Tuesday, August 11, 2009
What's to Like:
Adolescent anime with attitude, that's what Rogue Royal feels like. Garrett's submission to the August '09 Zuda competition is fast and fun, utilizing a single botched weapons transaction and its disastrous/hilarious aftermath to establish his protagonist, her motivations and personality. This is smoothly executed, as the character lives up to the rogue portion of the strip's title, and she's a lovable one at that. Her volatile emotions, which drive the story, are wonderfully evident on her face and in her posture throughout the story, and it's the unexpected, yet perfectly timed, shifts in her mood and expressions that have the reader wanting more page after page.
There is a sweet consistency between the art and story in Rogue Royal. Garrett shows a true knack for comic pacing and enhances this essential aspect with shifting perspective and scale. The reader always knows where the protagonist is in relation to her enemies, and her every motion and look blends naturally into the next, even when the next one isn't exactly anticipated. Great work. The overall style of the entry is skillfully maintained throughout, including the rough-hewn but well-placed sound effects. Rogue Royal is a nicely realized vision of the main character in a catastrophically funny predicament.
What it Lacks:
Just one technical criticism - the lettering and word balloons could be crafted more cleanly, but that's a minor issue that only detracts minimally from what's otherwise very visually pleasing work. The only area in which Rogue Royal is really lacking is direction. No overarching storyline is established, and that leaves the impression that an ongoing comic would simply provide repeat episodes similar to the one presented here. Really, there is nothing wrong with that approach, but it would represent a general departure from the Zuda offerings out there now (Night Owls not withstanding...). I realize the synopsis provides the backstory for the submission, but absolutely none of that information is even hinted at in the eight pages presented for the competition. Anticipation of learning more about the character and her journey involving her larger conflict might build to more enthusiasm, which may, in turn, translate into more votes.
My Zuda Rating:
4 Stars. Fun and funny and showcases some true artistic and storytelling talent.
No. As good as it is, Rogue Royal simply does not leave me wanting more.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
What's to Like
Physikon offers up an interesting story concept that leaves the reader at first concerned for the apparent tragedy that inherently follows the protagonist wherever he goes and, later, perplexed as to whether his entire story is a trumped-up hoax. Diochon does a worthy job of keeping the reader off-balance and in a way that maintains curiosity for what may come. It's an effective strategy for the Zuda competition in that it may elicit votes from those who enjoy the ideas enough that they want to see the story continue.
The art is nicely executed and very pleasing to the eye, with a cartoonish quality that contrasts with the dark tone of the plot, yet somehow paradoxically energizes the isolation displayed by the protagonist during the extended flashback. Particularly striking are the panels in the flashback that bring into play symbols of death in an almost surreal manner. Diochon's use of grim reapers, tombstone shadows and disembodied hands is masterful and leaves the reader with a feeling of the morbid reality faced by the cursed narrator. Those are the panels that persist in memory hours after reading Physikon, and that is a compliment to the talents of the creator.
What it Lacks
There are a number of potentially viable plot strategies available to those aspiring to win the Zuda competition, but the two most common are the recap and the "middle-of-the-action." Physikon goes for the recap, to me the less effective option, but Diochon skillfully uses four full screens for a nicely accomplished, faded flashback sequence that truly engages the reader and pulls real emotion for the main character. However, this is framed by a sequence that sets up the flashback and accompanying narrative with a tale told by the protagonist to other potential cast members revealed near the end of the submission. This part of the work muddies the story so clearly presented in the flashback and, frankly, occupies too large a portion of the eight screen allotment. An entire splash screen is utilized as an underwhelming reveal for the other characters, when that space would have undoubtedly been more effectively utilized for images evocative of the emotion so pervasive during the flashback. Basically, everything that worked in the recap was nullified by the rather cumbersome effort to introduce all the ancillary characters and get their names into some of the word balloons while establishing a somewhat confusing link to the narrator.
