Chin Music #1 Review
Writing: Steve Niles
Art: Tony Harris
Review by Melissa Megan
Apparently, Chin Music is about a guy named Shaw who can leap through time and possesses supernatural powers. He’s on the run from some other creepy dudes who also have powers, like tearing his skin from his bones. Apparently he has landed in Prohibition era Chicago and must now contend with the local police, gangsters and the supernatural underground. I say apparently because Image Comics tells me that this is what’s happening in Chin Music, but to be perfectly honest I only understood about half of that premise reading through issue #1.
I hate to criticize Steve Niles at all because I really love pretty much everything he puts his pen to, but this introduction just didn’t connect with me, story wise. There’s a lot going on, but not all of it is clear. Granted, it’s a pilot issue, so there’s lots more story to tell and time to tell it. I have all the faith in the world that Niles will pull the plot together in future issues and that my confusion will disappear. Not being crystal on what’s going on in this issue doesn’t necessarily mean I didn’t enjoy it, however. It is action packed, moody, violent and spooky. I just don’t ‘get it’ yet.
The artwork by Tony Harris is brilliant here. It’s thick with atmosphere and very, very pretty. Some of the panels are framed in art deco borders, like intricate picture frames. This lends quite a bit of flourish to the pages and really helps set the retro style of the book. Harris’ characters all seem to have large, chunky facial features and knobby knuckles, but it’s less of a distraction than a style. I found his play with color and texture very pleasing to look at.
All in all, Chin Music seems like it could be a quality series. As long as the story isn’t too difficult to grasp, there’s a good idea here and some unique styling. I’ll definitely be keeping up with this one and am anxious to see Steve Niles develop it further.
Everything is connected.
Or so they would have you believe. Cloud Atlas is the newest installation brought to us by the Wachowski siblings. Now, we all know the Wachowskis from the Matrix series, and chances are most of us loved at least, or only, the first one. Here in the comic fan world, we also know them from producing the V for Vendetta movie which, to most lovers of the brilliant Alan Moore comic, left much to be desired. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this movie. I had asked a few friends what they thought of it, without revealing any details, and got very mixed reviews from them. However, it seemed to have a great cast behind it, and has had many compliments on the graphics and stylistic choices, so I tried to keep an open mind. If you haven’t seen this film yet, don’t worry, I won’t give anything away for you. We’ll try to keep this as spoiler-friendly as possible.
I’d like to tell you this movie is phenomenal. That it’s mind-blowing, life-changing.. all that gooey stuff. It’s simply not. It’s true that the cast was fantastic – well, most of them. To be honest, the two main leads – Tom Hanks and Halle Berry – really weren’t anything to write home about. A lot of their characters’ personalities seemed a bit forced and unimagined. To be fair, though, they each played several characters throughout the movie (six, to be precise). Mostly main characters, at that, which can’t be easy to do. However, the supporting cast was quite wonderful. By the ending credits, I was astonished to find that there were a few characters portrayed by Hugh Grant that I truly would not have guessed to be him. Another notable appearance was made by Hugo Weaving. Of course, I’m pretty sure we all have just come to expect wonderful things from Weaving, his portrayal of Old Georgie in this was disturbing in all the right ways. Not only that, he also shows up as a comically rough-handed female nurse in a mental institution. All things considered, the casting for Cloud Atlas did lend a lot to the movie as a whole, that would have been greatly soured by a lesser cast.
What I had previously heard about the aesthetics of the film did not seem to be exaggerated either. Taking place in six different time lines, Cloud Atlas had to adapt to very different settings very quickly. The futuristic, dystopian feel of Neo Seoul was particularly interesting. In fact, let’s take a look at a scene from that time line:
However, casting and looks can only take you so far. There needs to be a great story line behind a movie like this, and that’s where it really fell short. The tagline of Everything is Connected is pushed very hard from the second you even look at a movie poster for Cloud Atlas. In fact, it’s pushed so hard that it’s quite a let down when you come to see that things.. really aren’t that connected. You’d expect the six stories to be very intertwined; you’d expect the core characters in each respective timeline to suffer the same general pitfalls, and learn the same overall lessons as they may relate to them, personally. I’m just going to rip that band-aid off right now – they don’t. There are certain aspects that are passed down through timelines, but they just aren’t enough to connect the characters together as much as you want them to. If you take a look at the infographic here (click to enlarge), it explains individual items that are passed between characters, but these items, with the notable exception of Sonmi-451 and 2346 Hawaii, really don’t mean very much in the grand scheme of the story. The way you’re built up to believe that everything will connect on a profound level ends up being a huge let down. This entire story seemed like it spent two and a half hours driving and driving to a point, and it just never got there. Frankly, it was disappointing.
