Space Doubles Collection #1: Set the Controls

Th3rd World Studios' Space Doubles is a project that I admire out of proportion to how much I actually enjoyed it. Combining horror and science fiction dates back to the infancy of the SF genre-- after all, many consider Frankenstein to be the very first science fiction novel. There were plenty of pulp stories to crossbreed these genres, and the EC Comics of the 50's like Weird Science were only the most famous of the many comic titles of this ilk. With this new collection, Th3rd World clearly wants to pick up the standard and continue the tradition, which I totally support in theory. I just wish I liked the book more than I do.

I think I mentioned in a previous post that I'm not a huge fan of short stories, be they in prose or comic form. It's like hearing a joke; you can't tell if it's a good joke until you get to the punchline. The difference is, a joke takes 20 seconds or so to tell, but you have to invest a bit longer in a story. And if the end doesn't work for me I feel like I wasted my time reading it in the first place. And in the rare case I like a story, I then sometimes wish the author could have fleshed it out and made a proper book out of it. If I am reading a book and I'm not enjoying it, I've been known to bail, or at least skip to the end. With a short story, it seems silly to quit once I've started, so I slog on and hope the "punchline" redeems my time investment.

Space Doubles was originally released as a miniseries with a flip-book format. The title derives from the fact that each side of the book had an 11 or 12 page story, from a variety of different creators. There are more than six stories in this collection because some of these were meant for the never-published fourth and fifth issues, and therefore are presented here for the first time. The book is unfortunately in black and white, but that is no doubt a necessity for a rookie publisher in a merciless marketplace.

"Red Rain" by Mike Raicht and Alecia Rodriguez concerns a mysterious mist which clouds the moon, and an intrepid band of astronauts which is sent to investigate. What they find is bad-- very bad. Both the script and the art are pretty good, but at the end of the day it's just another alien invasion story.
Rating: 7/10

"Everywhere I Look...Bugs!" by Scott Closter (the creator of this series) and Philip Schaufelberger is a pretty neat idea for a mind-bending story hobbled by iffy artwork. It concerns a pretty boy media darling who goes slightly bonkers after a transportation mission to bring flora and fauna to the terraformed moon of Titan. It has a great creepy vibe and twisty finale; it's too bad the main character, supposedly pegged as "James Dean of the Moons" by the media, looks more like Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Oof.
Rating: 6.5/10

"A Saucerful of Secrets" by Jason Hall, Ron Chan and Rich Ellis explores the interesting idea that in the future everyone's life is a blog, but if the public becomes too bored with your experiences you get filed away in a life support tube instead of leeching off our valuable resources. The lead character has already lost his girlfriend and now he's desperate to make his life more interesting.
Rating: 7.5/10

"Escape Pod" by Mark Andrew Smith and Matthew Huynh is a somewhat lightweight entry about a supermarket clerk confined by modern living and puzzled about his former life prior to a car accident that left him with amnesia. The answer is pure wish-fulfillment, baby. Huynh has an interesting style reminiscent of Paul Pope, but he needs to work a little more on things like perspective.
Rating: 6/10

My favorite story in this collection is "Sympathizers" by Justin Robinson and Aneurin Wright, which actually uses the short format to good purpose by giving us a long view of relations between humanity and a sympathetic alien race that comes to Earth seeking asylum and a new start. Turns out their homeworld was ravaged by war and the Quagaar have relocated to escape their warmongering brethren. Initially they are welcomed with open arms, but relations become decidedly strained when the violent tribes from their homeworld begin spreading out and attacking human colonies.
Rating: 8.5/10

"The Liberty Movement" by Dwight L. MacPherson and Kevin Mellon is a pretty good little alternate timeline future Nazi Empire tale. To say that Gestapo interrogator Niklas Rommel is conflicted in his work is an understatement to say the least. A visit from the leather-clad freedom fighter called the Liberator changes everything. Manages to be both fun and dark, no easy feat.
Rating: 8/10

"AKA" by Ben Raab, Deric Hughs and Pat Quinn is a lame serial killer story that I wasn't feeling in any way.
Rating: 5/10

"Project Obeah" by Leah Moore, John Reppion, and Jeremy Dale is a perfectly serviceable zombies in space tale that doesn't transcend the genre in any noticeable way. A bit of a Twilight Zone style twist at the end isn't enough to distinguish it from any number of other zombie tales on the stands these days.
Rating: 7.5/10

"Finite" by Andrew Dabb and Lee O'Conner is a super-creepy exploration of what happens when a fairly desperate man has the power to perform a mercy killing on an entire devolving culture. Brutal.
Rating: 8/10

"Rehab" by Mike Baron and David Newbold has the worst art in the issue by far, and the story is far from Baron's best either. It's about a failed bank robber with robotics skills who strikes up an unlikely friendship with the warden. Really.
Rating: 4/10

So there you have it: as you can see, a decidedly mixed bag. I leave it up to you, dear reader, to decide if a cumulative rating of 6.8 is good enough to warrant a buy. If you skip the few duds, you will probably have a better overall experience than I did. I wish Th3rd World well with future annuals in this series, but in this instance I sure wish I could have checked this out of the public library instead of shelling out... however much I paid for this thing. How do comic shops know what to charge for this-- I can't find a price anywhere on it!


Lost & Found

In this action-packed one-shot from IDW Publishing, writer Beau Smith combines two familiar SF tropes to come up with an adventure that may not particularly original, but certainly makes for a fun read. The first is the tried but true “lost world” scenario, wherein one or more contemporary travelers in a remote part of the world stumble across a hidden realm and make contact with a heretofore undiscovered culture which has existed without the knowledge of the outside world (See Lost Horizon, She or, well, the Lost World). The other is the idea of utilizing time travel to cross-pollinate people and materials from throughout history to a single time and place and see how they react (A la Riverworld, or the shared world “In Hell” series). If the resultant mash-up of warriors and dinosaurs on a remote island sounds sort of like the War That Time Forgot miniseries currently being published by DC, well I did say it’s not the most original premise, but it works.

