Saturday, 30 November 2013

Prophet vol. 2: Brothers review

The best thing about Prophet: Brothers is that a story begins to form. The first volume was series of shorter stories focusing on clones of John Prophet waking up from a long artificial sleep and undertaking small missions. At the time the missions were rather undefined. They were comprised of reaching a specific destination or protecting something, etc. There wasn’t a whole lot of story to connect the stories together other than the alien landscapes and all of the characters being clones of Prophet. The last issue of the first volume ended with the arrival of the Alpha Prophet, “The one man the Earth Empire Fears.” Wait a minute, all the other Prophets are working for the Earth Empire? What’s going on? It was a great way to end the first volume.

Unfortunately, writer Brandon Graham and a team of artists which include Giannis Milonogiannis, Simon Roy and Farel Dalrymple aren’t ready to tell us that story just yet. I want to take the time to point out that even though Graham is the writer all of the artists contribute to the story. The overarching story is starting to form in this volume. Long ago the Empire Brain Mothers were protected by the clone army of John Prophets. They’ve since gone to sleep, I think, because they wanted to outline the threat of Old Man Prophet. The plan was to go into forced hibernation and return to glory unopposed. The problem with that plan is that Old Man Prophet also went to sleep (or survive by other means). That’s the story as far as I can surmise after reading the first two volumes.  

The first volume was about Prophets waking up from their sleep and trying to find the nearest Empire Mother and protect her. The second volume is about Old Man Prophet reassembling the team he fought with against the Empire before the big sleep. In the past his team was made up Yilala, a female Scale (a bipedal reptilian species), Jaxson or another armoured robot and Diehard an android whose body becomes increasingly mecha
nical as time goes on. Old Man called the members of his team his brothers, brother he had earned (not brothers that were created from his cells in a laboratory). He was also aided by Hiyonhoiagn, a root-like alien with long life because of his vegetable anatomy.

Hiyonhoiagn is the first person of his team that Old Man Prophet is able to fully recruit. He began earlier with Diehard. The problem with him is that he took himself apart and left pieces of his mechanical body all over the cosmos. Rein-East is a young female Scale, acting as a replacement to Yilala, Old Man’s lover in the past. Jaxson, first seen in volume one, is back as well. Old Man Prophet is the person he was waiting for. We also get to explore the area in where he was waiting which is quite nice.

While all of this is going on, Prophets from the first volume who are still under the control of Empire Mothers are trying to bring an Empire Mother back to earth. One of them is the Prophet with a tail, Tail Prophet for a lack of a better name. His adventure has continued from his spotlight issue in the first volume. It’s quite nice to have him back.

Not all of this made sense as I was reading. I had to think about it after I finished the comic to really make sense of it. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed reading this one a monthly schedule. I imagine the pacing would feel very slow. I do like how my understanding of the first volume increases as the story progresses. I imagine the same will be true once I read the third volume. It’s impressive how the story builds on what came before while also shedding some light on the meaning of the events that took place.

The characters talk a little more. There wasn’t a whole lot of dialogue in the first volume, the story was told primarily with the art and a few narration boxes. Even in this volume there isn’t a whole lot of dialogue when compared to other comics but there is more than before because characters are starting to interact. The stories in the first volume were mostly made up on individuals doing things on their own. In the second volume Old Man is assembling a team and as they’re being assembled they’re talking to each other and interacting. It gives a whole new dimension to their characters and it’s I’d like to see more of in the next volume. This volume seems to have completed the assembling of Old Man’s team and I’m hoping the next volume gets to kick he story into high gear. That’s really the only disappointment at this point; everything so far has been build up.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Starfleet Academy 03: Survival

Starfleet Academy: Survival is the last book of the series written by Peter David. The Starfleet Academy series will continue for several other books leading to a total of 14 written by various Star Trek writers. The books will focus of various other characters, most notably characters of TNG during their cadet years.

Survival is a direct continuation of Line of Fire. David recaps the story of the previous book in the first few pages of Survival and continues to tell the story of how Worf and the others stayed on Dantar for two weeks. The titular survival isn’t very difficult. Several buildings of the colony where destroyed in the attack but many of them remain in a state that allowed the survivors to live in relative comfort while waiting to be rescued. 

While waiting for rescuers, the survivors spend their time fighting amongst each other. Zak and the Klingons engage in fisticuffs and tension runs high overall. Soleta finds a ship that crash landed on the planet and investigates it only to find out it’s the ship that attacked the colony. The story shifts focus and becomes about uncovering the mysteries that began in the second book. Who attacked the colony and why? The colonist who left knew they were leaving people behind, why is it that nobody has come to rescue the remaining survivors? They’re not very good mysteries because the length of the book (just above 100 pages) requires a quick resolution and David keeps the pace brisk. It’s ok though because he’s taken the time to provide more character moments than he did in the earlier stories.

