Monday, August 30, 2010

Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim the movie experience is just about what you'd expect from Edgar Wright, the dude who brought us such gems as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz; funny, and full of style. Though I felt Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was slightly weaker than those two, the movie is still pretty damn good.

Having read, and loved the source material ahead of time, I entered the theater with my fingers crossed, hoping it would do justice to comics. I'm happy to say that I wasn't let down. The jokes from the graphic novels translate well to the big screen, and though events in the movie seem to scream by at a rapid fire A.D.D. pace, Wright managed to fit most of the really important stuff from the books into the film.

As far as the adaptation, and execution of the plot, I was happy, but where I felt the film was lacking was in the acting department. The choice of Michael Cera for the Scott Pilgrim role was a bad one. That dude is always the same exact character no matter what role. The Staranger movie review said it best when they stated: "He has an acting range from A to A." Mary Elizabeth Winstead also seemed a bit flat as well. Whoever did the casting picked to very un-dynamic actors for the leading roles.

Still, given the absolutely pathetic state of film this year, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is pretty damn good. At the very it is entertaining and funny. I thought it might be a bit confusing at times to someone who hadn't read the graphic novels, but people I've talked to who have done just that seem to enjoy the film just fine. Probably worth the ten bucks.

Grade: B-

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Review: Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour

The final chapter in this epic series begins with a short dream sequence. In it Scott Pilgrim finds himself chasing down the retreating figure of his lost love Ramona Flowers. The harder he tries to catch up, the faster she moves away from him, until she is completely gone and in her place is the seventh, and most evil ex, Gideon Graves.

In real life, Scott is pretty much down and out. Ramona has left him. He's living alone in an apartment paid for by his parents, and for the past four months he's done nothing but play video games. Even his band, Sex Bob-Omb, has broken up, Kim Pine has moved back with her family and Stephen Stills is in a new band, and no, they don't need a bass player. The poor guy is all kinds of messed up in the head, which is probably why he find's himself trying to score some "casual sex" with Knives Chau, and having coffee with his very own evil ex, Envy Adams...who just so happens to be dating that bastard, Gideon Graves. Scott, assuming he is off the hook for the seventh battle, flees from a confrontation with Gideon, and also flees the city, taking a "wilderness sabbatical" to visit Kim Pine.

While he's on his wilderness sabbatical, Scott finds himself in a showdown with Nega-Scott. During the battle he finds himself also fighting his memories, and trying to come to terms with the bad things he has done in the past. Eventually, with the help of Kim, some things click, he absorbs Nega-Scott, and gains some maturity in the process. With his new found maturity, Scott decides to win his lady-love back, so he travels to Gideon's new Toronto club, The Chaos Theater, for his final showdown.

All the great mysteries of the series: What is with this Subspace thingy? Who the hell is Gideon? What is up with Scott and Envy? And many others are concluded in this very strong, and totally satisfying final volume.

Unsurprisingly, the final volume in the Scott Pilgrim series lived up to its potential, and came to a completely awesome and gratifying finale. Bryan Lee O'Malley really did a fantastic job. He crafted a totally believable, poignant, and true-to-life love story, that never came off as cheesy, and on top of that mixed in tons of great laughs, and all the other, sort of goofy, stuff like video game style fights, and subspace, and amateur bands, that make this series so damn unique and fantastic.

Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour is nothing if not the best looking of the six books. I've enjoyed watching O'Malley's art form evolve and improve over the course of the series. I think compared to other skills, like pacing, character building, and plotting, his art is the most different from the book one to book six.

I don't really know what else to say here, just read the damn books already. I'd recommend this graphic novel series to anyone between the age of 16-50. They are a total joy to read. Enjoy!

Grade: A

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe

In the previous volume, our slacker hero, Scott Pilgrim got his shit together. He got a job, he moved in with his girl, and he defeated the fourth, (of seven), evil ex. Now he just has to hold it together for the final stretch. In his way are the evil-ex duo of twins Kyle and Ken Katayanagi, and their evil robot minions. Though those chumps are a pain in the ass, Scott also has to handle the bigger challenge of cohabiting with Ramona, and all the ins and outs that are associated with that. Who would have thought turning twenty four would be so tough?

Now that he is marginally more mature, Scott's relationship with Ramona is finding a routine, which may or may not be good. Things take a definite turn for the worse when Ramona learns from Knives Chau, Scott's ex high school-aged girlfriend, that he was two-timing them way back in volume one. In the wee hours of the night Ramona confronts Scott about the whole cheating thing, which gets Scott thinking she may break up with him, but before the two can resolve anything the next morning, Scott is forced to attempt a daring rescue of Kim Pine, who has been abducted by the Kyle and Ken, the 5th, and 6th evil exes.

