Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Blog Fantastic 031: The Forest of Doom review

Sometimes the internet amazes me with its accidental usefulness. A short while ago I was searching for an action packed fantasy novel and so I searched for “best fighting fantasy novel” and an image for The Forest of Doom popped up. Immediately I recognized the cover. This is the book I borrowed from my elementary school library. Except for the words, it was in French book, this was the exact cover of a book that has been in my mind for years. I may even have mentioned it on the blog one or twice. I remember this book because of its striking cover, it’s simply gorgeous, but also because it’s the only choose-you-own-adventure fantasy novel I’ve ever encountered. More than that, I remember there was a character sheet and dice rolling involved. At the time, I didn’t use the adventure sheet, didn’t keep score when I fought monsters, and I didn’t roll any dice. I didn’t want to write in the book because I’ve always taken good care of books. Worse, I didn’t have a way of scanning the pages and making copies so I read without playing but it amazed me nonetheless. Simply put, it was a wonderful reading experience. I never remembered what the title was so I haven’t been able to search for it with any success. Thus it stayed lost to me until a couple weeks ago. Thanks, Internet.

Any fan of fantasy that grew up during the 80s or early 90s is probably familiar with this type of book, if not with this book specifically. Fighting Fantasy books were a huge hit at the time and they’ve had a resurgence of sort in the last decade. Recently they’ve been taking on the form of mobile and table apps with apparent success. For those who aren’t familiar with Fighting Fantasy, it’s a series of novels that combined choose-your-own-adventure books and table top role playing games in the vein of Dungeons & Dragons. The result is a role playing adventure you can play on your own and essentially anywhere. To be clear, the kind of enjoyment you get out of book like The Forest of Doom is more akin to playing a game of adventuring and monster slaying that the kind of entertainment you would get out of a straight-up novel. If you need more information about these books or if you’re simply interested in the origin of Fighting Fantasy, I urge you to read Damien McFerran’s comprehensive history of the series at Euro Gamer. It’s the best article I’ve found on the subject.

The Forest of Doom is the third book in the Fighting Fantasy series. It is written by Ian Linginstone with interior illustrations by Malcolm Barter and a cover y Iain McCaig. The story is quite simple, you are on the edges of a forest when a dying dwarf stumbles onto your campsite. Before dying he entrusts you with a mission to find the legendary Hammer of Stonebridge and he pays you 30 gold pieces for it. You must journey into Darkwood Forest and find both pieces of the hammer as the head and the handle are separated. In the forest you must face all manner of foul beasts and evil creatures. It’s a simple but effective setup for the adventure. “Two dice, a pencil and an eraser are all you need to make your journey. YOU decide which parths to take, which dangers to risk and which monster to fight.” Game on!

I had three adventures with The Forest of Doom. My first one was a blast but ultimately a pretty spectacular failure as far as completing my mission. I made it through the forest but I almost died several times and the monsters I managed to kill almost had the best of me. I didn’t find any of the hammer pieces and when I arrived at Stonebridge I met a disappointed dwarf who gave me the option of walking around the forest to start my adventure anew. While do just that I was attacked and killed by Wild Hill Men. I didn’t do anything that I had set out to do. My game was essentially an exercise in putting off the inevitable death that awaited me in the eponymous Forest of Doom.

My second adventure actually went better. I was a little more informed as to what to expect in the forest and so I was able to prepare for it. I went in a completely different direction than my first trip partly because I wanted to explore the rest of the forest and also because I didn’t find anything of value in my first trip. Shortly after I stared the second adventure I found my first piece of the Legendary Hammer. It took a long time and a lot of exploring to find the second piece but I had some good enough stats that I was able to make it through the forest without too much trouble. I had to use my provisions to heal regularly but avoiding death is basically all you need to do to keep going. After finding the second piece of the hammer I fought the Wyvern a second time, it was easier because I had a flute, and walked triumphantly into Stonebridge where the dwarves rewarded me with riches. I’m actually a little disappointing the second go around was more or less easy. It could also be that my first trip into Darkwood was pitiful and my second trip only looks good in comparison.

The third round was actually played by Lisa, my young sister-in-law. She’s twelve and I thought she might be the right age group to really appreciate this kind of book. She also happens to be a fan of fantasy and science fiction movies, many of which we watched together. She was incredibly lucky with her dice roles before the start of the game so two of her three stats were maxed out and the third one was only missing one point to be at its maximum. Naturally, it was advantageous to her during gameplay. She started out being very careful and pretty skittish. She ran away from potentially dangerous sounds or dark tunnels in the ground. After I commented on this she started to be a little more daring. After about two fights with monsters her confidence shot through the roof. She became arrogant and overly confident in her skills as a fighter. At that point she started to actively seek out opponents and she more or less forgot about her mission. In one memorable series of battles, she went down a well and crawled through three separate tunnels not, you must understand, in search of the Hammer of Stonebridge, but in order to slay all of the Gremlins she could find. She found five and none of them could even remotely stand up to her since her Skill and Stamina were so high (she kept her Stamina high by using her meal provisions and regaining her Stamina points when it got too low, which wasn’t often). The game lasted for nearly three hours and she only lost after being killed after restarting from the beginning when she arrived at Stonebridge empty handed. Her stats were helpful through the entire game but in the end, her complete disregard for her safety resulting from the confidence she placed in her Skill and Stamina resulted in her downfall.

It was a joy to play with her. I read the passages in the book, putting emphasis here and there (“The forest of dooooom”, “Out from the shadows emerged . . . a werewolf!”). I also rolled the dice for the various monsters. It certainly made it more entertaining for her because she didn’t need to worry about the rules but they’re simple enough that she picked up very quickly and I didn’t even need to say anything to her. She knew what to do and when and understood why. I also let her do most of the math in her head which is a good exercise for since we often defer to calculators when they’re not really needed. I’m pleased to say she even wrote out additions and subtractions on her adventure sheet when she wanted to make sure she was calculating correctly. Another reason I liked to read for her was that it prevented her from cheating! It’s far too easy to cheat while playing a Fighting Fantasy gamebook but by relinquishing that control to me she was unable to try cheating though she jokingly asked if she could back track a few time knowing that I wouldn’t let her.

I’ll have to bring another Fighting Fantasy book the next I visit because she had so much fun. Even her dad who was watching TV shouted a few suggestions from the other room. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the story’s events that you can barely resist jumping in, even if it’s only temporary. I didn’t have as much fun reading The Forest of Doom alone but that’s ok because I’ve found a partner who’s willing to play along with me. It’s not exactly a two-player game but we made it work and we both had fun. That’s really what these books are about and it’s surprising how invested you get when you’re at the heart of the story and are given control to do as you please. After playing my first Fighting Fantasy book, as opposed to simply reading it like I did when I was young, it’s clear to me why they were so popular before and continue to endure today.

