Trouble Thinking

April 25, 2012

King City is honest

King City, by Brandon Grahm, is a good book.

It’s pretty, for one. Black and white and clean and almost sparse for all the detail packed into every panel. It reminds me of Stokoe, without the organic growth crowding around everyone. There are a surprising number of shots of an empty, near cloudless sky, like a fisheye lens poking up from the street. There are shots of shocking scope and detail thrown at you to explain a small amount of a single character’s backstory. It’s decadent. It’s soft and curvy and complicated, every few pages there’s a lazily meandering scene with dozens of little puns waiting to be discovered in the folds of the page. Front and center, the hero of the whatever story is being told is usually in a small puddle of calm in the middle of an insane city. Brandon Grahm calls James Stokoe his “daywalker” (all of his strengths, none of his weaknesses) but fucking, he’s wearing some amazing sunscreen himself. He doesn’t have the sort of bubbling fractal madness that Stokoe manages, but he brings so much energy to even his sparest page. And in his most complicated pages he’ll drop in 90 puns to pepper the background (Jose and his friend Hose B made me laugh longer than I should have), a dozen little stories ending in a dozen little jokes because why the fuck not do that?

Which is the next point, it’s funny. It’s consistently funny, like it isn’t trying. Like a friend who says things with just the right timing but you had to be there only you are there so it’s all good. I’ll spoil one, don’t worry there are hundreds. Maximum Absolute is a guy who lost a leg fighting against the Xombies in Korea, at a certain point in the story Cat Master Joe offers to grab some shoes for him at a Sneaker Soul machine and asks his size. “13 left”, get it? There are setups and punchlines and weird little half-puns scattered around the book. There’s Big Weird like the communist sasquatch running a spy hotel and there are fart jokes because farting is funny. And that’s another thing I love about this book, it’s honest.

I knew it would be honest when Joe picked his nose and flicked a booger. It’s gross! Blegh. But it’s true, we pick our noses when no one is looking, because no one is looking, because it’s just a thing we want to do and so why not who does it hurt? (I should do a post on MRSA and freak people out) But you never see it because of that. No action hero picks his nose between fights because gross. But it’s a part of our life and I mean I guess I’m making a bigger deal out of this than I should but the whole comic reads like an action flick that realizes part way through it can be more honest than that, it doesn’t need to show you a big fight sequence as the climax, it can show you some friends chilling in an apartment because by now that’s all you actually care about. Joe’s u… I was going to say “ugly, too” but he’s not. He’s slightly rat-faced, a little. But he’s not bad. He’s normal. So’s his friend Pete and so’s Max and so is most everyone, even the freaky weird people. It just feels better. It feels like a story told not because it will make someone look good but because it happened and you should know it happened. These people were around when shit went down and here’s how it turned out.

Every world-changing event happens, even when you’re not there to help out. The things that change you can only happen when you’re around, so you need to show up. It’s a good book, find it. It’s $20 too for like 450 goddamn pages, a complete steal.

September 11, 2011

You Can Ask Captain America Stuff

Filed under: Comics, The Internet — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 7:37 pm

Good news! You can ask the Sentinel of Liberty about just any dang thing you please!

But really, mostly you can make the same tired fucking gay jokes the internet loves to make about everything. Hahaha [fictional character] and [fictional character] getting together would be soooo cute hahaha gay people woah.

Anyways! That shouldn’t detract that the artist is amazing and the pictures tend to be pretty witty while maintaining the character fiction. Really, I’m amazed there aren’t official Marvel/DC things like this.

August 10, 2011

Prequel Adventure is a Sweet Webcomic

Filed under: Comics, The Internet — Tags: , , , , — Durandal @ 6:08 pm

In both the sense of being awesome and the sense of being just completely fucking adorable.

