Monthly Archives: February 2013

Review: Wildstorm’s “Fringe Vol. I”

Fringe has been one of my absolute favorite shows for years now, and it recently ended. While the ending was everything I would have hoped for, I wanted more. Which is why I picked up this comic when I found it at the library last week. This particular paperback is a collection of Wildstorm’s six-issue miniseries from 2008, simply entitled Fringe Vol. I (***).

Unfortunately, if you aren’t into the show, you won’t find much to appeal to you here. The characters here really rely on your knowledge of the show for their life. The flip side of this is that longtime fans of the TV show will find much that is familiar here.

The first half of the book details the early relationship between Walter Bishop, portrayed brilliantly in the show by John Noble, and William Bell, played on the screen by Leonard Nimoy. In the seventies they share a lab at Harvard and together are able to bend the very laws of the universe out of shape before Bishop is committed and Bell goes on to found the megacorporation Massive Dynamic. Their adventures here are very fun, and occasionally the writers hit their stride and you can hear John Noble deliver the lines on the page. Other times, it falls flat. Unfortunately, I think this was published before we had actually met Bell in the show (He was missing for a long time) and thus knew he was Leonard Nimoy–the Bell in the book doesn’t really look a thing like him.

The second half of the book details several “Fringe events” occuring within the world of Fringe. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see how things turn out either here or on the show–a number of them are just kind of left unresolved, as if they were setting up for an episode of the show that just never happened. The exception is the story Strangers On A Train–that one was really good. There’s a segment involving mind-swapping, a man trying to reclaim his stolen briefcase with unexpected results, a child who kills whatever he touches, an astronaut on an experimental drug, and a reporter who gets more than she bargained for when she begins investigating Massive Dynamic….

Tom Mandrake’s art throughout the book is consistant, if lackluster. Its not bad, its just not particularly outstanding. The writing, on the other hand, is spotty–either its good or its bad. This inconsistancy is understandable, given the fact that its written by a committee. The Bell And Bishop segment is apparently broken up into chapters with different production teams (these breaks are only apparent on the credits page–the chapter breaks aren’t indicated in the book itself). Writers include Zack Whedon on one segment, Julia Cho, Mike Johnson, Alex Katsnelson, Danielle DiSpaltro, Justin Doble, Matthew Pitts, and Kim Cavyan.

Content-wise, I’m going to say PG-13. Some mild language, a couple characters strip to their underwear to enter a sensory-deprivation tank (fans of the show will understand), and there’s a little violence–not much, but a bit bloody when it does occur. There’s a shot of Hitler’s severed head as he is eaten by a tyrannosaur…..

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Review: Bill Willingham’s “Fables,” Set I

Title: Fables
Writer: Bill Willingham
Artists: Various (See individual books on Goodreads for details)
Average Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: DC Comics, 2002-2005

What if all the characters from your beloved fairy tales lived here in our world, in New York City? Welcome to the world of Bill Willingham’s award-winning Vertigo series Fables. This review is for the first five collected volumes, or issues #1-33. (I decided against reviewing each individual volume on here due to spoilers and generally not having enough to say to justify a full-out write up. On the other hand, Willingham doesn’t play nicely with status quo, so my secondary plan to just blanket review the whole series fell through as well. Instead, I’m reviewing what I consider to be longer, mostly-contained story arcs–from one earthshaking change to the next. You can find links to my short reviews of the individual volumes below.)

The premise is simple. Centuries ago* all of the Fables were driven from their lands by The Adversary, winding up in our world. They congregated in the New World, setting up their own community among us where they have been living ever since in relative peace. As a founding principle of their community, all sins commited in the Homeland are forgiven–you start out in Fabletown with a clean slate. No one embodies this fact more than Bigby (Big Bad) Wolf, sheriff of Fabletown and one of the main protagonists of the series. There are others, of course–this is an ensemble book, and you will get stories featuring everyone from Snow White to Flycatcher and everyone in between. Willingham has created something truly awesome here, taking characters we all know, as well as less familiar ones like Bluebeard, and putting a different spin on them. I’ll avoid spoilers, for the most part here. Some memorable characters we are introduced to here include:

-Bigby “Big Bad” Wolf: Sheriff of Fabletown and a werewolf (or more accurately a werehuman, as a wolf is his original form.) In the Homelands he was a feared beast before the Adversary came, at which point he became a severe thorn in the enemy’s side.
-Snow White: Deputy Mayor of Fabletown, first ex-wife of Prince Charming. King Cole, the Mayor, handles the ceremony and gladhanding; Snow handles the dirty business of keeping things running.
-Prince Charming: A serial womanizer and ex-husband of a number of Fable princesses. He has been spending most of his time in Europe, mooching off of the royalty there, but seems to have outstayed his welcome….
-Jack: Rose Red’s feckless boyfriend, always up to one get-rich-quick scheme or another. Former owner of some magic beans, among other claims to fame.
-Bluebeard: The richest man in Fabletown. In the Homelands he had a habit of killing his wives on their wedding night. He can’t be charged for this given the General Amnesty that holds the Fables community together, but everyone can’t help but wonder if he has returned to old habits.
Other characters drop in and out, usually becoming important in later volumes. Beauty and the Beast make an appearance, still together although when Belle gets annoyed with him Beast’s curse will begin to reappear. Little Boy Blue shows up as Snow’s assistant, seemingly young but with a deep-seated tragedy in his past haunting him. Cinderella would seem to be nothing more than a local shop owner, but is in reality one of Fabletown’s most experienced black operatives. Assorted other fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters make up the supporting cast, from goblins to the Three Little Pigs. The tales in these first five volumes run the gamut, from a murder mystery to an attempted revolution, from an invasion to dealing with a Mundy who thinks he’s discovered their secret–the Fables are all vampires! I promise, you’ll have fun with this series. You can see the reviews for the individual collections below, but be forewarned that all but the first will have spoilers for the previous volumes….

Volume I: Fables In Exile (*****)
Volume II: Animal Farm (****)
Volume III: Storybook Love (*****)
Volume IV: March Of The Wooden Soldiers (*****)
Volume V: The Mean Seasons (****)

Content: This is a series from DC’s Vertigo line, intended for adults. Its firmly rated R, though maybe not so much as others from that house such as Preacher or anything written by Alan Moore. R-rated language, not on the level of a Tarantino flick, but assorted uses of the “F-bomb.” There’s not infrequent violence, and sometimes it can be a bit gory or disturbing. Sexual content also sometimes shows up, with occasional nudity. Some magic, but given the fairy tale setting I wouldn’t really describe it as “occult.”

*It would seem that the Fables are functionally immortal, though they can be killed.

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Mini-Reviews: Odd Thomas Manga Prequels

This is a compilation of reviews for the Odd Thomas manga series that serve as prequels to the novels. On the whole, I enjoyed them. There may have been some level where I was just really starved for new material though….It would be a good idea to read the first novel [reviewed here] before getting into these, simply because that’s the introduction for all the characters and by nature of the medium the characters get developed better in the novel.

IN ODD WE TRUST (****)
Written by Queenie Chan and Dean Koontz, Drawn by Queenie Chan

Odd Thomas as a manga? I was skeptical. But its actually good….This series serves as sort of a prequel to the novels, as will be obvious to anyone who has actually read them (the presence of a certain character kinda gives it away….), and if you haven’t I urge you to go out and get a copy of Odd Thomas right now. NOW!

I really enjoyed this, but I think my experience was enhanced by already knowing and loving the characters. While you COULD read this cold, never having read the novels before, I think you would enjoy it that much more if you read at least the first novel before picking this up. Your call though….In the meantime, I’m going out to get the next manga from the library.

ODD IS ON OUR SIDE (****)
Written by Fred Van Lente and Dean Koontz, Drawn by Queenie Chan

This is the second Odd Thomas manga graphic novel in the series. They don’t really build on each other, or at least the first two don’t, so reading In Odd We Trust isn’t really necessary (though it was good as well), but you should definitely read Odd Thomas (the first novel) before entering here. Although this is technically a prequel to that story (as denoted by the presence of characters who die in the first novel), the characters are all introduced and forged in that book better than they can be here by simple nature of the medium.

In this installment, it’s Halloween in Pico Mundo and Odd has a nagging sense of impending catastrophe. It’s just a feeling, nothing more….until he sees one of the fleeting demons he calls bodachs, living shadows that seem to thrive on catastrophe and suffering. A single bodach is bad, but a whole swarm? That heralds destruction on a biblical scale….and unknown to Odd, there are a lot more in town than the one he’s spotted….

HOUSE OF ODD (****)
Written by Landry Q. Walker and Dean Koontz, Drawn by Queenie Chan

Once again, Koontz and his comic compatriots serve up another awesome Odd Thomas manga. As noted before, I think you would enjoy these a lot better if you read at least the first novel before setting in, so as to get a feel for the characters. This one takes a slightly different tack in that its framed as Odd writing down more of his adventures sometime after Odd Hours–its still set before the events of the first novel, but is narrated from further down the timestream.

This time Odd has something new on his hands–a haunted house bought by a friend of Ozzie’s. She can’t keep a crew of workmen for the renovation, so she turns to Odd Thomas and Stormy for help….but decides to call in some professional ghost-hunters as well. The house is completely free from the lingering dead–not even Elvis will enter–but nevertheless something evil is stirring within those walls…..