Consider it Covered:
The cover of The Forest of Doom by Iain McCaig is pretty spectacular. Even though I haven’t seen it in several years, I still recognized it immediately for what it was. It imprinted itself into my brain. The forest he draws looks pretty dense and everything looks a little bit sickly. It gives off the impression of danger. The monster is superb. It’s original yet a little familiar; probably do to its reptilian features and humanoid shape. The face has all the elements of a human face (eyes, nose and mouth) but the proportions and shape of those features have little bearing on anything human. Likewise the hands are one finger short and too long to look too human. It’s clearly a monster but it also looks as though it’s a creature that thinks. It looks deadly not only because of its claws, spikes and sharp teeth but because it looks intelligent enough to know how to use them in the most effective ways. What makes this cover so effective is that you feel the danger and the creature’s hand is curled in such a ways as to taunt you to enter at your own peril. Come into Darkwood Forest and see what else you’ll find there. It’s great stuff.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Miscellaneous Reviews 12: Dragon Ball Z Viz Big 01 and Skeleton Crew

Dragon Ball Z Viz Big volume 1 by Akira Toriyama:
I was introduced to Dragon Ball Z before ever being aware of Dragon Ball. Nowadays I consider both series to be one long series as it originally way in Japan. The popular series by creator Akira Toriyama was split into two different series in North America. The first series chronicles Goku’s childhood and rise to becoming the most powerful fighter on the planet. The second series tells of Goku’s ever-increasing strength caused by the necessity of regularly saving his adopted home planet of Earth and sometimes the entire universe. I suspect that even if the series had not been split in two we would still consider these volumes of Dragon Ball Z (volumes 1, 2 and 3 collected together in this edition) as a clear departure from the earlier Dragon Ball volumes.

At this point in the series the story has pulled away from the collection of Dragon Balls which was more of an adventure story with a focus on martial arts. The whole thing was also a vehicle for Toriyama’s sense of humour which dominated his first manga series, Dr. Slump. Dragon Ball Z focused much more on the fighting component and saw characters becoming increasingly, even ridiculously powerful during its publication. Even in the first volume you notice that loveable characters from Goku’s younger years will be playing a much smaller role during his years as Earth’s champion simply because they’re not strong enough to fight along with him against their new enemies. They still maintain a key role in the series but it’s mostly to provide additional character interactions, character development, and comic relief.

The most noteworthy change though is that Toriyama provides one of the most incredible retcon, or retroactive continuity, that I can remember so clearly. He did a radical change in Goku’s backstory by making him an alien. We learn that he’s native of planet Vegeta and he’s a Saiyan, a race of bloodthirsty warriors who completely eradicate planets of their sentient life forms in order to sell off the planets to rich clients. This is where the series attains its vast scope; from now on the outcome of Goku and the Z-Fighters battles will have consequences on the intergalactic scale. There are a few other retcons aside from Goku’s heritage but they all fall under the same category of the story’s overall expansion. We learn that the Demon King Piccolo and his god-like counterpart Kami are not mythological or supernatural beings, they too are aliens. Namekians, to be precise. In Dragon Ball Kami was thought to be one of the higher rankings of celestial officials but we quickly learn that there are other guardians above him with the introduction of King Kay who watches over the north quadrant of the galaxy.

The first three volumes of Dragon Ball Z are very impressive. Toriyama manages to completely change his story from an adventure, quest and coming of age story to a grand scale fighting extravaganza on the intergalactic level. The most impressive thing about this change in direction is that he did it without losing the main elements of the 16 volumes that preceded the arrival of Saiyans on Earth. Indeed, many of the characters from Dragon Ball will be present until the very last chapters of Dragon Ball Z. It’s all very different but also quite familiar, allowing fans of young Goku to join up with new fans of adult Goku in enjoying one of the most popular and loved action manga of all time.

Skeleton Crew by Stephen King:
In an effort to get over my unfounded prejudice against Stephen King and his massive body of work, I’m been sampling some of his books. Even though this is my second attempt to read Skeleton Crew the results have been pretty positive so far. The first time I read this collection of short stories and one novella, I couldn’t get past “The Monkey”. I really enjoyed “The Mist”, so much in fact that I wrote a review of just that story, but everything I read after it didn’t work for me. I wasn’t entirely surprised by this since I’ve found that collections of stories tend to vary greatly in quality and this is true of Skeleton Crew. Some stories were simply bad while other’s had a tone or style that didn’t particularly grab me. That’s not to say there aren’t any good stories. There are but I’m not able to recommended Skeleton Crew in its entirety. Instead, I would recommend the stories I think are the best or at least the most interesting thing and then let the reader decide if they’d like to read the rest. Here are a few quick thoughts on the stories I liked the most.
"The Mist"
Similarly to ‘Salem’s Lot what makes this story shine is the villagers and how they interact. The core of the story is surviving an invasion on inter-dimensional monsters but the monsters aren’t the focus of the story. It’s a character piece at heart and at just over a 100 pages it pretty powerfully condensed.

"Mrs. Todd's Shortcut"
This is a fun story that also deals with other dimensions. One woman’s passion for finding shortcuts leads her to speeding down roads that few or none others have travelled down before. It has a build but the entire thing is just off kilter enough to work well, even if you know how the story will end by the time you reach the halfway point. I’d like to read more stories like these. There is a definitive supernatural bent but there’s not real horror in sight.

"The Jaunt"
“The Jaunt”, is another story that can’t be described simply as horror though there is a clear horror element to it. It’s one of King’s few (so I’m told) science fiction stories. A father tells his family of the history of Jaunting, a form of teleportation that has been popularized in the future. During the telling he struggles to provide a complete narrative while also hiding some of the more unpleasant truths about Jaunting. He fails by leaving his listeners more curious than informed and the consequence is unsettling.

"The Raft"
This is probably the purest dose of horror in this collection. It’s incredibly straightforward but that simplicity helps it work. Four students go swimming out to the raft in the middle of a lake at midnight. It’s their last time swimming before the raft gets put away for the winter. They’re met by a dark oil slick on the surface of the water which proceeds to terrorize and attack them. It’s a chilling and gory story that completely captivated me. It’s probably the story that engaged me the most from all the other stories in Skeleton Crew.

