Tuesday, 31 August 2010


X-Necrosha is a collection of X-men themed comics by authors Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost, Zeb Wells and Mike Carey, from specific Necrosha comics to issues of X-Force, New Mutants, New X-Men and X-Men Legacy. 
As could be expected I have mixed feelings towards such a varied book, both in terms of writing and of illustration. First of all, I must say the main story, developed in the X-Necrosha and some X-Force issues was somewhat disappointing. Selene should have planned better, prepared better, taken her time with everything to be more believable as a character from my point of view. Her defeat seemed too easy and too obvious, even with the death toll involved, for a character who bragged  godlike powers, surrounded by so many dangerous companions. I'm also not very keen on the illustrations to the said issues, the 3D lighting effect and the colours stray too far from what I learned to love in comic books. Not that I consider them bad or the effort a mistake, I'm probably just not used to them and prefer more traditional drawing/painting. 
Having said all this, I should also highlight what's good about X-Necrosha. The story continues to follow the life on Utopia, now showing the mutants organizing themselves to fight an attack on their race and on their memories and emotions, as Selene finds a way to bring back a whole lot of dead mutants, transforming Genosha into the Necrosha that names the story arc. Cyclops leads the X-Men as confident as he showed to be able to on Nation X, commanding both the efforts of the people in Utopia and of the X-Force team, sent to deal with Selene by any means necessary. It was very interesting to see other reactions to the attack, as Emma Frost's when she sees the Hellions and Warpath is a nice character to follow all the way through the story. What I liked best in this collection were the side-stories and the tie-ins with M-Day and with Bastion's plans. The X-Men Legacy part was my favourite. The interaction between the mutants sent to Muir Island and the way they finally defeated their powerful surprise enemy was very good. The illustrations for these other issues were very nice. The background stories about Selene's team and how she gathered each one of them were also quite interesting and add to the book, making buying this as a collection worthwhile.

Sorry if the review seems hasty, but I've read it a while ago, I'm far behind on reviewing a lot of books, mostly comics, and I have little time to concentrate on them before I finish reading The Grapes of Wrath, a book that will be hell to review, in every good sense the expression can have.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

X-Men: Nation X

I've been curious about Nation X ever since I first heard of the story. I should say that I wasn't very impressed. Don't mistake me, I liked reading the book, but I was hoping for much more. This story is built on the idea of a mutant independent city-state and that by itself should be enough to allow for the development of an astonishing graphic novel.
Nation X shows how the X-Men lead the mutants in a new place, living separately from the regular people, near San Francisco. It's nice to see Cyclops leading even though Professor X is around. He still doubts himself, as always, but he seems to have a more optimistic attitude towards his leadership, he's trying to be more intuitive and just try things even if he isn't sure of the possible outcome. We see him organizing the X-men to defend Utopia from a Predator X attack, order a team to go right to New York to work out who was behind it (I'll avoid the spoilers here), accepting Magneto in Utopia despite Xavier's disapproval, dealing with his attitude and starting a sustainable community by having people research energy sources and come up with some sort of food production. It's interesting to see the X-club (Dr. Nemesis, Madison Jeffries, Kavita Rao and now deceased Yuriko Takiguchi) investigating and trying solutions for these problems while all having different approaches. Magneto's comeback is, as he is always, awesome. I love his story and his personality and consider Magneto one of the best built Marvel characters. He has a plausible, though not astonishing whatsoever, excuse for his absence from recent events, and seems to be inspired by Cyclops' achievement in creating Utopia and asks to be a part of it under his orders, dismissing a deranged Xavier who is confident they are being tricked. He's still the same person though and he struggles with waiting and asking for permission when he finds a way to solve things himself. After some disagreements with Summers he comes up with a present to show the mutants his good intentions: (MAJOR SPOILER HERE) he brings back an otherwise forever lost x-girl, Kitty Pride, by pulling the bullet she got herself locked in, using his powers to an extent that risks his own life. Another very good detail is Beast's reaction to latest events. He is distressed by Scott's leadership, feels ignored, doesn't trust Magneto and is still mad at Cyclops' for leaving him to torture until the "right time" came to save him. Yet another motive to praise the authors is the telepathic rescue of Emma Frost and Cyclops while dealing with the sliver of Void she had imprisoned in her diamond form. It was well written and very well illustrated and makes for one of my favourite parts of this book. (SPOILER) That Scott managed to lock the Void in a mind prison is amazing but, after having read through the Siege event, I was left thinking if it won't be just another window for the Sentry/Void's comeback. There are a lot of other goods in Nation X, such as the cooperation with Namor and his overwhelming ego, Storm coming round to help, rediscovering Psylocke, Rogue's astonishing new confident attitude, even during combat, Fantomex, yes, he's around and he's fun, and more. Most of these feel underdeveloped though, and have me wishing I could follow an event like this longer instead of going back to small, specific team based comics but they are good on their own too.
In the end of X-men: Nation X there is a collection of short stories that made life on Utopia believable, transforming the idea into a real community, with daily events and funny details, the last one, about the King and Queen of Utopia being my favourite, mostly because of Niko Henrichon's art. Others short stories of note are Jubilee's and Gambit's, both quite interesting and taking a peek into their future.

