Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Zanziber on Twitter

I finally decided to get onto Twitter. It'll take some time for me to begin regular tweets. You can follow @ZanziberPoV.

Thank you.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace

Title: Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace

ISBN: 1569713596
Price: $12.95
Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 1999
Artist: Rodolfo Damaggio
Writer: Henry Gilroy
Collects: Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace #1-4

Rating: 2/5

This is the comic book adaptation of the hit movie that serves as the beginning of the prequel to the Star Wars trilogy. Set decades before Star Wars, it chronicles a galactic dispute resulting in a sinister force occupying the planet Naboo, and a couple of Jedi Knights encountering a young boy with a powerful connection to the Force...Anakin Skywalker.

It's a decent enough representation of the movie. Sometimes I used to be frustrated reading novels or comics adapting movies, because of the way they would sometimes diverge from the source material. This was either because the writer was embellishing with his/her own creativity or, as was often the case, working from an earlier draft script (in order for the release of a comic or novel to coincide with the movie, the writers would have to start work before the movie itself was completed). Yet here what's almost disappointing is how faithful the adaptation is! At 100 pages, they can basically fit in the whole movie (maybe trimming a scene here or there) but there are no extra scenes, no novel interpretations that might make things fresh or exciting. At the same time, because of its length, it doesn't fall into the trap of some other, shorter adaptations I've read where the story can be rendered incoherent at times because crucial scenes and lines are left out will-nilly. At least, for the most part. There are still spots in The Phantom Menace that, I'll wager, will be confusing for someone unfamiliar with the movie -- even someone familiar with it -- particularly in the climax. And occasional subtleties might be lost, like during the pod race. In the movie, the point was that no human had ever won a pod race before, adding significance to the line reproduced in the comic "You have brought hope to those who have none."

But for those familiar with it, it does a nice, evocative job, even imbuing the scenes with a little more atmosphere than the movie had thanks to the colors and inking. At the same time, there is a kind of "Classics Illustrated" approach (to use the cliched, and perhaps unfair, put-down of adaptations). Artist Damaggio does capable work, and evokes the actors well enough (maybe not so that you'd recognize them if you didn't know who starred in the movie, but well enough if you do). Al Williamson, who illustrated comic book adaptations of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi so lushly, is on hand as an inker, but can't bring much to the proceedings in that capacity. Likewise, scripter Gilroy sticks to reproducing the dialogue from the film -- no extra thought balloons, and the few text captions are treated as just bridging text, with no attempt to use them to create mood or to embellish a scene.

Still, with all that being said, better to have a faithful, if safe adaptation, than a bad one. I had mixed feelings about the movie itself, and those remain here (thin characterization, and a plot that contains at least a few holes). But this was an enjoyable enough comic that, in its own way, I enjoyed as much as the movie itself.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Title: Batman: Arkham Asylum

Price: $16.95
Publisher/Year: DC, 1989
Artist: Dave McKean
Writer: Grant Morrison

Rating: 3.5/5

Batman was the focus of a lot of high caliber attention in the late 1980s. Frank Miller was looking at Batman’s past and future in Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, while Alan Moore and Brian Boland were realizing Batman’s arch enemy, The Joker, as a truly nasty piece of work in The Killing Joke. The Joker also crops up in Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum, often considered the other great Batman graphic novel of the time.

The art is magnificent, showcasing McKean’s talent for mixed media and painting. The length of time it takes to create work like this must be phenomenal, which we would presume goes toward explaining why the majority of McKean’s comic work is restricted to covers.

It’s Morrison’s story that doesn’t stand up to his rivals’. Mixing the history of the asylum – famous dumping ground for Batman’s psychotic foes – with a typical Batman adventure is interesting enough, but Morrison throws too much at the hero in too small a space. This makes Batman’s journey through Arkham’s finest psycho’s appear too easy – more of a stroll through a fairground haunted house with a few old chums than a serious battle for his life. Coupled with an anti-climactic ending, there’s little feeling of impending disaster – the chronicled event should probably appear in Batman’s casebook of over-hyped walkovers.

