Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The Children of Húrin – review

The Children of Húrin was a fascinating read. Outside of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings this is the only other book by J.R.R. Tolkien that I have read and it was excellent.

I have to say the archaic writing style made the story feel really old which suits the book perfectly as it is a tale from the First Age in Tolkien’s legendarium. The writing style reminded me of Homer’s style of writing, especially the way Tolkien mentions the lineage of a person in the earlier chapters of the book. I also like that the novel is written in a matter-of-fact way. Tolkien tells you what happens as much as he lets it happen through the dialogue and the actions of the characters. Some people do not like the “tell and not show” style but when telling a story that is supposed to have happened a very, very long time ago it works exceptionally well. It’s almost as if the story is so old there are a few details missing, that explains why the writing is clear and to the point because only the most important details have survived through the ages.

Morgoth is an interesting villain. Like many villains he lets his henchmen do much of his bidding but when it is required Morgoth will take a more central role such as with his confrontation with Húrin. Some might complain that Morgoth does not play large enough a role in the novel. I don't think so. I’m fine with that; this is after all the story of Húrin’s children. The main character is Túrin and later on his sister Niënor plays a larger role. Besides, Morgoth’s evil is felt throughout.

The way Tolkien writes about magic is very interesting. It’s almost a religious magic in the sense that objects and people can be blessed or cursed according to the spell caster’s wishes. For example, a black blade may be forged by a powerful Dark Elf and seek to drink the blood of its victims as well as choose if and when to change masters. It’s a blade blessed with sentience and in some hands it may be a blessing for the good deeds it accomplishes in the hands of a good person but it may choose to change hands and be a curse to those that wield it by taking the lives of loved ones. As well, a person may be cursed, like it’s the case for Húrin, who is cursed to see with the sight of Morgoth and witness the hardships of his children.

The Children of Húrin is a tragedy; it’s unreasonable to expect a happy ending. In the tradition of classical tragedies, it doesn’t end well for many of the characters. It’s interesting how different in tone this book is compared to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Good and Evil are also portrayed different, they are more nuanced than in those two earlier books (published earlier but placed much later in the history of Middle-Earth). Túrin is the hero but throughout the book he does some terrible, qualitatively evil, things. Can we still consider him a hero despite his actions? You can if you remind yourself he’s been under a curse for most of his life. The evil actions he commits are done because of the curse, he’s not entirely in control of his fate and it makes for a tragic hero. I’m certain an English Major would have much to say on the character of Túrin and many other interesting and flawed characters found in the book.

This book is good for the same reason most of Tolkien’s books are good. There is a real sense of history to these stories. Finishing Children of Húrin you are left wanting more, much more. I was so curious about the history of the First Age and of the geography of Beleriand. Being much more familiar with the history of Middle-Earth during The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I was a bit lost and confused when I first started to read The Children of Húrin but after poking around online and in my Tolkien related books such as A Guide to Tolkien by David Day. I found the First Age to be perhaps more fascinating and engrossing than the events that take place near the end of the Third Age. Having read the book I wanted to know more of Morgoth, the hidden city of Gondolin and Turgon its king, I wanted to know more of the elves of Goliath, King Thingol, Melian, Eol, Beleg, Mîm the last of the Petty Dwarves, I wanted to know more of Glaurung, father of Dragons, Fingolfin, Faënor and his sons, I would like to know more of Húrin and his father and brother and more on the Battle of Unnumbered Tears.

The Children of Húrin is a short novel but it’s dense and immensely engrossing. Tolkien impresses us with the depth and scope of his story without sacrificing story and character. I genuinely cared about many of the characters and that’s one of the reasons I want to know more about them. I want to know more of the world and its times because I know we’re only scratching the surface of the history of Middle-Earth and Tolkien makes that clear in his storytelling. As for the characters, that’s where this book shines whether it’s a short appearance by Turgon or the continuing story of the life of Túrin, they fascinated me and I want to read so much more about them. Good thing I’ve never read The Silmarillion.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

JLA Classified: New Maps of Hell review

JLA Classified collects issues # 10-15, is written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Butch Guice (or perhaps not, my trade paperback credits the art to Jackson Guice; is it the same person?). There isn’t a whole lot worth mentioning about New Maps of Hell. At its most basic, it is a story of the JLA encountering an evil force and after some fighting, defeats the evil. Instead of concentrating all the parts of the comic I’ll stick to the more interesting and successful (well, not always) aspects of the story.

Ellis sets the tone of his version of the DCU in the first four pages. A man wishes to jump off a building to commit suicide. He says he wants to be one of the suicide jumpers Superman doesn’t catch. In the next page he jumps and falls. In the third page he falls on top of a car. The fourth page we jump to Superman who says: “Dammit.” To which Lois Lane replies “You can’t catch them all, Smallville.” It’s important to mention that the man jumped at night and when we see Superman on the fourth page it is daytime. I interpreted this as a second suicide jumper or another event in which someone gets injured or killed and Superman wasn’t able to help. This is not a Metropolis where Superman can or will save everyone. Because of his super senses he is forced to witness all the crimes in Metropolis.

