graphic novel

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias/Crimson Corsair

Before Watchmen - Ozymandias

After reading and reviewing  Before Watchmen: Nite Owl/Dr Manhattan a couple of weeks ago, I was left with mixed feelings. Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist trying a second book in DC’s spin-off series. And of course, it had to be Ozymandias.

The books themselves are hardcover volumes with lovely, glossy pages and vivid colours. The title and contents pages are done in classic Watchmen yellow. At the back of the book are several pages of extra artwork, mostly character sketches—a joy to browse.

Before Watchmen - Ozymandias 2

Ozymandias #1-6 Collected – Writer: Len Wein; Artist: Jae Lee

As soon as I read the first few pages of Ozymandias’ story arc, I was hooked. Firstly, Len Wein’s writing style was much more lavish, rich, and just delightful than J. Michael Straczynski’s in Nite Owl. I relished his command and confidence with language. As the story is an autobiographical account, this works well: Wein gives Veidt a grand, egotistical voice that adds to the almost-deification of mortal into god, as Veidt attempts to change the fate of humanity.

Jae Lee’s also provides stunning line work to complement the story. The best parts of Lee’s art included daring side-profiles and powerful illustrations of movement and combat. A visually marvellous work.

The Ozymandias arc provides backstory into Veidt’s early life and then his choices in the lead up to the events of Watchmen. It’s a thought-provoking character study of a man whose lofty ideals justify personal atrocities. Overall, a great read. Liked how it tied into 20th century events. Loved that the Comedian got some screen time, too. 4 out of 5 stars.

The Curse of the Crimson Corsair – Writer: Len Wein & John Higgins; Artist: John Higgins

Reads a lot like Pirates of the Caribbean. Young Scotsman Gordon McClachlan survives a shipwreck and is scooped up by the undead crew of the Flying Dutchmen, captained by the Crimson Corsair, a tough guy in a bandanna who says creepy things. McClachlan must then embark on a quest to regain his soul. I’m still not too sure where this story fits in to the whole Watchmen universe. It stands alone; perhaps a sister story to Tales of the Black Freighter, the serial pirate-horror comic that was interspersed throughout the story of Watchmen. Maybe I missed something? Altogether entirely average: entertaining but only moderately satisfying. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Dollar Bill – Writer: Len Wein; Artist: Steve Rude

Bonus story! Gotta love that. A short snippet of Dollar Bill’s life—from athletic but academically-stunted high school student, to struggling actor, and eventually to caped mascot. Because he draws heaps of publicity, Dollar Bill is accepted into Minutemen, but almost as soon as his adventures begin, he meets his tragic end. 3 out of 5 stars, I guess. It was a little funny.

Redeemed the series for me! I may pick up yet another volume. Stay tuned :)

Before Watchmen - Ozymandias 3

Before Watchmen: Nite Owl/Dr Manhattan/Moloch

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Before Watchmen: DC’s spinoff prequel series to the 1986 genre-defying graphic novel that was Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. This is the first of the prequels I’ve read. I’ve been pretty reluctant to pick it up, because I’ve always seen Watchmen as being a standalone masterpiece, especially impressive as a closed-off, non-continuous work. I like books that are complete, elegant, finished, structured, polished. But the nature of comics universes is to expand and expand upon storylines…even if the original creators aren’t involved and don’t approve.

The lovely hardcover copy that I got my hands on (Thanks, local library! I have loved you since I was three years old!) collects several issues together in one lightweight book. The stories are all written by J. Michael Straczynski and illustrated by various artists. There are some pleasing elements here and there, but overall, nothing astounded me.

I’ll review each character’s arc separately.

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Nite Owl #1-4 collected – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski; Penciller: Andy Kubert

Interesting glimpse into Dan Drieberg’s childhood life, his idolation of the original Nite Owl and eventual assumption of the superhero mask. Followed up by a rather trite and predictable homicide mystery where prostitutes are being murdered and the Nite Owl gets to boink a sexually liberated vice-queen with lots of gratuitous boobs and butt perspectives. The fragments of Rorshach’s past were exponentially more intriguing. 2 out of 5 stars.