My Zuda Rating
3 Stars. Fascinating core concept and great art weighed down by an over-done framing mechanic.
No. Simply not in the top tier of this month's entries.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
I should start this review with an admission that I am an old-school Joe guy. Well, not THAT old-school. I'm talking Swivel-Arm Battle Grip, not Kung-Fu Grip. Yeah, it was 3-3/4" Snake-Eyes and Duke and Cobra Commander for me. I mowed my Mom's best friends' yard at age 11 to earn 10 bucks in 1982, just to buy my first Joe figure. It was a straight-arm Snake-Eyes and the Rapid-Fire "RAM" Motorcycle. Man, I was happy. My Joe collecting addiction lasted well into my 20's, and it expanded to the point I actually possessed a full set of the figures produced domestically at one point. So, it is from that perspective that I anticipated the G.I. Joe movie ever since I heard about its production back in 2008. Of course, I'd seen the repetitive trailers featuring the scene leading to the destruction of the Eiffel Tower, so I, like anyone else with a television, had a pretty good idea of what the film would look and feel like. To me, the aesthetics of the characters and action appeared to be fairly consistent with the stories I knew from childhood and adolescence...and adulthood. Being that these stories grew from a marketing campaign for a toy line, one could only expect so much Oscar-level quality from a live-action film based on the same. Personally, I just hoped for fun action and a few nods to the toys and cartoons that were such a part of my imaginative life.
Fun is what I wanted from this movie, and fun is absolutely what I got. The writers clearly knew both their material and the audience attached to it, so they provided plenty of singular moments for the fans to appreciate. These included timely iterations of the full array of catch-phrases ingrained in the larger pop culture and all of the signature weapons and visuals associated with the core group of characters featured in this film. Scarlett had her cross-bow; the Baroness had her rectangular glasses, and Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow sported the mark of the Arashikage ninja clan on their swords each time they crossed them in battle. These were the Joes I knew, a few quirks and changes of accent aside, and the most important of their enemies were there, too, mostly intact in terms of their images and personalities. The well-crafted and consistent flashback scenes provided context for the events occuring in the movie's present, and they were simply cool in their own right. The fight scenes involving Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow as children were amazing - who knew 8-year-olds could have moves like that?
There are two obvious influences on the story direction. The G.I. Joe cartoons of the early and mid 1980s began with a couple of 5-episode, formulaic mini-series that can be summed up pretty quickly. Basically, Cobra developed a super-weapon of some sort (the MASS Device or the Weather Dominator), used it on high profile targets, and the Joes responded, only to lose to the super-weapon's power before developing a plan to overcome it, a plan ALWAYS benefiting from the assistance of an inside Joe or two previously captured by Cobra. Anyone who ever saw these cartoons will see the clear parallels to the movie script. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I like that approach. Naturally, that means there are some very transparent sub-plots in the film, each with readily predictable outcomes, but these merely add anticipation of their resolution over the action-packed flow of the film.
The other big influence is clearly Star Wars. With regard to the latter three Star Wars films, it is my opinion that the G.I. Joe film out-George Lucas'ed George Lucas on some counts. The last hour or so of the movie involves one massive assault on an underwater citadel and requires the juggling of battles in up to five different theaters at once, much like the Star Wars staple of converging conflicts in three separate domains at climactic moments. The editing and direction of G.I. Joe are so skillful that each of these micro-conflicts segues from one to the next and back again without losing intensity or significance, all while maintaining the momentum of the overall battle. Impressive stuff. The creative forces behind G.I. Joe offer more than a few blatant nods to Star Wars, including one that drew howls of laughter during the seminal throwdown between Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes. Hey, Snake Eyes and Darth Maul are the same guy...it had to happen. Again, fun.
The action sequences are expansive and exaggerated to the extreme. The oft-viewed Paris sequence is much more involved within the final edit of the film, and it ultimately employs six different Joes chasing the villains via four different, high-speed methods amidst gunfire, explosions, flying cars and exploding Parisians. This and the aforementioned assault on the underwater lair each involved prodigious amounts of special effects depicting advanced military tech that has always been a Joe trademark. Swarming submarines and roaring aircraft were ever-present and usually seamlessly included in the visual progression of the film. Unfortunately, there were a few moments wherein the CGI was pretty bad by modern standards, but these were only a very few, thankfully.
