16 July 2011

Archival Review: Star Trek: Nero by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman, Mike Johnson & Tim Jones, and David Messina

Comic trade paperback, 90 pages
Published 2010 (contents: 2009)

Acquired December 2010
Read June 2011
Star Trek: Nero

Story: Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman
Writers: Mike Johnson & Tim Jones
Art: David Messina
Colorist: Giovanni Niro
Letterer: Neil Uyetake

This story fills in the gap between Nero's arrival in the 23rd century and his attack on Vulcan twenty-five years later. What was he doing all that time? Well, he was in Klingon prison a lot, which makes sense, since the film establishes he busted up some Klingon ships and a prison planet before getting to Vulcan. This comic, however, establishes that he actually escaped from the planet some time before the film, then tootled around a bit, then came back and blew up the Klingons. Which isn't exactly elegant, but I suppose writers who think having Nero 1) develop telepathic powers and 2) merge with V'Ger are good ideas are also writers who couldn't get an interesting story out of a guy being in prison for twenty-five years. Plus, decompressed storytelling abounds, with 3-4 panels on most pages, so even less happens than this book's meager 90 pages imply.

Archival Review: Star Trek: Spock: Reflections by Scott & David Tipton, David Messina, et al.

Comic trade paperback, 98 pages
Published 2010 (contents: 2009)

Acquired December 2010
Read June 2011
Star Trek: Spock: Reflections

Written by Scott & David Tipton
Layouts by David Messina
Inks by Elena Casagrande, Federica Manfredi, and Arianna Florean
Finishes by Federica Manfredi
Colors by Iliana Traversi
Color assists by Chiara Cinabro
Lettering by Chris Mowry, Robbie Robbins, and Neil Uyetake

This is a new film tie-in in the loosest of senses, taking place as it does shortly after Generations. (There is a starbase that looks like the starbase from the film, I suppose. And Spock kinda looks like Zachary Quinto in one picture.) Mostly it is Spock reflecting on his own history, recalling things like his meeting with Captain Harriman on the Enterprise-B, arguments with Sarek, being awkward with Doctor Chapel, and so on. The stated aim of the book is to explain why Spock goes to Romulus, which is briefly alluded to in the film, but it doesn't really do that. A collection of disposable vignettes.

03 July 2011

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Sandman Spin-Offs, Part VII: Destiny: A Chronicle of Deaths Foretold

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2000 (contents: 1997)

Borrowed from the library
Read July 2011
Destiny: A Chronicle of Deaths Foretold

Writer: Alisa Kwitney
Artists: Kent Williams, Michael Zulli, Scott Hampton, Rebecca Guay
Color Artist: Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh
Letterer: Todd Klein

As with WitchCraft and the Triple Goddess, I doubt anyone was clamoring for a Destiny spin-off, but he is one of the Endless, and he's the easiest for DC to do as it will with, for he predates Neil Gaiman. Curiously, this book follows the same format as WitchCraft: there's a frame story by one artist, and then three substories, each illustrated by a different artist, ranging through time. Our story opens in the far future year of 2009, when bubonic plague has devastated the Earth and a strange man, one John Ryder, shows up at the house of Ruth Knight, one of five survivors in a rural village. He brings with him The Book of Destiny, an 1899 publication reconstructing the meaning of the Destiny Scroll, a page torn from the Book of Destiny. It connects the four comings of bubonic plague to Destiny of the Endless and the mysterious John Ryder himself.

I liked this a lot at first. The art in the frame story (I don't know which of the four artists was responsible, unfortunately) is angular and moody, perfect for this postapocalyptic world, and Kwitney's writing is powerful enough to match. The relationship between Ruth and John is very well done, too-- it's complicated, as each wants something out of each other. The first flashback story is great, too, about the wife of the emperor at the fall of Byzantium and her illegitimate child (who turns out to be John Ryder), who becomes the pawn of Destiny, carrying the plague. But after this, the flashback stories get muddy. What is John Ryder trying to accomplish in 1348 or 1665? It's not quite clear. And thematically, I never figured out what the book was trying to do, either. It wants to be about destiny and Destiny, but there's a lot about plagues in it, and that never really links together. I guess those who die of the plague are destined to die? But so what-- according to the mythos here, everyone has an inescapable destiny, so the plague stuff feels like too much. And as for that ending... I just didn't get it.