That’s ok though because Superman isn’t Batman. Something like that would drive Batman insane but only Batman, Superman doesn’t have a war on Crime. He simply helps out. He helps wherever he goes but he doesn’t lose him mind trying to solve all of the world’s problems. It reminds me somewhat of Grant Morrison’s take on Superman where he acts as an example for humanity to save themselves. He won’t solve all the world’s problems himself for fear of taking away humanity’s individuality and freedom and end up being something like a dictator (find another word for dictator). Ellis doesn’t seem to want to go so far with his take on Superman. He seems to want to acknowledge that Superman logistically can’t be everywhere despite his superpowers. Superman does have to learn to live with that undeniable truth, though.

Ellis adds other revisionist twists, most specifically with the powers of the members of the Justice League. Ellis doesn’t provide realist updates of all of the members; he chooses instead to concentrate on a few of them, notably on the Flash.

Batman has scars but so does the Flash. His body is not riddled with them such as it is with Batman but he has at least one large scar which serves as a reminder of how he got his powers. It’s as if back when he was just a regular human he was able to be scared. Now that he’s a superhuman the only scars he has are those that were present before his transformation. That would explain why people like Wonder Woman, Superman, and J’onn J’onzz who have been thrown through countless walls and windows bear/bare no scars. They’re superhuman and that serves as a good enough explanation. It’s not the case for Batman. He’s very much human and his scars have been shown in many comics by many different artists. It brings us to Green Lantern. His ring shields him. I’m sure when he gets hit and thrown towards a mountain his will is cleary telling his ring to protect him, much like a regular person would life up their arms to protect themselves from a physical blow. He’s got no scars because his super weapon protects him. In short it’s a neat little update for Flash that doesn’t drastically change his character but redefines in an interesting and effective way.

Ellis allows concentrates a lot on Flash’s super powers. He has to be conscious of the effects of his superspeed on the people and things around him. He desmonstrates this in the use of caption boxes: “Four steps and I need to slow down now, or else the bow wave from a dead stop will explode Linda’s internal organs when I pause to –”.

I imagine Superman and other super strong characters have to constantly keep their strength in check while interacting with people and objects around them but Flash has to do that as well. For a character such as Wally West you get a sense that he has a lot of restraint when it comes to the use of his powers and it sheds new light on his as a hero. He has to be conscious of the effects his presence has on his surroundings at the cost of being the cause of more destruction as opposed to the help he is there to offer.  

Jackson (or Butch) Guice draws Lois like a super model. That’s not a problem in itself but he also dresses her like a model from a magazine advertisement. For crying out loud, her blouse doesn’t even cover her midsection! Does the Daily Planet even have a dress code?

In opposition to Lois, Guice draws Wonder Woman in a relaxed version of her iconic swimsuit costume. She looks more comfortable wearing her off-duty clothes. It seems like a good choice of clothing for her while on Themyscira due to what can only be near tropical weather. Where is Themyscira anyway? In the middle of the Greek Islands?

As a complete package, JLA Classified: New Maps of Hell is peppered with sharp dialogue courtesy of Warren Ellis. Guice’s artwork does a good show of showing off Ellis’s interesting realist updates on old characters effectively. Unfortunately his inspired idea for Wonder Woman’s costume is opposed by Lois showing off extra skin while at work. I’m not entirely sure if Guice was inspired by another artist for Diana’s off duty look but he pulls it off very well here. It’s not at all an essential Justice League story, if anything its quite disposable, but it’s a disposable story but two professional comics creators and it makes for an enjoyable read, if somewhat lacking in substance beyond a few interesting ideas not directly related to the story being told.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Slayground by Richard Stark - review

Slayground is the fourteenth book in the Parker series written by Richard Stark. It is the first book I’ve ever read in the Parker series, not counting the comic adaptations by Darwyn Cooke. I picked this book instead of all the others for two simple reasons. I just read the adaptation of The Hunter, The Outfit, and The Score and I felt as though I was familiar enough with Parker and a handful of secondary characters to be able to start with any other book in the series. The second reason is that Slayground is said to be one of the best Parker novels. I’m not entirely sure I agree, which is a bit odd considering it’s my first Parker novel.

I’ll break down my review in four parts, each part concentrating on one of the book’s four parts. In part one there is the setup, pure and simple. Parker, along with Grofield and a man named Laufman rob an armoured truck. Things go awry and Grofiled and Laufman are left unconscious while Parker is running off with the money. On his way into a nearby amusement park closed down for the winter he is spotted by two police officers and two men in dark overcoats. Parker soon discovers there is only one way in and out of Fun Island. He’ll be receiving visitors soon and prepares for the arrival of either the cops or the men in overcoats or both.

Part two is an exercise in patience and it’s one of the better parts of the book. We’re introduced to the two men in overcoats: Caliato, a cool headed and patient mobster. He is next in line to run the mob in town and he’s a worthy adversary for Parker because his patience and calculating mind makes for a seamless execution of his work. Because he’s a patient and calculating man he won’t make the mistakes Parker wants him to do; mistakes that would allow him an easier escape. Caliato also has an interesting second in command in Alfred Benniggio. They share an interesting relationship.

In a way Stark is forcing us to live what Caliato, his crew and Parker are living. We’re preparing for the inevitable confrontation. We want to see the gangster go into Fun Island and we want Parker to outsmart and outgun them and get out. But we have to wait. We must be patient. There are things to prepare for and we must quickly do those things and then we wait. Stark does an excellent job making an interesting book out of a bunch of characters waiting for one another to act, each situated on opposite sides of a road, divided by fences.