Again, nobody is winning awards for portraying a hero or villain in a movie about characters originating in a line of action figures. Nevertheless, there were some notable performances, and no one was just flat-out bad. It really felt like each of the actors embraced the traditional personality of their assigned character and did not venture very much outside of that. Channing Tatum's Duke was a substantial departure, more maverick and down-and-dirty point man than inspirational leader, but he sold it beautifully. The scene-stealer to me was Byung-hun Lee as Storm Shadow. His turn as the ninja assassin and arch-nemesis of Snake-Eyes was tinged with edge and attitude. The hatred for Snake-Eyes was palpable in their interactions, and the man held his own in blade-to-blade combat with the legendary Ray Park as well.
A fun, enjoyable watch. Mixed in with my own sentimental attachment to the property, that assessment meant a good time for me, well worth the price of admission. If you like over-the-top action films with some ooh's and ahh's and a laugh or two, you'll like G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
What's to Like:
The creators also manage, in the eight brief Zuda submission screens, to round out a very interesting supporting cast, my favorite of which, The Baron, never even utters a word - testament to the clever use of textual references and, okay, bad-ass pictures of the little guy checking his rear-view mirror for an impending crash and then down-shifting to pull his buzz-saw closer to the remaining pursuer. Then, Luthi and Kinshella work in two screens of foreshadowing that serves to both flesh out the role of Jackson and his crew in the larger world of Octane Jungle and to bring in a major (and hilarious) antagonist for them. Excellent and fun storytelling that takes advantage of most of the distinctive elements of the comics medium. Even the lettering is expertly crafted. I found the shadowing and general style of the word balloons to really blend with the rest of the artistic stylings.
What it Lacks
My Zuda Rating
4 Stars. Give this thing the detailed, full coloring that it deserves, and you've got a 5-star winner. It's going in my Favorites, no doubt.
Octane Jungle won me over despite my issues with the coloring. I think this is where my vote goes for August, '09.
Friday, August 7, 2009
If You See the Hills represents a departure from most Zuda submissions in that it lies outside the expected genres that tend to dominate comics, both on the web and in print. Coming of age or bored teen angst stories not set in a superhero-verse are just not typical comics fare. In this submission, however, Sal Field elicits some real emotion for his characters, primarily with a few lines of poignant dialogue that deserve recognition. Screens 5 and 6 feature an exchange between Katja and Sasha about why she likes joining him on the roof, and he frustrates her by offering some sarcastic reponses. Their back-and-forth in this sequence, and especially her ultimate answer to her own question, is cute and very warm. Check it out.
While there are the aforementioned endearing moments in this work, they are an exception as compared to the rest of the interaction that comprises this entire comic. The rest of the dialogue feels stale, even predictable as these teens gripe about parents and school and their crappy hometown and miscommunicate because of over-reliance on cell phones. The final little twist based on cell phones and intended to get a laugh from the reader ... it just isn't funny. Not even cutesy. Not even a little bit. All this adds up to a story that is very dry aside from a fuzzy two-screen success.
2 Stars. The extra Star is purely out of appreciation for the really thoughtful dialogue on screens 5 and 6. Otherwise, we'd be looking at uno.
Um, no. See above criticisms.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Cards Kill by Jason Chiu & Leah Liu
What's to Like:
Cards Kill is nice to look at. Really, it's easy to appreciate visually. The art has a dreamy, almost water-color aspect to it that made me stop and explore the panels. In particular, screen 1 and the last panel on screen 7 really offer layers of gorgeous, and even complex, images. True talent there, and that talent is also obvious in the color work, which I think is actually at the root of the artistic success in this submission. The color palette was beautifully manipulated as the setting changed from the barren, Voltron-esque environs of the set-up to the modern, mundane trappings of the neighborhood bar. The atmospheric adjustments that resulted were in no way obtrusive.
What it Lacks:
Let me qualify my comments-to-come with an acknowledgement that there appears to be a language translation issue with Cards Kill. Of course, I don't know this with any certainty, but the text and dialogue are so choppy and, honestly, awkward in this work, that it's the only conclusion I could come to. Naturally, this problem wreaks havoc with the pacing and general flow of the comic, making it hard to read and harder to enjoy. At the very least, an editor proficient in English would propel the work of these obviously gifted creators to a markedly higher plane. The idea behind the story is an interesting one, but it's virtually impossible to appreciate the concept because of the way it's communicated. Enough on that issue. It is what it is.