It turns out that there are holes in time hidden throughout the world, some (such as the Bermuda Triangle or Devil’s Triangle) more well-known than others, but all capable of transporting the unsuspecting to a jungle island beyond conventional concepts of time passage, where the inhabitants do not age, nor can they escape back from where they came. Warring factions on the island are in constant race to be the first to take possession of new cargo that shows up on the island. One is led by a World War I fighter pilot named Frank Lujack, who has allied with Vikings, Zulu warriors, and soldiers from both sides of the Civil War. They are eternally opposed by a wretched bunch led by Axel Kriegsherr, a 18th century German general and occultist and counting primitive Neanderthals, ruthless samurai and Roman centurions among their lot. The dinosaurs are their own side.

The latest deposit on the island is of a modern-day AH-Apache military helicopter which brings two important elements to upset the balance. One is Molly Sims, a tough as nails pilot and astronaut who also happens to be darn purty and whose presence immediately improves the island’s cumulative hotness by a factor of 10. The other is the nuclear warhead the copter is carrying, which obviously in short order becomes the key to seizing ultimate power on this timeless isle, or possibly wiping it out once and for all.

Beau Smith is the only creator name-checked on the cover of this comic, but artist Gary Kwapisz should also get a shout-out for his efforts. Kwapisz is a name I recall from the 80’s, but I wonder if he hasn’t been out of the comics biz for awhile, because I haven’t seen him on much recently. The great storytelling on display here signals that Kwapisz may be an underrated gem that publishers should be utilizing more. It takes talent to combine helicopters, dinosaurs, Confederate submarines and the Flying Dutchman with great character designs, so kudos to him.

Although Lost & Found was released as a standalone one-shot, I was a little surprised at how thoroughly and even quickly the story wrapped up. The premise of the island would seem to have plenty of potential to fuel an ongoing series (titles like Turok Son of Stone and Warlord had decent runs), but IDW isn’t going that route. As soon as Smith sets up the particulars of the island, the finale of the story gets into full swing. Maybe I have been so programmed by the “decompression” method of other modern comics it blows my mind to see a “done-in-one” story zip along like this. Smith includes character notes to the dramatis personae on the inside cover, but several of these individuals don’t get more than a line or two in the actual story! The story is wrapped up with a bow, but I suppose a sequel isn’t completely impossible if there is any kind of demand for it. John Carter and Thomas Covenant returned home after their first adventures as well, so perhaps we haven’t seen the last of this crazy island, either.

Rating: 7.5/10


Gigantic #1

Do I even need to write a full review of Gigantic to clue you guys in to how awesome it is? Just take a look at this cover, it pretty much says it all: giant robot dudes, alien attackers, massive-scale carnage in the streets, panicked bystanders about to be stomped like ants… what more do you need to know?

Even if Gigantic was simply a giant monster fight, that would be quite fun, if somewhat limited. However, writer Rick Remender also finds time to fit in a budding romance, biting commentary on multimedia addiction, and, oh yeah, the secret origin of our entire species and the Earth! Not bad for a single 23-page story, eh?

Turns out that neither God nor evolution were responsible for our ascension. Humanity, in all its aggressive, irrational, superstitious and confrontational glory is actually the creation of extraterrestrial TV executives, who intentionally populated us on an artificial planet with an extreme range of environments. The motive: ratings. The internecine conflict between our nations is served up on “Channel Earth” for the amusement of bored TV watchers of a vast, complacent galactic audience! It’s the greatest secret origin of the Earth since Douglas Adams postulated that it’s a supercomputer for the mice!

Apparently after so many years of war and strife, viewers have become bored and ratings are slackening. Suddenly one morning, a 100-foot-tall armored guy materializes in the streets of downtown San Francisco. In just a few minutes of fumbling around in confusion, the metal behemoth knocks over buildings, squishes pedestrians and generally causes massive death and destruction. Worse, his armor is about to overload and discharge vast amounts of energy, compelling the well-meaning but misunderstood invader to start leaping about the city in search of a safe place to blow up. But then the giant alien bounty hunters pop in to engage him in 10-story-tall mortal combat!

Again, if this kind of stuff isn’t up your alley, nothing I say will convince you to pick this up. All I can say is I found Gigantic #1 to be fantastic fun. Rick Remender’s script is equal parts intelligent, silly, and wicked. Eric Nguyen’s artwork is terrific and really raises the bar that much higher. Sometimes when there is a light or humorous bent to the book, there a tendency for some publishers to settle for more basic and/or cartoony art, since the comic isn’t meant to be taken “seriously” (see Martian Confederacy or M-Theory, for instance) Nguyen’s top-notch pencils class up a book that might otherwise be dismissed as lightweight. His imagination produces funky aliens, cool armor, great…uh, smashed cars…

As a total aside, this comic also brought back to me fond memories of wasting countless quarters playing the Rampage arcade game at the mall when I was a teenager. I swear there’s few things in life as fun as smashing down buildings, swatting planes, and eating people. Looking up the game on wikipedia I see that it has been translated to many home gaming systems, but I just know it from the old-school arcade version. For all you young whippersnappers out there, once upon a time we actually had to go to this separate place where all the video games were lined up in a row and… aww, skip it.

I checked out a good interview with Remender at Comic Book Resources where I learned that Gigantic is meant to be an ongoing series, released in miniseries-sized chunks. I was a little bit surprised at this, because as fun as this first issue is, I have to wonder how many cities Remender and Nguyen can knock down before it starts to lose its novelty. But these guys are so talented and imaginative, if anyone can make it work, they can.

Rating: 8.5/10


Aetheric Mechanics

Boiled down to its essence, Aetheric Mechanics is a steampunk Sherlock Holmes mystery, but there is more to it than that. For starters, Warren Ellis has slightly changed all the familiar Holmesian tropes to make them his own. His detective is called “Sax Raker” and his physician sidekick is called "Richard Watcham". There are also thinly-disguised incarnations of Inspector Lestrade, Irene Adler, and Mrs. Hudson at hand, while characters sounding suspiciously like Moriarty and Mycroft Holmes are also mentioned in passing. Ellis hasn’t simply resorted to homage because he couldn’t or didn’t want to gain the permission of the Conan Doyle estate to use the real characters. There’s a very specific reason why everyone s not quite the way we remember them, but the truth behind that is just one of the many delights to be found in this most excellent one-shot from Avatar Press.

