Wednesday, 30 September 2015

So I Read Southern Bastards: Gridiron

A 250 word (or less) review of Southern Bastards Volume 2
By Jason Aaron, Jason Latour and Jared K Fletcher; Image Comics

Southern Bastards is an ongoing comic. To read about the first chapter go here.

Southern Bastards is a deep-south crime comic. In the first chapter Earl Tubbs travelled back to his hometown in Craw County, Alabama to set some of his dead father’s affairs in order. Seeing the town overrun by organized crime, Tubbs went about stirring up some trouble. Which got Tubbs dead at the hands of Euless Boss, the crimeboss and football coach of the high school football team. Southern Bastards: Gridiron picks up just after the Tubbs murder and focuses on the backstory of Euless Boss and how he went from being the poor son of the biggest bastard in Craw County barred from the football team to the team's coach and the man who runs the whole damn place. One of the true marks of a quality story is how strong the villain is: one-dimensional, simple antagonists can make for decent backdrops, but complicated characters with detailed goals and motivations make for a much richer story. Southern Bastards Vol. 2 turns Euless Boss from a menacing concept to a well rounded, compelling character with the strength to be the star of his own story. Which has me far more invested in the coming conflict as Earl Tubbs' daughter is finally coming back to Craw County to discover just what happened. A storm is coming to Southern Bastards, and I can’t wait to see it erupt.

Word count: 225


Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Influx Is Not A Good Book

Or a look at why I wouldn't recommend Influx
by Daniel Suarez

Influx is a technothriller about a secret cabal who vanish disruptive technologies and inventors in an effort to protect the status quo. Jon Grady, a brilliant rogue Scientist and inventor has just discovered a way to bend gravity fields, a discovery that should net him a Nobel Prize and change the course of physics. But on the night of his triumph he and his colleagues are kidnapped and inducted into the secret world of The Bureau of Technology Control with all of its wonders of hidden Science. Now Jon Grady is given unlimited resources to further his technology, but only if its kept secret and he submits to total control. Jon Grady isn't a man to submit to a gilded prison, but to escape he must outwit captors who have the future at their disposal.

Which is a pretty great sounding premise right? It makes Influx sound like a Scientifically literate story that delivers imaginative, Sci-fi action that might just challenge notions about the role of technology in society. The trouble is, Influx proved not to be this kind of book and really failed to deliver on this promising premise. And, as a result, I found that Influx really wasn't a very satisfying reading experience.

TLDR: I really did not enjoy Influx.

Jon Grady, the protagonist of the novel, is a poster child of why I found Influx so unsatisfying. The conceit of the character is that he is a free-thinking, self-made supergenius who is too libertine and brilliant for academia. Which, right off the bat, is pretty unlikely. The notion that you can just bootstrap yourself into being a thought leader in high energy physics without formal training or access to the resources of Academia is about as likely as Jon Grady being the Kwisatz Haderach. Which would all be fine if Jon Grady was written as a supergenius: if Jon Grady was able to demonstrate with his narration or actions that he is plausibly a once-in-a-generation mind, then his unlikely situation could be overlooked in service to the story. Unfortunately Jon Grady never demonstrates his brilliance and is written as a pretty regular, not especially intelligent guy. The novel does try to get around this somewhat by giving Jon Grady a special synesthesia where he conflates colours, math, and music in his mind and that this is part of what makes him a supergenius. But this too is done poorly with the synesthesia treated more like a convenient superpower rather than a consistent mental outlook/condition that he has to deal with or regularly utilizes. Also, I am in no way an expert on stynesthesia, but the portrayals in this book read as extremely superficial or at least highly unconvincing. Collectively, Jon Grady is just not a convincing genius which means that I fundamentally didn't buy into the novel.

(Incidentally, Jon Grady is a great example of why I think we often experience geniuses in fiction from the perspective of a colleague or friend. Everyone can relate to being around someone smarter than them, but very few people are actually legitimately brilliant. So it is much easier to make a Watson's internal life believable than it is to sell a convincing Sherlock.)

