I think I haven’t seen so much buzz about a new SF novel since David Marusek’s Counting Heads. There are actually a few similarities, it’s a first novel by an author and it’s also a novel that feels like the first in a series or at least the setup for a new universe for his author to mine exhaustedly. Both have a setting that’s full of advanced technology used in a pretty nightmarish way. But where Marusek’s future felt like a tired amalgam of SFnal elements of the last two decades with no new ideas of its own, Rajaniemi really works on the cutting edge, infusing the now weathered transhuman/posthuman science fiction with a few much needed sparks of newness.
The reaction so far has been either love or hate (or at least head-scratching). The book tries to mix up stylistic elements of the new wave with the all-out paranoia of Dick, the geekiness of Doctorow and the idea density of Stross in his Accelerando/Glasshouse mode. This means, if you aren’t well versed in genre stuff, it can be a pretty opaque for most of its running time. Even later Rajaniemi rarely gives a clear explanation for events or what is really going on.
So, why then is the book so good, as some people (including me now) claim. The late 80ties and then the 90ties gave us the idea of nanotech with endless malleable bodies and the consequences that would follow, but only few SF books extended that to futures where the mind is similarly malleable. At the beginning of the new century science fiction mostly explored the singularity, if it wasn’t just replaying old tropes. The singularity is pretty much dead now (not that this stops some authors) and most of the stuff by authors who worked on the cutting edge a few years ago feels a bit tired. They still write good stuff, but nothing really exiting or new. TQT feels fresh in comparison.
In the future of the Quantum Thief, memory and in extension mind has become as malleable as everything else. Nothing is safe: not your sense of self, your memories, your concept of who you think you are. Rajaniemi fuses these ideas with other current hot topics (the limits and management of privacy in an über-connected world, gaming culture) and manages to write a convincing future that feels like the next step after, well Stross, Doctorow and their contemporaries (yeah, I like generalizing, up to the breaking point and then some). But unlike other novels that completely stand on their own, TOT partly fails or succeeds with whatever Rajaniemi does next in the universe. It’s pretty clear once you’ve finished it, that this is just a skirmish, one that hints at a much larger conflict, only that we don’t know the relevant players or what they want. So, I hope there’s a follow-up soon.
To be honest, at the moment Voxelstein 3D isn’t so much a game, than a proof-of-concept that one could recreate Wolfenstein 3D with voxels. All you do is run around, kill (so far not that different from the original) and get stuck behind objects. There’s only one level, but for a few minutes it’s fun to run around, stab some of the puppet-like guards and destroy voxels here and there. If you have no experience with a completely destructible gaming environment, it’s interesting to see all kinds of objects get destroyed. But after a few minutes that gets boring and you hope for more game content. So, hopefully, there will be a fully playable game in a few years (realistic estimation for freeware gaming projects). Until then, there’s always the original and the sequels.
I’m still a bit wary of the Premium Line of smaller hardcover releases from Marvel. Some see it as a cheap money grab and would have preferred to see all material released as oversized hardcovers. I admit I can see where they are coming from, but I do like some of the material that got released in the new premium format and I don’t think some of that material had ever a chance to get released in oversized format. So, you lose some, you win some.
Back to the six-part Kitty Pryde mini, from which I read the first three issues nearly two decades ago, but did not manage to read the remaining three issues. That I remember reading the first issues at all after this time, nearly as if were yesterday, is a testament to its strength. This was Claremont at the height of his game. He really got characters like Wolverine and Kitty and the others that appear, he managed to tell a story that was compelling to read, enjoyable and had enough substance to feel more than just cheap entertainment.
After reading the remaining three issues I’m not blown away, but neither am I disappointed. This isn’t a big tale intended to wow you, this is a small scale adventure whose main task was to give Kitty Pryde some much needed character development. The plot is about Kitty following her dad to Japan because he’s involved with the Yakuza, but there she meets an old “friend” of Wolverine. When Wolverine follows Kitty, he meets her deeply changed. Overall it’s really a fun read. Sure, some of the typical quirks of Claremont surface here as well, but they aren’t really as annoying as in his later work. Overall, definitely worth a buy.
