Monday, May 23, 2016

Comic Review: Bob’s Burgers Free Comic Book Day preview

    I’m a newcomer to Bob’s Burgers, a surprisingly addictive animated sitcom. The antics of the Belcher clan have warmed my heart. Media tie-in comics are a messy, typically crappy thing. Usually nothing more than a heartless cash grab, they often miss everything that makes their associated property beloved. I’m glad that isn’t the case with Bob’s Burgers. Sure, without the voice actors, there is something missing. But throughout the comic there are little moments, odd beats and throwaway lines that feel so right.

    Similar to the Futurama comic (another surprisingly not bad media tie-in), this is an anthology of gags and bits. And it probably works more for it. Instead of trying to recreate the magic of a full episode, this takes one little joke or humorous scene and tells it in a few pages. I can’t imagine this would bring new people to the show, or be particularly exciting for folks who don’t watch it. However, if you are a fan of Bob’s Burgers, check it out. It’s fun and you’ll get a laugh or two.

-Matthew J. Constantine

Comic Review: The Stuff of Legend Free Comic Book Day reprint

    For 2016’s Free Comic Book Day, The 3rd World Studios re-printed their first FCBD preview of The Stuff of Legend. They have a new volume coming out soon, and wanted to get the name back out there, I guess.

    It’s a book that’s been floating around for a while. I may have even snagged that first preview comic at a previous FCBD. I never read it, if I did. So, going through it today, I found it enjoyable, but not exceptional. I like the art quite a bit. But with a story set in a very, very Toy Story type universe, I couldn’t help but be constantly reminded of the Pixar classic. Does the series branch off and do its own thing? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll find out one of these days. However, I wasn’t left desperate for more. It’s fine. Just not my thing, maybe.

-Matthew J. Constantine

Comic Review: Valiant 2016 Free Comic Book Day Preview

    The Valiant Comics re-launch from a few years ago had me really excited...for a few months. It was nice to see a bunch of titles launching from someone other than Marvel and DC, characters with some history and fanbase, but enough freedom to tell new stories. Plus, Cary Nord doing art for X-O Manowar?! Yes!!!  Sadly, like Nord’s time on the comic, my interest did not last. X-O Manowar spiraled out of my interest with the introduction of stupidly 90s character Ninjak and the loss of Nord’s art. Bloodshot seemed vaguely interesting, but not quite enough to keep me reading. Really, Archer & Armstrong was the best, but I drifted away from that, too.

    They’ve kept going without my business, and keep putting things out that almost make me want to start reading them again. Now, with their “Summer of 4001AD” line, my interest is piqued again. I like science fiction stuff. Are they boosting their characters into the future? What’s going on? Well, this sample preview doesn’t really tell me. But there are a few interesting things. I don’t know anything about Rai, but he looks kinda like a Japanese Bloodshot. OK. He’s running around in a futuristic dystopia filled with virtual reality and a blasted Earth. Sure. Sounds good. The very short bit from Divinity II adds to my desire to read Divinity. Seems like some crazy, Grant Morrison type mega-Science Fiction, and you know I’m there for that. Archer & Armstrong looks sufficiently weird and funny that I’m sure I’d be enjoying it if I’d stuck around. Faith seems as one-trick as ever. I’ve not read anything from it before, and I know it gets a lot of praise, but so far as I can tell its lone selling point is a “plus-size” woman superhero as the lead. I hope there’s more to that in the actual comic, but there isn’t in the preview. And the sample of Bloodshot remains almost interesting enough to want to read it. Almost.

    This preview did for me much what walking through a comic shop does with Valiant. It makes me curious to see what they’re doing, but not curious enough to drop any money on their books. Though I’d buy a trade of Divinity if I saw it.

-Matthew J. Constantine

Comic Review: Avatarex FCBD Preview

    Grant Morrison is an odd cat, and a prolific comic writer. And he seems to have a very wide field of interest. With Avatarex: Destroyer of Darkness, he and artist Jeevan J. Kang are taking on Indian mythology, filtering it through big-idea science fiction.