Scott has proven time and again that juggling multiple dilemmas is not his strong suit, and there's a fair bit of juggling to do here, which scales the drama up a few notches. Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe is by far the most serious installment yet. O'Malley masterfully plays off the reader's attachment to the characters, adding plenty of disruption and turmoil into the mix which evokes strong reactions. I was impressed with his deft touch, and was pleased that the dramatic qualities never crossed over into the zone of cheesiness.

Don't be mistaken, even though there's a lot of drama in Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe there are still plenty of laugh out loud moments in this graphic novel. Some of Scott's battles with the robots are pretty damn funny, and the scene where Sex Bob-Omb makes its return to live music is great. I'll never get tired of how they always find new ways to suck.

This fifth volume not only features O'Malley's best writing but also his best art. If you flip to a random page from volume one, and compare that to a random page from volume five, the improvement is obvious. Cleaner lines, better definition, and greater detail are a few of the noticeable improvements obvious to my highly untrained, and artistically near-sighted eye. One thing is obvious: this is a damn fine looking book.

If I were to make one complaint, and it is totally out of personal taste, I am somewhat saddened by the fact that in this volume the evil ex fight totally took a back seat to the other surrounding dramas. True, the emotional aspect of this book is a big part of what makes it strong and makes it stand out as something truly special, but at the same time, c'mon, the whole premise of these books is that some regular-ass dude has to fight his lady's seven evil exes...the fights should take center stage! Well, that's not really the case here, and arguably not the case in the previous volume either. Still, I think overall, the volume suffers slightly from a further tipping of the balance towards more drama.

Putting my personal tastes aside, this is another great graphic novel. I think I've grown so accustomed to the long fantasy series that seem to inevitably experience a dip in quality, that I am surprised to see O'Malley maintain such awesomeness. Guess I should just get used to it. These graphic novels are flippin' great.

Grade: A-

Friday, August 27, 2010

Review: Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together

Its summertime in Scott Pilgrim's world, and two full months have passed since his last battle with one of Ramona's evil exes. Without the distraction of having to fight ex-boyfriends, and all that drama, Scott has managed to develop a pretty solid thing with Ramona...things are going so good in fact that she even said he is the nicest guy she's ever dated, (which is kinda sad), but Scott has yet to even think about let alone mention the "L" word...(no not "Lesbian"). Meanwhile, Scott's band, Sex Bob-Omb, has reached a turning point. Drummer Kim Pine moved to a new place, and her new roommate has recording equipment. Thanks to the guy's attraction to guitarist, Stephen Stills, he agrees to help them record an album.

Just when things seem to be getting better for Scott he runs into an old-and skankily dressed-high school friend, he gets stalked by some creepy katana-wielding dude, gets randomly attacked by a chubby ninja-chick on roller skates, and gets a job. It should come as no surprise that once things start to get complicated, Scott's love-life takes a nose dive. The question is can Scott get his shit together in time to fix things? And is the power of love enough to overcome Ramona's 4th evil ex? (This time the "L" word is lesbians).

The fourth volume of Scott Pilgrim started off a little bit slow, but the tension builds up nicely and it finishes with a pretty strong bang. This volume features fairly big developments and changes with the two principle characters, Scott and Ramona. By the end, you will see them in a new way.

One feature, that is completely unique to this volume, is that the first eight pages are done in color. This little section was pretty fun, it was nice to see all the main characters in full color. Maybe I'm just weird, but my favorite thing about this was finding out what the character's hair colors were. For some reason, when I read a comic that is black and white, it bugs me that I don't know a person's hair color. Weird I know... Anyway, O'Malley solved that little problem for me here, so yay!

On the art front, O'Malley's skill improvement is less noticeable than in the previous volumes. I think the improvement lies in the fact that the panels have started to show more attention to detail, with slightly more developed backgrounds. Though the improvement is less obvious, it is nice to see O'Malley deliver another nice looking graphic novel.

Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together tends to focus a bit more on the romance aspect of this series than it does on the action. This volume features my least favorite evil-ex battle so far, despite the funny, though obvious, twist. The last three volumes struck what was for me, the perfect balance between action, comedy and romance, and I think that balance was a little bit off here, with the scales tipped more in favor of the romance. Scott Pilgrim is no Lance Romance though, so there is plenty to laugh about. This is another great read, though possibly a little bit weaker than the previous volumes. Still, a graphic novel with amazingly high quality.

Grade: B+

Heavy Metal Legend in Seattle!

From the University Bookstore website: In the annals of heavy metal, the story of Dave Mustaine stands as one of the greatest examples of dizzying highs and Mariana Trench-deep lows. And in the end, isn't that what we read rock memoir for? 86'd from Metallica in its infancy, Mustaine went on to found ground-breaking (and ear-splitting) thrash metal band Megadeth, where he kicked his way into the industry, and took everything it offered.

