Friday, July 31, 2009

Vigilante Granny/ Black and white comic on the web... must be a gritty story, or a noir -oh wait it isn't

Vigilante Granny was a July Zuda contestant that finished in 7th place. The creators are Don Kunkel,, and CPWilsonIII. Here is the synopsis: If Superheroes think it’s hard trying to hide their secret identities from the public, just imagine what 78-year-old Faye Justis goes through trying to explain all of her bruises and tattered clothing to her family. When old age forced Faye to hang up her revealing spandex super heroine costume, she assumed that some younger; more in-shape do-gooder would take over as the protector of the city. So far, no one new has risen to the challenge, so Faye still finds herself regularly battling the forces of evil (though her scantily costume remains in a box in her closet). Our story revolves around Faye as she tries to fit in with her elderly friends and be a part of her son and grandson’s lives, though a slew of various villains constantly make it difficult for her to simply live a quiet life. Our story revolves around a string of kidnappings, which have been occurring throughout the city Faye inhabits and sometimes begrudgingly protects. The kidnappings had been flying well below Faye’s radar, what with bigger crises like massive, murderous robots and horrifying mutant creatures keeping her busy. However, when her grandson Ronnie is taken captive, Faye is on the case. Not to be confused with the most patient individual on the planet, Faye fumbles her way through the investigative process, attempting to locate her missing loved one, all the while keeping up an ignorant fa├žade to fool her son and his wife into thinking that she knows nothing about the case.

Color your super-hero comics

The black and white is the first thing you notice of -course- when reading this story. it would have worked well for a dark super hero story, but that's not what this is. The idea of a granny with super powers has all kinds of possibilities if the creators really want to work the set-up. The second thing you notice is the great page layouts especially in the various thought balloon panels, a cool idea well executed. Readers get a joke about Jeopardy as a lead in to this comic's second full page shot on screen 4, which is a pretty good joke. Not to mention shots of Vigilante Granny knitting up a storm. The various sound effects, and letters are very well done. Another full page shot features Granny facing off with a giant robot. Their are a number of full page shots in these 8 screens all of which would have more impact with color. Their is a nice innovative panel layout on screen 6 for Granny's taking down of the big giant robot which really impressed me. The most impressive thing about this comic are the screen layouts, and their use in setting the pace of this story. Big explosions just look better in color, they just do, this would have made the ending sequence of Granny trying to escape the blast much more visually grabbing. I did enjoy the contrast of Granny's thoughts vs. the expanding blast radius, but having thought balloon's and text box thought balloons... Pick a style (skip the text box thought balloons), and stick with it.

Would someone born in 1931 like, use like -you know?

I didn't get the use of the word like, or seriously -but I figure their has to be a reason for it. Maybe she mentored some younger valley girl heroes and picked up the habit, maybe one of her old villains talked like that and possessed her mind. Their does need to be a reason for it in the context of the story, otherwise it can throw readers off. The creators did too much synopsis for the 8 screens presented. I lot of people don't even read them, but those who do wondered where some of the set-up was for future events in the 8 screens provided. It wasn't a bad entry, but the concept wasn't realized, meaning not much of a laugh riot, in the 8 screens readers have. It would have been better to just skip the comedy tag, and go with Superhero action/adventure with the occasional light moments. The synopsis was more of a hook to me as a reader, than the 8 screen promo, which isn't what creators want to go for. Vigilante Granny as a character couldn't get it done in the screens allowed, but I do hope to see all the creators back again.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Zuda review The Adventures of Mr. Simian/ Stop me if you've heard this one before: A monkey and a talking rat escape from a lab...

The Adventures of Mr. Simian is another Zuda comic this month done by Zuda vet John Bivens. The contest is over, but my reviews aren't. A monkey and talking mouse is a nice buddy on the run set-up, but more poop slanging would have been appreciated, Here is the synopsis: A very clever chimp and a loud-mouthed mouse (yes he talks) escape from an animal testing facility, only to end up chased by inept lab assistants. A poop and science filled buddy comic that takes our protagonists on adventures around the globe.

More poop slanging please! -or not?

