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Sage Escape: Equinox (Review)

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In case you need a refresher, since it’s been awhile, I’m going to take a brief look at what happened in the last series of Sage Escape comics before we jump into the brand new issue that just came out.

Previously: Sage survived the destruction of her village by Friendly Corp and seeks revenge. She travels to Mars and learns the person responsible for the media cover up was Elvis Cray. She assassinates him and is hunted down for it. We last left her trapped in an emergency escape pod, falling endlessly through space.

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We pick up in the midst of a final conflict between the salesman assassin empire and the human resistance. Two ships on opposite sides of the conflict will discover the escape pod which holds our hero, Sage. Who will get to Sage first? And what will she do when she finds herself caught in the middle of the war? The first chapter in the “Equinox” storyline sets up what promises to be another grand adventure with Sage. This issue came out April 15th, so use your tax money and join us, won’t you? It looks like we’re going to be in for a treat. I’d hate for anyone to miss all the excitement.

Book Review: Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

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This review doesn’t come with a trigger warning, that just happens to be the name of Neil Gaiman’s newest short story collection, which was released in early February. As usual, Gaiman delivers a unique cavalcade of stories marching in a variety of different formats. Stories in the first and third person, stories told as one half of an interview transcript, and stories that may read traditionally, but always don a twist. There is truly a wide variety of fiction here, for which Gaiman apologizes in his own introduction.

“I firmly believe that short story collections should be the same sort of thing all the way through. They should not, hodgepodge and willy-nilly, assemble stories that were obviously not intended to sit between the same covers… This collection fails that test. For this failure, as for so much, I request your indulgence and forgiveness…”

Trigger Warning amasses a collection of stories that were not meant to live in the same world, some of which were already given worlds of their own. “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” and “The Sleeper and the Spindle” already have their own bona-fide illustrated versions. “A Calendar of Tales” assembles all of the material that Gaiman wrote with the help of Twitter and BlackBerry. “Feminine Endings” has been around for ages, and any Gaiman fan has probably been aware of it since Neil first hooked up with Amanda Palmer back in 2009.

Still, there is a character to Gaiman’s writing that remains consistent. An oddness, a strange frankness about the world, that ties these disparate stories together. They are all so very Gaiman-y, which means, in some strange way, that they are all very much ours.

The stories twist and turn and surprise you, in their own way. Some of them are surprisingly funny, like “Orange,” the story of a girl answering questions about her sister turning into a god. [This happens to be one of my personal favorites from the collection]. There are the takes on classic horror (“Click-Clack the Rattlebag”), a Doctor Who story (featuring the 11th Doctor and Amy, so what’s not to love?), a Sherlock story, and a tale following the American Gods hero, Shadow. Then there are the heart-breaking new characters, making their first and only appearance in this book.

It is a worthwhile collection that possesses the ability to turn any short-story naysayer around.

Cover Artwork for Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

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Comic Review: A Tale of Sand

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Comic Review: A Tale of Sand by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl–illustrations by Ramon K. Perez

Review by Prof. Jenn

A Tale of Sand is a screenplay written by the late great Jim Henson, which never saw the light of movie day. It was written back in 1974, the heyday of Henson’s immense creative output, and one can very much experience said creativity by reading A Tale of Sand. To have this surreal screenplay illustrated sketchbook style by an artist such as Perez only enhances the experience–I opine that this is better as a sketchbook-cum-comic than it would have been as a 1970s film.ToS-col_022-v2_sm_350_v01

The story follows Everyman Mac, who is on a quest for he knows not what (except that he really wants to light that last cigarette). He meets strange people and places as he crosses the desert, some of which are attempting to hinder him, not the least of which are the sinister Patch and mysterious Blonde. When Mac finally reaches the end of his journey, it’s not at all what he (or the reader) imagines.

The illustrations are pleasingly sketchbook-like, some unfinished and some inked to perfection. It adheres well to the odd dreamlike quality of the adventure. There is plenty of backstory about the project in the forms of introductions and afterwords (though in the Afterword, we read about how the lettering was created and handled, and we see colorized, more finished versions of some of the pages–did I miss something in my Press version of the book?), which again gives us another window into the fertile mind that was Henson’s oeuvre, including and beyond the brilliant Muppets.

Bottom Line: bar my confusion as to whether I’ve been given a different version, I still highly recommend A Tale of Sand.

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Rock Band 4?? Yes, Please!