The third and fourth part tell the story of the first confrontation that happens during the night and the second confrontation that happens the following day. It’s what the reader has been waiting for and Parker, as always, proves to be smart, resourceful and strong. He outsmarts the gangsters more than he outguns or outfights them. He’s grossly outnumbered and his strategy relies more on hiding and outsmarting than it does on fighting. That might come as a disappointment to some readers but how else was it going to realistically be played out? I liked it and I think it worked.

I don’t think it’s the best Parker book because it concentrates too much on one small event in Parker’s life and it’s not one of his proudest achievements. Parker gets away with less than what he had at the start of the book and it’s disappointing. The way it happened isn’t disappointing, it was very entertaining actually, but it’s not a victory for Parker. The story is also very straightforward and focused compared to other Parker stories such as The Hunter and The Outfit which had a lot going on. A story like The Score is also straightforward but it’s a story about Parker and what he does, thieving, and it’s fascinating to see him and his crew do their jobs. It’s also a very special job and that’s also interesting. Slayground is the story of Parker trying to get out alive with or without his money. The only elements of his career that show up in the book appear in the first forty pages and it’s almost exclusively plot setup.

There is a sequel to Slayground and that makes sense because the story begun in this book is incomplete. I want to read it, and I will in time, not only because I’d like to know the rest of the story and not only because it will most likely be a revenge story, but Parker needs to get his money back. He only did half of what he sent out to do in Slayground. He got out alive but he got out with empty hands. I can easily understand if any readers also felt the same way after such an abrupt ending by Stark.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Lost at Sea review

Lost at Sea is a wonderful book by Bryan Lee O’Malley that successfully captures the pain of a broken heart and the healing process that follows. Said like that it makes it sound like a squishy overly emotional comic but it’s more about the lessons we need to learn in order to grow up and become a stronger person.

The story revolved around Raleigh who on vacation to California meets up with an internet romance and her slow and meandering return home accompanied by students from her private school in British Columbia. What makes this story so great is the way O’Malley chooses to tell it. The book is narrated by Raleigh through the use of her journal entries and it’s raw and unfiltered much like a real teenager’s journal or blog or whatever. The narration works really well because it puts in right in Raleigh’s head. Because the narration comes from Raleigh herself, we get somewhat of an untrustworthy narrator. Not because she’s trying to hide the facts but because she’s trying to work through how she ended up in this emotionally fragile state. She eventually figures it out and we get to puzzle the pieces together along with her. It’s just complicated and difficult for her to wrap her mind around it.

The tone of the narration and the dialogue by the other teens clashes drastically. The tone is very different. The other teen’s dialogue is snappy and funny and strange and it’s kind of alien. Who talks like that? Teens. Bryan Lee O’Malley used a similar dialogue in his Scott Pilgrim series and it works. It’s something I probably wouldn’t like if someone spoke to me like that in real life but it works very well in comics.

I’m surprised by how well this emotional heavy comic works. I think it works because the emotion isn’t needy.  Raleigh doesn’t try to burden anybody with her problems. Raleigh is trying to work through her problem, in part by writing it down and later on by interacting with people who accept her for who she is. It’s interesting how important friends are to the healing process. I think that’s part of what the title refers to. Raleigh is lost in a sea of emotion; she’s her own island of misery. She’s also lost in a sea of people and only once she starts to realize she’s with people who genuinely care about her does she realize she’s not lost at all.

There is a scene where Stephanie and Raleigh on in the bathroom talking while standing in front of the mirrors. Stephanie admits that she always wanted to be tall like Raleigh to which Raleigh admits she always hated it. Stephanie replies in her strange teen speak telling her how jealous she is all the while commenting Raleigh on her beauty and posture. She walks away seemingly content in the knowledge that she’ll never be tall and that she’ll have to settle with what she has. That’s kind of how the world works. You can’t always get what you want and you need to accept that. It helps when you have friends around.

I like O’Malley’s cats. They are playful little devils. They’re the teenagers of the animal kingdom. They wander around aimlessly, they freak out easily, they do weird things, they’re kind of jerks but they can be very loving too. It’s almost as if O’Malley is telling us if you don’t have friends cats are the next best thing. If so, I feel sorry for Raleigh because she hurt so badly she needed friends and cats, lots of cats, to help her figure things out.

I like that we know next to nothing of Stillman, the guy Raleigh loved other than the fact that he urged her to come visit him in California. It’s better that way. O’Malley might have been tempted to give us some backstory to this guy but he wisely chose not to. What would it add? This could have been the best guy in the world or one of the worse but all that matter is that Raleigh loved him and she’s clearly upset over it. That’s all we need to know and that’s about all we get.

I need to talk about the art but it’s difficult. I really like O’Malley’s art. It’s simple, yet expressive. He has a nice economy of line that lends itself well to black and white art. His characters are drawn short and a little blocky but they still keep a normal looking anatomy. He has knack for drawing clothes that suits the age of his characters. Overall it’s simple and effective. It’s very good and he only got better with the years. Bryan Lee O’Malley is a very good comics creator and it’s unfortunate that Lost at Sea isn’t as well-known as Scott Pilgrim, its big brother. I highly recommend reading Lost at Sea.