While going back through the book to write the review I noticed I was enjoying it much more that when I first read it. I guess my mood when I first read it didn't help, or the fact that the story is told too quickly (a problem I have with most Marvel graphic novels) made me feel less excited about it. As I said on the beginning of this post, Nation X had the potential to be amazing, and it was very good at times, but didn't meet the expectations. It still makes for a good book, and a must read for X-Men lovers.
I'm following X-men and X-men: Legacy comics from now on which means I'll start after the Second Coming event, and read the collection about the event when it's available. I've also read X-Necrosha and expect to write a review as soon as I can. I'm still reading and loving The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and although it is taking me really long to get to the end, I can't rush it, his writing and the story itself just makes it impossible. It's a book to be read slowly, allowing the mind to work and waiting for the heart to slow down after each chapter.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Last Airbender by M. Night Shyamalan

Both the film critics and the general public went over the top with the comments on how bad The Last Airbender seemed to be. I managed to watch it tonight and I disagree absolutely with all the fuss people have been making.
The Last Airbender is based on the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, specifically on its first season, Book One: Water. Aang, destined to become the Avatar, a being that can control all elements and talk to the spirits, ran away from his fate and accidentally got himself locked under the ice. Katara and Sokka find him by chance and release him, a hundred years later. His people are all dead, killed in the beginning of the Fire Nation's invasions on their bid for world dominance, and Aang is yet untrained in all elements but his tribe's one, Air. He travels to a northern stronghold where a tribe still practices Waterbending to resume his training. This provides the basic plot and I won't reveal more to avoid spoiling the film for those that have never seen the animated series.
The two main problems I had with the film were the pace and the 3D. The Last Airbender has a plot with a lot of drama that was to quickly told to the viewer without having him feel it, without actually connecting to the public. Also, for the same reason, most of the characters' part was so hasty I didn't even get to know them or understand them and they were already yelling, jumping, fighting, dying or disappearing. The Book of Water season could have been done as two movies, but then again I don't know if the money-bearing people would support it. The 3D was almost completely useless. For a good part of the film there was no 3D image whatsoever, and when there was the experience wasn't as noticeable as in Avatar or even Alice in Wonderland. I wish I had the chance to pay rather less to watch a classic version but it just wasn't available here. Another point I should make is that Sokka's character was much different and worse than the original. I felt that Jackson Rathbone didn't connect with it, or he was badly directed, because Sokka should have been much more funny, even goofy, not only standing out from other characters but also providing the direly needed comic relief to the film. Other than this, the plot is quite interesting, with the necessary adaptations for a transformation into a small film that is short of two-hour long, the fights and dancing sequences were very well done, and the digital parts were nice and well blended. The bending was very believable and the spirit world's environment was well thought of.
This is by no means a fantastic film, but I'd still recommend watching it to fans of fantasy and of course, to fans of the animated series, just be reasonable and don't expect it to be the same as a 20 episode-wide season.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Dave Mckean at OFFSET 2009