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In case you haven’t heard the news, Harmonix announced today (at about 5:30 in the morning..) that they’re ready for their encore! The Rock Bands games 1-3 were once a staple in friendly-get-together fun for gamers for years. It seemed the project was all but abandoned after the market was a little too saturated with at-home music games a few years ago, but we’re very happy to hear it’s been revived!

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The new game will be released for current gen consoles (PS4 and Xbox ONE), however the good news is that if you have an older gen console of the same type, your DLCs and previous game codes should work for the new game and new console. This will not work for changing platforms (ie: going from PS3 to the Xbox ONE), but that’s pretty understandable. Harmonix is also working with Mad Catz to get older instruments working with the new systems/game, but no promises have been made there yet.

They will be introducing new instruments for the new consoles. Details have not been formally announced yet, with the exception of a Penny Arcade-themed guitar. This special guitar will be available for pre-order if you visit the Harmonix booth at PAX East this weekend in person, and reserve it there. Info on the PAX East pre-order as well as general info on the RB4 announcement is available here:

http://www.harmonixmusic.com/blog/rock-band-4-announced/

 

If you’re not able to make it out to PAX East, but still want to be able to pre-order the game or get updates on release details, they have a handy sign up here (note: pricing has not been announced):

http://www.harmonixmusic.com/games/rock-band/preorder-notifications

 

And lastly, they have released a FAQ on the new game here:

http://forums.harmonixmusic.com/discussion/257486/were-ready-for-our-encore-rock-band-4-coming-2015

 

I don’t know about you guys, but I hope this means that Rock Band competitions will start popping up again. I will OWN that with Somebody to Love.  And I think this accurate describes our excitement over the announcement:

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Comics Review X2: Edgar Allan Poe and Springheeled Jack

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Comic Review X2: Edgar Allan Poe’s Spirits of the Dead and Springheeled Jack

Reviews by: Prof. Jenn

 

Edgar Allan Poe’s Spirits of the Dead by Richard Corben

The well-thought-out introduction to this collection states that Poe’s oeuvre is one of the most frequently comic-ized bodies of literature around. The dark subject matter and often taut tension makes for a good image-to-text pairing, I would guess, and the mysterious nature of much of the subject matter lends well to the interstitial storytelling of comics. Being able to read between the frames is especially appropriate for the unhinged characters and strange plots of Poe.

If only this collection rose to the occasion.

What I liked:

  • The androgynous, Faerie-ike narrator character, Mag, who looks as though she stepped right out of Brian Froud’s Faeries, and who links all the stories together like a TV host.
  • The brief, sometimes one-frame flashes of a dream-like world within a real one. It’s an entertainingly jarring effect, like in films Natural Born Killers or Fight Club.

What I didn’t like:

  • The art is so grotesque as to be distracting to the storytelling. In a Poe collection the emphasis should be on a twisted dream world or world of madness, as graphically violent as the stories can sometimes get. The art doesn’t evoke Poe, but goes beyond the grotesque into the just, well, gross.
  • While I can appreciate that putting the Poe stories (and especially poems) into a different medium requires some adaptation, blatantly changing the endings to stories, or rewriting events is taking adaptation too far. The worst culprit of this treatment is “The Raven”–not only is it no longer in verse, but in brutal, sparse prose, with a completely different outcome to the climax of the narrative. What was a psychological thriller (with a verse rhythm well-suited to illustration) turns into a badly written gory slasher film.

Bottom Line: Unfortunately, I can’t recommend Poe’s Spirits of the Dead. It doesn’t do Poe justice.hitchcock_2_full

 

Springheeled Jack by David Hitchcock

It’s not every day you see a black and white graphic novel, and it’s rarer still when it is richer than many full color ones. Springheeled Jack is a masterful graphic novel which takes a real legend from Victorian England and spins explanations (and other literatures, characters, etc. from that era) into a compelling Twilight-Zone-like story.

This book won an Eagle Award for Favorite Black and White Comic, and it’s easy to see why. The richness of the grayscale matches the London fog of the setting (and the morose mood of our protagonist) perfectly, and the detail in each panel is astounding. Those who like to read the fine print in their comics, both in words and in images, will enjoy savoring each page of this book, even as they can’t wait to turn said pages, to see what will happen next.

The terror of Springheeled Jack was an unsolved mystery that pervaded the mid-1800s streets of London–what devil-like horror was it that killed and disappeared so many people? This story takes a plausibly creative sci-fi turn on the “true” events and also ends on an amorphous enough note that we can hope the story will continue.

