RANT: Dave's Capsules for December 2011

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Dave Van Domelen

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Dec 24, 2011, 6:07:56 PM12/24/11
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Dave's Unspoilt Capsules and Awards
Intermittent Picks and Pans, plus Awards of Dubious Merit

Standard Disclaimers: Please set appropriate followups. Recommendation does
not factor in price. Not all books will have arrived in your area this week.
An archive can be found on my homepage, http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/Rants
Merry Optimas! He died repeatedly for our entertainment....

Items of Note (strongly recommended or otherwise worthy): Nothing this
time.


"Other Media" Capsules:

Things that are comics-related but not necessarily comics (i.e.
comics-based movies like Iron Man or Hulk), or that aren't going to be
available via comic shops (like comic pack-ins with DVDs) will go in this
section when I have any to mention. They may not be as timely as comic
reviews, especially if I decide to review novels that take me a week or two
(or ten) to get around to.

The Adventures of Tintin: Nickelodeon Films - I've tried the comics a
few times, because they're Important Works, but they've never really grabbed
me. With the movie getting so much praise, though, I figured I'd give it a
shot. On a purely technical level, it was quite good. Once you get used to
the way Herge's stylized art has been made 3D, it all flows quite well, and
the uncanny valley is neatly avoided. But unless you're already a Tintin
fan, I doubt you'll be singing this movie's praises...I certainly won't. The
running gags pretty consistently annoyed me, and jokes that were probably old
when Herge first wrote the comic haven't improved with age. I do salute them
for not wimping out...the various ethnic stereotypes of the original may have
been softened, but they weren't removed. Oh, and I saw it in 2D, there
weren't too many scenes that were obviously playing to the 3D. Nice looking,
but that's about it unless you're already a fan. And if you're already a
fan, you've probably already seen the movie.


Digital Content:

Unless I find a really compelling reason to do so, I won't be turning
this into a webcomic review column. Rather, stuff in this section will be
full books available for reading online or for download, usually for pay. I
will often be reading these things on my iPod if it's at all possible.

Comic Book Comics #6 (of 6): Evil Twin Comics - In theory, I did order
the hardcopy of this from my old store back in my final few months, but given
how Diamond screwed up the second half of November for them, I'm not betting
on them getting any copies. The ComiXology panel-by-panel method works okay
here, although Dunleavy really likes to mess around with the canvas and I
found myself tilting the iPod back and forth to get the best aspect ratio
several times per page.
While the cover is a Back to the Future parody with the copy "Comics to
the Future," only the last quarter is about where comics may be going, if
that. The history of graphic novels and the emergence of manga (dominated by
a biography of Osamu) are the bulk of this issue. Then they cover the rise
(and fall and rise and fall and...) of the Direct Market, and how it rescued
comics from the slow decline of newsstand distribution at the cost of
introducing cycles of speculator boom and bust. The very end of the issue
comes down pretty firmly on the side of "piracy will destroy the comics
industry as we know it" and offers very brief possibilities for where things
might actually go as "comics to the future". IMO, not enough blame is laid
at the feet of the big players for dragging their feet and making halfassed
toe-dips into digital distribution while expecting everything else to remain
the same as it ever was. Van Lente is right in that the "penny business"
market for physical comics is not going to last long, but trying to preserve
that and make digital an add-on has consistently not worked. It's going to
have to be a digital instead of hardcopy, with hardcopy perhaps reserved for
collectible collections a la Masterworks.
Recommended. 99 cents on ComiXology, day and date of hardcopy release.
So either Evil Twin is a better negotiator than DC, or Diamond didn't care
about small fry undercutting shelf price.

Eldritch #4: HeartShapedSkull.com - Anya, previously the main character,
doesn't even appear on-panel this issue. And her brother only has a few
pages. This issue focuses on the father of the hellbeastchild as his deep
DEEP denial is hammered upon from all directions. Few things capture the
existential horror his situation like his wife longing for the good old days
of the trailer park (and apparently one of the skeevier trailer parks, to
boot). Good mood piece, and it even advances the plot. Recommended. 99
cents.

