Saturday, August 16, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy : A New Hope

A Guardians of the Galaxy film was always going to be a gamble. In a recent podcast with Kevin Smith, Comic Book veteran, Neal Adams spoke about how intellectual property plays a big role in the comic book world and that many creators, writers and artists who do not essentially know the copyright/IP world well have burnt their fingers. As a result of this, the Marvel Studios do not have rights to many of the famous characters, and are essentially left with ‘junk characters’ like GotG.

While Adams was quite high-handed in his dismissal and generally rejects everything current as you can read here,  GotG isn’t exactly a Marvel goldmine. As characters(created by Dan Abnett & Andy Laning) they have seen few moments of glory until recently(the film decision led to a series of books – standalones/crossovers post 2010 and second installment of the team’s appearance was in 2008’s Annihilation Conquest) in Marvel crossover events. 

This could have turned into one of those high on action films which looks great and entertains your kids, but James Gunn has done quite the impossible by turning these ‘junk characters’ into a pop-culture juggernaut of today’s comicbookmovie-ridden times. To get an idea of the kind of cultural phenomenon I am talking about, hop over to the links at the bottom of the review.

What you have here is an utterly entertaining, comic book sci-fi fantasy, cleverly informed by the classic 80’s cinema. While Marvel was churning out entertaining films in Phase 1 & 2, one had not seen a bunch of unknown characters like these come to the fore and amaze the world like they have.

GotG pretty much builds everything from ground zero here- a goofy lead(bounty hunter with a human past), weird sounding places in the galaxy, interesting characters with a human side, swashbuckling space fight sequences, and all that you could ask for in a thrill-filled space adventure. The film does not have one giant knock-you-off-your-feet sequence like The Avengers but many little moments that sum up beautifully after you are done watching it. It is like the Star Wars movie your mom would make.

The film is remarkably low on high-octane action and focuses instead on playing classic rock songs and character building. Perhaps one of the biggest victories here is that you don’t walk out with one character in your mind, you walk out with all of them, with a bonus classic song or two, and the comic book association just makes it an infinite world of possibilities. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Thor : The World Eaters - A lighter Thor book

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Pasqual Ferry

Matt Fraction brings in his signature nerdy wit to Thor. The premise and the setting reminded me of the second Thor film, with Dr. Eric(Quantum Cosmologist) constantly questioning the science/magic of Nine Realms and propounding his own theories from time to time which question God Logic. The art complements the casual writing, with colors taking prominence to in depth sketches.

There is good amount of portion spent on Odin in the second half of the book, almost pushing Thor to sidelines. (Kid)Loki features too but is mostly a device. Coming to The World Eaters, they are not very well written, and mostly act as a reason for Odin to get angry and wield his not-so-niceties.

I quite liked the book, coming off from Jason Aaron’s Thor books, as Fraction makes it hit closer to home(no, literally, as Asgard is in Broxton, Oklahoma in the events post Seige) with goofy lines and panels that jump at you with wit. Iron Man also features in a nice cameo involving science and nerdy banter(what else!).

The story oscillates between Asgard(ruled now by Kind Balder) and Midgard/Broxton. Like all good books, characters often die and come back to life leading to some poignant sequences.

There is a nice add on story on the Grey Gargoyle written by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Mark Brooks, which complements the mood here, although it has more Thor-like dialog and mood than the one Fraction writes. There is also an interview with Fraction at the end where he talks about the positioning of this book in the Thor universe.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Meta Desi Comics Presents GROUND ZERO Vol. 2

Meta Desi is one of the few independent comics publishers (what’s that, I don’t know but it sounds cool) that really do justice to pulp writing. The comics are original, daring and eye-catching. Some of the best writers and creators in contemporary Indian comics(I gotta stop using this phrase) have worked on this book, the second in the series, and the results are anything but boring.

I won’t say that all the stories are great, but they are definitely something you don’t normally come across. From a curry western to a cow-monster's rampage, you see a host of genres explored here. The layout is good, printing and colors make you want to pick it up(thanks to a nicely goofy cover art by Abhijeet Kini) and is certainly worth the price of admission. The one thing that is bit of a downer however is the ever-present self-aware tone; there are pop culture in-jokes galore in an apparent attempt to stuff in too much in one book which does distract the reader from the flow of the comics. While it is not a bad thing, I could certainly do with few stories that are not full on the world-view meter.

Coming to the stories, I loved the curry western one – Once upon a time in the North by Sudeep Menon, Ahmed Sikander and Akshay Dhar(Lettering)i. There was a nice balance between narrative and goofiness in this one, the panel flow is good, and overall feel of the comics is very reader-friendly.

Raakshas Rising- Greater Demons by Akshay Dhar and Tarun Padmakumar is a definite improvement over the teaser in the first volume, and the goofy theme of a cubicle worker turned monster can turn into quite a nice series with lot of monsters and dialogbaazi that won’t hurt.

