Off the Shelf: V-Wars Volume 1

vwars vol1Publication 411: TBP of the first five issues of the V-Wars series. Scheduled for publication by IDW on 10/28/2014.

Story: We have met the enemy, and he is infected with the ICE virus.  Y’know the virus that turns people into…no, not that.  Into vampires.  But not all vamps — or Bloods, as they prefer to be called — have it in for us Beats (heartbeats, living folks).  Problem is, peace is not the answer for some folks.  The assassination of a politician rallying for peace starts the war all over again.  But not all war-mongers have fangs….  *cue ominous music*

Thoughts: Loved Maberry’s Patient Zero, so I was curious to see how he’d deal with vamps.  Out of the gate, Volume 1 starts so suddenly that I thought I’d downloaded my copy incorrectly and missed a few pages.  But after a few pages the splash page makes itself known, and then things settle in.  What’s cool about these bloodsuckers?  Mutation.  The ICE virus has particular strains, like any other virus.  This makes it a crapshoot as to what strain you’ll get, and what you’ll become, should you get infected, from insane zombie to Bloods that can “pass”.  Think of this like an all-out war version of Kindred: The Embraced.  As with other mutant/monster stories, this focuses on the idea that destroying the monsters may be less about survival than it is about removing The Other from the world.

Alan Robinson does the art duties here, and he literally paints the town red.  Colors are nice and sharp, but not particularly eerie.  Then again this is more of a thriller/mystery/action joint starring vamps as it is a straight-out horror show.  So maybe eerie isn’t exactly the way to go 100% of the time.  Bonus points to Robinson for the vamp wearing a Primus t-shirt, and for page 85, with it’s Exorcist imagery.  I heart that panel so hard.

The three characters I’m really interested in are Senator Maria Giroux (D-LA) leader of the politicos looking into the V-8 team’s actions (and someone who I’m betting knows a whole lot more than she’s letting on).  Taurus, a newbie to the V-8 military unit, and the guy everyone things won’t make it past the weekend.  And Yuki Nitobe, a reporter “embedded with the Bloods”, who gets a look at exactly who the monsters are in and out of the Bloods.  Sure, Luther Swann, the professor-turned-military-consultant is the lead in this story, but those three are my top three.  And for keeping things easy to follow, bonus points for a panel on page 11 that shows the entire “V-8″ team, along with Who’s Who info boxes!

Nutshell:  V-Wars feels like something I’ve read before, and that’s probably because I was a huge fan of Kindred.  So seeing the same multi-vamp-verse gives me the happys.  There’s a little too much back-n-forth here, but as this is the first five issues of what I’m assuming will be a long run, I understand trying to make sure readers get that this will be a shades of grey story rather than the usual black-n-white. Just remember to tack on an “all the covers” appendix to V-Wars Volume 1 when it hits stores, and I’ll be a happy camper.  Covers that beautiful should be shown off.



(NOTE: I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.)

Off the Shelf: White Death

white death(NOTE: I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.)

Publication 411: Hardcover edition of the original 1998 title (though the info page is confusing as it lists the copyright as 2014.)

Story:  WWI was supposed to be “the war to end all wars”.  Certainly that level of destruction and death was seen at the Italian Front, where both sides used nature against the other.  Causing avalanches — called “white death” — to decimate troops on the other side, soldiers tried to stay alive though one barrage after another.  When young Pietro Aquasanta returns to his homeland to fight for his country, he finds more than he bargained for.  A look at this piece of WWI from many different angles, with no happy endings in sight.

Thoughts: Based on historical research, White Death blew me away.  Writer Robbie Morrison (Nikolai Dante, 2000AD) focuses on “The White War”; the battle of the Alighieri Plateau.  Teaming up with Charlie Adlard (The Walking Dead)  was a shrewd move; Adlard wanted to try a “new style”; charcoal and chalk on grey paper, and it works perfectly here.

The first three pages knocked my socks off.  Plus, Adlard’s use of paper and charcoal gives the artwork a texture and depth that adds to the story.  The silouettes convey more here than many other comics manage in entire runs.  Perhaps that’s due to the subject matter — military history has it’s own emotional baggage we all have a share in — but it’s also Adlard’s ability to know when to shove it in your face, and when to pull back and let you fill in the blanks.  I wanted to stare at the individual lines and shadings, and in doing so I got swept into the thick of the story.  The Nice trick, Adlard.

