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Saturday, May 31, 2008
Paperback Book Club
A Planet for Texans, 1958, H. Beam Poper and John J. McGuire Today's cover selected because I'm off to Book Expo to meet up with Bully...and not because I saw the title and thought "putting Texas on another planet...well, it's a start I suppose..."
I'm a bit under the weather, so let's try for a "under one hundred words" review.
The conclusion of the fourth season's first two-parter manages a few "wow, that was neat" moments, while nonetheless unfolding in a manner that was fairly easy to predict given the set-up of the first episode. It strives for an epic conclusion, but only peters out rather tepidly. There are clever moments, and the callbacks to previous episodes that added to the appeal to nostalgia of the first part continue, but the whole thing does wind up with a bit of an "oh" feeling.
The Midwich Cuckoos, 1957, Ninth Printing, John Wyndham I've been in Oregon since Thursday, for my sister-in-law's wedding, and to meet the new nephew. I'm sure he'll turn out a lot nicer than the kids in this book do.
I know some of you are busy arguing over how badly a comic you haven't read yet sucks, or complaining that the resurrection of a character messes up your fan-fiction, but I figured a few of you might like to know that the latest issue of the Torchwood magazine features the first part of a comic by Simon Furman and Paul Grist...
The first two-part story of the first season, Helen Raynor's The Sontaran Stratagem feels a lot like a throwback to earlier eras of Doctor Who story-telling. There's a lot of nostalgia on display in this story. We have the return of an old enemy, we have the return of U.N.I.T. (now with a less United Nations annoying name), and we have the return of last season's companion, Martha Jones. We even have a plot-line, evil GPS devices of potentially alien origin and a super-genius with fascistic tendencies collaborating with aliens, that is highly reminiscent of the Jon Pertwee era of the show. We also have a rather too long flashback to this season's previous stories. Thematically, it works with this story, as the story as a whole functions as a kind of dividing line between the earlier episodes, the "meet Donna Noble" period of the season, and the later, more meta-plot heavy episodes. The look back grounds us in where we've been, so that we have a fresh slate going into the remaining episodes. It's also nice, for a variety of reasons, to see Freema Ageyeman return as Martha, even if it's only for a limited engagement. The new series of Who has often been criticized for its focus on "domestic" scenes, rather than grand space opera, but it's a change in the format that has worked for the better, I feel, as it means that there are consequences for traveling with the Doctor, not just for the companion but for their families and for the rest of their lives, a notion that the original series only rarely dabbled in. It's also rather a nice touch here that Martha and Donna get on, as one of the most tedious aspects of the prior "new companion meets old companion" story, School Reunion was the childish jealousy both Rose and Sarah Jane indulged in.
Threads to Watch For ATMOS pays off Other than that, slow week for meta-plot
After the heights of the previous two episodes, it feels like damning with faint praise to point out that Keith Temple's Planet of the Ood is merely good. Following up on a two year old plot thread, the Doctor and Donna find themselves on the Ood-Sphere, next door to the Sense-Sphere (and seemingly our completely gratuitous minor old series continuity reference for the season). The Ood are in the midst of a semi-rebellion, with formerly subservient Ood turning into rapid killers and attacking humans. The Doctor, feeling guilty over failing to save the Ood in his last encounter with them, or to ask how it was even possible for a sentient race to willingly sell themselves into slavery, determines to uncover what is happening to the Ood and the best way to help them.
Overall, it IS a good episode. We have a nice action piece, a big explodey battle sequence, and some nice moments with Catherine Tate and David Tennant. Donna in particular gets several good scenes here that emphasize her compassion for others, which are nicely contrasted with the Doctor's more "big picture" perspective. He sees the problem in macro; she sees it in the suffering of individuals. It was also nice to see the return of several themes from both the old and new series highlighted here, chiefly the banality of evil, which is expressed here in the form of an evil corporation and a blisteringly obvious comparison of the Ood's lot to contemporary factory workers in the Third World. What I would have liked to have seen more of was the nice inversion of the standard sci-fi cliche that takes place in this episode, namely that the evil, enslaving aliens are humanity.
Plot Threads to Watch For Bees disappearing "Your song must end soon."
As I've done every year prior, I undertook the masochistic task of getting my hands on, and reading, and reviewing, every single Free Comic Book Day book available. This year I missed out on a few, as they failed to get to me in time. I've heard that I didn't miss anything. The review scale is the same as before. If I say Get It, that means that I think the book is worth your attention. If I say It's Free, that means either the book is good, but nothing exciting, and you should probably either be happy with it for being free or pass. Avoid, I would hope, is self-explanatory.