Oh man! I'm pretty excited about this! Dave Mustaine is the lead singer/lead guitarist for Megadeth, one of my all time favorite bands. Dude has had a crazy life, including suffering nerve damage in his arm while falling asleep awkwardly in a chair while at rehab, causing him to lose his ability to play guitar...only to relearn, and remaster the instrument to the point where today he is one of the all time great guitar masters. That is just one crazy Mustaine related story, there should be tons of interesting stuff in this book. You can bet I'll be reviewing hit here at some point in the future. Can't wait for the author event. Somehow, I know it'll rock.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Review: Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness

Poor Scott Pilgrim. After being single for over a year, he became romantically entangled with a high schooler, only to meet, literally, the girl of his dreams. Things with the dream girl were going pretty well, but of course, there's a catch: if he really, really wants to be with her, he's gotta fight all 7 of her evil exes. Sucks to be Scott Pilgrim.

When we last left Scott Pilgrim, his somewhat sucky band, Sex Bob-Omb had been asked by the totally popular and awesome band, The Clash at the Demonhead, to open for them at an upcoming concert. This posed a bit of a dilemma for Sex Bob-Omb as The Clash at the Demonhead are fronted by Scott's very own evil ex/love of his life, Envy Adams. About a year ago, Envy broke Scott's heart, and having her back in town is not really helping the guy. To make matters worse, Envy's new boyfriend, Todd Ingram is The Clash at the Demonhead's bass player, and Ramona's 3rd evil ex. To top it all off, Todd has some hardcore Vegan Powers.

Yeah, once again, more awesome stuff from Bryan Lee O'Malley. The first two volumes of Scott Pilgrim may have seemed like they were packed to the brim with action and hilarity, but this third volume really loads on the action and drama. O'Malley incorporates a handful of flashbacks that help flesh out both Scott and Envy's back stories. Given Scott's realtionship with Envy, it is easy to see why he's stuck in a state of arrested development.

The character Envy is a great addition to the already stellar cast in these Scott Pilgrim books. Envy is not a nice person, she's one of those classic characters that you love to hate. However, watching her manipulate and torture Scott was pretty damn hilarious...maybe because I hate loving Scott Pilgrim, dude reminds me of someone every now and then...

On top of the ex-girlfriend hating and awkward relationship angst, this volume also packs some solid action. Chick fights, bass battles, and some horribly cheesy in-fight banter from Todd Ingram. I love the arcade/video game style fight showdowns. Somehow, this quality makes the fights more dramatic and more hilarious.

O'Malley cranks out about one Scott Pilgrim book per year, and it has been interesting to watch his artwork improve over the course of the first three volumes. The guy definitely has a "Scott Pilgrim" style that is maintained over the course of the books, but within that O'Malley's skill has noticeably improved. The improved artwork works well with the writing, and Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness flows smoothly.

No big surprise here, Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness is fantastic. It is amazing to me how consistent O'Malley is. Three books in three years, and they all maintain a very high quality, not to mention continue to be entertaining, and hilarious.

Grade: A

Monday, August 23, 2010

Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

The second volume in the Scott Pilgrim epic begins with a flashback. During this we travel back to Scott's High School days. On his first day of school Scott gets into a fight and of course, gets sent to the principal's office. There he meets Lisa, another new kid, and later future Sex Bob-Omb member, Kim Pine. The three eventually create a band, and it is revealed that Scott and Kim were an item in high school. The flashback sequence ends as Ramona skates through Scott's dream of playing video games.

Back in reality, Scott is still awkwardly juggling two relationships at once, but his fling with seventeen year old Knives Chau could be coming to an end thanks to roommate Wallace Wells' ultimatum. Whether or not Scott will have the balls to do what must be done is one of the major underlying themes of these books, and it plays a big role here.

Meanwhile, Scott has big dinner plans with Rammy, (the name he calls Ramona in his head), and he pours most of his energy into their relationship. When he's not doing that he is training, (read: playing video games), for his next evil ex battle.Those pesky bastards keep popping up too, this time in the form of pro skater-cum-hollywood actor Lucas Lee. To complicate things further: Ramona is hanging out with Scott's sister, Stacey, Knives wants to kill Ramona, AND Scott's very own evil ex, Envy Adams is back in town making Scott's life miserable again.

It is difficult to write a review that will do this second volume justice, as there was so much going on from page one, up until the cliff-hanger ending. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is one totally jam-packed book. It has fights, love, and humor, all the hallmarks of this series. I think this is an important book, as it gives the reader a good sense of just how big Scott's task will be; Not only does he need to fight the seven evil exes, but he's also up against himself, and the past.

It truly is Scott against the world in this volume, and through all the turmoil, I really got a strong sense of Scott's character...or lack thereof. It is hard to not feel a little sympathetic for the guy as there are a lot of shitty, complicated things going on in his life, but at the same time much of it is his own fault, and most of the rest of it could be handled quite easily if the dude could just nut up. O'Malley gives a bunch of important back story to many of the characters, and this helped to add to their development, and add another layer to this already engaging story.