Cloud Atlas has a fair amount of well-delivered humor, and a good portion of fun action sequences. The cast obviously had a lot of fun with this one, and their efforts definitely show. Six different timelines are very beautifully portrayed, often with unique and interesting styles. However, the soundtrack was unremarkable, and the story was infuriating. This is the kind of movie that would be fun to watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon when you have nothing better to do, but it’s absolutely not something I’ll be revisiting anytime soon.
I would, however, like to mention something I found particularly wonderful. This isn’t even about the movie, though, it’s about the packaging. One of the ways you can get this DVD is in a combo-pack. This comes with a DVD, Blu-Ray Disc, and an optional digital download. I really have to hand it to WB and the movie industry on this one. Giving consumers options for how they want to view a product they own is a long-awaited idea that we’ve all been hoping for.
That said, Cloud Atlas available NOW on Blu-ray Combo pack, DVD and Digital Download. I’d love to hear what you guys thought of it.
Comics review: Dr. Who Prisoners of Time #4 by Tipton, Tipton, Erskine and Kirchoff & Dr. Who #8 Space Oddity Part 2 by Fialkov, Domingues, Ponce, Gonzalez and Salmon
Review by Prof. Jenn
Part 2 takes up where we left off, with the Vashta Nerada having stolen the TARDIS. This can’t be good. But the Doctor always has a plan. Or at least, he thinks really well off the cuff.
This issue is a tighly-paced, exciting story with a fun Doctor-changes-history-slightly conclusion with all the fun 11th-Doctor quips and action you want out of a comic. And the moral that violence is never the answer.
The art is colorful and comicky, which is perfect for an action-packed plot like this one. The Doctor is rendered close enough to Matt Smith that we recognize him, without having to be a faithful portrait of the actor, but more an illustration of the character.
Bottom line: Recommended, especially for Dr. Who fans.
Prisoners of Time
What a treat, to see “my” Doctor rendered in comic form! I haven’t kept up with any of the comics featuring the classic Who regenerations, and this issue makes me want to start.
This is a classic 4th Doctor tale, with Leela and K-9 helping him solve the mystery of the problems found on a planet they landed on by mistake. And there’s Judoon, which is cool.
I would actually make the same comment about this art as above: the character portrayal, the bright colors, the tight pace matching the writing…
Bottom line: Highly recommended. It’s like watching a good old ep.
Book Review: Plague Nation by Dana Fredsti
Review by: Prof. Jenn
For a reminder of my opinion of Fredsti’s first zombie book in this series, and my interview with her, see here: http://nerdsinbabeland.com/archives/6571.
In Plague Nation, the zombie virus has spread from our one little college town to all the way across the, well, nation. We also learn that there is more than meets the eye with how the plague started in the first place. We catch a brief glimpse of a new villain, and learn more about a possible cure. Though the next book is called Plague World, so I wouldn’t hold your breath yet.
Here’s my professional opinion of Plague Nation, in list form, like the last one was. Also, lists are cool.
What I liked:
The pacing. This sequel is much tighter than the first one–it hits the ground running, and doesn’t let up. Having said that, there are enough quiet spots to allow us to catch our breath, but not enough to drag down the drama.
Character development: Remember when I complained last time about one-dimensional characters? Well they’ve developed here, and it makes us want to know what happens next much more now that we’re getting to know our characters better.
The drama re: Gabriel’s mysterious condition. It’s getting down to the wire, and it’s exciting.
Our new silky, creepy villain. Actually I wish we had more of him– the conclusion of his thread is a bit anticlimactic, though I can tell he’ll continue in the next book. But he’s great to have–a supervillain in a zombie story, totally charming and sociopathic.
The premise of including lots and lots of pop culture, and characters who quote movies, and reference them in their daily activities. Like we do.
What I didn’t like:
Ashley’s snarky inner monologue. It was a bit too much in the last book, and in the sequel, it’s even more out of hand. Instead of sounding like a funny, smart, kick ass protagonist (which I suspect is the idea behind writing her like this), Ashley just grates on the nerves.
As much as I like the idea of pop culture references in a story like this, it does get a bit overboard in actual practice. Also, it veers a bit too close to Walking Dead. There’s a fine line between postmodern remix and clunky copying, and this book crosses that line a few times.
The conspiracy plot-line: I won’t spoil it for you, readers, but I don’t get it–the motivations behind the new evil-doers are not plausible to me. I don’t know, go read it, then email me and see if that’s just me.
