Peter Parker Spectacular Spider-Man vol. 2 -review

15 Jul

Peter Parker Spider-Man

Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2: Most Wanted

Writer – Chip Zdarsky Artists – Adam Kubert, Juan Frigeri

Paperback – 136 Pages. Publisher: Marvel Comics

 

The story here is that Peter Parker had a (half-?) sister he didn’t know about, and she’s some kind of spy. I’m very much cool with that – I like it a lot better than stories about Peter’s parents as spies. It’s interesting to think of all the possibilities left open by the fact that Peter was raised by his Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and not his parents.

In a strange twist, Peter’s sister has top secret information encoded in her blood, and various people are trying to capture her to protect, or steal the information – trying to capture or kill her. There is a secret cabal within S.H.I.E.L.D. called the Gray Blade (awfully close to the gay blade), and they’re after Spider-Man too. In the midst of action, Spider-Man reveals his identity to his (former?) employer, J. Jonah Jameson. By the end of the book, Jameson starts coming to a reluctant appreciation, and perhaps partnership, with Spider-Man because of his affection for Pete.

The main villain of the piece is the Tinkerer, who has mainly been a behind-the-scenes guy, producing gear and gadgets for supervillains. The storyline quickly blooms into a big, rollicking Marvel Universe story, involving a metric ton of characters. You’ve got Spidey, his sister, fellow reporter Betty Brant, J. Jonah, (who has become a heroic character lately) – and you also have the Tinkerer and his brother Mason. You’ve got Agent Mintz, head of the evil S.H.I.E.L.D. faction, and there are guesting superheroes including Black Panther, Hawkeye, and Ironheart (Riri), while the supporting villains include the Vulture, the Shocker, Whiplash, interestingly enough, and various others. Despite the large cast of characters, the story avoids the Deus Ex Machina feeling that happens when a character comes out of nowhere and saves the day. An added bonus with the characters is that they all have their own motivations, and they’re not all automatically on the same side. Chip Zdarsky pulls off the trick of writing snappy dialogue for Spider-Man – the jokes in the script work well, probably because Spider-man is not spouting pat jokes or taunts to the villains only, you genuinely get the feeling that humor is how Spider-man reacts to things.

The art by Adam Kubert is superb. Now the art team is not credited specifically, but I believe the second artist is an inker, and that is one weakness. The inking doesn’t add an extra layer of polish that I’d normally expect. I think Danny Miki is an inker that’s worked with Adam Kubert before, and Juan Frigeri’s worker here doesn’t provide that level of quality, which is mainly evident in the faces. The faces are expressive, but they come off a little bit rough. Other than that the art is great- clear, strong, and dynamic. There are some great panels, and some especially great splash pages, like the one where Spider-Man bursts explosively out the doorway of his brownstone, scattering hordes of armored S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.

One interesting thing I noticed, is that there are a lot of panel layouts that work in a zigzag reading order. The action is well put together, but it falls short of having every character’s action be clearly connected to the one that came before. The reader knows what’s happening, but you don’t see all the cool stuff happening, but to be honest, that’s super rare in monthly superhero comics – I feel that its only in your top tier manga that you see that, or in certain Jack Kirby work.

This is very much a connected story – the volume doesn’t supply an ending, it doesn’t even really supply the beginning of the story, because that, I assume is in volume 1. Despite this, the book is a lot of fun.

One of the issues collected here is Spectacular Spider-Man 300, so there’s a cool feature in the back, that shows all 300 covers from every iteration of Peter Parker Spectacular Spider-Man. It shows them real small, but it’s still cool to see them all laid out from the very beginning. There are also a bunch of variant covers in the back, and from the 300 issue there’s a short Spider-Man and Black Cat story, that I assume fits into a similar timeframe to the main story, drawn by Goran Pavlov, which is amazing, visually. The art has a signature like every other page, which I can’t blame the artist for, because the artwork’s great. It’s a 4 page thing, kind of a trifle, but it’s fun, and the art is so graceful and elegant, I’m definitely glad that it was included. Overall, it’s a real fun book, a hectic adventure with enough of the familiar to give you that great Marvel feel, but it has enough of a personal imprint that it doesn’t feel like a retread of other Spider-man stuff that I’ve read before.
Recommended.

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Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures – Review

24 Jun

Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures

Writer/Artist – Yvan Algabé

Paperback -112 pages.  Publisher: New York Review Comics

 

The first thing I have to talk about regarding Yellow Negroes is the artwork. Yvan Algabé draws in a stark and vivid style reminiscent of José Muñoz, who drew Alack Sinner. But while Muñoz’s art sometimes came off as wet, filled with inky pools of darkness, Algabé’s art is dry, rough, and scratchy. The level of detail in the artwork is variable; what is rendered as an impressionistic blob in one panel may be a closely observed face in the next panel.

