Review: Robot 13, Vol. 1: Colossus!

Robot 13, Vol. 1 : Colossus!Robot 13, Vol. 1 : Colossus! by Thomas Hall (author) and Daniel Bradford (Illustrator)
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Robot 13 is an adaption and extension of the legend of Talos, the mythological protector of Crete. In the opening pages Robot 13 has been pulled from the sea in a fishing net, with no memory of himself or his past. He is also innately capable of speaking the language of each of the people he meets. Essentially he is interchangeable with Jason Bourne from the film series. As is the nature with epic heroes of Greek Mythology, his mere presence seems to call forth powerful mythological creatures to challenge him. Him must fight them in succession, leaving a wake of destruction and casualties.

The design of the character Robot 13/Talos is whimsical, kinetic and absolutely infused with personality and energy. Daniel Bradford poses Robot 13 in alternately subtle and heroic postures. He is the best part of every scene and your eye is drawn through color and composition to his face. The textured backgrounds and nearly paper cut-out treatment of the sun and moon have a beautiful graphic style which is very complimentary to the Robot 13’s character portrayal. The human characters are inconsistent and often unpleasant, and most unfortunately the mythical creatures are overly crude and disappointing. The blocking of the scenes feels off and releases a lot of the energy and emotion.

Thomas Hall’s writing is very stilted and awkward, although as a translated work it is difficult to tell where the fault lies. The dialogue balloons are digitally placed and feel disconnected from the art in style and composition. The text and background colors are matched to the characters which is a nice touch, but difficult to read for the cyclops. Although the writing does not hold up to the artwork it is more of a distraction than a detraction, and the book is still worth recommending based on strong concept and character work.

I backed the project on Kickstarter and it can be purchased through Blacklist Studios‘s website.

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Reviews: The Bigger Bang

The Bigger BangThe Bigger Bang by D.J. Kirkbride and Vassilis Gogtzilas

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Bigger Bang is as absurd as its title, but also endearing. The protagonist is a man named Cosmos. Forged in a singularity from what had been our solar system.

…It’s a shame about all good things.
The end came without suffering at least. Just a flash and then…
…over.

Well…
…over for life on Earth. Over for life in the pocket of the multiverse the Earthlings had barely begun to perceive. So, while Earth and it’s inhabitants were created in The Big Bang…

…a being named Cosmos was created in…
The Bigger Bang.

His impossibly proportioned bulk soars through the vacuum of space. To atone for the tremendous cost of his creation he protects all living things throughout the universe. His primary ability is to absorb energy. The first action we witness is his diffusing of a mega-volcano encompassing one-eighth of an planet. Despite his heroism he is feared. Across the universe he is misunderstood. To others he is known as The Destroyer.

King Thulu (who is a combination of Cthulhu, Thanos, and Zapp Brannigan) rules many galaxies through violence and fear. He is ever attended by his faithful assistant (essentially Kif Kroker), and his will is enforced by Captain Wyan (basically a three-eyed version of Gamora). Captain Wyan has known nothing of compassion until she is sent to kill Cosmos and sees his kindness towards all creatures (then promptly destroys the planet he just saved, because orders are orders).

D.J. Kirkbride’s story follows all the familiar beats you would expect, but is peppered with silliness and comic timing. No one describes the “taste and mouth feel” of exotic fruits unless they are in on the joke. This bizarre satire is paired with some of the loosest surreal artwork I have seen in a comic. Vassilis Gogtzilas’ fascination with tentacles rivals Ben Templesmiths’ The Squidder, but also has frames where rows of eyes and teeth just repeat off into the distance. Its whimsical and disturbing. The style lends to very kinetic tableaus peppered with dirty particle effects, and scribbled shading, but it grew on me. There is a sweetness in the insanity. In each vignette Gogtzilas manages to incorporate a self-aware character who responds with a clarity and surprise which pierces through the chaos.

I received access to a digital copy of The Bigger Bang from NetGalley. The collected trade paperback will be released by IDW Publishing on Tuesday, May 26th, 2015.

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Review: The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the JinniThe Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A good fairytale should breathe magic into a familiar place. It should be a little dark and scary, and it should have a lesson or at least a reflection of who we are and who we could be. This is a great fairytale. Set in New York City in 1899, The Golem and the Jinni is an immigrant story of two neighborhoods – one Jewish, one Syrian, and their cultures, community and mysticism.