The year is 1907 and conflict between Britain and Ruritania (yes, that’s the fictional country from The Prisoner of Zenda) has broken out into open war across Europe. In this alternate world, the study of aetheric mechanics allows the flight of launches and spacefaring battleships via apergy engines and cavorite (yes, that's the antigravitic metal from The First Men in the Moon. Are we sensing a theme here?) rotors, among other technological marvels. As our tale opens, Dr. Watcham has been sent back to London from the front due to an injury. Having fulfilled his duty, he finds himself back to his familiar rooms -- we’re not actually told they’re at 221B Baker Street, but it’s fairly evident. Watcham finds Raker brooding in his study as usual, willfully oblivious to the political machinations of the greater world and instead focused like a laser on the latest sensational crime to hit London.

It seems that an invisible assailant who keeps popping in an out of existence has been accosting and even slaying prominent local scientists and engineers, and Watcham hasn’t even time to unpack his bags before the game is afoot once more. Like Sherlock Holmes, Raker is equally proficient at the solving of perplexing mysteries, but the answer at the root of this one is so mind-boggling that neither the characters nor the readers will ever see it coming.

The black and white artwork by Gianluca Pagliarani is mostly fantastic. He clearly takes pride in his craft and lavishes every page with a breathtaking amount of detail. His cityscapes and steampunkian contraptions are first-rate and one can literally spend five minutes taking in meticulous renderings of Raker’s study or the Disappearing Man’s underground lab. I have one nitpick about this book, however, and it’s a pretty big sticking point for me: I can’t stand how Pagliarani draws faces. Everyone in this story has a bulbous nose and slit reptilian eyes. If an artist has a weakness in any other area- say he can’t draw hands, or feet, or horses- I could overlook it to some extent, but as humans we identify so strongly with people’s faces and especially their eyes that’s it’s very disconcerting when every face has creepy eyes with tiny pinprick pupils. I almost feel like I’m reading about a race of snake people rather than human beings, which is a real disappointment because in every other way the art is first rate. I actually find myself resisting the impulse to white out all the eyes in this book and draw in wider, more reflective, more human-looking ones!

You have to admire the imagination and work ethic of Warren Ellis, an extremely prolific writer who seems to produce something like five different titles each and every month. Some of his books have weight to them, others seem like an idea he tossed off during a subway ride, but his comics are consistently entertaining. With Aetheric Mechanics, he is able to balance a fun adventure with some really dizzying existential conundrums that may lead to a shark-jumping moment for some readers, but I totally went with it and loved every zig and zag. Also, perhaps because this is a period piece, the overbearing sarcasm and cynicism which is a staple of Ellis characters is toned way down, which is to the story’s benefit. All told, this is one of the best books I’ve read all year, and well worth the purchase if you can find a copy.

Rating: 9.5/10


Virtual Display Case: November 2008

Well kiddies, the economy's in the toilet and there's little disposable income to be spread around this Christmas. Time to obsess about more useless stuff I can't afford. Whoo-hoo!

Star Wars X-Wing Fighter Cross Section 3D Model Kit:

Y'know, the X-Wing isn't one of my favorite spaceships- it's not even in my top ten. But for some unaccountable reason, I dig the whole idea of being able to open this bad boy up and laying it out, as if it were in the middle of maintenance between missions. There's something way cool about that to me. Not 250 buck cool, but cool.

Looney Tunes: Figaro Sericel:

If I had wall space to devote to artwork, I wouldn't hang Picassos or Van Gogts-- I'd be hanging Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. However, Space Cadet Juan has no wall space, as his entire Secret HQ is covered wall-to-wall with book shelves.

Marvel Legends Action Figure 2-Packs:
Okay, so I don't like the Ultimate universe, and as a diehard Avengers fan, I like those nasty SOBs in the Ultimates even less. However, design wise, I have to admit Ultimate Nick Fury and Ultimate Cap are badass, brutha. What's up with the spare Steve Rogers face, though?

Life-Sized Fone Bone Plush Toy:

My daughter and I have been reading through the entire Bone saga for the past 6 months or so; at the moment we are halfway though Crown of Horns, which is the final volume. When I saw this pic I briefly considered getting it as a Christmas gift to commemorate our journey. Then I noticed the 40 dollar price tag and realized my daughter is getting too old to play with dolls and already has enough plush toys to populate a small country.

The Big Lebowski Urban Achiever Series 3 Action Figures:

I knew that the Big Lebowski has developed a big cult following over the years, but enough to spawn its own action figure line? This is series 3, no less! Me, I'm waiting for the set of Fargo toys and figures: "Blood-encrusted wood chipper sold separately"

Eclipse Phase RPG:

Seems my RPG days are long behind me, due to lack of time and the slight inconvenience of having moved hundreds of miles away from my playgroup. However, I have been known in the past to buy RPG books just for the enjoyment of reading through them, even if I know I will probably never get the chance to actually play 'em. This game sounded pretty good, and the website shows off some nice artwork (presentation is key, people), but here's the thing: when the hell did RPGs hike up to 50 bucks? That's steep for a game I'll never play, but doesn't it sound fun:

"Humanity stands on the cusp of a new age! Advancements in biotechnology, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and cognitive science have transformed our lives. Everyone is wirelessly networked with the world around them - AIs process vast amounts of information, biotechnology allows people to genefix, enhance, and clone their bodies, and memories can be digitized, uploaded, transferred over long distances, and downloaded into new bodies (biological or synthetic). Death has been defeated - for those who can afford it! But, transhumanity reaped the rewards of its arrogance when a group of military AIs known as TITANS achieved full sentience, and turned against transhumanity, enveloping the system in unprecedented levels of violence, disaster, and warfare! What began as a struggle between man and machine escalated into a whirlwind of conflict between political factions, revolutionaries, and hypercorps, and in less than a year, transhumanity was nearly wiped out! In the aftermath of the Fall, transhumanity lives on, divided into a patchwork of hypercorp combines, survivalist stations, transhuman faction species, and city-state habitats. Welcome to the far-flung future world of Eclipse Phase, the Roleplaying Game of Transhuman Conspiracy and Horror! Utilizing an innovative, streamlined, and flexible d100/percentile system, Eclipse Phase thrusts players into a secretive and dangerous conspiracy that seeks to save transhumanity! "

Supernova Board Game:

Again, I know I'm starting to sound like a crotchety old man, but when the hell did board games get up to $69.95? Me, I blame Bush. Actually, that's my all-purpose answer to most things, "It's all Bush's fault." But anyway, do you get to fly actual spaceships in this game, or what?