Bottom line: if you can grit your teeth past Ashley’s voice, pick up Plague Nation and have fun seeing how our intrepid wild cards are faring against the spread of the zombie virus.
Image Comics has pulled the big guns in the new electrifying East of West, a captivating, enthralling offering from the award-winning team of Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta!
East of West is an exciting and engaging Sci-Fi Western, set in an awry, dystopian world, where the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are askew themselves, as one of them has parted ways and rides solo.
As he did with Nightly News, Jonathan Hickman uses his gift of weaving mesmerizing, witty dialogue while sprouting a compelling, engaging book. Not to give anything away, but the exchanges between the solo Horseman and the world leaders he encounters in issues one and two, are witty, riveting and deliver an entertaining story that hooks you from first page to last.
As if the engrossing words weren’t enough, Nick Dragotta’s panels are explosive, detailed, immersive works of art. The characters’ features are magnetic expressions of the sumptuous tale that is evolving from one gorgeous panel to the next.
In East of West, Hickman and Dragotta have set out to create a dynamic, unique, engaging and exciting series with depth and unforgettable characters. They have succeeded thoroughly, and I can easily say it is one of the best new books out there. So saddle up and pick up East of West. You’ll love it!
The Magic Circle by Jenny Davidson is the story of three young women whose lives revolve around games. Ruth is a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University in New York City whose research focus is on game theory and design. She pulls two friends, Lucy and Anna, into the development of her most recent alternate reality game, Trapped in the Asylum. The Magic Circle follows the dramatic, life-altering effects game development and practice has on these three women.
The Magic Circle has a lot of potential. It explores a segment of geek culture that I personally love (live action role-playing gaming, ARGs, etc) and involves three strong female protagonists. Additionally, Davidson incorporates different forms of story-telling, including having portions of the story told via gchat conversations, online forum conversations, and blog posts. It has a much darker tone than I expected and includes some interesting twists. While I would love to be more involved in LARP and ARG culture, I admit I do not know all of the intricacies of that world and therefore cannot speak to the validity of the culture they portray in this book. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading a book that acknowledges how enlightening and fun this world can be, primarily with regards to the Trapped in the Asylum game.
Nevertheless, there are some problems with the book. The first half of the book is slow. Aside from the parts of the book that serve to develop Trapped in the Asylum, I found myself having to struggle a bit to gain interest in these characters and their lives. The second half takes a dramatic turn and becomes much more of a thriller. It is faster-paced and much harder to put down. My biggest problem with the last half of the book is that there are a number of plot points that never get fully explained. These plot holes left me feeling slightly unsatisfied by the end and wishing the author had added just a few additional pages to wrap some things up. Admittedly, I am not familiar with The Bacchae, the Greek tragedy the latter half of the book is focused on, and therefore I might be missing part of the story. Regardless, I would have liked a little more wrap-up of the primary story lines in the final resolution of the story.
The Magic Circle is a dark thriller that skirts on the edge of a full examination of game culture and design. While I have a handful of issues with the way certain story-lines and characters were handled, I admire the effort Ms. Davidson put into exploring unique ways of handling prose and the examination of live action game culture. I am definitely interested to see what future stories Ms. Davidson has to offer.
Writing: Brian K. Vaughan
Art: Fiona Staples
Review by Melissa Megan
Oh, Saga, how you play with my emotions. The games this series plays are heartbreaking, thrilling, disturbing. The opening scene of issue #12 is a prime example. Prince Robot IV has been wounded in war and calls upon the aid of the medic, a mouse-like creature with healing skills. As the medic administers medicine, he explains that he’s not a native to the planet but is supporting Prince Robot’s forces in hopes of earning his degree and as thanks for their help on his home planet. It’s almost warm and fuzzy until a poisonous gas is released upon the unit and the medic reveals that he wasn’t given a mask to protect himself. It gets messy from there.
In the present day, Prince Robot is on a mission to track down Alana and Marko, like so many others. His government has their own reasons for wanting to dispose of the forbidden family. He’s landed on a solitary , foggy planet where he believes a reclusive author can lead him to the fugitives. Mister Heist wrote a romance novel that Alana and Marko are fans of; the book is believed to be a revolutionary text in disguise and Prince Robot thinks the novel was the inspiration behind the couple’s idea to run from their homes and duties.