As for the actual story, it is irretrievably weighed down by the four screens of set-up for the card game in the middle of the submission. With only eight pages to make a case for a Zuda contract, a competitor has to make every single screen count, whether that's with slap-your-mama visuals or slap-your-knee one-liners or some combination thereof. In this reader's opinion, the best Zuda entries manipulate the Zuda widescreen format to effect set-up in a manner that is both concise and meaningful. Your try-out for the big leagues simply can not rely on a strategy that is one-half murky framing and one-half empty interaction. It just does not work.
My Zuda Rating:
2 Stars. A lot of potential in the art, but a story that is just not navigable.
Unh-uh. Not even close.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
The characters and their personalities are established quickly and with little work, primarily through their interactions with each other. The two main protagonists, Arrow and Bow, are distinct anachronisms with even more distinct personality quirks that simply stand up off the page. Bow's goofy sense of humor is easily the most memorable aspect of this strip, and, while cheesy, he got a couple of laugh-out-louds out of me. I especially liked the bit about the static electricity chair and itchy sweaters and rubbing balloons. It just cracked me up. The jokes tended to wear thin in a few instances, but it seemed this was the creators' intent, as Bow was clearly portrayed as an over-eager, obnoxious sort. Overall, the story itself held my interest, mostly to see what kind of line Bow would throw out there next.
What it Lacks:
The character of Bow tended to overshadow the other characters and to dominate the story in general, which, for me, resulted in paying less attention to the surrounding personalities and events. Any other flaws I might point out with Bow & Arrow Detective Agency would be more matters of personal preference than actual problems with the comic, because it's expertly pulled off. Nice job, guys.
4 Stars. It's great work, no doubt. Just not my particular brand of comic excitement.
No. There's one other comic in the August competition that I'd be more motivated to visit Zuda to read each week, but that's absolutely the only reason Bow & Arrow Detective Agency won't get my vote.
What's to Like:
Wow. Gorgeous comic art in this one, and utilized in skillful sequential fashion, with shifting perspective and scale. Terrific use of colors is ever-present, especially the contrast of the white setting with the other, physically smaller story visuals. I was really impressed with how the snow effects were used throughout. The panel layouts are nice and easy to follow, and there were plenty of well-timed, large panels to showcase the artist's talent and bring emphasis to critical story points. Well done! I found myself digi-thumbing through Arctic several times just appreciating the visuals.
What it Lacks:
It's pretty, but the story itself just didn't engage me. The amnesiac crash survivor who remembers THIS but doesn't remember THAT, all at the convenience of the author, is a tired theme for me. And the way the amnesia is represented in story terms was really over-done with regard to the sheer number of questions asked of the protagonist by himself. Seriously, it lasts for three full screens. One final gripe on this note - the reader is supposed to believe that the memory-impaired crash survivor doesn't remember what snow is, but he remembers the name of an alien species and the use of the term wreckage. Doesn't wash.
Also, the text was heavy-handed in terms of exposition, when the art was so well executed that some of the verbage could have been completely eliminated. For example, on screen 5, as our amnesiac protagonist cautiously approaches the starship wreckage, he thinks, "Maybe the wreckage will give me more clues." It's obvious from the beautifully crafted image in this panel that he is approaching the wreckage to find out what happened to him. It's a case of letting the art speak for itself, and the creator would do well here, and throughout this story, to recognize that he already places such thoughts in the readers' brains with his thoughtful, moody visuals without beating us over the head with words.
My Zuda Rating:
3 Stars. This creator knows how to draw comics and can probably craft a thought-provoking and fascinating story. The words and pictures just need to come into proper balance to tell the story with the intended mood. VERY close to being excellent. Keep at it.
No. I enjoy sci-fi on Zuda, in particular, but Absolute Magnitude is hands-down better this month.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
What's to Like:
Antique Books is an artistically pleasing comic that is technically sound in all aspects. I really enjoyed the line art and layouts. It's a very easy read and makes maximum use of the unique Zuda format. Even the lettering is remarkable. Here is a comic artist who understands composition and uses it to ultimate effect. And, hey, I love owls, and there were some pretty cool ones on that shelf. What can I say?