Morrison balances historical accuracy with riveting storytelling.  Front line horrors and off-the-line daily life in wartime share the stage and paint a picture of the world they lived in.  Hospitals where men are patched up and sent back to the Front, prostitutes who seem to be a soldier’s only comfort, days of inactivity and crazy ways to blow off steam; it’s all here.

Script-to-art pages at the end of this book show the detail that went into both the writing and art in this book. I’m a sucker for that sort of thing, and anyone else who is will definitely eat this up.

Nutshell: right up there with Shigeru Mizuki’s Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, White Death is a must read for anyone who loves military history, history, or just plain-old good storytelling.  I’m cheap selective in what goes onto my shelves, but there’s definitely a space carved out for this book.  From me, that’s about the highest praise I can deliver.

Off the Shelf: Hatsune Miku Graphics Vocaloid Comics & Art Vol 2

(Image: UDON Entertainment)

(NOTE: I received a copy of this book via NetGalley)

Though “Virtual Pop Star” Hatsune Miku (and the Vocaloid voice synthesizer in general) may not be widely known in the USA, the singing voice synthesizer with a groovy anime look has a huge fanbase, with manga (Maker Hikōshiki Hatsune Mix, Hatsune Miku: Unofficial Hatsune Mix), games, anime, and of course tons of YouTube music videos.  With a performance on Late Night With David Letterman scheduled for October, I’m betting more folks will get bit by the bug.  So why not take a look at the latest offering from UDON Entertainment, a collection of “tribute art” (aka fan created pieces), comics and more?  Gotta say that HMGVC&A2 packs a whole lot of stuff in a little over 100 pages.  Perfect for people who’d like to take a look at all the fuss.

Thoughts: To be honest, I hadn’t heard much about Hatsune Miku before I looked at this book.  Sure, I’d seen her image at conventions, but hadn’t thought much about the fandom.  There’s already a ton of anime and manga on my plate, yada yada.  But this is manga eye-candy at it’s best y’all.  No matter what style you’re into, there’s bound to be someone who has plopped Hatsune into it.  And with each artist comes a very brief — think Twitter-worthy — thank you and “why this matters to me” tidbit.  And also, there are webpage links to check out for folks who like a particular artist.

Fine.  A few of my absolute favorites here?  meola’s (yes, the m is lower case) gorgeous work that looks like Pollock got his hands on some manga.  Nagimiso, who draws a more mature Hatsune Miku.  Arisaka Ako, whose Vocaloids remind me of Black Butler. Hakone, whose colors are soft and shaded.  Milo, and the “just so crazy it works” Busby Berkley style.

And that’s just the first half of the book.  There’s extras, tons of character-specific pages, and even a few comics at the end.  I’m guessing this is just the start of a full-on manga (and maybe anime?) rollout. Though I’m hoping Western dub-y musicians will start sampling her tunes; that’d be cool.

Nutshell:  HMGVC&A2 is like a book of fannishness, with ways to contact/get more stuff IRL from the featured artists.  Gorgeous high-quality artwork, and lots of information on on the fandom as well as Hatsune “herself”.  This book has me wanting to add a Hatsune Miku playlist to my Spotify.  Banzai!

Review in a Flash: The Maze Runner

the maze runner onesheetSometimes I’m too lazy for a full-out piece. Sometimes everything I’ve got to say about a film can be summarized in a sentence or two. Sometimes it’s both. So herewith, a quick-n-dirty on The Maze Runner!

Nutshell:  I’d give The Maze Runner a B.  It’s an interesting spin on the deluge of post-apocalyptic YA that’s been coming down the pike, and the kids all deliver fine performances.  But I couldn’t shake the “Lord of the Flies meets The Hunger Games” mishmosh out of my head, nor the feeling that the filmmakers could have gone beyond the stock character parade.

