m on a sci-fi kick lately, but this book caught my eye for another reason: A “dramaturge” is a theater term, it’s the person who researches plays and sets the scene. So this book appealed not only to my sci-fi geek side, but also my latent theater geek side.
It starts with a small settlement of 300 or so humans, living alongside the natives on the planet of Yan. The Yanfolk have lived in a stable, agrarian society for thousands of years with no change. Although the Yanfolk lead a simple life, their landscape is littered with fantastic artifacts, left behind by a mysterious group of Yan called “the dramaturges.” The dramaturges hit their peak 10,000 years ago, when their amazing skills destroyed the planet’s moon.
Life changes when a famous human artist named Gregory Chart arrives. Chart’s performances are more like mass dreams and hallucinations, usually on the continental or planetary scale, and he wants to re-enact the age of the dramaturges. The Yanfolk agree, and they begin brewing a powerful drug called shrimashey (sp?). Chart’s art and the drug help the Yanfolk combine into one massive hive consciousness — the dramaturge is the entire species.
The dramaturge is like the dream of power of an entire race — in a fit of pride, the massed consciousness tears the planet from its orbit, sending it spinning into the deep freeze of space. The human race looks on, awestruck, as the seemingly primitive race destroys itself in a cataclysm.
In practice, however, the book isn’t nearly that awesome. It runs about 150 pages, and spends the first two-thirds on the small-town politics of the human enclave.
Wikipedia lists a pretty extensive bibliography for John Brunner (novelist), including at least one Hugo winner. This sure wasn’t it.
This is a quickie review of an old Neil Gaiman graphic novel that I just recently got around to reading. Mr. Punch tells the tale of a man remembering his childhood, spent at a bleak seaside town where his grandfather operated an indoor arcade. Through hazy remembrances, he confronts dark family secrets, nightmares, and a mysterious Punch and Judy man. Now, as many of you already know, I’m a big Gaiman fan, however (and I know this may sound like blasphemy) I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Dave McKean’s art. I appreciate his work, but it doesn’t move me or speak to me as other artists’ work does. So this direct collaboration between the two was a mixed bag for me. Overall, this was a well written, solid effort from Gaiman, but being one of his earlier books, it lacks some of the charm that his later works weave so well into the narrative. It did get me interested in the history and culture of Punch and Judy shows, though, and sent me off to do a bit of reading on the subject at Wikipedia.
Gaiman and McKean collaborate quite well together, as you would expect. Using puppets (instead of illustrations) to tell a story dealing with puppet shows makes sense, and McKean is eminently qualified for the job. The standout moments to me were the sequence where the author recalls a hazy memory of a conversation (which McKean depicts by placing the maquettes of the characters behind soft gauze), and the emotionally brutal confrontation between the protagonist’s grandfather and a “mermaid”. If you’re a fan of either creator, you know what to expect and won’t be disappointed, but I found this particular outing a bit too dry and bleak for my tastes. Again, your mileage will vary.
This was a fun little caper, with a mystery that grabs your attention, and a female protagonist who is interesting in her eccentricities and single-mindedness. Bee is just out of high school, a self-proclaimed artist, and somewhat of a snoop. She becomes intrigued by a photo artist whose oeuvre is realistic portraits of crime scenes…except that she thinks there’s more to his story than meets the eye. Despite some outlandish plot twists, I found myself caught up in the mystery. The ending was a little too “TV movie of the week” for my tastes, though. Also, the plot hinges heavily on a couple of newly-archaic technologies (1-hour photo development shops and pagers!) but for me, that actually added to the charm of the book.
Jason Little’s artwork elevated this graphic novel above the uneven plot, with beautiful, clean lines and expressive flat colors. It’s really a pretty package, and his accessible, cartoony style juxtaposes oddly against some of the story’s more gruesome images, but again, I think that works in its favor. Overall, a fun, light read.
Little’s latest graphic novel is Motel Art Improvement Service, featuring the same protagonist, Bee. While not bowled over by Follies, I liked it enough (and the premise of the new book is quirky enough) that I’ll probably give it try if I can grab a discounted copy.
This graphic novel from 1989 features some of writer James Robinson’s earliest work (who went on to fame on DC’s Starman series, and some would same infamy on the more recent Justice league: Cry for Justice mini-series). The black & white art is provided by fellow Englishman Paul Johnson.