The majority of issue #12 is focused on Prince Robot’s verbal chess game with the intelligent author, trying to surmise if he has knowledge of the whereabouts of Alana, Marko and Hazel. It’s not quite as much fun as the usual plethora of alien creatures and formidable planets, but it’s engaging and imperative to the story line. And as usual, the issue sets up an exciting and tense possibility for the next one to come. Holy shit, does this book perfect story telling. Magnificent artwork accompanying genius writing makes Saga an absolute masterpiece of a comic book. I’m not sure how many ways I can say that I love this series, but I’ll keep trying.
Writing: Nick Spencer
Art: Riley Rossmo
Review by Melissa Megan
Crazy, winged holy man is massacring everyone that moves over at the hospital. The pet superhero of Bedlam PD, The First, is taking a major ass-whooping while he attempts to stop the killing. Fillmore Press has landed himself an exclusive sit down with convicted child molester Father Warton. Warton suspects immediately that Fillmore is no detective and that his interest lies deeper than just putting a stop to the murders that he directs from inside the prison.
Fillmore gets right to the core of what Warton wants and needs, possibly his real drive behind ordering his ‘archangel’ Eric to kill. Warton wants to know the sins of the children of god. Fillmore has plenty to confess. And there is the key Fillmore needs to solve the case.
The highlight of this issue is definitely in the ‘psycho to psycho’ chat between Warton and Fillmore, which not only gives a deeper look at the illness driving the priest but also reveals just how in touch Fillmore still is with his alter ego, Madder Red. And really, that’s what we’ve all been wondering, isn’t it? If Madder Red is truly buried beneath the new psyche of Fillmore Press, or simply lurking just under the surface, waiting for the right moment to make his glorious comeback?
Besides the revealing interview, there’s not a whole lot of edge to be had here. I appreciate the attempt to maintain a solid story line, but it’s tough to offer the chaos and brutality that Bedlam has produced in previous issues, then follow it up with slow burn story progression heavily reliant on dialogue, without it feeling like it’s slowing down. I don’t want this story to slow down, I like that it slaps me in the face with every issue. Maybe I’m expecting too much. It’s not over yet, but I really hope for a return to the intensity that I’ve come to identify with Bedlam. Regardless, I still say everyone should be reading this series.
Bioshock Infinite was released last week, bringing a new, exciting chapter of the hugely popular game series for fans to obsessively play for days at a time. I, myself, am a fan of the franchise and when I heard about a book release accompanying the game which would outline the artistic development involved, I was thrilled to have the chance to review it. The Bioshock games are known for their complex story lines and tormented characters, but I think the real core of these games is in the mind blowing art work. I still remember my first time watching the opening sequence for Bioshock. I felt real terror and fear living the experience of sinking on a huge ship, watching people and flames plummet in to the ocean around me as my character sank deeper and deeper. Then, the elation of discovering Rapture, the city under the sea, glowing and majestic, yet abandoned and incredibly eerie at the same time. Bioshock has never settled for less than ‘holy shit amazing’ in the visual department and by the looks of The Art of Bioshock Infinite, this latest installment is no different.
The introduction to the book is by creative director Ken Levine and he explains that the process of developing a video game on the level of Bioshock Infinite is far more complicated and time consuming than some may assume. “ the process of making anything—and certainly an Irrational game—is grueling and exhilarating, exciting and depressing, thrilling and scary as hell. For every idea that makes it into the game, a dozen are put against the wall and shot.” This book puts this process on display for you, showing the character and world development, sketch by sketch. Hundreds of pieces of art and ideas were thrown out in the editing machine, but no less impressive. It becomes obvious right away that the artists who created this new Bioshock universe toiled endlessly to achieve the perfect effects on every single detail of every puzzle piece that eventually became Bioshock Infinite.
I found the notes explaining the process behind the art development as intriguing as the pictures themselves. To get a glimpse in to the great care and immense thought behind every detail in this game feels like peeking in to someone’s window and watching them create. Someone with more artistic chutzpah in their little finger than I could achieve in a lifetime. Watching the floating city of Columbia come to life in these paintings and sketches is so much fun, but for me the best part was being witness to the birth and growth of the enigmatic characters of Bioshock Infinite. Booker DeWitt, Elizabeth and Songbird are focused on heavily, their personality and story details being just as imperative as their styles and physical make up. Readers are invited to observe the ideas behind Sky-Hooks, airships and the menacing, powerful Heavy Hitters.
The Art of Bioshock Infinite is a beautiful, enlightening lesson in video game development. It’s not quick, easy, simple or lacking in sacrifice. At least not a game on this level of quality and brilliance. I haven’t actually played Bioshock Infinite yet, but reading this book makes me feel like I already have an intimate knowledge of the people and creatures (or machines) that make up the city of Columbia. Whether you’re a fan of the Bioshock franchise or just a lover of artwork, this book is definitely satisfying and worth having on your shelf. It’s been a real treat for me and has only increased my desire to experience Bioshock Infinite for myself.
