Month: January 2012

Emily the Strange: Piece of Mind

Emily the Strange PoM
Emily the Strange: Piece of Mind

I finished the last novel in the four-novel set of Emily the Strange novels by Rob Reger.  I read the previous novels and actually really liked them. The second novel in the set (Stranger & Stranger) was my favorite. The first and third novels have black dust jackets, the second is red, and this last one is white.  I think that I would have liked this one to be red like the second:  the white is really different when all the books are together on the bookshelf.

However, if you peel off the dust jacket to this book, the actual cover of the book has the coolest, glossiest cover ever seen on a book. Okay, that might be an exaggeration – but the cover is quite nice.  I really appreciate it and it’s like a secret bonus to the book.

I liked the overall storyline followed in all four of the books, it was interesting, had recurring characters of interest, and was dark enough to be “cool” to read.  I think it took me two days to read it – in my sporadic reading pattern. I liked the glossy, heavyweight pages and, as always, the art throughout the book was excellent and fun.

Nevertheless, I liked this book the least of the four.  I disliked the use of the Transcripto machine. I felt that Emily did not give us near as many of her fantastic made-up “profanities.” I disliked the way the story took Raven away from us – Raven has definitely grown on me. Also, Emily spent a large portion of this book not really being the truly awesome Emily that she is in the other books. This is not to say that this was a bad book.  It did neatly conclude the overall storyline, and it did contain nice art, sufficient material for chuckling, cute cats, and silly hijinks. Still, this one was not as good as the previous three.

And, honestly, I’m sad because it’s only a four-book series. And I so enjoyed reading these, I hate to see them be finished. I really hope this franchise does more with Emily. She’s a great character with a lot of potential. I don’t give a rip if she seems “gothic” or “emo” or “trendy” or even a “sellout.”  Emily is great and I enjoyed the time spent with her and her wonderful cats.

2 stars

Captain America #1 (2011)

Captain America 1
Captain America #1 cover

In 2011, Marvel Comics released the Captain America live-action blockbuster movie.  Marvel Comics was also in the middle of one of their all-title-encompassing “events” (Fear Itself) which was occupying most of the the continuity of the titles.  So, I suppose the marketing division decided to release a new title, Captain America, which starts numbering at 1 and features the talents of Ed Brubaker and Steve McNiven – neither are rookies to the Captain America mythos.  In other words, for those inclined to read the adventures of Captain America after having seen the movie, this was the title that was made available for them.  The “regular” Captain America title was changed to Captain America and Bucky and continued with the numbering – #620+.

The release of this new title was a good move. Frankly, a lot has happened to Captain America in the last five or so years – including his death, his rebirth, and his refusal to carry the shield and wear the Captain America costume. (Bucky took over for Captain America after Steve Rogers died.)  So, for newcomers who want to follow Steve qua Captain, this new title is directed at them.  However, Marvel smartly did not just make this a title for “newbies” and put some B-level creators to work on it just to pump out another comic.  Brubaker and McNiven are well versed in the Captain America mythos and are solid respected creators.

This issue begins with Steve Rogers not fighting evil Nazis, but rather dressing for a funeral.  The dialogue opens with Steve contemplating that he forget he is a “man out of time.”  He forgets that he should be an old man by now – however, is reminded of this when people he knew in the 1940s die.  This time, Peggy Carter has died and Steve and Peggy’s niece, Sharon, are attending the funeral in Paris, France.  Also at the funeral are Dum Dum Dugan and Nick Fury.  As the group departs the cemetery the action begins, Steve tackles Dum Dum after noticing a red laser sight. Rogers takes off in pursuit after the shooter, whom he recognizes as someone he has not seen since 1944. The last two pages of the issue set up the storyline for the villains, which include Zemo.

The writing is clear and concise, not heavy-handed and not too sappy.  The artwork is perfect for new and old readers alike, it’s very clean and open.  The frames are not overly inked or cluttered. In some sense, the framing and artwork has a very traditional-comic book feel to it.  Large frames, lots of shots of Captain America’s shield, and plain open backgrounds make the artwork accessible to readers.  Overall, it’s clear that this title’s main purpose is to entertain new readers, however, the storyline (particularly with the villains) shows the potential to give long-time readers plenty to enjoy.  I feel the storyline is not going to be hurried and will not involve threads from every previous Captain America story.  This is good, because Captain America is one of Marvel’s major characters who does not need a lot of complications to be a successful read.