Bottom Line: I highly recommend Springheeled Jack for comic lovers, steampunk aficionados, and anyone else who likes a thriller with sci fi flavors.

 

 

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Comic Review: Munchkin #1

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Whether you’ve been playing the well-known card game for ages or thought a munchkin referred to a tiny round doughnut, Munchkin #1 has something for every level of fan. Personally Munchkin is one of those games I’ve always wanted to get into but never had the opportunity. I’ve played the demo online but never played the full version with anyone. Having said that, I still very much enjoyed the first issue of what I hope to be a long-running series. Munchkin #1 offers great artwork, good humor, and plenty of fun surprises. So dive into adventure as you travel through dungeons, face monsters, and follow the antics of our heroes in Munchkin #1

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Rooster Teeth and RWBY Fans Mourn the Loss of Monty Oum

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Monty Oum via roosterteeth.wikia.com

Yesterday, the passing of Monty Oum was publicly announced on Rooster Teeth via staff member, Matt Hullum’s journal entry. Oum had been in critical condition for several days prior due to an allergic reaction, and it wasn’t known previously if he would recover. Monty Oum passed away on February 1st, 2015 at the young age of 33.

Anyone familiar with Rooster Teeth’s more recent work is familiar with Monty Oum. He is a graphic artist, and has worked on seasons 8-10 of Red vs Blue. His more notable contributions come from the animated original, RWBY, which he wrote and directed. Oum was also a talented cosplayer (along with wife, Sheena Duquette) and dancer. He was basically very difficult to miss here in the geek culture world, and anyone who knew of his work, at the very least, respected his talent, passion, and amazing drive.  The amount of fan art inspired by his work on RWBY, alone, is staggering. He was an incredible source of inspiration for many.

The amount of love, grief, and support from this tragedy has been astounding. I have personally been a member of the Rooster Teeth community for a decade, myself, and have seen how close the community is, and how supportive they can be – most of my best friends are people I met on Rooster Teeth, and two of my bridesmaids were from that community as well. We’re a tight group. However, even with all of that said and experienced, I am absolutely taken aback by the outpouring of love and support from the community in the wake of this tragedy.

When founder Burnie Burns mentioned Monty’s condition in a journal/news post Friday evening, he included a link to a fundraiser established by Monty’s close friends to help his wife and family with any financial burden they incur during this tragedy. The initial goal was set for $50k, which was reached within an hour of that journal going out. The fundraiser has now raised ~$230k. In the journal entry from Matt (linked in the first paragraph), it was suggested that in lieu of flowers or cards, Oum’s fans should create something in his honor, which a lot of fans have taken to heart. Social media has exploded with love and support for Monty. Below are just a few tributes taken from Twitter, created and posted to honor Monty. To view a feed of these posts, go here. Before we get there, however, I’d like to point out this touching tribute laid outside of the Rooster Teeth Studios this morning:

 

 

 

 

 

   


Monty Oum will be sorely missed.

Hold your loved ones tight, and be good to each other.

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Comic Review: Thomas Alsop #8

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boom_thomas_alsop_008We have reached the end of the series and…I’m not sure I can say I am satisfied with the twist. In storytelling, we commit to a plotline, and when we learn that the journey has not been as it seemed, there is often a sense of betrayal. While it wasn’t quite like that in this series, there was a tinge of the feeling, and that brought about a range of mixed emotions as we closed the cover and thought over what it all meant.

We started off the issue with memories, but also a foreshadow. Thomas is recalling what he was doing during 9/11 and how his girlfriend was in one of the towers. You remember his girlfriend, the love of his life, Susie? Yes, commit her to memory, because she plays a larger part in this series than first realized. But that reveal comes later.

Thomas arrives at the scene of the remembrance and plays up the crowd with an overabundance of showmanship. It feels wrong, disrespectful, but it’s for a purpose. By stirring up the strong emotions, he can fuel the spell and release the souls. And by utilizing one more item in his family’s bag of tricks, he even manages to escape the cops who come after him, giving him long enough to go through the ritual and transport the soul box over to Emma while he is taken into custody. She ensures the souls were released to heaven. All seems to be going according to plan.

Though, I wonder if the assassination attempt was quite foretold. When an angry bystander pulls a gun on him, ranting that Thomas must pay for his sacrilege, not only does Thomas get shot, but Marcus as well when he tries to protect Thomas from the second bullet. But they’re alive, quickly transported into an ambulance, where Thomas says he just wants to get back home to Susie. That’s when everything you thought you knew about this story gets turned on its head.