DreamQuest Shorts: Mock Man Press - Lo these many moons ago I got a four
issue miniseries adapting the Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, and it was
good. Somewhat fewer moons ago, that comic was adapted into a motion comic
movie, and it too was good. Now, taking advantage of the Kickstarter system,
creator Jason Thompson has set up a nifty hardback collected edition of the
original miniseries, plus extras. (It was MASSIVELY over-funded, one person
even pledged at the $3000 level, so it's a much niftier final product than
was announced back when I pledged at the "get a copy of the book" level.)
Anyway, one of those extra add-ons is a trio of short pieces newly done
for the collection, adapting shorter Lovecraft stories that were also in the
dreaming vein: "The White Ship", "Celephais" and "The Strange High House in
the Mist." Those of us who contributed at the get-stuff levels got an
advance PDF of these three stories, which together are about the length of a
standard comic. While viewing as PDFs does rob them of some of the impact of
the art (even on my desktop, getting them to the resolution where I can
easily read the text makes them larger than my screen can hold), I was able
to follow the stories reasonably well on my iPod (iPseudopod?).
Obviously, this isn't something currently available for separate
purchase, although Mock Man may eventually sell the PDF of this set on its
own. But it augurs well for the eventual collection. Recommended.

Atomic Robo being 99 cents the week of release last month was apparently
a fluke, it's back to $2.99 and I'm back to waiting for the price drop. :)


Trades:

Trade paperbacks, collections, graphic novels, pocket manga, whatever.
If it's bigger than a "floppy" it goes here.

The Adventures of Mr. Tompkins #1: Big Bang Productions - This is a
companion to some online videos at theadventuresofmrtompkins.com, a trade
collection of three comic-length stories in full color. Igor Gamow, son of
original Mr. Tompkins author George Gamow, is credited as writer, with
Scorpio Steele on art. I'm pretty sure Steele deserves some writing credit
as well, for adapting it to comics format. The premise is that this is an
update of the original stories, with Tompkins being a modern-day banker (with
a number of archaic affectations). The three stories in this volume involve
Einstein explaining spacetime curvature, Rutherford explaining the atom, and
Curie explaining radiation.
Steele's base style reminds me of Darick Robinson, but he aggressively
shifts all over the map, from faux-Victorian to Kirby homage to photorealism,
with several pop-art stops along the way. It feels like he's trying to go
all League of Extraordinary Gentlemen here. Artistically it's interesting,
but the storytelling gets a bit muddled.
On a purely educational level, I'm afraid I can't recommend this. Not
only does it have several scientific mistakes (i.e. saying that the negative
charge of the electrons holds a nucleus together), but Steele's art style
runs smack into a problem we're discussing on the Physics Education Research
mailing list: distraction. Eric Mazur of Harvard, among others, has done a
study showing that the more distractions, the more options a text has, the
less likely it is someone will learn anything from it. And while Steele's
style is entertaining for someone who already knows the science, I expect it
only muddies the waters for a hypothetical modern-day Tompkins attempting to
learn from these comics.
Mildly recommended, mostly for the artistic side. $24.95 cover price,
$18.58 at Amazon.

The Manga Guide to Relativity: Ohmsha/No Starch Press - This is part of
a series of manga guides, and it came to my attention at work. Every few
months, the library sends a stack of cards around to relevant faculty
(i.e. astronomy and physics titles to the physics department) to get our
input on what they should spend their new book budget on. Since I'd like to
have a decent but inexpensive relativity text the next time I teach
Einstein's Universe, I decided to buy a copy for myself at Amazon.
If you're already familiar with the tropes of Japanese school manga,
this is a pretty good guide to the concepts of relativity. The manga part is
a mix of historical recounting and walk-throughs of gedankenexperiments.
Between the chapters are more traditional textbooky sections, which actually
fits in well with some of that education research mentioned earlier.
Textbooks seem to be most effective if they follow exploration, and thought
experiments are about as good as you can get for relativity on a budget.
However, if you're not already familiar with the schoolmanga tropes, I'm
afraid the framing story will be more confusing than the science. If I tried
using this in a classroom, I'd spent more time explaining the headmaster than
I would explaining Lorentz contraction. Recommended for manga fans
interested in science, not recommended as a textbook. $19.95 cover price,
$10.88 at Amazon.