"The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands"
I like this story more for the bookends than the story of the title. Again, it’s a story told within a story. King creates a gentlemen’s club with a never-aging butler and patrons that all seem to have dark secrets. The telling of “The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands” is one of those secret stories. While anybody with a bit of imagination can figure out why he doesn’t shake hands, the atmospheric tone of the storytelling made it a worthwhile read for me.

I found King’s second science fiction story in Skeleton Crew to be a disappointment but it was a good disappointing story. The story is too simple and even though I’ve only read a very small amount of stories by King, it has a pretty common structure amongst his work. Characters come face to face with an incarnation of evil, in this case a desert planet that appears to be sentient, and one of them stares into the abyss and is unable to look away, resulting in his destruction. It’s the one story I would have liked to see further developed as it could have been better or at least more interesting than how it is now.

"Survivor Type"
A man finds himself the lone survivor of a sunken cruise ship. He’s on an island with no food and a large amount of heroin. The story is told through his diary entries which become increasingly disjointed and strange as he slips into insanity. The best thing about this story is that King takes it to its natural conclusion and I appreciated that.

King’s ideas for short stories are generally pretty straight forward with the occasional twist ending. The problem with that is he takes time with his stories. He doesn’t rush to the end and he doesn’t drop the entire idea on the reader in just a few pages. This has the unfortunate consequence of making quite a few stories in this book slow to read and difficult to get through, not because of their difficulty but because it doesn’t successfully engage the reader. On the other hand, his better stories are a delight to read. Even some of the longer ones or those that have a simple idea that doesn’t hide away from the reader or is revealed in a twist ending. Reading “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut” it was clear that she would find a shortcut but what wasn’t obvious is the nature of that shortcut. Add to that a good style and an enjoyable pace and the result is one of the better stories. Likewise, “Survivor Type” and “The Raft” are very simple stories but King’s commitment to taking the story to their just conclusion is what makes them compulsively readable and enjoyable (well, a specific kind of enjoyable – they are pretty gruesome) stories.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Blog Fantastic 030: Dragonsinger review

Dragonsinger is the second part of the second trilogy of the Dragonriders of Pern series. When I wrote about the first part of the trilogy, Dragonsong, I provided some context as to its publication. The same applies to Dragonsinger. Actually, in many ways both books resemble each other. When I started to read the book it quickly became apparent that it’s more of a continuation of Dragonsong than an actual sequel. However I do agree with splitting up the book in two as the first book focuses on Menolly’s life at Half-Circle Sea Hold and her eventual escape while the second book focuses on her arrival at the Harper Hall where she will be receiving her training in harper craft.

I enjoyed my stay at the Harper Hall but I admit that I’m a little bummed out I was accompanied by Menolly the whole time. I like Pern, I really like Robinton and, more importantly, the storytelling in this book is enjoyable. It’s surprising that McCaffrey can write what more or less amounts to slice of life storytelling in an engaging way. There isn’t a villain, there isn’t a fantasy quest or many other science fiction and fantasy tropes. Instead, the book focuses on one of McCaffrey’s main themes: mankind’s ability to learn and improve. This theme is explored on a few levels. One the macro level, the series’ story, there are many elements in Dragonsinger that deal with the development of the Harper Hall with the inclusion of fire lizards and one of the most promising female apprentices. This also ties into the overarching plot of Pern’s reorganization after the return of threadfall in the Ninth Pass. On the micro level, the book’s story, Menolly actually faces a few challenges. Her reputation as a musical prodigy still holds up but she does face a few new challenges. She learns that she has limitations. She’s not particularly good at singing and one of her most valuable classes is singing lessons with Shonagar, the Voice Master.

Another thing that McCaffrey did well was introducing and developing the Harper Hall. Again, this was important not only for Menolly’s story but also the ongoing narrative of the Dragonriders of Pern up to this point in the series chronology. In Dragonflight and Dragonquest the main focus of the story is on Benden Weyr and the Dragonriders. We’re aware of the existence and some of the roles that the craft halls have but this is the first time that a main story takes place within of the halls. It was interesting to see how the storytelling and the organization of the individuals who work and live at the hall resembled the depiction of schools for magic in works of fantasy. I’m not sure if it’s just me or if there really is a comparison that come be made with places such as Hogwarts from Harry Potter and the School for Wizards on Roke Island in the Earthsea series. It must be tricky to write about something not everybody is familiar with. Magic is one thing but music, even though not everybody understands and not in the same way, especially not classical music, must also be difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t have that training. McCaffrey is pretty adept at writing about music in a way that provides detail without overwhelming readers with it. Even though I didn’t fully understand all the musical details, it was enough to allow me to stay engaged in the story and even flesh out additional conflict between characters.

That brings us to my main critique of this book. It has the same problem that Dragonsong had: Menolly is too good at everything she does. Menolly can’t fail and even worse than that she doesn’t even have to try hard. McCaffrey attempted to give her a handicap by giving Menolly an injury in the first book. She sliced her hand open while gutting a fish and she was poorly healed and her hand has scarred over, severely restricting the movement of her hand. Luckily, she’s so still that she can easily come up with variations that will accommodate her wounded hand while playing music on her gitar. Similarly, we learn in Dragonsinger that Menolly’s voice skills aren’t on the same level as her other musical skills. She’s given special one-on-one instruction by the Voice Master and in less than a week she appears to have mastered the art of singing. Menolly is so much better than everybody else that training to develop her weaknesses is easy for her. This kind of behaviour makes for very little conflict and personal growth. Instead of acknowledging her talents and using them in interesting or beneficial ways she’s glib about it. She acts as though she doesn’t realize just how good she is and it makes her unlikeable. What could easily have been an empowering story for young female readers turns into an exercise in arrogance and petty junior-high level drama. When Menolly dislikes a character it’s obviously because that other person is bad and deserves to be disliked. She’s never in the wrong and when others try to point out Menolly’s flaws many other characters come to her defence. The most frustrating quality that McCaffrey gives Menolly is her inability to understand her abilities in comparison to that of others. I think it’s supposed to make Menolly look like a nice person but it just backfires.

Since I’m (re)reading the series in publication order, I’ll be reading The White Dragon next and taking a break from Menolly. I’m glad I read the first two books of the Harper Hall Trilogy as they’ve provided me with a different point of view on the Dragonriders of Pern series but they were also frustrating, albeit in different ways as the principal trilogy. To be clear, I like Menolly in small doses and I would love for her to be given a challenge worthy of her skills as she is quite capable but so far she’s just coasting and it’s boring and frustrating to read about. I’ll be glad to return to the rest of Pern as I’m anxious to read about Jaxom and his white dragon. I’m also looking forward to seeing how the story of Dragonquest continues to develop. I’ll be returning to the Harper Hall Trilogy with the final book, Dragondrums which thankfully deals with another character other than Menolly, Piemur a character introduced in Dragonsinger that I happen to like quite a bit.