We’ve seen Susie throughout this series, joining Thomas on multiple occasions. They were a happy couple, committed to one another. Except, it was all a lie. For ten years, Thomas has been living in a hallucination. Susie hasn’t been with him, because she’s been dead since the planes hit the towers. And if that weren’t bad enough, the morning of the attack, she had just revealed that she was pregnant. Piling on angst after angst.

So, how does this make us feel as readers? I am all for twist endings, and I enjoy when I can be surprised. But, there’s a difference in twists and deception. The latter is what I’m feeling now. Perhaps I’ll feel different once it’s sunk in, but for now, betrayal seems a good summary.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

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Graphic Novel Review: Seconds

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With 2014 beginning to fade from recent memory, it’s about time I write about my favorite graphic novel of the preceding year: Bryan Lee O’Malley’s book Seconds. Released over the summer, it is O’Malley’s first published work since the last Scott Pilgrim installment was issued in 2010. The story follows Katie, a young chef trying to open another restaurant so she can leave Seconds (her first culinary establishment and the place where she lives in an apartment upstairs). After a dramatic incident in which a young waitress gets injured, Katie discovers her resident house spirit, who gives her a mushroom and an opportunity to erase a mistake and rewrite events. Soon afterward, Katie finds a patch of these mushrooms and begins abusing their power, despite Lis, the house spirit’s insistence that they should only be used once per person.

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Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

The back of the book, with dust jacket partially pulled back to show the design underneath.

The book itself is beautiful. The half dust jacket and cover boards have different designs, giving it a unique style. I’m also a sucker for any novel that takes the color of the panel lines into account (props to the colorist, Nathan Fairbairn).

Seconds differs quite a bit from the Scott Pilgrim series, and more resembles his first graphic novel Lost at Sea. The book is a single, contained story, rather than a series released manga-style. The story also incorporates a narrator, though there is some witty banter exchanged between it and the main character, implying that the narrator may be an inner voice of Katie’s. These quirks bring the story to life. There are even some nods to Scott Pilgrim for O’Malley’s dedicated fans. (Scott and Ramona are eating in the restaurant on page 259, for example).

Main character Katie looking pretty cartoony next to her hunky new husband. (Ignore my appropriately themed bookmark in the upper right).

One of the Second’s flaws is its main character, which is admittedly sort of the point–she is flawed to a fault. As she digs herself farther into trouble by continuing to eat the mushrooms that erase her numerous mistakes, it seems to take an unbelievable amount of time for her to learn from these errors. She is hard to root for. Katie differs even in style from the others. O’Malley’s style is cartoony, but Katie’s design takes it to another level, as she is the only character with gravity-defying anime hair.

There is nothing groundbreaking in Seconds; no new story elements or decisions that set it far apart from other works, but it has just the right amount of humor, quirk, and design to make it pop. I want more graphic novels like this, with a single developed story that plays with narrative styles, and some nice resolution at the end. Seconds is worth checking out, and not just for Scott Pilgrim fans.

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Book Review: A Dance in Blood Velvet

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Book Review: A Dance in Blood Velvet by Freda Warrington

Review by Prof. Jenn

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The re-publishing of Warrington’s lush vampire epic continues with A Dance in Blood Velvet–a story that takes place after They Lived Happily Ever After. Because hey, vampires really do have literally the opportunity to do so. However, as former humans with every human foible still intact, it’s not so simple. Relationships become tautly intertwined as Karl’s former companions reawaken and challenge what Charlotte has found and begun with her new life as a vampire. Charlotte herself is learning what sort of a vampire she is becoming as well as dealing with searing jeolousy which finds manifestation (or retaliation?) in her obsession with a ballerina.

Warrington has a gift for portraying realistic strong feelings and is an excellent author of character. Because of this, what we get in this sequel is not over-ornate romanticism but powerful driven characters, going for their objectives no matter what. The reader finds it hard to put the book down, as long as it is, because she must find out what happens next. As far as how it reads as a sequel, I can imagine someone coming into this story without having traveled with the characters before, as there is enough explanation (without info dumps) and opening discussions between Karl and Charlotte that one could hit the ground running without having read the first one. Though, you’ll want to read the first one too.

This book ends with a potential serial villain much in the vein of Batman’s Catwoman–definitely an antagonist and dangerous, but surprisingly not always not on our heroes’ side…and we are left with the idea that yes, we will be seeing this villain again.

Bottom Line: this series is extremely well written–A Dance in Blood Velvet is a taut, tense, exhilarating read.

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