Dave Mckean became one of my favourite illustrators after having read the Black OrchidThe Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch, some Sandman and seen many other works while shopping for books. When I watched this presentation at OFFSET, linked at my local comic book store's blog, I just had to share it here too. Enjoy!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Siege by Brian Michael Bendis

It took me just a couple of very intensive reading hours to get through Siege. I had read some of Brian Michael Bendis' work before, as Powers, House of M and Civil War but this time he hit the spot. I couldn't stop reading until I reached the end and I would have continued all night long if there was more.
"The Marvel Universe is under the control of its greatest villains. Norman Osborn - the man previously known to the world as the Green Goblin - is the commander of H.A.M.M.E.R., the international peacekeeping force." This part of the story starts with Siege: The Cabal, where the reader is shown Osborn's madness is again overwhelming him. As he goes paranoid and while, after losing Namor and Emma Frost's support, Doom leaves the cabal and actually attacks him, Norman is seen falling prey to Loki's mischief. Afterwards the book collects Siege #1-4, where the attack on Asgard actually happens and comes to a somewhat surprising and close to apocalyptic end.
Siege is a very interesting story from the beginning, having its roots in the latest big Marvel events, probably better noticed by those following the cabal and also Thor, told just at the right pace to make the reader feel excited but not like jumping pages to the end. It's easily understood by anyone that knows what's generally been happening in the Marvel Universe. The war on Asgard allows the author to bring a lot of heroes and villains into play and still be able to peek into their personal troubles, their personality, so that by the end of this event, everything could change or just come back to normal, and all would be fairly within limits of credibility.
As Osborn's, the full power of H.A.M.M.E.R. and the initiative are attacking Asgard, Steve Rogers gets the true Avengers into play, joined by Fury's Secret Warriors and later by a still recovering Iron Man into play. They manage to beat the attacking forces and disable the Iron Patriot armour but there is still one force to contend with - the "also" mentally unstable Sentry. Finally losing all control, Robert Reynolds fully unleashes the Void after destroying Asgard and becomes a danger to the whole world. When even the might of Thor's lightning and the heroes empowered by the Norn stones seem unable to stop him, Iron Man remotely crashes the H.A.M.M.E.R. helicarrier on him making him revert to human form. Reynolds begs the heroes to kill him and when they notice he is again losing control over the Void, Thor does just that and burns his body on the sun. In this single event, Thor has shown the extent of his determination, Loki demonstrated that even he cares for Asgard's existence over his own plans, Iron Man and Steve Rogers made heroic comebacks and in the end, friendships seem renewed.
The Siege of Asgard, together with the X-men's Utopia stories, reset the Marvel Universe, preparing it for a Heroic Age, which seems to want to prove that after all the trouble, through the Civil War and the Secret Invasion, the superheroes can still find their old places in the world, as recognized defenders but also as friends with hopes of happiness. But any Marvel reader knows this will not be the end of the story, that problems will keep coming and the cycle will begin again, so all I can ask of the writers is that they do so in style, with the quality that Brian Michael Bendis showed in Siege. I must also make due reference to the amazing illustrations, penciled by Olivier Coipel or, in The Cabal, by Michael Lark. If not a masterpiece, in level with what can be done with separate, more independent graphic novels as Maus, Persepolis, Watchmen or even Sandman are considered (I still have to read some of those), I believe Siege is as good a novel as I've ever seen given its context.
I recommend Siege for all of Marvel's usual readers as I believe only those with enough knowledge of the current state of affairs in the Marvel Universe and of most of the characters can enjoy all that this graphic novel has to offer.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Palace of Dreams by Ismail Kadare