I liked that even though the novel clearly focuses on Worf, David gave the rest of the Dream Team their time to shine.  Tania and Soleta are starting to feel like real characters. There is a particularly nice exchange between Tania and Worf where she expresses her discomfort and disappointment at Worf for treating her unkindly in order to impress K’Ehleyr a scene that took place earlier. Zak is given quite a lot of time in the limelight because of his dislike of Klingons but he remains a flat character. He simply repeats the events of his first encounter with Worf with other Klingon characters on Dantar. He eventually comes around and makes peace with them but he’s simply copy the same character arc from the first book. Mark also gets more scenes than in the first book but David often uses them as a way to show off his status as a genius while also using him as a source of comic relief. It’s not used excessively and has yet to be tiresome but it contributes to the third and second books feeling of being repetitive when it comes to how some of the characters act.

Part of me is glad that I’m done these books by David. Starfleet Academy sounds like a good idea but the execution doesn’t live up to the potential. Even so, I have a difficult time thinking about how these books could have been written better. There aren’t very many great stories that can be told in just over 100 pages. The style and tone of the young adult series doesn’t seem to allow for stories with much depth. I appreciate that David took the time to create a few new characters but he doesn’t have the opportunity to really develop them. As much as I really like Worf, there is too much focus on him. I completely understand why. From a publishing standpoint it’s difficult to envision that fans want to read about new characters. You expect readers to want to read something familiar, especially when considering tie-in media. I also think it’s extremely important for new characters, new series and new stories. I appreciated what David’s tried to do with his Starfleet Academy book. Now that I’m done, I’m looking forward to reading his Star Trek: New Frontier series which has many of the new characters in Starfleet Academy as regular characters in the series. It will be some time though since I’m still trying to find the first and second book of the series. In the meantime I’ll read other Star Trek books by Peter David. 

Saturday, 23 November 2013

The Blog Fantastic 011 - Morningstar review

I really like Gemmell’s style of fantasy. It’s grounded in a sense of reality and it makes it feel refreshing when compared to other series filled with dragons, orcs and other magical beings. It’s not to say that Gemmell’s fantasy is devoid of typical elements of the fantasy genre. There’s plenty of magic for example, and Morningstar even has a few Vampyre Kings. The fantastic elements are toned down. The magic, or magick rather, isn’t the Dungeons and Dragons or Forgotten Realms battle magic and it’s not the magic you would find in Epic fantasy series. It’s simple, yet effective. Understated seems to be a good description of his use of magic and creatures. It fits rather well in Gemmell’s overall style of military fantasy and Morningstar fits nicely amongst the rest of Gemmell’s body of work.

Morningstar is based on the legend of Robin Hood. Jarek Mace is a thief who lives in a little village in the forest and steals from the rich for his benefit, sharing the wealth with some of the villagers. Through small encounters with the armies of a warlord, Mace and some of the villagers become accidental heroes and leaders of a rebellion. Morningstar is about heroes. More specifically, it’s about how heroes are just like everyday men and women. Jarek Mace became the legendary Morningstar and the novel is the story of how that legend came to be. The interesting aspect here is that Jarek Mace is an amoral thief whose only concern in life is for himself. The creation of the legend happened because of a misunderstand act of selfishness. Much like self-fulfilling prophecy, once the legend of the Morningstar was created, Jarek feels increasingly obligated to become that person. A significant portion of the novel deals with Mace’s struggle to remain the man he always was or rise up to the occasion and selflessly save the people from the resurrected Vampyre Kings and a conquering warlord.

Magic in Morningstar:
The magic is organized in two different categories, magick and sorcery. Magick is the creation of illusions using tricks of light. Owen Odell regularly uses illusions to entertain patrons in the taverns and inns he visits. The purpose of illusions is primarily to entertain and Odell uses them to make a living as a travelling entertainer. What other use could there be for the Hatchling Dragon, a tick in which a baby dragon is shown to hatch for the crowd?

Sorcery is the kind of magic we’re used to reading about in fantasy novels. It’s harnessing the power of base elements, like heat and light or warmth and contentment, and combining them in a way to create or destroy. Sorcery is essentially a more advanced form of magick. It’s interesting to see Odell’s progression from entertainer to accomplished sorcery. By harnessing heat, building it and shaping it and mixing it with some light, he’s able to make fire. It’s not an original basis for a magic system but I find the relation between illusions and sorcery to be an interesting. One is the building blocks on which the other is created. Sorcery doesn’t seem to have any limitations. A certain character uses it to travel in time. Odell’s mentor, Cataplas uses his magick for necromancy, creating hellhounds out of dead animals.

The creation of a legend:
The story is told in the first person narration. The bard, Odell, tells the story of how Jarek Mace became the morning star from his point of view. It’s fascinating to see a character like Mace change and grow over the course of the book from the point of view of one of his companions. There are numerous books in which a character becomes a hero but the point of view is internal, we have that very same character’s point of view. The narration by Odell is also important to the main theme of the book. It’s not just a first person narration. Gemmell writes a framing sequence of an older Odell telling the story of Morningstar. He specifically tells the story from his point of you as opposed to the legend of Morningstar.

I really like how Gemmell address the fact that a true hero’s work isn’t done when the last evil man is slain. He has to replace the head of state. It’s not enough to wield sword and shield and defend the innocent. You can’t leave a power vacuum to be filled by the next opportunist in line. Mace was singularly adept at thieving, single combat and leading men into battle but he was next to useless when it came to administrating a city-state. It’s not the focus of the book by any means, but it’s addressed because it provides yet another example of why Mace doesn’t think he is suited to be the legend everybody thinks he is.