3 stars

 

Daredevil #1 (2011)

Daredevil 1

Daredevil #1 cover

I have said it before:  I have high expectations for issues that are #1’s.  I demand more, expect more, and want more out of them, because if the publisher is going to put forth a first issue – he’s marketing it to me – he has to convince me.  He has to prove, right out of the gate, that there is a purpose and a goal in creating a new series/title, and that the story I am going to follow along is worthwhile, entertaining, and new. This new Daredevil title has received all sorts of acclaim.  Many comic sites have called it one of the top three new series of 2011.  Everywhere I looked, this title (and this issue) was praised and lauded.

I got interested in Daredevil with the Shadowland event.  And I am not ashamed or abashed to say that I actually quite enjoyed Shadowland – and even Tweeted the writer my thanks for his story.  Then, I read the 4-issue Daredevil: Reborn miniseries which bridges the gap between Shadowland and this new Daredevil title. The story in Reborn was not awesome, but the covers were absolutely awesomely amazing. AAA – in other words. Triple A. 5 star greatness.

This cover, which was done by Paolo Rivera, I believe, is also fantastic. It is also very representative of the interior art and story which is the essence of this new title.  First of all, I love “simple” cover art – by this I mean, not cluttered and sloppy and busy, but generally just a focus on one or two characters with a glorious background.  This cover is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time because it shows that the artist truly understands the character. I do not mean this in some sappy psychological manner. I mean, the artist actually seems to be reveling in his understanding of what makes Daredevil a unique and interesting character.

One of the main reasons that I disliked Daredevil was that he was uninteresting. This cover, alone, demonstrates to me that this series has made Daredevil an interesting and exciting character. I absolutely love the word-art onomatopoeia that is the background for this cover. It’s great! Look closely and see the birds in the scene. Read some of the words: HONK SCREECH THUD VROOOMM. However, my favorite part of the cover is the perfectly depicted smile on Daredevil’s face. It’s mischievous, cocky, and fun. This isn’t the tired and miserable Daredevil of yesteryear. This Daredevil, swinging towards us right off the page, is ready for fun, action, and coolness.

The interior art is just as fantastic as the cover art.  The last page of the main story is really phenomenal – I would love a poster of it. Several frames throughout the pages are just excellent – the artwork is clean and uncluttered, but filled with that real understanding of the character. The pink “radar” lines and the clean pencils just make the artwork in this issue outstanding and really, I cannot praise it sufficiently. Sometimes, I look at a frame and think: “Wow, yeah, that’s such a unique and creative way of seeing this scene – and totally encompasses how Daredevil deals with the world!”

The writing is pretty good, too. I mean, I like how Daredevil seems arrogant, but capable. He’s not moping around, and he’s got a fun and mischievous flavor that shows through in both the dialogue and in the way other characters react to him.  It’s a really fun story that definitely makes you want to read the next issue – which is the precise goal of first issues. The backup story in the issue is also very well done, and again really makes the title a cohesive entry between Shadowland, Reborn, and this new series’ storyline.

5 stars

X-Men #17

X-Men 17

X-Men #17 cover

The first X-Men comics that I have read, began in this 2010 series, of which this is issue #17.  For the most part, I was pleased with the first 15 issues. Many people did not like the first storyarc (Curse of the Mutants), but I like Gischler’s writing and I think it was a satisfactory and interesting story. None of issues have been standout amazing – you know, the kind you frame and re-read a dozen times in a week. However, the issues have remained solid entries into the X-Men canon.

This storyarc Betrayal in the Bermuda Triangle started in issue #16.  Basically, the Future Foundation (which is what the current Fantastic Four are called) happened upon a mysterious buoy that was encoded with a mayday message from a different dimension. The message was actually from one of Cyclops’ old ex-girlfriends. The FF headed to Utopia (X-Men island homebase) to enlist the X-Men on a mission to go to the different dimension and rescue said ex-girlfriend.

So, we have a “team-up” scenario with the FF and the X-Men. Not all of the X-Men, though just: Cyclops, Wolverine, Emma Frost, Pixie, Dr. Nemesis, and Magneto.  Also, for some reason (I do not read the FF title), Doctor Doom is a member of the FF and is going along for this rescue mission. (In issue #16 there is a cute “aside” wherein Thing and Wolverine banter about how Doom and Magneto are “teammates.”)  The first thing that happens when the team lands in the new dimension – they open their ship canopy and discover a jungle filled with dinosaurs.