The creator has admitted starting at the beginning may not have been the best choice. I think the starting point is fine, but more of a poop slanging frenzy for the finale would have been more grabbing to readers. What would have been even better is no poop slanging at all. It starts with Mr. Simian in a cage in a lab, and you can figure on some sad moments ahead. The text narration is just enough to aid the fantastic art, but not take up too much space. As Bivens is a Zuda vet it shows that he has been in Zuda before in the professionalism of this entry. Having the title character not be able to talk, means the artist has to be fantastic at facial expressions -which John Bivens is. The lab doctors could look more crazy, spooky, or kooky depending on the planned direction for this comic. On screen 3 however, you have an extreme close-up of Mr. Simian's face with a single tear and the caption: "I wish I could say that he wasn't afraid." That's great characterization, and reader grabbing storytelling. Screen 4 is amazing in it's non-traditional layout. A series of images on one screen tells you everything you want to know about the torture Mr. Simian went through. Scenes of being drugged, his brain being exposed, screaming in pain, hooked up to what looks like an electric chair, and the closing shot Mr. Simian curled up into a fetal position. Doesn't sound much like a on the road buddy comedy so far does it? Screen 5 we finally see the talking mouse and he's stolen a key for a jail break. The mouse mentions he's been getting the same injections as Mr. Simian so that could explain his greater intelligence. His ability to talk is a experiment to give him 'human-like' vocal chords, and makes for a awesome character. Really great character designs on the main two that come across in this Zuda submission. The colors remind me of Lynn Varley and make the story even better. Letters and thought balloon gags are completely legible.

It should be more Thelma and Louise, or Life is Beautiful -than National Lampoon

Our heroes make their escapes from their cages and do some monkey-wrenching on the way out their door. Unfortunately around screen 7 is when the Keith Giffen influence (I'm guessing) played hell with the tone of the story. You have the lab doctors wondering what happened, and wanting to recapture the experiments. Then it screen 8 you have the chimp poop thrown complete with a Giffen style arrow. Then Mr. Simian and Algernon's foul mouthed twin, ride off in a hover car like Nick Fury used to have. We get a last 'funny' portrait panel of the chief villain saying "get them back or don't show your faces around here again". WTF just happened??? The whole theme/tone/mood -feel- of the story just did a 180 on the last screen. The genre tags chosen by the creator are: Science Fiction (with the lab experiments sure), and Comedy. Screens 1 through 6 could be horror, other, action/adventure -one thing they aren't is comedy. If John wanted to go the 'poop that's in my hand' route the earlier screens should have been less serious, sad, and touching. They made it seem like a horror, or action story. I read the synopsis and comic information first so I was surprised at the initial tone of the screens. It's possible John wanted to do something that showed even in the worst of times you have to find something to laugh about to keep your spirits up. That kind of story can have a lot of appeal (award winning even), but you can't wait till the last screens to set the mood. If that was a goal the pacing was awful for it. If it is supposed to be a buddy movie type comic, then the sad origin's should have been left to flashbacks at a later date. A serious story that was really grabbing is what I was reading until page 8, and it went of the rails. As a neat twist on the Thelma and Louise/Bonnie and Clyde outlaws on the run story it's great, as the comedy it was intended to be -not enough smiles and poopage to pull it off.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Zuda review Interrogation Control Element / A kinder, gentler, badass!

Interrogation Control Element is another Zuda comic this month done by Zuda vet Tyler James, Damian Couceiro, PauljohnLittle, and StevedForbes. I enjoy Tyler James work and this comic was no exception, it got a fav out of me for fascinating treatment of a serious subject. here is the synopsis: Thomas “Trip” Higgins was once America’s most unassuming weapon in the “War on Terror.” A soft-spoken, but incredibly effective interrogator, Trip consistently broke prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. But as interrogations increasingly relied on humiliation, degradation and even torture, Trip became disillusioned with his work. Several years later, after writing a memoir of his experience and a manifesto for reform of US interrogation policy, Trip is asked to be become “Senior Echo” (Chief Interrogator) of a new Interrogation Control Element (ICE) on US soil. Trip’s job is to train a team of young ‘gators how to break the most valuable terrorists in US custody without violating the Geneva Conventions. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a brazen Taliban attack on a prison in Afghanistan frees Fazul Shallah, a high-ranking soldier in a well-funded terrorist network. After finding out that his imprisonment was no accident, Shallah eliminates the leadership of his network and assumes control of this group of deadly extremists. Just as Trip begins to win the respect of his team of ‘gators, Shallah declares war on the West in a series of terrifying attacks around the world. Uncovering information that could lead to the capture of Shallah and his network is Trip’s team’s primary task. But when his family and team become targets, Trip’s “by-the-book” interrogation tactics and respect for the rule of law will be put to the ultimate test.

