Oct-29-2015

Classic Snippets and Ronin Reads of 10-29-15

Remember last year when I reviewed The Boxtrolls and said I’d get to ParaNorman the next week? Haha… yeah, apparently deadlines like that are lofty ambitions for me.

ParaNorman

And let’s not forget that it’s the last Thursday of the month. So for today’s Ronin Reads, let’s take a look at a Star Wars book that spun off from a recent TV series. A spin-off of a spin-off, if you will.

Star Wars: Dark Disciple

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Dark_Disciple_Cover

Posted under Reel Snippets, Ronin Reads
Sep-29-2015

Ronin Reads – The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass

Here it is, folks. The moment we’ve all been waiting for. Gander upon the release day review of Jim Butcher’s newest opus, The Cinder Spires!

The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass

cinderspires

Posted under Ronin Reads
Aug-27-2015

Ronin Reads of 8-27-15

Oh yeah! It’s the last Thursday of the month! That means we get a new Ronin Reads! Since the new Star Wars movie is fast approaching, let’s cover the first entry into its new expanded universe tying into one of my favorite things on TV right now, Star Wars: Rebels. Enjoy.

Star Wars: A New Dawn

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Posted under Ronin Reads
Jul-31-2015

Ronin Reads Comic Con Triple Feature

We announced it. We teased it. We delayed it a day. But finally, our triple feature of off-the-beaten-track comics and graphic novels are here! Here are the people trying to promote themselves from the ground up and we’re going to help them do it. Journey into worlds of magic, mystery, heartbreak, and more as we give you the last remnants of this year’s Comic Con!

Artifice
Gates of Midnight (issues 1-4)
Legend of the Mantamaji (book 1)

Posted under Ronin Reads
Jul-30-2015

Ronin Reads Delayed

There was some hospital drama that needed to be dealt with post-haste today, so the reviews may be delayed by a day or two. Sorry for the inconvinience. I can’t go into a lot of details, but just know that no one is hurt.

Posted under Announcements, Ronin Reads
Jun-25-2015

Triple Feature Thursday

Whoa, what’s this? Three updates at once?! Yep, in order to get things balanced for my new schedule, I’m coming out with three different things on the same day. Let’s start out with two Reel Snippets, one classic and one new release.

Love Actually
Inside Out

Now let’s follow that up with my newest Ronin Reads on an obscure comic. One day, I’ll do an actual prose story…

Letter 44

The schedule will be posted this Friday. But in case you crave more content between then and now… how about our E3 podcast? Guess this isn’t a triple feature anymore! Accolades all around!

Posted under Announcements, Podcast, Reel Snippets, Ronin Reads
May-27-2015

Ronin Reads – Gotham City Sirens

Title: Gotham City Sirens
Authors: Paul Dini (issues 1-11); Tony Bedard (issues 12-15); Peter Calloway (issues 16-26)
Artists: Guillem March; Andres Guinaldo; Jeremy Haun; Ramon F. Bachs
Type: Comic book
Genre: Superhero

Catwoman. Harley Quinn. Poison Ivy. Three of Gotham City’s deadliest ladies find themselves living together under one roof in the wake of a new Batman and other insanity. From alien plant people forming a bond with Poison Ivy to Joker wannabes trying to kill Harley to Catwoman dealing with her insane sister, the girls deal with the madness that only Gotham can bring. The real question is what will kill them first: the city or each other?

It may not seem like it from the morose description, but this series is actually a lot of fun and a lot of this comes from our three leading ladies. The three are such potent characters that all you have to do is put them in a room together and the scene just becomes electric. They can’t really be called heroes, but they’re still likable enough to keep following. That said, toward the end of the run when Peter Calloway took over, it felt like they were bickering because the script required them to, so that was disappointing.

For the first half, at least, there’s also a huge sense of fun to it, helped in no small part by the vibrant art of Guillem March. Apart from fighting wannabe superpowers in Gotham, we get to see how they spend their holiday seasons or searching for lost dogs, a plotline that has a darkly comedic payoff, which is well worth the detour. Things can get intense, for sure, but there’s still a sense of levity through it all. When Paul Dini was replaced with Tony Bedard halfway through the run, things took a darker turn with stories involving Catwoman’s sister going on a religious rampage to free her soul from “the cat demon” by killing her and Poison Ivy being seduced/taken over by a plant alien to prepare a landing zone for his people’s upcoming invasion. That’s fine, stories can go dark and the characters are still likeable enough.