This is exactly what you expect it to be. The grand finale of the cancerverse-trilogy that started with a rip in space-time at the end of the War of Kings crossover and was followed by an intrusion of cthulhic, evil counterparts of Marvel heroes from the cancerverse. It’s pretty short, compared to the other, recent crossovers of the cosmic line, but it delivers big time. Great, widescreen battles between the forces of good and evil, yet also decisive actions by a few heroes that decide the fate of the whole outcome.
I haven’t been a big fan of Thanos in the past, he always looked like a cheap knock-off of Darkseid (that said, I haven’t read his most famous appearances like the Infinity mini-series, so take that with a grain of salt), but I think his usage here is pretty well done, tying into his obsession with death.
There is a neat twist near the end, that reinforces the typical superhero theme that not the most powerful characters (and thus power itself) is decisive, but strength of character. Pretty good finish for the cancerverse-storyline. Now lets hope the Marvel cosmic line itself isn’t finished and the forthcoming Annihilators series manages the same level of quality.
I often admired the animated output of DC, which managed to be sophisticated enough to be enjoyed by an older audience, yet nonetheless could be watched by kids too. Marvel’s animated series were always aimed at a younger audience. Fun and enjoyable, sure, but lacking the strong characterization of DC’s output. Thankfully, this Dr. Strange movie from 2007 seems to imitate the DC approach.
It’s a retelling of Strange’s origin story (famous Doctor has an accident and now searches for a method to heal his damaged hands, becomes big magic honcho in the process), but with enough new material and a slightly different twist on certain events to not make it a xerox-copy of the original. Mordo is there, but with a different design than his comic counterpart. Wong and the Ancient One seem more or less the same. There’s also Dormammu as the big villain, who sadly has a different design too (his comic design is IMHO far superior and it would have been fun to see it animated).
That said, for all the changes, the movie captures the essentials of Dr. Strange well. Not that this should be too difficult, after all, Strange is a pretty typical magician fighting the forces of evil with a Marvel-tragedy spin added to the mix. The movie adds further tragedy, by introducing Strange’s sister and her premature death, though I hated the crap about that some people aren’t destined to get saved.
I know it’s a byproduct of a universe where destiny and magic and such stuff are real, but I really hate the sentiment. Less annoying (but still annoying) is the whole Yoda-incarnation the Ancient One is doing (giving cryptic remarks that should be wisdom but come over as the usual mysticism-crap). Where the movie shines is the action. There’s a strong action sequence at the beginning where an invisible magic beast is wreaking havoc in New York. Then there’s the fight near the end of the movie between Strange and Dormammu’s forces.
That said, if only the fights were fun to watch, it probably would be a pretty dull movie in-between the start and the end. But the rest is pretty good too – the journey of Strange from arrogant Doctor to broken man to Sorcerer Supreme – even with the annoyances I mentioned. Overall, this is a fun movie that modernizes Dr. Strange without abolishing most of the elements from the source material.
There are many ways to describe this. Ballsy. Biggest retcon in recent Marvel history. Incredibly stupid in parts. Overall, it takes six of the most powerful “heroes” and reforms them into a cabal that does good by taking pro-active steps to contain dangers before they go explosive.
I remember how Liefeld’s X-Force was described as pro-active (it wasn’t) or Justice League Elite (neither was this). It seems Bendis at least understands the meaning of the word pro-active. That said, the series is also a study in hubris. Some of the actions taken by this group come back to haunt them. After all, their very first action initiates the secret Skrull invasion. But is it good?
The first issue and the last issue are a framing device for the whole Illuminati group and an explanation for why the Secret Invasion actually took place. They are competent and mostly well done. The second story is about the Illuminati containing the threat presented by the Infinity Gems. I liked that issue as well. But the third and the fourth issue were pretty awful.