The tragedy of Jarek Mace is that he’s the only one, aside from Odell, who is aware of the irony that he, thief and overall scoundrel, is acclaimed as a hero of the people. He’s the only one to struggle with the idea that a rogue such as he can be a hero to others. It takes him a very long time to realize that a hero isn’t remember for who he was, but what he did. It’s a person’s actions that are remembered through the ages, not the individual.

The quest of a hero is accidental as is the creation of a hero. The first half of the book is mostly Owen Odell and Jaerk Mace escaping the armies of the Angostin and helping those they come across. Usually, Mace has ulterior motives for helping others (acquiring gold and other riches) but over time, rather rapidly, the legend of his accomplishments as the Morningstar begins to grow. They’re pretty reactionary until the middle of the book where they uncover the evil plot of Cataplas. As always, Mace goes along reluctantly, urged on by his followers which continue to increase in number. It was never his intent or his goal to become the hero of the people. There is a force pushing, urging Mace to fully embrace the legend. It’s not his destiny, though. There is no cosmic entity forcing him to take on the role. Gemmell is arguing that it’s the choices of Mace and his company that were made along their journey that ultimately made a hero out of Mace. He could have run away on numerous occasions but he continuous decided to stay and help those in need. The fact that he often had ulterior motives doesn’t matter because the end result was so positive. Regardless of his reasons, his selfish acts often times didn’t earn him the riches he was working for. Without his wanting to, Mace’s selfish acts were made selfless.

The novel is also about identity and the conflict that every individual has to be true to themselves in spite of exterior influences. It's primarily characterized in Jarek Mace, of course. His internal conflict is a result of the polarized versions of himself, how he sees himself and how others choose to see him. There are similar conflicts of identity with other characters. Young Ilka who is forcefully living the life of a whore and her desire to leave that life behind. Piercollo who doesn't like violence and only takes part when he thinks it's necessary. His love of cooking and singing contrasts with the way others see him because of his giant and muscled body, the body of a warrior. Owen Odell who despite having made his choice long ago t 
o become a bard and magicker, is constantly reminded how he, a bard and magicker is nothing like the brave warriors that are his father and brothers. Even Cataplas whose endless pursuit for knowledge has made him a villainous sorcerer in the eyes of strangers and old friends sees himself very different. His goal in life is the endless pursuit of knowledge, not understanding the amorality of certain types of knowledge.

With Morningstar, Gemmell manages to tell a story that has many similarities to his other works but also defies the genre. The juxtaposition of real events and the story told of them tears down the romanticism often found in the fantasy genre. It’s such a strong element of the genre that it was jarring for me, a regular reader of fantasy, to read about such a complexly flawed character such as Jarek Mace. To know that the hero of the Highlands dismissed the suicide of a woman who loved him as a trivial matter was shocking. It resembles the anti-hero archetype of which we see everywhere today but Jarek Mace is of a different breed. He struggles with both sides of himself and Gemmell told his tale, through the mouth of another, in a beautiful way. He also wrote some kick ass action scenes because he’s David Gemmell and I expect no less. I would recommend this book to anybody who’s ever complained about the lack of single volume fantasy novels or fans of heroic fantasy. 

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Miscellaneous reviews 03

Dr. Slump volume 9 by Akira Toriyama:
Akira Toriyama’s first weekly manga series, Dr. Slump, is an excellent read. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. Toriyama has a combination of intelligent, crass and simply stupid jokes. Each chapter is a barrage of various different types of jokes that incessantly pummel the reader. It all sound violent but trust me, it’s an excellent read. Arale is one of the cutest robots in the history of the medium.

I missed volume 9 when I was first buying the volume. I have most of the series and volume 9 was one of the two gaps I had in my collection. I was upset to have missed it because Dr. Senbei Norimaki and Ms. Midori Yamabuki get married. The weeding is followed by romping multi-part honeymoon. It was great to read about the wedding and honeymoon because I was wondering how the whole thing happened. Needless to say, Toriyama did not disappoint. I was a little weird to read one of the volumes at the half way mark because there was a surprising amount of differences from earlier stories. Someday I plan on writing a longer post about why this is one the most hilarious comics ever published. Each volume has special feature pages and this volume is no different. Half of the pages are slice of life type newspaper articles making fun of Toriyama. The rest are short, one page comics about the creation of some of the main characters. Dr. Slump is always an absolute joy to read I wouldn’t trust anybody who tells you they don’t enjoy it. They’re lying to you.

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany:
I really enjoyed Babel-17. It’s the first novel by Samuel R. Delany that I’ve ever read. I’ve been interested in reading some of his books as he sounds like a tremendous influence in the field of science fiction and fantasy. There were several of his novels at a used book store near home so I decided to pick up a few. I wasn’t sure where to start so I picked the book with the cover I enjoyed the most. It was a quick read but one that provided me with a few hours of enjoyment while reading and several more afterword. There is a lot to think about long after you put down the book.