Prequel Adventure is loosely set in I think… Morrowind? But it could sub in any random fantasy setting. It stars a cat, Katia, who is a horrible person with worse luck. She’s got the fantasy adventure beginning down pat, arriving in town penniless and looking for work… but she’s completely unskilled. Weak in body and mind and completely unskilled, she quickly realizes that her life isn’t any better here. I like the inversion of the standard steady progress of an RPG. Katia starts off bad, and while things eventually begin to look up, it’s in no way a steady progression. She tries and fails and makes shitty mistakes that aren’t her fault but ruin things anyway. It’s got a nifty little audience participation thing built in, and the author uses it both as a wellspring for general story ideas and as a way to draw pathos out of a situation by looking at readers shout “no, no don’t do THAT” and then having Katia do it anyway.

It feels genuine, and it manages to be incredibly cruel while never disrespecting the protagonist… well, while only occasionally disrespecting her. She might be a coward and useless, but she’s still a person.

It’s also got a lovely little sketchy occasionally animated cartoon style that is really a joy to look at. It’s not the most complex story so far, but each update is a fun or an excruciating read depending on how well you deal with embarrassment humor. I recommend it heartily, start at the beginning!

August 5, 2011

Ultimate Spider-Man News!

Filed under: Comics — Tags: , , — Durandal @ 1:47 pm

If you’re somehow both interested in Ultimate Spider-Man and yet not completely aware of everything happening to him you’re probably the shittiest comic book reader ever. It’s one book, man. Maybe you don’t really care. Maybe just walk away buddy.

But on the assumption that you’re the one person weird enough to want to know about the fate of the offshoot-universe Spider-Man but not read about it okay: Ultimate Universe Peter Parker is now dead. He wasn’t eaten by the Blob, though, so small favors. Now that he’s dead, another young man named Miles Morales has decided to take up the mantle of Spider-Man, having been inspired by the original. It’s likely an attempt to differentiate the Ultimate universe from the 616 or “main” Marvel Comics universe. The Ultimate line has basically been “Teen Superhero Retread Hour” for about 10 years. It was supposed to be a clean restart off in it’s own corner where anything could happen. Beyond a few superficial differences, not much interesting was altered. The biggest draw was Ultimate Spider-Man, written for almost a decade by the same man, Brian Michael Bendis. That’s an impressive thing for comics, which usually run through writers at the same rate as erasers. Now, he’s tossing the protagonist of his longest-running story and replacing him with someone completely fresh.

So, will this be a boon for the book, and indeed the stagnating Ultimate line? It’ll be interesting to see.

Oh! Also, loads of complete assholes are getting up in arms about the new Ultimate Spidey being biracial. Probably the best response is the Drudge Report’s headline:

Yes, Mr. Drudge. In the same sense all human beings you meet may be gay. (Via ComicsAlliance)

June 20, 2011

Bulgarian Superhero Graffiti is Awesome

Filed under: Comics, Interesting Things, News — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 2:10 pm

This is kind of excellent. Apparently popped up overnight recently in Bulgaria, done by a guy people are calling “The Bulgarian Banksy” because Banksy is the only graffiti artist any of us know.

I guess there’s a history of defacing this statue, because it’s of Red Army soldiers “liberating” Bulgaria. A bit of a chill in the relationship following the fall of the Soviet Union has made people less than respectful of the old monuments to the victorious.

Below the statue is written “Moving with the times”, presumably some sort of statement about communism and western imperialism and something or other but I ignored it because holy shit haha Wolverine, the Joker, Captain America and Santa oh man.

(Via the Daily Mail)

June 14, 2011

Comics Are Boss: Xombi

Filed under: Comics — Tags: , , , , — Durandal @ 12:35 pm

I’ll do something more elaborate about my new favorite comic later, but here’s about all you should need to convince you Xombi is something interesting. More pretty pictures below the cut.