Before: YA!  Whoop!  I’ve heard good things about this series of books, so I’m looking forward to this.  Sign me up for any and all apocalyptic storytelling y’all.  Plus, who doesn’t love Stiles (Dylan O’Brien, Teen Wolf)?  The maze itself reminds me of Hogwarts, with it’s ever-shifting staircases.  I hope this story isn’t just a compilation of greatest hits that the genre has seen before.  Especially since a group of boys living in nature away from everything else feels like Lord of the Flies.  Wonder if there’ll be devolution?

During:  Nicely done opening scene, with the POV of Thomas (O’Brien) coming up into the maze world.  Instant understanding of the confusion and fear these kids must have felt.  So this is really a reverse Lord of the Flies; everyone is getting together very well thanks to a “we’re all in this together” code taught to them by teen leader Alby (Aml Ameen, turning in a thoughtful and nuanced performance).  Wonder how long that’ll la…oops.  Enter Thomas, the latest kid sent up to this forced paradise from the depths of…who knows where.  New guy = big changes.  Kinda wish director Ball and actor Will Poulter (We’re the Millers) would give antagonist/freakout aficionado Gally more than just knee-jerk reactions to everything.  Because right now Gally is just a cardboard cutout typifying fear of the unknown.  And that’s gonna get old after awhile.

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Elsewhere Review: This is Where I Leave You

Nutshell:  I’d give This is Where I Leave You at B.  The Altman family may be dysfunctional, but the film is a well-oiled machine.  Funny, inappropriate as hell, and so much like real life it’s oftentimes uncomfortable.  Luckily the cast excels at screenwriter/novelist Jonathan Tropper’s witty banter, and director Shawn Levy nails the “we are family” vibe of the original novel.

Movie Review: This is Where I Leave You

Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, and Jane Fonda walk into a movie.  Wait wait, there’s more; Connie Britton, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll are there too.  Punch line?  Tons of ‘em.  There’s also plenty to squirm over, as the cast has no problems showing you their characters good and bad sides.  I found myself disgusted and hilariously amused by this family; it’s like the family down the street that are definitely hipper than thou, but that you’d never switch places with in a million years.  In the end This is Where I Leave You left me with more laughs than pauses.  That’s thanks to the brilliant work of the cast, and director Shawn Levy’s easygoing but well-timed pacing.

This is Where I Leave You deals with the pain and strangeness of losing your dad, and how families that are prickly can have surprising tenderness for each other.  At least when they’re not titty-twisting the younger kids.  I mean c’mon, sweet is all well and good but let’s be real.  Middle kid Judd Altman has just found out his wife has been cheating on him with his boss.  While in his funk of self-pity, sister Wendy calls to tell him that their father has died.  As they come together with their brothers Paul and Phillip, momma Hillary tells them their father’s final wish; for them and their families to all sit Shiva for a week in the family home.  Wendy’s picture-perfect marriage is seen to have problems that aren’t helped by her reunion with former boyfriend Horry (Timothy Olyphant).  Paul and wife Alice are desperately trying to conceive, and the fact that Alice and Judd used to date isn’t helping things.  Phillip, the baby of the family and lifelong screwup, brings home fiancee Tracy (Connie Britton), who used to be his therapist but can’t seem to help him rein in his destructive behavior.  And Judd gets a visit from his ex telling him that she’s pregnant…and it’s his. Got all that?  Good.  Surprisingly, all that plays out easily, and TIWILY has an ensemble feel that’s in no small part due to the chemistry between the leads.

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So. Z Nation happened.

Lucille!  Not.  (Image: SyFy)

Lucille! Not. (Image: SyFy)

As I don’t have cable, I’m missing my usual campy genre awesomeness.  Oh, don’t worry; I take advantage of friends and family by parking my keister on their couch for extended marathons of The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and Doctor Who.  I have my priorities. (And no sense of pride or common decency.)

So when Google Play made the pilot episode of Z Nation a free download?  Hello!  I should have known better.  Here’s what happened:

The Good:  DJ Qualls!  Harold Perrineau!  Tom Everett Scott!  I love that I get to see Garth, Augustus Hill & Andy McDermott in one show!  Qualls, as a left-behind soldier stuck waaaaaay up north.  Boyfriend doesn’t realize how good he’s got it, until he decides to just hang it up and go all pirate radio.  I’m sure he’ll be the voice/connection for all the other folks running around with the zombies.