The story starts with Alaine, an immigrant from Benin, who works a small part-time job, hanging movie posters. Alaine shares and apartment with his sister, Martine, and another African named Sam. Although the setting is never named, my guess is that it’s Paris.

Alaine is dating a white woman named Claire. Claire is introduced in a scene driving her father around. Her dad is shocked and upset that Claire is dating a black man. The plot really gets going with the introduction of Mario, an older ex-military guy who has since worked for the National Police. He finds his way to Alaine and Martine’s apartment by ringing all the bells and asking everybody in the apartment building where the black people are. In their apartment, he talks non-stop, telling them his life story and inviting these strangers he met on the street somewhere to come over to his house for a Christmas dinner. He also tries to get one of them to work at his elderly mother’s house as a house cleaner, and promises to set them up with residency papers in exchange. This begins the pattern of the story, as Mario- an old, lonely French-Algerian man tries to push his way into the lives of Alaine and Martine.

One interesting thing that Algabe does is the way he chooses to fill in black areas. Some panels will be dark, with 50% of the area black, while other panels will be mostly outlines, with a few unpredictable areas filled in with black. One effects this has is that Algabé can focus the reader’s attention on certain details. While the visuals are rendered thoroughly enough to give a sense of a world beyond the panel frame, the variable style always keeps the reader aware that they are looking at drawings made by hand.

The characters are confined, hemmed, in and held together by the bonds between them, those units of chemical attraction formed by unspeakable feelings, feelings of duty, desire, disgust, and frustration. Alaine, Martine and Sam’s experiences with racism and the immigrant experience are shown, but not explicated. In a key moment, Alaine uncovers hidden knowledge of Mario’s past. From that point on, events tumble downwards toward irreversible consequences, but not necessarily towards the ends I expected.
Yellow Negroes is a powerful piece of work that mixes tense interpersonal scenes with lyrical passages of narration, either from Alaine’s POV or the POV of an omniscient narrator. The style of the storytelling can be kind of inaccessible, with abrupt scenes and unexpected style changes. I had to go back and read through parts again to make sure I was getting things right for this review. Despite this, it was both thought provoking and enjoyable for me.

It definitely packs a lot into 46 pages. The rest of the book features shorter stories with varying levels of fullness.

Highly Recommended.

Giant Spider & Me – Review

23 May

Giant Spider & Me: A Post-Apocalyptic Tale

Paperback -180 pages.  Publisher: Seven Seas

The opening of Giant Spider & Me by Kikori Morino is quiet and simple; the lead character, Nagi wakes up to the warm sun streaming through a window and makes a breakfast of eggs, bacon, rice and miso soup. We see her memory of the one person missing from her home. On a close view, we can see that she has set two places at the table, indicating for later the fact that she clearly misses having someone to cook for.

Soon she leaves her tidy, well-appointed cabin to do some weeding and harvesting in the woods. After finding a hefty pumpkin, she is startled by the Giant Spider of the title, the oddly cute bug-eyed beast that she will soon name Asa. Asa follows her home and becomes her companion. Perhaps because of her solitude, Nagi tends to treat Asa as human, before realizing Asa is more like having a cat or a dog in the house. A very large leaf covered dog.

The stories in the book are light and free of agitation; each chapter features a recipe and shows Nagi’s cooking a treat and Asa’s reaction. Recipes are presented in a way that doesn’t interrupt the story- instructions are given simply, and the measurements are only shown on the last page nin a large panel showing the finished dish. The dishes presented are pumpkin dumplings, Japanese style miso ratatouille, Espresso, and Warm Turnip soup. I’ve read a few cooking/food manga, such as Toriko, Food Wars, and one other I can’t recall the title of. Giant Spider & Me stands apart through its focus on home cooking, feminine mood, and lack of over-heated drama. Only at the end of the book is there any real dose of peril. The subtitle of the series is “A Post-Apocalyptic Tale” but the disaster that obliterated scores and flooded the cities happened before Nagi was born, so it doesn’t disrupt the pastoral mood. This aspect of the story was a breath of fresh air and makes it all the more intriguing.

The art in the story is charming and well-rendered, though Morino lacks any stylistic flourishes that would render her visuals distinct from other skilled shoujo artists. But the unobtrusive style and clear storytelling do fit the tranquil mood of the comic. One thing I noticed was the tone of the comic: there’s not a lot of solid blacks in the book, instead there’s a lot of open linework and light grey tones. The interior of her cozy domicile and the nature backgrounds are rendered with a commendable thoroughness, yet never pile on the details or the lines in an attempt to show off. Though the boudaries of her world are small, these environments create a convincing sense of a world. The pages pass quickly as a cheerful, pleasant diversion.
Recommended.

