Category Archives: reviews

review – winning the game & other stories

RF_WTGVery much like his prior selection The Taker and Other Stories, Rubem Fonseca’s Winning the Game is a high meditation on the desperate attachment to passion in Brazil. Most of his characters, whether they be prostitutes, gamblers, fixers, hit men, lovers or writers, display a wholly unhealthy proclivity to live according to momentary whim. To Fonseca, Brazil has an impermanent culture based on the lure of short-term opportunity, where a moment’s preponderance of contentment often leads to adultery, murder, or perhaps even a drop mercy (but don’t count on that).

Fonseca has a knack for writing stark and concise stories, filled with a humid uneasiness one can experience walking down any particular avenue in Rio de Janeiro. Regardless of his characters’ intentions (and they’re mostly questionable), there is always an underlying scheme going on, often times shrouded in layers. It is here that Fonseca’s writing is both brilliant and terrifying, chronicling the big picture of a society that feeds upon itself as the rule rather than the exception. There is no expectation of justice, rather only corruption and the quick decisions people make that change the course of their lives (and other’s) forever.

The first third of the book sets the stage of Fonseca’s fast-paced worldview. Stories like The Hunchback and Botticelli’s Venus and The Game of Dead Men start harmlessly enough, but take uneasy and tragic turns upon conclusion. By the second third he exposes a more philosophical tone; The Art of Walking in the Streets in Rio de Janeiro introduces a more nuanced and deliberate exposition, a small ounce of embittered salvation through his character Augusto, friend of rats, whores, trees, and those generally transient. The final third of the book returns to the unrelenting machinations of avarice, and it is here where one just might realize how much of a modern Poe Fonseca resembles. Both Passion and the title story contrast the irrational justifications of “winning” in an inherently biased society favoring the wealthy. Fonseca is not subtle in dealing with this discrepancy, whether based in love or money. With humor and a flair for highlighting the bizarre noir of his culture, this short collection is quality writing in its entirety.

review – dead pig collector

20130809-235805.jpgA concise, intriguing work by Warren Ellis. It’s just as much a meditation on Los Angeles culture as it is a study in psychological, perhaps cultural detachment. Too short for a thorough plot overview, Ellis’s hits some really interesting observations here. About Los Angeles, his principal musing being a city without a center or identity; that in some ways it’s much like Beijing with its subtly encroaching desert and scrubland whenever you need it, especially when in possession of a few industrious seconds. His characterization and interplay is tense, centering around the focused Mister Sun, and atypical valley girl Amanda, bright but a bit too naively enthusiastic. Her shock of the events is muted by the allure to his stoic fastidiousness in such an unconventional situation. It is in this increasingly unquiet crisscross whereby Ellis invites subtle comparison and wonder of modern America with China, and their approach to common problems no one wants to acknowledge. Really though, it concentrates on the idea of the human need for self-direction, and the chilling deliberation of whether the heart is more than mere mechanism.

review – the filth

filthSo I’ve finished Grant Morrison’s The Filth. This work, I think, has been one of the most profoundly, mentally dissociative though unique reading experiences I’ve ever digested. Note that this is not an easy book to read or even finish, despite being a limited run comic. Nothing is easy about it. Not main character Greg Feely aka Ned Slade and his ubiquitous employer The Hand. Nothing is easy about the disturbingly sex-infused settings and the sticky, meaty bio-tech permeating throughout each issue. Even the story, if there really is one, is difficult to follow. Is it about an escape from paranoia, pornography, or just the need for a balance of justice to depravity in society? If you want it easy, just call it gonzo sci-fi and wash your hands. But sorry, it still ain’t that easy.

Now whether the inspired reader can figure any of all these elements out, a tip of the hat will be gladly offered. I suppose though, that the whole point of all this as I see it, is that it’s all relative to nothing. The massive fragmentation, of bizarre storylines, the grimy human/superhero/secret agency trinity, the shock of life’s absurdities and its depravity, and the need for depravity and to feel clean from so much filth is constant. This fragmentation and duality hence, is THE constant. That the reader doesn’t have a definitive clue about Slade’s true identify or even the work’s finale is the point. Life is abrupt, aggressive, violent, absurd. It goes on and we react.  Sometimes in bright suits with bizarre wigs in automobiles looking like biogenic garbage trucks.

PS – I liked it.

review – the complete indigo prime

indigo primeNebulous, a good description for this compilation of the peculiar 2000 AD series. Although I really enjoy the concept of indigo prime, a murky agency composed of eccentric, temporal meta-fixer types repairing the disturbances in space-time, I think I came away with more bafflement than when I started.