Consider it covered:
Here are some quick thoughts on the cover to my edition of Dragonsinger (pictured above). While I really like the Michael Whelan covers for The Dragonriders of Pern series it’s nice to have a cover by a different artist. In this case, Elizabeth Malczynski, who also did the cover of my edition of Dragonsong. Appropriately the focus is on Menolly and her fire lizards. They’re depicted in a stylized way, with very lean and accented features, particularly the wings and the claws. The result is nice but otherwise unbelievable. Like many artists who draw dragons, regardless of their size, I find that the wings are unrealistically small. I find it hard to believe that they could actually take flight. I’m a bit conflicted with this cover because while it’s a rather nice image with interesting details in the windows’ arches and the characters clothing and the scaly little dragons, it doesn’t do justice to the source material. I find it difficult to believe that there is such detailed architecture on Pern. Most Forts and Holds are carved out of mountainsides and it’s very hard to believe that such detail heavy sculptures were carved out of rocks which are likely sedimentary stone. Same goes for the clothing. Pern is a place where animal hide is a staple of everybody’s wardrobe. Fine dresses like the ones on this cover are likely somewhat rare to see. All of this nit picking doesn’t really matter because the artist gets the tone more or less spot-on. Menolly is pleased to be in a place where she feels accepted and many people at the Harper Hall are happy to have her. However, like the back cover shows, some people are less than pleased at Menolly’s arrival and serve as main antagonists to the story. The details might not be exact but the overall image works. My complaints are minor because I think I prefer a cover like this one knowing I have many other covers that portray the world of Pern a bit more accurately. 

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods review

Like most other Canadian or American fans my introduction to Japanese anime and manga was through the Dragon Ball Z TV series. I remember being mesmerized every time the show was on. I didn’t have cable as a child and the only time I could watch it was when we visited my grandma. Lucky for me we visited often. Still, I only caught episodes sporadically here and there and my friends at school would fill me in on the episodes I missed. A few years later I got to watch both Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z from start to finish. I loved it. Not just because of the crazy action and the innumerable types of power-ups. That was all good but what differentiated Dragon Ball Z from the rest of the action and brawling anime then and since was the characters and their zany humour. They’re well designed but they’re also individualized more than you were used to seeing in anime of that time period. Looking at a group picture of the main Dragon Ball Z characters you can easily spot your favourite characters because they personalities shine through in the way they’re illustrated. It was the beginning not only of my interest in Akira Toriyama and his body of work but also of manga and anime. Something that I continue to enjoy to this day though with a bit less excitement than I had when I initially started to explore manga.

The story of Battle of Gods takes place near the very end of the series, somewhere around the middle of the ten year jump before the final two chapters of the manga. Buu has been defeated and the Z-Fighters are enjoying their peaceful lives. Many galaxies away Beerus, the God of Destruction, wakes up after 39 years of sleep. He set himself an alarm to wake up because of a prophecy he heard that announced the arrival of a legendary Saiyan warrior. He’s interested in finding the Super Saiyan God and challenging him to a fight. Accompanied by his aid Whis, he makes his way to Earth where he thinks he’ll have his best chance of finding the Super Saiyan God because of the relatively high presence of Saiyans and half-Saiyans. On Earth both new arrivals crash Bulma’s birthday party. Eventually Beerus’s temper gets the better of him and the Z-Fighters are once again Earth’s final line of defence.

I quite liked Battle of Gods. My summary makes it sound like the plot resembles the plot of many other Dragon Ball Z stories. It’s true the series because pretty formulaic. The feel and tone of the movie fits quite nicely with the tone of the series. The focus isn’t on the action, it’s on the character interaction. There is an equal amount of time spent showing the events of the birthday party than there is devoted to the God of Destruction and his search for the Super Saiyan God. Nearly all the heroes of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z show up and it’s delightful to see them spending time together. Emperor Pilaf from Dragon Ball also makes an appearance. With the aid of Mai and Shou he attempts to steal the Dragon Balls to become rich. The goofing around that takes place in the story makes it pretty evident that Akira Toriyama played an active role in the development of the movie.

Unlike most of the previous 17 Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z movies, this one fits nicely in the timeline of the show. It’s not an alternate universe version of characters and stories. It’s set in the same timeline as the series and deals with the same incarnations of the characters we’ve come to know and love. To make things better a lot of the voice actors from the show returned for Battle of Gods. I would have been happy with another movie that didn’t fit with the show, another movie that didn’t “matter” but the fact this this one does fit in and feels like it matters makes it that much more enjoyable to watch. Granted, making a new movie in this franchise is definitively nostalgic but I don’t mind because it does something that the last few movies didn’t focus on. It’s refreshing and it makes it easier to forget the impulse to make yet another movie in this series.

That being said, this isn’t a perfect movie. There are a number of things I didn’t like and would like to see improved in the 19th Dragon Ball Z movie that is already rumoured to be in production. The first thing that comes to mind is that the movie introduces yet another Saiyan transformation form. It’s simply unnecessary at this point. It’s not nearly as exciting or meaningful as it’s intended to be. It also seems an odd choice of fighting technique to hinge a movie on considering how long it’s been since the last movie. I would have been just as happy to see character perform some of their classic techniques instead of being ridiculously outclassed and easily defeated.

I also wasn’t a fan of the animation. It was inconsistent and it didn’t transition well from the more traditional animation to the computer animation. I like how crisp the animation looks but the computer generated stuff just sticks out like a sore thumb. It doesn’t belong. Likewise, the camera angles used in the final battle is a nice touch but it’s too much. In the movie, characters that have spent years watching high speed battles admit to not being able to follow the fight between Beerus and Goku, that’s a problem. If the characters can’t follow the fight how are we, the viewer, supposed to be able to follow along? The animators’ intentions are obviously to provide fans with a fantastic battle scene and I appreciate the effort to show us something we haven’t already seen in the hundreds of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z episodes and previous movies but it fails. It’s flashy, unnecessary and ineffective. I would have preferred a movie made with only a single style of animation. I’m in support of a sleeker looking Dragon Ball Z but preferably something that also keeps the classic feel and look of the series.