Illustration Friday – Mischief

2 Feb

illo_friday_mischief_cw|

Here is my entry for the Illustration Friday word – mischief.  I wanted to try a color hold on this image, but I ended up having to use a more subtle color hold than I originally planned.  Photoshop crashed after I had the image all colored (a good reminder to save often!) but I think my second try at coloring came out better.

A novel take on trading cards

24 May

Today I was visiting with a friend, and she showed me a new site for sharing art that I hadn’t heard about.  The site is called NeonMob, and it combines the artist trading card phenomenon with the internet, and the gamified aspects of DeviantArt or LINE, where you can send you’re friends stickers and get rewarded for it.  In DA’s case that means llamas, and in LINE’s case it means emoji like stickers, and sticker packs.

Another interesting aspect of NeonMob is that artists can make money on the platform.  Here’s a look at what their homepage looks like.
neon_mob4.23_AM copy

Anyway, it might be worth a look for artists and fans.

Typesetting Manga

15 Jun

How is typesetting manga different from typesetting American comics?

US comics tend to use speech balloons with a horizontal format, whereas Japanese comics use speech balloons with a vertical format (because of vertical writing). Manga balloons, in Japanese form, and in well-lettered English translations – use a LOT more white space within the speech balloon. A ‘typical’ US comic will use horizontal white space equal to one or 2 characters. A ‘typical’ manga will use horizontal white space equal to the longest line of text. Shoujo manga will sometimes have a little more white space, and Shonen manga will sometimes have a little less, but they will generally have more than US comics.

US comics tend to rely on the order of panels to guide the reader through the page and through the story. Manga is much more likely to use the word balloons to guide you through the page and the story, which means the speech balloons are more likely to cross the panel borders.

Radio Free Albemuth -Movie Review

6 Jun

Radio_Free_Albemuth_FilmPoster

I only watched this movie after finding it on a random Netflix search, I believe. Worth a watch, especially if you’re a Philip K Dick fan. This is one of those rare science fiction movies that is full of sci-fi trappings without being an action movie in Sci-Fi drag (not that there’s anything wrong with action-based sci-fi…).

I haven’t read the novel Radio Free Albemuth, but I have a feeling this isn’t a straight adaptation. It has elements of VALIS (the Living Satellite that orbits Earth and bombards Phil with secret information in the form of religious experiences, and also the presence of a singer/musician chosen by VALIS to reveal information/spark revolution) and Scanner Darkly (there is a scene reminiscent of the rural prison work camps from the Scanner Darkly novel, but the movie has minimal drug references compared to Scanner Darkly, which is explicitly about drugs, drug users and drug culture).

The thing the movie seems closest to is a novel about Philip K. Dick that I have never read, but have heard about. That novel is “Philip K. Dick Is Dead, Alas” by Michael Bishop. It tells a story “set in an alternative universe where his non-genre work is published but his science fiction is banned by a totalitarian USA in thrall to a demonically possessed Richard Nixon” according to Wikipedia. Everything about that description takes place in this movie, with the debatable exception of demon possession. In Philip K Dick’s world, it’s very common for distinctions between Religious, Spiritual, Technological, Inter-Dimensional and Neurological concepts to be blurred, re-established, and then blurred again.

Philip K Dick has had his work adapted into films time and time again, which raises the question of whether this film adds anything new. After all, we’ve seen Blade Runner, Total Recall, The Adjustment Bureau, Scanner Darkly, and Minority Report. Does this movie have something new to offer? In a word, yes. This movie does a great job of capturing elements of Dick’s work that other film adaptations have removed, namely the narrative complexity that seems to be a hallmark of novels and a hindrance in cinema. Perhaps because of this, the pacing in the film ranges between brisk, slow and non-existent. The cerebral concepts, and strangeness of the plot is what will hold your attention, if anything will. I don’t know that Philip K. Dick ever had a diagnosis, but watching this movie is like a peek into the personal thoughts of an extremely brilliant, creative man, who is also a paranoid schizophrenic.

The production level of this movie is similar to a SyFy Channel Original, but the production values are well utilized for what this is. The esoteric concepts that VALIS reveals are explicated in some very effective 2d animated sequences. The actors involved provide adequate performances from a script that is perhaps hard to grasp on an emotional level. I would have loved to see what a better cast could have done with this material, but it pretty amazing that this film got made with any cast. The best performance is actually provided by Alanis Morrissette, who is playing a character similar to herself. This film may not be for everyone, but I do think those who are suited for it will find a lot to enjoy.