June 2, 2011

Green Lantern Tie-In ARG Actually Helps Science

Filed under: Comics, Movies, Science — Tags: , , , , , , — Durandal @ 11:40 am

So this is pretty neat. There’s a Green Lantern Alternate Reality Game, which means “shitty game that people think is interesting because people pretend it isn’t a game”,

Normally these amount to people finding snippits of a story that’s some sort of prologue or side-story to whatever thing is being advertised via some sort of puzzle-solving.

For the Green Lantern movie, they’ve been taking out ads from “amateur astronomers” who have noticed something strange and want access to a telescope to figure out what it is. Then, they got access, and now you can go to this nifty little site and help Dr. Amanda Waller find green rings in space. Wiiiink. But the cool part is that apparently this is just a reskin of Galaxy Zoo, a program that’s already produced very useful data simply by asking normal people to help classify the ridiculous number of objects we’ve seen by giving an idea of their shape and any identifying marks. It turns out that a green ring in space is a sign of a recently exploding star. Other sites talking about the ARG have said it was a sign of one being born, but I can’t find anything stating that from a decent source. I think they’re just confusing the fact that star death leads reasonably directly to star birth. Anyway, by taking part in this ARG people have been actually assisting scientists studying the galaxy sift through their data.

Apparently the Spitzer telescope, the one whose data you’re poking through when you play this thing, is notable for being uniquely able to see through galactic dust clouds:

The new Spitzer picture provides a detailed snapshot of this universal phenomenon. By imaging Henize 206 in the infrared, Spitzer was able to see through blankets of dust that dominate visible light views. The resulting false-color image shows embedded young stars as bright white spots, and surrounding gas and dust in blue, green and red. Also revealed is a ring of gas, colored green, which is the wake of the ancient supernova’s explosion.

“Before Spitzer, we were only seeing tantalizing hints of the newborn stars peeking through shrouds of dust,” said Gorjian.

So this is the first ARG I can think of that actually did something beneficial. More sci-fi related films should do this sort of thing. I think it’s neat! It is a cool idea even if Amanda Waller is totally not a scientist. She’s just a badass.

Yelling at Batman so hard he's starting to reconsider this whole thing

May 31, 2011

Why Haven’t You Read Rice Boy?

Filed under: Comics, The Internet — Tags: , , , , , , , — Durandal @ 10:48 am


No, fuck you. You don’t get to just not know about it, that’s what people say when what they mean is “I am a worse human being than I could be, but I’m also so bad and lazy that I won’t fix it bleeeeeeh”. You sound like that. “Bleeeeeh”, yeah it’s disgusting.

Rice Boy is a comic by Evan Dahm that makes comics on the internet worth keeping. It justifies all the hundreds of poorly draw retreads of ancient joke c0nstructions that are trying to be the next Penny Arcade. It’s a massive, interesting, well paced fantasy story starring a little person with no arms or legs, just a sort of well… just a sort of rice boy I guess.

Yeah I don't know how he's picking that fruit.

The art begins and for the most part remains weird and sort of developing. I mean the main character is basically a sketch, and many people are drawn with varying levels of detail. But at the same time it’s so confident that it’s difficult to tell whether certain things look odd due to inability to draw them any other way or due to a stylistic choice. The artwork quickly becomes a defining aspect of the story, helping to characterize the world and the people in it in a manner far more effective than simply attempting to be “realistic” would.

The story, briefly, is about a prophesy and the person who is supposed to fulfill it. It is almost exactly a Hero’s Journey, and plays out in a manner that will be familiar to anyone who’s read Lord of the Rings. But the unique aspects of the story come in the little details about a strange world and the people in it, and in the surprising emotional connections a skilled writer can create using characters that are incredibly foreign. I mean only a few people in the story even have the ability to display human emotions effectively.

The whole thing, about 450 pages, is available online. And that’s only the start! He’s got a bunch of short stories and another complete epic: “The Order of Tales“, as well as a new ongoing called “Vattu“, all of which are really awesome.

Plus, his new stuff has some even more interesting and sweet-looking art.