Content-wise these are pretty PG. The novels are probably more PG-13, but these don’t have any foul language to speak of. Violence exists, given the nature of the series (Odd sees dead people, and tries to help them. This usually means that there was some form of wrongful death involved somewhere…..) but is not graphically rendered–mostly it has happened in the past and all we see is the aftermath. In any case, the line-art manga can only be so graphic…. Sexual content was minimal to none. There may be brief references, inuendos or double-entendres, but I don’t recall them at this point.

THE ODD THOMAS SERIES, BY DEAN KOONTZ
Prequel: You Are Destined To Be Together Forever
Book I: Odd Thomas
Book II: Forever Odd
Book III: Brother Odd
Book IV: Odd Hours
Interlude: Odd Interlude
Book V: Odd Apocalypse
Book VI: Deeply Odd
Book VII: Saint Odd
Manga Prequel Series
Odd Passenger (Non-Canon Webseries)

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Mini-reviews: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, part 1

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld does for Fantasy what Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy did for science fiction–firmly sets a story within a genre, stereotypes intact, then goes to town.  He’s frequently irreverent, and it’s an absolute delight to read. Since this post is a compilation of reviews for the first five books in the series, (see my post on books six through ten here) there are a few spoilers. Mainly, if you care about this (Discworld isn’t really the sort of series where it matters all that much, but far be it from me to spoil a book for someone….) don’t read the review on Sourcery. That particular bit talks about the ending of The Colour Of Magic and The Light Fantastic as it continues the story of one of the characters from the first two books. Other than that you should be okay.

CoverTHE COLOUR OF MAGIC (*****) This is the first book in the series, and therein we follow the failed wizard Rincewind as he acts as the reluctant guide for Twoflower, the Discworld’s first tourist. Taking on everything from Conan to D&D, this is definitely a series to check out if you have any interest in the fantasy genre whatsoever…..or are just in need of a good laugh for any reason whatsoever….

THE LIGHT FANTASTIC (*****) This is the second book in the series, and while you could supposedly stop reading after the first one (in which case the literal cliffhanger ending becomes just another genre-joke), you really shouldn’t read this one unless you’ve read The Colour Of Magic first. We pick up Rincewind and Twoflower where we last left them–falling off the side of the Disc. However, it seems that fate has other plans in store for them, because that single spell lodged in Rincewind’s head has just become very important to those trying to avoid the end of the Discworld…..

EQUAL RITES (****) This third instrallment is only loosely connected to the previous two, in that it features many of the same settings and a few minor characters, but you could easily read it on its own. I’m reading through the series in order because that’s how I’m wired, but you don’t need to.

A wizard is born the eighth son of an eighth son, and such a birth is at hand as a wizard nearing his end travels to the mountain village of Bad Ass to hand over his staff to the newborn lad. Only too late do they realize that he has just ordained the Disc’s first ever female wizard…..

This was good. I preferred the first two DW novels to this one, but I’m seeing in the other reviews that the opposite view is just as popular, so take that how you will.

MORT (*****) is the fourth book in the series, but stands on its own pretty well. Rincewind and the Unseen University make a minor appearance, and Death has appeared in the previous books, but other than that it’s pretty self-contained. Although the rules governing how Death operates don’t really jive with what happened in The Colour Of Mag–*Slap!* Don’t think about it!

Death comes to all men in their time, but when he comes to Mort it’s to offer him a job as his apprentice. Soon Mort is handling the collection of souls, and Death takes a much-needed break….The problem is, when the time came for Sto Lat’s Princess Keli to be assassinated, Mort found himself altering reality by saving her from the assassin. Now reality is trying to reassert itself, Mort is in over his head, and Death is nowhere to be found……

SOURCERY (****) is Pratchett’s fifth Discworld adventure, and while I am a bit of a completist it stands on its own fairly well. Kind of. Because in this installment we catch up with Rincewind once more as he is forced onto yet another adventure against his will. For that alone I recommend reading The Colour Of Magic and The Light Fantastic before this one, but to each their own.

When we last saw Rincewind he had settled down in relative safety as the assistant librarian of Unseen University, the home of wizardry on the Disc. But even the University may no longer be safe…. The eighth son of an eighth son is destined to be a wizard; so much is common knowledge. But the eighth son of a wizard is something far more dangerous–a sourcerer, a conduit for raw and unstable new magic to enter the world. It has been eons since a sourcerer last walked the disc….wizards are celibate for this very reason, though they don’t remember that this was the original purpose. But against all odds the Disc is once more faced with the prospect of a sourcerer…..and a return to the sheer chaos of the Mage Wars as once-staid wizards are for the first time faced with power beyond their dreams. And that’s leaving aside all the discussion of the Apocralypse…..

Content-wise, Discworld holds steady at a raucous PG or a mild PG-13. There’s mild language, comedic violence, and various raunchy jokes that never actually become explicit. If you were okay with the likes of Conan and Red Sonja you have nothing to worry about here.

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