Monday, September 29, 2008

REVIEW - BLACK SUMMER by Warren Ellis Art by Juan Jose Ryp

BLACK SUMMER is a recent mini-series written by Warren Ellis with art by Juan Jose Ryp, published by AVATAR PRESS.

Suppose that there existed, in our current world, 7 Guns; super powered human weapons, intelligent people that figured out how to give themselves seemingly unbeatable super human abilities, and used those abilities in an attempt to make the world a better place, and, for the most part, succeeded, gaining public support and eventually acceptance by the government. Now suppose that one of those 7, John Horus, suddenly decided to kill the President of the United States and demand that the country right itself or they would be at war... with him.

BLACK SUMMER is an interesting, dark, serious, and realistic take on the superhero genre filled with political outrage, ethical questions,and moral dilemma's... that unfortunately falls just short of being enjoyable to me.

It's hard to really pin down where BLACK SUMMER failed for me as a story... I mean, I really like Warren Ellis' writing, and this kind of twisted superhero story is usually right up my ally; but it was missing something for me. I think the main problem I had was that the story felt rushed to me. This is a concept I would have preferred to see told in a more decompressed way, establishing the characters and their world a bit more firmly... 8-12 issues would have been great.

I also think that it was entirely too plot driven, rather than character driven. There was no one I could identify with, and not a single likable character. Everyone was portrayed as being an arrogant, self righteous, bastard, and none of the 7 Guns, the books superhero team, supposedly made up of 7 friends from college, even got along or seemed to have any sort of emotional connection with each other besides mild loathing. A lot of the characters only interaction with each other was just boiled down to "Bitch," a lot of the time. I get that the story is supposed to be a bleak, critical, examination of the kind of arrogant, self righteousness need to proclaim yourself above man's laws, as imperfect as they may be... but I can help but think that could have been better served by contrasting it against the fact that these people as human and flawed as anyone else. There was a hint of a romantic subplot between two characters, and even a moment of tenderness, which was completely glossed over, and then forgotten.

In the end, it didn't feel like there was a sacrifice, or any sort of redemption, because I just didn't care for anyone; which is disappointing, because Warren Ellis is usually so good are writing amoral, monsterous, characters that still have a shred of humanity and empathy. DESOLATION JONES is a perfect example of this. I loved that Jones, as bleak as his world view was, was at least empathetic towards those people he had contact with whom life had shit on. There was a subtle sensitivity to DESOLATION JONES that just isn't present in BLACK SUMMER.

Another problem I had with the book... my biggest problem actually... was the art. I can't say that it was just outright BAD... but it wasn't great. Juan Jose Ryp can definately draw. His background are highly detailed and reminicent of Geoff Darrow's super detailed layouts, and his characters are solidly constructed... but his linework is chunky and has little line variety... it looks like it was inked with a sharpy, and the pages get really busy, and at times I found it hard to seperate foreground and background elements from each other. I liked the costume designs, but the characters themselves are almost impossible to tell apart from each other, particularly the females, who all have the same body types, big porn-star hair, and the same face. Male characters are similarly difficult to differentiate, as they too, all possess the same basic facial stuctures.

The most GRATING thing about the art though? There are a number of instances where a characters body languege or facial expression just do not match what is being said. People look angry when asking a harmless question, or their expressions are too extreme for what's trying to be portrayed. There's no subtlety or range. There are also times when the drawing is just outright BAD. The guy definately has potential, but he's also lacking in a lot of area's.

The coloring definately doesn't help... this is probably some of the most garish and cheap looking computer coloring I've ever seen, and gives the books mostly servicable art a really cheap look.

BLACK SUMMER is a book that feels like it could have been great, but somehow falls short. I can't say it's outright horrible, but it's definately not my favorite Warren Ellis work. It feels like he really phoned it in. There's a lot of interesting concepts and cool idea's, but it's missing heart and character.

STREET FIGHTER TRIBUTE: A Tribute to Street Fighter.

I had the honor of helping with Toronto comic publisher UDON's big STREET FIGHTER event, launching their newest contribution to the expansive world of STREET FIGHTER merchandising. It was, quite possibly, the best event I've ever taken part in (though I wish we had had more before the event to plan the tournament so it would be run more smoothly... hindsight is 20/20).