Despite my comment at the beginning, I think there's definitely possibility in a story about Destiny, as in all the Endless. The inescapability of Fate has been the basis of many a tale. Destiny looks cool, sounds cool, and even gets in a good joke here, to my surprise. But this story isn't it; it never coheres into saying or doing anything in particular.

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Sandman Spin-Offs, Part VI: Book of Dreams

Mass market paperback, 402 pages
Published 2002 (originally 1996)

Borrowed from the library
Read July 2011
The Sandman: Book of Dreams
edited by Neil Gaiman and Ed Kramer

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I ultimately did. It's a collection of prose stories set in and around The Sandman mythos. I was anticipated something full of dark magic and fantastic moodiness; instead, I just got a jumble of dullness. Many I just never got into and ended up skimming: Colin L. Greenland's "Masquerade and High Water," both stories about Wanda (Caitlín R. Kiernan's "Escape Artist" and Robert Rodi's "An Extra Smidgen of Eternity"), Karen Haber's "A Bone Dry Place," Delia Sherman's "The Witch's Heart," Steven Brust's "Valóság and Élet," and Susanna Clarke's "Stopp't-Clock Yard." (Interestingly this last one feels like it's set in the same world as Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, the world of English magic.)

Some, I had more specific negative opinions about. Lisa Goldstein's "Stronger Than Desire" seemed to just hinge on a revelation that wasn't very revealing. B. W. Clough's "The Birth Day" was all right, but not up to much in the end. And for some reason there are two stories about sexually-abused children being protected by their dolls. The first, Tad Williams's "The Writer's Child" just irritated me with its faux child style (I hate prose that tries to mimic how kids write; it's never real). And the second, Mark Kreighbaum's "The Gate of Gold" starts off great, but just becomes cruel for a reason I don't understand.

Some, I had more mixed reactions to. I really wanted to like Barbara Hambly's "Each Damp Thing," a tale set in the Dreaming which unites all my favorite recurring characters: Cain, Abel, Lucian, Merv, and best of all, Matthew the Raven. Unfortunately, it sees them all battling something the absorbs organic matter, which feels like something out of an sf story, not a dream. Will Shetterly's "Splatter" is very well done, and very enjoyable, up until the end. It's set during the serial killer story arc in The Sandman, and I think I just disagree with the story philosophically, refusing to believe that anything like what the story depicts could actually exist. Nancy A. Collins's "The Mender of Broken Dreams" has a great premise, but expresses that story with a plot that's not a plot at all: character wants to know where he comes from, character asks, character is told, character is happy now.

There were some good ones, though. John M. Ford's "Chain Home, Low" was probably my favorite in the book, telling the tale of several different characters affected by the sleeping sickness that struck the universe when Dream was imprisoned. It's a moody, poignant tale about failed ambitions, and the prose is great, to boot. George Alec Effinger's "Seven Nights in Slumberland" is quite good, bringing Little Nemo into the DC Universe and The Sandman mythology; like Gaiman says, it really is a Winsor McCay comic in literary form. Cleverly done. And Gene Wolfe's "Ain't You 'Most Done?" is fantastic, the last haunting, moving dream of a dying man who never dreamed while he was alive. They feel like stories that could have been actual side stories during the series, haunting and fascinating in the ways that the best of those were. But three good stories does not a good anthology make.

