big red rambling: 007 a graphic novel review and a television show review

Let me start by highlighting a web site maintained and created by one of my all time, top three, favorite writers: Stephen ‘Twoflower’ Ganges. The site is http://pixelscapes.com/anachronauts/ the home to Anachronauts, a series of original web novels currently in the process of being written and posted as the author writes them. Now, you may be asking yourself what is this series about? Well, in the words of the author Anachronauts is ” a web novel series of broomsticks, semiautomatics, and jetpacks.”

“It’s two hundred years after a bizarre cataclysm known as the Pandora Event took a perfectly reasonable and sensible planet Earth and smashed it headfirst into the World of Faerie, introducing myth and magic to the modern era. With the maps truthfully being able to say “There Be Dragons” to the west, and “There Be Sea Monsters” to the east, America’s been bunkered down in isolation for two hundred years.
It kinda sucks to live in this world, but hey, it’s home.
A huddled creche of humanity desperately trying to survive centuries of hot and cold warfare with all manner of elves and fae and such would be bad enough… but little do they know that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s all sorts of other things that came along for the ride. Demons and angels, crazed robotic cities, pirates flying high on wings of steam, mutants and monsters and dragons and Elder Things and stuff that completely defies physical description…
…but we’d be getting ahead of ourselves if we told you about them. Let’s just say that behind the mess is more mess for our heroes to sort out.
And won’t it be so very interesting to watch them sort it out? Better them than you, mind.”

So yeah this is a series with a real sense of humor that also possesses thrilling action scenes, romantic interludes, and, in the first novel of least, a young soldier with a mysterious past teaming up with a cranky young witch and a excitable, somewhat naive girl from outer space. This is a terrific story and Twoflower has even managed to self published a printed version of the first novel. I really cannot recommend Anachronauts enough and I hope you will give it a try.

And now let us move on to the reviews. I have decided due to time constraints that include shooting and editing the show, I am going to post reviews of this week’s comics on Friday instead of tonight as I had initially planned. Going forward this maybe become how I will do things permanently, since while I like the idea of posting the review as close to possible to the day they actually come out, I would rather place quality over this desire. By pushing back the reviews, I can write more of them and have more time to really let my mind think over what I have read. We will see. Still, worry not those who have missed my reviews, and I am sure there are indeed so many of you :), for you will not leave the sight completely empty handed. Enjoy.

Graphic Novel Review:
Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story
Written by Mat Johnson
Art by Simone Gane
Published by Vertigo Comics

For many Americans these days there are few topics that serve as painfully effective examples of our country’s ability to let down its people than Hurricane Katrina’s disastrous collision with New Orleans. So it is no wonder that even five years after the fact, this event still regularly shows up in our popular culture. Indeed, the recent hit HBO series Treme was built entirely around the relatively immediate aftermath of this crisis, nor would I expect it to be the last any time in the near or far future.

Dark Rain takes place in the first few days following the actual landfall of the storm and follows a group of diverse characters trying to survive admits the aftermath. There is a bank manager who has locked himself inside his own vault, unwilling to abandon his charge even in the face of nature’s fury. There is a group of mercenaries, the titular Dark Rain private military company ala Blackwater, recently returned from Iraq who see profit potential in the human suffering going on around them. There is the would be criminal mastermind, overweight and stranded in the superdome, who is getting a painful and poignant lesson in both the best and worst that humanity can offer. And then there are our three main characters. First is the ‘masterminds’ partner, bearing a grudge against the bank manager, who still wishes to hit the bank as was planned even in the face of the full horror Katrina left behind. Next is the disgraced marine, wrangled against his will and better impulses by the partner, who shares a all too personal history with dark rain. Finally, there is the pregnant woman, about to give birth and all alone, who the two stumble upon while making their way to the bank.