Ahmad is a thousand-year-old jinni. Born to be shapeless and free – he is bound to human form and chafes at his restricted life as a Syrian tinsmith. Chava is a newly created golem. Made to serve, Chava finds herself without a master and overwhelmed. There is a wonderful counterpoint at play between the two. They clash in almost every impulse, but are united in their loneliness and the weight of the secrets they must keep about their natures. The primary themes of free-will and destiny are revealed in complex layers and reflect through the relationships they have formed.

Beyond the fairytale aspects, it is just wondrous to see New York through their unique perspectives. The immigrant experience is thoughtfully illustrated and breathes more life into the struggles and joys than most historical fictions. Helene Wecker’s incorporation of mysticism does more than just provide the fantastical elements, it grounds the cultures in tradition. The Golem and the Jinni is an excellent book and highly recommended.

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Review: The Case of the Stalking Shadow

Weird Detectives: Recent InvestigationsThe Case of the Stalking Shadow by Joe R. Lansdale

My Rating 3 of 5 stars

Writers of paranormal fiction have a tendency to distance the narrator from the story going all the way back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In Joe R. Lansdale’s short story our narrator recounts a tale he heard long ago from Detective Dana Roberts telling of her very first case spanning twenty years of her life and already a distant memory at its telling – a memory, of a story, of a memory, of a memory. It’s a convenient device to introduce a pre-packaged story without establishing context but lessens the drama. We know she will be fine, and most likely her cousin will be fine, because she is sharing this anecdote at a club in front of strangers.

The mystery itself recalls native folklore, and the dangers that lay in the ancient forests of the American deep south. Dana Roberts, as a young girl, spent her summers on her aunt’s homestead. She and her cousins would play games in the house and on the grounds, but she encountered something unnerving in those woods as a child which plagued her into adulthood. She and her closest cousin, the only one who shares her dread, return to investigate the woods to confront or dispel shadowy figure which haunts them still.

This story works best in the woods. Both through the encounter as a child and again as an adult, Lansdale is able to let the dread creep in. The quite anticipation and breathless flights feel authentic and familiar. The action works pretty well too, but there is a gimmick to the confrontation which simultaneously is too convenient but also not exploited to its fullest once introduced. I don’t think the layers and frames to the story are necessary. One concept underlined several times in the primary frame is that Detective Dana Roberts does not believe in magic or superstition, instead looking for scientific explanations. I think this could have been explored further or reinforced in the investigation. It is an intruiging inclusion to have the detective not only a skeptic, but a scientific meta-physician, only to leave that avenue unexplored.

The Case of the Stalking Shadow is included in the anthology Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.

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Review: Rust, Volume 1

Rust Vol. 1: Visitor in the FieldRust Vol. 1: Visitor in the Field by Royden Lepp
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rust is a dieselpunk graphic novel which is a little bit Iron Man and a bit Astro Boy. During The Great War allied forces created mechanical soldiers and aerialists with rocket packs. They won the war and a generation later the machines are slaves used for farming and industrial tasks. In the first volume of Rust we are introduced to Roman Taylor, a wheat farmer struggling to provide for his family. He is repairing an old mechanical soldier to help around the farm when a boy with a rock pack, Jet Jones, crashes through his barn. Jet is vary helpful around the farm, but also quite mysterious.

The Goodreads synopsis describes Rust as a “high-octane adventure”, but despite the clever pun alluding to the dieselpunk theme, the story is really more contemplative. Simultaneously telling the story of the war and the struggles on the farm most panels are devoid of dialogue and action. I do think the characters are likable with some depth worth exploring. The mystery aspect has some promise, while the immediate storyline with Jet seems pretty straight forward, the overall history of the war and man’s relationship with the mechanical men is intriguing.

The character art is somewhat inconsistent, but has some very strong panels. The mechanical drawing is excellent. Each of the mechanical men are beautiful and menacing and the motorcycles, tractors, and trees are artfully rendered. The coloration is sepia-tone with very nice smoke, clouds and motion blurs which adds great depth and energy to the story. The volume I have is hard-bound with a cloth-wrapped, embossed cover with foil and printed inlays. The paper and print quality are both excellent. Archaia has published a high quality product for a promising story.

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Review: Phonogram, Volume 1: Rue Britannia

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Phonogram, Volume 1: Rue Britannia
Phonogram, Volume 1: Rue Britannia by Kieron Gillen

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I almost didn’t finish this book. It’s not that there aren’t interesting exchanges, unexpected turns and imaginative presentation. It’s because the story is slathered in pretentious, obnoxious, absurd, smug drivel. I didn’t want to hang out with these people long enough to figure out how their world worked and their place in it… and its not a long book. As others mention you do need an encyclopedic knowledge of some pretty terrible bands, but that doesn’t necessarily bother me. If this was likable, clever and charming I would have enjoyed looking up all the bands and considered it a bonus. If Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life had buried itself in real Canadian post-punk (or whatever Sex Bob-Omb is) it still would have been brilliant and engaging. This isn’t.