Dr Manhattan #1-4 collected – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski; Artist- Adam Hughes

Marginally more compelling. Straczynski takes Dr. Manhattan’s omniscient, omnipresent abilities and uses that to tell a story that breaks down linear time and unfolds into multiple possible narratives. Basically expands on the events and potential of Dr. Manhattan as told in Watchmen. We get to meet Dr. Manhattan when he was little Jon Osterman, and also his German father and Jewish mother. 3 out of 5 stars.

Moloch #1-2 collected – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski; Artist – Eduardo Risso

Entire life story of Moloch the Mystic. Fairly cliche but reasonably entertaining. Not sure if the change of heart towards the end of his career was entirely believable, but I found myself feeling extremely sympathetic towards the poor, sad, pointy-eared chap. I liked this story arc particularly because it showed how Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias (one of my favourite characters in the Watchmen universe for his fascinating personality) manipulated ol’ Moloch and many others. 3 out of 5 stars.

dr manhattan before watchmen

Overall, Before Watchmen seems to be a step backward into a more traditional form of superhero storytelling. There were elements that strongly repulsed me, and other elements that I enjoyed. Despite my mixed feelings, I’ll probably try another in the series. I would probably recommend this to Watchmen fans because you do get more fleshed out back-stories to some of the major events of the original graphic novel.

Day Three (or really, day two), + Book Review: Ender’s Game – The Graphic Novel

Reading: Before Watchmen – Nite Owl/Dr Manhattan
Listening: CMA – Caught In Our Thoughts
Watching: BBC’s Wonders of the Universe; waiting for the other half to have free time so we can catch up on Korra and Elementary
Playing: Nothing over the past few days

Day Three of my six month journey of writing! Or technically, day two…because yesterday I had a job interview and didn’t achieve much in between that and physiotherapy and outdoor soccer training. So yesterday will be one of my “weekend” days and I’ll work a full day on Saturday or Sunday to make up for it.

What difficulties have I encountered so far?

1. Waking up

I always have difficulty with this. Especially in winter. I suspect my body is somewhat related to a polar bear, because I tend to adopt hibernation behaviours in cold weather. I’m pretty sure, if you left me to it, I could sleep three-quarters of the day away. Unfortunately I’m not one of those lucky people who are able to thrive on a few hours of sleep (and now it seems there’s a genetic association for it!) though I really wish I was. Imagine the productivity! In fact, my utter inability to function without adequate sleep has definitely been a factor, amongst other things, in pushing me away from specialties such as Emergency Medicine and surgery.

Despite my love of the bed, I am actually a morning person and achieve the most before 12 noon. So, the alarm has been going off at 7.30am.

2. The Melbourne cold

I haven’t yet got so sick of my house that I have had to relocate to a cafe or library. But the downside is that my house is freezing. My weapons of defense? Fluffy pink socks and a trusty beanie.

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3. The afternoon slump

Hits around 2pm. I yawn and can think of nothing but a pillow against my cheek. My techniques for handling the slump so far have included switching activities—for example, switch from story-outlining to blogging; doing 10 push-ups (the most I can achieve); going for a short walk.

4. Facebook

Hasn’t been as much of a problem yet as I’d feared. Will update if this changes.

On to the book review!

ender's game

Yesterday I finished the graphic novel adaptation of Ender’s Game, scripted by Christopher Yost and artwork by Pasqual Ferry. It’s a collection of Ender’s Game: Battle School #1-5 and Command School #1-5, which basically covers the events of the original novel by Orson Scott Card: An impending second war looms between humans and their enemies, the bug-like alien Formics. To prepare for this, the army is seeking the most gifted child to mould into a deadly commander. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is taken to Battle School in the hope that he can become this commander.

The graphic novel is a reasonably faithful adaptation of the book, covering all the main events in a condensed way. It’s a great introduction to the story if you’re new to Ender’s Game, and also an enjoyable alternative medium if you’re already a fan. There isn’t anything new or surprising.