I noticed a slight improvement in O'Malley's artwork on this volume. There is a sharper, more detailed quality to the art, and there is a noticeable improvement in the drawings of the characters.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World does a great job of picking up where the previous volume left off. O'Malley seems to have found a winning formula with the whole action/comedy/romance thing. The first volume set the bar pretty high, and that level of quality is easily maintained here. I could go on for longer, but I'll simply say: this is a hilarious, and completely enjoyable read.

Grade: A

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Review: Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life

"Scott Pilgrim is dating a high schooler!" With that simple line, the Scott Pilgrim epic begins. Our hero, Scott Pilgrim, is a twenty-three year old slacker, free-loading dude living in Toronto, Canada. He is in a sucky band called "Sex Bob-omb", and he lives with, and sleeps in the same bed as his gay roommate, Wallace Wells. Despite the presumed weirdness of dating a high-school girl, and the ridicule from his friends and family, Scott seems to enjoy dating his new girlfriend, Knives Chau. That is until another girl starts skating through his dreams, and popping up at random times in real life.

The dream girl turns out to be Ramona Flowers. Scott runs into her at a party, fails miserably at small talk, then stalks her until she leaves. After some information gathering, Scott finds out that she is a delivery girl for, so he places in order in hopes that she'll make the delivery. Scott's somewhat genius plan actually works, and a couple days later, Ramona shows up at his door. Dude somehow convinces her to hang out with him later, and just like that, Scott's fateful relationship with Ramona Flowers begins.

Things start out pretty well for Scott and Ramona, of course there is that whole pesky relationship with Knives Chau thing to take care of, and the cryptic e-mail's about some strange "league of exes". It isn't until Sex Bob-Omb's battle of the bands gig that Scott discovers he'll have to fight, and defeat all of Ramona's seven evil exes to win her heart.

There is never a dull moment in Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life. Writer and artist, Bryan Lee O'Malley does a fantastic job of setting things up, introducing all the key elements, introducing the characters, and entertaining the hell of me. Make no mistake, the Scott Pilgrim books are hilarious; I found myself laughing every few pages. The hilarity climaxes nicely when Scott has to battle Matthew Patel, the first of the evil exes.

While the humor is one of the strongest aspects of this book, the characters are also quite remarkable. I found it very easy to relate to not only Scott's character, but many of the others as well. It is impossible to read this book and not find that you either share similar qualities with the people that populate the story, once had those qualities, or know someone who the characters remind you of. This makes for a really enjoyable read.

Bryan Lee O'Malley's artwork in Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life is solid, but nothing astounding. O'Malley uses only ink and line, and draws in an anime style. When I first began reading, I initially had some trouble discerning certain characters, as some look similar to others, but once I got into the flow of the story, and became more familiar with the characters that problem went away.

All in all, this is a wonderful introduction to the Scott Pilgrim world. I was sucked in from the opening line, and I loved this one 'till the end. There is truly something here for everyone: Comedy, action, and romance. This is a fantastic spin on the whole classic "boy meets girl, boy has to fight to keep girl" narrative. Dig in, you will not be disappointed.

Grade: A

My Precious Little Scott Pilgrim Experience

For the past week I've been devouring all things Scott Pilgrim...well, the books and the movie. In my head I've taken to calling the whole thing "My Precious Little Scott Pilgrim Experience". Yeah, super creative, I know. Anyway, from the looks of things, Scott Pilgrim is gonna take over the blog for a week or so. Expect reviews, for all the books and the yeah, get your popcorn ready.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Abandoned Tomes: The Mirrored Heavens

Now, I don't read too much science fiction, I find much of the future worlds the authors envision depressing and scary, plus I just don't find technology, and the potential there of, all that interesting...those reasons right there may just be why I failed to enjoy The Mirrored Heavens by David J. Williams.

However I think differently. The book kicked off with a long, balls to the walls action sequence, with tons of explosions, and a bunch of dudes getting their shit blown up. When the dust cleared, a terrorist group called Autumn Rain had blown up the Phoenix Space elevator, the modern wonder of the world, some giant space thingy that never got explained what the hell it was, and was only mentioned so that it could get blown to smithereens. Then there are these dudes, and dudettes called "Razors", (2110 future talk for hackers) who can do a bunch of fancy computer stuff that didn't make any sense, and once again, wasn't explained. Oh, and there are these dudes called "Mechs", guys in the future's version of War Machine's armor, that can fly, shoot shit, blow shit up, chuck grenades, go invisible, move super silently, and did I mention that they can blow shit up?

Seriously, it had all that stuff. And yet somehow it wasn't awesome. I couldn't believe it, I thought for sure this book would be an excellent, light, yet supremely entertaining re-entry into the sci-fi genre. One of the problems is the fact that the characters are beyond weak. The story follows Claire Haskell and Jason Marlowe, (and a couple others), the two comprise of a typical razor/mech team. They are given almost no back story, and no qualities or motivations that set them apart from anything or anyone else. The two were seemingly just there for the sake of it. Also, there was a LOT of dialog, in this case, not a good thing. The dialog was really hard to follow as it had a brisk, clunky approach that led me to never knowing who was talking.

