Saturday, February 27, 2010

Review - Dork

by Evan Dorkin
1995 Eisner Winner for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition
2002 Eisner Winner for Best Writer/Artist - Humor

There isn't a good way to describe Dork. Between its format, the subject matter, and Dorkin's own style Dork is an explosion of insanity. It's what you'd get if you stuck a dozen of the strangest comics in a blender and hit frappe. It's the spawn of Lewis Carroll and the entropic death of the universe. In short, it is the very heart of madness. And I think it makes for an interesting comic.

Dork is the comic book that Evan Dorkin assembles his odds and ends in. It's his kitchen junk drawer. If there's something he's done that hasn't been printed in a comic it goes in Dork. If there's an idea he gets at three in the morning and can't fit it in with anything else it goes in Dork. That makes it an anthology but a very irregular one since it leaps around from topic to topic.

The two paperback collections of Dork are not complete issues and aren't even collected in order. For one thing they're missing the Eltingville Club stories which ironically might be the best known of the material in Dork since they were turned into a pilot for Adult Swim. The first volume is generally more coherent since it got the bulk of the longer stories that remained. The second volume on the other hand contains a lot more rapid fire jokes.

An advantage of the format is that if you're not enjoying a story give it a page because things are sure to turn over and become something else completely different. I didn't like the Murder Family stories which were a sitcom about a family of serial killers because I found it be one note but then I turned over the page and found some zany comic strips and forgot all about the part I didn't like. That's how Dork works; it's constantly shifting.

Enjoyment of Dork is going to be dependent on how much you enjoy Evan Dorkin's humor. He tends to the absurd but never steps over the line to completely random. He's got a great sense of wordplay (when Carl Jung goes on a rampage the headline for the next panel reads "28 Collectively Rendered Unconscious"). The closest thing I can compare it to is Monty Python since they both seem to be drawing their humor from the same sources.

Dorkin's art is just fine but it's not going to be a selling point for Dork. He seems far more comfortable telling a joke through words rather than images so the writing carries the stories. The occasions where he does go for a visual joke it works just fine but it's never the focus of the book.

I wound up enjoying Dork quite a bit but not really sure if I would recommend it to anyone. I suppose that anyone who likes quirky, nerdy humor should get a kick out of it but it's so idiosyncratic that I can't be sure. Dork is concentrated, joking madness and if you can enjoy the ride down that rabbit hole then you'll probably like it quite a bit.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review - Elektra Lives Again

Elektra Lives Again
by Frank Miller
1991 Eisner Winner for Best Graphic Album

There was a time when I enjoyed Frank Miller's work a lot. I have both omnibuses of his Daredevil work to use an obvious connection. I enjoyed at least the beginning of Sin City. I genuinely liked 300. I'm not a fan of Batman and I find Batman: Year One to be magnificent. In spite of this at some point Miller started slipping. These days it's almost guaranteed that I'm going to hate anything he creates. Elektra Lives Again has a strong attachment to his good work so I was expecting something that I'd at least enjoy. What I got was a book that was good to look at and a story that I could only follow by knowing the history of the characters involved.

In the early 80's Miller wrote a story for Daredevil where the title character's former girlfriend Elektra became a ninja assassin, turned on her masters, and then died (essentially the story used for the Daredevil movie). Miller revisited this story a few times before this graphic novel where Daredevil fears that the ninja clan may be attempting to resurrect Elektra and brainwash her. Then he finds signs that she may already be alive and the ninjas are working to create an even deadlier warrior to put Elektra back into her grave.

I could barely follow the story as I read Elektra Lives Again. It is a mess. I could give you a broad outline of events but the details blur and get muddied. This was after going through some portions again ten minutes ago to make sure I had things straight. Miller was solidly tied to the ninja craze in the 1980's and it shows through in this book as the ninjas are magic assassins who can do anything except kill the heroes because they're ninjas.

Character motivations are opaque to me for anything beyond the broad strokes. I can get the Elektra wants to kill ninjas, ninjas want to kill Elektra, and Daredevil wants to save her aspect of things. The problems for me are when Daredevil just lets Elektra walk past him on a staircase. Or when in his identity as a lawyer he jumps into bed with one of his clients. Or why the ninjas attack Daredevil to get information when any observation would demonstrate that he still thinks Elektra is dead. Topping it all off the conclusion is built on an emotional epiphany that that left me baffled; it was the equivalent of having a caption saying, "And then suddenly he was all better."

On the positive side of things Miller's art is just as terrific as always in Elektra Lives Again. He draws elaborate, dense pages that just pull me in. He often uses a jumble of staccato images that look like they should be a chaotic mess and then as I examine them closer the story in them emerges. As with 300 his wife Lynn Varley painted over his pencils and her soft coloring adds a pleasant texture to the book.

Good art by Miller doesn't justify the unreadable story. While he was creating Elektra Lives Again he was gearing up for Sin City which features both an engrossing story and great art. Miller is capable of so much more that it just isn't worth it to bother with this.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The 2009 Nebula Nominees Are...

Here are the finalists on the 2009 Nebula ballot straight from the SFWA:

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Love We Share Without Knowing by Christopher Barzak
Flesh and Fire by Laura Anne Gilman
The City & The City by China Miéville
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Finch by Jeff VanderMeer

The Women of Nell Gwynne’s by Kage Baker
“Arkfall” by Carolyn Ives Gilman
“Act One by” Nancy Kress
Shambling Towards Hiroshima by James Morrow
“Sublimation Angels” by Jason Sanford
The God Engines by John Scalzi

“The Gambler” by Paolo Bacigalupi
“Vinegar Peace, or the Wrong-Way Used-Adult Orphanage” by Michael Bishop
“I Needs Must Part, The Policeman Said” by Richard Bowes
“Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” by Eugie Foster
“Divining Light” by Ted Kosmatka
“A Memory of Wind” by Rachel Swirsky

Short Story:
“Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela” by Saladin Ahmed
“I Remember the Future” by Michael A. Burstein
“Non-Zero Probabilities” by N. K. Jemisin
“Spar” by Kij Johnson
“Going Deep” by James Patrick Kelly
“Bridesicle” by Will McIntosh

Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy:
Hotel Under the Sand by Kage Baker
Ice by Sarah Beth Durst
Ash by Malinda Lo
Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev
Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Dramatic Presentation
Star Trek by JJ Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman
District 9 by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
Avatar by James Cameron
Moon by Duncan Jones and Nathan Parker
Up by Bob Peterson and Pete Docter
Coraline by Henry Selick

If you're wondering why those people get the credit for the dramatic presentation award it's because the Nebula goes to the credited screenwriter.