The same systemic issues that prevent Jon Grady from being a convincing protagonist also serve to poison a lot of other facets of Influx. A huge number of plot developments do not make sense under scrutiny and seem to occur mostly as a convenient way to advance the plot. For instance, a prison cell designed to feed inmates via a surgically implanted umbilical system can conveniently also magically prepare passable pho soup for some reason. It's distractingly silly. Similarly, the villains of the novel are cartoonishly two-dimensional, bland, and, for being the masterminds of the BTC, distractingly stupid. Instead of getting convincing, earnest villains who believe in their mandate and are impressive in their intelligence we get laughable strawmen with cartoon diabolical plots. The love interest of the story is a genetically engineered woman meant to be perfect, which means that along with enhanced strength and intelligence she has perfect beauty and irresistible sexy pheromones which is just amazingly foolish, sexist, and juvenile. Influx, for being sold as am intelligent techno-thriller alternative is just full of really, really dumb choices. 

This even extends to the Science of Influx. Influx seems to very proudly announce itself as a Scientifically literate piece of fiction. I have an armchair-enthusiast level of knowledge about high-energy particle physics, so the collection of superficial physics buzz-words in Influx could very well checkout and be fine. I am however a cardiac cell biologist who specializes in calcium ionic signalling so I know a fair amount about neurobiology and specifically the processes in neurobiology that involve ionic calcium signals. As a result I can tell you that pretty much the entirety of the neurobiology in Influx is wrong: either vaguely mistaken or downright bonkers incorrect. For instance the idea that glial cells (a family of neuron-like brain cells) constitute a second "chemical brain" that works independent of your "more electrical" normal brain is ridiculous. In reality glial cells are integral to the one brain in your skull and seem to play mostly a supportive role in coupling things like blood flow to brain activity. (BTW, the *entire* brain is a chemical brain.) The other glial idea that what separates supergeniuses from regular people is a difference in the number of glial cells in their brain is also ludicrous and actually pretty problematic (since imbuing physical differences to intelligence like this is a slippery slope to craniometry batshittery). Of the Science I could parse through the condescending grapeshot of jargon well enough to assess, it was all entirely wrong. So Influx also fails utterly at being scientifically plausible. 

I clearly would not recommend Influx. I think it is a failure as a technothriller and just generally an unenjoyable book. If you want to read a really good, really scientifically literate technothriller, I cannot recommend Ramez Naam's Nexus enough. It is everything Influx tried and failed to be: smart, exciting, and a really thoughtful examination of the role of technology in society. If you would like to read a bonkers book about rugged, misunderstood geniuses facing institutional morons I'd read Atlas Shrugged. Thematically Influx and Atlas Shrugged are crazy similar and Ayn Rand's novel, despite being loopy and toxic, is at least written with the zeal of the true believer. (I kid you not, there is a scene in Influx where Jon Grady forgets his name and nearly calls himself John Galt. *Seriously*.) And, real talk, a novel that compares unfavourably to Atlas Shrugged is not a book you should ever, ever read. So please, read something else.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Deep Sequencing: Expecting To Comics

Or a fantastic page in Expecting To Fly,
by John Allison

I'm of the thought that good comics can happen anywhere. You can see great, experimental comics in a small press literary comic or in a European or Japanese import comic. You can see fantastic comics in those great mostly genre comics at the edges of the mainstream and you can see great comics inside the pages of mainstream superhero comics. You can find great comics in minicomics and zines and online. And you can find remarkable comics in daily webcomics. 

This panel from John Allison's Expecting To Fly is absolutely great comics worth taking a closer look at.

This page of comics is one of the best character introductions I have ever seen. In one panel we learn a ton about young-Ryan Beckwith and young-Jonesy, their personalities, their family situations, and their relative economic status from just this single panel. Which is just super efficient comics. This is also a panel filled with details and comics tricks to make the panel work to its full effect.

Broadly speaking the panel has five storytelling zones that depict the two boys getting ready for school, meet in front of their houses, and begin walking to school together. The five regions give a sense of time to the page and let us directly compare the morning routines of Ryan and Jonesy and contrast their mannerisms and personalities. 