The last gripe, which may not apply to all, is Williams' staccato prose style. His sentences were short and punchy, and short on description, with tenses that alternated at the author's whim. The plot just kind of churns along, seeming to only serve as a launching point for more shit getting blown up. Some people might like his writing style, but I got sick of it really fast. I couldn't focus on the story and thanks to the weak characters, I couldn't care about what was happening to them.

I'll end on a positive note though, the action sequences were pretty damn sweet, and since I am a fan of explosions, I liked reading about things getting blow'd up. However, it just wasn't enough.

Chance of giving it another go: nope

Monday, August 16, 2010

Review: The Courtyard

The Courtyard is an Alan Moore work, with a handful of H.P. Lovecraft influences and grace notes. This dark and moody two issue comic starts out in the run-down apartment of F.B.I. agent Aldo Sax. Sax is working on a special case, fifteen murders, all the victim's midsections have been carved open to resemble what looks like a flower. Here's the kicker: There are at least four different murderers, and no direct links between the killers. Furthermore, none of the details have gone public, so there is no chance of these being copy-cat killings. Which is why Sax is on the case, he specializes in Anomaly Theory; scrutinizing the evidence, parceling out the troublesome details, and finding obscure bits that don't typically fit into F.B.I. murder profiles.

One such obscure detail leads Sax to Club Zothique, there he meets with an informant called Joey Face, learns about a mysterious new drug called "Aklo", and is aimed in the direction of the lisping, bandanna wearing, Johnny Carcosa, a reputed aklo dealer. Sax soon finds out that nothing is what it seems...

The Courtyard is an awesome piece of work done by a true master of the comic medium. The story was initially a prose story of Moore's and it was expertly adapted for the comic medium by Antony Johnston. Though short, this is a story that feels very big. That's probably because of the massive amounts of hints and foreshadowing that seemingly fill the pages. As the reader you get the sense that you are really only getting a small slice of the entire pie. I felt like I was in on the investigation, searching for clues, and trying to read into what certain characters said, to get more meaning or to find hidden clues. This made for a really fun read.

The main character and narrator, Aldo Sax, is interesting. For starters, he's totally racist. So, needless to say, he's more of an anti-hero than a guy you cheer for. Sax is a pretty sharp detective though, and it is interesting to be inside his head for the entirety of the story. Being in his head does get weird at times, but it is always interesting.

The comic itself utilizes a seldom seen panel format. It is really basic: two long, vertical parallel panels side by side. This format is present on each and every page, aside from a couple of splash pages. Though it is uncommon, I really liked the format. It gives the story a consistent flow, which I think is important given the pacing of the story. It also adds to the eeriness and tension, as events move at the same rate no matter the page.

The artwork of The Courtyard is also pretty great. The artist, Jacen Burrows, does a fantastic job of giving this story some grit. The art and the story fit together like puzzle pieces. Burrow's work compliments the creepy feel of the narrative, and gives life to the settings. There is a lot of repeated imagery, which I found interesting, because despite being the same drawing, it could have different meanings given the contexts. Really great work by Burrows, I think he's a perfect artist for this piece.

There is so much hinted at, and seemingly so much more to find out after reading The Courtyard, which is why I'm excited to be reading its sequel, the miniseries Neonomicon. The first issue of the follow up mini-series can be found in your local comic shop now. Despite it being short, there is a lot to be found in The Courtyard. This is a great example of how amazing the comics medium can be. Check it out, you will not be sorry.

Grade: A+

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Review: Far North

Far North by Marcel Theroux

Far North is a speculative fiction book that is almost certainly hidden in the "literature" department of most any bookstore. In Far North Marcel Theroux delivers a first rate post-apocalyptic tale set in the seemingly near future.

The main character and narrator of Far North is Makepeace, the constable, and last surviving citizen of her city. A few short decades ago, settlers from around the world began to populate the far flung frozen reaches of the planet. Climate change had caused life in more temperate zones to become increasingly difficult, causing large groups of people to relocate. Makepeace's family, along with some fellow Quakers, relocated to Siberia. There they cultivated and harvested crops during the long, hot summers, and hunkered down during the extremely cold winters. However, drought made life in other regions impossible and people began to flee for greener pastures. Makepeace's city became increasingly stressed in trying to shelter and feed the new arrivals, eventually the stress caused the fabric of the society to unravel, eventually getting to the point where the reader meets up with the solitary Makepeace.

One day Makepeace witnesses a plane crash near her home, and after sifting through the wreckage, Makepeace decides to go off in search of the plane's origins, and to find the civilization great enough to still be able to fly planes. Makepeace's journey is nothing short of epic.