"In this game of space expansion and exploration, five civilizations are abandoning their solar system to escape the upcoming Supernova of their sun! Conquer new solar systems by taking over planets, mining moons, and building the most powerful fleet of ships by upgrading your Weapons, Shields, Communications, or Engines. Capture the most space by the time the star goes Supernova to be proclaimed the winner!"

Life Counter Rings:
Probably the nerdiest thing in this whole nerdy post, but I can't help it, there's something really appealing about this thing. Why mess around with scratch paper and pencil when you can keep track of your character hit points and accessorize your outfit at the same time? Goes great with sweat pants and a Green Lantern t-shirt. When you heal up back to full, you can stroke and fawn over your Hit Point ring and call it "Precious".

Trek Trailer is Up

Well, the new Star Trek trailer showing before Quantum of Solace is now online as well. It certainly looks like they didn't skimp budget wise, but I'm still not sold yet. Call me stubborn, but the trailer for Nemesis had a few interesting shots in it, too. Didn't stop that one from laying an egg, did it?


Get Your Game On!

Somebody at Wildstorm apparently thinks that comic tie-ins of video games are the next big thing; in the past few weeks they have released two different books based on Gears of War and Mirror's Edge. I don't really play video games but both books had a science fictional slant to their descriptions, so I decided to give them a shot, figuring a good SF comic is a good SF comic regardless of its source material. Based on what I've seen, I'm not confident that video game comics are the answer to Wildstorm's currently identity problems and floundering sales.

When I cracked open these books I made a point of not reading up about the games beforehand. I figured if the creators were successful, I would find out everything I needed to know from the pages of the comic itself. This seemed like a perfectly reasonable expectation to me, but possibly I was expecting too much.

Gears of War is apparently a shooting game where you are an armored-up soldier fighting alien warriors among urban ruins. I can't tell if this is Earth or some other planet, near or far future. Nothing is explained about the aliens or what they want, other than they like to kill. For all intents and purposes, the Boomers (I think that's what they're called) resemble Klingons who have been left out in the sun too long and have started to melt.

Obviously you expect some good gun-blazin' action from a book like this, which it definitely provides, but there's not really much else to it. Soldiers fight aliens, then they come across a lone survivor of a different unit. Then they travel back to base through the ruins, and they get into another fight. Little or nothing is learned about these men other than they fight aliens, and most of their conversation revolves around previous fights they've been in. One campfire discussion could just as easily be between gamers reminiscing about a particularly tough level.

This book (and probably the game as well) doesn't stray very far from the venerable soldiers vs. aliens paradigm popularized by Jim Cameron in Aliens 20 years ago. That in itself doesn't bother me too much, by this point the idea has been recycled hundreds of different ways in all different types of media. But writer Joshua Ortega takes it a step further when he lifts Newt's entire "My mommy always said there were no monsters" bit for the opening of this comic. Shameless.

Artistically speaking, this book reminds me a lot of those mediocre Marvel UK books that were briefly glutting the shelves in the mid-90s. To be fair, Liam Sharp is technically much more proficient at his craft than he was 12-15 years ago, but in terms of designs, these soldiers with their oversized guns battling ugly creeps in ornate armor wouldn't be out of place in a lost issue of Warheads or Death's Head II.

Again, I didn't look online to verify, but based on the comic version in Mirror's Edge you apparently play a courier carrying mysterious packages across cities, occasionally bumping into other couriers and getting involved in legally questionable shenanigans. Instead of zipping around on bicycles, however, these "runners" practice parkour, taking to the rooftops and hopping their way to their destination. I'm pretty sure the solicitation for this comic described a science fictional setting (which is why I preordered it for review) but if so Ortega fails to explain the world in the opening issue. Nothing about this society or technology we see couldn't exist in the here and now. If this is meant to be the future, or another planet, the first issue fails to explain this.

What Mirror's Edge #1 gives us that Gears of War does not, is a sympathetic character worth caring about. Faith is a young orphan who was caught trying to burglarize the home of a man named Drake, who does not turn her in but rather takes her under his wing and trains her to be a runner. During a training exercise she can't resist aiding a fellow runner who's being held at gunpoint, and she ultimately finds out that this other runner's mission ties into her own past in a very specific and personal way.

Beyond establishing Faith's character, there not too much going on in this first issue. Half of the book is spent showing Faith bouncing across town like a jackrabbit, in and out of people's private property. I would expect that using parkour at the basis for a video game is probably good fun, but is doesn't really translate that well to the comics page. For one thing, parkour is kind of old hat in comics; guys like Spider-Man and Daredevil have been doing it for 40 years. Matthew Dow Smith's pencils are competent but I don't see him winning any Eisners anytime soon, either. (For some reason, the interior art also leaves out Faith's most appealing feature from the cover: that jagged eye tattoo). You'll get far more excitement out of the opening action sequence of Casino Royale than anything you'll see here.

Mirror's Edge is a six-issue limited series, which makes sense to me as I can't see the premise having enough potential to sustain an ongoing title. On the other hand, the first issue of Gears of War actually has a subscription page, which seems incredibly optimistic to me given how DC is mowing down B-list monthly titles left and right these days (RIP Nightwing, Catwoman, Birds of Prey, Blue Beetle, etc...)

But wait! Before we lose all hope that a video game can ever be successfully translated into another medium, here comes Dead Space: Downfall, the new direct-to-DVD animated tie-in to the Electronic Arts sci-fi horror game. This movie is a sequel to a comic miniseries that I haven't read and a prequel to a game I probably won't play, and yet I completely enjoyed it as a standalone tale of dread, paranoia, and copious gore.