March 9, 2011

Batman: Odyssey is Completely Insane

Filed under: Comics — Tags: , , , , — Durandal @ 4:53 pm

Oh man. Oh MAN.

The first 6 issues of Batman: Odyssey, drawn and written by Neal Adams, are some of the strangest writing I’ve ever seen in a comic. Stranger than comics that are attempting to be odd. I cannot encapsulate it, because nothing makes sense in any context whatsoever. Fights occur in the background for no reason, with no impact on any character or reaction from anyone in the room. The two combatants, bloodied and broken on the ground, will occasionally pipe in with expository dialogue about an overarching plot that is opaque to the point of parody.

This happens:

It actually really happens.

It’s like eating a bad Batman and then having a fever dream.

I was going to do a whole thing myself about it, but well, I’ll save that for the final issue, because Comics Alliance has written an amazing summation of the first 6.

David: The issue you’re alluding to will bring us to one of the primary challenges of this comic, I think. Which is the multiple plots and how they overlap. Like, shirtless Bruce is telling this story right now, but then it seems like he’s actually telling a story about this time that he was telling Robin a story about the time that he was on the train. And that’s when things start to get crazy.

You should really read the whole thing, it’s truly worth it.

February 18, 2011

DreamKeepers Volumes 1 and 2: A Review

Filed under: Books, Comics — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — callmegeo @ 4:34 am

Well, well, well, look who’s running the show now. I’m sorry to say that Durandal came up a little late in making payments on his “don’t break my computer” insurance. It’s a shame  just how fragile our modern technology can be…

While my esteemed colleague is busy contemplating the merits of not being a wise guy, the duty falls upon me to keep you entertained with insightful commentary. This week, I bring you a review of a graphic novel series called DreamKeepers.

The artwork in DreamKeepers has a surprising amount of depth and polish

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Geo, you’re an engineer. Engineers are social outcasts so crippled by their overwhelming genius, that they could not possibly provide any sort of legitimate commentary on a work which requires a real soul and human emotions to appreciate.” And, in truth, that’s a fair point. However, if I am to ever learn to know what it is like to feel love, I must attempt to communicate with you, the reader, through a critical examination of modern graphic novel media. It says so in the rules.

So, let us begin.

I stumbled upon DreamKeepers entirely by accident, by clicking on the wrong ad banner whilst browsing one of my favorite webcomics, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. It turns out it was a very fortuitous event, as rather than being led to some internet flash game promising “intense space battles”, I instead found myself on a site advertising some form of fantasy-ish setting graphic novel series with anthropomorphic animal characters.

Now, normally I see fantasy and go ‘meh’, and I see a character with a tail and go ‘meh’ some more. I normally confine my attention to things involving a lot more lasers and spaceships and human or robot characters. But, being an inquisitive young lad, I poked around the DreamKeepers site a bit, just to see what was going on.

What really made me stop and take notice of DreamKeepers was a sextet of articles written by the one of the creators, explaining the state of the modern day comics industry, why comics are marginalized as a medium, and what he plans to do to change all that. I certainly can’t do the articles justice by summarizing them myself, so I’ll simply say that if you go to the DreamKeepers site, you should give them a read. It really opened my eyes to a world I frankly know very little about, and it was also a very entertaining read that managed to present facts in a fun way that made me actually care.

Unlike my friend and colleague Durandal, I my greatest aspiration in life is not to make love to both Batman and Iron Man simultaneously. I’ve never bought a traditional comic book in my two and a half decades of existence. I *do* have Watchmen the graphic novel, and a very small collection of manga, but that wraps up about anything I read that has also pictures in addition to words. So, when I say that DreamKeepers interested me enough to buy both volumes that very night, you understand the context of my experience.

Reading what the DreamKeepers author was attempting to do with his work, and understanding his road map for success made me sit up and take notice. This isn’t some teenager sketching catgirls to satisfy his secret sexual fetishes (as far as I know), this is a man with a head for business, a passion for his work, and the determination to take the difficult first steps towards creating something that never existed before, like starting his own publishing company. Entrepreneurship always gets my motor running, so I forked over the $4 to buy digital versions of both DreamKeepers volumes published so far, and dared DreamKeepers to impress me… As it turns out, it did.