    The Free Comic Book Day preview issue is intriguing. I like the art, which is very modern in style, but has something of a high-Kriby content. However, it really is little more than a taste, a sample of the mood, but not much of a sense of the overall comic. So, we’ll see. But for now, I am curious.

-Matthew J. Constantine

Monday, May 16, 2016

Comic Review: ROM Issue 0

    Legal issues. Legal issues suck for fans who just want to enjoy a thing. Be it music rights, or what have you. Rom was a comic I used to pick through when I was a kid. I think one of my brothers read it. I’m sure I snagged a few issues out of the 3 for a dollar bin at Pro Libris in Bangor, ME. I liked the look of the character. I liked the space battles. Only later did I find out there were legal battles behind the scenes. This or that person or company owned this or that element. Blah, blah, blah. Fast-forward a long, long time, and IDW has managed to get it all sorted out, bringing Rom back to comics just in time for 2016’s Free Comic Book Day.

    Unfortunately, I immediately got a Stan Lee era Silver Surfer vibe. He’s a Space Knight! So, he’s now on contemporary Earth fighting alien invaders. Production budget isn’t an issue on a comic book, so setting a cosmic comic on contemporary Earth is almost as baffling as it is infuriating. Also, the dialog isn’t great. It’s not terrible. I mean, it’s not Stan Lee awful. But Rom references his various tools by name in a way you usually get in Saturday morning cartoons. “My ENERGY ANALYZER will reveal all.” Sigh. The art is OK. Rom’s design is a touch more Japanese-mecha looking, but not as much as usually happens with these newer redesigns.

    So, I’m glad the character is back in rotation. I’m glad the legal issues have been worked out. Now, maybe they can put a better team on it some time.

-Matthew J. Constantine

Comic Review: Black Panther #1

    Black Panther has been one of those Marvel characters (and there are many) that I’ve wanted to like more than I actually do like when I read the comics. Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange, Captain America; they’re all cool character concepts, but not often actually written well. And even when they do have good writers behind them, they’re often weighted down by too much Marvel baggage. But Black Panther taps into things I really like. Namely hidden civilizations and technological utopias. There’s a bit of The Phantom, a bit of Tarzan, a bit of all those lost cities stories. But it’s also refreshing for the king of the secret African city to be African and not some lost blonde European.

    Issue 1 of the new Black Panther series has some of the problems that these Marvel (and DC) first issues always have. It’s set in the larger universe of ‘event comics’ and what have you. It’s a re-launch of an older title. So, there’s already a ton of history; a lot of stories in progress. Here we have T’challa recently taking back his throne. His sister, recently queen and wearer of the Black Panther name, apparently dead. The nation of Wakanda is in disarray. And things seem pretty bad. There are terrorists attacking, a disaster to recover from, and possible rot from within. So, there’s a lot of dramatic tension in the first issue. But I can’t help feel thrown into the fire, without nearly enough info see a way out. There’s a brief intro in the beginning of the comic, but I think I should have sat down and read Wikipedia for a few hours to find out what’s going on in the Marvel universe right now, so I could put it all into context.

And, being a ‘floppy,’ monthly issue, it’s darned short. There are a lot of reasons I wasn’t really into comics until the collected trades and graphic novels became ubiquitous, but the unsatisfactory fraction of a story you get in a monthly issue was up there. There’s only 22 pages of story here. It doesn’t even feel like a chapter of a book, or an episode of a TV show. Plus, being from Marvel (DC is as guilty), it’s also unconscionably expensive. Marvel has the resources and the print-run size to be able to charge less, but they charge more. You see it in their trade paperbacks, too. A book that would be $9.99 to $14.99 from a smaller company is $19.99 to $29.99 from Marvel. This is $4.99. Five bucks for 22 pages and some ads. I was finished reading the whole thing in what, maybe 10 minutes? Maybe.