When Calloway takes over, though, the art subsequently takes a nosedive and the girls’ bickering becomes more bitter and less fun. The stories get a lot less pleasant too. We have some dire stuff about people trying to extract Batman’s secret identity from Catwoman’s mind and Harley finally making off to kill the Joker, but it’s punctuated with some unnecessary stuff about someone’s murdered infant and it draws the comic into a very bittersweet ending. It’s still good in places, but it’s like following up a juicy t-bone steak with a dessert of plain water crackers. …

So why am I bringing up a five year old comic rather than a recent Saga book or something like that? Well, this comic, like many others, was canceled in DC’s massive reboot to make way for the New 52 and I wanted to highlight something we lost then. Most of the books now are overly dark and grim and severely lacking in anything fun. Before that, you could have a wannabe Joker midget that used to run with him kidnap Harley only for her to give him a verbal dressing down. But now we have bad futures that completely invalidate everything the heroes are fighting for, comedic characters and kids killed off with abandon, limbs are mauled and removed willy-nilly, and the subjects of consent and sexual orientation are handled with as much grace as a monster truck attempting to perform Swan Lake. In short, everything feels unnaturally miserable.

Even our mighty sirens don’t get off unscathed. Harley Quinn got a revamped origin that is a carbon copy of the Joker’s and a rather atrocious redesign, along with becoming the subject of an art contest where she was depicted in a “glamorous” suicide attempt. Catwoman lost all her memories of Batman’s secret and ended her first new issue having sex with him that was initially nonconsensual. Poison Ivy… okay, she didn’t get too much of a bad rap. And yet, despite their initial rocky start, there’s a bit of the old magic shining through. Poison Ivy and Harley connected and became more anti-heroes than villains. Same with Catwoman, who joined the Justice League of America for a spell before the Trinity War story. Harley even began forming her own female crime fighting team, which seems like it could be an attempt to reboot the old team. Hopefully that will be the case in the future. I’m not positive that they will keep the light tone, but I can certainly hope. Everyone deserves a chance for a new beginning, something I learned from a little series called Gotham City Sirens.

Posted under Ronin Reads
Apr-27-2015

Ronin Reads – The Invisibles (The Deluxe Edition, Book 1)

Title: The Invisibles (The Deluxe Edition, Book 1)
Author: Grant Morrison
Artist: Steve Yeowell, Jill Thompson, Dennis Cramer, Chris Weston, John Ridgeway, Steve Parkhouse, Duncan, Fegredo
Type: Comic Book
Genre: Anarchist, Science Fiction

Dane McGowan is a British delinquent who’s just been sent to a remedial center to try and make him an upstanding citizen. When he finds out that the institution is literally removing the emotions of the inmates to produce pure conformity, he becomes embroiled in a hidden war of magic and ideologies. On the one side are the Invisibles (as in the Invisible College), who fight for freedom in all its myriad forms, including some that others may not agree with. On the other side is the Outer Church, who use their mindless Myrmidians as soldiers to enforce their idea of conformity. Taking the name Jack Frost, Dane joins a squad of Invisibles led by one King Mob in a demented journey through time and space as he faces off against insect people, bloodthirsty god impersonators, and his own doubts.

If that description sounds a little slapdash or sparse, it’s because I honestly don’t know what to make of the plot at times. The writing is very obtuse and the jumps between scenes are so jilted that it’s hard to know whether I turned over an extra page or not. I’m even willing to admit that some of the summary is either conjecture or things I looked up online. That’s really the biggest problem with the book, that it can be really hard to follow and when you add things like time travel and tangential stories that don’t entirely connect to the main plot, then things just start to make your head hurt.

Looking back on this story, I find that it’s very reminiscent of The Matrix (though this story predates it by about five years). Both feature a protagonist with a lawless background being forced to “wake up” from the world he knew. He then discovers a secret war being fought with superhuman abilities between a group of anti-authority rebel cells and a controlling force that can insert themselves into the everyday population. What it also seems to draw inspiration from is the graphic novel Sandman, one of the most critically acclaimed comic books of all time. This comes through in the nonlinear narrative and tangential side stories focusing on minor characters and other Invisibles. However, where those two had a lot of wonder, artistic experimentation, and nuance going for them, these just get very confusing and sometimes unpleasant. One that comes to mind is a story told out of order about a soldier who turns into an abusive husband, but in the end it turns out that he was one of the mooks that King Mob killed in the beginning of the story. I’m honestly not sure what the point was of all that.