As the movie opens, something horrible has occurred on the mining planet Aegis 7, and contact had been lost with a colony on its surface. (Presumably this refers to events of the comic, which won't be arriving in my mailbox for a few weeks yet.) The mining vessel Ishimura removes a massive, rune-covered Artifact from the surface, which causes problems on two fronts. For starters, miners of the Unitologist faith believe it to be a religious icon, and secondly it has some mysterious connection to the plague of alien monsters that gain access to the vessel, killing crewmembers and transforming their corpses into a bizarre variety of zombie monsters known as Necromorphs. For the majority of the film, we follow the travails of security chief Alissa Vincent as she struggles uphill to try and contain the danger before the entire ship is lost.

Soon the ever-dwindling crew of the Ishimura is knee-deep, then waist-deep, then neck-deep in alien monsters, mutated zombified victims, and just plain crazed crewmates. While the situation is worsening by the minute, the captain of the vessel completely flips his lid, becoming a foaming-mouthed paranoiac determined to safeguard the artifact at all costs. Given that this is all prologue to a video game, the bleak ending is even more inevitable than your usual horror flick, but the journey is an adrenline-soaked ride of wicked shocks and surprises.

I'm not sure what the budget was for this, but for a direct-to-DVD release the production values are pretty good. All the ships and backgrounds are well-rendered in CGI, but the actual character work is done in a rather bland and generic American art style reminiscent of 80's cartoon shows like G.I. Joe or Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. In terms of voice work, I have to give special props to Nika Futterman, who does a great job enacting Vincent's strength, determination and desperation as her world goes from bad to worse. She sincerely sounds like she's trapped amidst the slaughter, and not just standing in a studio somewhere in front of a microphone.

One thing I noticed about the film is that it might actually give away too much information about the setting of the game. Since Dead Space is of the horror genre, presumably it relies in part on the fear of the unknown to create the proper atmosphere of dread for the player. By the time the film is done, you pretty much know what you will and won't find on the Ishimura when you come aboard, the nature and characteristics of the Necromorphs (what they look like, how they reproduce, how they kill), and even that guns aren't as effective against them as a nice plasma cutter (which is essentially a cross between a chainsaw and a lightsaber), which cuts up them alien critters reeeeaalll goooood.

Some of my fellow Netflix customers have left some pretty negative reviews of Downfall on the website. Many take Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray to task for what the perceive as bad dialogue, as if only David Mamet is qualified to pen animated horror movies. Personally I have enjoyed Palmiotti and Gray's various comics project over the past few years and felt their style translated well to the screen. Other viewers are griping that there's too much swearing, as if since it's a cartoon it should only have language suitable to a 10-year-old viewer. I guess all the dismemberments, disembowlings and decapitations are a-okay, but watch out for those nasty f-bombs!

I found Dead Space: Downfall to be dark, creepy, suspenseful and , in its own sick way, a fun bit of nihilism. I'm not sure if I'll ever play the game, but this release stands on its own, as it should.

Gears of War Rating: 5/10
Mirror's Edge Rating: 6/10
Dead Space: Downfall Rating: 7/10

Update 11/19/08: Well shut my mouth. According to Rich Johnston Gears of War is the bestselling comic this year, with nearly half a million copies in print! Guess those folks over at Wildstorm know what they're doing after all. Whether any gamers who came to the book out of curiousity because they like the game stick around remains to be seen. The comic really is pretty blah.


Red Alert: New Enterprise Decloaks; 20 Minutes of Abrams' Trek Described

Well, I don’t know what to think anymore. Some UK journalists got the opportunity to view 20 minutes of scenes from the upcoming Star Trek reboot, and at least two very detailed, very spoilery reviews have made it to the web. And honestly, it amazes me that 2 people could describe the exact same footage and yet illicit such very different reactions from this humble reader. Martin Anderson made the scenes sound so terrible (this despite the fact that he prefaced the shot-by-shot spoilers by saying it all looked “sensationally great”) that I fell into despair. When I later read James Dyer’s take on the material, he made it sound less ridiculous and lame. I can’t even figure out if JJ Abrams was being an arrogant creep or not. All I know is, it’s going to be a looooong 6 months until release day if I keep obsessing to this degree.

A few quick comments:

I immediately bristled at the thought that Abrams thinks that no previous Trek has fulfilled the “promise of adventure” before his movie. Does he really think that highly of himself that he is the great savior that can do what Gene Roddenberry, Nicholas Meyer, Leonard Nimoy, Ronald L. Moore, Robert Hewitt Wolfe, etc and so on apparently failed to do before him? I wish I could’ve heard his comments directly, because Anderson makes it sound like he thinks all 1,000 or so hours of filmed Trek to date are crap, while Dyer makes it sound like he was just referring to the cheesiness and low budget of TOS.

The scene descriptions sound very slapsticky and silly. If the Farrelly brothers filmed a Trek parody, it might have giant inflated hands and a guy grabbing a woman’s breasts accidentally during a barfight. Too bad Jim Carrey is pushing 50, sounds like he would’ve been perfect for this part.

I’m sorry, but in both write-ups, Kirk just plain sounds like a douche. I mean, just the opposite of what a hero would be. Are we gonna warm to this guy, or root for the Romulans to set phasers to “kill”?

Speaking of Romulans, the last scene seems to confirm that the Starfleet officers do in fact see Romulans and therefore must know they resemble Vulcans: a clear, blatant contradiction of 40 years of established Star Trek history. Ugh.

Also Bruce Greenwood is a little too old to play Pike. Jeffrey Hunter was about 40 at the time of “The Cage”, and looked younger. Greenwood is 52.

Since I really don’t know what to make of this anymore, I have to turn to the ever-reliable Talkbackers at Aint-it-Cool, who are never without definitive, forceful, and often quite witty opinions. In case you don’t want to wade through the whole thing, a few comments that struck a chord with this ambivalent fan:

Abrams Trek will tank
by MasterShake Nov 11th, 2008 10:04:35 AM Who the hell is he making this movie for? It can't be the old school Trekkies who've kept the franchise going for 40 years with their support and money. Call me a basement dwelling continuity nerd all you want, but the Enterprise built in Iowa on Earth? Chekov on Pikes Enterprise as a member of the bridge crew? Kirk as a malcontent badboy? This isn't a just a re-imagining, it's a big FU to anyone over 30 who's followed Trek at all over the years. It's teen angst Trek aimed at grabbing a different demographic than the increasingly older audience that has made Paramount over a billion dollars. If you're new to Trek you may love it, but it sure won't be my Star Trek.