Super quick synopsis: The story is set in a fictional dreamworld which ostensibly parallels our own reality. The characters in this world (called Dream Keepers) have no awareness of our own world, yet their reality is the the line of defense between our real world, and the so-called Nightmares which seek to gain influence over us. After several hundred years of relative peace between the last war between the Dream Keepers and Nightmares, the dreamworld society has become disarmed and complacent, setting the stage for the story as the Nightmares plot a new uprising.

The main protagonists of DreamKeepers are Mace, an orphan, and Lilith and Namah, the legitimate and illegitimate daughters respectively of the world’s primary political figure. The three of them quickly find themselves drawn into events far larger in scope than they realize, and the conclusion of Volume 2 promises that the events depicted so far are just the tip of the iceberg of what’s in store for future installments of this franchise. If you want to learn more, you should pick up a copy of the story yourself, so instead of prattling on about background information, I will proceed with a topic by topic breakdown of the series.

Setting: I suppose the best way to describe the environment of DreamKeepers is as a fantasy-hybrid setting. A fantasy foundation with an anachronistic smattering of more modern day and sci-fi technology, such as telepads, computer-like “data scrolls”, and firearm analogs called “springers”. It doesn’t perfectly fit the mold of any traditional genre setting, but for me, that’s appealing. There’s enough commonality with the world we live in to feel familiar and comfortable to the reader, yet at the same time its uniqueness is alien enough to draw you in and elicit emotions of wonder and exploration. The various discrete elements of the setting combine to become one which is fresh, engaging, and surprisingly believable.

Characters: I was very skeptical about how the characters would flesh out in DreamKeepers. Anthro-style characters and works have a bit of a bad rep out here in the cyber world, and the stereotype was a hard one for me to see past when deciding whether or not DreamKeepers was even worth my time and attention. I’m not a “furry” fanboy, and I didn’t really want a story that specifically catered to that demographic subset. Thankfully, my wariness disappeared relatively quickly once I started to get through the first chapter. Yeah, the characters are all some form

of anthropomorphic animal or combination of animals, but it didn’t feel like I was just watching a bunch of foxes and cats with clothes on running around and doing things.  These characters were individuals, each with a personality and perspective on events that grew far larger than their mere physical appearances. As a matter of fact, I started to really appreciate the diversity of appearance of the inhabitants of the DreamKeepers universe. Each character was his or her own person, but being based on different creature foundations gave them a physical uniqueness which seemed to further individualize them in my eye. My favorite character in the whole series so far is actually one of the secondary protagonists, a badass bionic snake-like character called Scinter. You’ll see who I mean when you read DreamKeepers yourself(which you should).

All in all, the cast of the story is very organic and original, with my only complaint being that one of the antagonists, Tinsel, seems a bit too over the top in fitting the “evil, conceited, hot girl” mold for my personal tastes. I prefer villains who are more akin to misguided heroes, who firmly believe that they are acting in the right, yet find themselves at irreconcilable odds with protagonists due to differences in philosophy and perspective. However, since DreamKeepers is only two volumes into the story so far, there admittedly hasn’t been enough time to gain more than an introductory glance at some characters’ ultimate goals and motivations.

Writing: Overall, the script of DreamKeepers is very good. The maturity level is somewhere in the PG-13 ballpark, not in your face graphic or intense, nor sugar coated and dumbed down for younger audiences. I personally enjoy the flexibility a middle of the road approach provides to the writer and the reader. The serious moments are

I know the lighting effects are pretty, but you should be reading my review too!

certainly serious when they’re supposed to be, but interspersed are laugh out loud nuggets of wit that I couldn’t help but chuckle at. The overall gravity of the story seems to be at a balanced level, starting on the lighter side but slowly building up a sense of weight that sits in the back of my mind, leaving me with the unmistakable impression that events will continue to get  darker, deeper, and more epic in scale as the characters of the story get drawn further and further into a conflict of which only the surface has been scratched. I’m eagerly awaiting the release of Volume 3, hopefully the later half of this year, so I can see the next iteration of events (to use a cliche) as the plot thickens.