The book deals with linguistic relativity (also known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis) or how language affects your understanding of the world. Some people believe that your ability to communicate something in directly linked to your understanding of it. Rydra Wong, a renowned poet, is asked to decode Babel-17, a code which is being used to orchestrate strategic military attacks. It turns out that Babel-17 is not a code but a highly advances language from the depth a space. As Rydra learns the language her perception and understanding of the world around her radically changes.

I read an interview in which Delany mentions how he discovered the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis a few years after writing Babel-17 which completely disproved the theory in his opinion. Delany thought of about linguistic relativity without being able to label it with specific words. I enjoyed Delany’s style. It was poetic and managed to starkly describe the world in which the characters exist while also portraying the beauty of things. There are also neat ideas about the future like the extensive use of “cosmetisurgery” that not only modify the appearance of individuals but can also give enhanced abilities. It’s also rather funny at times. I particularly enjoyed how one of the characters references James Bond as being a real person. I enjoyed Babel-17 and I understand why it’s regularly considered a classic science-fiction novel. I’ve not entirely made up my mind on Delany but I know for certain that I’ll be reading more of his books because I’ve rather enjoyed this one.

Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus volume 2:
Jack Kirby continues his opus in the second collection of all the Fourth World stories, Superman’s Pal: Jimmy Olsen, Forever People, New Gods and Mister Miracle. I think it’s great that the titles are organized chronologically in theses collections. It’s not all great though because there is a downside. Walter Simonson mentions the incredible momentum that Kirby was building with four titles coming out on bi-monthly schedules. I don’t see it. I don’t feel it, either. Most of these title have a momentum building up within their own pages but skipping from one title to another nullifies that feeling of momentum and growth in the story. It’s as if the story is too big and it’s taking an unnecessarily long time to really get going. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the omnibus collection and therefore the entire Fourth World saga feels unfocussed and unnecessarily bloated.

Two volumes in and I find it very difficult to enjoy any of the Jimmy Olsen issues. Unless something happens in that title in later volumes, I think it could have been completely cut out from the Fourth World story. I wish I didn’t have to say that, but it’s true. But, for every issue of Jimmy Olsen I get one issue New Gods and another of Mister Miracle which are just superb. I absolutely adore both of those two titles. Kirby’s crazy ideas are at their finest in those two titles and his art is spectacular. Mister Miracle because much more interesting than it was in the first volume with the introduction of Big Barda, it’s hard to believe, I know, but she’s a great character. Forever People also continues to be good. It’s much better than Jimmy Olsen but there is something holding it back from being as good as New Gods or Mister Miracle. Either way, these are great comics from the 70s and I’ll definitively enjoy revisiting this once I’m done the series. I might end up skimming through the Jimmy Olsen issues though. Especially those Don Rickles co-star issues.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Starfleet Academy 02: Line of Fire

The events of the cover takes place
during the last ten pages of the book.
Don't worry, you're only about halfway
 done the story. Wait, what?

In Starfleet Academy: Line of Fire, Peter David continues to tell the story of Worf from Star Trek: The Next Generation, during his years at Starfleet Academy in San Francisco. The first novel served as an introduction to a young Worf and the friends he made at the Academy. It also focused on Worf’s first real interaction with people who didn’t accept him or trust him because of his Klingon heritage. The second novel expands on this and also adds another staple element of Worf’s character in TNG, how he seems himself not fully as a Klingon and no fully Terran, either.

We learn at the beginning of Line of Fire that Worf’s study group, comprising of Terrans Mark McHenry and Tania Tobia, Vulcan Soleta and Brikarian Zak Kebron, has become one of the Academy’s best group of students. Professors and other students have even started to call them the “Dream Team”. As such it’s not surprising that all five cadets are chosen to accompany one of their teachers on a negotiation mission on Dantar IV. Danta IV is a colony with a population that is equally divided between Terrans and Klingons. It’s a little too obvious a situation in which to spotlight Worf’s dual heritage but a direct approach isn’t always a bad thing.

The cadets travel to Dantar aboard the Repulse which we first encountered in season two, episode one of TNG. David writes a nice scenes in which Worf and Captain Taggert talk about Taggert’s crew being surprised at Worf’s appearance. Some of the crew members even do a double-take when seeing the young Klingon in a Starfleet uniform aboard their ship. Worf mentions his disappointment at the reaction of members of Starfleet. He didn’t expect shock and surprised from people who had been trained at the Academy and have likely seen many stranger things than he. Taggert’s reply is that just because you’ve gone through Starfleet training doesn’t mean you’ve been ride of the capability of being surprised. Starfleet, like many other large organizations, no matter how well organized, will always be made up of individuals who have their own beliefs and prejudices. Worf will have to learn to cope with people’s reaction to him.

It's really hot and bright on Dantar IV. It's not all bad, you get to wear
these awesome shades.