Even the villain introduced in the films harkens back to some of Goku’s first adventures. Compared to many of the series’ villains were actually quite evil while others were simply goofy, yet powerful. Beerus falls into the latter category. He’s an antagonist, clearly, but I wouldn’t consider him evil. He’s too much of a buffoon for that and his main interest in the movie is similar to one of Goku’s own personal interest: he just wants to match his fighting strength to another extremely powerful being. For someone called the God of Destruction, destruction doesn’t appear to be on his mind as more than just an afterthought. He’s still threatening and works well as a villain because the movie does take the time to establish him as a threat but Beerus goes around seemingly in an attempt to undo the scriptwriters work and find an opponent to fight.

The movie is quite enjoyable. Most characters have their moments to shine. Oddly enough, my disappointment with this movie lies with the animation and the final battle scenes. You would think that having a new Dragon Ball Z movie would mean a movie with better animation. That’s only partially true as half the movie is very good and the other half is terrible. One of the staples of Dragon Ball Z is the battles and the ones in this movie are good but they’re not nearly as good as I was expecting nor are they as good as what we’ve seen in the series. The new Super Saiyan form is also unnecessary. Those problems aren’t enough to make this a bad movie though because the characters’ interactions, including new characters such as Whis and Beerus. It’s goofy fun and it works because it’s consistent with how we’ve seen the characters before. More importantly, the fighting and action in the series has plateaued, perhaps even on more than one occasion. The story formula of the series has been used to death and it’s nice to see Battle of Gods play around with that, albeit only a little bit. Dragon Ball Z is a classic and loved anime series not only because of the action but because of the characters and their odd-ball personalities. It’s refreshing to see a movie that focuses so much on heroes and villains goofing off. In many ways it feels like a throwback to Dragon Ball where humour was as much a part as the show as epic battles in which the universe hangs in the balance. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Blog Fantastic 029: The Complete Elmore review

Before I was a fan of Larry Elmore and his artwork, I was a fan of Dragonlance. I’m sure that series was the gateway drug to Elmore for many other fans. For several years I would regularly think of his artwork for the series and look for some of it online. Some of his paintings simply amazed me. I remember having the urge to see more and I got my chance once I found out online that he had run a very successful Kickstarter campaign for an art book, entitled The Complete Elmore. This is the review of that book.

The Complete Elmore is more than an art book. It is part biography, part career retrospective, and, of course, part art book. Elmore also finds the time to share some of his thoughts on his philosophy of art, creativity, and personal perseverance in life. When I sat down with my copy of the book I was expecting to discover many paintings I had never seen before in addition to reading some behind-the-scenes information on the creation of some of the paintings. In other words, I was expecting an art book with a short introduction by a colleague or friend of Elmore and pages of pages of art with little or no text. In other words, I was expecting a quick yet satisfying read. Elmore delivered on all those points but he did one better by adding pages and pages of information detailing his life, career and personal aspirations. I was expecting to discover the art of Elmore, famed fantasy and science fiction painter but I also met Larry Elmore the man. I’ve always thought that Elmore’s paintings lack a bit of emotion or gravitas. But it’s not true of all his work, some of his best paintings completely embody the emotion of his characters or the landscapes being depicted. One particularly good example is “Death of Sturm” which is an emotionally charged painting. It’s hauntingly beautiful. After reading The Complete Elmore I discovered that my thoughts on the lack of emotion in his paintings are partially true. Working over 40 years as a professional illustrator Elmore’s had to work under strict deadlines and countless time he’s had to do rush jobs. Few of his paintings show a distinctively rushed quality to them but his working conditions explain the occasional lack of emotion in his work. Some of his more personal works or those which you can clearly tell he enjoyed working on have that extra something that elevates them beyond the rest.

Whatever real or perceived shortcomings Elmore’s work has, his writing in this book completely made up for it. It’s in a conversational style and it works well for this kind of project. Elmore really seems like the kind of guy you could talk to for hours on end and never get bored or run out of things to talk about. The book begins more like an autobiography than a book about art. Elmore writes about his parents, his early life, his love of drawing and his formative years. He goes on to talk about his growing interest in making a career in art and his first foray into fame while working at TSR, Inc in the 80s working on table top gaming modules, the Dragonlance series, calendars, and paperback novel covers. Near the end of the decade he left TSR and started to work as a freelance illustrator which he continues to do today. He ends the book by writing about his personal works and his philosophy of art. This is but a tiny snapshot of what Elmore writes about. Truly, there are pages full of text and while the art remains the focus of the book the additional commentary is what makes this book so special. I knew next to nothing about Elmore before I started to read The Complete Elmore but now I feel as though I really know the guy, almost as if we’ve been friends for years. I used to really like his art and respect the artist, now I love his art and respect the man who for so many years was and continues to be one of the most distinctive and skilled fantasy artists.

I’d like to keep going on about why I enjoyed this book so much but I think it’s time to let Elmore’s art speak for itself. All of the images below were taken from his website which you can visit here ( I’ve added some commentary of my own but if anything in this post has picked your curiosity in Elmore’s work or reintroduced you to it, I urge you to purchase a copy of this book. They’re limited in number and although they’re pricy, it’s an expense I didn’t mind saving up for especially since the book is so enjoyable and informative. Don’t be fooled by the fact that this is an art book; there is plenty of substance within this oversized hardcover.

01-Circle of Death
This painting was done specifically for the cover of The Complete Elmore. Elmore wanted to take one of his most well-known paintings and draw something that is more akin to the way he feels about his art today. The other painting is the one below which he did for the cover of Basic Dungeons & Dragons. It’s a young man attacking a dragon head on, fighting for glory and riches. The painting above is about that same man but he’s much older now. He’s been through rough battles during his life and this latest battle isn’t one for glory, it’s strictly for survival. He’s not as brash as he used to be but he’s doing his best to survive. It has become one of my favourites.

02-Basic Dungeons & Dragons

03-The Arena
There is a lot going on in this painting and I quite like it. It depicts Caramon Majere from Dragonlance during his time as a gladiator during the Legends trilogy. I mostly put it here for comparison with the painting below.

04-Island of Minotaurs
This is one of my favourite Elmore covers. It is the cover for Land of the Minotaurs written by Richard A. Knaak. Just look at that beautiful scenery. It looks and feels like a real place. It also looks rather tranquil except for the two minotaurs who are about to clash blades. When I think of minotaurs this is the image I think of. Simply put, they’re superbly drawn. With this painting Elmore put his above painting of a minotaur to shame. It’s also notable for being one of the relative few paintings he’s done that has characters in action. One of them is even leaping into action! He truly did an excellent job with this one.

05-Next Generation
This is yet another Dragonlance painting. I just don’t tire of these. If I’m not mistaken it was used for the cover of The Second Generation. I like how the image has room to breathe. It really does look like scenery you would see in a fantasy world.