Set in London in 1940, this World War II story is a nice mix of war, romance, and the supernatural. Jack Brookes is a patriot denied entry into the army due to a bad heart, so he does what he can on the home front as an air-raid warden, enforcing blackouts. Circumstances bring him into contact with the beautiful Sophie, a psychic/medium, and the two are soon embroiled in a murder that exposes the profitable black markets of the war-torn city.
The storytelling is tight and confident, and experiments with different narrative devices such as multiple voices, flashbacks, and prose interludes. I felt that Robinson captured the bleak uncertainty of life during wartime quite well, while writing a story that’s ultimately optimistic (no small feat). The black & white art is equally experimental, using techniques ranging from photo collages to expressive brushwork, but is really difficult to follow in some places. For example, telling the different antagonists apart was a problem, and some panels are just so dark and cluttered that following the action is somewhat of a chore (sorry, I can’t get a good scan of the interior pages without breaking the binding on the book). Johnson’s later fully-painted color work in series such as The Books of Magic and Interface are amongst my favorites, but here I get the feeling he was still coming into his own. He does a good job with setting the right tone and mood for the story, though.
Still, a good read overall, and quite a nice little departure from most of the books out on the stands now. It’s always fun to see the early work of obviously talented creators.
Back when IDW published my Lifelike book, they also collected and published two other indie/alternative comics: Pat Lewis’ The Claws Come Out, and Troy Little’s Chiaroscuro. (You may know Troy’s work from his more recent graphic novel, Angora Napkin.) Chiaroscuro started out as a self-published small press comics series, and follows the life of Steve Patch, an unemployed slacker artist living in a mysterious apartment building, and getting embroiled in a case of mistaken identity.
I really wanted to like this graphic novel, and it’s certainly not bad, but…well, maybe frustrating is a proper description. From a story/plot perspective, not much happens over the 200+ pages of this pseudo-slice of life book. A lot of interesting and intriguing plot points are introduced, to be sure – a ghost only seen by the protagonist, the (possibly) haunted/mysterious apartment building he lives in, strange men accosting him over letters sent to a mysterious person who used to live in his apartment, etc. But the problem is, nothing ever comes of any of these elements.
Heck, in the middle of the book, an entire issue (chapter) is devoted to the protagonist playing hoops with his best friend and shooting the breeze. So again, it’s not that the writing is bad. Little has a great ear for dialogue, and the banter between Steve and his friends is very authentic and funny. But for such an apparently ambitious narrative, the pace is glacial and the non-ending extremely unsatisfying. Granted, this is listed as “Book 1” but it’s fairly obvious the series is not going to be continued.
On the other hand, Little’s the artwork is gorgeous. The somewhat cartoony style used to depict the characters is juxtaposed against a very realistic chiaroscuro style used to depict the backgrounds and settings. Think Dave Sim (Cerebus) or Alex Robinson (Box Office Poison). In fact, looking at the way Little hand letters everything, and the fact that Sim has had good words to say about the book, it’s no stretch to imagine he is more than a little inspired, and influenced, by Dave Sim. Little is a master of crosshatching, and does amazing things with body language, facial expressions, and gestures.
Too bad the narrative was almost non-existent. It’s a matter of personal taste, to be sure, but for me story always comes first. Perhaps if Chiaroscuro was played as a straight slice-of-life yarn, that wouldn’t have been an issue. But with so many quirky/supernatural plot points introduced but never delivered on, it’s more than a little frustrating.
Another library rental, and a very enjoyable one at that, The Cartoonist: Jeff Smith, BONE and the Changing Face of Comics is a 2009 documentary about local boy made good, Bone creator and fellow Columbusite, Jeff Smith.
As you would expect with any documentary, this one charts Smith’s career, from his childhood doodles to his college days, animation career, and self-publishing Bone. Along the way, we’re treated to interviews with Smith himself, as well as a friends and fellow cartoonists like Paul Pope, Coleen Doran, Scott McCloud, Harvey Pekar, and Terry Moore. Oh, and of course Lucy Caswell, of the Ohio State University Cartoon Library & Museum, who was one of Smith’s early supporters and mentors.