These two contrasting stories play in out in wildly different ways. From a structural standpoint there are an uneven number of story moments; Ryan takes one more sub-panel to get ready than Jonesy. This creates the impression the Jonesy is more organised and put together than Ryan. This is reflected in the events actually depicted in the panels. Jonesy's story shows him awake and dressed, combing his hair while Ryan is only waking up. Jonesy than calmly walks down the stairs, kisses his mother and steps outside. In the same amount of time we see Ryan frantically brush his teeth, get attacked by his mother with a tie, mess around with a guitar, and meet Jonesy outside. We see exactly how direct and focused Jonesy is and how disorganized and scattered Ryan is in a very direct and emotional way at both the story and structural levels. At the end of the panel we have a general understanding of who these characters are and how they differ. 

We also get an impression about Ryan and Jonesy's different family lives from this panel. In the story we see Jonesy calmly kissing his mother and Ryan being frantically, aggressively tied by his mother gives some information about the different family status of the two characters. This is further emphasized by a how the two boys yards are depicted. Jonesy's family has a yard with a well manicured lawn, some tasteful landscaping, and a flower pot in the window. Ryan's house, in contrast is narrower, has an unkempt weed infested yard, and front gate knocked off its moorings and laying in the lawn. Just by these story elements and environmental choices we get the impression that Jonesy has a more stable family life than Ryan and that Ryan's family might be slightly economically distressed.

It's just a fantastic panel of comics.

And a great argument as to why you shouldn't be snooty about what comics you read: all formats of comics can have great stuff. So read quality, yeah, but don't discriminate. 

Also read John Allison's comics, they're great.  

Friday, 25 September 2015

Deep Sequencing: The Rodent Royalty Line Of Succession

Or a look at the art hand off in Rat Queens Volume Two
by Kurtis J Wiebe, Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Sejic, and Ed Brisson; Image Comics

When it comes to comics I think there are two essential, but opposing truths: the very soul of a comic book is indelibly linked to its artist, and it is really difficult logistically for a single artist to indefinitely draw a monthly comic book. This often leads to a conflict between what makes for the best reading experience and the production cycle of a comic. Often this conflict is handled in systematic ways: delays between chapters for an artist to catch up, or alternating artists between distinct episodes in a story where art hand offs are a feature. Sometimes, though, due to unfortunate circumstances, art changes have to occur within a story, which risks the visual style and, in my eyes, the very identity of a comic.

Rat Queens had one of these hand offs, and I think it's instructive how it went.

There may be *SPOILERS* for Rat Queens Vol. 2 below.

Rat Queens Vol. 2 tells a single concrete story about vengeance and consequences and the eponymous Rat Queens facing off against the latest threat to shadow fair Palisade. Every chapter in the comic is meant to follow directly into the next and there is no in story reason for their to be substantial shifts in the artwork between chapters. Or, in other words, there isn't a creative reason within the comic to swap artists. 

That said, sad real life stuff meant that a change in artist was needed midway through Rat Queens volume two. The first chapters were drawn by Roc Upchurch, the series regular artist and co-creator of the Queens. Following his departure, the comic was taken over by Stjepan Sejic. And I think, given the circumstances, this creative change was handled exceedingly well.

While no two artists are ever completely interchangeable, since, you know, artists are actual human beings and not soulless art machines, I feel that Upchurch and Sejic have highly complementary styles. Both artists are quite skilled at facial acting and employ a highly painted style that emphasizes light in their composition. This means that the trademark character work the series relies on is well served by either artist. It also means the colours, which I think are under appreciated for their ability to impart a distinct visual tone and identity, do a really good job bridging the change and maintaining a consistent feel.  I mean, there are still obvious differences: Sejic uses bolder inks and a more photo-realistic style than Upchurch, but to my eyes I think the two artists share a common aesthetic while working on Rat Queens.

And I think this complimentary style really saves Rat Queens Volume 2. What was already a turbulent change in creative team was minimized in the actual comic by being judicious about  the creation of a new team. This meant, essentially that while the people behind Rat Queens changed, the comic itself remained familiar and visually Rat Queens. Which I think was massively important to my enjoyment of the book.

