Prof. Jenn

Prof. Jenn

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Prof. Jenn comes to us from Bonzuko.com Bonzuko is Jenn Zuko and Jason Boughn. Daily Cross-Swords is a hub for all your latest infotainment on Stage Combat, stunts, martial arts, yoga, dance, fitness, and other movement arts, as well as our other intellectual pursuits such as Jenn’s literature and arts professorship stuff and Jason’s culinary artistry.

Home page: http://bonzuko.com/

Posts by Prof. Jenn
Serenity - Leaves On The Wind #6 by Dan Dos Santos

Comic Review: Serenity #6

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Comic Review: Serenity, Leaves on the Wind #6 by Whedon, Jeanty, et. al

Review by Prof. Jenn

Serenity - Leaves On The Wind #6 by Dan Dos Santos

The Leaves on the Wind series concludes with this tying up of loose ends and opening up of new ones for, we can assume, the next phase of the story. The conclusions of Zoe’s rescue and that of the Alliance-stolen-girls-a-la-River is actually pretty brief, truth be told. We had such build up of preparation in the previous issues that the culmination is just a little…well just a little disappointing, that’s all. Though there is a new potential (major!) problem introduced at the end…

The story, beyond being a bit brief as I have mentioned, boasts the same familiar character quality I have admired about the previous issues, and the art has the same weakness of character portrayal I have mentioned in earlier reviews. This issue is no different, though it is nice to have a little more about our new fighter character and be introduced to yet another character who looks as though she’ll be recurring at least, if not a major player in the battles to come.

Bottom Line: This issue is recommended, with the same caveats I detailed in the reviews of previous issues.

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Book Review: Yesterday’s Kin

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Book Review: Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

Review by Prof. Jenn

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Yesterday’s Kin is a novelette which takes us on a breakneck pace through the philosophical, scientific, and psychological implications of a near-future contact with alien life. They come in peace, they come with some scientific advancements but not totally all-powerful, and we experience them through the POV of a prominent scientist and her flighty, dreamy, ne’er-do-well son. What the aliens’ actual purpose is for parking in New York Harbor and what happens to the people of Earth (and what will happen) is a fascinating, intelligent and intuitive discussion of the old “are we alone” question of so much sci fi.

The book is written in third-person limited POV, and is limited to two perspectives only: Marianne”s (the scientist) and Noah’s (her son), which makes what we know and when we know it tightly dictated and suspenseful. By the time we get to the big twist/revelation at the end, whether or not the reader has guessed it already is irrelevant–it’s a tense moment nonetheless.

Bottom Line: Yesterday’s Kin is highly recommended. I read it through in one sitting. I think it’d make a great movie…

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Noah-books

Book Review x2: Noah, Noah: Ila’s Story

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Two, two, two reviews in one!: Noah by Mark Morris and Noah: Ila’s Story by Susan Korman

Review by Prof. Jenn

Noah-books

Sigh. Well these books are pretty awful.

Noah is the official novelization of the the movie of the same name (screenplay by Aronofsky and Handel). The story follows Biblical figure Noah from the preface of him seeing his father killed by barbarians through his vision of cataclysm and subsequent construction of the Ark and the saving of all the animals, two by two. Ila’s Story is a novella/knockoff/something-or-other that retells the story in Noah but with much less detail and in the POV of character Ila.

Since I am a lit professor by trade, I can’t bring myself to write a completely negative review of anything, no matter how poor in quality. So here are the redeeming qualities of these two books: hm…let’s see…

  • The Watchers are a cool concept (well everything here is a Biblical concept but you get what I mean), and seeing them in both their manifestations in this story is satisfying.
  • It’s always interesting from a character study standpoint to delve into the complexities of psychological motivation in an old and/or archetypical character. Having all the sturm und drang of Noah’s psyche as he struggles to keep control of crazy circumstances is a neat exploration of an old character.
  • The addition of Ila makes for more strong female presence in a story traditionally male-centered.