Akin to elements found within Alan Moore’s Future Shocks and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman universe, The Complete Indigo Prime is a collection of serialized shorts from a psychedelic SciFi perspective. If anything, the set details perhaps just how fickle our interpretation of a multiverse is or can be. Eccentric characters floating amid cloudy, kaleidoscopic backdrops stitching events and people back into their proper order is as advertised; perhaps, though, the point of the collection is to emphasize that reality is never so properly sutured, even when left under the care of such unseen professionals.

The cast created by John Smith is enigmatically charged, and the art visualized by Chris Weston and Mike Hadley are equally intriguing. Strange characters obliviously drift in and out of the stories, either directing plotted traffic or playing a more direct role. Fish eyed portrayals of gaping, intestine-laden, multi-mawed hells and planetary nebulae, often bursting ubiquitously from cloudy tendrils of the space-time continuum is par for the course as far the general aesthetic is concerned. Which is actually great, providing a slight but constant feeling of nausea rolling throughout the book, likely a necessary component when contemplating an unbounded set of universes ever folding upon themselves.

It’s too bad, however, that this compilation is too short to get a good feel not only for characterization. The beginning exposition of Fervent and Lobe’s story, combined with their partnership with Almaranda is simply too disjointed from the most accessible “Indigo Prime” tale appearing second to this, and especially those involving Winwood and Cord. The others, particularly Basalt and Foundation, Fegredo and Brecht, lack a more complete introduction required for newcomers to the series.

All of this might just come down to a strange collection of, well, strangeness for those uninitiated (like myself) to Indigo Prime. But it’s good fun nevertheless. If anything, the mystery stemming from fragmented pacing and ineluctable characters in this volume might just be answered in the just published anthropocalypse edition. Not a bad read.

review – mean machine (real mean)

meanThis is one curious graphic novel. Perhaps a compilation of the essential stories detailing the everyman-turned-headbutting-mechanical maniac, Real Mean is a typical 2000 AD Mega-City excursion into one of the more obscure though perhaps genuine characters in the Dredd-verse. And if anything, this book is all about character development…or not. It’s hard not to choose the correct option (presented in You Are the Mean Machine) that involves some variation of the sound effect “BOK” and a good amount of head flinging based on Mean’s thought procession. Nay, this could be a higher meditation on the plight of the underprivileged common man of the science-wrought future, his metaphorical chains being only his anger unraveling within. But probably not; Mean Machine is an antithesis of Dredd, with poor grammar.

 It’s not as if Mean’s demeanor is wishing-well deep, for he is not a ponderous creature. When asked a question or faced with an unfamiliar situation his typical fallback response is either the ominous “izzat so?” or the click of his forehead dial “straight to 4″, set to vicious. It matters not, as both lead to his signature head-butt, preferably “down to a greasy spot” if given the opportunity. And don’t let his overcompensating mechanical claw (apart from his missing, nubby left limb) distract you; his head plate is the thing, and his aim is true.

And that’s basically it. Nothing other than mayhem accompanies him, whether his fault or not. Ever pursued by the judges, Mean propels through the pages in all locales both temporal and physical. In the ubiquitous back alley, stolen and bullet-riddled transport vehicle (windowless, of course) or even the odd time machine, to impersonating nuns in the local hospital’s surgery unit, Mean is nothing more than a whirlwind of gristled nastiness best avoided on its blind trajectory elsewhere. Whether exacting revenge, fatherly frustration, even the bliss of unexpected matrimony or just a good “buttin”, readers are given significant pause of his weird state of samadhi.

What makes this compilation intriguing is the detailed art accompanying the sparse, often breakneck pacing inevitably ending in loose teeth and oozy puddles. Apart from the longer, more colorful entries scripted by John Wagner and drawn by Richard Dolan, the ones written by Gordon Rennie, especially The Geek, are just as (if not more) brilliant. One part dumb bludgery, another comic satire, and a third tragic noir, Real Mean makes a bizarre and provoking (thoughtfully or otherwise) reading experience indeed.

review – the ballad of halo jones

halo-jonesYes, the writing’s distinctly crafty as only Moore can pen, but the pacing and thematic development of The Ballad of Halo Jones is really a treasure, a clinic for aspiring writers needing a lesson in concise simplicity. Along with his Future Shocks, this is likely one of the works I imagine Alan Moore knew from the get-go that he had the goods to become his future current self.

It’s impressive to read how these seemingly disparate installments appearing in various 2000AD progs are feathered together to form this bittersweet ballad. Indeed, as this collection is universally hailed as classic space opera, the slow momentum from which it begins seems anything but.  It starts with an all too common motif, the boredom and need for wanderlust in and for a distant future when even space itself has not only been conquered but hotly contested.  Swiftly though, it changes to something more complicated, as life is wont.