Worf gets another taste of this once they arrive on Dantar IV. So far he’s experience the reaction of his adoptive family and cadets at the Academy. He’s not in the middle of a negotiation between colonists comprised of people from both his heritage. Worf embodies nature vs. nurture, the constant struggle between his Klingon genes and his human upbringing. On Dantar his inner conflict is externalized. David also throws in a romantic interest by having K’Ehleyr be one of the Klingon negotiators. It’s so strange to me that both groups have chosen young individuals to take part and, at times, lead the negotiations.

I understand that the individuals in this novel are teens, young adults actually. They deal with everything seemingly without ease. There are scientists and other professionals in the colony but they’re unable to deal with some relatively simple tasks. I’ve always considered colonists to be strong, independent and resourceful individuals. Their job requires that they regularly deal with difficult decisions forcing them to apply problem solving skills daily. Why then are they incapable of taking care of themselves and their petty squabbles? I feel like David didn’t take the time to address this while plotting the book because of he intended audience. I also think he did this in order to avoid writing a book about the day to day lessons in Starfleet. It would probably have been a bore for David and the readers if every chapter was about the Dream Team attending class and studying.

Just like my review, the second Starfleet Academy book ends upbruptly. An unidentified ship attacks the colony and everybody evacuates except for the Dream Team, K’Ehleyr and a couple more Klingons. It’s not really a cliffhanger. The book simply ends and immediately picks up with the third book. 

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Miscellaneous reviews 02

Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus volume 1

Jack Kirby is great. I don’t love everything he does but when it comes to dynamic art, he takes the cake. The Fourth World is probably his masterpiece and these handy omnibus volumes give me a chance to read it for the first time. Best of all, the whole thing is in chronological order which is a big deal for me as I find that’s the best way to read any series of books or comics. The Fourth World is a story told with fourth by monthly titles, Superman’s Pal: Jimmy Olsen, New Gods, Mister Miracle and Forever People. Unfortunately, not all of the titles are as worthwhile as the others. Jimmy Olsen, despite being filled with excellent ideas, interesting settings and some oddball characters, just doesn’t work for me. It’s not very good.

Thankfully the rest of the titles are better, Mister Miracle is my favourite in this first volume. The journey from Scott Free to Mister Miracle is a joy to experience. I love every single escape act that happen in the first three issues. New Gods is also an excellent title. It’s Jack Kirby at his most mythic and grandiose. I don’t think these stories would work in any other medium and Kirby proves that time and time again by filling his comics with big ideas, page after page. It allows for a quick, and fascinating, read for those who like to read their comics that way. The real strength of these comics though is that the big ideas also coalesce into a larger narrative in a satisfying way. There is plenty here to make the more pensive readers stop and reflect at the wonders of the Fourth World.  

Secret Avengers: Run the Mission, Don’t get Seen, Save the World by Warren Ellis
Warren Ellis is one of the best writers when it comes to single issue stories. Particularly when it comes to writing single issue stories that also built a larger narrative while also providing the reader with interesting character interactions. He’s done several series that shy away from excessively long and decompressed multi-issue story arcs such as Fell, Global Frequency and Planetary are just a few examples. Even some of his longer series had shorter story arcs. The Authority and Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. are built on a three issues arc structure. Transmetropolitan was built on a combination of three issue arcs followed by three single issue stories. That particular series lasted for 60 issues and it’s the most representative of Ellis’s style and content out of his entire body of work.

With Secret Avengers: Run the Mission, Don’t get Seen, Save the World, Ellis tells stories similar in concept and execution of the stories in Global Frequency but with a superhero twist. The trade paperback contains six stories that mix together the super spy and science fiction genres together into an effective mix (super spy stories often come with a nice helping of science fiction anyway). Each issue is drawn by a different artist starting with Jamie McKelvie and continuing (in order) with Kev Walker, David Aja, Michael Lark, Alex Maleev and Stuart Immonen. It’s interesting to see how Ellis seems to write a story that will suit the artist he’s working with. The use of a different artist with each new issue makes this series seems even more like a superhero version of Global Frequency which is a good thing because it’s one of my favourite Warren Ellis series. I don’t think Secret Avengers is as good a collection because we’re so used to seeing these characters do extraordinary things that it’s difficult to put them in interesting and original situations and have the story begin and end in 22 pages. Ellis and the rotating team of artists do an excellent job telling engaging stories with overly familiar characters and that’s an impressive feat in the climate of today’s comic book industry. The fact that most of the stories deal with moral dilemmas of various kinds is just the icing on top of the cake, proving once again that Ellis, even while doing work-for-hire work on superhero titles, is a master of the genre.

Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment
I’ve never really been a big fan of Doctor Strange. Not because I dislike the character but because I’ve never really read one of his solo stories until Doctor Strange: The Oath. Before that I’ve only ever read stories with Doctor Strange in them as a guest star or as a supporting character. Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment is written by long time Doctor Strange writer, Roger Stern. It’s drawn by Mike Mignola and inked and coloured by Mark Badger. It’s also the best Doctor Strange story I’ve ever read (ok, I know this isn’t saying much considering the beginning of this paragraph). Once every year, Doctor Doom travels to hell and fights for his mother’s soul. Each year his battle ends in a stalemate. Triumph and Torment tells the story of the latest attempt by Doom to win back his mother’s soul. Doom, through an interesting series of events I won’t spoil here, is able to join forces with a reluctant Doctor Strange and once again challenges Mephisto in his domain.