So, issue #1 introduced a bunch of things which seem like they might be interesting. And for contemporary, mainstream, superhero comic art, it looks pretty good. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes comic book dialog competently (something that doesn’t always happen when a traditional prose writer tries to transition). But overall, I was left unsatisfied. Perhaps reading a full story arc would change that. Perhaps I’m just not interested in reading about a Wakanda and T’challa plagued with self-doubt and sadness. Time will tell.

-Matthew J. Constantine

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Book Review: The Arsenal of Miracles

    Look, there were some very thoughtful science fiction stories being written throughout the Golden Age. This isn’t one of those. Gardner F. Fox didn’t really write ‘thoughtful.’ He wrote a lot, and he wrote fun. Essentially a holdover from the Pulp era. This isn’t meant as a slight. He wrote a solid ripping yarn.

    With “The Arsenal of Miracles,” we find a crazy future where Humanity and another humanoid species have clashed over habitable worlds. Both species live in the shadows of ancient aliens, and the secrets of those aliens become the crux of the book.

    There are a lot of fun ideas, if not a lot of character development, and not a heck of a lot of plot. There’s a dash of Edgar Rice Burroughs thrown to kick things up. And you can see a bit of Sword & Sorcery, especially in the early part of the book. The book drifts off the rails in the final stretch, though. It reaches a climax, but then meanders on to a second finale that is less than thrilling.

-Matthew J. Constantine

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Tabletop Roleplaying Review: Barbarians of Lemuria

    Way back when I first started writing for In the Mouth of Dorkness, I had plans to explore one of my favorite hobbies, tabletop roleplaying games. I started the Prodigal Son column, where I chronicled my attempts to get back into the hobby, which sadly didn’t really work out. At the time, I thought I’d write the occasional review of a game or game book. I only did that once, with my exploration of Over the Edge. Well, I’m giving it another go.

    I can’t remember where I first came across the name of Barbarians of Lemuria (BoL, as it’s known). I think it was on a Facebook gaming page where people were talking about their favorite “light mechanics” games (games with fairly simple, straightforward rules). Whatever the case, something struck me. I read further into it and found that it was a small game, independently written and produced, that had garnered quite the fan base. Those who had heard of it; who had read the book, seemed rather enamored of it. Looking deeper, it started to sound like just the thing I’d been looking for, a game made for running Swords & Sorcery games, a la Robert E. Howard’s Conan. So, I hopped on to Lulu and ordered the hardcover (I always prefer a print copy, and hardcover if I can get it; I’m just not very good with e-books and PDFs).

    The game evolved out of Simon Washbourne’s desire to create a game based on the world of Lin Carter’s Thongor of Lemuria, kind of a second string Conan. Because he couldn’t get an official licensed game out, he modified things, making it more his own. The setting is fine. It’s very true to the Sword & Sorcery aesthetics and would make a fine sandbox to play in. But the system is what I was most interested in, this time around (not something I ever thought I’d say). I was looking for a good system for Conan, and I found it. The basic mechanic is easy and intuitive, which I like. But the thing that really makes the game for me is the career path system. This captures something of the genre I haven’t seen captured before. When you look at a character like Conan, or Solomon Kane, or Elric, or Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser, they weren’t always one thing. Conan wasn’t always a roving adventurer. He was a thief, a military man, a deckhand on a ship, and many other things. He had several careers, learned many skills over his years. And BoL’s career path system reflects that.

    The only weakness I see in the game comes from its adherence to some of the less advanced views of many of the classic genre authors. I’m talking about women, here. The game is firmly set in the ‘big tough men rescuing shapely, weak women’ mindset. It’s not too blatant or overbearing about it, but there are bits dropped throughout that remind you many of the more interesting female swords & sorcery heroes came around much later. It wouldn’t take much of any effort to tweek things onto a more enlightened path.

    So, for folks who like easy, numbers light game mechanics and Swords & Sorcery Fantasy adventure, this is a great game. The setting is fine. The mechanics are nice. And I think you could have a lot of fun with it. I know I’m really looking forward to roping some folks in to Hyborian Age game, and I’ll almost certainly be using Barbarians of Lemuria when I do it. 

-Matthew J. Constantine