I can’t really say that the characters themselves are very compelling either. All of them act understandably, to be sure. It’s hard to blame Dane for wanting to cut and run from the group after getting partially mutilated on a mission gone wrong, but he doesn’t have to be such an asshole about it. King Mob and his crew seem intriguing, but I don’t learn quite as much about them in the book as I’d like and this book is the first twelve issues of the comic’s run. That’s an entire year that readers would have had where they learned next to nothing about their main characters. Even the side characters are confusing; I still don’t get the nature of the Invisibles’ enemy or what their motivation is. In fact, I’m pretty sure one side character turned evil, but it was really hard to tell.

In conclusion, this is a very confusing body of work. The writer Grant Morrison dips into the surreal and outlandish frequently in his pieces, but I think he went too far for this one. Maybe I’m just not seeing what he was trying to get at, but I felt that this first volume was a lot of lead up with not a lot of explanation. Should you get it? Should I continue with the series? I have absolutely no idea. It’ll definitely scratch your itch for something trippy, surreal, and on the fringe, but I think you’ll be out in the cold if you can’t get past the experimentation.

Posted under Ronin Reads
Feb-23-2015

Ronin Reads – Aama (Volumes 1 and 2)

Title: Aama (Volumes 1 and 2)
Author: Frederik Peeters
Artist: Edward Gauvin
Type: Graphic Novel
Genre: Science Fiction

Verloc Nim is… actually, Verloc doesn’t know who he is. He woke up on a barren planet with no memory of who he is or how he got there. However, he soon finds an apelike robot named Churchill with suspiciously human legs who gives him a journal written by none other than… Verloc Nim. The journal tells of how Verloc descended into substance abuse after his wife left him, taking his daughter away as well, before his brother picks him up and recruits him to a mission that might give his life purpose. Together with Churchill (who did not have human legs at the time), they travelled to the planet Ona(ji) to retrieve an away team and the project of one of the scientists known as Aama. They find the team holed up in a colony of their own making, but discover that the lead scientist on Aama left and took the project with her. Even more surprising is the mysterious appearance of a girl a week before the Nims’ arrival who bears a shocking resemblance to Verloc’s daughter, right down sharing to her muteness. While the Verloc of the past is working to discover what’s going on and what Aama even is, the Verloc of the present is trying to discover what happened to him, though he finds that he may not like the man he’s reading about.

This fledgling series comes to us from the hitherto unknown publisher Self Made Hero. So far, the company is making a good impression as it avoids a lot of the bad tropes that plague modern comics. The characters are diverse in race as well as personality and there’s no singular gorgeous body type for the women. Strikingly, though, attention isn’t drawn to this fact and there’s no big message about inclusion, it’s just how the world is. Or rather, worlds, as this is very much a time when travel between planets is as commonplace as changing a tire.

In fact, the handling of the sci-fi genre also stands out among other works. Everyone has their own take on sci-fi, but most of the time a lot of the conventions tend to repeat themselves, especially in robot and alien design. Not Aama. It seems to draw on the H.G. Wells school of thought in using sci-fi to depict the absurd and outlandish, yet still possible. From this absurdity comes most of the wonder of the future and the fear from the creatures the characters encounter. Monsters and robots aren’t drawn to look scary or impressive, but they still achieve that effect because of how foreign they look to our eyes and in doing so, capture the essence of the science fiction genre.

Of course, impressive visuals are nothing without good characters, but we got lucky on that front too. Both Verloc and his brother Conrad have a very interesting dynamic of being estranged for ten years and also being radically different. Verloc mires himself in humanity’s past and rejects all types of genetic modifications that are standard for other people, even having a child through natural intercourse, which is unheard of in his culture. Conrad, on the other hand, works for a corporation that seems about as ethical as Weyland-Yutani from the Aliens franchise and sees what most of us would consider wonderful and new as cynically mundane. Neither of them are perfect human beings, but there’s a sense that they’re trying to do right by their own set of values. The other characters are nice and colorful too, especially in the colony on Ona(ji), the one that stands out being the leader Professor Kaplan whose design resembles Jabba the Hutt forced into a human woman’s body.