Hondo-City Law review

I’ve never read anything by Robbie Morrison but I’m glad I’ve read this. I’ve been a Judge Dredd fan for a short while now, ever since I picked up The Complete Judge Dredd Case Files volume 1 which is a huge black and white collection of the earliest Judge Dredd stories. It’s a fascinating read, I really enjoyed it. The dollar per page ratio is excellent and made even better by the talent of the artists involved and the fact that it’s a slab of comic history. It was also with that collection that I discovered the writing of John Wagner, co-creator of Judge Dredd. Anyway, as a whole this also served as my introduction to 2000 AD (I was going to say to British comics but I honestly don’t think I’ve read any titles outside of 2000 AD). Since then I’ve read Nemesis, D.R. and Quinch, the Judge Death collection and a few others I can’t think of because they’re packed away in boxes and I can’t see them.

I’ve picked up smaller Dredd collections and in one of the stories by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar there were Judge from other Mega Cities around the world! What?! Cool! Then I saw this collection at my local comic shop featuring Judges from Hondo-City with an excellent cover by Frank Quitely and inside art by Quitely, Andy Clarke and Neil Googe. For a reason unknown I didn’t pick it up but it’s been in the back of my head ever since and finally I ordered it. As always, it sat on my shelf for a little while and I’ve finally read it. It was good and the art was very good.  

The first story is written by John Wagner and painted (I think) by Colin MacNeil and they introduces Hondo-City and their city Judges. The story is mostly forgettable except for the fact that it’s narrated in broken English which seems like a poor decision on Wagner’s part.

The rest of the stories are written by Morrison. The second and third are drawn by Frank Quitely and the art is excellent. Again, the story is more interesting than the one by Wagner. Morrison and Quitely introduce Judge Shimura and Inaba, a Judge in training. By the end of this first story Shimura becomes a ronin and Inaba becomes the newest Hondo-City Judge. The third story is about models who are also criminal and Judge Inaba takes them down. The most noteworthy elements of these stories is the art by Frank Quitely. Don’t get me wrong, Morrison’s stories are good and well scripted but the art is just that excellent.

The next two stories are drawn by Andy Clarke who has a very clean and very detailed art style. His style my even be too detailed since some of the characters looked stiff in certain panels. It’s not simply scratchy lines to give the illusion of details though, its actual detail. I know this is a poor appreciation of his art but I’m not quite sure how else to describe it. It’s very good, though, so focus on that.

Neil Googe draws the last story. It’s probably Morrison’s weakest story in the collection. It has robots, stuff blowing up, and good times. Googe draws it very well though. I’m not a big fan of his style. I’ve only read one other book drawn by him, Welcome to Tranquility written by Gail Simone, but if I remember correctly his art was not nearly as cartoony and manga inspired as it is here. Not’s not a bad thing though, he art styles fits for a story set in Hondo-City especially because he doesn’t go over the top with it. It’s clean and coloured quite brightly which gives the whole thing a bouncy feeling.

Hondo-City Law does present a very nice variety of art styles and panel presentation though, which was quite nice to see. Since most of the stories are written by Morrison, you get to see just how much impact an artist has. The differences found in the art of Quitely, Clarke and Googe is fascinating. I have my favourites but they are all worthy of praise.

I have to talk about Quitely’s art for a moment. He’s one of the best comic artist and there are two reasons that are demonstrated in two stories he illustrates. He’s so incredibly dynamic. His characters look fluid and fleshy in a heightened reality sort of way. Some people do not like this fleshy look but I do. His characters look like they are in movement and it’s nice to see such freedom of movement in sequential storytelling because we see too much stiff poses and pin up type are in genre comics. It’s an action comic and Quitely’s art reflects that. He’s also one of the best artists when it comes to integrating sound effects on the page. It’s not just slapped on; it’s part of the art. It’s integrated directly into the action. There are some strong visual examples of that here in his early work. Unfortunately, it’s not something I’ve seen much of in his mid to late nineties work in American comics. The only other book I can remember him doing this is in is the opening arc of Batman and/& Robin (confirm!) which is a shame because I can’t think of any other artist that does it half as well.

The execution of each story is very good, especially those drawn by Quitely and Clarke. The most interesting part of this collection is the discovery and the development of Hondo-City and its characters, specifically Inaba and Shimura. It’s not a Judge Dredd collection, past the first story the focus is not on him though he is present in nearly every story. Inaba is a really interesting character and I’d like to read more stories about her in the future. Shimura is also interesting and they have a very interesting dynamic. Morrison had a good idea to develop the mythos of Hondo-City and its Judges  and to stay away from Judge Dredd who’s already been in hundreds (probably more like thousands) of stories by now.  

Kung Fu Corner - Kiss of the Dragon review

Directed by Chris Nahon
Story by Jet Li
Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen
Starring Jet Li, Bridget Fonda and Tchéky Karyo

Welcome to my first Kung Fu Corner review! From time to time I’ll be writing about a kung fu movie. I’ll try to diversify a bit with my choice of Kung Fu stars but expect a lot of Jackie Chan because he’s my favourite. Kiss of the Dragon is my first review quite simply because most of my dvds are packed away and this one was just sitting there. It’s my first time watching it.

As martial arts movies go, this one follows a very simply plot seen in many other kung fu movies. A Chinese police officer is sent to Paris to help a police officer there take down a heroin drug lord. Upon his arrival, our main character Liu Jian played by Jet Li, is framed by the French officer Jean-Pierre Richard played by Tchéky Karyo for the murder of the drug lord in question. The rest of the movie we see Johnny trying to take down Richard who as it turns out is the real drug lord. Along the way he becomes friends with Jessica (Bridget Fonda) who is coerced to work for Richard as a sex worker because he has her daughter in his custody.