Far North has a definite, macho, western vibe to it. Makepeace's narration style had a gruff edge to it that had me picturing a man as the character until Makepeace declared her sexuality outright a couple chapters in. It is Makepeace's narrative style that gives the reader a sense of the harshness of Theroux's post-apocalyptic setting. It is through this rhythmic, cold blasted narrative style that the story unfolds and the history, and course of events are slowly revealed. To me, Far North read like a slow burn. Theroux slowly teases out the details and delivers the facts in such seamless ways that they can be easily missed if you aren't reading closely. Theroux stayed well away from the dreaded info-dumps that often bog down other speculative fiction pieces, and I greatly appreaciate that, and applaud how well the information fit into the story.

For me, Far North had a strong Western feel to it. I found myself picturing Makepeace as a bit of a Calamity Jane-type character, and the lands of the Far North had a wild, dangerous western frontier aura to them. The aspect of the world itself reminded me of Stephen King's Dark Tower books where the world has "moved on"; leaving those inhabitants left behind as living relics of the old world. I got that same feeling here, that the people of the Far North were struggling and surviving in a world that isn't really suited for them anymore. The fact that people managed to survive in those conditions seemed to be more of a testament to human stubbornness, than any kind skill.

Many people will try to compare this novel to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but aside from the fact that both novels are set in post-apocalyptic future versions of our world, the two books diverge in similarities from there. Stylistically they are vastly different, Theroux provides greater detail to both the world, its inhabitants, and the reasons behind the world changing events.

I don't know whether my reading of The Road prior to reading Far North caused this, or maybe I have a cynical notion of how human nature would change given an apocalyptic scenario, but I had a definite preconceived notion as to what the people of Far North would be like; how they would act, and behave, and treat others. I assumed the world would be filled with criminals, murderers and back stabbers, and be completely devoid of qualities such as trust and compassion. Makepeace herself says at one point that she mistrusts all people out of habit, so my notions weren't necessarily off-base. There are some great moments of trust and compassion in this book, and they have a real power to them. These moments made the novel stand out as something different and unique.

I can't find much to complain about with Far North, I think it is a well crafted novel, with a unique narrative voice. There were a couple survival technique/wilderness skill moments that made me raise an eyebrow, but I cant remember what they specifically were now, so they couldn't have been too jarring or upsetting. Aside from the overall post-apocalyptic setting, there were a few other science fiction and fantasy elements to the novel, but those were fairly muted for the most part, and didn't play too much of a role. Theroux did a good job of quickly dipping in, then out, of genre elements, weaving them nicely into the story.

Far North is another great read. One that should be appealing to both genre fans and literary types alike. It is also unique enough to not fall under the shadow of fellow post-apocalyptic stories. I think the use of climate change as the cause of the world's shift gives the novel a timely appeal.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Review: Flight Volume 5

In case you are wondering why I'm reviewing the fifth volume of something without never having read the prior four volumes, no I'm not losing my mind. Flight is a comic anthology, so I figured order didn't really matter. The fifth volume happened to be the one I found on the shelf at my favorite used book store, so this is the volume I'm gonna review.

Flight Volume 5 contains twenty-one different comic shorts by a bunch of comic creators. Though the volume itself is pretty hefty, the comics tend to be rather short. There are only handful amongst the whole she-bang that come out to be the length of a regular single comic issue.

For the most part, the stories included were entertaining, though somewhat short on the depth that I am used to in my regular comic reading. This may seem like a very obvious point given that these are the comics equivalent of a short story but I find that the less time spent with the characters and situations, the less involved and engaged I am.

That's not to say that Flight is completely without engaging stories. The Dragon by Reagan Lodge was a bit of a sci-fi/fantasy mash up with a yam loving fox as the main character. The art in this story brought the setting to life, and gave me a sense of vast scope, despite the story narrative having a tight focus on one action packed night in a small town.

Beisbol 2 by Richard Pose was another favorite. This story had a timeless appeal, as it depicted a small boy trying to get the autograph of his favorite baseball player. Some of the ribbing the boy takes from his older brothers is quite hilarious, and "Bopper" the baseball hero is a hilarious egotistical prick.

My personal favorite, Igloo Head and Tree Head in Disguise, was written and drawn by Scott Campbell. In this, somewhat-human-shaped cartoon characters, with distinct inanimate objects growing on their heads, disguise themselves by mail ordering different objects to put on their heads. Once disguised, they go around tricking their friends, and eventually crash a party at the War Club. They then give the folks at the War Club party official war documents, which are really tacos. Needless to say, the sense of humor is pretty whimsical in this one, but I enjoyed it's lightheartedness.

There are other fun stories in Flight, from time traveling cats, to ninjas, dogs digging up dead bodies, to love stories, monster stories, and even a story about the chosen one(s).