There was a fair amount of time spent on Smith’s seven years with Character Builders, the animation house he co-founded with two friends after graduating college. It was fun seeing snippets of commercial animation from the trio, including an opening sequence for a planned Jack Hanna animal show called Super Safari, as well as ads for Warner Cable (featuring the superhero Warner Man) and White Castle (in claymation, no less!). Smith credits the discipline learned from years of doing animation, both in terms of craft (learning to draw every character consistently and with varying emotions) and business (heeding deadlines, interacting with customers and vendors professionally) as one of the reasons for his success as self-publishing.
Smith himself talks about his early influences (Carl Bark’s Uncle scrooge, Walk Kelly’s Pogo), as well as the seminal comics from 1986 that opened his eyes to the potential of the medium: Maus, Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Returns. (Quick digression: I was lucky enough to catch a talk by Smith at CCAD about 10 years ago, where he spoke passionately about his love of comics, and incorporated dozens of images from the aforementioned books in his presentation to explain the intricacies of the craft.) Parts of the interview are also set in the Hocking Hills region of Ohio, specifically Old Man’s Cave, wherein Smith talks about the influence of that specific geographic region on his art and the settings of Bone.
Smith’s wife, and business partner Vijaya Iyer is also featured. In a humorous clip, he explains how he talked her into quitting her promising Silicon Valley job to help him make comics. In another interesting anecdote, talking about the genesis of his new series RASL, Smith mentions coming up with the basic premise back in 2001, and running it by his friends Paul Pope and Frank Miller. At one point, they were going to work together on a science fiction anthology called Big Big, with RASL being Smith’s contribution. Alas, scheduling conflicts kept the project from ever materializing, but that would have been a trip, no?
Oh, and on a personal note, it was cool to see my local comic shop of choice, The Laughing Ogre, featured in several of the shots in the documentary. Ogre employee Lloyd even makes an appearance in a segment set at the Smith/McCloud talk at OSU’s Mershon Auditorium. Speaking of which, most of that talk (which I had the pleasure of attending) is included on the DVD as a bonus feature. There’s also a mini-feature where Smith discusses his new series, RASL, talking about his research into both the real science and fringe science that makes up the backbone of the story.
For fans of comics, Bone and/or Jeff Smith, I’d definitely recommend this documentary. It’s professionally produced, well written, and contains good interviews, with some clever bits as well (like incorporating black & white film footage as humorous interstitials).
Another free rental from the library, but one that I knew was going to be bad going in. So not much vitriol here, just a few words to share my thoughts on it. As you’ve no doubt heard, this movie is just a mess. I don’t know its production history, nor do I care enough to look it up, but I’m sure the script had gone through several re-writes, and the whole movie was re-jiggered numerous times by movie executives and marketing folks, because it just can’t decide what kind of movie it wants to be. It’s neither a straight-up western, nor a supernatural western, nor a modern/retro western. It has elements of the DC Universe version of Hex, plus some lame-ass attempt at the edgy/supernatural flavor of the Hex mini-series that Vertigo published, and then entirely too much “Holywood” flare from such masterpieces as the Will Smith Wild, Wild West movie. The end result is a jumbled, inconsistent, incoherent mess which is neither fish nor fowl.
This Jonah Hex can talk to the dead, but that’s about the extent of the supernatural theme. He also wields super-weaponry like horse-mounted Gatling guns and twin crossbow dynamite launchers (yes, you read that right). The villain of the piece, Quentin Turnbull (phoned in by John Malkovich) uses some sort of mega-advanced nuclear bomb cannon (it’s never really explained in the movie, because…well, who cares) created by Eli Whitney (yes, the cotton gin inventor) at the behest of the U.S. government. There’s also some lip service paid to race relations and an anti-slavery message. Oh, and Megan Fox plays a prostitute.
Anyway, as you no doubt know by now, this is bottom of the rung Hollywood action B-movie material. About the only good things I can point to are Josh Brolin’s gruff portrayal of Hex, and that they did a pretty decent job on his scar. Other than that, it’s a waste of your time.
To balance out my pissy review of The Losers, I’d like to say a few words about the amazing film The Fall. Directed and independently financed by Tarsem Singh Dhandwar (who goes by the moniker Tarsem in his professional life), this is the kind of visual storytelling that movies were invented for. I’ve always loved the story-within-a-story motif, and that’s the basic structure of The Fall.