While I still think switching artists, particularly mid story is pretty much never the best creative decision, I think Rat Queens Vol. 2 teaches us that with careful attention to style, disruptions to a comic can be mitigated.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

So I Read Rat Queens: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'Rygoth

A 250 word (or less) review of Rat Queens Volume 2
by Kurits J Wiebe, Roc Upchurch and Stjepan Sejic, Image Comics

Rat Queens is an ongoing comic. To read about the first chapter go here.

Rat Queens is an extremely fun swords and sorcery adventure comic. It features the Rat Queens, Hannah the ill-tempered elven mage, dwarven warrior Violet, cultist cleric Dee, and hard-partying smidgen thief Betty. This chapter of the comic picks up in the aftermath of the last volume, with the town of Palisade recovering from the Rat Queens' last adventure a mysterious force with a powerful artifact from Dee's N'Rygoth worshipping past emerges bent on revenge against the city. But with Plaisade's defences already weakened its up to the Rat Queens and their rag-tag adventurer allies to save the town. Rat Queens Volume Two was another really enjoyable, funny fantasy story comic that does a great job building on the first chapter to make for an even better comic experience. I felt that the first Volume of Rat Queens, while really fun, relied a bit too much on character stereotypes. This was an understandable choice since it allowed the comic to quickly tell a great adventure without overtly building backstory, but resulted in some shallow feeling characterization at times. Rat Queens Volume Two manages to complicate these stereotypes and really build the characters of the world into captivating, believable people, which makes the comic feel so much richer. This volume is really where Rat Queens goes from a fun premise to a properly good comic. And, if it is any indication of the comics to come, a book I'll be reading for years to come.

Word count: 241

Rat Queens Volume 1
Sound Advice: Rat Queens Vol. 1

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Shambling Guide To NYC Is A Good Book

Or why you should read The Shambling Guide to NYC
by Mur Lafferty

I think one of the hardest things in the world is to write a properly good light, fun book. When done well, these books are the anti-grimdark; the perfect bright, sweet treat that I think every reading habit needs for variety and the occasional soul medicine. The thing is, finding the perfect mix of humour, character, melodrama, and genuine plot stakes needed to make a novel simultaneously fluffy fun and engrossing is razor alchemy. For me there are maybe only a handful of novels that have ever really managed that kind of magic. The Shambling Guid to NYC is one of these precious few.

In The Shambling Guide to NYC, Zoe Norris, a recently unemployed travel writer, has moved back to New York City. The trouble is that to stay there, Zoe needs a job and it seems out of work travel writers are not in demand. So you might say Zoe is down on her luck. That is until she stumbles across a job posting in a bookstore that refuses to sell to her kind of person; a job writing travel books for coterie (I'd say monsters, but that's pejorative). Not willing to pass up an opportunity or a challenge, Zoe finds herself working for a Vampire publisher with zombies, an incubus, water nymph, and even a death goddess for coworkers. Zoe must now figure out how to navigate the dangerous, strange world of the unseen supernatural amongst us and put out a top notch Travel Book. Or at least avoid being eaten.

The Shambling Guide to NYC is a novel that is, more than anything, deeply charming. The book is well written, filled with rich characters, and genuinely funny, but more than all of that, it is just super charismatic. Which is, I think, what happens when an author pulls off the feat of sorcery to make light, fun book work perfectly; The Shambling Guide is thoroughly entertaining and just like, a novel length grin in prose form. The experience of reading this book made me happier which made the book difficult to put down. I am so glad I tried this book!

And honestly, the premise of The Shambling Guide is not something I would typically have tried, but some enthusiastic endorsements from writers I like and a cover by the fantastic Jamie McKelvie (whose artwork is generally a stamp of quality) convinced me to give it a look. Even if The Shambling Guide to NYC is not in your typical reading roundhouse, you might want to give it a chance anyway; you may be pleasantly surprised.

