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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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Comics Review: Crime Does Not Pay vol.8

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Comics Review: Crime Does Not Pay vol. 8: ed. Philip R. Simon

Review by Prof. Jenn

cdnp8The 8th volume of vintage comics, Crime Does Not Pay, is an entertaining collection of not only vintage true crime comic stories but a delightful and instructional collection of vintage ads as well. Remember when I reviewed volume 5? Well volume 8 is even more entertaining as well as historically educational.

The true crime stories in this volume are more gruesome than in volume 5, and more diverse, as we have female villains in this as well as your customary male ’30s-’40s gangster types. The ghostly narrator character is back, celebrating his acolytes’ descent into worse and worse malfeasance, until their comeuppance causes the repeated declaration, Crime Does Not Pay. The art is colorful and newspaper-y in style, and the ads are a continued delight in historical study and odd nostalgia, as are the letters to the editor. Two dollars for a published letter? Count me in…

Bottom Line: The Crime Does Not Pay series is a fun read and an excellent exercise in edutainment.

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Our Trip to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

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Author’s note: this article is very picture-heavy. Feel free to click on any of the images to enlarge them, and skip to the bottom for an album of more images.
 

badgeRecently, the fine people over at the NASA Kennedy Space Center invited me to attend a SpaceX launch as a Social Media attendee. This was pretty awesome news – they only extend this invitation to 50 people per launch.

Unfortunately, we got news the day before the launch that the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft launch had been postponed a few weeks due to issues encountered while testing the Falcon rocket. Getting that news was kind of a bummer, but we were promised a special surprise to make up for it, and NASA delivered.

After arriving at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL, we got our media badges, and then boarded a bus with a NASA Social sign in the front window. Some introductions were made, and some of these internet socialites already knew each other. One thing I can say for sure was that everyone who attended this event was amazingly friendly and welcoming.

DSC_0041We were driven around the KSC for a little while, hearing facts about the building of the KSC in the 60s. We heard about how the KSC is home to many species of wildlife, and saw evidence of this – including alligators in the canals lining the road, and an enormous eagle’s nest in a tree just off the road. We chatted with each other, exchanged stories and interests, and heard many anecdotes such as “Of course a bus full of NASA nerds are also Firefly fans!”

DSC_0055Our first destination of the day was a launchpad used for – you guessed it – launching large things into space! On our way, however, we saw a couple of Crawlers. Crawlers are what NASA uses to move large objects across the property. Objects such as spacecrafts, rockets, and mobile launch platforms. The crawlers are gyroscopically stable, meaning that no matter what bumps and turbulence they encounter, their cargo will not be affected.

Once we got to the launchpad, we were brought into the actual launchpad, right were shuttles are loaded, and where the launch fire comes out. The walls were scorched by decades of previous launches. The sound suppression system was enormous. You’ll see it in the pictures below – it’s used to make sure windows don’t get smashed all over Cape Canaveral/Cocoa Beach whenever there’s a launch.

DSC_0073Next, we were taken to check out a couple of mobile launch platforms. When a crawler is used to move this platform, it will be positioned underneath the mobile launch platform, and will then lift it off the pillars it stands on to move it. The scaffolding on the mobile platform to the left here is used to position a shuttle against. It’s ridiculously huge. The pictures don’t really do a great job of showing how huge it is. We also went underneath a mobile platform, and stood where hundreds of thousands of gallons of water would be flushed through to counteract the heat from a shuttle launching. It was pretty awesome.

Then came the really big surprise. We were told we’d be able to see the spacecraft, Orion, but not that we would get to participate in a full press conference for the return of Orion. This particular Orion spacecraft flew 66,000 miles out and around the Earth. It met 85 out of 87 flight objectives, which is extremely high. Orion’s mission was to collect data, and it was considered a success. Orion landed in the Pacific Ocean, and was then transported to the East Coast over about 8 days via roads and highways to get to the Kennedy Space Center. Coming up in February, Orion’s heat shield will be removed for further analysis. Various parts of the space craft will be removed for testing and data analysis, but for the most part, it will remain in tact for display and/or simulations because of how well it held up in space. And of course.. I took a couple selfies with Orion. Wouldn’t you?

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After the big Orion reveal, we were given access to the KSC’s Visitor Complex. I’m honestly surprised that NASA’s pretty amazing marketing team hasn’t come up with a better name for the Visitor Complex. It’s not some stuffy building with a desk and pamphlets like you might expect. No.. the KSC Visitor Complex is like Disneyland for space. It’s a lot of fun. There are rides, exhibits, simulations. If you’re ever around Cape Canaveral, I definitely recommend checking it out. You could easily spend a whole day there.