06-The Last Ingredient
Dragonlance once more. I wanted to show this painting for a couple reasons. The most obvious being that Elmore did another bang-on job with it. I particularly like the clutter and the character’s body language. The other reason I put this painting here is that in his book Elmore shows the step by step creative process for this painting, from photographing models (his son and a friend of his son), working out the angles and placing the furniture inside the room, to illustration and finally to painting. That’s one thing I would have like to see more of in the book but it’s difficult to show your work when dealing with original hand-painted illustrations and the level of technology Elmore used throughout his career.

07-Dragons of Mystery
This is a painting of characters and a scene that were supposed to be part of the early Dragonlance novels. While the scene never made it into the final novels, the image was used, I believe, for a Dragonlance calendar. I quite like the elf maiden’s mace.

08-Floating City
A great looking floating city with its lower edges touching lightning filled clouds. What more would you want? A dragon? Sure thing, Elmore put on in there just for you.

09-Heroes of Fantasy
Heroes of fantasy! Can you name them all? From left to right, Gandalf, Conan the Barbarian, Drizzt Do’Urden, Elric of Melniboné, King Arthur and (I think) Robin Hood.

10-Death of Sturm
As I mentioned above, this is another one of my favourites. Not just favourites of Dragonlance but favourites overall. From Sturm’s superbly detailed armour, the cold and indifferent battle field, Laurana’s quiet moment of suffering and her banged-up armour and clothes. I can’t find anything to criticize. I really wish Elmore would have drawn more scenes from the series but if we’re only to have a few of them, I’m extremely pleased that this is one of them.

11-Larry Elmore on his Harley
This obviously isn’t a painting. It’s a photograph of Larry Elmore on one of his Harley Davidson motorcycles. A lifelong fanatic of old cars and motorcycles, Elmore continues to ride to this day (despite his wife’s dislike of his hobby). Just look at him all rebellious and full of attitude.

On that note, I’m ending this review. I could go on and on about Elmore and his art but now that we have The Complete Elmore there really isn’t a need for me to do so. I’ll finish by offering my thanks to Larry for hundreds of illustrations that have fired up my imagination and helped to further immerse myself in my favourite genre. It’s been fantastic.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Interview: Seth T. Hahne, comic book reviewer and creator

A short while ago I received a comic in the mail by one of my favourite comic book reviewers, Seth T. Hahne. I decided to send him a little message to tell him I enjoyed his comic and to ask him if he wouldn’t mind answering a few questions. Lucky for me, he said yes.

For those who might now know him, Seth reviews comics at Good Ok Bad. In my opinion he’s one of the best reviewers online for several reasons. He does an equal amount of small press, small publisher, big publisher and manga reviews. He pays equal attention to the art as he does the story, something that I have a hard time doing. He also has an earnest and intelligent voice to his writing that not only endears me to the reviews but to the comics themselves. I’ve checked out a few comics and manga based on his reviews. One of them, Yotsuba&!, was a particularly fun and rewarding reading experience. Most recently he’s taken the plunge into the world of comics and created Golden Rules. Today we’ll be discussing his reviews, his comics, Rob Liefeld, and whatever else pops up.

Shared Universe Reviews: First off, thanks for agreeing to take the time and answer a few questions. You’ve been a comics critic for a few years now, correct? What were your reasons for creating a reviewing site and how has that experience been for you?

Seth T. Hahne: I'd been reviewing things on and off for about fifteen years—really, ever since I started my first blog in 2000. At the time, I was mostly invested in film as my pop-cultural artifact of choice and I had small dreams of becoming a film critic (fueled by then-amateur reviewers like James Berardinelli). Eventually I moved from film review to book review, focusing on whichever novel I'd just finished. I began cross-posting on Goodreads and enjoyed  a small bit of popularity there (my The Lovely Bones review is still their Number 2 review of the book, even though technically it's more just a petulant gripe).

Along the way, I began thinking how few resources I could think of that were dedicated to comics reviews. Certainly there were comics bloggers who would review books and provide criticism, but the sites were always organized across a chronology rather than by title. With Goodreads, you go straight to the book you're interested in through an easy interface. I wanted something like that for comics. A database of reviews. So I made one.

Good Ok Bad launched on 19 March 2011 with a handful of reviews brought over from Goodreads. The original conceit was that I could simply just have an out-of-the-way three-star rating (Good, Ok, or Bad), leaving me to focus on the content of the review without concern for the metric. Along the way, I've largely stopped writing about books I'd consider Bad, largely because I really just want to tell people about great comics. There are so many fantastic books out there that I won't nearly ever have time to cover them all. It's a very personal choice, but I figure: Why waste time telling readers about books they won't want to spend time with when I can direct them toward something they might truly enjoy or be affected by?

All told, the experience of shifting full-bore into comics criticism has been a lot of fun. As with any time a person offers an opinion on something others care about, there's going to be some negativity from the outside. My highly subjective and fluctuating Top 100 list has probably generated the most negativity, with forum posts taking me to task for not including Title X, for including Title Y, for not placing Title X high enough, for including foreign works, for being wordy or pretentious, and even for being "obviously some chick." On the other hand, because of the website, I've gotten to have some fruitful and pleasant interactions with some wonderfully talented creators and fellow critics. All told, it's been a blast. Also, Good Ok Bad is what got me to SPX.

SUR: Last year you attended Small Press Expo 2013 and for a regular visitor to Good Ok Bad, I noticed the scarcity of content on the site that followed your convention attendance. Later I learned it all had to do with Golden Rules. Can you talk about how SPX inspired you to tap into your own creativity and work a comic?

STH: Yeah, I've been agonizing over the diminishing content on Good Ok Bad. Golden Rules was absolutely a huge part of that. Additionally, my reviews have been steadily growing longer and more involved (when I first began, the average review was around 900 words long; now they hover around 2500). As well, my illustration work and other contract project keep edging in. And finally, a crash on my Vespa in the Spring set me back for about eight weeks.

But SPX! Man, I didn't expect to be as affected as I was. I'd been to comic cons before (San Diego Comic-Con and Wonder-Con), but I wanted to check out something less corporate. And honestly, there was a lot of stuff there that wasn't to my taste. Still though, to be in the presence of 600 creators, most of whom had no outside financial backing to their projects—it was very moving. These were people living the dream. They were putting themselves out there. It was amazing to me. And there was this tremendous sense of community. Looking back, probably a lot of that was veneer, but I found it inspiring nonetheless.

So I got home galvanized. One of the first things I told my wife (who couldn't fly out with me that trip) was that I needed to be a part of that. I needed to make a comic.