Refreshingly, this is not a superhero story. It’s hard science fiction, cosmically emblazoned within the sharpened panels characteristic of 2000AD’s art and galaxy building. It’s not necessarily speculative on our future (other than our cetacean friends reclaiming Earth upon our folly) but on the human condition, that specifically after another few millennia or so, human nature (the best and worst, of course), still won’t change much. Written with subtle strength from the female vantage, as so many top sci-fi stories have been, Halo Jones is ultimately, believably not super, but heroic nevertheless.

But with all Moore’s clever plotting and the roguish, keen sketching from Ian Gibson, this is the story of no one, or perhaps anyone who at the seductive scent of adventure, is brave enough to claim their own future, accepting the good and not-so-good outcomes with each step.

review – physics of the future

20130331-104943.jpgSo instead of spending hours hunting for the witty words to persuade the reading of this book I’ll just cut to the quick. Michio Kaku does a fine and informed job not only in speculating our technological and cultural future as driven by science, he does so without invoking the predictable dystopian frownies with which science seems in a constant state of handholding. In his Physics of the Future, it’s hard not to marvel at how much easier science will be making our lives, not only now but in just few years to come.

Kaku smartly concentrates his dissection of human scientific endeavor in three stages for the common person in this century: the near future, mid century, and the far future (until 2100). Methodically moving from our reliance upon and discarding of the now obsolete desktop/laptop computer to our eventual mastery of artificial intelligence and robotic fabrication, microchipping and nanotechnology, to the unlocking of unlimited new energy sources, Kaku plainly (though with plenty of detail) sings the silent tsunami of our scientific evolution, providing unlimited possibilities of our survival and potential.

Of particular interest and importance is his foreshadowing of our fulfillment of Moore’s Law, predicting the eventual scrapheap of the modern computer as we know it, in favor of the exponential micro-advances already in development today, such as smart lensing and the microchipping of nearly everything we will use to augment and enhance our sense of reality. In our quest to make everything convenient, our robots will aid in every aspect of our lives, whether fully integrated within our bodies or swarming interstellar space as nano-probes, searching for and designing our future modes of habitability. Our current, feeble attempts at harnessing green energy will eventually lead to better and smaller fusion reactors even magnetic transportation, promising the ability to fly and hover at will.

Alas, all is not rosy within our microchipped HUD lenses. Humanity will inevitably be confronted with hard decisions and sacrifice in paving this future. In addition to the obvious implications of our advances in medicine, the issues of human evolution and robotics resound heavily in his book. Is it inevitable that humans will integrate themselves, even their consciousness, into more mechanical beings? Will there be singularity of consciousness in which our machines think better than we do, rather than just compute? Is this a natural evolution for us?

Whatever the answer, Kaku can’t be blamed for continually disclaiming that the future is indeed in our hands, and that we have the ability to prevent all sorts of silly Skynet scenarios from becoming reality. The real tragedy Kaku hints, is within our own limitations, our fears and dependence upon archaic governance structures that preserve and protect their own interests rather than those they purportedly represent. Despite our ever-exponentially advancing scientific and technological progress, Kaku states, Humanity will continually grasp toward the stars while still having their feet firmly planted in the mud. Whether that is a good thing is yet to be determined, but it too, is reality. If anything, reading the final chapter “a day in the life in 2100″ offers an excellent summary of the beautifully chaotic control we may very soon possess. Physics of the Future is an excellent speculation of science-fact, nicely serving as reference upon the futurist’s and inquisitive’s bookshelf.

review – northlanders: blood in the snow

Here is where the series hits its stride. Apart from the ubiquitous (though artfully jarring) head lopping and disembowelments of the past volumes, this third tome of Brian Wood‘s Northlanders tales is an aurora of hardship, themed with the heavy cost of survival among those fighting for their place in the northern desolation of long ago.

In this ongoing meditation of Norse ethos in its rapidly evolving culture, Wood deliberates upon the idea of survival. Whether choosing life based upon the reliance and strength of the old gods or two champions’ quick-witted and closed-in strategy in a duel, or the tenuous safety of a broken fortress against an outnumbering onslaught, to the sacrifice of family for reputation, Wood focuses not as much on Norse savagery but on the fortitude to avoid being swallowed by it. There are very few heroes in these stories, leaving the reader to come away with a sense that in this day and age, familial survival was glory enough.

All four stories in this volume are brilliantly complemented with cohesively flawless art from numerous contributors. The writing is sparse, set against the stoic, ever-present eeriness of the northern lights, glowing upon and enhancing the madness emanating beneath the iron of the warriors’ blades and armor. Two stories are prominent in terms of their gripping starkness, the first being The Viking Art of Single Combat. Never have I read a more absorbing fusion of text and sketching, terse with violent paneling though coupled with a softened, detached narration about two Berserkers vying for their respective lords’ perennial, bloody and ultimately trivial skirmishes.