This work features expert use of both visual and textual storytelling aspects to establish the main character with her conflicts in her setting and even illustrates a couple of her ancillary relationships. And it's all done within the organic flow of events in these eight screens. Impressive balance of exposition and immersion - great work!
What it Lacks:
All that praise handed out, and I'm still forced to mention ... this is a comic that is essentially about boredom. Seriously. Boredom is the recurrent theme for the main character, and it quickly becomes an affliction for the story itself. Although I love the way this comic looks and reads, I found myself not caring at all if I ever read another screen to learn what might happen. That's not to say I wouldn't love to see other work by the same creator. The themes and plot of Antique Books just did not capture my interest.
My Zuda Rating:
3 Stars. High praise for the skills it took to create Antique Books, but I would love to see them applied to a more interesting story.
No way. The talent emanating from this work is for real, but I would never browse to Zuda just to read it. That's not a slight. Simply the truth.
Monday, August 3, 2009
WHAT'S TO LIKE:
Okay, I'm a sucker for hard sci-fi, so I admit my bias here. Let me start with the art - terrific comic lines and colors. The character work is impressive, and the sequentials work beautifully. THIS is comic art at work, and I love it. Screen 2 completely pulled me into this story and is the single most impressive screen of any Zuda entry I've seen so far for August (reminiscent of Moebius or Dave Gibbons, anyone?). I really enjoyed the shifting pallettes between the planet-side scene and the events aboard the ships in space.
As for the story, it's good, too, although it suffers from the 8-page dilemma - exposition versus immersion. These guys go for immersion, dropping the reader right into the action without a lot of heavy-handed explanation. The characters' relationships and motivations emerge in their actions and interactions, and the reader gets a brief chance to connect to a few of them via their individual voices as the story plays out. There's emotion and drama in these 8 pages, and I was left with anticipation of discovering where the events will lead and what the larger story entails.WHAT IT LACKS:
The flip side of the 8-page dilemma is that, with immediate immersion in a Zuda competition entry, exposition is difficult to accomplish and often sacrificed. While I definitely got a feel for the characters and micro-situations explored in the 8-page submission for Absolute Magnitude, the story does suffer from a missing, larger understanding of the universe and events occurring within. To me, this is not much of a flaw. Given a choice, I'll take captivating immersion over droning exposition any day, but I would be remiss if I didn't point out the issue here.
MY ZUDA RATING:
4 Stars. Great comic art with shifting perspectives and fluid sequential progressions. Beautiful. Individualized characters with some relationships established in 8 pages of action.
More than likely. I still have a few entries to read or re-read, but Absolute Magnitude is gonna be tough to beat for me.
A Stinking Corpse by Furman
WHAT'S TO LIKE:
This is a stunning visual piece. Each panel could stand on its own as a fine work of medieval art. I'm reminded of the images that awed me in TSR's old Dungeons & Dragons hardcovers in the 80's. The lines are intricate, and the human forms are pristine - damn shame about those dead daughters - wastes of shape. This comic is so pretty to look at, it seems almost tragic that some of the art is obstructed by the word balloons and boxes.
WHAT IT LACKS:
While the plot itself isn't bad - I mean, I love the idea of a zombie warrior fighting hordes of sword-wielding lycanthropes and taking on daughter-slaughtering druids - the final product doesn't feel much like a comic. There is very little sequential work from panel to panel, and I really feel these images would work best as illustrations for a narrative short story. Then, there's the dialogue - the protagonist speaks as though he is a modern, haughty teenager in a zombie-warrior's body ("Screw you"? Really?). Another case in which a fantastic artist seriously needs the second voice of a writer or, at the very least, an editor
One other gripe, and I'm admittedly nit-picking here, but the lettering really needs some attention. The words are set awkwardly in many bubbles, even aligned justified in oval balloons, and the shred-edged balloons used for the protagonist really are not well-designed and barely contain the words, especially on screen 8. in panel 3 of screen 7, these types of word balloons aren't even connected to the protagonist with tails in an apparent effort to spare the art of some really nicely drawn statues. I understand the motivation to leave all this beautiful work exposed, but, again, this is supposed to be a COMIC.
MY ZUDA RATING:
3 Stars - Gorgeous to the eye. Static to the brain. Obvious talent in need of script assistance.