In high school, making comics had been my dream job. This was right when Rob Liefeld was making it big and just before the formation of Image. I thought he was amazing. I was this kid with some raw talent and no art schooling and he was this guy who had no art schooling. That was inspiring. Fortunately, I've always had massive problems with timidity and actually putting myself out there wasn't something I would have been able to do at that age. (I actually forfeited a job airbrushing surfboards simply for fear of blowing it.)

I'm glad I didn't follow the dream when I was eighteen because, frankly, I wasn't ready. I wasn't diligent. I didn't practice. I talked a big game but I was chained to my influences.

But twenty years later, after SPX 2013, I'd grown up a bit. I had several years of illustration work under my belt and a sliver of the confidence I'd need to make good on an attempt to make a book. I had a 275-page script that I'd written about seven years ago laying around, but I needed something short, so I wrote and drew a 20-page homily on how men have a tendency to pee on toilet seats and how that essentially reveals the natural depravity of the race and how we should probably grow out of that tendency. It was exhilarating.

SUR: You’re saying Golden Rules isn’t your first creative endeavour. You’ve done illustration work for a while now, too. Illustrations and comics are obviously two different types of creative work, how where they different for you? Do you like doing one over the other?

STH: Apart from an abandoned career in restaurant management (six years of squandered time), in the twenty-two years since I graduated high school, all of my jobs have been creative in some respect. I airbrushed skimboards for a couple but have spent most of that time in web design. On top of that, I've done illustration work for web magazines pretty much constantly since I started Good Ok Bad (just a coincidence on the timing there).

Really, being prompted by a friend to start taking on the illustration work was essential in giving me the confidence to do Golden Rules. And while you're right that straight illustration work is substantially different from comics, there was just enough overlap that I never felt out of my depth creating a comic (though I won't discount how much the fact that I spend so much time reading and thinking critically about comics played into that comfortability). Actually, I find the kind of illustration work I do much more challenging. Typically, I'll receive either a pitch or rough draft of an article and have to turn in an illustration for it two or three days later. Abstracting someone's 2000 words into a single representative image is sometimes easy, but usually mind-wracking.

With comics, it's much more straightforward. Especially with those I've written myself. I'm currently doing art on a back-up story for someone else's graphic novel and accommodating that script into something that will make both of us happy is a different kind of challenge altogether.

If I was independently wealthy or could subsist somehow without my design job, I'd love to write and draw comics. I could never give up writing wholly for drawing. Words are too much a part of who I am. But I love the combination of the disciplines in the comics medium. Honestly, I'd probably write, illustrate, and create comics. I love it all just too much. Maybe I'd throw in some videogame art design and animation projects just to keep things lively.

SUR: Has creating your own comic changed your perspective on appreciating and reviewing comics? Do you have a better appreciation for the hard work that others have put into their craft?

STH: Honestly, it hasn't. I've been an artist for years and I grew up as the son of a professional artist (a potter and Chinese brush painter). As well, I've followed comics creatives for years on Twitter and I listen to them with an empathetic ear. I understand the struggle of working on something for two years and having someone plow through it in an hour. Or less.

So dipping my toe in that adventure didn't really change anything in my perspective. Maybe it did bring home a little just how hungry fresh creators might be for positive feedback to their work. When Greg Burgas (of Comics Should Be Good) covered Golden Rules favourably, I kind of probably jumped around the room and dig a jig with my wife. When Gene Yang said he said several positive things about the book and added one very constructive critique, it was hard not to feel that sting (even though almost everything he said was positive). When you put so much effort into something, it's natural to want people to appreciate that work.

My email inbox is filled with indie creators offering me their book to review. I take them up on it sometimes but I have such a large review queue that I can't possibly take them all on. I think I'd like to find a better way to serve young creators than simply ignoring their emails when I don't have time for them. We all need a little encouragement along the way, I think, in order to bring out our best work. (Man, that sounds like such inspirational-poster hoo-hah.)

SUR: This year you attended Small Press Expo 2014 in a different capacity. You’ve written a great post about it at your site. Do you have plans for further comics work or was your time as a creator something more temporary and spontaneous?

STH: I definitely have more plans. It's all just a matter of balancing all the projects I'm involved in. It's not easy at all, really. I'm in bed by 2am and up by 7:00. I have two hours with the kids after I get home from work, but otherwise nearly every minute is spent on some project or another. I'm grateful to have a wife who very much supports all this (as a teacher, she also stays up late grading and prepping for class, so we're both Busy People).

After Golden Rules, I did a twelve-page Valentine's minicomic about a manatee looking for love in all the wrong places. Just a couple days ago, I did a 31-panel mystery comic (each day in October would reveal one panel as part of this year's #inktober celebration). Right now, I'm drawing a six-page back-up story for a graphic novel I can't talk about. And after that I'll be drawing a project that's very important to me, a children's picture book/graphic novel called Monkess the Homunculus. And I've got a long-form graphic novel idea I've been mulling over for a few months (I've done a few interviews in order to fill out my picture of the protagonist's profession). And I guess there's always that graphic novel script I wrote seven years ago. 

So yes, definitely. I am planning to keep doing comics. Though I plan to remain pretty firmly in the indie side of things since those tend to be the stories that most resonate with me.

SUR: The last thing I want to talk about is Kickstarter. I’ve had a bad experience with Kickstarter and I’ve also had two good experiences. As someone who created a campaign, how would you rate the experience? Do you consider this to be a viable way for small press creators to get their comics printed and into the hands of the public? Would you use it to create another campaign in the future?

STH: I came to Kickstarter as an after-thought. I had finished Golden Rules and was selling it as a PDF, but I wanted print copies for SPX. I started shopping around printers in my area and was horrified at the cost of printing. For a twenty-page, full-colour book, I was getting prices between five and ten dollars apiece. I had wanted to sell copies for $5 but at the cost of printing, I'd lose money for every sale. I was heartbroken.

A friend (who had run two successful Kickstarters) suggested crowd-funding. I was skeptical but thought I'd give it a shot. The first thing I absolutely wanted to make certain of before starting a campaign was that I'd be able to fulfill anything I promised. We've all read about (or been backers of) campaigns that couldn't deliver. It was essential that I give backers the experience they expected.

It helped that the only thing I was asking to cover was print costs. As the book was already finished and prepped for print, there was really no risk at all (I mean, unless I died in a scooter accident or something). I would never run a campaign that was something like Support Me While I Do The Art For This Book. Too many moving parts and ways to fail with other people's money. That would wreck me as well as my reputation.