I would recommend this book to any geek-positive readers out there. It is fun, geeky, and utterly, utterly charming. If you want to read something that will entertain you in a pleasant, but still substantial way, The Shambling Guide to NYC is just about the ideal novel.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Worshipping The Wicked + The Divine #14

Or breaking down the comic remix in WicDiv #14 
by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, Clayton Cowles, and Dee Cunniffe; Image Comics

WicDiv #14 is formally a very interesting comic book. I'd like to talk about why. 

There will, as always, be *SPOILERS* for WicDiv #14 below.

WicDiv #14 is, to a certain extent, a flashback comic. It recontextualizes numerous events in the comic from the perspective of Woden, who beyond being a creepy enigma, Knows Some Things. Like a lot of flashback comics, WicDiv #14 takes advantage of existent panels and artwork to show memories. It's an expedient choice because it let's the comic replay the events exactly as we all remember them and because it makes sense not to unnecessarily spend time redrawing events. What makes WicDiv #14 interesting is that it constructs the entire issue, including current and unseen events almost entirely out of recycled artwork.

WicDiv #14 is interesting in that it repurposes artwork from previous issues to construct entirely new comics. Given no other information, this discussion above looks and feels like entirely native content, that it's a brand new sequence custom drawn to deliver a pitch perfect sequence. Kind of incredibly, everyone panel on this page is lifted, without major alteration from an earlier issue of WicDiv. It's pretty cool stuff.

WicDiv #14 takes the experiment further by building new comics out of not only its own past, but also from depictions of its characters from other comics. Specifically, WicDiv #14 also uses artwork clipped from Sex Criminals (by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky), which contained the WicDiv porn parody, 'The Lick-ed and the Divine". Beyond being a fun little meta-circle jerk, this choice really advances the question about remix culture and comics: if you have the vector artwork of digital pencils (or a vectorized scan), just how much comic can you build using recycled artwork? If you make it seamless enough, like WicDiv #14, is using reused artwork markedly worse or lesser than new artwork? And, as a creator, can you use recycled artwork to increase the length or speed you create comics without compromising comics? WicDiv #14 is an intriguing story, but as a critical experiment, I think it really opens an interesting discourse on the nature of comics.

WicDiv #1 and popart head-splosions
WicDiv #2 and the use of black-space
WicDiv #3 and character design

WicDiv #4 and body language 

WicDiv#5 and facial acting

WicDiv #6 and possessions as character
WicDiv #7 and the power of lettering
WicDiv #8 and the disorienting layout
WicDiv #9 and the economics of design

WicDiv #10 and powers as character design

WicDiv #11 and stretching the moment

WicDiv #12 and layout encoding

WicDiv #13 and retroactive narratives

Friday, 18 September 2015

Uncaging Bitch Planet #5

Or a look at layout complexity and narrative pacing in Bitch Planet #5
by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, Cris Peter, and Clayton Cowles; Image Comics

I'm beginning to think Bitch Planet might be one of those comics ideally suited to my brand of analysis. Every issue it seems like there is some aspect of the book worth examining, or a clever creative choice, or just something done really, really well. One layout in particular in Bitch Planet #5 struck me as particularly interesting and so I'm going to try and break down why. So without further ado...

There will be significant *SPOILERS* for Bitch Planet #5 below. 

This double page spread is a really fascinating, really strong bit of comics making. It comes at a key moment in the story and represents the first half of the climax of the issue. It also makes really, really smart use of layout complexity to deliver the perfect moment.

The magic of this layout is the X-shaped collection of panels superimposed over the background. This choice adds a huge amount of immediate visual complexity to the page and instantly changes the pitch of the page. Functionally the page works like two superimposed stories, with the "background" panels describing one string of narrative while the "foreground" panels describe another part of the story that occurs simultaneously, which again adds considerable complexity to the page. That said, because the "foreground" panels from an X, they attempt to drag attention linearly along their lines, despite this not being the chronological order of the story, which ends up making the page feel like five separate, interlocking narrative spaces. This of course multiplies the experienced complexity of the page dramatically. 