In a hospital in 1920s Los Angeles, injured stuntman Roy (Lee Pace) befriends Alexandria, a young immigrant girl (played by Catinca Untaru) who has broken her arm while picking oranges in the groves. To pass the time, he makes up a fantastic epic tale of 5 adventurers on a quest for revenge against “Governor Odious,” who has done each of them a grave injustice. And so it is that The Black Bandit, an Indian warrior, the ex-slave Otta Benga, an Italian explosives expert named Luigi, and naturalist Charles Darwin (along with his pet monkey Wallace) travel the world, from one exotic locale to the next, in search of Odious.
But as the movie progresses and Alexandria becomes engrossed in the tale, we start to realize that the heartbroken and depressed Roy has ulterior motives. His broken spirit influences the direction of the story, while at the same time he manipulates Alexandria into helping him achieve a grim goal. There are many fine details woven into the film’s narrative, and the way that the characters from the “real” world of the hospital substitute in the “story” world is both clever, and charming.
The true power of this movie is in its visuals. You would be hard pressed to find more gorgeous landscapes and sets in any other film, and the cinematography is out of this world. But what’s even more amazing is that Tarsem eschewed CGI in favor of real-world locations. According to his director’s commentary, the film was made over the course of 4 years, using locations in 20 different countries, including including India, Indonesia, The Czech Republic, Italy, France, Spain, Turkey, Namibia, and China. Every natural, colorful scene in the movie is awe inspiring, from the remote Butterfly Reef of Fiji, to an underwater shot of an elephant swimming gracefully over us, to the rooftops of Jodhpur, the “Blue City” in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Think of the hyper-imaginative settings and sets from a Terry Gilliam movie, but all of them are real-world places.
“…my production value is going to be the earth; I’m going to use the entire world as my backdrop.” – Tarsem”
On the DVD cover, it says the film is “presented by” David Fincher and Spike Jonze, which I believe alludes to the fact that they were champions of the movie and helped it secure a distribution deal. Although not directly involved in the making of the film, their interest alone should attest to the level of craft involved in its making. Smartly written, wonderfully acted, and gorgeously visualized, The Fall is at once heartwarming and heart-wrenching, a feast for the eyes as well as the mind.
(If you’re interested, there’s a nice little feature on Tarsem and the movie at The New York Times here.)
I just watched this movie, and all I can say is, thank goodness I got it from the library because while I ended up wasting my time, at least I didn’t waste any money on it. As everyone knows, this movie, based on the Vertigo series of the same name, was a big flop at the theaters, and I’m here to tell you there’s a good reason for it.
And not in that “they changed it so much from the source material” way that usually makes comic nerds upset. No, in the “it sucks” way.
God, what a horrible waste of money and talent. If you were going to make a shitty mid-80s action flick with bullshit macho dialogue, an unbelievably over-the-top evil bad guy, and an ending that’s the biggest “f*** you” to the audience who invested their money and time in this thing, why even waste a penny “optioning” a property? Just make your shitty movie, call it Extreme Patriots or Double Cross in Bolivia or Gunfight in L.A., release it straight to DVD, and save yourself the embarrassment, not to mention $20 million off the budget.
I should have stopped watching, when in the first 20 minutes of the movie, the bad guy, CIA insider “Max”, proves he’s indeed bad by a) asking our CIA covert ops protagonists go ahead with the bombing of a drug dealer’s compound, even after they find out he has 25 innocent kids on premises, b) having a US jet fighter shoot down a US helicopter evacuating said 25 innocent children, killing them all, and c) thinking he’s killed our heroes, who have been serving their country selflessly. But wait, there’s more! As if that wasn’t enough to convince you he’s really, really bad, there’s a scene where he’s walking on a beach, and has an attractive female assistant carrying an umbrella to shade him from the sun. But when a gust of wind blows the umbrella away for just a split second, and the assistant apologizes instantly, Max grabs a gun and shoots her! Because, you see, he’s a bad guy. A real bad guy.
But wait, there’s even more! So the entire point of the movie is that our heroes are on a quest for revenge, trying to expose Max’s slimy, evil ways, and restoring their good names so they can get their old lives back, but…
SPOILER ALERT (not that you care)
Max gets away in the end. There is no resolution. It’s just one huge, open-ended, “let’s set it up for a sequel” ending.
As in: “f*** you, audience, for expecting a story with a beginning, middle, and end.”
So in that same spirit, a hearty f*** you to Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt, who wrote the bullshit screenplay for this movie, and all the assholes involved in greenlighting and making this movie.
What a complete waste.