There were of course unforeseen bits and pieces to the campaign. Like how much international shipping would be. Like how much time actually running the campaign would take. Like how making a stretch goal that rewarded all backers with a small bit of custom art would actually stop me from working on anything else for a long while. I still fulfilled my promises and projected ship dates, so I'd say everything went really, really well.

Essential to running my campaign were people who wanted to support me and were willing to post links to my campaign on social media. Nearly 50% of my eighty-two backers were strangers. Two of my four big-number backers were strangers (my mom was one of the other two). Starting with a modest goal was also important to me. I wanted to cover a print-run of 500 copies, but I posted a goal of $1200 (which would let me print 300 if I chipped in a bit myself). In the end I reached 156% of my goal, allowing for a print run of 400 copies. Hitting my goal was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my creative life. It was this wild cocktail of relief, excitement, and this feeling of validation, like people really wanted to see something I made with my own hands. It was amazing.

I plan to Kickstart my children's book in the same way once I have all the art print-ready. I can see why both creators and backers remain leery of crowd-funding campaigns, but I wouldn't have a printed book if it wasn't for Kickstarter and all the people like you who wanted to back my project.

Thanks again for answering my questions. I look forward to seeing more reviews or comics by you as I’ve enjoyed both so far. You can see more of Seth’s work at The Art of Seth T. Hahne.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Miscellaneous Reviews 11: Hammered and Quatre aventures de Spirou et Fantasio (Four Adventures of Spirou and Fantasio)

Hammered by Elizabeth Bear:

Before I star with the review I want to play it clear that I will be reading another book by Elizabeth Bear but it won't be the sequel to Hammered and it won't be science fiction. There really isn't much about Hammered that I enjoyed and the part that I did were inconsequential to the plot and buried in chapters that had such little impact on me that it didn't matter.

I was in the mood for reading a military science fiction novel and I ended up with Hammered. To anyone who’s read the book you’ll likely agree that calling this military sci-fi is more than just a little off the mark. The story takes place in the not-too-distance future of 2062. China and Canada are the two competing superpowers, mostly due with their involvement with space exploration and military strength. It’s a future world setting where body modification, mechanical prosthetics with neural network connections and virtual reality games are common.

The most interesting characters were an artificial intelligence and his creator, a fascinatingly intelligent and capable psychiatrist. All the other characters were bland, boring, unconvincing and inconsequential. As for Jenny Casey, the star of the show, she's a walking cybernetic cliché. The plot goes nowhere. Normally when I finish a book in a trilogy I have a desire to read the second book. With this one I felt relief that the book was over and I was also upset that the plot had barely started to kick in. I’ve read a few reviews where people applauded the book for being tightly plotted. I doubt they read the same book I did.  Hammered  is 330 pages of setup and it’s not a satisfying read .

Considered it Covered:
Paul Youll, I like this guy. His art on the covers for the Star Wars Rogue Squadron are awesome. This cover, while very striking, didn't work for me after I started to read the book. To be clear, the cover played a big role in my decision to buy Hammered. Look at that blue! Look at the bold yet relaxed pose. We can't see Carey's head and while I would normally consider that to be a shame (thanks Kelly Thompson) she's not painted in a provocative way so it works. I like the outfit, I like the boots, I really like how the gun's pistol grip looks thick. That gun looks heavy and it would be ridiculous for it to have a tiny handle. Look at the bottom and the top of it, it's thick. That makes sense for a gun which has such a heavy barrel and sight.

I've got a lot of positive things to say about a cover I don't like, don't I? Well here's what doesn't work. Like many science fiction and fantasy covers it doesn't accurately portray the characters or the book. For starters the cover is clean and sleek while the book is gritty and I get the sense that our not-too-distant future is a dirty place. The same thing goes for Carey's skin and her prosthetic arm. She's approaching fifty and her skin is flawless! She survived very severe burns and she doesn't have a single scar to show. Granted she's not showing a lot of skin but her skin looks too perfect. Maybe on a younger character but not for Casey. Her prosthetic arm is also too clean and new looking. I pictured something more banged up and lived in, especially considering she's had it for approximately 25 years. Did I mention she's has Native American ancestors? Mohawk, I believe. Again I want to point your attention to her skin. Certainly, this is a minor quibble as genetics are complicated business and for all I know she could look like that. I just kind of doubt it. And where is her holster? You don't keep a gun like that in a shoulder harness. The cover is sleek and it lied to me about what kind of book was about to read. Bear’s writing is gritty at times. I didn’t like the cover after reading the book and after finishing the book I realized that I wasted my time. It had potential and I really wanted to like it but there just isn’t enough to keep me interested about this book or its sequels. My next book by Bear is going to be a fantasy novel, that’s for sure.

Quatre aventures de Spirou et Fantasio (Four Adventures of Spirou and Fantasio) by Franquin :
This is often regarded as the first Spirou et Fantasio album. A series of albums that still continues to grow today, albeit under different writers and artists. I got a hit of nostalgia a short while ago and I took a bunch of the earlier albums from my Dad’s basement. See, I remember some of the earlier stories by Franquin as my favourites. Not this album in particular but I figured since I’d be going back I might as well start at the beginning.

Well, it wasn’t worth it. My memory of these stories was better than what they really are. The stories aren’t particularly bad. It’s good considering the year in which it was released but it’s so tame compared to other albums in the series. The stories are fluff entertainment clearly directed at young boys. It lacks the more mature content, though still all-ages appeal, and storytelling skills of later albums. They’re not bad, they’re just very dated and it makes for an increasingly less enjoyable read as time goes on

You can’t even appreciate this collection of stories for being the first Spirou et Fantasio story. Well that’s not true. It’s not even the first Spirou et Fantasio album. It’s not even the first Spirou et Fantasio album by Franquin! It’s just one of many other albums. This is one of the longest bande dessinée series and it’s because of its longevity that it’s gone through multiple changes in creative teams. Based on how long a specific creative team has stayed on the book, the style and quality of that person’s run can also vary. The original Spirou by Rob-Vel is different than the Spirou et Fantasio by Fournier which is different than the one by Yoann & Vehlmann who work on the series today.

The best thing to do with Spirou et Fantasio is just explore the series from any starting point you want. Simply choose and album and keep reading the stories in publication order from there, only going back to previous albums when they’re references in an album you’re reading. I can’t recommend starting here unless you’ve read a lot of other ones but doing so might actually decrease the enjoyment you would get out of this album had you read it first. Really though, if you’re going to spend as much time thinking about it as much as I did it’s probably not even worth picking it up. I’d probably recommend Spirou et Fantasio #4: Spirou et les héritiers as a satisfying starting point. I’ll get to it but i’ve got two more albums to review first.