It may not be "your" Trek, but let's face it...
by MCVamp Nov 11th, 2008 10:28:33 AM The people of "your" Trek are either dead or really, really old. An animated continuation will not be taken seriously. Another spin-off will experience the rapidly dwindling interest from TNG to DS9 to VOYAGER to ENTERPRISE. No one except the die-hards read the books. You want your franchise to continue? This is THE ONLY WAY. And if you just want it left alone for dead, you have the option of making your own personal choice to recognize it as such. Would it kill you guys to see brand new faces at your conventions that aren't just the offspring of other Trekkies?

Robert April called, he wants his ship back
by muziqtwin Nov 11th, 2008 11:38:57 AM The benefit of my doubt, already strained by the casting of that talent less, repugnant homunculus Zachary Quinto, is now officially revoked. Pike as the first Constitution-Class Enterprise captain? Built in Iowa, not orbit? Inconsequential details, perhaps, but by that same token, it would have been just as easy to have them canonically "correct" and still tell the "new" story.

Why is it even called Star Trek?
by EverythingEverywhereStinks Nov 11th, 2008 12:08:45 PM Mind boggling...this film will be a failure of spectacular proportions. The only people this movie will appeal to, in a very crowded and competitive summer movie marketplace, will be bored moviegoers waiting for the next weekend's big movie opening. Longtime fans will disown this film for trying to erase everything that preceeded it, and it will not be the huge relaunching of the franchise everyone expects it to be. Either that, or this pseudo-Kirk Dexter wanna be will murder us all ;)

Critch, I'm not a Liar -- it's "Top Gun" in Space
by Admiral Nelson Nov 11th, 2008 12:24:14 PM I've got friends (fans of the original series) who worked on the new film and have read the script, and that's their exact description of the film. What part of "sportscar" and "bar fights" doesn't sound like "Top Gun" (more like "Hot Shots") to you? And again -- if you don't believe me now, then remember that I told everyone the Enterprise does a BSG-like "atmo dive" in the film -- a plot detail not yet released. I know what I'm talking about, dude -- this film is going to infuriate TOS fans, because it completely ignores established Star Trek canon, and no one at Paramount gives a shit. It's a total reboot of the entire Trek universe, dude, so be prepared for it.

As a side note...
by grandadmiralsnackbar Nov 11th, 2008 12:33:50 PM If Paramount got it, they would have kept the writers and producers for Enterprise's 4th season on board for something. The problem was that the preceding three season were so shitty, that the show was mortally wounded after the Xindi arc was completed. That 4th season was pretty bad ass and represents what the whole series should have been.

What part of this sounds good?
by conspiracy Nov 11th, 2008 12:52:25 PM Kirk Fondling Uhura? Bar fights? Kirk Driving a car over a cliff? Enterprise being built on earth? So this is all about being a slapstick simplistic comedy, Tween angst, O.C. Flavored Roadtrip in space? Sounds like more Abrams crap too me. I'll steal it off of Limewire if i watch it at all.

You think it's dead now?
by Wonderthump Nov 11th, 2008 02:05:53 PM Wait till Abrams digs it up and rapes it in May. Not only are mainstream audiences going to avoid this film but so will the fans. My prediction is it will have a big opening weekend due to all of the marketing it will take to convince numbnuts teens to go see it . . . and then boxoffice will decrease faster than the Dow under Bush. That will seal Trek's fate for years and years.

Being a fan of the original TV series...
by football Nov 11th, 2008 03:52:46 PM ...this doesn't sound too bad with regards to the clothes and cast. It's the character of Kirk that has me slightly worried. He sounds like a self-absorbed prick you'd rather slap than root for, which could ruin the chances of building a credible Captain Kirk to take this reboot to places it couldn't boldly go before. If the audience ends up wanting to plant one on our hero then they're hardly going to want to come back again. Word to the ediors: cut the Kirk groping Uhura bar scene. It's a cheap laugh and will only make most people think Kirk's a bit of a creep! You'll have a better picture without it.

"Top Gun In Space"
by Darth Busey Nov 11th, 2008 08:34:19 PM Some of you fucktards are saying this like its a bad thing. Top Gun fucking ruled.

Well then! At any rate, I’m curious as to how other people are looking forward to the upcoming Trek film, with trepidation or excitement? Will Abrams succeed in making Trek a powerhouse again, or wreck the franchise for a decade or more? Taking a cue from Matt Cerrone over at Metsblog, who charts the ebbs and flows of fans’ enthusiasm for the team, I decided to start running a poll (see sidebar) on a weekly basis to chart whether fans are feeling good or bad about what they’re hearing concerning the new film. One things for sure: discussion in Trek fandon will not be dull over the next six months.


City of Dust #1

Take Judge Dredd, replace the black comedy with guilt-ridden angst, swap out the tricked-out motorcycle for a flashy jetpack, and drop him in a Fahrenheit 451-meets-1984 dystopia and you get City of Dust, the latest eye-popping release from promising upstart Radical Comics.

In this future, the government had achieved a very draconian method of preventing the conflict and strife that is the unfortunate byproduct of religious partisanship and supernaturalism: they have completely outlawed "imagination crimes". That means not only prayer and holy teachings, but also mythology, fairy tales and fantasy stories of all kinds (even comics!) are strictly verboten.

Philip Khrome is a tortured man who carries a heavy burden. When he was a child, a heartless teacher overheard him relating to a schoolmate a bedtime story that his father had told him the night before. The next day, his Dad was hauled away and sentenced to life in prison "for attempting to poison a child's mind with impossible ideas". As an adult, the haunted Khrome still tells people that he turned his father in, even though his childhood mistake was quite accidental. Obviously, it's a hard thing to overcome, and Khrome seems to be having a hard time connecting to anyone around him in a meaningful way.

But here's the kicker: Philip Khrome is now a cop, sometimes charged with taking down mind criminals very much like his own dad. He not only patrols the skies but carries enough tech to be a one-man CSI team and has the authority to be judge, jury and executioner to collared suspects. The fact that he is now doing for a living the very thing that messed him up so much psychologically makes the entire series immediately compelling for anyone like me who picked up this book on a whim.

