Reviews: Starbucks Marathon

Sitting here in Starbucks typing this into a text editor since Opera refuses to accept any of the security certificates Starbucks is laying down. Still, I can get through a couple of reviews and post them later. This post in particular has some eclectic material so their should be something for everyone (if not always me).

Bang! Tango
Writer – Joe Kelly, Artist – Adrian Sibar

coverImage recently reissued this apparently classic work from Joe Kelly for wider distribution recently. I’ll start up front by saying that my interest in crime stories has been waning over the years. I really liked gangster movies and shows like The Sopranos more in my teen years, but by the time I was maybe mid-way through college my interest waned (though works like Road to Perdition can still grab me). So, I’m probably not the primary audience for this story.

Vincente Ponticello has built a new life for himself, away from the dark streets of San Francisco. But when Autumn breezes back into his life asking for his help, Vicente must find a way to put his old life finally behind him while preparing for dance competitions with his demanding partner Mel. Autumn’s the woman who ruined his life back in New York, when he found out she wasn’t really a she, at least biologically.

Perhaps the playful cover here makes a little more sense to you now.

This is a “sexy” book, with a lot of betrayals, lust, lies, money, and deviant behavior (not Autumn, but more the predilections of a mob boss who prefers pointed objects instead of his own member). As might be apparent, the story didn’t do a lot for me. It’s violent, and doesn’t really end well for anyone involved. The trajectories of most characters have been determined from the beginning and it can be a little difficult to tell if Kelly is really sympathetic to the trans community or is using it for shock value. The reactions of a prideful man like Vincente ring true, but are they really a perspective I want to read about?

I’d love to see Sibar’s work on a better piece. Each page uses a different color as the main motif, giving it a gray-scale quality while conveying mood. He also does a great job with illustrating the music of each tango, showing the words instead of the notes on the stanza flowing throughout the dancing action.

This is probably a story that will appeal to some of you. It’s well-paced, action packed, and well illustrated. But personally I found it a little too grimy for my taste.

(2 stars | Rounded down from 2.5)

Bad Machinery Volume 3
Writer and Artist – John Allison

coverAnd now for something completely different. John Allison is a master of the web-comic, writing series since 1998, and author of previous series Boom and Scary Go Round. Bad Machinery seems to have kicked it up a notch in terms of the quality of the art and the story-telling. It’s worth noting that there are some jokes that are set up in the beginning of the book that aren’t paid off until almost the end, which is several months in real time.

Though this is Volume 3, it’s pretty accessible to someone who hasn’t read the material before. Allison organizes his run of the comic into cases which run for a few months to nearly a year, then he takes a few months off before the next one. The structure seems to be less about the case, which in this case involves a series of fires set off in old buildings, and whether or not a mysterious and simple man who lives in the woods might be responsible, and more about the lives of three main boys and three main girls in the UK city of Tackleford.

There’s a lot of UK specific phrases and humor here, but there’s a handy guide at the back for anyone who might not pick up everything. I’m a fan of this sort of humor, so this kind of thing just speaks to me. Allison seems to have mastered one of the difficult skills of long-form web-comic story-telling which is to have each page feel like it can be self-contained without always having an obvious punch-line. The book version of this story-line seems to rearrange some of the on-line material, inserting some new pages, so this is probably the best and most definitive way to read the story, though I’ve pulled down the rest of the on-line material (which is about 8 cases now) for my own amusement.

The story is pretty silly and fanciful, but it fits the overall tone of the work. This book is worth it alone for the phrase “swit-swoo” and an embroidery of a tank.

(4 stars | More like 4.5, wish the dimensions of the book fit better on my tablet, but that’s web-comics for you)

Wizzywig

Writer and Artist – Ed Piskor

PrintThough published as a single graphic novel, this story bears some structural relationship to a web-comic. There are longer sequences, but many of the jokes and stories are told in two page comics.

Kevin (a.k.a Boing-Thump) is a burgeoning computer hacker and phone-freak in the early days of computers. He starts from using his perfect pitch to make long-distance calls, to pirating software to floppy disk, to inadvertently unleashing the Boing-Thump virus. The story is told through chapters corresponding roughly to a year of Kevin’s eventual incarceration, and flashbacks to his evolution as a hacker, and the lengths he would go to learn about machines and to evade the law. Most of the present day material is told by his best friend who broadcasts over the air to get Kevin out of prison, or at least for the FBI to come up with the charges to give him a trial.

The era of hacking portrayed here doesn’t really exist anymore. It was a time when anyone who was mechanically inclined, and could string together a few lines of code could get into some surprising places. As evidenced by recent data-hacks, security is something that lags behind a lot in the corporate world, particularly in the 1980s. Boing-Thump serves as an amalgamation of some of the more famous hacks and perceptions of hackers from that period. For us techies it’s great nostalgia, and for others it can even be slightly educational.

There’s some language and crude humor. Piskor’s drawing style renders Kevin as having an almost child-like cartoonish face, but the rest of the world around him is much grimier. Still the humor doesn’t feel artificial in this environment, as anyone who’s been on a few message boards or seen internet comments can attest. And the origin of the moniker “boing-thump” is pretty funny.

This is a long work, and it took me setting it down and coming back to it to get all the way through. I probably liked the early sections best before Kevin delves into helping real criminals, back when it was just about finding out how things worked. But the ending was worth the slog and even gets into a bit of a discussion of WikiLeaks and some of the issues that would lead to Edward Snowden.

Interesting side-note, this is one of the few graphic novels I can check out from my digital library. They may not have any DC or Marvel digitally available, but there are some gems to be found if you look.

(4 stars | At least read maybe the first 80 pages to see if you like it)

Incredible Change-Bots Two Point Something Something
Writer and Artist – Jeffrey Brown

coverThe copy of this from NetGalley was pretty lo-res, so I wasn’t really able to read one of the main story-lines, but this volume seems largely made up of miscellaneous material from a (web-comic?, indie?) parody of Transformers. If I was someone who’d followed the 1980s cartoon series, the jokes might have landed a little better for me. The art is imaginative, I personally like the golf-cart and microwave machines. A lot of what you’re getting here could come out of an artistically inclined sixth-grader who doodles in class, with writing to match. There are some romantic lines explored between a police car and a pick-up truck, mostly for some bad jokes about rust and dating.

Good for maybe a chuckle or two, especially if you like Transformers.

(3 stars | Rounded up from 2.5, wish I could’ve read it better)

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s