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Dance of the Puppets

Like a bat on a hot tin roof since August 2005

Friday, August 27, 2010

It's about time! (and space)

Valerian and Laureline vol 1. The City of Shifting Waters

Long time readers may recall that I was so appalled at the quality of the translation of the most recent English language edition of Valerian that I started working on my own translation of one of the earlier volumes. The good news is that Cinebook have now started translating the whole series from the beginning.

I had high hopes for this translation as I've read several other European books that they have published in English editions, and I wasn't disappointed. Unlike the terrible ibooks translation the new one is clear and entertaining. In fact the plot isn't hugely interesting or original, involving Valerian and Laureline tracking down a mad scientist who has escaped back in time to 1986.

Not that this is a 1986 you'd recognise. The polar ice caps have melted and New York is underwater. And this is where the story really stands out. The art depicting flooded New York is fantastic. It's interesting to see this alternate 1986, though when it was first published in 1976 this was a possible scary future instead of a warped past.

Although I'm happy to see it, and I love the art, this is clearly an early work and neither the writing nor the art have really hit their stride yet. I found it odd that there are no women in the story other than Laureline, and even odder that nobody in the story appears to notice. Even in this early adventure Laureline is clearly more competent than the titular hero, and in fact is held back for the first part of the story for no very good reason other than to enable Valerian to get into trouble for her to rescue him from when she does turn up. And then later in the story she is again put out of action so that Valerian can bumble about ineffectually.

The writer, Mezieres seems to have some issues with women, though he seems to have got over it by Ambassador of the Shadows (vol 6) where Valerian is kidnapped and Laureline is allowed to take centre stage to rescue him.

One thing I like about this new edition is that the series is not called Valerian Spaciotemporal Agent as it was known when this was first published, but the current (and more accurate) Valerian and Laureline.

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

small press, small mind

My tolerance for small press comics is fairly low. There are a lot of good ones out there now, and the top end blurs the distinction between small press and, er, big press. But there is still also a lot of crud.

But we all have to start somewhere, and the best way to learn how to do comics is to do comics. But there is a "small press" mentality that irritates the hell out of me.

Disclaimer: Please note that there are a ton of excellent small press comics that do not fit into this tirade, from the humble mini-comic photocopied at work when the boss wasn't looking, to the glossy colour 64 page spectaculars. If you think this rant is aimed at you, then deep down you must believe that you deserve it.

What I am talking about is the attitude of those that somehow think they are above mundane details like correct spelling, coherent storytelling, basic research, or any kind of perspective on what they are doing. I am unable to comprehend why someone would go to all the time and effort to create a comic purely for the love of doing it, and then not bother to finish it properly. Have they lost interest in it half way through? Do they consider it in some way cool to make it less than it could be?

And then there's the "re-inventing the wheel" approach. The language of comics has been developed through a century of use, but that's not good enough. These people know better. The result is almost always something that is far harder to follow than a regular comic, but doesn't have anything more to say. The alternative styling achieves no useful purpose and in fact distracts from the storytelling.

But the main thing I dislike about these small mind/press guys is the way that they are incapable of dealing with any feedback that is not exclusively telling them how wonderful they are. Say "I liked that story but this panel would work even better if the hand was a little bigger" and they react as though you had called them a donkey bothering bed-wetter. And the funny thing is that the better looking someone's work is, the better they are at handling creative criticism. Nobody is perfect. I've seen Brian Bolland original artwork and was incredibly reassured to find that there was whiteout all over it. Even he makes mistakes.

So these days if someone asks me for an opinion of their work I have to say to them "do you want a real opinion or would you just like me to say it looks nice?" And yet nine times out of ten when they claim they want a real opinion and I pick out a couple of weak spots that could do with some polish, they still get all offended and behave like I suggested they had innappropriate relations with zoo animals. The tenth one will look thoughtful and then often say "Yes, there was something bugging me about that that I couldn't quite work out" and be happy that they have found a way to make their work better.

How to tell whether someone likes your work:

If they give you some blanket negative comment like "It's a stinky pile of poo." then they don't like it and probably haven't even read it.

If they point out some small error, or suggest some way in which an aspect of the story could be improved then they have read it, thought about it, and found some way of helping you to make it look better. This person likes your comic and wants it to be the best it could possibly be. If you feel personally insulted by their comment then you are an idiot. This rant is for you.

Moral of the story: don't ask for an opinion unless you really want to recieve one.

Reasons to be Kimiyo

When Kimiyo Hoshi was first introduced way back in Crisis on Infinite Earths, she was a doctor, a scientist, and a single mother with two children, and she lived in Japan. After a long stint with the JLA she eventually retired from the hero biz to spend more time with her children. In Infinite Crisis she joined the fight, protecting her homeland (still Japan) from attack.

In Green Arrow in a story supposedly taking place after IC but published some six months before, Kimiyo is a management executive in America. Her powers are taken away and she is left dying. Now in Birds of Prey we find her alive and well, apparently with powers, and working as a scientist in Japan.

So what exactly happened here? Here are my theories:

1) Superboy Prime's reality punching activities created an alternate universe in which Kimiyo's entire backstory and geographical location were different. This alternate universe collapsed before anybody noticed it other then Green Arrow, who didn't care enough to check whether Kimiyo was still alive at the end of the story.

2) It was a clone.

3) Dream? Hoax? Imaginary story? I'm running out of ways to explain away Judd Winick's lazy writing and his editor's negligence.

In fact my best guess is that the blanks will be filled in during 52. Either that or everyone is going to pretend the Green Arrow story never happened.

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Get-out clause

There's this cool bit in the Xena episode of The Simpsons where Lucy Lawless explains to her fans that any time something occurs in Xena that is incongrous, anachronistic, or plain makes no sense, the explanation is "A wizard did it".

DC developed a similar philosophy some time ago, and every time they have an Event they use that as an excuse to cover any continuity screwups up to the current time. After Infinite Crisis their excuse was Superboy Prime reality punches, but even they seem to realise how weak this was so within a year they came up with Mister Mind munching on the multiverse to explain away anything that didn't make sense. Unfortunately the main thing that didn't make sense was how someone, regardless of how powerful they were, could alter reality by hitting it, or how a giant space bug could eat an intangible concept.

Marvel got onto the bandwagon somewhat later, and it has to be said that while their excuse is an epic cop-out, it's a lot less metaphysical. Anything that went wrong/didn't work so we want to undo it/was plain stupid and made no sense: A Skrull Did It.

Friday, August 20, 2010

So it's a thing now?


Today I came across the Mammoth Book of Special-Ops Romance.

I hadn't realised that there was enough special-ops romance for it to qualify as a distinct sub-genre, let alone fill a Mammoth book.