Taken together this page feels chaotic! It reads very much like the structure of the comic is breaking down and it instills a sense of overwhelmingness on the reader.


This sense of chaos and confusion is enhanced by how this interesting layout compares to preceding pages. When compared to the preceding pages in the Megaton sports storyline, which tend to use short wide panels that move across the page in clear straight lines (and do a wonderful job separating the sports pages from the other sections of the story). By ratcheting up the complexity of the key layout, the comic really slams home the danger of the events happening.

When you look at the entire sports section of the comic in aggregate, there is a clear progression of complexity. As the scrimage being depicted in the comic begins to build, extra panels are introduced, and the pages complexity mounts a little, but then in the final page of the sequence, when things dramatically escalate and spiral out of control the page itself escalates into a complicated, almost confusing layout that captures the drama of the page. Because of the pacing of these layouts we get to feel things slowly get out of hand until finally we get that perfect moment of the shit-hitting-the-fan fuckedness.

The other thing I love about this layout is how well it sets up the final moments of the climax of the comic. We go from a very busy, confusing, chaotic page to one that is downright austere and measured. When the shoe drops, when the truly fucked up thing happens, the comic slows and simplifies, giving each panel a weight. It's... when I was a kid, I fell twelve feet or so out of a tree. There was a moment there, hanging in the air, that I realized what was happening, that there would be no going back, before I hit the ground. It's a breathless moment of crystallized doom that I still carry around with me. And this is the comics equivalent of that. By going so quickly from frenzy to slow, yawning stillness as the final moments play out, Team Bitch Planet manage to replicate crystallized doom and make a powerful moment truly resonate.

Sometimes the best parts of comics are as much about what they set up as they are about the moments they depict.

And maybe pacing is one of the most important, and perhaps underlooked components of comics.

Uncaging Bitch Planet #1
Uncaging Bitch Planet #2
Uncgaing Bitch Planet #3

Uncaging Bitch Planet #4
Surviving Bitch Planet #1

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

So I Read Sheltered

A 250 word (or less) review od Sheltered Vol. 1-3
by Ed Brisson, Johnnie Christmas, Shari Chankhamma; Image Comics

Sheltered is a comic that distills some of the most paranoid and perplexing corners of libertarian survivalism and takes a long, hard look at their potential consequences. In the comic a group of rugged survivalists establish, Safe Haven, a remote settlement of bunkers, stockpiles, and weapons with the intention of hunkering down to survive perceived looming disasters. When Lucas, a charismatic youth, becomes convinced the end times are imminent, he convinces the children of Safe Haven to murder their parents and take control as the only means to survival. Victoria, the rebellious and smart daughter of a recent joiner of Safe Haven, is not included in the plan and is horrified when her father is killed in the uprising. With the children in charge, Lucas must find a way to keep control of his followers to ensure their survival while Victoria will do anything she can to escape and find justice for her father. Sheltered is a comic with an incredibly interesting and incisive premise that is examined with brutal honesty and portrayed with some really adept storytelling and stylish artwork. This is a comic that really exemplifies taking a high concept idea and completely unpacking it in an interesting and fascinating way. And in so doing, Sheltered becomes a kind of definitive story of children raised in a survivalist compound and approaches a kind of ideal. Or, at the very least, manages to be a pretty exciting and entertaining comic.

Word count: 241

Post by Michael Bround

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Dune Is A Good Book

Or why you should read Dune 
by Frank Herbert

There are some works of Science Fiction that through their quality or influence have become essentially timeless classics. Just what these books are might vary person to person, since everyone makes their own totally valid canon. Dune is a novel that for me is absolutely canon, and maybe epitomizes what it means to be a classic work of Science Fiction. And I suspect that if you've read it, it's in your canon too.