Finally someone who isn't a Jack Bauer clone!

The creators have talked about this, and it's a strong point for the story we get a non-traditional lead here. You have plenty of action hero part Client Eastwood/part Rambo types it's nice to get a break from all that. Trip is a brain, a smart guy who uses his skills as interrogator to aid in the war on terror. Those skills don't include ripping off fingernails, or water boarding. The story starts at a highly dramatic moment the water boarding of a suspect. The art is perfect for a story like this, the opening sequence of this mans torture will draw readers in. Realistic information on the types of people who do this is mixed in well throughout the narrative, no information dump in this comic. Letters are easy to read, and the colors very much fit this story. It's not a surprise a Zuda vet would get the pacing right for the 8 screens, but it shows a great deal of talent, and professionalism. By screen 3 (possibly a Zuda record) you clearly understand the lead character Trip and what the conflicts are he faces. He didn't show up till screen 2, so its all the more impressive. Screen 3 has realistic dialogue which establishes the characterization of Trip and his rival/nemesis Morlin. You see Trip's two main antagonists the suspects, and the destructive forces in his own government he goes up against. In panel 6 on screen 3 you can see how sad Trip is that something like this happened. Screen 4 is the best screen in the comic, because of the amount of information it delivers, and the excellent screen layout it used. The subject who was water boarded gave a false address and tragedy happened from that. You see a panel where a boy with a kitchen knife tried to defend his family, and the next panel shows the soldiers opening fire. You don't see the boy shot you read about it in the text. The use of a door kicked down by coalition forces to cover the top half of the water boarded suspects dead body (I'm guessing he hung himself) as Trip walked away -I don't know any 'big names' who could do it better.

Handles the subject matter better than some (allegedly) non-fiction books I have read

I've read any number of books, blogs, and saw any number of news reports about the real life policies/actions this story is based on. My view is I.C.E. does an excellent job at idealistic-realism. A fiction story, but what it's based on is all too real. I.C.E. follows in the foot steps of comics like Two-Fisted Tales, Front line Combat, and Blazing Combat. Comics are just as suited to this type of story as any other medium. Shallah (the other force of opposition) , is introduced on screen 5. The two guards we see could have just gotten the Star Trek red shirt treatment, but they didn't. A few lines of dialogue about how one character wanted to marry a girl (if the father agrees), showed readers this man had a life planned for himself. When he is killed in the last panel those words come back to you and give his death meaning in the story. It was also damn impressive to me. One problem with this page Ba-Boom! as a see through sound effect doesn't work. Either give it real impact by making it non-transparent, or go another direction and leave it out completely. Screen 6 shows use the villain Shallah getting out of jail and setting up the future conflict. [Could be a battle of wills forthcoming: can Trip 'break' Shallah?] These screens really added to making this a well rounded Zuda submission. Screen 7 had some more well written dialogue, but I'll believe Gitmo is closed when it happens -maybe a little too hopeful. It does provide a interesting contrast with how things are now in the real world. The dialogue on the last two screens is amazingly done, and so is the art to help avoid 'talking heads', and add to the drama. The resolution provided for 'what do we do with them?' shows politicians in this comic have more guts than real life -as of now. Its a bonus to this story looking at the comic, then looking back to the real world, and seeing just how much they diverge. Realism was the initial draw for me, but by the end it became something different. The real hook here for grabbing readers with this story isn't showing us the way the world is, but the way it could be. I hope the story lives on and thank you/congrats to all the I.C.E. team for a great read.

[As a side note just why can't you trademark/copy write the word I.C.E. for a comic title?]