The way these characters’ lives intersects with one another eventually leads to a dramatic climax filled with violence and loss. Loss being the appropriate word, as it permeates every level of this book. Yet, ultimately Dark Rain is a hopeful book, filled with moments of uplifting selflessness even amongst the worst of humanity and nature alike. The writing is pitch perfect, never flinching from the horror while always balancing it with lighter moments of genuine human nature. The art is astounding, a powerful mix of cartoony and real, that effectively balances actions with quieter moments. As is appropriate, for both the subject matter and the title, the art has a dark tinge to the majority of it and yet the action occurring on the page never becomes muddle or unclear. Dark Rain is a triumph of comic book storytelling, an easy contender for any top 10 graphic novels list of 2010 to come, and proof, if any is still needed, that Vertigo has not lost their touch.
5 out 5 stars. Highest possible recommendation.

Television Review

I have a confession to make. As the third season of Eureka drew to a close, I was seriously contemplating whether or not I was going to continue watching the show. The second half of the season (Eureka being one of those shows that follows the increasing and annoying trend of splitting it seasons in half despite only getting about fifteen episodes a season) had been increasingly scattershot in its writing, due in large part, it must be admitted, to elements outside of the writer’s control, including a real life pregnancy. Whenever the reasons, the show had lost that spark that it used to have and it was just becoming too painful to watch a show I had long loved settle increasingly into mediocre or worse. Still, I was not about to drop the show without giving it at least one more chance and so I went into season four hoping to be surprised.

As those who regularly follow my twitter feed will know, I was indeed most pleasantly surprised. Eureka started the season strong, using a time travel plot line to shake things up, not in a earth shattering ‘world now ruled by robots’ kind of way, but any more subtle and infinitely more clever way. Our main characters from their lives altered in a myriad of ways, some small and some large, some good and some bad. The show was revitalized in one fell swoop, and continued to grow better and better week after week thanks to smart writing and smart choices. Every step of the way the writers sidestepped cliché, avoided the obvious TV tricks of false drama or illusion of change, and presented people for us to watch who, despite their extraordinary surroundings and problems, ultimately acted in all too believable and human ways. Eureka had a always been a show I enjoyed in a cute and harmless sort of way, especially due to the strong performances by little known but long time favorites of mine. Yes, the show has still kept its danger of the week plots, filled with techno-babel and unrealistic science. Yet at least these plots where in general of a higher quality than most shows of this nature, especially the ones this very show produced in the latter half of its previous season, and they were levied up by the aforementioned strong writing, wonderful acting, and strong production values.

Despite how good things were getting though, a growing fear continued to niggle itself further and further into the hearts of both myself and other fans. The show had spent the season being so clever and brave, making the kind of status quo shattering choices that TV sometimes seem so afraid to make, was it all too good to be true. After all, the show had kicked off these changes by using time travel, so the possibility remained that they might similarly undo them the same way. Was the whole season so far nothing more than one of those annoying episodes of fantasy/science fiction TV that you so often get? You know the ones, where dramatic things happen and main characters seemingly get killed only for it all to turn out to it never happened or to be a dream or whenever bullshit is chosen to reset the almighty status quo once more. As the season drew to a close, and it became clear that yes indeed that the mid finale was indeed going to involve time travel again, those fears seemed to be well founded. Thankfully though the show did not let its watchers down, and ended on a note every bit as strong and entertaining as the one it began on.
By now you have probably noticed I am keeping things very general and vague. This is no accident on my part, because honestly I want to spoil as little of the season as I possibly can. If you have never watched Eureka before, but are recently wrapped up first half of the season would be a great place to start. Really all you need to know is that there is a seemingly small town somewhere in America that is secretly home to the smartest minds in the country, constantly experimenting and coming up with new breakthroughs. And that the sheriff of this town is a otherwise average guy who has to use common sense to regain control when things, as they so often do, go very, very wrong.

Look, I get it. Eureka is never going to be everyone’s cup of tea, nor is it ever going to reach the rarefied levels of extraordinary quality that shows like Madmen have managed to achieve. Yet for what it is, a semi-silly science fiction show mixing adventure and humor with the occasional deeper idea or meaning ala Star Trek, it stands as a perfect example of such a show done right and then some. As of this moment, I can honestly say it is one of my five favorite shows currently airing and that is a statement I never expected to be making.
4.5 out of 5 stars. Highly Recommended.


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