Dune is the story of Paul Atreides, a would be messiah king in an alien culture. Paul is the sole ducal heir of a charismatic vassal of an interstellar empire. Due to disfavour with the Padishah Emperror, the Atreides family is being sent from their feudal home planet to the harsh desert planet Arrakis, also known as Dune. Arrakis is a deeply inhospitable planet nearly devoid of water, covered in deserts ruled by monstrous sandworms, home to the rebellious Fremen clans, and infested with agents of the hated Harkonnen rival family. Arrakis is also the source of Spice, the most sought after resource and drug in the universe. To survive this hellish world and betrayal from all around Paul Atreides will find himself at the crossroads of prophecy; a potential Lisan al-Gaib messiah to the Fremen and a possible Kwisatz Haderach, the foretold messiah of the Bene Gesserit. A position that might give Paul a chance to survive or give him the fulcrum he needs to disturb the order of the universe.

Dune is one of those unique, virtually perfect stories. The elaborate world of Dune; the cultures, the politics, the sheer conviction of the thing, is a thing to be marvelled at. In a world filled with novels that show futuristic cultures built on extrapolations Western Civilization, all rationality and lense-flare shiny, Dune really stands out using references from the Arabic cultures, the Byzantine Empire, and British Colonialism to create a much more original world. Add in some truly strange, psychedelic mysticism and aesthetic and Dune feels truly like an alien world. Dune is also significant for how it examines the way charismatic, messianic leaders can co-opt belief to gain power. This is a fundamentally human experience, repeated through our history, and one often not explored with the honesty and empathy on display in Dune. Dune is also one of the most interesting examinations of cultural collision and power systems in a colonial environment I've ever read, which is particularly striking given when the novel was published. This is a blisteringly smart and very strange novel that stands out from and above most other novels.

Like... here's the thing: Dune has a bunch of sequels, some of which are regarded as quite good. I have never read them, and maybe, probably never will. Dune is such a singular, such an important book to me that I am not interested in having it diluted or scarred by lesser subsequent works. Dune is... everything it needs to be and I think I'm happiest with just that. *That* is how much I love this book.

I would recommend Dune to literally every human. 

Monday, 14 September 2015

Atoll Comics Round 22

Or changes to my Top-Ten comics

Due to having an entertainment budget and an urge to buy better comics, I have decided to be selective about which superhero comics I read. Harnessing the Awesome Power of Maths, I have determined that I can afford to read 10 ongoing titles. So I get to read 10, and only 10, titles published by either Marvel or DC as well as one trade paperback a week of my choosing.

A complication of this is that I am forced to drop an on-going title if I want to try reading a new on-going title, an act of very tough love. Being financially responsible is the worst.

I will be adding Hank Johnson, Agent of Hydra and dropping Black Widow.

Why Hank Johnson, Agent of Hydra: Background characters are one of my favourite things about fiction. I mean, you never get to see it, but you can imagine that despite their shallow portrayal they must have complex lives beyond their role in the story. This is especially true of henchmen, those anonymous people who join nefarious organizations and are just endlessly beaten or killed. It's just such a hapless role that picturing these minions as well rounded people is ridiculous and existentially kind of poignant. Hank Johnson, AOH, mines this comedic tension to make what is so far a really fun sitcom comic that explores the friction between a blue collar Hydra henchman's work and personal life. The first issue is a super tight issue that delivers a comic packed with wonderfully constructed jokes built deployed by Team Hydra (Mandel, Walsh, and Wilson) with impeccable timing. I am not sure the premise necessarily has the legs to be a comic I read indefinitely, but for now HJAOH is one of those rare gems of a genuinely funny action comic.

Why not Black Widow: Black Widow is a comic that has run out of premise. The main arch of the comic told a story, wrapped it up, and now it is living on in an unnecessary Secret Wars after life and... I've just run out of interest with it. Early issues of Black Widow presented a slick, espionage comic that existed in the world of Marvel with an interesting take on it's title character. Unfortunately, I never felt the series really changed gears into a wholly satisfying story beyond the initial exploration of the premise. The quality of the artwork -Phil Noto was great- kept me going on the title much longer than I would have based on the story alone and kept me reading the book to it's natural conclusion. Now that the issue is tying-in and seemingly killing time until the post event world or whatever (Marvel, I don't even know anymore...) I'm just not interested in reading more of this comic. And so it's time to move on to the next thing.