The third retcons the original nature of the Beyonder. Now, I think the Beyonder was a pretty awful concept to begin with, but Bendis retcon makes even less sense than the original explanation for the Beyonder. The fourth issue deals with Noh-Varr. Now, while Professor X says he would never cross the line to manipulate someones mind, the issue has just enough ambiguity to believe that the nice Professor might still have done it. This isn’t Morrison’s Noh-Varr, this is a pitiful, wretched caricature of the original Noh-Varr. And the attempt to convince Noh-Varr to become the new Captain Marvel really took the cake. That was just awful.
What I still haven’t said about the series is that it’s all just exposition. This isn’t really a story, it’s a setup for other stories. It says These things happened this way, deal with it. They aren’t stories unto themselves, they are narrative hooks to be exploited elsewhere, be it Secret Invasion or the Avengers series of 2010. They are captions brought to life. Only, since it’s also a big retcon, they had to add nice art and annoying Bendis dialog to convince us this con is the real thing. And most of the time it works.
I recently read the new issues of Bendis 2010 Avengers series and there was this character who was called Noh-Varr. I also recently read the Marvel Boy mini from Grant Morrison, that also had a character named Noh-Varr. Now, I like both series, but nowhere in hell is it possible that these two characters are the same. The only way that the Morrison Noh-Varr became the Bendis Noh-Varr is by some sort of brain damage.
Morrison’s Noh-Varr came from an advanced Kree-culture, not the Kree of the Marvel universe, but a Kree-culture from another universe that was able to traverse the multiverse with their space ships and who had managed to create a sort of futuristic utopia whose main philosophy could be equated to “Zen Fascism” (quote Morrison in the comic). Noh-Varr declared war on Earth, not because he wanted to destroy it (well, at least not in the way most superhero villains want to), but because he wanted to uplift our culture to the standards of his own. Change or die, in that respect he combined typical traits of a Warren Ellis character with the youthful, rebelliousness typical for Morrison’s earlier characters.
Morrison’s Noh-Varr was fundamentally a science fiction character, willing to uplift our culture against it’s will and at any cost. Bendis Noh-Varr is fundamentally a superhero comic character, willing to preserve the status quo at all cost (not even wanting to give away Kree technology because it could harm the development of our world).
Such a fundamental shift in personality is something that comes from a lifetime of experience and certainly not in the time-span depicted here. Bendis obviously took a character, gutted everything he didn’t like (which was essentially the core of his personality), took some of his superfluous elements and created a new character. I wish he would have done this, create a new character, instead of completely demolishing an existing one.
But maybe there is a way to reconcile the two different personalities. Now, I didn’t read the intermediary appearances of Noh-Varr, but I know that the Illuminati visited him in his prison before he became active again. We know the Illuminati are pretty result-oriented at whatever cost. Noh-Varr obviously was a pretty big threat to Earth. They had a world-class telepath in their group who has been shown to be not above mental manipulation for the best of intentions.
I don’t think it’s such a big leap to come to the conclusion that they did a little brainwashing on Noh-Varr. That interpretation reconciles Morrison’s and Bendis Noh-Varr and leaves some interesting potential for future story-lines, once Noh-Varr’s original mental makeup asserts itself.
Marshal Law, a comic published sporadically from 1987 until 1998 (okay, there was a one-page appearance in 2000 A.D. 1280 in 2002, but I don’t really count that) is a ultra-violent superhero satire with Marshal Law – a former superhero himself – hunting his former colleagues. Superhero in the Marshal Law universe means normal humans that have been transformed into super-soldiers for a campaign in south America and who, after the end of the war, play superhero at the home front (albeit most of their superheroing falls more in the villainy camp).
The interesting thing about the Marshal Law comics is that despite being practically a one-note character, there’s an ongoing narrative that develops coherently over the course of all the one-shots and mini-series. Each subsequent part of the Marshal Law series references earlier events and sometimes old-characters (often dead ones) comes back. Even the crossover with characters from other franchise, like Hellblazer’s Pinhead, The Mask and Savage Dragon are part of the ongoing narrative and not just non-canon appearances.