There is something for everyone in Flight Volume 5. The art varies quite drastically as well, so it is hard to say too much about it, but I will say that for the most part, Flight is visually pleasing. If you are looking for a light, fast comics read, without a lot of depth, then Flight is probably a good place to go. Most people will find something they enjoy between the covers.

Grade: C

Monday, August 9, 2010

Review: Kick-Ass

I get the feeling that a lot of people know the basic plot outline for this graphic novel thanks to the movie, but I'll give it a quick run-through anyway. Dave Lizewski is a high school kid who reads a ton of comics. His life isn't exactly the coolest, or the most exciting, so Dave decides to spice up his life. He buys a scuba suit from e-bay and becomes a costumed hero. At first he simply just prowls rooftops, and slinks around in sketchy neighborhoods. This gets tiring after awhile so Dave decides to take it to the next level. One night he comes across three guys spraying tags, and tries to deliver some street justice. As you might guess, Dave gets his ass kicked, though he put up a decent fight. Left stabbed and bleeding in a back alley, Dave tries to make his way back home, but instead gets mowed down by a mercedes.

What follows for Dave is a long recovery, but believe it or not, he makes his costumed comeback, this time making the big time as his brawl with three Puerto Ricans gets filmed and becomes a massive hit on you tube. It is through the video publicity that he finally gets his name: Kick-Ass. It is not long before others follow Kick-Ass' lead, and become costumed heroes. Kick-Ass first crosses paths with the father-daughter team of Hit-Girl and Big Daddy, and later Red Mist. While Dave spends his nights pretending to be a super hero, he spends his days pretending to be homosexual so that he can hang out with the girl that he likes. Amidst all the pretending, the costumed heroes are actually making a few good things happen; saving kittys, and busting thugs, but you can only take down so many criminals before you start to piss off the mob, and that is just what happens to Kick-Ass.

Kick-Ass is overall a fun and engaging read. The whole real-life super hero thing isn't exactly covering new territory, but Millar makes it pretty damn exciting. For me it was the characters that made Kick-ass shine. Dave is the nerdy guy you either were, or knew, in high school, which makes him easy to relate to as a character, but he also has that never say die attitude in a fight that gives him some cred as a costumed hero. My favorite character from the graphic novel was easily Hit-Girl. She had a great blend of deadly ability and witty banter that often had me laughing. I definitely got more excited whenever she was on the page.

Another great factor was the overall sense of humor that this book had. The concept itself is pretty damn funny, but Millar mixes in great dialog and great situational humor that was consistently funny. Hit-Girl's "Wotta fuckin' douche." line had me cracking up as well, as the first scene with the mist-mobile, and Red Mist smoking weed while "on patrol".

Overall, I would say that Millar's writing was solid in Kick-ass. Like I mentioned earlier, there isn't really anything new or ground breaking here. The story itself was pretty good, though the whole mob thing felt a bit tacked on, and felt like the plot device that it was. Basically it gave the characters something to do. While that element did feel forced, in the end, does it really matter if I was entertained? Not really. And this certainly was entertaining.

The artist for this graphic novel was John Romita Jr. He is a legend of sorts around Marvel, and after a quick google image search, I can see why. Some of his work is quite beautiful and stunning, but in comparison, some of his work on Kick-ass is far from stellar. There were a few panels where characters didn't look the same as they had earlier, and sometimes the character's heads were absolutely massive. One in particular showed Dave's head being bigger than his entire torso. That isn't to say that all the art was bad, but there were definitely some moments where the artwork took me out of the story flow.

Through it all, I was pleased with Kick-ass. It seems to find a spot somewhere in the middle of the road for me. Millar delivers a mostly engaging story filled with interesting, fun characters, and he tells a tightly paced exciting story filled with solid action and humor. This isn't nearly the best thing I've read in the comics world this year, but it is still worthy of being checked out. Kick-ass could serve as a good introduction to the world of comics made for adults, as it has action, and dialog suited for adults, but also blends a bit of the classic costumed hero stuff that might help bridge the gap. Better reads are out there but Kick-ass is pretty decent.

Grade: C+

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Review: The Hunter

The Hunter by Richard Stark

The Hunter is a novel that drips with style and takes no prisoners. This is Crime Noir at its finest. The novel follows the ruthless anti-hero Parker on his quest for payback. Parker is a crook, a heister, a thief, and he is damn good at his job. After a high paying job that had him working with some crooks he didn't fully trust, Parker planned to cross his partners, kill them, and take the money for himself. However, he wasn't expecting a double-cross, and he certainly wasn't expecting it to be his wife who did the crossing. Shot, and left for dead in a burning house, Parker survives, but is picked up by the police for vagrancy and given a six month sentence. Parker serves four, kills a guard and makes his escapes, heading toward New York to catch up with his wife and the man who took his money. Along the way Parker cheats, robs, forges, frauds and kills to get payback.