I have seen Steve Niles' name around before, but not being a huge horror fan I don't think I've read anything of his previously. While this comic is firmly science fiction with its future setting and advanced gadgetry, there are definitely horrific elements to the comic as well. Not only is the entire society depicted as a sinister unfeeling bureaucracy to the average citizen, but in the opening moments a silly rich couple slumming in the seedy side of town meet a gory fate, and there is a brief interlude with a Franksteinian scientist and monster that we will clearly become more acquainted with as this miniseries progresses. The entire set up, from the main character to the world he in inhabits to the mysteries and plot twist, is well-executed and leaves this reader enthusiastic to come back for the rest of the story.

The artist/colorist on this title is credited only as "Zid", but anyone who can make a comic look this great can call him/herself whatever they like. Judging strictly on the linework, I would rate Zid "quite good" as an artist but the fantastic coloring and lighting effects elevate the pages to a whole new and very gorgeous level. Once in awhile the characters look too posed-- for example at one point a female cop who walks up to talk to Khrome puts a hand on her hip and strikes a pose like she's about to be photographed for the cover of Vogue-- but overall City of Dust looks spectacular.

Radical Comics love to play the multiple-cover game with their releases-- not only the first issues, but for the whole runs of their miniseries there are four or more covers to choose from. I'm not the kind of collecting maniac that would ever buy them all, but I guess it is nice to have a choice of which one you like best. Personally, I picked the gorgeous Arthur Suydam cover (pictured above), even though Khrome inside doesn't really look anything like how he's depicted on this cover. Oh well, it's still pretty.

I have to say, I am really impressed with Radical Comics from what I've seen so far. Not only is City of Dust #1 great, I was impressed enough with the first issue of Freedom Formula to follow that series as well. Now they are soliciting another sci-fi epic called Shrapnel that looks very promising as well. I also need to point out that although this has a somewhat steep price tag of $3.99, there are 44 pages of story within-- that's double the average monthly "Big Two" comic, with a cardstock cover and glossy pages to boot. I find myself hoping beyond hope that Radical is one of the indy comics that gain a foothold and stick around, because they are quickly become one of the premiere sources of quality science fiction adventures.

Rating: 9/10


I've Got My Eye on You, Abrams!!

The new Kirk and Spock look so young and pretty on this recent cover of Entertainment Weekly, it makes me wonder if Sondra Marshak or Myrna Culbreath was the photographer. The article within even describes the chemistry between Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as “undeniably bromantic”. Echhh, do we really want to live in a world where “bromantic” is even a word? Anyway, the extreme youth of the rebooted Enterprise crew is one of the many question marks surrounding J.J. Abrams’ upcoming Star Trek movie, the eleventh in the series, but generally believed to be throwing the first ten out the airlock. How can everyone be mere cadets, yet already on the Enterprise? The production has been in information lockdown since its inception, with only one very uninformative teaser trailer along the way, but this EW article finally reveals some details about the flick, more hints then anything but enough to speculate about what lies ahead for the floundering franchise.

I should explain that while I’m a fan of Star Trek, it doesn’t consume my life. If there were a scale of Trek fandom, with a 1 being someone who might stop and watch a Trek show here and there while flipping through the channels, and a 10 being someone who shows up for jury duty wearing a Starfleet uniform and speaks fluent Klingon, I probably rate at about a 6. In other words, I’m not so much of a Trekkie that I would care if anyone used the term “Trekkie”.

Nevertheless, I have to confess I’m a little bit bent out of shape about the negative digs peppered through this article. The films are dismissed as “mostly dismal” (personally I only consider The Final Frontier and Nemesis to be truly dismal), TV series are “contrived spin-offs” and the franchise overall is a “hunk of retro scifi cheese”. Why assign Jeff Jensen to write the article in the first place if he’s such a hater? Actually, certain sections where Trek’s optimistic vision and idealism are discussed suggest that Jensen might actually get it, but is dutifully toeing the company line that the franchise is horribly busted and in need of a drastic makeover.

I dispute this premise. Yes, the last couple of films tanked and ratings dropped off every season of Enterprise, but I don’t think the reasons are as complex as Paramount execs seem to. What they’re aiming to do with this new Trek film is akin to performing major invasive surgery on a patient with a couple of skinned knees.

Paramount had already made the right move for revitalizing Star Trek when they took Enterprise away from Rick Berman and Brannon Braga and gave it to Manny Coto, who combined established Trek mythos with wild new stories for a terrific fourth season. Unfortunately, all the viewers were long gone and had no idea it was safe to come back, and the show got axed before its time.

I was never in tune with Berman and Braga’s vision for Trek. Voyager was a terrific premise that was poorly executed from the word go: a lone starship is stranded on the far side of the galaxy, but it never broke down, they never ran out of supplies, they apparently have dozens of shuttlecraft, and former enemies Starfleet and the Maquis get along like peas in a pod. The idea of going back 100 years before Kirk for Enterprise was an intriguing one, but the past ended up looking all too recognizable and familiar. Seems even at the dawn of Starfleet, ships looked pretty much the same, inside and out, and the plots were pretty much the same, too. The same guys were in charge too long, to the point where one could see that certain episodes of these two series seemed to be rewritten retreads of previous Next Generation and DS9 episodes.

As for the films, I find it interesting how much they are de-emphasizing the importance of past continuity and Trek fandom. “We weren’t making a movie for fans of Star Trek, we were making a movie for fans of movies.” JJ Abrams doesn’t seem to realize that Paramount went outside the Trek circle by hiring screenwriter John Logan and director Stuart Baird for Nemesis, with the result being a lame rehash of the good bits of previous Trek movies that ended up with the weakest box office returns of the entire film series. It’s okay to reach beyond the core Trek fandom audience for more casual viewers, but only if you make sure you have the Trekkies, too. If you can’t convince Star Trek fans to come see your Star Trek movie, you are doing something way wrong. When the article claims that Abrams’ “Trekker credentials” are “nonexistent” and that he had to struggle throughout the film “through his non-Trekker prejudice”, how exactly are we supposed to warm to the idea that this next film won't be yet another disappointment?