All Star Superman The best Superman comic in decades, with fantastic art and a real sense of humanity in the writing? If you haven't already been picking up this book, read this, and lose all your excuses for not getting it. Get It
Amelia Rules: Comics and Stories An engaging cast of characters, in all ages stories, with suitably dramatic and emotive stories without being preachy, condescending or reminiscent of an after-school special. Oh, and also funny and well drawn. Get It
Atomic Robo The lead story here is a fun adventure comic featuring robots, crazy Russian scientists and explosions. It's a little reminiscent of Hellboy in tone, but in a good way. It's Free
Bongo Comics Free-For-All Several inoffensive Simpsons stories, mildly amusing at best, but nothing remarkable. The best thing in the book is the art on Nina Matsumoto's manga-fied Simpsons story. It's Free
Broken Trinity Prelude A text-heavy recapping of the last several years worth of Witchblade and Darkness comics. The art has a nice, painterly quality to it, but the story is simply dreadful. Avoid
Cartoonapalooza Highly uneven in terms of subject matter and artistic quality, there's some momentary diversion to be found here, but nothing very compelling. It's Free
Comic Book Challenge Showcase A flip-book, with Hero By Night, a well-drawn but somewhat derivative super-hero comic, and Gunplay, a western with utterly undecipherable plot details, just based on this preview. It's Free
Comic Book Diner A collection of all-ages, and mostly very young-skewing at that, stories. As with most of the anthology titles, the quality of material is very uneven, but overall there's more good than bad or indifferent here. It's Free
Comics Go Hollywood A sampling of articles from magazines published by TwoMorrows about comic books and film. It's mostly interesting, but it's almost explicitly aimed at the older, long-time comic fan, and much of the material feels a bit randomly chosen and not particularly relevant to the interests of a new or casual comic book reader. It's Free
Dabel Brothers & Del Rey 2008 Preview A sampler of comics based on fantasy and sci-fi novels, overall of fairly good quality. The art on many stories is possibly too stylized to be of broad appeal, and the samples are a little short to be very effective, but not a bad package. It's Free
Dan Dare/Stranded What we have here is a not interesting at all science-fiction story and a revival of a decades long defunct British sci-fi property. It's hard to tell who the target audience for these is supposed to be, but since neither story is engaging in the slightest, it probably doesn't matter. Avoid
Drafted This is just horrible. Terrible art and a thread-bare concept that screams "buy me and turn me into a movie." Avoid
EC Sampler It's free EC stories, so there's no question as to the quality of material or its value, but only one of the stories really stand out as an iconic example of the EC style. A good idea, but not the best selection for this purpose. It's Free
Gekiga Two excerpts from Drawn & Quarterly's mini-line of, for lack of a better phrase, "indie" manga books. It's good material, and the excerpts stand alone and create interest in the complete story. Get It
Graphic Classics A broad selection of artists adapt great works of literature into comics form. A stand-out collection. Get It
Gyro Gearloose A bit of a disappointment compared to previous Disney releases from Gemstone, as Gyro stories tend to be more than a little repetitive, even by the standards of Duck comics. It's Free
Hellboy Interesting supernatural adventure stories, but there's a strong suggestion here that you should probably already be more than passingly familiar with Hellboy and his supporting cast. It's Free
Ignatz Another uneven collection, this time with the added benefit of self-importance, in this sampler of books from Fantagraphics "Ignatz" line of comics. There are a few good stories here, in the few self-contained pieces, but overall there's little to impress. It's Free
Impact University Volumre 4 Nothing but a glorified ad for pricey "art instruction" books. Avoid
Jughead Even by the standards of contemporary Archie comics, this is tedious and charmless, and the advertorial nature of the inclusion of the Geppi's Entertainment Museum is off-putting. Avoid
Kid Houdini and the Silver-Dollar Misfits There's an interesting art style on display here, and the idea of a young Harry Houdini solving Scooby-Doo-esque mysteries with his gang of circus side-show freaks is quite clever. A complete story, however, would have been preferred. Get It
Love and Capes #7 This is a real charmer, a funny super-hero romance book with a distinctive and appealing art style. If you haven't read this before, this is a nice place to start and a good introduction to the book. Get It
Maintenance This was fun, a bit too impressed with it's own cleverness, but an amusing take on the "super-villain" concept focusing on the guys who have to do the actual heavy lifting. Get It
Marvel Adventures: Iron Man & Hulk & Spider-Man Fairly inoffensive, but feels a bit to "talks down" to kids a bit. As far as introducing new readers to the characters, it's an okay effort, and it nicely capitalizes on upcoming Marvel movies. It's Free
Maximum Ride As a manga-style adaptation of a young adult novel, there really isn't anything here to recommend it unless you're already familiar with and a fan of the novels. There isn't even any kind of recap page to explain why people have wings. Avoid
The Moth Nice art, but it's in service to a completely generic super-hero story. It's Free