The art style is clean and futuristic. Ferry’s linework conveys movement fluidly. The colours are sombre and evocative of the gloomy interiors of the spaceships. The Battle Room scenes are well illustrated and fun to flick through.

Overall, the graphic novel conveys the main emotions of the book fairly well, though the resolution seemed rushed and only offered a superficial skimming-over of Ender’s reaction to the final battle. I also feel as though they left out a major part of the ending.

A quick and easy graphic novel read that can be a great introduction to a controversial science fiction classic.

Happy hump day, everyone!

Book Review: A Chinese Life – Li Kunwu, Philippe Otie

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I found this book in my local library last week and the blurb convinced me to take it home:

An autobiography in graphic-novel form, A Chinese Life traces a remarkable personal journey through modern history, from the creation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 to the present day…this stylish masterpiece of design chronicles the rise and legacy of Chairman Mao Zedong and his sweeping, often cataclysmic vision for the most populous country on the planet. Li Kunwu witnessed this extraordinary period at first hand, and here intertwines the experiences of his family and neighbours, his friends and rivals, his colleagues and compatriots, in a visionary account of “interesting times”.

Although I am of Chinese ethnicity, I actually know shamefully little about Chinese culture and history. The closest person of my extended family to be born in China was my maternal grandfather, who passed away when I was a child. My great-grandparents lived in China, but I never met them.

I think, therefore, this book was quite perfect for me. The target audience seems to be Western, or non-Chinese, readers. It is the personal memoir of Li Kunwu, a Chinese artist who was born just following the Communist Revolution and during the height of Mao Zedong’s influence. His experience of the Great Leap Forward, the tragic effects of the severe famine on his family and hometown, the fervour of the Cultural Revolution, and ultimately the opening up of China to foreign interchange and subsequent power, are particularly memorable because we see it through the eyes of a Chinese man.

The first half of the book is definitely more engaging than the second half. The relationship with his father is especially poignant to observe. Li depicts events and reactions with little commentary, leaving conclusion and opinion up to the reader. Only towards the end does he share his opinion of the events of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Overall, this graphic novel certainly gave me a compelling insight into the mind of a man growing up in twentieth century China. It was also a great introduction for me into China’s recent history. Although it’s a hefty-looking book at 700 pages, it didn’t take me too long to finish. The pacing was commendable. The black and white artwork is lively and generally easy to follow, except for a few jumps here and there and difficulty telling characters apart. Worth its while if you’re looking for a unique form of autobiography and are keen to learn a bit about Chinese history from an insider’s point of view!

Kickstarter Project – Fly the Colour Fantastica: A Comic Anthology

Check out this amazing project from twelve talented artists and show them your support!

colourfantastica

Should I read The Walking Dead?

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Before the TV show, there was a comic book series.

This is a difficult review for me to write, partly because the scope of the series is so vast (up to episode 119 and ongoing), and partly because I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, and partly because I haven’t watched the TV series. I’ve been putting it off for a while now. 

I’m not an insanely loyal fan who’s been following the series from issue #1. I eventually picked it up a few months ago at the insistent recommendation of Victor, who said it was unputdownable. He even bought me a Surface so that I could read it.

Unboxing the Surface RT 2. :)

Unboxing the Surface RT 2. :)

(The purported consensus between the two of us is that I can use the tablet for reading other graphic novels, manga, PDFs, e-books, browsing the web, star-gazing, etc…but I am pretty sure the real reason was The Walking Dead.)

Neither am I a dedicated zombie enthusiast. I’ve always had a fascination for the zombie myth, but apart from enjoying a couple of zombie movies here and there (28 Weeks Later, Zombieland…) and dressing up as a zombie doctor for Halloween 2013, I’ve never really had a chance to delve into the zombie popculturedom. TWD seemed like a great place to start.

Not my best day.

Not my best day.