Jet Li kick’s everybody’s ass through windows, into pavement and into walls. He’s little but his kung fu is mighty!

As a whole the action is good. There is a fight scene that happens early on in a hotel and Li fights off some henchmen with ironing boards and irons (he’s in the laundry room). This is essentially the only scene where he fights with props. Most of the fight scenes he uses his hands and feet as well as acupuncture needles which is this character’s trademark.

There are elements present in Kiss of the Dragon that are common to many martial arts movies other than the simply the plot (which is also commonly seen in many Hollywood action movies). There is a culture clash that is present although it seems very forced and portrayed quite negatively. In quite a few Jackie Chan movies the difference in cultures is played out in humorous ways but that’s not the case for this film. For example, Richard tells Jian to his face that he won’t bother learning how to properly pronounce his name and instead calls him Johnny. For the rest of the movie Li’s character is called Johnny. Strangely enough he’s credited simply as “Liu Jian” with no mention of Johnny. I thought this was a bit weird because I had no idea what Li’s character’s real name was until I read the credits. It wasn’t mentioned more than two or three times, tops.

Another common element is that the villain underestimates the Chinese officer. Of course Richard is a very bad person and we’re happy to see Li’s character prove him just how strong his kung fu (and acupuncture skills) are. I mention his acupuncture because Jian defeats Richard by giving him the Kiss of the Dragon. An acupuncture technique that is “very forbidden”. It consists of hitting a spot behind the neck which paralyses the victim. Once the needle is removed all the blood of the body rushes to the head and the victim bleeds out from all the orifices of his head. It’s pretty graphic and even though I think it’s kind of a lame way of killing someone in the movie it was set up by Jian’s nearly constant use of acupuncture needles throughout the film and Karyo acts it out well.

The best part of the movie is Jet Li’s final fight with Karyo’s henchmen twins. One of the twins is played by Cyril Raffaelli and I do not know who the other guy is. That doesn’t really matter since the fight takes place mostly between Li and Raffelli. It’s a very good fight. The choreography takes advantage of the setting and the actors are very, very quick and pretty darn brutal. Apparently there was a bit of CGI used because Raffaelli’s kicks were too quick for the camera! That’s crazy! There is almost no use of wires in Kiss of the Dragon. Jet Li wanted to make a movie in reaction to some fan complaining about the over use of wires in other Jet Li movies. Personally I’m not a very big fan of “wire fu” but it can and has been used well in the past. There seems to me that there was some use of wires in the final fight though when Raffaelli’s character is spinning in the air and Li grabs him.

All in all, Kiss of the Dragon uses an action movie plot we’ve all seen a dozen times before and makes a good kung fu film out of it. There aren’t as many martial arts fights as I would like but that’s because most of the henchmen used guns. The result is a movie with more a lot of action, some of it being kung fu. If you’re one of the people who complained about Jet Li’s use of wires in his previous films I’d give this a go. Fan of Jet Li would surely like this movie, too.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Richard Stark's Parker: the Score review

Parker: the Score is the third book in a series of comic adaptations of Richard’s Stark’s crime novels by Canadian born Darwyn Cooke. I’m very impressed. Nearly 500 pages of comics and Cooke’s barely had a slip up. As always, when talking about plot elements and the overall execution of the book I refer to Cooke. Having not read any of the Parker novels I have no idea how much is taken from the series of novels. I imagine it’s a lot but I mean no disrespect when omitting Stark’s name from my comments and reviews. It’s something I’ll have to address by reading a few of the novels.

We meet up with Parker while he’s on a beach. He hasn’t done a job in six months. He’s not low on cash but boredom has settled in. There is a man who wants to organize a heist but he’s new to the game and needs help. This man, Edgars, presents his job to Parker and some of his friends (we’ve met two of them in The Outfit). Edgars plans to rob a town called Copper Canyon. While describing the job to the other thieves it becomes clear to them and clear to the reader that Edgars plans quite literally to rob the whole town. Parker’s friend, Grofield, is immediately intrigued. It takes Parker a bit longer but boredom and an exciting job leads him to decide to take the risk on this job.

The straightforward plot, Parker and 11 other men plan and execute a job, becomes much more intriguing because Parker breaks his own rules: 1) do not work a job that requires more than four or five people because it becomes too complicated and therefore too risky, 2) if a job is too risky, cut your losses and walk away. We know he should walk away and we know there will be a negative outcome for Parker and his crew because he didn’t walk about but just like our anti-hero, we’re hooked. We’re glad he decided to take charge and plan the robbery. It’s refreshing that we’re reading about Parker dealing with a job for an entire book. So far we’ve read about him dealing primarily with the outcome of past jobs that have gone wrong. This time we’re along for the ride and we get to see the planning and the execution.

Cooke experimented with style and storytelling in The Outfit and experiments a bit this time around as well. Grofield’s scenes are intercut with his strange imaginings he has comparing the heist to a group of soldiers undertaking a missing in a World War II setting. It works well, both visually as well as device to quickly show us what kind of person Grofield is. He’s obviously very good at his job, he really likes it but he’s arrogant and takes unnecessary risks. He lacks focus compared to many of the other thieves.