How many games do you have sitting your shelf that you’ve already played through, and barely even look at anymore? And how many games are there that you’ve been wanting to play – maybe even for years – but you just can’t justify the purchase of them, perhaps even because of the collection you already have? Of course you can trade in old games to corporate companies like GameStop or Best Buy, and even purchase used games. But let’s be honest.. that’s kind of a rip. They don’t give you much for your trade-in, and turn around and sell it as used for more than twice as much.
This is exactly the conundrum a group of gamers was discussing over at Reddit a while back, and developed it into a solution. Now, you can head over to 99gamers.com to trade your games one-on-one with other gamers, and receive and pay amounts much closer to the game’s value. Personally, I love this idea. It’s a process that’s been much-needed in the gaming community for quite a while, and it’s finally here. To hear more about the service, we recently contacted Brandon Kruzeniski of 99Gamers for some questions.
NiB- What is 99gamers.com?
BK- 99Gamers is a video game trading community. Members use 99Gamers as a platform to trade directly with each other. Members add their unwanted video games and sell them to other members for a virtual currency called ‘coins’ which are valued at $1 per coin. Members can then spend their earned coins on other games.
BK- I’m one of the founders of 99Gamers with the other being my brother Jon.
BK- I originally got the idea for a video game trading site when I came across a post on Reddit about how someone would shoot darts at their game collection to choose which game they would play next. I realized that this random person had a bunch of games that I would love to play but just haven’t had the chance to. I turned to my game collection and thought that this person would probably feel the same way about my game collection.
I was also tired of getting ripped off by GameStop, knowing they would turn around and sell the game for double the next day. I knew other video game trading sites existed, but none of them were what I wanted them to be.
I wasn’t sure how many people would be interested in something like this so I decided to post it to Reddit and see what the response was like. I was thinking maybe a few hundred people would see it and I’d be able to get some feedback on the idea, but within a few hours the post was at the top of r/gaming and even hit the front page for a while, resulting in thousands of signups. I then knew enough people felt the same way I did so I went forward with the site.
BK- First, we save people a lot of money. Trading on the site is completely free so you’ll really start to see the savings add up quickly. 99Gamers is built by gamers for gamers with the sole intention of getting more value out of your game collection. We are a platform for gamers to trade directly with each other so the middle man can be cut out. Many people feel like they get ripped off when using trade-in services so 99Gamers can be used as that alternative.
I’ve also found that because you have access to such a large game library you are more inclined to try out games you may have not given a chance before. You are then more likely to purchase the sequel when it comes out. For example I hadn’t played the Dead Space series yet but after getting the games through 99Gamers I ended up buying Dead Space 3 new.
BK- We haven’t received any backlash at all. We’re still fairly new and have been mostly underground so it’s doubtful they know about us yet.
BK- We came out of beta about two months ago and we’re starting to pick up momentum. Just last week, it was nine months since I originally posted about the idea on Reddit so I did a follow up post about our progress so far. We ended up hitting the front page again which resulted in us more than doubling our user base within 24 hours. We went from having 2,300 members to now almost 6,000.
BK- Yes, I believe it has been received quite well. Both Reddit posts reached the front page which shows many people share the same feelings of not wanting to get ripped off by trade-in offers. When members trade directly with one another games can be offered at a lower value and people tend to appreciate knowing that their games will be going to a good home.
BK- Assassin’s Creed III and Far Cry 3 have been popular over the last few months. Now that the new Tomb Raider is out it usually gets picked up quite quickly. Pokémon games are of course always popular as everyone loves playing them. I’ve found people will often buy every game in a series together. The Mass Effect series has been very popular in the past.
BK- I actually had a list of games I had wanted when I came up with the idea and wouldn’t allow myself to get them through anywhere but 99Gamers. A few I’ve gotten are Kingdom Hearts, Max Payne 3, Pokémon SoulSilver and Assassin’s Creed II. One that I hadn’t yet received was Just Cause 2 but after the Reddit post last week I managed to grab it and it’s now on its way!
BK- Up next we’ll be adding PC games and digital codes. The search, browse and profile pages are getting a much improved new look. These will help members discover new and interesting games faster.
Down the road we plan on adding consoles and gaming accessories into the mix as well as some more exciting features. Our main goal continues to make buying and selling games as easy as possible so our members can spend more time playing games.
You can visit 99Gamers here: http://99gamers.com – Hopefully you’ll find something you’ve been wanting. Let us know how it goes!