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Review: Hero of the Five Points

Hero of the Five PointsHero of the Five Points by Alan Gratz

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, and they are correct. The illustration (click the link to see the whole image) by Rednose Studio is amazing and absolutely made me want to read this story, but this short story is a mess.

Hero of the Five Points is set in New Rome (alternate New York) in the Five Points region of Mannahatta (Manhattan) with a culture and political climate identical to Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. In this universe the Americas had at some point been under the control of the Romans and their ruins establish the foundation of the cities in a way similar to what you might find Europe. However Europe and the Americas no longer have communication or trade and the First Nations have a more established cultural foothold in this version of the United Nations of America. With characters lifted roughly from the film, our protagonist, Dalton Dent infiltrates the Dead Rabbits lead by Kit Burns, who is a more thuggish Bill the Butcher, and aided by the also undercover Hellcat Maggie.

The forward tells us it is 1853, which is peculiar. In this story Thomas Edison is an old and prosperous man, which of course he would only be 6 years old in our timeline. Lektricity (ahem, electricity) has come and gone with the science of the day taking a steampunk flare featuring dirigibles, steam power (including steam-powered robots with AI), but not ballistics, instead featuring ray guns. The timeline and logic is a mess. Also in the forward it tells us this short story is from the world of the League of Seven series for middle grade readers, but even pre-teens can do a simple to search to figure out when Edison was born. Integrating actual historical places and figures then not establishing a cursory understanding of their actual characteristics reflects the laziness of the writing in general. There is a lot of wild fantastical world building which must be explored in League of Seven because it is simply distracting here.

You can find this and many more short stories for free on Tor.com.

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Review: Daughter of Necessity

Daughter of NecessityDaughter of Necessity by Marie Brennan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoy alternate point of view stories, or to clarify, a familiar or famous story told from someone other than the original protagonist’s perspective. Wicked by Gregory Maquire is a classic example. I imagine stories like these start as an academic challenge or writing prompt, but to be successful it takes more than cleverness to interweave a seamless story with well known waypoints and motivations. These types of stories (and indeed all fan fiction) are wonderful experiments of empathy.

Penelope, Queen of Ithaca, who has ruled for twenty years in Odysseus’s absence waiting for him to return from the Trojan War. While his exploits are famously chronicled in The Odyssey, her trials and cleverness are only footnotes. One of the strategies she employs to hold off her 108 suitors is to weave the burial shroud of her father-in-law Laertes. She claims she will select a new husband (and King of Ithaca) from the waiting suitors upon completion of the shroud, however each night she unravels her work to delay for Odysseus’s return. We learn all of this in the Odyssey.

In Daughter of Necessity Marie Brennan brings us into the heart and mind of Penelope. You sense the weight of her responsibilities to Ithaca, her son Telemachus, and her husband. Each night as she finishes the shroud and she contemplates union with each suitor she can imagine the chaos and disorder from each selection. She can read all the potential outcomes in the warp and weft of her cloth as she weaves, then unmakes, the shroud. This is beautiful and clever work. Rich with reference to the source material and rightly honors the sacrifices of Penelope who held the throne against all opposition during Odysseys’s lengthy voyage.

You can find this and many more short stories for free on Tor.com.

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Review: Elantris

Elantris (Elantris, #1)Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am surprised I didn’t like this more given how much I enjoyed The Emperor’s Soul which is a novella from the same universe. I have generally enjoyed Sanderson’s worldbuilding, magical systems and writing immensely, but here the text felt as half-realized and lacking essential energy as the cursed Elantrians in the story.

The story works best when Raoden, the prince of Arelon, is discovering the history of Elantris while trying to survive within its current gang-filled ruins. His energy and cleverness fuel those chapters. The challenges Raoden faces and change he is able to effect on the city and its hopeless residents is well-paced and engaging. During this period Sarene, princess of the neighboring kingdom of Teod, is at her most interesting as well as she is fighting a political battle on three fronts with Raoden increasingly at the center of her attention and plots.

When the story turns back to the economic, political and religious battlefronts and the broken and unintuitive magical system it all mires down. Characters retreat to archetypes, obvious manipulators betray, and the morally weak corrupt. It all goes pretty much as expected, which isn’t to say that it is a bad book, or even that I didn’t enjoy reading it. I just expected more because Brandon Sanderson so often is exceptional.

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