Yeah, that’s as kind as I can be. The fact of the matter is that the book is clunkily written, the women are only focused on motherhood and the men, nothing else, the violence is gratuitously graphic without furthering the story, and the villain is so stereotypical he’s actually kind of funny. Ila’s Story is actually even worse–there is no character development, no added richness due to the changed female POV, the writing is even more stilted and clunky, and this is even less okay with me as Ila’s Story smacks of being written for juvenile or YA readers. All readers deserve better, but especially young readers.

Having said all this, I must admit I have not seen the movie on which these books are based. Would my opinion of the books change if I had? I don’t think so, as bad writing is just bad writing. Maybe we can blame the bad writing more on the screenwriters than the novelists? Any of you seen Noah and can add to the dialogue here?

Bottom Line: I do not recommend either Noah or Ila’s Story.

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BatmanSilverAge-FEATURE

Comics Review: Batman Silver Age

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Comics Review: Batman Classics–the Silver Age Newspaper Comics vol.1 by Ellsworth, Moldoff, Infantino, et. al

Review by Prof. Jenn

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What a fun collection of vintage comics featuring everyone’s favorite dynamic duo! It’s a trip into the cheesy one-liner past of Batman’s late 1960s appearance in newspapers. This collection begins with a wonderfully detailed rundown of the history by Joe Desris, and is enlightening to read just before plunging into the series of snippet-length strips.

These are not old comic books, they are comic strips from newspapers 1966-67, so they are all brief, cheesy, sketchy, mid-low quality art, with a little joke or a PSA at the beginning of each (“Never fight with a smiling fortune-teller.” “Unless you want to strike a happy medium!”). We meet several of our favorite villains, with some I’ve not heard of before. And yes, there is some material here not appropriate for a modern audience, in the realm of sexism, and racism especially. Any of you Batman nerds remember The Laughing Girl? Ugh…

For all its vintage kitsch, this volume is a pleasure to read, and certainly anyone who collects Batman should have this in their library, even if they prefer the dark Nolan variety of the Caped Crusader. It’s a funny, refreshing collection that is a nice reminder of where Batman was before his gritty reboot.

Bottom Line: This collection is highly recommended, old chum.

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Book Review: The Iron Jackal

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Book Review: The Iron Jackal–a Tale of the Ketty Jay by Chris Wooding

Review by: Prof. Jenn

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The Iron Jackal is a steampunky, Firefly-esque romp though the fantasy lands of Vardia and Samarla, lands full of warring factions, slavery and rebellion, corrupt officials and those that fly outside the law. Our protagonist, Captain Frey, is one of the latter. Actually, I’m not really sure he is our protagonist exactly but I’ll get to that later. When Captain Frey carelessly handles a rare relic he and his crew, er, acquired for a client of his ex, things go pretty gosh darned amuck and the whole crew of the Ketty Jay plus one have to scramble to make things right.

There is action aplenty in this book–in fact, the opening scene is a barroom shootout and subsequent chase–and our lead is just as wry a leader and barely better than the bad guys as a Captain Mal or an Indiana Jones. The action is similar to these favorites too: heart-pounding chases, tense scenes of theft and skullduggery, and a colorful band of miscreant minor characters. This is where I ran into this book’s only real flaw that I can find: there are many characters with already-established back stories and relationships, and this book being a sequel, sometimes I got my characters confused or didn’t quite get what was going on in the detail I needed.

 

Also, the POV shifts often, which added to my confused spots–I often got confused who I was supposed to “be” in some situations. But what is well done about the characters is a sense of genuine emotion. Frey’s feelings for his ex, Crake’s complex emotional world surrounding his golem, and the many examples of true loyalty make all the characters round and complex, a good thing since this steampunk world tilted on the edge of Lieber-esque urban fantasy needs that human quality to ground it.

Bottom Line: I recommend The Iron Jackal, especially for those already familiar with the other Tales of the Ketty Jay.