The environment artwork in DreamKeepers is absolutely breathtaking

Artwork: This, for me, is really the biggest selling point of the DreamKeepers books. Yes, it’s a fun story with engaging characters and a well developed setting, but when I buy a graphic novel, I want my eyes to have something to enjoy too. As you can see from the example pages I’ve posted throughout this review, the DreamKeepers artists are not only talented, but committed to producing artwork with depth and color and scale which, frankly, I didn’t expect to see. The artwork in DreamKeepers Volume 1 seems to be slightly rougher and less refined than that of Volume 2, at least by my limited inspection. That’s not to say that it’s not excellent artwork, but there seems to be more complexity and more layers of effect in the second volume than the original.

The characters are very expressive, and the art style does and excellent job of conveying emotion. Then again, I suppose that’s one of the great advantages of cartooning. As a man who couldn’t draw a properly expressive cartoon character to save his life, I’m suitably impressed, if not totally unqualified to make any sort of judgement on the matter. We’re going to ignore that little detail though. Some people believe that because I’m some sort of new fangled rocket scientist I’m an expert on all things, and I’d hate to shatter their innocent illusions.

Anyways, what really grabs me about the artwork is the art direction of the natural environments of DreamKeepers. The flora, fauna, and especially the natural terrain depicted in Volume 2 is just absolutely breathtaking. I could lose myself for hours in the alien landscapes, and I can think of no more accurate adjective to describe them other than “beautiful”. Even the interior or city backgrounds can be quite elaborate, and the level of detail provides a real tangibility to the universe as you read through it. I could have posted dozens of pages to illustrate my point, but the three shown to the left should be sufficient to give a general impression of what I’m talking about. If you don’t like what you see on this page… you should probably go home and re-think your life.

Bottom Line: If you’re the sort of person who enjoys excellent things, then you will very likely enjoy reading DreamKeepers! It has beautiful artwork, excellent writing, characters, and a setting which borrows from many sub-genres yet feels entirely fresh and new. I don’t want to sound like some brown-nosing asshole, but seriously, if you have $4, support the talented creative duo behind this series and purchase the first two volumes to enjoy at your leisure. It’s less than you’d spend at McDonalds for a Big Mac, and it’s way nicer to look at than a Big Mac could ever be! Or you could shrug indecisively, mumble something inaudible and go back to poking around the internet like a normal boring person who has no sense of adventure. Your call man, whatever works for you.

If you’re poor and destitute without any money to spare, DreamKeepers

also puts out a weekly “Prelude” web comic, which examines the lives of the protagonists several years before the start of Volume 1.  I haven’t read through all of it yet, but hey, I’m not the cheapskate here.

In any case, if you’re reading this sentence, I appreciate your patience in

getting through this review. If you have any complaints, please remember that this is Durandal’s fault. Had his computer not kicked the bucket, you could read little snippets about indie games on xbox network, or whatever it is he goes on and on about these days.

The DreamKeepers website can be found here.

DreamKeepers is copyright of David Lillie and Vivid Independent Publishing. Images reprinted with permission.

No bribes were accepted prior to publishing this review ;).

INTRUSIVE EDIT: Learn to position pictures, Geo. Now that Durandal is back up and running and people are linking this article for some damn reason we can’t have this sort of slapdash getting thrown around.

INTRUSIVE RESPONSE TO THE INTRUSIVE EDIT: Gimme a break man, it looked super sleek on my monitor at my resolution, and now that you’ve dicked with the formatting it looks like ass on my screen. You have failed me for the last time…

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