A few months ago I was about to fly across the Atlantic Ocean and decided I might need a book to keep me distracted during the long hours locked in the plane. I randomly picked The Palace of Dreams, previously knowing nothing about it or it's author. I ended up sleeping through the flight and the book was postponed until recently when I travelled to London (which, by the way, is now one of my favourite places on Earth) and decided to bring it with me.
The book follows Mark-Alem, a member of the Quprilis, a very important family in an Empire under a totalitarian regime, who starts working in the Tabir Sarrail. Known as the Palace of Dreams, the Tabir Sarrail is a kind of government department that catalogues and interprets all the dreams that the people report as the dreams sometimes include prophecies. As Mark-Alem rises in the Palace's hierarchy, he learns about its purpose, the most important one being the choice and interpretation of the Master-Dream, one which has consequences to the state or its rulers and for that is presented directly to the state's Sovereign, the Sultan.
The story is always told from Mark-Alem's point of view, and the reader learns everything as he does, understanding the event as they unravel around him. In the beginning, the author seems to concentrate in making the reader understand Mark-Alem, his thoughts, his habits, his insecurities, his family and his work. But after a while, the plot thickens as it focuses on the relationships between the Quprili family and the Tabir Sarrail, as Mark-Alem himself starts to understand what happens inside the Palace of Dreams, building up to the moment where he understands how far the rulers will go acting solely on what has been interpreted in a dream. Kadare still keeps a surprise to the very end of the book, which you may predict if you were paying attention to the details all the way from the very beginning.
It was very interesting to read a story that although being obviously about a totalitarian regime that even oversees people's future acts, is different from the usual for keeping within one character's point of view and focusing on his specific story, having no reference to heroes that fight it, to apocalyptic situations or even to the fall of the sovereign's regime as could be expected. Kadare manages to convey how one feels living under the control, being part of the very "machine" that keeps said control and still playing your part as if there was no other chance or there was no conscience of consequence. A notion that reminds me of surviving rather than living, that shows how the true, absolute control can be achieved. The text itself is easy to read and the story develops at just the right speed, being neither too slow nor overwhelmingly rushed to the end.
The Palace of Dreams wasn't one of my favourite books and I'm not about to read all that Ismail Kadare wrote but I did like it and I'd recommend it to people that enjoy stories based on dystopian dictatorships as Orwell's 1984 but don't mind a bit of fantasy as brought here by the prophetic dreams.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Earth X by Alex Ross & Jim Krueger