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Comics Review: Rocky & Bullwinkle Classics

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Comics Review: Rocky and Bullwinkle Classics vol. 1 by Al Kilgore

Review by: Prof. Jenn

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This first volume of Rocky and Bullwinkle comics is a compilation of comics from 1962-1963, and are the same fast-paced, vaudevillian satire replete with puns that we all remember from the TV show. All four story worlds from the show can be found there: the eternal struggle between Rocky and Bullwinkle and Boris and Natasha, Dudley Do-Right the unflappable mountie, Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman the time-travellers, and Fractured Fairy Tales.

This is a delightful, highly entertaining collection: the stories are just as silly and back-and-forth and laden with wit as the TV show, the art is blocky and colorful and looks lifted straight from the show, and the dialogue is such that it’s impossible not to hear the voice actors as one reads. Which only makes sense, as these were created during around the same time as the show, by one of its creators. A fun addition to each issue is a faux gossip/news column at the end, sort of a goofy take on fun facts and news of the day: a pre-Soup interlude.

With the more recent reboots of this wonderful franchise, it’s refreshing to get the real thing instead, not made PC or nicer, but sharp, silly and brash as it was. Surprisingly (or perhaps not surprisingly?) the humor remains timely, and while the collection is appropriate for children, it isn’t in any way dumbed down–it’s as highly entertaining as the TV show.

Bottom Line: Rocky & Bullwinkle Classics is highly recommended. I want a volume 2!

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Comics Review: Serenity

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Comics Review: Serenity, Leaves on the Wind #3-4 by Whedon, Jeanty, various

Review by Prof. Jenn

 

Serenity continues on its merry way as our favorite crew in the ‘verse faces an old adversary, and gains the help of another. Zoe was captured by Alliance in #2, so we have that problem to deal 23611with, and River is beginning to…remember things. Oh, and Kaylee has a serious BAMF moment early in #3, which is a delight.

As far as story is concerned, Serenity rollicks along at a clip, appropriate for its TV show origins. The framework on each page guides the eye right along at the pace necessary, and as I have said before, the dialogue has that unique cadence we have come to know from TV Serenity‘s ‘verse. It’s also nice to see the couples that were dancing around the fact that they dug each other in the show actually acting couple-y. It’s a nice little thing to add to the richness of the continuation.

Art-wise, as I mentioned just now: the frames are well made and placed–they dictate the pacing of the plot quite well. The style is comic-book-y without being too childish, and the color schemes are earthy, Western-y, just as we would want from the show. One hitch: most of the characters don’t really look like themselves as we know them. This is a balance I have discussed when reviewing Dr. Who comics: that delicate line between creating actor portraits and representing the character. This series falls into the latter camp to a degree that at the big reveal (the powerful man from our past we have found and recruited to help), I actually didn’t know who the character was. I had to read on and get it from the dialogue.

Bottom Line: I would recommend Serenity, especially to those Browncoats who miss the show. It’s a solid continuation all in all.

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Comic Review: Samurai Jack

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Comics Review: Samurai Jack Classics vol. 2 by various
Review by: Prof. Jenn

The second volume of Samurai Jack Classics is a series of short, snappy, bright, and all around cheerful snippets from the world of Samurai Jack vs. Aku. As in the wonderful animated TV series, each episode is a standalone story (origin/backstory not necessary, though it is fascinating). This volume collects a passel of colorful tales not immediately in the timeframe of the TV “canon” but set in that abstract future time when a time-displaced samurai must end the evil that brought about the downfall of his time and the imageempire of Aku.

This collection includes the variety of diverse characters and themes from the show, and boasts the same bold black outlines and stylized art that made the TV show stand out. Samurai Jack’s stoic nobility and Aku’s gleeful evil stand true. The art shows the fantastic action scenes’ movement in a dynamic fashion, showing the almost superhuman martial arts of Jack without having too many “jump cuts” or busy-ness to obscure the action.