The space was great; we used the new party space at ROCCO's, referred to as THE PLUM, which was large and classy looking, and the staff was enthusiastic, helpful, and hard working. UDON provided a lot of banners and art to decorate, so there was no mistaking what you were there for, and the idea of having a tournament with some pretty sick prizes, was ingenius and fun, as it was very appropriate to the event and allowed for unprecidented audience participation. The event was well promoted, and a lot of people showed up, and a LOT of them wanted to play STREET FIGHTER. I lent my own TV to the event, and the BEGUILING had a big ass digital projector, which was AWESOME. Combined with the two giant arcade controllers that UDON provided, it was a pretty sick set up, and worked out really well in the final round of the tournament... which itself could not have gone better as we had two equally matched combatants going blow for blow, ramping up the intensity right up until the very end. They both pushed it to the limit and made it probably the most enjoyable part of the entire event for everyone involved.

As for the book itself, I got one for myself after the event for a great price, and it's totally worth it; a truely unique project which showed how impressive and dedicated to their product that UDON is... a giant artbook featuring over 300 new pieces of art from an epcleptic and varied array of artists encompassing every possible style and medium; from north American cartooning, to anime inspired, digitally painted, and even surrealism. The book comes across as a massive love letter to what is probably a huge part of my generations adolecense, full of passion and vigor.

A great event promoting a great book, which I recommend to everyone.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

SPACED: You Read my Mind.

Above: My favorite scene from SPACED (season 2 episode 2: Change). I swear to God, I've had this conversation almost word for word...

SPACED is a show about real people living a very close approximation to real, mundane, life, but shot in such a way as to make the mundane extraordinary. Two twenty something's, Tim and Daisy, find themselves homeless after their mutual relationships break down, and become fast friends. They decide to get a flat together when they see an ad in the paper, but take the ad very literally, and fabricate a relationship to trick the flat's super. Add a few absurdly weird secondary characters, and let comedy ensue!

I'd seen a few episodes of SPACED on SHOWCASE (it was on after TRAILER PARK BOYS, which seems appropriate somehow, as it could be argued that TRAILER PARK BOYS is almost the Canadian equivalent of SPACED), and I liked it, but wasn't in love with it. It's not a show where you can just walk into an episode and pick up on everything; it's a show that you really need to watch to get everything out of it. SPACED is more serialized dramady than traditional sitcom, given it's origins on the BBC and the nature of how serialization works across the pond.

Each season is 7 episodes, and there is a definite progression of story from episode to episode, rather than an unconnected string of shenanigans. Each season has a beginning and ending, and each character has an arc, growing and evolving. Which I enjoy, because I find that while I can enjoy a sitcom, I often find them tedious in the long run, as it's a lot of the same shit happening over and over again to the same people.

SPACED is definitely more dramady than tradtional sitcom. There are no snappy comebacks, no laugh track, and no sitting around an apartment waiting for people to come in... the comedy comes more from the situation, and the style of the show, which treats even the most mundane, ordinary event, like an action movie. As the show moves along, though, the reality of the show sort of starts to flux as things become more absurd and ridiculous, and your ability to suspend your disbelief slowly grows. One of my favorite episodes involves main character Tim (Simon Pegg), and his best friend Mike (Nick Frost), building and managing a robot for entry into ROBOT WARS (which was a popular BBC reality show that was called BATTLE BOTS over here), and I just found any scene where Mike treats the robot like a dog, hilarious.

Another facet of SPACED that appeals to me, is it's use of pop-culture. Not only are the characters obsessed with pop-culture and make references to things that they like; such as Tim working in a comic book store, and his love of STAR WARS (which is bittersweet as shown above); but also in it's visual references, recreating scenes from movies, or pulling in idea's or characters from movies (such as the two VERY MATRIX-esque agents from the first episode of season 2, or the scene were Tim burns all his STAR WARS toys), not to mention music cues... I literally almost CRIED when they referenced the LITTLEST HOBO. This use of popular culture as a sort of short hand to communicate with the audience on a very honest, familiar, level appeals to me greatly, because it's almost exactly what I do with my friends. Nerds communicate with other Nerds by quoting old Arnold Swartzenegger movies, or THE SIMPSONS, or obscure old TV shows from our youth. Everyone can relate to that in some way.

SPACED was thoroughly enjoyable to me, and quickly became one of my favorite all time shows. The DVD is very well put together with tons of extra's, such as the original audio commentaries from the British release, and new commentaries with special nerd-guests, as well as some a documentary which cleverly ties up the shows one loose end. Best 40 bucks I ever spent.