The accent colour this time around is orange. This seems like a strange choice at first but it makes sense. It is strange because it’s not a dark colour. Crime comics and even police procedure comics tend to have a darker colour palette. I’m thinking specifically of Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips and Gotham Central by Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker. Orange isn’t dark at all. I can’t help but think that Cooke had the gas station explosion in mind while choosing the accent colour for The Score. The impact of that page would have been lessened by the use of. The explosion in question was done using only the off-white colour of the page and the orange. There is no black at all and it looks the explosion is happening right in front of our eyes.

Unlike the previous two adaptations, there are no flashbacks in The Score. The book concentrates on showing us the thieves at work and Cooke wisely gives things room to breathe. The book is not as dense as the previous two but it doesn’t feel slight because of it because Cooke tells it so clearly, so efficiently. Cooke keeps in mind that this is a very big undertaken and treats it as such. Also, because this is crime fiction we can expect something to go wrong. I knew something was going to happen but I couldn’t figure it out. I shouldn’t feel too bad though, Parker didn’t see it either. My only complaint for The Score is that the problems that arise are resolved rather quickly.

Not only that but it’s a huge undertaking and it’s nice to see Parker working with a large crew. Not only that, but it wouldn’t be good crime fiction unless something goes wrong and part of the fun is trying to figure out what will go wrong. I’m not spoiling anything in saying the Copper Canyon job goes as wrong as it possibly could have gone. It’s a riveting how Cooke made it happen.

One of the many reasons this is a great comic is the portrayal of the crew of thieves. Every single one of them have a way of dealing with the life they’ve chosen, they all have rules. Not everybody agrees with how things are done but everything body at least pretends to go along with it for the sake of the payoff. Parker is still the star of his own series but Grofield gives him a run for his money.

Once again Cooke delivers and excellent crime comic. He doesn’t depend on the two previous books, instead he builds on it. Three books in and the Parker series still feels fresh. The stories are riveting, Cooke’s art is excellent and even when he’s not pulling off flashy storytelling tricks he’s telling a solid and entertaining story. We’re told at the end of the book that there will be a fourth Parker comic in 2013 and I can’t wait. 

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Richard Stark’s Parker: the Outfit review

In my review for Parker: the Hunter I wondered whether or not Cooke was going to let loose in his second Parker adaptation The Outfit much like Parker lets loose after a job. Having read The Outfit for the first time, I would say Cooke indeed let loose. Once again the plot is simple. Parker underwent plastic surgery to change the look of his face in order to avoid being hunted down by the Outfit (the Organization or the Syndicate, it’s all the same). Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long, just one job, for his identity to be made known to the Outfit. He decides it’s time to end this nonsense once and for all and declares war on the Organization and acts out his threat to ask all his thief friends to hit the Outfit anyway they can.

According to Trent at The Violent World of Parker, Parker: the Outfit is based on two novels by Richard Stark The Man with the Getaway Face and The Outfit. It also seems Cooke was less faithful with his adaptation this go around. I’ll let experts like Trent tell you exactly how faithful he remained while I concentrate on the comic adaptations.

Taking a free hand with The Outfit was a good call by Cooke as I enjoyed the second comic more than I did the first which was excellent. I essentially only have one complaint which is the way Cooke draws women. Now this was a bigger problem in The Hunter but I forgot to mention it. Essentially, all his women look the same. Same body type, same face, all he seems to do is change the hairdos. He adds more variety in the second comic notably with Alma and the retired-prostitute-turned-motel-owner. We get larger woman in her forties and an elderly lady in her sixties. It was nice of Cooke to avoid giving us nothing but magazine worthy babes which, incidentally he does very well but it gets tiresome after a while.

The colour palette is similar and it keeps it consistent with The Hunter. The main difference is the blue-grey from the first book is now a darker blue. Just a slight difference but it was nice. It also gave it a darker feel which suits The Outfit just fine. Cook uses different art styles during one of the book’s four chapters whichs depicts different heist being pulled by friends of Parker (and one of them being pulled by Parker himself and two associates). It works well because it gives a lot of information to the reader quickly. This book more than The Hunter is dense. A lot of things happen and they happen quickly. Cooke puts half a dozen or more panels on at least half the pages and it’s impressive. Especially once you consider the smaller than average page size. Using different art styles for the various heist allowed Cooke to show us a nice variety of jobs while he gets to stretch his drawings muscles and move the story along. It was a great idea and it very well executed.

There is a really interesting few pages that end the third chapter. They bring up the effects of criminals organizing and beginning to work like a business. It makes them soft. Men like Bronson and Fairfax, used to be hardened criminals like Parker (well, maybe not as hard as Parker). Bronson mentions the arrival of a new breed of men in the Organization. There is a new kind of criminal, white collar criminals, businessmen. Essentially other people are hired to do the dirty work while these people coordinate the whole thing from behind a desk.

Another element I liked is Parker’s new face. He’s uglier. Not hideous but uglier than in book one and it works. He’s not just crook, now he’s an ugly crook. His new face also seems to go well with his overly large hands. He’s not deformed but he doesn’t look like you’re average Joe. There’s a full page spread of Parker in his underwear in the first few pages and he’s a physically imposing man. You do not want to mess with this guy! Cooke nails the body language in that page. Parker could have easily looked silly or weak just standing around in his underwear but it’s clear that he means business. It’s even more imposing in hind sight since Parker follows through on his tough look by springing into action.