The one and only (and, IMO, important) drawback to this volume is the lack of the Zen-like sublime that made the show so unique and entrancing. Each episode in this collection seems structured around a joke, ranging from the bright and humorous to the downright silly. This to me isn’t really Samurai Jack: though of course there were myriad moods in the show, the subdued minimalist art and the long stretches of quiet, coupled with the moments of slow zen is what made the show so much richer than just a cool swordfight heavy show made for children. This collection feels very child-directed. Although the one episode where Jack has hiccups that won’t go away is admittedly pretty hilarious.

Bottom Line: I would recommend this volume only to kids or to completist collectors.

 

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sherlock holmes vs. dracula 1

Book Review: Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula

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sherlock holmes vs. dracula 1
What a fun romp of a book! I read this in one sitting, because it moves so very very fast. This book reads like a tight, procedural detective TV show.
What I liked:
-Holmes’ characterization
-the friendship between Holmes and Watson
-so very very action packed!
-a wonderful array of tropes from Sherlockiana that we Sherlock nerds know, want and love.
-references to Doyle. Quotes even.
What I did not like so much:
-I don’t know about the combination between Sherlock Holmes and supernatural forces. I mean,
Estleman did a good job as far as it goes–I will say he keeps Holmes totally in character
throughout, and does seem to have done his research.
-references to Doyle. Quotes even. It’s in the so close to a quote thing that I find it a touch
grating. The dialogue after the boat chase scene is nearly verbatim from The Empty House.
Why this irked me when the references of Moffatt, Gatiss, and Adams made me squee, I’m
not sure. Actually, I need to re-read it and get back to you on that.
Bottom line: highly recommended.
~Prof. Jenn
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Comics Review: Serenity–Leaves on the Wind

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Comics Review: Serenity–Leaves on the Wind #1-2 by: Zack Whedon, various

Review by: Prof. Jenn

 

…and if the title of the new comic series set just a little while after the events of Serenity doesn’t make you cry, go back and watch the whole series of Firefly, then the movie. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Tragically, it won’t take long…

Also: SPOILERS if you’re not a Browncoat, so be warned.

 

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The first two issues of Dark Horse’s new series Serenity–Leaves on the Wind takes up just a little while after Serenity the movie left off: River is still odd but much stabler in her new role as pilot, Zoe is about to have her baby (and is haunted by the ghost of her beloved husband), and everyone’s favorite Firefly-class ship and its denizens is in hiding. The ‘verse is reeling from the exposure of what the Alliance had done to Miranda, and rumors (and rebellions) abound. Some of the spunkier rebels will do anything to lasso Mal and co. into joining their cause, including conscripting Jayne (who’s not still on the ship but doing who knows what when we encounter him again, though apparently money still talks when it comes to Jayne) to run Mal to ground.

The storyline is engaging of course–I mean, who hasn’t been wanting to know WHAT HAPPENS NEXT in the ‘verse–and the dialogue is written masterfully, with that same unique cadence heard in the television series. The art is what I would call “posh-comic” style: a semi-realistic look with muted colors amid the dark outlines. Overall as a sweeping statement, I would say the series is very high quality, and is shaping up to be an excellent mollifier to all of us still wanting to live in “the black.” One teensy little nitpicky thing I can mention is that sometimes the characters don’t look, well, like them. It’s a tricky balancing act, the comic based on a TV show, as I’ve been saying about the Doctor Who comics: there’s a fine line between doing actor-portraits and just portraying the character himself. In this series so far, it works most of the time, but every once in a while when we look at Mal or Simon especially we get yoinked out of our suspension of disbelief. This is a minor point, however, in light of the exciting tension and warmth of character continuing in this series. I cannot wait till #3!

Side Note: such a cute moment when Zoe reveals what her newborn daughter’s name is. That scene could have been right out of the TV show, if it had continued (/sniff).

Bottom Line: This series is highly recommended, though I would not start on it till after you’ve enjoyed Firefly in its entirety, including the movie Serenity. You’ll get spoilers and just won’t understand what’s going on unless you do.

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