Needless to say, I was somewhat disinterested in the story in issue #16. I am not too fond of the FF and going with them to a dimension in which there are dinosaurs made me dubious and unenthused.  The only good part to issue #16 were the frames in which Emma Frost (Cyclops’ current girlfriend) was sarcastically commenting on having to rescue Cyclops’ ex-girlfriend. I’m really starting to like Frost – both in the X-Men title and in the Wolverine titles.  Therefore, I was not expecting much out of this storyarc, much less out of issue #17.  Even the cover of issue #17, while a nice piece of art, just does not engender any feelings of excitement or thrill.

I judged a bit harshly, because issue #17 surprised me and actually got me interested in the storyarc.  The first two pages consist of bantering between Cyclops, Emma Frost, and Sue Richards. This was okay stuff; like I said, I’m becoming enamored of Frost. But page three has a really great piece of artwork:  full page scene of the heroes looking over a small cliff at a really neat-looking, science-fiction futuristic, alien city that has developed, apparently, around a crashed space ship. Very cool. Anytime that happens in a movie or a comic – yeah, I’m excited. “I-want-to-go-to-there.”

The other heroes discover information about the found buoy and learn about George Stanislaus. Magneto, Dr. Nemesis, and Reed are fixing their ship and Nemesis presents the problematic of needing a gigantic power source to fix the ship.  Wolverine, Thing, and Pixie get into a number of scrapes and finally run into Cyclops’ ex-girlfriend – who is sexy, confidant, and gets a full page piece of art to introduce herself. We also meet the sentient life on the planet (so, other living things besides dinosaurs).   However, the real win for the issue is the last page – Doctor Doom!!!!

Overall, this issue fixed all of the worries and complaints that I had with the previous issue. And there were several pages of art which were quite good.  (Art in this issue was done by Jorge Molina.)  I really like the dynamics of some of the team-ups here and I am actually somewhat interested in the overarching large scenario that the different factions in the book seem to be coiling around. Definitely money well-spent.

4 stars

Foundation

Foundation Orange The first book of 2012 that I finished is Isaac Asimov’s Foundation.  I am not sure if I read it previously in my life or not, some things (like the Foundation Series) I feel are so ubiquitous that it’s indistinct if I actually read all of the series or something else.  So, in this review, I am going to just pretend and assume this is the first time I’ve read this novel.

This first book of the Foundation Series has seen an incredible number of printings.  However, this first novel is actually the combination of five short stories that were published together in 1951, but separately as stories in the 1940s.  The short stories are all related and the Foundation Series, as a whole, is considered Asimov’s best fiction work – easily, it is his most popular. My edition is the Bantam Spectra edition show to the left:  the cover illustration and design are credited to Jamie S Warren Youll and Stephen Youll.  Asimov was born January 2, 1920 in Petrovichi, Russia and passed away April 6, 1992 in NY, NY.

The five [former] short stories are:

1.  The Psychohistorians

2.  The Encyclopedists

3.  The Mayors

4.  The Traders

5.  The Merchant Princes

Definitely, overall, the first three sections are my favorite.  The last two are so entertwined and full of politico-economics that I am sure I ought to have read those two sections twice to make sure I caught all of the nuances and details. Each of the sections is located on a timeline from the exile of Historian Hari Seldon from the planet Trantor.

The premise of the series is that Hari Seldon spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept of mathematical sociology (analogous to mathematical physics). Using the laws of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale; it is error-prone on a small scale. It works on the principle that the behaviour of a mass of people is predictable if the quantity of this mass is very large (equal to the population of the galaxy, which has a population of quadrillions of humans, inhabiting millions of star systems). The larger the number, the more predictable is the future.

Foundation deals with the variety of “Seldon Crises” that occur after the Foundation is banished from the Galactic Empire. A “Seldon Crisis” refers to a social and political situation that, to be successfully surmounted, would eventually leave only one possible, inevitable, course of action. They are named after Hari Seldon, who founded the field of psychohistory, and who appears as a pre-recorded hologram at the climax of each crisis. Before his death, he used psychohistory to predict and manipulate each event. A Seldon Crisis usually involves both an external pressure (such as threat of attack) and an internal pressure (such as threat of revolt). Both pressures will come to a head simultaneously, and be resolved with the same action.