Even though I had read it before, in the last 24 hours I started, finished reading and all but devoured Earth X. I must admit that when I first went through the book it was a fast, superficial read and I knew much less about the Marvel Universe than nowadays. Today, even when I realised I remembered at least a good part of what was about to happen in the story, I found myself unable to stop until I had read and laughed at Jim Krueger's afterword.
Earth X is an alternate universe where the reader can get a different look at the characters he might have gotten used to while reading classic or mainstream Marvel comics. The book starts as Uatu, the Watcher, has Machine Man aka Aaron Stack aka X-51 fly to the Moon to be his eyes to world, as he has been blinded by an yet unknown attacker. What begins as a struggle between the Watcher and X-51's human personality turns out to be a whole review on the origins of some of Marvel's best known characters, and the reconstruction of what happened in this Earth during the 20 years Uatu couldn't watch.
In Earth X's present, all of humanity is mutated, Johnny and Sue Storm are dead, Reed Richards is a man broke with guilt, posing as Dr. Doom in Latveria, Tony Stark is locked from the world fearing mutation, the Avengers are Stark's robots, Bruce Banner is a kid riding on Hulk's back, Clea is Sorceress Supreme while Stephen Strange's spiritual form is dead, the Thing has kids and Thor is a woman. As if this wasn't enough for a shock, all the psychics in the world are dead, Wolverine is a fat lazy guy married to Jean's clone Madeline Prior (although he only finds out later in the book), Spider-man is forsaken while his daughter dangles around "wearing" Venom, Norman Osborn rules the US and Captain America looks much more old, tired and psychologically overwhelmed than even his century-wide age would predict. It is Caps' finding that the Skull is alive that starts the adventure happening on Earth as the reader watches as Uatu talks with X-51 and tries to stripe him of his humanity that he seemly sees as a flaw. The authors even found a good explanation for the Gods, Olympians and Asgardians alike, and through it a purpose even for Loki to be useful and for Ragnarok to be logical.
As X-51 tricks Uatu into letting him know of the Celestials' intentions towards Earth, he finds that the planet is hatching a Celestial, that it would be destroyed by it and that humans were enhanced by them to be its protectors. Aaron goes back to reveal the plan leading to the story's climax. The heroes come to the conclusion that mutations were caused by terrigen mists turning everyone into Inhumans and accelerating a process that was due to happen 200 years later. Because of this, the Celestials are coming to Earth to wipe its population. Captain America manages to be the hero and kill the Skull, the last mind-controlling entity in the World, a Celestial fail-safe to keep the mutated super-powered humans from killing each other and threatening the planet. Black Bolt sacrifices himself before the arriving host of Celestials sending a last call for the one being that has been known to counter them - Galactus, and although the true Galactus has been turned to a star, an unknowing Franklin Richards, having achieved the utmost evolution has been turned to what the Celestials believed him to be - Galactus himself. Tony Stark sacrifices himself to buy him time. In the end, Reed Richards burns the terrigen mists in the atmosphere, probably allowing for the mutations to revert. But as if all this wasn't enough, Mar-Vell appears and hints at the future, leaving a cliff-hanger of sorts that saddens me for not having the next books.
The whole idea of the Celestials being the "bad guys", of an evolution that links mutation with them but also explains how the gods came to be, as survivors of planets already destroyed and of aged, tired and depressed heroes appeals to me a lot, as a believable plot that doesn't hang on to what the usual reader expects or believes untouchable.
I must compare Earth-X with Watchmen for it is also set in a dark mood, a broken society and has an apocalyptic plot showing people's reactions and struggles, but also because it was, much as the later, able to keep me reading straight to the end, always exciting while keeping enough suspense right to the last page (a character even asks to be called Watchman so the reference was unavoidable). In spite of these similarities in the way they stand out from the regular comic books, these two novels are still very different in both the plot and the final message they convey. Going back and concentrating on Earth X,  Ross and Krueger achieved an almost perfect plot development, the building of the character's personalities and their interference in the whole story was amazing and although I'm not a big fan of the illustrations, I admit they are adequate for the storytelling tone. This might very well have been the best Marvel novel I've read to this point and I instantly went and added Universe X and Paradise X (Earth X #2-5) to my wish list and hope to pick them up as soon as I can.
I would recommend this graphic novel to readers that enjoy dystopias, reflections on the nature of humanity or even on the existence of good and evil and still like to see how depressing people can turn out to be while still able to rise to a life-threatening challenge, though with different motivations. But I mostly recommend it to people that are used to Marvel's characters, that know their origins and their personalities because the shock of seeing them all in this situation adds a lot to the novel.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Um Catálogo de Sonhos by José Carlos Fernandes

When I found Um Catálogo de Sonhos (A Dream Catalogue) I instantly decided to buy it, not only because I loved A Metrópole Feérica, by the same author, but also because I was reading The Palace of Dreams by Ismail Kadare and I couldn't let the coincidence pass me by.
The novel starts off with a man finding out he's a dream pulled to reality out of the catalogue by Mr. Slumber. He manages to run away with the catalogue before Slumber can return him and his escape drives the reader through the story, while presenting characters as policemen, politicians, revolutionaries and others. With simple black and white illustrations, a small 48 page-wide story, and a few characters, the author uses a totalitarian regime in a society where dreams have been abolished and a dream catalogue to convey some ideas about the power of dreams.
The graphic novel is a quick and apparently easy read, but the metaphors and the implications left me feeling I should read it again in a while, to try and separate the dreams from supposed reality. In spite of having enjoyed it, Um Catálogo de Sonhos wasn't nearly as interesting and even astonishing as A Metrópole Feérica and perhaps having read it before made me expect too much.

I'm currently writing reviews on The Stranger and on The Palace of Dreams and reading some comics while I take a much needed rest from intensively reading The Grapes of Wrath.