Despite being more of a Doctor Doom story, Triumph and Torment is an excellent comic through and through. There is a theatricality to the comic that elevates it to the status of modern classic. Stern’s moving and often philosophical story also helps with this. The biggest highlight though is the artwork. I wish comics had art like that nowadays. The line work by Mike Mignola is very different to his work on Hellboy. I think the primary cause for the difference in art this early on in Mignola’s career is Mark Badger’s contribution as inker. The colouring, also by Badger, is simply beautiful. It adds so much depth to the comic that I doubt it would work as well without it. I love everything about this story. IT’s so rare to see a creative team firing on all cylinders while also having their individual contributions coalesce into a single work, a single vision.  

Despite being more of a Doctor Doom story, Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment, is an excellent comic through and through. I’ve read this comic twice since its release and I plan on doing so again sometime soon because there is so much to love. It’s also convinced me to track down some more Doctor Strange comics. Luckily for me, this collection also includes three more Doctor Strange stories form the 1970s and 1980s which provide additional context to the main story after which this collection is named.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

PokéJournal: Update 016

-I’m still on the Ice Path and I'm still finding items. First one today is a PP Up.

-Huh, I'm out of the Ice Path. That wasn't as long of a cave segment as I thought it would be. I don’t know why but I'm not a fan of overly complicated cave systems in the Pokémon games. For some reason I expected the Ice Path to be a long complicated. I’m glad it wasn’t though.

-I traded Pokémon with my friend a couples months back but I haven't had a chance to rotate any of the ones he traded me into my party. He gave me a Cyndaquil Egg. I'm going to include it in my party and replace Growlithe. I'm sad to let Growlithe go but I don't want him to level up anymore. I need a fire stone to make him evolve to Arcanine but I want him to learn Extreme Speed when he evolves. I think its level 39 but I have to double check. At this time, I don’t have a stone and I want to wait. Besides, a Cyndaquil Egg is a pretty good replacement fire-type.

-Aw crap, I had two eggs in the PC and I don't know which one is a Cyndaquil. I take out one of the eggs and I hop on my bike. For about 5 to ten minutes I’m biking around like an idiot and lucky me, the egg hatched a Cyndaquil. I wonder what the other egg is? Oh well.

-I get a call from Arnie on Route 35 asking me to battle. I go see him and he only had a level 36 Venonat. Naturally I kicked his ass, thanked him for the experience points (Cyndaquil went from level 1 to 6!) and went on my way.

-I just caught a Gligar on Route 45. As a ground and flying dual type Pokémon, it might be a good replacement option for Pidgeotto. It also has an evolved form which is nice. I’m always a little sceptical of Pokémon that don’t have evolved forms. Not only are they a bit boring because they never get to evolve, but are they really that good? The short answer is that yes, some of them are. Even non-legendary non-evolving Pokémon can be tough. Heracross is a fine example of that.

-I take some time to run around in the tall grass and train my Cyndaquil. In no time at all, it evolves into a Quilava. It’s crazy how fast low level Pokémon can get trained the farther along you are in the game. It even makes friendship evolutions easier because the best way to increase friendship is to have the Pokémon level up. In my Pokémon Platinum game, I had fun breeding and catching Eevees and getting them all to evolve into all of the Eeveelutions. It was pretty easy to train up Espeon and Umbreon from an egg. You just gave them the Exp. Share and once they hit level 20 or so, boom, evolution.

-I was curious about the other egg in the PC so I go get it and bike around again. Another five or ten minute later and: Cyndaquil. What? Why do I have two of these? Back in the PC with you, I have a Quilava!

-After dropping Cyndaquil in the PC, I got to the Ice Path to train Quilava. He’s at a level where he’s able to battle a bit for himself. Since he’s a traded Pokémon, he’s levelling up pretty quickly. It’s great that he gets 50% more experience points than my non-traded Pokémon. Since I’m back in the Ice Path I’m taking the time to make sure I got all of the items in the cave. I use the Dowsing Machine and right away I find a hidden Revive! That’s a pretty sweet item to find just laying around.
I finally find a replacement for Pidgeotto.
-I’m sick and tired of Pidgeotto’s uselessness. I gave my friend my Platinum game to trade my Skarmory from that game to my Heart Gold game since it can’t be caught in that version. It’s at level 53. I’ll definitively use it to replace Pidgeotto with a level like that. I might not keep him until the end of the game but he’s a pretty great asset to my party for now. That’s a total of two non-evolving Pokémon in my party. I hope it’s not the start of a trend for me.

-I keep on training the party by running up and down Route 45 and 46. I’ve done some good training and I feel like I’m ready to take on Clair, the Blackthorn City Gym Leader. Clair uses dragon type Pokémon. I’ve got a level 53 Skarmory and my Feraligatr knows Ice Fang which I’m pretty sure is super effective against dragon type. Anyway, I feel ready and I’m sure my Quilava will get some good experience points holding the Exp. Share (plus the trade boost).