In The Hunter, Stark tells his story of gritty redemption from two points of view. Mainly we follow Parker, and his exploits as he seeks revenge, but for a brief part of the novel, Stark switches things up and we see events unfold through the eyes of Mal, the man who stole Parker's wife and money. Mal is meant to be the "bad-guy" but in an interesting twist, he is probably a better all around person than the anti-hero Parker. His motivations and machinations are all for a reason, and as I read, I thought I might have done the same had I been in Mal's shoes.

All of Stark's characters are well developed though Parker and Mal stood out as the most life-like. Stark has a knack for character building, giving them flaws and nuances that make them jump off the page. I had strong images in my head of what they were like, how their voices sounded, and even how their personalities led them to act or react given certain situations. I'm a fan of well written characters, and The Hunter definitely provides.

Where this novel really shines is in its style. Hardboiled only just barely begins to describe this book. Parker is one hard man, and he does some very bad things to get what he wants. These scenes are delivered by Stark with unapologetic realism. The man can not be accused of pulling his punches. There's a high degree of grit between these pages, and while that isn't for everyone, it only further endeared the novel to me. I loved Stark's prose style; it was spot on and fit perfectly for the story.

All in all, I really loved this novel. It was my first Richard Stark experience, but there are a slew of other Parker novels, and I see myself dipping back into this series again before too long. Despite being published in the early 60's, this book felt very fresh, and nothing felt too dated, nor was there a "cheese factor" that is often evident in dated genre material. I'm not exactly a mystery, or crime noir buff, but I'd say this stuff is gotta read material if that is your thing. If you are like me and every so often find yourself in need of a dark, gritty crime fix, I don't think you could do much better. The Hunter is awesome stuff.

Grade: A

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Review: Preacher: War in the Sun

The last time I read a Preacher book I was somewhat less than thrizzled. Well, in War in the Sun, the sixth volume of this series, I am happy to say that the ship has been set back on course, and the entertaining action and drama that has defined this series is in full force.

War in the Sun opens with an origin story of sorts. In this opening chapter, we follow Herr Starr in his journey from German elite soldier to his beginnings with the organization called "The Grail". As a child, Starr was the target of bullies, and one day the bullying went too far. Using a broken bottle, the bullies carved a five pointed "star for Starr" on his face, causing Starr to lose his eyesight from the injury, his hair from the trauma, and also giving the poor bastard a life long raspy voice due to all the screaming he did during the incident. This event hardened Starr and he used that hardness to eventually rise to the powerful position of All-Father of the Grail organization, which leaves him in command of a private army, and the power to pull many political strings...all of which he uses to his fullest ability to get his hands on Jesse Custer...

Which brings me to the man himself: Jesse Custer, his lady-friend Tulip and his pal Cassidy. Since the events in Louisiana, Custer's plan is to head to the desert, take some peyote, and talk to Genesis, the powerful being that has possessed his body. With that plan in mind, Jesse scores some peyote from an American Indian, and heads for Monument Valley, the popular backdrop of many a classic Western film.

Meanwhile, Tulip and Cassidy are less than buddy-buddy due to Cassidy's recent proclamation of hidden love for Tulip. Cassidy has since apologized for his "wankerish" behavior, claiming he'll leave Tulip and Jesse to their love, but there is a definite lack of trust on Tulip's behalf. Rightfully so, given some stories she heard from Casssidy's friends in New Orleans...

Jesse isn't the only one heading towards Monument Valley. Thanks to some inside information, Starr, with his personal army, is waiting in ambush, and this time they have the US Army in their back pocket. However the hallucinogenic soul searching and the world domination schemes are interrupted by an unexpected third party, and when the dust clears no one will be left unscathed.

War in the Sun is packed with Ennis' usual action, drama and humor. Those three qualities are in abundance in this volume. Ennis has done a solid, though somewhat obvious, job of making me mistrust and dislike Cassidy. By the end of this volume, I kinda hate the bastard. There isn't much to say about Ennis' writing that I haven't already said. There were times when I felt the dialog took over the page, essentially squeezing out the art, but that feeling dissipated as the action picked up.

A different artist, Peter Snejbjerg, was brought in to draw Starr's origin story. Overall, I was not a fan of his art. My biggest gripe being that Starr's nose and chin looked over sized and cartoony, the guy isn't Pinocchio! While some panels were rather striking, I felt the overall quality was a drop in comparison to that done by Steve Dillon. Dillon on the other hand, once again did great work. It never ceases to amaze me how many of his drawings get laughs out of me. Sometimes they are just so spot on for the moment they are he draws Arseface. Great stuff.

It was nice to see a return to excellent form for this series. The middle books in any series can often be a struggle to get through, but now I find myself on the home stretch, and I can't wait to see where this series will end up, and what will happen to the characters. War in the Sun is one of the more exciting entries in the Preacher series. Awesome stuff.

Grade: B+