Morrison delves a little deeper into Batman’s messed up psyche than most, but this leads to a story that has more ponderous psychology than action and, as a result, not enough room to fit any decent action in. Although bringing adult themes like insanity into superhero comics is admirable, it shouldn’t be to the detriment of a high-octane plot and, in this case, it gets right in the way.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 2

Title: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 2

ISBN: 1401201172
Price: $24.95
Publisher/Year: America's Best Comics, 2003
Artist: Kevin O'Neill
Writer: Alan Moore
Collects: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 2 #1-6

Rating: 3.5/5
It’s a point worthy of argument, but in our minds The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is the best thing to come out of Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics imprint. And this second volume does nothing to disappoint. Taking H. G. Wells’ classic Victorian sci-fi invasion story The War of the Worlds, it documents the League’s ‘behind the scenes’ role in fighting the Martian threat, creating a kind of alternate fiction within the original story.

The first scene-setting chapter is something of an anti-climax after the high level of anticipation left by the first book but the pace is quick to ramp up. Moore threads his plot carefully through Wells’ original story, paying homage as he subverts and twists. He also plays with our perceptions of the Victorian literary characters, making them all the more human with flaws and complexities, showing sides that their original creators would probably never have dreamed of portraying.

As with the previous volume Moore has plenty of fun drawing in coincidental Victoriana, though it’s a little more opaque this time round, with more for the enthusiast and less for the occasional reader. For the those stuck between the two, we heartily recommend Jess Nevins’ annotations to anyone with an interest in the detail behind the story. There’s also a weighty prose section at the back of the book, pertaining to be an almanac of the world that Moore has created, which binds an incredible level of detail into this fictional Victorian backdrop. It’s almost as if Moore is demonstrating that, if he wanted to, he could go on writing this stuff for the rest of his days. If only.

O’Neill’s art is as beautifully disturbing as ever, perfectly suited to this dark landscape of fictional past. His Martian tripods are threateningly spooky but thoroughly authentic to Wells’ originals, while his characterization of the League themselves is magical.

This is Moore and O’Neill at their best, subverting and poking fun at fictional history while clearly maintaining a high regard for it. Only someone with a keen interest and reverence in the subject matter could create something as reverential as this, while simultaneously letting the imagination run riot. Both Moore and O’Neill have the balance between these two sides of their craft so finely tuned that they are barely distinguishable, making this a unique, intelligent and gripping work that we can’t recommend highly enough.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 1

Title: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 1

ISBN: 1563898586
Price: $14.95
Publisher/Year: America's Best Comics, 2000
Artist: Kevin O'Neill
Writer: Alan Moore
Collects: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen #1-6

Rating: 3.5/5

The Victorians have left us with a number of legacies; some good, some bad. One of the most amazing is an incredible wealth of literature. The ripping yarns of writers like H. G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle remain amongst the most enduring works of adventure fiction the world has ever seen.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen takes characters from some of these classic stories and brings them together in a way that their original authors could never of dreamed of. Alan Moore, clearly an enthusiast of the literature he’s reworking, teams these characters together into a bizarre band of conflicting egos and fiery personalities.

Of course, once Moore gets started, there’s no escape from his imagination and the story is littered with cameos. Characters and references from works ranging from Charles Dickens to Edgar Allan Poe are smattered throughout the pages, adding extra color to those who spot them without detracting from the flow for those who may not. Kevin O’Neill’s vision of Victorian London is equally fascinating. It takes the dark pea soup and gaslight we associate with the likes of Sherlock Holmes, but adds a wonderful panorama of architecture and invention gone mad.

One interesting aspect of the book is that its nineteenth century backdrop isn’t restricted to the art and the plot – the characters motives and attitudes are also of the time. This means that there are some dodgy concepts towards race and sex that are bandied around in a matter-of-fact way. Though this may surprise or even shock the more politically correct modern reader, it’s indicative of the attitudes of the time and adds to the book’s authentic if fantastic feel.

Perhaps most important of all, it pays homage to the swashbuckling adventurous spirit of the original stories. You can’t help but feel that Haggard, Stevenson, Stoker, Verne and Wells might have been quite pleased with Moore’s treatment of their characters, and might approve of their continued life together in Moore and O’Neill’s vivid imaginings.