-I have a feeling I’ll be fighting tons of Dratini in this gym. The guy at the door confirms that the Ice Types are weak against dragon. It sucks for Clair that her village is at one of the entrances to the Ice Path. Seems like a poor location to start a dragon-type gym.  I have no idea who this guy or this group of guys are standing at the entrance of every gym but they usually give you helpful tips regarding type advantages. I’ll be sure to say thanks to him on my way out.

-Feraligatr’s Ice Fang is doing a great job against all of these Dratini and Dragonair from the trainers in the gym. Quilava is already at level 26! It’s great how fast he’s levelling up. I’m getting a bit annoyed at all the trainers. There seems to be more than usual. At least I’m getting experience and money out of it. I finish beating all of the trainers so I take a break and run to the Poké Center to heal up before the battle with Clair.

-She starts out with a Gyarados. I swap out my Feraligatr for Ampharos. Gyarados uses Dragon Rage. Ampharos uses Discharge but Gyarados gets to do another Dragon Rage first. He’s fast but the Discharge ends up being a one-hit KO.

Clair, the eight and final gym
leader of Johto. 
-Clair sends out a Dragonair. I swap in my Feraligatr. Feraligatr attacks with an Ice Fang and Dragonair uses Thunder Wave and paralyze my Pokémon. Clair uses a Hyper Potion and heals all the damage Feraligatr did with Ice Fang. Feraligatr uses a couple more Ice Fang attacks and Dragonair faints.  

-Clair sends out another Dragonair. Feraligatr is still paralyzed but I use Ice Fang again. It doesn’t do anything because of the paralysis. Dragonair keeps on using Dragon Pulse to the point where I have to heal Feraligatr. I use a Moo Moo Milk (shit, I’m running low on those) and he heals up nicely. I defeat the second Dragonair with an Ice Fang.  

-Kingdra is Clair’s last Pokémon. I send my Ampharos in but he faints in two hits before being able to do any damage. I send out Skarmory. He also faints. My only option left is to send out Feraligatr again but he needs some status healing (still paralyzed) and his HP is low. I learn the hard way that Kingdra has Hydro Pump and Hyper Beam! Come on! I eventually get him to faint all thanks to Feraligatr’s good defence and Ice Fang.

-I defeated Clair, booya! I’ve got to go pick up some more Moo Moo Milk. I used my last two during the Gym Leader battle. I got and buy the milk and then I fly back to Blackthorn City to go to the Dragon’s Den. I want to catch a Dratini.

-It’s going to be difficult to catch a Dratini because the water surface in the Den is full of Magikarp. They’re the worst. You don’t even get good experience point fighting them. There’s a Dragon Shrine but I need to use Whirlpool to get there. I need to go teach it to a Pokémon but I don’t want to teach anyone in my party. I make a quick trip to the Poké Center.

-Back in the Dragon’s Den I go into the temple. There is an old man who asks me silly questions. Clair shows up and is blown away that I’ve passed the old man’s test. She reluctantly gives me the gym badge I won while defeating her in battle, which she refused to give to me earlier.

-I decide to stick around in the Dragon’s Den in the hopes of catching a Dratini. I want one really badly. I stay so long that my Ampharos runs out of PP for all of his offensive moves. As soon as I put Sandslash as my lead, I encounter a Dratini, of course. I send in Kingler (which I only have because I needed a water type that could learn Whirlpool) and I use BubbleBeam. Dratini’s HP is in the yellow so I send in Ampharos and paralyze it. I toss a few Net Balls and then a few more Ultra Balls then I finally catch it! It took quite a bit of balls but it was worth it because you don’t really get a lot of chances to catch a Dratini. I get the hell out of there before I bump into any more Magikarp.
Clair's Dragonairs were pretty tough, but
not as tough as her Kingdra.

-I get a call from Professor Elm. He wants me to visit him because he has something to show me. I fly and go visit him and, lucky me, I received a Master Ball from Prof. Elm. Nice! He suggests I go see the Kimono Girls since they’ve been looking for me. I’m not going to go right away because I want to train my team. They’re all at low levels. I want all of them to get up to around level 50. I have lots of training to do.

Pokémon caught: Phanpy, Gligar and Dratini.
Pokémon traded: Teddiursa and Skarmory.
Gym Leader defeated: Clair.
Fights with Craphat (Rival): None.
Evolutions: Egg to Cyndaquil and Cyndaquil to Quilava.
Pokémon in party: Skarmory, Feraligatr, Heracross, Ampharos, Sandslash and Quilava.
Highest level in party: Skarmory, level 53.
Lowest level in party: Quilava, level 32.
Pokédex: 103
Time played:  42.39

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Battling Boy by Paul Pope review

According to interviews, Paul Pope’s Battling Boy originated as Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth pitch for DC Comics. Pope has described what was going to be his Kamandi as “a violent adventure story for young readers with a boy lead character”. DC Comics passed on the idea because apparently they do not publish comics for kids. They publish comics for 45-year-olds. It’s a ludicrous idea and Paul Pope turned around and reworked his pitch into Battling Boy which ends up being a pretty strong argument against the idea that comics for young readers are exclusively for kids. I tremendously enjoyed the first volume of Battling Boy and I’m glad that Pope, a creator of certain renown, used his influence to create something that’s worthwhile and feels fresh in a medium that can regularly make readers feel like they’ve eaten too much candy before bed.