The atmosphere of the comic is very surreal and cerebral. Several times, we’re treated to some of Verloc’s tortured dreams, which are both insightful and visually interesting. In a way, it reflects the series, seeing as both the characters and the plot are a mystery. We know where they all end (mostly), but we don’t know how they got there. Verloc’s dreams and anecdotes are interesting parallels to his future-self reading his own diary in that we’re learning about him just as he is learning about himself. One can only imagine how they would feel if they were left with no memories and were learning about their life from their own printed recollections. One must also wonder if they would be able to like themselves through those eyes.

Aama is only two volumes into its life cycle, but I’m really interested to see where it goes. I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen anything so visually imaginative in a comic. Maybe Saga, but that still has roots in some conventions. Even if the ending turns out to be a complete wash, I highly recommend this story in its infancy. Hopefully I’ll be able to write more when the next volume comes out. I’m dying to know what happens next.

Posted under Ronin Reads
Jan-28-2015

Ronin Reads – The Hobbit (comic)

Title: The Hobbit
Author: J. R. R. Tolkein
Illustrator: David Wenzel
Adapted By: Charles Dixon
Type: Comic Book
Genre: Fantasy

Big things come in small packages: this has been said all over and nowhere is it more true than with Bilbo Baggins, hobbit of the Shire. His all too quiet life is upended when the wizard Gandalf and thirteen dwarves come to his home and recruit him on a quest to retake their ancestor’s treasury from the dragon called Smaug. Along the way, they meet haughty elves, hungry trolls, hateful goblins, and a deformed creature with a golden ring that I’m sure is completely mundane and unimportant in the grand scheme of things. You all know the story, now enjoy it with artwork in this collected comic book adaptation.

When I was in Middle School, I set out to read all of the Lord of the Rings books, along with The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales (either for a report or because the movies had come out). This proved to be a very daunting task, as I found Tolkein’s prose to be very dense and hard to swallow. From time to time, I’ve wondered if that was really the case or if I was just too young to appreciate the subtle nuances in the text. After reading this very faithful adaptation nowadays, I realized that even in my youth, I was completely right: Tolkein’s prose is dense, longwinded, and completely mind-numbing.

This graphic adaptation takes the text straight from the book and uses it for both dialogue and text boxes, which unfortunately works to the comic’s detriment. You see, comics are a visual medium and should make good use of their pictures. This comic has so many words you have to read to understand what’s going on that there’s practically an essay on each page. We’re told that certain things are happening and that characters are feeling certain ways, but rarely do we actually get to see it.

Which is a shame, because the artwork is really beautiful. The painted style really gives it the feel of a timeless fantasy and the wide use of colors among the characters is pleasing to the eyes. It’s too bad that because of the way the comic is structured, each panel seems like a stand-alone portrait rather than telling a sequential story. It’s also, again, hindered because this comic has, in the words of Ben “Yatzhee” Croshaw of Zero Punctuation fame, “TOO MANY FUCKING WORDS.” All that text really crowds the pictures at times and really does detract from the visual experience.

I will say this, though: the comic does make me appreciate the movies more. Oh, not because the movies are a masterpiece, but reading this comic made me realize that there was a lot of stuff that I took as extra stuff for the movies which were actually part of the original story. Beorn, Gollum chasing Bilbo and leading him out of the cavern, the eagles rescuing the party, the elves imprisoning the dwarves, the list goes on. It really does feel like the story would have been so much cheaper if it had all been squeezed into one movie (though I think two would have been plenty). I have seen the Rankin-Bass version, so I know it can be done, but I feel like a lot of the mythology got lost in translation.

This is a difficult piece to review because this is an adaptation rather than an original work, so I can’t criticize stuff like the plot or things like that. If you really want to see that happen, though, Lewis Lovhaug did it better than I could. Personally, though, I felt that a few more liberties should have been taken in order to make full use of the visual medium. It would have made the experience come to life more than feeling like the entire book transcribed over a bunch of pretty pictures. That said, the pictures are gorgeous, so if you’ve really been yearning to read The Hobbit with beautiful visuals to accompany it, feel free to check it out.

Posted under Ronin Reads