What I liked the most about The Outfit, and this is true of the Hunter too, is that Parker has to clean up after nearly every job he does. Part of being a thief is working with other crooks. Double crossing and backstabbing are just another part of the job. I find this aspect of crime fiction much more interesting than showing us the ins and outs of planning for a job.  I really like crime fiction that depicts the bad elements that naturally come with the career choice. Sure the payoff can be big but so are the risks. Parker spends as much time dealing with the outcome of a job as much as he spends time planning his next job. That’s not always the case but based on the first two Parker comic adaptations, it sure happens often enough to be a dangerous way of making a living.

What's attractive about crime fiction is that the reader gets to live out fantasies of a criminal life and lifestyle. We've all though about how easy it would be to rob a place but, for obvious reasons, only a small percentage of the population actually try to do it. Crime fiction gives us a chance to play out the fantasy. Good crime fiction shows us why it's not a good idea. We'd probably end up in jail or worse, dead or even worse than that, with Parker hot on our trail.

I'm happy to say I paid for my copy of Parker: the Outfit. The last thing I need is Cooke and IDW sending out goons to roughen me up. 

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Atomic Robo: Real Science Adventures volume 1 review

Writer: Brian Clevinger
Artists: Steve Wegener and various.
Colourist: Matt Speroni
Publisher: Red 5 Comics

Atomic Robo: Real Science Adventures has a nice variety of artists. Other than regular Atomic Robo artist Steve Wegener, I haven’t read any other comic books drawn by any of the artists included in this volume but it’s nice to have a volume that collects all of them, especially when they’re stories featuring Atomic Robo for the most part.

It’s a bit unfortunate that a book featuring such a large variety of art and styles that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy this collection. I was entertained the whole way through and enjoyed my time reading it but it’s not the kind of comic I would lend to someone unless they’re already an Atomic Robo fan. I feel as though this comic doesn’t have much reason for being other than giving Clevinger the opportunity to experiment with stories and to do one-off gags. I shouldn’t think about it too much, though. The comic industry seems to support a dozen monthly Batman books so why can’t we make room for a second Atomic Robo series? I think it’s deserved it’s spot.

I wonder if Clevinger will ever let somebody else write an Atomic Robo story. It seems to me that Real Science Adventures would be the ideal comic for that to happen.

The best story is the Free Comic Book Day 2012 issue. Clevinger seems to write tighter stories for his main artist. My main complaint is that most of these stories aren’t focused enough. They’re too loose. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For all I know that was the point. Maybe Clevinger wanted a comic to spread his wings a little. It also seems like he wanted to share the success of his and Wegener’s Atomic Robo series. This is a nice progression of for the character though since there were always short stories drawn by other artist collected in the Atomic Robo trades.

Out of all the stories I enjoyed Tesla’s Electric Sky Shooner, Once Upton a Time in China (in which Robo looks very big, look at his shoulders!) and FCBD 2012 the most.

As a whole it was a nice experiment. Most of the stories where entertaining and at the very least it serves as a good showcase for artists that have a style different to what you seem in mainstream superhero comics. I would like to point out that it’s pretty impressive that the whole thing is coloured by one person other than the stories that specifically mention a different colourist. The book also has a cover gallery (by the way, where is the FCBD cover?) and some character sketches by Gurihiru.

If you’ve read the main Atomic Robo series and you’d like to read some more or if you like books that showcase several different artists, I recommend you check out Real Science Adventures. If you’re not done collecting the Atomic Robo trades or have never read an Atomic Robo comic, you should check out one of those first. I’m certain you won’t regret it. 

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Richard Stark’s Parker: the Hunter review

This little book is a comic adaptation of a novel from Richard Stark’s Parker series adapted by Darwyn Cooke and published by IDW Publishing. The Hunter was the first Parker book that was published and it makes sense that Cooke starts with this novel. The story is pretty simple, Parker a professional burglar has been double-crossed and he’s out for revenge. It’s a story we’ve all read before but this story has some neat little twists, a great ‘60s look, excellent pacing and art by Cooke. In short, it’s superbly executed. It’s important that I mention I’ve never read any of the novels in the Parker series and this might reflect in my review.

Since I’ve mentioned the plot is something we’ve seen before, it's now time to point out that it’s Cooke's storytelling that makes this a story worth reading. For starters, the comic is not really in colour but it’s far from black and white. There is black ink, white space and a blue-grey hues or shading all printed on a soft yellow coloured paper. The use of the blue-grey hues and the yellow paper really add to the tone and age of the story. The use of the hues and yellow paper fit very well with Cooke’s economical art style. It’s refreshing to see an artist limit himself in the techniques that he can use on a given project, especially when the end product is so nice to look at.

The use of the blue-grey hues as the main colour source is rather flat. Again, it works in establishing the look and tone of the book. Digital colouring with the use of gradients would not have been a good choice for this comic. Cooke only starts to use a different colouring style from the end of the third chapter until the end of the book. There is still flat blue-grey hues being used but in combination with some interesting brush strokes. Most, if not all, of the single and double page spreads also use the brush stroke look. It adds some nice texture and it also works with the story. From the beginning of the fourth and final chapter Parker mentions how he’s caught up in the momentum of his own revenge and it’s starting to show in the art. As if Cooke is also caught up in the momentum of the storytelling and he’s shading is looser. I like it a lot.