The parts of the novel wherein Seldon appears in his pre-recorded hologram are actually pretty neat. It’s always like a big unveiling and no one is 100% certain that it’s going to happen when it does. So, Seldon ends up becoming something like a prophet – and, naturally, that’s how religion-science enters the storyline. Overall, Foundation is full of ideas – ideas that are sometimes pared down for the reader and sometimes surprisingly astute.  The storyline is moved along via dialogue and the descriptiveness is kept to a minimum.  The characters have “similar” names that are easily pronounced. Obviously, Asimov was not writing characters like Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.  This makes for the book to read quite quickly; no droll boring parts, no unending rambling descriptions.  Knowing that each of the five sections was originally a short story published separately helps the reader, as well.

Overall, I was unsure whether this was a three or a four. I went with a four. I also wanted to share the quote from the Commdor’s very bitchy wife. I think it’s gloriously scathing:

“Enough, my very noble husband. You had another of your vacillating consultations with your councilors. Fine advisors.” With infinite scorn, “A herd of palsied purblind idiots hugging their sterile profits close to their sunken chests in the face of my father’s displeasure.”

4 stars

Rizzoli & Isles: Season 1

Rizzoli & Isles

Rizzoli & Isles, season 1, DVD

I finished watching season one of Rizzoli & Isles.  Only ten episodes, it was a quick watch, and I think the season ended too soon. This season was shown in the summer of 2010 on TNT.  The show revolves around a Boston Homicide Detective (Rizzoli) and her friend the medical examiner (Isles).  Rizzoli also has a younger brother on the police force (Frankie).

First, let me mention the bad.  I hate the intro music – Irish bagpipes or something? I am not sure, but it’s really grating and I can’t start the episode soon enough.  Not sure what is up with that – Boston is known for it’s Irish families (and crime families), but Rizzoli is Italian. Anyway, zoom past the intros if you want to be happier.

Second, Rizzoli is pretty hard core and witty. But sometimes, she’s also dumb as a box of rocks. I mean, she is a detective in Boston.  However, there are times (even mundane story elements) wherein Rizzoli is devoid of basic logic, reasoning, or thought. I know there is a tendency for the viewer – as the outside judge – to look in upon the stage as the omniscient viewer and get frustrated with the players for not knowing all that the viewer knows.  That is not what I am doing here – really, based on simple things and not needing the omniscient stance of the viewer, Rizzoli sometimes is a real daft bird.

Third, I know the TV series is based (loosely or otherwise) on the series of novels written by Tess Gerritsen.  But I hope that the entire show does not forever constantly base itself on the relationship between “The Surgeon” and Rizzoli.  “The Surgeon” is Rizzoli’s nemesis, Charles Hoyt. Hoyt is played by Michael Massee.  Massee discharged the weapon that fired via malfunction and killed Brandon Lee in 1993 during filming of The Crow. The shooting was ruled an accident. Massee has also starred as a death row inmate on Criminal Minds.  Anyway, I think it’s good that such a show has a nemesis and a heroine. However, I hope this storyline does not obliterate any other creativity for the show.

Another guest star that appears in a couple of episodes is Donnie Wahlberg of New Kids on the Block “fame.”

One of the best things about the show is Maura Isles. She like Temperence “Bones” Brennan or Sheldon Cooper, but much more aristocratic and far more socialized.  She’s portrayed as a walking Google/Wikipedia, but she also displays sympathy, empathy, and intuitiveness. She’s played by actress Sasha Alexander – whom I had never heard of before. But apparently she has had roles in NCIS and Dawson’s Creek.  She is also Serbian and her “foreign” attitude/look/character is occasionally visible in her scenes.  It’s perfectly fine because it adds to the concept of the role of Maura Isles as the scientific oddball doctor. Hands down, Isles steals the show from Rizzoli.

Overall, I like that the gore-level is far below the Criminal Minds level. I also like that there is a simple police procedural paradigm followed here that makes the show very watchable. The comedic elements are nice and all of the characters/actors seem to interact well with each other. I would definitely see season two – especially after the “surprise” ending of season one!

3 stars