Of the three crossover I found the Savage Dragon the weakest, since Marshal Law seemed to act a bit out of character (and somehow wound up not hating superheroes anymore) and the whole lacked the hyper-violence and full-on satire of the other Marshal Law comics. But the follow-up series (the crossover with The Mask) went back to the basics and managed to salvage the damage from the Marshal Law/Savage Dragon crossover.
Beside the excellent writing of Pat Mills, one big draw of the series is the art by Kevin O’Neill. It’s some of the most unrestrained stuff O’Neill has done in his career, allowing him to indulge in violence and designs that most comic wouldn’t allow. But despite the heavy violence and big amount of gore and blood, due to it’s comic nature it never feels as uncomfortable as some Marvel and DC did in their all-ages titles in recent years.
This is a comic that did what Ennis does with the Boys, only at a time when such stuff was nearly unthinkable (even Watchmen or DKR never went to these extremes). Compare the common Marvel or DC output from the time Marshal Law appeared and you really appreciate Mills and O’Neil’s little anti-superhero. And the best thing is, the comic has lost none of it’s manic energy over the years, it reads as fresh as it did over 20 years ago.
I’ve heard before that the follow-up to War of Kings was much weaker, but I have to disagree big-time. I think with the cancerverse-trilogy, of which Realm of Kings constitutes the second part, Abnett and Lanning really hit their stride. This is the perfect fusion of cosmic superhero comics and classic space opera. The previous two Annihilation crossover had similar elements, but here they really came to fruition.
It’s fun to watch this story unfold on the personal level, but also how the bigger empires, the inhuman-lead Kree and the Shi’ar, have to deal with all the big upheavals that have taken place in the recent past. WoK and RoK really manage to convey the big canvas on which this story is playing out, the size and magnitude of these events. And yet Abnett and Lanning manage to not forget the individuals. Partly this is the story of the Inhumans and their plan to be a more reactive force in the universe, which has been both successful but also full of unintended consequences.
Among all that good, there had to be one thing I could complain about, which in the case of RoK is the Son of Hulk mini, which has nothing to do with the RoK story and yet is collected in the Realms of Kings hardcover. Not only is it part of another story (part of Hulk’s world I guess), without knowing much of the background (I have only a flimsy grasp on what happened in the Hulk corner of the Marvelverse in recent years), it’s pretty much incomprehensible to read.
Was it too much to include at least a few pages to explain who these characters were and what it was all about? Really, after reading RoK: Son of Hulk I’m not a little bit wiser to what went on. I’m not even sure if the Hulk-son is a good guy, bad guy or something else. And whether what he did with that world in the microverse was good thing or not. Really, I have no clue and find it bothersome that Marvel saw fit to include part of a completely different story in a book I paid money for, but got nothing out of it. Good art though.
The final JLA Deluxe hardcover collects the rest of Grant Morrison’s JLA run, his Earth 2 one-shot and the first three issues of JLA Classified. The final issues of the JLA should have been the grand finale of Morrison’s run, and while the story certainly feels pretty big with incredibly ideas and a big threat that has been hinted at since the Waid’s introductory A Midsummer’s Nightmare, it’s problematic.
For the first few issue the pace goes into an even more intense mode than thought possible, considering the stuff that happened before. There are some beautiful executed elements, like all of humanity rising up to the challenge of an alien weapon of the first gods. But then the whole story gets wrapped up in a few pages and everything feels a bit anti-climatic. It’s still a good read, just be prepared that the grand finale is a bit short.
The Earth 2 one-shot though is probably Morrison at his best, bringing the JLA into conflict with the Crime Syndicate (an alternate, evil version of the JLA). Morrison manages to take such a simple concept and spin an excellent story out of it, that has a few unexpected twists along the way. And, if you like Quitely, you’ll probably be in heaven with the art-side of things as well.
The final stuff collected in the hardcover are the JLA Classified issues one to three, all by Morrison as well. They are a nice read and function as a sort of prologue for his Seven Soldiers of Victory crossover, but it’s not Morrison at his best. For the most part, the JLA is absent (Batman deploys robotic versions of them to hide their absence) and the whole story seems all over the place. The issues contain a few good ideas, but it’s all too disjointed to be really enjoyable. The art is nice though.