The Last Baqani #2 also improves a lot this time, shifting the focus to cleaner panels (I don’t know how else to describe the economy of size/layout) and smaller, crisper lines.Loved the Grodd like characters here. 

No prizes for guessing I didn’t like Desolation Runner, Super Soldier Squad and Holy Hell much. Desolation Runner starts off with a world weary voice over but soon goes into too much smooth talk for my liking with shades of noir.

Holy Hell is another of those looks good in a poster kind of comics. The jokes run one too many and while I laughed at some panels, I don’t quite enjoy the holy cow turning into an udder monster a la Angry Maushi. 

Super Soldier Squad too didn't work for me. While the comics is easy to read and the panel flow is good, the dialog borders on cheesy and the whole thing looks like a pre-teen video game to me, high on action and visuals but missing a connecting thread or a reason why you would care about the characters.  May be they need a kick-ass villain here to make them bloody serious?!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Pulp Quarterly Issue 2

Received my copy of Pulp Quarterly 2nd Issue few days ago and the book/magazine maintains the high standards of print and design quality seen in the debut issue. Lovely cover art by Tarun Padmakumar is attractive yet mysterious in its concept. 

The book is low on comic strips this time but the articles showcase a level on analysis and in-depth study which few can boast of in the Indian scheme of things. The lead feature is on Hyderabad Graphic Novel, with an interview with the creative team (Jai Undurti, Harsho Mohan Chattoraj) and a review. The interview takes us behind the book and tells an interesting story of the book’s conception (through a workshop, how the process was funded and realized). Sumit Ray is insightful in his observations and intersperses the article from the eye of someone who knows what he is talking, and that is a welcome change from articles put together post a handful of internet searches. 

The book itself has strong roots in journalism and looks inspired by the works of likes of journalistic comics of Joe Sacco and Art Spiegelman. As of my take on the book, I borrowed it from Leaping Windows comics library (not sure if it’s commercially available yet) sometime last month and while I loved the art, I had issues with the convoluted story-telling and the odd size that makes it look like a confused child of a graphic novel and a coffee table book. 

I expected vignettes spun around the folklores of the city but after 1-2 stories, the book takes huge tangential leaps into obscure literature. I am not saying it’s a bad thing but personally I lost interest and couldn’t find the flow that usually would keep me hooked to a comics. Couldn’t agree more with the review by Adhiraj Singh when he says that the book has little connection with Hyderabad and might as well be <insert city name> Graphic Novel.

Next comes the wonderful art of Bhanu Pratap in a section called Field notes and observations from a park bench in Delhi- highly individualistic free-strokes of social commentary through art, the last strip goes nicely meta and one can see the artist has a world of inspiration which only makes one look forward more to his comics. 

The Indie Spotlight this time is on Chaitanya Modak of Won-Tolla. Again the story is told beautifully with how the eclectic writer and creator started with newspaper strips (cartoonist) and went on to create more personal work with the creator-owned Won-Tolla label. I loved how the illustrations are juxtaposed with the article that makes the reader visualize the stories and facts given here. 

Sumit Ray reviews the Won-Tolla books(A Parrot’s Tale, Et Tu Brut and I’ve Got A Bike) and gives the stories/comics their due in terms of their abstract genre through Modak’s insights from interviews and tries to connect the dots. Another well researched and written piece.

Adhiraj Singh reviews Oracle of Tripe and Manual of Love (two more Won-Tolla books)and talks about the art aesthetic and the obtuse-ness of the books. I am yet to read these books, but they sound like an interesting addition to the experimental Indian comics scene.

Next comes the comics Fetish by Tarun Padmakumar, which tells the story of a guilt-ridden protagonist and his love-hate relationship with sexual escapades. The comics nicely portrays the inhibitions one practically lives while growing up in typical middle-class Indian suburb. I felt the piece sets up a nice premise but ends abruptly.

Next indie spotlight is on Raveesh Mohan, the writer of Parshu series(Orange Radius). Kailash Iyer interviews Raveesh about the genesis of the character and its development and future. It was nice to find out that the writer is expanding the story with more characters in the upcoming issues, as I found the origin story to be quite hackneyed.

Another nice little comic follows by Bhanu Pratap called A day in the life of a meta side villain, which is quite a self-explanatory title.

The last piece read sleepy ruminations called From Pai to Pao by a certain Tushar Shukla is poorly written and makes me wonder what it’s doing in this otherwise high quality magazine.

Great job again, Team Pulpocracy!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ground Zero Vol. 1 by Meta Desi - A Comics Anthology

I finally got a chance to catch up on this book at the Leaping Windows comics library. Loved the cover art, and the general format and layout of the book. Almost all the stories (except one) are written by Akshay Dhar and one must admire this guy’s talent at presenting so many diverse genres within one book.

Things big and small- Art by Ankur Amre & Sammi Lenker
Pretty much the ruminations read existential commentary of a party goer in Delhi, the protagonist sounds like Matthew McConnaghey from Dazed and Confused, who wants in on the fun yet doesn’t shy away from being philosophical about it.