Despite the launch woes, the trip was a lot of fun, and definitely worth it. A huge THANK YOU!! goes to NASA (and especially Jason!) for the opportunity. 
If you’re interested in the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft launch, it is currently scheduled for Saturday, January 10th at 4:47am. More info will be posted on the SpaceX website
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Comic Review: Thomas Alsop #7

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boom_thomas_alsop_007The 9/11 memorial is quickly coming up, and Thomas is determined to be there…even if it means breaking the law to do so. I feel like the end of this series can only be a success for him, but at times I doubt the through line.

When we start the issue, Thomas is still being detained down at the police station. The detectives on his case are of no use, and are trying to keep Thomas in custody overnight, just long enough to ensure he misses the ceremony. His lawyer, Mr. Hughes, has decided to take matters in his own hands if Thomas has any hope of getting out. Hughes distracts the detectives long enough for Thomas to do some magical slips out to freedom.

This is one of the many times I have issues with the “random magical item there to save the day” but it also underlies a problem with the universe as a whole. At times, Thomas seems to be using his position to his own financial advantage, but at other times he keeps all these magical ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ abilities pushed to the side until he can flash them in an emergency. I was hoping for more consistency as we went on, but I don’t feel like we’ve gotten it. Small issues, though, and things I can overlook for the grand scheme of things.

Upon Thomas’ escape, he calls the mayor to tell him to call off the cops, but the mayor refuses. Then he tries to get up with Emma Caldwell, but she’s a little busy at the moment. Instead, he’s left to fend for himself, and dealing with the public is going to be quite difficult. He gets in a fight with the locals on a ferry and then they throw him overboard. Cue the memory flashback that enforces the lesson he learned way back then – he needs to get back up and keep fighting, even when it seems he’s already lost. He takes that advice now, and onward we go.

Out of the river, he goes to see Arnica, who has a client (Albert) tied up and gagged, as she was in the middle of a scene. She lets him use her phone to call Marcus and Thomas asks for help – show the live feed of the exorcism on the blog so that he can harness the power of multiple people believing to make the magic stronger. With that done, he heads out, with The O on his trail. Emma’s having the same problem, and they both manage to do away with them, temporarily for Thomas and seemingly permanently for Emma. I want to know what she did on that beach, because she’s got some serious power behind her to achieve such a feat.

As we end the issue, The O follow Thomas to the bar he had previously mentioned in a tweet, and thankfully a group of fans eventually show up to dissuade a bloody showdown. The group puts off The O temporarily, though Thomas vows to destroy them once he’s done with the 9/11 event. Will he even make it through the event? And if he does, is he in any place to follow through on his threat? We’ll have to wait and see how it all turns out.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

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Book Review: Chicks Dig Gaming

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Book Review: Chicks Dig Gaming ed. by Brozek, Pearson, Smith?, & Rabe

Review by Prof. Jenn

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Books of this nature can easily fall into the trap of redundancy. Witness my review for Queers Dig Timelords, another anthology of this ilk, and indeed in this series. Chicks Dig Gaming does not, however, fall prey to the trap. The collection of essays span from wicked satire to sweet nostalgic memoir, to a celebration of gaming in general or certain games, a recounting of a particular gaming event, to analysis of a game or game trope, a recounting of the history of video games, to the ever-important discussion of the unfair and even dangerous treatment of women in the gaming world. This collection doesn’t only discuss video games, but board games, LARPing and pen-and-paper RPGs are discussed as well.

My problem with Queers…, as you recall, was that the essays all had the same tone and even the same subject matter (Doctor Who changed my life because…). This, especially read in big sections in one sitting, started to grate on the nerves, or at least became repetitive fawning. Chicks...doesn’t do this, as each essay has an author voice distinct from every other, and the topics at hand vary widely. I commend the editors for this, as it’s an entertaining as well as an informative read throughout.

Highlights of this collection include: a satirical look at the lack of boys in video gaming and what we can do about it, a paralleling of Mario to a bodhisattva and the Mario games to Buddhism, how one author who didn’t like video games at all tried Portal, and a delightfully written description of how another author learned to get cutthroat in Eve Online.

Bottom Line: this collection is highly recommended for anyone who loves any games.

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