Still, I did glean some hope from this article, though maybe I am grasping at straws. The fact that Leonard Nimoy has given his blessing to this new take and thinks they are on the right track says volumes, for me. Aside from his personifying Spock all these years, Nimoy also directed two of the best installments of the movie franchise, and I always got the sense that he very well understood the overall concept and appeal of Star Trek. If he is good with the new film, that buys Abrams a line of credit with me.

The bits of plot summary the article reveals raise many questions. Supposedly no human had ever laid eyes on a Romulan before “Balance of Terror”, so how can Kirk and crew battle them during their cadet days? Where is Gary Mitchell? And by the way, time travel again? Does Abrams even realize that time travel is used in three other Star Trek films? Also, the whole concept that the TOS crew were all pals at the Academy for some reason makes me think of all those crummy 1980’s Saturday morning cartoons like Muppet Babies or Baby Looney Tunes.

But the lines that most intrigue me and give me some solace of hope are these: “the movie subversively plays with Trek lore- and those who know it” and “Revisionism anxiety is the point. “The movie,” Lindelof says, “is about the act of changing what you know.” For some reason, this suggests to me that the movie will in fact play completely fair with established continuity, but perhaps the filmmakers want to downplay that fact so as not to scare away the wider non-Trekkie audience. Perhaps if this new regime is going to make changes to canon, it will be properly explained in the plot, which I guess would be at least somewhat gratifying. I mean, the Deep Space Nine episode “Past Tense: Part 2” already clearly established that time travelers can indeed muck around with history and change things around, so at least there would be precedent if that were the reasoning for the reboot. Of course, a villain going back in time to change the course of history is the main plot of First Contact, so hopefully there’s a little more to it than that. Either way, if history is changed so much that all the future incarnations of Trek may not actually come to exist some day, I think there are going to be a lot of pissed Trekkies out there.

There’s still plenty of time before the new Star Trek bows on May 8, 2009 for us to fret and worry and agonize. In the meantime I’m ready to continue over-analyzing every little tidbit that is released to us between now and then, starting with the new trailer that is due next week. I am also interested in checking out the Trek novel Best Destiny, which the screenwriters cite as an influence. For the matter, I think I will be taking a look at all of the other accounts of how the TOS crew “first met”; between previous novels and comics, I think there’s already about a half-dozen versions of this story, even before Trek-hatin’ Abrams throws his hat into the ring. It will be interesting to compare how this new version of How They Met stacks up to what’s come before.


Who Knew Savage Dragon Had So Much Clout?

But will Erik Larsen be invited to the White House?


Back from Vay-Cay

Well back to the grind, after a less-than-restful week of birthday parties and trick or treating, not to mention a rather underwhelming world series. Even though I was off from my real life job, I didn’t expect to take off from this blog as well, but that’s kind of how it turned out. Got a ton stuff piling up just begging me to review, but in the meantime a few random topics to tide ya over:

A bit of controversy in Legion of Super-Heroes fandom of late. Although 2008 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the futuristic super-teens, this year has seen the cancellation of their animated series, as well as both of their ongoing comic books. Both writer Jim Shooter and penciller Francis Manapul have both given their own fashion of parting words. Although DC is currently publishing a great continuity-wank miniseries called Legion of Three Worlds, the company claims it has no future plans of the team. The folks at io9.c0m call bullshit on that idea, and I think they’re on the right track.

The only way I can see DC letting the Legion fall into limbo is if they are truly cutting back on their comics division across the board. To me, every indication is that they are trying to bring back the original Legion (okay, something that kinda sorta resembles the original Legion) now that there is a multiverse again and Superboy can apparently be returned to his rightful place in their mythos. They are just playing cagey right now because revealing too much might spoil plot developments in L3W.

I’ve seen specualtion in some corners that DC might try to continue to tell stories about all three of their main Legion incarnations (serious fans don’t seem to consider the animated series Legion to be a valid version, I guess), but that’s crazy talk, if you ask me. The achilles heel of the franchise is that it has become so convoluted, with multiple versions of each character. We need one Legion in one timeline, and I think harkening back to the Levitz/Giffen days is the best idea. I just hope it becomes clear soon what post-Crisis events of that Legion did or didn’t occur.

Also, although Geoff Johns has done a great job of bringing back the classic Legion, I think it’s silly to think that he and only he could helm a new book about this team. The guy does seem to write about half of all of DC’s output, so if he can’t fit a Legion book onto his schedule there are plenty of writers who would do a fine job returning the Legion to their glory. They just need to keep the tone positive (the Legion should not exist in a dystopia, it’s sort of missing the point) and be knowledgable of the continuity.

I have been watching the Clone Wars cartoon since it premiered on Cartoon Network, and I have to admit, it’s better than I was fearing. It isn’t full of fart jokes and kiddie humor, and while none of it is groundbreaking it succeeds in its mission statement of telling fun but mostly inconsequential stories. I have to admit I actually enjoyed “Destroy Malevolence”, the episode with Padme and Threepio. My original opinion that this is a dumb time period to tell stories in, because the fates of all the characters are already revealed, still stands.

One thing I really noticed about the series is how integral the soundscapes of Ben Burtt are to the Star Wars franchise. I mean, this series features renderings of all the characters that make them look somewhat different than what we saw in the films, voiced by different actors, with music by someone other than John Williams. Burtt isn’t actually creditted as working on the new animated series, but they clearly have all of his established sound effects at their disposal, and just hearing them adds great legitamacy to the whole endeavor.

In other animation news, I think I’ve finally thrown in the towel on Gurren Laggan, an anime series which has been airing on Sci Fi for the past few months. The thing has gotten so convulted, with so many characters and twists in the plot, it really seems as though the creators were flying by the seat of their pants. It’s very pretty to look at, but whoof.

Oh and by the way, that new ABC show Life on Mars? Absolutely nothing to do with Mars. What a gyp!

Okay, so first up I’ll be posting my thoughts about the article Entertainment Weekly ran a couple of weeks ago teasing the new Star Trek movie. Yes, I realize by internet standards that aritcle is ancient history now, but the actual film is still months from it’s release date, so it’s still worth discussing as far as I’m concerned. Stay tuned!