The thing about TWD, as you probably have heard, is that it’s less about the zombies themselves than about how humans respond and behave in an apocalypse sort of scenario. Suddenly thrown into a world where survivors are the exception, where you have to roam the country with a weapon at your side to look for food, where you can die at any time, anywhere, humanity’s bleakest and most animalistic instincts emerge. Survivors draw together with tribal loyalty, go to fierce and violent ends to protect their loved ones and become accustomed to callous acts. Children are shaped by this new, unsympathetic reality.

In a way, TWD is a social experiment. My mind drew parallels with The Lord of the Flies. Over time, it emerges that the most sinister enemy is not the ‘walking dead’, but fellow man.

TWD

It’s a gory comic, though slightly meliorated by the black and white schematic. Writer and creator Robert Kirkman frequently uses graphic violence, shock tactics and disgust to keep the reader on the edge of her seat, sometimes more than is tasteful/necessary. Few issues are taboo. TWD does seek to explore every possible nuance and consequence of a zombie apocalypse and, for the most part, I think this is done well. We meet complex characters and cringe at the painful decisions they have to make. We feel their fears and pleasures.

So, should you read it? Yes, if you want a zombie story with lots of hacking of brains and action and fights. Also yes if you want a story about human relationship and psyche in hardship, with believable character development. No, if you get attached to characters easily. And no if you are looking for something that will lift your mood. It’s not a happy world!

OK. Hope I didn’t spoil anything major! Is it worth tackling the TV series next? Anyone?

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Batman: Arkham Asylum – Grant Morrison & Dave McKean

I have a lovely copy of Arkham Asylum. It’s a softcover 15th anniversary edition, with beautiful glossy pages and a section at the back that includes the full script plus annotations by the author. The experience of leafing through those slippery, deeply-inked pages had me totally encapsulated in Grant Morrison’s eerie, mad world.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I opened up Asylum. I knew it would be a different experience from the other Batman graphic novels. I’d flipped through it a few times and got a general idea of the jigsaw, shadowy, gloomy art style. I’d heard that this book was a boundary-pushing, spine-chilling venture into the hitherto black-box psyche of Batman…and a must-read for any budding Batman fan.

The story has a fabulous premise. The Joker has overrun Arkham Asylum and is holding the staff hostage. In exchange for their release, he has one demand: Batman must descend into Arkham Asylum and encounter its inmates. The Joker, of course, has an arsenal of mind-games ready to riddle our poor, well-intentioned protagonist. Batman’s quiet fear? That he will feel more at home inside the asylum than anywhere else.

As soon as Batman walks through the doors of that terrible mansion, the book transports you into a sealed, different, crazy world. It’s a world of shifting shapes and grotesque faces. Batman encounters the Joker, Two-Face, Clayface, Scarecrow and other inmates who mutter and lunge and wander in dark corridors. The artwork and font choice conjure up a truly creepy atmosphere, but also make the book a visually difficult read. You really have to hunt if you want to notice the carefully placed details. Or read it twice.

Morrison doesn’t hide the fact that he has intentionally included loads of symbolism and layers to his story. In fact, in his appendix, he remembers how his original script “had been passed around a group of comic professionals who allegedly shit themselves laughing at my high falutin’ pop psych panel descriptions.” Too bad his high falutin’ book went on to be a cult hit.

But yup. Heaps of inserted symbolism, from the Anubis at the door of the mansion, to the wild dining-table scene that is reminiscent of Da Vinci’s Last Supper and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. A superficial reading of the book (as mine was) will skim over these layers. It’s up to you how far you want to delve into Morrison’s mad creation. That’s one of the beauties of this work, I suppose.

The narrative of Amadeus Arkham, founder of Arkham Asylum, a haunting and horrifying voice out of a journal, fell nicely in parallel. To be honest, I felt that the degree of gore was in certain places gratuitous. Others might argue that the violence is an essential part of Amadeus’s story.

Arkham Asylum is certainly an interesting take on Batman’s darker motivations and ventures into unexplored territory. It turned Bruce Wayne into the more complex superhero we are perhaps familiar with today.

I haven’t really compared my edition to other editions of Arkham Asylum, but I say if you’re after a more in-depth exploration of Morrison’s thematic intentions, then go for this edition if only for the annotated script.