Owly and Friends Nicely illustrated kid-friendly comics. Most of the stories are dialogue free, making this an excellent choice for pre-readers, and the art is simply lovely on almost all these stories, giving the book appeal to all readers. Get It
Project Super-Powers: The Death-Defying 'Devil Most of the book is actually taken up by ads, mostly focused on Dynamite's licensed properties. The main story is unremarkable, featuring characters that even long-time comic fans will probably have to strain to remember, and the format chosen, having the characters explain a past adventure, makes for an undynamic book. That the villain is one of the more egregious "Yellow Peril" characters ever produced does not help matters either. Avoid
Salem Queen of Thorns I might have liked this more, if it didn't seem like it only existed in order to have something to hand off to potential film investors. There's probably still some good entertainment to be wrought from the fantasy/mystery genre, and this isn't terrible by any means, but it feels like a means to an end, rather than a finished product. It's Free
Shonen Jump Special A good over-view of several Shonen Jump titles, marred by the in media res nature of two of the stories. It's Free
Sonic the Hedgehog There is a certain charm to this, and the art is lively. It does definitely talk down to kids, though, and suffers from the same sort of going-through-the-motions quirks that most Archie adventure books have historically displayed. It's Free
Tiny Titans Pure, undiluted joy. Great art, cute stories, and fun. Get It
Transformers Animated I was actually looking forward to reading this, as I think the character designs for the new Transformers cartoon are fantastic...and then I saw this was a poorly designed fumetti using blurry screenshots instead of an actually drawn book. Avoid
Wizard: How To Draw Wizard has a bad history of putting out completely inappropriate material for FCBD, but this is actually not bad, cover aside, with good drawing advice from talented artists. It's Free
Worlds of Aspen I've been reading comics a long time, and I can't tell what the hell is supposed to be going on in any of these stories. I even know the basic concepts of the books featured, and I still can't figure out what's going on. So either I'm a complete illiterate, or this is just inept. Avoid
X-Men A character I've never heard of, a new status quo for the X-books alluded to, but not really explained, and enemies that as far as I know haven't been seen since the seventies, and weren't very interesting then either. On top of all that, we've got the traced-over-porn art of Greg Land presenting all this to us. It's completely unpleasant to look at, but it's "slick" so I imagine it will go over well, so long as people only look at the pictures and don't try to read the damn thing. Avoid
I'm apparently going to really have to take the time to track down a copy of James Moran's film Severance. Not only has he written one of the stronger episodes of Torchwood, "Sleepers," but his premiere Doctor Who episode is one of the most emotionally compelling stories they've aired on the program in years. At the root of the episode are questions that the show has rarely dwelled on in its history; to what extent is the Doctor responsible for the lives he endangers by his presence? What gives him the right to meddle in certain aspects of history, but not in others? Moran's script takes these questions and puts them into the context of a very old-school-Who-ish "monster of the week" alien invasion story. When the Doctor and Donna attempt to land in ancient Rome, they find themselves instead in the city of Pompeii, the day before the Romans learn what the word volcano means. Immediately the Doctor and Donna find themselves in conflict, with the Doctor wanting to flee the scene as soon as possible, and Donna insisting that she and the Doctor do something to try and save the citizens of Pompeii. Naturally, the Doctor discovers a deeper mystery, hinting at alien involvement with the city, which he must solve with a very precise deadline hanging over his head.
Little touches that Moran brings to the story make it more than a simple "the Doctor fights aliens" story. In keeping with the tone set by the previous story, there's a good deal of comedy on display, mostly centered on the domestic scenes that have become the trade-mark of new Who, as the Doctor and Donna befriend an upwardly mobile Pompeii businessman and his family. Some of the jokes are even a bit overly pun-based, including a bizarre in-joke regarding character names that only makes sense if you took Latin in a British school (or have it explained to you over the internet by someone who did, in which case the impact of the joke is...not so much). The conflict between the Doctor and Donna is handled well, with Donna arguing from the perspective of compassion and the Doctor from necessity, and with it a strong subtext of an earlier critique of the Doctor from Donna, way back in "The Runaway Bride," that what the Doctor really needs, sometimes, is someone to stop him. It's the sort of argument you can't imagine Rose or Martha, or even very many of the Doctor's earlier companions, ever having with him. It's very nice to have a more mature companion, one without stars in her eyes, as it allows this kind of surprisingly sophisticated conversation about morality to occur on what is a family adventure show. And Catherine Tate and David Tennant do an exceptional job once again with the acting in these scenes. It appears that the two of them bring out the best in each other as performers.
Plot Threads to Watch For "She is returning." "There is something on your back." The Medusa Cascade Missing planets