Floppies:

If I actually pick up some monthly issues, they'll go here. Given my
reluctance to put money in Diamond's hands, though, these would likely only
be review copies or stuff found in oddball places. And no, I don't have any
particular disdain for the monthlies, but they *are* floppy, yes? And like
floppy disks they may be a doomed format.

Transformers Timelines #6: FanPro - This is the "Diamond Edition,"
meaning that it's theoretically possible your store could order it from
Diamond and actually get copies. I got mine direct from the Transformers
Collectors' Club after reading a pirate copy of the BotCon edition and
deciding it was good enough to tip me over the edge on the decision to join
the TFCC. (Well, rejoin, strictly speaking.)
The main story, "The Stunti-Con Job," is a police story set after the
end of Transformers Animated, with Sideswipe (a cop nearing retirement, in
G2-inspired colors) trying to figure out what was up with a group of actors
playing the roles of Decepticons. For a story that needed to introduce all
of the 2011 convention toys, it's not too shabby, and it's paced pretty well
for something that could have been made into an episode (when TV writers do
comics, it doesn't always come out very well, so the fact that the TFA
writers did this story didn't guarantee it'd be any good).
There's plenty of bonus content, from little things like a Shortpacked
strip, a two-page prequel to the main story, or the BotCon coverage (which
takes a lot of pages, but I still consider it "little") to the reason I
decided I wanted the hardcopy: an AllSpark Almanac addendum. There's
AA-style entries for the nine new characters, episode summaries for the two
stories, and a two page spread on Trypticon Prison and its environs. The
Prison spread also has short entries on six Mini-Cons seen in the background
of the main story.
A bit expensive at $7.95, especially if you have to get it online and
pay shipping on top of that, but otherwise recommended.

Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #20: Marvel - Jeff Parker does a one-shot
story involving the Fantastic Four first meeting Black Panther in the present
day of the loose sorta-continuity of the MAdv books. Unfortunately, Parker
tries to fit too much into a single issue, resulting in the plot
complications being wafer-thin and verging on the Idiot Plot at times. The
Prep & Landing backup in which the elves have to ready Avengers Mansion for
Santa's visit is pretty good, though. Mildly recommended. $2.99

Young Justice #10: DC - Yes, it has a Cartoon Network logo on the cover,
so it ends up in the Kiddie Book section of Hastings (along with Marvel
Adventures books). But Young Justice is part of CN's Friday night adventure
block, which includes a lot of pretty dark themes, and this issue is darker
than most. The compressed retelling of the first dozen or so issues of
Captain Atom (1986-1988) involves several killings as a conspiracy is rolled
up, and ends with the bad guys winning...a recurring theme in the cartoon, as
every apparent success by the young heroes is revealed to be part of the
master plan of The Light all along (or, at best, costs The Light a minor
asset while their major plans continue to advance). On the character
development side, since Captain Atom isn't getting the business end of an
X-Ionized sword as in the original side, Superboy gets a taste of
vulnerability instead, although Hopps and Weisman don't dwell overmuch on
Superboy's rattled confidence. Recommended. $2.99

Young Justice #11: DC - Okay, so waiting for an Amazon shipment to
arrive meant another issue of this dropped in the meantime. :) Set at the
same time as the Doctor Fate episode of the cartoon, this explains what Robin
was off doing, while bringing in all the essential elements of the Ra's al
Ghul stuff (Talia, Ubu, the Lazarus Pit, the whole Extreme Environmentalist
motivation, etc). Character-wise, it reinforces that Robin is a guy who
loves his job, and shows that the Dark Knight has at least one crack in his
armor of grimness. Oh, and the Artemis subplot gets an ominous tick forward,
although given that the events here regarding that don't seem to have been
reflected in the cartoon, they'll presumably be cleared up next issue.
Recommended. $2.99

Dave Van Domelen, "Why is a dog the Vice Principal around here, anyway?"
- Manga Guide to Relativity
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