The Shield Maidens is the second standout. In an attempt to renounce the proverb “fate is relentless”, three Danish women combine wits in an abandoned castle to resist a pillaging Saxon horde, with only the tide providing temporary refuge. It’s an excellent story underscoring the subtle strength of the female experience in Norse society. Daniel Zezelj’s artwork is especially gorgeous, his rigid lines permeated by swaths of blunt color, a blending of sky and sea in the season where the sun never completely sets.

This third volume of Northlanders is a disturbingly brilliant compilation of the old Norse experience. Its strength rests in deft storytelling of the other members of this society apart from the storied warriors. Chillingly (in every sense) it highlights the difficulty of life in this age, how victory was attained not always in battle, but also in its clever sidestepping. An excellent installment in this harrowing series.

quasi review – igor: occult detective

Don’t normally review single issues of comics but I haven’t updated El Blogorino in ages and this might just be worth it. So, being the season for diving into comics, namely that period where going outside is not typically worth the increasing limbic numbing, and finding myself with nothing doing I happened upon 215Ink‘s first issue (free by the way, via their app) of  Igor: Occult Detective, a new release from writer Kyle J. Kaczmarczyk and artist H. Crawford.

I was snared instantly. Dark and smoky in ambiance, it’s a fine aspiration of the 1923 NYC (it works, don’t question it) cobblestone and the accompanying shades of a dimming late October evening. There’s good texture to the art…swaths of shadows blending into tinted greens, blues and yellows sickly illuminating an ominous air of mystery and old-timey soot and grime.

As established as the atmosphere and sketching may be, the story and characters, while not underdeveloped, definitely show potential. Apart from the series namesake, Mr. Frank is a pleasant standout, humorously demure while providing the investigative muscle of the operation. Igor, handling the business side, is predictably crotchety and aloof. Again, room to grow from such a brief initial peep.

In sum, this maiden offering of Igor is a droll glimpse into what could be a creepily catchy and adventurous romp somewhere nestled among Skullkickers or Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse fame. Definitely a new comic to watch.

review – king city

I never thought I would be comparing Brandon Graham’s King City to Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan, but alas, I feel the similarities are sound. Each are set in a future within an arguably pulsing beast of city, filled to the gills with an impunity of common alien interaction and even baser though humdrum human depravity. Places where the expectation is that the graffiti outnumbers the tabula rasa by magnitudes.

Where Transmet excels in propelling humanity’s collective neuroses in a bubbling, angst and drug-fueled supernova against our impending future failures of corruption and over-consumption, Graham shrugs, writing a softer, more rounded-edged comic. King City is quite a finely balanced, smoothened world-building of urban locale and inhabitants over the importance of story itself (as Graham will honestly explain). At first glance it’s a future candyland of youthful crime syndicates, secret sasquatches, and homages to Street Fighter and Dumb Donald of Fat Albert lore. But what’s more interesting is the subtle social commentary: Graham introduces a future that belongs solely to youth; where at least in this city, no one above age forty is to be found anywhere. Where technology is based more on moving organic parts, not necessarily gears. A city where the economy is based on the exchange of goods and information between a myriad of local weirdo coteries.

Perhaps Graham’s work is an echo of the gen-x slacker ethos represented through no better avatar than the cat. Joe is his main protagonist, Catmaster extraordinaire, just a regular guy though always within arm-length of his bucket of cat-in-waiting death vortex. When not casually “paint bawlin” or couch-slouching with friend Pete observing the latest ninja swarm, the duo is performing their next score for an unknown employer, paw-picking locks, or slinking through every inch of King City unseen.  Yes bad dudes are afoot (the menacing Eye Focus cadre is well depicted), but Graham’s preponderance upon the cat is a fascinating juxtaposition against a future feline domination of say of Paolo Bacigalupi.  Not necessarily gods, but furry receptacles of menace and utilitarian potential, cats symbolize for Graham a yin-yang of slack-action, “slacktion” if you will, a perfect balance of pacific naptime and frenzied claws to the face. Wielded in the right hands, the cat-and-master hybrid is a fascinating conception of domestication redefined.

In addition to Graham’s compulsion to deftly drop pop-culture wordplay (pun times, man) in nearly every panel, King City is a setting where Joe (and even Pete – whose side-quest is just as noble) can choose sit out the current apocalypse to lend a hand to help a friend. There will always be another one to fight, as Graham places heavy emphasis on small acts of decency that are too easy to dismiss amid a festering saucepan of urban future-crazy.  This compiled edition is excellent as it contains bonus stories and supplemental material as Graham provides needed background on his Catmaster history (Mudd is an intriguing and too underwritten character in my opinion), as well as stellar guest contributions.  Amid a gonzo future-culture critique, King City is a surprisingly insightful and deep comic collection.