The Last Baqani - Art : Sahil Rao
This workman-like account of a lost futuristic race/tribe is reminiscent of many sci-fi cities seen in the likes of Fifth Element, Blade Runner, or even Dredd, from recent times. I quite liked the in-depth-ness of the terminologies, and felt the writer knows these well, instead of just quoting them here, and would like to read more of similar kind of stories. And any story that starts with a bar conversation, I am in!

The Mirror Cracked - Art by Vivek Goel
My favorite story of the lot, because of the perfect balance between writing and art, everything is in place here, right from the Samurai aesthetic to the monologue of a guilt-ridden Samurai warrior who looks back at better times, and how he turns from a protector to a slayer.

A Day in the Life – Art by Abhijeet Kini
This cute little story of a 9 yr old and his heart-warming adventure with Yamdoot showcases the brilliance of Abhijeet Kini in telling a story fluidly. I am not too fond of his style though and think it suits pop art more than comic books, but I am waiting to be proved wrong.

Equality – Story and art by Anik Kumar Maitra
Though I appreciate the gory concept and the use of silhouettes I didn’t quite like this one too much.

Raakshas Rising – Art by Tarun Padmakumar
With a title like that, one would expect more of rising to happen, except all you get here is 2-3 eastmancolor pages and panel and a Batman-like figure leaping against the night sky.

Super Soldier Squad – Art by Anant Sagar

There is whole lot of spy lingo here(combat, target infiltration) and some cool Manga-like art however the dialogue seems self-important and the story/backstory or the motive seems missing. May be 1-2 page preface would help setting the context.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

InkLab Zine Issue# 1 Review

This collection of comic shorts (released last week at Delhi Comic Con by DCKS-Dehli Comics Kala Samagam, a collective on Facebook, and the real world) is a brave new effort in the Indian comic scene, and fully conceptualized and brought to fruition in a typical underground/guerrilla style. The team behind it has an interesting bunch of artists, writers and illustrators. I liked that the stories here don’t try to fall within any particular norm or genre, and are by their own independent instinct, free flowing narratives. It took me some time to absorb the diverse styles and formats at play here, but could appreciate the various team-up of writing and art here, which showcase both the traditional and newer genres in the art of comics.

Nasha! By Adhiraj Singh & Rajkawal Suri
A light start to the anthology with a funny piece about a guy’s good and bad trips. As he tries on some good and not so good ‘substances’ his brain goes through multiple hallucinations, as it would. The dialogs are in Hindi so the mannerisms may be lost on non-Hindi speakers but the expressive art pretty much makes up for it. The piece ends with a breaking the fourth wall panel, which just shows how much fun these creators are having with this Zine.

Chup by Shikhant Sablania
An open to interpretation dark piece about a man reading off what looks to be random strips of text which could either be from a pulp novel or a magazine. He does something to stop his introspection which I will not spoil as it deserves to be read first hand. The minimalism and the panels, especially the last one will remind you of world cinema.

Eye On You by Bhanu Pratap
A man gets woken up from his semi-sleep by what looks to be a sexual act, which soon turns into soul-churning surreal sequence. I am not sure why the style/art changes after first few pages but I interpreted it as a change of realm (dreams to reality). Themes of existential angst, guilt and burden of one’s actions are strongly pronounced here, with free flowing art. This is pure indie stuff, comes straight out of the creator’s heart, and not meant to please any funding agency/financier.

Kallol by Biboswan Bose
I read this piece, written entirely in a ‘mixed dialect of Bengali’, without the translation(there is a script provided alongwith), and couldn't understand it, except that there is an old women with tears in her eyes, and a strong recurring instance from her memory takes form of a crumpled note. Try it.

Infame by Sumit Ray & Shikhant Sablania
A revenge drama told in classic B&W silhouettes. A cop apprehends a film actor murdering his girlfriend. The cop gets falsely accused in the case until the wheels of fate take a reverse turn…The story and the panels here could be a bit tighter, the mystery which the initial panels evoke gets repetitive and loses its intensity. The revenge part is nicely done towards the climax, but could have used fewer lines.

Untitled by Adhiraj Singh & Bhanu Pratap
A slice of life piece, this one chronicles a day in the life of an everyman office-goer, where banter of all sorts surrounds him right from the moment he wakes up till he closes his day. I liked the well worked panels here, and the humor in the writing complements the overall mood.

Just Rewards by Aakshat Sinha
A philosophical piece that juxtaposes lines of poetry with images of lottery tickets thrown on what looks like a hospital floor, a sniffing rat, pages of newspaper and a sleeping person with a handicap.  May be it’s the theme or the incoherent font (which doesn’t gel very well with the art) I couldn’t quite get involved with this piece.

Fall by Bhanu Pratap

A one-page piece about bodies falling and flying….

Cover by Shikhant Sablania, Pin up by Veraat Singh