There’s a baseball bat in Z Nation, and it’s not Lucille (though I’m sure somebody here has read TWD and thought a spikey bat would be teh kewl.)  But it gets points for looking like something that someone would actually be able to cobble together.  Plus, it’s pretty sweet.  Oh, and there’s a zombie baby that I’m sure you’ve seen in the trailer.

Gotta love the eyebrows. (Image: SyFy)

Gotta love the eyebrows. (Image: SyFy)

The Bad:  See: zombie baby.  Great idea at the start, but the idea that the little posthumous punkin’ can zoom around at light speed just because it’s undead?  Nup.  Also, the dialogue made me weep.  “Let him go or I will send you to walk among the dead.”  Yeah, poor Harold Perrineau had to deliver that clunker.  And that’s only one of many tidbits scattered all over Z Nation.  But you can forgive bad dialogue when the FX are so amazing…sike!  The makeup and CGI here is nothing less than subpar.  Again, this is from SyFy, the station whose catchphrase seems to be “SyFy: Getting RTVF Majors To Do Our FX Since 2009″.

But the main thing that makes me shake my head in sadness is that the plot seems to have no idea where it’s going.  It’s as if whoever pitched this decided that zombies were awesome (that’s not an incorrect assumption), and that simply throwing a few rotting undead on the small screen would be enough to have genre fans a’runnin’ (that’s the incorrect assumption right there.)  The Walking Dead delivered action, gore and character development in it’s pilot ep.  Z Nation delivered…a zombie baby.

The Result:  Think of this not as competition for The Walking Dead, but as something zombie fans can watch/make fun of while they wait for their Darryl fix.  (What?  Who doesn’t love a man with a bow?)  I’m not gonna lie, I’d love to see another ep to find out if this first episode was a hiccup.  Considering this is from the folks that gave us Sharknado — yep, this is a The Asylum joint — I’m thinking there’ll be more of the same sad dialogue, strange pacing and hiccupy continuity.  Ah well.  But it could be fun for a drinking game Netflix night a year from now.

Wayback Review: Real Steel

Watching Shawn Levy’s This is Where I Leave You last night made me think back to the last movie of his I’d caught at the ol’ multiplex.  Herewith, my review from Atomic Popcorn of Levy’s Real Steel.  *theatrical bow*

Nutshell: I’d give Real Steel a B+.  It’s a sweet but satisfying romp in a near-ish future just cool enough to have robots.  Come for the cool CGI, stay for the touching father/son bonding tale.

As always, clicky on the hypertext for the original piece!


Movie Review — Real Steel

“Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots” get their day on the big screen in Real Steel, a movie that transcends the one-joke premise and is instead a heartwarming, fist-pumping mechanized fairy tale of a father and son coming together amid some of the baddest technology you’ll ever wish was really available.  Not to bad for a few plastic robots from the 60s.

Okay, so Real Steel isn’t based on the old game you played with and trashed back when you were a kid, it’s actually based on the story “Steel” by the amazing and incredible Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, Hell House, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet).  But the storyline sure quacks like a toy robot: it’s sometime in the not-too-distant future, a time where boxing has ditched humans and amped up the amazeballs factor by using robots.  Big, powerful, amazing robots, that are controlled/worked by human handlers and treated like superstars.  Robotics engineers are the new cool kids on the block, and as with all types of fighting there’s the legal big-leagues, and the shady underground scene.

Cue Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman, looking scruffy but gorgeous; does the man ever look bad?), a poor schmuck whose every decision seems like the wrong one.  After hurting himself in human boxing, he’s a robot boxing promoter, but he’s been reduced to staying one step ahead of the law and his myriad of creditors.  When Charlie finds out that he’s the father of 11-year-old Max, his son from a girlfriend he only barely remembers, having to take care of a kid puts a cramp in his style.  So he makes a deal with his dead girlfriend’s sister Debra; Charlie will watch Max over the summer so Aunt Debra and Uncle Marvin can go away to Europe, then Deb and Marv will take Max off Charlie’s hands for good.  But when Max, a kid who’s already a huge robot boxing fan, gets his first taste of competition, he decides to try his hand at the sport himself, along with a robot he finds in a spare-parts dump.  If you think Charlie and Max don’t bond over this, you obviously don’t get out much.

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