There is so much to enjoy in Battling Boy, the story of a young boy god who is sent to a planet that resembles a post-apocalyptic earth. Every god who reaches the age of third teen is sent on a Rambling, a solitary quest that will help them grow from a child to an adult. His quest is simple, he has to find a way to protect Arcopolis and become the city’s hero. It’s a simply story, and one that’s been told for ages, but it’s the unique influences that Pope brings to the story that make it a worthwhile read.

The origin of Battling Boy. Kamandi is a great
character created by Jack Kirby and starring in his
own series in the 1970s.
As always, Pope’s art is excellent. He draws brutish and ugly monster while somehow given them a sense of whimsy that I’ve never noticed in his art before. He seamlessly meshes together the fantastic elements of Boy’s homework and the super-science elements of Aurora. I’ve never noticed such a strong manga influence in Pope’s work before. It’s always been there on some level (heck, just look at his weird yet wonderful euro-comic/manga mash up of his art style). In Battling Boy, however, the manga influence is also in the extended action sequences and the story. What’s been labelled as a Young Adult comic by First Second is essentially a North American shonen manga.

Despite being steeped in manga influence, you can clearly see the influence of Silver Age comics in Battling Boy. The artistic influence of Jack Kirby, the construct of the science hero whose life mission is to protect the inhabitants of his city are also present in this story. The first volume of Battling Boy also focused on the daughter of the city’s superhero, Haggard West. Aurora’s story is equally important to Battling Boy as Boy’s story. They both have an initial character arc that begins and ends in 200 pages. She witness and grieves the death of her father but she also makes the first steps towards taking over his mantle. Boy, whose story arc is different but follows a similar path, learns what is required of him to become a true hero, like his father. Both characters have a legacy to uphold and are determined to follow it through. I’ve barely finished reading the first volume of Pope’s fantastic new series and already I cannot wait for the next installment.

Item likes Boy’s totem animal t-shirts are a power-ups taken straight from video games and fighting manga. For Boy, though, they’re not just for fighting. Pope gives it a more serious and interesting twist by having Boy use them as totem animal consultants. When he discovers that he can’t just punch himself out of his problems, Boy decides to talk to the cleverest and the wisest of his totem animals. It’s a pivotal scene and it adds a great amount of depth to the work. Battling Boy is also similar to manga because of the lessons the characters learn. You also know that in the second volume Aurora and Boy will become friends and Boy’s greatest strength will be his resolve to never give up and his determination to protect those that need protection.

Pope does an excellent job conveying the sense that Battling Boy’s parents sent him on his Rambling to learn those very lessons. Boy’s father is a monster killer not because he like sports or because he’s doing I to show off. You feel as though he fights monsters to protect others. When Battling Boy calls his dad for help during his first battle, one of the things his dad asks about is whether or not Boy tried to reason with the monster, Humbaba. In this world, monsters are not, by definition, evil beings. They’re misguided and confused and angry. Their destructive behaviour is symptomatic of their situation. In that same conversation Boy’s dad asks if the monster is hungry. It would be such a simple reason for a monster to be angry. The mayor of Arcopolis told Battling Boy that they do not know where the monsters come from. They simply appear. Maybe the monsters are being taken from their homes and dropped, unceremoniously, onto the city of Arcopolis. I’d be pretty upset if that happened to me.

Pope’s story follows the well-established formula of a mythical coming of age tale. He does it with such bravado and energy that it still feels fresh. There’s also a lot of heart. Boy struggles with the difficulties of his task. It’s somewhat hard to believe that he’s the son of the famed monster slaying Thor-like god. It’s a Greek myth using gods of the Norse pantheon to tell a superhero and manga influence action and adventure story. What’s kept me interested in Paul Pope as a comic creator ever since I’ve read my first comic of his (Batman 100) is the multiple influences his brings to his craft Whether it’s the foodie culture or fashion or his attention to detail and practicality in his design or the comics-of-the-world influences in his art, there’s a smorgasbord of things to enjoy.

My only disappointment in the comic is the colouring. Hilary Sycamore coloured Battling Boy and although she does a pretty good job, the whole thing is too bright when it needs to be darker and too dark and muddy when it needs to be brighter. I would have preferred to see José Villarrubia on colouring duties. He’s done an excellent job with previous works by Pope and his contribution would have elevated Battling Boy to a whole new level.

I enjoyed Battling Boy like I enjoyed Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim and Corey Lewis’s Sharknife. It’s better than Sharknife and it’s equally good to Scott Pilgrim though both works have their different strengths. Despite the different influences, the works all have pretty strong similarities while maintaining distinct authorial voices and tone. It’s impressive that more than 20 years in the business, Pope still manages to create comics that are emotionally resonant and entertaining. Battling Boy is a fun comic but it also has depth. In some ways, his Young Adult comic is better than some of his more adult oriented works. I easily could have read another 200 pages of this comic and that’s a good thing because a second volume is on the way. It can’t get here soon enough.