Cooke lettered the book by hand. It’s noticeably hand lettered if you take the time to pay attention to the few discrepancies in the lettering. It’s a good look for the book. It feels like an older font and the fact that the comic is hand lettered as opposed to digitally lettered adds to that effect that this is a period piece. I don’t like the way Cooke designed his letter “Y”. Not because it’s unpleasing to the eye but it’s not always functional following other letters. For example, the word “guy” was difficult to read in his chosen font. It’s distracting when I actually have to think what letter I’m seeing. It didn’t often jump out at me while reading but it caught my eye enough times for me to consider it a hindrance.

Cooke uses benday dots (or is it called screens now? I’m not sure) in flashback sequences in an interesting way. They are used for the blue-grey tone and they often trace the silhouette of the characters. It works because it distances the reader from the events just slightly. Because the flashbacks have a different look from other parts of the book while still sharing the same self-imposed limitations in the art (primarily the colours) we can easily tell the events in those sequences happen at a different time than the rest. It’s a neat trick that works well on its own and with the rest of the book.

Cooke is also very good at telling and showing us what kind of man Parker is. Parker is a bully. He uses his overall size and strength (specifically that of his hands) to get what he wants. He's not particularly big other than his hands but he's strong. He's not particularly tall either. There is a panel of him and Rose when he first walks into her apartment and he's half a foot taller than her at the most. Now unless she's a really tall woman, I don't think Parker can be considered a very tall man. He also has quite a bit of brains and some good luck but it’s nice to read about a character who has certain advantages but also has to struggle to do what he's trying to do. The beginning of the books, has him using his brain more than his muscles and the way Cooke tells the story, with many silent pages, it’s nothing short of brilliant.

There are many interesting elements about Parker that make him an interesting character. He doesn’t necessarily like violence but he’ll do what he has to do to reach his goal. There is also a sexual element to what he does. Parker seems to reward himself for completing job by allowing himself to have sex once he’s done. I chose to say allowing himself because he's clearly attracted to the woman in the beauty salon but tells himself to ignore that physical attraction and that there will be time for such things later. He forces himself to stay focus and rewards that focus by letting loose at a later time. Parker also has no problem hitting or doing other violent things to women. This demonstrates once again that he is very goal oriented. I can’t help but think that Cooke is also very focused with his work adapting The Hunter. It makes me wonder if he’ll let loose somehow with the next volume (edit: he did!).

One a final note, the size and subject of the book makes me think this is what the Vertigo Crimes line of hardcovers could and probably should have been. There were some good books in that line but none come as close to what Darwyn Cooke has given us with the first Parker adaptation. I hear the second comic, Parker: the Outfit, is even better. 

Mission Statement

Hi! Welcome to my blog. I want to share comics with people. I believe comics can and should be enjoyed by everyone. I’ve often convinced friends and coworkers to give them a try and in nearly all cases the individual in question responded positively and admitted their expectations were surpassed and their misconceptions incorrect.

I want to review and write about the comics I read. I want my blog to be content driven and to stay away from comic book “news”. I’m sure I’ll mention things from time to time but the focus won’t be there. Part of me doesn’t truly care about new comics. Not new in the sense that I think all comics past a certain year are not good comics but simply that I read most of my comics in collected form. There is no sense in me getting excited for a comic that comes out in six months but I’ll only read in a year or two later.

I also want to give myself some incentive to reread some of my comics. One of the advantages of collecting in trades is that the comics are easier to reread than single issues. They’re prominently displayed on my bookcases instead of being stashed away in a long box at the bottom of a closet under piles of other junk. It’s also extremely easy to carry around something that is bound as opposed to carrying several individual issues. It’s also easy to read a collection of comics on the bus.

Another reason for the blog is to provide a way for me to think about the comics I read on a deeper level than simply “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it”. It allows me to really think about what worked and what didn’t work.

A third reason for this blog is, in my opinion, the lack of discussion about the content of comics. Maybe that’s a problem only I face or maybe it’s that the websites I’m aware of do not talk about comics that interest me. There are numerous websites and blogs which review single issues but that’s a problem for me because I don’t read many single issues. I have a difficulty finding reviews of comics that date before the 21st century. Comics have been around for many, many decades but the online community seems focuses on comics of a certain decade. It kind of makes sense considering people like to talk about what they’re reading and it’s just normal that you read newly release comics and books. That in itself is not necessarily a problem but I would like to open up discussion and reviews of comics that have been around for a while that might still be new to many readers, myself included. That being said I won’t limit which time period of comics I’ll write about but there will be a focus on comics post the new millennium. What can I say; I started to read comics in 2006 (not counting the European comics of my childhood).

There is one most thing I would like to do with the help of my blog and that is to widen my focus on comics as much as possible. I have not read as many bande dessinées as I would like. At least, not any recent ones. I grew up reading Tintin, Lucky Luke, Astérix et Obélix, Achille Talon, Gaston Lagaffe, Spirou et Fantasio and Yoko Tsuno. My dad was a collector of BDs for a while and its one of the things that’s developed my interest in reading. I would like to branch off into some more be it in French or in English. I would also like to dive further into manga. I’ve read some terrific manga in the last few years and I’d like to discover more. I’d also like to discuss the novels I read too. It’s about what I read and how it affects me. I also can’t forget about comic strips. These will not always be reviews. Sometimes it will be more of a commentary or a sharing of thoughts on a specific comic I’ve just read or am currently reading. I invite you to join me in the discussion.