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Sandman Spin-Offs, Part V: WitchCraft

Comic trade paperback, 133 pages
Published 1996 (contents: 1994)

Borrowed from the library
Read June 2011

Writer: James Robinson
Artists: Teddy Kristiansen, Peter Snejbjerg, Michael Zulli, Steve Yeowell
Colors: Daniel Vozzo
Lettering: Richard Starkings

This isn't the first Sandman spin-off-- it's predated by the launch of Sandman Mystery Theatre and the first Death miniseries-- but it's kinda the first standalone one. (I say "kinda" because it did garner a sequel, but said sequel was never collected in trade paperback.) Its subject is a little odd, though; I refused to believe that any Sandman fans were clamoring for a return of the Three Fates or the Three Witches or the Three Goddesses or whatever they were. (I mean, they don't even have clear names.) They would just pop up sporadically and be cryptic; I think they had a role in the finale, but maybe the Three Furies were something separate? I don't know and I don't really care.

The story opens with a Pict barbarian coming to Londinium and raping a Roman woman. She's a priestess of the Triple Goddess, though, and lets off a prayer as she dies. Too late to save herself, but the Triple Goddess decide that she will get her revenge: when she and her killer are next reincarnated in the London area, her killer will die. This takes over a millennium, but finally a young maiden is due to marry a guy who turns out to be a rapist. She's secretly a witch, and so is he, and though the Triple Goddess try their best, it doesn't quite come together, everyone dies, and no revenge is had. At this point, I wasn't really into the story either way-- didn't hate it, didn't love it. Did kinda wonder what the point was. (Except that the introduction had told me, but I'll come back to that later.)

So they're left to try again in 1842, where for some reason the priestess has been reincarnated as a man-- and not just any man, but Sir Richard F. Burton (though he's no "sir" yet). What? This just seemed bizarre to me. The killer is actually his mother's lover, and willingly so. Richard Burton is chastised by her for not allowing her her sexual freedom. But he chases the lover anyway and, whoops, the lover rapes Burton. I guess because he's just so evil? Then Burton meets up with gypsies, who teach him sex magic or something (you know gypsies) and then he finds the lover, but doesn't kill him, and goes on to be imperialist bastard we all know and love. And who wrote awful, dull travelogues.

The last bit brings us to the 1990s, when the priestess is now an old lady, and the barbarian is her baby-raping, wife-mind-controlling, priest-killing warlock son-in-law. Because he just wasn't evil enough? It's starting to get over the top at this point. Anyway, the grandma wins, and the Triple Goddess sentences him to be reincarnated throughout the past as the victim of every sex crime ever. Leaving aside the fact that "sex crime" sounds a bit too 20th-century in the mouth of a pagan goddess, it's just what!? I don't even understand what this is supposed to mean. Does it make rape into an empowering act for women? Or is it poetic justice (because raping men is funny maybe)? Or something? God, how bizarre. The book tries to pull back from it by having one of the Goddesses say "I actually started wondering if the matter deserved all the fuss we'd given it," but you know, that ending still exists!

Like Black Orchid (it must be a Vertigo thing), this collection contains a fawning introduction from someone I've never heard of, but I think is supposed to be famous maybe, Penelope Spheeris. Spheeris describes the book as creating "a comic-book world for those who are evolved enough to know that ultimately there is justice in the world." There's nothing evolved about this book! It depicts men as eternal rapists and women as eternal victims, whose best outcome for "justice" is that the men can secretly be the victims of the rapes they commit. She also claims that it shows the power of women as "immeasurably strong and immeasurably subtle," though I feel like being victimized through the millennia is pretty much neither. And lastly, she's quick to claim that men will like this book too even if it is all about female power (really?) because the stories "are sexually titillating without being sexist. They are sometimes erotic, but in an artful, beautiful way... and in a way that allows the WitchCraft women to keep their power and their moral strength." WHAT!? Did we read the same book? Because in the book I read, every sex act bar two is coerced. This book is not remotely titillating-- sex is nasty, brutish, and short, a means to an end for one or both parties in every case. None of the participants are ever drawn attractively. And let's not even talk about the assumption that "boys and men alike" need sex on display to enjoy a story about women anyway...

I freely admit that Penelope Spheeris's introduction is not James Robinson's fault. But it does show the same warped, unpleasant set of values that seems to underly this entire book. Ugh.